Tag: Civil War

September 18, 1970: Political self-immolation by Joseba Elosegi

On September 18, 1970, the Basque nationalist activist Joseba Elosegi set fire to and threw himself in front of General Franco, the dictator of Spain, while he was attending an international pelota championship in Donostia-San Sebastián.

Joseba Elosegi (1915-1990).

Joseba Elosegi (1915-1990).

As a soldier in the Basque army in the civil war, he had witnessed the bombing of Durango on March 31, 1937, and was present in Gernika during its infamous bombardment on April 26 that same year. He was ultimately captured and sentenced to death but his was life was spared when he was exchanged for a pro-Franco prisoner being held by the pro-Republic forces. He subsequently went into exile in France, from where he took part in the anti-Franco resistance movement, as well as aiding the Allies in getting airmen whose planes had been shot down across the border from occupied France into neutral Spain. On July 18, 1946, he was involved in one of the most daring acts of civil disobedience against the Franco regime. That day marked the tenth anniversary of Franco’s military uprising and a group of activists hoisted the banned Basque flag, the ikurriña, atop the Buen Pastor Cathedral in Donostia-San Sebastián. He was detained by the police and served some jail time before returning to exile.

In September 1970, the fifty-four-year-old Elosegi carried out an act of self-immolation in protest at the horrors of the Franco regime.  In the words of Cameron J. Watson, in Basque Nationalism and Political Violence (pp. 161-62):

Elosegi, a witness to the destruction of Gernika, in an act of self-immolation,set his own body on fire and threw himself before the dictator, shouting “Gora Euskadi Askatuta!” [Long live the free Basque Country!] He survived, however, and later recalled that the incident represented the last desperate act of a former gudari [Basque soldier] who had obsessively remembered the scenes he saw in Gernika for over thirty years before feeling the compulsion to repeat in his protest the flames he had witnessed in the town that day. “Death does not frighten me,” he later wrote . . .  “it is an obligatory end. When one is born, the journey toward death has begun.” In throwing himself before Franco, he had “symbolically wanted to convey to him the fire of Gernika,” for its destruction, a Holocaust-like offering to the technological advances of Nazi Germany, represented for many Basques an attack on their very existence.

He almost died as a result of the act and spent several days in a critical condition. He survived, only to be condemned to seven years in prison, of which he served three. After Franco’s death, he served as an elected representative in the Spanish Senate for both the EAJ-PNV and later EA, two Basque nationalist parties, between 1979 and 1989. In June 1984, in one final act of civil disobedience, he removed physically a Basque flag from an exhibition in Madrid titled “Flags of the Republican side during the war of liberation,” and was spared legal action against him on account of his position in the Senate.

He died at the age of seventy-four in 1990.

August 11, 1936: Basque-language books burned in Tolosa by Franco’s troops

On August 11, 1936, in an early and telling act on the part of General Franco’s cultural strategy during the Civil War, rebel troops carried out a public mass book burning of Basque-language texts in the Old Square of Tolosa; the historically important Gipuzkoan town that had been one of the epicenters of the so-called Euskal Pizkundea, the Basque cultural renaissance based on a flourishing of artistic creation in Basque.

Book burning in Tolosa, August 11, 1936

Book burning in Tolosa, August 11, 1936

The rebel troops had recently occupied Tolosa in their drive westward across Gipuzkoa. Once entrenched in the town, they entered the printing press of Ixaka Lopez Mendizabal, a writer, editor, and printer at the heart of the aforementioned renaissance and removed all the books they could find in either Basque or concerning Basque culture. Repeating their search in the municipal and school libraries, they stacked their loot up in the Old Square before proceeding to burn the pile in a very public act of cultural negation.

In February 1937, Franco’s rebel government passed an official order to cleanse the Basque Country of all such “seditious” books.

September 13, 1936: Fall of Donostia-San Sebastián in Spanish Civil War

On September 13, 1936, five columns of Navarrese troops marched into Donostia-San Sebastián, meeting with no resistance, to take the city in the name of the military rebels who had risen up two months earlier against the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic.

Map showing the frontline in Gipuzkoa until October 1936 in one-week intervals, as of late evening every Sunday, by Dd1495, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That previous July, the garrison of Spanish troops stationed in Donostia had actually joined in the military uprising but it was put down by socialist and anarchist militiamen loyal to the republic. In August, however, Navarrese troops (the requetés or Carlist militias who sided with the military rebels during the war), aided by some Gipuzkoan Carlists, began a campaign to seal off the border at Irun, thereby cutting off a potential arms supply from France for the pro-Republic forces. After laying siege to the town, and with aerial support, the rebels took Irun on September 5,  effectively paving the way to march on toward Donostia. With the fall of Irun, a westward drift of refugees (those that did not manage to cross the border into Iparralde) began that would define much of the civilian experience of the civil war in the Basque Country.

Rebel troops entering Donostia

Having suffered bombardment from sea, and with rebel troops advancing into the city from both the east and inland Gipuzkoa, Donostia ultimately fell without resistance.

Be sure to check out War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a key work that among other themes examines the effects of war on ordinary people in the Basque Country. This book is available free to download here.

The Center has also recently published David Lyon’s Bitter Justice, an important study based on a wealth of primary material that examines the fate of Basque prisoners during the Spanish Civil War.

 

Aitaren etxea, Love in Times of Hatred: The Basque Country in the 50s in a New TV Show

Photo taken from the Eitb website.

Aitaren etxea (The father’s house) is a TV show set in the 50s in a small coastal Basque town that goes by the fictitious name of Etxegi. The idea behind the show is to portray how hard life was in the Basque Country after the Spanish Civil War. The impossible love story between the mayor’s daughter, Irene, and Martin, a country boy, will reflect the open wounds that still exist after the  fratricidal civil war between the “winners” and the “losers” in the conflict.

If you want to see the first episode (in Basque and some Spanish) click here. 

On a related theme, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, explores the impact of war over a decade in Europe (including the Basque Country) in the 1930s and 1940s.