Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Catalonia's President Lluís Companys

Arrested by the Gestapo, executed by Franco, still a convict in Spain 2014.

At dawn on October 15, 1940, Lluís Companys, then President of Catalonia, was put before a firing squad in the moat of Montjuic Castle in Barcelona and shot. The detail of soldiers executed the sentence of a court martial, pursuant to regulations recently imposed by General Franco's fascist regime. The German Gestapo had handed over to their fellow Spanish Secret Police only a few months earlier a 58 year old man who represented a country they wanted to ridicule in defeat and to teach a lesson for the future.

Exiled in France after the victory of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War, he was arrested by the Nazi secret police in La Baule-Escoublac (Brittany) on 13th August 1940, an arrest witnessed by a policeman who had come expressly from Spain. Mr Companys was first interrogated by that officer at La Santé prison in Paris, he was placed under his custody and taken to Madrid, where he was tortured.

On 3rd October, the President was transferred to Barcelona to be summarily court-martialled. He was sentenced to death —with a shot of macabre fascist irony— for "participation in a military rebellion", in a one-day trial and without even meeting the few legal guarantees to be observed under the dictatorship.

He was shot immediately afterwards, on the morning of 15th October 1940, at Montjuic Castle where he had been taken and tried—on the mountain where the Olympic stadium that now bears his name stands. President Companys was the only democratically-elected government leader in Europe to have been executed in the twentieth century, and is still today the symbol of Gen. Franco's persecution of Catalan Republicans.

A labour lawyer with a strong background in social struggles, a long political career and extensive experience in local government, the President of the Parliament of Catalonia (1932-1933), a Minister of the Spanish Government (1933) and the leader of the non-Marxist, socially-oriented Catalan Republican Left Party —the leading party at that time— Lluis Companys had led the government of Catalonia (1934 and 1936-1940) in harsh times, which worsened with Gen. Franco's fascist coup d'etat.

News of his death flew across borders, languages and cultures, and its echo reached antifascists worldwide. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, the future Nobel laureate, dedicated a fiery "Song to the Death and Resurrection of Lluís Companys," which emanates a flood of images that defined much of his work.

But Mr Companys' execution was only the visible tip of the Franco repression. By the time the President was shot, in just over a year and a half of the dictatorship, the regime had executed 2,760 people in Catalonia alone. In summary trials, without any procedural guarantees, and with summary executions, Franco claimed the lives of men and women who had decided not to take the road to exile, as thousands of others had done. Anonymous citizens who hoped that Franco was not so fierce nor had such a blood lust. A lust that was not halted by the death of President Companys.

A few days after the execution of Mr Companys, on October 23, General Franco and Hitler met in Hendaye, on the border between France and Spain. Both dictators agreed to strengthen their collaboration, which had begun with the participation of the German Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War, the bombing of Guernica—a test lab for the air raids on cities and civilians the Nazis would soon apply in the rest of Europe. And even though Spain would formally remain neutral in the Second World War, Franco decided to supply the Nazi army with the Spanish fascist volunteer Blue Division, which took part in the Russian campaign.

Almost seventy-five years later, when Germany and France have officially apologised for having participated in the arrest and deportation of Lluís Companys, the Spanish justice system continues to refuse to declare the judgement void. The Spanish state —not just Justice but also the Executive and the Legislative branches— have repeatedly opposed recognising the illegality of the Courts Martial, and has refused to meet the families of the victims: those executed, murdered, and buried in mass graves, as well as exiles, those expelled from their jobs, and those whose homes, lands, and businesses were confiscated.

While persistently refusing to recognise the Franco regime as a dictatorship —the only case of continuity of a fascist Corpus Juris or body of law anywhere in Europe— in the Spain of 2014, Franco's sarcophagus continues to preside over the mausoleum in the so-called Valley of the Fallen, which belongs to the National Heritage —i.e. the State— the Francisco Franco Foundation —devoted to exalting the values of Franco and fascism— all receive public funding every year, and the Brotherhood of the Blue Division Fighters —whose members include soldiers who fought on Hitler's side— receive diplomas of recognition from the Spanish government.

And not only that. In recent weeks we have seen the Public Prosecutor refusing to act against the display of Nazi symbols at football matches, and swastika flags at public events where police officers do not intervene. Furthermore, there have been testimonials to the Condor Legion, with the approval of local authorities and police. All this with increasingly greater impunity unheard of and unthinkable —even illegal— in European democracies.

In 2014, Spain is seeing ever greater perpetuation of the Francoism that articulated the transition in the late 70's and 80's from dictatorship to democracy, made of a pact between the old regime, the new majority parties and the powers behind government.

Upon the death of Franco, old and new politicians, under the protection of economic powers, sealed the deal that opened the way for formal rules of democracy without scrapping the essential aspects of the Franco regime. This they did in 1978 in the form of a Constitution which meant amnesty for crimes in the recent past, the perpetuation of the royal succession imposed by Franco himself, and the establishment of a system of representation with a locked in Justice system and no channels of direct participation.

This Constitution provides that the Companys sentence remains in force but prevents, they say, that the people of Catalonia can decide on their future freely, democratically. A Constitution preventing something as simple as holding a non-binding referendum.

Meanwhile, where in Madrid they carry on in denial and reneging, the Catalan authorities and Parliament, with the Government at the head, Mr Companys is honoured every 15th October, and the Olympic Stadium on Montjuïc mountain, where the castle in which he lived his last few days stands, bears his name. Perhaps because, again, it remains clear that "Catalonia is not Spain".


Josep Bargalló Valls
@josepbargallo
First Minister and Minister of the Presidency of Catalonia 2004-2006
Minister of Education of Catalonia 2003-2004
Councillor in Torredembarra Town Council (1995-2003)
President of the Ramon Llull Institute (2006-2010)
From 2010 he is Professor at the University Rovira i Virgili

More by this author:
Francesc Macià, President of the Catalan Republic



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