The Duchess and the Judge

Two topics have dominated popular debate and commentary in Spain this week. Both are about controversial Spanish figures who are often in the news, with a political sway. Both are love-em-or-hate-em characters, who split opinion – though sympathy towards both, from certain camps, has increased markedly over the past few days. Who are they? Judge Baltasar Garzon, the moral crusader who right gets under people’s skin, in a good way; and La Duquesa de Alba, the most titled woman in Spain, and one of the richest (she's the one with the frizzy white hair who's always in the gossip mags). Both have long been major media stars. Let’s talk about the Duquesa first. Telecinco is airing a miniseries about the her life, the first episode of which went out on Tuesday night. This is ¡Hola! par excellence, with an exclusive inside view of the house (sorry, palace) where she grew up in Madrid - the first time the Palacio de Liria has ever been filmed. Never mind the story, which is fascinating in itself – cold, detached, etiquette-obsessed father who wanted a son; mother who died tragically young; fleeing to London during Civil War when house (sorry, palace) bombed – check out those paintings, that furniture, those curtains. Now it is just one of her many residences in Spain, including the Palacio de Dueñas in Seville, which she has always said is her favourite city, where she feels most at home. Indeed one of the Duquesa's comments, when asked her opinion of the miniseries, was that her wedding had taken place in Seville, not Madrid. The first episode took us up to her husband´s sudden death, leaving her with six children. That is enough tragedy to inspire compassion in the hardest heart, however many ponies and pretty dresses she had as a child. She lost her mother, then her house (sorry, palace), albeit temporarily; her childhood was markedly lacking in affection; she had to marry a man she didn’t love (at first, anyway); her father died; then her husband. Now she has found a new place in the hearts of the Spanish people, who previous saw a very rich, very eccentric, fuzzy-haired pensioner. I for one am pleased, though I have to admit to bias since I have always been fascinated by this 80-odd-year-old hippy, a happy-go-lucky 20-something at heart. Also, I interviewed her recently, and found her charming, forthcoming, and certainly a lot more on-the-ball than she appears. And so to Judge Garzon, who is making headlines around the world. The international media sees it as a complete travesty of justice that someone who has spent years pursuing a motley crew of terrorists (ETA, Al Qaeda) and foreign dictators (Pinochet, Argentinian junta officials) was then prevented from attempting to clear up unsolved crimes from 35 years ago in his own country – namely, the 114,000 Spanish people still missing from the Franco era. Garzon made plenty of enemies, ignoring the Amnesty Law that banned investigation into crimes carried out under the dictator – the so-called ´´pact of silence``. He claimed that this law doesn’t apply to crimes against humanity (of which he was accusing Franco and his ministers), but in the end, he was pressurised into dropping his ´´truth commission`` and was accused of overreaching his judicial powers. So what is the case against him? His (latest) accusers claim that he has abused his power to take on his enemies, and that he has a left-wing bias. Two other upcoming cases against him also involve abuses of authority, and also breach of trust. Some media, chiefly The New York Times, claim that the case against him is politically motivated and ´´should have been thrown out of court``. You don’t say. He recently launched a corruption case against the PP, who now want his head on a plate. If found guilty of ´´perverting the course of justice’’, as one of his detractors put it, he could be suspended from the bar for up to 20 years – basically, the end of his career. Spain is still a divided country when it comes to certain delicate matters involving its recent history, and these divisions come to the fore in a case like Garzon’s. It’s a very subjective matter – think how many families still have missing relatives, and how many others would prefer that the missing were never found. International attention is now focussed on this country, with comments like ´´justice itself may be the victim in Spain´´ and ´´no other country has gone as far as to prosecute a judge that tried to investigate such crimes´´ abound. I don’t think Garzon can ever get a fair trial here, one way or the other, because nearly everyone has some level of personal motivation. The entire Spanish judicial system, and how it is perceived abroad, will be deeply affected by the outcome of the Garzon case.
Blog published on 15 April 2010