Friday, November 20, 2009

Valle De Los Caídos....The Case For Demolition

1). You restore a beautiful wild mountainside that was destroyed by the construction of a brutal, ugly fascist monument. The monument continues to be maintained with public funds.

2). You avoid this.

3). We could have a small scale memorial, appropriate for its surroundings, placed in memory of those political prisoners who died building El Valle de los Caídos.


Lenox said...

You want to knock something down - try the Hotel algarrobico in Carboneras (Almería). Twenty stories high, built on the beach and in a national park. Denounced by Greenpeace.
But then... our boys in the PSoe have a different slant.

Graeme said...

Don't see any reason why we can't knock them both down Lenox. I have a post in preparation on the Algarrobico.

CafeMark said...

I don't think knocking it down will stop a number of idiots giving the fascist salute. In fact I'm given to understand that you can get this on right-wing marches in Madrid - by the same logic you'd have to knock down Madrid.
Although I've not been to visit the memorial, I can see a good case for keeping it. As soon as anyone becomes interested in its history they find out that slave labour (sometimes driven to death) was involved in its construction; also that the RC church validated the underground Basilica. I vote the place remains as a reminder of darker times.

Graeme said...

Of course you're right that fascists will still march even without El Valle de los Caidos, but my point in this case is that they are not supposed to be allowed to be doing this in El Valle any more. The problem with the place is that nobody who goes there is informed about the history, when I went there I saw a sign at the entrance claiming it was constructed as a monument to peace! No mention of it being built by prisoners. In a way it exemplifies the problems of the transition which left it under the control of a Church unwilling to face up to the truth of this place and how it came into being, whilst using the Spanish state to maintain it. If anything remains it should be a non-religious memorial/museum and that means we can do without the huge ugly cross that disfigures the mountainside. At the same time they can knock down the walls that cut it off from the rest of the surrounding sierra.

Troy said...

I think of it as something like Auschwitz and Birkenhau (though I may be stoned to death even suggesting that ANYTHING can compare in even the slightest to the holocaust). A very unpleasant reminder of a very unpleasant time.

The (somewhat odd) argument is often raised that it attracts a lot of tourists. In fact it does, as do the above mentioned concentration camps, the killing fields in Cambodia, first nations extermination camps in the U.S etc. Here Graeme is 100% correct, if it is to remain under the care of the Government (I believe in their net of national historic places), the complete truth must be it is in Poland, Cambodia etc.

I also agree (@CafeMark) that making such things illegal isn't going to make them go away. Worse, it will drive them further underground where they will fester. I think that it's important for all to see that Franco still has his supporters (one of them runs Madrid remember). After all, he did die peacefully in his sleep, not rotting in a prison cell, ousted by the people.

Tom said...

I'm not sure that knocking it down would restore beauty to the area: they cut the mountain in half and it would be difficult to remedy that.

A proper museum of historical memory and the removal of Franco's remains would be a step in the right direction.

That hotel is another matter entirely. Of course it should be demolished.

Graeme said...

Well you've sort of got me convinced, although taking down the cross and filling in the entrance to the basilica would actually do more than you think to restore the look of the mountain. The problem is that there is currently no movement forwards from it just being a fascist relic dominating its surroundings - as it was intended to do.

Andrew said...

Should we knock down the pyramids? Or for that matter many relgious buildings.
All built with slave labour and/or oppressed labour?

As for Algarrabico it should be given to the Spanish navy, a union jack placed on top and then TARGET PRACTICE!!

Graeme said...

Attitudes have moved on a bit regarding slave labour since the times of the pyramids, although perhaps not as much as they should have. My argument for its demolition isn't just based on the question of who built the place, it's more the misrepresentation of its purpose and the fact that it's a truly ugly eyesore in the Sierra de Guadarrama. I am being persuaded to opt for partial demolition (the cross) if the place can be used as a proper memorial.

ejh said...

I believe the pyramids weren't actually built using slave labour.

anticaria said...

i can't believe anyone would even suggest tearing down that cross... the ultimate symbol of peace and conciliation.. in fact, tearing it down would mean grossly disrespecting the hellish work of the thousands of pow's whose hard labor helped build it.. as such, a repurposing of the monument as a true tribute to peace and to the dead from both sides, and especially those who died during construction, would be perfectly suitable in my view.. but for decency's sake, do not even insinuate that tearing down that cross -the fruit of the herculean labor of so many- would somehow constitute an act of kindness, for it would not.. it would constitute a disgraceful act of disrespect.. besides, we're not talking about tearing down an offensive fascist symbol.. we're talking about a cross.. like it or not, that cross and that basilica are an historical artifact and a dramatic history lesson worth preserving for generations to come.. it is senseless and absurd to attempt to erase our historical past.. i totally agree that spain should remove all trace of francoist glorification within or without the site, but it should never disrespect the 'historical artifact' the monument represents or the herculean work of so many.. at the end of the day, the fact that these pow's were forced to do it, still does not negate the monumental effort that went into it or the ultimate testament to human endurance that it stands for..

ejh said...

that cross... the ultimate symbol of peace and conciliation..

Ha, very good

anticaria said...

it is indeed a symbol of peace, conciliation and sacrifice.. whatever cynicisms you may harbor towards the mere mortal manipulation of christian symbols for unchristian deeds, still do not in any way, shape or form take away the purity of the message of what the cross represents for millions of christians of all persuasions around the world, whether catholic or protestant..

we must refrain from confusing the symbol with the occasionally evil use that mere mortals may make of it, for demonizing an entire religion on the basis of the misdeeds of a few is downright absurd..

and i also must applaud andrew for suggesting that if we are to tear down the cross of the fallen, then we must follow suit and blast away at the pyramids or any other iconic monument of 'dubious manufacture'..

sadly, it seems political correctness has totally brainwashed our minds and our souls at this point..

my advise to everyone would be to beware of 'reactionary extremes' in either direction..

Graeme said...

The "arbeit macht frei" at the entrance to Auschwitz remains as a reminder of the cruel cynicism behind the genocide. I suppose you could construct a similar argument for the cross at Valle de los Caidos, but to suggest it is a symbol of peace is to simply ignore the circumstances which led to it being there. I still say it should go.

ejh said...

Pyramids not built by slaves

anticaria said...

there's a huge and fairly basic difference, in my humble opinion.. the sign at the entrance of auschwitz concentration camp is a mere sign, hardly comparably to the monumentality and massiveness of the work involved to create the cross of the fallen.. which means that destroying the monumental work and life's labor of thousands of workers would be an infinitely more egregious act than merely taking down a sign.. furthermore, i just don't think that disrespecting the herculean work that so many went through, many often at the expense of their own lives, is any way of 'honoring' their memory or 'doing right by them'.. far from it.. it merely disrespects, disregards, and ultimately negates the hellish effort these people made, and that, to me, would be an absurd and reactionary act of vandalism.. and keep in mind that these pows probably believed they were actually engaging in an act of conciliation and closure in helping to build a memorial for the war dead on both sides.. just food for thought.. that said, i feel both the sign at auschwitz and the complex at valley of the fallen are both valuable historical artifacts worth preserving for the priceless historical lesson(s) future generations will learn from them, and, as such, are definitely worth preserving.. as i suggested earlier, i would simply repurpose the vally of the fallen memorial as a true memorial to both sides and remove all trace of francoism/francoist glorification from the premises, thereby turning the entire complex into a place of 'true' peace and contemplation in which that cross would finally serve its christian purpose..

however, getting back to the sign at auschwitz, i do agree that the ironic cruelty it conveys can be unsettling, but that is precisely what makes it a powerful symbol worth preserving, i.e., precisely because it strikes at our most sensitive core and makes us feel something akin to the horrendous desperation the camp's detainees must have felt.. can you think of a more powerful teaching tool of remembrance? i sure can't.. not all of life's lessons are sweet.. some are gut-wrenching and uncomfortable to endure, but still no less vital/important/necessary..

Graeme said...

I would argue the opposite, the "mere" sign at Auschwitz is much more significant than the cross at Valle de los Caidos. You can't just assess the importance of something by the number of people required to make it. You are also perpetuating the mythology about the existence of this site that is precisely the strongest argument for doing something about it - El Valle was not constructed as a homage to both sides in the conflict, that is a handy interpretation which has been used more than anything else to avoid telling the truth about the place. Sure, they decided later to heap the bones of (unidentified?) republicans to fill the space - after all there were plenty of remains lying around the country - and there still are. Many of those forced to build that cross were not even religious and would have seen it as nothing more than a symbol of their situation, not many of those who fought Franco are campaigning to preserve the Valle.

anticaria said...

whether you agree or not, both places are priceless historical artifacts full of crucial lessons and warnings well worth never forgetting.. as such, destroying/removing/tearing or taking down either would be cluelessly reactionary and absurd.. again, if we were to destroy/sanitize every building of 'dubious manufacture' throughout the history of humanity, we'd have to tear down half our global heritage and, along with it, the historic markers such priceless artifacts serve as reminders of..

lastly, i don't think i ever measured the 'importance' of the cross by how many men or how long it took to build.. i simply stated that tearing it down would suppose a grave act or disrespect and vandalism to the memory of the thousands of pows who gave their lives to bring it to fruition.. there's a difference..

i'm all for the stripping of any trace of francoist glorification from the site, but i am adamantly for the preservation of that cross, not only as a historical artifact/marker, but as a true symbol of what the entire valley of the fallen site ought to ultimately stand for and testify to: a memorial to national reconciliation and to the memory of the dead from all sides..

just because christian dogma and symbols have often been misused and manipulated and ultimately maligned by mere mortals to satisfy their selfish ends, it does not mean we should toss aside the intrinsic significance, merit and value of said symbols even today.. in fact, today more than ever should extreme caution be exercised before any senseless act of disrespect and vandalism is even remotely contemplated against the memory of human toil or the significance of religious symbols..

again, feel free to strip the fascist stain from that site but do not take your hatred of fascism out on the cross.. that would merely be an act of absurdly reactionary vandalism in my humble opinion, and would ultimately only succeed in revealing you to be no better than those you seek to strike a moral mortal blow against..

the answer to true peace and conciliation does not lie with one reactionary extreme or the other..

and, as i said, now more than ever, it would be particularly misguided to use a religious symbol of any persuasion for target practice as the scapegoat for all of humanity's failings..

overall, history isn't always rosy, and its lessons are often more sour than sweet, but they're all equally valuable and worth preserving for future generations..

please let us help preserve the integrity of our collective historical record and put an end to the senseless 'sanitizing' of human history..

Graeme said...

You could argue quite easily that the swastika as a symbol should not be directly linked to the Nazi genocide, but nobody in their right mind would suggest that it should be flying over Auschwitz. Likewise, the cross at Valle de los Caidos is not an innocent symbol free from any association with Franco's regime - on the contrary. It doesn't represent in any way the suffering of those forced to build it and the religious order that runs the place has had 30 years to tell the truth about what happened there - they've freely chosen not to do so and its time that the place was taken out of their hands and stripped of all religious significance. Turn the basilica into a proper, secular, museum/memorial and restore the beauty of a defaced mountainside. What exists now is sanitisation, not what I'm proposing.

anticaria said...

actually, the swatika's equivalent symbol in fascist spain was not the cross, it was the 'yoke and arrows' emblem.. so please stop trying to demonize the catholic religion or the christian faith and its symbols simply because they've been hijacked by mere mortals.. the cross is not a fascist symbol/statement, it's a christian symbol/statement.. no serious/legit comparisons should ever be made between the nazi swastika and the christian cross, unless you're talking about how 'radically different' they are in every context.

but getting back to the nazi swastika.. the fact that it has been outlawed in germany is proof positive that the systematic extermination of jews across nazi europe and the manipulation and corruption of the german nation's collective psyche that it stands as a symbol of represent an infinitely more diabolical legacy than franco's catholic-sanctioned regime in spain.. i'm no franco apologist by any means, and have been adamant that the valley of the fallen site should be rid of any trace of francoist glorification, but it would be absurd to equate the evils of nazi germany with the evils of franco's spain, and worse yet still to equate a symbol of hatred and extermination like the nazi swastika with a symbol of peace, love and conciliation like the christian cross..

bottomline: while you and i may disagree wholeheartedly with the notion of a fascist dictatorship, the fact is that franco never sought an ethnic holocaust in spain..

and while you may feel that cross may not represent those pows' suffering, i still feel that defacing it would constitute an act of horrendous disrespect to the memory of those who gave their lives to build it.. instead, i propose we simply preserve it and restore true 'christian meaning' to the symbol..

again, confusing or equating christian symbols with the misdeed's mere mortals may hijack them to advance, is quite a dangerous, reactionary view..

Graeme said...

Well I think we're unlikely to reach agreement on this but I can see I need to clarify a couple of points. I'm aware what the symbol of fascism in Spain was, the reason I made the comparison with the swastika is because that symbol also has its origins in religion. The point is that you have to view the use of these symbols in their context. The cross may be a symbol of peace and reconciliation to you but that's not why it stands at the Valle de los Caidos. The Catholic Church in Spain was an active participant on the fascist side and that's why the cross is there. You seem to want to suggest some sort of posthumous desire on the part of the (often non-religious) prisoners who built it for it to be maintained - I know of no such desire. The use to which Christian symbols have been put in this context is down to the representatives of that religion at the time, the fact that they still can't face the truth about it is a reflection of how little they have changed.

I never intended to suggest that the Nazis and Franco were the same thing, the former were genocidal fascists and the latter was a murderous fascist. In the unlikely theoretical possibility that such a thing as a day of judgement exists I'm not sure that "I only murdered my political opponents Your Holiness" gets accepted as a mitigating factor.

anticaria said...

whatever meaning you believe mere mortals such as franco and catholic church leaders at the time intended that cross to convey or not is irrelevant.. the cross was and still is a sacred symbol to all christians and in a nation in which religion has traditionally played such a crucial role in creating a sense of national consciousness and manifest destiny, such as spain, the defacing or destruction of a religious symbol may be as horrendously damning and ultimately devisive a decision as one could think of.. i simply cannot stress enough the need to be able to separate the failings of mere mortals from the symbols they so often misuse and hijack.. and the fact is that for better or worse, the supreme religious symbol of christianity was chosen to celebrate this fascist monument -after all, it is a catholic basilica- not the yoke and arrows, not the swastika, not the fasces...and, as such, the symbolism it ultimately embodies transcends mere political ideology..

however, let's for a minute contemplate a hypothetical tearing down of the cross.. ok, presto, done!

now exactly what have you managed to accomplish through such a senseless act of reactionary vandalism? well, for starters, you now have a monumentally hideous pile of rubble to contend with and you may have dangerously threatened the structural integrity of the basilica that lies beneath it.. more importantly, you have flushed down the drain and grossly disrespected the blood, sweat and tears of the 1,000s of pows who toiled and gave their lives to build it, as well as any visible/tangible evidence of their monumental effort.. not to mention the fact that you have also disrespected and defaced a christian symbol.. now exactly who do you propose should be enlisted to clean up the mess? will you offer your benevolent volunteerism services to help clear off that hideous pile of debris?

meanwhile.. i propose that the basilica simply be repurposed as a memorial/museum to all sides and that the overall complex be once again infused with the sense of peace, reconciliation and love for which the cross serves as the ideal symbol.. what would this accomplish? well, you would now have a monumentally rich and visually powerful historical resource/museum, a priceless tool for education and empowerment, and a faithful and all-inclusive historical artifact and reminder for generations to come of the one conflict that redefined the spanish psyche in the XXth century, the civil war.. finally, and most importantly, you'd have the memories of the war dead from both sides beautifully honored by the supreme christian symbol of peace, love, reconciliation and FORGIVENESS.. oh, and no messy rubble to clear off.. :-)

the only thing that will help spaniards come to terms with this monument and with the war, as well as reconcile their own emotions with those of their parents and grandparents is FORGIVENESS.. without it, there is no hope of closure.. instead of campaigning to have a religious symbol violently taken down -a horrid act of moral suicide-, we should be campaigning to save it and have it truly rechristened with the only ideals that cross has ever truly stood for and the only ones we know of which will ultimately bring closure to that horrendous chapter in the history of spain, europe and the world.. peace, love, reconciliation and FORGIVENESS are the only answer..

Graeme said...

Volunteer to help clear the rubble? Sure, no problem. It may surprise you to learn that there are people who admire the Sierra de Guadarrama much more than that cross which has been imposed on it. The only act of "reactionary vandalism" was the decision to deface an entire mountainside by putting it there in the first place. Restoring what was there before could never be considered vandalism. It seems to me that what you are worried about above all is the cross, were it any other symbol you wouldn't even bother to argue for it. That cross is a construct of "mere mortals", so its significance depends entirely on what they do with it.

anticaria said...

ok, so ultimately what i'm hearing from you is that restoring the mere aesthetic look of the landscape to what it was before (a sheer and impossibly wishful dream at any rate) is more important to you than respecting and honoring the hellish work and labor that went into that monument as well as the structural integrity of the basilica that lies beneath and the symbolic closure and healing it would represent as a true monument to peace and reconciliation were it to be salvaged as a non-fascist/francoist memorial/museum..

i see, well.. i guess that is indeed were we part ways, for i feel that honoring the work, blood, sweat and tears of the men who built it is infinitely more transcendental than mere aesthetics.. i would rather pay homage to the human beings who built it by preserving at all cost the fruit of their hard labor for all the world to see.. destroying that which these men toiled so hard to bring to fruition and in many instances gave their lives for, would be the ultimate act of disdainfully dismissive disrespect and historical vandalism..

so let's just throw away the wonderful cultural and educational lessons that place could be easily repurposed to serve for future generations just so that the mountainside can be rid of a symbol that merely displeases you..

that is it, isn't it? it isn't so much the original landscape you wish to restore or much care about anyway.. that's merely the handy excuse you're using.. ultimately, it is your sheer hatred of a christian symbol that is fueling your campaign of historical vandalism..

to you, a hideous pile of rocks and debris and the morally suicidal memory of a violently desecrated christian symbol would be the infinitely loftier and healing means of reconciliation.. yes, that makes perfect sense..

an eye for an eye.. yes, i can hear the healing, conciliatory and forgiving tone on your words.. i bet if you whisper your lovely thoughts it would even sound almost like praying.. ;-)