Gernika As a Symbol of Peace, Not Destruction
I was honored to visit the beautiful Basque country in Spain as part of my Marshall Memorial Fellowship trip. While in Bilbao, we were exposed to a perfect blend of culture, food, politics and economics. The Basque are proud people. They exuded pride for their food, language, culture, and art. They spoke with respect and reverence for the past and anticipation of a bright future. There were many beautiful aspects about my visit to Bilbao, but I was most struck by a small but powerful message of peace while visiting the Gernika Peace Museum. In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, a small town near Bilbao, Spain was devastated by a bomb at the hands of the German Condor Legion and the Italian Air Force. The bombing of Gernika took the lives of an estimated 250 residents.
The town was nearly demolished, leaving the people living in fear, shock and devastation. Only a few structures remained standing: the Council Chambers, Tree of Gernika, and Santa Maria Church. This event ultimately inspired the famous painting by Pablo Picasso named after the town. Gernika is not unique. Many nations around the world that have experienced tragedy at the hands of another. This was part of what many of fellows learned as we traveled throughout Europe. Yet Gernika is unique, in my view, in that it is not only a symbol of strength and recovery, but an example of how remembrance of a tragedy can be sustained with an overtone of peace and reconciliation.
This spirit drove the establishment of a museum of peace in the town. The Gernika Peace Museum was established in remembrance of the bombing. Though the Museum functions as a means to document and recount the incidents of 1937, first and foremost it communicates a message of peace. During our tour, we watched a short video of the history of the museum which recounted the devastating events of 1937 and show recovery of the town and its people. Most important was the message of peace and reconciliation offered by the people of Gernika. In 1997 Germany offered a formal apology to the people of Gernika and they accepted. An elderly man was interviewed for the documentary. He spoke of the sadness surrounding Gernika during the Spanish Civil War. Yet he ended with a note of peace, saying that despite the devastation and regardless of who was responsible, the people of Gernika accepted the apology and now invite the world to move forward with them in peace.
Though I was taken by the detailed description of the bombing and its subsequent impact, I was in awe about the fundamental message and intent of the video and the museum. This was a message of peace and reconciliation not just for Gernika but for the entire world. Rather than focus solely on the negative impacts of their own tragedy, the museum used the opportunity to highlight devastation in other countries while ultimately spreading a message for peace in all parts of the world. This one-hour visit provided a lasting impression of the values of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship. I left that museum with an appreciation for a society that turned tragedy into a message of peace. This small community not only aims to spread a message of peace amongst their people, but of peace for the entire world. This, to me, was just a small glimpse of the beauty of Bilbao.
Celine Cordero, Director of Extrnal Affairs for Los Angeles World Airports, is a Fall 2012 American Marshall Memorial Fellow.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.