The year 2004, the centenary of Dali’s birth, has been proclaimed “the year of Dali” in many countries. Led by the Spanish establishment, with the King at the helm, there has been an international mobilization in the artistic community to pay homage to Dali. But this movement has been silent on a rather crucial item of Dali’s biography: his active and belligerent support for Spain’s fascist regime, one of the most repressive dictatorial regimes in Europe during the twentieth century.
For every political assassination carried out by Mussolini’s fascist regime, there were 10,000 such assassinations by the Franco regime. More than 200,000 people were killed or died in concentration camps between 1939 (when Franco defeated the Spanish Republic, with the military assistance of Hitler and Mussolini) and 1945 (the end of World War II, an anti-fascist war, in Europe). And 30,000 people remain desaparecidos in Spain; no one knows where their bodies are. The Aznar government (Bush’s strongest ally in continental Europe) has ignored the instructions of the U.N. Human Rights Agency to help families find the bodies of their loved ones. And the Spanish Supreme Court, appointed by the Aznar government, has even refused to change the legal status of those who, assassinated by the Franco regime because of their struggle for liberty and freedom, remain “criminals.”
Now the Spanish establishment, with the assistance of the Catalan establishment, wants to mobilize international support for their painter, Dali, portraying him as a “rebel,” an “anti-establishment figure” who stood up to the dominant forces of art. They compare Dali with Picasso. A minor literary figure in Catalonia, Baltasar Porcel (chairman of the Dali year commission), has even said that if Picasso, “who was a Stalinist” (Porcel’s term), can receive international acclaim, then Dali, who admittedly supported fascism in Spain, should receive his own homage.” Drawing this equivalency between Dali and Picasso is profoundly offensive to all those who remember Picasso’s active support for the democratic forces of Spain and who regard his “Guernica” (painted at the request of the Spanish republican government) as an international symbol of the fight against fascism and the Franco regime.
Dali supported the fascist coup by Franco; he applauded the brutal repression by that regime, to the point of congratulating the dictator for his actions aimed “at clearing Spain of destructive forces” (Dali’s words). He sent telegrams to Franco, praising him for signing death warrants for political prisoners. The brutality of Franco’s regime lasted to his last day. The year he died, 1975, he signed the death sentences of four political prisoners. Dali sent Franco a telegram congratulating him. He had to leave his refuge in Port Lligat because the local people wanted to lynch him. He declared himself an admirer of the founder of the fascist party, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. He used fascist terminology and discourse, presenting himself as a devout servant of the Spanish Church and its teaching–which at that time was celebrating Queen Isabella for having the foresight to expel the Jews from Spain and which had explicitly referred to Hitler’s program to exterminate the Jews as the best solution to the Jewish question. Fully aware of the fate of those who were persecuted by Franco’s Gestapo, Dali denounced Bunuel and many others, causing them enormous pain and suffering.
None of these events are recorded in the official Dali biography and few people outside Spain know of them. It is difficult to find a more despicable person than Dali. He never changed his opinions. Only when the dictatorship was ending, collapsing under the weight of its enormous corruption, did he become an ardent defender of the monarchy. And when things did not come out in this way, he died.
Dali also visited the U.S. frequently. He referred to Cardinal Spellman as one of the greatest Americans. And while in the U.S., he named names to the FBI of all the friends he had betrayed. In 1942, he used all his influence to have Buñuel fired from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where Buñuel worked after having to leave Spain following Franco’s victory. Dali denounced Buñuel as a communist and an atheist, and it seems that under pressure from the Archbishop of New York, Buñuel had to leave for Mexico, where he remained for most of his life. In his frequent visits to New York, Dali made a point of praying in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the health of Franco, announcing at many press conferences his unconditional loyalty to Franco’s regime.
Quite a record, yet mostly unknown or ignored by his many fans in the art world.
VICENTE NAVARRO is the author of The Political Economy of Social Inequalities: Consequences for Health and Quality of Life and Dangerous to Your Health. He teaches at Johns Hopkins University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.