Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Notes from

The haunted generations: History lessons in Spain

by Imogen , February 7, 20135 Comments


Each month,
Kill Your Darlings publishes ‘Notes From’, a series designed to illuminate the lives and lifestyles of different people around the world. This month, Belinda Lopez visits Madrid during economic protests, where she encounters young Spaniards trying to find footholds in a time of great uncertainty. For Belinda, whose grandfather escaped Franco’s Spain in the 60s, this is a trip of self-discovery, where she reflects on the life she may have lived, and how unlearned history can have damaging consequences.

‘If this isn’t fixed: war, war, war,’ the Spanish miners shout, light streaming from their helmets as they fill Madrid’s centre. It’s a weeknight around 1am. They are flanked by thousands of Madrileños, the citizens of Madrid. The marching miners chant the same rally cry used by anarchist miners at the start of the Spanish Civil War, and among them are young people flying flags of yellow, red and purple – the flag of the Second Spanish Republic, which lasted for eight years in the 1930s.

Nearly 80 years on, these young protesters also invoke the flag as resistance, this time against a democratically-elected foe: the government of the centre-right People’s Party. Lately, the flag of the Second Spanish Republic is flown at nearly every demonstration held in opposition to the Spanish government’s austerity cuts, and during my visit to Spain I’m fascinated by why – in an economic crisis, in a new century – these old symbols still matter.

It’s a very personal fascination. As a child growing up in Sydney, I made birthday cards for my maternal grandfather themed red, yellow and purple, knowing it would make him happy, but never really why. He was a child of the civil war, and had lost two brothers who’d signed up to fight Franco. In 1961, my grandfather gave up on fascist Spain, taking his small family with him to Australia – back when Australia might as well have been the moon, for the isolation it represented.

Growing up with Spanish parents, Spain was an idea for me as much as it was a geographical location. It was the person I would have been if I’d grown up there (much tidier, real Spanish girls always kept their room tidy); it was a squeamish attempt to tell stranger-relatives I loved them, even if they only existed in between the crackles of an international phone call. My family couldn’t afford to visit Spain when I was growing up, so I only ever saw its history and people through the red, yellow and purple-coloured glasses my grandfather had me wear, as his stories about Spain became family lore. It was glorious and revolutionary. It was, I later reflected, republican propaganda spread through bedtime stories.

*          *          *

Three years ago, I moved from Sydney to Europe for work, finally settling in the Netherlands. Instead of working my way through the checklist of must-see European capitals during my holidays, I found myself returning to Spain again and again. I searched for cheap tickets to tiny regional airports – the ones that had sprung up all over Spain when it was tripping on a boom time pill, fed to it by European banks. (My grandfather had died in 2010, just as the country was sinking deeper into recession). And it was while I was living overseas that I found myself wanting to understand more who I would have been if I’d grown up in Spain. I wanted to see the real, modern Spain, without a faded filter of that flag.

 

But as I stood in the middle of that protest in Madrid, I realised I still hadn’t found it. Spaniards my age surround me, raising the republican flag as they clash violently with police over a 60 percent youth unemployment rate, raised taxes and the decimation of public services. They are using a flag older than our grandparents as symbolic shorthand – an inherited mass nostalgia for a time they never even lived through. This could have been me, I think, if my family hadn’t made a certain set of choices. I have an Australian passport and, unlike my Spanish friends, can live in Australia at any time.

Madrid has the crisis on its mind. Every conversation I overhear seems to contain the word paro: the dole. Construction sites are stillborn, buildings left half-baked to bear the elements without their scaffolding. At another protest march in Madrid, I meet Alejandro*, a 30-year-old IT specialist with ribbons of dreadlocks running down his back. He’s out of work, but unemployment has allowed him to dedicate himself full-time to the media section of the 15M Movement. ‘I can’t afford to pay for my house, but I’m constantly busy,’ he grins. He joined 15M right at its inception – 15 May 2011 – and told himself he’d wait three years.
‘Three years until what?’ I ask him.
‘Until I take out the arsenal,’ he says, gently. ‘Bombs. Or maybe something more dangerous… Hacking.’ A pause. ‘I’m a hacker.’
I ask him how long it’s been since he joined.
‘One year.’
‘So what would need to happen in two years for you not to resort to this?’ I ask.
He barely pauses before he answers: ‘To get rid of all injustice.’

*          *          *

‘The Lost Generation’, as the current 20-somethings in Spain have been described in the Spanish newspapers, is not the most hopeful of generational titles. It’s not the first time the phrase has been used either. In his memoir A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway recounts American poet Gertrude Stein’s story of a mechanic, a young man who had served in World War I. His boss, the owner of the shop, had described him as a member of la génération perdue: the lost generation.

‘That’s what you are. That’s what you all are,’ Stein told Hemingway. ‘All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.’

‘You need a war to shake you up.’ Paula Ferries, a doctor, heard these words from her father whenever she complained as a small child. Paula is 44, a petite woman with strong, dark eyes, living in Spain again and raising her three children after a career on the frontlines with Medicines San Frontiers. We meet in Bilbao, in the Basque Country, at a TEDx meeting, one organised by mostly Spanish students finishing off their Masters in humanitarian studies. Everyone I speak to is focused on leaving Spain’s decaying economy to ‘help people in the world who really need it’.

‘My father grew up after the Spanish Civil War – he lived the Spanish Civil War,’ Paula says. ‘So he remembered how creative people were in the time after the war. Now I understand perfectly: this is a war, we need this war. This is a crisis that will shake us up … so it’s good.’

The TEDx conference is on just before the final of the European Football Championship, when Spain later took on Italy and won. In a break between rehearsal sessions, Paula expresses a sentiment that I was yet to hear any other Spaniard pronounce: that it would be a good thing if her country didn’t win the football. In Spain, this is almost treasonous, and I catch myself looking around to see if anyone had heard her.
‘I can see that the football is always used as an anaesthesia mechanism,’ she says.
‘Opium of the masses, you mean?’
‘Exactly,’ she says. ‘Franco used football for calming the people. I have nothing against football, but I think Spanish people are happy very quickly with things, and sometimes it makes me a bit nervous to see that just because we win the football, everything will be okay.’

*          *          *

I travel back to Madrid to spend time with my Spanish relatives, and to watch the Euro 2012 final in the house of one of my grandfather’s nephews. After the match, the streets blare with audacious horns, and at each heavily congested traffic light people beam from open windows.

The next day, it feels like the whole population has poured into the centre of Madrid to give the footballers a hero’s welcome. Later, after food and drinks with friends, we head back towards the cries of fans, in search of the celebration. But all we find are riot police. They charge in the direction of the crowd – us – armed with shields. We run. I wonder for one brief moment what would happen if we held our ground, the stand of the innocent. One young woman, chubby and terrified, presses fearfully against a nearby wall and a policeman in a heavy vest shoves against her with his shield until she screams. We escape into a nearby side street and for a moment I can only hear the clink of thrown bottles from retaliatory young men and the sound of my heart in my ears.

A couple of days later, I travel to the city of Valladolid with my friend Patricia. It’s about two and a half hours northeast of Madrid. Patri is 28, with an international Masters degree behind her, perfect English and work experience in journalism here and overseas. She’d be an impressive applicant for a white-collar graduate job, if there were any to apply for. Instead she is currently working as a hawker for a charity organisation, smiling at strangers in streets, asking for donations for Palestinians – a tough ask when everyone is worrying about their own empty pockets. It is a tiring job, she says.

Image credit: Patricia López Villalón

The difference between what her credentials had promised her a few years ago and the work she does today is enormous, but I am encouraged by her relentless happiness. It also puzzles me. I suspect she is so happy because she has a dream. With no serious job prospects in the capital city, Patri has realised she has been pursuing something that she perhaps never truly wanted in the first place. Next month she is leaving Madrid to live with her parents in Valladolid, to work in her mother’s small lingerie shop and pursue her true passion: writing.

We sit together in the back seat of her friend’s car, the sun burning down the horizon at 10pm. Its red glow turns the plains pinkish-yellow. This is Castilla y Leon. The land is flat and empty. ‘I used to hate this,’ Patri says, looking at the parched fields. There are no mountains, just this seemingly endless desolate earth.

She turns to me, smiling. ‘When I came back from living overseas, I finally understood what the poets had meant about this land, and why Antonio Machado had to write about it.’ Machado was a wanderer – yet another Spaniard who left; for Rome, when Rome was the centre of the world. He kept returning, in poetry and in person, to this bare land. ‘You may think this land is ugly,’ Patri continues, ‘but it’s ours. And in the emptiness is an honesty. There is nothing else but the land.’

*          *          *

Once arriving in Valladolid, Patri and I head to a bar to meet two friends of hers. The Beluga presses itself against one corner of an empty square of the city. It does not look like it belongs among the typical no-nonsense waterholes of Spain. It looks part Alice through the Looking Glass, part grandmothers’ vintage lounge room. An exhibition of black-and-white cartoons hangs on the walls.

Patri’s friends are Carlos Chavez Muñoz and Almudena Zapatero, the proprietors of this establishment. They are both in their early 30s, have worked abroad, lost their jobs and, about a year ago, decided to return to Spain and open a bar in their home town of Valladolid. If there’s one sure-fire way to make money in Spain, they acknowledge, it’s through the sale of alcohol.

But Carlos and Almudena say that in this economy, the bar is the means by which they are able to fund the projects they actually want to do – such as founding Revista Extra, a liberal online magazine about their rather conservative city.

As they predicted in the first edition of their magazine more than a year ago, the sprawling youth unemployment would have consequences: ‘We wrote that the lack of economic activity, the lack of government and business initiatives, would generate a situation in which the only option you were left with was to leave,’ Carlos says. ‘And this situation has only become worse. According to the official data, nearly 30,000 young Spaniards have left Spain.’

But against the tide of young Spaniards, these two old friends moved back home, determined to create an alternative paper of record for their home town. Valladolid has been handed a rather curious nickname by other Spaniards: Fachadolid. Facha, in Spanish, means fascist. Valladolid was a stronghold of Franco’s army during the Spanish Civil War and had propped up Spain’s fascist party when the Second Spanish Republic was in full swing.

Carlos and Almudena say the town is still notoriously conservative. In March 2012, a local artist called Manolo Sierra painted a mural in the town centre in requiem of the republican university professors who were killed by fascists during the 1930s. The current conservative leaders of Valladolid were outraged at the writing on the wall, and the city council fined Sierra 750 euros under a law regulating anti-social behaviour. The mural featured the republican flag of the Spanish Spanish Republic. Carlos came out in support of the artist and the mural in Revista Extra.

I tell Carlos that I find it curious that Spaniards of his generation – who weren’t even born at the time of the dictatorship – are the ones supporting the display of the old republican flag. It’s because his generation, he tells me, unlike past generations, hasn’t internalised the fear of speaking about historical atrocities and ongoing abuses of power – for fear of retribution from the Franco regime.

‘In the city where my father comes from, it was like nothing had happened. But [Franco’s army] killed 5000 people in three days,’ he says. ‘Your grandparents knew but they never said anything because they were scared. And our parents were told to never talk about politics in the street.’

I had never witnessed anything like this in my own family back in Australia. I wonder what kind of family lore my grandfather would have created had I grown up in Spain.

Carlos looks at me evenly. ‘And I would say that right now, any theme – social, political, economic or cultural – existing now in Spain, is related to Franco’s era. Because Franco didn’t die assassinated by the masses, through revolution. He died in his bed, from old age.’

Franco died on 20 November 1975, and Spain entered what is known as la transición, the country’s transition to democracy. At the time, young men like Felipe Aranguren, were out in the streets, celebrating the end of a dictatorship.

*          *          *

I want to speak to Felipe because he is one of the founding members of the Iaioflautas – a group of now ageing Spaniards who today say that their celebrations in 1975 were premature. I’m hoping Felipe might help me understand why those who find problems with Spain’s democracy today are still invoking the old symbols of resistance.

I meet Felipe in one of the tiny alleyways of Barcelona, where I am staying with my paternal grandmother (a woman who has internalised the Franco-era social custom of never speaking of politics in the streets). Felipe and I walk into a warehouse, wallpapered with radical posters. He’s 61 years old, a bookish, wiry man with steel glasses, a retired sociologist. He looks somewhat out of place in this dank, industrial space. I’m sure he’d disagree.

As a 14-year old he joined the Communist Party after his father, an ethics professor at a university in Madrid, was arrested and stripped of his teaching license for supporting student protests. His father was never again allowed to teach in Spain during Franco’s lifetime. Instead he had to find a job at the University of Santa Barbara in California to earn a living for his family back home.

Ten years later Felipe, like the rest of his generation, was swept away by the spirit of cultural and social change that followed Franco’s death. ‘But there wasn’t a transition,’ he tells me. It was more like a transaction between the same kinds of people: the monarchy and the nationalists.

Franco had been grooming the Spanish Prince Juan Carlos to succeed him as the head of an authoritarian state. Yet following Franco’s death, the new King Juan Carlos I used his new wide-ranging powers to assist in the country’s transition to democracy, to the ire of the Spanish military and many conservatives. For many republicans, however, this wasn’t enough. Several protagonists of the dictatorship were granted amnesty and some even continued their political careers. Meanwhile, human-rights abuses committed during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship were never investigated. Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish judge who did attempt to investigate some of these crimes, found himself tried for abuse of judicial power (he was acquitted in February this year).

Felipe says that meanwhile, friends of his generation watched as their children were rendered politically placid by the Spanish boom years of the 1980s and 1990s – in other words, relaxed and comfortable.

‘Our children, in their 40s and 50s, are a lost generation,’ he says. ‘Lots of money came to Spain, for the highways, for the airports, and where did it come from? From the efforts of the Spanish? No. The money came from outside. They had the false perception of living in a developed economy, in which everything could be bought. That generation has grown up thinking that we could live as though we were all rich.’

I tell him that I’ve only heard people say that it’s the grandchildren that are the lost generation.

‘No,’ he counters immediately. ‘The young people are starting to mobilise. They’re very disorganised, and they don’t have a clear political direction of where they’re going and what they want, but they’re moving. And that’s very good, that they’re moving.’

With the mobilisation of 15M, people of Felipe’s generation and political stripe were reawakened, full of nostalgia and renewed hope. They watched as the young protesters were labelled perroflautas, a derogatory word similar to ‘hippies’ or ‘bums’. In solidarity, they called themselves Iaioflautas – grandfather hippies – and went out to join the fray. Armed with canes and spectacles, the Iaioflautas have since overrun bank branches and confronted police in the street, becoming a strong voice in the debate about the future of Spain, while reminding it of its past.

Image credit: Patricia López Villalón

‘We’re the only country in the world,’ Felipe says, ‘that has removed the monarchy twice, through peaceful and democratic means, which has then had the monarchy returned through violence.’ (As well as Spain’s Second Republic of 1931, there had been an earlier short-lived attempt at democracy in 1873). ‘And today, the nation-state of Spain is again something of a fallacy,’ Felipe continues. ‘Today, politics are carried out not by democracies but by the biggest financial institutions. I think more and more young people are taking out the republican flag because they’re becoming aware of this lack of liberty. Because, finally, we’re sick of the royals.’ He laughs. ‘For the third time in our history! Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,’ he adds solemnly. ‘Karl Marx said that history always repeats itself, first as tragedy, and then as farce. The Spanish civil war was the tragedy. Now we have the farce.’

*       *       *

I return home that afternoon to find videos of young protesters holding the republican flag all over the internet again. I find little farce in the police brutality shared through YouTube, nothing laughable about the images of students clustering together to protect themselves against the batons, as they demand more transparency in their democracy.

But for all the dismissals of my generation as a lost generation without ideals, I realise, proudly, that we young Spaniards have learnt from history. Unlike many of our parents and grandparents, we are not afraid to teach each other about those that came before us, who fought for a democracy we now want to uphold. And it matters very little whether this lesson is in the form of a flag, a YouTube video, or even a bedtime story. What matters is that the lesson continues to be learnt.

 

Belinda Lopez recently returned home to Australia after five years away, working as a journalist and radio producer in Indonesia, Europe and South America. She is the features executive producer of the radio storytelling show All the Best.         

*Some names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.

 




  • Pingback: The Haunted Generations: History Lessons in Spain « Belinda Lopez

  • http://journals.fotki.com/kaseytrimbl/kaseytrimbl/entry/fbkkbkstgggs/ Annis

    One of the first and best-known instant messaging service is AOL’s Instant Messenger (often referred to at AIM). Furthermore, you have to develop the channels that are essential to the social media. An alternative to the widget is taking a more proactive route and posting the information about your business or related business content on the social networks yourself. But let’s face it: if you want
    to see positive results, you must be willing to put in some effort.
    * We have analyzed and prioritized our Social Media channel options and have consensus on which opportunities pursue first.
    ” And if you find that you don’t have a clear answer, you may want to consider using these 5 steps to develop a personal social media strategy.

  • http://www.staging.poweredbystring.com/index.php?p=%2Fsearch&Search= refinance car calculator

    Hello! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when viewing from my iphone. I’m trying to find
    a template or plugin that might be able to correct this issue.

    If you have any recommendations, please share. With thanks!

    My web blog: refinance car calculator

  • http://watkinsyumb.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/the-american-association-of-public-health-physicians-believes-e-cigarettes-will-save-the-lives-of-millions-of-smokers/ Princess

    “Knowing how dangerous second hand smoke is, I don’t want to be around it anymore. Whereas, traditional cigarettes posses cancer causing agents namely; carcinogens, there as appeared a new sensation in the nature of electronic cigarettes. Another newcomer to the bunch, South Beach Smoke arrived on the scene with a plan we could definitely get behind.

  • http://cocomale.com/blog/2011/03/inspirational-interiors/comment-page-1/ Elevate GF reviews

    If you are going for most excellent contents like myself, just pay a visit
    this site all the time since it provides quality contents, thanks

    http://forum.wsk.tw/userinfo.php?uid=25099

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with the age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

Gabrielle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Beyond tics, limps and prosthetics

Think of a disability – mental or physical – and there’s sure to be a film that features it. What about giving big roles to actors who actually live with the disability they’re depicting? Now that would be authentic. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

  At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen, and the loop continues until nobody … Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

5881861191_90de8b5bc9

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Making trolls eat their words

If we’re not conscious of a troll’s desired response, we risk inadvertently encouraging further trolling by allowing ourselves to be played. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

tumblr_inline_n6wz16ohb91r8e10g

Danielle Binks

YA is the New Black

Apparently those of us who do read and enjoy youth literature should be ‘embarrassed’. At least that’s what Ruth Graham said in her recent clickbait article for Slate, ‘Against YA’. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »