Category Archives: Franco

Massacre in Barcelona


Barcelona was bombarded for three days from March 16th to 19th, 1938, at the height of the Spanish Civil War. That’s seventy years ago, today.

The attacking aeroplanes were Italian, under the ultimate command of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, and had come at General Franco’s request to teach the Catalan population of Spain a lesson or two.

The Italian aeroplanes had been stationed on the island of Mallorca. The Republican forces had already retreated from Mallorca in September 1936. The retreat was more of a flight, leaving behind weapons, material and many men.

Now it was Barcelona’s turn. Barcelona suffered 13 massive air strikes by the Italian aeroplanes. A total of 44 tons of bombs were dropped over the city. The bombings were aimed at the civil population; no military objects were attacked. The bombs included fire bombs and gas bombs. More than one thousand people died, among them many children. The number of people injured is estimated to be in the thousands.

The medieval Cathedral of Barcelona was one of the targets that was bombed.


One has to remember that at that precise moment, Spain was still a Republic. General Elections in January 1936 had brought the Popular Front into Government, a coalition of Socialists, Communists, Catalan and Madrid-based left-wing Republicans. Manuel Azaña was the President of this Second Spanish Republic, formally and legally in charge until 1939, when Franco’s gruesome regime declared victory in the War of Brothers. 

Things had already gone out of control as early as 1936.

History bears evidence to the fact that from then on Spain entered a chaotic period of incredible violence and brutality in which not only partisans of the right and left but also ordinary citizens bore the burden of war, poverty, and murder.

It seems that only now, 70 years after the horrific events and massacres, people in Spain are finally coming to a state of mind where it is possible to talk about the events from the past and about what happened between 1936 and 1939, the Guerra Civil de España.


To this end, the Generalitat de Catalunya has organized a series of events, talks and exhibitions to make sure that the victims are not forgotten. And victims there were plenty. People were not only attacked, and killed, in Barcelona, but all over Catalunya during the years of the Civil War (and all over Spain, of course).

If you are interested in finding out more, and provided that your Spanish, Catalan or Italian language abilities are sufficient, you could get more information on the Barcelonabombardejada website (no English language option available).

The bloody war in Iraq started five years ago this week, on March 20th. Even though one can not compare one deadly war with another, it is quite evident that the only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn.


Many Winners And Too Many Losers


November 20th is a significant date for Spain.


Thirty-two years ago yesterday, Spain’s Fascist era came to an end with the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, victor of the Spanish Civil War and head of state since 1939. Franco declared himself President for Life in 1947. His regime has been deeply reactionary, with political parties and trade unions banned, and with artists, intellectuals and sociological as well as ethnic minorities repressed. 

Franco ensured the Royalist succession by nominating, in 1969, Don Juan Carlos Borbon y Borbon as his “heir”. Juan Carlos became the first occupant of the Spanish throne since his grandfather Alfonso XIII had abdicated in 1931. 

Franco, also known as the Generalissimo, was buried in the mountainside mausoleum Abadía Benedictina de la Santa Cruz de el Valle de los Caídos (“Benedictine Abbey of the Valley of the Fallen”), a giant necropolis to the south of Madrid built under Franco’s auspices to house the Nationalist men who died under his command during the Civil War. 

Only a few weeks ago, the Spanish parliament passed a law (Ley de la Memoria Histórica de España) condemning General Franco’s regime, a law which provoked painful memories in Spain, three decades after his death. Up to one million Spaniards lost their lives during Franco’s Civil War between 1936 and 1939, which was supported by Hitler’s Germany and Italy under Mussolini. Many in Spain – the Military, the Church, the Bourgeoisie – had come out victorious, whilst many others found themselves on the losing side – artists, intellectuals, Republicans, and other democratically inclined citizens.

A mass was held yesterday at the cathedral in Granada, Spain, in Franco’s memory. Anti-Fascist demonstrators rallied in the streets of Granada to protest against this blatant demonstration of right-winged nationalism, against old-style Fascists and Franco-supporters, as well as against the role that the Catholic church played during the 39 years, condoning Franco’s tyranny. A dozen protesters were arrested; four of them were detained overnight.


A number of books have been published recently in Spain, giving an, as yet, untold insight into the darker aspects of Spain’s atrocious years of Civil War. One interesting example, albeit in Spanish only, at the moment, is Habíamos ganado la guerra, by Esther Tusquets (Editorial Bruguera, Barcelona).




Also, a number of filmmakers have begun to focus on the, as yet, untold stories of the victims on either side. One remarkable new movie is Las 13 Rosas, by Emilio Martínez Lázaro. You may have seen his work El otro lado de la cama.


If you live in Spain and are not afraid of the spoken Spanish word, this is a film that might help to look back not in anger, but in hope. The film is one of three Spanish entries for an Oscar nomination next year, for films in a foreign language, but let’s not get too excited. After all, Hollywood is Hollywood.


Let’s Talk About the Spanish Inquisition



I am sorry. I got it all wrong.

In my blog entry dated July 18th, Better Late Than Never, I was under the wrong impression that the Catholic church would beatify 498 Spanish martyrs as a late but somehow inevitable gesture to make amends about their role during the years of the Spanish Civil War. I even thought that the announced beatification was meant as a way of saying ‘Sorry’, albeit a bit late. But, as I suggested, it would be better late than never.

Well, last Sunday was the big day in Rome. 40,000 Spaniards apparently attended the largest mass beatification that the Catholic church has ever celebrated. But, it was all wrong, from my point of view, and from the point of a balanced historical assessment.

Amongst the 498 martyrs beatified and postumously honoured, it seems that there was not a single name that can be attributed to the Spanish Republican cause. All of the dead martyrs were Catholic priests and nuns, and all of them had died standing up for, and siding with, General Francisco Franco and the totalitarian regime that the Generalissimo stood for. 

Critics other then me accuse the Vatican of playing politics by promoting recognition of one side of the Civil War’s protagonists.

Spain remains deeply polarized, even today, as it struggles to come to terms with its past.


Spain is currently governed by the PSOE party of the Socialists, under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. His government is in the process of passing a bill later this week, called Ley de la Memoria Histórica, under which Spain would try to come to terms with the atrocities of the Franco regime. Spain’s Catholic church on the whole sided with the Fascists led by Francisco Franco, who overthrew the elected leftist government, eventually won the war and ruled as a dictator for nearly four decades, granting wide power and influence to the church.

The Catholic church in Spain has a history of doing dark and wicked deeds, and getting away with it. Let’s just look at another chapter of Spain’s history, a possibly even darker one than the Civil War. Yes, I am talking about the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1478, Queen Isabel established the Spanish Inquisition under the leadership of the Dominican monk Tomás de Torquemada. The Inquisition was initially founded to ensure the sincerity of former Jews and Muslims who had recently converted to Christianity, known as Conversos and Moriscos respectively. Insincere converts were suspected of disloyalty and punished. 

As an institution that operated in both Castile and Aragón, the Inquisition was an instrument for unity in Spain. It brought both monarchies closer to the Roman Catholic church and it helped guarantee that Spain would remain a profoundly Catholic country.

In its first decades, the Inquisition tried and punished thousands of people, including many Conversos involved in commerce and trade. However, it soon turned into a general witch-hunt. The Inquisition turned on any and all royal subjects. People judged to be heretics were executed, often by burning at the stake.



In 1492, all unconverted Jews were ordered to leave Spain, and as many as 100,000 emigrated to Portugal, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and other parts of Europe. In the early 17th century the Spanish inquisitors turned their attention to Muslims. Between 1609 and 1614, more than 250,000 Spanish Muslims were driven out of Spain. Later, the Spanish Inquisition sought to discipline citizens suspected of practicing Protestantism.

At the time, many Spaniards considered the Inquisition a triumph for Roman Catholicism. The church, with Royal cooperation, also censored books, and students were prohibited from studying abroad to prevent the importation of Protestant ideas into Spain. These practices eventually cut Spain off from intellectual developments in Europe and turned Spanish universities into academic backwaters. This isolation made it more difficult for Spain to modernize in later centuries. In addition, the urge to protect royal legitimacy, power, and prestige, led Spain to fight wars it could not win, at great cost to Spain’s society and economy.

For the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs) – a title given to Fernando and Isabel by Pope Alexander VI for their religious devotion – religious observation was central to achieving domestic peace. The Spanish monarchs, like their European counterparts, were believed to rule as trustees of God. This direct link to divine authority is what made rulers legitimate in Europe. It also made non-Christians or heretics dangerous because their rejection of Christianity implied that they did not accept the monarch’s right to rule.

Spain, in my view, is to this day a rather conservative country. The country is polarized, not unlike it was in the Thirties, between those, who think that Franco was not a bad man after all, and those who would prefer to live in the present world rather than in the Past. The old divide continues to exist, between those on the Left and those on the Right.


The previous Spanish government was ousted three days after the deadly Madrid train bombing of 2004, which many people understood to be a consequence to the government of José María Aznar’s decision to go to war in Iraq with the Big Boys, against the expressed wishes of large parts of the Spanish population.

The Church in Spain now wants to gain some of the influence back that it had in the old days. The Vatican’s ceremony two days ago was not an attempt to come clean and to offer an apology, but an attempt to turn the clocks back to a Spain that is conservative, that is non-democratic and that is xenophobic

I would not be surprised if the Church somehow, secretly, would want to resurrect the days of the Spanish Inquisition.  

May God save us all from his or her Catholic disciples.


A Word About Federico García Lorca


I keep telling you about all these people, like Kahlo and Picasso, Hemingway and Graves, plus my bits about Gandhi, and Elvis, and I do not even know whether you are interested in the slightest.

Oh well, never mind. I wouldn’t tell you, if I wasn’t interested. I suppose that has to be my guideline.

Today I’ll offer you an entry about Federico García Lorca. He was born in Fuente Vaqueros, Granada, Spain, 5th June,1898; he died near Granada, 19th August,1936. Killed. Executed. Murdered. That is 71 years ago, today.

One does not know who killed him, or why. Perhaps it was a political murder, because García Lorca was considered left-leaning. Or it was a Fascist murder, because Lorca stood for the arts and the intellect and for freedom of the mind. Or it was, because Lorca was said to be more interested in men than in the opposite gender.

One has to bear in mind that 1936 was the beginning of the Spanish civil war. Franco had not risen to power yet, but was well on his way. The dossier on García Lorca’s execution-style murder compiled later, at Franco’s request, has yet to be made public. Hurry up, Zapatero.

Fittingly, the Franco regime, in power from 1939, placed a general ban on García Lorca’s work, which was not rescinded until 1953 when a (heavily censored) Obras Completas was released.

Federico García Lorca was a poet and dramatist, a talented artist and a member of the Generación de 1927, a group of writers who advocated avantgardism in literature. Among García Lorca’s best-known plays is Blood Wedding, a story of a bride who runs away with a previous lover, and is subsequently murdered by her husband. In both his drama and poetry, García Lorca balanced between the traditional and the modern, between mythology and contemporary cultural trends.

In the 1930s, after a brief time in the United States and Cuba, Lorca gained even more recognition for his plays, especially what has been called his ‘earth trilogy’ (or ‘rural trilogy’), Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), Yerma and La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba).

García Lorca first read law at the University of Granada, but later entered the University of Madrid. At the same time he also studied music. In the 1920s, García Lorca collaborated with Manuel de Falla, becoming an expert pianist and guitar player. In 1919 he moved to Madrid, where he lived at the Residencia de Estudiantes, the intellectual centre of the town. His friends included the writer Pablo Neruda, amongst others.

With the Catalán painter Salvador Dalí and the Spanish film director Louis Buñuel he worked on different film productions.

From the beginning, García Lorca was fascinated by young Dalí’s personality and looks. When Buñuel and Dalí made their famous short film ‘Un Chien Andalou’, García Lorca was offended: he thought that the film was about him. Lorca’s friendship with Dalí inspired a poem, a defense of modern art and at the same time an expression of homosexual love.


I’ll tell you about Salvador Dalí some other time, if you want. Buñuel, we’ll see.


García Lorca is Spain’s most deeply appreciated and highly revered poet and dramatist. But it might have been his brutal murder that brought him sudden international fame.



You may have seen Blood Wedding on stage; if not, may I suggest you get the Carlos Saura film version on DVD. Very good stuff. Very moving. Very Spanish. Great. Fiery.

Seeing García Lorca’s plays on stage, not much of the drama is lost in the translations, I think. For his poetry, however, I would definitely prefer the original version, in Spanish.

If you reside in Spain, like I do, you might be up to it.

And if you ever are anywhere near Granada, why not pay a visit to the Museo-Casa of the man himself? You’ll find it in c/ Poeta García Lorca, 4, Fuente Vaqueros, just outside of Granada. It is quite charming.

Granada is worth a visit at any time, García Lorca or not.

Babylonian Confusion in Spain



A country, a nation, a culture is normally defined by a common tongue, a language in commune. At least that is how it used to be, in the old days. Well, not everywhere, it seems.

Everybody knows about Switzerland, where French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansch are spoken. And perhaps Belgium, where French, Flemish and some German is spoken. But one often forgets, with most people in Britain speaking English, that many speak Welsh in Wales, Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, Cornish in Cornwall, and Irish in Northern Ireland.

What about Spain then? Don’t they speak Spanish in Spain? Hm, yes and no.

Spain is different from most countries, in as much as four separate languages are in use officially: Castilian, Catalan, Galician and Euskera (Basque).

Castilian is the language from Castilia and Madrid, and is used officially all over Spain. That is, used and spoken by the Courts and Central Government offices. And spoken mono-lingually by some 29,000,000 people up and down the country (out of an approximate population in Spain of 40,500,000).

During Spain’s dark hour, the Spanish civil war, General Franco tried his best to make every soul on Spanish soil speak the only language that he spoke, i. e. Castilian, or else … Anyone found speaking anything other than Castilian between 1937 and 1944 stood a fair chance of being punished, and often that meant imprisonment. The Generalísimo nearly succeeded in this and in much else and would have done, had he lasted not only 40 years as a dictator, but 400.

After Franco, things swung back to where nature had put things originally. People grew up, speaking their mother tongue. In Spain, the number of languages listed is 15. Of those, 13 are living languages and 2 are extinct.

In the Spanish regions of Galicia, Asturias, Pais Vasco, Catalunya, Illes Balears and Comunitat Valenciana, the regional language is spoken by the people, taught at school and is used by the Provincial Government authorities. In other parts of Spain, six more languages, other than Castilian, Catalan, Galician and Euskera, are spoken locally, such as Extremaduran, Asturian, Valenciano, Aragonese, Fala and Aranese, but not taught at school and not used by the Provincial Government authorities.

Lest one forgets history. In most of southern Spain, Arabic used to be the official language, ca. 1050, or rather Mozarabic, a Romance language with Arabic influences. Mozarabic is now extinct.


But sometimes extinct is not forever.


45th Wedding Anniversary


King Juan Carlos I and Reina Sofía are spending their annual holiday in Mallorca at this very moment, as they have done for the last 30 years or so.


Only two months ago, the Spanish King and Queen were able to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. 14 May, 1962, was the happy date, when the two descendants of Queen Victoria were joined in matrimony, in Athens in case you should wonder.


Not many people would have foretold at that time that King Juan Carlos would lead the way for Spain to become a modern and democratic society. Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbón was born on 5th January 1938 in Rome, where the Royal Family was living in exile at that time, having had to leave Spain when the Republic was proclaimed in 1931. His father was Don Juan de Borbón y Battenberg, Count of Barcelona and Head of the Spanish Royal Household ever since King Alfonso XIII had relinquished this reign in 1931. His mother was Doña Maria de las Mercedes de Borbón y Orleans.


At the express wish of his father, he was educated in Spain which he visited for the first time at the age of ten. In 1954 he completed his Baccalaureate at the San Isidro School in Madrid. In 1955 he began his studies, at the Military Academies of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. During this time he carried out his practice voyage as a midshipman on a training ship. He also qualified as a military pilot. In 1960/61 he completed his education at Madrid’s Complutense University, where he studied constitutional and international law, economics and taxation.


And in 1962, Juan Carlos married Princess Sofía of Greece, the eldest daugther of King Paul I and Queen Federika.



Juan Carlos and Sofía are related several times. Juan Carlos is a grandson of Queen Victoria-Eugenia of Spain, born a Princess of Battenberg. Victoria-Eugenia was the only daughter of Prince Henry of Battenberg and Princess Beatrice of Great Britain.


Sofía is a descendant of Queen Victoria through both her parents. King Paul I of the Hellenes was the youngest son of King Constantine I and Queen Sophie, born a Princess of Prussia. Sophie was the third daughter of Kaiser Friedrich III and Kaiserin Victoria, who was Queen Victoria’s eldest child. Sophia’s mother, Frederica of Hanover, was the only daughter of Duke Ernst-August of Brunswick and Princess Victoria-Luise of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s only daughter. Wilhelm II and Queen Sophie of Greece were siblings, both being children of Kaiser Friedrich III and Kaiserin Victoria. Duke Ernst-August was closely related to the English royal family, as the head of the old Hanoverian royal family. Ernst-August was the grandson of King George V of Hanover, only son of King Ernst-August of Hanover and Duke of Cumberland. Ernst-August was the younger brother of Edward, Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father.


The Spanish Dictator, Francisco Franco, had designated Juan Carlos as future successor to the Head of State, way back in 1969. Two days after Generalissimo Franco died, Juan Carlos I was proclaimed King of Spain, on 22 November, 1975.


Upon his proclamation as King, Juan Carlos expressed in his first message to the nation the basic ideas of his reign – to restore democracy and become King of all Spaniards, without exception. The transition to democracy, under the guidance of a new Government, began with the Law on Political Reform in 1976. In May 1977, the Count of Barcelona transferred to Juan Carlos his dynasty rights and his position as head of the Spanish Royal Household, at a ceremony which confirmed the fulfilment of the role incumbent on the Crown in the restoration of democracy. A month later the first democratic elections since 1936 were held in Spain and the new parliament drafted the text of the current Constitution, approved in a referendum on 6th December, 1978.


Of course, there is a reason why I am telling you all this.


Last week, a member of the new Balearic Government, only sworn in three weeks earlier, proclaimed that the Royal family was not welcome in Mallorca any longer and should seek a different place in Spain, or elsewhere, to spend their annual holidays. There was surprisingly little uproar about this in the Spanish press, to my mind, and I am certain that the kings and queens will continue their summer vacations in Mallorca for some time to come.


But I also believe that in the Europe of the XXI Century, one ought to have a closer look at today’s role of monarchy, here in the Kingdom of Spain and possibly elsewhere as well.


After all, it seems an out-dated model, to say the least.

Better Late, Than Never




An attempted coup d’état was launched in Spain 71 years ago, yesterday. The coup was committed by parts of the Spanish army against the government of the Second Spanish Republic and thus, it manifested the start of the Spanish Civil War as a major conflict.

Franco eventually won the day, and the three years of the Civil War. In my humble opinion, he could not have won had it not been for two major allies: one, Joan March Ordinas, from Mallorca, who later became one of the wealthiest people anywhere in the world, and secondly, the Church. Yes, that is Joan March who later founded the Banca March, and yes, that is the Catholic Church.

The Church has long been criticized for their active or passive involvement in the Franco Regime, as they have been criticized for their involvement in the Hitler Regime, elsewhere. It has taken the Church seventy years to try and make amends, but now, it seems, it is time for Rome to say ‘Sorry’. About time, too.

The current Pope, apparently some dinosaurian German, approved on 1st June, 2007, the decrees of recognition of martyrdom of a total of 498 victims of the Spanish Civil War to be beatified later this year, in Rome. To be precise, that includes victims of the 1934 Asturias Rebellion and of the 1936 and 1937 persecution of Catholics during the Spanish Civil War.

The beatification ceremony will be held on 28th October, 2007 (Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a feast which had been established by the very Pope reigning at the time of the victims martyrdom. He was Italian, Pius XI, until 1939, and later, Pius XII, after that, I am told). Time to turn some leaves.

The complete list of all 498 martyrs is available here and includes several known names, such as Bishop Narciso Estenaga Echevarría, of Ciudad Real, and that of Cruz Laplana y Laguna, of Cuenca, as well as some of the martyrs of the greatest massacre of Catholics in the 20th Century (Paracuellos de Jarama), and the Augustinians of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

Well, all that martyr naming will not bring any victims back to life, but let’s all agree that sometime it is better to say ‘Sorry’ late, than never. Something that the March family and others still need to be reminded of.


Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is in Mexico, on an official visit. He is not there to say ‘Sorry’ but, much better, to say ‘Thank you’ to the Mexican people.


Zapatero’s visit took an emotional turn last Monday, when he paid tribute to the so-called Children of Morelia (see the photo above) who arrived in Mexico at a young age fleeing Spain and the Civil War. Some 60 elderly men and women who arrived in Mexico without their parents in 1937, listened last Monday to Spain’s Zapatero, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and the grandson of Lazaro Cardenas, the Mexican president who helped the children get to that far away North American country, 70 years ago.


Gracias. Muchas gracias.

There are always two sides to things, it seems. At least.