Omar G. Encarnación is professor of political studies at Bard College. His books include Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting (2014) and Out in the Periphery: Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution (2016). (May 2019)
The Struggle for Catalonia: Rebel Politics in Spain
by Raphael Minder
Writing in the Journal of Contemporary History, in 1991, the historian Stanley Payne noted that “Spanish nationalism is weaker than ever and has for all practical purposes disappeared.” Payne attributed this to the nationalist excesses of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. In 1936, Franco’s army launched a crusade to save Spain from …
Compared to its democratic peers in Western Europe, the United States is a gay reparation laggard. Despite the overwhelmingly positive press the United States gets on its LGBT advances, the contrast with Spain is striking: although same-sex marriage finally arrived nationwide in 2015 (imposed by the courts), in many other areas of American life, LGBT rights are either weak or under attack. At least when compared to the Spanish experience, the struggle for same-sex marriage in the United States failed to engage the public into a larger debate about the history of homosexuality in the country and about the contributions of LGBT people to society today. One price of the narrow marriage equality victory has been to leave intact and largely unexamined the long history of anti-gay animus, discrimination, and homophobia in American culture.
The election campaign run by the Spanish Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez offers pointed lessons on how other center-left politicians in Europe can confront the electoral challenge of the far right—and win. Instead of imitating the right’s nationalist discourse with a diluted form of nativism and chauvinism in the hope of stemming the defection of white working-class voters, Sánchez ran as a principled progressive. He emphasized the values intrinsic to social democracy, such as equality, solidarity, and a commitment to social justice and the welfare state. And he took the fight to the hard right by portraying himself as a crucial defender of democracy against the forces of authoritarianism and separatist nationalism.
There is a compelling case that the Sánchez administration’s proposal for El Valle, the resting place of the Spain’s long-time dictator General Franco, would go a long way toward reconciling the still divisive legacy of the civil war. From its origins, to its myths, to its architecture, El Valle is steeped in infamy. Unlike other postwar democratic transitions, there was no “transitional justice” in Spain as part of the dismantling of the Franco regime. Now, however, El Valle will receive a radical makeover. In June, Sánchez announced his intention to move Franco’s remains from El Valle and transform the site from a shrine to Francoism to a “memorial for the victims of fascism.”