dimarts, 7 de juny de 2011

A tale of two archives

As Viewpoint's Special Correspondent in Catalonia, I am moved to get into print a version of a talk I gave a few months ago to my old Department, the School of Modern Languages. The topic is one that I have been involved with a little over the past year or so, and it has given me reason to recall with nostalgia the exemplary manner in which, over the past twenty years, the University has become a renowned repository of historical archives, thanks, in particular, to the initiative of former Vice-Chancellor John Roberts in obtaining the deposit of the Wellington Papers in the early 80s and to the vision, commitment and expertise of former Librarian Bernard Naylor and (still going strong) Archivist Christopher Woolgar. The Hartley Library is now a major centre for the study of 19th- and 20th-century British history and Anglo-Jewish relations. Contrast the way in which the owners of family and institutional papers have entrusted them to the expert care of the Hartley Library, to be restored, conserved, catalogued and put at the disposal of scholars, with the manner in which the 'Archivo General de la Guerra Civil' (General Archive of the Civil War), housed in the Monastery of St. Ambrose, in Salamanca, was constituted.

Referred to familiarly in Spain as the 'Papeles de Salamanca' (or Salamanca Papers), this archive is one of the many ugly fruits of Franco's 'Crusade' to purge Spain of all organisations and individuals who resisted his military uprising against the Spanish Republic in July 1936 or who might have challenged his dictatorship after the Republic's defeat in 1939, at the end of the ensuing Civil War. The Francoist repression included tens of thousands of summary executions, as well as mass forced labour and imprisonment in scores of camps and jails, and exile for those several hundred thousand who managed to flee Spain in time.

Within months of the beginning of the military rebellion, Franco had ordered the destruction of all publications found by his 'Nationalist' troops that were deemed to be contrary to the principles of his Fascist 'Movement', especially socialist, communist, anarchist, separatist and Masonic literature. As his forces advanced through Spain, all publishers' and newspaper offices, bookshops and libraries were combed for works incompatible with the ideology of his 'National Crusade'. Apart from a few copies of such publications that were to be retained for reference, the rest were to be pulped. In summer 1937 the blandly named 'Oficina de Recuperación de Documentos' (Office for the Recovery of Documents) was set up. Its purpose was to seize and process material solely in order to persecute the new regime's enemies. The result is the Salamanca archive, which includes material seized in all those parts of Spain that had resisted the Nationalists' advance: most notably, Bilbao, Santander, Aragon, Madrid, Valencia, Extremadura and Catalonia.

Barcelona, the main city in Catalonia, fell to Franco's forces on 26 January 1939 and was immediately divided into ten sectors for the seizure of publications and archives. This work was carried out by a special detachment of about a hundred men, supported by the police and members of the Fascist Falange. Their chief targets in Barcelona were the archives of the Generalitat (the Catalan autonomous government), the Basque government in exile and the Catalan Parliament, as well as the offices of municipalities, political parties, trades unions, schools, cultural associations (including choirs and vegetarian and sporting societies) and the private libraries and papers of prominent intellectuals and political figures. Altogether, some 1,400 separate searches were conducted in Barcelona, and 3,500 sacks of seized material were sent by rail to Salamanca, where Franco had set up his HQ in the Bishop's Palace. There they were to form part of the huge police archive that was later christened the 'Archivo General de la Guerra Civil'. The only research produced at this archive was some three million file cards generated from the materials that had been seized and which were used well into the 50s for 'the cleansing of pernicious individuals' - i.e. the imprisonment or execution of the Franco State's enemies.

The reintroduction of democracy after Franco's death in 1975 was hailed internationally as a model transformation from dictatorship. This is not, however, to say that all traces of Fascism were eradicated. Indeed, Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder-leader of the Falange, are still revered by diehard Fascists (and not only Spanish ones) at their tombs in the grotesque Valle de los Caídos, built near the Escorial by forced labour after the Civil War. And, despite the restoration of a democratic constitution and institutions, nobody has ever been put on trial for the torture of political prisoners that went on until Franco's death.

As regards the 'Salamanca Papers', demands for the return of those seized in Catalonia were first voiced in 1978 and have been made repeatedly over the years. They came to a head last July with the publication of the decision taken by a committee set up by the current Conservative Spanish government which ruled against the return of a single item on the grounds that the unity of the Salamanca archive must be preserved - even though it is an archive that was constituted by looting hundreds of other archives and thus destroying their unity.

Since the beginning of 2002 the Catalans have mounted a remarkable campaign for the return of the materials seized in Catalonia which has obtained the support of over 700 non-Catalan academics. The campaign has coincided with a host of belated attempts to revive Spain's collective historical memory and to counter the amnesia imposed by Francoism. These initiatives have included a spate of books and newspaper articles on the Francoist repression; much-publicised (but largely unsuccessful) attempts on the part of 80- and 90-year-olds to obtain recognition - even documentation - of their wartime and post-war imprisonment or forced labour; efforts to locate and dig up mass graves of executed prisoners; documentaries on the forcible and permanent separation of children from their mothers who were prisoners in Franco's jails; and, last September, the opening by King Juan Carlos of an exhibition on the exile of supporters of the Republic.

In the aftermath of the Spanish government committee's decision last July to refuse the Catalans' demands for the return of their stolen property, 150 prominent Catalan politicians (from all parties except the ruling Spanish Partido Popular), trades union leaders, mayors, MPs, Senators, journalists, etc. flew to Salamanca on 14 October, the day before an exhibition on wartime propaganda was due to be opened at the Archivo General de la Guerra Civil as part of the 'Salamanca, Cultural Capital of Europe, 2002' programme. Their main aim was to put the case for the return of the Catalan materials to the Salamanca city and county authorities, but the latter boycotted the event en masse, though it later transpired that the invitation had deliberately been kept secret from many of the city's councillors. As a result, there was not even a dialogue of the deaf, though the local press did turn up and heard a dozen moving speeches, among them those of Carles Fonseré, the 84-year-old sole survivor from among the creators of the famous Republican propaganda posters, who had had the entire contents of his studio seized, and Rosa Maria Carrasco, a CiU (Conservative) member of the Catalan Parliament, whose father's last letters, written moments before his execution in Burgos jail, are believed to be amongst the 'Salamanca Papers'. The following day the Salamanca newspaper Tribuna featured an editorial headed "El insulto nacionalista catalán" ("The Catalan Nationalist Insult") which railed and ranted against the visiting Catalans for supposedly wanting to disinter the ghost of the Civil War, scorning Salamanca's hospitality and displaying posters in Catalan.

The contrast with Southampton could hardly be greater. Whereas the Hartley Library has taken charge of archives that have been willingly, and often gratefully, deposited by their owners for safekeeping and research, the so-called Salamanca Papers consist of materials that were seized in wartime at gunpoint for the sole purpose of hounding their owners. The Catalans are quite prepared to allow the Salamanca archive to retain microfilmed or digitalised copies of their property, and they lay no claim to the millions of repellent file cards created by Franco's henchmen. The 'Salamanca Papers' represent one of the very few disasters of the Spanish Civil War that are still capable of being remedied.

As for the current right-wing Spanish government's refusal to hand the papers back, this feels to most Catalans like the deliberate perpetuation of a State act of armed robbery. It is a feeling that is strengthened by the Spanish government's distaste for Catalan nationalism, which it often brackets with Basque nationalism, and so, by implication, with ETA terrorism. Nor - to give just one tiny instance of the survival of attitudes supposedly superseded by the transition to democracy - is the feeling lessened by the fact that the Bishop's Palace in Salamanca still bears a stone plaque engraved with the inscription: "Aquí vivió y dirigió nuestra Cruzada Nacional el Caudillo Franco. La Diputación Provincial de Salamanca" ("This is where Franco the Caudillo [the Francoist equivalent of Führer or Duce] lived and directed our National Crusade. Salamanca County Council").

Among the more progressive elements in Spanish society it came as something of a shock when, as a result of the Catalans' campaign to get their property back, it emerged that the private foundation that receives the greatest (but unpublicised) subvention from the present Spanish government is the Fundación Nacional Francisco Franco - an organisation whose website proclaims that its aims and objectives include defending the legitimacy of the military uprising of 1936, commemorating Franco's death and promoting the understanding of Francisco Franco in his human [sic], political and military dimensions.

Henry Ettinghausen

0 comentaris:

Publica un comentari a l'entrada