Race, God and Family

Dan Hancox

  • Franco’s Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown
    Vintage, 336 pp, £16.99, March 2015, ISBN 978 1 78470 115 4

On the eve of the general strike across southern Europe in November 2012, I joined a few thousand members of the CCOO, Spain’s largest trade union, for a march through Madrid. They set out on the stroke of midnight, intending to shut down any place of business still open; it was made clear to the owners of restaurants and bars that they weren’t to open the next morning. Carrying whistles, horns, flags and spray paint, the marchers paid special attention to banks – they used glue to put ATMs out of action – and the ruling Partido Popular headquarters. They sang songs against the Troika and the PP, telling the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, where he could stick his labour reform laws. A boisterous river of red flowed along the Gran Via and Paseo del Prado. The Spanish right prudently stayed indoors. It was the second general strike of 2012, the first time there had been two in a single year since the 1980s, and following the Indignados moment of 2011, the feeling was that the Spanish left was once again engaging in what its predecessors in the 1930s called ‘revolutionary gymnastics’.

I saw a surprising reminder of another past that night: a small array of stickers on a shop window with General Franco’s face on them. They had been put out by a tiny fascist grouplet called Nudo Patriota Español; alongside Franco’s face they had composed a slogan involving a pun on the huelga general (‘general strike’), swapping the word vuelva (‘return’) for huelga – ‘Return, general!’ Come back, oh fascist dictator. This sort of thing isn’t often seen in Spain. There are a few other tiny far-right pretenders – España 2000, Fuerza Nueva and Democracía Nacional – but there is no Spanish equivalent to Golden Dawn.

There is no substantial neo-fascist street movement in Spain because, it’s commonly thought, the political, bureaucratic and ideological legacy of Francoism lives on in the mainstream of Spanish power. The most visible sign of this is the Fundación Nacional Francisco Franco, led by the general’s daughter, which was established to archive his documents, honour Falangist martyrs and generally make the case for Francoism. The foundation is controversial, but continues to receive government subsidies, including a grant of €83,000 in 2012 to digitise its archive. It is comfortable making interventions in the public arena: recently it sued the sculptor Eugenio Merino for his work Always Franco, which featured a lifesize model of Franco standing in a Coca-Cola-style glass-fronted fridge. The vice president of the Franco Foundation, Jaime Alonso, described it as ‘an offence that no modern civilisation can tolerate’. It lost the case.

There are no laws prohibiting fascist salutes, flags, symbols, demonstrations or songs. In Xátiva, Valencia, the leaders of the youth wing of the PP were caught on film twice in 2013 giving Nazi salutes and posing with Spanish flags with fascist symbols painted on them. In Catalonia, the PP delegate Llanos de Luna took part in a ceremony honouring the Blue Division, a unit of volunteers who served with the Nazis during the Second World War. In Andalusía there is a roadside restaurant called Casa Pepe, stacked from floor to ceiling with Francoist and Falangist flags, pictures and other memorabilia – it even stocks olive oil and cava in bottles stamped with Franco’s image. Reíllo, a village of 130 people in Cuenca, changed the name of its Calle Generalíssimo in 2008 – but in April last year, the new PP mayor changed it back again. ‘I was born in the 1980s, and that is the history of Spain,’ he said, adding that it was no different from having a street named for Isabella of Castile.

Franco had more than thirty years in power to shape his mythology, and to impose it on the generations born under his rule. His Spain, it was said, had come into being through ‘the triumph of the cross’. The Civil War had been inevitable; the Second Republic of 1931-36 wasn’t only a democracy in the wrong hands, it was a failed state. The election of the Popular Front in February 1936 made Spain more susceptible than ever to a Soviet takeover, and the coup launched by Franco from Spanish Morocco was therefore an essential – and unavoidably bloody – intervention. The Civil War had been a defensive crusade against Bolshevism, ‘for God and for the patria’ – the words inscribed on monuments to the Nationalist war dead, as recorded in Michael Richards’s excellent monograph After the Civil War.[*] The defeated Republican half of Spain was commonly referred to in the press as ‘the Red horde’. Hundreds of thousands of them were killed by Nationalist paramilitaries in a largely planned attempt to wipe out communists, Jews, Muslims, atheists, democrats, freemasons, foreigners, anarchists and homosexuals. It was, in Franco’s words, a ‘glorious crusade’ to save Spain. Richards recounts the words of Admiral Blanco, Franco’s chief of staff, at a ceremony held in 1964 to mark the visit of the papal secretary of state:

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[*] After the Civil War: Making Memory and Remaking Spain since 1936 by Michael Richards (Cambridge, 409 pp., £21.99, 2013, 978 0 521 72818 8).