I visited a memorial sculpture to ten sincere and brave men this week. These were ten Canarian men who were tortured and put to death for their beliefs during the Spanish Civil War. These ten men defied Franco’s fascist government and were put to death by being tied in sacks filled with heavy rocks and tossed alive into the Atlantic Ocean. Almost 80 years have passed since those dark days, but now, at the point where they were deliberately drowned, a sculpture has been placed, so that the memory of these ten men and the atrocities that took place during the Spanish Civil War are not lost. Their crime was treason against the state.
In Gran Canaria’s capital city, Las Palmas, excavations are currently taking place to exhume the bodies from mass graves of those killed by the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. The repression of civilian opponents by the Franco Regime was cruel for any person or institution thought to challenge the Republic, with any workers’ movement or any political party described as being on the left of politics committing a treasonable offence.
Eighty years on, it is hoped that exhumation of bodies from a mass grave will begin to repair the nightmares suffered by families and friends of those buried, and paid with their lives for the repression imposed by the Franco regime. Memories of the Civil War continue to be powerful reminders of the evils of a fascist dictator that ignored the rules of basic humanity.
I was suddenly reminded of Spain’s horrific and bloodthirsty past perpetrated on these beautiful islands this week when I read a proposal from a Conservative councillor in the UK stating that opposing Brexit should be made an act of treason, and publishable by life in prison. To further strengthen the argument for ‘treason’, a statement from a UK Brexiteer, David Bannerman, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, suggested that the revision of the 1351 Treason Act should also apply to EU loyalists; those who undermine the UK through “extreme EU loyalty”.
As far as I am aware, in law, treason is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s country or monarch. History gives us many examples of treason, including Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus, and Henry VIII who had two of his six wives executed for alleged adultery on the grounds that such infidelity was ‘treason’. The current US President, Donald Trump, is accused of ‘treason’ because of his alleged links with Russia. Other examples of so-called ‘treason’ are often little more than action by dissidents, which may happen to upset or offend others who are, or wish to be, in power.
One thing is clear, the definition of ‘traitor’ needs extreme care in its application. To describe those who disagree or are opposed to the foolishness of Brexit as ‘treacherous’ is inaccurate and does no credit to those who imply treason. There are many British citizens living and working in Europe, as well as many Europeans living and working in the UK, who are passionate about wanting the UK to remain in the European Union; they are vocal about it and support and donate to causes that are attempting to promote an alternative point of view. This does not make them traitors; indeed, one could make an argument to the contrary.
History is supposed to help us to avoid the mistakes of the past. If we look at the history of Spain’s Civil War, and how it divided and ruined a prosperous country, together with the hurt that continues to this day, we all need to be more careful about the language that is used to challenge opponents.
Needless to say, many were surprised to hear Bannerman’s proposals, with some asking what he would suggest as an appropriate punishment to be applied to “extreme” EU loyalists, currently known as ‘Remainers’. It should be remembered that 63 per cent of the UK population did not vote for the nonsense that is Brexit; we are still allowed to hold alternative views to those expressed by Bannerman, Rees-Mogg, Gove, Johnson and others. We are still allowed to protest, demonstrate and articulate views that may be contrary to the views of the Brexiteers; it is not treachery. Fortunately, the new proposals do not call for the death penalty to be applied, but encourages prison sentences for those found guilty. Well, that’s all right then; I rather like the idea of a few months free accommodation in the Tower of London.
© Barrie Mahoney