August 30, 2014

THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

REVISITING SPAIN's BLOODIEST WAR


Spellbound! Yes, that was my reaction after watching Granada Television Production's six part documentary - The Spanish Civil War. There are some things that never age with time. And in my opinion, this series is definitely one of them. Released way back in 1983, the documentary continues to be as enchanting and as relevant today, as it was back then. 

To begin with, lets see the factors that work in its favor. Firstly, since the documentary was created when the generation that fought in the war was still around, the series provides personal accounts of several individuals who took an active part in the war. In general, the civil war was an important battleground of ideologies, with many sections fighting on the same side, having different agendas while sticking to one overall cause. As such, the accounts of people including those close to Franco, the military rebels, the Falangist (Fascists), the Communists, the Socialists, the Anarchists in Catalonia, the Basque regionalists, people who served in various Republican regimes between 1936-39 and so on, gives the viewer a holistic perspective of the conflict. Additionally, we also get the viewpoint of the various non-native fighters who descended onto Spain to fight either for the cause of democracy or joined the rebel legions. Secondly, the documentary also has tonnes of black and white footage of Spain during those three years of turbulence. The scenes from the war for Madrid, which was lasted for over two years and the tales of brutality on either side of the divide are quite moving. Lastly, the tune which is played in the beginning of the each episode is classy and has a nice feel about it. On the other hand, with a total running time of over 5 hours, the series is too long. Moreover, the kind of information that the documentary provides can be exhaustive for many of us. However, for those who love world history and have time to spare, the Spanish Civil War is certainly one series that they should not miss.

Fought between 1936 to 1939, the civil war in Spain is one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century. In fact, with five million casualties, it was in many ways a precursor to the Second World War. The roots of the war lies in the many failures of the short-lived Spanish Republic that was established in Milan following the abdication of the throne by the King Alfonso XIII in 1931 after widespread unrest. Five years down the line, a group of military generals planned a coup d'etat to overthrow the democratically elected government which they perceived as harmful to the interests of the nation and its people. As the army raised the banner of rebellion and marched on to Madrid, various parties in the political sphere including the Liberals, Worker's Union, the Socialists, the Communists, the Anarchist and other groups joined hands to fight the rebellion together. Under the leadership of General Francisco Franco, the army reached the gates of the capital and the war for the country's biggest city went on for two years. One of the most interesting aspects of the entire war was that as many as 40,000 foreign fighters came in Spain to fight on either side. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy openly aided Franco and his army with man power and material. The Soviets backed the republicans early in the war and then abandoned them once it became clear that France and UK would not intervene. At the end, Franco's leadership, foreign aid and the differences between the various factions that made up the democratic side led to a Nationalist (Rebel) victory. Franco would go on to become the dictator of Spain and ruled the Western European country for the next four decades.

Narrated by Frank Finlay and directed by David Hart, the entire series is divided into 6 episodes, each consisting of two parts. The six parts are as follows:

(1) Prelude to War: With the republican government failing to meet the expectations of the people, the army rises in rebellion as the African legions under General Francisco Franco reach the mainland to take over the reins of the government. As their plans of a quick victory fail, the government and the factions that supported it rally together and ready themselves to defend the nascent democracy in Spain.


(2) Revolution - Counter Revolution: General Franco captures Seville in the south while General Mola is closing in on Madrid from the north. The Anarchists in Barcelona attack the military garrison and join the counter-revolution against the army. Meanwhile, the Nationalists are on the gates of Madrid after winning some quick yet decisive victories.

(3) Battlefield for Idealists: My favorite episode, it recounts how the various European nations saw the conflict and which side they supported and how. Hitler and Mussolini firmly put their support behind the Nationalist whereas nations like England and France who would enter the World War II as upholders of democracy, almost turn a blind eye and refuse to bail out the republicans. Stalin provides some aid to them but that is discontinued in the later months of the war.

(4) Franco and the Nationalists: This episode is more like a biopic on General Franco, his rise in the army at an early age and his decision to join the Nationalist cause. Unlike the republicans, he succeeds in bringing the different sections fighting against the republicans together and becomes their supreme leader in October 1936. He appeases the Church and also wins the support of the rich landlords.

(5) Inside the Revolution: Here, we are introduced to the Anarchist ideology which was prevalent in Barcelona during those times. Having joined the fight against the Nationalists, the anarchists who wanted autonomy for the Catalonia region set up a regime that pays no allegiance to either the nation or the church. However, with the army closing in, infighting breaks out between them and the communists. Meanwhile, a spate of wins for the army splits the republican territories into two.

(6) Victory and Defeat: As the republicans fail to win a clear victory at the Battle of Ebro, their morale is broken. The Nationalists capture Barcelona. In Madrid, there is a coup on the republican side as colonel Casado deposes PM Negrin. Casado's attempts for a negotiation fail and Franco's troops entered the capital. As people rejoice, the bloody civil war comes to an end.