After his teenage daughter was clubbed by Madrid police on Wednesday last, Angel Barrancos sent a tweet to the Madrid police that is being retweeted extensively in the Spanish state. His daughter’s injuries followed a Spanish police charge on a large demonstration in solidarity with the Catalan prisoners and calling for fundamental changes in the Spanish state as a whole.
“Hi, Police! I was in the Madrid demonstration today and your sons of bitches colleagues of the UIP (mobile units of the Policía Nacional – Trans.) laid my daughter’s head open. Note my name well. I’m coming after you. I used to respect you – no longer. Now I am going to the hospital – you’ll hear from me later.”
“Shit police! The girl is 16 years of age, is 1.60 meters high and weighs 40 Kg. She is a young person in solidarity with those of her age. She must have surely been putting your lives in great danger. I am going in a taxi to the hospital, Samur (the ambulance company) cannot carry all the wounded!!! Beware!!!”
“The CTC scan ok, baton blows to the body and some stitches to the head. Thank you those who have taken an interest and my condolences to the inhuman fascists who have written barbarities, I will respond to you …. you do not deserve my time.”
One of the reporters covering the events, Alicia Armestro of Kaos en la Red, alternative Internet news media, was attacked by police and her equipment thrown into the air. She sent a brief report on the event and a video of the start of the police charge before going for treatment and recovery of her injuries.
A Catalan solidarity demonstration of thousands in Madrid, in the big central square called Puerta Del Sol, shouted for “freedom for the political prisoners” and declared that Catalonia’s struggle was theirs too. A small crowd of Vox and smaller fascist groups tried to disrupt the rally but were repelled and the crowd turned towards them chanting: “Here are the antifascists!” (daring the fascists to come forward). Later, Spanish police charged the solidarity demonstrators and some running battles took place in the city’s streets.
There are two Spains – one of them is the Spain of an imperial and racist history, of expulsions, of plunder of colonies, of repression at home and abroad, the Inquisition, military-fascist uprising against an elected government, mass executions, rape and plunder, four decades of fascist dictatorship, followed by another four of a fake transition to democracy. That is the Spain that is in power now.
The other Spain is the one of popular resistance to exploitation of the Comuneros, the anti-feudal writing of Cervantes, the struggle against the military-fascist uprising supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the mounting resistance to the Dictatorship that forced the ruling class to change their style of management, on the face of it ….. That Spain had largely been beaten, jailed or shot in to silence, crushed by treason and division and hopelessness. But there were always embers, embers that burst into little flames from time to time, not only in the nations of the Basque Country, where a fire burned for two decades, or in Catalonia, or Galicia …. but also in places like Asturias in the north, Andalucia in the south and in Madrid itself, in the centre.
The struggle of Catalonia for independence and against fascist police and judicial repression, is waking that other Spain and calling her to the fight. Waking her latent anti-fascists, her democrats; waking those who are unemployed, in precarious jobs, fighting to hold on to their homes or being evicted; waking its youth who want a better future.
It is the opposite of what was wanted by the Falangists, Vox, Ciudadanos, the Partido Popular, the Monarchy – all of them heirs of the fascist dictator Franco – and the PSOE, which climbed aboard with them. These have railed against the Catalan independence movement in order to distract the people from their real problems and real enemies. In Andalucia, Vox and Ciudadanos joined forces to oust the corrupt PSOE government and to progress towards a fascist regional government. In Extremadura they moved towards the same objectives but fell out among themselves.
But recently both those regions have seen courageous people take to the streets, proudly declaring solidarity with Catalunya. And Madrid on Wednesday saw another part of that awakening. A Catalan solidarity demonstration of thousands in Madrid, in the big central square called Puerta Del Sol, shouted for “freedom for the political prisoners” and declared that Catalonia’s struggle was theirs too. And chanted that “Monarchy is filth!”
“The Spanish Government – and also other spokespersons of the parliamentary ambit – is calling for respect for the judgement (ie againts the Catalan activists – Trans.). The judgement is not respectable, neither in its genesis nor in its conclusions and therefore cannot be respected,” declared the conveners of the solidarity protest.
“That is why this evening we are holding this assembly for freedoms, for democracy and against repression,” declared one of the speakers at the event. “And for that reason we salute and send all our internationalist solidarity to all the people who these days are coming out in various parts of Catalonia, especially to those who have suffered repression, with blows, arrests or in addition once again, a person has lost an eye through the brutal and illegal use of rubber bullets.”
A young woman spoke “on behalf of the youth of Spain to the youth of Catalunya”, saying that their struggle was waking up that of the Spanish, against unemployment, precarious employment, against fascism and the Monarchy.
She said that the democratic parties and trade unions needed to decide whether they were on their side in that struggle or on the others. The young woman read out a long list of organisations supporting the Madrid demonstration and ended with the call, in which all joined in: “Catalunya, listen: Your struggle is our struggle!”
SOURCE (report on the Madrid demonstration and video):
Catalans have been preparing for a one-day general strike since Monday’s announcement of the Spanish National Court sentences against the nine Catalan independence activists, who between them received almost 100 years in jail. Today’s will be the fourth Catalan general strike since the Spanish police attacks on Catalans in October 2017. This strike, according to its main trade union organiser, is not only against repression but also demanding social, economic, political and legal reforms and promises to have massive participation. The trade union organising it is a relatively new one, Intersindical CSC, a class union, which has been growing rapidly.
TSUNAMI OF PROTESTS
On Monday the Spanish National Court announced the sentences on seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots organisations on charges of ‘sedition’ and ‘misuse’ of public funds. The ‘sedition’ charges relate to demanding Catalan independence from the Spanish State and the financial ‘misuse’ charge to allegedly funding the Referendum from Catalan Government funds. They were also charged with ‘rebellion’ but since that had already been ruled out of order in test extradition cases for Catalans in exile, the Court had no realistic choice other than to clear them of that charge. The Spanish State is now proceeding with extradition warrants against other Catalan activists known to be in exile in Europe.
In addition, two senior members of the Catalan police force are on trial, 700 town mayors are to be investigated for their role in the Referendum, along with schoolteachers for discussing with their pupils police damage to their school buildings (used as polling stations). Recently seven alleged activists of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic were arrested on “terrorism” charges and two remain incommunicado, long after the usual five days permitted in Spanish State legislation. And others have been arrested in protests against Spanish State repression.
The self-styled “Tsunami” of protests began immediately the sentences were made public. Thousands walked, drove or rode bicycles to the El Prat Airport for Barcelona and effectively closed it down until they lifted the blockade at 10pm. Many others took to the streets of their cities to protest, particularly in front of institutions of the Spanish State, which had mobilised nearly 1,000 police in preparation against them. These were reinforced by the Catalan police, the Mossos D’Escuadra, who were seen as relatively benign during the Referendum and immediately afterwards but are now reverting to their past image — some years ago nearly a dozen of Catalan protesters lost eyes from rubber bullet impacts at close range, which led to a successful popular Catalan campaign to have them banned – but that ban does not apply to Spanish police. Already one young man lost an eye on Monday night while another appears to have lost one testicle and 150 were treated by paramedics. The toll grows and includes two youth run down by police vehicles and more arrests. These figures are certain to grow in the days ahead.
Thousands are also walking along motorways to other towns in a protest procession, horns of cars, lorries and buses being sounded in solidarity, while different protests gather every night.
PARALYSIS OF POLITICIANS
This huge popular wave of resistance contrasts with the seeming paralysis of the pro-independence politicians, who are in three different political coalition parties: Junts X Cat (Together for Catalonia), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left) and Candidatura de Unidad Popular (People’s Unity Candidacy). The three together form a narrow enough majority in the Catalan regional Parlament against the Spanish unionist delegates of the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE, as well as the ‘neutral’ “Communs”, a coalition around the Podemos party. Although the CUP delegates will defend any pro-independence motions etc in the Parlament, they are officially in opposition. JuntsXCat and ERC run the Government together on a slim majority but they disagreed on a number of important issues, including whether to give the minority Spanish PSOE Government qualified support without any concessions from the latter and also, about their resistance campaign being directed by ex-Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, in exile in Brussels, and the group he has collected there.
But their paralysis is more fundamental: despite the activity of some of them in popular movements before they became politicians, their focus has been on electoral strategies and campaigning, preparing legislation for the Parlament and running the Government. For a number of years now the power of the street has been growing and it is clearly in the ascendant now – and that is not where the politicians feel most comfortable. Not only that — but where else now has the Spanish State left any cards to play?
THE TRADE UNIONS
The main trade unions in the Spanish State are the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Commisiones Obreras (CCOO). After Franco’s death, their legalisation and incorporation into the system was felt essential for the smooth operation of the ‘Transition” and for that reason, the major political party of each was legalised too – the social democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain – so that they could control their unions. They did and they have, despite a history of republicanism and antifascism, and in 1978 ensured votes in favour of a the new monarchical and unionist Constitution while their members and others were being clubbed and shot – or blown up — in the street.
The big SEAT factory in Catalonia has majority representation in the CCOO and UGT trade unions and neither union officially supported the previous recent general strikes. However, there was leeway for ‘allowing’ an early leaving of work to attend strike day demonstrations and UGT has already this week officially condemned the Spanish State repression. How they will react later today remains to be seen.
Intersindical CSC is a ‘class union’ (i.e does not recruit personnel from the repressive arms of the State nor from management) and is in favour of the right to self-determination. Its history is recent but it organised the previous general strikes in conjunction with grass-roots independentist organisations (like the ANC and Omnium) and will do so again. The growth of Intersindical is a a source of worry for the UGT and CCOO in Catalonia.
Later today we can expect blockades of all major motorways and train lines passing through Catalonia, general closures of business, services and public transport of Catalonia’s cities and massive demonstrations in cities, not just Barcelona. What will happen at the docks, airport and the SEAT plant remains to be seen. There will almost certainly be confrontations between strike supporters and the police, both Spanish and Catalan. Whether that will escalate further cannot be forecast but is very possible.
Meanwhile, outside of Catalonia in the Spanish State, both Madrid and the Basque Country hosted massive shows of solidarity on the streets while other cities, for example Caceres in Extremadura and Granada in Andalucia (the two poorest regions of the Spanish state), have seen demonstrations on the streets in solidarity with Catalonia and against the repression of the Spanish State.
GENERAL STRIKES — COMMENT
General strikes, if successful in mobilisation, show the collective strength of the organised workers, ideally in conjunction with their communities (families, relatives, friends, local shops, churches, sport clubs etc).
While that is extremely important in the longer run, they are not always successful in the shorter run or, to be more precise, they often fail to achieve their stated objectives. The stated objectives of this strike cannot be achieved in the short run since they confront not only a capitalist but a neoliberal Spanish ruling class and, furthermore, one in which the majority are undefeated descendants of a fascist-military uprising, civil war and four decades of dictatorship.
The overcoming of these obstacles requires, arguably, a social and political revolution and Catalonia is not at that point yet. But it may be in time, especially if the Spanish State continues to pursue its path of repression (and it is sure to do so). One-day general strikes sometimes grow into longer and sometimes even indefinite ones. Such situations are almost pre-revolutionary situations, with workers’ committees having to organise vast forces and control, manage and defend large areas.
For a Catalonia to be successful in revolution or in secession from the Spanish State alone would require that the State faces challenges on a number of fronts, including internally, that severely restricts its ability to send sufficient repressive forces to Catalonia. Such an outcome would depend completely on mobilisations in other parts of the Spanish state, which is why Spanish State, media and fascist parties’ are practically racist in their hysterical condemnation of Catalan independentism and culture, trying to whip up anti-Catalan feeling to distract from the woeful economic, social and political mess to which most of the Spanish regions have been driven.
GENERAL STRIKE MANIFESTO OCTOBER 18, 2019 (English language translation)
For rights and freedoms, general strike!
A new Spanish government and a new disappointment. Whether led by the PP or the PSOE, the
social gains never reach the workers. Neoliberal austerity policies persist whoever resides in the Moncloa (Spanish Government), while authoritarian repression against the common classes and, especially, against the Catalan people become the tools to curb any struggle for better living conditions and justice for the majority. As in popular times, state “socialism” now also wraps itself in the Spanish flag and patriotism to cover the miseries of a ’78 regime which strangled the bulk of the population and which is showing more and more cracks.
During election campaign times, certain parties declare limited progressive proposals, which, if they are elected to govern, will be stored again in a drawer to be sold again to the designs of an Ibex 35 (Spanish Stock Market benchmark) that does not tolerate any kind of agreement with forces that question minimally the foundations of the Spanish monarchy: the unalterable privileges of the elites and an indissoluble and centralist state model. Therefore, despite all the changes that the PSOE promised before grasping power, they faded to pass again from opposition to status quo, in another turn of the eternal Spanish political carousel so that nothing changes.
Minimum measures such as derogations from the PP’s labor reform or of the gag law, the withdrawal of vetoes against the social laws of Parliament, the already agreed reception of refugees, the imposition of rent ceilings, the setting up of a tax on banks, the renewal of the regional financing model or the publication of the list of evaders that were covered by the Montoro tax amnesty, all of those became elusive despite previously having been defended vehemently by Pedro Sánchez.
The Catalan working classes know that rights and freedoms are not only begged through voting. We learned that a century ago, after the “Canadian strike” allowed us to achieve the greatest of the victories of that era, the 8-hour working day and retirement at age 65 (The 44-day strike 1919 originating at the principal electricity company in Barcelona, Riesgos y Fuerzas del Ebro, popularly known as La Canadenca because its major shareholder was the Canadian Commercial Bank of Toronto). But not only then – history has stubbornly shown that social advances have only been achieved through struggle. Peaceful, massive and nonviolent, with the general strike as one of the clearest tools of the workers.
And on October 18 we have a new date, a new call for a general strike that should be massive to make it clear that we will not remain unresponsive to the continuing attacks upon us. The disappointment of Sánchez’s brief mandate at the head of the Government, unable to repeal the most damaging measures of Mariano Rajoy’s period, should receive a blunt response in the street, the popular masses need to empower themselves and to declare that they will not allow themselves to be stepped on again, despite the growing criminalization of protest and growing repression against anyone who dares to raise their voice.
Intersindical CSC is clear that the Catalan Republic is an essential tool to overthrow the regime of ’78 and to move towards a horizon of well-being, equality and social justice but even with this horizon always present, the struggle for rights and freedoms of the popular classes cannot cease before any institution. We will remain on our feet, once again on this October 18, to demand all rights and freedoms:
– For a minimum Catalan salary and pensions of at least 1,200 euros to be increased depending on the Catalan Consumer Price Index.
– For the repeal of the labor reforms of 2010 and 2012 and the recovery of all lost labor rights.
– For a Labor Inspection with adequate resources to deal effectively with rights violations.
– For the end of labor inequalities and the wage gap suffered by women, starting with the recovery of the annulled articles of the equality law and which referred to the world of work.
– For a Social Rescue Plan that guarantees free and universal public services, food and housing for the entire population, the comprehensive application of a guaranteed income for the citizenship and a plan for the internalising of public services which are now outsourced.
– For the application of a climate emergency agreement that reduces to zero as quickly as possible the net emissions of greenhouse gases, starting with the reinstatement of the law against climate change which was partially annulled by the Constitutional Court.
– For the approval of the scheduling of payment, unanimously agreed by Parliament, and the setting of a maximum rent level.
– For the reception of refugees, the closure of the Refugee Secure Centres and the repeal of the immigration law, to make Catalonia a truly host country and without second-class citizenship.
– For the recovery of all social laws and taxes approved by Parliament and nullified or suspended by the Spanish courts.
The “Global Spain” initiative of the Spanish State to 215 Spanish embassies and its sub-title “Touch Democracy” was presented to a small audience at the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on Monday while Catalan and Basque solidarity demonstrators picketed outside.
While some people, perhaps in the know, were directed straight to the auditorium, a number of others, not regular users of the Instituto’s services, were asked to wait in another area but when the start time had been exceeded by 20 minutes without sign of the event, they went to make enquiries again at Reception and learned where the event was being held, entering to find it had already started.
Mr. Ildefonso Castro,the Spanish State’s Ambassador to Ireland was speaking and shortly launched the event with a showing of a short video which, he said, would bring out the main questions in the initiative. In this video, Lucía Mendez, journalist for the right-wing Spanish daily El Mundo seemed to be interviewing Gabriela Ybarra about the novel she had written (The Dinner Guest). But actually later in the film Mendez began a speech about how good was the Spanish democracy while her interviewee was left with little to say. The author had said earlier that though her grandfather (a Mayor of Bilbao who had fought in Franco’s Army and supported the Dictator regime, not mentioned in the video), had been killed by the Basque armed group ETA in 1973, this was not discussed in her family. She felt that the memory of “terrorism” was disappearing and that children in school were not being taught about it, which is why she wrote her book.
In fact, Spanish media constantly refers in negative terms to ETA and a 2016 case of a brawl between Basque youth and off-duty Spanish policemen in a late-night bar, in which no-one was seriously hurt and no weapons used, was being treated in the media and by the State Prosecutors as a case of terrorism! Although the judge rejected the accusation of “terrorism”, in 2018 the youth receive a range of sentences between two and 13 years jail. An important part of the silence and lack of teaching children history is in fact about the almost four decades of Franco dictatorship and the conduct of the victors in the military-fascist uprising against the democratically-elected government of the Spanish Popular Front in 1936. And of the State assassinations and torture of captured ETA fighters and arrested Basque activists. And of the continued legal battles to uncover mass graves of Franco’s victims and try to identify the remains for the relatives.
Considering that ETA ceased its armed activities in 2012 and has since dissolved itself, the relevance and intention of the film seems to be to show an embattled Spanish “democracy”, fighting against Basque independentist “terrorism” in the past as it is now embattled with the Catalan independentists (seven activists of which it has also accused of “terrorism” a couple of weeks ago).
DISCUSSION BUT NO DEBATE
There was no discussion on the content of the film and, after its end, Víctor Andresco Peralta, Director of the Instituto Cervantes, cultural body of the Spanish Embassy, took to the stage and invited five people by name to take chairs laid out around a table. Launching into a chatty monologue full of jokey self-deprecatory comments (so many that they were actually self-promotional), he eventually asked his questions of his picked panel.
Questions included what were their earliest memories of consciousness of being Spanish, what reactions they had received about Spain from people in Ireland, or in other countries (positive and negative), what they valued about Spain, what they thought about the coup attempt in 1981 (lots of jokes about that), etc.
Referring to his father’s recent stay in hospital, Peralta asked for comparison of the Spanish health service with the Irish one (apparently the former is far better, which would not be difficult) and for other comparisons.
The discussion was skillfully managed by the showmaster to bring his group to paint a picture of a wonderful pluralist Spanish State, of freedom of expression, and of a democracy which had been able to defeat the coup attempt without much difficulty but even so, some discourse arose at times to shake the equilibrium, as when one referred to a relative telling him about the horrors of the Francoist suppression as they entered Barcelona and when another referred to the perception (mistaken, of course!) of many people outside Spain that the State was undemocratic and had violent police.
One of the panel, who appears to be an employee of the Spanish State, said she was proud of the defeat of ETA by the “Spanish democracy”. Another said she was proud of Spanish history and culture, without explaining further. She might have meant the foremost writer of Castillian-language literature, Cervantes himself, who was exiled from the Spanish kingdom because of his anti-feudal views. Or the Andalusian poet Federico Lorca, who was executed by Franco’s soldiers; or the Malagan artist in exile Picasso, who created the famous painting of the Nazi and Fascist aerial bombing of Gernika (most of the poets, writers and artists of the era were against the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship that followed). Or about the dramatist Alfonso Sastre, whose distaste for the Spanish State’s behaviour towards the Basques was such that he moved to the Basque Country.
Perhaps the woman was proud of the defeat of the learned and tolerant Moorish colony of Al Andalus and its replacement by the racist Spanish Christian Inquisition, along with the expulsion of Arabs and Jews? Or of the centuries-long suppression of the governments of the Basques, Galicians and Catalans, along with their languages? Or of the invasion, massacre, enslavement and plunder of the indigenous people of America, the Caribbean and the Philippines? Or the invasion and colonisation of the Rif in North Africa, when the French saved the Spanish colony after the Spanish army had been wiped out by lesser-armed (and often less numerous) Berber guerrillas.
Of course she might have been referring to the revolt of the Reapers in Catalonia or of the Comuneros in Castille; or of the resistance of Spanish, Catalans and Basques to the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship …. We don’t know because she did not say.
WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?
The event had been advertised as a debate but no debate took place. Nor was there a question-and-answer session, nor engagement with the audience except to send them witty asides from Peralta and to thank them at the end.
This was too much for at least one of the small audience, an Irishman who interrupted the concluding remarks of the Director by saying, in Castillian (Spanish) that it was a pity that the question of self-determination had not been discussed. The event was taking place in Ireland, he commented, where another state had denied the people the right to self-determination on grounds of that state’s constitution also. Denied permission to exercise their right, the Irish people had to fight for it and eventually won part-independence.
Peralta commented that the Spanish people were cognizant of Irish history and appreciated it.
The Irishman replied that in the Spanish state things were the complete opposite.
Peralta commented that unfortunately there was no time left for that debate, thanked participants and audience and brought the event to a close.
WHAT WAS THE POINT?
Outside the meeting up to dozen protesters had taken up positions on both sides of the street. On the Trinity College side a couple of protesters stood beside portraits of the Catalan grass-roots activists and politicians who are in jail awaiting sentence or in exile. On the Instituto side, a larger group of protesters held two banners and a Basque Antifa flag.
One of the Catalan supporters, an Irishwoman, addressed several of the panel participants as they exited. It emerged that they had not understood the nature of the event and that they thought it had to do with October 12th, which is a Spanish State celebration of its former empire and spreading of the Castillian language1(and for which one of the panel, who seems to work for the Instituto, is organising an event in Rathmines). They said they had not seen the “Global Spain” publicity (81 pages of propaganda justifying the actions of the Spanish State and attacking the principle of Catalan self-determination and the pro-independence movement!).
There was in truth not much point in attending the event unless one wanted receive a smooth-talking patter about an imaginary State occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the protesters, it was important to give a response to the paint-over job. For the producers of the show, the importance was to try to distract an Irish audience from the reality of what is an unreconstructed fascist state with a thin veneer of democracy that is constantly peeling away.
1El Dia de la Hispanidad was formerly called “El Dia de la Raza Española” (Day of the Spanish Race). It is also the Spanish Armed Forces Day, obviously not inappropriately in context!
When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.
In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.
In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).
There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.
POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY
Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).
In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.
The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.
The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.
To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersalwasheard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).
LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE
The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.
Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.
Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.
Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.
It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.
SPEAKERS WARN OF RISING FASCISM, CALL FOR UNITY OF ANTI-FASCISTS
Flags of various kinds flew above a gathering in Monagear, Co. Wexford on Saturday 7th September, while a number of banners were visible among the crowd: Peter Daly Society, Connolly Association Manchester, Wexford Community Action, Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Friends of International Brigades Ireland, Éirigí, Connolly Column. Also in attendance was a group of young men and women dressed to represent the International Brigaders and the POUM1 milita, organised by the Cavan Volunteers group. The event had been organised by the Peter Daly Society with support from the Peadar O’Donnell Forum.
Monagear is a small village in the centre of Co. Wexford, a few kilometres north-east of Wexford town. Also known a Monageer, both words are, like most place-names in Ireland, from the original Irish language: Móin na gCaor, “the bogland of the berries” (probably of the Rowan or Mountain Ash, which in Irish is Crann Caorthainn). Not far from it are the historic place-names associated with the United Irishmen uprising of 17982 in that county, such as Boolavogue and Enniscorthy and indeed, a small commemoration garden in the village has memorial stones dedicated to that struggle and to others since.
At a signal, the gathering of people with flags and banners, led by a colour party flying the Irish Tricolour, the flag of the 2nd Spanish Republic, a red starry flag and the Irish workers’ Starry Plough, moved in procession down into the village area and assembled outside the raised platform containing the tasteful simple memorial to Peter Daly, International Brigader killed in the War Against Fascism in the territory of Spain (1936-1939).
Steve McCann, Chairman of the Peter Daly Society, with another man beside him, opened the ceremony from the memorial platform by briefly outlining the history of the Peter Daly commemorations and of the Society (founded in 2011) which he said had from the beginning welcomed the involvement and participation of Irish Republicans, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and plain anti-fascists. After outlining the program of speeches and songs for the day, he called Gearóid Ó Machaill to give the first speech, on behalf of the Friends of the International Brigades, Ireland.
“THE IRISH ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FASCISM”
Ó Machaill opened his speech in Ulster Irish, thanking the organisers for giving him the opportunity to speak there at the cradle of Peter Daly, Irish Republican, socialist, anti-fascist. Continuing, he said that the conditions that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s are very similar to those of today. Speaking of the Republican Congress of 1936-1938, he said it had worked to overcome divisions in the working class and in the anti-imperialist movement. But it had fallen apart in disunity, unfortunately and in Ireland today, the anti-fascist forces are as divided too.
The Irish were not immune to fascism and had a strong fascist movement in the 1930s, supported for awhile by the State, X said. In the years since the defeat of fascism around most of the world, attempts to set up a fascist movement in Ireland had been smashed, said Ó Machaill but cautioned against complacency.
In some other parts of the world, workers betrayed by social democracy and hurt by capitalism, turned to hard right parties and outright fascists and it was entirely possible that such fascists would become popular while leading a campaign against bankers and even imperialism, pushing a line of “Irish for the Irish”.
“We cannot afford the divisions and need to unite ….. as Republicans and Socialists did in preventing the attempted launch of Pegida in 2016,|” said the speaker.
Steve McCann introduced the man beside him as Diarmuid Breatnach and called him to sing the first song of the selection for the ceremony and to say a few words about its content. Breatnach pointed out that migrants are often a prime target of fascists and the song he was to sing was about migrants and their treatment. On 28th January 1948,a DC-9 transporting Latino illegal migrants and “guest workers” crashed in the Los Diablos region of California and all 32 on board were killed. The radio news reported the crash but only gave the names of the crew members and the Immigration Department guard, saying the others killed were “deportees”. The names of the dead were known in their localities and were printed in local newspapers but were not deemed worthy of mention on the radio.
Wood Guthrie wrote a poem called “Deportee” about the tragedy which was put to music by Martin Hoffman, the song since called Deportees or Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Breatnach then sang the song, the chorus of which says:
Goodbye to my friends,Farewell RosalitaAdios mis amigos, Jesús y Maria;You won't have a name When you ride the big airplane --All they will call you Will be “deportees”.
LESSON OF HISTORY – NOT LIBERALISM BUT ROBUST ACTION IS NEEDED
Mags Glennon was called to read a statement on behalf of Anti-Fascist Action. Moving on from the background to the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and the background of those who fought to defeat it, Glennon read: “Far-right parties have risen from minor subculture to government across Europe in recent years, showing the glaring need for principled and active opposition to fascist and far right forces. The most concerning aspect of this political resurgence is the support it has received from young people and large sections of the traditional working class, due to the abandonment of these people by social democrats, and other parties who claimed to ‘represent’ them. Well meaning liberalism has never defeated fascism. It never will.”
Reading from the statement, Glennon called for a “re-energising” of the struggle to defeat those “aiming to distract our communities and young people from fighting their real enemy. Where there are fascists we must oppose them.”
Glennon concluded by reading: “Appeals to the police, to parliament or to Google to censor fascists have no place in anti-fascist struggle. History has shown that robust action against fascists in Ireland has always sent them running back to the gutters to think again. Long may it continue. La lucha continua!”
“MUST ORGANISE IN WORKING-CLASS COMMUNITIES”
The MC, Steve McCann, introduced the anti-fascist and community activist as well as Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ciaran Perry. Speaking without notes, Perry outlined the historical necessity of defeating fascism politically and physically.
Echoing a previous speaker’s comments, Perry too called for unity of the antifascist forces against fascism but also against capitalism and imperialism. He said that working-class communities, betrayed by social democracy and distracted by identity politics, had become prey to the propaganda of fascists.
Fascism is a facet of capitalism”, Perry said “and therefore the enemy of the working class. The working class should be our natural constituency.”
Going on to suggest that if fascists build bases in working class communities it is because of the failure of the Left, he called on socialists and antifascists go into those communities and to build their bases there.
ESCAPE FROM DACHAU AND DEATH IN SPAIN
Breatnach stepped forward to sing a combination of two songs from the German side of the anti-fascist struggle. The German political prisoners in the concentration camps were forbidden to sing socialist songs and had written their own, one of which became famous around the world was The Peat Bog Soldiers, lyrics written by Johann Esser, a miner and Wolfgang Langhoff, an actor and melody composed by Rudi Guguel.
“Hans Beimler (1895-1936) was a WWI veteran, a Communist, a Deputy elected to the Reichstag in 1932,” said Breatnach. “In January 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. The Communist Party was banned and in April 1933 Beimler was arrested and sent to Dachau extermination camp where, in May, he strangled his SA guard and, putting on the man’s uniform, escaped. He went to Spain where he was a Commissar with the International Brigades and was killed in the Battle of Madrid on 1st December 1936.”
He would sing two verses of the Peat Bog Soldiers, Breatnach explained, combined with the Hans Beimler song.
“THE NORM WAS FOR ALL CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL BRIGADERS TO BE EXECUTED”
The sun sinking towards the west shone over the heads of the attendance on to the raised bed of the memorial stone and its flagpoles and, except when covered by clouds, into the eyes of those on the platform. Outside the nearby pub some locals gathered and behind those gathered around the monument, others in attendance lined a low wall while nearby other local people, mostly youth, congregated for a time. Occasionally a passing car drove carefully along the street past the crowd. House martins darted above, a wasp occasionally bothered the speakers and the smokey-blue soft curves of the Silvermine Hills and Knockmealdown Mountains rose to the west.
The Chair of the event called Harry Owens to speak.
Harry ‘s speech traced the history of world events that had led up to the fascist coup and war in Spain. He also spoke about the kind of people the Brigadistas had been, quoting from their comrades, journalists and opponents. That Captain Frank Ryan had his life spared was unusual, he explained, as the tendency was for all anti-fascist officers to be executed and all International Brigaders of all ranks. Whilst the Spanish fascists wanted to execute them, the Italian soldiers tended to keep them alive in order to exchange them for Italian prisoners of the Republican side.
The death toll among officers and men in the International Brigades had been higher than the norm in warfare and the average in the Irish contingent higher still, Owens said. The food and armament supply conditions of the Republican side had been poor in many areas but almost to a man they had fought on until death, capture or demobilisation. It was their conviction, that they knew what they were fighting for and believed in it that accounted for that.
After Owens’ speech, Breatnach stepped forward to sing, without introduction, Viva la Quinze Brigada3(the song written by Christy Moore about the Irish who fought in the 15th International Brigade). The song mentions Peter Daly in the verse:
This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan,
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too,
Peter Daly, Charlie Reagan and Hugh Bonner,
Though many died, I can but name a few.
Danny Doyle, Blazer Brown and Charlie Donnelly,
Liam Tumlinson, Jim Straney from the Falls,
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy,
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill.
The words of Moore’s chorus rang out along the street:
“Viva la Quinze Brigada!
No Pasarán!” the pledge that made them fight;
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside,
Let us all remember them tonight.
…. and concluded with the cry “Viven!” (“They live!”)
WREATHS, THE INTERNATIONALE AND AMHRÁN NA BHFIANN
McCann called for those who wished to lay wreaths on behalf of organisations and the following came to lay floral tributes: John Kenny, activist of the Peter Daly Society; Mags Glennon for Anti-Fascist Action; Seán Doyle for Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland (who had provided the colour party); Connolly Association Manchester; and Gary O’Brien for Éirigí. Messages of support had been received from the CPI, IRSP and the Connolly Association Manchester.
McCann then called Breatnach forward to sing the Internationale, the international anthem of the working class, the lyrics of which Breatnach explained had been composed by Anarchist Eugene Pottier of the Paris Commune, in 1871, the first time the working class had seized a city. It had been written to the air of the Marsellaise but later put to its own melody by worker-composer Pierre de Gayter.
“It was written in French”, said Breatnach, “which is why I propose to sing the chorus once in French at the start but it has been translated into many languages. Youtube has a post with 95 translations ….. and there are at least three versions of it in English and people are welcome to sing along in any version they know,” Breatnach concluded before singing the French chorus, followed by two English verses and chorus.
The MC Steve directed attention to a bodhrán decorated with a dedication to Peter Daly by Barry O’Shea which was displayed by Erin McCann and which would be raffled as a fund-raising exercise at the reception inside the pub.
Steve McCAnn then called Marie Kenny Murphy and Marilyn Harris up on to the stage, where they played the Irish national anthem on flutes, with many people singing along in its Irish translation4:
Anocht a théim sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghael chun báis no saol;
Le gunnaí scréach, faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann.
REFRESHMENTS, EXHIBITION, RAFFLE, SONG AND CONVERSATION
All the speakers had referenced the historical memory of the Anti-Fascist War on Spanish territory to the struggles of today and even of tomorrow and the selection of songs had been deliberately chosen to emphasise internationalism and workers’ solidarity from the past and needed today.
McCann thanked all the performers, speakers and participants and in particular welcomed the participation of the Connolly Association contingent from Manchester, encouraging them to attend again the following year. Inviting all to enter the local Monageer Tavern to view the Antifascist War memorabilia and to have some food, the MC brought the ceremony to an end.
Inside the local pub, the Monageer Tavern, food had been made available by the owners and the function hall was provided for the commemoration participants.
An interesting display of memorabilia of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War had been erected inside by the Cavan Volunteers history group. The walls of the function room on one side were also covered with permanent framed photographs and other images of Irish history, among which Joe Mooney, anti-fascist, community worker and activist of the East Wall History Group, spotted a photo of the Dublin docks with a docker well-known to his community in the foreground!
Music was provided by Tony Hughes with voice and guitar, singing a selection of songs including anti-racist and Irish Republican ballads, also Viva La Quinze Brigada.
When the raffle was held a search went on for the winning number ticket which eventually unearthed it in the possession of Helena Keane, seller of the tickets and who adamantly refused to take the prize. Another dip into the stubs brought Gearóid Ó Machaill’s ticket out, ensuring the decorated bodhrán would find a new home somewhere in the occupied Six Counties.
1The International Brigades were organised through the Comintern and Communist parties in various parts of the world but a number of International Volunteers came also through the mainly Trotskyist POUM, including Anarchists. One Irish volunteer went to join the Basque Gudaris and was killed fighting the fascists there.
2First Republican rising in Ireland, organised and led for the most part by Protestants, descendants of British colonists.
3Christy Moore called this “Viva la Quinta Brigada” (i.e the Fifth) but in later versions sang in English a line in the first verse calling it “the 15th International Brigade”. It appears that from different chronological perspectives one can call it either the Fifth or the Fifteenth but the mostly English-speaking brigade of the International Brigades is usually named the Fifteenth. Quinze is the Spanish word for “fifteen” and Viva la Quinze Brigada scans in the song while “decimoquinta Brigada” has too many syllables to fit.
4The Soldier’s Song was written originally in English by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican worker with socialist sympathies and put to music by worker-composer Patrick Heeny. It was translated to Irish by Liam Ó Rinn under the title Amhrán na bhFiann and published in 1923. Only the chorus became the anthem of the Irish State and that was not until later. The Irish-language version is the one most commonly sung at non-State occasions now.
(Reading time: 10 minutes)
(Translation by Diarmuid Breatnach of review in Castillian in 2016 of the book of that title and interview with one of the authors in El Confidencial). Para versión original en Castellano mirase al enlace al fin.
‘The boarding schools of fear’ (Ed. Now Books) came into our hands a few days ago. We devoured the 300-page book in just three afternoons. Each page that we turned was leaving us more exhausted, confused and horrified. How is it possible that even today there are no consequences following what happened then?
We talked about sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, experimental operations, baby theft and slavery, among other things, that thousands of children experienced during the Franco regime only because they were classified as ‘children of sin’. These children were children of single mothers, they came from poor families or, what was even worse at the time, their parents were Republicans.
The State ‘hunted’ these children and interned them in centres, of which the vast majority were managed by religious orders by government grant. Judging from the research in the book, in what more than boarding schools looked like prisons and torture rooms for minors. In the text we read a dozen testimonies of victims that leave us nauseous: boys raped by priests, nuns who mistreated hundreds of girls until they tired of it, Salesians who employed all kinds of torture, children who died of beatings, minors who were sold as slaves for 100,000 pesetas (600 euros today), young people locked up in psychiatric hospitals who were subjected to injections the nature of which remainsunknown … A series of horrors that have never been recognized by the State (it was the entity in overall charge of the centres and had the judicial guardianship of minors), nor by the Church (according to the book, hundreds of Salesians, priests and nuns committed atrocities with children), much less by companies that benefited from the slave labour of these imprisoned children.
We have many doubts and we want to know more. We need someone to explain to us how even still this can be silenced. That is why we get in touch with Ricard Belis, one of the authors of the book, together with Montse Armengou, who offers us his view of the past, present and future of this situation. Ricard is an expert in Franco’s history, a subject to which he has dedicated decades of journalistic research. After chatting with him, we come to a valuable conclusion: the damage is already done, but to make known the history of these children and that those responsible for it be known publicly can heal the pain of many victims of the ‘boarding schools of fear’.
QUESTION: As soon as we begin the book we find a statement. You say that, contrary to what happens in other countries – from Argentina to South Africa through the Congo, Bosnia and other places – here in Spain there is no state agency responsible for investigating complaints that arise from people who, from one way or another, themselves suffered from the Franco dictatorship. Why is there no such body in Spain?
ANSWER: Everything is the result of the transition to democracy in Spain. It was done with a system that, although in the first years had its reason for being, decided not to look back at any time. In this way, one enters into a dynamic of many years of silence, which leaves all the victims of the regime forgotten and separated. That has done terrible damage to the victims themselves – for the fact of not being able to express their pain and having it remain inside them – and to Spanish society in general – because the fact of not knowing well what happened would be quite unthinkable in another democratic country.
Q: Do you think that at some point such a state agency could be created or do you consider it something utopian?
A: Well, I would like to see it … but I see it as impossible in near future. This book is the offspring of a documentary that was screened in Catalonia, where it was successful in terms of viewing figures, but nothing happened. There were signatures to a petition demanding that the Church ask for forgiveness, but nothing more. I think it is of greater importance that the Spanish State make these apologies, because it is ultimately responsible for the majority of these boarding schools, centres that were run by religious orders but by state concession. That task remains pending.
I will recount you an anecdote. We took this documentary to a very famous festival in France, in which reports from other countries were screened. After viewing our investigation, the French public did not understand how the Spanish State never apologised or accepted what happened to those interned. Then, by coincidence in the same room a Swiss documentary of a similar theme was projected (child abuse in Swiss boarding schools). The big difference is that this documentary began with the current Swiss Government asking for forgiveness for what previous governments had done.
TV3 DOCUMENTARY ON WHICH THE BOOK IS BASED
Q: In the absence of policies on historical memory, in a country denounced by different international organizations (UN, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe) and with a Partido Popular Government that fulfilled its electoral promise to close the office of Victims of the Civil War and Dictatorship, associations and the media are the only platforms to which those affected can go. Could this situation change with a new government? If, for example, a new political party like Podemos won the elections, do you think they would be willing to investigate all these cases and apply pressure for the creation of such an organization?
A: I am not optimistic for two reasons: first because there is no survey that predicts victory for Podemos, which, although it is one of the few parties presenting at state-level which contains this in its electoral program, it is hardly going to obtain an absolute majority to implement the policies they propose; and second, in this country we have had more years of left-wing than right-wing governments and both have been very shy and inactive on this issue, including the PSOE. It is true that Zapatero brought in a Law of Historical Memory, but it fell short and has hardly been applied. Anyway, I’m not very optimistic. I hope that some year something will happen, although at this rate I fear it will be when the victims are no longer alive.
Q: Why does the Spanish Government not pronounce on this? Is it afraid of the reaction of society?
A: I don’t know very well how to answer that question, because its inactivity is incomprehensible. Because it does not matter if a government is right-wing or left-wing, what cannot be consented to is that the victims of a dictatorship are forgotten and the pain they have suffered is not recognised. I give the example of Angela Merkel, who strongly condemns the crimes committed in the Nazi era.
P: The children of these boarding schools were mistreated both psychologically and physically. They burned their bums with a candle, were forced to eat their own vomit full of insects, were subjected to sexual abuse … Is this perhaps the worst episode that has happened in the history of Spain?
A: The theme of childhood is one of the toughest episodes. When abuse, violence and ill-treatment is employed against a child, it is very traumatic. And not only the pain left inside them but also in their families. It is difficult to rank the hardest moments in the history of this country.
One of the things that has impressed me most doing this research, beyond the abuse, violence and ill-treatmentis the fear and lack of affection felt by most children who lived in these boarding schools. Such was this lack of affection that many of those children came to confuse the first symptoms of sexual abuse as affection. I think it’s a terrible perversion. Some children who have never received a caress, accustomed to receiving beatings, when a priest arrives, touches them and that ends in sexual abuse … it has to mark them for a lifetime.
We always emphasise that this is not a historical investigation, but that it is current, because the damage that was done is still present. That the State does not recognize what happened only increases and magnifies the damage to the victims. The damage that the Dictatorship did is multiplied by the neglect of democracy.
Q: The Church played a great role in that drama. Do you think that with your research, like the one in this book, you will end up engendering a total rejection of the Church in the new generations?
A: I believe that the Church, on a global level, is beginning the process of acknowledging its guilt. The previous Pope, Benedict XVI, has already begun a firm policy against child abuse and sexual abuse, and in that sense it can be said that they are beginning to clean up their house. Late, yes, but we already know that the Church goes a little slower in everything. Here in Spain, there has not been any movement yet. The Church needs a modernization and many duties remain to be carried out, therefore it is normal for new generations to find it harder to believe in the Church.
We have testimonies of victims who ask that the Church apologize, because they are believers and for them it would be of great significance and even very restorative. Others, on the other hand, do not want to know anything about the religious orders, since they are never going to forgive them. In this regard, I think it would be good for the Church to ask for forgiveness, but I think it is more important for the Government to do so, because it is the one ultimately responsible. Although the Popular Party, which currently governs, has no responsibility for what happened, it is the heir of that State. It would be Mariano Rajoy who should ask for forgiveness, but not for anything on his own behalf but rather because he is the current President of Spain (since this was written Sanchez of the PSOE has been the President of the Spanish State – Trans.).
Q: If Mariano Rajoy recognized and apologized for what happened in those boarding schools, would it benefit him in any way with regard to public opinion?
A: In any case it would not hurt him. That a leader recognizes that the State did something wrong, but has no responsibility for it himself, is worthy of admiration. So I think it would mostly be to his benefit. I do not think that it would seem bad to any well-intentioned person that he apologized for the abuses that were committed at that time. Rajoy has no responsibility for it but he is the heir of that dictatorship.
Q: A lot of money was generated around the boarding schools. The Church received huge amounts from the State for the support of the little ones (and only a small part of it reached the minors, since they lived in subhuman conditions and were very hungry) and also pocketed millions of pesetas with the sale and labour exploitation of these children…
A: Yes, the Church took advantage of the situation and profited by it. The minors were a source of funding. The Church found a workforce to which they taught trades with the excuse of training, but the situation resulted in pure and hard exploitation. This situation reminds me of what happens in other countries, where thousands of children, such as from India or Asia, are exploited.
Q: In addition to the Church, large companies in our country also took advantage of the situation and hired this cheap workforce. In the book you mention El Corte Inglés – which at that time were the Almacenes Preciados (Precious Stores – Trans.) – and even Banco Popular and Caja Madrid. Did these companies know that they were hiring exploited children who lived as ‘prisoners’ in boarding schools?
A: I give you the example of El Corte Inglés (chain of shopping malls in the Spanish State – Trans.). They went to religious orders and paid the nuns for labour. They paid little, but they paid. They never hired a child directly. What happens is that, of course, we could say that they could suspect or intuit something with regard to the service being provided so cheaply. I could not tell you that these department stores are directly responsible, because they did not hire the children, although they have some social responsibility. They could imagine what was happening there.
Q: You spoke with those responsible for El Corte Inglés about the subject. And, although at the beginning of the conversations they were pleasant, they ended abruptly with a total refusal on their part to collaborate with your investigation. Do you think that if it was shown that these department stores made use of these children for their business, it would affect their reputation or sales?
A: I think it has been a long time. They are tactics that are currently being used by numerous countries abroad. And, in addition, it could not prove more than than that the Cortes Inglés had a contract with religious orders. The company did not have to know what was done with these children or if they were paid. They could intuit what was happening, but they did nothing illegal. It would be more of a moral issue.
Q: As for you, after gathering so many testimonies and talking to more than 200 victims of these abuses, do you feel that this investigation has taken its toll in some way?
A: We are not made of stone. When you talk to a person who has suffered these abuses you are making her return to one of the worst episodes of her life. Sometimes you leave the interviews affected. But on the other hand it is very comforting, because the victims feel relief through having the opportunity to tell their story to their fellow citizens. In addition, these investigations are doing what the State should do, in the sense of making it known and recognizing it, which is the start of repairing the damage caused.