Saturday, November 17, 2007

New Spanish Civil War videogame

Several people who know about my obsession with the Spanish Civil War wrote or forwarded articles about a new Spanish Civil War video game. The creators claim that the game is scholarly, based on historical research, and designed it so that you can choose which side you fight on, the fascists or the Republicans. So you can fight the war over and decide who wins. My sister pointed out that no one would dare make a video game where one would fight WWII and get to choose "Hitler" or the "Allies"!

Yet when it comes to Spain, things are murky. Abroad and within the country many still minimize what happened or justify and indeed long for the longest-running fascist dictatorship of the 20th century - Franco ruled from 1939-1975. Half a million people or more fled to exile, historians estimate that another half a million were killed, tens of thousands were in concetration camps, languished for decades in prisons, worked as slave laborers, were summarily shot without trial, starved by being disallowed to work and through expropriation of their belongings. Censorship prevailed, women were denied basic freedoms (until the early 1970s they could not carry out legal procedures or obtain passports without their husband's approval, and there was no divorce until Franco died). This is just a brief summary there was more. (A great book is called Victimas de la Guerra Civil that includes essays by several historians; and La Iglesia de Franco by Julian Casanova which details the shameful collaboration of the Catholic Church in maintaing not just the state propaganda apparatus but also the prison system).

I have an "excuse" to be obsessed: my family were Republicans, many fought on that side, including my grandfather, which led me as a teen to begin to read about this event. My grandfather got angry the one time I asked about the war - he was a quiet gentle soul and this is only time I ever saw him lose his temper. Since he refused to discuss the matter, being the stubborn person that I am, I resolved to find out more. For about 26 years I have been reading and then going to archives to find papers related to relatives' military service, and political activities. This is typical for what is known as the Grandchildren's Generation. Theorists who write about the inter-generational nature of trauma discuss the ways in which those of us who didn't experience the event directly feel compelled to understand what happened when the direct survivors are too devastated, fearful or unable to discuss the matter. And the generation that follows in the case of Spain was often also kept in the dark about their parents' activities and since Franco's regime lasted 40 years, brainwashed in the schools to believe his propaganda. So, unlike other genocides, the survivors and their children have NOT been able to discuss the matter, fully understand what happened, see perpetrators prosecuted, have truth and reconciliation committees, public trials and the like.

In terms of finding information, I have been able to de-brief other family members, so I have vague stories that don't provide the kind of hard facts that would allow me to follow up in an archive. This type of hearsay gives me a general sense of what is for me extremely gratifying: my family were Reds! This information of course makes it extremely easy for me to process these tragedies, unanbiguous as it is, and I know many of my friends either do not know anything, or have split families, some Franco partisans or collaborators, other Republican sympathizers. Some of my dearest friends are: a child of Italian Fascists who came to support Franco during the war, a grandchild of a Republican mayor of a town who was shot, etc. But we are all friends which proves Franco didn't win despite the horrifying situation in present-day Spain, where democracy is built on forgetting and injustice.

My family research was facilitated to some extent by the fascists' extreme efficiency, which led them to create archives to document and orchestrate their repressive state apparatus. So for example in Salamanca are papers organized by province containing materials belonging to organizations loyal to the legal Republican government, left or center left political parties, groups, union members, subscribers to certain magazines and papers, Masons, etc. all collected as Franco's forces occupied areas. Obsessively organized and in many cases underlined with red pencils, with photographs taken from IDs glued onto albums, information cross-referenced in typed index cards, you can reconstruct why your grandfather was watched by the police, disallowed from working, jailed, etc. So in the case of my granfather, I found an index card (there are 3 million of them) with his name with the references to boxes, files and folios typed beneath, so Politico-Social, Alicante, etc. The documents are: records of the 1936 election where the Republican Left Popular Front alliance legally won. He was representing his party - a moderate left entity - in a district as a supervisor to vouch for the legality of the voting and he signed off on the results. I recognized his signature. He signed his sentence without knowing it. At another archive, I found his brother who has the same name as my father. This archive has some records related to prison sentences. The various papers tracked his sentence and location: he was sent to a concentration camp, then to a prison, later he was given life parole, and internal exile, which meant he could never return to his home town. He didn't live long after he was released the conditions in the camps and jails were such that many didn't survive to see parole. I still have to connect the dots, but in the Salamanca archive I found a paper where a comrade had vouched for his political reliability. This detailed the degree to which he was committed to the Republic and metioned that he joined the same moderate left party as my grandfather, in 1932. He also was at the same electoral site and signed the same document as my granfather. This apparently was enough. Imagine if you voted for Al Gore and that was enough to shoot you on sight, or send you a slave labor camp and leave your family starving.

However, because the "Transition" to "democracy" in Spain was negotiated thanks to a pact of silence and general amnesty, what scholars call a "Pact of Forgetting" was agreed to by politicians and thus the fascists remain unpunished. They have also in many cases been allowed to control access to certain archives, so the full information remains off limits. Now, thanks to the Socialists, a law is about to be passed known as the Law for the Recuperation of Historial Memory. This does not overturn sentences, call for trials for human rights abuses, promise reparations or anything of the kind, but is mostly symbolic. Public entities must remove images of Franco or of his regime, for example, and archives must give full access to victims or their families. Again, imagine that you live in Germany and there are still portaits of Hitler or swastikas in towns throughout the country. Governmental entities must not obstruct the exhumation of the tens of thousands of remains of people killed under the dictatorship. The costliness of doing DNA testing to identify remains already thwarts the volunteer efforts being carried out to return relatives' bodies to families.

Neo-Nazi and Fascist groups are allowed to hold public demonstrations in Spain. Recently, a group murdered a young man who was at an anti-fascist protest. Anti-fascists then requested a permit from the Right-Wing Madrid mayor's office to hold a demonstration but were denied. The Right-Wing Mayor of Madrid DID however grant permission to fascists who held their annual salute to Franco and the leader of the paramilitary fascist Falange Party, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera for the anniversary of their deaths November 20. This is one of countless examples of the ways in which members of the Right Wing party flagrantly display their support for the dictatorship. Several have recently stated their opposition for the Law of Historical Memory and defended Franco's dictatorship as necessary for Spain.

To see a video about the video game, pardon the redundancy, you can go to the site below:

1 comment:

Dquiles said...

Sadly I think this is a consequence of the fetishism for WWII in general, which extends to the United States and its terrifying Bush-era fawning over the "Greatest Generation." Perhaps we could chart a map of historical amnesia in different countries through their transformations of various wars or genocides into video games.