How was life in fascist Spain

Background current

Eighty years ago, on July 17, 1936, the Spanish Civil War began. The end of the war was also the beginning of the dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. It lasted until his death in 1975.

Soldiers on the Catalan front en route to Barcelona, ​​captured by Franco (1939). (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

The Spanish Civil War is considered to be the prelude to the Second World War: from 1936, fascist troops fought for three years against the Second Spanish Republic, supported by fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany. Estimates of the number of deaths vary widely. More recent research results vary in their statements between 200,000 and 500,000 dead.

Only a few years earlier, in April 1931, the Second Spanish Republic had been proclaimed by an alliance of republicans and socialists - it marked the transition from monarchy to democracy. The young republic was not only weakened by crises in the political, economic and social spheres; In addition, there were anarchist coup attempts in 1931 and 1933, and in 1932 a coup attempt by right-wing military officials. Furthermore, the Second Spanish Republic was politically weakened, among other things because of resistance to anti-clerical laws and protests by employers against social reforms.

Right coalition and left "popular front"

As a result, there was a political standstill, which is why an early election was held in November 1933. This won a right-wing coalition from the fascist Falange party, the Catholic-right Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas, C.E.D.A.) together with the monarchists. The new administration reversed almost all of the Republican reforms of the previous two years. Nationwide strikes and demonstrations were the result; a workers' uprising in Asturias was bloodily suppressed in 1934 under the leadership of General Francisco Franco. At the same time, the region of Catalonia proclaimed a free state in order to break away from the Spanish republic - but this drive for independence was suppressed. In order to stand together against fascism, communist, socialist, republican and left-wing bourgeois groups and parties joined forces in 1935 to form the "Popular Front" (Spanish: Frente Popular). This alliance won the early elections in February 1936. However, the political situation did not calm down.

Beginning of the civil war

A military coup by anti-democratic and anti-communist generals, which took place on 17./18. July 1936 initiated the three-year civil war, directed against the Republican government. The coup was supported by monarchists, right-wing Republicans, large landowners, Falangists and the church. The coup began in what was then the Spanish colony of Morocco, under the leadership of Francisco Franco. With his campaign of conquest from North Africa, he landed in southern Spain at the end of July 1936, and the fighting quickly spread to all of Spain. At the beginning of the civil war, the putschists were able to take large parts of the country. Left workers, anarchists and Basque and Catalan nationalists who opposed the military coup dominated especially in the big cities like Madrid and Barcelona. "¡No pasarán!" ("You will not get through!") Was the slogan of the communist MP Dolores Ibárruri, who called for resistance in a speech on the radio: It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

At the end of July 1936, Germany and Italy intervened with military support. By sending soldiers and military equipment, Hitler wanted to secure supplies of raw materials from Spain, test the use of the Wehrmacht and their weapons and support the fascist movements in Europe.

The opponents of the fascists, however, received little international support: France, England and the USA decided not to interfere. Only Mexico and the Soviet Union supported the fighting. The USSR supplied arms from the autumn of 1936, with little support compared to Italy and Germany; moreover, the republican forces had to pay most of the aid in gold.
Franco in the insurgent camp in Burgos after his election as “Generalissimo” and head of the Spanish national government. (& copy picture-alliance / akg)


Due to the lack of international support, anti-fascist volunteers formed the International Brigades to fight against the Franquists - the supporters of Franco - on the side of the Spanish Republic. Franco had become Commander in Chief and Head of State and Government in October 1936. It is estimated that around 40,000 to 50,000 from a large number of European countries joined the fight against the Franquists.

The three-year civil war was waged with great severity. Civilians were deliberately murdered by both sides during the war or their deaths were deliberately accepted. Current estimates suggest that between 200,000 and 500,000 people were killed during the civil war.

The "Legion Condor"

The German air force attack on the Basque town of Guernica became a symbol of the brutality of the war: on April 26, 1937, the German air force "Legion Condor" completely destroyed the town at the request of the Spanish putschists. More than 1,000 people died in the process. The event aroused international criticism, but Germany's National Socialist regime denied involvement in the attack. In the same year, Pablo Picasso made the event in his painting "Guernica" the theme. It is still considered a manifesto against war and violence today. The "Legion Condor" provided around 19,000 soldiers for Franco during the course of the civil war and took part in all major battles.
UN ambassador in front of the copy of the picture "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso in the main building of the UN in New York City in November 2002. (& copy AP)

Recognition of the Franco government and the beginning of the dictatorship

Under pressure from the League of Nations, the members of the International Brigades left Spain at the end of 1938. Many of the brigadists were interned in French camps and, after the German occupation of France in 1940, many were deported to concentration camps. In early 1939, France and England recognized the fascists as their official government. As early as August 1937, the Vatican recognized the Franco regime as the official Spanish government. In March 1939 the Franquists were able to take the republican zone without a fight, whereupon Franco declared the civil war over on April 1, 1939 - now the USA also recognized the government. Around half a million Republicans had to flee abroad.

This was the beginning of the Franco dictatorship until his death in 1975. This was characterized by a close connection between state and church. As a result, all collective farms and workers' organizations were smashed and all parties except the Falange were banned. Current research also assumes that in the campaigns of revenge and political cleansing after the civil war, over 143,000 people fell victim to the repression of "enforced disappearance". An amnesty law that still exists today prevents full clarification.

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