As the anniversary of Blas Infante’s assassination is commemorated, Lisa Tilley finds out about the man who is officially recognised as el Padre de Andalucia.
QUESTION: what is white and green and red all over? Answer: the Andaluz flag, which billows outside your local ayuntamiento. It was first unveiled by Blas Infante in 1918, as a symbol of autonomy and freedom for Andalucía. But, on August 11, 1936, Infante was assassinated for being a ‘rojo’ by a Francoist bullet, and the flag was banned for four decades.
If you have ever wondered whether the colours of the Andaluz flag have any significance, Infante himself is the best person to elucidate: “Green is the colour of the vestments of our mountains and countryside, fastened together by the brooches of white rural dwellings.”
The flag is actually an abstracted image of the region, a green mountainside with a white village stretching across the eye-line – as seen through the eyes of the man who is now considered to be ‘the Father of Andalucia.’
Infante’s journey to Andaluz nationalism (andalucismo) began with his birth in Casares, Malaga, in 1885. He read law at Granada University and, after graduating, he began a career in the Sevilla notary.
Having laid roots in three of Andalucía’s main provinces, Infante’s concern and passion for all things Andaluz led him to declare his dedication to his prime motivation: el andalucismo.
Birth of a nation
Distinct from separatism, nationalism in Andalucia is not as prevalent nor as militant as that of Catalunya or the Basque Country – as it does not involve a denial of, or hatred for, all things Spanish. Nationalists of Andalucia are generally recognised as being happy to be Spanish, but wish to preserve their distinct local heritage and maintain a degree of self-government.
Infante publicly aired his vision for Andaluz autonomy in 1913 at the first of a number of conferences held in Ronda.
Soon after, the first Centro Andaluz opened in Sevilla, with Infante as the founder and president. A number of such centres would be opened across the region, dedicated to establishing autonomy and preserving the Andaluz identity.
It was during the historic regional assembly of Ronda in 1918 – held in the Casino de Artistas – that the foundations of a collective Andaluz identity were truly laid. The design of the flag as we know it today was unveiled, along with the Andaluz coat of arms, which bears the motto: Andalucia for itself, for Spain and for humankind.
In tandem with his political aspirations, Infante was a prolific writer and publisher – founding publications such as Bética and Ideal Andaluz, and writing various historical books.
Blas was intrigued by one of the features of Andalucía that distinguished the region from much of the rest of the country: its heritage as Al-Andalus, the Moorish kingdom which reigned for over seven centuries across most of Spain.
Infante recognised the richness of this history and began to explore the Muslim roots of the region. He published a book called Al-Mu’tamid, the Last King of Sevilla, under his own publishing house. There is lively debate as to whether the depth of Infante’s research for this book – which took him to Morocco for long periods – actually caused him to convert to Islam and take the name Ahmed Infante; although the Centre for Historical Studies of Andalucía officially reject this as folklore.
Folklore or not, images of him in Agmat – near Marrakech – are testimony to his kinship with the Moroccan people and his interest in Islam.
Hoist the flag
The onset of dictatorship in 1923 forced Infante to retreat to the fishing village of Isla Cristina, on the Costa de la Luz. Under the regime of Catalan General, Primo de Rivera, regional politics was suppressed, and Andaluz centres were all closed down.
After seven dark years of Primo de Rivera’s regime came to a close, Infante embraced the beginning of the Republic with a flurry of activity. He founded the Juntas Liberalistas de Andalucía (Liberal Committees of Andalucía), which replaced the former Centros Andaluzes.
He also made a new start with his family in the Casa de la Alegría: the house of joy, in Coria del Río, where he took a job at the notary.
By 1933, the andalucistas had begun to articulate the Statute of Andalucía – the region’s very own constitution – intended to enshrine the rights of Andaluz citizens.
Three years later, Infante was campaigning for the Andaluz people to vote ‘sí’ to the Statute. That year – 1936 – began with urgent hope; in Sevilla a grand assembly celebrated the possibilities the Statute would bring. By June 7, the Andaluz “national” anthem had been unveiled, and by June 14, the Andaluz flag had been hoisted over the town halls of Cádiz and Sevilla.
Blas Infante injected the flag-hoisting occasion with poignant optimism: “The Andaluz flag, symbol of hope and peace that we have raised here this afternoon, will bring us neither peace, nor hope, nor freedom, if each one of us does not carry it fully hoisted in our hearts.”
Just four days later, on June 18, Spain descended into civil war and the bands of green and white would not be raised again as the official flag of Andalucía until 1981 – 45 years later.
On August 2, Francoist troops captured Infante and detained him in his ‘house of joy’ in Coria del Río. In the early hours of August 11, he was assassinated on the Carretera de Carmona, outside of Sevilla.
Later, General Franco’s Court of Political Liability dealt Infante a posthumous sentence, for being a propagandist for the constitution of a regional party. He was convicted under a law penned three years after his assassination.
Four decades later, his work was revived under the freedom of democracy. Andalucía now has the Statute, which so many dreamt of in the 1930s, and the preamble contains these words: “Andalucía has come close to the freedom and solidarity for which Blas Infante fought tirelessly… the Parliament of Andalucía, in an act of historic justice, recognises him as the Father of Andalucía.” And the green and white bands ripple outside of every ayuntamiento in the region.