Propaganda

A non-intervention agreement was signed by 27 countries including the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, the Soviet Union, Germany, and Italy. After the horrors of the First World War, many countries did not want to be drawn into another conflict, even on behalf of a democratically elected government. According to the agreement, the countries agreed not to supply any military aid to either side in the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet Union, Germany, and Italy largely disregarded the agreement, and continued to supply vehicles, weapons and ammunition, as well as aircraft and soldiers. France, having a border with Spain, became one of the main enforcers of the non-intervention agreement, and after it was signed, those attempting to enter Spain to volunteer to fight for the Republican cause often needed to be smuggled across the border.

In Australia, non-intervention became the official stance of the government. Newspapers in Australia kept abreast of the events in Spain, however the news could be quite partisan, depending on the source. Propaganda, to win the hearts and minds of the world, and reverse non-intervention, became the goal of the elected Spanish Republic and its adversaries. Catholic sources condemned the anti-religious sentiment of the left, while the left condemned the power and influence of the Catholic Church, and the involvement of Nazi German and Italian forces. Even before the war, readers in Australia may have had a very biased idea of the conflicts in Spain based on their backgrounds. The exhibition contains just an example of the types of propaganda that Australians were exposed to during the war, and the extent to which some people would cling to deep-seated antipathies, in the face of other evidence.

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is perhaps the most recognizable image to come from the Spanish Civil War. Guernica was inspired by the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain by Nazi German and Italian aircraft on 26 April 1937. For many years Catholic sources in Australia defended Franco and insisted that Guernica was destroyed by Republican forces who denotated bombs after evacuating the city of their sympathizers. Cardinal Gilroy of Sydney insisted that Guernica was “the biggest lie of the Spanish war” and tales of the bombing were no more than a “yarn” spread to discredit Franco when “the Reds themselves planted the bombs.” As late as 1953, Cardinal Gilroy attempted to have an Australian Broadcasting Commission journalist, Emery Barcs, officially reprimanded for having mentioned on air that Guernica was destroyed by German planes.