“Sojourn in Spain (4): Barcelona, Catalonia sovereignty and civil war – Af Ron ridenour (eng)

En rejseberetning af Ron Ridenour: “Sojurn in Spain” – Med Collager af Jette Salling – 4. afsnit

KPnetBlogs bringer en spændende rejseberetning som sommerføljeton  i 7 dele skrevet af  Ron Ridenour med collager af Jette Salling. De to har besøgt Spanien og videregiver her tanker og indtryk fra landet – om politikken, historien, naturen og menneskene de har mødt. Teksten er på engelsk. Afsnit 5 udgives onsdag d. 2. august

Her følger afsnit 4. Se link til de tidligere afsnit nederst


Jette and I took the 12-hour train trip to Barcelona. Happily we swayed over beautiful rugged landscapes, seeing rows and rows of windmills, sparkling sun panels, boundless fruit trees, grazing sheep, kilometer after kilometer of olive trees, enough olives it seemed for the whole world.

In Catalonia’s capital Barcelona we had the first of three airbnb private apartment experiences on this sojourn. For the next five weeks, we traveled a lot, sleeping in several beds in pensions, inns, private apartments, leaving behind one or more pieces of clothing. We had to use several taxis from airports, train and bus stations because we were overloaded with bags, all too much to carry. Nevertheless, we were forced to huff and puff up 92 stairs to the fourth floor apartment as the old building did not have an elevator.

Barcelona city population is 1.6 million; the greater urban area is 4.7 million. Like all cosmopolitan cities, one can find most everything for the rich, for tourists and workers. One can buy expensive arts works made many centuries ago and taken from other countries. There are cozy bars with varying prices for all but the poor. I asked a bartender who wore a t-shirt from the terrorist state of Qatar why he chose to do so.

“Well, Qatar is everywhere, and Barcelona is for those who pay.”

We also met people who sported symbols of “smash the state” and are for independence and peace.

Barcelona is a city of motor scooters, of highly armed police, of soccer fans, and some of the world’s greatest art and music; a city of the best foods, and the great market plaza “Boqueria”, located on one of the world’s most exciting streets, “Rambla” with a tree-lined pedestrian mall.

I have earlier mentioned museums of Picasso and Miro works. Among the many others is the Museum of Contemporary Art where we saw a large exhibition of working class art painted in various styles. “Hard Gelatin” depicted workers in blue overalls and white collars, from the dismantling of workers’ movements to neo-liberalism.

I recommend the film “Biutiful” for a view of Barcelona from the “underground” of immigrants without papers. It is written and directed by the Mexican film-maker Alejandro González Iñárritu, starring Spaniard Javier Bardem. Both stand on the side of the underdog, generally. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1164999/

In our travels throughout Spain, we were not once cheated, not even overcharged by any taxi chauffeur. People were glad to help us with directions and information. It helped that I speak Spanish, and am empathetic with people who feel oppressed as do many Catalonians and Basques.

We witnessed a good deal of conversation, graffiti, propaganda, media coverage and political debate concerning rights to nationhood/sovereignty. The Supreme Court found three leaders of the Generalitat of Catalonia (the semi-autonomous government) guilty of disobeying the Spanish constitution of 1978, which allows partial autonomy for regions and nationalities but insists on the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation,” prohibiting separation from the “fatherland”.

Catalonia’s governor, Arthur Mas, and vice-leaders Irene Rigau and Joanna Ortega were sentenced to large fines and prohibited from holding public office for up to two years. The three had arranged a non-binding referendum held November 9, 2014. Only about 37% of voters went to the polls, 80% voted yes for independent statehood; 10% voted no.

The three leaders were backed by c. 40,000 demonstrators when on trial. After their conviction, the royalist PP party led an anti-referendum demonstration of c. 15,000 people.

The current government is not to be deterred and has called for a binding referendum on sovereignty for September 2017. The majority polled wants such a referendum, but the vote is expected to be close. The Supreme Court warned current Catalonia leaders Carles Puigclemont and Carme Forcadella that they will face contempt of court charges if they follow through.

Just what are the criteria for a nation, for sovereignty? According to political science definitions, a nation consists of a body of people with common characteristics-mores, living in a particular territory, sharing a common language, and perhaps a common ethnic identity.

Popes/caliphs, kings/warlords, presidents and state ministers, fascists, and economic elitists reject that definition. They insist that a nation is territory that they wish to rule when they have enough power to do so. With the exception of the short-lived Second Spanish Republic (1931-9), Spain has been ruled as a centralized state since the 16th century. But several ethnic groups or peoples sharing a common language, those in Andalusia, Galicia, Basque Country and Catalonia seek or have sought their own nation. The latter three were granted self-government under Statutes of Autonomy signed between 1932 and 1936 and partially implemented. This came to a halt when the fascists won the war.

After Francisco Franco died, November 20, 1975, a period of “transition to democracy” resulted with the current constitution. It calls for a decentralized unitary state, a balance between federalism and centralism. The nation’s capital is still Madrid and Spain is still a monarchy: The Kingdom of Spain is its official name. The state is, however, now divided into 17 “autonomous communities”, each with one or more provinces. These 50 provinces are either regionally or nationality based. Nationality based territories where people have the greatest will to separate over centuries are first and foremost the northern Basque Country (three provinces with 2.2 million people) and the northeastern Catalonia (four provinces with 7.5 million people). Their unique languages are now well integrated throughout most of regional institutions.

Then there is Galicia with four provinces and 2.8 million people; and Andalusia with nine provinces and 8.3 million people. These two autonomous communities are not nearly as anxious for sovereignty as are half or more of the people in Basque Country and Catalonia.

Today, Spaniards long for an end to passionate conflicts, as well as an end to seemly eternal political and economic corruption.

Spaniards had fought with great passion and devastating losses during the Second Republic for and against centralism, ethnic sovereignty, worker-peasant revolution or for monarchy, capitalism and church. (The First Spanish Republic didn’t accomplish much in its short life, February 1873 to December 1874).

General Primo de Rivera’s ruled Spain as a military dictatorship (1923-30). King Alfonso XIII approved his rule but he absolved when it fell in 1930, and elections were held.

The Second Republic was established in June 1931 after democratically held municipal and general elections, in which the overwhelming majority rejected a monarchy for a republic form of government. (4)

There were many political parties and contradictory approaches to rule during the Second Republic. Intolerant to notions of democracy and collectivism, the fascists launched a civil war in July 1936. The fascists viewed the conflict as Christian Civilization vs. godless atheism, communism and anarchy. Republicans viewed the conflict as one of freedom vs. tyranny. Most Catalonians supported the Republic, as did Basques since the Republic government promised them self-government, albeit they were mainly a conservative Catholic people.

Catalonia and Madrid were the Republics last holdouts. They fought bravely to the end well knowing they had no chance against Europe’s most modern military. Franco’s forces attacked Catalonia for weeks on end until they took Barcelona on January 21, 1939. Madrid was still holding out but England and France couldn’t wait to butter up to Franco. On February 27, they recognized his government, five weeks before the Republic fell when the fascists occupied Madrid, March 28.

Of the 25 million-population at the time around one million people fought for the Republic and another million fought for the fascists, the aristocracy and the official Catholic Church. General Franco had mercenaries from Morocco, plus the German and Italian governments and military on his side. (5)

The Republic had the aid of Russia and Mexico and 30-40,000 volunteers from 52 countries organized in the Communist-led International Brigade; plus a few thousand anti-Stalinist left socialists, Trotskyists and anarchists in POUM (Unified Workers Marxist Party) and the anarcho-sindicalist CNT union. 15,000 volunteers died in the war. (6)

The numbers of people killed during the war are contested but at least half-a-million were killed on both sides. General estimates are that c. 110,000 Republic forces died in combat, and about 90,000 nationalist-fascists. The so-called “red terror” executions of nationalist soldiers and civilians are estimated at 30,000 to 38,000.

“Red terror” also took the lives of some Republicans critical of the Communist Party, which fought for victory against fascism but not for socialism. Russia’s secret police at the time, NKVD, and Russian and Spanish Communist soldiers killed hundreds of Republican anarchists and Trotskyist fighters, because they fought for an anti-capitalist revolution. Anarchists were the strongest leftist force in Catalonia. Their struggles benefited workers. They won an 8-hour work day in 1919. One of POUM’s key leaders, Andres Nin, was among POUM fighters killed by Communists.

There is general agreement that fascists were by far the most brutal and indiscriminate in their violence. Franco’s “white terror” eliminated between 150,000 and 200,000 people through executions and “cleansings”. There were massive massacres of mainly civilians when the fascists took towns—22,000 in Basque towns, 10,000 in Cordoba, 8,000 in Seville, 6-12,000 in Badajz, 7,000 in Malaga, 2000 in Granada.

Franco forces were far superior militarily and he reestablished a central-state monarchy upon declaring victory April 1, 1939.

After the end of the war, the new government continued harsh reprisals. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and perhaps as many as 200,000 were executed. Many more thousands died during forced labor: building railways, drying out swamps, and digging canals. Perhaps 35,000 died in concentration camps.

Hundreds of thousands of Republicans fled abroad; at least half-a-million to France. Refugees were confined in internment camps of the French Third Republic. Some who fled to France, even before the end of the war, engaged in guerrilla warfare, which continued following the fascist victory. The

Spanish Maquis exiled in France fought Franco’s regime until the early 1960s. They carried out sabotage, robberies to help fund guerrilla activity, occupied the Spanish Embassy in France and assassinated Francoists. They also fought against Nazi Germany and the French Vichy regime during the Second World War.

The term “Maquis” is French and refers to scrub-bush country. These Spanish and French peasants who fought guerrilla style saw themselves as “bush hardened”. Their numbers ranged from 20,000 to 150,000 during WWII. They sought an anarchistic or pure communist society unlike Communist parties. Reporter and novelist Martha Gellhorn wrote of them in her book, “The Undefeated”:

During the German occupation of France, the Spanish Maquis engineered more than four hundred railway sabotages, destroyed fifty-eight locomotives, dynamited thirty-five railway bridges, cut one hundred and fifty telephone lines, attacked twenty factories, destroying some factories totally, and sabotaged fifteen coal mines. They took several thousand German prisoners and – most miraculous considering their arms – they captured three tanks. In the south-west part of France where no Allied armies have ever fought, they liberated more than seventeen towns.”

A mural in Sallent, Barcelona commemorating the actions of Maquis guerrillas

I close the subject of the Spanish Civil War with excerpts from “Homage to Catalonia” (pages 239-41) by George Orwell, who was wounded while fighting with POUM.

The war was actually won for Franco by the Germans and Italians…The outcome of the Spanish war was settled in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin…”

The common people knew in their bones that the Republic was their friend and Franco was their enemy. They knew that they were in the right, because they were fighting for something which the world owed them and was able to give them.”

In practice, however, one cannot be neutral, and there is hardly such a thing as a war in which it makes no difference who wins…In essence it was a class war. If it had been won, the cause of the common people everywhere would have been strengthened. It was lost, and the dividend-drawers all over the world rubbed their hands. That was the real issue; all else was froth on its surface.”

Of course, the same holds true today. Until enough workers learn what significance it has to be part of a class, to have class consciousness, capitalists around the world will bring on wars for profits, such as we see in the Middle East today, and increase inequality among peoples and classes.

In each of my three trips to Spain some workers and students have protested against capitalist-government cutbacks of workers gains, and/or for rights to sovereignty, and I have joined in some of them. In 2010, I stayed with the multi-language website Tlaxcala founder, Manuel Talens, in Valencia. We joined the 24-hour general strike. http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=1567. Talens (1948-2015) was a medical doctor before taking on writing, editing and translating for www.rebelion.org and Tlaxcala.

While in Barcelona this time, Jette and I joined the student-led general strike, which was organized to protect higher education. The central government’s “reform” will eliminate thousands of teachers and professors, and cut-out hundreds of courses. This “reform” is part of big capital’s globalization approach to higher education: Socrates be damned; Hallelujah to profit-making skills.

I met a professor-writer friend on the march through Barcelona’s center, Salvador López Arnal. He is an editor at rebelion and “El Viejo Topo” (The Old Mole), an excellent political-literary magazine. Salvador is also active in the struggle for Catalonia’s independence. For those who can read Spanish, here is his interview with me about “Cuba at Sea”: http://ronridenour.com/es/art/2010/0012–rr.htm

Tens of thousands marched against educational “reforms” in scores of cities, March 9, 2017, c. 10,000 in Barcelona.

Se de tidligere afsnit:

Afsnit 1 med intro (oversat til dansk)

Afsnit 2: Art, War and Peace

Afsnit 3: Almeria and Podemos


(1) See Randy’s piece: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/07/20/when-i-started-hating-america/
Regarding American Exceptionalism, John Pilger referred to President Barak Obama’s exclamation: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being”. This is what Pilger meant when he wrote, “American political life is a cultish extremism that approaches fascism.” See his piece, “The Issue is not Trump, it is us” https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/17/the-issue-is-not-trump-it-is-us/

(2) “How many Muslim countries has the U.S. bombed or occupied since 1980?” wrote Glenn Greenwald, November 6, 2014.Greenwald cited former army colonel Andrew Bacevich, who wrote that Syria had become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that US forces had invaded, occupied and/or bombed, and in which US forces killed and/or were killed. And that was just since 1980. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/even-if-we-defeat-the-islamic-state-well-still-lose-the-bigger-war/2014/10/03/e8c0585e-4353-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html?utm_term=.b8ff8d252546

Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.)

Nobel peace prize winner President Barak Obama, the hope of black and “progressive” Americans whom Colonel Bacevich supported in his first election, bombed seven Muslim countries plus Muslim areas of Philippines. Obama was the fourth consecutive US president to bomb Iraq. Look up on the internet for a “list of wars involving Spain.” It should not be surprising that “chickens come home to roost”.

(3) Fuengirola is said to have acquired its name after the Arabs were overthrown by Spanish Christians. Moors had called the town Sohail. The river flowing through the town, which empties into the Mediterranean, was once navigable and used especially by fishers. The hub of a boat is called a nave, as is the central passage of churches. The Spanish word for nave is “girola”. The Christians were mainly farmers and fishers and they went to church a lot. It became common to say that one went to fish on the river. The past tense of “to go” in Spanish is “fue”. So, one could say, “fue a girola”—I navigated the river or: gone fishing.

(4) In April municipal elections pro- monarchists received 25.6% of the vote; the rest were for a republic. In general elections, 70% of those eligible voted, considered high. At that time, however, women were denied the vote, although ironically they could run for office. The republican constitution of December 1931 granted the right to vote, and many other equal rights. Of the 34 political parties that won over 1% of the vote and thereby a seat in the 473-seat parliament, outright monarchist parties only received 10 seats; and rightist parties won 20 seats. The republican and socialist coalition won a huge victory with 34% of votes (193 seats), while the social democratic PSOE took 14% (80 seats).

(5) Germany provided Franco forces with 600 war planes, 200 tanks, and 16,000 soldiers. Italy added 660 warplanes, 150 tanks, 800 artillery pieces, 10,000 machine guns, 140,000 rifles, and 50,000 soldiers. Portugal sent 20,000 “volunteer” soldiers.

(6) The Soviet Union provided military assistance at the cost of all the Republic’s gold reserves. It sent old equipment no match for the more modern axis weapons: 1000-2000 artillery pieces, out-dated rifles, 350 tanks and 600-800 planes. Their 2000-3000 soldiers were mostly volunteers, advisors and secret service personnel. Mexico was the only other country to help the Republic. It provided about $2 million in aid, which included 20,000 rifles. It was also offered sanctuary for about 50,000 refugees after the Republic fell. But the European democracies and the US declared neutrality and didn’t even offer returning internationalists safety. Some were imprisoned in their home countries.

(7) See the Basque GARA newspaper, March 20, 2017, www.naiz.eus.

(8) See: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/989, and one of the best books on the subject “Illustrated Guide to Atapuerca”, written by a team of experts, Atapuerca Research Team, EIA. More material can be bought at the Burgos Museum of Human Evolution and the Atapuerca Foundation and Reception Centre. See Scientific Report, 7 for study on cannibalism: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep44707

(9) As I edit this work for the last time, scientists just discovered that Homo sapiens are 100,000 older than believed until June 2017, around 315,000 years old. One skull, one complete mandible with teeth, and many other bones of five individuals who died about the same time were uncovered in Morocco (Jebel Irhoud) far from the other earliest evidence of modern man. “We did not evolve from a single ‘cradle of mankind’ somewhere in East Africa,” declared Philipp Gunz, one of the discoverers. They looked like us; they made complex tools, including wooden handled spears and cooked their food. With this find, Homo sapiens are older than Neanderthals—for the moment. See Nature international journal of science, and major newspaper articles, June 7.

(10) DNA=deoxyribonucleic acid, which is the hereditary material in cells, which is our basic building blocks.

(11) UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) reported that there are more people fleeing their home lands (including refugee and asylum seekers) today than since World War II: 65.3 million. Only six percent attempt to come to Europe. Europe received 1.1 million asylum applications in 2016. In 2014, 57 people drowned on their way to Europe; in 2015, 1,855; in 2016, over 5,000 drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. In one week in May 2016, 880 drowned en route. Most European nations and the EU commission seek to stop anyone from aiding them. Greece, Denmark and Hungry fine or imprison people for doing so.

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