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A Hundred Years' Civil War

AuthorsGonzález-Ruibal, Alfredo
Issue Date1-Mar-2019
CitationPolarized Pasts Workshop (2019)
AbstractA brutal civil war and a long dictatorship during the twentieth century led to a highly polarized society in contemporary Spain. The dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco (1936-1975) insisted in creating a simple narrative of good versus evil that punished and humiliated the vanquished in the war and empowered the victors. This discourse was transmitted through indoctrination in schools, propaganda in the media and materiality (monuments, memorials, social housing, etc.). The material and verbal discourse of the dictatorship in relation to the civil war, national identity and the country¿s past penetrated deeply into the collective mentality of Spaniards. The transition to democracy forced the Francoist ideology underground, but is now resurfacing in different ways and seen by many as a legitimate political perspective. The polarization provoked by the regime has become more visible during the last few years due to different phenomena: the exhumation campaign seeking to recover the bodies of the killed by right-wing violence (around 150,000 victims); the rise of the far-right, as part of the global reactionary backlash, and the upsurge of Spanish nationalism (itself a reaction largely triggered by Catalan nationalism). Some of the advances toward the production of a shared narrative during the democratic period have been shattered by increasing political polarization. Thus, Spanish society is now fractured along different lines (ideological, national, religious). In this context, working on the archaeology of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime means entering a minefield where myths (on different sides) often replace historical narratives and civilized dialogue becomes extremely difficult. Certain material elements of the past have risen to prominence in political debates¿particularly the Valley of the Fallen, the mausoleum where Franco is buried¿and have elicited much verbal and symbolic violence. Archaeological remains, particularly mass graves, also take part in the disputes. Besides, the situation is no longer limited to the recent past. The history of Spain as a country is becoming more and more a contested terrain where academic nuance is rarely welcomed and emotion tends to replace reasoned arguments. In such a politically harged and fragmented scenario, who the ¿People¿ whom archaeologists should serve is no longer obvious, as many of those who have often been regarded as subalterns (rural communities, the unemployed, workers) are now backing reactionary politics. The dualism that has become very popular in heritage studies between elites and masses is not useful in a context where the frontlines are not clearly defined. The situation is true for Spain, but also for many other countries¿Brazil, the United States or Poland¿where extremists have risen to power with wide popular support. In this paper I intend to do several things: first, I will rethink critically the concept of the People through the work of Hannah Arendt and other political philosophers, who encountered similar problems 80 years ago.  Secondly, I will explore the role of knowledge and epistemic authority in current debates within and outside academia. Then I will suggest some ways in which archaeologists and heritage students can contribute to uphold democratic values and be useful to society, while avoiding the traps of multivocality and localism. Finally, I would also like to reflect on the impact that a polarized environment has in the subjectivity of the researcher. For that, I will resort to my personal experience since 2006 conducting archaeological research on the remains of war and dictatorship in Spain. I will describe some of the attitudes that I have encountered (both positive and negative) and will share what I have learnt from working in a politically tense¿and often aggressive¿environment.
DescriptionResumen del trabajo presentado en el Workshop Polarized Pasts: Heritage and Political Polarization in Europe and the United States, celebrado en Stanford, California (Estados Unidos), los días 1 y 2 de marzo de 2019
Appears in Collections:(INCIPIT) Comunicaciones congresos
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