As did Franco’s regime, the Popular Party (PP) draws its political culture from the darkest depths of Spain’s imperial past. Let us not forget that the Spanish state was built on the expulsion and forced conversion of muslims and jews, and the plunder, enslavement and forceful conversion to catholicism of the indigenous populations of the American continent. The Inquisition, was the first state-wide institution of Spain. As a tribunal it was to ensure that jews and muslims who had in theory converted -the rest were expelled- did not continue practicing their former faith secretly. Over the years it was used to denounce political rivals and appropriate their belongings, to enforce censorship and ensure all forms of dissent were suppressed. These are the dark origins of the Spanish state and fashioned its instincts for centuries to come. Intolerance regarding those who think and choose to live differently and the most conservative form of catholicism are the hallmarks of Spanish nationalism.
Franco’s regime based its ideology on the epic tale of a ruthless fight against the evils which were the “arch-enemies of Spain” (communism, separatism, judaism and free-masonry) and a ferocious defence of what it considered to be its core values (catholicism, a longing for the greatness of Spain’s imperial past, law and order).
Sociologically Francoism drew its ideology largely on Falangism, which was a fascist movement initiated in the 1930s by the son of 1920’s dictator, Primo de Rivera. At the end of the civil war La Falange swelled to close to a million members and became the backbone of the regime’s social support, its core values continued well past Franco’s death. Popular Party founder, Manuel Fraga, was himself a high-ranking member of the Falange for many years. Over time the Falange was replaced by the National Movement, and all officials of the Francoist state swore on its principles, the first of which stated “Spain is a unity of destiny in the universal. Service to the greatness, unity and liberty of the nation is the sacred duty and collective endeavour of all Spaniards”. This obsession with Spanish unity, which has been carried into contemporary Spain by the Popular Party and the 1978 constitution, is key to understanding the evolution of the Catalan crisis. Francoist core values survived Franco’s death.
From government to the judiciary and business circles, the Francoist establishment formed a dense matrix of personal connections and corrupt practices whose ideological underpinnings were rooted in the Falange and the National Movement. Following Franco’s death sociological Francoism recycled. Over time the Popular Party, together with the 1978 Constitution, became the chief mechanisms to ensure that the same power block, with its inherent priorities, retained control over key aspects of the Spanish state. Many political leaders of the Popular Party have direct family links to the Francoist establishment. Let us take as an example the Popular Party’s two leaders (and Spanish prime ministers) since Fraga. Jose María Aznar (Spain’s PM from 1996 to 2004) was a falangist in his youth. His grandfather had been Franco’s ambassador to various countries and to the UN in the 1960s in addition to being the editor of La Vanguardia newspaper, also in the 1960s. Mariano Rajoy is the son of the presiding magistrate at the provincial court of Pontevedra during the dictatorship. These are just a couple of high-profile examples, of which there are many, many more.
The second principle of the National Movement was: “The Spanish Nation considers as its seal of honour obedience to the Laws of God, according to the Doctrine of the Holy Catholic, Apostolic Roman Church, the only true faith, inseparable from the national conscience, and which shall inspire its legislation.” The regime’s nationalism was therefore heavily grounded in catholicism, albeit of the most conservative sort. During the dictatorship many key positions came to be occupied by members of the elite secretive catholic cult Opus Dei. This has continued into the present. For example, Spain’s current Finance Minister, Luís de Guindos, is known to be a member. As are the Interior Minister under Rajoy’s first government, Fernández-Díaz, or Federico Trillo, who was Defence Minister under Aznar and up to recently ambassador in London. Dozens of current and former senior officials, from heads of police to high ranking judges and head state prosecutors, are known to be Opus Dei members.
The Popular Party, largely owing to its ultra-conservative catholic connections, has always sought to delay social progress regarding rights for women, LGBTIs, labour, and migrants, among others. They have done so by opposing every single progressive piece of legislation put forward when they were not in government, and by attempting to repeal such progress as had taken place during those periods on return to power: from the legalisation of divorce and decriminalisation of homosexuality to attempts in recent years to pass legislation repealing rights gained by women regarding abortion -which was successfully blocked by the mass mobilisation of the feminist movement. Although one of the major achievements of the democratic opposition during the negotiation of the constitution was enshrining the non-denominational nature of the state in the text, the Catholic Church continues to enjoy many privileges. It is the largest property owner in the country and holds the legal right to register property in its own name; yet it is not required to pay property tax. Furthermore, private catholic schools are heavily subsidised and catholic religion is taught (optionally) in state schools. The state pays wages for priests working in hospitals, prisons, and in police and military barracks. Additionally, income tax revenue to the yearly tune of € 250 million (in 2016) is given to the Church, which uses it to finance its radio and TV channels (COPE and 13TV), which spout an ultra-conservative agenda in an extremely aggressive manner.
How does today’s Popular Party relate today to its Francoist past?
During the years of transition to democracy following Franco’s death a Political Amnesty Act was passed. It allowed for the release of political prisoners under the dictatorship, but has subsequently been used to ensure that not a single member of the Francoist establishment or security apparatus could be prosecuted. At the same time the Popular Party has wielded enough power over the years to ensure that the bones of over 100,000 victims of Franco’s state terror, who lie scattered in mass graves across Spain, cannot be recovered by their family members and given proper sepulture. The Popular Party actually ensured that Judge Baltasar Garzón, who tried to move forward with the issue following the PSOE Historic Memory Act, was himself tried and removed from the judiciary. Across Spain many streets and squares still honour the dictator and his generals. The Popular Party ensures, when it can, that street names and statues remain, and accuses those wishing to remove them of re-opening divisive wounds. The Popular Party has always refused to condemn Francoism. They have even, when in government, provided subsidies for the Francisco Franco Foundation (yes, such a thing exists in “democratic Spain”). They have systematically refused to consider outlawing any form of exaltation of Francoism while they have ensured, through their grip on the judiciary, that political jokes which are not of their liking, on twitter or in rap lyrics, lead to criminal prosecution.