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The Duchess and the Judge

April 15, 2010 – 12:06 pm

Two topics have dominated popular debate and commentary in Spain this week. Both are about controversial Spanish figures who are often in the news, with a political sway. Both are love-em-or-hate-em characters, who split opinion – though sympathy towards both, from certain camps, has increased markedly over the past few days.

Who are they? Judge Baltasar Garzon, the moral crusader who right gets under people’s skin, in a good way; and La Duquesa de Alba, the most titled woman in Spain, and one of the richest (she’s the one with the frizzy white hair who’s always in the gossip mags). Both have long been major media stars.

Let’s talk about the Duquesa first. Telecinco is airing a miniseries about the her life, the first episode of which went out on Tuesday night. This is ¡Hola! par excellence, with an exclusive inside view of the house (sorry, palace) where she grew up in Madrid – the first time the Palacio de Liria has ever been filmed. Never mind the story, which is fascinating in itself – cold, detached, etiquette-obsessed father who wanted a son; mother who died tragically young; fleeing to London during Civil War when house (sorry, palace) bombed – check out those paintings, that furniture, those curtains. Now it is just one of her many residences in Spain, including the Palacio de Dueñas in Seville, which she has always said is her favourite city, where she feels most at home. Indeed one of the Duquesa’s comments, when asked her opinion of the miniseries, was that her wedding had taken place in Seville, not Madrid.

The first episode took us up to her husband´s sudden death, leaving her with six children. That is enough tragedy to inspire compassion in the hardest heart, however many ponies and pretty dresses she had as a child. She lost her mother, then her house (sorry, palace), albeit temporarily; her childhood was markedly lacking in affection; she had to marry a man she didn’t love (at first, anyway); her father died; then her husband. Now she has found a new place in the hearts of the Spanish people, who previous saw a very rich, very eccentric, fuzzy-haired pensioner. I for one am pleased, though I have to admit to bias since I have always been fascinated by this 80-odd-year-old hippy, a happy-go-lucky 20-something at heart. Also, I interviewed her recently, and found her charming, forthcoming, and certainly a lot more on-the-ball than she appears.

And so to Judge Garzon, who is making headlines around the world. The international media sees it as a complete travesty of justice that someone who has spent years pursuing a motley crew of terrorists (ETA, Al Qaeda) and foreign dictators (Pinochet, Argentinian junta officials) was then prevented from attempting to clear up unsolved crimes from 35 years ago in his own country – namely, the 114,000 Spanish people still missing from the Franco era. Garzon made plenty of enemies, ignoring the Amnesty Law that banned investigation into crimes carried out under the dictator – the so-called ´´pact of silence“. He claimed that this law doesn’t apply to crimes against humanity (of which he was accusing Franco and his ministers), but in the end, he was pressurised into dropping his ´´truth commission“ and was accused of overreaching his judicial powers.

So what is the case against him? His (latest) accusers claim that he has abused his power to take on his enemies, and that he has a left-wing bias. Two other upcoming cases against him also involve abuses of authority, and also breach of trust.

Some media, chiefly The New York Times, claim that the case against him is politically motivated and ´´should have been thrown out of court“. You don’t say. He recently launched a corruption case against the PP, who now want his head on a plate. If found guilty of ´´perverting the course of justice’’, as one of his detractors put it, he could be suspended from the bar for up to 20 years – basically, the end of his career.

Spain is still a divided country when it comes to certain delicate matters involving its recent history, and these divisions come to the fore in a case like Garzon’s. It’s a very subjective matter – think how many families still have missing relatives, and how many others would prefer that the missing were never found. International attention is now focussed on this country, with comments like ´´justice itself may be the victim in Spain´´ and ´´no other country has gone as far as to prosecute a judge that tried to investigate such crimes´´ abound. I don’t think Garzon can ever get a fair trial here, one way or the other, because nearly everyone has some level of personal motivation. The entire Spanish judicial system, and how it is perceived abroad, will be deeply affected by the outcome of the Garzon case.

  1. 6 Responses to “The Duchess and the Judge”

  2. The case against Garzón is particularly worrying not least because it has been brought by three fascist groups, the JONS, Manos Limpias, and Libertad e Identidad. The PP are keen to knobble Garzón because of the Gürtel case, and the judiciary is the only institution of modern Spain which retains the old structure from Franco times. Clearly Garzón, who will potentially expose senior judicial figures who we in post under Franco, will not get a fair trial.

    The wave of racism sweeping across Europe fuelled by immigration scares in the wake of the financial crisis, plays to the right wing who will build on popular prejudice and that means the fascist right will feel more confident. For those of us who care about democratic rights, that’s a real worry. Spain still hasn’t cleaned the stables.

    By Bob Lloyd on Apr 18, 2010

  3. Very interesting re: Garzón. As a recent “immigrant” to Spain I am just learning about the pact of silence and questions about the disappeared (or avoidance thereof). It’s all a bit peculiar to me as a foreigner, really, that Garzón’s efforts to formally acknowledge war crimes should land him in such hot water…and that he should be the object of such scorn.

    Here, it seems, the wounds of the past are simply scabbed over. Sounds like Spain needs to figure out how to heal itself, particularly given the economic crisis. Anything less is a form of passive aggression.

    By Emily on May 15, 2010

  4. It’s a fascinating, if fairly sinister, issue. Good point about the crisis, though I think what it does more than anything is focuses people’s minds on the fin de mes, and not much else. Those who want the past to stay buried, which include many, many people in positions of power and authority in politics (Francoists), industry, the church etc, are going to do their damnedest not to allow the vile “pact of silence” to be broken. And to think, there are still mass graves with unidentified bodies in, all over Spain, including some just outside Seville. People who still have no idea what happened to their loved ones, because it would be too embarrassing for those responsible for the truth to be revealed. In Europe, in the 21st century. Thoroughly sickening – and shocking, for those of us who didn’t grow up here, and weren’t aware of it till we got here (like me), naively expecting a simple, carefree country of sunshine, sangria and fiestas. How wrong we were.

    By fiona on May 15, 2010

  5. One of the problems with the media in Spain, reporting on the Garzon issue, is that, at best, they have a scant knowledge of international laws and treaties, and at worse, they are simply clueless about the world around. That this lack of knowledge also defines the actions of a Supreme Court Justice (Luciano Varela), who actually thinks that an internal piece of legislation (Amnesty law of 1977) has precedence over international treaties -to which Spain is signatory and are binding, and every one and its sister ought to know that have supra-constitutional character in the hierarchy of laws, is, quite simply, unbelievable in 21st century Europe. Europe, this is not Cuba, Zimbabwe or Venezuela we´re talking about, where dictators get to argue that international laws have no jurisdiction in their fiefdoms.

    That no one in the media, in politics, in the judiciary, and in the social life of the country has actually taken the trouble to point the obvious and inform Judge Varela about the existence of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, about the universally accepted principle of law that has it that crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations do not prescribe, is a sign of the prevailing utterly backward and self-centered attitude of the majority in this country. ´Espain is definitely different macho!!´

    For your readers´ benefit, here´s a bit of relevant information:

    By Alek Boyd on Jun 4, 2010

  6. Thanks for your comment, Alek. I’m not sure I agree with you that the majority of this country are “utterly backward and self-centered”, although that description could definitely be used for some – the country does seem to have a group who don’t want Spain to progress and modernise. I would love you to explain/elaborate the meaning and relevance of the quote ´Espain is definitely different macho!!´ Awaiting your reply with much anticipation.

    By fiona on Jun 13, 2010

  7. Well, where can I start? Shall I start by telling you the story about a PR ‘professional’ that while inviting journalists to an event, requested them a detailed account of how the event was going to be covered in their respective media outlets, so that if attractive to the event’s organisers then accreditation would be granted?

    Or shall I refer to replies from institutions associated with the Junta stating that helping businesses grow is not part of their assigned tasks, while failing to suggest other avenues to be pursued?

    How about the fact that 93% of small and medium business in Spain do not sell/market their products online, and when offered to gain access to the web’s huge market, company directors stating, with absolute confidence, that they are not interested?

    Or what to say about the fact that socialists have been in power in Andalusia for, what, 30 years now?

    But as stated in my previous comment, if there’s one issue that encapsulates IMHO the quote “Espain is definitely different” is that of Varela, Garzon, the media, etc. Mind you, if what heirs of franquismo wanted to do was to ruin Garzon’s reputation, they had two perfect opportunities to do so (escuchas and monkey business in handling Botin’s case). But they didn’t. They came up with the most extraordinary example of foot in mouth, and no one, absolutely no one in the country (please correct me if I’m wrong) went to the media to inform Varela, and those on his side, that 40 year old arrangements -read the amnesty laws- mean nothing in today’s international law. That this went on for so long and no one in the country took the trouble to set the record straight vis-a-vis the untenable position of Spain’s High Court in this respect speaks volumes about the backwardness and ignorance of Spanish people in general.

    If I have ever come across a people that give no consideration whatsoever to what others think about their culture, behaviour, etc., that’s the Spanish, and that’s why I do believe that they’re different. In some respects this is healthy, not giving a toss about animal right groups condemnation to corridas for instance spring to mind, for it guarantees continuity of traditions despite the prevailing, and useless in my opinion, EU PCness. However in other issues, such as the ones described, I find it most infuriating and frustrating, as I am sure animal rights activists feel when they see the wholesale derision of their activities in most quarters.

    I have lived in the UK for a long time now. I was educated here. So for me, as I am sure it will be for you, drawing comparisons is only natural. I sensed a deep distrust in Spain towards authority, but when said authority forces itself into an impossible corner, no one reacts. That remains a puzzle to me.

    By Alek Boyd on Jun 30, 2010

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