On such a day as today, eighty years ago, all hell broke loose in Spain. It was the start of the Spanish civil war which was to last two years and eight months.
It was caused by a military uprising against the left leaning Republican government, supported by right wing, conservative falangists, the Nationalists, led by general Francisco Franco.
The victory of the Republic in 1931 was seen as a menace by some staunch conservatives and also by the Catholic church. The Republic sought to alter many aspects of Spanish life, such as illiteracy and the iron grasp of institutions like the church which contributed to an archaic and almost feudal social system. However, they tried to reform too many things at once and this enormous task was to prove their Achilles’ heel. The society just five years later was fragmented into many different factions struggling to gain recognition.
The Civil War brought out, as was to be expected, the worst instincts of both sides. There are no innocents once a war breaks out. It is a fight to the death. Unfortunately, those who enter battle are seldom those with the most interests at stake. They are forced to undergo pain and loss for ‘the greater good’, or the ideals of the few who have the power and want to maintain it.
What is specific to the Spanish Civil War is that, unlike what happened in Germany with Hitler and in Italy with Mussolini, once the dictator was dead, the people did nothing to reinstate a balance and acknowledge the mistakes made in order to not repeat them. Instead, at the death of Franco (prolonged for months by the doctors who assisted him), the Spanish people were told that we would now transition into democracy, with our King Juan Carlos I (directly named his heir by Franco) as head of state. Overnight, people started to talk of this transition with pride, as if it were the most remarkable thing since the discovery and conquest of America. We were sold the feeling of exceptionality in this situation as something which all Spaniards could take pride in, regardless of age or political inclination. In exchange for, everyone would put aside whatever differences or resentments they might hold because, after all it was ‘for the greater good’ of the country. We had achieved, it seemed, something unheard of: democracy without bloodshed. We should all just move on.
Eighty years later, many Spaniards it seems have not been able to move on. There are two types of such people.
First are the nostalgic falangists for who ‘all this’ chaos would never have happened under Franco and who would embrace a second Franco taking over. They are the ones who, on a day like today, celebrate a mass in Valencia cathedral in honor of ‘F. Franco’. They are the ones who go misty eyed and feel a surge of pride when they visit their Mecca, El Valle de los Caídos, where Franco and Primo de Rivera are buried. The fact that the workers who died while it was being built are also buried here, but in ditches and tunnels, with no gravestones and no acknowledgement, is of no relevance to them. They were republican prisoners, forced to create a monument to those who won the war and destroyed their lives.
Secondly, the families and veterans of the Republican side, the losers of the war. There have been no public compensations of any type. No condolences expressed by any authority, civil or religious. Some have privately and in a purely personal way apologised. They are few and far between. Thousands of families are still searching for the ditches where their relatives were buried in haste. They have come up against official recommendations to ‘forgive and forget’. Oddly enough, this is the same thing that happened in other countries, theoretically less developed, like Argentina and Chile. There were enormous uprisings there. It cost them years of turmoil. But society would not be silenced. Thus, the existence of organisations like ‘Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo’ (Grandmothers of May Square) who have been fighting for decades to find their grandchildren, kidnapped by the authorities because of their parents’ political dissidence. What greater annihilation of the enemy than stealing their future, their children, and raising them to think and be just what their parents fought against? Macchiavelo would have approved. In Spain, a network of baby snatchers stole over 100.000 children from their parents between the 1940s and the 1980s, well into our ‘democratic Spain’. The uproar is considerable but nowhere near its equivalent in South America.
I have just read an article that states that the government of the Popular Party, which has greatly contributed to impoverishing the country, will get a new mandate thanks to Ciudadanos, a right wing party of posh daddy’s kids. So much for the good intentions for change coming from the left.
What causes a country to suffer from a collective amnesia of these proportions? Or is it just apathy, resignation and the progressive dumbing down of the population that allows the ruling classes to steer us straight into disaster with few consequences for the corrupt and mindless perpetrators?
A country that consistently ignores its past, that blatantly hides it from view or denies it, that gaslights part of its citizens, telling them that they will bring disaster upon themselves and the entire nation if they stir the past is fated to repeat its mistakes.