Franco’s Victims and ‘culture of terror’ in Spain
Insertamos el enlace al blog de Kevin Doyle donde se incluye un artículo con la entrevista que ha realizado a Manuel García, miembro de la CNT, sobre las víctimas de Franco y la cultura del terror en España:
I met CNT activist Manuel Garcia at this year’s Dublin Anarchist Bookfair where he was speaking about the CNT’s successes in organising workers in the Andalucía region. The anarchist movement in Spain is now in the process of rebuilding its influence among workers and the efforts of activists such as Manuel is central to the success that they are having. On this occasion I wanted to speak to Manuel about the legacy of the Franco dictatorship. (Translation for this interview was kindly provided by José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton.)
KD: The talk you gave just now was excellent. But I want to ask you about a different, though connected, struggle that is ongoing throughout Spain at this present time. This is what is known as the movement for the recovery of historical memory. What can you tell me about this?
MG: As you know the situation on July 19th 1936 was different in different areas of Spain. In many places the people rose up and the revolution triumphed. But in Andalucía the army had the upper hand very early on. So, in effect, in much of Andalucía the people were free for only a very short time. So you cannot properly speak of a civil war in the region. Rather, from the outset, there was a massive act of repression. When the coup happened, within one week, almost the entire region of Andalucía was in the control of the Nationalist troops – that is the Francoist troops that were coming across from Morocco. The truth is that tens of thousands of people died immediately at their hands.
KD: In Andalucía where was the resistance successful?
MG: There was some armed resistance in the mountains of Huelva and in Seville itself but in most places thousands of people were summarily executed. They had no guns in their hands. In the east of Andalucía, the resistance to Franco lasted the longest – around Almeria and that region. But here the repression when it came was even harsher. There is a particularly infamous event that is well documented. As people were fleeing from the Malaga area towards Almeria, after the collapse of the front there, thousands and thousand died on the roads just trying to get refuge. They were bombed and shot down from the skies. It was a slaughter.
KD: What happened once Franco had won the Civil War?
MG: In fact even when the Franco’s dictatorship had won they still considered the situation to be one of war and a veritable war was waged against the workers. In political and cultural terms it was waged with the purpose of annihilating any vestige of resistance. The 40s and the 50s were very harsh years. In other words then we are not only talking about people who were annihilated during this mass initial repression but we are talking about the thousands who were executed later on.
KD: What sort of numbers are we talking about?
MG: It is very hard to know how many died. There is no full record as such. And many of the executions were carried out summarily. And not just by the authorities but often just by the local boss or landowner. This is something of interest to the movement for the recovery of historical memory now. They are trying to piece together exactly what happened. There is a website called ‘We Want All The Names’ which is trying to get the name of each and every person who was executed. It wants to place a short biog with each name to record the situation of all those who suffered repression. This is a job that is being carried out in a very local way.
KD: Is the movement led by families and relatives or by political activists?
MG: Both. This effort is being driven by militants of the left but also in many many cases by relatives. The most important thing for many involved is actually to recover the bodies of the victims and give them a proper dignified burial.
KD: How has the anarchist movement related to his process and movement?
MG: Anarchists are very involved with this movement. As you know anarchism was a very big movement in the lead up to July 1936 and in particular the anarchist oriented union – the CNT – was a key organisation in the revolution. Furthermore the unions and the union movement itself were the main targets of the repression. And it’s fair to say that the CNT in particular was targeted. So we are very involved with the movement to recover historical memory. But not only in the sense of identifying the victims and what happened in this and that situation. As anarchists we are also involved in order to bring awareness on the social structures created and fostered by the dictatorship. What we are talking about here is specifically the culture of fear, of terror that has survived the dictatorship and that is alive in Spain today. There is still a real fear about getting involved in struggles because of the culture of terror that the Franco regime imbedded in society. This fear is alive and it is important to challenge it. So the movement to recovery memory also has an important role to play in addressing this big issue.
KD: It is a very difficult process to go through but necessary? Is that so?
MG: Yes, that is how it is. But it is very necessary because thirty years on from the end of the dictatorship many people who suffered repression are still afraid to speak. And that in part is because repression became a taboo subject for many families. This of course is what the dictatorship wanted. The repression that occurred was very effective in the sense that whole families were criminalised and stigmatised by the regime and the authorities. And this, in many cases, had the effect that the regime desired.
KD: Can you give an example?
MG: Well instead of opposing the regime some people reacted against the Left saying ‘My family was killed because of those ideas (i.e. the ideas of anarchism say)’. And then they often tried to rationalise the situation – the tragedies that had been visited on their families – by saying, ‘Oh look my father was not an anarchist or was not a communist. He was just a good chap and he was killed by mistake.’ So in many cases the response was what the Franco regime wanted deep down: people shied away at a very close level from some of the tragic events that happened around them.
KD: So the present upsurge in efforts to identify victims is a challenge to that?
MG: Yes, in that sense it is very good for Spanish society. And of course it is also very good for people as individuals. Many are finding out their family history for the first time. For example they discover that their grandfather was a militant with the CNT. The family lore may provided some information for example that their grandfather was ‘unusual’ and ‘had never got married but had a family’ or stuff like that. But by looking more closely and delving into the past they discover that say this grandfather had a CNT card. This gives people an understanding of what happened. So they find out the politics of their own family – that they may have been anarchists, communists or republicans – and that there was a reason for those things that may have happened to their families during the time of the dictatorship.
KD: How has the Spanish state reacted to this movement?
MG: There is a law of historical memory. But it is a very restrictive and now they are not even implementing it. So in most cases the work that has been done so far has been done by people acting as individuals. In fact in over 90% of cases it has been down to individual efforts that the graves of victims have been found. And a further example of the opposition in the Spanish state is the prosecution of Judge Garcon who is standing trial now. And for us as anarchist, our view is that this opposition is proof that the current society is in many ways the direct heir of the Franco dictatorship.
KD: The process of recovery memory has accelerated over the last while. Do you have a view as to why this is so?
MG: It’s a complicated matter. The CNT and all sections of the revolutionary left since the democratic opening at the end of the formal dictatorship in 1975 have been fighting for a social memory in order to purge the state apparatus – the judiciary and the police, the military – of fascist elements. But also in order to create awareness of what forty years of dictatorship has meant and what been its effect over ordinary people. For example we have argued that it is very important to rehabilitate the memories of those who resisted not just during the Civil War but actually after. Until recently many of those who opposed the dictatorship were considered as brigands and nothing more. Now the process of finding out what really went on is well underway.
KD: Many thanks for time comrades and my thanks to our fine translator.
Liberty Hall, Dublin May 2010