Dear Franco, Was there anyone you didn’t hate? Love, Leksa

So in this post I will attempt to give you a bit of historical background for the setting of The Shadow of the Wind. Please forgive any bias (ok, there’s a lot of bias) that may present itself in this writing; in this informal setting of the blog I’ll probably let loose my own personal opinions a bit more than in my final paper. But here goes:

The Spanish Civil War took place from 1936 to 1969. In 1931, shortly before the world, the reigning king of Spain ceded power to a democratically elected government. A constitution was drafted, affording women the right to vote for the first time in history and requiring a strict separation from church and state. This government has been criticized for indeed being too restrictive of Church affairs, going so far as to prohibit religious instruction even in private schools. Unfortunately, some extremist sects of the left also perpetrated acts of violence against monasteries and the clergy, taking the anticlerical sentiment to a whole new level. This incensed conservative groups even more and, shall we say, certainly didn’t help smooth things over between the left and right, and tensions rose throughout the years following the formation of the new government.

In 1936, a military coup was orchestrated by several high-ups in the Spanish military chain of command, among them General Francisco Franco, second-rate tyrant and overall Hitler wannabe. There ensued a bloody war between two loosely defined sides, each consisting of a broad coalition of a variety of groups. Namely:

-The Republicans (left) consisting of:

  • moderates in favor of democracy
  • socialists
  • Communists supported by the USSR
  • Anarchists
  • Labor unions
  • Separatist groups from the Basque Country, Galicia, and Catalonia
  • Largely working class and educated middle class/ intellectuals

-The Nationalists (right) consisting of:

  • Monarchists
  • the Catholic Church
  • Fascists/Francoists (the Falange)
  • anti-Communists
  • largely upper class landowners or businessmen, as well as practicing Catholics and other social and economic conservatives

Both sides had varied outside support. The Republicans were joined by the “International Brigades,” a selection of foreign communists, anarchists, socialists, and other anti-fascists who voluntarily joined the battle. The Soviet Union also provided manpower, weapons, and leadership to the International Brigades. The Nationalists had allies in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.

In the end, the Francoist Nationalist forces defeated the Republicans despite fierce resistance and Franco assumed dictatorial control over the country. He established an authoritarian state based on conservative principles and granted utmost power and importance to the Catholic Church. Franco ruled from 1939 until his death in 1975, though the strictness and absolute power of the regime loosened somewhat over time.

All that’s just background knowledge; my research was concerned with going into greater depth regarding the censorship and varied restrictions on human rights that took place, especially with regard to Barcelona. This city, in the region of Catalonia, faced special restrictions because of the separate national identity of its people. Franco’s regime outlawed any language other than Spanish, a blow to the Catalan-speaking people of Barcelona, and refused the autonomy that Catalonia had long desired. Furthermore, Barcelona was one of the last bastions of liberalism during the war and continued to produce intellectual resistance to the regime throughout its history.

As I mentioned before, all the documents and books I could find in Barcelona were written in Catalan. In many ways, this is only appropriate: after decades of not being able to speak their own language, Catalan scholars should right about that oppression in Catalan. However, it is somewhat frustrating to a Spanish- speaking researcher like myself. Luckily, I could understand everything I read, but I won’t bother trying to translate here because I certainly couldn’t guarantee any level of accurate or graceful translation.

Here are a few of the most relevant tidbits I read about.  I specifically looked for specific legislation restricting human rights.

  • La Llei de Premsa (Press law):  Passed in 1938, this mandated the governmental control of the national newspaper industry.
  • The second Llei de Premsa, passed in 1966: Included severe fines for breaches of censorship policy.
  • La Llei de <Vagos y Maleantes>: A law passed in 1954 aimed against prostitutes and drunks.
  • La Llei de Perillositat i rehabilatació social:  Passed in 1970 and targeting homosexuals.

This is just a sampling of the anti-human rights legislation passed under Franco.  (WHAAAAT??? Legalized discrimination on the basis of sexual preference???  Thank God we live in ‘Merica.)

Next time, (a.k.a. in a couple minutes….) we’ll examine the implications of these laws in Zafón’s novel.  Woot woot!