Books and films censored under Franco still circulating in Spain

Dictator who died in 1975 stamped out mention of Spanish civil war, sexuality and anti-Catholic views

A Spanish association has called for an investigation into the enduring legacy of censorship during the Franco regime after it emerged that censored versions of books and films are still circulating more than four decades after the dictator died.

Emilio Silva, the president of Spain’s Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, sounded the alarm earlier this week after he stumbled upon a different version of the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life on television.

“All of a sudden I heard something I had never heard before,” said Silva. “It was a scene that was not in the version that I had seen 10 times before.”

He swiftly realised that the Spanish TV channel where he had often watched the film still had a censored version in its catalogue. Clocking in at seven minutes shorter than the original, it omits several scenes that mention a housing co-op.

He wasn’t surprised. “During the Franco era, anything that sounded like a cooperative was considered almost pro-communist,” he said.

But what shocked him was that the expurgated version of the Frank Capra film was still on offer in Spain, suggesting Franco-era censorship was still alive and well in the country. “Some 45 years since the death of Franco, nobody – not even the ministry of culture – said let’s see what was censored during the regime and we’re going to fix this.”

During Franco’s 36 years in power, the state’s scissors were systematic and exacting, cropping out references to the Spanish civil war and the dictatorship, along with sexually explicit material and any mention that countered the strict Catholic values promoted by the state. In Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees, the use of “lesbians” was replaced with “good friends”, while references to birth control were struck from James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain. Few works were spared, with censors taking aim at everything from musicals to magazines.

This week, Silva’s organisation called on Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Socialist prime minister, to direct the ministry of culture to undertake an investigation aimed at determining the full extent of the censorship and, following that, restoring the original versions of the censored works. The association’s demand highlights a glaring void in Spain’s transition to democracy: while the laws supporting censorship were repealed, there was no body tasked with halting the spread of censored content.

Silva drew a parallel between the unabated spread of these works, some of which distort people’s perception of the civil war and its consequences, and his association’s long-running push to rid Spain of statues and other public symbols that glorify the regime. “We can say that James Baldwin, Ernest Hemingway or Frank Capra are also victims of the dictatorship, because somebody censored their works and not one democratic government in Spain has repaired this damage.”

A lot of what is known about the censored works in circulation today comes from the years of research by Jordi Cornellà-Detrell, a lecturer in Hispanic studies at Glasgow University. “We are talking about one of the most long-lasting yet invisible legacies of [Franco’s] regime,” said Cornellà-Detrell.

He has catalogued dozens of examples. More than 20 different Spanish-language editions of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, including one e-book, are based on a censored version that cuts out passages deemed to glorify Satan. In the case of George Orwell’s Burmese Days and Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, censored versions continue to be published even after new translations of both works. More than 90% of the copies of William Faulkner’s Soldiers’ Pay on loan at Spain’s public libraries are censored.

The reach of the censors is not limited to Spain. A publisher in Argentina last year released a censored edition of Soldiers’ Pay, hinting that works censored by Franco’s regime are also making their way to Latin America.

Often the publishers are not aware that the works are censored, said Cornellà-Detrell. “There’s an ethical issue here as the words of these authors have been manipulated against their will, they don’t even know in most cases what has been done to their work.”


Ashifa Kassam in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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