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Democratic Memory Law: Spanish Nationality for International Brigade Volunteers and their descendants

Democratic Memory Law: Spanish Nationality for International Brigade Volunteers and their descendants

Spanish Nationality for International Brigade Volunteers and their descendants. The Democratic Memory Law (Ley 20/2022, de 19 de septiembre, de Memoria Democrática) allows descendants and volunteers of the International Brigades who participated in the Spanish Civil War to obtain Spanish citizenship in recognition of their efforts towards Spain’s democracy. There is no need to give up the existing nationality or pass a Spanish language test. The only downside is that the applications for Spanish nationality under this law can be submitted only until 21st October 2024.

The International Brigades, composed of volunteers from over 50 nations, played a significant role in the Spanish Civil War. Mostly consisting of non-professional soldiers such as workers, students, labourers and artists, including veterans of the First World War. Though the exact count of volunteers remains uncertain, estimates suggest over 35,000, with around 10,000 perishing in Spain.

Before the formal establishment of the International Brigades in October 1936, many volunteers had joined various units aligned with their ideological beliefs or arrived in Spain for studies or fleeing authoritarian regimes. Some also arrived in Barcelona to participate in the People’s Olympiad, an alternative event to the 1936 Olympics organised by Hitler in Berlin. Despite differing ideologies, these international volunteers shared a genuine desire to fight fascism and defend democratic principles.

The Republic’s government sanctioned the formation of these units on 22nd October 1936 in response to the dire military situation. Designated as shock troops, they were deployed to repel enemy offensives, rarely assigned to defend specific sectors of the front lines.

While there are few documentary sources available regarding the contribution of international women volunteers, it is established that these women came from various parts of the world, often accompanied by skilled doctors, and introduced new medical techniques, knowledge, technology and methods that were not yet known or well-established in Spain. Consequently, their work was essential for saving lives.

The nurses who journeyed to Spain shared a commitment to humanitarian aid and a shared anti-fascist sentiment, which united them with other international brigadistas.

Withdrawals began on 23rd September 1938 as part of an effort to influence the Non-Intervention Committee’s stance on foreign intervention. By the end of 1938, with the withdrawal of international troops, survivors returned to their homelands. 

Commemorative marches for these volunteers were numerous, with the most notable held in Barcelona on 28th October 1938, where they were bid farewell as true war heroes by over 250,000 people. However, the return of the volunteers was challenging, with many facing legal repercussions and discrimination in their home countries.

The Democratic Memory Law and International Brigade Volunteers

Article 33 of the Democratic Memory Law grants Spanish nationality to volunteer members of the International Brigades, acknowledging exceptional circumstances for their acquisition of Spanish nationality. It states: “For Article 21.1 of the Civil Code, exceptional circumstances are understood to exist in the volunteer members of the International Brigades who participated in the War from 1936 to 1939 for the acquisition of Spanish nationality by naturalisation, with the requirement of renunciation of their previous nationality required in Article 23.b) of the Civil Code not applying to them. Likewise, it will be understood that the same circumstances exist in the descendants of the brigadistas who demonstrate a continued work of disseminating the memory of their ancestors and the defence of democracy in Spain.”

By Verónica Cobo Santillán, Lawyer and Global Immigration Consultant


Del Canto Chambers has a specialised team ready and eager to support members of the International Brigades and their descendants with their Spanish nationality applications. We invite you to contact one of our expert lawyers via phone or email for a free phone consultation. We are looking forward to assisting you.

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