There is nothing like a political row to entertain yourself in the summer. And to resurrect figures who had spent decades sleeping the sweet dream of oblivion. That is the majority opinion of the Cadiz cultural scene, which in recent weeks has witnessed with perplexity the controversy caused by the withdrawal of several public reminders of the figure of José María Pemán (1897-1981), a writer who had fame and visibility during the Franco regime, but with the arrival of democracy it came to occupy a marginal place in libraries, bookstores and educational institutions.
No one remembered Pemán, except perhaps his closest relatives, when last June the Cádiz City Council, in application of the Historical Memory Law, withdrew a bust of the author, his name from the Genovés Park theater and – what has been more controversial – the plaque of his birthplace, the work of the sculptor Juan Luis Vassallo. An action, the latter, which has been criticized by the Junta de Andalucía as the result of an “erroneous” interpretation of the aforementioned law, since the purpose of the norm is to avoid “the exaltation of the military uprising, war and subsequent repression ”and that“ the dignity of the victims could be damaged ”, something that does not happen with“ a plaque that is limited to indicating the birthplace of José María Pemán from Cádiz, in his capacity as a poet ”, stressed the regional government .
The melon, in any case, was open. The consistory headed by José María González, “Kichi”, was willing once again to fight its battle in the urban street, in the wake of milestones more or less notorious such as changing the name of Avenida Juan Carlos I to Health Public, or that of the Ramón de Carranza stadium –name of a mayor of the city of Cádiz between 1927 and 1931 in a first stage and in a second between 1936 and 1937– for Nuevo Mirandilla.
“Hierarch of fascism”
This time it was Pemán’s turn, a figure with a long and controversial life, who in the same biography evokes chilling harangues on the eve of the Civil War and conciliatory attitudes in his last years. José Pettenghi Lachambre, a teacher and writer close to Podemos, the son of a military man who fought with the rebels, wrote a column in which he referred to Pemán as “an organic intellectual”, “a hierarch of fascism”, “intellectual author of the purge of the national teaching profession, “for whose public performance” he never apologized. Even in 1971 he said that ‘the war was won by Spain’. Skillful and elusive, he was writing his biography according to his needs, “he stressed.” Today, a The law mandates that their names be removed from public space. Without revenge, without erasing or distorting the past. Only by showing that History is built with its own materials. ”
This column circulated on social networks, since according to Pettenghi, the medium to which it was destined, the Diario de Cádiz, refused to publish it. “This motivates my decision to end 17 years of collaboration” with this header, added the author. An episode that recalls the one experienced by the cartoonist Andrés Vázquez de Sola in the 90s, when his collaboration with the same newspaper ceased when the management refused to publish a cartoon of Pemán as a turtle whose shell resembled swastika in its geometries.
Precisely in a sister newspaper of the Joly Group, the Diario de Sevilla, on June 18 the journalist Luis Sánchez-Moliní attacked the Cadiz City Council he pointed out his “smallpox of sectarianism and the systematic use of historical lies” for the withdrawal of the plaque, and praised Pemán as “probably the best Andalusian columnist of his time.” And he added: “If the Junta de Andalucía had some kind of cultural blood in its veins, this would be the moment to reissue the complete works of Don José María and place them in all the public libraries of the community.”
The Board has not reached that far, but this same Monday it held an act of redress at the San Felipe de Cádiz Oratory chaired by the Minister of Culture, Patricia del Pozo. In this tribute, Del Pozo highlighted “the values of generosity and harmony” that the Cadiz author represents and that “largely embody the spirit of today’s Spain.” “We are paying tribute, despite whoever it may be, to a distinguished writer who took Cádiz and Andalusia to a gala and who was in love with his homeland and who fought and dreamed for the restoration of the Monarchy and constitutional democracy,” said the counselor, who announced in passing the next celebration of the annual meeting “Letras para la Concordia” that hopes to have the support of the families of Pemán and Rafael Alberti.
And what do the experts think? The professor at the University of Cádiz Ana Sofía Bustamante, responsible for the Anthology 24 stories by José María Pemán and of the Pemán Library (eight volumes of chosen work), considers that before this controversy the author of The divine impatient and of Seneca “Nothing was read to him”, and at the idea of reissuing his complete works, he shrugs his shoulders: “It’s litter. With its historical interest, of course, but litter.”
Bustamante defines the character as “someone who likes to listen to himself, a clever boy who became a vain man, and who began writing as a religious, national-Catholic propagandist,” he says. “Thus, we find three different Pemanes: one, the political columnist, now labeled an anachronistic. Two, the propagandist, sometimes well-intentioned but equally anachronistic. And finally the ironic one, who could be something more topical, if it were not so difficult to define it of the other two, and if it weren’t so hard for him to forget about being great and mellifluous, which leads him to corny. ”
Likewise, Bustamante understands that the argument to remove the name from the Pemán theater is due to the fact that “it was one of the voices that incited the national-Catholic right to rebel, although over time it rectified. But this is like everything else, the biography of a person can be used however we want, “he says. “The removal of the plaque, yes, it seems petty to me, because like it or not Pemán belongs to the history of Cádiz, and it did move around Cádiz. It is going too purist, I don’t know: waging a battle against a dead man so dead It’s too easy for me. ”
In short, the teacher dismisses the action as “opportunistic”, and regrets that, apparently, “there is no way to close the civil war as it should be, with justice for the victims. All of this is very boring.”
Gravel and topic
“Ignorance and sectarianism”, this is how the Sevillian writer sums up Juan Lamillar, who was in charge of the edition of the Literary silhouettes de Pemán, the removal of the plaque from his birthplace. He acknowledges that “in the war it was tremendous”, but “over time he evolved and became part of Don Juan’s private council, balancing himself between him and Franco. Did he have a fascist stage? Well, yes. Perhaps he never became a One hundred percent democrat, but in his evolution he was a figure similar to Dionisio Ridruejo, because people evolve. ”
Defender of Pemán’s articles as the most salvageable of his production, “with magnificent portraits of the situations and people he had met”, Lamillar believes that all this controversy “is like what happened in Seville with Agustín de Foxá, who up to date next the few works of his that had been published were exhausted, and then silence again “.
Cádiz poet José Ramón Ripoll remembers meeting Pemán as a young man. “He was very kind to me, but I was looking for voices that would help me find my way, and what I found in him were rubble and clichés.”
“The Cádiz City Council has uncovered Pandora’s box. Pemán was forgotten and now the Pemanians, and also people who cared about a Pemán radish, have taken it as a political flag. However, I trust that it is a flower of a day , because beyond the tributes this does not have any route. Not even the people who appreciated the writer have gone to these calls, because electoralism smells like leagues, “he adds.
Ripoll also recognizes that Pemán went from writing texts of a terrifying ferocity in the 30s –with calls to clean up the “enemy” even after the war is over– to showing a conciliatory profile at the end of his life, reflected in the famous photo of the carnivals of 1981, together with a poet in his ideological antipodes such as Rafael Alberti. “He would not have liked to be in the middle of this political battle,” he says.
“The Hispanic Race”
It is no less true that Pemán was defended, before and after his death by young and progressive writers to whom he lent his support, such as Fernando Quiñones, “and that he had hired in his house, without actually working, the wives of Republican prisoners and The widows of those shot for the sole purpose of obtaining a pension, “says Ripoll.
“The City Council has fulfilled its duty by applying the Historical Memory Law, but it could have been more tactical,” continues Ripoll. “The plaque did not bother anyone, because what it honored was the literary figure, not political. The allusion to the ‘exalted singer of the Hispanic race’ could have been removed, but Rubén Darío also speaks of the Hispanic race in some poems, and not we’re going to go around deleting them. ”
The truth is that no literature manual of the last 50 years refers to the figure of Pemán, and no teacher in his right mind dares to compare his work with that of the poets of ’27, who were those of his age. However, Ripoll assures that “no feeling of animosity awakens me. More than historical memory, it will be memory itself that makes us forget such a mediocre work.”