The aam aadmi is a curious formulation. In most cases, it is the nameless everyman, the victim of crime, a subject of the state, one among a billion votes. It is precisely because the common man is an empty signifier and a polemical generalisation, that it is so amenable to being a political category, even an empowering one. But every so often, the everyman must answer for his silences. After a bitter political and legal battle, the Socialist government in Spain has exhumed the corpse of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain from 1939 to 1975, and transported it from the basilica at the Valley of the Fallen to a family vault in a cemetery in Madrid. In the last four decades, Spain has established its democratic credentials. But Franco’s ghost has never quite been exorcised.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s rationale for moving Franco’s body is two-fold. First, his massive tomb, built in part by political prisoners, was in the midst of thousands of unmarked graves of those killed by Franco’s regime. Second, Sanchez said the exhumation was “another step in the reconciliation” among Spaniards. Whether the latter aim will be fulfilled is an open question: Graffiti proclaiming “death to communists” (one of Franco’s prime targets), adorned the statue of Pablo Iglesias, founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party.
Sanchez has been accused of trying to politicise Franco’s legacy. True as the charge may be, the fact is that in this case, history is intensely political. Unlike in Germany and Italy, Spain has not confronted the complicity of so many of its people — common people — in Franco’s violence. His erstwhile mausoleum was a grand monument, one that many in the country continued to flock to. As majoritarianism rears its head in Europe and beyond, the divisive moral conundrum in Spain today is well worth confronting: Do those that stand unquestioningly behind leader and country, or even stay silent as republicanism is replaced by repression in their name, bear responsibility for their acts?