"Once again Spain is a crucible of international conflict centred around the understanding of Europe’s history."
By Alejandro Quiroga, co-editor of Right-Wing Spain in the Civil War Era
The Spanish Second Republic and the Civil War remains one of the most fiercely debated periods of twentieth-century European history. The democratic era that preceded the Civil War was a time of intense popular mobilization, profound social changes and deep cultural transformations. In the space of five years, the Republic witnessed the rise and fall of left and right-wing governments, the involvement for the first time of women in mass politics, education, agrarian and labour reforms and revolutionary uprisings. The Spanish Civil War’s international dimension placed the conflict at the heart of European politics. The ideological and political influences that shaped the conflict and the moral dilemmas of foreign intervention are issues which continue to be of relevance today.
The 40-year long dictatorship that followed the Civil War certainly set Spain apart from other Western European countries, although it is often forgotten that it was Winston Churchill’s determination to keep Franco in power and the coming of the Cold War that facilitated this historical anomaly. It was the very longevity of the dictatorship that allowed Francoists to shape their own ‘record’ of the brutal regime imposed in 1939. The negotiated nature of the transition to democracy in the late 1970s, which meant that many Francoists kept their posts in the state apparatus, also hampered a proper revision of the past in constitutional Spain. Nevertheless, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the post-1989 ‘return to history’ all over Europe led to a re-evaluation of Spain’s fascist past. The so-called ‘memory wars’, the bitter disputes about the meanings and legacies of European dictatorships, have been especially virulent in Spain. Forms of sociological Francoism continue to this day to shape collective memory inside twenty-first-century Spain, as singularly evidenced in the enduring institutional opposition to the civic campaigns to find and identify the thousands of Republicans extra-judicially murdered in the unmarked graves where they still lie.
The afterlife of Francoism flaming at the heart of Spain’s continuing memory wars has also become a component of contemporary politics. For ‘nostalgic’ Francoists – who never really went away - are now grist to the mill of a newly ascendant conservatism of Christian hue that takes sustenance from the rise elsewhere in post-1989 Europe of intolerant forms of populist nationalism, usually with their own adjunct of moral fundamentalism. In this way, Spain’s memory wars are becoming increasingly interlocked with other similar conflicts elsewhere in Europe, which are, in turn, giving a new lease of life to many Francoist myths. Once again Spain is a crucible of international conflict centred around the understanding of Europe’s history.