Thursday, March 4, 2010
BLAS INFANTE: ANDALUCÍA’S REVOLUTIONARY
By David Eade
Every year on February 28 the Spanish region of Andalucía celebrates its national day. It also pays homage to Blas Infante – the father of the modern Andalucía. He died for his belief in a radical, federal Andalucía for as the military coup took hold in 1936 he was rounded up by the Falange and shot. It was four years later – June 1940 – when a judicial death sentence was handed down to justify his assassination – a verdict that still stands to this day.
Blas Infante Pérez de Vargas was born in Casares on July 5, 1885 - today Casares is a small inland village on the Costa del Sol. Blas’ father – Luis Infante Andrade – was licensed in law and was the secretary of the Casares court. His mother – Ginesa Pérez de Vargas – was from a family of farm labourers but was regarded as middle class in the extreme poverty of those times.
Blas studied for his ‘bachillerato’ in Archidona till 1899 when the family suffered badly in the economic disaster of 1898 that saw the country loose its colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines after the Spanish – American War. This forced Blas to leave college with his final course in his ‘bachillerato’ uncompleted. From 1900 he worked as a secretary at the court in Casares and at the same time studied with the faculty of law at Granada University travelling there in June and September to take his exams before finally becoming a lawyer in 1906.
From 1910 he worked as a notary in Cantillana which allowed him to make contact with the intellectuals living in Sevilla where he started to develop his ideas on Andalucía especially with the members of the Ateneo de Sevilla. The hard conditions of the agricultural labourers who worked on a daily basis made a major impact on him forging his socialist beliefs.
It was during the reign of Alfonso XIII that Blas Infante’s political thoughts developed along Republican and federalist lines. He believed in the defending of Andalucía as a Spanish region different from the rest of the country – furthermore he wanted to see Andalucía reconstructed as part of the wider regeneration of Spain.
Around this time he wrote: “My nationalism, before being Andaluz, is human. I believe that by birth nature signals to the soldiers of life the place where they have to fight for it. I work for the cause of the spirit of Andalucía because that is where I was born. If I was born elsewhere I would fight for that cause with equal fervour.”
By 1915 he had set out his personal vision of the history, identity and problems of Andalucía in his most important book ‘Ideal Andaluz’. In 1918 he was present at the Assembly of Ronda, where inspired by the Constitution of Antequera of 1883, it set out the bases for ‘Andalucismo’ in order to obtain political autonomy for Andalucía. This assembly adopted the design of the flag and coat of arms of Andalucía proposed by Blas Infante.
In the 1918 elections Blas Infante attempted to stand in the district elections for Gaucín and a year later there again and in Sevilla but the strong presence of the ‘caciquismo’ – local bosses who protected the political and economic elite - prevented his success. On January 1, 1919, he signed along with other members of several Centros Andaluces the Manifesto Andalucista de Córdoba that defined the concept of Andalucía as a historic nation within a federal Spain.
During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera he rejected approaches to co-operate with the authorities. In reprisal the Centros Andaluces founded by Blas Infante in 1916 were closed as too was the publication Andalucía in which was set out the platform for andalucismo politics.
When the Second Republic was proclaimed in 1931 he took the post of notary in Coria del Rio where he built a house called ‘Dar al-Farah’ or ‘House of Happiness’ inspired by the architecture of Al Andalus personally overseeing its decoration. He presided over the Junta Liberalista de Andalucía which presented candidates for the Partido Republicano Federal. It did not win any seats in parliament but its manifesto repudiated centralism for federalism, sought a solution to the ‘caciquismo’, the reform of the electoral, economic and justice systems and promoted the freedom of expression amongst its beliefs. He ran for parliament again in the elections of November 1933 for Málaga for a coalition Izquierda Republicana Andaluz formed by the Partido Republicano Radical Socialista and the Izquierda Radical Socialista but its failure left Blas Infante a disillusioned man.
In 1933 Blas Infante proposed that the melody of the hymn ‘Santo Dios’, sung by the agricultural workers when they finished for the day, should form the basis of the Himno de Andalucía. This became the anthem of Andalucía which was adopted along with Infante’s flag and coat of arms when the autonomous regional government was formed in 1981.
After the elections of 1936 and the victory of the Popular Front the Andalucista political movement received a boost. During a conference in Sevilla on July 5 Blas Infante was acclaimed as the president of honour of the future Junta Regional de Andalucía. Just days later the military coup took place that led to the start of the Spanish Civil War. Members of the Falange went to Blas Infante’s house in Coria del Rio and he was taken away to be shot without any trial or sentence being handed down. His assassination took place on August 11 along with two other prisoners at km 4 on the Sevilla to Carmona road.
It was not till four years later that the Tribunal de Responsabilidades Políticas, created after the end of the Civil War, condemned Blas Infante to death and also ruled that his heirs should pay a fine. In a document dated May 4 1940 written in Sevilla it declared:
“...because he formed part of a candidature of revolutionary tendency in the elections of 1931 and in the successive years until 1936 that signified he was a propagandist of a party of Andalucía or a regionalist Andaluz.”
Indeed a Franco regime that brutally repressed the national ambitions of the Galician, Basque and Catalan people was not going to tolerate any suggestion of a federal administration for Andalucía. Blas Infante had associated himself with them as in the late 1920s he travelled to Galicia to meet with independence groups whilst in 1934 he visited Lluis Companys, the president of the Generalidad de Cataluña, who was being held in prison in El Puerto de Santa María along with other members of his government.
It is ironic that whilst the Junta de Andalucía formed after Spain’s return to democracy has adopted the flag, coat of arms and national anthem created by Blas Infante – no steps have been taken to reverse the judicial sentence handed down years after his death. This rankles with many, especially those on the left of Andalucía politics, so perhaps amongst this year’s celebrations for the 125 th anniversary of his birth the father of Andalucía might finally receive justice.
A footnote: since democracy was restored to Spain the socialist-leaning Partido Andalucista has largely failed to capture the imagination of the people of Andalucía. The region has largely been a PSOE socialist fiefdom whilst the Izquierda Unida, formed around the former Communist Party, has returned MPs and holds many town halls. Since 1981 Izquierda Unida - that embraces many of the ideals of Blas Infante - has ruled at Casares town hall apart for a break of four years. It has also been the major protector of the memory of Blas Infante. Mayor Antonia Morera insists that Casares must be included in the 125 th anniversary celebrations whilst the wider IU wants his death sentence withdrawn.
(A version of this article appeared in The Morning Star in Febaruary 2010).