Remarks at Inauguration of the IB Monument, Ana Pérez

October 24, 2011
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Translation of remarks made by the President of the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), Ana Pérez, at the inauguration of the monument to the International Brigades at Ciudad Universitaria, Madrid, Spain.  October 22, 2011.

A monument to the International Brigades is, above all, a monument to international solidarity.  And in this case, the monument itself is a product of solidarity, as it has been made possible thanks to the collaboration of a large group of institutions and individuals.  First of all, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, represented by its current President, José Carrillo, and his predecessor, Carlos Berzosa; the Faculty of Fine Arts, its Dean and its professors and students who altruistically worked on the design of the monument.  Second, I should acknowledge the many donations that we have received by associations of brigadistas, from foreign embassies, from friends and citizens; so many people, in fact, that I won’t be able to name them all here.  We will post all of the names on our website.  I must also recognize the enthusiastic and tireless work of our compañeros Severiano Montero and, above all, Isabel Pinar, who, together with Professor Dolores Fernández, has supervised, step by step, the process that culminates today.  Thanks to all of them for their solidarity and commitment, which allows us to be here today, paying homage to the protagonists of the day, the International Brigades.

Exactly 75 years ago to the day, on October 22, 1936, the President of the Government of the Republic, Francisco Largo Caballero, signed a decree creating the International Brigades, as units made up of foreign volunteers.  The XI Brigade arrived to Madrid on November 8.  Eyewitnesses recall that when the brigadistas marched through the streets of Madrid, with their martial demeanour, the crowds broke out into applause and emotional shouts of admiration and gratitude.  The brigadistas were living proof that the Spanish people were not alone in its defense of freedom and democracy, besieged by the military coup supported by Hitler and Mussolini.  The presence of the brigadistas strengthened the spirit of the madrileños, and reinforced their will to resist.  The XI and XII Brigade fought courageously in the defense of Madrid, in the Parque del Oeste and in this very Ciudad Universitaria, where we can still see vestiges of that combat,  on this spot where today we remember the International Brigades.  Later, during the course of the war, other units of the Interational Brigades were formed.  Incorporated into the Army of the Republic, they participated in the main battles of the war, always exhibit great courage and generosity of spirit.

These volunteers, from 53 countries from all around the world, or, as Alberti sang, “from this country and that one, big and small,” gave proof of the power of international solidarity, in the common struggle against fascism and in support of freedom.  Because when the homeland is the same for all, it doesn’t matter what country you come from; just as language is unimportant when all free men and women speak one and the same language.  That is why they left their countires and came to Spain to defend the world’s freedom.  They were able to see that the alternatives at the time were freedom or barbarism, democracy or fascism; and they were the first to sound the alarm so that the whole world might be alert to the threat of Hitlerism.  They knew that the war in Spain could be the vestibule of a new world confrontation and they tried to stop it, risking their lives through their commitment to liberty and justice, which was also a commitment to peace.

Spain, that Spain which since then they have all carried with them in their hearts, was for all of those who survived the many storms of XXth-century history, synonymous with a life devoted to the promotion of the same ideas that brought them to our side.  Few, very few of the volunteers for liberty are still alive, and we consider ourselves most fortunate that four of them honor us today with their presence.  But it can be said of all of them that they never let down their guard, and that they always ardently defended their ideas and values whenever these were in peril.  That is why honoring the International Brigades is never an exercise in nostalgia, but rather an activity of absolute currency.  Among us is a group of people who, at the end of July, were on the island of Utoya, when a neonazi perpetrated that most horrendous attack.  At times history seems to deliver moments of the past to the present; the day before the attack, the people on Utoya had inaugurated a plaque to honor the Norwegian volunteers in the International Brigade.  And the Austrian brigadista, Gert Hoffman, with that sharp sense of awareness that characterizes the veterans, wrote to us about the need to warn young people about even the slightest trace of fascist and racist mentalities, so that such crimes are not repeated.  The legacy of the International Brigades is a living legacy, which has to be brought into the present, in the context of the conflicts of the present.  It cannot and should not be relegated to the past, since it is founded on humanity’s most noble values.

Nowadays, with different forms and in another historical context, a part of the planet’s youth is mobilizing, demanding more democracy and a better and more just world.  They know that another world is possible.  The International Brigades also knew this, and that is why they too, young men and women, came to Spain to fight for those same ideals, albeit, I repeat, with different forms, those that were required by the historical moment.

This monument, like a shaft of light with its red star in its heart, is erected in a space that belongs to youth.  In this university, young people are trained as future professionals and scientists, but it is here too that they mature as persons.  We erect this monument on this spot as testimony of our recognition and gratitude for the solidarity of the International Brigades, but also as a marker, in the present, of our memory of those who, in the past, were committed to a better future.  The brigadistas who fought in this Ciudad Universitaria recall how they used the books in the liberal arts library as shields to stop the incoming bullets.  Let us hope today that those books, and their contents, serve to help us tenaciously defend the values of peace, democracy, justice and freedom that always guided the brigadistas.  Let us honor the International Brigades, let us share their aspiration for a more human world, where, as Bertolt Brecht said, man is finally an ally of man.

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