Spaniards outraged over favourable Franco biography
Giles Tremlett in Madrid
General Francisco Franco is described as authoritarian not totalitarian in a favourable account by Professor Luis Suárez. Photograph: AP
Spain’s royal academy of history has triggered a row after publishing a publicly funded dictionary of national biography which includes an admiring description of the country’s bloodiest 20th-century figure, General Francisco Franco.
After 12 years’ work and more than €6.5m (£5.7m) in taxpayers’ money, the first volumes of the encyclopaedia were unveiled last week only for readers to discover that the dictator’s biography had been written by Professor Luis Suárez, an 86-year-old Franco apologist who is better known as a medievalist.
The entry describes how Franco “became famous for the cold courage which he showed in the field” while a young officer in Africa, and goes on to say that his brutal years in power saw him “set up a regime that was authoritarian, but not totalitarian.”
But Suárez failed to mention the tens of thousands of people killed during the Francoist era and refused to describe him as a dictator, arguing he had been authoritarian rather than totalitarian.
“That is simply recreating the old propaganda in favour of Franco,” said Julián Casanova, a historian of 20th-century Spain.
“It is not serious to allow someone like this to write Franco’s entry, when there are plenty of specialists on 20th-century Spain who can do it,” he said. “It brings our whole profession into disrepute.”
Suárez is an acquaintance of the Franco family and a senior figure in the Brotherhood of the Valley of the Fallen. The group, which takes its name from the controversial underground basilica where the dictator was buried in 1975, is actively opposed to the so-called “historical memory” movement in Spain, which has recently been searching for, and digging up, the mass graves of the victims of Francoist death squads.
For many years, Suárez was one of the few historians allowed by Franco’s family to study the personal papers of the man most Spaniards recognise as having been the country’s dictator for 36 years from 1939. In 2005, Suárez, after a career spent studying the 15th and 16th centuries, published a biography of the dictator.
“This is an objective study, with no value judgments,” he told Spain’s EFE news agency.
He claimed the term “dictator” was not used during Franco’s lifetime. “An historian cannot use it,” he said.
The head of the royal historical society, Gonzalo Anes, said it would not censor authors involved in the national biography project. “It is very difficult to achieve absolute objectivity,” he said.
But the culture minister in Spain’s socialist government, Ángeles González-Sinde, called for the rewriting of those entries in the dictionary which “do not reflect reality” or “are not written with the objectivity required of academic studies”.
Joan Saura, a leftwing Catalan deputy in parliament, has presented a motion for the 20 volumes published so far to be withdrawn. He said: “It is a recompilation of Spanish fascist thinking.”
The dictionary also includes admiring profiles of former conservative prime minister José María Aznar and his former culture minister, Esperanza Aguirre, who provided the initial funds for the project.