Last week, a Spanish judge opened an investigation into the crimes against humanity committed during Spain’s Civil War from 1936-39. At least half a million people disappeared or died during or immediately after the war, and the allegation is that General Franco and his government systematically murdered and buried in mass graves tens of thousands of people because they disagreed with the policies of his government.
The crimes committed during this war have never been investigated before – the Spanish simply decided to draw a curtain over the entire Franco period. But the buried legacy of this war festers. I lived in an elegant little village on the Spanish Mediterranean with my husband for ten years until 1997, and although the Spanish did not talk to us foreign expatriates about it, you kept smelling it. It’s still there.
It’s there in the desolate lighthouse with the coffee shop where only foreigners go. Because the locals know that’s where men and women were given the choice between being shot and jumping off the cliff to where the waters crashed on the rocks 100 feet below.
It’s there in the villa in the market square where the shutters are closed and the doors locked and where nobody has lived since the occupants were removed and shot some 70 years ago.
It’s in the remains of General Franco’s luxury vacation villa that stands abandoned and pillaged on the bluff overlooking the sea.
It was there whenever General Franco’s doctor came to his own villa for vacation, because the Guardia kept a 24-hour guard when he was in residence.
It is there on the pock-marked walls of the Catholic Church and the Town Hall, where the two sides in the war shot at each other.
It is there in the quite enmity between various neighbours who, inexplicably to the outsider, will not speak to each other.
There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. And that is right. Because there is no statute of limitation on the bitterness and resentment and anger that rages when injustice has never been acknowledged and forgiveness offered.