Spain has celebrated the 42nd anniversary of the constitution that returned the country to democracy after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, as some former members of the armed forces made inflammatory statements.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that the 1978 constitution was “The greatest success in our collective history” and hailed 42 years of “peace, coexistence and freedom.”
A group of 271 former military men, however, marked the anniversary publishing a manifesto attacking the coalition government led by the Socialists, complaining that the unity of Spain was threatened by the Catalan separatists and lamenting what they called the “deterioration of democracy”.
The letter arrived a few days after it became known that a group of retired air force officers who graduated during the dictatorship had used a WhatsApp group to talk about shooting at the Catalan independentistas, “shooting 26 million sons of bitches” and describing Franco as the “irreplaceable.”
Some of those in the chat group were among the 73 former officers who wrote to King Philip last month to express his hatred of the anti-austerity coalition between the Spanish Socialist Party and the far-left United We Can party.
The Minister of Defense of Spain, Margarita Robles, has sent details of the WhatsApp group chat for prosecutors to see if a crime had been committed by “persons who also may have impersonated members of the army on active duty without being so.”
The chat and the letter also led the Chief of Defense Staff to accuse those involved of “damaging the image of the Armed Forces” and confusing public opinion.
“The opinions of these people cannot be seen as representative of the group to which they once belonged,” said General Miguel Villarroya Vilalta. His thoughts, he added, should be seen as those of private citizens.
“As military personnel, we take an oath promising to uphold the constitution, which guides all of our actions,” he said. “One of the consequences of that commitment is the political neutrality of our armed forces.”
The Francisco Franco National Foundation, created less than a year after the dictator’s death in 1975 to promote the study and awareness of his “life, thought, legacy and work”, is headed by a former general.
The foundation, along with many on the far right, bitterly opposed the Sánchez government’s decision to remove Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen last year.
The coalition announced plans in September to ban organizations that glorify the dictator’s legacy as part of its efforts to help the country come to terms with its past.
The deputy prime minister and leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, played down the threat posed by the WhatsApp group and its allies, saying that his nostalgia for the dictatorship would be counterproductive.
“What these retired gentlemen of a certain age say does not represent a threat of any kind”, he told Spanish television on Thursday.
“But I think the letter to the king puts the monarchy in an absurdly awkward situation. If some gentlemen who support Franco think that they are doing the head of state a favor by surrounding him with Franco, I think they do not understand that they will probably make more Spaniards feel increasingly republican.
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