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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Ten

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. Our topic of discussion this week centres on the penury and scarcity that characterized the Pitiuses, especially Formentera, during the final years of the Civil War. However, before going on to examine this particular state of affairs, it may be helpful to summarize what we have learned so far in our chronicles. For, despite a certain long-windedness on my part, the plotline boils down to two basic coordinates: the voluntary withdrawal of Republican troops after five unsuccessful weeks of occupation, and the incorporation of Ibiza and Formentera into Franco’s domain on 20th September 1936, a mere two months after the outbreak of war. It is safe to say that, as of this date, the islands! receded once again into the periphery of events, where they remained for the long, painful denouement of war. As we shall see, the removal of military action from Pitiusan shores did not lessen by one iota the hardship of life during the three lean years that lay ahead.

Having concerned ourselves primarily with the course of political and military developments in our previous instalments, we will now go on to explore the common man’s experience of wartime society. Perhaps even more acutely than in mainland Spain, the sea-bound isolation of Ibiza and Formentera resulted in conditions of extreme lack. Fuel was scarce, food was even scarcer and the circulation of currency ground to a virtual halt. In short, the standard of island living quickly devolved to subsistence level, and government hand-outs became the only means of survival for large sectors of the population.

Wartime Welfare

Franco’s ‘New State’, instituted in all National territories well before the close of the war, struggled to bring its pre-war ideologies in line with the desperate needs of a stricken population. To this end, a host of welfare measures were introduced, all promoted with the propagandistic verve of Big Brother and all appealing to the patriotic, Christian vein that ran so deeply through the bedrock of Spanish society. These measures most commonly took the form of required donations, ‘required’ in the sense that those citizens who were able to contribute but did not were publicly black-listed in the local newspapers. This tactic proved to be an effective deterrent to half-hearted participation in the continual charity rounds that were taken up by the female chapters of the Falangist-Traditionalist party. To name but a few of the funds that were set up, we can cite the ‘Day of the Combatant’, donations for which were collected monthly; ‘Aid to Liberated Populations’ and the ‘Day of the Single Plate’ (a reference to the fact that families were expected to eat just one course for their dinner instead of the traditional two so that the savings could then be donated to the fund), contributions for which were collected on a fortnightly basis; and lastly, the ‘Day without Dessert’ fund, donations for which were collected every Monday.

With the monies generated from these charity drives, public soup-kitchens were set up in National territories all over Spain in order to alleviate wide-spread hunger as well as the diseases linked to malnutrition. It was not until 23rd May 1938, however, that ‘Social Aid’ the coordinating entity for these eateries, was finally established in Ibiza, its headquarters located in carrer Amadeu in Dalt Vila. The following month of June the same service was also set up in Formentera.

Employment and Commerce

As would be expected, all labour unions established prior to or during the Second Republic were outlawed. In their place arose the Vertical Union in 1938, a labour organization that closely monitored all business enterprises and predetermined the guidelines by which businesses would henceforth be run. One of the new norms stipulated that all companies were legally bound to provide National veterans with a job once the war was over. This measure did much to inspire loyalty among Franco’s ranks as well as insuring the introduction of regime-friendly workers in the mainstream of the Spanish labour force.

As specifically regards Ibiza and Formentera, their geographic removal from mainland supply lines caused shortages in a number of staple goods and products, a circumstance which inevitably drove up their price. As a precaution against smuggling and the unchecked growth of the black market, the Insular Board of Provisions required all businesses to submit a report on the exact nature and quantity of the goods they had in stock. The authorities then fixed the price for all manufactures and raw materials as well as regulating the business hours during which these things could be sold to the public. Under special scrutiny were bread ovens in an attempt to guard against extra loaves being baked and sold surreptitiously at a higher price than that established by the Provisions Board.

Despite these regulations, in actual fact, many products were stockpiled and then sold at a gross profit, often with the tacit consent of the very authorities responsible for preventing the proliferation of black trade. The goods that most naturally lent themselves to such illegal trading were tobacco, oil, alcohol and timber. As Artur Parron explains, “The smuggling of these products was carried out by a broad spectrum of islanders, from fishermen and farmers trying to make some extra income to wealthy merchants in search of higher profits, from bureaucrats and civil guards to the middlemen that connected the various parties. Even though smuggling had existed before the war, this activity was now powerfully fuelled by the extreme scarcity of goods and the desire for riches by many merchants operating in the shadow of corruption cast by the authorities themselves.”

Meagre Solidarity

Throughout the whole of 1937 the economic situation in the Pitiuses was nothing short of precarious. When, in April of the same year, the governor of the Balearic Islands, Mateu Torres i Bestard, visited the islands, he was met by a bleak picture of misery and want. Moved by what he saw, the governor returned to Majorca with a plea of solidarity that his fellow Majorcans might provide some measure of economic aid to their island brethren. Sadly, his exhortation was largely unsuccessful. Somewhat ironically, however, the following year the none-too-rich Ibicencos took it upon themselves to pool their limited resources in a campaign aimed at alleviating the grave shortages that afflicted their neighbours in Formentera. The habitual hardship of life on the smaller Pitiusa had by this time (1938) plummeted to intolerable levels, owing above all to the severe lack of manpower and the subsequent inability of the remaining men and women to work the land to fruitful yield. Readers will remember that Formentera, had been a seat of leftist support so that, under National rule, large swathes of the able-bodied population had either fled or been imprisoned.


On that bittersweet note we shall leave off for this week. Join us next time as we press on toward the end of the war and the gradual restoration of normalcy on the islands. Until then,

Emily Kaufman