Spanish Civil War: a tragedy that is not over yet

The Spanish Civil War ended exactly 84 years ago. It was one of the most tragic and divisive events in Spain's history, resulting in significant loss of life and leaving a lasting impact on the country's political and social landscape for decades to come.

Apr 1, 2023 - 19:14
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Spanish Civil War: a tragedy that is not over yet
Image by Feliciano Pérez / Pixabay

The Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936 to 1939, was a highly complex and devastating conflict between various factions in Spain. It was a struggle between the Republicans (loyal to the democratically elected Spanish Republic) and the so called Nationalists (led by General Francisco Franco and backed by conservative forces). Several factors contributed to the outbreak of the war:

  • Political Instability: Spain experienced significant political instability in the early 20th century, with shifting alliances and frequent changes in government. The monarchy was overthrown in 1931, and the Second Spanish Republic was established, but it faced challenges in implementing reforms and satisfying diverse political groups.

  • Social Inequality: Spain was characterized by stark social and economic inequalities, with a large gap between the wealthy landowners and the working class. Rural areas faced extreme poverty, and labor disputes were common, leading to rising tensions between different social groups.

  • Regional Nationalism: Spain was composed of several autonomous regions with distinct languages, cultures, and historical grievances. Some regions, particularly Catalonia and the Basque Country, sought greater autonomy and independence, which led to conflicts with the central government.

  • Rising Political Extremism: The political spectrum in Spain polarized during the 1930s, with the emergence of radical left-wing and right-wing ideologies. Extreme political groups, including anarchists, socialists, and fascists, clashed with each other and with the moderate factions.

  • The Role of the Military: The Spanish military, traditionally conservative and aligned with the monarchy, became discontented with the Republican government's policies. Some military leaders sought to restore traditional values and social order through a coup.

  • Agrarian and Economic Crisis: Spain faced a severe agrarian crisis, with a concentration of landownership and lack of land reform leading to rural unrest and dissatisfaction. The country was also grappling with economic challenges, including high unemployment and inflation.

  • Influence of External Powers: Foreign powers, including Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, supported General Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces, while the Soviet Union and international brigades assisted the Republican side, adding an international dimension to the conflict.

The immediate trigger for the Spanish Civil War was a military coup launched by nationalist factions led by General Francisco Franco against the democratically elected Second Spanish Republic in July 1936. The coup failed to seize power entirely, leading to a protracted and brutal civil war between the Nationalists and Republicans.

Determining the exact number of casualties in the Spanish Civil War is challenging due to the lack of comprehensive and accurate records, especially given the chaotic nature of the conflict and the subsequent censorship and suppression of information during Franco's regime. Additionally, the war was characterized by atrocities committed by both sides, including summary executions, massacres, and political repression.

Estimates of the total number of casualties, including both military and civilian deaths, range widely:

  • Military deaths: Estimates range from around 100,000 to 150,000 soldiers killed on both sides.

  • Civilian deaths: Estimates suggest that between 100,000 to 200,000 civilians lost their lives due to direct combat, bombings, political violence, and reprisals.

These numbers are approximations and subject to ongoing research and revision as more information becomes available and historical studies progress.

After the fascist victory in 1939, General Francisco Franco established a dictatorship in Spain that lasted until his death in 1975. During his rule, information about the war and its casualties was often suppressed or manipulated, making it challenging to obtain accurate and comprehensive data.

The Spanish Civil War had a profound impact on Spanish society, politics, and culture. Its legacy continued to shape Spain for many years after the conflict's end, with lasting effects on political divisions and historical memory.

Ana Dedeus Member of EA Coordination Team