Former Brazilian President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, is an educated man and – his Marxist youth’s works apart – rarely writes garbage. Recently, in an article for the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, titled “Democracy and Terrorism”, he slipped up in History. This is how his article ends:
“Heroic Spain, personified in Miguel Unamuno, one of their greatest thinkers, took exception with those who during the civil war cried out, ‘Hail to Death’! Down with Intelligence!’, shall serve as inspiration to us, once again, in reaffirming hope for peace, in democracy or in life.”
I have the habit of saying that Marxism is like the mumps: either it strikes at the right age or it leads to health after-effects. FHC (Cardoso) – seems like – stuck with obscurantism beyond the phenomenon’s usual age.
From his article comes the notion that a republican Unamuno confronted, at the University of Salamanca, evil Franquist militants. The historical truth is quite different.
The Spanish Civil War, Stalin’s failed attempt to set foot on the Iberian Peninsula and to control the European continent, is renownedly rich in myths.
One of which, fostered by the press through the years for decades, is the famous episode of Miguel de Unamuno, Dean of the University of Salamanca, being challenged by “Franquist” General Millán Astray, with the phrase equally famous: “Viva la muerte! (Hail to death!) Death to intelligence!”
I put “Franquist” in quotes because, had one Franquist been at that ceremony, which took place on October 12, 1936 – Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race) -, Unamuno were the one, who at that moment officially represented General Franco.
The Dean was spared from Astray’s ire and the booing from those present by Doña Cármen Pollo, Franco’s wife, who took him by the arm to a police vehicle from Head Quarters. Nevertheless, while making reference to this episode, not one writer refers to the “anti-Franquist intellectual Miguel de Unamuno”.
FHC didn’t tell the whole story. In História Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (Illustrated History of the Civil War), Ricardo de Cierva considers the episode poorly treated by propaganda, silenced by authentic witnesses and turned upside down by commentators engaged in – with their account of the episode – dismantling one or many preconceived theses.
“Fiesta de la Raza was celebrated at Graduation at the University of Salamanca. The wife of the recently appointed Chief of State, Dona Carmen Polo de Franco, watched the event. Presided the ceremony, the University’s Dean, Don Miguel de Unamuno. Also present, among other personalities, José Maria Pemán and General Millán Astray.
“The latter, in a brief speech, threw in an inopportune paragraph in which he mixed up regionalism with separatism. Swiftly, he invoked Death, his Legion’s bride. Silence reigned in, all eyes turned to Don Miguel de Unamuno.”
Millán Astray was an Infantry General, who had participated in campaigns in the Philippines and Morocco, where he lost an eye and an arm. Julián Zugazagoitia describes him as a “general put back together by way of forks, wood, ropes, and glasses.” In his delivery, he spoke of two cancers that eat Spain from the inside: Basque country and Catalonia. Unamuno, Basque and irate, began his address.
“To stay silent, sometimes, means to lie,” said the Dean with a firm voice, “because silence can be interpreted as acquiescence. I couldn’t survive through a divorce between my conscience and my words, which have always formed a great couple.
“I’ll be brief. Truth is truer when expressed nakedly, free from embellishments and wordiness. I would like to comment on the speech – to call it that – of General Millán Astray, here among us.”
According to Luis Portillo’s account, in Vida y martírio de don Miguel de Unamuno (Life and martyrdom of Don Miguel de Unamuno), the general stiffened up.
“Let’s leave it aside,” continued Unamuno, “personal insults evident in the sudden burst of attacks on Basques and Catalans. I was born in Bilbao, amidst the II Carlist War bombings. Later on, I married this city of Salamanca, so beloved, but never forgetting my hometown. The Bishop, wanting or not, is Catalan, born in Barcelona.
Following a pause under a tense silence, he continued:
“I just heard the necrophilic and senseless shout Hail to Death! To me that sounds the same as Death to Life! And I, someone who’s spent a lifetime creating paradoxes that brought on displeasures in those who did not understand them, must say to you, as an expert in the field, that this ridiculous paradox appears repelling to me.
“Being that it was delivered by the last speaker, I assume it was directed at him, even if in an excessive and tortuous manner, as testimony to his own admission as the symbol of death. And another thing! General Millán Astray is an invalid. You don’t have to say it in a low tone.
“He is a war invalid. And so is Cervantes. But extremes don’t serve as norms. Unfortunately, today there are too many invalids in Spain and soon there will be more, God help us. An invalid that lacks Cervantes’ spiritual greatness, who was a man – not a superman – virile and complete, despite his mutilations, an invalid, as I said, lacking superiority in spirit, usually feels comfort in seeing the number of mutilated around him grow.
“General Millán Astray would’ve liked to create a new Spain – negative creation, unquestionably – according to his own image. And for that, he would’ve liked to see a mutilated Spain, as he unconsciously conveyed.
Astray cannot contain himself and yells out:
Death to intelligence!
José Maria Pemán amended:
“No! Hail to intelligence! Die bad intellectuals!
There’s turmoil at the graduation ceremony, professors in gowns surround Unamuno, the blue shirted gather around Astray. Unamuno resumes his speech:
“This is the temple of intelligence. I am the supreme cleric. You are desecrating this holy shrine. I have always been, whatever the proverb may say, a prophet in my own country. You may win but may not win over.
“You may win because you possess abundant sheer power; but may not win over, because to win over means to persuade. And to persuade, you need something you lack: motive and right to fight. To me, it seems useless to ask of you to think of Spain. I have made my point.”
The wife of General Franco, surrounded by her escorts, takes Unamuno by the arm and leads him to the University’s door, where a vehicle from Head Quarters awaited.
However, to the ears of readers – indoctrinated by a current from the left – the account sounds better exhibiting Astray as Franquist, after all he was general.
Unamuno – Basque, philosopher, and dean of a university – could only be anti-Franquist. In order to sell, newspapers communicate to the reader what the reader likes to buy. The lie then becomes the basis for theses and tends to solidify as History. But facts are stubborn and, comes the day, their masks come off.
There is a rascal sophism in FHC’s final phrase. He mixes up realities completely distinct. While speaking of “heroic Spain, personified in Miguel de Unamuno, took exception…”, he actually is talking about the Spain of generalissimo Francisco Franco de Bahamonde – who saved Spain and Europe from soviet totalitarianism – and who at that ceremony was being officially represented by Unamuno.
But FHC would never admit such fact. It would mean to abdicate from his entire past. He then concludes his sentence with another phrase totally contradictory: “… took exception against those who during the civil war cried out, ‘Hail to Death! Down with intelligence!
The phrase, delivered in the heat of the debate, is an extreme bad choice. But Millán Astray and José Maria Pemán, at that moment, represented the same line of reason of Francisco Franco, whom Unamuno represented.
Both sides argued for the same cause. The exchange of words was something else: the confrontation between Galician – as Franco – nationalism in Millán Astray and Basque nationalism in Miguel de Unamuno.
It’s hard to conceive how a scholar of Fernando Henrique’s status can again repeat such fabrication. These are health after-effects of an untimely case of the mumps. Or, who knows, to force Lula to a debate, FHC is catching on his illiteracy. In the most benevolent of all scenarios, FHC is badly served when it comes to ghostwriters.
Janer Cristaldo – he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne – is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in São Paulo, Brazil. His email: email@example.com.