Francoism and the Falange

from Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris

Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris

As soon as Barcelona fell in January 1939, reprisals began. All vestiges of Catalan language and culture were removed from view and it became ilegal to speak Catalan in public. Francoists occupied positions of responsibility in the administration and in education. After the end of World War II, the regime became less openly fascist. In an attempt to avoid international isolation, the church took the fore and the philosophy of National Catholicism was introduced. However, the regime remained just as repressive and totalitarian as before.


Chapter 21: Francoism and the Falange

After three years of Civil War, Catalonia was broken and beaten. Even as Franco's troops entered Barcelona on January 23rd 1939, thousands began to flee the city. Over 200,000 people from the Catalan-speaking areas made their way across the border into France, where they stayed for months in poorly-equipped refugee camps. The lucky ones finally escaped to America.

Those who stayed behind fared even worse. Many were either executed or imprisoned in concentration camps. In the first six days of May 1939, 266 people were shot by firing squad in Barcelona after sentencing by summary war councils. This just gives an idea of the magnitude of the reprisals.

The President of the Generalitat, Lluís Companys was seized in France by the Gestapo and extradited to Spain. He was tried by court martial without judicial guarantees. On October 15th 1940, Companys was executed by firing squad at the Castle of Montjuïc in Barcelona. To this day, neither Companys' family nor the Generalitat have received an official pardon or an apology from the government of Spain. The 123rd President of the Generaitat technically remains a war criminal under Spanish law.

Francoism imposed the most radical politics of assimilation against Catalan, and also Basque, culture in Spanish history. The reprisals against left-wingers and republicans were harsh in the rest of Spain but the regime felt a particular hatred of the country's other nationalities. So much so that the term rojoseparatistas or red separatists was coined to describe the lowest of the low. Before his assassination in 1936, Finance Minister José Calvo-Sotelo had proclaimed "I'd prefer a Red Spain to a broken Spain." This idea synthesised the policies of the dictatorship's early years from 1939 to 1945.

The Falangist Period

Francoism's early years are known as the Falange Period because the ideology was based on that of the only political party allowed, the openly fascist Falange Española Tradicionalista y de les JONS. The idea of a common language, race, culture, history and territory as a pre-requisite for state building are deeply entrenched in the Falangist ideas that underpinned early Francoism.

The Dictionary of the Falange of 1937 states that everybody has the duty of "fluently speaking the tongue of Spanish unity, the ecumenical language of our hispanidad" and "the language of the empire must be spoken all over the state territory."

Franco openly sought approval from his allies Hitler and Mussolini. Although Spain never officially entered the Second World War on the Axis Powers' side, he sent 47,000 Spanish troops to the Russian Front under the auspices of the División Azul. Furthermore, in order to earn Hitler's favour, the regime trumped up far-fetched analogies between the Catalans and the Jews.

As soon as Barcelona fell to Francoist troops, Catalonia was submitted to a special regime of occupation. Victor Ruiz Albéniz, a close friend of General Franco, published an article in which he said the Catalans "deserved a biblical punishment to purify the red city, the seat of anarchism and separatism, the only way to remove these two cancers by implacable cauterisation". Serrano Suñer, Franco's brother-in-law and Minister of the Interior described Catalanism as "an illness".

Repression of Catalan Culture

During the first six months, all Catalan-language references were erased from public display. Hundreds of thousands of books were consigned to pulping plants or burned in public. Patriotic statues and monuments were smashed. Posters, signposts and labels in Catalan were removed. Even street names were changed from commemorating Catalan figures to Castilian ones.

Barcelona's emblematic Avinguda Diagonal was famously renamed the Avenida del Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and became the regime's preferred scene for military parades. When I arrived in Barcelona in 1988, the older generation still referred to today's Plaça Francesc Macià as Calvo-Sotelo and Gran Via as Primo de Rivera. Only 13 years after the death of the dictator, many other fascist names still lived on.

In the workplace, Catalan was banned even as a spoken language and civil servants caught speaking Catalan could face immediate dismissal. Municipal and state teachers suspected of Catalanist sympathies were removed from their jobs or transferred to other regions. Replacements teachers loyal to the regime were imported from the rest of Spain. At the University of Barcelona, all subjects dealing with Catalan were abolished and the purge of University staff reached levels unparalleled in any other Spanish region.

The Francoist regime created networks of repression in which, like in many other totalitarian systems, neighbours spied on neighbours so no one felt safe at any time. In Catalonia, it was perilous to criticise the government, express political beliefs or even speak Catalan in public. Expressions of freedom went deep underground and were kept as secrets between close friends and family members.

Catalan political institutions were abolished once again. Symbols of Catalan identity, such as the flag and anthem, were banned. The aim was not simply to suffocate Catalanism but to eradicate Catalan culture and any sign of a separate Catalan identity at its very roots. Contemplating this labour of destruction, the Francoist journalist Manuel Aznar could triumphantly boast "The theory of small nationalities is dead. The German, Italian and Spanish empires are the vital forces in Europe."

After the Allied Victory

The victory of the Allies in 1945 supposed a major blow for Franco regime, who held both Hitler and Mussolini in high esteem. On a more practical level, Spain was now the only fascist country left in Europe and in 1946 was refused entry into the United Nations. The UN recommended that the allies break diplomatic relations with the dictatorship. Spain in the late-1940s was politically and economically isolated from the rest of Europe.

With the defeat of his former allies, the ever practical General Franco began to focus less on the outward symbols of the Falange, such as the fascist salute. Whilst remaining totalitarian in ethos, the regime placed even more emphasis on the Church. The new ideology was known as National Catholicism and the official party of the regime was now El Movimiento or Movement. The Laws of the Movement were memorised by schoolchildren as if they were the 10 Commandments and singing the fascist anthem Cara al Sol or Facing the Sun was part of the daily routine.

Still sung by right-wingers in Spain today, the anthem opens with these lines.

Facing the sun in my new shirt
that you embroidered in red yesterday,
That's how death will find me if it takes me
and I won't see you again.

The lyric closes with the words "Onwards, squadrons, to victory, that a new day dawns on Spain! Spain united! Spain the great! Spain the free! Onwards Spain!" By today's standards, it is shocking that young children should have such aggressive and propagandistic ideas included as part of their education until as recently as the mid-1970s. This explains why such attitudes persist amongst a generation of Spaniards in their late forties and over, who feel a sense of nostalgia for the period.

From a Catalan point of view, the Nazi defeat in 1945 meant that the dictatorship couldn't be quite as overt about its repression and censorship. Some vestiges of Catalan culture were able to see the light of day. The Orfeo Català was given permission give recitals of choral pieces in Catalan again in 1946 and classic works of Catalan literature were allowed to be published. However, modern texts directed at young people were censored so the new generations wouldn't have the chance to learn to read or write Catalan.

Carles Riba's translation of Homer's Odyssey, Alexandre Galí's Història de les Institucions 1900-1936 and a scientific textbook in Catalan were published between 1947 and 1950. More importantly, the first part of Francesc de Borja Moll's Catalan-Valencian-Balearic Dictionary, which was finally completed in 1962, managed to escape the censor. The regime had decreed that Catalan, Valencian and Balearic were three different languages rather than dialects of a single idiom. As result of the dictionary, clandestine campaigns were started in favour of the linguistic unity of the three territories.

As had happened under Felipe V and more recently under Primo de Rivera, certain sections of Catalan society were willing to collaborate with the regime in return for positions of power and political favours for their businesses. The conservative members of the Lliga Regionalista had gone underground during the Second Republic and the Civil War. Now called the Lliga de Catalunya, bourgeois Catalans were able to occupy political, judicial and administrative roles under the regime.

The collaboration of illustrious Catalans was used by the regime for propaganda purposes. Having spied for the Nationalists during the Civil War, writer Josep Pla returned to Barcelona from Rome to form part of the editorial board of La Vanguardia. Salvador Dalí came back from the United States and his apparent support for the regime has never been fully forgiven.

Ordinary Catalans like my parents-in-law kept their noses clean and got on with trying to make an honest living. They spoke Catalan in the private of their own homes but spoke Castilian in work and in public just in case someone with a grudge reported them. An unguarded comment could mean a police visit in the early hours of the morning.

Some Catalans, though, went further and completely rejected their own culture. To this day, you can find upper-middle class people of the older generation, often with important Catalan surnames, who still insist on speaking only Castilian. They and their families collaborated closely with the regime and lived very well from it. Old habits die hard.

Now Read Chapter Twenty-Two of Catalonia Is Not Spain - The Revival of Catalan Culture under Franco

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