Spain Hosts EUSTORY Network Meeting

Reception of the EUSTORY Network in Málaga's Town Hall | Juan Jesús Pan Aguilera
Reception of the EUSTORY Network in Málaga's Town Hall | Juan Jesús Pan Aguilera

At this year's network meeting in Málaga, hosted by the Spanish foundation Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda (RMR), the focus was on dealing with the legacy of the Franco dictatorship. The conference programme was developed together with Körber-Stiftung.

What was so special about the way Spain managed the transition to a democratic constitution after Franco's death in 1975? „La Transición", the years leading up to the stable restoration of democracy in Spain at the beginning of the 1980s, was the topic of the annual meeting of representatives of EUSTORY competitions from more than 20 countries.

In contrast to Portugal, for example, where the authoritarian regime under Salazar was overcome in a revolution in 1974, the years of transition in Spain were supported by a broad social consensus that organised a peaceful, largely orderly transfer, and was accompanied by an amnesty for the crimes of the civil war as well as by a great continuity of personnel, for example, among the political elites. "The system has changed with the people," is how one of the Spanish competition organisers described the phenomenon to his international colleagues.

The mayor of Málaga, Francesco Francisco de la Torre Prados, who has been in office for 20 years and held a high administrative office during Franco's time, invited the EUSTORY network to a reception in the Town Hall at the beginning of the meeting. In his speech in the Hall of Mirrors, he emphasised the importance of the Spanish transformation approach as a motor for change in Spanish society. He also spoke about his experiences during the transition phase from dictatorship to democracy when he was a Member of Parliament during the military coup attempt against the young Spanish democracy in 1981.

Panel discussion | Photo: Juan Jesús Pan Aguilera
Panel discussion | Photo: Juan Jesús Pan Aguilera

The amnesty for the crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship which was agreed upon by a large majority, the ambition of the contemporary witnesses to resolve conflicts and their resolute turn towards the future are now increasingly being criticised. The conference participants experienced this in particular during the panel discussion between Teodoro León Gross (University of Málaga), Antonio Herrera González de Molina (University of Seville) and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum (Center for Research on Antisemitism, Technical University of Berlin).

In their exchange, the tensions that arise between the generations or between different political camps became visible when the peaceful transition, celebrated as the great achievement of a generation, is increasingly being criticised at its core.

Can reconciliation succeed without the recognition of guilt? Has a social debate about acts and perpetrators yet to take place? How do the new Spanish right-wing party "VOX" and the left-wing populist "Podemos" instrumentalise the issue? These were some of the topics discussed by the panelists, who also compared transformation experiences from different European countries together with EUSTORY competition organisers. Great concern was expressed about whether Europe is currently once again in a situation in which democracy is endangered in quite a number of countries and whether it must increasingly defend itself against authoritarian tendencies.

The horror of the Spanish Civil War - Picasso's "Guernica"  | Photo: Laura Estefania Lopez, wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
The horror of the Spanish Civil War - Picasso's "Guernica" | Photo: Laura Estefania Lopez, wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

As a phenomenon affecting society as a whole, "La Transición" has also left its mark on the cultural sector. Based on the history of Picasso's painting "Guernica" and Málaga‘s relationship to what might well be her most famous son, the director of the Picasso Museum, José Lebrero, gave the EUSTORY network a different insight into the reception history of civil war and dictatorship in Spain. Picasso had painted the painting in 1937 in reaction to the destruction of the Spanish city of Guernica by the air raid of the German Legion Condor and the Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie, who fought on Franco's side during the Spanish Civil War. Lebrero explained why the painting was to return to Spain from America only after the end of the dictatorship in 1981 - Picasso had stipulated that it could only be exhibited on republican soil in Spain, and thus he did not live to see his painting return to his home country.

The Welsh competition organiser talking about her experiences of inclusion in the Welsh History Competition | Photo: Juan Jesús Pan Aguilera
The horror of the Spanish Civil War - Picasso's "Guernica" | Photo: Laura Estefania Lopez, wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

During the last day of the network meeting the competition organisers engaged in a cross-border exchange on new developments and practical experience in the field of competition work in their countries. They discussed current challenges such as inclusion, digitisation or financing possibilities for civil society history activities in Europe.

To see some photos of the meeting, please click on the "gallery" button on the top of this page.

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