Madrid’s dangerous attempt to distort the history of the Spanish civil war
The planned removal of a monument in Madrid to the anti-fascist International Brigades is an attempt to lock down discussion.
Every day, thousands of MadrileĂ±o students pass by a monumental arch called el Arco de la Victoria (or victory arch) as they make their way into the city’s Complutense University. The vast structure is similar in appearance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but unlike the French model this was not constructed to celebrate some famous victory in which Spain vanquished a foreign foe. The grandiose construction was built by General Franco to celebrate the defeat of the Second Republic by his nationalist troops in the civil war, which raged between 1936 and 1939. Franco’s victory came after a conflict that left up to half a million of his fellow Spaniards dead, the country in ruins and presaged the outbreak of the second world war.
Further into the university campus the same students pass by a much smaller memorial, so modest that many of them will not even be aware of its existence. A simple metal column, paid for by many individual private donations, bears an inscription dedicated to the thousands of volunteers of the International Brigades who went to fight in Spain. In November 1936 the university campus became a key theatre of the war. As Franco tried to take Madrid his troops were resisted there in some of the bloodiest fighting of the conflict: hundreds of international brigadiers died alongside locals defending the faculty buildings under the famous slogan which has became a rallying cry for anti-fascists ever since: “No PasarĂˇn”.
It might be thought that at a time when there is a rise in xenophobia and racism across Europe this small memorial to those motivated by the fight against fascism in the 1930s would be coveted by the city. In fact, it seems that the rightwing Popular party (PP) that runs the city is not prepared even to tolerate its existence.
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