While walking from Madrid’s Atocha station to Plaza Mayor, we came to an interesting sculpture in a small plaza. A look at my phone told me that the triangular space was called the Anton Martin Square. Public sculptures in Mumbai are all polished stone and bronze, so the relatively new medium of oxidized iron catches my eyes. The attitudes of the figures seemed to suggest either resistance or a resolve to work together, like in a team huddle in the middle of a match. We crossed the road and walked up to the pedestal. A plaque was installed there. As I puzzled out the Spanish, I got a lesson in recent Spanish history.
On January 24, 1977, in an office of labour lawyers located at number 55 on this Calle Atocha, four lawyers and one trade unionist were murdered, and four more lawyers were injured. All were members of the PCE [Spanish Communist Party] and CCOO [Worker’s Commission].
This sculpture reproduces the painting of Juan Genoves called The Embrace, a symbol of the restoration of freedom.
It was inaugurated by the Madrid City Council on June 10, 2003, as a tribute to those who died in that violence. It is an homage to those who died for freedom in Spain.
On January 24, 2007, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of this sad event, this explanatory plaque is installed, for the knowledge of the people of Madrid and of those who visit us.
— Plaque on the Monument in Anton Martin Square
The plaque told us the bare facts of the assassination of lawyers working for a labour union in the years immediately after the death of the dictator Franco. My notion that there was a quick and peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1975 turned out to be mistaken. Perhaps it was quick and relatively bloodless compared to the reverse transition in the 1930s, which is remembered in many works of art, including Picasso’s Guernica. But for people who lived through the 1970s, it must have been chaotic.
After we walked to Plaza Mayor I googled the Atocha atrocity and found the story in a small article in Wikipedia. Remnants of Franco’s parties, allegedly aided by an Italian neo-fascist party and perhaps the remnants of a secret anti-communist cell inside NATO, rounded up labour lawyers, lined them up against a wall here, and shot them. Four survived. The resulting public revulsion led to a legalization of the communist party, and informed the liberal new Spanish constitution.
We found flowers tucked into the monument (see the featured photo). The Family asked me to find out why. As I searched, I found that Spain celebrates the constitution of the new decentralized state on June 8 and 9. This was two days before we chanced on this sculpture. The drying flowers are testimony to the fact that the events commemorated in this square are considered to be a part of history of the constitution.
In the daily life of people, the monument provides a little island where you can park a scooter. This reminded me of a saying attributed to Mulla Nasiruddin, "A book may be used as a pillow".