Friday, November 2, 2007

Time will cure all ills, but when?

Associated Press Writer Daniel Woolls reported on Oct 31 (the Halloween day, coincidentally) that the lower house of Spanish Parliament passed a bill called Law of History of Memory which is now proceeding to the Senate for its approval. The bill condemns General Francisco Franco’s fascist regime that ruled Spain from 1936 to late 1975, for its actions during the bloody Civil War 1936-1939. The legislation also orders the removal of all Franco-era symbols such as streets and plazas named after him or generals who fought for him. The driver is the ruling Socialist Party Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero whose grandfather was among those executed by Franco's forces.

This news reminds me of the parallels and similarities/differences with the recent political scene and history in Taiwan. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek of China, a contemporary of General Franco and key figure of the Nationalist Party since 1920s, ruled China and later Taiwan until his death which was about 7 months earlier than Franco’s. The tragic 228 incident (二二八事件) took place on Feb 28, 1947, less than 2 years after the retrocession of Taiwan to the Nationalist China from Japan’s 50 years occupation. It was triggered by the confiscation of black market cigarettes from a 40-year-old women vendor and subsequent shooting death of an innocent bystander. Widespread unrest, protests, strikes, and riots throughout the island followed. [My parents arrived at Taiwan from the FuJian province shortly before the incident and used to tell us stories how my father escaped into mountains with the help of aboriginal people and that my sister and mother were put into an interne camp briefly but unharmed]. The suppression, prosecutions, jailing, and executions of numerous locals by the Nationalist government lasted for months. A deep scar and resentment remains for decades by some locals towards mainlanders who arrived after the WWII. This highly sensitive and emotional issue was never addressed directly and officially until 1995 when Nationalist Government President Lee Teng-Hui 李登辉 formally apologized on behalf of the government and initiated a number of acts to close this chapter.

It is also interesting to take a look at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall that was built in 1980 in Taipei, Taiwan, and recently renamed to National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall by the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) government. The successful erasure of traces of Chiang Kai-Shek in Taiwan is likely to be easier and sooner compared to that of Franco’s as the Memorial Hall itself merely houses Chiang’s statue, collections, and exhibits. In contrast, Franco’s mausoleum is right in The Valley of the Fallen (El Valle de los Caídos), an impressive monument northwest of Madrid which was built and completed in 1959 by Franco in memory of the dead during Spanish Civil War (what a spin!). The site remains a significant symbol of the Spanish right-wingers as is evident from the fact that the Law of History of Memory explicitly bans political rallies at the site. For tourists of time and space, such monuments serve as wonderful reminders of history, albeit mostly sad ones. A lot of resources and commoners' blood and sweat were drawn (often by the will of the few). How many of these monuments and how much of the glories survived the harsh judgment of history and had recognition by generations of people through the changes of value and guards over time?

Talk to you soon!

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