Constitutional Court closes lid on Civil War papers feud

Justices rule that Catalonia is the righful owner of the so-called Salamanca papers

An officer moves boxes containing the so called Salamanca Papers on January 19, 2006 under the watchful eye of police.
An officer moves boxes containing the so called Salamanca Papers on January 19, 2006 under the watchful eye of police.Berando Pérez

Spain's Constitutional Court last week closed the lid on a bitter regional row that had been raging since the transition to democracy in the 1970s.

On Friday the country's highest court ruled that Catalonia, rather than Castilla-La Mancha, was the rightful owner of the so-called Salamanca papers - 500 boxes of documents seized from Catalan political parties, unions and individuals by Franco's troops at the end of the Civil War.

In making its ruling, the court dismissed the appeal presented by Castilla-La Mancha, arguing that the law supporting the transfer of the documents from the General Archive of the Spanish Civil War in Salamanca to the Catalan regional government was unconstitutional.

"We do not find ourselves facing an assumed case of plundering and we must point out that it does not fall to this court to decide upon the opportuneness of maintaining the original documents in the archive as opposed to returning the seized documents to their original owners," says the ruling, read out by Judge Pablo Pérez Tremps. "That decision falls to the legislator."

In January 2006, in compliance with a relocation order passed by the previous Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the papers were taken under cover of darkness and police escort from the Salamanca archive and loaded into trucks to be returned to Catalonia. The northeastern region had claimed the papers since the death of Franco in 1975, but it was not until 2005 that the Zapatero government finally acted.

Polemical papers

Never before has a set of documents caused such a stir in Spain. Thousands in both Catalonia and Salamanca have protested for and against the transfer of the papers. Some saw the affair as an attack on the unity of Spain, while others viewed it as an act of aggression against Catalonia.

Comprising some 300,000 documents and 1,000 photographs, the papers arrived in Salamanca in 1940 and provided the Franco regime with a powerful source for reprimanding and punishing those who had supported the Republic in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Both Salamanca City Hall and the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha used all legal means at their disposal to get the transfer of the documents reversed, but repeatedly had their appeals turned down. In 2008, the national High Court had also ruled that the law was constitutional.