It is still widely believed, both here and abroad, that Franco banned or discouraged the sardana, the cultural form constructed and dubbed Catalonia’s national dance by assiduous C19th inventors of tradition. Of the contemporary evidence I have come across, none of it supports this view. On the contrary, I am left with the impression that the Francoist state actually encouraged the sardana as an acceptable form of bourgeois regionalism of the type espoused by conservatives like Josep Pla. Additionally, my evidence suggests that the sardana suffered its greatest difficulties during the period of revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist and Stalinist control (1936-9).
Claims of suppression
Yesterday I conducted a straw poll of seven Catalans aged 25-35, all of whom said they had been taught at school that the sardana was banned and actively suppressed by Franco. Although I haven’t yet trawled the bookshops for literary evidence, I get the impression that it to be more subtle. For example, on TV Catalunya’s site in a reference which I assume to be from Mas & Solench’s La sardana it is said that “The [Francoist] repression … affected the sardana, with various degrees of intensity.” And in M Isabel Pijoan i Picas’ text for the sardana A una terra, dansa bella, premiered in Barcelona in the Ciutadella Park on November 9th, 2003 as a highpoint of a National Homage by Catalunya to the Sardanisme of the Years 1940-50, the threat is presented in vague terms as something emanating from elsewhere:
We remember our parents
and their ancestors,
oppressed by repressions,
yearning for liberties.
When the enemy furious
wanted to erase the character
Of the Catalan homeland
I resurged, quiet
In English texts, however, the assertions are less modest and are felt to be so self-evident that no source is required. Here is a sample of quotes:
- Franco even banned one of the Catalans’ joyful expressions of national unity, the sardana, a public circle dance. (Lonely Planet)
- [T]he sardana was discouraged, at least in the early years of the dictatorship. (Eamonn Rodgers, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Spanish Culture)
- By decree, the use of Catalan in official documents, the publication of books, journals, or newspapers in Catalan, even dancing the sardana, again became crimes, as they had been under Primo de Rivera. (Temma Kaplan, Red City, Blue Period: Social Movements in Picasso’s Barcelona)
- The custom of dancing the sardana survived until 1939, when Franco decreed the suppression of all vestiges of Catalán [sic] culture, including the language and the sardana. Not until the dictator’s death in 1975 did Catalonia once again become a country within a country [this is also incorrect]. Dancing the sardana was an immediate symbol of liberation. (Charles N Barnard’s A Ramble Through Barcelona. In Lucy McCauley (ed), Travelers’ Tales Spain: True Stories.)
- The sardana, your native dance,/Banned for many years (Cyrus Cassells, Liberty, in his anthology Soul Make a Path Through Shouting)
- The end of the war in 1939 brought with it a return to highly centralised government, with General Franco doing everything in his power to obliterate regional differences. He banned regional languages, abolished regional laws, dismantled regional institutions and even outlawed things as inoffensive as the sardana, a Catalan regional dance. (The Elastic Nation or When Is A Category Not A Category? by Lynn Williams (Spanish lecturer, University of Exeter))
- The sardana was prohibited during the Franco era. It became, like the language, a symbol of Catalan autonomy (Germany network, ARD, reporting on the opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics)
(Robert Hughes in his Barcelona doesn’t seem to mention Franco banning the sardana, but does say that it was suppressed by dictator (1923-30) Primo de Rivera. This claim is to be found in a number of other sources and seems to be the result of confusion: in 1924 Losada, the local civil governor, did proscribe one sardana, La Santa Espina, on the grounds of incitement to separatism, but I have found no evidence of a general ban. The Lliga Sardanista de Catalunya was formed in 1929, so whatever happened can’t have been particularly thorough.)
Evidence to the contrary
The chart below is a summary of sardana premieres hacked from the Federació Sardanista de Catalunya’s wonderful online database. It suggests two golden ages, one during the late 40s and one lasting from 1970 until now, and a very bleak period from 1936-9:
And here are figures from another part of the FSC’s site listing existing and extinguished coblas (coblas are the sardana’s sub-Verdian dancebands). It confirms the picture of hard times during the Civil War followed by a flowering in the early 40s with a large peace bonus in 1945:
Blue = new bands. Red = bands closed down.
The objection will be made that people had better things to do during the war than play in bands, but that doesn’t explain why bands deregistered–after all, participation in British brass bands dropped during WWII, but they remained in existence. The natural suspicion is that the acting authorities encouraged bands to close down, and that after the war either no impediment was placed in their way by the Francoist government, or, as I suspect, they were sometimes encouraged to form.
- The only manifestation of Catalan identity tolerated was the sardana, it being considered a regional dance and as such an example of the “richness of Spanish folklore.” For this reason, during the first years of Francoism all ceremonies and all festivals ended with performances of sardanas. This applied to both the celebration of the anniversary of the liberation of the town, January 27, and to the festa major which, in Badalona, was celebrated August 15. Specifically, during the 1939 festa major on August 15-18 there were nine sardana performances in various parts of the town. In particular, on the 18th there was an performance of sardanas and folkloristic dances organised by the Círculo Artístico Español. (Josep M.Solé i Sabaté & Joan Villaroya, Cronologia de la Repressió de la Llengua i la Cultura Catalanes)
- Homenaje de Cataluña liberada a su Caudillo Franco, published in Barcelona in late 1939, contains a visual poem by Carles Sindreu entitled La Sardana en la Aldea (The Sardana in the Village). The Spanish text translates roughly as: Peace in the sky,/sun in the square,/and a noble crowd embracing. Sindreu seems to have worked for the union for a couple of months in 1937 and gone into copywriting after the war, and he published a couple of sardanas in 1958 for choir, La sardana dels infants and La sardana dels pastors.
- Ricardo León in a novel published in 1941 and dominated by the long shadow of the horrors of 1936, Cristo en los infiernos, alludes with contempt but without venom to those dancers who thought to oppose might “with zorcicos and sardanas, sickles of the reapers [a reference to a semi-mythologised C17th war] and the wooden swords of the espatadantzaris.” (Remember that books still had to make it past the censors at this point in time.)
- Julio Caro Baroja’s 1946 Los Pueblos de España contains a sympathetic account of the dance and its social function citing authorities like Amades, Pujol and Capmany.
- After the war, bit by bit, sardanista groups begin to reappear and the music of the sardana begins to be felt again in the streets. In 1950 the Organisation for Popular Dance (Obra del Ballet Popular) was formed formally with the objective of coordinating the promotional entities and the Congresses for Sardanista Studies (Jornades d’Estudis Sardanistes) were established (1959), the Universal Day of the Sardana (1960) and Prizes for Sardanista Merit. (Federació Sardanista de Catalunya)
So what happened?
We all know that Franco was a bloody dictator. What I’d like to know is how so many people who were in a position to know and tell the truth have been able to act for so long to transfer to Franco guilt for cultural destruction that on this evidence seems to belong to the motley collection of forces opposed to him. I’d also like to know why they did so, as well as the extent to which other areas of cultural policy have been subject to misleading reinterpretation.
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