A new book reopens the debate over whether the bodies of those killed and dumped in mass graves over Spain should be exhumed
THREE men, and three men only, knew what Spain’s most lauded poet and playwright Federico García Lorca was thinking during the final moments of his life.
On the night of August 17, 1936, a teacher, two banderilleros (assistant matadors) and the poet were waiting on the site of a former orphanage in Viznar, known as Las Colonias. They were waiting, it turns out, to breathe their final breaths, for their fascist assassinators to shoot them with hate and lead, for their bodies to be buried at the foot of an olive tree by the road from Viznar to Alfacar.
And for a moment, all poetry died, education died, bullfighting died, just as tradition and progress was being killed in the same way all over Spain, to be left in roadside ditches. The myriad losses of civil war.Journalist Francisco Vigueras has now published Los Paseados con Lorca (Those Taken Out With Lorca), a triptych of biographies in one book that retraces the lives of the teacher and Marxist, Dióscoro Galindo and banderilleros, Joaquín Arcollas and Francisco Baladí, who was also a plumber.
Both of the banderilleros were said to be anarchists – in the sense of following the political doctrine that rejects forms of rulership. For this, they were given el paseo (taken out).
The book was written with the help of information from family and acquaintances of the three men, as well as former students of Dióscoro Galindo. Galindo had lost a leg in an accident but, according to the book, was an assiduous teacher and a tireless campaigner for educational freedom and reform.
Not content with the teacher’s eradication, the franquistas (those who had sided with General Franco’s military uprising in 1936) set about destroying his reputation, claims Vigueras. After his death, Galindo was sent a document effectively suspending his employment and salary, the rationale for this being some grave allegation against him. The document gave him ten days to contest the accusations. His evident failure to respond meant he was declared guilty and it was made public he had been dealt the ultimate punishment.
Vigueras explains this combination of assassination and slander was characteristic of the Falange (a fascist party) and used repeatedly throughout Spain. Galindo was just one of 50,000 teachers who were killed or purged from the education system for supporting liberal reforms and teaching “the values of liberty, equality and social justice,” according to the author.
In addition to the stories of the victims, the book inevitably takes up the thread of whether the graves should, or should not, be further investigated.
As a founding member of the Association for the Recovery and Defense of Historical Memory (ARHM) of Granada, Vigueras thinks they should. The case is compelling: that so many should die without a nod of due process in Spain’s recent history and be left still today in illegal graves while their families beg for their proper burials, contradicts all values of justice and individual rights.
The grandchildren of Dióscoro Galindo and Francisco Baladí are standing on the site of the presumed graves with Vigueras. Looking at the earth, the author explains: “This place is a symbol of injustice. Here lie men who were assassinated for defending the workers and for trying to create a new generation with a more open mind.”
Nieves Galindo and Francisco Baladí, grandchildren of two of those who were assassinated alongside Lorca, have refreshed their intentions to find out the truth by investigating the graves. “We don’t have any hidden interest, don’t be mistaken. The only thing that motivates us is that we promised our parents that we would find our grandparents and I am not going to die before I do it,” declared Francisco Galadí.
Promise or no promise to find out the truth for a parent who lived longing to know the fate of a father, they have a major obstacle to overcome first: the blood relatives of Lorca himself. Lorca’s neice is doing all in her power to oppose further investigations of the grave, insisting that the remains lie at peace and should not be touched.
“We feel the mass graves are a kind of cemetery as they are. My uncle lies in good and noble company and the little information to be gleaned from digging up the graves does not justify what is essentially an extremely violent act,” Laura García Lorca told the BBC in 2004.
Two fundamental rights are in confrontation here, according to the ARHM: the right to identity and the right to privacy. Vigueras has firm beliefs as to which is more important: “In a free and democratic country the right to identity should weigh more, as it is inadmissible that illegal graves should exist,” he believes.Nieves Galindo went further by assuring that “the Lorca family should have a special interest. We do not want to touch the remains, only know that our grandparents are there. In fact, with new forms of technology, there is no need to even open them up,” says Galindo. She then added: “We are ready to take them to court.”
Whether the graves are opened or not, the author explains he is determined to reveal this “transcendental period in our recent history, little known by the younger generations.” But the younger generations know mostly silence through Spain’s 70-year unspoken pact of amnesia.
Collective silence and collective fear, as if contained within the graves themselves, is all the hate and drive to violence of the two Spains. Is this what the Lorca family fear? That with the opening of the graves will come the reopening of violent urges? Or perhaps the worst fear is that they open the graves to find they were mistaken, that the graves hold secrets which refute what they have assumed to be true for generations. Then what will there be to believe in?