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Let our memories run through our veins …

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Lorca 1The grave of Federico García Lorca has never been found but it is believed that his remains lie in the hills to the north of Granada, Andalusia close to the town of Viznar. He was probably executed on August 19th, 1936 – 71 years ago.

Lorca is regarded as one of Spain’s must important modern poets and dramatist and while his reputation was well established at the time of his death, it was not sufficient to save him from his fate at the hands of Franco’s henchmen. Although Lorca was left-leaning , he was also a gay man: these facts alone condemned him to an early death. He was one of ten of thousands who were murdered in Spain during and after Spain’s Civil War (1936-39) for no other reason than being deemed undesirable to Franco’s fascist regime. Today there’s a memorial at the site where it is believed that Lorca was killed..

Location

The easiest way to get to the site is to travel to Viznar itself, about six miles from Granada and then take the road going to Alfacar. About 3 km along, the road take a sharp reverse turn and makes its ways along a hillside; to the south there are views back to Viznar. A short distance from the turn, on your right (looking uphill or to the north), there is a layby (clearly sign-posted) where you can leave your car or bike. The general area is known as the Sendero Barranco de Viznar  (Viznar Ravine Trail) and is popular with walkers and trekkers. Close by is a second signpost indicating that this area is important for other reasons too: Lugar de Memoria Historica de Andalucia [Place of historical memory]. 

Lorca

Lorca 3A path leaves the layby and winds uphill through an open pine forest offering shade. There are undulations and gullies on a both sides of the path. After about five minutes you will come an area of flatter terrain marked by a number of log fence boundaries. A flat low-lying slab of stone bears the inscription of a line from Lorca’s poem, Prelude – Love :

 

El viento esta amortajado
a lo largo bajo el cielo
[The shrouded wind lies full length beneath the sky ]

A short distance on there are a number of larger flat slabs which bear an array of memorial plaques. Some are dedicated to individuals such as that to Delores Rozalez Vinez – They Silenced Your Voice But Not Our Memory. Others are dedicated to lists of people executed in the quiet secluded area – Executed in Viznar Ravine on 23 October 1936 is followed by a list of thirty names. Further along there is a large gully. A square upright monolith stand at one end. Flowers have been left in a number of places and the monolith bears the inscription:

Lorca Eran Todos
18-8-2002
[Lorca was all]

There is stone terracing for sitting on. When we visited Viznar it was quiet and there was no one else around. Since the trees provide welcome shade from the sun, it is by no means an unpleasant place to stop at and rest for a bit. However,  under the ground, lie the remains of many hundreds of people. Some have been identified but many remain unidentified. It is difficult today to imagine the summary violence that would regularly taken place at the site over many years following Franco’s victory.

Anarchists

Viz 6It is believed that Lorca was executed along with two well-known militants of the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist union which was a leading force in the Spanish Revolution. The remains of these men – Joaquín Arcollas Cabezas and Francisco Baladí Melgar – have also not been identified. A plaque placed at the Viznar site by the CNT reads:

“Let our memories run through our veins. We remember everyone who lies in this gully. To the anarchists who are scattered under this earth. To our deceased we do not cry, we try to emulate them in the fight for a social revolution and against the fascism that they faced”

Lorca 2Various other memorial plaques are testimony to the broad range of people who were killed outside Viznar. Trade-unionists, left-wing activists, feminists, cultural activists and many, many others all fell victim to Franco’s knife. The context for the extermination was succinctly put by General Emilio Mola who stated at the outset of the Civil War what the point of the military uprising was:

“It is necessary to spread terror. We have to create the impression of mastery eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do. There can be no cowardice. If we hesitate one moment and fail to proceed with the greatest determination, we will not win.”

Although Lorca’s reputation is the main reason for the memorial at Viznar, many of the other plaques present at the site are as moving. Each and everyone tells a story of resistance and remembering. This one to Miguel Gomez Poyatos is a perfect example.

MIGUEL GOMEZ POYATOSViz 7w
Murdered in this place on Sept 5th 1936.
We have never forgotten you
We will never forget you.

 

They may be able to kill the rooster
that announces the dawn
but they cannot stop that dawn arriving
 (your grandson Emilio)

 

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The Revolution In Spain in ’36

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SpainThey fought for radical improvements and for liberty (against great odds, it should be said). In the case of the Spanish Revolution they achieved an enormous amount. But perhaps most of all, as I see it anyway, they’ve left us with something that is tremendously important in this day and age – a model of what an alternative society might look like, as well as concrete evidence that such a model can work.

Text of talk given to Socialist Society in February, 1997, to mark the anniversary of the Spanish Revolution..  Full version here.

75th Anniversary of the Spanish Revolution!

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This month, 75 years ago, one of the most significant democratic movements in human history got underway in Spain.

The onset of the Spanish Civil War will be remembered by many for the tragic and valiant struggle that took place in Spain to stem the tide of fascism in Europe.  It is certainly important to remember and celebrate that struggle that took place in Spain between 1936-39.  But less well known and more important – to my mind – was the democratic revolution that took place in Spain between 1936 and 1937.  It was an immense revolution and it ushered in a new economic and social order where workers and farm labourers organised and controlled this places of work and their communities.  For an important and significant period of time a different way of organising society and economic production – where human needs came ahead of profits – held sway.

Let’s face it, in today’s world – where inequality is rampant; where poverty and starvation is rife while the world’s wealthy party on; and where environmental destruction seems never ending – it is important to remember and cherish this possible way forward for human kind.

Even now the scale of the revolution and the  its achievements are not fully acknowledged.  Although this is a situation that is gradually being reversed – with more academic research now focused on this important revolutionary period in Spain’s history.

Over the long period of this anniversary I hope to look at different aspects of the revolution and its eventual fate.   There’s no real plan here other than to cover topics of interest whilst completing research for a fictional work that is in part set in revolutionary Spain – of which more much later on.

But first a salute to those that resisted dictatorship and fascism and in the process opened up  a real window of hope for a viable and free socialist society.

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Barcelona’s El Fossar de la Pedrera

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El Fossar de la Pedrera

I first read about El Fossar de la Pedrera (“the Quarry grave”) in Michael Eaude’s excellent guide to Barcelona. Writng in 2008, Eaude points out that there is no mention of “the Quarry grave” in any of the standard guides to Barcelona, and then goes on to describe his encounter with Barcelona’s Tourist Office who proclaimed no knowledge of the “the Quarry grave”.  It was exactly the same for me when I went looking September last (2010).  Like Eaude I was directed to El Fossar de la Moreres, which is a monument related to the siege of Barcelona in in 1714!  Despite repeated efforts to explain to the guide at the tourist office about El Fossar de la Pedrera and its connection to the Spanish Civil War, I had no luck.   However El Fossar de la Pedrera is marked clearly on many of the good maps of the Barcelona area.  I used Michelin’s current Barcelona map and made my way there on foot.  It is a long walk admittedly but I got there.  For more information see my post Getting to El Fossar de la Pedrera.

El Fossar de la Pedrera was the location for Franco’s bloody revenge against those who had stood against him in the Civil War and afterwards.  It was a place of execution and is now the site of a mass grave exclusively connected to the Spanish Civil War.  As a place of execution it was chosen for a number of reasons.  Firstly because of what it was – the quarry was the ‘common’ or paupers’ grave in Barcelona and for this reason it provided the executioners with an easy and reliable method for the disposing of the bodies of their victims.  On execution the dead fell down into cut away section far below and were left there to be buried in unmarked common graves.  Something like 4000 people died, and are buried, at El Fossar de la Pedrera – resistance fighters of all hues, from anarchists to republicans; residents of Barcelona who had stood up to Franco and fascism; prisoners of war from the Civil War itself.  Indeed many who just showed defiance and resistance to the dictatorship ended up here.  The second reason why the ‘Quarry grave’ was chosen was due to its remote location – being on the south side of Barcelona’s Montjuic Cemetery (or Cementiri del Sud-oest in Catalan).  Lastly, the execution site was within easy reach of Montjuic Castle where many were held before their execution.

El Fossar de la Pedrera

Today El Fossar de la Pedrera is maintained as a memorial to those who fought Franco.  Entry is via the main cemetery, but the ‘Quarry grave’ itself is in its own remote corner pinned between cliffs – separated from the main cemetery.

The entrance is marked by steps and rows of tall, square columns.  On closer examination one can see the names of the thousands who were executed here, chiseled into the stonework.  After you pass through these stark columns one can see the scene of execution clearly ahead.  At the very back, the cliff is high above the base of the quarry floor.  The executed were shot up there and their bodies fell downwards.  Even now it is not difficult to see why this place was chosen – it is remote and quiet and detached from the bustle of Barcelona.

It is a very sad place, of course.  When one dwells for any length of time on those who breathed their last here, one cannot escape the sadness that defeat in the Civil War heralded.  For many individuals, this place was a lonely, ugly end to years of struggle and vision.

At the same time the “Quarry grave’ today is quite welcoming.  It has to be kept in mind that this is one of the few memorials in Spain to the Left and republican cause.  It is beautifully arranged and maintained.  The floor of the quarry was evened out and landscaped; there are trees and shrubs and the grass is green (unusual in Spain) and well maintained.  Different aspects of the Civil War are marked here by different memorials.  Given that this is Catalonia there is a special place reserved for Luis Companys, who was buried here until his family reclaimed his body.  There are memorials to the guerillas who fought Franco; there is also a memorial to the Holocaust victims; there are numerous others too.

At the very back, at the base of the cliff, are a series of randomly placed individuals plaques.  Like miniature tombstones these bear testimony to the grave site of the fallen.  Some have the names of individuals written on them, while others are from memorial committees set up to remember the various contingents who went to Spain in 1936 to help with the fight against Franco and international fascism.

 

El Fossar de la Pedrera

Getting To Barcelona’s El Fossar de la Pedrera

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El Fossar de la Pedrera is one of the major memorials to those who fought fascism in Spain.  Specifically dedicated to the repression and reprisals carried out by Franco in the Barcelona region, it is nonetheless symbolic of the broader struggle against the dictatorship and the Right which culminated in the Civil War from 1936-39.  One of the most important aspects of the memorial it that it also remembers those who died at Franco’s hands after the Civil War had ended.  Franco’s revenge – as is more widely appreciated now – was thorough and merciless and El Fossar de la Pedrera bears witness to this. El Fossar de la Pedrera

Despite its importance, El Fossar de la Pedrera can be difficult to find.  It is located to the south of Barcelona’s centre, in a remote corner of Montjuic Cemetery.  Although the Barcelona Tourist Office didn’t deny its existence when I asked for their help, they did seem, generally, disinterested in my quest.  This is quite extraordinary given the memorial’s quality and its importance in the light of all that has since transpired.  In any other country El Fossar de la Pedrera would be given its due prominence.  Not so in Spain or Catalonia today.

A good map of the greater Barcelona area is essential if you want to find and visit El Fossar de la Pedrera.  This is because even around and near the memorial there are few signs indicating where the memorial is or that it even exists. In fact the opposite is the case: the further away you are the more signs there are; close at hand they vanish! In any case I used the current Michelin map and the memorial is clearly marked on it, on the south side of Montjuic Park.

Walking

From the Montjuic Castle, it is a 45 minute walk at least.  There is some interesting places along the way – views of the Olympic Village and of Montjuic Cemetery from the north side.  Directions are as follows.  Make you way from the Castle down onto Carrer del Foc.  Foc is a main road and it can be busy.  Walking towards the direction of the Olympic Village (away from the city centre) keep on this road regardless.  You pass the Olympic Village on your right and the road winds and generally goes down hill; on your left you pass views of Montjuic Cemetery (or Cemenetiri del Sud Oust) – Barcelona’s largest and most enigmatic cemetery.   You arive at a main junction – a roundabout – and keep to the immediate left on Foc (still going in the direction away from the centre of town.)  After about 30 minutes (from setting out) you pass a sport’s complex and pool on your left side.  You are now leaving the Montjuic park area and returning to a generally built up area.  At the  junction with Carrer dels Ferrorcarrils Catalans, you take a left and head generally down in the direct of the port area; there are light industry businesses on your right side.  The promontory hill on which the cemetery is located comes into view on your left once more and you are passing just at the side of it.  You come a junction where there is a small narrow supply road going uphill.  Although this leads to El Fossar de la Pedrera, this gate is normally locked, it seems.  Carry on further.  A short distance on, you come to another small junction. A narrow road splits off Carrer dels Ferrorcarrils Catalans.  This is Carrer de la Mare de Deu de Port and it travels along the side of the imposing wall of the cemetery and parallel to Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans. There is an open green space between the two roads.  Walk down to the main gate of the cemetery which is now in view; you can’t miss it as it is the only way in around this area.  Once you enter the gate, take an immediate sharp left.  You will see a sign along this road: Itinari Combatin.  Follow the directions of this sign – along the narrow road which climbs very gradually.  There are graves and other memorials on both sides.  You finally reach a very sharp turn and this is where the entrance is to El Fossar de la Pedrera.

Walking and bus

There is a free bus map to Barcelona.  The service is excellent and not too expensive.  Plenty of buses go in the direction Montjuic and Zona Franca which is where you want.  Bus No 9 which you can get at Pl Catalunya will take you all the ways to Passeig de la Zona Franca.  You can get off either at the last stop or just before the end where it crosses Carrer del Foc.  When you find the junction between Carrer del Foc and Passeig de la Zona Franca, take a right (as if heading for Montjuic).  You will now come to Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans – see above – and you can make your way from here to the memorial site following the instructions above.  For the return journey: when you leave the cemetery make you way up Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans to where it joins Carrer del Foc. At this junction take a left and go along to Passeig de la Zona Franca.  You can take the No 9 here once more into the centre.

Taxi

If you can manage it, a taxi all the way to the cemetery entrance on Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans is also a great way to save yourself time.  It is important to specify to the driver exactly what entrance into Montjuic Cemetery you need.  In this case the best method is to say what road is nearest and that is  Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans.  Once you get inside the gate, follow the directions once more as above.

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  • For more on Barcelona and the Civil War see here.

Franco’s Victims and ‘culture of terror’ in Spain

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Thousands lie in unmarked graves

I met CNT activist Manuel Garcia at this year’s Dublin Anarchist Bookfair where he was speaking about the CNT’s successes in organising workers in the Andalucía region.  The anarchist movement in Spain is now in the process of rebuilding its influence among workers and the efforts of activists such as Manuel is central to the success that they are having.  On this occasion I wanted to speak to Manuel about the legacy of  the Franco dictatorship.  (Translation for this interview was kindly provided by José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton.)

KD: The talk you gave just now was excellent.  But I want to ask you about a different, though connected, struggle that is ongoing throughout Spain at this present time.  This is what is known as the movement for the recovery of historical memory.  What can you tell me about this?

MG: As you know the situation on July 19th 1936 was different in different areas of Spain.  In many places the people rose up and the revolution triumphed.  But in Andalucía the army had the upper hand very early on.  So, in effect, in much of Andalucía the people were free for only a very short time.  So you cannot properly speak of a civil war in the region.  Rather, from the outset, there was a massive act of repression.  When the coup happened, within one week, almost the entire region of Andalucía was in the control of the Nationalist troops – that is the Francoist troops that were coming across from Morocco.  The truth is that tens of thousands of people died immediately at their hands.

KD: In Andalucía where was the resistance successful?

MG: There was some armed resistance in the mountains of Huelva and in Seville itself but in most places thousands of people were summarily executed.  They had no guns in their hands.  In the east of Andalucía, the resistance to Franco lasted the longest – around Almeria and that region.   But here the repression when it came was even harsher.  There is a particularly infamous event that is well documented.  As people were fleeing from the Malaga area towards Almeria, after the collapse of the front there, thousands and thousand died on the roads just trying to get refuge.  They were bombed and shot down from the skies.  It was a slaughter.

KD: What happened once Franco had won the Civil War?

MG: In fact even when the Franco’s dictatorship had won they still considered the situation to be one of war and a veritable war was waged against the workers.  In political and cultural terms it was waged with the purpose of annihilating any vestige of resistance.  The 40s and the 50s were very harsh years.   In other words then we are not only talking about people who were annihilated during this mass initial repression but we are talking about the thousands who were executed later on.

KD:  What sort of numbers are we talking about?

MG:  It is very hard to know how many died.  There is no full record as such.  And many of the executions were carried out summarily.  And not just by the authorities but often just by the local boss or landowner.  This is something of interest to the movement for the recovery of historical memory now. They are trying to piece together exactly what happened.   There is a website called ‘We Want All The Names’ which is trying to get the name of each and every person who was executed.  It wants to place a short biog with each name to record the situation of all those who suffered repression.  This is a job that is being carried out in a very local way.

KD:  Is the movement led by families and relatives or by political activists?

MG:  Both.  This effort is being driven by militants of the left but also in many many cases by relatives. The most important thing for many involved is actually to recover the bodies of the victims and give them a proper dignified burial.

KD: How has the anarchist movement related to his process and movement?

MG: Anarchists are very involved with this movement.  As you know anarchism was a very big movement in the lead up to July 1936 and in particular the anarchist oriented union – the CNT – was a key organisation in the revolution.  Furthermore the unions and the union movement itself were the main targets of the repression.  And it’s fair to say that the CNT in particular was targeted.   So we are very involved with the movement to recover historical memory.   But not only in the sense of identifying the victims and what happened in this and that situation.  As anarchists we are also involved in order to bring awareness on the social structures created and fostered by the dictatorship.  What we are talking about here is specifically the culture of fear, of terror that has survived the dictatorship and that is alive in Spain today.  There is still a real fear about getting involved in struggles because of the culture of terror that the Franco regime imbedded in society. This fear is alive and it is important to challenge it.  So the movement to recovery memory also has an important role to play in addressing this big issue.

KD:  It is a very difficult process to go through but necessary?  Is that so?

MG:  Yes, that is how it is.  But it is very necessary because thirty years on from the end of the dictatorship many people who suffered repression are still afraid to speak.  And that in part is because repression became a taboo subject for many families.  This of course is what the dictatorship wanted.  The repression that occurred was very effective in the sense that whole families were criminalised and stigmatised by the regime and the authorities.  And this, in many cases, had the effect that the regime desired.

KD: Can you give an example?

MG: Well instead of opposing the regime some people reacted against the Left saying ‘My family was killed because of those ideas (i.e. the ideas of anarchism say)’. And then they often tried to rationalise the situation – the tragedies that had been visited on their families – by saying, ‘Oh look my father was not an anarchist or was not a communist. He was just a good chap and he was killed by mistake.’  So in many cases the response was what the Franco regime wanted deep down: people shied away at a very close level from some of the tragic events that happened around them.

KD: So the present upsurge in efforts to identify victims is a challenge to that?

MG: Yes, in that sense it is very good for Spanish society.  And of course it is also very good for people as individuals.  Many are finding out their family history for the first time.  For example they discover that their grandfather was a militant with the CNT.  The family lore may provided some information for example that their grandfather was ‘unusual’ and ‘had never got married but had a family’ or stuff like that.  But by looking more closely and delving into the past they discover that say this grandfather had a CNT card.  This gives people an understanding of what happened.  So they find out the politics of their own family – that they may have been anarchists, communists or republicans – and that there was a reason for those things that may have happened to their families during the time of the dictatorship.

KD: How has the Spanish state reacted to this movement?

MG: There is a law of historical memory.  But it is a very restrictive and now they are not even implementing it.  So in most cases the work that has been done so far has been done by people acting as individuals.  In fact in over 90% of cases it has been down to individual efforts that the graves of victims have been found.   And a further example of the opposition in the Spanish state is the prosecution of Judge Garcon who is standing trial now.   And for us as anarchist, our view is that this opposition is proof that the current society is in many ways the direct heir of the Franco dictatorship.

KD: The process of recovery memory has accelerated over the last while.  Do you have a view as to why this is so?

MG: It’s a complicated matter.  The CNT and all sections of the revolutionary left since the democratic opening at the end of the formal dictatorship in 1975 have been fighting for a social memory in order to purge the state apparatus – the judiciary and the police, the military – of fascist elements.  But also in order to create awareness of what forty years of dictatorship has meant and what been its effect over ordinary people.  For example we have argued that it is very important to rehabilitate the memories of those who resisted not just during the Civil War but actually after.  Until recently many of those who opposed the dictatorship were considered as brigands and nothing more.   Now the process of finding out what really went on is well underway.

KD: Many thanks for time comrades and my thanks to our fine translator.

Liberty Hall, Dublin May 2010.

‘Misfit’, a new play about Captain Jack White

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co-founder of the Irish Citizen ArmyReview of ‘Misfit’, a new play about the life of Captain Jack White.  Written and performed by Myles Horgan.  At the Cork Arts Theatre, 16th -18th June 2010

I’ve had an interest in Captain Jack White since reading an article about him by Alan McSimoin in Workers Solidarity many years ago.  Alan’s article pointed out how White had been ‘left out’ of the official narrative of Irish history despite his role as co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army.  Later on White gravitated towards anarchism – an allegiance that also appears to have done him no favours. (In official circles that is.)

In this context, Myles Horgan’s new one man show about White entitled ‘Misfit’ was a must see, although I almost missed it but for a late tip-off from a comrade over in Solidarity Books.  Still I got to the Cork Arts Theatre last Friday just in time for the final lunch time show.  It was well worth seeing.  At €10 entry price though – pricey.

‘Misfit’ is a short one act, one man show – a biopic that for the most part is faithful to the account that White gives about his life in his autobiography of the same name.  It begins with White telling of his arrival in Barcelona in late 1936.  From there the action moves back in time with White retelling the story of his life.  The material used here is well written, well presented and well acted.  We hear of White’s experiences in the Boer War, about his troubled relationship with Mercedes Moseley, and then of his involvement in the fight for Home Rule. From his political baptism of fire in Antrim, White went to Dublin where he became involved in the 1913 Lockout and, from then on, with the Irish radical left.  We hear about White’s role in the Irish Citizen Army and then about White’s arrest and incarceration in Pentonville prison just at the time that Casement was hanged.  The play finally returns to Spain and to White’s brief but interesting comments about the situation there.  It ends with a declaration by White that any true revolution must involve the inner transformation of the human person above all else.

Myles Horgan makes a fine hand of playing White.  Dressed in a light grey suit and wearing the signature  wide-brimmed hat that White was photographed in, he cuts the sort of swaggering figure that White may well have been.  He also makes a good hand of White’s upper crust accent and this alone is enough to make one wonder what his contemporaries made of him.  In a conversation with White’s son, Derek, a number of years back, it was pointed out to me that Jack White had a pampered and spoiled upbringing and that this facet was an aspect of this life until the day he died.  Whether this is true or not, there is no denying that White was of privileged stock and in the movement of the day this undoubtedly raised more than a few eyebrows and hackles.  Indeed if memory serves me right Larkin fell out with White about such matters since Larkin was not reticent in giving his opinions about White privileged background.

However while very welcomed, this play has shortcomings too, not least its focus on White as an the individualist and as an eccentric.  It is true that this is how White’s portrayed himself in Misfit , which was published in early 1920.  However Misfit only accounts for a part of White’s life.  It was also written in the context of White trying to explain himself to the Anglo-Irish and British establishment that he had rejected.  In other words those parts of White’s life that are most noteworthy now: his prominent role in opposing Loyalism and British imperialism; his work to help the Spanish Revolution and  his important opposition to Stalinism don’t really figure in this biopic.  This is a real pity as White’s views on the need to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a society more befitting human needs have real contemporary resonance and relevance.

That said this play is to be welcomed.  It was also enjoyable and interesting to see.  Hopefully it will see further on stage exposure and make a return visit at some stage.

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