Spanish Civil War anniversary a prompt for Europe to stand up to the far right
2019-04-01 18:35:47 -
World News

By Michael McGowan


This April is the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, which was closely followed by the start of the Second World War just a few months later.


Spain also goes to the polls this month, as its socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez has called a snap election.


The far-right ghosts of General Franco still haunt Spain in line with the lurch to the far right across the rest of Europe.


The memory of the Spanish Civil War refuses to fade away, and the shameful non-intervention policy of many European countries remains a major stain on European history.


The latest issue related to its legacy concerns the burial of those who lost their lives during the war. Many were buried in mass graves and have only recently, thanks to DNA analysis, been identified by their loved ones and families.


One who wasn’t interred this way was the fascist General Franco, and indeed a high-profile issue today concerns the government’s preparation to move his remains to a new and much less ostentatious resting place.


If the socialist government’s campaign to exhume Franco from the fascist splendour of the Valley of the Fallen finally succeeds, his body will be reinterred in the humbler surroundings of the Mingorrubio-El Pardo municipal cemetery.


Mingorrubio has neither angel sentries nor the 150 metre-high cross that draws coach-loads of tourists, schoolchildren and those nostalgic for a half-remembered Spain.


The cemetery is not a mass grave with the bodies of more than 30,000 people from both sides of the civil war. It is the home to the Franco family vault where Franco’s wife, Carmen Polo, has lain since she died in 1988.


The far right Vox party’s success last December in regional elections in Andalucia advocates much of the ideological views of Franco and talks about the expulsion of 52,000 illegal immigrants.


Eighty years ago, General Franco ordered German and Italian planes to drop 22 tons of explosives on Guernica, killing hundreds of civilians and leaving the historic Basque town in ruins.


He committed an atrocity that would become an enduring symbol of the horrors of war, and which inspired Picasso to create his most famous painting of the same name.


I have visited Guernica where, decades before, on a Monday market day, the mass slaughter of civilians by aerial bombardment took place with the full support of the Franco dictatorship.


Despite the policy of non-intervention, the conscience of many in Europe led to families in different countries hosting young Basque children during their evacuation from Franco’s terror.


Following the devastating bombing of Guernica, there was such outrage in Britain that the government reluctantly agreed to allow one boatload of refugee children — “ninos be la guerra” — to enter Britain. The SS Habana evacuated almost 400 children from Bilbao to Southampton on 23 May 1937.


The issue of refugees is a big and complex issue, still influenced both by this evacuation of the Basque children and the Kindertransport from Nazi Germany from 1938 to 1940.


Failure by the European Union to take common action in support of refugees from the poorest countries in the world, as thousands have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, is an absolute scandal.


The vast majority of refugees are today hosted by the poorest developing countries, and the problem the world faces is not of numbers but of political will.


The growth of far-right and xenophobic attitudes, and the election of extreme nationalist politicians who are convinced that our security is based on military weapons and on building walls and barriers, is in a word alarming.


Unless we share the benefits and problems of the world together on our fragile planet, life on earth will not last for many more generations.


This April we need to step up our efforts to mark the Spanish anniversaries, and be more vigilant about all far-right and xenophobic attitudes in Spain and across the world.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

TAGS : Spanish Civil War anniversary Franco refugees
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