The Spanish Civil War (1936-39)
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© Cor Faber en Ellen Bijma
This article is divided into 4 parts: - part 1: the run-up to the civil war - part 2: the course and end - part 3: the Franco era - part 4: Spain after Franco The article does not pretend to be complete, but should give an impression of these periods. With the declaration of victory by Franco on April 1, 1939, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) ended. It started on July 18, 1936 with a military uprising in Spanish Morocco aimed at committing a coup d'état and overthrowing the government in Madrid. And so the dictatorship of General Franco began. A dictatorship that would last until his death on November 20, 1975. Also a dictatorship that may not be called a totalitarian regime, but has had many characteristics of it. Part 1: preface How did the war get this far? A war doesn't start with the first shot. Somewhere before that, unrest has already arisen. How far back in time do you have to go to understand why the Spanish Civil War came about? You can actually go back centuries. The people of Spain had been oppressed and exploited all along. In fact, an elite was in power: large landowners and also the Catholic Church. Incidentally, the latter was also the largest owner of land and the power of the church was to be found everywhere in society. Only church marriage was allowed, divorce was not. Education was also in the hands of the church and clergy were paid by the state. It is sometimes claimed that even the atheists in Spain were and are Catholic. At the beginning of the 20th century, not much had changed. Spain was actually still alive in the Middle Ages. In agriculture there was hardly any mechanization and there was industry, but only sparsely in the regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The army also had a high status and you can count yourself among the elite. The army had grown somewhat out of its strength: At one point there was one officer for every five soldiers. But in the 1920s it started to heat up in Spain, there was social unrest because the common people couldn't take it anymore. This has been going on for some time in other countries. At the end of the 19th century, many things had already changed in the social field in various western countries such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Also think of the Russian revolution in 1917, where the population no longer took it. Socialism, communism and anarchism began to take root in Spain. Communism not least because it sent Stalin's Russia people to Spain to gain and exercise influence. Stalin made good use of the social unrest and would be pleased if his influence in Spain would become great. That country could become a kind of satellite state. Controlling access to and from the Mediterranean Sea will certainly have played a role there. On communism and anarchism. At least the two are fundamentally different. While communism requires a central government, anarchism completely lacks this. Everyone has an equal say. There is, of course, much more to say about this. The ever-present urge to become independent began to play a role again in the regions of Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country. After all, there are always people who use anxiety to make themselves look better. Spain may be geographically one country, but as far as the different regions are concerned, it is not. It is a collection of countries with often a very different culture and mentality. It has always been and still is. In 2017, Catalonia once again declared its independence and once again the government in Madrid took strong action. Whether you agree or not, it's understandable from the government's side. If one were to accept that independence, the Basque Country, for example, would also seize the opportunity, perhaps following the Catalan example. In 1931, Spain changed from a monarchy under King Alfonso XIII to a parliamentary democracy. It was known as the 2nd Republic. The 1st was from 1872 to 1874. It turned out to be a total failure and the country became a kingdom again. In 1931, King Alfonso XIII was expelled and went into exile in Portugal. According to some accounts, he left because he was said to have been "afraid of plunging Spain into civil war". Free elections took place and a left-wing socialist government came to power. A lot changed... - the church had to pay its priests itself from then on. Education was taken away from the church (within two months 10,000 new schools opened). - civil marriage was introduced, divorce was now allowed. - women were given the right to vote. - landowners had their land taken and given to agricultural labourers. - the army was reorganized. Some 8,000 officers were sent home. While retaining their income, they were afraid of an uprising. Spain had to become a modern socialist state. All this happened in a period of two years, at least as far as it worked. Far too soon, the elite resisted fiercely. In 1932, General Sanjurjo staged a coup attempt that failed. We will come across this general again later as one of the initiators of the 1936 uprising. Incidentally, Sanjuro received a very angry letter from Franco about that attempted coup; yes, the same one who later led the Spanish Civil War and came to power as a dictator. In 1933 new elections had to be held and that resulted in a right-wing conservative government. But the unrest only grew. More churches were burned, more clergy raped, tortured and murdered. As well as landowners who were lynched in revenge. Political assassinations were the order of the day. One strike followed another. In 1934, Catalonia declared itself independent, again and again, and like all other times, with a heavy blow by Madrid. The Basque Country was given extensive autonomy, even had its own money for a year in 1935. Also in 1934, a strike broke out among miners in the Asturias region, on Spain's northern coast. That strike was brutally broken, directed by, there he is again, Franco. Soldiers from Spanish Morocco also took part in crushing the strike, soldiers who played a decisive part in Franco's victory in the eventual Spanish Civil War. That breaking of the strike ultimately cost around 1,600 people's lives. Spain was falling apart!
Alfonso XIII