Diccionario or Ficcionario?
Spain’s cultural wars go back at least to Napoleonic times, when liberalism became a dirty word to those who associated it with the French invaders. The ramifications proliferate: in recent years, Left–Right argument has centred on matters such as provincial autonomy, multiculturalism and gay marriage. Now, though, a book-based controversy has prompted a fresh exchange of fire over the most contentious subject of all in Spain – namely, the Civil War and its aftermath.
As is sometimes pointed out, history has largely been written by the losing side in this case. Anglophone observers, accustomed to seeing the conflict as a dress rehearsal for the battle against Hitler, find it hard to view the defeated Republic in anything other than rosy terms. This background – and the allied urge of conservative Spanish scholars to right the balance, as they see it – appears to have informed work on the fifty-volume Diccionario biográfico español, the first instalments of which appeared earlier this summer. Produced under the auspices of Spain’s Real Academia de la Historia, this colossal project was modelled on works such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in Britain. Handled well, the Diccionario might have given a balanced hearing to historians from across the political spectrum. On the basis of the twenty-five volumes published so far, though, there are signs that the work as a whole leans to the Right – a bias encapsulated by the choice of Luis Suárez Fernández, a medievalist known for his Francoist sympathies, to produce the entry on the generalissimo himself. Suárez Fernández’s article is stodgily written and mainly sticks to the facts. But it has drawn heavy criticism for failing to describe Franco’s regime as a dictatorship.
Should we see this and other examples as indications of bad planning by Gonzalo Anes, Director of the Real Academia de la Historia and the Diccionario’s commissioning editor, or are there more disquieting influences at work? Paul Preston, Franco’s biographer, believes there is clear evidence of systematic bias: “Passing references to [leading Republicans] are ferociously hostile . . . I know of no liberal or left-wing historians being invited to take part – no Enrique Moradiellos, No Ãngel Viñas, no Santos Juliá, no Julián Casanova".
Another prominent British Hispanist blames the debacle on carelessness above all. “The Academia de la Historia is a joke full of stuffed shirts. Gonzalo Anes was once a serious historian, but has become a social butterfly in recent years. One of my graduate students could have done a better job on Franco than Suárez Fernández.”
Meanwhile, the Spanish press has seen further heated exchanges about what critics have christened the “Ficcionario”. As further volumes become available, the TLS will be noticing the work in due course.