It’s impossible to talk about Spain’s current or past political scene without mentioning the Spanish Civil War and Francisco Franco’s dictatorship that endured for almost 40 years after the war ended. The aftermath of the war and Franco’s rule permeate every aspect of political life in Spain.
The war started with a military coup. When battle ensued, it was the rebellious Nationalists versus the Republican government. The conflict stemmed from years of polarization between the two sides and lasted from 1936 to 1939. In total, 500,000 people died during the war, with 200,000 of those deaths related to combat, according to Spartacus Educational. When the war ended, the hardship was hardly over. With the Nationalist victory came Franco’s harsh dictatorship that lasted from 1939 until his death in 1975. Franco’s regime was one of cultural oppression, manipulative propaganda, mass executions and much more. Though these events ended more than 40 years ago, they have left lasting impacts on both the physical and cultural landscapes of Spain.
Air raid shelters are the main way I have seen the war influence Barcelona’s physical appearance. According to an article about air raid shelters in Barcelona by Femturisme, 1,400 air raid shelters were built in Barcelona alone during the war. It makes sense that there are so many of them because the Spanish Civil War was the first time bombs were used in battle. Ramon Perera was the engineer who headed the construction of these air raid shelters meters below the ground using the Catalan Vault construction, which made them incredible stable and able to withstand the force of bombs.
During class we had the privilege of visiting an air raid shelter that is below El Palau de les Heures on the University of Barcelona Mundet Campus. This was the president of Catalonia’s private air raid shelter. I was surprised by how big it was for just one person and his staff. It made me wonder what it would’ve been like to be a normal citizen sitting in a crowded public shelter as bombs fell overhead.
One way Franco’s regime still influences the cultural landscape of Spain is through the controversial debate of what to do with his grave and memorial, located in El Valle de Los Caidos. According to an article by Giles Tremlett for The Guardian, President Pedro Sanchez has declared that Franco must be dug up, but what should be done after that happens is unclear. Some people want the monument destroyed because they find it offensive. In his opinion piece, Tremlett says, “a massive 150-metre tall granite cross sits like a giant finger raised to the families of those assassinated by his regime, to the victims of his political courts and to the families refused permission to take their dead elsewhere.” Other people believe a museum that forces Spain to confront its past should be built in place of the monument. Still, there are a rare few who do not believe the monument should be changed at all. From this debate, one thing is clear: “Franco’s body may be removed, but his ghostly presence will dominate the Valley of the Fallen, just as it still casts a pale shadow over Spain, until a far more radical transformation is completed,” as Tremlett says.
The Spanish Civil War – Spartacus Educational https://spartacus-educational.com/Spanish-Civil-War.htm
The Air Raid Shelters in Barcelona – Femturisme https://www.femturisme.cat/en/routes/anti-aircraft-shelters-barcelona
“Yes, Spain should dig Franco up. But it must not bury the horror of his regime” – Giles Tremlett, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/24/spain-franco-regime-dictator-burial-civil-war-fascism