Sunday, 5 August 2012

Spain under Franco - lessons for Poland?

I have just re-read Spain Under Franco a history by Max Gallo. The story of Francisco Franco and the Spain he ran from the end of the Civil War in 1939 right up to his death in 1975 is interesting.

The Civil War which Franco's nationalists won, was essentially a military reaction against the Spanish Republic, a brief chaotic period during which downtrodden peasants and factory workers - among Europe's poorest - felt they had a chance to wrest some power from the traditional dominance of the landowners, bosses and clergy. With the Civil War - a messy coup that took over two and half years to complete - came terror - the Red Terror (Republicans slaughtering Nationalist supporters including thousands of clergymen), and the White Terror (Nationalists slaughtering Republican sympathisers). Because the Nationalists won, the scale of their terror was some three-four times greater in terms of its victims.

Anti-clericalism played a key part in the Red Terror. The Church had supported the status quo, the landowners, the aristocracy. If you were poor, you needed to accept that it was your lot in life. The consequent violence meted out to Catholics in Republic-held areas drove many into the arms of Franco's nationalists.

Franco was a traditionalist; nationalist indeed and deeply Catholic - and that just about sums up his ideology, other than he was against socialism, communism, liberalism, atheism, modernism. He was "a firm believer in the Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy - a conspiracy in which Jews and Freemasons, and leftists, notionally sought the destruction of Christian Europe, with Spain as a principal target", to quote from the Wikipedia page. He was not a Fascist (though he found it convenient to include the Falange in his government), nor was he a National Socialist.

After coming to power, the main aim for the remaining 36 years of his life was to retain power.

In April 1945, the situation looked bleak for Franco. The two men who helped him win the Civil War were no longer in power. Hitler had taken his life and Mussolini was dangling upside down from a meat-hook. The newly-formed United Nations did not want Franco's Spain for a member. Spain's economy after 1945 was in tatters. Six years after the end of the Civil War, grinding poverty, hunger and corruption were endemic, industrial and agricultural production were at pre-1913 levels. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the imprisonment or emigration of many thousands more, left the country in a feeble state. Over 60% of Spain's GDP was spent on the military and security services. [For an idea of what Spain looked like at that time, google images for "Eugene Smith" + "Spanish Village", the photographer's reportage for Life magazine in 1950.]

In the late 1940s, Franco's prospects suddenly looked much brighter. The Iron Curtain was sliding into place, and Franco, for a change, found himself on the side of the good guys. And so, for American and Western European consumption, Spain became an important bastion against Godless communism, propped up by billions of American dollars, courtesy of the Marshall Plan. For domestic consumption, however, Spain was still an important bastion against Godless communism, and democracy, liberalism, materialism, freedom of expression and modernity.

Spain's economy only really got going in 1959 when money from American aid, foreign direct investment and holiday-makers from north-west Europe pulled it out of autarky and nudged it into the globalising mainstream. By then, Franco was old and tired, leaving economic affairs, which he did not truly understand, to young technocrats and the men from the IMF and World Bank.

He died in 1975; fortunately, Spain had a royal family and a bloodless transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy ensued.

Spain is a fascinating country; it had a huge colonial empire and yet by the early 20th Century it was one of Europe's poorest economies. There are many interesting historical and political parallels for Poland. Max Gallo's book explains how one man managed to keep hold of a major European state for so long - much of it was down to luck.


Anonymous said...

"There are many interesting historical and political parallels for Poland"

Pewnie socjologicznych podobieństw jest równie dużo. Kiedy oglądam "Nakarmić kruki" ("Cría Cuervos") Carlosa Saury widzę *swoje* dzieciństwo - uczucie, które nigdy nie towarzyszyło mi podczas oglądania filmów angielskich, amerykańskich, czy nawet radzieckich z tamtego okresu. Teraz sobie myślę, że to może być wspólnota doświadczeń katolicyzmu (pomimo tego, że jestem ateistą "od urodzenia", gdyż moi rodzice byli ateistami), wspólna dla obu krajów, przy czym nie jestem pewien czy jest to skutek, czy przyczyna.


Anonymous said...

A... i jeszcze jedno. Nie wiem na ile hiszpańska mentalność jest podobna do kubańskiej, choć na pewno wspólnota języka i tradycji robi swoje, ale gdy oglądałem Fidela Castro witającego się z Papieżem w 1998, to widziałem w nim przeciętnego Polaka - katolickiego miłośnika ideologii równych żołądków, alergicznie reagującego na rozsiadłe się w pobliżu mocarstwo.


Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anon:

Cría Cuervos - I shall have to watch. Thank you for the recommendation. Before long I'll write about Irish-Polish political parallels as well.

adthelad said...

'There are many interesting historical and political parallels for Poland.'
I for one would be interested in reading where precisely these might be.

toyah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adthelad said...

I have to admit I know shit too in as much that I also haven't seen Cria Cueveros. Doesn't mean of course the either I or Michał are beyond redemption. I know that it's distressing to the extreme, and hence hard sometimes to cool down, when someone you like very much seems to be oblivious to what's going on around them but I would heartily recommend toning down the language somewhat. Sorry to butt in of course.

Anonymous said...

Nice friends you've got there, man.
So illuminated, some of them even glowing with The Truth...

Let me ask you a question, Michael - would you like to live in a country arranged to your deeply wounded* friend's taste?

* yes, that hapless ex Minister of FA is the correct association

toyah said...

@adthelad and Mike
I'm sorry. I didn't realize that 'to know shit' was a very rude expression. Like Polish 'gówno wiedzieć'. If any of my friends said to me: "Gówno wiesz", I would accept it as a very typical figure of speech. Not an insult by any means. Anyway, I'm very sorry. Will never say that again.

adthelad said...

I think it's a matter of context. It would be probably understood as 'gówno wiesz' (as would the phrase 'you don't know shit') but the tone of your comment seemed overly aggresive given the general tone of earlier comments and the blog item itself.

adthelad said...

If this country were arranged as per My and Michał's friend's taste it would certainly have a great deal more moral backbone. Iceland is pretty good example of the sort of thing I mean but the western press are certainly not going to keep the masses informed of that kind of behaviour.

Do hope you will give some concrete examples and comparisons to support the patronisingly smug innuendo of this latest blog entry .

Scott said...

I certainly see the similarities between Poland and Spain - two of my favourite countries. Spain just emerged from their "dark cloud" earlier than Poland. I also read a good book about the change-over in Spain - The New Spaniards by John Hooper - which I thought about a lot when reading something similar about Poland much later - A Country on the Moon by Michael Moran. In Spain however the church sided with the state (possibly the reason Spain has become more liberal now) and there were more people who also backed Franco,

adthelad said...

Well I wish someone would list or explain these similarities and/or parallels instead of just creating the impression of substantive argument or evidence by the use of subtext or canny metaphors.