Historical Memory in Cádiz: summary of research findings

Projects of historical memory are primarily the work of the descendants of the victims on the loosing side of the Spanish Civil War. Many of these relatives are members of the first Spanish generation raised totally in democracy, the grandsons and granddaughters of the thousands of Andalucians killed, oppressed, and forced to disappear during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Their families are the secondhand victims who suffered through a ban on memorial activities during the Dictatorship and the pact of silence aimed at preserving the uneasy peace during the transition to Democracy. Proponents of Spanish historical memory emphasize that their goal is not to reopen old wounds. However, the history of the Spanish Civil War, a conflict between the political left and right, is controversial by nature in a modern society that is still deeply divided. Despite the honest intentions of many Spaniards who seek nothing more than a proper burial for their loved ones, the act of remembering their dead has become a strong political statement.

The Spaniards who survived the oppressive post-war regime recall the ever-present fear of knowing that the powers at be were those who had murdered their family members. Although the violence imposed by the rebel troops and following dictatorial regime of Franco was nonsensical, unjustifiable, and appalling, it was not completely indiscriminant. The supporters of the liberal Second Republic and their families were targeted specifically by Franco’s fascist regime. Today an obvious divide exists between the liberal supporters of projects of historical memory who are often associated with the Spanish Socialist-Labor Party (PSOE) and the United Left (IU) and officials in the conservative Popular Party (PP) who refuse to support such projects. The funding denied to projects of historical memory cannot be completely explained by the wariness of the economically conservative PP to allocate scarce state funds to exhumation projects. Rather, the failure of the conservative administration to facilitate access to military archives and land rights for exhumation projects conveys a refusal to come to terms with the country’s oppressive past. Neither the Spanish government, nor the military, nor the Spanish Catholic Church has acknowledged its responsibility for the crimes against humanity that took place under Franco. Ana Venegas Bazán, the granddaughter of an executed Republican writes of the great insult: the idea that still persists in that before people “lived better” under Franco. Some people did live better. However, the other half of Spanish society had been “deprived of knowing its history,” according to Gemma Morales, a socialist official in the government of Andalucía in the early 2000s. Bazán believes that the “only right they require now is the right to tell what happened.”

This perspective on the politically charged importance of the Spanish Civil War in modern Spain is the result of my own interview with the historian Santiago Moreno, conversations with active members of the historical memory movement, analysis of documentaries and texts, and my experience transcribing the interviews of Professor Cate-Arries. My observations are most applicable to the Province of Cádiz in Andalucía where I focused on the historical memory projects at La Sauceda, Grazelema, and Ubrique. The town of La Sauceda was a haven for the republican and anarchist enemies of Franco before it was bombed and taken by rebel troops. In Grazelema, thirteen women were publicly humiliated and tortured before being killed. While all of these locations have significant mass graves, the grave at a cemetery in Ubrique was the first to be opened subsequent to the passage of a 2003 law in Andalucía supporting projects of historical memory. While the 2004 exhumation project in Ubrique enjoyed the recognition and support of the socialist government. The more recent project at La Sauceda received, according to its coordinator, “absolutely nothing” from the government .




  1. rdthaxton says:

    It’s incredible to me how these continue to be hot-button issues decades later but it makes a lot of sense given the severity of the Spanish Civil War. This is the first of your posts I have read, so maybe this question has already been answered, but I’m curious what, once the stories of these people are uncovered, is the best way to go about sharing these stories with the general public? Awesome project, by the way!

  2. Your research is really insightful, and I’m happy you were able to look into government initiatives to fund (or not fund) historic memory, particularly since a fair amount of political unrest lies in issues about transparency. I’m curious though, do you think that, given the economic situation in Spain, there should be more support available for exhumations, memorials, education, etc.? Or to rephrase, should historic memory be a priority? Furthermore, as you’ve noted, issues pertaining to the Spanish Civil War tend to be highly polemic; do you think letting the past stay in the past by forgetting or discouraging discussions about war crimes is justified if it’s to preserve a sense national unity? Your posts were a pleasure to read, and I’m sure any work you do in the Hispanic Studies Department will be great!

  3. Shannon Fineran says:

    While my own research did not specifically explore this topic, I still found ghosts of it in the stories the interviewees told. I understand that your project focuses the small pueblos in Andalucia, but have you also considered interviewing within the larger cities, such as Granada, Málaga, or Sevilla? I’m not sure if there is a logistical problem with this idea, but delving into the cities could provide a unique avenue of research for historical memory. In general, however, it sounds like your project was a success and I wish you luck on its continuation.