Spanish Government doesn't respect Franco's victims
76 years ago, in 1939, Franco’s troops occupied Catalonia and carried out a massive requisition of documents of the Catalan Government and Parliament, political parties, trade unions, civil society organisations and citizens. The goal was to obtain information about people’s names and ideologies in order to carry out the large-scale political repression that followed. It was an operation oriented and inspired by the Nazi regime’s policies.
The result of this was more than 140 tonnes of documents that were transferred by rail from Catalonia to Salamanca, where Franco regime’s Delegación del Estado para la Recuperación de Documentos (State Delegation for Document Recovery, DERD) had its headquarters. This body was in charge of seizing and processing the documents.
Using the information contained in those documents, the Fascist and military dictatorship compiled a large archive with 3 million files about people who were considered as “hostiles” to the regime, which was managed by Franco’s police. All the documents were kept as a proof of that “felony”.
Among the documents, besides those of the Catalan Government and political organisations, there are minutes of meetings and member files of civil society associations and, even, private letters exchanged between lovers. The requisition, processing and archiving of those documents is an example of actions against fundamental human rights such as freedom of ideology and individual privacy. In addition, there were thousands of books in Catalan language, which were not of an ideological nature but were pieces of literature. Some of them written by Catalan authors and others by international authors such as Virginia Woolf, Stendhal, Rabindranath Tagore, André Give and Aldous Huxley and which were requisitioned for the mere fact of having been translated into Catalan. This is an example of the persecution of Catalan language and culture carried out by Franco’s dictatorship.
After Franco’s death, when the first democratic elections took place in 1977, the Catalan Government – which had been suppressed by Franco – was restored and the legitimate president Josep Tarradellas, who had been elected by the Parliament of Catalonia, returned from exile. A few months after, the DERD was dissolved.
With a newly-elected Catalan Parliament, in 1980 the Catalan Government requested the restitution of its own archives, as well as those of the people and organisations that had suffered the requisition, requesting the return of the documents kept in the former DERD headquarters in Salamanca to their legitimate owners. However, the request was ignored and the document owners had to wait two additional decades for the first files to travel back to Catalonia, and the restitution has not ended yet.
Such an obvious fact as the restitution to the victims of plundering acts committed by a Fascist regime has been the object of a long political fight, which has been carried out by the civil society organisation Comissió de la Dignitat (Commission for the Dignity) since 2002. It was not until 2005 that the Spanish Parliament approved a law that recognised the Catalan Government’s right to recover its own files as well as the right of people, associations, political parties and trade unions to have the documents back in Catalonia.
However, the process of honouring the law has been inexplicably long, since 10 years after the law’s approval and 76 years after the documents’ requisition, their return to Catalonia has not been completed because of a lack of will from successive Spanish Governments.
Nowadays, there are still many documents owned by the Catalan Government, private citizens, civil society entities and many Catalan city halls – those of Barcelona and Tarragona among them – which have not been transported back to Catalonia.
With the documents that have already returned, the Catalan Government undertook the first restitution of documents to the victims in 2012 and the last one last February.
On top of this, the Spanish Government is also refusing to give back the documents that were seized on 16 August 1940 by the Nazi Gestapo from the Catalan Government during its exile in Paris. Three days before these events, the Nazi police had arrested the Catalan President Lluís Companys in Baule, a town in French Bretagne, who was deported and handed over to Franco’s regime, which executed him on 15 September in Barcelona. The documents seized in Paris by the Gestapo were given to Franco’s police, which transported them to Spain. Now, they have been located in the Military Archive of Ávila and the Spanish Government is refusing to return them.
On 22 July 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, reminded the Spanish Government about its duty to make restitution to the victims of the files and wealth seized by Franco’s dictatorship.
In addition, in February this year, a manifesto signed by personalities from the academic and cultural fields from throughout the world, such as Paul Preston and Noam Chomsky, has been released. It requests the ending of this injustice by returning to Catalonia all the seized documents that are currently being held by the Spanish Government.
by Josep Cruanyes i Tor
Lawyer and Spokesperson for Comissió de la Dignitat