IN MEMORIAM – La Historia de Jimena………….
I live in Jimena de la Frontera in the province of Cadiz.
I first came here some 25 years ago in the mid-‘80s – I immediately took a liking to the town, though if you had asked me for a reason I would have been hard pressed to come up with anything specific – certainly it was not too big but neither too small – also not too pretty but with a definite sense of its own identity; Jimena also possessed a strong aura of history, something which has always held a strong interest for me wherever I have been – the vista of the town, from whichever direction you approach it is, of course, dominated by the castle, parts of which date back to Phoenician times and which contains input from Romans, Moors, the catholic Kings and even, obscurely from the British at the time of what we call the peninsular war; one of the things which I particularly admire about the castle and its administration is the fact that those who have ultimate responsibility for its upkeep have not sought, as would undoubtedly be the case in Britain, to reconstruct it or its various parts in the style of one particular era, but rather, apart from necessary minor bits of shoring up, have left it to decay at its own, leisurely pace. There is, however, another, less edifying story regarding the history of Jimena: this brings me to the crux of what I am writing about here and what follows is my own personal view of what I consider to be an act of desecration.
At the bottom of c/Sevilla, here in Jimena, almost directly opposite the Cajasol Bank, mounted on the wall and measuring approximately 1.5 metres sq. was mounted a memorial tableaux made up of many, small, individually glazed tiles and finished in the classic Andaluz style – the legend on the tablet read simply “Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera 1903 -1936” – as to who this man was and what he represented, for those who are unaware I will come back to this, but for the moment let us return to the present; the little research I have been able to carry out would suggest that the tablet was erected shortly after the end of the civil war, though I have been unable to pin down exactly when – if you have read this far you will have noticed that in talking of this beautiful artefact I have been using the past tense: some weeks ago, while walking up from the plaza with my brother, on his first visit to Jimena, I stopped at the usual spot to admire the piece – I had just begun to speak, saying “Have a look up at……..” when I was stopped in mid flow as it were, for there was nothing to see – not only had the entire tableau been removed, it had been made to look as if it had never been there in the first place; the space where it had been situated had been plastered over, painted and a new, commercial sign affixed in its place – literally, a ‘whitewash’ in both senses of the word.
This article is certainly not a call for the restoration of this beautiful and lost artefact – one has to suppose that it is too late for that – as far as I could ascertain the individual tiles had been set directly into the wall and therefore must have been hacked out and binned;
What it is, perhaps, is a call for some kind of explanation from those who made the decision to remove the memorial and the shouldering of some sort of responsibility for what appears to have been a wanton act of desecration; there is, of course and I am only too happy to acknowledge the fact, the possibility of an entirely innocent explanation for what has taken place – perhaps the building itself recently changed hands and the new owners, for purely commercial reasons decided that the space could be better used: this and other explanations are, indeed, possible, but somehow – somehow I rather doubt it – perhaps this is the time to take a look at the man whose life and death were commemorated on this wall.
Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera was born in Madrid in 1903, the eldest son of Spains military dictator during the 1920s – I have heard him described as a fascist but this is far from the truth – he was certainly young, good looking and above all, charismatic and during the early 1930s at a time when the political temperature in Spain was reaching boiling point, he founded the Falange Espanola(literally ‘Spanish phalanx’) ; at the time of its inception this was far from being a fascist organisation, though in style at least it did borrow something from the Italian ‘Fascista’ (blackshirts) – although the Falange went on to become a very different organisation following Jose Antonio’s death and Franco’s eventual victory in the civil war, in its original concept it was little more than a political pressure group: monarchist, conservative, virulently anti-communist and to some small extent catholic – all these positions were, of course, anathema to the then incumbent Republican government; the original members of the Falange were, for the most part, university students, both men and women ( Jose Antonio’s sister, Pilar ran the ‘seccion feminina’) and at the time of its inception, I would say that it was little more than a superannuated, Spanish version of the boy scout movement, though I doubt whether that opinion will prove popular in some circles – what it became later, under Franco was something quite different and not a part of this story. For the record, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, at the time civil war (or rebellion if you prefer) broke out, like so many other young Spanish men, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – during the opening weeks of the conflict he was seized by Republican forces, imprisoned at Alicante and sometime on 20th November 1936 was taken from his cell and shot without any ‘due process’ having taken place.
Now I quite understand that there may well have been times during the past half century when it might have been politic to remove visible symbols of the Franco regime: certainly following his death in 1975 and again, possibly, after the election of Spain’s first democratically elected socialist government (post civil war) in 1981 – in fact the last known statue of Jose Antonio was only removed from the city of Guadalajara in March 2005 under the aegis of the present Zapatero government – however the memorial of which I have been writing is no statue and certainly did nothing beyond naming him to ‘glorify’ his life, so the question has to be asked, why destroy a piece of Spanish history in 2009? One assumes
That there must be an answer to that question and in truth this is not about politics or the past, whatever your political views happen to be – it is an undeniable, historical fact that Spain fought a bitter civil war between the years 1936 and 1939 – that innocuous phrase ‘civil war’ does indicate that the country was roughly divided between the left and right (politically) and that there were many in Spain who supported the generals in their rebellion, something that often seems to be forgotten: it is often said that it is the victors who write history and in this case the victors from the perspective of today, looking back are Franco’s successors, i.e. those who eventually succeeded in turning Spain into the modern social democratic state it has become today – however, there is an ever present danger in trying to whitewash or rewrite history, in particular recent history and there are still plenty of, ageing, men and women in Spain today who remember those years, though their numbers inevitably dwindle with each passing year – the Soviet Union to name just one example tried going down that particular route and look what happened to them. At this point in time one has to wonder just who it was who decided that this ‘symbol’ must go – was it done as a result of some directive from ‘on high’ (Madrid or Sevilla) or was it an idea dreamt up at local level – certainly to my mind the whole episode reeks of ‘gesture politics’ of the most basic kind; I have been visiting Spain on an irregular basis since 1955 and as of 2007 decided to make this my home – however, it has to be said that in all those years I have never known Spain to have such a weak and ineffective central government and that at a time of unparalleled economic crisis; as far as local politics are concerned it is certainly no secret that some Alcaldes both in Cadiz and in Malaga sit trembling at their desks waiting for the knock on the door which will see them removed to join some of their erstwhile colleagues in the cells of Alhaurin , Malaga or Algeciras – no better time one might think for a little political ‘distraction’ – except, crucially there appeared to have been little or no publicity surrounding this event which rather puts paid to that particular theory; so what is the answer? Probably we will never know and trying to get any kind of information from the notoriously tight-lipped Ayuntamiento is well nigh impossible – as I have stated previously in this article, it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that there is some innocent explanation for this act though that does nothing to excuse the act itself and the resulting destruction of a valuable piece of Jimenan history.
Finally, I can hear distant voices raised saying, this is a Spanish matter, you are British and this is nothing to do with you; wrong; Spain is nowadays no more a separate entity than is Britain, but an integral and enthusiastic member of the EU – I have every right as an EU citizen to live here, to work here, to smoke and drink here and to die here if that’s my choice – also to be involved in any local affairs that interest me (I pay local taxes) and to voice my opinion, however controversial, if I so chose – the simple fact is that history, any country’s
History doesn’t belong to a town, a person or a state – it belongs to everybody and is a part of our, human heritage; with regard to ‘mere artifacts’ it is worth pointing out that England also fought a bitter civil war, albeit over 400 years ago in which the republicans, under Cromwell were victorious and in the aftermath of which the King, Charles l went to the scaffold: famously the decision was later reversed with the accession, following Cromwell’s death, of Charles ll and the acclamation of the English people – the relevance of this to what I have been writing about is as follows: in London and the surrounding country you will see many monuments, plaques and statues commemorating the lives of men on both sides of that political divide, some created at the time and some in later years – despite the fact that Britain still has a monarch who reigns in direct line of accession from Charles l, a larger than life size statue of Cromwell, the man who defeated and had executed the Stuart monarch stands today four square before the palace of Westminster – not as the victor of the civil war but as the man who ultimately defended the powers and rights of parliament (sad and ironic to be writing this at the present time – Cromwell would be turning in his grave); conversely, the famous statue of his defeated opponent, Charles, on horseback, created during his lifetime, today sits proudly on its plinth in Trafalgar square – one of the finest, bronze statues in London; there are many more but the point is that history has a habit of taking on a different aspect as the years roll by: people and hatreds die and today we can be grateful, if only from an artistic point of view for the visible reminders of a different and difficult period in our history – it may well be that in 100 or 200 years time Spanish people will look back and say that Franco did this and that which was beneficial to the country, while other things were not – ultimately that is for them to decide, but what they will not forgive is the wanton destruction of their historic and artistic monuments for petty political gain.
Michael Anton Scott
Jimena de la Frontera, Cadiz 2009