Riiko Sakkinen, Franco was not so bad as They Claim, 2019

MAY 2020

Riiko Sakkinen’s (b. 1976) artwork shows an arrogant Spanish general and dictator Francisco Franco (1892–1975) stearing firmly in viewers’ eyes and a text in Spanish stating Franco no fue tan malo como dicen (Franco was not so bad as they claim). 

In Spain, Franco is under a constant debate. The Falangist dictator that overthrew the Spanish republic’s administration is considered a bloody ruler who hindered the development of the country and whose commemoration is no less than prohibited by the law. While criticising the present conditions, especially the right-wingers, however, want to emphasise that Franco did also good things.

When Sakkinen bumped into memes describing Franco’s “good deeds” he started to plan a painting on the theme. After a careful design process characteristic for his art pieces, he lists a series of arguments which survey Franco’s importance to Spain. 

The arguments include thanking Franco for example for him granting the Spanish people their social security, pensions, paid vacations, public housing, costless education as well as benefits for large families, disabled and unemployed. Thanks to him Spain was industrialised, enjoyed full employment and its economy grew. He established the major state-owned enterprises, let build artificial lakes, promoted tourism and created a welfare state. He established the National Organisation of the Blind as well as most important Spanish football associations and incorporated his native country to the United Nations as well as to European Union. In the area of cultural life, he established National Book Institute, Wax Museum of Madrid and exported Spanish contemporary art. He invented corrida, flamenco, paella and a number of cocktails that Spaniards love. Spanish people may thank him for their national Television and Radio companies as well as its to all renowned series including the present reality programmes.

The list appears to be a crystallisation of the era of the fake news. Some things are true, or at least true to some extent. However, some arguments for example on social security and welfare state are lies – Franco receives praise for things that were developed already during the republic or long before it.  The further the list goes, the more absurd it gets. Franco is attributed with a credit for cultural institutions dating back to hundreds or thousands of years as well as phenomena of recent year’s popular culture. The absurd nature of the list annuls the claim presented in the headline.

While exhibiting the artwork at Arco Art Fair in Madrid early spring 2020, Sakkinen caused a sensation in Spain. The local Spanish media covered the artwork in page-long articles for days, and Sakkinen was requested to give interviews on the country’s main TV and radio channels. Camera crews almost had to fight to get access close to the painting. The artwork made the nation consider, how to address Franco nowadays. What is his meaning for present day Spaniards and for Spanish identity? How the arguments about him emerge as comments on the country’s present politics? 

On the other hand, this is a Europe-wide phenomenon. In Germany, those feeling Ostalgie moon over Erich Honecker and neo-Nazis moon over Adolf Hitler, in Italy people look back to how the trains ran on schedule during the period of Benito Mussolini, in Russia they miss the national grandeur of Josif Stalin’s era, in Romania people long for Nicolae Ceaușescu, also Josip Broz Tito, who unified several different nationalities in the area of the former Yugoslavia, has evoked nostalgic feelings.

Overthrown or dead dictators have their friends in many European countries. Spain-based Riiko Sakkinen had come across this subject on a very personal level already when he presented the work for the local public. After he had completed his work, he heard from his 9 year-old son that, on the lesson dealing with Franco’s era, his teacher had emphasised Franco’s good deeds. The pupils had, however, risen up in a small-scale revolt and reminded the teacher of the fact that above all Franco had been a bloody dictator.

Pauli Sivonen
director, Serlachius Museums

Riiko Sakkinen, Franco was not bad as They Claim, 2019
Riiko Sakkinen, Franco was not so bad as They Claim, 2019, Acrylic and Indian Ink on paper, 151 x 165 cm. Photo: Teemu Källi