|Giant cross crowning the Valle de los Caídos, where both Franco and José Antonio are interred. May both their souls rest in peace.|
Today — November 20, 2017 — marks the forty-second anniversary of the death of Francisco Franco Bahamonde and the eighty-first anniversary of the execution murder in cold blood of José Antonio Primo de Rivera by the Popular Front government during the Spanish Civil War.
Here at Pelayo’s Gazette, we began our commemorations of this solemn occasion last Saturday, with our translation of Franco’s testament.
We continue our commemorations today, with links to some interesting articles (in Spanish) about Franco, his regime, and his legacy.
1. Spanish historian Pío Moa evaluates Franco’s place in history. Allow me to translate just one paragraph from this magnificent opinion column:
“Franco saved Spain from a totalitarian revolution and separatist disintegration. That in itself earns him a very special place in the last several centuries of our history. Next, Franco kept Spain out of World War II — an achievement almost as great as the first. Later, he had to confront the United Nations — a conglomerate of democracies, dictatorships, and Communist regimes that sought to spark a massive famine in Spain to make the regime fall. An intention all the more criminal considering that Spain did not enter World War II. Once again, Franco prevailed. In the midst of this international hostility, Franco also defeated the maquis, a dangerous Communist guerrilla movement: in Greece, Britain and the hellenic government were impotent in the face of a similar guerrilla war, and the United States had to intervene. Once all of these challenges — which very few European statesmen had to face — were overcome, Spain’s economy grew at an unprecedented pace — the most rapid economic growth in the world save that of Japan. In addition to all of this, the social and political hatreds that had destroyed the Republic were largely overcome as early as the 1940s, the maquis being the exception that proved the rule.”
2. There are many myths surrounding the Valle de los Caídos, or Valley of the Fallen — a Catholic basilica near Madrid built during the 1940s and 1950s where fallen soldiers from both sides of the Spanish Civil War — as well as, later, José Antonio Primo de Rivera and, eventually, Francisco Franco — were buried. Critics of Franco claim that the Valle de los Caídos was built by political prisoners who were essentially slaves, that their working conditions were poor and that many died, that it was built as a future mausoleum for Franco, and that it cost the Spanish government a fortune at a time when the nation was very poor. This article demolishes each of these criticisms, noting that:
- The Valle was built by a mix of prisoners and free laborers.
- The prisoners volunteered to work there in exchange for reduced sentences.
- During the first eight years of construction not a single worker died.
- Over the course of construction, which lasted from 1943 until 1962, a total of 15 workers — both prisoner and free — died. This is a relatively low number of deaths, considering the nature of the work and the long period of time during which construction took place.
- Both prisoners and free workers received relatively good wages and healthy meals. The education of the children of the prisoners was subsidized by the state.
- Franco never imagined he would be buried in the Valle. He wanted to be buried in Madrid. Ultimately, however, King Juan Carlos I and Prime Minister Carlos Arias Navarro decided to bury Franco in the Valle.
- The monument was paid for not with public funds, but entirely with the remainder of voluntary donations to the National side during the Spanish Civil War and with the sales of lottery tickets.
3. Critics of Franco often claim that the Catalan language was banned during his years in power. This is a very misleading assertion. To be sure, the repression of regional languages by the Franco regime — part of an effort to combat regional separatisms — was a very real thing. During the early years of the regime, the use of Catalan (for example) by the media, educational institutions, or government institutions was banned. All such official, public communication had to be in Castilian (better known as Spanish). This, combined with a massive migration of people from Castilian-speaking regions of Spain, caused a fairly sharp decline in the number of Catalan speakers over time. Nonetheless, it was not illegal for people to speak Catalan in their homes or with their neighbors.
It is just as important, however, to recognize that as the separatist threat weakened and Spain’s prosperity grew, the Franco regime’s repression of minority languages declined. Here, for instance, is a plaque from 1964 — in Catalan — commemorating the creation of the General Community of Irrigators of the Canals of Urgel. Notice that on this plaque even the names of Spanish government officials are rendered in Catalan. For instance, Franco’s name is rendered as “Francesc Franco Bahamonde.”
4. Moreover, beginning in the 1940s, scholarship, literary production, and publication in Catalan — as well as the celebration and commemoration of great Catalan literary figures such as Joan Maragall — received ample support and recognition from the Franco regime, as this article shows. The depth and breadth of this cultural outpouring is far too great to repeat here. Let me just point out a few particularly interesting points:
- As early as 1942, a book in Catalan was published legally — Rosa mística, by Mossén Camil Geis.
- In 1944, universities offering courses in Romance philology were required to offer courses in Catalan philology.
- In 1952, during one of Franco’s visits to Catalonia, the Milà I Fontanals Chair for the scientific study of the Catalan language was created.
- In the 1960s, Catalan translations of two iconic Belgian comic book series were published: René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s The Adventures of Asterix and Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin. (Yeah, I know — hardly the most significant examples of publication in Catalan during the Franco regime. But, come on: this blog is in part about comics and cartoons — did you really expect me to not highlight something like this?)
5. In closing, see this article describing a moment of silence that was held at the United Nations in honor of Francisco Franco. That is poetic justice, in my book: the organization that tried to destroy the Franco regime ultimately had to respectfully pay tribute to it.
We will close our commemorations of this year’s 20N in a few days with our translation of José Antonio’s testament, so stay tuned for that.