The arrival of the new mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, at the Palacio de Cibeles in June 2019 gave a turn to the policy promoted by the previous corporation, Manuela Carmena, to repair the memory of those retaliated by the Franco regime. With the change of government, ongoing projects have been reversed, others that were about to start and institutional bodies, such as the Memory Office, specific to design these policies, have been eliminated. But the latest decision, withdrawing the recognitions that are in the capital to the socialists Francisco Largo Caballero and Indalecio Prieto at the proposal of Vox, has triggered a larger earthquake.
The execution has not been long in coming: two workers dismounted this Thursday by order of the City Council a plaque on the facade of the house where the former Minister of Labor lived and president of the Council of Ministers of the Second Republic coinciding with the 151 anniversary of his birth.
Santiago Abascal’s party, grown by the success of his proposal, celebrates the removal of the monument –placed in 1981 by agreement of all the Consistory parties– as its own triumph. “Vox keeps its word”, congratulated the councilor of Vox, Javier Ortega Smith, on his Twitter profile. The municipal group, made up of four essential councilors for the Government of Almeida and Villacís to approve the next budgets, anticipates that it will give the “cultural battle” so that socialism does not “rewrite history.” “The following: the statue. Do you want to avoid it? Repeal the law of Historical Memory,” the official account of the far-right formation tweeted simultaneously.
It is the second time that the party has publicly launched these “notices”. The first was last Saturday, after the sculpture in homage to the former socialist leader woke up with “assassin” graffiti. Vox used an image of the vandalized monument to demand that the Government end the Historical Memory law. “First notice,” they wrote. Two days later, the sculpture of the also socialist Indalecio Prieto, whom Vox also wants to erase from the street, suffered a similar attack: “Reds, no.”
“The PP assumes the ideological opinions of the extreme right by destroying Largo Caballero’s plaque, but it only shows that the Democratic Memory Law is more necessary than ever,” the first vice president, Carmen Calvo, also responded in a tweet. In the Executive of PSOE and United We Can express concern over “civil war language” of Vox and for the “follow-up”, according to the spokesperson María Jesús Montero, of the PP with that speech.
All eyes now point to the Madrid City Council. “Where does this leave Almeida and Villacis? They are mere executors of the strategy of tension of the extreme right,” laments the spokesperson for Más Madrid in the City Council, Rita Maestre. More than 200 historians have come together to try to stop, so far without success, the changes in a joint manifesto that asks PP and Ciudadanos to stop the proposal they supported because it is based on “clichés of Franco’s propaganda.” The opposition assures that the withdrawal is “illegal” because it is not supported by any file nor has it passed through the Governing Board while the City Council does not give an answer on what procedure supports the dismantling.
“Vox wants to enter into a culture war to recover the historical interpretation of the dictatorship and PP and Ciudadanos have joined that,” analyzes historian Ángel Viñas, who considers that it is the first time that conservatives align themselves with these postulates so much. “This was not even the case with Aznar,” remarks one of the signatories of the experts’ manifesto made public two weeks ago. Antonio Cazorla, professor of Contemporary History and professor at Trent University in Ontario (Canada), is especially surprised that Ciudadanos has ridden this wave. “It is a center right that should be able to take on the antifascist speeches of its European counterparts,” he explains.
In the formation of Arrimadas, doubts are raised about having supported Vox, especially with the figure of Indalecio Prieto, whom they wanted to remove from the proposal. However, in the end no vote was taken on points and the initiative went ahead. The municipal team had to justify in a report why the changes approved at the proposal of Vox can be executed under the Law of Historical Memory, which empowers the administrations to “withdraw shields, badges, plaques and other objects or commemorative mentions of exaltation, personal or collective, the military uprising, the Civil War and the repression of the Dictatorship “. However, there is no news that any document of this type has been drawn up to support the first action: dismantle the plaque in the Plaza de Chamberí. The City Council intended to proceed to erase the trail of the socialists from the street without historical reports, although later the mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, assured that all the necessary procedures would be fulfilled.
For Cazorla, also adhering to the manifesto that asks the Consistory to reconsider its position, the key that explains why the current municipal corporation resists taking steps to recognize the victims of Francoism, regardless of the pressure exerted by Vox, is in 1945. “The Spanish right still does not assume or understand what antifascism is. Spain did not experience the European liberation of 1945 after World War II. When we incorporated ourselves into political history in the Transition, our right did not assume the consequences of 1945 That is to say, that democracy is founded on antifascism. This means a frontal rejection that does not occur “, Cazorla abounds, who assures that after the proposal of Vox, however, there is an” intention “to blame certain political figures a symmetrical behavior but opposed to that of certain sectors of the coup to make the memory of the war homogeneous and innocuous. ”
The Hispanicist Paul Preston abounded in an interview on Cadena SER on the same idea: “They try to compare Largo Caballero or Indalecio Prieto with characters like General Mola. The former can be accused of being an incompetent politician, but not of being a murderer.”
The rejection of the law of Historical Memory in the PP is not new. But never before have conservatives used her to support a change proposed by Vox. The mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, considers that the regulation approved in 2007 –which will be replaced by a new regulation about to begin to be processed in Congress– is a law based on “revenge” and on ” a sectarian vision of what happened in Spain 80 years ago “. On this argument, the City Council has taken several decisions that have dismantled the drive of the previous corporation – very timid for memorial activists – to repair the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship and their families.
In June 2019, the newly arrived municipal team closed the Office of Historical Memory, a body in charge of enforcing memory and human rights policies. The municipal government assured that the Carmena corporation had made the office “an instrument of discord and confrontation in relation to historical memory.” Five months later, the City Council took the second step, this time raising much greater dust among the victims’ families. He removed the plaques that had already been installed in a memorial inside the La Almudena Cemetery. The granite sheets featured names of those killed between 1939 and 1945.
The councilor had already announced that he wanted to stop this project to “unify the recognition of the victims of both sides” at the monument. Today, the two walls designed to house 2,936 names support a single sentence: “The people of Madrid to all the Madrilenians who, between 1936 and 1944, suffered violence for political, ideological or religious beliefs. Peace, mercy and forgiveness. “. With this new plaque, all the victims of the Civil War are recognized regardless of whether they fought on the rebel side or the one that defended the republican legality. A “vileness” for the relatives of the people whose names had already been engraved on the granite plates.
More Madrid regrets that Almeida’s memory policy “together with Citizens’ equidistance” is “the bargaining chip for being mayor thanks to the extreme right.” “In the first 100 days he showed us what his government plan was: to undo everything that Manuela Carmena had built during his mandate, and thus he ordered the closure of the Office of Human Rights and Memory”, highlights councilor Marta Gómez Lahoz. The socialist group criticizes, for its part, that PP and Citizens pass “through the Vox ring, whose votes they need to approve from the budgets to the least of the decisions raised to plenary session.” “They have no squeamishness in taking for true statements from the story that Franco’s propaganda made in the war. All this against all historiographical evidence,” says the spokesman, Pepu Hernández.
The Carabanchel prison has also run out of memorial in these months. The municipal government announced that the project committed by Carmena to create a place of memory on the grounds of the old prison – where housing construction has just been reactivated now – was halted, also after a proposal by Vox against which assured that the monument would give a “biased view of history.” The money budgeted for the memorial ended up destined to buy two trucks for horses of the Municipal Police.