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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Europe diary: Franco and Finland
6 July 2006

In his diary this week, BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell reflects on an MEP's unexpected homage to General Franco, prospects for Finland's six-month presidency, and plans to celebrate the EU's 50th birthday.

The diary is published every Thursday.


General Franco
General Franco: Catholic conqueror of communism
It's not often you hear a paean of praise to the Spanish fascist dictator General Franco these days. And you certainly don't expect to hear it in the European Parliament. So members were shocked when Polish MEP Maciej Giertych got to his feet. He was speaking in one of those debates that seem rather pious and pointless, to mark the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish civil war - full of MEPs condemning a regime that is long dead and buried, already reviled by most.

Now Mr Giertych is not some marginal figure. He was a presidential candidate and his party is a coalition partner in the Polish government. His son doubles as deputy prime minister and education minister.

Franco guaranteed the maintenance of traditional values in Europe and we lack such statesmen today
Maciej Giertych MEP
This is what Giertych senior said: "Thanks to the Spanish army and Franco the communist attack on Catholic Spain was thwarted. The presence of such people in European politics as Franco guaranteed the maintenance of traditional values in Europe and we lack such statesmen today. Christian Europe is losing against atheistic socialists today and this has to change."

He says today's assumptions are "historical revision". How do you think the history of Europe would have been different if the elected socialist government and their communist allies had won in Spain?


The European Parliament is worried about the rise of what they regard as the far right. The Socialist group has suspended the Slovak Social Democrats and probably will kick them out in the autumn because they've gone into coalition with the Slovak National Party, the SNS. Their leader is quoted as saying things like: "Let's all get in tanks and go and flatten Budapest," and, "There's no such thing as Roma, only gypsies who steal, rob and plunder."

And the Polish MEP thought they didn't make statesmen like that any more.


Matti Vanhanen
Matti Vanhanen (left): Not a big draw
I am in Strasbourg again this week to watch the Finns take over the European Union. Well the six-monthly presidency anyway. One of their commitments is to let us all see and hear more of how decisions are made: "transparency", in Eurobabble. But obviously many members of the European Union must have thought the Finnish prime minister's session was held behind closed doors, in secret session. From my press perch, where I can't see all of the seats, I count 20 completely empty rows. Many more have a lone, dutiful MEP in splendid isolation.

Well, John Major did once say that if you want to keep something secret, announce it in Parliament. If you want to make sure the media will never spill the beans, announce it in Strasbourg.


Protest against killing of Turkish judge
Turks may wonder whether the absorption debate is about them
There were no surprises from the PM but there may be a few during the presidency. There's a lot on their plate including whether Romania and Bulgaria should join next year, what happens to talks with Turkey and the whole subject of the EU's size, or "enlargement" as it was christened by someone impressionable who had received one too many spam e-mails. The next bit of Eurobabble we have to learn to love is "absorption capacity".

It means: "Never mind whether they are ready to join us, are we ready to let them in?" And the Turks might well ask, "Do they mean us?"

But a fascinating article on the openDemocracy website by author Frank Vibert argues it's not just a silly piece of jargon, but deliberately politically loaded. He says it's a term borrowed from development economics, where it refers to a country's ability to spend a certain amount of loan money. The thoughts behind it, he says, are based on "club theory", which argues the bigger the club the more diluted the benefits of membership.

To argue this in terms of the EU, he says, is unhelpful, misleading, short-sighted, flawed and dishonest. I'm looking forward to his reaction to the Commission's own verdict on it in the autumn.


The Finns will also start work on the Declaration of Berlin, a planned 50th birthday present for the EU, a new statement of aims and ambitions to be unveiled at a special summit next March. It's a bit of a bee in my bonnet that there's been so little talk of this so far. It's eight months away and there seems to have been precious little work done on it. I strongly suspect no-one wants to say anything controversial.

World Cup bread
Sensible idea? A football-shaped World Cup loaf on sale in Bremen
Except perhaps the leader of Europe's Christian Democrats, Hans-Gert Poettering. In an intriguing aside in parliament, he said there should be a meeting in Rome as well as a summit in Berlin, adding, "The Catholic Church may want to do something". Those who know him say he would dearly love to get a mention of God, Christian and Jewish heritage into the declaration.

There are, I can reveal, top-level meetings of politicians racking their brains to find a way of bringing these birthday celebrations home to the citizens of the EU. Anything concrete? "Bread," my contact replies. Thinking I must have misheard I repeat, "Bread? As in du pain?" "A special bread, a jubilee bread," he replies, defensively. "It's just one idea, perhaps a not very sensible one." I'm a big fan of German bread but I am not sure they've quite hit the nail on the head yet. I'm all for circuses, myself.

Please use the postform below to comment on any of the issues in the diary.

It's funny to be advocating christianity and being an eastern european, before religion, men and women must learn ethics, because ethics and morals are basis for every religion. And no offence, but it seems in eastern europe there is a great lacking of this. Regarding Franco, maybe he did do a few good things in his life... but his evil surpasses it. But in the end we must ask ourselves as human beings, "In any situation is religion a greater decisive factor than the fact that mankind should be working together?" And so that is why I give my support to those "atheistic socialists," Mr. Giertych.
Khabaz, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Giertych just expressed the common view in Poland - many people see no point in condemning dictators, who acted radically to defend traditional values. Franco is reckoned as the some kind of hero of Polish far right. Just like Ernesto Che Guevara for the left - but expressing love and admiration to this pathetic figure is widely accepted, isn't it? Yes, we've got democracy for 17 years. No, we don't enjoy it. We see no point in changing one pack of thieves into another every 4 years (this is called free election).
Jakub Urbanski, Kielce, Poland

I find the comments and viewpoints of the Polish MEP completely uncalled for and a sign as to why the EU will destroy itself. While the western european nations are moving towards enlightment and secularism, with integration. The new member states want to hark back to the dark ages where everyone is supposed to follow christian values or risk being burned at the stake. As for Franco, my family was expelled from Spain because of him, so no, I don't think you can say he was a good statesmen, its like saying that Hitler was misunderstood and Stalin just didn't get along with many people. I cringe at my taxes supporting such a bigoted unworthy bunch of 'diplomats.'
John Lugo, London, UK

Religion and politics are meant to coexist but never mix. When you mix it, you'll find represion, violence and terror. Let the politics speak. But do not let them divide the world into the goodies and the badies. Franco was perhaps not the worst of the dictators, but for those who suffered his regime he was a monster.
Curro, London

What kind of Europe is this were MEP's make compliment of a fascist dictator, a mediocre general turned a mass murderer who ended a democratic goverment with a coup d'etat and began a bloody and terrible war, and nothing happens? It's not my Europe, a democratic Europe, for sure.
Bruno, Barcelona, Catalunya

MEP Giertych's comments are not surprising. Poles tend to have such a abiding hatred of Communism due to their past oppression that they consider anyone who opposes Communism to be a fine person. Of course, that bit of logic is part of what drove the U.S. to support the Taliban in the 80's. It's also true that Giertych is simply drawing from the Pope's criticism of the current Spanish government for their support of things like civil rights for gays, something reviled by both the Catholic Church and the Polish government. Franco supported the oppression (and sometimes murder) of anyone that didn't fit into his "traditional values", and it is clear that their are many who would like to see those "values" reasserted with similar vigor today.
Daniel, Philadelphia, USA

Almost nobody in Spain speaks about Franco today, except those who want to dismantle the country (catalan and basque nationalists along with the socialists), fortunately, it is simply something of the Past. By bringing Franco every day in the news these groups try to eliminate the democratic conservative party (Partido Popular) from the political scene in Spain. It should be remembered how this was already in progress when the political left started armed rebellions in 1934 (socialists in Asturias, catalan nationalists in Catalonia) against the legitime government of the right political parties in 1934 during the Spanish Second Republic. With the elections of 1936 just before the Civil War showing a country divided in a 50-50% between Left an Right, Franco started his coup in 1936 only after two leftist attacks tried to assassinate the right political parties leaders (Gil Robles and Calvo-Sotelo) in their own homes. The first one could escaped alive by chance but not Calvo-Sotelo. By that time it was obvious that Spain was not a democracy anymore, where the communists, socialists and anarchists were pushing to start a revolution, Franco started his own, and won. And it was the lesser of two evils.
Alberto, Wichita, USA

So, what if Franco loses the Civil War: lots of Communist-inspired unrest in France; Britain, more scared of Bolschevism than Fascism, begins re-armament with a passion; because Blitzkrieg and terror bombing failed in Spain, Hitler loses faith in his generals, and decides to take on France first before going East, using Poland as a buffer between him and the Soviets; France and a rejuvenated British Army stop the Germans at the Somme, then push them back half-way across Belgium, where a stalemate sets in in the winter of 1939; economic blockade and military failure lead to a Communist uprising in Germany in winter of 1941, the Soviets come West to help out, take heavy casualties in Poland but establish a Communist government in Germany; the French military collapses, the British evacuate through the Channel Ports and the Cold War starts in 1942, with an Iron Curtain stretched along the length of the Atlantic coast. Nasty scenario, but then the reality was pretty nasty too.!
Guy Gibson, Cambridge UK

I really don't miss any dictatorship here in Europe (sadly except Belarus) and I'm very happy the UK faced all of them and Britons never gave chance to Fasists or Communists. If Poles want their values, let have them in Poland, but not here or anywhere else in the EU. Though not British, I am pround of this country and happy the UK wants its way and no dictats of others.
Vlasta, London, UK originally Czech Republic

Franco did fight the communists. This would make him the lesser of two evils. True, he does not merit much credit for preserving and promoting the principles of liberal democracy. Yet, it is not difficult to imagine the sad state Spain would have been in now should the commies have prevailed. In their godless fervour and fanatical strife for indescriminately imposing utopian ideas on all, they would have not only wrecked the country's foundations but brought suffering and out right unhappiness to any sound human being. The Polish perspective here may carry more wisdom than reasons for condemnation.
Milen Marinov, Sofia, Bulgaria

Spanish people suffered far too much during the Civil War and during the 36 year fascist-catholic regime. I believe it is important for all modern democracies to separate religious values from politics and the way a country and its society should be run. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has had loads of power in Spain, and they were behind Franco's regime, as well as behind the formation of ETA. Many people writing comments don't know how things were and are in Spain.
Marco, Madrid, Spain

Franco was a dictator without feelings, he not only started a civil was against a democratic government but once he won, he kept killing people until the end of his life. In Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia thigs were worse, though. Franco went not only against the people but also against their culture, their language, their traditions and institutions. Franco also killed the only democratically elected President killed during the 2nd WW period, Lluis Companys, President of Catalonia. Companys was arrested in France by the German secret services and brought to Spain and Catalonia to be killed. Germany President, Helmut Kohl, and the President of France, F. Mitterrand, apologised to the Catalans for the events, the Catalans are still waiting for the Spanish apology. Franco was a terrible man and the comments above show that little people really know about him. Maybe something should be done to make sure that nobody forgets.
Xavier, Barcelona, Catalonia

I attended a catholic school in Madrid in the 70s. Some of my teachers (priests) were imprisoned during Franco's regime because they allowed opposition's meetings in the school's church or because of their political ideas. Franco wasn't the defender of catholicism. He was a dictator who repressed, killed or exiled whoever opposed him, from republicans to monarchists, from atheists to catholics, from socialists to liberals.
Jose, London

i would just like to say that were Franco not in power. if he had not ruled Spain for nearly four decades. Spain would not be the Spain of today. it is understandable that some people were hurt, and they should rightfully be upset. however, a war was raging all across the globe, and Franco did everything he could to keep Spain safe. his resources were limited, and the political situation in Spain was precarious. i am not a european, but i commend europe on its ability to foster peace across the continent where 60 years ago there was discord. i am of spanish decent, and my heart is always with Spain. i am also catholic, and everyone can say what they want about Spain and the church, but the history of each is intertwined. the catholic monarchs were not french, or english. they were spanish. if you want to celebrate history, you must celebrate all aspects of it, the good and the bad. though i do not feel Franco was bad at all.
Jake, albuquerque, new mexico. USA!

How convenient that the BBC leaves out the fact that Giertych also condemned Hitler.
Dior, Warsaw, Poland

What I find most distressing in Giertych's comments is the implication that adhering to the values of the Catholic church would somehow make all these issues go away. It seems to me that religious beliefs - taken to the extreme - are to blame for much of the suffering in the world today (and indeed in the past...Spanish Inquisition, anyone?) I hope MEPs resist any attempt to put mention of God or any religion in the constitution or any other EU text - most of Europe's citizens are not practising church (or synagogue, or mosque...) goers and should not expect their political leaders to base their policies on any religious beliefs they may have. Look where that got George W!
Chris Jones, Brussels, Belgium

Although i agree that the MEP comments were a bit off. Praising franco is irresposnible but for Poles the Church has been a mainstay of our identity and culture. Through our entire history only the church helped the common people while invasion after invasion trampled our land. So its understanable why some extreme politicians equate protection of the Mother Church with being good. I dont support Franco by any means but for the people who suffered under the communist yolk anyone who gave them a few lashes gets at some points. We didnt have the americans to hide bechind when the Soviets came. So please take that into consideriation before you call the Poles fascists or radicals. We are not, we fought and bled for democracy, more so than anyone in the West.
Michal Kwiatkowski, Warsaw, Poland

franco rise to power was the result of british and american multinacionals,concerned about loosing their investements to a socialist goverment,(similar to pinochet in chile) of the time ,two british agents helped franco by flying him from the canary islands to morocco to start the insurrection.
blas moya, england

When I was 17 years old, during the Franco Regime (1974) I was arrested by the police because I was speaking "galician" and not Spanish and now the Honourable Members of the European Parliament deny the use of Galician languague and permit words of understanding to the FRanco Regime. Am I puzzled or we are in a regressive period for democracy and basic rights?
Xavier Queipo, Santiago de Compostela. Spain

You forgot to add that in the same speech Giertych condemned Hitler. Franco and Hitler don't belong to the same ideologies in reality, with Franco being a devoted catholic while Hitler was an atheist socialist. His main point was that Franco while opressive saved Spain from terror of communism that already resulted in 7.000 priests being murdered. Giertych's might have such beliefs also because Franco did provide support for some soldiers from Poland after WW2 who couldn't return home, as well as refusing to accept the communist government in Poland and supporting some emigration organisations with monetary help.
Wojtek, Wroclaw, Poland

Don't knock dictatorship too much. democracy does suit all contries. many LEDC's are not fitted for democracy. bolivia is a very good example. we had a dictator during the '70's, and highly successful. but as a democratic president he was a total failure. be a little more open minded. we are not all equal.
alan raven, santa cruz, bolivia

Franco's merits must be acknowledged.If we try to look at him without bearing Hitler and Mussolini in mind and mixing fascism with national-socialism, we might see things differently. There is so much talk on the holocaust yet so little on communism and all evil things that derived from it. Were the spanish public opinion to know as much about communism as about the holocaust...they would be commemorating Franco in style... Any defender of traditional christian values and butcher of commies is a fine man in my book.
Marius, Zalau, Romania

As a Galician man i was punish on my first day at school,just for spoken my native language.Franco was a fascist dictator,with de blesing of the cathholic church. No more need to be said
xose, Galiza

Whether or not Maciej Giertych should have extolled the Franco regime seems to miss the point: he, perhaps rightly, laments the decline of religion in Europe and Franco's part in allegedly arresting that. I disagree. Franco saved the institutional church, not Christianity. Since faith is relational (you and God), while you can force people to be religious, you simply cannot force people to have faith. Whereas faith not only survived under Jaruzelski, but thrived. Perhaps he would be better to argue Spain's faith would have been better served by a Republican regime? Of course, then it would have undeniably fallen to Hitler. Then again, that would have introduced a post-war democracy quicker. Eh, either way, it's all moot.
Aragond, Melbourne, Australia

Without Franco Spain would be Communist. While he ran a tough regime he ultimately killed Communists. Without him Spain would neither be a strong Pro-NATO state or a monarchy.
John, Philadelphia, USA

In the luxury of hindsight, it is easy to condemn Franco for accepting help from pre-war Nazi Germany. But as I understand it, Franco first appealed to the Western democracies for assistance and they refused. When all is said and done, the political left in the West has always hated Franco and will always hate Franco, mainly, because he spoiled the party, so to speak, when he prevented the Soviets from getting a toehold in western Europe and because he stopped the persecution of Spain's Catholics. No one prefers an authoritarian dictator, but on balance, Franco was the lesser of two evils by far.
Richard Stanley, Connecticut USA

Our Polish MEP friend has apparently forgotten that the same fascist Nazi regime in Germany that supported his "saviour of Catholicism" Generalissimo Franco in 1936 invaded his own country in 1939 with the intention of liquidating every good Polish Catholic (and Jew and Gypsy and Lithuanian) and resettling the country with Aryan Fuehrer worshipers. Hitler's plan was thwarted and the nation of Poland was restored by the incredible efforts of the soldiers of the Red Army and the people of the Soviet Union. That is the history of the 20th Century. And let us not forget the Concordat between Hitler and the Vatican and the collaboration of the Catholic parties in the Weimar Republic which allowed the Nazis to take power in the first place.
Richard C. Thomas, Sarasota, FL, USA

Ahhh, yes the socialists of 1936 were all just a peace loving bunch that only attacked terrible warlords - like the 'armored' Spanish Nuns or the church in general... I would have thought that a BBC website could be more about truth, and less into propaganda. As for people being draged out and shot for reading a book, you should take a closer look at what the "socialsts" did in Poland between 1945-53. My last uncle was shot by KGB in 1945 - he was then a soldier in a "polish" Kosciuszko army. Meaning if the other chap was shot for nothing, then this chap activly cooperated and still died. Thanks, but No thanks, Mr Franco still looks like a saviour from my perspective.
Kris Rutecki, London, ON, Canada

My father fought with the Free Czechs in France in 1940; they were left stranded after Dunkirk. They made their way to Spain where Franco's forces did not intern them and looked the other way by helping them reach Portugal, where Salazar's fascist government helped them reach Lisbon and a British warship. What the motivation of the dictators was I cannot say; but that is what they did and it should be recorded.
Andrew, London

Looking in, most comments here are from people who know very little about Franco's regimen. When Franco died in 1975, Spain's economy was already the tenth in the world. Dictatorships are no good either right or left ones, but most people should know the situation was so deteriorated here in 1936, that Spaniards were heading either for a left or a right authoritarian regimen if they wanted to cope with the situation. Now if you learn that more than 20.000 catholic nuns and priests were assassinated by the leftist of the Spanish Socialist Republic of the time, I would like to know which side you'd choose to stand by and support. It's true that most European are socialist nowadays, but somehow I feel Mr. Giertych is telling much truth.
F. M. Doncel, Alicante. Spain

Franco was Hitler's biggest mistake. Having helped Franco to power, Hitler found things "just did not work out". - Franco made it the safest place in Europe to be Jewish. - Franco just would not join the War. - Franco kept all the kit (tanks, planes, etc) Hitler could have used to take down the UK and Russia and win the War. ...Furthermore, the Spanish Republic had been supposedly war-adverse, so it probably would have been steamrollered by Hitler's Panzers during WW2, had Franco not been there. ....In short, Franco was the top conman Europe has ever seen, who short changed Adolf BIG TIME!
Robert L Thompsett, Gatineau, Quebec

Throwing Franco's name around as some kind of iconic statesman/saviour of Spain is not unusual nor unexpected. However, anybody who has read accounts of the degree of poverty in Spain and the subjugation of the rural poor in the early 20th century must surely come to the conclusion that Spain would have progressed much faster had the elected republican government not been overthrown in the summer of 1936. While trouble was brewing anyway for the government of Azana it is extremely doubtful if communism would have established itself firmly. Franco came and went, he was of his time and let's leave it at that. Spain is now a modern successful democracy and has thrived under such a system. Let's leave the European dictators of all shades behind please.
Derek Gill, Dublin, Ireland

Right wing dictators like Franco and Pinochet or socialist dictators like Stalin, Hitler and Mao? That's no brainer: just count the number of victims of the former and the latter ones and compare. Irrrefutable figures speak for themselves.
Mirek Kondracki, Poland

There were 1.5 million people on the gay pride march in Madrid last Saturday. That is how much Spanish people miss Franco and his 'traditional' values. Nobody harasses Catholics in Spain and nobody is harassed by them. That is the way it should be in a democracy: live and let live.
Alex, London UK

With the 75th anniversary of the 2nd Republic, people in Spain have remembered and celebrated what was the height of democracy in this country. For the record, it was not a communist government, but a coalition of centre-left parties; After the coup the resistance was mainly done by Marxists and Anarchists, who above all fought for their hardly-won democratic state. Franco's national-catholicism plunged the country into a cultural depression that is yet to be overcome. Mr Giertych probably ignores the sky-high analfabetism rates and the cruel repression the almost-bishop imposed in this country as side-effects of the counter-revolution. Spain is a deeply-scarred and divided country because of the politics and retrograde ideology of Franco. This EMP should take back such insults to the memory of those who died at once.
Rodrigo De Rezende, Madrid, Spain

The opposite of facism is not communism, but libertarianism - both Stalin and Franco were by nature authoritarians, the former with a more "left wing" approach to economics, the latter with a more "right wing" approach. It is a common misapprehension that they are mutually exclusive, whereas they do not differ all that much.
martin bk, Brighton UK

It is quite useless to comment on Mr Giertych's words. People in Poland know that ideological fanatism is typical for the politically active members of Maciej Giertych's family (his grandfather, father and son). And fanatics rarely use their brains. One remark to Christopher Lord (above). I don't think you can claim Poles "compromised with the communists". The communist regime was imposed by the Red Army, whose troops invaded Poland in 1939 and stayed for almost 50 years.
simon, Sopot, Poland

As an African it's nice to be reminded that 50 years ago much of Europe was not significantly diffrent from Africa Today. Dictators, human rights abuse etc. It really puts things in context Hopefully it wont take us 50 years to get to where Europe is today
Ben, London

Giertych is a poor diplomat. Unfortunately, there are many politicians in Poland who have the same beliefs as Mr Giertych, but are too smart to say it in EU Parliament.
Adam, Poland

I don't get it. It's wrong for one MEP to praise a totalitarian hispanic dictator like Franco but right for another to praisea totalitarian hispanic dictator like Castro? What's the difference?
Alex, Stranraer

My sympathies would definitely have been with the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, an elected democratic government facing a cabal of fascist generals and the repressive, corrupt Catholic church. However,many of those who supported the Spanish Republic also supported the brutal Stalinist dictatorship in the former USSR. I think the overall lesson is: Liberal Democracy - good,;fascism, communism, dictatorship - all bad.
James Walsh, Dublin, Ireland

Adam Michnik, the Polish dissident and writer, once said something to the effect that those who oppose a totalitarian system do so either 1) because they believe totalitarianism is evil, full stop or 2) they have nothing against totalitarianism as such, they would just prefer to see it perpetrated by a different set of people. Maciej Giertych and his political ilk here in Poland apparently fall under category 2. To Giertych and friends, prosecuting people for their political beliefs or sexual preferences is bad only when "they" do it to "us" - as long as "we" can get away with doing it to "others", then that's fine ... and their avowed Catholicism does not seem to prevent them from preaching hate. It might be recalled that Marek Jurek, a Giertych ally and now the speaker of Polish parliament, was among those who travelled to London when Augusto Pinochet was being held in house arrest, to express his sympathy and solidarity for the general. To these people, Pinochet is another good man misunderstood by history - because he fought communists as well, you see.
Bartek, Warsaw, Poland

In response to Giertych's bizarre outburst, and in view of the Catholic Church's influence in post-Communist Poland, I would like to recall the words of the leading statesman of the French Third Republic, Leon Gambetta: "Le Clericalisme, voila l'ennemi" - clericalism is the enemy. I do not recognize this 'Christian Europe' of which he speaks, and hope not to see it rise again.
Ed , Philadelphia, USA (ex-UK)

Guernica was a demonstration of Franco's maintenance of traditional values.
Peter Lee, San Francisco, USA

Maciej Giertych seems out of touch. The values with which he identifies Franco have already been subverted to a great extent in Spain. True, 98% of the population define themselves as catholic, but only a tiny handful go to church. Spain now embraces the values Mr Giertych associates with communism, i.e. gay marriage, regional devolution and so on. For the Spanish, Franco is (almost) ancient history, the young were born after his death, in an age of democracy. Does he want the return of Gen. Jaruzelski?
Nigel Myall, Casares, Spain

All dictators of all type of hues are bad. There can never be a benevolent and good dictator.
Anthony Charles, Malta

My Grandad volunteered to help the legally elected centre-left government in Spain fight against Franco and his allies (Hitler & Mussolini). 'Traditional Catholic values' meant that the Church owned 70% of the wealth, the Guardia Civil shot peasants for collecting firewood from the uncultivated sporting estates of the aristocracy. Had Britain and France helped the Spanish government instead of appeasing fascism it may have ended before WW2 had to happen. Some people describe Franco as a 'benign dictator' - tell that to the relatives of the tens of thousands who disappeared during his brutal regime. No Pasaran!
Danny Watkins, Dublin, Ireland

Will there be similar uproar in Brussels the next time some MEP praises Fidel Castro? And why is fascism always considered to be 'extreme right' when it has far more characteristics in common with socialism. After all, most of the 'founders' of fascism were themselves former socialists.

Those who had no experience of living under communism just cannot understand how anybody can prise a character like Franco or Pinochet. From our point of view these were mildly authoritarian chaps as compared with genuine butchers ruling here. And they did spare their countries from much worse butchers though it does not imply their virtue. Only the East Europeans of my generation have experience of living in both worlds. I am perfectly aware that Franco was a better scenario than Stalin and knowing many Spaniards I am perfectly aware that they shall never understand it, because they experienced one side only. Shows like that given by Giertych are stupid, because they are futile, and bring nothing but loath. Pity, that the issue is still so emotionally burdened that very few can admit that Franco was a bandit, but of much more civilized sort than bandits he ousted from power.
stanislaw, Warsaw. Poland

I don't usually praise dictators, especially Franco, because of the horrible acts they do, but Franco did save his Jews which is more than many countries in Europe and my own did during WW2. Franco was a terrible dictator, but not an entirely bad person; better than many of the leaders at the time.
caleb miles, Shelburne, VT United States

I lived in Spain as a child in the last days of Franco's dictatorship, and in common with the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar, what was self-evident was that the lunatic mix of religion, nationalism and militarism held Spain and Portugal back. There was something charming to an outsider about the primitive way of life of many people in Spain, but they shot forward as soon as the old phoney finally died, largely thanks to the enlightened King Juan Carlos, who saw how ludicrous and anachronistic the fascist ideology was. Having also lived in Eastern Europe, it is sad to see that there are so many idiots (especially in Poland) who think that some kind of clerical/fascist state is going to give them back the dignity and self-respect they lost when they compromised with the communists. This, like the other brands of authoritarian nationalism on show in many countries, will bring them the same kind of stagnation the Spanish and Portuguese experienced, and also, as this article demonstrates, the well-earned derision of people living in the real world.
Christopher Lord, La Chapelle, France

Definetly Franco was the best thing that could happen to Spain in 1939, otherwise we would be just another soviet satellite. I wonder why all this freedom loving journalist dont say a word about the attacks on the civil rights of the spanish speakers in cataluña and the vasque provinces. the talks between govt. and terrorist completly ignoring the victims, and a fierce attack on religion and specially on the catholic church and catholics. this government is definetly worse than any dictatorship.
jorge , Madrid Spain

Only after the end of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Russian Archives we can get a fuller picture of what was going on.. In that sense, "revisionism" should not be a dirty word.. There is a pseudo-consensual image of the Spanish Civil War with lots of black and white.. Or, rather, lots of Red and White.. Not so simple, I'n afraid...
Jorge Ryder, lisbon

Given the large amount of very suspect military hardware that the Poles sold to the desperate Spanish government during the war this story has some strange historical echoes about it.
Richard Thorpe, Luddington

It's a sad legacy of communism that many people who experienced it have lost all political or historical common sense and have gut suympathy for anyting they sense is anti-communist,and that includes right wing dictators. Terror and the rule of the arbitrary are the common evils of ALL dictatorships
nicolai, Brussels

Re Franco and the shortsighted MEP: Your enemy's enemy is not your friend.
David, Hanover, Germany

Franco may have stopped the Communists and upheld the Catholic Church in Spain but at what cost to the people of Spain? Indeed it may be said that many people did not want the Catholic Church's rule and that the imposition of this regime was another form of dictatorship. If the majority of people had wanted communist rule in Spain then that is what they should have had.
Jo, UK

Giertych is the Polish Le Pen. Despite his current office, he is certainly no democrat. Perhaps he has not reflected when he made the above statements on the possibility that values that require a dictatorship for their existance in society may not be worth holding after all. But Giertych is someone to be taken with a grain of salt anyway; for all his anti-communist bluster, he happily served on the 1980s Rada Konsultacyjna in Jaruzelski's Poland, an institution that served to try to legitimize the communist government in a country where it was largely seen as a foreign puppet regime. He is also sadly very obliging with a whole host of bizarre public opinions and frequently shows off his kookery.
Tomek Jankowski, Londonderry, NH, USA

Authoritarian regimes, both left and right, have oppressed minorities, denied human rights and punished people for who they are rather than what they have done. Communists did these things when they forgot their principles and became obsessed with holding onto power. Fascists on the other hand did these things because they are part of the their political philosophy. Communism becomes evil when it fails - fascism is evil when it succeeds.
Nick Colford, Madrid, Spain

Whatever the reasons behind Franco's rising,the years which followed the civil war were marked by brutality,torture and repression.No wonder the Spanish people rejoiced when he died.
Richard Flatt, Harwich U.K.

The fascists overthrew a democratic government, not a Communist one. Franco used the alleged threat of Communism as an excuse, but the fact is, no such danger existed in Spain. The Communists had very little influence until after the civil war began. The elected liberal/socialist coalition government in Madrid was attempting a number of very modest social reforms that offended the entrenched elites and their fascist allies. How would the history of Europe have been different if Spain had remained a democratic republic? Hitler and Mussolini would not have had a successful test-run for their later exploits, and if WWII had gone ahead regardless, Spain might have joined the Allied side, whereas as things were, it was formally neutral but gave covert support to the Axis.
Richard Pond, Oxford, UK

The way Mark Mardell puts the question, it's a choice between Franco and communism. Let's see: For Franco: (1) Spain would be poorer if it had been communist; (2) there would have been a second European front in the Cold War. For communism: the Spaniards would be so disgusted with socialism that they would have a flat tax, and both the left and the right would be economically liberal.
Arthur Pece, Copenhagen, Denmark

I think the Polish MEP has exaggerated intentionally because the Communist period was one of the worst examples of dictatorship. Surely, no dictator can be good beacause by its own definition one man can't rule a country without restricting rights. A dictator has no place here. Anyway, the MEP thought that his exanmple will emphasise the need for preserving the European values in a better way, but his example was not good. The democracy can do it if there are enough people to think for the people, not for them. The EU belogs to its citizens and not to its institutions. Ultimately, the people should have the power to decide their own values and their leaders should act accordingly.
Daniel, Iasi, Romania

There is a lot of true in story : PAEAN TO A DICTATOR. Despite the fact I don't agree with any dictatorship, it should be more favourable for me to live under Franco´s , Marcos´s or Pinochet´s rules than under any communist goverment. I was living 24 years in communism and I am saying : no more "commrades". Thanks God it is 17 years already over !!
Libor Vojacek , Teplice, Czech republic

I live in Spain. Yesterday I was talking to an old lady about the MEPs condemning Franco. She told me that the Guadia Civil went into her neighbours' house, and found that the adult son had been reading a book. Not "The Communist Party Manifesto" you understand, just some random book. But he was too old to be studying, and evidently they thought that intelligencia = communist, so they took him away in handcuffs. And he was never heard from again. One day her husband was driving a lorry inthe south of the island, and he heard shouts. He stopped and went to investigate. He found a Guardi Civil pointing a gun at him, who told him to move on. Behind the Guardia Civil was another, guarding a man who was digging what looked like a grave. Of course he had leave, or he'd have been shot himself, but he was shaking so badly he could hardly drive. That's just one woman's memories fo Franco and his "traditional values". I think there must be several million anecdotes like that.
Sheila Crosby, Isla de La Palma, Canaries

Your Franco story..the government elected in 1936 included no Socialists.It was a weak and divided bunch of bourgeois Liberals unable to maintain order or end the wave of violence which engulfed Spain and led to the rising of July 1936 in defence of religion and civilisation.

Brian Morris's "Rising of July 1936 in defence of religion and civilisation" was a brutal clerical-fascist revolt against a democratically elected government, given crucial backing by Mussolini and Hitler. If Britain and France had supported that government, Hitler would have suffered a severe blow to his prestige, and we might have avoided WW2, the Nazi Holocaust, and the Soviet imposition of Stalinism on Eastern Europe.
Nick Gotts, Aberdeen, Scotland

Winston Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer once said addressing Mussolini that were he italian, he would be steadfast behind il Duce in his defiance of the ´bestial appetitites of Bolshevism´. Hitler, Franco, Stalin, Bin Laden and a long line of other fascists/zealots (left and right)have been supported or appeased for political, strategic and religious reasons. Nothing has changed. eg.Saudi Arabia, Libya, China.... The people who suffer invariably are those who have to live under their brutal regimes. Franco left many scars in Spanish society, reflected in the division in today´s Spain over the future of language, cultural and political rights throughout the various regions. What is for certain, that Spain has gone from a backward, isolated, impoverished country under Franco to a modern, dynamic, economically stable member of the EU. Jorge from Madrid might hark back to the good old days of (imposed)national unity, but if the PP were in power, we´d still be scouring Euskadi for the perpetrators of 11-M. How nice to be able to walk down las Ramblas and speak Catalan, our native language, without fear of repression. Viva la democrácia!
mairtin o seachnasaigh, barcelona, catalunya

I am from the Basque Country. It is not surprising to read comments of spaniards supporting Franco. They won the war and for 40 years suppressed all freedoms and eliminated dissidents. It is sad to hear people outside Spain, supporting Franco. Unlike other dictators, Franco followers got away with their horrible crimes and they are still very powerfull in Spain. Franco is dead but his legacy is alive!!!
Kiko, London

Franco may overthrown a democratic government but that government only controlled a few square blocks in Madrid, Castile was ruled by the Marxists, Catalonia by the anarchists and Navarre by the Basque Nationalists. The three regimes collectively killed twice as many people as Franco and he was in power for four decades as opposed to three years. In addition the concept that Nick Colford states that communists are only evil when they fail is not only absurd but moot, first they always fail and second there has never been any benign communist regimes, the Maoists and Bolsheviks started killing even before they came to power. Not to mention that world wide they murdered more than three times as many people as Hitler who himself was really a socialist not a fascist. The simple fact is communism is sexier ideology than fascism it lends to more self righteousness feeling and is less verbally blatant in its desire for blood.
Simon, UNHQ

I have read some comments made by Jorge from Madrid. It's a pity that after 30 years of democracy there are still Spaniards that think like him. They are the ones that defend Franco, Aznar's unconditional support of the Irak war and the theory that the 11-M bombings were prepared by the socialist together with ETA, the Morrocan and French goverments, coordinated by the Spanish police and the CNI (sort of Spanish MI5) with the only purpose of bringing down the PP govertment. Pathetic.
Lanuza, Zaragoza, Spain

stanislaw, Warsaw. Poland: "Those who had no experience of living under communism just cannot understand how anybody can prise a character like Franco or Pinochet. From our point of view these were mildly authoritarian chaps as compared with genuine butchers ruling here. And they did spare their countries from much worse butchers though it does not imply their virtue. Only the East Europeans of my generation have experience of living in both worlds." I'm absolutely agreed on this with Stanislav!
Damian Minkov, Sofia, Bulgaria

I am deeply shoked about the moral relativisation of the dictatorship in Spain by people who experienced communist rule. The idea that living under the fascist regime in Spain was better than living under communist rule in eastern europe simply shocks me. The idea of accepting the falacy that some totalitarian regimes are less opressive than other is a disrespect for the suffering of the opressed. It also shocks me that people find it acceptable to overtrow a legitimate government, like the republican government in Spain before the WAR. My country lived during 46 years in dictatorship, under the ««soft»» dictator SALAZAR, who's role supporting the fascists in Spain was crucial to the defeat of the republicans. Christopher Lord, from La Chapelle correctly descrives the iberian dictatorships.
sarah franco, lisbon, portugal

I can't understand how anyone who lived through dictatorship of any kind can praise any dictatorship at all. In Spain things and minds have changed, and thanks god, people like Jorge are the less. He talks about "attacks on the civil rights of the spanish speakers in cataluña and the vasque provinces" There are so few that it's almost ridiculous consider it a problem (and there are also attacks from the other side). What Spain are you talking about? "This government is definetly worse than any dictatorship" Please don't make me laugh. At least you can demonstrate legally in the streets, in favour of catholic church, against gay rights, agains talking to the terrorists of ETA, against increasing regions' authonomy... Do you think you could if there were any kind of dictatorship?

There appears to be quite a lot of confusion about exactly whom Franco overthrew. The government in power in 1936 was democratically elected by the Spanish people. It was not imposed by Moscow. Furthermore, the Socialists repeatedly refused Soviet aid, despite German military aid to Franco and Italian occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. MEP Giertych's comments demonstrate the immaturity of many so-called "democrats". Condemnation of Gen. Franco's regime is still condemnation of a totalitarian, murderous government, not a call for Socialist revisionism. No wonder Poland would prefer to condemn Soviet abuses than examine its own love affair with nationalism and fascist régimes.
Michael Erdman, Toronto, Canada

Franco overthrew a DEMOCRACY. Is not a MEP supposed to support democracy and liberty instead of any totalitarian regime? It is just sad. I¿d also like to offer a different point of view on some previously posted comments that seem to justify the words of Mr. Giertych. -¿Those who had no experience of living under communism just cannot understand how anybody can prise a character like Franco or Pinochet.¿ I neither see how those who have not lived under fascist regimes can prise for characters like Franco. -¿And they did spare their countries from much worse butchers¿ Before Franco rose up Spain was a democracy, which saw right and left governments in the executive. Can somebody, please, tell me which Easter European communist regime was democratic? -¿Only the East Europeans of my generation have experience of living in both worlds.¿ I don¿t think you have ever lived under a fascist regime. After the fall of communism I think in Poland you have, luckily, enjoyed democracy, don¿t you?
Eduard, Spain

Quick! Someone send Mr Giertych a copy of Paul Preston's biography of Franco! Along with Miguel de Unamuno I believe (that) "vencer no es convencer." What really happened to Federico Garcia Lorca? Why did it take some 40 years for Picasso's "Guernica" to arrive in Madrid? How many Republican bones in el Valle de los Caidos?
David Wallace, Toledo, Spain

An interesting point: basically it boils down to what would be worse? A dictator allied to Hitler or a dictator allied to Stalin? If you look at the atrocities commited by ELAS (the greek communist resistance during and after WW2) against their own people its hard to see the diference between communists and nazis.
Peter, Nottingham

The Franco debate is pointless. To say the populace "cheered" when he died is simply not true. Millions demonstrated to support the falangists when Spain was threatened by the outside world for shooting ETA terrorists. But the man was not all bad, as tens of thousands of fleeing jews can testify who found refuge in Spain. Atrocities were also committed by the communists and anarchists in Spain, read George Orwells book about the civil war. Nuns were crucified, anyone seen as a Bourgeoise risked being murdered. Unfortunately the spanish civil war was not a simple black/white conflict as some people believe.
Steven Hendricks, Torrevieja, Spain

It's just sweet to read opinions like this one from Florida: "Hitler's plan was thwarted and the nation of Poland was restored by the incredible efforts of the soldiers of the Red Army and the people of the Soviet Union." This makes me wonder who taught this guy history? Perhaps Florida uses Stalin's propaganda booklets as history books at school? FYI: In 1939 Poland had two deadly enemies who attacked Poland having planned this move together. In 1945 German tyranny was replaced by that of the soviets. Poland viewed as a nation restored by the Soviet Union in 195 reveals deepest ignorance of anybody who holds this view.
Marcin, Czestochowa

To all the simplifyers: Would you rather live in Cuba or Chile? We are talking your and your childrens life here.
Gunars Reinis, Riga, Latvia

One thing missing in all of this commentanry is the attitude of the Spanish people after the Franco regime, which is likewise shared by the Chilean's in regard to Pinochet. The majority of the people of Spain that I have spoken to all agree that Franco was good for Spain. I personally don't agree with any dictatorship whether; Communism (Cuba, North Korea), Theocracies (Iran), Fascism (none of them left), but it's hard to argue with the people who lived under the regime of Franco.
Douglas, New York, US

F.M Doncel mentions the death tally of clergy during the war. Well, for one thing, many of those clergymen acted activelly for the fascists and led to the deaths of many simply for their views, breaking confessionary "ethics". I wonder why he hasn't mentioned how Franco's bunch persecuted and killed thousands of teachers. I know which group Spain was better off without.
Rodrigo De Rezende, Madrid, Spain

The whole 'saving Catholic Spain'-thing that is attributed to Franco has always puzzled me. Didn't he rely quite heavily on North African (i.e. non-Christian and not Spanish) troops for a great deal of his success? However, history and the quest for power makes for strange bedfellows! As a Scot, my history is littered with the likes of this as well. I think I prefer the democratic option!
james, Ayr

I'd like to see equal condemnation for communists as well as fascists.
Michael, Chicago, USA

Please don't pay attention to Mr Giertych. He is an obscure and laughable political figure in Polish politics just like his son (his party bearly made it to the parliment and probably for the last time ever). Tainted by his appeasement of Jaruzelski regime in the past it would be wise for him to be quiet. In the last presidential election he did not even get a 1% of a vote. This guy is joke and complete ignorant about his own country not to mentio Spain and its complex history. I had a chance to live in Madrid and Barcelona (love them both) in the past and admire this country and its people speaking Castellano, Catalan, Gallego, Basque, and other languages. In plurality there is your strength. Fortunately, I had not met many Jorge-likes (above) during my stays in Spain!
Piotr, Austin, TX, USA and Warsaw, Poland

It is really sad to see people from Eastern European countries defending any dictatorship and/or ocupations they might see anti communist or anti Russian. The Spanish Republic was not just a democracy. It was an attempt to reach social justice by democratic means. It was perhaps the closest government to freedom. A threat to Hitler, Stalin and capitalist interests alike.
Ruben Ortiz, Los Angeles, US

The views expressed by people from former communist countries is worrying. I know that they suffered under communism. However, the idea of authoritarian rule still seems to appeal. Let us hope that the views expressed here are not more widely held, otherwise these countries are dangerous to the future of the EU.
Fred, Finland

Could we leave it at 'Extremists of all political persuasions are bad'? Really, there's more to choose from than 'godless communism' or 'dictatorial facism'.
Filip Van Roosbroeck, Brussels, Belgium

It is sad to see so many of you defending a fascist dictator who led a coup against a democratic elected government, thus plunging Spain into a 3 year civil war. It is sadder to see how the Catholic church obscenely sided with Franco, justifying atrocities commited not only during the war(perhaps more understandable) but also fro 40 years afterwards as well. It is sad to see how little respect many of you have for democracy and freedom.
J. Barrera, Madrid, Spain

Whatever one might think of Franco's regime, of its good and bad sides, many of which have already been given here, and however one might argue that his coming into power saved Spaniards from communism, there is still one important notion: he was a dictator, he imposed his rule by using cruel methods, and the fact that the communist side used them too does not allow Mr Giertych to praise him. While some people in Poland now dispute over the martial law imposed by Gen.Jaruzelski and claim it might have saved Poland from being invaded by the Soviet army (so far there has been no evidence for that), nobody would dare to praise the General for his all-life achievements. However, I regret to say that the ideas of Mr Giertych and his son are nowadays quite popular in Poland; I really hope the new goverment will include neither Roman Giertych nor his party.
Regina, Poland

I don't think the perspective of a possible communist regime in Spain is enough to praise Franco and his efforts to preserve Christian values. Just think of all the suffering and repression a considerable percentage of the Spanish population had to go through. Franco's fascism, authoritarian ways, aggressive nationalism and the nacionalcatolicista doctrine created an atmosphere of terror and mediocrity. And please note the Second Spanish Republic was not a homogenous alliance of communists and atheists but a political period that went through different periods (including a very conservative and repressive one) that happened to end up with a rather radical left-wing coalition. Much of the large amounts of social justice the Republic brought to the Spanish people vanished in the Civil War just to be totally erased in the following years. I find it pathetic someone would defend a dictator nowadays.
Marc, Barcelona, Spain

I'm amazed anyone should be surprised by the comments. The Poland invade by Hitler in 1939 was not a democracy. It was an anti Semetic military dictatorship which many historians describe as proto fascist. If Hitler had offered the Poles chunks of the Ukraine they would probably have joined the Germans in attacking the then Soviet Union. Giertych sadly represents a strand of Polish politics which will always be there.
Jeff Jones, South Wales

Slovak National Party (Slovenská národná strana/SNS) is as "nationalist" as Fianna Fáil in Ireland. They are both members in political group Alliance of Europe of the Nations in EP.
Tomas, Sala, Slovakia

Interesting point about the Slovak social democrats. I would describe them as more authoritarian populist than social democrat. They are/were in the European socialist club though and it was very annoying to see Tony Blair appearing on a platform together with them in Prague with the leaders of other socialist parties. This kind of thing undermines people in these new democracies who try to explain to voters that extreme governments of the kind being formed in Slovakia serve to isolate countries. Just because a foreign politician is left of right is no reason to help him.
Richard, Kosice, Slovakia (ex-UK)

The idea of a special bread for the EU's 50th birthday doesn't sound so daft to me - after all, we did have Coronation Chicken for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and Jubilee Chicken for George V in 1935. Maybe we should try to include the Turks and have a giant 50th birthday kebab?
Graybo, East Sussex, UK

It seems that there is little mood for celebration next March - particularly from the UK which will no doubt want to keep things as low key as possible. Let's hope that any celebrations will involve the citizens, rather than another grandiose ceremony with EU leaders signing another bland document that the citizens won't bother reading. Street parties would be nice! Certainly wouldn't put Gordon Brown in charge of the party budget, as the euro-party pooper cut the budget for holding the UK EU presidency in half to a measly £7.5m (compared to the Austrian presidency's £85.5m!) The ensueing mistakes and cockups from doing it 'on the cheap' no doubt helped fuel the European press's harsh criticism of the UK's presidency! It also failed spectacularly to promote the UK in Europe, as other Member States are often eager to do. The Finns introduced Brussels to heavy metal on cellos, els to heavy metal on cellos, showing that they're not all like Eurovision winners, Lordi! Rock on!
Peter J Franks, Brussels

I can't see the boulangeries of France being to excited about a centrally controlled bread. How about some art? To celebrate Europe day Paris townhall comissioned three dimensional stars to be decorated by an artist from each state. The British star was hiding in a gaint ping pong ball.
Jon, Paris

Well, ultra-Catholic Spain may have changed quite a bit after Franco, but it;s not the only one. Quebec that according to Pope Pius XII was "bad for the Church because every time they had a bright boy, they made a priest out of him" now is selling its chruches because of lack of attendance. As far as the EU's 60th birthday, maybe it would be the occasion to celebrate the EEC's "forgotten father", the Dutch banker J.H. Beyen, Dutch foreign minister in 1955 who suggested the creation of a "common market" as a way to relaunch European intergation after the previous effort, the European Defen ce Community (a French idea...) had been defeated in the French National Assembly. As far as a "special bread", the Turks will immediately thinl of the "croissant" that was inveneted in Vienna to celegratge a Turkish defeat at that city's gates...
john somerhausen,

Can we in the UK please celebrate the 50th birthday of the EU by holding a referendum to see whether or not we actually want to continue our membership of this organisation with its ensuing costs and loss of sovereignty.
Max, Warwick

In a way it is actually funny, that now we have won the eurovision and have the presidency, we have elected the blandest and grayest prime minister possible. Maybe that is what the Union needs right now, though?
Johannes, Oulu, Finland

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