Coming to Terms with the Past: Spain’s Memory Wars

Helen Graham reveals the key role historians are playing in the aftermath of Franco’s ‘Uncivil Peace’.

Between 1936 and 1939 Spanish society was ripped apart in a brutal civil war. It had been unleashed by a military coup supported by those who feared the potential for change opened up by the democratic Second Republic in 1931. In the aftermath of the coup a dirty war was waged in territory controlled by the army. Civilians collaborated with the military authorities in the mass murder of their compatriots -urban and rural workers, liberal professionals, regional nationalists and intellectuals, all groups identified with the Republic. The killers, ritually and sadistically, enacted their desire to annihilate not only their human enemies but change itself. The civil war meanwhile escalated into an international conflict. Largely as a result of the military aid provided by Hitler and Mussolini, General Francisco Franco went on to win the war against Spain's fledgling democracy. But although the military conflict was over by April 1st, 1939, what followed cannot be called peace.

Under Franco, state and society were to be remade by the violent exclusion of the defeated. All those who had supported the Republic were demonised as 'anti-Spain'. Placed beyond the nation, they were deemed to be without rights. Tens of thousands were executed, judicially murdered after summary military trials. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children also spent time in prisons, reformatories, concentration camps and labour battalions.

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