Democratic Development and Reckoning with the Past: The Case of Spain in Comparative Context

May 28, 2003

Executive Summary

Those who question the value of truth-telling and retributive justice processes in the aftermath of atrocities, particularly civil wars, often cite the case of Spain. Spain has long been thought of as a country whose citizens seemed nearly universally to accept silence about an extremely destructive civil war in the service of peace. When Spain emerged from dictatorship after the death of Franco and built what has proven to be a durable and successful democracy, the lesson of Spain appeared to be even clearer: willed forgetting about the past for the sake of the society’s present and future is preferable to the risks of reckoning with the past, especially when to do so would be to risk splitting the country once again into the descendants of one side versus those of the other.

Yet evidence has been mounting that in recent years the Spanish public has been increasingly actively engaging with the past in a variety of sectors, and some scholars are arguing that there was never total silence in Spain about history. What form does the Spanish collective memory about the civil war take today, and how can we assess the Spanish attempt to reckon with the past in light of the nation's successful transition to a modern European democracy?

At this workshop, presentations by Carolyn Boyd, a historian of modern Spain, and David Crocker, a political philosopher specializing in reconciliation, democratization and developmental ethics, explored these issues against the backdrop of Spanish history. Other case studies, and the larger questions of development and democratization, were also explored in a roundtable question-and-answer period.

To view this event report in its entirety, use the “download” link below.

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