Spain and Syria, facing the deep similarities.

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Comment on the historian Paul Preston’s article http://www.albavolunteer.org/2016/06/spain-and-syria-beyond-superficial-comparisons/comment-page-1/#comment-614761 .

His expertise on Spain, does not imply accurate comparisons without corresponding expertise on Syria. Without considering the role of “volunteers”, even without this, his article is strange.

Spain before Franco was only ever a semi democracy, governed by a land owning and business elite backed by the Catholic Church. Preston knows better than anyone the lack of control the new Popular Front Government of 1936 had over the state. The so called “rebels” controlled the vast bulk of the effective parts of the Spanish Army, with the unreserved support of Fascist Italy and Germany. Franco while being termed a “rebel”, actually controlled the military apparatus of the state as Assad does. Franco was actually protecting the interests of a very well established Spanish elite, just as Assad does in Syria.

Preston recognizes the similarities about foreign dictatorships, Franco had Italy and Germany, Assad has Iran and Russia. The ME he says is about oil and “war on terror” according to Western rhetoric. He does not say Spain was about “stability and avoiding war”, and the “threat of extreme left” in the mainstream media at the time. There is no great difference. Then as now to a few people it was also about democracy.

Sidestepping the emphasis about comparing the motivations of volunteers in Spain and Syria. The last sentence should be the first one, because it is the goal Preston is aiming for … “After all, from September 1939 onwards …. the fight of the volunteers in Spain had become the fight of the majority of British and French citizens. There will be no equivalent whatever with the result of the war in Syria.” That is exactly the point, there will.

In the 1930s most people and the mainstream media did not see fighting in Spain as essential to fighting the rise of right wing authoritarianism, instead they saw it as a dangerous sideshow in a backward country. This is the same shameful mistake being made today about the courage of the Syrian people.

The defeat of democracy in Syria and the lack of support for the Arab Democratic uprising in general after 2011, will be seen as the beginning of the collapse of Western democracies. We are undermined by our own elites who have too much wealth, power and vested indifference to the majority. Just as in the 1930s. Preston is an example of confidence overtaking expertise.  

The Non-Interveners , Spain & Syria, Geoffrey Grigson.

The Non-Interveners

In England the handsome Minister with the second
and a half chin and his heart-shaped mind
hanging on his thin watch-chain, the Minister
With gout who shaves low on his holly-stem neck.

In Spain still the brown and gilt and the twisted
pillar, still the olives, and in the mountains
the chocolate trunks of cork trees bare from
the knee, the little smoke from the sides
of the charcoal-burner’s grey tump, the ebony sea-
hedgehogs in the clear water, the cuttle speared
at night; and also the black slime under
the bullet-pocked wall, also the arterial blood
squirting into the curious future, also
the greasy cloud streaked with red in yellow: and,

In England, the ominous grey paper, with its
indifferent headline, its news from our own
correspondent away from the fighting;
and in England the crack-willows, their
wet leaves reversed by the wind; and
the swallows sitting different ways like
notes of music between the black poles on
the five telephone wires.

GEOFFREY GRIGSON (1937)

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Comment = Value this poem.  How like Syria was the diseased non intervention of the democracies in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. The sentiment of peace at all costs covering up indifference. Spain excused as fear of the Great War, while making  the repetition inevitable. The lakes of blood from Franco’s policy of mass terror. Greasy clouds of chemical gas. The media short term blinkered to the emerging storm, while the swallows already face the longer forecast.