Is Spain still living under Francoism?

As their crucial regional election nears, separatists in Catalonia are accusing the Spanish government of acting like the late dictator Francisco Franco, in a country that has yet to heal the wounds of his regime.

Is Spain still living under Francoism?
Photo of the late dictator Gen Francisco Franco. Archive: AFP

The claims have fanned a bitter debate about the nation's democratic credentials.

Catalan leaders liken the tactics of Spain's conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to those of Franco, who suppressed the region's language and culture during a rule that ended with his death in 1975.

Separatists say the crackdown on an independence vote held on October 1st prove the government would stop at nothing to prevent a “democratic” referendum.

But though deposed president Carles Puigdemont has said Spain's treatment of Catalonia exposes “serious democratic shortcomings”, the separatists have been accused of making the Franco comparison in bad faith.

“What has emerged in Catalonia, this idea that in Spain 'we live under Francoism', is completely absurd,” said historian Julian Casanova.    

“The flaws of our democracy are ours alone.”

Who's afraid of democracy?

After the regional parliament unilaterally declared Catalonia independent on October 27th, Madrid dismissed the Catalan government, suspended the region's autonomy and dissolved its parliament.

Puigdemont and other Catalan leaders fled to Belgium.   

“You are Francoists, you are afraid of democracy,” one of Puigdemont's former ministers, Toni Comin, said at a rally in Brussels, in remarks aimed at Spain's leaders.

Pro-independence figures hope to regain power in regional elections on December 21st. But they are under investigation for sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds over their independence drive.

Of those still in Spain, several have been remanded in custody.   

Their supporters have held several huge rallies in recent weeks, chanting slogans demanding freedom for what they call “political prisoners”.

'Completely absurd'

Such action against political leaders has fanned claims by separatists that Catalans are being oppressed as they were under Franco.   

Franco's regime executed at least 50,000 people in the decade that followed Spain's 1936-1939 civil war.

Prominent Catalan author Eduardo Mendoza argues in his book, “What is happening in Catalonia?”, that Franco's legacy is being “instrumentalised” in Spain.

That is the case “especially in Catalonia where Franco's image is paraded to justify one's conduct or invalidate that of one's adversary”, he wrote.   

Franco led an army rebellion against a democratically-elected republican government in 1936, triggering Spain's civil war. His side won the conflict with Hitler and Mussolini's help.

After Franco's death, Spain passed an amnesty law to smooth the transition from dictatorship to democracy, pardoning crimes of the regime.   

Some of Franco's ministers then founded the Popular Alliance, the precursor to Rajoy's Popular Party.

'Guardian' of Franco's tomb?

Puigdemont regularly promises Catalans a new country “without the vices inherited from Francoism”.

He has called Rajoy the “guardian” of Franco's tomb — a reference to the government's refusal to remove the dictator's remains from a vast mausoleum near Madrid.

The allegations have touched a raw nerve in a country where many see the transition from dictatorship as a notable political achievement.   

“Spanish democracy is not worse than others,” Casanova said. “But it still has a lot of problems facing up to the past.”   

“The memory of the victims (of the Franco regime) has been trampled upon countless times.”

'Unthinkable in Germany'

Franco's lingering influence is visible, however.   

In April, mourners raised their arms in a fascist salute as one of the last ministers to serve under Franco, Jose Utrera Molina, was buried in Nerja in southern Spain.

Molina's son-in-law Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, a former justice minister under Rajoy and a former Madrid mayor, was among the pallbearers.   

Some 230,000 people signed a petition filed in parliament in November asking the government to ban the National Francisco Franco Foundation, which glorifies the dictator.

“In Germany or in Italy, it would be unthinkable to have a Hitler foundation or a Mussolini foundation,” read the petition, filed by a group that included descendants of victims of the regime.

Rajoy in 2015 bragged in public that his government had provided “zero euros” to help apply the so-called Historical Memory Law, passed by his Socialist predecessor in 2007.

Its provisions included the removal of Francoist symbols from public places and state help in locating and exhuming the tens of thousands of bodies of victims of his repression who still remain missing.

Philosopher Manuel Reyes Mate says that, though there are still “vestiges” of Franco's regime, supporters of the independence drive must not make the mistake of imposing their will on fellow Catalans who do not want to secede.   

Secessionists, he says, “use rhetorically the idea that the state is Francoist — but meanwhile they propose a new identity, a new country, against the will of half of Catalans.”

By Laurence Boutreux / AFP

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Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner