Local campaign to reclaim spoils of war seized by Franco regime

Some town councils in Girona area coming together to demand return of cash taken from them at end of Civil War

Receipt of money deposited into the Bank of Spain following the Civil War (by Xavier Pi)
Receipt of money deposited into the Bank of Spain following the Civil War (by Xavier Pi) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

October 10, 2019 01:26 PM

The winner takes it all is a long established principle seen at the end of conflicts all over the world and throughout history. And it was very much the case at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) when Franco's forces overcame those of the Second Republic.

Among the spoils of war swept up by the new dictatorship, which would go on to rule Spain for the next 40 years, was Republican treasure that 31 local authorities in Catalonia's northern province of Girona were forced to hand over to the Bank of Spain.

The total amount confiscated, according to historian Narcís Castells, was 45 million pesetas, which today is the equivalent of 625.5 million euros. Now, decades later, some of those local councils want the Spanish state to return the money taken from them.

The local authority in the Girona town of Sant Julià de Ramis got the ball rolling in demanding the return of the funds it was forced to hand over at the end of the war, but this week more councils joined the call for the return of the stolen funds.

On Wednesday, the Sant Julià de Ramis council held a meeting to explain the steps local authorities need to take to claim the money back, and at the presentation were mayors, councilors, and residents from seven other towns in the local area.

According to the mayor of Sant Julià, Marc Puigtió, the final objective of the move is for local authorities in Girona to act together as one, and the council head added that "the more of us there are, the stronger we will be."

"Enemy currency"

At the end of the Civil War, the new dictatorship categorized all banknotes issued by the Second Republican after July 1936, when hostilities began, as "enemy currency," and ordered councils to gather up all the cash in their towns and hand it over to the bank.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and in May, the Sant Julià de Ramis local authority decided to reclaim from the state the 819,000 pesetas confiscated by the dictatorship. Some 9,000 was public money, but the rest belonged to 134 locals.

Under the guidance of Castells and the Delso Quintana legal firm, mayor Puigtió went ahead and made the claim, addressing it to the Spanish cabinet. It is expected that the claim will be refused, or even ignored, and so the council has a back-up plan to take the issue further.

The claim expires in November, and if there has been a negative response, or none at all, from the Spanish authorities, lawyer Toni Quintana says they will take the issue to the Supreme Court, and if necessary, to the European court in Strasbourg.

However events unfold, a number of other local authorities in Girona are interested in following suit. Wednesday's meeting was attended by representatives from the towns of Camós, Palafrugell, Bellcaire d'Empordà, Sant Miquel de Fluvià, Vilajuïga, and Bordils.

31 towns able to make claims

In fact, if the campaign to reclaim the money catches on, potentially 31 towns in Girona could sign up, according to the documentation studied by Castells. "Most are small towns, because they were the ones that had no local bank branches," says the historian.

From these 31 towns, Castells has drawn up a list of both the number of local people who were forced to hand over their cash, and the amounts given to the Bank of Spain. In Vilajuïga, for example, 152 people had to give the bank 1.42 million pesetas.

The mayor of Camós, Josep Jordi Torrentà, attended the meeting and explained that 143 locals in his town handed over 1.3 million pesetas. "I'm here out of respect for all of them, because after the war these people were robbed of the little money they had," he said.

Puigtió said that he knows officials in some towns, such as Celrà, who were unable to attend but who are interested in coming on board, and the mayor is also considering reaching out to other places through organizations like the Catalan Association of Municipalities.

As for Quintana, he described Wednesday's meeting as the embryo and starting point for bringing more towns into the fold and making their own claims for the return of stolen cash. "This way we will get somewhere," he stressed.