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SPANISH CITIZENSHIP

Descendants of International Brigades can get fast-track Spanish nationality

Spain will give the descendants of International Brigade fighters who fought fascism during the Civil War an expressway to Spanish citizenship and dual nationality, with people from the UK, the US and many other countries eligible.

spanish citizenship descendants international brigades spain
Photo of Yugoslav volunteers in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Spain's Democratic Law extends the citizenship offer to descendants of International Brigade fighters, who can now get Spanish nationality without losing theirs. Photo: Wikipedia/Public Domain

Descendants

The children and grandchildren of fighters who fought for the International Brigades during Spain’s Civil War will be able to acquire Spanish citizenship – and won’t have to give up their other nationality in order to do so.

The fighters themselves have been able to apply for Spanish citizenship since 1996, though they were required to drop their other nationality. Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law removed that requirement, though the offer of citizenship was not extended to their descendants.

There was confusion in 2020 when Spain’s then deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias tweeted that descendants of International Brigade fighters would be included in legislation, but when the final legal text appeared, it confirmed that the proposal did not stretch to descendants and only included the International Brigade veterans themselves. 

Now Spain’s new Democratic Memory Law, which passed the Spanish Senate on October 5th and officially became law on October 21st, finally extends the citizenship offer to descendants who can get Spanish nationality without losing theirs.

They will even be able to do it through the fast-tracked naturalisation process – seen as the expressway to Spanish citizenship and used by public figures such as Barcelona footballer Ansu Fati and actress Imperio Argentina.

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According to the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), a group involved with drafts of the legislation, there are at least one hundred known descendants that have been identified so far. They come from around the world, including France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Cuba, the former Yugoslavia, Argentina, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

As there are so few descendants of international brigade fighters, however, many view their inclusion in the citizenship legislation as a symbolic gesture that is part of the Democratic Memory Law’s efforts to settle historical debts with the past.

Though the legislation does extend citizenship, it’s not thought that a flood of applications will follow. “There will be no avalanche, it is a symbolic measure that has a purely sentimental importance for the relatives of the fighters,” the AABI explained to Spanish news website Newtral.es.

Participants wave republican flags during a 2015 march called by the Friends of International Brigades Association to commemorate the involvement of the International Brigades in the Battle of Jarama during the Spanish Civil War. (Photo by CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP)

The International Brigades

Between 1936 and 1939 at least 35,000 international volunteers from around 50 countries, including around 2,500 Brits, fought against Francisco Franco’s fascist troops in the International Brigade during the Civil War. An estimated 10,000 foreign volunteers died in Spain, according to the Spanish Civil War Museum. 

The British novelist George Orwell, who fought with a Communist regiment of the Republican army during the war, described in gory detail the sacrifices of the International Brigades in his seminal work ‘Homage to Catalonia’.

READ ALSO: Remembering the Battle of Jarama and the role of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War

citizenship international brigades spain

Anti-fascist demonstration in London reported on the front page of Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia on September 11, 1936. Photo: Dorieus/ Wikipedia (CC BY SA 4.0)

What is Spain’s Democratic Memory Law?

The citizenship offer is part of the broader Democratic Memory Law that aims to “settle Spanish democracy’s debt to its past” and deal with the legacy of its Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.

READ ALSO: Spain’s new ‘grandchildren’ citizenship law: What you need to know

In recent weeks, the Spanish government confirmed that as many as 700,000 foreigners with Spanish lineage are eligible Spanish citizenship without having ever lived in the country, including those with ancestors who fled Spain for fear of persecution during Franco’s dictatorship.

Between the end of the Civil War in 1939, and 1978, when Spain’s new constitution was approved as part of its transition to democracy, an estimated 2 million Spaniards fled the Franco regime.

Controversy

Legislation concerning Spain’s dictatorial past is always controversial, and this law was no different – it passed the Spanish Senate earlier in October with 128 votes in favour, 113 against, and 18 abstentions.

The Spanish right have long been opposed to any kind of historical memory legislation, claiming that it digs up old rivalries and causes political tension. Spain’s centre-right party, the PP, have promised to overturn the law if it wins the next general election.

READ ALSO: Spain’s lawmakers pass bill honouring Franco-era victims

Other aspects of the law include the establishment of a DNA register to help families identify the remains of the tens of thousands of Spaniards were buried in unmarked graves; the repurposing of the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, where Francisco Franco was buried until his exhumation in 2019; and a ban on groups that glorify the Franco regime.

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For members

SPANISH HISTORY

13 changes you may have missed about Spain’s new ‘Civil War’ law

Spain's Democratic Memory Law is the Spanish government's attempt to deal with the complicated historical legacies of its Civil War. Here are 13 takeaways you might have missed from the controversial legislation.

13 changes you may have missed about Spain’s new ‘Civil War’ law

Spain’s new Democratic Memory Law, sometimes called the Historical Memory Law, passed the Spanish Senate on October 5th 2022 and officially became law a few weeks later, on October 21st.

It is a piece of wide-ranging but controversial legislation that aims to settle Spanish democracy’s debt to its past and deal with the complicated legacies of its Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which lasted from 1939 to 1975.

Legislation concerning Spain’s dictatorial past is always controversial, and this law was no different – it passed the Spanish Senate with 128 votes in favour, 113 against, and 18 abstentions.

The Spanish right has long been opposed to any kind of historical memory legislation, claiming that it digs up old rivalries and causes political tension. Spain’s centre-right party, the PP, have promised to overturn the law if it wins the next general election.

READ ALSO: Spain’s lawmakers pass bill honouring Franco-era victims

But what does the law actually say?

And what does it do?

The Local has broken down thirteen of the key takeaways you might have missed.

  • Convictions – The law declares Francoist courts illegal, therefore annulling convictions made by them or any affiliated criminal or administrative bodies since 1936. According to the official bill (BOE), which you can find here, Article 5 deals with “the illegality and illegitimacy of the courts, juries and any other criminal or administrative bodies that, since the Coup d’état of 1936, imposed, for political, ideological, religious conscience or belief, convictions or sanctions of a personal nature”. 
  • Locating victims – The Spanish government will lead the search for the thousands of missing persons left over from the Civil War and disappearances during the dictatorship. A map of potential mass grave sites will be created and according to Article 16 of the law, “annual exhumation data will be made public… which will include the number of registered petitions, the number of graves and remains of people located.” Article 17 outlines plans for an ‘integrated map’ to help locate victims and burial sites, which will cover the whole of Spain.

    Remains in the bottom of a mass grave at the San Roque cemetery in Puerto Real near Cádiz. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP
  • DNA bank – To aid in this search, a state-run DNA bank will be created to help the descendants of missing victims better compare genetic profiles during the identification of the remains. Article 23 of the law describes this as a “state-owned DNA database, attached to the Ministry of Justice, which will have the function of receiving and storing DNA profiles of victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship and their families, as well as people affected by the abduction of newborns”. 
  • Census – A ‘National Census of Victims of the Civil War and the Dictatorship’ will also be created in order to try and piece together the often fragmented information available about those who died during the Civil War, and countless victims of ‘forced disappearances’ during the dictatorship. 
  • Victimhood – The law also redefines the definition of what a victim is, extending it to someone who suffered physical, moral or psychological harm, property damage, or any infringement of their fundamental rights at the hands of Francoism. The dates for this new definition are from the date of the initial coup d’état on July 18th, 1936, all the way up until the creation of the 1978 Constitution. 
  • Days of Remembrance: Two days to remember: the law sets aside October 31st as a day of tribute to all the victims of the military coup, the Civil War and the dictatorship, whereas May 8th will be used as a day of memory for all the men, women and children exiled due to the dictatorship.
  • The Valley of the Fallen – The controversial Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos), where Franco was buried but has since been exhumed and moved, is to be renamed Valle de Cuelgamuros and the mausoleum repurposed. 

    READ ALSO: Spain to relocate remains of Franco’s fascist allies to more low-key grave

  • Human rights violations: a specialised prosecutor will investigate violations of international law and human rights that occurred during the Francoist period. Article 28 outlines the role of a prosecutor “created to investigate acts that constitute violations of international human rights law… including those that took place during the coup d’état, Civil War and the Dictatorship”. 
  • Francoist symbolism: Symbols, shields, insignia, plaques and any other symbolism glorifying Franco or Francoism, including objects attached to public buildings or displayed on public roads, will be removed. It also introduces measures to deal with the revocation of distinctions, appointments, titles and other institutional honours, including decorations and rewards or noble titles, which were bestowed during the dictatorship.
  • Groups banned – Equally, any foundations and associations considered Franco-apologist, or that glorify and engage in the direct or indirect incitement of hatred or violence against the victims of the Civil War and dictatorship, will be banned.
  • Education -The legislation also makes an attempt to better educate young Spaniards about the historical legacies of Francoism. The curriculum of ESO, FP and Baccalaureate courses will be updated to highlight “the repression that occurred during the war and the dictatorship”. 
  • International Brigade – Descendants of soldiers who fought in the International Brigades on the side of the Republicans will be eligible for fast-track Spanish citizenship as a result of the legislation, and they won’t have to give up their other nationality in order to do so.

    READ ALSO: Descendants of International Brigades can get fast-track Spanish nationality

    The fighters themselves have been able to apply for Spanish citizenship since 1996, though they were required to drop their other nationality. Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law removed that requirement, though the offer of citizenship was not extended to their descendants. According to the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), a group involved with drafts of the legislation, there are at least one hundred known descendants that could benefit from the symbolic citizenship offer.

  • Ley de Nietos – Known as the Grandchildren’s Law in English, the law also allows for descendants of Spaniards who fled Spain during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship to claim Spanish citizenship without ever having lived there. According to estimates, as many as 700,000 people, the majority in Latin America, could be eligible. It is even believed that Latino migrants living in Spain illegally could be eligible for citizenship. Between the end of the Civil War in 1939, and 1978, when Spain’s new constitution was approved as part of its transition to democracy, an estimated two million Spaniards fled the Franco regime.
     
    READ ALSO: Spain’s new ‘grandchildren’ citizenship law: What you need to know
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