Soon it will be eighty years since the Spanish Civil war ended, but its legacy of bitterness and acrimony endures. As a graduate student in England, I visited Spain for the first time in my summer vacation in 1962. In those days, unlike now, few people travelled across Europe for holidays because it was too expensive to do so. And Europeans recovering from the devastations of the second world war were far from prosperous. However, the National Union of Students, a continent-wide student’s organisation, promoted an ingenious way to make travelling to Europe affordable for students who were perpetually short of money. Many European countries offered students work opportunities during the summer months. They were required to do unskilled work, such as apple picking in orchards or helping in construction projects. In return, they received free lodging in a hostel and three simple meals a day. The idea was to enable students from various European countries to work and live together for a few weeks. Europe had undergone two horrific wars, and it was hoped that interactions among young people would foster goodwill across cultures and nationalities, making it less likely that the continent would undergo such a nightmarish experience again. I opted to work on a construction project in a small town in Andalucía, near Gibraltar, not far from Morocco across the Mediterranean Sea. Being so close to the medieval Islamic sites, I figured, would give me an excellent opportunity to visit them. Under a project funded by the Spanish government, we helped to pave a dirt country road; however, the work was neither arduous nor labor-intensive. We worked only for a few hours early in the morning when the Andalusian summer sun was not high in the sky. Afternoons and evenings were free and gave us ample opportunities to meet the local people in their village tea house and local pub. After spending a couple of weeks on the project, I left the camp to travel on my own to see the Islamic monuments of Andalucía that evoke a lot of nostalgia among South Asian Muslims. It was both an enjoyable and a learning experience for me.One of the taboo topics was the fratricidal civil war that had torn the nation apart, lasting from 1936 to 1939. Nobody talked about it. Spanish society had been polarised for a long time with fascists, conservatives, clergy and army on one side, and progressive liberals and socialists on the otherI have been to Spain more recently and it is hard to imagine how different the country is from what I saw on my first visit. Then, it was still in the firm grip of the military dictator General Francisco Franco who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, with an iron hand. Spain was in bad shape and signs of poverty and deprivation were in evidence everywhere, from the capital city, Madrid, to the small provincial town of Cordoba. The Catholic clergy was very powerful, and most people were uneasy to talk freely for fear of the secret police. One of the taboo topics was the fratricidal civil war that had torn the nation apart, lasting from 1936 to 1939. Nobody talked about it. Spanish society had been polarised for a long time with fascists, conservatives, clergy and army on one side, and progressive liberals and socialists on the other. In 1931, King Alfonso XIII (1886-1931) authorised a referendum to decide the form of government and the Spaniards voted to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic. The pacifist king abdicated and left the country.In the 1936 elections, a socialist liberal government elected by the majority of the people came into power, igniting rebellion among sections of the military. General Franco stationed in Spanish Morocco took command of it and with the help of Moroccan troops led the insurgency against the government. A fierce and bloody civil war ensued that cost thousands of lives. It is estimated that one half to a million people perished as a result of the conflict and another half million were driven out of their homes as refugees; among them, the famed painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso. The conflict drew international involvement, with Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy supporting the rebels with weapons, while Russia sided with the Republicans. Most countries remained officially neutral. It has been suggested that if only Britain and France had helped Spain’s democratic government, the worst ravages of the civil war could have been avoided. Nevertheless, many among the intelligentsia around the world sympathised and identified with the Republican cause. Some 40,000 idealistic volunteers came to Spain to fight on the side of its beleaguered government.Even in India, in the midst of its own freedom struggle, many sympathised with the Republicans. Six Indians, among them the famous author, Mulk Raj Anand, and a doctor, Ayub Ahmad Khan Naqshbandi, are known to have joined the Spanish International Brigade. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, a liberal socialist, travelled to Spain in 1938, to express his solidarity with the Republican Government. The brutality and viciousness of the Spanish war was observed by a number of correspondents. The Nobel-prize winning American author, Ernest Hemingway, was among them and documented his experiences in one of his most memorable novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls.After three bloodstained years, the civil war ended in 1939, with the victory of General Franco’s Nationalist army, which gave him absolute authority to rule the country until his death in 1975. However, before his death, Franco restored the monarchy nominating the grandson of the King Alfonso XIII, Juan Carlos, as the monarch. Once Franco was dead, King Carlos helped restore and safeguard democracy in the country.Several generations have passed since the Spanish civil war ended, but the wounds and fissures it created have been so deep and enduring that they haven’t healed even today. The civil war is seared in the collective memory of Spaniards like no other event. Even now political parties accuse opponents of using the tactics of the civil war as an expression of severe disapprobation.In an attempt to bring closure to the past bitterness, the Spanish Government in 2007 passed a law, designated as the Historical Memory Law, that condemned the Franco regime, recognised the sufferings of those who were victimised and called for the removal of all symbols of the fascist regime. The issue has not gone away. Recently, the socialist prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, decided to exhume and remove the remains of General Franco from the underground crypt of a basilica near Madrid where it has been lying in repose since his death. Known as Valle de les Caido, the memorial building also houses remains of about 33,000 soldiers and civilians and was built to honour their memory.The proposal ignited a ferocious protest from the descendants of those who fought with Franco in the civil war. A significant number of Spaniards on the far right fervently believe that Franco saved Spain from communism and revere him as a national saviour. It is unlikely that the toll of the civil war will be forgotten anytime soon.The writer is a former assistant professor, Harvard Medical School and health scientist administrator, US Institutes of health, with a PhD from the University of Birmingham, EnglandPublished in Daily Times, November 28th 2018.