Guernica, Basque Country Spain
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2017
About an hour’s train ride away from Bilbao, Spain, is the town of Guernica or Gernika-Lumo. Basque Country outside of the provincial capital influences and its industries is heterogenous. Passing by in a train, a fleeting glance could make one label agricultural Basque region as ‘rural’ or ‘traditional’, termed as such because these places have either remained untouched by urbanisation, with no evident applications of modern technologies and/or have not reached mass consumerism . But a closer study indicates that alongisde a mixed agricultural economy is an impressive inshore fishing sector supported by small and medium enterprises complements local agriculture, whose economic influence is impactful enough to make changes to the daily lifestyles of its people from how they allocate time between work and leisure, and what forms of entertainment they prefer .
For Gernika-Lumo, not a hundred years have passed since the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. Under the soft drizzle of the late summer’s rain, Guernica, or Gernika which is the Basque spelling, looks very different than anyone more familiar with Picasso’s representation or indeed the old journal films of the late 1930s would have lead anyone to expect.The bombing of Guernica on 26 Apr. 1937 was made on the personal request of Francisco Franco, who at the time enjoyed military support from nazi Germany and fascist Italy. The devastation of Guernica was an experiment and a way to decide in a discussion within the new Nazi Luftwaffe, if an enough horrible attack on defenseless civilians would lead them to give up and surrender, or to just fight harder. This was the first intentional terror bombing of civilians in the history of modern warfare. The torn civilians of Guernica did give up. The lesson was learnt, and this dragon seed led to names of events that we know more of such as Dresden, Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
At the time, the bombing of Guernica created a worldwide uproar and made visible the divide between the power hungry and the artistic, more civilized part of humanity. The latter are best represented by Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica, which in my view, might well also have been the inspiration to the architecture of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum.
Today, Guernica has become an international symbol of peace  due the senseless violence and waste its people endured during the hours of uninterrupted destruction. The onslaught left 70% of the town completely destroyed and most of the rest, seriously damaged. Guernica was in the early 1900s, a small market city with hardly more than 6,000 inhabitants. Some accounts say that almost one third of them perished in the attack that went on in wave after wave with different kinds of bombs, from light to heavy to fire bombs. The central idea was to force people into shelter, and then set fire to the rubble. Today, the city is inhabited with slightly more than 16,000 people.
For someone coming from outside of Spain, I find the beautifully kept surroundings and quiet streets difficult to reconcile with its painful past.