Old Loyalists in Spain Battle for Veterans Rights.
By JOHN DARNTON
Special to The New York Times
MADRID. Feb. 13 — Now, more than four decades later, Fernando Medina Martínez
can laugh at the words with which he was sentenced to death in August 1939. The
prose was so bureaucratic yet so passionate.
A military court set up by the victorious regime of Francisco Franco noted the
22-year-old lieutenant had retreated with the Republican forces into southern
France but then slipped back across the border to continué fighting in "the
Marxist zone." The court called his ideological commitment a "guilty
In other words, said Mr. Medina, cutting through the legálese as be paced a
friend´s líving room in modern Madrid, "up against the wall." He raised an
Mr. Medina told of spending seven months in jail awaiting execution, and of
being pardoned by Franco himself when his young sister wrote an emotional plea
to Franco´s daughter, Carmencita. Fouryears later he was out of prison.
A Campaign for Pensions
But he was not able to pursue a normal livelihood as long as the Caudillo
reigned. Even now, as a retired door-to-door salesman, able to vote for the
Communists and speak out in democratic Spain, he has not, in his own mind, made
peace with the civil war.
For this reason Mr. Medina and other veterans are pressing a campaign to win
military pensions and privileges of the armed forces for those who fought on the
losing Loyalist side.
"We´re fighting for principle," said Joaquín Calvo Diago, who like Mr. Medina
was a pilot and belongs to a veterans organization, the Association of
Republican Aviators. "If I got the money, I wouldn´t throw it away. But it´s for
dignity. I have children and grandchildren. I want them to know their
grandfather was in jail because he was a patriot, not some kind of criminal."
Their cause has more than a touch of irony to it. Up until December, they were
petitioning, without success, the insecure, right-of-center governments that
followed Franco´s death in 1975.
Door ís Stíll Unopened
But now the left has been triumphant at the polis, and the men who fought to
preserve the predominantly Socialist Government of 1936 find they are knocking
on the door ot a Socialist Government. So far, it has not opened.
"It´s very disappointing," said Luis Roldan Rodríguez, a lawyer representing the
"They gave their loyalty to a Government with a majority of Socialists in it and
now this loyalty is not being retiprocated by a Sociálist Government."
"The Government is very worried about the military," he continued. "It´s
preoccupied by financial problems and it doesn´t seem to want to take on any new
His reference to the military needed no elaboration. Under Franco the anny was
steeped in the traditions of a crusade against the left. Some of its officers,
including many veterans on the Nationalist side, are suspicious of a Socialist
Government to begin with and likely to take umbrage at any move that would, in
their eyes, reward the vanquished.
A General Is Displeased
A reflection of the passions that can still be engendered by the war can be seen
in the reactions to a recent televisión program in which five former Republican
soldiers were interviewed. They talked of tbe hardships of long prison sentences
and of linding decent employment after the war. One observed they had fought as
the legally constituted army to defend the Government of the day—a remark that
by implication painted the Franco forces as rebels.
According to El País, a lieutenant general, Alvaro Lacalle, expressed to the
Government his profound displeasure over the program, which he found offensive
to the honor of the armed forces.
There is also a generational aspect to the dispute. The age range of the members
of the two groups agitating for pensión rights, the Democratic Fraternity of
Soldiers of the Republican Army and the Association of Republican Aviators, is
63 to 85 years. They represent perhaps a total of 5,000 Loyalist veterans in
Spain and abroad.
The Socialists in the Government they are appealing to are mostly young — the
average age of the Cabinet is 41 years. They are disinclined to reopen old
wounds and they seem to want to deal with the war,. which few of them
experienced personally, by putting it behind and moving on to other business.
The Matter Will Not Die
One Cabinet member at an off-the-record dinner, pressed repeatedly by a
journalist over the Govemment´s reluctance to take up the Loyalists´ cause,
finally said in a tone of exasperation, "La guerre est finie."
But for the veterans themselves, the matter will not die. On Dec. 2, the Supreme
Court refused to rule on the case. Now they are taking the claim to the higher
Constitutional Court and if they do not obtain a favorable ruling they plan to
petition the Human Rights Commission in Strasbourg, the Socialist International
and other outside organizations.
Mr. Medina admits to being a bit disillusioned. But he believes his cause wíll
eventually triumph. "The Socialists have so many problems that curs is left a
little to one side. They don´t daré have it discussed now. But I believe that
with an these pressures, political and juridical, this will eventually come
through —we´ll be revindicated."
Mr. Calvo appeared to agree, as did José María Bravo, another former aviator.
The three soon tumed, as veterans. invariably do, to reminiscences of the war.
Mr. Bravo told of how, with a death sentence over his head, he escaped to France
and then made his way to the Soviet Union. "I became a pilot in World War II,"
he said. "Believe it or not, I was head of the fighter squadron that accompanied
Stalin to the Teherán Conference."
He began philosophizing about the civil war. "On the enemy side, there were
people worthy of respect. It was war — good and bad people on both sides. But
our side was the one that lost and the one that suffered. So I say it´s time to
The veterans began their campaign in the mood of national reconcilation.
The New Yort Times/ John Damion.
that followed Franco´s death. To some extent that reconciliation has been
successful. Republicans have been granted official amnesty. Some groups, such as
civil servants, have won back their rights to employment or retirement benefits.
Republican soldiers who were wounded and remained invalids were granted
The group that has not been able to obtain pensions were combatants who joined
the Republican forces after July 18,1936 — the day Franco rose again´t the
Popular Front Government.
Fernando Medina Martínez, left, a lieutenant in the Republican forces in the
Spanish Civil War, had been sentenced to death in August 1939, by a military
court set up by the regime of Francisco Franco, below.
Although he was pardoned by Franco he was not able to pursue a normal
livelihood. Joaquín Calvo Diago, a Republican veteran, is among those fighting
for military pensions and privileges.