The barricades went up in Salamanca on December 30. In this city where Franco set up his first military headquarters, Spain’s Civil War is again being revived, though instead of Toledo or Teruel, the struggle now is over several hundred cartons of documents. Like thousands of other archival containers in Salamanca’s renovated palacio, the boxes are stuffed with papers detailing the activities of leftist political parties and individual Republican supporters–information collected (some would say “stolen”) by Franco’s troops and deposited in what today is the country’s official Civil War archive. But these boxes are a bit different from the rest, for their contents were taken from the famously independent province of Catalonia, and the Catalans want them back.
Salamanca’s mayor, aggressively supported by the opposition Popular Party (PP), refuses to consider the request–despite the recommendation last year from Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s appointed commission of academic, legal and archival experts that the documents be returned–and he vows that the papers will never leave his city. Although the mayor asserts that the metal fences were erected in order to perform renovations on the building, the barricades went up around the archive the day after the commission announced its findings.
For nearly seventy years, Spain has suffered a peculiar version of the eternal return, as its Civil War, finished on the battlefield in April 1939, periodically erupts to be fought again on new fronts–without bloodshed, perhaps, but still with great anguish. After Franco’s regime spent decades enforcing a national amnesia about what happened between 1936 and 1939 and in the years of dictatorship that followed, a public wish to confront Spain’s recent history is now awakening with a fury. Indeed, the so-called Pact of Silence, which effectively curbed open discussion of the past in order to secure the country’s move toward democracy, has over the past few years given way to a chorus of demands to confront that past. The archive debate–which provokes anxieties both about how Franco repressed all Catalan forms of expression and about the broader legacy of his dictatorship–has become one more arena in which to reignite the war.
Volunteer organizations like the Memory Forum (Foro de Memoria) spend weekends searching for and unearthing mass graves of those executed during the war. The Association of Relatives and Friends of the Second Republic Victims of Reprisals by the Franco Regime is filing challenges in court intended not only to clear the names of those persecuted and gain reparations for their descendants but also to render illegitimate the regime’s entire legal system. Bookstores are stocked with works exploring the barbarities of the war and dictatorship, and it seems barely a month passes without the release of a documentary film on the subject.
Although the movement to recover public memory has been gathering speed for several years, the efforts have increased sharply since Zapatero took office last April. At its national congress in the summer of 2004, the Socialist Party agreed to urge all towns led by socialist governments to finally change those street names, like the Avenidas del Generalísimo and Plazas de José Antonio Primo de Rivera, that still celebrate the Franco regime. Zapatero also appointed a commission to recommend ways to acknowledge and compensate the dictatorship’s victims.
Like those initiatives, the campaign to return the Catalan documents has a long history. The Salamanca archive itself dates to the Civil War, when General Franco created the Document Recovery Service to confiscate papers pertaining to individuals or groups “hostile to the National Movement.” Accompanying Nationalist troops at the front line as they advanced throughout Spain, the service’s members seized papers from political parties, trade unions, Masonic lodges–even from theosophical societies–and shipped them to Salamanca to be classified. From Barcelona alone, Franco’s forces transported materials that filled twelve train cars.