Deep Space @ ARA

When Franco won the Civil War, it did not take long to erect monuments and change the names of streets and squares.
The dictator’s wish was that there should be monuments to the fallen in virtually every village.

Uncomfortable Memory
Article on Deep Space
by Sílvia Marimon Molas
16 July 2022

@ ARA Catalan Newspaper
Barcelona

Uncomfortable
Memory

When Franco won the Civil War, it did not take long to erect monuments and change the names of streets and squares. The dictator’s wish was that there should be monuments to the fallen in virtually every village. These are symbols of the dictatorship and are full of intention, as Franco’s victory had to be remembered for centuries. There is no census in Spain with the total number of the Francoist symbols that remain in the territory, but there are vestiges of them practically everywhere.

A fascist symbol nailed to the Ebro

Removing one of the great fascist symbols that still lingers in Spain is an obstacle course. Everyone took it for granted that the Francoist monument in Tortosa would disappear from the Tortosa landscape on July 18, 2021, but a year later it still stands where Franco erected it. According to the Ministry of Justice, everything is ready for it to be removed and all that still remains is for the Tarragona administrative court to lift the suspension of the works.

All indications are, however, that it will stand where it is for another 365 days: Councilor Lourdes Ciuró explained that the withdrawal must be made when the flow of the river allows it, with “favorable conditions, that is, in summer”, and therefore, if there is no court ruling soon, the withdrawal will be delayed until the summer of 2023.

Horizontal obelisk

The Ministry wants to make the Francoist obelisk disappear from public space, but organizations such as the European Observatory of Memories of the University of Barcelona have presented projects that want to deactivate and reinterpret its iconography and rebuild, instead, a third bridge in the city, which would be called the Bridge of Memories.

The project aims to reposition the iron obelisk in a horizontal position on the bridge and place a translucent glass deposit with the symbols of the monument, reinterpreting and explaining them.

A Valley of the Fallen that remains unexplained

According to the new Spanish memory law, which was approved this week in Congress, the “Valle de los Caídos”, which will be renamed “Valle de Cuelgamuros”, will no longer be in the hands of the Benedictines. The intention is to re-signify the site so that it can be a civil cemetery for both sides of the conflict, which will depend from the National Heritage Authorities.

An application to explain what Franco did not want us to know

Until now, it was the monks of the Benedictine abbey who oversaw the Valley, through the Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, created by Franco in 1957. The Spanish government is also committed to addressing the requests for exhumation from relatives who are demanding this. All in all, however, they are only intentions because at the moment in the Valley of the Fallen nothing is explained: neither who are the buried victims, nor which were the companies that profited with the Valley’s construction, nor how were the barracks, where the workers lived, nor how forced labor was systematized, nor fascist symbolism …

Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar, who run the Hybrid Space Lab, a German architectural and design studio, have developed several projects on monuments with a dark past in Germany, the Netherlands and Korea with the same philosophy: instead of destroying, giving them another meaning through artistic projects. They have been working on an application on the Valle de los Caídos for more than a couple of years and last June they came to Barcelona to look for allies to carry it out: “It is a project that can be done independently, without the need for government intervention,” says Sikiaridi. It is an Augmented Reality application: “It would make visible what Franco wanted to hide and would bring out everything that is hidden and buried in the Valley, transforming the totalitarian narrative into a polyphonic memory,” says Vogelaar.

This could be a tool as long as there is no physical transformation of the Valley, but archaeologist Alfredo González Rubial, who has excavated Cuelgamuros to trace the lives of prisoners who did slave work there, believes the monument cannot be left as it is.

Half a million people in concentration camps

It is estimated that in 1939, when the Civil War ended, there were half a million men locked up in concentration camps. If at that time there was a population of 27 million people, it means that one in 50 Spaniards went through one of the more than 300 camps spread across the territory.

Invisible concentration camps

Fields that are virtually invisible, although several archaeological campaigns have recently unearthed their history. “There is skepticism and even denial of its existence,” says archaeologist Alfredo González Rubial, who recently worked in the Jadraque (Guadalajara) camp, where an estimated 4,000 men were imprisoned.

“There were camps in many places and the Francoists never hid it, but many of those who were locked up did not tell their children or grandchildren because it was a horrible and humiliating experience that stigmatized them”, explains González Rubial.

The archaeologist says that the most important camps, such as Albatera (Valencian Country) or Castuera (Badajoz), should be centers of interpretation and the policy of annihilation and repression of the Franco regime should be explained. “There should be a policy of memory from the state that explains it, because it was a centralized repressive network,” adds González Rubial. It should not be difficult to do, according to the archaeologist, because it has been done in many places in Europe such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The Valencian government has taken a step forward and has already announced its intention to set up an interpretation center in Albatera, where it is estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 Republican prisoners suffered hunger, thirst, torture, illness and all kinds of harassment. In the courtyard, according to the team of archaeologists led by Felipe Mejías López, there were very often unsuccessful shootings. Mejías’ team has been locating the bullets that confirm this and, at the end of August, will resume excavations to find the graves where the victims are thought to be buried.

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