THE BOMBING OF GERNIKA, AN ATTACK ON DEMOCRACY

By Oriol López i Badell and Jordi Palou- Loverdos, Memorial Democràtic, Spain

 Remembering the bombing of Gernika is a useful exercise to analyze the indiscriminate attack on a population that was identified with a particular ideology. It was not important who lived in the city, simply that Gernika was located in an area considered Republican. For the military rebels, its population was the enemy as they were supposedly supporting a legally elected  democratic state. This kind of aggression has been repeated throughout history and recently, we can see a similar attack on the city of Homs (Syria) for example, where the public calls for reforms to democratize the country.

 In 1930’s Europe, where fascism gained ground, the Spanish democracy put in place a series of reforms to modernize the country (land reform, educational policies, workers and women’s rights, etc.) that were not accepted by the most conservative part of society. That’s why General Franco rose up against the elected government and, with the support of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, led the country to a Civil War. The Nazi and fascist air fleets were the main protagonists in air raids, such as that on Gernika in the springtime of 1937. Barcelona also became renown for being the first European city that lived through ceaseless bombings for days. In Spain, 12,000 people were victims of the aerial and naval bombardments. If we add the victims in the battle field and those who died as a result of the repression, we find a total of 300,000 victims approximately.

Today remembering these figures and commemorating the victims means being aware of the human cost caused by a coup d’état which aimed to end democracy. But for years the episode of Gernika was silenced by Franco’s authorities (who won the war). They even attempted to blame the bombing on the Republicans. In contrast, the war victims who supported Franco were widely honored during the almost 40 years of dictatorship. Later, when democracy returned, a political pact continued the silence about the horrors of the Civil War and dictatorship, supposedly to uphold social peace. But people demanded the truth and wanted to pay homage to the victims who had been forgotten. Several associations and anonymous citizens fought for the right to remember.

The recovery of historical memory connected with the fight for democracy in Catalonia and Spain between 1931 and 1980 is the main goal of Memorial Democràtic.  Our objective is to give Catalan society, especially our youth, the tools to remember the origins of today’s democracy and by doing so, reinforce the foundations of our society – respecting plurality and human rights. Democracy was not easy to gain and we all should be aware that it is a system that  requires attention and care. Democracy does not live on its own, but is made and shaped by each of us participating in it. Perhaps today we are not facing a severe structural violence in Spain as we did in the 1930’s, but we should be alert to tackle other dangers such as today’s economic and financial systems. The crisis today is not a dictator like Franco, but of global systems that  are taking advantage of peoples and societies in the frame of a crisis.

Today, the bombing of Gernika stands as a reminder and an invitation: a reminder  of how quickly democracy can be lost, and an invitation for us to act to preserve our democracies every day.

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