[EMBASSY VOICE]Acts of solidarityIt has always saddened me as the ambassador of Spain to the Republic of Korea that Spain is not one of the nations that helped South Korea during the Korean War.
The generosity that these other nations (among them some of our brother Latin American countries) showed toward Korea has always been an excellent asset to foster ― even a half-century later ― to improve bilateral relations. The friendship shown during those difficult moments has always proved rewarding.
But at the time of the Korean War, Spain was enduring the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who stayed in power from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until the restoration of democracy, under H.M. King Juan Carlos, in 1975. In exercising his dictatorial power, Franco suppressed all liberties, governing the country with a knuckle-duster.
Therefore, Spain was not allowed to become a founding member of the United Nations. It joined the organization only in 1955, with the strong support of the United States for the dictator.
Earlier, in 1946, responding to a UN resolution condemning Spain for its lack of democracy, the democratic countries withdrew their ambassadors from Madrid, leaving Spain in miserable political isolation.
In principle, due to the anti-communist nature of the Korean War, Franco ― a militant anti-communist himself ― would have been naturally supportive of South Korea.
But he strongly declined any possibility of participating in the Korean War because ― as he personally argued ― “This is a UN war, and we have been excluded.” For him, the United Nations was not a reliable institution and he despised it.
But quite recently, a Korean researcher, Dr. Choe Hae-sung ― who was awarded his Ph.D. in contemporary history at Universidad Complutense de Madrid ― has unveiled, in his study, “From Idealism to Realism: The Relationship between Spain and Korea from the Second Republic to the Korean War (1931-1953),” that Spain, on two occasions, tried to reach out in solidarity with South Korea during the war on the peninsula.
The first instance was through a proposal made by the then-Spanish ambassador to Japan to the liaison officer for Turkish troops taking part in the defense of Korea. He offered the assistance of the Spanish Embassy in Japan to wounded Turkish soldiers. Turkey at that time had no diplomatic representation in Tokyo, where suffering soldiers were usually evacuated because General MacArthur had set up his headquarters there.
This could have been a humble, but very practical action that would have helped the brave Turkish military engaged in the fight. They had not been able to receive the social assistance that the rest of the troops [fighting under the UN command] got from their national expatriate communities or their diplomatic missions accredited there.
The second occasion was a shipment of blood from Spain to be used for transfusions needed by wounded soldiers. The origin of that initiative was a letter sent to the then-Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Alberto Martin Artajo, by L. M. Nevin, The Associated Press correspondent for Spain and Portugal.
Nevin was a very active international journalist, with great influence even on the Spanish government, particularly on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, considered to be the most liberal branch of Franco’s government.
“As Spain is not yet a member of the UN,” Nevin wrote to the minister, “its participation together with the Western Allies in the war against communism is impossible, despite the spirit of its people and leaders being aligned with them. Nevertheless, the Spaniards can participate in this fight by donating their blood to the brave soldiers ... wounded in Korea.”
The intention was very commendable, so immediately, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted enthusiastically and requested the Spanish Institute of Hematology and Hemotherapy to prepare a shipment of 100 kilos of dried plasma “for the soldiers fighting in Korea,” valued at some 100,000 pesetas ― which was a fortune at that time.
A lot of Spaniards queued during those dark days in the streets of Madrid to donate their blood, despite the bad nutritional condition that the nation was enduring in the aftermath of its Civil War, followed by international isolation.
It makes me very happy to know now that a Korean scholar has discovered and underlined these two actions, because these are two facts whereby Spain ― and the Spanish people ― could show their solidarity with the Korean nation.
And I am eager to make it known to our Korean friends, with whom our nation happily today shares freedom, democracy, development and a high quality of life. Some would think that these facts were small proofs of solidarity. But under tragic circumstances, solidarity should never be considered small. Solidarity is, always and forever, great.
*The writer is Spain’s ambassador to the Republic of Korea.
by Delfin Colome