A group of internationally renowned historians and writers who are respected in society have called for the first major museum of the Spanish civil war to be created in Barcelona. They say that the unprecedented national centre will help future generations to understand the conflict that tore the country apart 80 years ago (the conflict began in July 1936).
Although this seems like an extremely good idea to document such a significant event in Spanish history, people are saying that it is likely to spark a fierce debate nationwide.
Dr Pelai Pagès, professor of history at the University of Barcelona and president of the Association of the International Museum of the Spanish Civil War (Amigce), has written to the city’s leftwing mayor, Ada Colau, asking that a building be set aside in central Barcelona to house the museum and a research centre. Pagès told the Observer: “Eighty years after the start of the civil war, and 40 years after the death of General Franco, recovering the memory of what happened for all generations, from the youngest to the oldest, means understanding the conflict in its totality. There is a sad old saying that a society that forgets its past is destined to repeat it. From this perspective, the International Museum of the Spanish Civil War intends to act as a guarantee for the future.”
Barcelona was one of, if not the, key centre of resistance to Franco’s Nationalist forces. In December 1936 when George Orwell famously travelled to the city to fight in the defence of Spain’s elected Republican government and later went on to write the classic war memoir Homage to Catalonia.
Orwell’s adopted son, Richard Blair, president of the Orwell Society, of course has expressed his full support for the museum project. He said:
“We are wholly in favour of this and wish the project every success. Many young people in Spain have not been taught in depth about the civil war and don’t really have an understanding of what happened from 1936-39 or of the dictatorship that followed.
You can’t have a black hole. The time has come for the history to be looked at again.”
Other high-profile backers are:
• British world-renowned historian of the civil war Paul Prestone, who site on Amigce’s international board alongside Dr Pelai Pagès:
“It is astonishing that no national or regional government has created a museum of the Spanish civil war. The present initiative is a major step to the understanding of the past that Spain so desperately needs,” said Preston.
• Irish writer Colm Tóibín.
• Relatives of the International Brigadiers.
The museum would be the first of its kind in Spain. The bitter legacy of the civil war, in which around 500,000 Spaniards died, led to a so-called “pact of forgetting” in the transition to democracy after the death of Franco in 1975. There are museums dotted around Spain which deal with particular battles and experiences during the war, but no institution has dared to attempt an overall narrative of the conflict, in which Nationalist forces, backed by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, overthrew the Republic’s democratic government elected in February 1936.
Pagès said that the museum would be balanced and objective, “representing the democratic values incarnated in the Republic, while not failing to examine the errors committed on the Republican side”.
Provisional plans have already been put in place for the museum to include:
• Interactive exhibitions
• Permanent displays of artefacts
• A study centre for students
• Café designed to replicate what a canteen would have been like during the civil war era
It will also be self- funding, by hoping that it will tap into Barcelona’s already thriving tourist industry as well as becoming a place of interest for school trips and research.
Support has also come in the form of a remarkable letter from the National Socialism Documentation Centre in Cologne, which to this day remains, the largest regional memorial site in Germany for victims of the Nazis.
The director of the centre, Dr Werner Jung, wrote:
“Germany needed more than 30 years following the end of the Second World War to openly confront through monuments and museums the crimes of the Nazis … In Spain more than 30 years have passed since the death of Franco and the phase of transition.
Unfortunately, 80 years after the military coup of 17 July 1936, there is still no central place where comprehensive and objective information can be obtained about the Spanish civil war. Given that the civil war is still a live subject of debate in Spanish society, a museum would be an important place of study and learning.”
*Original article found in The Guardian*