In this exclusive interview with the Olive Press, author Ian Gibson discusses the exhumation of poet Federico García Lorca, Civil War reparations and life in the Lecrin Valley, Spain.
“THE Franco side had forty years in which to exhume their dead and give them a decent burial and they did so. The others were allowed no such freedoms.” Ian Gibson (Dublin, 1939) pulls no punches when I ask him his thoughts on the opposition to the Law of Historical Memory Bill, that Government motioned tweak to the Spanish Constitution.
If passed, the White Paper will see war pensions or one-off payments given to surviving Republican soldiers who fought against General Franco’s Nationalist troops during the Civil War of 1936 to 1939.
The Bill recently passed its first hearing in Spanish parliament and the Partido Popular did not disguise their disgust. Unnecessary, hypocritical, unconstitutional and irrelevant are some adjectives party officials have used to describe it.
“The Partido Popular insists those of us who believe mass graves should be opened are merely trying to revive old hatreds,” he believes.
The legislation also calls on local councils to assist people in their search for missing family members, many of whom are believed to be lying in unmarked mass graves.
“It is only fitting the families who wish to exhume their dead should now be helped to do so by the new democratic Spain. I am for exhumation when the families want it. And I think the State should actively help.”
Death of a poet
Under the soils of Granada lie victims of Nationalist repression. Up to 2,500 bodies are scattered among mass graves in Órgiva, Lanjarón, Lecrín and Motril. A further 2,500 are believed to be buried in a grave in a barranco (ravine) near the town of Viznar. Poet Federico García Lorca, shot by Nationalists in 1936, is said to lie under a park in Alfacar. Many think he was murdered for his open homosexuality but Gibson claims the motives may be myriad.
“He was openly pro-Republican and anti-fascist. He openly criticised the Granada middle-class just before the war. There was, too, the dislike many right-wing people felt for Lorca’s father who, despite being a rich landowner, was a progressive.
“The homosexual motive? Yes, that too. If there is still rampant homophobia in Spain in Spain, it is not difficult to imagine what it was like in 1936, particularly in such a conservative city like Granada,” he says.
Gibson has written extensively about the poet he compares to John Keats (The Death of Lorca (1972), Federico García Lorca: A Life (1989) are just two out of four books published in English). I ask him his thoughts on the refusal of Lorca’s niece to allow an exhumation at the site and confirm if the park does indeed play home to the poet’s grave.
“I do not understand it. There are any number of rumours in Granada about Lorca’s death and last resting place, if resting is the word. This is not good for anyone. Since the technology exists, why not try to ascertain if he really is where we think he is. If the family want to leave him there no-one will object. All round the world Lorca admirers want to be sure. I think the family could be more understanding.”
Gibson claims the family he refers to do not like him. “No, they cannot stand me. It is because I say what I think out loud and clear. And on this issue I have criticized them.”
The happy valley
Today, Gibson lives in Spain’s capital of Madrid as he can ill afford to be “away” from his research sources and the National Library. A biography on poet Antonio Machado was published last year (Ligero de Equipaje: La Vida de Antonio Machado Editorial Aguilar) and work is soon to begin on the life story of film-maker Luis Buñuel.
However, he has lived in the Granada province on two separate occasions: between 1965 and 1966 he lived on Calle Santa Ana in Granada in the former home of US hispanist Sanford Shepard. He then returned 25 years later, to the village of Restabal in the Valle de Lecrín to be precise “because I felt a need to live in the Granada countryside.
“I chose the valley, or it chose me, because I had seen it from a bus to the coast in 1966 and thought it must be magic down there, which it proved to be.”
So, why was Gibson exhilarated by the Valle de Alegria (Valley of Happiness), as it is affectionately known among locals?
“Because of the landscape, the lushness of the place and the soaring heights of the mountains. And by those amazing nights when the moonlight filtered through the branches of our ancient olives.”