Canadians on the Camino, Day 9: Franco’s shadow

Monument to the Fallen, Alto Pedraja, Spain
Monument to the Fallen, Alto Pedraja, Spain

(September 12)

Tonight we are in a tiny village called Ages located four days of walking and about 100 kilometres beyond Logrono. Yesterday we passed from Spain’s smallest autonomous region, La Rioja, into its largest Castilla y Leon and we stayed in Belorado, population 2000.

Belorado sits at less than 800 metres but today we ascend to 1100 metres within about 15 kilometres of leaving the town. The path here has the feel of being in deep isolation although in reality one is never far from the N-120 highway.  In our 28 kilometres of walking today we come upon few villages and none containing more than 200 people. The mountains are covered by scrubby oak and pine trees and the road, which appears to be in the process of being widened here is a bed of dry reddish soil and the dust covers our shoes and legs.

Monument to the Fallen

It is in this setting, on Mount Pedraja, that we come upon the Monumento a los Caidos — the Monument to the Fallen. It consists of a rectangular stone column surrounded by a low rising steel fence and an adjacent site describes it as one of two common graves here where 30 bodies were exhumed in 2011. They were people assassinated in Burgos by the forces of General Francisco Franco in December 1936 during the early days of the Spanish civil War. Franco made Burgos his capital during the war.

The cairn near the grave has attached to it the emblem of a dove, a plaque and the date 1936. The wording on the plaque (roughly translated) reads as follows:  “On this spot 300 people were assassinated by those who supported General Franco’s coup d’état against the legitimately established Republic, which caused the civil war between 1936 and 1939. They were assassinated during the first months of the war for their political ideals and for defending liberty. Their families have created this humble monument to ensure that their memory will never be forgotten.”

Neglecting atrocities

Our guidebook gives this monument only a brief one-line mention so later I try Google with not much more success.  I am reminded of a passage from John Hooper’s book called Spaniards, in which he says that Spain has never dealt publicly and formally with the atrocities of the Franco era. He was a fascist military officer who led an armed rebellion against an elected Republican government. The ensuing civil war raged from 1936 to 1939 and it featured thousands of disappearances and summary executions. Franco ruled until his death in 1975, when the country moved rapidly and peacefully, to become a constitutional monarchy.

Hooper points out that there has never been in Spain a public process such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to investigate the crimes and to answer many remaining questions – including providing answers to families about that the fate of their loved ones and where they might be buried.

It seems that reviving memories and remembering the dead is mostly left to families and to local efforts, including some graffiti that I have seen painted on walls and in pedestrian tunnels.

Makeshift memorial

Some days back, as we waked into the city of Logrono, we came upon a simple and makeshift memorial just to the side of our path near a factory. In this case it was a small rectangular plaque with a hand printed text, a simple memorial to workers who were murdered by Franco’s forces in or near Logrono. The printing on the plaque contains a paraphrase of the famous quote: “Countries that forget their history are condemned to repeat it.”

No doubt there were killings at the hands of the Republicans as well but Franco’s forces were particularly brutal and they were supported by Hitler and Mussolini, who were preparing themselves for the next war.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament