Trans-Iberian

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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Pressure builds to save monument to the International Brigades

Por: | 28 de junio de 2013

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Madrid’s only memorial to those who fought in the International Brigades during the Civil War is not large. Standing on the campus of Complutense University, it is barely taller than the small tree alongside it. At its base are flowers placed to commemorate the 35,000 or so soldiers who travelled from as many as 53 nations to fight against Fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Within walking distance is a huge stone arch. It towers above the road, looking out across an area where some of the bloodiest fighting in the Civil War took place. A victorious Franco had the arch erected, after he had wrested power from the democratically elected government.

In Madrid’s barrio of Fuencarral is an anti-aircraft gun once belonging to the Nazi Condor Legion, the Luftwaffe contingent that crushed Guernica into the ground.

One of these three is condemned.

The monument to the International Brigades was erected on 22 October 2011 in a ceremony attended by many prominent left-wingers, including ex-judge Baltazar Garzón. It has been defaced and attacked, with red paint and the word “murderers” splashed over it. Now a lawyer, Miguel García, has found a planning irregularity and taken it to the Supreme Court of Madrid. As it stands the monument is to be pulled down after the court ruled that the university had failed to gain the necessary planning permissions. This is the case with other monuments across Madrid, notably some in memory of the victims of the 2004 terrorist attack on Atocha Station. Yet they remain undisturbed.

The right’s gripe comes in part from the fact that the previous government’s Historical Memory law called for the removal of certain symbols and memorials in support of Franco’s rebellion. Yet Madrid still holds many memorials, such as the huge arch mentioned above, built in celebration of the regime. The memorial at Complutense is the only monument to the Brigades in the capital. Even if it stays, history is no level playing field.

The monument has been vandalised and condemned, but it has also been defended. On Saturday June 15th the Association for the Friends of the International Brigades (AABI) organised a protest against its removal. The university’s director, José Carillo, spoke in support of the memorial and said the institution had made three appeals to get retrospective planning permission.  At the time of writing, it is still awaiting a reply.

The AABI’s position is that the heroism of the Brigades must be celebrated and that such monuments are part of a continuing battle with a far right latent after an incomplete transition. The AABI cause also has support from abroad: at the time of writing 49 UK MPs, mostly from the Labour party, had tabled a motion in support of the monument. Vicente Gonzalez, president of the AABI, said that the continued silence from the Town Hall could well be positive; a lack of communication often means success in such cases. There is hope.

The problem is that, even if the memorial is allowed to remain, the decision itself will have been taken mostly in silence and be based on technicalities.

Could a good way to encourage discourse be education? Mr. Gonzalez said that many university students questioned whilst passing the memorial were unaware of its significance, or of the Brigades. The young, he said, have little passion for the struggles of the past, as they know relatively little about them. But young people tend to be more liberal and progressive, and for many the conversation is redundant: they were born into democracy. But should old graves be left covered? Can there be reconciliation without truth? And what if the economy flatlines a while longer; could old issues arise as they have in Greece?

If the war, dictatorship and transition were taught more thoroughly in schools, perhaps a better understanding would spread, helping reconciliation and preventing old issues from resurfacing. With this in mind, the AABI is fighting to have more memorials constructed in Madrid. It hopes to redress the historical balance. Saving the monument at the University of Complutense would be a good start.

When George Orwell, himself a foreigner fighting in Spain, said that history died in 1936 he meant that only what is known of the past survives; usually cherry-picked by the victors. The truth endured the Civil War and the dictatorship that followed, and this should be celebrated. Madrid is an open city, in many ways liberal and progressive. It mustn’t ignore the bones beneath its feet.

Hay 2 Comentarios

his monument its great
http://sfinx.me

a nice monument
perfection

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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