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Confusion over Spain’s plans to grant citizenship for descendants of International Brigades

During the past week, it was widely reported in both the British and Spanish press that the descendants of volunteers who fought in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War would be offered citizenship.

Confusion over Spain's plans to grant citizenship for descendants of International Brigades
Archive photo from the Spanish Civil War: AFP

The proposal, it was thought, would come as part of the Democratic Memory bill, new legislation that aims to properly address the historical legacies of both the Civil War and the Franco regime more broadly. 

Yet when details of the draft bill were published, it appears that the proposal does not stretch to descendants, and includes only the International Brigade veterans themselves. 

The misunderstanding stemmed from comments made by Pablo Iglesias.

Tweeting last week, the Podemos leader and Deputy Prime Minister Pablo claimed that: “The descendants of the members of the International Brigades who fought for freedom and against fascism in Spain will be eligible for Spanish nationality. It was time for this government to say to these heroes and heroines of democracy: thank you for coming.”

 

Between 1936 and 1939 some 35,000 international volunteers, including around 2,500 Brits, fought in the International Brigade during the Civil War. One such man was James Robert Jump, a Merseyside man who spent fourteen months in the British Battalion and fought in the pivotal Battle of Ebro in the summer of 1938. 

His son, Jim Jump, is Chair of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and spoke to The Local about the confusion.

Mr. Jump, who already has Spanish citizenship due to the fact that his mother, a Republican exile, was Spanish, explained that while the Trust was initially delighted to hear the proposal, it soon became clear that descendants would not actually be offered citizenship as Iglesias had implied. 

“Everybody got very excited, and then by the end of the day the official government spokesman apparently said no,” he explained.

This was confirmed when detail of the bill was later released. “The draft bill was published, and it was quite clear that the offer of citizenship would only apply to the veterans themselves,” he said.

Mr. Jump noted that there aren’t many, if any, International Brigade veterans alive to take up the offer, something they had already been offered as part of the previous 2007 Historical Memory law anyway.

Although the recognition is of course welcome, Mr. Jump said that “the offer of citizenship to the veterans is at best symbolic if not meaningless because there’s nobody left alive.” 

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The Democratic Memory bill is not Spain’s first legislative attempt to address its complicated historical legacies, and builds upon the existing Historical Memory Law from 2007. The original bill was extremely controversial, one of the most fiercely debated bills in the House of Deputies in recent years, was vetoed by PP and is still, to this day, used to attack PSOE, the party that brought the bill to the floor. 

Upon becoming PP leader in 2018, Pablo Casado claimed that they “they [PSOE] are a bunch of mossbacks who are stuck in their grandfather’s war and constantly going on about this grave or that.”

Another PP Senator, Javier Maroto, claimed last week that the government was using the bill to distract from what he termed “its mismanagement and its lies” during the Covid-19 crisis. 

The right’s opposition to historical legacy legislation, both back in 2007 and now, is born from three main criticisms: that it unnecessarily divides Spanish society,  is an attempt to “to rewrite history”, and that the legislation represents the “annihilation of the Transition.” 

PP have not indicated how they will vote on the bill, but there is one major difference between the original debates and the Democratic Memory bill proposed this week.

Opposition during the original Congressional debates in 2006 came from PP and the Catalan Republican Party (ERC), although for very different reasons, whereas the far-right nationalist party Vox has since been founded and gained electoral tract, now the third largest party in the House of Deputies and boasting 52 representatives there.

Yet Civil War nostalgia is not only a political tactic of the left. Similarly to PSOE and Podemos, invoking the legacies and language of the Civil War is a tactic Vox have also used.

Last week, Vox leader Santiago Abascal raised eyebrows during the first question time since the summer recess when he made comments reminiscent of a phrase often used by Franco supporters during the transition.

Speaking in the lower house, Abascal claimed that Pedro Sanchez “head[s] the worst government in 80 years.”

The comment was so unexpected that many in the chamber, even more conservative representatives, turned to Abascal in shock. Sanchez reportedly thought the comment was a mistake,  or poorly phrased slip of the tongue, but after Abascal later doubled down on Twitter, it is difficult not to sense the similarities with the old Francoist phrase: “Life was better under Franco.”

The comment comes amid constant attacks from the right throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with both PP and Vox being vocally critical of the government coalition’s pandemic response, and Abascal’s choice of language, and time specific comment, was clearly intended to invoke memories of Franco. 

The citizenship offer to International Bridge fighters is just one element in a far reaching bill that aims to address Spain’s complicated past. More broadly, the Democratic Memory bill proposes making the Francisco Franco Association illegal, voiding Francoist trials, and the establishment of a national DNA bank to assist the exhumation of victims from mass graves. 

The bill also addresses education, modifying the way in which Francoism will be taught in Spanish schools. United Nations Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff noted recently of Spanish schooling that the history curriculum, in its present from, teaches the Civil War “in generic terms, perpetuating the notion of symmetric responsibility.” 

Unlike the 2007 bill, this proposed bill includes steep sanctions of up to €150,000 for violations of the legislation. It remains to be seen how much opposition PP and Vox can rally in the coming weeks, and the extent to which the bill will be used as a political tool to weaken the government amid both the COVID-19 crisis and upcoming budget proposals. 

Jump is hopeful that the bill, and Iglesias’ comments, will generate awareness around the role of International Brigade volunteers during the Civil War, stimulate debate more broadly around Spain’s historical legacies, and perhaps aid in reaching the political consensus necessary in order to properly address them. 

Civil War memory and language still looms omnipresent over Spanish politics and society, a litmus test of political ideals that informs contemporary policy debates and will likely rumble on in the Spanish congress for some months.

By Conor Patrick Faulkner 

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HISTORY

Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner

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