The Memory of Silence - The wounds and effects of the Spanish Civil War and Franco's dictatorship are still healing in Santander and people are just now getting their voices heard.
By Brenda Menchaca
SANTANDER - At the start of the civil war during the unrest of Spain, there were two very different views on the path the country should take. It has been 70 years since the end of the civil war and those arguments have faded. What is left now, is the memory of the horrors of the time and the continued pain of the victims.
After being silenced for so long, the generations that lived under the Francisco Franco regime in Spain could not find themselves once they were able to speak their minds. Thousands had horrifying stories of the actions that took place during the Franco years, 1939 to 1975, but the majority simply wanted to forget.
Jose Ramón Sáiz Viadero is an author and journalist whose work has been fundamentally on the remembrance of the Spanish Civil War. The law of historic memory aims to recognize the victims of the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship and also bans any public figures that commemorate the dictator or his allies. All monuments dedicated to the dictator whose government died with him in 1975 were removed. The last of these monuments was taken down on December 18, 2008. Ironically, the city of Santander on the north coast of the country had this last remaining statue. According to newspaper accounts of December 18, 2008. when the statue of Franco was removed in Santander, a man stood with a Falangist flag with his arm out in salute to the dictator.
Santander was one of the cities that held off the Franco regime. Thirteen months into the civil war, Santander still had not recognized the armed forces that was led by Franco and fought with blood, sweat and tears for the old Republic. It was not until the Germans and Italians aided the Franco regime that Santander was subdued.
Once the Falangistas took control of Santander it seemed as though “in some way, they [the Falangistas] were taking revenge” for the citizens who did not simply sit with their hands crossed and take the repression that was to come. “This produces a waterfall of judgments, concentration camps, violence, and definite death and repression to those who had opposed the military force,” said Mr. Sáiz Viadero.
During the Spanish Civil War, millions of people were killed and many others left Spain. Those who were exiled left a country with only one mindset. Mr. Sáiz Viadero explains how “a complete sector of the population with different ideals was eliminated and the difference can be seen even now.” Mostly conservative, rightists, and Franco supporters were left in the region.
With those ideals opposing the dictatorship gone, there was only one side of a story to tell; that of the great dictator Francisco Franco. All forms of communication were completely controlled by the Franco regime. All newspaper editors were hand selected by Franco himself and every piece of news that was disseminated had to be approved by the Falangists. “Some of the censoring was absolutely ridiculous, they would take out words that were ridiculous but it was an assimilated situation, it was normal,” said Mr. Sáiz Viadero.
Not only was the voice of society silenced by fear but also movies, art and photography. Mr. Sáiz Viadero gives one example of a movie with Clark Gable and Grace Kelly, Mogambo. The movie dealt with adultery, which was completely inappropriate under Franco Spain where divorce was illegal and the woman was under complete control of her husband. When the movie was dubbed in Spanish, they changed the dialogue to hide the adultery and in turn unintentionally made the main characters incestuous siblings.
After women had fought and succeeded for the right to vote under Spain’s republican constitution in 1931, Franco took that right away. The young women who protested and organized the suffrage movement were never given the opportunity to vote. Instead, women’s roles were pushed back one hundred years.
“The rebels [falangists] came to murder about 60 women, nearly all between the ages of 18 to 25 that had an important role in political movements in Santander.” Said Mr Sáiz Viadero. But of course none of this was printed in any Spanish newspaper. Many other women were raped by soldiers who would take them as badges of war.
“The woman was fundamentally dependent on the man and subject to the privileges of the man,” said Mr. Sáiz Viadero. If a woman was to receive an inheritance, she could only accept it if the man approved and when accepted, the husband would have control of how the money would be spent. Mr. Sáiz Viadero explains how women could not even get identifications cards if their husbands did not allow them to do so.
As a Spanish port, Santander has been open to new ideas. Something even as small as a bathing suit was a catalyst for change. As tourists would come to the beautiful city during vacation, women would wear bikinis as opposed to the knee length bathing suits required for the women of the city. Slowly, the bathing suits changed and now the beaches are all topless. Even then, Santander is a very conservative area of Spain. Writer Jesus Pardo states in Giles Tremlett’s book, The Ghosts of Spain, how “even the whores and beggars are rightists in Santander.” This is believed to be because those with ideas different to Franco were exiled, assassinated, sent to concentration camps to die, and those that stayed feared to think differently or simply supported the dictator. “At a given moment there were two sides, each wanted their view to succeed. As time passes those arguments are slowly erased but what is left is the memory of that time, especially of the innocent victims,” said Mr. Jose Ramón Sáiz Viadero.
Interview excerpts from Julian Sanz Hoya, August 4, 2009, Satander, Espana.
Listen to the original Spanish interview excerpt
Not able to load player, check flash plugin
Transcript of Interview in Spanish, Quote 1
Pero también lo que mas se acuerda la gente aquí es el hambre, Fue un periodo de un hambre natro. En parte por los resultados de la guerra pero también por una polilla económica que resulto muy fallida de otajia de aubostacimiento y de regulación muy fuerte de la economía y que resulto un desastre. Entonces existía lo que se llamaba la tarjecia de rasanimiento. Es decir que cada familia tenia un documento con el cual iba a recoger su cuota de cualquier producto una pequeña cantidad de patatas, aceite, azúcar, cafe todo estaba racionado y en cantidades muy pequeñas. Esto hacia que si tuvieses suficiente hambre la gente tuviese que recurrir quienes vivían en el campo a través del auto consumo de decir a cultivar en huertos en ocultar los ganaderos que tenían una región muy ganadera ocultaban parte de la producción de leche a las autoridades para autoconsumo o para vender ilegalmente se genero un mercado negro muy grande por que como los precios que se pagaban al productor por parte del estado continuaba todos eran muy bajos. Y además habían muchas cases que originaba que rápidamente se ajuntaba parte de la producción que se vendía en el mercado negro los precios desubicados y entonces esto origino que todo mundo recuerde los anos 40 que son todo un periodo de mucha miseria de hambre y miseria.
Listen to the original Spanish interview excerpt
English Translation of Quote 1
But what people remember the most is the hunger. It was a period of unbearable hunger. This was partly because of post war but also because there was tremendous chaos economically because of auto-consumption and strong economic regulation that resulted into a disaster. Then there existed what was called ration cards. It’s to say that every family had a document with which they would go pick up a quota of whatever product. This was a small portion of potatoes, oil, sugar, and coffee which was all rationalized in small quantities. This would make people go hungry and they had to rely on other ways. The people that lived in the woods would have to auto-consume or we could say cultivate in orchards and would hide their goods. The people who would cultivate a lot and would have prosperous region would conceal part of their production of milk to the authorities so they could auto-consume or to sell illegally and that made a large black market because the prices they would pay to the product or from part of the state would remain low. Either way there would be a lot of cases where they would originally and rapidly accumulate part of the production that was being sold in the black market with prices that were uncertain, and this led to the origin of why everyone remembers the 40’s as period of misery and hunger and misery.
Transcript of Interview in Spanish, Quote 2
Las estatuas como los nombres de las calles están para, las estatuas en particulares están para realizar una parte del pasador un personaje que se considera que se ha hecho cosas positivas por el país entonces y que además y simbólicamente cuenta mucho por que uno no se imagina una estatua un criminal si no se imagina un estatua una persona que agarre todo por si cuya laborar si por toda positiva entonces creo es una cuestión de salud democrática es necesario iluminarla que se ah tardado mucho. Quitar esa estatua que era una reedificación de algunos sectores de la gente de Santander desde hace mucho tiempo.
English Translation of Quote 2
The statues, like names on a street are, the statues in particular are to relive a part of history and people who have considered to have made positive things for the country. And then also symbolically it counts a lot because you don’t see a statue as a criminal, instead you see them as a person who has done good labour and positive things. So I think it is more of a question of good democracy to see if it is necessary to eliminate, that is what has taken so long. To take away that statue that was like a replica of certain sectors of the people of Santander that has been there for a very long time.