The historical memory of the Spanish Civil War is being contested regularly in modern Spanish society and in the European Union.
Historians such as Jay Winter and Pierre Nora have been studying the construction of historical memory through memorial, commemorations, and museums for several decades. War and historical memory studies have often focused on the First World War and the Second World War, but scholars such as Michael Richards and Aurora Morcillo have also been investigating the memory of the Spanish Civil War. Basque and Catalan separatist politics have gradually pushed the Spanish government and society to confront the historical memory of the Civil War.
The New York Times explores these issues by focusing on the wartime experience of José Moreno, a Basque teenager who fought in Republican forces against General Francisco Franco’s Fascist army during the Spanish Civil War.
The New York Times reports that “Mr. Sánchez wants to give greater recognition to the victims of Franco, in accordance with a law of historical memory. That measure was approved in 2007, under a previous Socialist government, but was shelved and deprived of government funding under a conservative government led by Mariano Rajoy. One of the main goals of the 2007 law was to facilitate the opening of over 2,000 mass graves to identify the remains of those inside, most of whom died during the civil war.”
The iconic status of Franco and the emplacement of his tomb has been a contentious political issue for some time. “For now, Mr. Sánchez has made it a priority to remove Franco’s remains from the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen, which the general had built to honor those who ‘fell for God and Spain’ in the civil war. But the plan has been stalled by a legal dispute with Franco’s relatives, who argue he can be reburied only in Madrid’s cathedral. Politicians are also feuding over what to do with Franco’s current burial site once his remains are moved. For Mr. Moreno, Franco not only needs to be physically removed from the Valley of the Fallen but also reinterpreted in Spanish history books, so as to get “the same treatment as Hitler and Mussolini, the other fascist war criminals.”
The issues of war, political culture, and historical memory have become entangled in far right politics, anti-immigration politics, Brexit, and European Union politics. The debates over the memory of the Spanish Civil War are therefore not contained within Spain, but relate to broader political questions and historical issues across Europe.
There is a growing historiography on the historical memory of the Spanish Civil War. For an entry into this historical literature, see: Michael Richards, After the Civil War: Making Memory and Re-Making Spain since 1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Aurora G. Morcillo, ed., Memory and Cultural History of the Spanish Civil War: Realms of Oblivion (Leiden: Brill, 2013).
For a general history of the Spanish Civil War, see: Michael Seidman, Republic of Egos: A Social History of the Spanish Civil War (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002).
The New York Times reports on José Moreno and the Spanish Civil War.