Spain Honours Canadian Veteran of the Spanish Civil War

26 Jan

Canada has been reluctant to recognizing the Canadians who volunteered to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War, so it’s nice to see this news piece about Spain granting citizenship to the last surviving Canadian brigadista (hat tip to Tony Tracy for bringing this to my attention):

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, Mr. Paivio and several fellow prisoners raised their fists in a show of defiance. But a sudden stroke of luck saved his life. In fact, Mr. Paivio came out of the war unscathed. Today, he is the last surviving Canadian brigadista – one of the men and women who came from around the world to defend Spain’s fledgling republic from the fascism of General Francisco Franco.

More than 1,500 Canadians joined these International Brigades, but for decades they received little recognition. They had fought in a conflict in which their government took no part, and most were committed socialists, viewed with suspicion during the Cold War. Even today, their contributions to one of the 20th century’s great battles against tyranny is often overlooked here.

It’s hard not to admire the international effort put forward by so many volunteers. I have many mixed feelings about how the Canadian State remembers its participation in past wars (World War I being an especially brutal imperialist war) but a couple of years ago when I was editor of the CBU student newspaper Caper Times, I wrote an editorial making the case for Spanish Civil War brigadistas to be officially recognized alongside veterans of other wars:

Franco’s authoritarian coalition was given material support by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, yet few reliable sources of official aid went to the beleaguered Republican side of the fight. Canada, the United States and other governments signed a pact of non-intervention.

The efforts of the volunteers were made tougher when the Canadian government passed the Foreign Enlistment Act, making it illegal to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War or any other foreign war. The government even at times refused to issue passports to citizens suspected of travelling for that purpose.

Most volunteers with the Mac-Paps were over 30 years of age, and were typically working class individuals of a variety of political affiliations. At approximately 1600 Canadian enlistees, only France’s population yielded a greater proportion of volunteers.

For music geeks, the folk songs that came out of the Spanish Civil War are some of the most stirring and beautiful politically-charged pieces. I love this version of Si Me Quieres Escribir performed by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers:

Ken Loach also directed a brilliant film roughly based on George Orwell’s accounts of the war. It captures some of what brigadistas experienced on the front lines. Loach is known for playing up the highly political aspects of his subjects, but what I love about his films is how they resonate emotionally. The heartbreak of the brigades’ losses sticks with you.

(in Spanish, sorry for non-speakers. But it gives you the flavour)

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