Ludzie z Placu Słońca – Aleksandra Lipczak

A series of reportages from Spain, curiously and tenderly observing the country from an outsider’s perspective. Through the lens of the stories of several people Lipczak charts the incredible change, Spain went through in the 20th and 21st centuries. From a self-made millionaire obsessed with the idea of building his own city, through activists fighting to keep people in their homes, to a man who hasn’t left his home for thirty years we see many faces of Spain. A country that went through hell, rebuilt only to be brought to its knees by crisis, and then start rebuilding again.

Aleksandra Lipczak draws deeply from her experience of living in Spain. In her second book Lajla Znaczy Noc, she focused on the often forgotten Islamic past of Al Andaluz. Her previous book throws the net a lot wider. As always let’s start with the rough translation of the title People from Puerta del Sol

As we’re toying with the idea of moving to Spain I do try to read a bit more about it. Hence some of the stories mentioned by Lipczak have been familiar to me if not those specific ones then the experience itself. But it is a great book that compliments my reading of Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett and Spain by Jan Morris. 

We see a country that after decades of suffocation in the grip of the dictator has run to freedom. Intent on making up for the years of hurt and suffering, they progressed in leaps and bounds. Women form heavily repressed in 1970s are now extremely liberated. Fortunes were built, construction was booming. And then 2008 happened, and Spain was once again the sick man of Europe. 

But things have changed, yes the country has been hit badly, but people are not so keen on giving away their freedom to act again. Activist movements sprang to life to fight the evictions, to save people’s dignity, to sow the seeds of a fairer society. 

Spain is also a country that has not healed after the Franco era. The official line was to speak no more of it, so the perpetrators were never brought to justice. But also the families never got closure, as many people joined the ranks of the disappeared. Only in the last two decades has there been a broader movement to find the unmarked graves, try to identify the bodies, and give their families some resemblance of peace. The governments have various attitudes to those initiatives, so often they receive help from organizations specializing in finding Desaparecidos in South America. Lipczak writes also about the many divisions that cut through society. She even at one point makes a joke, that Spanish people don’t mind the immigrants too much because they are so focused on hating one another. But then she swiftly contrasts it with the dramatic events in Melila, where pushback policies are a daily occurrence, and where the fence is razor-sharp. I read this book during my vacation, when the immigrant crisis on the Polish border was starting, with 32 people stuck close to Usnarz Górny. Now we’re in November, people have died and Lipczak’s description of Melila feels like a dire warning of what was to come. With thousands of people on the Polish-Belarussian border in the deadly cold weather with no help only violence and hostility from both sides. How quickly we forget what it means to be human.

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