Historical Memory And Historical Narrative In Spain

Richard Vinyes, a historian and author, stated that the protection of memory is not a matter of duty. He spoke out on the occasion of the 80th anniversary celebrations for the Spanish Civil War. Spain is currently challenging Spain’s concept of the fundamental right to have access to an objective historical story about their own country. Some Spaniards regard the Franco period in Spain as one of economic growth and nationalist pride. However, others, including the Catalonian people view the Franco era to be one of cultural suppression and the end of independence. Spain has failed to achieve this, unlike other historical atrocities, such as the Holocaust. This is in contrast to other historical atrocities. The nation has not been able to make progress in creating a cohesive society through its inadequate handling of historical memory. Catalonia has felt ‘non-Spanish’ since the Spanish Civil War’s historical memory. This is because of the emotional wounds that remain and the need to grieve. This has been a contributing factor to the fight for Catalan Independence.

Catalonia’s National Day can capture Spain’s approach towards its history. While the Spanish Civil War does not have a particular significance, the National Day (La Diada), summarizes the dysfunctional relationships between history celebrations and explains the differences between Spain and Catalonia. National days “represent how a country functions” and the National Images associated with that day’s “affect behaviors and attitudes”. Therefore, the national day plays a crucial role in shaping the “image-making” of people towards their nation. Raphael Minder, foreign correspondent to Catalonia, describes Catalonia’s National Day in this way: “Celebrating victory”. It commemorates the day that Barcelona was conquered by Bourbon Ruler King Phillip V. King Phillip suppressed and removed the Catalan language and parliament as a vengeance. Phillip V suppressed the Catalans, setting a precedent of hatred towards Catalonia. This prejudice is what led to the birth of many ‘radical’ left ideologies in Catalonia and the Spanish Civil War. Unfortunately, the prejudice against Catalonia persists to some degree today. Antonio Vancells, a Catalonian citizen, says that “all we are fighting for now revolves about the times of 1714.” Any country has a national day. The day represents pride and patriotism in one’s nation, but it is not possible to express this pride fully for Catalonia due to its fundamental meaning. This affects the Catalonian national image of Spain. Instead, the Catalonian populace has reclaimed the day’s meaning and made it “part carnival”, part rally, and part protest”. This protest saw hundreds of thousands gather to support it. The 2017 Diada had two themes: independence and referendum. The National day for Catalonia is a symbol of Spain’s flawed historical process. However the recapturing this day allows for this flawed system, which can be turned into a movement for reform. La Diada, a place where all Catalans marched for independence, shows the division between Spain & Catalonia. The definition of fundamentally public history is “any history that has been applied to the actual world”. It aims to “engage and inform” the public, which Woodrow Wilson considered a goal. The public audience is made more aware by the history. This makes society more aware of its past and allows it to be used to address the current issues. Hayden White argues that history must have a greater practical purpose. History should not be constructed as a mere narrative. Public history can be represented by museums, statues or other forms. reflects the organization’s view of the past and how it should be applied today. The Spanish Civil War is a complex historical story that is not well-known. Most museums and statues, especially in Barcelona, are privately funded. Those that are federally or council funded are part of a complex narrative about Spanish history. This theme prevents social cohesiveness in contemporary Spain.


Through the Valley of the Fallen, you can clearly see how public history was used to honor the Spanish Civil War. The site’s history promotes nostalgia towards the Franco era. Independent UK calls the Valley of the Fallen Spain’s most controversial visitor location. This mausoleum, built using Republican prisoners by Franco, was designed to commemorate the Spanish Civil War veterans. It contains the graves of approximately 34,000 war casualties. The mausoleum is home to only two graves, Antonio Primo de Riera, founder of Falange Espanola de las JONS – a far-right party supporting Fascism. Fransisco Franco’s grave is located opposite him. The Spanish Socialist Party is concerned that the site glorifies traditionalist, catholic and far left culture in Spain. This encourages nostalgia and detracts from the Spanish Socialist Party’s goal of reconciliation. This site reflects the current social dynamics in Spain, where “there are still many Spaniards willing to pay good money for Franco’s grave. There are also others who will gladly pay the 9 euro admission fee to lay flowers on Franco’s stone.” Modern political parties have failed to make any effort to alter the site’s nature, which is a sign of how right-wing nostalgia has corrupted Spain’s progressive historical narrative. The Valley of the Fallen was an inconvenient site that has polarized the left and the right, leaving little room for a cohesive social middle ground.

Contemporary Spain is facing a major problem due to historical memory. Spain has suppressed Catalonia at a cultural level since modern times. This was in response to the notion of creating a united nation, freed from regionalistic culture differences. The history of King Phillip’s suppression in 1714 is a precedent that will be followed by other leaders. The Spanish Civil War marked the end of Spain’s brutality and division. But, the failure of Catalonia to honor these events with a process that offered genuine reconciliation has created a deep emotional attachment towards the past. The public history of Catalonia, especially those who were directly or indirectly affected by the war, has not yet been reflected this.

There are two main reasons Catalonia has not been able to create a legitimate historical record through public history. First, there is a general reluctance by those in power for the past to be remembered. It is much easier for those in power not to remember the past. The emotional attachment Catalonian’s still have to the past could put parliamentarians at risk, if it is altered. Instead, efforts to promote historical memory through public history are shockingly absent at the governmental level. Many of these private organizations were linked to the Spanish Civil War. A second problem is that the history of the country is not clear, which leaves it divided. Is there a way to commemorate the war? We will be looking at case studies which summarise Catalonia’s history through public historical.

Montjuic Castle is one example of contemporary Spain’s influence on public history. It has witnessed the commemoration and remembrance of far right-wing history, which has helped to heal the emotional wounds felt in contemporary Spain, Catalonia, and Catalonia. This castle played a significant role in Catalonia’s use public history. It is literally a tower that overlooks the city. This castle has been controversially commemorated for the Civil War. A plaque in the castle honors the “heroes & martyrs of the glorious Nationalist Movement”, and a Franco statue, which was removed only in 2008. Historical memory highlights conservative, nationalist ideologies in the past that have prevented reconciliation and mourning for war victims.

Barcelona’s commemoration of their unique Civil War history has also created an unclear narrative. Social progressivism is hindered by the lack of genuine attempts to find truth and reconciliation.

Over 2000 Barcelona victims were killed by enemy aircraft raids in the Civil War.

Placa De Sant Felip Nari saw 42 of the victims, which is a nearby church. Two plaques are placed here side by side. Barcelona City Council installed the first plaque to commemorate the victims of bombing. It attributed it to “Francoist Forces”. Although it is difficult to read and hidden from view, the second plaque adds more detail to the bombing’s nature. The bombing was now attributed to the “Italian Forces”. This was because mentioning the Italian forces was initially considered too provocative for any tourists from Italy visiting the site. This is a sign of Spain’s general position in remembrance of its history. Uncertain historical narratives lead to ineffective grieving. Uncertain truths make reconciliation more difficult. The truth is essential for the progress of Spain today.

Museums have not been able to properly represent historical memory, which has had a negative impact on the ability of people to remember and advocate for the past. According to Eunamus, museums have the goal of understanding how the past can be used in negotiations to re-create citizenship. They also need to understand layers that form territorial belonging. The theory relationship between museums, particularly those funded by national governments, has been highlighted by research conducted by the organization. Lois Silverman says museums aid in the process of learning about a specific identity and “affiliation” to it. Unesco also states that museums play an important role in social cohesion, fostering a sense of collective memories, as well as helping society learn the fundamental principles of dignity and tolerance. Spain’s use museum collections has paradoxically altered the narrative of its national history. Spain has no national museum that focuses on the Spanish Civil War. Furthermore, Spain does not have a national museum that focuses on Spain’s past. Catalonia houses most museums, including those that are meant to remember the Civil War. Madrid does not have any Civil War museums. Madrid does not have any national museums. This has caused inconsistencies to the Spanish historical narrative and has made Spain’s history more regionalized and subjective. Social cohesion is hindered by the fact that each region in Spain has their own histories. Museum d’historia de Catalunya in Catalonia is a perfect example. This museum was funded by Catalan Autonomous Government and aims to create a Catalonian national identity. It is clear that the museum has a central theme which seeks to separate Catalonia from Spain. This idea of creating a separation between Catalonia, Spain and Catalonia has created tensions between Spain and Catalonia which has prompted unprecedented social movements like the Catalan Debate for Independence. In order to help the country tackle a broad range of social problems and tensions, it is possible to implement national museums on an even larger scale.

Spain’s obligations under its law to historical memory have had a major impact on contemporary Spain. They have led to tensions in diplomatic, politics, and social circles. UN described Spain as “timid” for its legal/political contributions in historical memory. In 1977, the unanimous but unwritten “Pact of Forgetting” motion was adopted. A law of amnesty was also passed to ensure that no one would be held responsible for the deaths of thousands during the Civil War. Spain was forced to “la deremoria”, or forget its past in order for it to move on. Although this may sound rational at the moment, it has been difficult to grieve. Although the wounds were covered, they are not healing. If not properly addressed and resolved, the problems of remembering and relating to the past will not go away. The Civil War ended 80 years ago. Yet, the Spanish people are still seeking justice and seeking answers.

2007 was the year that the Historical Memory Law was enacted by the Socialist Workers Party. It was meant to condemn the Franco State in all its forms, and to investigate historical archives. Its partisan nature has led to it being ineffective in practice. The opposition claimed that the law would “violate democracy’s spirit and awaken the ghosts Spain’s past bloody past”. Spain’s international credibility has been affected by the ineffectiveness of achieving historical memories on a legal/political level. Spain has always longed to be a strong member of the UN, but domestic issues related to historical memory have impacted this. Spain has been strongly advised by the UN to repeal the amnesty legislation, which continues to hold prominence despite the historical memories law. Spain has been accused of mishandling historical memory and justice to war victims in relation to unidentified masses graves. A report was completed in 2011 to identify 2,232 mass graves, with the majority remaining undiscovered. According to the Spanish Recovery of Historical Memory Association, exhuming graves can be difficult because of a lack of funding. Although graves have been exhumed only recently, it is slow and difficult because there isn’t any political funding. Not only does it undermine the Spanish diplomatic credibility, but the historical memory of Spain’s Civil War has also been a source of social disunity.

Spain’s fractured approach to reconciliation has affected all aspects of modern life. It has also shaped their identity as a nation. Due to the unclear and regionalistic historical narrative, Spain has witnessed a range of social inconsistencies. This can also be seen at a political level because of the partisan nature in historical memory approaches. The nation is divided clearly, making it hard to find common ground. This polarization is what has prompted the need for major change such as the Catalan Debate for Independence, and the recent induction of a Socialist Prime Minister. Social tension has been created by the emotional scars left from the Franco era and Civil War. Spain will become more progressive, inclusive and cohesive if it focuses on its historical memory.


  • makhiknapp

    Makhi is a 34 yo educational blogger who is passionate about writing and exploring new content ideas. She has a degree in English from the University of Utah and is currently working as a teacher in a public school in Utah. Makhi has been published in numerous online journals and has been featured on national television networks.



Makhi is a 34 yo educational blogger who is passionate about writing and exploring new content ideas. She has a degree in English from the University of Utah and is currently working as a teacher in a public school in Utah. Makhi has been published in numerous online journals and has been featured on national television networks.