This Week in Spanish Civil War History – November 1937: The Halfway Point

In a war which lasted almost three full years, November 1937 is the approximate halfway point in the destruction of Spain. Spain was already a deeply divided nation, struggling with multiple inside forces and serious social and economic issues, and while civil war is tragic, Spain had come to a point where it was inevitable. The working class was deeply oppressed and dire need for salvation, which could come from nowhere but within. Franco’s initial coup in July 1936 was thwarted only by the men and women who rose up in haste, without training or preparation, in a  desperate attempt to free themselves and save their country from fascism.

(Before we continue, this is a quick round-up of posts I have done throughout the war, not a detailed breakdown. Ease up on the posts saying I wasn’t specific enough. You have been warned. All links open a new tab so you don’t lose the timeline of the events).

The opening weeks of the war saw Spaniards forced to take sides, to align themselves with the military taking control of their cities and towns, often with the Guardia Civil on their side, or instead arm themselves as best they could and align themselves with the Spanish government, the Republican side, to try to hold off the rebels. Within weeks the battle lines were strong; much of southern Spain was conquered by a marching army of rebels, with massive bloodshed in cities and countryside alike. Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona were firmly Republican and fighting within themselves, while in the north, the Basques, Cantabrians, Asturians and Galicians fought to maintain their autonomy over the rebels. Slaughter occurred in Santander and Asturias as rebels initially overpowered these centres, only to be beaten back again. Much north of Madrid beneath these independent areas backed Franco and the killing continued. Click here to read Weeks 1 and 2:  July 1936

August saw thousands slaughtered in the summer heat. The battle of Badajoz saw up to 4000 killed in days. Cordoba suffered massive fighting and killing as troops stormed the southern city. The famous poet Federico García Lorca was taken and murdered outside Granada. While Madrid continued to defend itself, the nearby town of Talavera de la Reina suffered mass slaughter. Click here to read all of August 1936

September saw the huge attack on the Alcazar of Toledo, as well as the formation of the International Brigades, all foreign volunteers who decided to flood into Spain in an effort to stop fascism taking hold. Major nations such as England, France and the US decided to say out while Hitler and Mussolini decided to back their fascist mate Franco.

Through October and November the killings continued, the Spanish government collapsed, and the Catalonia and Aragon regions in the northeast began life as anarchist regions, creating their social revolution where control was handed back to the people. The siege of Madrid began as Franco fought to take the capital and end the war, and the Russians provided tanks and equipment to aid the socialist/anarchist/worker unions/communist Republicans. In the north, and Asturias took heavy losses as they were bombed from the air by German planes. After leaving Barcelona, Buenaventura Durruti was killed in Madrid, a huge set-back for the social revolution in the northwest. Also in Madrid,  Falange leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera is executed.

By the time the year ended, Madrid had been heavily bombed but not taken by the rebels, and the International Brigades had set up and integrated (as well as they could) into the Republican troops. The Republicans were not taking much ground but continuing to hold main centres in the east, along with Madrid. Click here to read all about December 1936

January and February held battles fought in heavy fog and rain, including much fighting outside Madrid, and Jarama, just northwest of the capital. Militias in Catalonia and Aragon held fast to their social revolution, while the Basques suffered heavy losses again as they held off the rebels. In Málaga in the south, the city was invaded when they could not defend themselves, sending thousands to flee along to the coast to relatively safe Almeria. Thousands were slaughtered as they walked the perilous road, where refugees were exposed, then bombed and shot as they fled. Click here to read about the Málaga/Almería massacre.

The bloody battles of Jarama and Guadalajara continued through March, and in April, 32,000 children started being shipped from the Basque country overseas in order to save their lives. The rebel army of the north is intensifying its efforts, with the now-infamous bombing of Durango and Guernica.

May saw the intense bombing of the new Republican capital city of Valencia, along with the fighting in the May Day fighting in Barcelona. June was an especially brutal month, with huge frontlines drawn up along the region of Aragon, battles in the Sierra de Guadarrama outside Madrid, Bilbao in the Basque Country was bombed and invaded, and in Barcelona, leader Andreu Nín was kidnapped and murdered in a Madrid prison.

Battles around Madrid, in Boadilla, Sierra de Guadarrama and Brunete saw huge fighting and casualties for both sides as the war reached its first anniversary. Legendary war photographer Gerda Taro was killed outside Brunete, and no nation except Russia comes to the Republicans’ aid as they are slaughtered by the fascists and their Moorish soldiers.

August 1937 focussed on the north. With the Basque region taken by the rebels, they turned east to take Santander in the Cantabria region. By September, the fascists again moved east again to take Gíjon in the Asturias region, with heavy mountainous battles taking place on cliffs that had kept Asturias safe from invaders for centuries. By October, Asturias was defeated by the northern army and could keep going west to claim Galicia, and Valencia is stripped of its title of capital of Spain in favour safer Barcelona. The Republican alliances of multiple militias fell apart, and many are fired from government and imprisoned, political alliances were ruined, and the dislike for the powerful communists pulled the left apart. The social revolution has suffered setbacks, including heavy battles and losses in the Aragon region, and there was breakdown of working class support in Barcelona.

By November 1937, the frontlines have moved little in some time, with the exception of the conquering of the northern regions. Madrid remains in Republican hands, along with the Valencia, Aragon, Catalonia and Almería region in the east. All regions have suffered serious losses, but little ground is gained in seriously bloody battles.The north is now under Franco’s control, along with all the south and the western Extremadura region. The strong left-wing cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are targets for the well-trained fascist brigades. The month of November saw little of major battles taking place, as both sides are exhausted from the fighting, and small breakouts of fighting yield little results for either side. The new target for the fascists is Teruel, a strong city in the Aragon region, which is about to see one of the war’s biggest fights go down in a particularly brutal winter.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.

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Francoist Street Names Are Out. Women’s Accomplishments In Spain Are Finally In

2016 saw the 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, and the 41st celebration of Francisco Franco‘s death. Yet on many streets all over Spain, the men who fought and assisted Franco though his 39 years of war and dictatorship are still revered with street names, vile and cruel men who harmed untold thousands. It is long past time to remove these names, and the opportunity to name streets after women has finally arrived.

Spain’s political situation is a hot mess – the December 2015 election ended in a stalemate, and subsequent efforts for coalition and even new elections have produced not a lot. The left-wing Podemos party, made of newcomers and small groups coming together to gain power, have found their place in some cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona. Spain has the History Memory Law, enacted in 2007, which provides rules to allow the reburial of SCW victims, and removal of all Franco (and Franco cronies) monuments, dedications and street names (the law has a wide range of powers; this is just an example). While many cry about leaving the past in the past, those with a wider view want to put right as much as can possibly be done. It is time to use Article 15 of the memory laws to change the streets named after men who murdered their way to power and used fear to stay there.

Some examples of names changes is in Calle de Soledad Cazorla (Spanish link), named after Spain’s first female public prosecutor, who used her position to fight gender violence. Until now, the street was named after Andrés Saliquet (Spanish link), an old-school General and fascist party member, serving in the war and the dictatorship. The notorious General José Varela loses his street name to journalist Carmen de Burgos in Granada, likewise Federica Montseny, Spain’s first female minister, will replace Colonel Chápuli.  Madrid’s Plaza Caudillo (if you’re new, Franco was referred to as the Caudillo, the leader) will be Plaza Mayor in El Pardo.

Places like León have just 5% of female street names, Cadiz has just 3%. People ask why it matters – the naming of a street in your honour is a great privilege; it shows prominence. The lack of female names shows that they are considered better at home than out in the world. Women’s achievements are simply not being recognised in this traditional way of having a street in their honour in Spain. Madrid has 137 streets which are named after the Virgin Mary, but not streets named after real women. Women’s roles are confined to being imagined virgin saints, not actual accomplished members of a community.

Valencia has a new law, meaning that 80% of new names, or streets in need of a change, must be female names. In the Poblet area in the west of the city, eight new streets are needed, and are being decided by public suggestion. Author Carmen Martín Gaite is in the running, along with Las Trece Rosas, 13 women murdered by a firing squad in Madrid in 1939.

The northern city of Oviedo has 22 new streets, a majority going to women. Alicante has a new law ensuring women are included while 50 Francoist streets are removed, and northern Bilbao and southern Cadiz now have mandates in place guaranteeing female names. Cadiz has only eight female street names, all saints, a situation about to be rectified.  In Santander, a motion is in place to remove Francoism from the city and celebrate women, a move which has faced steady criticism (aka fascist man tears).

Without surprise, all this comes with its complainers. The usual cries of ‘that’s just complaining feminists, don’t indulge them’ is rife, with machismo still strong in Spain. Giving women the same rights and rewards as men scares many, as does the notion of altering traditions, even when traditions are inappropriate. Somehow, giving a street name to a fascist murderer is okay, as is keeping the name because ‘tradition’. Changing the name to erase an evil man from memory, and embracing a successful woman still frightens many delicate flowers.

The 2007 memory law has had little success in its nine years. Granada alone has 4,000 victims still dumped in mass graves, Seville has only reburied two of the 104 mass graves in the region. You only need to look at the maps of each region on the Historical Memory Association website to see how many mass graves (fosas) country-wide are ongoing. As family members of the victims pass away themselves, voices are becoming lost and the commitment to the past needs to be honoured. Trouble is, Europe is doing its terrifying swing to the right. Spain is no stranger to the Hitler-fascist salute, regularly done at Francoist sites (especially Valle de los Caídos), and Nazi groups have been springing into violence recently in Madrid. Spain needs to be un-Francoed as fast as possible, and that level of hate needs to be eliminated.

It can be easy to say that what happened in the Franco years is in the past and no longer relevant. But as long as dedications to remarkable women like Dolores Ibárruri are opposed by those in power (due to her left-wing work), the past is still haunting the present. Guadalajara, near Madrid, has the highest number of female street names at a tiny 9.5%, all-but named after virgins and saints. The names are dedicated to women who are bound in legend and many hundreds of years out of date. Women are overlooked in history, so inaccuracies are ever-present. Meanwhile, Spain has a plethora of successful feminists, leaders, scientists, teachers, and modern sports stars who could be honoured, yet are forgotten.  Why not Calle Maruja Mallo (artist), Avenida Clara Campoamor Rodriguez (suffragette), or Paseo Margarita Salas (biochemist). Spain needs more streets named after women like Ángela Iglesias Rebollar (Spanish link), murdered by Franco’s killers, remembered for their struggles.

It’s not like Spain isn’t in need of change; young women need role models, advertised the way men are exposed to their role models, and largely take for granted – because they’ve always been right in front of them. Why have streets and plazas named after Nazi-style killers when you can have streets named after María Mayor Fernández de Cámara y Pita, who fought against the English in 1589, or Manuela Malasaña Oñoro who saw off the French from Madrid in 1808, or pianist Alicia de Larrocha from Barcelona who was an extraordinary composer, or Rosalia Mera Goyenechea from A Coruña who became the richest female entrepreneur worldwide and used her riches to help other women, as such as fighting anti-abortion laws.

Another issue is not just the lack of female names, it’s irrelevance of those that do exist. Margaret Thatcher was given a plaza in Madrid, hardly a popular move. Madrid also has Calle de Quiñones,  homage to the first female run printing workshop, but without her full name, how can anyone look up Maria de Quiñones from the 17th century (did any of you reading this know that until now?).

Galicia is leading the way by looking through historical information to find forgotten women, as is Barcelona, and making sure people can find information about all people awarded a street name. The southern city of Córdoba has passed a law saying 50% of new names must be female, which currently boasts just 6% of female names.

My personal suggestions (in addition to the ones above) –

Isabel-Clara Simó i Monllor – Valencian writer, one of the most important writers in the Catalan language

Clara Campoamor Rodriguez – women’s right campaigner

Federica Montseny Mañé – first female cabinet member – minister of health

Carmen Amaya  – influential flamenco dancer

Alicia de Larrocha – extraordinary pianist and composer

Margarita Salas – biochemist and geneticist

Rosalia Mera Goyenechea – world’s richest female entrepreneur, co-founder of Zara

Rosa Montero Gayo – journalist and author

María de los Ángeles Alvariño González – fishery research biologist and oceanographer

Magdalena (Magda) Bermejo – primatologist

Emilia Espinoza Hazelip  – pioneer of the concept of synergistic gardening

Patri Vergara – professor in Physiology, first woman President of the International Council for Laboratory Animal Science

Dolors Aleu i Riera – first female Spanish doctor

Ana María Matute Ausejo – writer and member of the Real Academia Española

Emilia Pardo Bazán  – Galician novelist, journalist, essayist, critic and scholar

María Josefa Crescencia Ortiz Téllez- Girón/ Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez – insurgent and supporter of the Mexican War of Independence

Rosalía de Castro – Galician writer and poet

It’s not about women being elevated above men, it’s about women being given their due. It’s about successful people (yes, women are people) not being forgotten, their accomplishments out there for all to remember.

Sign at entrance to town of Águeda del Caudillo. Photo: Gaceta de Salamanca