Paris and Barcelona remember the IB

December 29, 2018

The daughter of Irish volunteer John Peet commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Despedida of the International Brigades in Barcelona, October 2018. Photo Javier Monsalve

The 80th anniversary of the “Despedida” of 1938 was the occasion to remember the International Brigades in both Paris and Barcelona with two different international conferences. Both initiatives brought together an impressive list of scholars who presented cutting-edge research on a wide range of subjects.

The Paris conference, “Solidarias 2018,” took place on October 24-26 and focused on the role of foreign women in the Spanish Civil War. Organized by three French universities and the Amicale des Combattants en Espagne Républicaine (ACER), it included three full days of conference papers and two documentaries. Over 48 participants came together from eight countries, mainly from France and Spain, but also Belgium, the United States, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Holland, and Germany. The venue for the first two days of the conference was a homage to the IB in its own right as it was on the same plot of land at 4 Avenue Mathurin Moreau where all volunteers passed through on their way to Spain between 1936 and 1938. ALBA was well represented in the conference by two board members, Josie Yurek and Bob Coale, the latter presenting a paper on Fredericka Martin, whose rich collection is one of the backbone collections of the Lincoln archives. The success of ALBA was evident at several points in the procedures when scholars from different countries repeatedly made references to the holdings in the Tamiment Library—proving, if need be, that the project the veterans set up decades ago has effectively become a center of study for researchers around the globe. Two of the keys to this success are ALBA’s lively website and the Tamiment’s online holdings catalog.

A second international conference took place in Barcelona on Friday, October 26. “History and Memory of the International Brigades, an East-West perspective” was sponsored by the European Observatory on Memories of the University of Barcelona. There, fourteen participants from six countries spoke on the memory of volunteers from the United States, the former Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, and Poland, as well as initiatives for preserving the IB legacy developed around Spain. The keynote speaker was the French historian Rémi Skoutelsky, whose provocative paper disproved those who compare the IB in Spain to the wave of young Islamist fundamentalists who have headed to Syria in alarming numbers, over 1,000 from France alone, to fight for ISIS. Another groundbreaking study was presented by Rocío Velasco de Castro, from the Universidad de Extremadura, whose intensive study of Muslim volunteers in the IB attempts to fill a void created due to difficult access to source material and a certain reluctance to accept that not all Arabic-speaking combatants were fighting for Franco. As it turns out, several of them volunteered from the US and served with the Lincolns. The one-day conference was filled to standing-room-only capacity, proving that the subject sparks great interest in Spain today.

In addition to academic conferences, on Sunday October 28, the precise 80th anniversary of the Despedida, the City of Barcelona held its official homage to the IB at the Barcelona monument to the Lincoln Brigade in the district of Horta-Guinardó. The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, opened the event with a moving tribute to all IB volunteers. Following her were other official representatives from Catalonia and Madrid, as well as delegations from the Amigos of Madrid and those of Catalonia, including Lluís Martín Bielsa, the president of the Catalonian Amigos, who 80 years before as a young Guardia de Asalto had been on guard during the Despedida parade in Barcelona. Two official IB associations were also invited to speak. ALBA was again represented by Bob Coale while Claire Rol-Tanguy, daughter of Henri Rol-Tanguy—former commissar of the 14th IB and commander of the French resistance during the liberation of Paris in 1944—spoke on behalf of the ACER. The well-known Catalan actor Lluís Homar read three Hemingway poems on war and the iconic troubadour Paco Ibáñez closed the ceremony with his rendition of the anti-Franco poem by Rafael Alberti “A galopar.” Afterwards, numerous organizations and government institutions paid tribute by laying flowers at the foot of the Lincoln Brigade monument.