Wednesday, 13 May 2009

News of the Spanish Civil War: British volunteers remembered and republican propaganda posters online

by Kathryn Hadley

The Spanish Ministry of Culture has recently made live a collection of 2280 republican political posters printed between 1936 and 1939, which provide an insight into republican propaganda during the Spanish Civil War. The collection was put up on the website of PARES (Portal de Archivos Espanoles). The website is part of a project launched by the Ministry of Culture to create an online database of Spanish national archives.

One of the Ministry of Culture’s most recent projects is to put online and provide public access to the Archivo Rojo. The Archivo Rojo is a collection of 3051 black and white photographs, taken before and during the Spanish Civil War, and commissioned by the council responsible for the defense of Madrid. They document various aspects of the war, including weapons and military equipment, the destruction of buildings, casualties, military hospitals and prisoners of war, and were used as propaganda by the republican government to reveal the horrors and destruction of the Civil War.

With the view that propaganda could be used as an effective weapon against fascism, the republican government created the Ministry of Propaganda in 1936. In an article published in the national newspaper, the Gaceta de la Republica, the following year, Manuel Azana described its role: to reveal to the Spanish people the dramatic reality and consequences of the war; to inform international opinion of the efforts of the Spanish people and their legitimate government to fight to their freedom; and to prepare public opinion for the necessary rebuilding of Spain in the aftermath of the war. The Ministry of Propaganda was, however, relatively short-lived as it became gradually taken over by the fascist forces. In 1938, the Servicio Nacional de Prensa was created under the authority of Franco’s Ministry of the Interior.

The archives are available on

A plaque was also unveiled, last Thursday, in the small Fuencarral Cemetery, in the northern outskirts of Madrid, to honour the 2,000 British members of the International Brigades who fought on the side of the republican government during the Spanish Civil War. There were already plaques on the wall of the cemetery dedicated to the memory of the Polish, French, Jewish, Yugoslavian and Italian volunteers, but, until last week, there was no national memorial to the British soldiers. This move to remember the British volunteers was, however, criticised for coming too late.

To the present day, 525 British victims of the conflict lie in unmarked graves across Spain. There remain only seven British survivors of the 2,000 volunteers who fought against Franco’s troops. They are all in their 90s and were too frail to be able to travel to attend the brief ceremony organised in their memory, last week.

It is necessary, however, to put the remembrance of the British volunteers into perspective. The Spanish government only officially recognised the victims of the Spanish Civil War and of the Franco dictatorship, including its own Spanish victims, just over a year ago with the promulgation of the Ley de Memoria, the Law of Historical Memory, on October 31st 2007. In October last year, the cabinet of Zapatero announced plans for new legislation designed to offer official recognition and compensation to the victims of the Spanish Civil War, including measures to recognise the role of foreign volunteers and to make it easier for surviving members of the International Brigades to obtain Spanish nationality. Foreign volunteers were first offered Spanish citizenship thirteen years ago. Despite Zapatero’s announcement last year, a date has yet to be fixed for them to be awarded joint citizenship.

For further information on the memory of the Spanish Civil War, read our articles Reading History: The Spanish Civil War and Revenge and Reconciliation

For general information on the Spanish Civil War, visit our Spanish History focus page.

Image: one of the political posters on the Portal de Archivos Espanoles, quoting the Prime Minister of the time, Juan Negrin: 'to resist was, and remains today, to open up the route to victory'


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