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Spain scraps plan to declassify military files

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Spain scraps plan to declassify military files
Historical files returned to the Catalonia National archives at Sant Cugat del Valles in Barcelona from Salamanca in 2006. Photo: Lluis Gene / AFP
14:50 CET+01:00
Spain's decision to shelve plans to declassify thousands of documents relating to the country's Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco is a mistake, a top historian has told The Local.

Defence Minister Pedro Morenés has said that the government will not be classifying some 10,000 armed services documents from the Civil War and Franco dictatorship era because of insufficient resources to analyse their contents.

The papers from the 1936-1968 period, which reportedly shed light on issues such as the military’s role during the Civil War and relations with foreign powers during the dictatorship, had been slated for declassification by the previous Socialist government.

But Morenés said on Tuesday that the conservative Popular Party (PP) administration did not consider the process a "priority in the current economic climate".

Answering a question during an appearance before the Senate, Morenés explained that “documents will not be declassified indiscriminately because this would be irresponsible”, adding that the ministry does not have the “human or material resources” to study the documents.

In 2008, then Defence Minister Carme Chacón announced that she wanted to apply the logic of the Socialist government’s Historical Memory Law to the archives containing documents from the army, navy and air force. She described the archives as being of “major scientific value and, of course, of great sentimental importance for many people”.

Three years later, in 2011, the ministry had identified some 10,000 documents which it suggested should be put into the public domain, but early elections held in November of that year brought PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to power and the initiative was shelved.

Josep Pich, a history lecturer at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, sees the minister’s decision as part of a "restrictive approach toward access to information", which is a major obstacles to historians in Spain.

"Without documents, we cannot work," Pich told The Local, commenting on the difference in a country such as the United States, where information is not only released on time but it is posted online.

"We can ignore the economic argument in this case as we are talking about an archive that already exists, in a building with its archivists working there. So it could be opened a couple of hours each day, for example, and this would cost nothing. Making digital copies would cost more but that is not the point; if you open the archive, a few very interested people would be there at the door,” says Pich of Minister Morenés’s claim that there were insufficient resources to release the information.   

A senator from the Basque Nationalist Party, Iñaki Anasagasti, criticized the current defence chief’s refusal to release any files, saying that without the contents of military archives, "there is no way to study Spain’s recent history".

The group of 10,000 papers contains information relating to concentration camps as part of the post-Civil War repression meted out by the Franco regime, files on deserters, documents about censorship during the period and plans to cope with potential invasions by other countries. The texts also deal with Spanish policy in its last remaining colonies in North Africa, such as Western Sahara, now claimed by Morocco, and the acquisition of military supplies from the US government.   

Pich does not believe that anything completely shocking and new would be revealed by documents from a period which has already been studied extensively. He therefore concludes that the government’s reluctance is down to the will of veteran political leaders “who may have begun their careers during the dictatorship - which is hard to digest in today’s political climate - and who still have sufficient influence to keep back publication for a few more years”.    

Spanish law on the declassifying of official documents places discretionary responsibility in the hands of the same organ which declared a file secret in the first place, such as the Cabinet or, as in this case, the military chiefs of staff.  

Morenés said that it was important to analyse these documents carefully before their release as they would “not only affect people’s honour, but also elements which could affect national security, international relations and the personal records of some armed forces members”.

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