OBITUARY: Ramn Serrano Sner ; Franco's Brother-in-Law and Foreign Minister

By Nash, Elizabeth | The Independent (London, England), September 3, 2003 | Go to article overview
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OBITUARY: Ramn Serrano Sner ; Franco's Brother-in-Law and Foreign Minister


Nash, Elizabeth, The Independent (London, England)


RAMON SERRANO SUNER was Francisco Franco's right-hand man in the early, most hardline, years of his dictatorship, and - as foreign minister - forged Spain's bond with the dictators of Germany and Italy, Hitler and Mussolini, and with Marshal Philippe Petain in occupied France.

His pronounced Nazi sympathies led the Axis powers to hope that Spain might join in the Second World War. At the time he thought it a good idea, though Franco was less committed, and as foreign minister he orchestrated a pact that enabled an impoverished Spain to remain outside the conflict.

For a few short years, he accumulated in his hands more personal power than anyone else under Franco, a privilege granted largely because he was the caudillo's brother-in-law, or cunado. He was even awarded the semi-official title of el cunadsimo. But he swiftly lost favour: Franco dismissed him in 1942 and he spent the remaining years of his life trying to rewrite his past.

As a young civil-service lawyer from a conservative bourgeois family Serrano Sner was posted in 1929 to Saragossa, where he met Franco, then the ambitious director of the General Military Academy. He was smitten by the beautiful Zita Polo, younger sister of Franco's wife Carmen, and boasted two illustrious dictators as witnesses to his wedding in 1931: Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Fascist Falange movement and his classmate at the university law faculty, and Franco himself.

Serrano Sner became MP for the Fascistic Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (Ceda) led by Jose Mara Gil Robles between 1933 and 1936 and was deeply embroiled in the military plot to overthrow Spain's republic in July 1936. He was imprisoned in Madrid by the republicans who held the city, but escaped in October and joined the nationalist rebels. Republicans killed his brothers Jose and Fernando, provoking his lifelong hatred. He led the civilian Fascists of the Falange during the Spanish Civil War and was appointed Minister of Government and Political Order following Franco's victory over the republicans in 1939.

As Franco's envoy he was greeted with imperial ostentation when he visited Fascist Italy and met Mussolini on the eve of world war in 1939, and formed a personal friendship with Mussolini's son-in- law and foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano. He was similarly feted when he visited Berlin in 1940, with war raging across Europe, when Hitler's foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop expressed interest in Spain allying with the Third Reich.

His moment of glory came in October 1940 when Hitler met Franco in a railway carriage in Hendaye on Spain's border with Vichy France. Serrano Sner had been appointed foreign minister a week before, and the encounter was intended to herald a Spanish-German pact. But each side apparently warned the other of the complications of such an alliance and the meeting was a failure. Spain reckoned afterwards that Germany was too impatient, but Germany is said to have been sceptical of Spain's military capabilities, and wary of Serrano Sner and Franco's imperial ambitions in North Africa. Hitler was further irritated by the Spaniards' ill-concealed doubts over an imminent Nazi victory over Britain.

Serrano Sner is credited with moulding Franco's crude military regime into something approaching political coherence, by developing an imaginative and implacable propaganda campaign.

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