Spain: Poet Who Had to Die

By MacShane, Denis | New Statesman (1996), September 11, 2006 | Go to article overview

Spain: Poet Who Had to Die


MacShane, Denis, New Statesman (1996)


Seventy years ago, in the middle of a late summer night, Spain's greatest 20th-century poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, was bundled into a hollow in a wooded ravine north of Granada and shot dead. Lorca, 38, was a challenge to everything Franco's clerical fascism stood for. He was gay. He hailed Spain's infant democracy. His sympathies were with the left.

The poet could have fled Granada easily when it fell to the nationalists in the first days of the uprising against the Spanish republic, but he chose to stay with his sister, who was married to the city's mayor. Yet, despite fame, status and connections, he was soon dragged away and murdered.

Today's tourists in Granada marvel at the Alhambra, symbol of a Europe a millennium ago where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in harmony, but in 1936 the district around the palace was a nocturnal killing field, with 20,000-30,000 Spaniards shot dead because they were thought to be supporters of democracy, the left or trade unions; or because they were teachers, journalists or, like Lorca, writers. Few in Britain in 1936 had heard of Lorca, but the story of his death and of the war that Killed him has echoes for us today.

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While Spain sank into civil war, Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government tut-tutted about the nationalist rebels but did nothing to help the elected government, and the Labour Party leadership supported him. The conventional wisdom in London was that it was better if both sides lost.

Non-intervention was the byword, and we are hearing it again today. Sir Malcolm Rifkind (who as Tory defence and then foreign secretary did nothing during the Balkan massacres of the 1990s) now accuses the government of being over-keen on intervening abroad, and there is a mood in foreign-policy circles in London, among Kissinger-style realists and left liberals who dislike Tony Blair, that we should leave the furies of the world to fight, and hope that Britain will be spared.

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