When researching the Spanish Civil War, I have continually collided with poignant political parallels to the modern day. Some of these are positive and fill me with hope about the world we live in and others do precisely the opposite. The first conception of 549 opened with a quote from the German philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hiegel: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”. This quote sits as a beating heart within our story.
One bleak parallel between the House of Commons in 1937 and 2015 has been ever conscious in my mind.
We have probably all seen images of the woman, men and children trying to seek refuge from a war torn Middle East. Images of boats crammed so full they are barely afloat; of police brutality on the borders of countries and of three year old Aylan facedown in the sand. No matter where you are right now the “Migrant Crisis”, as it’s been coined, is an ever-present talking point in Cameron’s Britain.
In 1937, humanity saw a similar crisis when Fascists overthrew the democratically elected left wing, Popular Front Party. They did so because they believed that their elitist ideology took precedent over an individuals right to vote. The events that followed lead to a devastating amount of civilian deaths.
On the 26th of April 1937, the Spanish Fascists- with the military assistance of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy - rained down 22 tonnes of explosives onto Guernica, a city filled with civilians. The death toll, widely disputed, ranges between 400 and 1600 innocent people. So disturbing were the scenes, that Guernica became the subject of the Pablo Picasso painting of the same name, which today is displayed in the Museum Reina Sofia in Madrid.
On that day it became known to the world that the adults and children of Spain were no longer safe.
Britain’s Conservative prime minister at the time was Stanley Baldwin; a man who refused to acknowledge the Spanish peoples need for refuge. His government was a leading member of the non-intervention pact, a group of countries who refused to involve themselves in the conflict. As far as he was concerned, this was to be the party line. When commenting on the atrocities he stated that: “the weather won’t suit them”. The words of a true ‘diplomat.’ Miserable British weather was the least of the Spaniards concerns.
Baldwin never acknowledged the need to shelter the people of Spain from the atrocities of Civil War - but the working people of Britain did. They stood in solidarity along with journalists, unions, committees and MP’s from all of the major political parties and change happened. Change that lead to the sanctuary of 4000 Spanish Children.
In 549 we echo their requests to Baldwin to show some humanity.
In September 2015 David Cameron was asked by Amnesty International to“show some humanity”.
We can only hope that he does so. A lesson we have learned from history is that collective action and organising politically can effect change. So let us hope that, moving forward we can, in fact, “learn from history”.