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Why are schoolchildren in Spain so ignorant about the last 100 years of their country´s history?
Spain has marked two important anniversaries in the past week: 90 years since the Second Republic was proclaimed and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the “Spanish” concentration Camp, Mauthausen.
For the first time since I have lived in Spain (18 years) these two events received blanket coverage on Spanish television including a two part documentary on the Second Republic.
All the channels commented on the “ignorance” of generations of schoolchildren regarding the history of their country. However, opinion was divided on the culprit. Was it the lack of information in school text books which, if they mention the Second Republic at all, dedicate an average of six pages to it, or is it a result of the “Transition,” which gave both sides of the Civil War impunity for crimes and atrocities committed and aimed to establish a non-blame culture?
There is a wealth of information discussing the standard of school text books in Spanish schools, which underlines that even now there is a tendency to “cover up, silence or hide” information about Republican prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps; a tendency to “forget” or minimize the brutal suppression of the opposition during the dictatorship; and a tendency to provide scant coverage of the Second Republic.
The proclamation of the Second Republic in Spain on April 14, 1931, followed an overwhelming vote against the Spanish monarchy, obliging Alfonzo XIII into exile. Overnight Spain became the most progressive pioneer of Socialist politics in Europe.
The first important reforms were to give women the right to vote; make Spain a lay state; permit divorce; and introduce free co-education in the face of a 30% national illiteracy rate.
The Agricultural Land Reform aimed to redistribute land from the gentry among the people who worked on it, replacing a feudal system which committed farm workers to abject poverty.
Not surprisingly, anger and hatred simmered among Catholics, who loathed the divorce laws and
women´s votes and in the Church itself which saw its influence over Spanish politics disappear overnight. Especially as the Catholic Church had been an extremely powerful ally of the right wing during two previous dictatorships in Spain, when it was protected and enriched.
Right wing politicians and military chiefs starting plotting a military coup as soon as the Republic was officially proclaimed. However, ironically, it was democracy that gave them the power to govern when, three years after the proclamation of the Republic the right wing and central right parties won the General Elections of 1933.
Victory was short-lived as, within a year, their leader was forced to resign  after violently suppressing (with dozens of deaths and arrests) the National Strike of 1934.
The third elections during the Second Republic saw the Frente Popular, left wing coalition win by a narrow margin. Political differences and internal divisions in both the left and right coalitions led to violence in the streets, strikes and protests.
The general population held the Government responsible for not keeping law and order and the Catholic Church and Conservative press led a discourse of disorder and social chaos.
The assassination of Jose Calvo Sotelo, minister in the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and one of the sharpest critics of the Popular Frente, served as a pretext for the military conspiracy which led to the Military Coup of 1936.
The Republicans, communists and anarchists refused to give up the power they had won democratically and the two sides fought it out in the very bloody Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939).
Francisco Franco led the fight for the Right with support from the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany. The Republicans received support and arms from the Soviet Union. However, it was an uneven contest:
Franco´s well trained and well-armed troops, with aerial bombing support from fascist allies, versus a ragtag, badly equipped army of the Left.
Great Britain and France signed a “non-intervention treaty” and stood on the side-lines.
More than 600,000 people had died and 200,000 had been exiled by October 1, 1939, when the Republican Army unconditionally surrendered.
Thousands on the Republican side crossed over into France and ended up in the French prisoner of war camps or joined the French resistance. It was from these camps and with Franco´s approval that some 15,000 republican soldiers were transferred, principally to Mathausen (known as the Spanish camp because of the high number of Spanish nationals imprisoned there) where 60% of them died.
Mathausen was also the fate of many who joined the resistance and were arrested by the German occupying army in France.
Post-Civil War led to nearly 40 years of arrests and tortures for those on the Republican side including local, regional and national politicians and party members. Criticism or opposition to the dictatorship was brutally crushed (victims including the poet and playwright Federico Lorca, executed by firing squad and his body never recovered, and the poet Antonio Machado who was exiled in France).
During the first years of the dictatorship alone 25,000 were executed and thousands of others were used as slave labour by the Franco dictatorship to build reservoirs, national roads and national monuments, such as the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de Los Caídos) where Franco was buried.
The regime confiscated lands and properties from left wingers and distributed them amongst their supporters. They seized new born babies from Republican mothers, claiming they had died at birth, and gave them to rich regime supporters for adoption.
Franco´s rule was 39 years of bloody suppression, abject poverty and misery for anyone on the losing side. The transition (from dictatorship to democracy) aimed to preserve peace and obviate further military coups with a clean slate, a type of national amnesia, has led to an historical oblivion which has taken a heavy toll on Spanish civic culture.
The architect of the transition was Adolfo Suarez, ex Minister under Franco, who persuaded both the architects of the dictatorship and the Left, including the Communists, to accept an option of “closure and forgiveness” for the crimes of the Civil War and the dictatorship. They were to be buried, forgotten and written off without any historical reference, making it difficult to counteract the existing hegemony of traditionalist Catholic values, social cronyism and political corruption.
Under the previous Socialist (PSOE) Government of Zapatero the Law of Historical Memory was passed. This was the first move towards unravelling the impunity of the dictatorship and recognising the victims.
The subsequent government by the right wing Partido Popular under Rajoy immediately froze all funds for the new law making it increasingly difficult to right some of the wrongs of the past. Simple things like changing street names commemorating members of the fascist dictatorship; removing memorials to the “glory of Franco” and, most sad of all, bringing the search for relatives executed and buried in mass graves to a halt.
It is only now under the current Socialist PSOE) – Podemos Coalition that victims of the dictatorship have been able to begin to recover the remains of their dead; begin to search for their natural parents after being given away at birth, usually by nuns and/or priests under Franco´s benevolent eye; see the body of Franco torn out of the heart of the magnificent monument, the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de Los Caídos) and buried in a run of the mill  graveyard; and secure permission to exhume the bodies of the Republican supporters who died building the monument and were buried in mass graves inside it.
There is a massive etcetera of open wounds appearing in the fabric of the Transition: the torturers who received medals and still receive pensions for their “services to the nation,” or the Republican men and women who still appear on the list of “enemies of the state.”
After years of silence imposed by the Transition, which deprived the Republican side of any justice, retribution or apology and dumbed down  school text books with historical inaccuracies, (for example: referring to Franco´s dictatorship as a “regime” in an attempt to bestow legitimacy; listing the atrocities on the Republican side but supressing details of the brutal suppression of the post-civil war years; ignoring completely the stolen babies, the mass graves; and, of course, skimming quickly over the great Socialist revolution which was the proclamation of the Second Republic), maybe the families of Franco´s victims can stop looking back in anger but look forward in hope, not to revenge or vendetta, but to the truth finally being part of the history curriculum being taught to their children and grandchildren.

Photo: The monolith erectd in Calasparra in 2016 in memory of the seven Calasparrians who died in Mauthausen

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