Descendants of exiled republicans of the Civil War recover their own past

Up to 1.000 French have applied for dual citizenship in a move to 'honour' their relatives, who suffered the consequences of the war and were sent into exile

Jordi Font / ACN

January 3, 2011 08:23 PM

Paris (ACN).- Thousands of Catalan and Spanish republicans had to go in exile at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) during the Franco dictatorship. Most of them lost their link with the state and became French citizens. Thanks to the Law for the Recovery of Historical Memory, their children are now able to recuperate the past of their relatives. The law allows descendants of exiled republicans apply for double Spanish and French nationality. For the majority. double nationality is not a way to get a job in Spain, but rather a question of honour.

'For my mother, to be the daughter of Catalan republicans was very difficult. For me, to be their granddaughter is an honour', says Carole Pujol, one of the 1.300 French citizens that applied for Spanish nationality in the last two years.

The Law for the Recovery of Historical Memory, approved by the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2008, allows children and grandchildren of exiled republicans to get Spanish nationality. In France, since the process started on 1st January 2009, there have been 1.339 applications. Up to 1.198 cases have already been resolved favourably. In fact, the possibility to apply for the Spanish nationality has been so successful that the period has been extended for one year, until December 2011.

In some countries, like in South America, where Spanish republicans also seek protection, the possibility of applying for dual citizenship is associated with seeking better employment opportunities within the European Union, but in France, the process is much more sentimental. Carole Pujol has been fighting to recover the past of their grandparents for years. 'It is a symbolic matter. My grandparents went into exile due to the Franco regime, and I feel half from here and half from there', she confesses.

Carole usually travels to Catalonia to visit her family and admits that she feels ‘at home'. When representatives of the Spanish consulate asked her where in the Spanish state she wanted to be registered, she said Catalonia. 'That person was surprised that I chose Catalonia, and he even asked me why. But for me is clear, because I feel Catalan', she says with conviction.

Carole does not plan to live in Catalonia, but getting the nationality is a priority for her, even if she does not have the approval of her family. In fact, her mother, who was born in Toulouse, is opposed to the process. Her life was very problematic as she was the daughter of exiled republicans. This marganilisation was common in the post-war period in France. However, one generation later, Carole strongly defends her origins. 'I'm proud of them', she states.

France was one of the main destinations for exiled people from the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. Many never came home and lived the horrible consequences of exile in silence in their new country. They were given French nationality as it guaranteed them security and a better future for their children.

Difficult process

Despite her determination to get Spanish nationality, Carole admits that the process is quite complicated. 'They are continuingly asking for more and more documentation that we don't know where to find', she explains. Beatriz Lizarbe, daughter of exiled republicans from the Basque Country and Navarra, is in a similar situation. She has been in the Spanish consulate in Paris three times already to hand in various documents.

Beatriz Lizarbe was born in France. Her parents met in Paris, after escaping from Spain due to the war. She confesses that her whole life is in France and that her sons want to stay there. 'Really, the nationality will not change anything', she laments, but assures that she wants to recover her past.

Beatriz is worried that future generations may forget about their origins and the brutal consequences of the Spanish Civil War. 'My mother will be 80 years old soon and my father died 20 years ago. My sons never met him. With the grandparents gone, the memory will also go, so applying for the nationality is, in fact, a way to remember them', she insists.