“Fifth Column” is a term coined during the Spanish Civil War to refer to “the enemy within”. At the outset of the war, fascist radio broadcasts spoke of four (armed) columns and a “fifth column” of supporters within Madrid that would quickly take the city. This turned out to be wishful thinking, as Madrid and Barcelona went on to withstand three years of siege, but the strategy was not forgotten and has been used to place regime nostalgics in modern institutions such as the Supreme Court and countless positions of bureaucratic power. This has occurred for decades under the radar, but the civil war exhumations are a five-alarm incident that has the fifth column in heavy-duty damage control mode. The bad news for them is that their adversary is no spineless paper-pusher, but judge Baltasar Garzón, the man most hated by war criminals worldwide, and with good reason.
Garzón is the judge that kept Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet under home arrest for two years in England fighting extradition charges for crimes against humanity, related to the disappearance of opposition members in the infamous flights in which drugged prisoners were dropped into the ocean from airplanes. Although Pinochet was eventually released for “humanitarian” reasons, Garzón’s dogged attempt earned him much applause by human-rights groups worldwide, while many in Spain began to wonder why the Spanish judge did not show such diligence in pursuing such crimes in his own country. Finally, in 2008 judge Garzón declared himself competent to investigate charges accusing the Franco regime of forced kidnapping, assassination and disappearance of non-combatants, aka crimes against humanity. Following standard procedure, he decided to start by locating and examining the alleged victims, ordering the exhumation of the 19 mass graves, including that of Federico García Lorca.
This was like tossing a live grenade in the bunker of the extreme and not-so-extreme Spanish right-wing; Garzón took advantage of the disarray to begin the digging and even searched for Lorca in two different places, without result. By that time a couple of the most rancid extreme right “legal” movements pressed charges against Garzón to the Supreme Court, alleging he broke Spanish law by declaring himself competent to investigate the Franco regime. These charges were taken up by the Supreme Court with celerity, and all site diggings related to the case were immediately suspended…
Over the past week, judge Garzón has been seeing the world from a new perspective, as he sits on the accused bench getting grilled by the supreme justices (actually, it’s not the first time, but the charges are the most serious). Of course he knows every trick in the book and he’s got a good lawyer, but the whole issue is so politicized and the stakes so high that the final outcome is anyone’s guess. War criminals worldwide wait with bated breath for their adversary to fall, and their Spanish counterparts are happy to oblige. But it is a risky strategy, and may very well backfire… if they cannot “kill” his career, he will only become stronger. And if he was determined before, just wait to see him in juggernaut mode. In Spain they say “a cada cerdo le llega su San Martín“… question is: whose hand will be holding the knife?