Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Naturism And Anarchy In Spain

Eighty years ago, the first edition of a magazine published in Valencia appeared. The woman on its front cover appears to have a slight tanline, which might be thought rather odd. The title of this magazine was "Gimnos", its subtitle was "Revista de Librecultura". For any of you with some knowledge of the history of the Balearics, you might get the meaning of the magazine's title and so also might think it a little odd that the woman has that tanline. You will know that the Greeks called the islands Gimnesias, a name derived from the Greek word "gymnós". Naked. The subtitle of the magazine might also register with some of you. Translated into German it has much the same meaning as "Freikörperkultur", which is always abbreviated to FKK: free body culture or, as it is also known, naturism.

The Germans didn't invent naturism as such, but FKK, as a movement, was very much a German thing, and from its origins at the end of the nineteenth century it spread to France and also to the UK. While the growth in popularity of naturism in Germany and France between the two world wars is well enough understood, far less understanding exists of its development in Spain.

The "Gimnos" magazine, which first saw the light of day this month eighty years ago, was not the first Spanish naturist publication. It was predated by a magazine called "Helios", the first such publication in Spain. "Helios" lasted for 23 years from 1916 to 1939. It shouldn't really require a great deal of explanation as to why it ceased publication in that particular year, but there was more to it than just the über-Catholic and conservative politics. It wasn't just nudity that Franco objected to. There were, in the Spanish naturist movement, certain aspects that were evident in other countries, France especially. Some of these weren't necessarily of a political nature, such as a very strong association with vegetarianism (which was also a feature of naturism in other countries but very much more so in Spain), but some most definitely were, and at the top of the political list was anarchism.

There is a photo from 1933. It shows a group of naked men creating a type of human castle. The photo was taken in the courtyard of a prison in Barcelona. These men, some thirty or so of them, were anarchist prisoners. In the 1920 and 1930s, different "isms" and movements collided in Spain. Feminism, the promotion of the artificial esperanto language, vegetarianism, free love and anarchism all united under one "ism" - that of naturism. "Helios" was something of a mouthpiece for these different movements, and anarchism was a regular subject in its pages.

The founder, if you like, of this anarcho-nudism was a Frenchman, Jacques Élisée Reclus. Taking from the ideas of Tolstoy, who was a vegetarian and an esperantist, Élisée's anarcho-nudist agenda had been set out in a book which had been published many years before the German FKK movement got off the ground. In Spanish it was known as "El Arroyo" (the stream). One part of it was dedicated to naturism as part of a revolutionary manifesto. There were various Spanish devotees of Élisée's message, such as the feminist Antonia Maymon, and the message, as it was transformed in Spain, was one that brought those various "isms" together.

Naturism was a peculiar movement in the inter-war years. It wasn't only anarchists who embraced it. Fascists did aswell. The Nazis initially banned FKK in 1933 but then quickly un-banned it and brought it within the ambit of their totalitarian control. It wasn't something for general public consumption, but where it was practised in camps in the countryside, the participants were closely vetted. There were of course no Jews. The Aryan master race was not about to be offended by the sight of a circumcised willy. In Britain, there was a branch line of the fascist movement that was fanatically nudist. Jonathan Meades' brilliant story "Filthy English" (thirty years old this year) took this as one of its themes.

In Spain, and away from the anarchist overtones, naturism had been a factor in driving some inter-war tourism. Sóller was a place that was particularly attractive in this regard, probably because of its close links with France. Later outlawed, as it was under the Franco regime, nudism was practised, albeit discreetly and well away from the prying eyes of the Guardia Civil. After Franco died, restrictions were lifted. In 1979, the first naturist resort in Spain, Costa Natura near Estepona, was established. Despite there having been official and unofficial nudist beaches in Mallorca for years, it was only last year that the island's first naturist hotel, in Colonia Sant Pere, was established. Naturism has come a long way since Élisée Reclus. Some people might consider it cranky, but it is no longer anarchy.

* For a detailed study of the association between anarchism and naturism in Spain, go here: http://terraxaman.blogspot.com.es/2012/10/el-anarconaturismo-doble-camino-hacia.html

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