Civil War re-enacted

Every Wednesday night, viewers of TVE1’s “59 Segundos” programme usually get to a watch a mini-replay of the Civil War, as three journalists from the Left and three from the Right debate the issues of the day. It’s worth watching just to get an idea of how both sides are thinking these days on a range of issues, but when they get their teeth into anything controversial, it turns into a case of “shades of the Civil War”. We are then treated to a show of verbal violence that makes it quite easy to understand why the war ever happened in the first place. Last week’s programme was even more heated than usual when they were asked for their opinions about Judge Baltasar Garzon’s latest crusade – to put the Franco regime in the dock for crimes against humanity, and to open up the mass graves containing the bones of some 114,000 Republicans executed during or after the Civil War. All six journalists agreed on one thing – that the families of those men and women have the right to give them a decent burial wherever possible. But then we got to the most controversial grave of all – the one that is thought to contain the bones of Franco’s most famous victim – the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. A columnist from La Razon accused Judge Garzon of using Lorca to get the attention she claimed he craves from the international press. “I can just see him,” she said, “smiling and posing in front of the open grave, while journalists from television stations all over the world interview him.” That’s when it hit me. Until Garzon ordered the grave to be opened two weeks ago, Lorca’s family had resisted attempts by the families of the other three men believed to be buried with him to open the grave, to avoid a media circus. That had conjured up visions of a few TV cameras faithfully filming each trowel of earth being removed from the spot while a few journalists spoke into mikes in suitably solemn tones – like Richard Dimbleby covering a Royal funeral. But the columnist’s words raised hellish visions of a massive media invasion of the peaceful leafy glade where Lorca’s grave is marked by a modest block of stone. Within hours of the arrival of the international press and all their paraphernalia, not a blade of grass would remain, the landscape would be littered with tents as they settled in to wait for the first exciting shot of the skeletons of the four men allegedly buried there. And all the while they would be trampling on ground where some 3,000 Civil War victims are believed to be buried and which should have been declared sacrosanct years ago. The problem is that no-one can say with any certainty that Lorca lies in the grave marked as his. He is believed to have been shot with the three other men near an olive tree and buried right there, but there is a second possible site some 400 metres away. Both sites are in the Alfacar natural park which was created by the Granada regional government in the early 1980s in memory of Lorca. One of the men who was involved in creating the park told a local newspaper recently that some workmen were digging a trench to erect a wall near the olive tree where Lorca was executed and came across some bones, which they removed and reburied in another part of the park. If this report is true, Lorca’s grave might turn out to be empty. It would be a most unfitting end to a tragedy that might not have happened if Lorca had listened to his friends in Madrid and not gone to spend the summer with his family in Fuente Vaqueros, a small town near Granada. Rumours about a military coup were rampant and his friends told him he would be safer in strongly Republican Madrid rather than Granada, a bastion of right-wing reactionaries. In Granada, Lorca was closely connected with the moderate left, he was a known homosexual and the local authorities were also aware of his view that the Catholic conquest of Moorish Granada in 1492 had been a disaster. Lorca had gone on record saying that the conquest had destroyed a unique civilisation and created “a wasteland populated by the worst bourgeoisie in Spain today”. When the local fascists started looking for “reds” to execute, he was an obvious target. He was captured and taken to the glade in the valley near Viznar on the night of 18th August 1936 and shot in the early hours of the following morning. Last Saturday, Judge Garzon ordered work to start on opening the grave as soon as possible but hopefully the Public Prosecutor’s Office may be able to stop it, so that the peaceful valley where Lorca lies continues to be a stark reminder of the atrocities committed during one of the darkest episodes in Spain’s history.


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