Originally published in ARA. Translated and republished here with permission.
In 1939 the building located at 30 Carme Street in Barcelona was burning. On Xipreret street in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat (just south of Barcelona), there was a bonfire of books. In Terrassa, Figueres, Sénia, Blanes, Cervera, Igualada, Golmés, Móra d’Ebre, Sant Boi, Lleida, Sallent, Gandesa, la Fuliola, Palafrugell, Mataró, Ordal, Sitges, Caldes de Montbui... Let's stop. Our fingers can't go so high. Burning. And among them, the pyromaniacs of plunder: the DERD (State Delegation for Document Recovery). From January 28 to April 3, 1939, 1,690 searches. 25 each day. 160 tons of documentation was the bounty of war. Just in Barcelona. We don't know anything else. We don't know anything. They took it all away: papers, documents, books, frames, tables, chairs, bank accounts... Everything. They occupied buildings, properties. They persecuted, repressed and eliminated people. They performed arquitectural lobotomies. In Igualada they called it National Center. In L'Hospitalet, the Falange headquarters. In Caldes de Montbui, the offices of the Social Aid. In Sant Cugat, in Canet de Mar, in Alforja, in Llagostera, in Sant Adrià, in Masquefa, in Sant Pere de Ribes, in Guiamets... Stop. Some have died. Others limp, or have just one eye. And many have resuscitated. We don't anything about the athenaeums (community centers), the cooperatives, the associations that were smothered in 1939.
The athenaeums are the lungs of the country (today there are about 400). An oxygen pump against asphyxiation. Catalonia begins to breathe in the 19th century. In each town an athenaeum is born. They formed, educated, taught... They were the school, the university, for the Catalan people. They supplied what the State did not provide. Catalonia is a pioneer in creating a state without having a state. This artificial existential respiratory system. The athenaeums of the left, of the right, of the republicans, of the anarchists, workers, conservatives, spiritualists, naturalists... Athenaeums like the one that burned on 30 Carme Street: the Popular Encyclopedic Athenaeum. 25,000 members. They offered from hiking excursions to Esperanto and had night classes for workers. Athenaeums that were left without books (2,500) like the Popular Culture Athenaeum on Xipreret Street in L'Hospitalet: dances, French classes, drafting, calculus, chemistry... Centers like the CADCI (Autonomist Center of Commercial and Industrial Clerks). 20,000 members. It suffered the second worst sacking after the Generalitat: 169 sacks of documentation, 55 buildings decommissioned and dozens still not located today. Popular Athenaeum of La Garriga, Catalan Athenaeum of Sallent, Acàcia Athenaeum, Athenaeum of Sant Just, Foment Martinenc, Societat Unió Gandesana... We can't stop. We're starting to count. After 75 years, we have a first listing. About 70 athenaeums and associations all over Catalonia could be affected by the smothering of 1939 according to the Athenaeum Network (XarxaAteneu). The figure could double, triple... We don't know anything. The documents, the buildings, the objects, the money, it's all simply unquantifiable... This Saturday at the Barcelona Athenaeum there is a zero moment to begin to breathe: the Table of Entities Affected by the Francoist Regime. We need to know. We need oxygen. The asphyxia of 1939 is also the asphyxia of 2014.
The same day (Tuesday) that the Partido Popular once again asphyxiated us as it rejected the return of more of the "Salamanca papers", Teresa Rovira stopped breathing. The librarian who saved pieces of the country by hiding Catalan books in the "hell" of the library. The children's books: the spark of life. The daughter of journalist and politician Antoni Rovira i Virgili. The 95-year-old woman died without being able to recover part of her father's archive. They have burned us, they have stolen our ashes, and the coffin, the tomb, the stone, the niche and the flowers. We are in a place that has no name. And we are not here for 16 billion euros. We are here because we have nothing. We are here because of a cry that doesn't die: we have no papers, no stones, stained with our tears.