Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Poetic Justice...

Great Poet's Grave Stokes Civil War Dispute


The tranquil, pine-carpeted hills in this patch of southern Spain hold awful secrets. Now, one of them has been thrust into the spotlight of a still painful accounting of atrocities committed in the Spanish Civil War.

The dispute has arisen over whether to open the grave of Federico Garcia Lorca, widely considered Spain's best 20th century poet and playwright.

At the start of the 1936-39 war, Viznar, near the ancient city of Granada, became one of many execution grounds for perceived opponents of Francisco Franco, the army general who unleashed the conflict by rising up against the elected, leftist Republican government.

People were rounded up, brought here and shot, their bodies dumped in a ravine in unmarked graves — all for simply having been considered supporters of the government.

Garcia Lorca was shot along with a schoolteacher named Dioscoro Galindo Gonzalez and two labor union activists — Francisco Galadi and Juan Arcolla — on Aug. 18, 1936. Their bodies are believed buried near an olive tree near Viznar.

Lorca, dead at 38, is best known for tragedies such as "Blood Wedding" and his poetry collections "Poet in New York and "Gypsy Ballads." His work draws on universal themes — love, death, passion, cruelty and injustice.

While his executioners may have wanted to erase all memory of Garcia Lorca, a dispute over whether to open his grave is now a focus of a broader effort to give proper burial to the thousands believed murdered by Franco's militias.

For years, the poet's descendants blocked exhumation requests by the Galindo and Galadi families. Tired of waiting, Galindo and Galadi relatives took their case to Baltasar Garzon, the crusading investigative magistrate, who was already gathering his own information on the Franco regime's killings.

The Spanish judge is famous for using international warrants to go after former military rulers accused of human rights abuses, notably Augusto Pinochet of Chile in 1998. But in setting his sights on Spain's own murky past, he is treading sensitive ground.

Since Franco's death in 1975, Spain as a nation has tried to put the Civil War behind it for the sake of rebuilding its democracy. The Socialist government passed a law denouncing the Franco regime and was accused by the conservative opposition of reopening old wounds.

An estimated 500,000 died in the civil war. The Franco regime carried out a thorough accounting of killings by Republican militias — 55,000, historians say — and gave them proper burials. But those on the opposing side had no such satisfaction.

On Monday, groups working to account for the dead gave Garzon the names of 130,000 people believed to have been summarily shot and dumped in unmarked graves across the country.

"It's about time Spanish authorities took responsibility for this," said Emilio Silva, a former journalist whose quest to find the remains of his murdered grandfather a decade ago gave rise to a nationwide network of like-minded associations.

Silva says that last year's legislation, while making symbolic amends to victims, basically pushed aside the issue of the missing, leaving families with no alternative but legal action.

In the Garcia Lorca case, at least, the pressure for closure appears to have produced results. Last week, the family unexpectedly announced that while it would still prefer the poet's remains to rest untouched and the whole area turned into a monument, it would not oppose an exhumation order.

Nieves Galindo, granddaughter of the slain teacher, said she took the case to Garzon after 10 years of battling to have his remains dug up, formally identified and reburied in his hometown

"My only desire is that each person should have their loved ones where they want them," she said.

Garzon may take months to rule on opening the grave, but meanwhile the movement to account for the dead is gathering momentum. So far, Silva said, some 160 mass graves have been dug up and some 4,000 bodies recovered.

The Viznar area, where up to 3,000 people are believed buried, is dotted with memorial plaques and stones.

"Lorca Was Everyone" reads one.


Associated Press writer Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

No comments: