On 30 August 2017 a group of Galizan democrats, nationalist militants, trade-union leaders, grassroots and cultural activists and people working to restore the memory of what happened during the Francoist dictatorship, etc., carried out a peaceful and symbolic action which involved unfurling two large banners from the Pazo de Meirás manor house calling upon the public bodies to intervene to reclaim this property which we believe belongs to the Galizan people as a whole. We saw this action as necessary in order to demand that the public bodies empowered to do so stop turning a blind eye and take concerted action to reclaim this property and all of those plundered by the dictator, Francisco Franco.
It was, as already stated, a peaceful action, carried out during an open day when those in charge of the property are obliged to open up the house to the public in accordance with its status as a Site of Cultural Interest. The action itself lasted approximately two hours and all of those involved left the building and the premises equally peacefully escorted by the Civil Guard, with no incident or damage to the property of any kind.
We are convinced that the motives behind our action are shared by a vast majority of Galizan society who believe that it is unfair that this property and others like it such as the Casa de Cornide in A Coruña and the sculptures of Abraham and Isaac taken from the Portal of Glory of Santiago Cathedral remain in the hands of one single family, namely that of the dictator, Francisco Franco, who acquired them illicitly by an abuse of power (also acquired illicitly by his coup d’état) and by the terror wielded against the population in order to maintain power during that period. Since then, many people and groups have approached us to congratulate us and express their support for an action which they viewed favourably and saw as both fitting and necessary.
In fact, this symbolic occupation of the Pazo de Meirás which achieved international attention rekindled the social and political debate regarding the recuperation of the manor and forced public bodies to make their position clear either by taking more decisive action or steps towards action. It is notable that even the ruling People’s Party which had never shown the slightest interest in the property plundered by Franco was forced to subscribe in the Galizan Parliament, albeit in only in word, to the aim of reclaiming Meirás for the Galizan people.
Consequently, all of those of us who took part in it feel rightly proud to have undertaken an action which fulfilled the aim of strengthening the public demand to reclaim all of the properties plundered by Franco which are by rights a public heritage belonging to us all.
However, a legal notice served by the Courthouse in Betanzos recently informed us that the National Francisco Franco Foundation together with Franco’s daughter, Carmen Franco y Polo, and the dictator’s grandson, José Cristóbal Martínez-Bordiú, have lodged a complaint against 19 people accused of the following offenses: BREAKING AND ENTERING, aggravated by the use of violence and intimidation, punishable under the Spanish Penal Code with a 1-4 year prison sentence; DEFAMATION, liable to 6 months to 2 years imprisonment or a 12-24 month penalty; aggravated CRIMINAL DAMAGE, punishable with 1-3 years imprisonment and a 12-24 month penalty; and HATE CRIME, with 1-4 years imprisonment and a 6-12 month penalty.
In all, the offenses of which were are accused by a Foundation which upholds Fascism and by the dictator’s daughter and grandson amount to at least 3 years and 6 months and could rise to 13 years imprisonment for each of the accused, above and beyond an indeterminate fine. In other words, together we could be facing a total of up of 247 years imprisonment and half a million euros in fines.
We obviously hope that it does not come to that. We believe that any such action would be a political and legal outrage. It is politically aberrant (and indeed shocking for any democrat living anywhere other than the Spanish State) that the properties plundered by the dictator remain in the hands of his family rather than having been reclaimed as part of the public heritage after the end of the dictatorship. It goes beyond mere monetary or even patrimonial value, symbolising wide-sweeping political implications.
We believe that the fact that these properties remain in the clutches of the Franco family is an excellent example of the way the true power structures of the dictatorship remain unchanged, be it at economic, the judicial, media and many other levels of politics, all handed down to the regime ushered in in 1978 which remains in place to this day, giving rise to a very poor quality democracy whereby, forty years later, the Spanish State continues to persecute the freedom of speech, imprisoning people for their opinions and their political convictions.
It is all the more disgraceful bearing in mind that the individual and collective dignity of the actual victims of Franco’s regime still goes unacknowledged by the State. Nor should we forgot that we are talking about a criminal act, a coup d’état which left thousands of dead in its wake in Galiza, a three-year-long Civil War and a ruthless dictatorship which ran roughshod over freedom and rights in the Spanish State for forty years. Therefore, reclaiming the Pazo de Meirás, the Casa de Cornide and the sculptures taken from the Portal of Glory constitutes a basic democratic demand and a way of bringing justice to the victims who suffered the plunder first hand, together with all of the victims of the Francoist regime. In a word, it is an excellent means of restoring our democratic memory and our collective dignity.
But, as stated above, we also deem it aberrant from the legal point of view. We wish to highlight a series of patently obvious issues. Firstly, the symbolic action was carried out on an official open day, whereby it could hardly be described as an act of breaking and entering, inasmuch as the building was open to the public on that day. Nor did any kind of violence ensue, as attested to by the media present. It was, we repeat, a peaceful and symbolic act.
Secondly, no damage occurred during the action. One part of the group hung a banner on the outside of the building while the remainder made our way straight to the top of the tower to hang another banner, whereupon we left, escorted off the premises by the Civil Guards.
Thirdly, it is at the very least ironic that a Foundation dedicated to promoting Fascism and the dictatorship (and, shamefully from a democratic point of view, with public funds provided by the Spanish State) which had prior to the action publically stated that the intended purpose of the visits by the public was to “exalt” the figure of the dictator should accuse democratic people of committing a hate crime and being guilty of defamation. We believe that at the political level there is nothing more to be said.
For all of these reasons, we are convinced that the accusations brought against us are unsubstantiated and hope the action is seen in its true light, as a peaceful and democratic expression and defence of a stance which we know is shared by all true democrats around country. In short, an action which should be seen as a democratic exercise of the freedom of speech.
Furthermore, we find it alarming that a Foundation whose stated aims include an apology of Fascism and the Francoist dictatorship and, therefore, should not exist (and which could not legally exist in any other European state), together with the family of the dictator which continues to enjoy the spoils of war, should be entitled to level such serious and unfounded accusations.
We are convinced that this is only conceivable within the political and judicial context that we have seen emerge over recent years, whereby a political and economic elite knows full well that it enjoys the connivance and backing of a judicial system which was not democratised at the end of the dictatorship, with free range to continue unabated with the same ideological bedrock. Many of the legal decisions and sentences seen recently, which clearly fly in the face of the freedom of speech and opinion have made it clear that in the Spanish State, justice is anything but “equal for all” as they would have us believe, nor is it independent and, whenever necessary, will act in line with the interests of the regime.
Our political commitment towards Galiza which prompted us to undertake the symbolic action in Meirás also leads us to denounce this ongoing situation and work to remedy it. As nationalists, we know that the only way to aspire to achieving a truly democratic society and an independent and fair legal system in Galiza is through a democratic break with the Spanish regime born in 1978 and via a constituent process within Galiza to enable us to build a sovereign, fair, equal and free country of our own. But we also believe that it is possible to act in the present in order to begin to turn the situation around in a positive and democratic way.
This is why we wish to take this opportunity to call upon the Spanish government to repeal forthwith the legislation which curtails public rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, of opinion and demonstration, especially the Law on Citizen Security (better known as the Gag Law); to release all of those who have been unfairly tried, sentenced or imprisoned for political reasons; and to put an end to the repression of discrepancy and dissidence. While we are aware that this is insufficient in itself, we nevertheless see it as a first step towards ensuring a modicum of democratic hygiene.
Finally, we once again wish to express our pride for contribution though this action to reactivating the demand in society at large for the return of the Pazo de Meirás by placing it squarely on the political agenda over recent months, as well as our commitment to a struggle which continues to be both just and necessary and which will only ever end once all of the properly plundered has been returned to the Galizan people. The words emblazoned on the banners which we unfurled at Meirás continue to be just as pertinent as ever: “The manor belongs to the Galizan people”, “Return what you have stolen!” and “Francoism, Never Again!”
We appeal for the support of every individual, group or institution who believes as we do that this accusation is both unfair and inadmissible. Not only as a show of solidarity with the 19 people accused, but as a crucial gesture in defence of democracy. We know that anyone who considers themselves a democratic will feel concerned, because it is unacceptable that it is still necessary to combat Francoism in 2018. It is clear that the legal process we will have to face and the final outcome will be indicative of the democratic health of this country. We hope that, in the face of the brash and ingrained Francoism skulking behind the accusation levelled against us, justice and democracy will prevail.