Azaña Díaz, Manuel

Manuel-Azaña-UL1

Spanish politician and writer. He was president of the Council of Ministers from 1931 to 1933 and president of the Second Republic from 1936 to 1939. He was a contemporary and friend of Federico García Lorca, brother-in-law of Cipriano Rivas Cherif and friend of Margarita Xirgu.

He was born in Alcalá de Henares in 1880. He studied law in Zaragoza and obtained his doctorate in 1900. In 1909, he began working as a civil servant in the General Directorate of Registries and Notaries. He traveled to Paris on a scholarship from the Committee for Extension of Studies. As a result of this trip he wrote the essay Studies of contemporary French Politics, Military Policy(1919). Between 1913 and 1920 he was secretary of the Madrid Athenaeum and in 1930 president. He began militating in the Reformist Party of Melquíadez Álvarez and in 1925 formed the Republican Action party.

In 1934, he was arrested for the events of Asturias and Catalonia. A hundred intellectuals, among them Federico García Lorca, sign an open letter of protest against the treatment of the former president of the Council but censorship prevented it from being published.

In 1927, he attends one of Mariana Pineda‘s personal readings at the Fontalba Theater. Azaña had already published some of Federico’s poems in the magazine he edited at the time, La Pluma. It would not be the only time he was to attend Lorca’s readings or premieres, even as a minister. On December 19, 1932 he was at a La Barraca performance of Life is a Dream, at the Spanish Theater which, although it was a success with the public and the press, received criticism from the right wing who always insisted that La Barraca was a propaganda machine for Marxism or communism. He also attended the premiere of Yerma, where there was a great scandal. The play and the attendees were insulted by the more conservative audience. Azaña, just like Fernando de los Ríos, was always the target of the most conservative right wing.

After the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, he formed part of the Revolutionary Committee that contributed to the establishment of the Republic in 1931. In a provisional government, he occupied the portfolio of War and, later, the Presidency. He carried out educational, economic, military and social reforms such as the agrarian and military reforms, the creation of a statute of autonomy for Catalonia and the secularization of the State. In 1933, after being elected at the polls in 1931, he resigned. His image had been badly damaged by the event of Casas Viejas where the government violently repressed a rebellion of anarchist workers. A parliamentary investigation was opened and on March 7 he declared that there had been illegal executions. In 1934, in opposition, he achieved the union of the republican parties in Republican Left. In 1934, he was arrested for the events of Asturias and Catalonia. A hundred intellectuals, among them Federico García Lorca, signed an open letter of protest against the treatment of the former president of the Council but censorship prevented it from being published. He had to wait a year for his innocence to be admitted.

Manuel Azaña in his presidential office
Manuel Azaña in his presidential office

In 1935, he initiated a political campaign that gave rise to the Popular Front, which won the elections in February 1936. He was elected president of the Republic that same year until his resignation after the Civil War. In 1939, he went into exile in France where he died in 1940. His remains are still in the place where he died, in Montauban, and were officially visited for the first time by the Spanish government in February 2019, taking advantage of the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the death of Antonio Machado, also buried in another French town, Collioure.

Throughout his life he was a prominent writer and journalist who collaborated in newspapers such as El Imparcial or El Sol. He edited magazines such as La Pluma and España between 1920 and 1924. In 1926 he received the National Literature Prize for Life of Juan Valera. He wrote novels and even plays. He was also an important translator and, above all, a great essayist. Vigil in Benicarló brings together a series of dialogs that are considered the most important reflection on the Civil War. His memoirs and letters are a testimony of great value about the period he lived through. His speech Peace, Mercy and Forgiveness, delivered in Barcelona in 1938, is a good example of his pacifist, democratic and conciliatory disposition.

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