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Ricardo García Cárcel

Myths and history of Spain URL: http://www.march.es/conferencias/anteriores/voz.aspx?p1=22478&l=2

THE MEMORY OF 1808

We live a time of short historical memory where it seems that the past only started in 1931, and the last civil war monopolizes all the intellectual and and sentimental attention, as if it was the only brotherly conflict that the two Spains have had in the Iberian arena. Im afraid that in this context, 1808 is not only seen by the current administrators of the collective memory as a reference distant in time, but also as a product of the historical memory constructed during the Franco period, and thus something despicable. The Spaniards of my generation, those born within the long postwar, were indeed bombarded with epic pictures of the Independence War interpreted as a key link in a long chain of demonstrations of the Spanish identity. An identity characterized by the capacity to resist foreign invaders, and that goes all the way back to Numancia and Sagunto. The myth of the indomitable Spain of 1808 opposing to the foreign despot was deeply rooted in the Franco period. It was even reflected in the pseudo-historical cinema of the time, which had an epic vocation. Remember on these regards films like Juan Orduña’s Agustina de Aragón (1950), which recalled the heroic defender of Zaragoza against the French. The Franco period remodeled it own mythology using cinema. We have a good example in Tulio Demicheli’s Carmen la de Ronda (1959), where the singer had her heart divided between the purity of the Spanish brigand and the europeist French soldier, which leads to her death for not being able to choose. Just a few years before, this contraposition was unthinkable. The correlate of the untamed Spain built in those times was the anti-Spain, the Frenchified, the traitors, those who would refuse to fight the invaders due to confort or cowardliness. The exceptions to the rule of Spanish dignity.

Thus, the epic glorification of the Independence War during the Franco period is out of doubt. But from these rancid myths we have passed in recent years to a postmodern deconstruction that has fabricated its own conceptual artifacts separated from the real history. As a matter of fact, when it comes to 1808 a laminar revisionism has been applied halfway between peripheral nationalisms and State-independent nationalisms, which has ended up considering the concept of the Independence or National  War as pure invention. Based on this historiography, the national speech never existed, or simply was a reactive emotional and xenophobic explosion.

Spain would emerge as a nation following the proclamation of of the 1812 Constitution, but only in a purely theoretic or rhetoric way, because after all, for the revisionary historians this has only been virtual reality, and imaginary dreams. Thus, Spain would only be a plurinational State with many historical ballasts seeking to be an impossible nation. It is shocking to see how the metaphysics of State nationalism is fiercely attacked, while State-independent nationalisms are received with a critical silence. This makes evident that whatever is ignored is also despised.
Even if it has became a topic, the national speech about the 1808 war being the Independence War is not an invention from the Franco period. This is really a product of liberals and conservatives dating back to 1808. Many manuscripts since that date have shown a national conscience of belligerent independency against the invader. In this conscience, there were many reactive and xenophobic wise men, but I further insist that also since 1808, two years before the Courts of Cadiz, the revolutionary liberal dreams that fostered the national civics of the Courts, were also defined. As a matter of fact, if we review the genealogy of the 19th and 20th century memories from the 2nd of May 1808, or from the sieges of Zaragoza and Gerona, we will find that those memories belong to both, liberals and conservatives. When comparing the evocations of one and the other, we can deduce without doubt that it was the liberals who made a better use of these memories as a patriotic historical reference in all of its shapes: monuments, art, history and literature. Much more was done by the liberal politician Segismundo Moret, or the liberal institution Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, in the framework of the siege of Zaragoza’s centenary, than by Mallorca-born Miguel Maura, the President in 1908, who preferred to support the 7th Anniversary of Jaime the Conqueror due to the fear of being accused of anti-French. Later, in 1936 the republicans defending Madrid would link their motto ¡No pasarán! (they will not pass) to the historical memories of the siege of Zaragoza and Gerona. Manuel Azaña during his speech in the town hall of Valencia in January 21st 1937 stated: “the war of independence -a war to which I refer many times when speaking about this war- sheltered and protected the birth of a Spanish political movement, the first  in the Spanish nation to become self-conscience and to begin having political independence”

Thus, it is important that we start to bury the image that the Independence War is an exclusive idea from the period of Franco, and should start looking at the memory of 1808 without inhibitions and ideological ballasts. The unresolved issue of our collective culture is getting rid of our Spanish nationalistic complex, of our State nationalism, of the Spain of the citizens that feeds on imperial epics, great heroes, old political and cultural glories, but also from the suffering and tears of the defeated, the worries of arbitrary men, and the seekers of magic potions to fix all the evils of Homeland. Lastly, we should never confront 1808 with 1812, the xenophobic patriotism vs integrating patriotism. This is a fallacious dichotomy. 1812 is the heritage of the heterogeneous forces coming together in 1808. The two big conquers of the 1812 Constitution (proclaiming national sovereignty and opening the process of liberal revolution) are not the counterpart of May the 2nd, but the legacy of that stormy 1808 when there was a rising; probably not spontaneous but definitely chaotic, irrational, and confusing; which most likely did not know exactly what it wanted, but was convinced about what it did not want, and that changed the course of Spanish history. Nothing was the same after that. No one can change the course of history.

Spain deserves a 1808 Centenary with an open and plural historical memory, avoiding sectarian simplifications, which could evoke the war (including victories and miseries) and at the same time explore the connections between 1808 and the 1812 revolution. The revolution that happened, and the one that could have happened. The real Spain and the imaginary one. Without prejudices or complexes..

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