Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was in southern France on Sunday to attend a remembrance ceremony marking 80 years since 475,000 Spaniards fled to France in order to escape Franco’s regime following a brutal Civil War.
The Spanish PM urged Europeans to resist “the winds of xenophobia” that are threatening the continent.
“Across Europe, the winds of xenophobia are blowing,” the Spanish premier said in Argeles-sur-Mer, a seaside town just across the border in southern France, where he paid tribute to the exiles of the “Retirada” (Retreat).
In his speech, he mentioned the recent desecration of Jewish graves and the migration by sub-Saharan migrants being turned away from European countries.
“Don’t look the other way,” he said.
“Don’t think that anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia and nationalism that excludes people, are just small winds that will blow themselves out.”
The visit to a former camp that housed 100,000 Spanish refugees comes about ahead of Spanish elections in which he is expected to face a populist challenge.
Meanwhile, the far right VOX party and the conservative Party Popular are infuriated by his plans to honour Franco’s victims by having the former dictators remains removed from an opulent mausoleum near Madrid.
During the visit, Sanchez became the first Spanish Prime Minister to visit the grave of Manuel Azana, Spains last Republican leader before Franco seized power.
He also visited the grave of Sevillian poet Antonio Machado, who died in the seafront village of Collioure, near the border, just weeks after fleeing Spain when Franco’s forces took Barcelona in January 1939.
The fall of Barcelona signalled the end of the Republican forces, sending thousands of people to flee over the Pyrenees while being bombarded by Franco’s German and Italian allies from above.
“Both of them died in France, far from their native lands,” Sanchez said of Azana and Machado.
“Spain should have asked their forgiveness much sooner for this infamy. From them and so many others who were in the same struggle.”
“This is the story of my family,” said 70-year-old Juan Francisco Ortiz, who came from Perpignan to Argeles-sur-Mer to honour his father, a captain in the Republican army.
Many of the Spanish refugees were later sent to German concentration camps after the fall of France during World War II.
“My father lived in exile for 28 years before being able to return, because the Spanish Republicans freed from the concentration camps… couldn’t go home, because they would be shot,” he said.
Opinion polls suggest that Sanchez may lose his narrow parliamentary majority when Spain goes to the polls in April following the dramatic rise seen by Vox during regional elections in Andalucia.
This together with Brexit and the yellow vest protests in France suggest that European Parliament elections in May could also see a dramatic swing to the right.
“We have to respect gravestones, forget race, honour freedom, open borders and create welcoming ports,” Sanchez said on Sunday.
“This is the idea of Europe. The idea on which has been built the best period humanity has known,” he said.