"There were soon not to be Two Spains, but two thousand," wrote the historian Hugh Thomas on the murderous days of July 1936, when General Franco's uprising against the democratically elected government split the country into two warring halves.
"Sovereign power ceased to exist, and in its absence, individuals as well as towns, acted without contsraint as if they were outside society and history. Within a month, thosands of people would have perished arbitrarily. Bishops would be murdered and churches profaned. Educated Christians would spend their evenings murdering illiterate peasants."
By the time of General Franco's victory in April 1939, the Spanish Civil War had already become an international monument, immortalized by Auden, Neruda, Orwell, Hemingway, and Picasso. But in Spain itself, there is, to this day, no monument, no national day, no political discourse on the war unmarked by rancor, no small community where the division of victors and vanquished in the dictatorship does not continue to rankle. The war and its aftermath is the ghost rhetoric that underpins all political discussion. It cuts across whole communities and even families.
Above all, there are pits of bones. In a country a little larger than California, mass graves are everywhere, deep in pine woods, at lonely village crossroads, under the walls of city cemeteries, bordering motorways, overlooking the tourist fleshpots of the coasts. Thomas, a cautious chronicler, put the victims of wartime executions in the Republican zone at 55,00 and in the Francoist zone at 75,000. After the war, he estimates executions of the defeated Republicans by the Franco regime to total 100,000.
Franco later enshrined the version of exclusively "Red" terror in the school curriculum. Sites such as Paracuellos near today's Madrid airport -- where between 2,000 to 5,000 people, many civilians, were shot by left-wing militias in 1936 -- were turned into official cemeteries by Franco, the widows pensioned, their dead honored as "Fallen for God and Spain."
For all the moral complexity of Spain's grim twentieth century, one fact stands out in stark simplicity: Since democracy was restored in 1978, no official recognition has ever been extended to the remains of Franco's victims, the forbears of millions of today's Spaniards. As recently as 2007, to give one macabre example, amateur investigators in the city of Valencia found a vast mass grave from the immediate postwar period containing thousands of bodies. Whether they died as reprisals of the Franco regime, of the privations of the postwar, or a mixture of both, is not yet clear. Investigators say Valencia's Conservative mayor has blocked further investigation of the grave, and has ordered it to be built over. Such attitudes explain why so many people joyously hailed Garzón's 2008 investigation, and why so many others wanted it stopped in its tracks.
Talk against "opening old wounds" has been Conservative doctrine throughout Spain's transition to democracy. But the metaphor is skewed, as everyone knows the wounds festered long ago. For one young boy, born in the mid 1950s in the vast olive belt around the southern city of Jaén, stories of injustice dominated family life: "I heard so many of those tales," Garzón wrote in a recent memoir, "that they became engraved in my childish memory, and I resolved early on to do something about it so that terrible era would never happen again."
One journalist who has observed Baltasar Garzón closely over the last decade is Ignacio Orovio, former judicial correspondent for the La Vanguardia daily. His assessment is mixed: "No aspect of criminality phases him: drug traffickers, arms dealers, terrorists, corrupt politicians," he told me. "You have to be courageous to be a good judge, and Garzón has courage in spades."
"But he wants you to know it. He's expert in playing the press. He carefully releases scraps of information to the right people, and does so purely in the service of his own ego."
On the current case for which he faces trial, Orovio considers it a matter of bad timing on Garzón's part:
"His taking on of the Franco-era crimes coincided with his investigation into the Conservative party corruption, and he's ended up fighting on two fronts. It's typical of Garzón: He thought he could take on all comers and win."
Orovio leans forward, talking in the low voice that people still use in Spain when talking the politics of national memory: "The majority of judges in Spain are deeply conservative. The whole Spanish right is alarmed. Many of the Conservative party are the very children of the Franco regime Garzón wanted to criminalize. He has broken the consensus not to touch these things from the past, and to do so is to tread on extremely dangerous territory."