Tuesday, June 03, 2003

A continuing theme of this blog seems to be the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. Our position is that we don't sympathize with either the Republicans or the Francoists. We don't sympathize with any of the killers; we sympathize with the killed, especially the poor bastards who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, and there were a whole bunch of those.

I've got a book called The Postwar Repression in Lérida (Province), which is the area my wife's family comes from and which I have a particular interest in. It's by Mercè Ballarat and was published by the Abbey of Montserrat, a well-known press for Catalan(ist) history; the Abbey is both super-pro-Catalan and pro Catholic. Though it has always been conservative, it has also always been anti-Franco. Ms. Ballarat's personal sympathies seem to lie with the Catalan nationalists, Esquerra and Unió; it's true that they were by far the nicest of the various forces--POUM, CNT, Communists, Socialists--competing for power in Barcelona in the late Thirties. They were also the weakest-willed of those forces and wound up not being to exercise any power at all. Ms. Ballarat is nice enough to introduce her book, which is a cataloguing of the atrocities committed by the Francoists in Lérida province--there were plenty of them--with a chapter on the atrocities committed by the Republicans there. I think it's interesting and am going to run it in segments, translating from Catalan. Here goes.

After the elections of February 1936 that gave victory to the Popular Front coalition, everyday life continued normally. However, in Lérida the conspiratorial process to prepare the revolt against the legally constituted government began. In a small city it was difficult, impossible, to keep those preparatory meetings, which important personalities attended, secret.

The night of July 13, 1936, tension grew in Lérida, the capital of the province of the same name and of the comarca (county) of the Segrià, a repercussion of the violence occurred in Madrid. A fire was set at the press of the rightist daily "El Correo"; the next day arms would be found hidden in the house of the leader of the Falange in Lérida, Francisco Boldú, one of the attendees of the conspiratory meetings. This action caused his imprisonment and that of more than 50 other men, mostly Falangists. That same day a bomb went off at the headquarters of the Republican Youth in Lérida.

The cause of the violence, though, was the revolt against the Republic which, though it was evident that it could begin at any moment, surprised the political and military authorities in Lérida who were loyal to the established government and responsible for maintaining and defending constitutional order.

On July 17 the news of the revolt of the Army of Africa and the next day, July 18, at dawn, armed bands of Falangists, requetés (Carlists), and Youth for Popular Action took over some strategic locations in the city--the old cathedral among others. The Army did not intervene, in part because it did not have the function of maintaining public order and in part out of complicity. The delegate for Public Order, Hermenegild Cle, surprisingly, did not give orders to either the Civil Guard or the Assault Guard to arrest them.

The next day, Sunday July 19, early in the morning, the Rebel army disarmed and arrested the police officers and soldiers loyal to the government and, a few hours later, took over the streets and, when they got to the City Hall Square, they proclaimed a state of war, occupied the City Hall, the Post Office, the telephone building, the telegraph building, the Radio Lérida station, and the Catalan Government police station, where they locked up the disarmed Assault Guardsmen. Meanwhile, the Civil Guard occupied the headquarters of the political parties and the unions, where there was no one at that hour of the morning. On July 19 at noon the Rebels had the city in their hands.

On the afternoon of that same day, union members and leftists gathered around the buildings, while the women distributed handbills on the Calle Mayor--where people strolled as on every Sunday, as if nothing were happening--calling for a general strike on Monday, the 20th. During the evening the news arrived from Barcelona that the Rebels were under control, with the direct intervention of the Civil Guard*, and the radio broadcast General Goded's proclamation of the failure of the revolt in Barcelona and ordering the army back to its barracks. The situation began to change.
(*In these early days of the war, it was difficult to know who was on whose side; it seems that in Lérida at first some of the Civil Guard sided with the Rebels, while in Barcelona it sided with the government. The Assault Guard, a government force, always stayed loyal to the Republic; some of the Army rebelled and some of it stayed loyal. --JC)

The soldiers who had taken the streets only in obedience of orders abandoned their posts, and those who had been arrested escaped and joined their comrades and the leftist organizations and parties who were already out on the streets. The rebels attempted to hold on to the buldings they had occupied that morning; during the night of July 19-20 there were confrontations, apparently with no casualties; the provincial prison changed hands two or three times, and the rebels went armed through the streets trying to stop the general strike called by the groups loyal to the Republic. On the morning of the 20th the rebellious political groups (Falange, Carlists) who had occupied the old cathedral since the 18th joined them, and at noon they surrendered together. The most important--both soldiers and leaders of political parties--were moved to the provincial prison, and the rest were imprisoned in the old cathedral.

After General Goded's surrender, the Civil Guard left the streets, but there was a division among its members between those in favor of and those against the revolt. Those loyal to the government locked up the pro-rebels and the indecisive in a convent in the city, and they were kept prisoner and disarmed. At the beginning of 1937 they were still there.

By July 21 the forces of order had collapsed: the "unrestrained" (incontrolats*) substituted for them, going straight to "direct action" and beginning a cruel and painful period.
(*Those sympathetic to the Republic often refer to its victims as having been killed by "incontrolats", somehow not representative of the Republic. Apologists for the French Revolution and the Paris Commune often make similar claims. In fact, the incontrolats in Lérida were most likely Anarchists or POUM. George Orwell, I believe out of ignorance rather than mendacity, whitewashes the POUM in Homage to Catalonia. --JC)

90% of the victims of the repression during wartime (that is, killed by the Republic) happened, across all comarcas, between July 20 and the end of December 1936. It took six months to bring the situation under control. The majority of the rest of the 10% of the dead were killed when the Nationals arrived, at the moment of the chaotic retreat, in some places at the end of March and the beginning of April of 1938 and in others at the beginning of 1939.

The number of victims of the repression, in most of the comarcas in Lérida province, was higher than the average for Catalonia...

Number of dead Per 1000 inhabitants

Catalonia 8360 2.9

Solsonés 35 2.9
Garrigues 153 5.0
Noguera 159 3.2
Segarra 128 5.8
Segrià 523 5.8
Urgell 71 1.8
Alt Urgell 89 4.5
Pallars Jussà 57 2.4
Pallars Sobirà 11 0.9
Vall d'Aran 10 1.7

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