Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring Backward: Mallorca's tragic spring of 1936

Spring. In one regard, there is no such thing as a Mallorcan spring. In tourism terms, there is winter and there is summer, two seasons determined not by equinoxes or solstices but by employment contracts and by flight and tour operator programmes. "The season" is typically taken (officially even) as starting on 1 May, more or less halfway through spring, but it marks the start of summer, just as 1 November - and the appropriate connotations of the day of the dead - signals the start of winter.

Spring. It has so many meanings. Renewal, rebirth, advance. Even the aide- mémoire for instruction as to which way the clocks are changed hints at advance: spring forward, though it is possible to also spring backward. Advance, renewal and rebirth, they are words of optimism, and the word "spring" has been attached to optimistic movements, those of hoped-for renewal and advance, yet which have proved that optimism can soon be lost. Spring backward. Spring is renewal. It is also revolution. Prague Spring, Arab Spring, the Spring of Nations, the latter a reference to the revolutions of 1848 which swept across Europe, only for them to collapse a year later.

Mallorca has had its own "Spring". It wasn't an optimistic spring, it was the "primavera trágica". 1936. With tragedy evident across Spain, Mallorca was caught up in the prelude to the coup in July and the Civil War. Getting a handle on how this tragic spring played out in Mallorca helps to give a better appreciation of just what Mallorca was like in 1936, because there is often an erroneous view of the island in the mid-1930s - one which suggests an indifference towards politics as a whole and so, therefore, to the politics of the mainland.

In the spring of 1936, working the land dominated the island's economic landscape, but agriculture was not as dominant as it had been even thirty years before, when some 70% of the economy was tied to the land. Urbanisation was such that 30% of the population lived in Palma alone, while industrial development, including tourism, had made significant inroads into a predominantly agrarian economy. Far from being populated by ignorant and apathetic peasants, Mallorca had a wealthy and educated middle-class and a network of workers' organisations. In other words, the island, though still mainly rural, possessed enough ingredients for modern attitudes and beliefs to take hold, which, at that time, included Republicanism.

Mallorca was then, as it still is, a conservative place. Though the cause of Republicanism on the island had been advanced considerably by 1936, it was a minority movement. Electorally, Calvia and Palma were exceptions rather than the rule in the February municipal elections of that year in returning Republicans (for the national election, no Republican was returned). An innate conservatism, perhaps because of the traditional agrarianism, perhaps because of insularity, held sway.

Despite this conservatism, two minority influences were to enter the equation. Over the course of the spring, Communist membership doubled. Though there was a significant Communist protest march in Palma, the Communists were not the main instigators of the violence that was to break out. Its primary cause were the pockets of the Falange who had arrived on the island in 1934. The Falange, a curious mix of its own republicanism, arch-Catholicism but also modernism, barely even registered in the 1936 elections. It had secured only around 200 votes across the Balearics; conservative, right-wing Mallorca was not about to embrace it. In March, the national government proscribed it. This, as much as anything else, was the signal for the outbreak of the tragic spring. Though the press attempted to portray Mallorca as being peaceful, it couldn't ignore acts of violence from Palma to Campanet to Porreres. A reason why some commentators and historians refer to Mallorca's "primavera trágica" is because it unleashed the violence it did on an island unused to such turmoil, largely because of the Falange. Clandestine though it became, it could count on as many members as the Communists; more in fact. In June, less than two weeks before spring became summer, a Falange bomb went off at the Casa del Pueblo in Palma.

A tragic spring might seem like an odd way to introduce a Mallorcan spring, but not really. The circumstances of the Civil War and of its prelude hold a fascination, if not necessarily for the best of reasons. And around the island there are places which have a perhaps surprising and certainly unwanted connection with events leading up to the Civil War and with the rise of the Falange. Sant Martí de Lanzell in Vilafranca de Bonany, one of the most important and oldest "possession" country estates in Mallorca, Vallgornera Vell in Llucmajor, Son Vivot in Inca, now an agrotourism rural hotel; these were, from March 1936, locations for pockets of the Falange to prepare for armed intervention. Spring backward.

* I am indebted to an article by David Ginard i Féron for information here.

No comments: