Thursday, September 18, 2008

Family of Federico García Lorca agree to unearth Civil War secrets

The Times, UK, Sep 19, 2008

Laura Garcia Lorca with a bust of the poet

Laura García Lorca with a bust of the poet. The family has agreed to the dig

One of Spain’s most enduring literary mysteries could soon be solved after the descendants of Federico García Lorca dropped their longstanding objections to unearthing the mass grave where the poet’s remains are believed to lie.

“We will not oppose it,” said Laura García Lorca, the poet’s niece.

“Although we would prefer it weren’t done, we respect the wishes of the other parties involved.”

The fate of Spain’s most celebrated poet and playwright, who vanished 72 years ago, has exemplified divisions over new efforts to find out what happened to those killed during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship.

Last week, the families of several others thought to have been killed with Lorca asked a judge to allow the exhumation.

Until now the Lorca family preferred to let the matter lie, opposing efforts to determine exactly where he is buried. They said that they feared reopening old wounds and doubted it would provide any useful information.

But Lorca scholars said that the family’s decision not to oppose the exhumations would help to establish where he was buried and how he died.

“This is one of the happiest days of my life,” said the Irish author Ian Gibson, a leading Lorca scholar.

“Lorca is the most famous victim of the civil war. It’s a huge step in the right direction.” He added: “I think Lorca can be a symbol for reconciliation of the civil war.”

Judge Baltazar Garzón has yet to decide what to do with the site where Lorca is thought to be buried, in the author’s home province of Granada.

More than half a million people are thought to have been killed during the civil war of 1936-39, triggered by Franco’s armed uprising against the democratically elected Republican Government. After Franco’s victory, historians say that 50,000 Republicans were executed by Franco’s forces and tens of thousands locked up. His iron rule lasted until his death in 1975.

Although the Nationalist dead were honoured and given proper burials during Franco’s rule, Republican victims have lain in unmarked mass graves for seven decades.

After Franco’s death, political parties agreed to put the past behind them, granting a blanket amnesty for crimes committed under the dictator’s rule. For years, Spaniards subscribed to an unwritten “pact of silence” about the past in an attempt to let the country’s new democracy take root.

Last October José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish Socialist Prime Minister, passed the Historical Memory Law that made the search for those who disappeared during Franco’s rule the responsibility of the Government. Until now individual associations have been leading efforts to exhume mass graves.

Moves to discover the fate of those who disappeared have sparked fury among Spanish conservatives, who say that history is being rewritten by those who lost the civil war. Right-wing Spaniards often accuse Mr Zapatero - whose grandfather was killed by a firing squad - of acting out of vengeance.

Judge Garzón, who became internationally famous when he ordered the arrest of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London, has begun to compile a census of those who were killed by Franco’s men - further inflaming conservative opinion.

Lorca was hauled out and shot after being denounced as a Republican, a Communist and a homosexual. He became a martyr to the Republican Left.

BURIED PAST

— More than 500,000 people were killed during the Spanish Civil War

— A total of 75,000 were executed by the Nationalists and 25,000 died from malnutrition

— During the siege of the Alcázar of Toledo in July 1936, only 1,000 Nationalist troops withstood 8,000 Republican troops for more than two months

Sources: Times archives; Hugh Thomas - The Spanish Civil War

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