Redefining the national community during the Spanish Civil War: Queipo de Llano’s radio propaganda broadcasts

by Joel Baker

On 18 July 1936, the army in mainland Spain followed the colonial troops in Morocco and rebelled against the government of the Second Spanish Republic. The coup was only partially successful, and the resulting division of the country marked the start of the Spanish Civil War.

The leader of the uprising in Seville was General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, commander of the Carabineros (border guards). Queipo’s success in Seville was key to the Nationalists’ rapid advances in the early stages of the war – providing a base for the airlift of Franco’s Army of Africa from Morocco – and is notable for the horrendous scale of violence unleashed in the city and the areas of southern Spain under Queipo’s command.[i]

Queipo is also noted for his vulgar propaganda broadcasts from Radio Sevilla – a nightly occurrence until Franco forced him off air in February 1938. While few recordings of these speeches survive, they were reproduced every day in newspapers published in Seville and elsewhere in the Nationalist zone.

Queipo
Queipo de Llano (centre) during commemorations in Seville’s Plaza de Triunfo marking the first anniversary of the Nationalist rebellion, 18 July 1937 (Source: GGnaomi, Wikicommons)

Aptly, certain fragments from these speeches have often been used to demonstrate the brutality of the Nationalist war effort and repression. However, their regularity and wide coverage in the press, as well as the fact that the Seville transmitter was capable of broadcasting to most of mainland Spain, mean we should see them as an important part of wartime culture and discourse in the Nationalist zone.[ii]

Indeed, one junior Nationalist officer, Domingo Pérez Morán, refers on a number of occasions in his memoirs to troops regularly listening to and discussing the General’s broadcasts. At one point, Pérez Morán refers to Queipo de Llano as ‘Don Gonzalo’; despite the honorific title Don, this reflects a feeling of familiarity one would not necessarily expect for a junior officer referring to a senior commander, suggesting that Queipo’s broadcasts made him a figure with whom the rank-and-file felt they could identify.[iii]

Queipo’s broadcasts can therefore be considered an important element in the formation of a Francoist discourse during the civil war, and so are clearly worthy of more detailed study. This reveals broader themes within them, beyond the familiar and frequent incitements to gratuitous violence. One way in which we can see Queipo’s broadcasts fitting into the broader development of a Francoist discourse is in the redefinition of what Spanish nationality and identity meant.

Queipo-hemeroteca
One of Queipo’s charlas, reproduced in the local press. (Source: La Union (Seville), 21/1/1938, held by the Hemeroteca Municipal de Madrid)

In one particularly notable instance, Queipo praised the foreign legionaries and Moroccan regular troops fighting among the Nationalist forces, telling his listeners that ‘despite their being foreigners, they have much more love for Spain than all the Marxist scum, and they’d give their lives for us rather than defect to that rabble.’[iv] His rhetoric later elevated the general population of Morocco to a higher level of ‘Spanishness’ than the Nationalists’ opponents:

Very many of them are more Spanish at heart than all the Marxist scum put together … They are incapable of betraying Spain and … if we wanted to remove even the last soldier from Morocco, they would guard it themselves, with exemplary fidelity.[v]

Leaving aside the implausibility of this final claim – it was only ten years since the Spanish and French armies had concluded a bloody and unpopular counterinsurgency campaign in the Protectorate – these examples demonstrate an attempt to reframe Spanish national identity as being determined by one’s politics above all else. In Queipo de Llano’s view, left-wing Spaniards lost any right to claim that national identity, while foreigners who shared the military rebels’ values could consider themselves Spanish.

This logic for excluding political enemies from the national community had been forming in right-wing Spanish circles for some time. During the 1934 Asturias rebellion, the Falangist leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera wrote to General Franco that ‘a socialist victory constitutes a foreign invasion … because the essence of socialism, from top to bottom, contradicts the permanent spirit of Spain.’[vi]

Gonzalo_Queipo_de_Llano_en_Berlín_en_1939
Queipo de Llano during a visit to Berlin in 1939 (Source: Wikicommons)

The broadcasting of such opinions to a mass audience during the civil war was an attempt to legitimise Nationalist violence by excluding its victims from a shared identity with its perpetrators. Similar notions can be seen in later Francoist legislation, particularly the February 1939 ‘Law of Political Responsibilities’ (Ley de Responsabilidades Políticas).

This statute provided the pseudo-legal basis for Francoist post-war repression by retroactively criminalising membership of the Popular Front parties as far back as 1 October 1934. The law carried through the logic evidenced in the examples above by establishing penalties for those who fell foul of it, including not only the forfeiture of property but also of Spanish citizenship.

Another attempt by Queipo to impose his understanding of Spanish identity can be seen in one broadcast in which he ‘apologised’ for having previously suggested that Catalans were all cowards. ‘If I said that’, explained the General, ‘it was in reference to the cowards who serve Marxism in Catalonia’. He insisted that ‘I cannot call the Catalans cowards, because they are Spaniards, and no Spaniard worthy of the name can be a coward.’[vii]

Queipo’s logic here is less circular than labyrinthine, but what is perhaps most striking about it is the unambiguous claim that ‘Catalans … are Spaniards’. Given the Nationalists’ implacable hostility to any kind of regional nationalism within Spain, this can be read as an attempt to impose a national identity which some Catalans may not have wanted – alongside an implication that those who refused it were Marxists, and thus beyond the national community.

Queipo’s speeches were thus part of a wider Nationalist effort to redefine the Spanish nation at the same time as building a new state. They also demonstrate a function of wartime propaganda that is, perhaps, specific to civil wars. Whereas propaganda in a war between two nation states may focus on promoting the essential justice of the relevant party’s cause,[viii] a deeply political civil conflict like the Spanish Civil War can also lead to attempts to cast the enemy rhetorically beyond the pale of the national community in order to legitimise, in this case, a military rebellion and shocking violence behind the lines. Nationalist propaganda such as Queipo’s, which arrogated the right to define Spanish identity, helped lay the ideological foundations for exclusionary and repressive practices for decades to come.

Joel Baker is currently studying an MA in Historical Research at the University of Sheffield, where he will be conducting PhD research on public works and welfarism in Spain under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship (1923-1930) from September 2017. He previously graduated with a BA in Modern Languages (Spanish, Dutch, French) from the same University in 2014, and has also worked as a translator at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He tweets on and off at @joelrbaker.

[i] See Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain (London, 2012), pp. 131-178.

[ii] Alan Davies, ‘The First Radio War: Broadcasting in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 19.4 (1999), p. 474.

[iii] Domingo Pérez Morán, ¡A estos, que los fusilen al amanecer! (Madrid, 1973), pp. 36, 45, 47, 163-164, 189-190.

[iv] ‘… no obstante su condición de extranjeros, tienen mucho más amor a España que toda la canalla marxista, y dan su vida por nosotros antes de pasarse a esa chusma.’ La Unión de Sevilla, 25/08/1936, pp. 9-10. Translations are my own.

[v] ‘… muchísimos de ellos son mucho más españoles a corazón que toda la canalla marxista junta; […] son incapaces de hacer traición a España, y […] si quisiéramos sacar de Marruecos hasta el último soldado, lo guardarían ellos solos, con ejemplar fidelidad.’ La Unión de Sevilla, 28/08/1936, pp. 9-10.

[vi] ‘Una victoria socialista tiene el valor de invasión extranjera […] porque las esencias del socialismo, de arriba abajo, contradicen el espíritu permanente de España.’ Quoted in Sheelagh Ellwood, Historia de Falange Española, trans. Antonio Desmonts (Barcelona, 2001). p. 57.

[vii] ‘Yo no puedo llamar cobardes a los catalanes, porque son españoles, y todo español digno no puede ser cobarde. Conste, pues, que si eso dije, era refiriéndome a los cobardes que en Cataluña sirven al marxismo …’ La Unión de Sevilla, 24/08/1936, pp. 5-7.

[viii] See, for example, David Welch and Jo Fox (eds), Justifying War: Propaganda, Politics and the Modern Age (New York, 2012).

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