Journal of Catalan Studies/Revista Internacional de Catalanisme

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The 'Salamanca Papers' - litmus papers for the state of Spain?
Henry Ettinghausen
Emeritur Professor, University of Southampton

Remember Victor Kayam, the guy who liked the electric razor so much that he decided to buy the company? Well, having professed Hispanism in Southampton for nearly all my working life, when I retired last year we moved to the Empordà. Since when I have been impressed to see how, not just in Catalonia, but in many parts of Spain, the nearly forty years of Francoist repression have finally - shamefully belatedly - become a public issue.

While Franco and José Antonio are still revered by diehard Fascists (and not only Spanish ones) at their tombs in the grotesque Valle de los Caídos, built by forced labour after the Civil War, there has recently been a spate of initiatives to revive Spain's collective historical memory and to counter the amnesia imposed by Francoism. These have included numerous books and newspaper articles on the Francoist prison regime and forced labour; much-publicised (but largely unsuccessful) attempts on the part of 80- and 90-year-old survivors to obtain recognition - even documentation - of their wartime and post-war imprisonment, let alone compensation; documentaries on the forcible and permanent separation of children from their mothers who were prisoners in Franco's jails; the opening by King Juan Carlos of an exhibition in Madrid on the exile of supporters of the Republic; the erection of monuments to the victims of the repression, including (in December) one to the thousands of men and women executed in Seville; and efforts to locate and dig up the mass graves of executed prisoners, notably in León and Galicia. It is not clear to me why all this is happening just now, but it could well be, in part at least, because of the extraordinarily effective campaign that began in spring 2002 for the return of the 'Salamanca Papers' that were seized in Catalonia at the end of the Civil War.

The 'Papers de Salamanca', officially known as the 'Archivo General de la Guerra Civil', are housed in the Monastery of St. Ambrose, in Salamanca - ironically, and to be precise, at c/ Gibraltar, 2 - and represent one of the ugliest fruits of Franco's 'crusade' to purge Spain of all organisations and individuals who resisted the military uprising of July 1936 or who might have challenged his dictatorship after the Republic's defeat.

Within months of the beginning of the military rebellion, Franco had ordered the destruction of all publications found by his Nationalist troops that could be deemed to be contrary to the principles of the 'Movimiento', especially socialist, communist, anarchist, separatist and Masonic literature. As his forces advanced through Spain, publishers' and newspaper offices, bookshops and libraries were combed for works considered to be subversive. Apart from a few copies of such publications that were retained for reference, the rest were to be pulped. In summer 1937 the blandly named 'Oficina de Recuperación de Documentos' was set up with the aim of seizing and processing documentation solely in order to persecute the new regime's enemies. The result is the Salamanca archive, which includes tons of documents seized, not only in Catalonia, but in all those parts of Spain that had resisted the Nationalists' advance, including Bilbao, Santander, Aragon, Madrid, Valencia and Extremadura.

When Barcelona fell on 26 January 1939, the city was immediately divided into ten sectors for the seizure of publications and archives. This work was carried out by a special detachment of about a hundred men, supported by the police and members of the Falange. Their chief targets in Barcelona were the archives of the Generalitat, the Basque government in exile and the Catalan Parliament, as well as the offices of municipalities, political parties, trades unions, schools, cultural associations (including choirs and vegetarian and sporting societies) and the private libraries and papers of prominent intellectuals and political figures. Altogether, some 1,400 separate searches were conducted in Barcelona alone, and 3,500 sacks of seized material were sent by rail to Salamanca, where Franco had set up his HQ in the Bishop's Palace. There they were to form part of the huge police archive that was later christened the 'Archivo General de la Guerra Civil'. The only research produced at this archive was some three million file cards, generated from the materials that had been seized, which were used well into the 50s for 'la limpieza de gente perniciosa' - i.e. the imprisonment or execution of the Franco State's enemies.

Demands for the return of those 'Papers de Salamanca' that had been stolen at gunpoint in Catalonia were first voiced in 1978 and have been made repeatedly over the years. They appeared to be on the point of achieving their aim in 1995 when the PSOE government resolved to take the appropriate decision, but the Socialist mayor of Salamanca brought out the biggest public demonstration that city had ever seen, a meeting that was addressed by the novelist Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, who assured his listeners that the 'Salamanca Papers' were theirs by right of conquest. The decision to return the Catalan materials had not been acted on by the time the Partido Popular won the 1996 elections, but the PP government was eventually persuaded to set up a committee (which, incidentally, did not include a single archivist) to pronounce upon the matter. Last July the committee announced that it had ruled against the return of a single item on the grounds that the unity of the Salamanca archive must be preserved. As the Minister of Education and Culture put it: "La historia de España no se puede fragmentar." Not content with having won the Civil War, El Adelanto de Salamanca boasted the headline: "Salamanca gana la 'guerra' del Archivo."

In anticipation of the committee's decision, the 'Comissió de la Dignitat' was constituted in spring 2002 to raise awareness of the issue both in Catalonia and abroad, achieving the support of over 700 non-Catalan academics and numerous international notables, such as Noam Chomsky, Francesco Cossiga, Rigoberta Menchú, Georges Moustaki, Mario Soares and Mikis Theodorakis. In the wake of the decision to return none of the materials, the 'Comissió de la Dignitat' flew 150 prominent Catalan politicians (from all parties except the PP), trades union leaders, mayors, MPs, Senators and journalists to Salamanca on 14 October - the day before an exhibition on wartime propaganda was due to be opened at the Archivo General de la Guerra Civil as part of the 'Salamanca, Cultural Capital of Europe, 2002' programme. The aim of the visit was to put the case for the return of the Catalan materials to the Salamanca city and county authorities, but the latter boycotted the event en masse, though it later transpired that the invitation had deliberately been kept secret from many of the city's councillors. As a result, there was not even a dialogue of the deaf, though the local press did turn up and heard a dozen moving speeches - among them those by Carles Fonseré, the 84-year-old sole survivor from among the creators of the famous Republican propaganda posters, who had had the entire contents of his studio seized, and Rosa Maria Carrasco, a CiU member of the Catalan Parliament, whose father's last letters, written moments before his execution in Burgos jail, are believed to be amongst the 'Salamanca Papers'. Before leaving Salamanca, the Catalan delegation placed a wreath at the door of the Archivo in memory of those who had suffered persecution on the basis of its contents, sang 'Els Segadors' and heard Casals' 'Cant dels Ocells' played by a young violinist. As they were about to leave, an old man on a balcony behind them shouted out: "¡Aquí están, y aquí se quedarán!" - the only direct response to the visit that they obtained that day. The following day the Salamanca press either virtually ignored the event or else treated it with contempt. One of the local papers, Tribuna, featured an editorial headed "El insulto nacionalista catalán" which railed and ranted against the visiting Catalans for supposedly wanting to disinter the ghost of the Civil War, scorning Salamanca's hospitality and bringing along posters in Catalan.

However, at least three Salmantinos had the decency and the guts to stand up and be counted: the Socialist Councillor Teresa Carvajal, who protested at not having been informed by the Salamanca authorities of the invitation to attend the meeting; Aníbal Lozano, a regular contributor to Tribuna, who had his daily column reduced to a weekly for having published an article shortly before the visit supporting the Catalan campaign; and José Frías, Director of the Departamento de Biblioteconomía y Documentación at the University of Salamanca, who likewise expressed the view that the spoils of war should be returned to their rightful owners.

To most Catalans the Spanish government's refusal to hand the papers back feels like the deliberate perpetuation of a State act of armed robbery. It is a feeling that is strengthened by the PP's distaste for Catalan nationalism, which it often brackets with Basque nationalism, and so, by implication, with ETA terrorism. Nor - to give one instance of the survival of attitudes supposedly superseded by the transition to democracy - is the feeling lessened by the fact that the Bishop's Palace in Salamanca still bears a stone plaque engraved with the inscription: "Aquí vivió y dirigió nuestra Cruzada Nacional el Caudillo Franco. La Diputación Provincial de Salamanca". An even more shocking instance, revealed as a result of the Catalans' campaign to get their property back, is the fact that the private foundation that receives the greatest (but unpublicised) subvention from the Spanish State is the Fundación Nacional Francisco Franco - an organisation whose website proclaims that its aims and objectives include defending "la legitimidad del Alzamiento Nacional," commemorating Franco's death and "difundir el conocimiento de Francisco Franco en sus dimensiones humana, política y militar."

Having followed these events over the past few months and attended several meetings organised by the Comissió de la Dignitat in my capacity as one of its many foreign supporters, I have had occasion to mull over the arguments on both sides. One of them - the 'archivistic' argument - comes down to the Spanish government's decision to favour the unity of the sinister Salamanca archive over that of the hundreds of archives whose unity was violated in order o create it. Another - which we could call the legal argument - involves the Spanish government's apparent desire to give greater weight to the principle of "derecho de conquista" than to the right of those robbed to have their stolen property returned. A third - let's call it the 'comparative' argument - links the case of the 'Salamanca Papers' to that of the Elgin Marbles and ignores the fact that UNESCO has repeatedly pronounced in favour of returning documents seized in time of war and the fact that (however belatedly) some attempt is finally being made to return to their rightful owners, or their descendents, works of art that were looted by the Nazis. Finally, there's the political argument, which could be summarised as "Let sleeping dogs lie" vs. "Why let lying dogs sleep?" Ultimately, this seems to me to boil down to a moral question. Refusing to return the Catalan papers - doing nothing - is not a neutral decision. It is a decision to do something: to seek to maintain collective amnesia and to rule out remedying one of the very few disasters of the Civil War that can still be remedied.

A few weeks ago Josep Piqué, the PP's candidate for President de la Generalitat, declared that "¡La España de hoy es la que los catalanes queríamos! ¡La España de hoy se ha hecho catalana!" Meanwhile, the Spanish government goes on indulging in what ought to be an embarrassingly gross nationalistic ceremony that it introduced just a few months ago: the raising of a 300-square-metre Spanish flag on a massive flagpole in the Plaza de Colón in the centre of Madrid on the first Wednesday of every month. But the Comissió de la Dignitat's dignified and impressive campaign goes on too.

This text is a revised version of a paper given at the Universities of Southampton and Sheffield in November 2002. The author is grateful for background information supplied by Josep Cruanyes, whose book on the Catalan materials in Salamanca is to be published shortly. The Comissió de la Dignitat's website is: