Yesterday an iconic figure in contemporary Spanish history passed away. Santiago Carillo was a young 21 years of age when the Civil War broke out. He was the elected leader of the Socialist Youth movement in Madrid and had just served two years in gaol for his participation in the Asturias Revolution in 1934. Santiago had seen it all: The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in the 1920´s and the expulsion of Alfonso XIII. He had lived through the Republic, the Civil War, and then had fled Spain, where he remained in exile until the death of Franco. When the political left was finally legalised, Santiago returned to participate in the transition and to help bring about the first elections in the late 1970´s and early 1980´s.
I remember when Santiago Carillo came to my town about 5 years back. He came to talk about the Law of Historical Memory that was finally being pushed through parliament. Even in this small town, with its socialist council (back then) and its history of left wing activism, Santaigo was still jeered by hecklers for his controversial role in Madrid during the opening moments of the Civil War.
His talk that evening of of 'La Ley' seemed to be part of a new atmosphere in Spain. Suddenly there was public interest again in Spain's Second Republic, the unspoken injustices of the dictatorship and the whereabouts of its thousands upon thousands of victims. After so many years of silence, people were at last finding the courage to speak. It was a fascinating moment to see history come alive once more, and to feel on the streets an openness and pride in the valiant struggles of the opposition to that 40 year dictatorship. When I listened to his arguments: They were persuasive and his ideas sharp and well articulated. For a man in his 90's his mind was exceptionally clear.
There are not many left that continue to live a life of principle. There are not many left that believe in ideology and its capacity to change society for the better. In these times of market hegemony and instantaneous gratification, figures such as Carillo will always stand out to remind us of a more grounded and enduring approach.
Descanse en paz Santaigo.
"A country without a memory is a country of madmen" is an exceprt from the book on Spanish history and culture: Inside the Tortilla.
Why Orwell is essential to understanding Spain today. More here - Forgotten Stories From Spain
Find out More about the ebook and audio
Forgotten Stories From Spain Book HERE
AND WATCH THE TORTILLA VIDEO HERE