Tag: Basques in the Soviet Union

December 9, 1895: Birth of Dolores Ibarruri, “La Pasionaria”

Dolores Ibarruri Gomez, better known as “La Pasionaria” (the passionflower, an early pseudonym), was born on December 9, 1895. She became one of the leading figures in the Civil War of 1936-1939 and gained fame for her use of the slogan “No pasarán!” (They shall not pass!).

Dolores Ibarruri Gomez in 1936. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Dolores Ibarruri Gomez in 1936. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She was born in Gallarta, Bizkaia, into a mining family and, although she had been encouraged to train to be a teacher, she was forced to leave school at fifteen because her parents could not afford any further education. She subsequently did a variety of jobs including being a seamstress, housemaid, and waitress. In 1915 she married the labor union activist Julián Ruiz Gabiña, and got involved in left-wing politics. The couple joined the Communist Party of Spain and Ibarruri became a member of the provincial committee of its Basque branch. Over the next few years, as well as raising a family, she also rose up through the party ranks and in 1930 was appointed to its central committee. The family then relocated to Madrid where she became a prominent leftist activist in the turbulent decade of the 1930s, taking part in strikes and demonstrations and gaining a reputation as a stirring orator and committed anti-Fascist.

La Pasionaria in 1978. Photo by Nemo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

La Pasionaria in 1978. Photo by Nemo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When the Civil War broke out in 1936 she gained international renown for a series of radio broadcasts against the military uprising, employing inspirational terms like the famed “They shall not pass!” as well as “Better to die standing up than to live kneeling down!” With the definitive fall of the Republic, however, she fled the country in 1939, first to Paris and then on to the Soviet Union. While in Moscow, she worked on propaganda radio broadcasts against the Franco regime in Spain and in 1942 she also became secretary-general of the Spanish Communist Party-in-exile. She ceded that position in 1960, retiring from active politics at the age of sixty-five and accepting the honorary post of president of the party.

Following Franco’s death in 1975, she returned to Madrid in 1977, appearing at a Communist general election rally in Bilbao less than two weeks later in front of more than thirty thousand people. However, she subsequently retreated from active involvement in politics. She died in November 1989 at the age of ninety-three.

September 22, 1956: First ship to repatriate Basque refugees from Soviet Union sets sail

On September 22, 1956 a ship carrying refugees from the Spanish Civil War, principally from the Basque Country, set sail from the port of Odessa in the then Soviet Union, bound for Valencia. Many of the refugees had spent nearly twenty years in exile, and most had left as children.

We have posted previously on the plight of Basque refugee children fleeing the effects of the bloody civil war in the 1930s: on the anniversary of the famous 1937 evacuation from Santurtzi, Bizkaia, on the Basque Children of ’37 UK association, and on the tireless work of individuals like Dame Elizabeth Leah Manning to ensure these children found sanctuary from the horrors of war. Today, however, we remember an equally significant date: that moment, twenty years later, when some of those children, now adults, were allowed to return to the Basque Country, despite the dictatorship in Spain.

While many of the other Basque children exiled in countries like the UK, Belgium, and Switzerland had been allowed to return through the 1940s, those that had been evacuated to Stalin’s Soviet Union were regarded with the utmost suspicion by the Franco regime. Only Stalin’s death in 1953 and the gradual reincorporation of Spain into the international political fold allowed for a slight relaxing of relations between the two countries. This led, in turn, to an agreement on the part of the Franco regime to allow the exiles back, although as noted it was nearly twenty years since many of them had fled.

Despite being reunited with their families, after up to twenty years in exile, readapting to life back in the Basque Country was by no means straightforward for the refugees. For many of the “Russians,” as they were called, life in the Franco regime was hard, and they even ran into hostility and suspicion both on the part of the public authorities and the general public. Some even went back to the Soviet Union, which had in their opinion treated them better.

This date, then, serves to reinforce the tremendous impact of war, violence, and displacement on modern and contemporary Basque society.

If you are interested in the broader impact of conflict on modern Basque history, check out War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott (description and free download here); Basque Nationalism and Political Violence by Cameron Watson; Our Wars: Short Fiction on Basque Conflicts, edited by Mikel Ayerne Sudupe; Empire & Terror: Nationalism/Postnationalism in the New Millennium, edited by Begoña Aretxaga, Dennis Dworkin, Joseba Gabilondo, and Joseba Zulaika (description and free download here); and States of Terror, by Begoña Aretxaga.