Monday, 27 October 2008

Ramon Perera. The making of a myth.

As I have said before, unfortunately I do not have a photo
of Manuel Muñoz Diez, chief councillor in charge of the
Department of Urban Planning and Public Works during the
Civil War in Barcelona.

So here is his signature.

He was an anarchist, a member of the CNT, which is probably why
as many people as possible chose to forget his role in the building of
Barcelona air raid shelters, a role, shared with many others, which is
now being solely attributed to Ramon Perera thanks to a documentary
made by two journalists from Catalan national TV3.

The documentary is based on solid research and would be excellent
except for the surprising presentation of Ramon Perera as the man
who single-handedly invented the air raid shelters and saved the
entire population of Barcelona from the bombs and then
unfortunately was unable to save the entire population of Great
Britain from the Blitz because the British Government did not listen
to him.

One fact: Ramon Perera did not take charge of the section of
plans and public works of the Junta de Defensa Passiva
(organization responsible for coordinating civil defence and
created in 1937 after the Barcelona May Days) until 26 February
1938 by which time most of the shelters were already in progress.

When I started the research I had no idea who was responsible
for civil defence in Barcelona during the war. The authorities of the
time seemed to suffer from the same problem. Very little had been
done in preparation to protect civilians from aerial bombardment
in spite of the increasing fears since WWI that this would be an
accepted means to the end in future conflicts. But by the autumn of
1936 the building of shelters was under the auspices of Barcelona
City Council and chief councillor Manuel Muñoz.

And mainly in the hands of thousands of normal citizens who went
out into the streets and built their own.

In August 1937 Manuel Muñoz, little suspecting an attempt 70 years
in the future to rewrite history, left a 17-page report about what had
been achieved to date in connection with the city shelters. Perhaps he
was concerned after the Barcelona May days that the Communists
would try to take the credit...

I will write more about the contents of his report in the next post but
felt obliged to take time to beg to differ with Montse Armengou and
Ricard Belis and express disapproval at their attempt to falsify the
past because now we have:

The book of the film.

Presented last week by the authors.

Credibility assured by the presence of Paul Preston.

As I remember when I approached Mr Preston 12 years ago to
ask for his support in the campaign to save Air Raid Shelter 307
and for any relevant information he had come across in military
archives (to which I had no access) he replied that they hadn't let
him in either and he had seen little about civil defence measures
taken in Barcelona. He was favourably inclined to saving the shelter
and am sure gave his verbal support in the right places but I would
ask him to check his facts before helping to create a myth, he is a
prestigious historian after all.

Ramon Perera was one of many who worked tirelessly to defend the
most vulnerable during the war.

A collective effort.

His story and his work, carefully preserved through documentation
donated on his death to the Abbey of Montserrat, is most valuable.
It is also very sad - forced as he was into exile as a refugee in
England for the rest of his life.

So far from his beloved Catalonia.

But I'm sure he would not have been happy with this attempt to
single him out from his colleagues as "the man who saved Barcelona."

Because I think he was an honest man and this simply isn't true.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting the record straight