Fear, repression and... party: the celebrations that the Franco regime could not appropriate

Seville. Holy Week 1939. José Millán Astray, famous founder of the Spanish Legion, participates in the first parades after the Civil War, which has just been settled on April 1. Specifically, he presides over the procession of the Cristo de la Buena Muerte. The silence in the streets is one of his hallmarks, but Astray intends to "rename" it by incorporating the marches of the legionnaires' band. At each musical note, a handful of whistles. Despite the resounding victory of the rebel army, the Sevillians do not negotiate their traditions or their freedom of expression: the discomfort is evident in the streets. The soldier, indignant, leaves Seville and takes his musicians to neighboring Malaga. He would never come back.

That distant fiasco is just one example of the Franco dictatorship's tactic of controlling, "nationalizing" and renaming popular festivals from the first day after the war. Also, about the importance of these rites as an identity of the people. For what purpose? "The regime was not only consolidated from negative elements such as fear or repression, but also by appropriating something as positive as the affirmation of local identities through its parties." The answer corresponds to the professor from Extremadura, César Rina, who together with his colleague from Granada, Claudio Hernández Burgos, has just published the book El Francoism went to party (University of Valencia).

The work is a compendium of articles by authors who have investigated the attitude of the dictatorship towards the festive celebrations, with a common conclusion: the Franco regime carried out "repressive and purifying work" and, once in power, "it in the local imaginaries of each place to pose as a benefactor regime, which respected the ideas of the people, the idiosyncrasy of the country". This would happen with the Fallas, Holy Week or Sanfermines, the latter wrapped in marked nuances.

"It was not the most effective instrument of all, but it was an interesting tool," says Claudio Hernández. Did it bear fruit? "Yes, but partially," the professor continues. "What he tried with the popular festivals was difficult, it consisted of changing and reforming the content, nationalizing them, a characteristic practice of fascism." The cases are countless, although some are especially illustrative. "Since 1939, Franco tries to build a fascist model of the Valencian Fallas, national-Catholic and folklorist, passed through the religious sphere and censorship," César Rina deepens. Even the dress of the falleras had to accommodate the ideals of the regime.

The dictator appropriated the patron saints of cities and towns, and promoted the celebration of key dates for the uprising, thus modifying the calendar and routine of the Spanish. But not everything was a red carpet. It was not enough for the Franco regime to have direct and in-depth information on the festivals that the country liked. There were some whose critical, satirical component choked the regime, to the point of endangering the continuity of something as alive today as the Cadiz Carnival.

"Carnival was difficult to fit in, traditionally it had been a very subversive party and the Church had been persecuting it for centuries." While most of the country's celebrations were colored by the desired national-Catholicism, the Cadiz party would be banned... although only for a while. All thanks to the maneuver of a mayor of the Andalusian city, who took advantage of the regime's obsession with the awakening of tourism from the fifties: the alderman changed the name and date of the celebration "so that no one would get angry" and "sold "The hook of the popular event in Cádiz to save costumes and chirigotas.

Something similar happened with the Corpus of Granada. University of Granada professor Claudio Hernández Burgos knows first-hand what happened in the city of the Alhambra, which also challenged the dictatorship. The celebration included "satirical cartoons called carocas, which criticized some aspect of local politics." The historian notes that "they were prohibited until 1952" because "Francoism was not willing to tolerate any ridicule".

And it is that the regime did not like that something was out of control, even less that this element moved to laughter or mockery. A fear shared by the Church itself. Hernández Burgos recounts that the day of the Cross —which Granada continues to celebrate on May 3— "always had a festive atmosphere; the Church tried to make it marked by austerity, but it never managed to get people to stop dancing and having fun." A fear, an attitude, changing in any case. The historian specifies that the stage of the forties differed significantly from the sixties. "At the beginning, in the hard years, Francoism passed the roller crushing the fervor of the people, but decades later, critical popular expressions began to emerge and finally, in the sixties, they revived", he points out.

The year is 1943. Franco and his wife Carmen Polo stroll through the Seville Fair in a suitably decorated car. It is noteworthy that, from the beginning of the dictatorship, the Franco regime "was able to quickly identify the particularities of each city, of its festive rites". Professor Rina states without hesitation that he "appropriated them by turning them into moments of exaltation of the regime."

But, as surprising as it may seem, the fight to appropriate rituals as popular as Holy Week in Andalusia had already been waged in the Second Republic. So, "the left leaned on the celebration as a popular element." César Rina says that the democratic government approached the processions as "an interpretation that the people made of the sacred", far from a purely and exclusively religious event. On that basis, the Republic launched its conquest, "made the processions its own and even subsidized them," he adds.

When the Franco regime came to power, the process was reversed. Queipo de Llano, who had been a Republican in the previous stage and "never attended a mass", changed his attitude. The authors of the investigation narrate how the soldier "initiated the coup in Seville, defeated and appropriated a great local icon, the Macarena". Almost a century has passed since then and the general is still buried today in the Basilica of the Virgin of Seville. Of course there were also tensions between Francoists and clerics. "The Sevillian cardinals confronted the Falangists, who greeted the steps by raising their arms in the Roman style as if Jesus were their boss," says Claudio Hernández Burgos, when the religious "only wanted the faithful to bow their heads or kneel."

In any case, the practice and its results did not seem to displease the dictatorship. "To consolidate itself, the Franco regime did not need the BOE," says Rina. Instead, General Franco gave orders to go "to the local drive, to the marrow: the way to socialize and create community was through festive rites." In fact, and although there are no specific statements to prove it, the investigation concludes that Holy Week was one of the Generalissimo's favorite celebrations.

What happened to the parties after the dictatorship? The book El Franco went to party does not address the post-regime period, but its authors point out some interesting ideas that could soon give rise to another investigation. For now, they highlight the process of touristization of the festivities that occurred in the second stage of the dictatorship, when Minister Fraga inaugurated a tourist hostel one day, and the other as well. Under that kind of mantra —open Spain to tourists— a kind of "anything goes" was produced.

When the Transition arrived, a parallel phenomenon took place in the festive field. "It was a sweet transition, not as hard as politically and socially: what there was then was the desire to have fun," says Hernández Burgos. His colleague Rina adds another key aspect: the process of affirming communities. "Each autonomy begins to build its cultural hegemony from the festivals," he points out. An obvious case: again, the Andalusian. Decades ago, regionalisms had already been claimed in the festive, although not against the State, but as an inseparable part.

A different case was the phenomenon of the Sanfermines. Before the Franco regime, there was a character who took over the Navarran festival. Yes, the famous Ernest Hemingway arrived in Pamplona in the twenties when he was still a young correspondent. Strongly moved, the future Nobel Prize winner began to popularize the Sanfermines on the other side of the Atlantic, speaking of a mixture of "sport" and "carnival" that made everything seen to date "pale". Hemingway tied the knot with the running of the bulls: "Pamplona is, therefore, the city in the world where bullfighting is experienced with greater intensity".

In The Francoism went to party, the historian Francisco Javier Caspistegui collects how Hemingway made the Navarrese celebration accessible through his first novel, The sun also rises (Fiesta). The Spanish openness of the fifties prompted the arrival of young North Americans, who wanted to see if what the writer was saying was true. By then, says Caspistegui, Spain could no longer resist "an especially attractive component for the regime: its repercussions in the United States." It hardly mattered if, along the way, the Franco regime had to pay homage —as it finally did, for his outreach work— to the Nobel Prize winner, a declared defender of the Spanish Republic.

Sanfermines, Fallas, Easter. All examples that confirm, as the historian César Rina maintains, that perhaps Unamuno "was wrong" in his famous prediction: "You will win, but you will not convince." "Our book affirms that the intention of Francoism from the first moment was to convince, not only to win. Not only ideologically or in National Catholicism, but also through a very intense popular impulse in the imaginaries of each city".

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