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Info~Angel: The Spanish Civil War

When Aalst showed solidarity with its Spanish counterparts

June 1974. The Centre for Societal Renewal (CSV) in Aalst officially opens its doors after a short gestation period. Right from the opening, its intention is clearly defined, as is the mode of operation: it seeks to become familiar with different ideas and living environments, seeing a knowledge of these as the precondition for a society where people live alongside each other in harmony.The center brings together different groups and life perspectives to achieve their goals. One group that is present at the CSV from the beginning, albeit not as an official association, is that of the Spanish expatriates in Aalst. The Spaniards are actively involved in the functioning of the CSV, organizing a Spanish folklore evening during the opening weekend and in the years to follow there will be weekly Spanish meals on offer at the centre.

The fact that the people of Aalst feel a connection with the Spaniards becomes clear in September 1975. Despite international protests, a group of opponents of the dictatorship in Spain is sentenced to death. This sparks a broad wave of protest, and people also take to the streets in Aalst. The CSV organizes various information sessions in the months that follow. On 26 June 1976, the CSV opens the information exhibition ‘Spanje, vroeger en nu’ (Spain, past and present). It’s an ambitious endeavour: in just one evening there is Spanish food, an exhibition, a slide show, a colloquium and a theatre performance with puppets. In consultation with Spanish and Basque witnesses, it highlights the Spanish situation, as well as how the past is seen to seep into current events. What stands out most of all is the great solidarity that the people of Aalst showed with the Spanish refugees. Not only were the refugees warmly welcomed, there was a genuine interest in their stories and a desire to listen to each other beyond merely the superficial details. They were given a place at the CSV and in Aalst.

Drawing inspiration from the Info~Angel group and the Centre for Societal Renewal, Info~Angel is a series of exhibitions that illuminate the history of Aalst and the Dender region. What lies concealed in our local past? What stimulates (or ‘stings’) us? And what captures our attention?