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Spain marks civil war anniversary amid a resurgence in nationalism

REUTERS/Javier Barbancho
REUTERS/Javier Barbancho
By Pascale Davies
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Spain marks civil war anniversary amid a rise in nationalism


Wednesday marked the anniversary of the outbreak of Spain's Civil War. Eighty-two years on Spaniards are remembering the day brother was pitted against brother after Francisco Franco staged a coup. The bloody three-year war was followed by a 33-year dictatorship.

But more than four decades after Franco's death and with populism once again on the rise, the debate surrounding the atrocities of that era continues.

On Sunday, nearly 1,000 demonstrators made fascist salutes in protest against President Pedro Sanchez's pledge to exhume the remains of the dictator from the Valley of the Fallen.


Originally built to honour those who died in the Spanish Civil War, the Valley of the Fallen contains the remains of more than 30,000 people. But only Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the fascist Falange party, are buried in the basilica.

Spain used to celebrate its national day on 18 July, but it was no longer observed after Spain returned to a democracy in 1975.

Juan Chicarro who heads the Francisco Franco National Foundation told Euronews the anniversary is a "significant date in which half of Spain rose up against an imminent communist revolution".

He added that preserving the memory of Franco is crucial because the dictatorship is "a lived history of Spain" and because Franco picked up "a miserable and illiterate Spain" and when he died and he was "the eighth industrial power in the world".

The recently elected Sanchez has tried to clamp down on pro-Franco sentiment, as well as promising to exhume the dictator's remains, he is also trying to ban pro-Franco foundations.

Chicarro said: "When dictatorial policies are adopted, the first thing that is done is to outlaw those who do not think the same, then they are put in jail."

The rise of nationalism in Spain

While nationalism has always been present in Spain, it is definitely on the rise, according to the emeritus professor of contemporary Spanish studies at the London School of Economics, Sebastian Balfour.

Last October, a sea of Spanish and Catalan flags spread across the country. Tensions mounted between Catalan nationalist groups and the Spanish state after Catalonia declared an illegal referendum for independence.

REUTERS/Albert Gea

Balfour told Euronews the rise of the sub-state nationalism in Catalonia has in turn given rise to the old Spanish nationalism "in a sense full of clichés about the nature of the Spanish character as opposed to the nature of the Catalan character. So it’s almost a form of ethnic nationalism".

He attributes it to the silence surrounding the Civil War and dictatorship. The casualities of the war have never been fully addressed. Spain is covered in mass graves from the Franco era, very few of which have been touched - some even lie underneath car parks.

Balfour says silence and the lack of transparency "is a big problem because it doesn’t allow one to recognise the emerging tendencies of the extreme right".

What nationalism means for Spain's politics

Despite the recent spike in nationalist sentiment, unlike much of Europe, Spain has few far-right parties in its national Parliament.


Political parties after the democracy deliberately sought to avoid nationalist undertones, says Omar Encarnación, a professor of political studies at Bard College.

He told Euronews that instead, the intention was to emphasise Spain's multinational character, which is evident in such phrases as "the many Spains" or "Spain, a nation of nations".

Despite this, some political parties are making the case for Spanish patriotism. The conservative People's Party (PP) is one of those.

Under pressure after the former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy lost a no-confidence vote, the People's Party is leaning further towards the right. Balfour said the party "has covered a wide spectrum of opinion" and that it is evident that it is under pressure from the new centre-right party Ciudadanos.


"Fissures are emerging between [political parties] and the more moderate conservatives, and without understanding the past without understanding the roots of the extreme right and the conservatives, it would be difficult to stop this new neo-fascism emerging," he added.

According to Balfour it is "absolutely crucial" that there is a dialectical relationship between sub-state nationalism - like the movements within Catalonia and the Basque country - and nationalism itself. He added that the future of the Spanish nation relies on an answer to the Basque and Catalan question, if there ever is one.

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