IS SPAIN’S NAME-CHANGING GAME-CHANGING?

by Carmina Masoliver

Since moving into my own place in the beautiful city of Córdoba, I’ve realised how important the aesthetics of our environment are to our well-being. Both inside and outside of the home, I feel uplifted, and can meditate on the simple pleasures of my surroundings. So for many Spanish people, the news that street names are being changed is a lot bigger than it might seem on the surface.

Franco’s dictatorship is an all-too-present memory, which I learnt more about when speaking to my abuelito, my paternal grandfather, about it. It divided the family, and although a majority of Spain looks back on this time with regret and sadness, there are some who still support his legacy. At such times where we are becoming more divided, and dominant groups increasingly scapegoat, discriminate against, and oppress minorities, perhaps this is an important message from a government which is currently in disorder.

perhaps this is an important message from a government which is currently in disorder

When I speak to Spanish people, whether teenagers or adults, their view of the current government is very negative. Quite a conservative part of Spain, the people here express sentiments such as “there is no government”, so public opinion on both the left and right is in agreement on one thing at least. As a typical Brit (even one with Spanish blood), my knowledge of Spanish politics was virtually non-existent before I came here. It seems to me that there is difficulty in the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) agreeing with the PP (People’s Party), in order to form a coalition government. It reminded me of the situation with the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats, and the disappointment of voters – like me – who voted LD, and felt betrayed by what followed.

However, what makes Spain’s situation even more difficult is that there are minority parties who also obtained substantial representation (Podemos and Ciudadanos). Perhaps it is difficult, but it could also be a sign of change. Yet again, is progress really possible with the voting system being the way it is, in Spain as is and has been in the UK?

( Spanish Parliament via Gonback.com )

( Spanish Parliament via Gonback.com )

In going back to this idea of replacing names associated with Franco’s dictatorship, it has been a recent development that these are being changed to names of women. As a Feminist, this was obviously something in which I was interested. It has been since 2005 that the city of Córdoba planned for at least half of new street names to be those of women. I recently read about further developments on this, explained by Annalisa Merelli:

Many of the streets have or will be named after Spanish women targeted during Franco’s regime, including activists, revolutionaries, and civil rights fighters, such as Soledad Cazorla, the first public prosecutor to specialize in gender violence. Others will carry the names of women of remarkable talent, from Spain and the rest of the world, who distinguished themselves in fields such as physics, or equal rights movements. In the city of Léon, where the selection of name is made by popular vote, a recent group of possible street names included American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, English novelist Jane Austen, and Spanish inventor Ángela Ruiz Robles.

She also asserts that other countries should take note on this trend, and points out the lack of streets named after women across the world.

Taking an alternative viewpoint, Nick Van Mead, likens this kind of politics to an air-brush. He asks: ‘But apart from confusing Google Maps and taxi drivers – and the cost to businesses of reprinting letterheads and business cards – what are the wider implications of name changing for the character of a city?’ He then goes on to quote Darren Anderson, acknowledging the importance to those living in Spain to see Franco-era signs removed, he also stresses the importance of not forgetting that part of the country’s history, or denying its existence.

the importance of not forgetting that part of the country’s history, or denying its existence

What I think we can agree is more important, is the actions of correct political leaders, and we, as the public, have to hold them accountable for their actions. Nobody should be handing out cookies for this decision. What’s more, it’s strange that this story – referencing a decision made by a different government in 2007 – is making news again. Of course, the government can take multiple actions at once, but it is not the current government that even set the course of these actions.

Overall, then, the changing of street names is something to be celebrated, but only as long as it comes with other positive change.

Featured image © Reuters/Andrea Comas

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