Other Discussions on Spain

The Civil War continues sotto voce

The two sides which fought the Spanish Civil War are still there, despite a conspiracy of silence on the subject. This was evident during the first week of June. The armed forces celebrate each year the day of San Fernando, i.e. Fernando III (1199-1252), the great military hero of the reconquest of Muslim Spain. Cordoba fell to him in 1236, Seville in 1248. A military hero yes, but a saint? No. He was canonized by Pope Clement X in 1671 (!) for his fight against the Moors and the poor Albigensians.

Be that as it may, Armed Forces Day was celebrated this year in La Corunya, in the home province, Galicia, of General Franco and his one-time propaganda minister Fraga Iribarne, now a veteran of the governing conservative Partido Popular. The four branches paraded before King Juan Carlos, the fourth being the Guardia Civil, hated by the left. Now, to show the flag, Armed Forces Day will be celebrated each year in a different city.

Two days later, June 5, it was the turn of the left. The centennial of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca was celebrated in the Andalusian village of Fuente Vaqueros, west of Granada. Plaques were placed on the house and in the room where he was born (his mother was a schoolteacher). There were inflated speeches about his greatness as a poet.

To bring Madrid into the celebrations, the event was marked with a ceremony at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, where Garcia Lorca lived. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar made a speech promising the restoration of the Residencia, "in its original puritanical style." Not mentioned was the fact that after Franco's victory it had been taken over and made comfortably modern by the clerical Opus Dei, which later lost control of its owner, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientficas.

Naturally this had a special interest for me, since I lived in the Residencia de Estudiantes when Garcia Lorca was there. After 54 years TV showed me my old Madrid home away from home. I wondered what had happened to the Auditorium, where great liberals once spoke and where I once took part in a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. When I returned to Madrid during the Franco period, the Auditorium had been transformed into a splendid church. I wonder what it is now?

My reaction to the June demonstrations of the two enemy traditions was mixed. The hard fact is that in 1936 Spain was falling into chaos, and for this I blamed in part Garcia Lorca and his friends, who impressed me as totally irresponsible. I once tried to engage him in serious conversation, but it was no use. I gave up. Garcia Lorca was the moving spirit in La Barraca, an itinerant young theatrical group which toured Spain performing plays like Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna, the story of an unjust comendador who was killed by the villagers. When the authorities demanded who killed him, the chorus replied "Fuenteovejuna, Senhor!' No one was guilty, since popular justice had been carried out. At a time when the left was calling for armed violence against its enemies, the play was clearly being used for propaganda purposes. There is a whole mythology about Garcia Lorca. In a society where homosexuals were ostracised (one suspect at the Residencia was publicly denounced by fellow students), Garcia Lorca's homosexuality was a nonsubject. His death, attributed to the Guardia Civil, remains a mystery; his body as never found. One version is that he was killed by a fellow homosexual. The Guardia Civil was an elite corps; a soldier entering it was demoted a grade. It represented law and order. For this reason Garcia Lorca and his ilk hated it. When civil war threatened, a Guardia Civil was placed outside the Residencia building. Students dumped water on him from a window and roared at their prank. I hope they came to their senses during the Civil War. Spain was in a state of anarchy just before the Civil War, and most people prefer law and order to anarchy. Admittedly, Franco should have gone much earlier, as the European powers demanded. He was saved by the United States, which feared for its air and naval bases.

Ronald Hilton - 06/06/98