Historical parade stirs up modern-day political storm
Trading insults between locals has become a feature of Granada event
A traditional parade evoking the 15th-century expulsion of Arabs from the city of Granada has stirred up a modern-day political storm in Spain.
The Toma de Granada, or “Taking of Granada”, sees participants dress up as medieval Moors and Catholics and march through the southern city on January 2nd to commemorate its Christian reconquest after eight centuries of Muslim rule.
For many, it marks a proud and significant moment in Spanish history that should be remembered. But others claim it is a jingoistic and dangerous celebration that has no place in contemporary Spain and which harks back to the ideals of the country’s fascist dictatorship.
Last Wednesday, many onlookers booed the parade as it made its way through Granada to the city’s cathedral, where medieval monarchs Fernando and Isabel are buried.
But others cheered and waved Spain’s pre-constitutional flag, a throwback to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who died in 1975.
Displays of extreme right-wing sentiment have become common during the Toma de Granada over the years, with those attending often seen making the fascist salute.
The trading of insults between Granada locals on either side of this historical debate has also become a feature of the celebrations, as have occasional scuffles. This year, no violent incidents were reported, although politicians from the Socialist and United Left parties boycotted the parade and supported calls for it to be stopped.
The Platform for an Open Granada, a local association, has described it as “provincial, closed, and overly traditionalist.” It also warned that the divisive nature of the parade attracts “extreme right-wing groups, causing a risk to democratic cohabitation”. The taking of Granada in 1492 after a 10-year campaign was the final phase in the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by Spain’s Catholics after eight centuries of Muslim rule. During that time, Granada had become one of the great medieval centres of Islam and the home of the stunning Alhambra palace, which still commands a view of the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains and is a popular tourist destination.
The Catholic reconquista, or reconquest, was followed by the persecution of Spain’s Muslims, most of whom either converted to Christianity or left Spain. The legacy of the reconquista remains a divisive subject among Spaniards.
“Whether we like it or not, the [reconquest of Granada] led to a diaspora, the exclusion of a lot of people and forced conversions and it was something in which violence played a big part,” said Luis Naranjo, head of Andalusia’s Democratic Memory agency.
He warns that the Toma de Granada is “an event that encourages the exhibition of symbols that apologise for fascism.” Granada is governed by the conservative Partido Popular (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. The city’s authorities have thrown their weight behind a campaign by a local historical society for the annual Toma de Granada event to be enshrined by Unesco, an initiative that has helped fuel this year’s furore.
“History is what it is and this is our history,” said Granada’s mayor, José Torres Hurtado, as he defended the ceremony. “The taking of Granada in 1492 marked the beginning of the modern era and the existence of nations as we understand them today.” But the ongoing controversy surrounding the Toma de Granada makes Unesco’s approval of it unlikely any time soon.
Meanwhile, the Platform for an Open Granada is campaigning for the January 2nd celebration to be eliminated and for a holiday to be instated on May 26th, the anniversary of the death of Mariana Pineda, a celebrated 19th-century liberal.
Luis Naranjo of the Democratic Memory agency is leading efforts to remove remaining symbols of Spain’s right-wing dictatorship from public places.
Many still remain, despite a 2007 law passed by the then-Socialist government under which symbols such as statues of Franco had to be removed.
Activists such as Naranjo believe that historical memory law did not go far enough and that Spain needs to reconsider its relationship with its own history, particularly the 1936-39 Civil War which put Franco in power and its violent aftermath.
The PP and many Spaniards opposed the historical memory legislation and believe that Spain’s history, and symbols of that history, should be left alone.