Tuesday, July 18, 2006

70 Years After

Today another anniversary is being remembered, and it is an even less happy one than that which I wrote about yesterday. On July 18th 1936, 70 years ago today, began the military uprising that marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The anniversary is receiving ample coverage in the Spanish press today, something that has not always been the case with the Civil War in the years since Franco died. In the transitional period following his death, it was as if a pact had been signed to forget all about the war and the repression during almost 40 years of dictatorship. In Spain there was no truth commission, the price that the left had to pay to be able to return from exile and participate legally in national politics was that those who participated in the dictatorship would never be accused of any crime and would maintain their positions and privileges. Indeed, Manuel Fraga, a minister for several years under Franco, is still a member of the Senate – the upper chamber, following many years of active political life after the death of his mentor.

This silence has begun to change in the last few years, as more voices have been raised in favour of recovering the memory of what happened, especially as it became evident that many younger people growing up in Spain knew virtually nothing about this period of their history. Also, the unequal nature of the transition was evident; those who died on Franco’s side at least received a proper burial and monuments were constructed to commemorate them. On the republican side, that of the legitimate elected government that was overthrown, there was no such recognition and it is estimated that the remains of up to 30000 combatants are still in unmarked graves that were dug where they were killed (often in summary executions). Also, there are still many places in Spain that retain streets named after Franco and other generals, even some statues of the dictator still exist. Most churches in the country still maintain plaques in memory of the Francoist side and the leader of the fascist Falange, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera; the basilica in the Valley of the Fallen (where Franco and Primo de Rivera are buried) near to Madrid provides no mention of the political prisoners who died in its construction.

The government is soon expected to announce a law on recovering the historical memory of this period, but there are worrying signs that it will contain little real content, in an attempt to placate the Partido Popular who regard any talk of Franco and the Civil War as opening the wounds of the past – not a surprising attitude from a party that was founded by Manuel Fraga. In some ways, the transition in Spain still continues as the unequal nature of the post-Franco settlement comes under pressure. The divisions that this period can still provoke are well illustrated by the differing treatment given to opinion polls on the period by different newspapers today:

El Mundo (right wing) – highlights that 30% of those interviewed believe the military uprising was justified.
El País (left of centre) – 64% believe that the victims should be rehabilitated and the mass graves identified.


El Casareño Ingles said...

Interesting that you choose the iconic photo by Robert Capa.

I was doing some research on this last year for a TV programme and came across this link: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/capa_r.html

And, so famous was the photo that even a statue based on it was made: http://www.photographers.it/articoli/miliciano.htm

Let's not forget that the mans name was Federico Borrell García - just another militiaman in many ways, and a symbol of the death that Spain was inflicting on itself at the time.

Graeme said...

Thanks for the link - I knew there had been some contoversy over the authenticity of the photo, it's an impressive piece of detective work to get as far as naming the person in it.

Anonymous said...

i was reading your initial entry about the 70th anniversary and the impact that the civil war has had on spain and i thought of a documentary that might greatly interest you. it's called death in el valle, about a woman who goes back to a little village in spain to investigate her grandfather's death during the war...it deals with a lot of the same issues you mentioned above - the political tension, the notion of memory etc. i believe the website is deathinelvalle.com if this sparks an interest *)

Graeme said...

I think I've seen this documentary several years ago - it rings a bell. In my Spanish paper yesterday they featured some cases of people who are trying to recover the remains of executed relatives - one of them is now believed to be buried so deeply under the main motorway going north from Madrid that there is no realistic possibility of recovery. This is the result of nothing having been done in the 30 years since Franco died.