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Garzón, justice and memory

For the dead man here abandoned, build him a tomb.’ Sophocles, Antigone.

‘Senseless’, ‘astounding’, ‘unheard of’…

The world press, human rights associations and the finest international jurists can’t get over it. Why is the Spanish judicial system, which has done so much in recent years to punish and prevent crimes against humanity in many parts of the world, bringing charges against Baltasar Garzón, the judge who best symbolizes the contemporary paradigm of applying universal justice?

The international media know well the merits of the ‘superjudge’: his transcendental role in the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998; his denunciation of the atrocities committed by the military in Argentina, Guatemala and by other Latin American dictatorships; his efforts to dismantle the GAL (Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups, formed by the Spanish government to fight the ETA Basque separatists) and prosecute socialist premier Felipe Gonzalez; his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003; and even his recent trip to Honduras to warn the coup participants that crimes against humanity cannot be made to disappear.

Why is the Spanish judicial system bringing charges against Baltasar Garzón, the judge who best symbolizes the contemporary paradigm of applying universal justice?

As a judge of the National Court of Spain, Garzón prosecuted thousands of activists of the terrorist Basque separatist group ETA (the Right felt he should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize). He was later criticized for closing the Basque newspaper Egin and for ordering terrorism suspects to be held incommunicado. Organizations like the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe have called for the abolition of this form of detention. Garzón’s immoderate appetite for the front pages and ‘superstar judge’ behaviour are other targets of criticism.

Independent and incorruptible

In any case, Garzón has shown himself to be a rebel – independent and incorruptible. It is because of this that he has accumulated so many adversaries. There are in fact three charges pending against him in the Supreme Court. The first is for ‘fees’ he allegedly received for speaking at a conference in New York sponsored by Spain’s global bank, Banco Santander. Another regards wiretaps he ordered for the investigation of the ‘Gurtel’ network (involving figures in the rightist Popular Party (PP), particularly the party’s ex-treasurer, Luis Barcenas). But the main accusation involves the investigation of the crimes of Francoism, the Spanish brand of fascism named after the late dictator, Francisco Franco.

Two ultraconservative organizations have accused him of ‘prevarication’ for initiating an October 2008 investigation into the disappearance, during the Spanish Civil War, of more than 100,000 anti-fascist republicans and the destiny of 30,000 children taken from their mothers in prison and given to pro-Franco families during the dictatorship (1939-1975).

This is not just a juridical matter. It impassions millions of Spanish because they feel the issue is the right of victims to moral reparation

If he’s found guilty, Garzón could face a suspension of between 10 and 20 years. This would be a great shame. Because at bottom this matter involves one central question: symbolically, what is to be done with the Spanish Civil War? The Amnesty Law of 1977 was an administrative decision intended to obtain the release from prison of a few hundred prisoners of the Left. Justice was not the issue and there was no attempt to impose any kind of policy with regard to memory. More than 70 years after the conflict, with nearly all those involved now dead, justice cannot consist of trying those accused of abominable crimes. But this is not just a juridical matter. It impassions millions of Spanish because they feel the issue is the right of victims to moral reparation. At stake are the collective rights to memory and the possibility of officially establishing, on the basis of the atrocities committed, that Francoism was an abomination and that allowing it impunity is intolerable. It is essential to be able to say this, to proclaim it in museums, in history textbooks and on the solemn days of collective homage, as is the case with all of Europe in solidarity with the victims of Nazism.

A culture of concealment

Proponents of the ‘culture of concealment’ are accusing Garzón of wanting to open a Pandora’s box and divide the Spanish people again. They are insisting that the other side committed crimes as well. They behave like a journalist who, seeking to organize a ‘fair debate’ on World War Two, gave one minute to Hitler and one minute to the Jews.

Francoism was not just the Civil War in which General Queipo de Llano once asserted: ‘We must sow terror and eliminate without scruples or wavering all those who don’t think like us.’ It was above all, from 1939 to 1975, one of the most implacable authoritarian regimes of the 20th century which used terror in a systematic manner to exterminate its ideological opponents and frighten the entire population. This is not a political assertion; it is a historical fact.

The Amnesty Law led to official amnesia or ‘unconscious blindness’ (collective, in this case) by which a person makes unpleasant areas of his memory disappear. Until the day they boil back up to the surface in a fever of irrationality.

This is what Judge Garzón wanted to avoid. He wanted to reveal the malevolent nature of Francoism so that history would never repeat itself.

©IPS

Ignacio Ramonet is editor of Le monde diplomatique’s Spanish edition.

The decline of social democracy

Ideas die too. The cemetery of political parties overflows with the remains of organizations that at one time ignited passions and roused multitudes but are now relegated to oblivion. Who in Europe today agrees with Radicalism, though it was one of the most important political forces (centre-left) of the second half of the 19th century? Or Anarchism? Or Stalinist Communism? What happened to these formidable mass movements that in their day could mobilize millions of workers and peasant farmers? Were they just passing fashions?

The cemetery of political parties overflows with the remains of organizations that at one time ignited passions and roused multitudes but are now relegated to oblivion

Because of what it has abandoned, retracted and renounced, European social democracy today finds itself being dragged towards the grave. Its life cycle seems about to end. And yet, this is happening at a time when its arch rival, ultraliberal capitalism, is passing through one of its worst periods ever. How can social democracy be dying just as ultraliberal capitalism finds itself in severe crisis? The answer is clear: because it was incapable of generating popular enthusiasm for its weak response to the urgent social problems of the day.

Identity crisis

Without compass or theory, it gropes along, seemingly broken, its leadership sickly, with neither organization nor ideas, neither doctrine nor direction. And, most important, without identity. This was an organization that was supposed to have carried out a revolution but backed away from the idea. It was a workers’ party, but today it is the party of a comfortable urban middle class.

The recent elections demonstrated that European social democracy no longer knows how to appeal to the millions of voters who are victims of the brutal postindustrial world brought about by globalization – the multitudes of disposable workers, the new poor of the suburbs, the marginalized, the retired-though-still-of-working-age, at-risk youth, middle-class families threatened by destitution, all groups damned by neoliberal shock. For all of these people, social democracy seems to have neither a message nor solutions. The June 2009 European elections gave a clear indication of its current disastrous state. The majority of the social democratic parties that had been in power were dealt serious setbacks, while those in the opposition also suffered losses, especially in France and Finland.

European social democracy today finds itself being dragged towards the grave. And yet this is happening at a time when its arch rival, ultraliberal capitalism, is passing through one of its worst periods ever

They couldn’t convince voters they had a response to the economic and social challenges raised by the shipwreck of financial capitalism. If evidence had been lacking of the European social democrats’ failure to devise an approach different from that of the EU leadership, Gordon Brown and Jose Luis Zapatero provided more than enough when they backed the shameful election as President of the European Commission of ultra-liberal Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the fourth man of the March 2003 Azores Summit –along with George W Bush, Tony Blair, and Jose Maria Aznar – where the decision was made to launch the illegal invasion of Iraq.

What foundations?

In 2002, the social democrats were in power in 15 countries of the EU. Today, despite the fact that the financial crisis has proved the social, moral and ecological bankruptcy of ultraliberalism, the social democrats rule in only five countries (Spain, Greece, Portugal, Hungary, and the UK). They have been simply incapable of taking advantage of this situation. Moreover, the governments of three of these countries – Spain, Greece and Portugal, each ravaged by the financial markets and the debt crisis – will end up more discredited and unpopular when they begin to rigidly implement the austerity programmes and anti-populist policies demanded by the logic of the EU and its principal gatekeepers.

Indeed, repudiating their very foundations has become a habit: European social democrats decided years ago to ramp up privatizations, demand lower budgets at the expense of the citizens, call for raising the retirement age and dismantle the public sector, while pushing for giant corporate mergers and concentration and pampering the banks. It gradually converted itself, without remorse, to social-liberalism, dropping as priorities certain objectives that were part of its ideological DNA – for example, full employment, the defence of acquired social advantages, the development of public services and the eradication of hunger and poverty.

European social democrats decided years ago to ramp up privatizations, demand lower budgets at the expense of the citizens and dismantle the public sector

From the end of the 19th century until the 1930s, every time capitalism took a step forward, the social democrats, backed by the Left and the unions, responded with original and progressive proposals: universal suffrage, free education for all, the right to a job, social security, the social state, the welfare state. The dynamic imagination that gave rise to these ideas now seems to have been exhausted.

A lack of vision

European social democracy lacks the vision of a new social utopia. Times have changed. In the minds of many constituents, even the least well off, consumerism has triumphed, along with the desire to get rich, have fun, luxuriate in abundance and be happy without feeling guilty.

From the end of the 19th century until the 1930s, every time capitalism took a step forward, the social democrats, backed by the Left and the unions, responded with original and progressive proposals

In the face of this dominant hedonism, permanently stamped into people’s minds by relentless advertising and manipulation by the media, the leaders of the social-democrats do not dare go against the current.

They have even managed to convince themselves that it isn’t certain that capitalists get rich by exploiting workers but that, to the contrary, the poor are taking advantage of the taxes paid by the wealthy. They think, in the words of Italian philosopher Raffaele Simone, that ‘socialism is possible only when misfortune outstrips happiness, when suffering far exceeds pleasure, and chaos triumphs over structure.’[1]

In contrast, however, in certain countries of South America (Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela), we may be seeing a rebirth, with force and creativity, of a new, 21st century socialism, as in Europe the bell tolls for social democracy. Requiem aeternam....

Ignacio Ramonet is the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique in Spanish.

Copyright IPS 2010. Reproduced with permission.

[1] Raffaele Simone, ‘Les socialistes proposent toujours le sacrifice’, (Socialists Always Propose Sacrifice), in Philosophie Magazine, number 36, February 2010, Paris.