El País in English
Sir John Elliot, historian


Q. How would you describe a historian's job, and does Spain still have the capacity to surprise you?

A. By definition a historian must be curious; that is what makes us look into the heart of societies. I think that I was surprised by the relative ease with which Spain moved from dictatorship to democracy after the death of Franco. But thinking about the impact of civil wars on societies I have reached the conclusion that the generation that grows up after a civil war has such terrible memories of what happened that it does everything possible to prevent a repetition in the future. That is what happened in Spain with the Transition: you had to find a way to live together, even if it meant forgetting and burying the past to adapt to new circumstances. And that was done. But the next generation, which had no knowledge or experience of Franco, wants to know more about the past, that hidden past. From my perspective, the best way to face up to that past is through historians, and not through politicians.

Q. Are you referring to the Historical Memory Law?

A. Yes. It was completely absurd. I understand the needs of the families of the dead to know what happened, but I think that there were other ways to address the issue other than by opening up all the old wounds. That said, each country has to find its own way: the South Africans did it their way, the Irish another way, and I hope that the Spanish can find their way.

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