Eighty years later

The shamelessness and insolence of the far right in Spain coincides with a broad wave of populism in the West that in some parts of Europe takes its inspiration directly from fascism. Certain commentators speak of a pendulum swing characterized by a return to exclusionary nationalism and reactionary values, but the situation in Spain is more akin to the zombie apocalypse of the Franco regime. This week will mark the eighth decade since Franco’s troops entered Barcelona, a prelude to the entire nation subsequently falling into the hands of the junta. Some of the ideas imposed by the victors were adopted by the collective consciousness and, unfortunately, they have survived to this day, like when people accuse the Catalan independence movement of having awoken the beast instead of wondering why it is still alive and kicking.

Sílvia Marimon has written a piece which appears in today’s edition of ARA on how the Franco regime systematically went about confiscating the assets of thousands of individuals who had either died, were imprisoned or had fled from the terror instigated by the winning side in 1939. Franco’s troops, who didn’t have the least intention of acting with magnanimity, carried out a bloodthirsty repression that included pillage, humiliation, torture, rape and the silencing and terrorizing of millions of individuals.

Marimon has obtained a folder containing documents entitled Account of Apartments Referred to the Housing Review Commission (1), which consists of a list of unoccupied houses drawn up with the help of pro-Franco residents in Barcelona. The document had been written before the city surrendered. The list, together with the Law of Political Responsibilities of February 9, 1939, allowed for the systematic plunder of property and assets belonging to Republicans, an occurrence which is still unfinished business for Spain, where so many families escaped with their lives in exchange for being forced into a life of humiliation and misery, terror and exile.

When Franco’s troops took Barcelona, it did not bring peace; instead, it led to a long, dark night which Spain has yet to fully illuminate with a modern, democratic political consensus. No restitution has occurred, whether material or ideological in nature, as shown by the resistance to changing the dictator’s final resting place.

In an interview with Manuel Aznar on December 31, 1938, Franco announced his plans for the defeated, whom he divided into "hardened criminals" who could never be reformed and those who had been deceived by their leaders and who had a chance to repent.

The prison and the labour camps would be for those responsible for minor crimes while the rest would face prison or exile. Repression was a drawn out affair, as Paul Preston reminds us in The Spanish Holocaust. Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain (Harper Press). Preston quotes words spoken by Franco on May 19, 1939, the day on which he presided over a spectacular Victory Parade in Barcelona: "Let us not fool ourselves: the Jewish spirit that allowed the alliance of the great capital with Marxism, which knows all about pacts with the anti-Spanish revolution, cannot be excised in one day, and it lurks deep in many consciences". Thus, Franco approved of Germany’s anti-Semitic laws. Likewise, some months later, on December 31, 1939, he claimed that the expulsions [of Jews] ordered by the Catholic monarchs had shown the Nazis the way. In his speech he stated: "Now you will understand the reasons which have led different nations to fight and separate from their activities those races which are tainted by greed and self-interest, since their predominance in society leads to disturbance and jeopardizes the achievement of their historical destiny. Thanks to the grace of God and the insight of the Catholic monarchs, we freed ourselves from such a heavy burden many centuries ago, yet we must not remain indifferent to this new flowering of greedy, selfish spirits, so attached to their material possessions that they are more willing to sacrifice their own children than renounce their sordid interests".

On January 26, the arrival of Franco’s troops in Barcelona was preceded by a mass exodus. Only two days earlier, on January 24, the Republican government had fled to Girona. Eighty years later, Spain is a democratic country and a prosperous member of the European Union. Nevertheless, political discourse continues to pour out anger, hate and imagined grievances against cultural diversity. Incredibly, the frequent references to the Reconquista, together with accusations of "stealing money from Extremadura to give to Catalonia" are not due to ignorance of our past, but instead thanks to deep hatred and sectarianism.

It appears as if Spain experienced the Counter-Reformation without having ever been reformed, and only the Spanish people themselves can put an end to this state of affairs by opposing the return of the reactionaries that we are witnessing. By standing up for democracy and progress.


Translator’s note:

(1) The original title in Spanish is: Relaciones de pisos remitido a la Comisión Revisora de Viviendas