‘Leave me in peace, brother’, begins Fergal Keane at the start of Radio 4’s ‘Taking a Stand’ this week. He suggests that this line from one of Federico García Lorca’s poems might now ‘usefully serve as a kind of epitaph’ for the poet and playwright’s family. Lorca was shot by Franco’s forces in August 1936 – at just 38 years old. His body lies, most probably, alongside tens of thousands of others in mass graves around Spain.
This week’s ‘Taking a Stand’ invites Lorca’s niece and President of the Lorca Foundation, Laura García Lorca, to explain her family’s decision to stand against the push in Spain to unearth the past – quite literally – through the disinterment of remains. For Laura and the Lorca Foundation, however, the wish to leave undisturbed the mass grave just outside Granada where Lorca is presumed to be buried is literal in another way. As she explains, it has nothing to do with a desire to forget or ignore what happened: it is quite literally a desire to leave human remains where they lie. ‘We don’t want the past to be buried’, she states, ‘we just don’t want the bones to be moved’
While some families, then, see disinterment as symbolic of reconciling past and present through the exposure and recognition of the crimes of the Francoist regime, Lorca’s family view it as a ‘very disturbing’ physical violation of the dead. Metaphor and literalism combine on the one hand; they exist in tension on the other.
‘He should not be singled’ out, Laura explains, regarding her qualms about the media’s particular focus on the Lorca family and their moral opposition to the disinterment (which seems likely to go ahead; the family never legally opposed it). Strangely, however, like the best historical theatre, the interview does give us a very visceral, yet still understated, impression of the singularity of one family’s suffering at the brutal murder of a son, brother and uncle during the Spanish Civil War.
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