A statement reviewing the ups and downs and the institutional vicissitudes suffered by the AEP and reaffirming our determination to pursue the campaign to recover that which was stripped from the working class in Spain.
Eliminating worker culture … through red tape. We return to the charge with this expose of the non-implementation of the agreement to endow the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular and its vitally important documentary resources – bearing witness to working class culture and its struggles – with appropriate premises.
The Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular (AEP) was launched in 1902 by two working men, Eladi Gardo and Josep Tubau and a 22 year old student, Francesc Layret, in Layret’s home.
Later the AEP moved into premises at No 30, Carrer del Carme (Barcelona) where it occupied 4 floors, each in excess of 100 square metres, plus basements. In addition, it had premises on the Carrer Portaferissa, a chalet in La Molina (seized by the Francoists and now occupied by the Generalitat) and a plot of land on the Ramblas adjacent to Pintor Fortuny, presently the site of a hotel. It boasted an important library divided into several sections – Literature & Fine Arts, Economics, Naturism, and a Commerce Studies and Languages Night School –where its members (upwards of 25,000 of them) pursued their interests.
The AEP represented a place where workers could find a quality popular educational alternative to the bourgeois version and this was maintained by the workers themselves in the form of commitment and subscriptions, together with students and professionals who made their expertise available.
A wide spectrum of individuals of great civic talent and importance belonged to the AEP: people such as Layret, Companys, Joan Bastardes, Jaume Aiguader, Josep M De Sucre, Ángel Pestaña, Joan Salvat Papasseit, Joan Amades, Salvador Seguí, Victor Colomer, Amadeu Hurtado, Joaquim Maurin, Jaume Serra Hunter, J P Fábregas …
The AEP was to play a leading part in setting the tone of city life. It mounted numerous campaigns in defence of the rights of workers and citizens and against war and militarism. It laid on a huge number of debates and lectures with a very wide variety of contributions from all who had something to say in order to enrich Catalan culture. It also promoted other sots of cultural activities, such as poetry recitals by Federico García Lorca and Margarita Xirgu at the Barcelona theatre, held to mark the reopening of various libertarian workers’ ateneos shut down as a result of the revolution in Asturias in 1934. The day after that recital, Lorca penned a moving letter to his parents about it, explaining how things had gone, how it had drawn thousands of people, inside and outside the theatre. Lorca signed off by saying: “It was the most moving gathering in my entire life.”
The AEP carried on with its activities up until Francoist troops overran it on 26 January 1939, being the first non-governmental premises taken over by the Francois troops commanded by General Yagüe. Its resources were confiscated – the archives along with the books held in its library were burnt on the Ramblas.
From that date forward, the AEP was non-existent throughout the nearly forty years of the cruel Francoist dictatorship.
In 1977, thanks to the efforts of a small number of people, the AEP was reborn, ready to salvage the memories not just of the Ateneu itself, but that of an entire people that had fought fascism and which, at certain points, had managed to defeat it, and eager to carry on with the cultural and educational mission that the AEP had performed during the years between 1902 and 1939. Following a fire at the premises on the Carrer Reina Amalia, it moved first to the No 5, Carrer Montalegre and thence to No 26 Passeig de S. Joan, in precarious circumstances and temporarily throughout. At present it has a membership of 200.
The Ateneu has played a significant part in the recovery of Historical Memory. Together with the Centre de Documentació Histórico-social it currently holds thousands of documents and publications – upwards of 12,000 titles – rescued for classification and archiving over the past thirty years, plus some 30,000 books and currently represents an indispensable source consulted by all investigating the workers’ movement or popular culture in Catalonia.
Furthermore, it has engaged in intensive educational and cultural work, staging numerous events: lectures, debates, poetry recitals, book launches and documentary launches, travelling exhibitions like the ones on Ferrer i Guardia, the social ferment of the 1920s, the libertarian press during the underground years ..
And it has also been actively involved alongside other collectives and individuals, in civic projects like “Re-thinking Barcelona”, the DVD on “La ciutat suplantada”, etc.
With the ending of the Dictatorship, the matter of the confiscated asses of the AEP became a matter of justice to be sorted out with the utmost urgency. But, more than 37 months on from the death of the Dictator and upwards of 34 months on from the approval of the current Constitution, nothing has been done to remedy that confiscation despite the multiple overtures made.
Those overtures began back in the days when Narcis Serra was mayor of Barcelona and in recent years they have been stepped up. Thus, in 2004, the AEP held talks with the supervisors of Ciutat Vella (Old City) district, Carles Martí and Itziar Gonzáles and with the Generalitat’s head of archives, Ramón Albert. In October 2006, the AEP issued a statement calling for its assets to be returned, a statement that was submitted first to the CCCB and subsequently to other bodies such as the Ateneu Barcelonés. In 2008, it issued a letter in which it spelled out its position and demands, to the mayor of Barcelona, to the Generalitat’s Councillor in charge of Culture and to the Speaker of the Parliament of Catalonia and the teaching staff at the Contemporary History Department at Barcelona University forwarded to the Councillor for Culture a letter endorsing the demands of the AEP. In 2009, the AEP issued a letter, similar to the one just cited, to all the political parties represented in the institutions.
Finally, at the 3 March 2009 Municipal Plenum of the Ciutat Vella district, at the suggestion of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), supported by every other political party with the exception of the PP (Partido Popular), which chose to abstain, it was determined that the AEP should be furnished with fixed premises of considerable area in the El Raval barrio where it might get on with its activities.
That resolution from the Plenum was, however, not implemented during its recent term, albeit that the district president, Senyor Carles Martí, gave an explicit undertaking in response to the challenge brought by the AEP before the Public High Court on 9 March 2010. Given the persistent failure to implement the resolution, the AEP brought a second complaint before the Public Court on 10 March 2011. The mandate expired before a calendar could even be agreed or a premises selected.
On foot of the second challenge, in March 2011, His Excellency Senyor Jordi Hereu Bhoer, speaking for the Most Excellent City Council of Barcelona and Senyor Manel Aisa Pampols, representing the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular in his capacity as President signed a cooperation agreement between Barcelona City Council and the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular apropos of the usufruct of premises, in which agreement it was stated, among other things, that “Barcelona City Council, within no more than two years from the signing of this present Protocol, is to offer the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular premises to be used as its base and for the pursuit of the activities proper to it.” “The premises to be offered to the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular shall meet the requisite specifications so that the latter can, in appropriate circumstances, pursue its ateneo-related activities (lectures, debates, recitals, exhibitions, documentation, etc.) as well as its archival and public reference activities” … “Said premises must consist of a usable floor space of between 750 and 100 square metres. The premises shall consist of at the least a ground floor.”
As of today’s date, however, now that the period of grace laid down in the Protocol has run out, and despite any talks held with the City Council, the latter has not offered any premises meeting the specifications laid down in the afore-mentioned Protocol, which constitutes another blatant failure to deliver on the part of the city authorities, on the accords to which Barcelona City Council had signed up.
All things considered, it is plain that the representatives of the institutions vested with the ability to remedy, albeit only in part, the losses suffered by the AEP, lack any political will to do so. Thereby constituting a blatant injustice, a grievance which in this specific instance is all the more outrageous in that the AEP was such a significant factor in the forging of the mind-set of the Barcelona which on 19 July 1936 proved capable to defeating the army in its attempt to impose fascism.
So much so that it is as if General Mola’s war-time watchword “We must eliminate worker culture” were still in force. A motto which General Yagüe so diligently enforced against the AEP on 26 January 1939.
April 2013 (Translated by Paul Sharkey)