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To right past wrongs, Spaniards seek present change

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Among other things, the document would declare illegitimate Franco's 1936 military uprising and subsequent seizure of power, end impunity for living members of Franco's government, classify Franco's actions as crimes against humanity in accordance with the Nuremberg Doctrine - a cornerstone for international agreement about crimes against humanity - and establish all Spaniards' right to know the fate of their ancestors.

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Díonis believes that Spain must replace what he calls a longstanding "model of impunity" with a juridical framework explicitly designed to protect civil rights. Such a tradition existed before the civil war, he says, but Franco replaced it with a "legal base that violated international law."

But transforming a decades-old legal system anchored in fear is no small task. And the drive to end impunity for surviving functionaries of Franco's regime is an especially bold gambit, for it may implicate current political leaders.

But citizens like Viéitez, Díonis, and those they represent, are still profoundly angry that no member of Franco's regime has ever been tried or punished. "Justice doesn't ruin a state; lies and repression do," says Díonis, who compares Franco with Hitler and Mussolini. "You can't try the dead. But you can restore the rights of the victims."

The country's legal system can be repaired if it implements "a proper law to deal with Spain's crimes against humanity," insists Lopez Garcia, and establishes a "process - like the Germans and French have had - to deal with the past."

Others, like Juan Gallego Sanz, who heads Living Memory, a group dedicated to Spaniards deported and exiled by Franco, are less optimistic.

Convinced that Spain today is caught in polarized political conflicts like those of the civil war era, Mr. Gallego, whose father, grandfather, and great uncle were imprisoned by Franco, fears that "we won't be able to talk about the civil war until my generation has disappeared completely."

Resistance to a formal acknowledgement of the crimes of the past has, until recently, come from Spaniards on all political sides. A proposal to recognize Franco's victims came before the Congress of Deputies two years ago but was voted down by a conservative coalition.

The actions of the current government, however, have encouraged many who support such initiatives.

A government commission has been formed to investigate the plight of Franco's victims, and when it concludes its work in March, the administration will likely introduce legislation that will fulfill many if not all of the objectives set out by the victims' groups.

"Spain still has a wound," says López García, "and the government-sponsored commission is a golden opportunity."

Díonis also looks to the commission with hope. "Change will happen," he says. "Once the truth is known, it can't be buried again. It's like reading - once you learn, you can't unlearn. And the truth is on our side."

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