Fri. May 27th, 2022

The Amnesty Law of October 15, 1977 was the first regulation approved by a democratically elected Parliament since the end of the Civil War. It was a historic claim from the left, promoted by the Communist Party and the PSOE, with the aim of repairing the victims of the dictatorship. It was approved by the vast majority of deputies, with Alianza Popular abstaining and only two votes against. The editorial published by EL PAÍS the day it was promulgated was titled Amnesty at last and argued that “democratic Spain must look forward, forget the responsibilities and the facts of the civil war, ignore the 40 years of dictatorship.”

UNED professor Paloma Aguilar , author of the reference book Policies of Memory and Memories of Politics (Alianza), explains that “the main objectives at the time the law was passed were for the few remaining political prisoners to be released from prison. trying to get sectors of nationalism, especially Basque nationalism, to enter the democratic path, and begin to equalize rights between the victims of the two opposing forces in the Civil War, so that the victims of Francoism could begin to collect a pension. The members of ETA who had committed crimes of blood, as well as the Francoist perpetrators, were also pardoned.

“The law was presented, at that time, as a celebration of the clean slate of democracy,” continues this historian. “No one echoed the articles that consecrated the impunity of the dictatorship and very few were aware of the negative consequences that these would have for the reparation of its victims and for the quality of the new regime. The only ones who expressed complaints about a law that aroused so much consensus when it was approved were those who were left out of its benefits due to pressure from the military (such as those of the UMD [Democratic Military Union]), and the right (AP [Popular Alliance ]), which was the only one that abstained en bloc,” says Aguilar.

The President of the Government, Adolfo Suárez (right), and the Vice Presidents Enrique Fuentes Quintana (left) and Lieutenant General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, applaud standing from their seats in Congress after the approval of the Amnesty Law, on October 14 from 1977.
The President of the Government, Adolfo Suárez (right), and the Vice Presidents Enrique Fuentes Quintana (left) and Lieutenant General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, applaud standing from their seats in Congress after the approval of the Amnesty Law, on October 14 from 1977.

However, in recent decades a growing number of victims’ associations began to see the rule as a final law that prevented the investigation of Francoist crimes, a transformation that coincided with the increasingly widespread idea among legal experts that crimes against humanity and genocide were imprescriptible, even above national legislation —a thesis that the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court have repeatedly rejected, as the UNED criminal law professor, Alicia Gil, points out, explaining that “Any Spanish court will always reject an interpretation of the law that harms the accused”—.

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The PSOE and United We Can have agreed this Wednesday an amendment to the Law of Democratic Memory that offers a formula to overcome the Amnesty Law of 1977 without repealing it, which indicates that “war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture have the consideration of imprescriptible and non-amnestiable”, not even by the law of October 1977. This change has opened a debate among Spanish historians. There is a consensus that the Amnesty Law cannot be repealed and that it played an essential role in the establishment of democracy; although there are differences of opinion about whether this change can have positive or negative effects.

“You cannot legislate the past from the present with present objectives,” says Pilar Mena, professor of Contemporary History at the UNED, author of July 18, 1936. The day the Civil War began (Taurus). “The Amnesty Law has a meaning in its context that it makes no sense to eliminate. That it is possible to try to find a way out to judge certain facts does not seem bad to me, because I believe that there are things that are not amnestiable, but I believe that it must be done very carefully, not from the perspective of making politics now of alleged heirs against alleged heirs ”.

“The Amnesty Law should have nothing to do with the Law of Democratic Memory,” explains expert researcher in political violence Gutmaro Gómez Bravo, director of the Complutense Research Group on the Civil War and Francoism. “The goal is to put the victims at the center and this is mixed with something that has nothing to do with it. I think we have to focus on research that produces knowledge and reparation”. Enrique Moradiellos, professor at the University of Extremadura and winner of the National Prize for Minimal History of the Civil War , is opposed to touching the 1977 law. “I am concerned about everything that is a division of opinion and a loss of degrees of harmony. It’s the never-ending story,” he maintains.

Xosé M. Núñez Seixas , Professor of History at the University of Santiago de Compostela and winner of the National Essay Prize for his book Suspiros de España. Spanish nationalism 1808-2018 , recalls that “at the time, the Amnesty Law was considered a democratic advance and a transfer of the Government. It was not intended as an endpoint law. That this point be modified and that it be made clear that the Amnesty Law should not be interpreted as not investigating crimes against humanity seems reasonable to me.”

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