The Politics of Forgetting

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Spanish children forced to evacuate during the Spanish Civil War.

USF closed out its recent 17th annual Human Rights Film Festival with a poignant film by Spanish filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, “The Silence of Others.” The film details the long, continued fight against Spain’s 1977 amnesty law, known as “the pact of forgetting.” This law prohibited legal action against the officials of the dictatorship which killed at least 50,000 Spaniards. As a result, unlabeled mass graves and incomplete mourning characterize the scarred landscape of the Spanish countryside.

Survivors and their children seek justice and recognition of the terrors that had plagued the Spanish psyche in their fight against this legally-sanctioned amnesia. The film brought to light the individual stories behind the plaintiffs in this legal battle that has taken the international stage. Though there have been some small examples of recognition for victims, the amnesty law has enforced a sense of forgetting that has seeped into the consciousness of the younger generations and has yet to be repealed.

What really stuck out to me was that though the regime fell in 1975, crimes like child abduction continued and there wasn’t a removal of the politicians in charge. The amnesty law was in part motivated by politicians who were trying to keep their positions of power and cover up for the crimes that had been committed under their watch.

The amnesty law effectively invalidates the suffering that had occurred at the hands of the government. The fact that the fight for recognition continues today is appalling, especially considering that even today, there are still thousands of survivors who have yet to receive any reparations and are unable to piece their lives together because of the incomplete mourning.

If the rationale behind the amnesty law truly was to simply move on and never repeat these mistakes again, it has been an ineffective approach. While other countries like Germany, Rwanda, Argentina and Cambodia made efforts to remember their darker pasts and face their tragedies head-on, this lack of acknowledgment was shown in how the average modern-day Spaniard is unable to have a conversation about this darker chapter in their history due to not being taught in school.

As a student at USF sitting in Presentation Theater, the film really called into question — what do we know about the atrocities that occurred on our own soil, and what has been done to make amends?

Unfortunately, the answer really is “not much.” As shocked as I was to see the lack of knowledge in the Spanish case, how different are we when our own school history books exclude the genocide in the mid to late 19th century of the indigenous population of California, including the encouragement of militias to kill unarmed natives. Though tribunals continue to be called for, there have not been any large-scale hearings and the history has remained ignored and forgotten. We’d be hypocrites to hold ourselves to a higher standard if we fail to acknowledge our own history.

As students, we have the opportunity to have these dialogues and to remember what our governments refuse to acknowledge. To adhere to our mission of social justice, it’s important to attend events like the Human Rights Film Festival and educate ourselves — it’s the least we can do to honor each person’s story and restore some of the dignity that has been taken away.

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