The fate of Spain’s “Nationalisms” During the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1939

Authored by: George Esenwein

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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Today it is widely accepted that Spain is composed of multiple nationalities and regions, which, despite their autonomous status, form an integral part of the nation. Yet, from the nineteenth century on, the Castilian-centred Spanish state struggled to come to terms with the regional populations who felt themselves to be both historically and culturally distinct. This was particularly evident in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when both regionalist and secessionist aspirations of the Basque and Catalonian provinces crystallized into full-blown nationalist movements. Despite the reforming efforts and centralizing tendencies of Restoration (1876–1923) politicians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the political and national unity of Spain was never fully achieved. Rather than seeking ways of accommodating regionalism within a national framework, the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (1923–1930) sought more directly to subdue Spain’s ethno-nationalisms by imposing a top-down approach. Yet, after nearly six years of subjugation, regionalism not only survived the dictatorship but it experienced a robust revival under the short-lived Second Republic (1931–1936). The outbreak of civil war in July 1936 marked a new and unique phase in the development of Iberian nationalisms. During this exceedingly turbulent period, both the Basque and Catalan autonomous movements briefly achieved an unprecedented degree of independence from the central government. After the Spanish Nationalists under Francisco Franco emerged triumphant in 1939, regionalists were forced to operate in the shadows of an oppressive state system which actively sought to erase all traces of Spain’s deeply rooted ethno-nationalist identities. It was not until democracy returned to Spain in the late 1970s that the autonomous movements would reestablish themselves as fundamental features of the nation’s political and cultural landscape.

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