"The international influence on Spain's memory"

Sur in English
By Mark Nayler

Argentinian judges, Norwegian electricians, New York charities and British historians have all contributed to making history more visible


Art has also played a part in bringing Spain’s historical memory movement onto the international stage. Scottish artist Christine Jones found inspiration for her 2014 exhibition, ‘Spain: Still Cause’, in the uncompromising work of Gerda Taro. A Jewish emigree from Nazi Germany, Taro was killed on assignment when she was crushed by a tank in Brunete, west of Madrid, in 1937. Although just 26 years old when she died, Taro had already built up a substantial portfolio of gritty images of the Spanish Civil War during her time shadowing Republican troops. Still largely unknown, Taro’s work is direct, disturbing and shocking - and deserves to be seen by anyone interested in the conflict.

‘Spain: Still Cause’, Jones tells me, was in part designed to draw attention to Taro’s photography. The exhibition consists of 10 delicate yet powerful sketches depicting some of the people Jones met in Spain throughout 2011, when an Arts Council grant enabled her to travel the country researching the historical memory movement.

“The subject is vast and complex,” she says, “and I wanted to share, through the drawings, what my experience of it was, deferring to the academics for the historical facts.” The exhibition, which Jones intends to develop further this year, was run in Scotland, but positive feedback came from all over the UK as well as Spain, from people interested in the Spanish Civil War and from those wanting to show solidarity with “people-led social movements”.

As a corollary to the sketches, Jones also designed a brass plaque bearing the following inscription: “For those who fought in Spain, defending the ideals of justice and liberty against the Franco regime during the Civil War and the dictatorship.” ‘En Memoria’ is a fluid, interactive piece of art: participants photograph themselves holding the plaque, and the photos are then submitted to the memorial’s website.

“Echoing the act of holding signs and pictures of loved ones at demonstrations in Spain, this work is part memorial and part protest, resisting the Pacto del Olvido,” explains Jones. She left the memorial in Barcelona at the end of 2013, from where it started a journey around Spain that is still in progress: so far, over 400 people have participated. En Memoria’s journey is helping to break the silence in Spain about the Civil War and its troublesome, divisive legacy.

That is something that the international community - from Argentinian judges to Norwegian electricians, New York charities to English historians - robustly supports Spaniards in doing.


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Spain exhumes civil war victim as calls grow for truth commission

The Telegraph

As volunteers dig for the remains of Timoteo Mendieta, Spanish politicians are being urged to open an investigation into the civil war 

When volunteers start digging for the remains of Timoteo Mendieta on Tuesday, it will mark the first exhumation of a civil war victim to take place under a court order since the Spanish dictator’s death in 1975.

Mendieta, murdered by pro-Franco forces in 1939, was placed in a mass grave on the edge of Guadalajara cemetery, one of more than 100,000 victims of summary executions during the 1936-39 civil war and the repression meted out by Franco’s fascist regime in its aftermath.

Aside from some recent efforts to remove symbols which celebrate Francoism, Spain’s democratic institutions have done little to atone for the violence.

Mendieta's daughter, now 90, has fought for years to have the mass grave examined
Spanish dictator Francisco Franco

Ascensión Mendieta travelled to Argentina in search of justice - it was a Buenos Aires judge, investigating crimes against humanity committed by the Franco regime, who requested the exhumation. Unprecedentedly, a court in Spain agreed to the dig.

“The Spanish state cannot ignore the victims,” said Jordi Gordon, a journalist and filmmaker who is leading the Platform for a Truth Commission, which has the backing of around 100 associations linked to the historical memory movement around Spain.

Mr Gordon launched his campaign after the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights criticised Spain for standing aside and leaving the work of exhuming bodies to associations of volunteers. Establishing a truth commission was among a series of recommendations made by the UN in 2014, but the Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, has done nothing to implement this action plan.

The Rajoy administration also left the existing historical memory law “dead in the water” by eliminating its budget, said Mr Gordon.

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