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August 11, 2014

How Madrid remembers and forgets the Franco era

Almost 40 years after Franco’s death, the dictator’s legacy is still disputed.

By Natalie Allen

MADRID- Until the removal of a Francisco Franco statue from San Juan de la Cruiz plaza in Nuevos Ministerios in 2005, Madrid resident Gloria Iradier, 93, spat on it each and every time she walked by. The memories the statue conjured were not good ones.

The Spanish civil war and the fascist dictatorship that followed took Gloria’s sister by starvation, put her brother in a concentration camp and led to the arrest of her future husband during a demonstration.

Franco’s long-fingered legacy includes riddles of how to remember a past many would just soon forget.

“To recover from something we have to talk about it,” said Celia Gonzalez, 26, Gloria’s granddaughter and an artist and tour guide in Madrid. “We have to deal with it. We have to understand it.”


Celia Gonzales, artist and
granddaughter of Gloria Iradier.
(Photograph by Natalie Allen)

Celia grew up hearing her grandmother’s stories from both sides of the family, about the Spanish civil war (1936 to 1939) and about Franco’s rule, which lasted until his death in 1975. These stories are hard to come by in Madrid due to fear and anger associated with these topics.

During Franco’s dictatorship, Madrileños were forced to either adopt the views of the ruling nationalists, or at least appear to, or continue with their Republican views and risk isolation or worse.

During the civil war, Gloria’s soon-to-be husband Carlos chose to declare himself a Republican in order to keep his metal shop open. When Franco rose to power following the end of the war, Carlos declared himself a fascist, but only to keep his shop from being shut down.

The fascist regime looked for any reason to exile or eliminate political opponents.

“Saying what your political ideas were, even if you didn’t really believe in that, was a way of surviving and getting on with your life,” Celia said. “That is what many people had to do.”

Madrileños lived in fear because if they were thought to have political views contrary to the nationalists, they faced being questioned, arrested or even tortured.

Inability to overcome

Today, many Madrileños who are heard discussing their political ideas are subject to criticism. This is true for Celia. While giving tours in the city, she includes facts and stories from the Spanish civil war and the Franco era, because it is such a huge part of her family’s history.

During these tours locals would stop to listen in on what she was saying and then give their own opinions about the topic.

“I would be talking about the Spanish civil war – giving basic facts – and people would interrupt my tour to tell my customers I was lying,” Celia said. “It got so bad that I had to stop talking about it all together, and now I will only talk to my customers about it if they specifically ask me. Even this, however, is done so quietly.”

Fabrizio Castro, a student and tour guide in Madrid said that although there is a lack of discussion among Madrileños about Franco and his era, there is a great deal of tension and unspoken grief associated with both.

Because these eras are so sensitive for some people, Madrileños have adopted various ways to shield the thoughts and discussions of these periods and their effects on Spain.

“Secondary schools in Madrid have developed a type of curriculum that teaches the civil war solely on a fact-based system,” said Jonathan D. Snyder, a visiting scholar at New York University and an adjunct professor of Spanish literature and culture in Madrid. So that even though the history is taught, it leaves out a great amount of detail and any sort of analysis of its many wrongs.

How a nation forgets

Madrid has created different ways to shield and to cover up its past. The Amnesty Law, also known as the Pact of Silence, is one reason it took almost 30 years after his death for Franco monuments to be removed.

The Victory Arch in Madrid, one of the last monuments
to former dictator Francisco Franco. The arch is located
in one of Madrid’s main entrances, Arco de la Victoria
Avenue. (Photograph by Natalie Allen)

The Amnesty Law, according to Francisco Seijo, a scholar and educator in political science, was a way to solve two problems at once. It was meant to minimize terrorism while offering pardon to those who may have had blood on their hands from the Franco regime.

The law is also known as a pact of forgetting. Another is the Spanish Historical Memory Law approved in 2007 by the Congress of Deputies, which mandates the removal of commemorative plaques, statues and other symbols of the Franco regime from public areas.

“I think the civil war crimes should be investigated,” Celia said. “Some people who did cruel things are getting along fine with their lives, and it is unfair.”

The Franco statue that Gloria would spit on every time she would pass served as a daily reminder of the pain she experienced and death she witnessed during his reign.

“It was good that they took down the huge statue about nine years ago,” Celia said. “It was good because my grandmother did not have to see it everyday anymore. For other people it was good not to remember the fear of that authority of Franco.”

There are still memorials to Franco in and around Madrid, however. The Valley of the Fallen is a huge tomb and memorial 30 miles to the north of Madrid ordered by Franco to be built to honor and remember Nationalists who fell during the civil war. The Valley of the Fallen was built by Franco’s prisoners, and it became a mass graveyard for those who died in the process of building it.

The last monument of Franco in Madrid is el Arco de la Victoria, or Victory Arch built by Franco to celebrate the defeat of the Second Republic during the civil war.

A closer reading of the city reveals more that memorializes Franco’s generals and various Nationalists: street signs. Of the many street signs that still exist today a few include the names of General Yaüe, General Valera and Ramiro Ledesma.

According to Celia, there are only four or so roads throughout Madrid that are named after Republican soldiers.

“I am glad that they have removed statues from around Madrid, but it would be nice if they did it equally with statues and street names,” Celia said.

How to remember

Snyder said that memories from the Spanish civil war and Franco still exist, but they mostly are shared in the home, privately.

Carlos Iradier in his 20s. The photo appears courtesy of
Carlos Iradier, who posted it on his blog, el baúl del Bwana

Carlos Iradier, Gloria’s husband and Celia’s grandfather, chose to document his memories in a blog, el baúl del Bwana. Carlos tells his memories and experiences from his life, during the Spanish civil war and Franco’s regime.

“If people still think Spain has to be divided because of the civil war, then it means that we have learned nothing from our past,” Celia said. “People need to read more about it, write more about it, and not keep it as a division of political parties [or] ideology.”



Back to Madrid as text home page.

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Victimhood in Madrid: How best to remember city’s fallen

Spain’s past is full of anguish from terrorist attacks to war.

How Madrid remembers and forgets the Franco era

Almost 40 years after Franco’s death, the dictator’s legacy is still disputed.

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What was once a 10-lane highway is now a park that brings inner and outer Madrid into a shared green space.

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Public Expression in Madrid: 'The streets belong to us'

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Famed Madrid restaurant Sobrino de Botín relies on family

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La Tabacalera: Madrid´s home for legal graffiti

Once-vacant building in Lavapiés neighborhood gives city’s street art a home.

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A look into the process and celebration of the Corpus Christi holiday.

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Matters of Reconciliation and Survival: adapting to times of war

For Carlos Iradier war and fascism meant nothing more to him than something to adapt to so he could continue living his life.

MADRID- Carlos Iradier, 88 of Madrid was only 17 when the Spanish Civil War began. Instead of fighting, Iradier volunteered to fix cables around Spain. Doing so he was able to travel all around Spain without ever having to hold a gun.

Since a young age Iradier had always been a man keen of being able to adapt to difficult situations in order for him to keep living his life in peace. 

During the Spanish Civil war Iradier declared himself a Republican so that he would not be questioned by the monarchy and have his metal shop closed because his beliefs contradicted those of the governments. Iradier did the same thing by changing his affiliation when Francisco Franco and the Nationalists took control over Spain directly after the Spanish Civil War came to an end in 1939.

Celia Gonzalez of Madrid, Carlos’ granddaughter stated that political opinions were only necessary to get along with your life.  “Saying what your political ideas were even if you did not really believe in them. That’s what many people had to do.” 

After the Civil War ended all surviving soldiers were being rounded up by Nationalists and sent to concentration camps under Franco’s command. Thinking swiftly, Iradier took off his jacket that signified he was a soldier and asked someone if they could hold it for a moment while he went and did something. He walked away from the mass of soldiers and looked back momentarily at everyone standing in line and he knew right away that he did not want to be captured and imprisoned by Franco’s men, and his cleverness is ultimately what saved his life.

Most Madrileños wanted to blend in during these times. If you did or said anything suspicious or threatening to their governments power you risked being denounced by your neighbors to Franco. If this happened you were investigated, arrested or taken into prison.

Later during Franco’s era Iradier was arrested by the Greys during a demonstration at a university. They Greys were Franco’s armed police that patrolled major cities in Spain. They were infamous for violently repressing universities in the 60’s and 70’s, like the one Iradier attended was located at the time of his arrest.

Iradier was not bothered by politics.  Even after the war and Franco era came to and end he didn’t see Spain differently, he just wanted to go along with a normal life.  He was able to look past what is considered one of the darkest periods in Spain history and overcome his trials of war and politics by understanding how to manipulate the system. To survive in times like these you must adapt, and that’s exactly what he did.

Today, Iradier is still living in Spain and keeps an up-to-date blog that includes all of his experiences ranging from his childhood, his life in Venezuela, the Spanish Civil War, Francisco Franco, bombings, and various modern discussions. He found a way to adapt to a city that would rather not openly talk or listen to his or any other stories about the war and Franco.

To read about Carlos Iradier’s life and experiences visit his blog at

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