"Pressure builds to save monument to the International Brigades"
by Billy Ehrenberg Shannon
"Madrid’s only memorial to those who fought in the International Brigades during the Civil War is not large. Standing on the campus of Complutense University, it is barely taller than the small tree alongside it. At its base are flowers placed to commemorate the 35,000 or so soldiers who travelled from as many as 53 nations to fight against Fascism in the Spanish Civil War.
Within walking distance is a huge stone arch. It towers above the road, looking out across an area where some of the bloodiest fighting in the Civil War took place. A victorious Franco had the arch erected, after he had wrested power from the democratically elected government.
In Madrid’s barrio of Fuencarral is an anti-aircraft gun once belonging to the Nazi Condor Legion, the Luftwaffe contingent that crushed Guernica into the ground.
One of these three is condemned.
The right’s gripe comes in part from the fact that the previous government’s Historical Memory law called for the removal of certain symbols and memorials in support of Franco’s rebellion. Yet Madrid still holds many memorials, such as the huge arch mentioned above, built in celebration of the regime. The memorial at Complutense is the only monument to the Brigades in the capital. Even if it stays, history is no level playing field.
The monument has been vandalised and condemned, but it has also been defended. On Saturday June 15th the Association for the Friends of the International Brigades (AABI) organised a protest against its removal. The university’s director, José Carillo, spoke in support of the memorial and said the institution had made three appeals to get retrospective planning permission. At the time of writing, it is still awaiting a reply.
The AABI’s position is that the heroism of the Brigades must be celebrated and that such monuments are part of a continuing battle with a far right latent after an incomplete transition. The AABI cause also has support from abroad: at the time of writing 49 UK MPs, mostly from the Labour party, had tabled a motion in support of the monument. Vicente Gonzalez, president of the AABI, said that the continued silence from the Town Hall could well be positive; a lack of communication often means success in such cases. There is hope.
When George Orwell, himself a foreigner fighting in Spain, said that history died in 1936 he meant that only what is known of the past survives; usually cherry-picked by the victors. The truth endured the Civil War and the dictatorship that followed, and this should be celebrated. Madrid is an open city, in many ways liberal and progressive. It mustn’t ignore the bones beneath its feet."
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