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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Parade exposes Spain's deep rifts
By Katya Adler
BBC, Madrid

"It's like asking a holocaust victim to appear in a parade with a former Nazi," said Gaspar Llamazares, the leader of Spain's opposition United Left Party.

He wasn't the only one to express distaste at the appearance in Spain's National Day parade this year of veterans from both sides of Spain's Civil War.

Marchers included those from the defeated Republican Army and from the Blue Division, loyal to Spain's military dictator Francisco Franco - which fought alongside the Nazis during World War II.

The Spanish Royal Guard
Many Spaniards remain divided over the National Day celebrations

Many Spaniards, including Mr Llamazares chose to boycott Wednesday's festivities as a result.

"It's an insult to all those who died during Franco's dictatorship," said a group of students, who had organised an anti-National Day meeting in a Madrid Cafe. "But more than that, it's an insult to democrats everywhere."

But the Spanish Defence Minister, Jose Bono, defended his controversial decision to invite all Spanish veterans to the annual event.

"Look, I'm a socialist. I fought against Franco. I don't support the Blue Division but I do support Spain and this is a part of Spanish history.

"On National Day, one should be generous. And think about it - if you left out all the Spaniards you may not agree with: the Reconquistas, the Carlists, the Fascists... You wouldn't have many people left. It's all Spain."

Divisions

Many Spaniards agree with him.

Teacher Maria, in the crowds gathered along Madrid's main boulevard, said: "Spain can't go forward until we have a past.

Spanish National Day is rancid and out-dated. It's ongoing evidence that the central government in Madrid cannot tolerate political plurality in Spain
Marina Llansana,
Catalan Left Party

"We have to face up to the parts of our history we don't like, in order to have the chance for a healthy future."

But this where the irony lies.

Jose Bono said he planned the gesture as a symbol of reconciliation, of peace and harmony in modern Spain. In fact it just emphasised the deep political rifts that still exist in Spanish society and that date back to the Spanish Civil War.

It's not really surprising.

Germany began its process of national reflection, of coming to terms with its dark Nazi past, immediately after losing the war in 1945.

But in Spain the 'bad guy' won. Francisco Franco's military dictatorship lasted for 40 years and when it ended, Spaniards were too frightened to rock the boat of their fragile democracy (the last attempted military coup in Spain was in 1981).

And so they chose to look forward, rather than looking back.

Unpatriotic

Yet the past hangs like a suffocating blanket over modern Spain. Unmarked mass Republican graves dating back to the Civil War are found all over the country.

Modern political debate can easily slide back into the old insults of the past.

Columbus statue in Madrid
Spain's role in the modern world is changing

During the Civil War, the Republicans carried their red, yellow and purple flag. Many left-wing organisations in Spain (though not the Socialist Party) still bring that flag to street demonstrations.

It was a common sight, for example, during the anti-Iraq war demonstrations here.

"The flag issue" as it's often referred to here, sparked another controversy during Wednesday's celebrations. Though this time, it wasn't Civil War related.

In a nod to Spain's 17 regions, with their varying degrees of autonomy and desire for eventual independence, the official words dedicated to Spanish citizens who lost their lives for their country were changed this year.

A sentence declaring: "They would not have died under any other flag", was omitted.

Tolerance

As a result, the regional Catalan President, Pasqual Maragall, decided to attend the Madrid celebrations for the very first time.

But what was celebrated as a coup in Madrid, was blasted in Barcelona by other Catalan nationalist politicians.

Marina Llansana, of the Catalan Left Party, ERC, said Mr Maragall had no business participating in a Spanish military parade.

"Spanish National Day is rancid and out-dated," she said. "It's ongoing evidence that the central government in Madrid cannot tolerate political plurality in Spain."

In the end, this year's National Day celebrations were overshadowed by controversy - and not just on a domestic level.

The annual festivities mark the day Spain's role in the world changed forever - when, on 12 October 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Caribbean islands during a Spanish-sponsored expedition.

Neighbours

Spain's changing role on the modern world stage was evident during the military parade.

French soldiers were invited to take part, whereas the US marines, present at the event since the 11 September attacks three years ago, were struck off the guest list.

Ever since his election earlier in 2004, the new Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has shown a strong determination to befriend France and Germany and a definite disregard for what Washington wants.

As was evident from his swift withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq this May.

Perhaps Spain's new foreign policy can best be described as a forward march towards Europe and an about-turn on the United States.




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