Spanish History: Explaining Franco to a German Audience | Opinion


The Spaniards will never teach the Germans a lesson in how to deal with a traumatic past. The documentary Franco: The brutal truth about the Spanish dictator, produced by German public broadcaster ZDF and available on Netflix, attracts attention because of its straightforward style – it doesn’t waver in its portrayal of Spanish caudillo as a ruthless criminal, while recognizing the complexity of his character.

More than half a century of Spanish history is summed up in four episodes (plus a superfluous fifth opus reminiscent of what came before), from the defeat in Cuba, which Francisco Franco experienced as a child, to – beyond his death, when king Juan Carlos I dismantle his regime. Its shadow over the Catalan independence campaign is even treated. All this in 176 minutes – it was inevitable that there would be some big hits.

The documentary focuses on his relationship with Hitler, to whom he owes his victory in the Spanish Civil War, but with whom he clashed in Reunion Island in Hendaye.

The bulk of the storytelling work is done by historians – Paul Preston, Ángel Viñas and Antony Beevor – who sit the dictator on the couch to analyze why he was insensitive to the pain of his peers: he came from a godly background. and conservative. , he had no vices and he was not interested in sex. He was already vicious during the repression of the Revolution of 1934 in Asturias and on the Moroccan front; and he escalated the military clique that organized the coup in 1936 through a series of suspicious accidents, those involving the deaths of Balmes, Mola and Sanjurjo.

He was cruel, we can all agree, and also shrewd and opportunistic. The documentary focuses on his relationship with Adolf Hitler, to whom he owes his victory in the Spanish Civil War, but with whom he clashed at Reunion Island in Hendaye. We see how he begins to distance himself from the Nazis – and his brother-in-law, Germanophile Ramón Serrano Suñer – as they suffer defeats; how he crosses the desert of autarky; how he finds himself close to Eisenhower and celebrates his rehabilitation by the West as a triumph; how he gets rid of the Phalangist ballast to rely on the technocrats of Opus Dei; how tourism transforms habits in Spain; and how the Carrero Blanco assassination plunges an already tattered regime into turmoil.

The narrative seeks to explain details of Franco’s private life that had a political impact, including speculation on the most intimate details, and raises questions about who the real father of his only daughter was. This is the least convincing part of the program. In any case, the major influence of his wife Carmen Polo is pointed out, as well as her habit of splurging on buying jewelry during which she would not spend a dime. It also deals with the jealousy of Franco’s wife when Evita Perón was greeted with great pomp and circumstance. And we see the tyrant’s confidence in young Juan Carlos, given that the latter was being educated on Franco’s advice, despite warnings from much of his closest circle.

The reality is, the documentary doesn’t include anything we didn’t already know – nothing that isn’t in the books of the historians involved in it. There is nothing more here than a desire for historical disclosure for German viewers – but the documentary is also highly recommendable for any young Spaniard who sees this period as a distant one. The only surprising thing about the program is that it surprised the Spaniards. It’s strange that we have seen so few documentaries like this.

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