Are You Democratically Experienced?


I am in Spain at the minute. Today marks the 83rd anniversary of the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic. Writing in La Marea today, in an article titled ‘The Republic bears the face and name of a woman’, Rafael Escudero Alday describes the Second Republic as the ‘first fully democratic experience in the history of Spain’. As he notes, it marked a break from the arbitrary rule of military leaders, chieftains and priests, and introduced the principle of equality before the law. The Republic and its Constitution, he writes ‘on the one hand, turned women into citizens, the bearers of civil, political and social rights; and, on the other, drew into the public square questions that until then had belonged to the private sphere, such as, for example, relations in marriage, in the family, and even domestic labour. That is, Republican women and men did not just broaden rights, but also the spaces protected by rights.’ The author goes on to note that women in Spain voted for the first time in Spain on the 19th of November 1933, and that in 1936, the Catalonia’s Generalitat, constituted as a consequence of the Republic’s proclamation, introduced the legalisation of abortion.


The democratic regime established by the Republic was overthrown by the putsch launched by a group of soldiers on the 18th of July 1936. As Joaquim Bosch noted in an article in January, ‘the coup d’état was supported militarily, ideologically and economically by Hitler’s Germany. When the rebellion did not prove victorious throughout the entire territory, Nazi Germany began trying its weaponry against defenceless civilians, in test run for what it would subsequently do in Europe’. ‘Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of the conflict. There are still more than 100,000 people buried in mass graves, who were murdered by those who rose against the constitutional order.’

Of those who lie in mass graves, Bosch writes that ‘the majority of people who lie unidentified in mass graves had not gone off to any war. They were exterminated as part of the military coup strategy to eliminate any possible source of dissidence and to fill the entire population with fear.’ Thus ‘Spain ranks second in the world for disappeared people, behind Cambodia.’


On 12th October 2004, the then Socialist Party Defence Minister, José Bono, staged an Armed Forces parade, for the day known as ‘Spanishness Day’ –Dia de la Hispanidad– in which there was participation from both ex-soldiers who had remained loyal to the legally constituted Republic, and from a veteran who had fought in the Blue Division, that is, who had gone off to fight for Hitler on the Russian front.

He said at the time that “What happened has been written about, but from my ideological position of struggle against Franco, which is on record, I say that there is greater strength in the symbolism of an embrace between two Spanish men, whatever their biography, than in the seed of hatred of those whose finger hurts from pointing it at their opponent”.


In Ireland, there was widespread support, from the political establishment and the church, for the overthrow of the Second Spanish Republic. The Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal MacRory, organised collections for Franco outside Catholic churches throughout the island. Irish men who went to fight for the Republic were excommunicated, and those who returned were ostracised. Support for the fascist forces in Spain was near unanimous in the ranks for the Fine Gael party. W.T. Cosgrave claimed ‘the fate of European civilisation and everything in it’ depended on Franco. As I’ve previously noted, ‘Fine Gael and the Francoist Partido Popular –which has never recanted its fascist past and blocks attempts at investigating crimes against humanity conducted by the Franco regime- are both members of the same grouping in the European Parliament. Both are in government, enacting vicious cutbacks to public spending and attacking social, economic and labour rights, and congratulating each other for the good work they are doing.’

In two years’ time, Irish society will mark the centenary of the proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916. But whereas it took less than five years for the Spanish Republic to introduce the legalisation of abortion, abortion remains illegal in Ireland over 100 years on. (And now they want to make it illegal in Spain too)


The current Irish government, with a Fine Gael majority, has committed to involving the British monarchy in State commemorations. One of the Irish government’s court scribes, Stephen Collins, wrote in the Irish Times on Saturday that ‘many in the mainstream Irish political parties feared the 1916 Rising commemorations might be hijacked by Sinn Féin, but republicans may now begin to fear the British royal family could steal the show. The presence of a member of a royal family should help ensure nobody steals the show..

What the introduction of the British monarchy to proceedings means, as noted approvingly by an Irish Times letter writer last week, is ‘progress towards social and political quiet’. Thus the fight for a democratic regime, for political and social and civil rights, is placed on a par with the fight for Empire and monarchy. It is all the same thing. We are all democracies nowadays. We all know what it is like. There is no longer any need for fully democratic experiences. And there is greater strength in the symbolism of an embrace between ruling castes in Britain and Ireland, whatever their biography, than in the seed of hatred of those whose finger hurts from pointing it at their opponent.

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