Unamuno returns to the University of Salamanca a century after his exile by Primo de Rivera | Culture

Miguel de Unamuno, in his office, in an undated image.
Miguel de Unamuno, in his office, in an undated image.

Saint Teresa of Jesus, Saint John of the Cross and, next year, Miguel de Unamuno (Bilbao, 1864 – Salamanca, 1936). The writer of the Generation of ’98 will join these two sacred figures among doctors in 2024, a century after being exiled by Primo de Rivera. Honoris Causa posthumously awarded by the University of Salamanca (USAL). The descendants of Unamuno have proposed this decoration to the management of the institution to praise the figure of his ancestor, the cultural and historical emblem of the city. The philosopher also recovered the prestige of this university in a time of decline of the entity where he later became rector. The USAL Government team has initiated the procedures to grant him that status while his family members regret the “political use” of his reflections.

The initiative, highlights Pablo de Unamuno, grandson of the author, was based on the fact that the illustrious grandfather was never a doctor in Salamanca, although he was in Madrid, and they thought about granting it to him posthumously. “We made a request to the rectorate and the Government commission accepted it, now it is up to the faculty, it seems that it will be like that,” celebrates this professor of Dermatology retired from USAL, who jokes that the philosopher “is not a saint” like Teresa of Jesús or Juan de la Cruz, but she did leave an intellectual and literary mark on the city. The procedures must be streamlined, he describes, to adapt in February 2024 to the century that will then be completed of the exile ordered by Miguel Primo de Rivera due to his critical opinions towards the dictator. “We said it would be a good time to name it as a remedy,” adds De Unamuno.

Letter from Miguel de Unamuno, in an image provided by the writer's house museum.
Letter from Miguel de Unamuno, in an image provided by the writer’s house museum.

This figure is “absolutely topical, perhaps because of the movies or the documentary,” says the grandson. “All the politicians in the campaign name him from time to time and want to put him in their ranks,” he details, with “attempts at manipulation.” The writer born in Bilbao joined the PSOE in his youth, but during his literary and personal maturity he reflected on each period without linking himself to any ideology. “Everyone takes a phrase that suits them and says ‘As Unamuno said…’,” laments the descendant. The mantra of “You will win, but you will not convince” has won in public opinion and in the cinema, although he does not convince his descendants. According to his grandson, he originally wrote “To win is not to convince,” a “a little softer” motto that has resulted in that message repeated so many times in the context of his dialectical confrontation with the military man Millán Astray in October 1936, in the first months of the Spanish Civil War.

Enrique Santos de Unamuno, great-grandson of the also mayor for life of Salamanca, regrets the efforts of the dictator Francisco Franco to “capitalize on him and try to whitewash his face” despite the fact that it was the reactionary sectors that attacked the writer the most. “People are moved by emotions, there are dubious phrases such as that he supported the Franco regime, it is a trap,” criticizes the descendant, since that time caught Miguel de Unamuno at 72 years old “and he did not interpret the times well: he thought it would be a “Prorepublican military action similar to those of the 19th century and not a fascist coup d’état with greater weight of violence.” “Franco was very clever at deceiving people, in his last letters Unamuno admitted that perhaps Franco had more duplicity than he seemed,” says his descendant.

Santos suspects that the death of his great-grandfather, never fully clarified and under suspicion of poisoning, was due to the struggle between Unamuno’s reformist ideas and a city as conservative, with a Catholic tradition and with reactionary de facto powers as Salamanca. “In the Unamuno museum there are letters where he wrote ‘For saying that winning is not convincing, they have fired me,’ says the also professor at the University of Extremadura. Thanks to him, he reiterates, Salamanca regained its lost position by having an intellectual of international pedigree, also very involved in the development of the institution, between his classrooms and offices.

The Unamuno House Museum in Puerto del Rosario, on the island of Fuerteventura.
The Unamuno House Museum in Puerto del Rosario, on the island of Fuerteventura.getty

The director of the Unamuno Museum in Salamanca, Ana Chaguaceda, welcomes the imminent appointment of the new doctor Honoris Causa. “We are about to enter 2024 and commemorate the banishment and exile that occurred then as punishment for his ideas,” he says, before the centenary of that forced goodbye that took him to Paris, Hendaye or Fuerteventura. This “special award for his marked institutional and academic accent” goes to the man who was rector, vice-rector, professor and dean in Salamanca, where he served as “a dedicated professor and university manager.” Next year, a century after being treated as a pariah, he will become eternal at the University where he forged his legend.

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