Below Valleys and Mountains: the Geography and Memory of Repression in Asturias

After years of being under pressure from civil associations and the regional government, a research project on the fatalities of the Spanish Civil War in Asturias began in 2003. The project is based at the Department of History, University of Oviedo. It began as a database with information on all deaths that resulted from military conflict in Asturias: those killed in combat, civilian casualties and political reprisals on both sides. The work began by consulting all existing written documentation on the subject, both at the regional and national level. In addition, oral testimonies on the conflict were sought after in all the regional councils. This project, directed by Carmen García and later co-directed by Rubén Vega, ended up being an investigation that combined written and oral sources. To this end, the Archive for Oral Sources for the Social History of Asturias (AFOHSA) has contributed greatly to the investigation.

Over the years, the project has developed a database detailed more than 26,000 deaths as a result of violent conflict in the region. This database is available in the Historical Archive of Asturias. An interactive map of gravesites in the region can be consulted on-line: Similarly, more than 150 interviews of survivors from the conflict have been compiled for theproject, which cut across gender, ideology, class and geographical origins in Asturias.

This production is an exercise in the synthesis and symbiosis between people, places and memory; between the map of mass graves and oral testimonies. Each of the graves hides a piece of history of Asturias. These are not just statistics; behind each grave is a family drama. There are children and adults who lost loved ones, be it a person who brought sustenance to their homes (perhaps a mother who made and sold bread for a living or a father who worked in the mines), or the sister whobrought filled the house with her laughter. Perhaps it was a grandmother who told bedtime stories to her grandchildren, or the boyfriend who never returned from the war front, or the only inheriting son of the household. But at least we still have the neighbours, colleagues and/or family members to tell us what happened to their loved ones, more than seventy-five years ago in Asturias.

It is through their eyes and their voices that we are able to walk through the different spaces in Asturias, where we see the graves and mass execution sites.

These are the same walls – even the same trees – that have witnessed deaths seventy-five years earlier. With this map, we are able to travel the Asturian geography, from East to West, from the coast to the mountains. Each place has a story and a memory, which we have tried to collect via the testimony of survivors.

The message they have left us with is that time does not erase history.

Text. Amaya Caunedo Dominguez.
Translation: Aarthi Ajit.

RINCÓN, Aintzane and ANZIZAR, Arantza
Walking Through a Dream: The First Teachers of the San Nikolas Ikastola (1963-1969)
Council for Equality, the Municipal of Getxo, Getxo, 2014.

CaminandoThis book, written by the historian Aintzane Rincón and the anthropologist Arantza Anzizar, tells the story of the emergence of the present-day ikastola (Basque community school) San Nikolas de Algorta (Biscay, Spain). Published in both Castilian and Euskera, the narrative is located in the 1960s, within the context of Franco’s repressive regime. It was also in the 1960s that the first spaces for dissent against the regime were being created. The book consists of three sections: the first is an introductory chapter that goes through the attempts made by the Basque nationalists before the Spanish Civil War to implement a public education system in the Basque language, Euskara. To this end, the authors have delved into the workings of neighbourhood schools (Escuelas de Barriada). This constituted a project initiated by the Basque Provinces, where Euskara was introduced as a teaching language at these neighbourhood schools. Euskara also made its way into the classrooms of Basque schools, mostly in Biscay, the efforts of which were driven by the women of the Feminist Association of the Nationalist Basque Party (Emakume Abertzale Batza). Basque schools thus constituted a response to secular education that was being promoted by the Republican Government. The second section of the book analyses the beginnings of the San Nikolas ikastola. This section concentrates on the 1960s, when Basque society was rapidly changing alongside a revival of Basque cultural practices. In the third chapter, the authors explore stories which they have gathered from interviews. Through these stories, they discover how the San Nikolas ikastola came into existence thanks to the solidarity and collective work ethic of teachers, and a commitment on their part to teach in Euskera. These recollections, shared by the women teachers in the ikastolas in particular, reveal their contributions to the creation of a Basque educational model.

With this book, we come to know of the history of San Nikolas ikastola. We also come to know of the collective and individual memories of a generation of young dissidents, who defied the repressive context of the 1960s with their strategies of resistance. It was during this decade that a cultural renewal of Euskara resurfaced  strongly in the Basque Country – given that Basque language is a central element of Basque identity. In this sense, the running of ikastolas was one of the many strategies of resistance deployed against Franco’s dictatorship. In fact, this particular strategy was based on Basque nationalist ideals, which expounded the need for its own model of Basque education.

This was in response – and diametrically opposite – to the dominant educational model enforced during the period of Francoist Spain, based on Catholic ideology. Reading Walking Through a Dream, we find that the main reason behind the creation of ikastolas was to promote and celebrate Euskara as a primary language. But the book is also engaging in terms of the educational pedagogy it delves into, which was seen asground-breaking for the era. The work also focuses on the study of the figure of the andereño – the women teachers in the ikastolas. The authors propose that the central figure of the andereño did not constitute a total rupture with the dominant model of femininity in the 1960s. Marriage, motherhood and domesticity continued to be aspirations shared by most women and desired by the regime. However, as Rincón andAnzizar have suggested, the andereños embodied a particular rebellious femininity.

This served to challenge the normative identity imposed by the Francoist Spain by way of the construction of an identity of resistance. Newly graduated from the School of Education, young Basque students in the 1960s were sought after by the founding teachers of San Nikolas ikastola, and with little experience began working at the ikastola – without giving importance to their salaries. As one of the interviewees put it:

“At least when they approached me, they offering me the job saying, “Look, we have an ikastola here.” And it never occurred to me to speak about compensation. Of course, we had no Social Security either, and it didn’t occur to me that we needed it. Well, we were much younger then – seventeen years old or not yet eighteen. We didn’t think about ourretirements… we were young, with high hopes. Our parents, too, had high hopes…” In this sense, the precariousness of the employment status of these teachers, as well as that of the ikastolas in general, suggest to the authors that the figurehead of the andereño had more to do with politics than with labour activism. The San Nikolas ikastolaflourished thanks to collective endeavours and solidarity, which came from the belief and enthusiasm for an  alternative educational system made for people like these teachers.

To put this book together, the authors focused on the oral testimo nies of those who created the initial movement: the first andereños (the women teachers in the ikastolas); parents; and, important personas in the collective who supported the creation of the San Nikolas ikastola – the politician Tasio Erkizia, among others. To this end, the authors have analysed eleven interviews. Through this study, they have approached individual and collective memories of a number of people who were actively involved in the 1960s in the ikastola movement. The repressive context and the lawless nature of the era, made people committed to building a Basque educational model. This was developed in secret, and contributed to difficulties in preserving historical documents of thismovement. However, the authors have based their research work on oral sources not because there were no written sources, but because they wanted to place emphasis on the value of oral testimonies for historical analysis. The collection of life histories has allowed the authors to approach the issue of subjectivity of the people interviewed. It has also allowed them to better understand the meaning given to these life experiences as well as the impact of these experiences on their informants’ identities.

In addition, it should be emphasized that the book was the result of research conducted under the grant “The contribution of women to the history of Getxo”, given by the Council for Equality, the Municipal of Getxo. The authors have, therefore, sought to highlight how the andereños themselves perceive their contribution to the creation of the San Nikolas ikastola and, in general, to the history of Getxo. It is for this reason that emotions are of significant importance in this work, being one of the main axes of how oral sources are interpreted. In fact, the authors have pointed out that we remember that which makes us emotional. So we must pay attention to how the interviewees perceive the events and, ultimately, the meaning they give to the events described. In this book,positive emotions, like enthusiasm and hope, managed to overcome the fear and uncertainty that arose in interviews. These oral sources have been supplemented by photographs, legal documents of the period studied and a bibliography.

Text. Maialen Aranguren (University of Basque Country).
Translation. Aarthi Ajit.