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Spanish come to bury Lorca, not to praise him

The poet was murdered for being gay and left-wing, but official centenary tributes ignore this, writes Elizabeth Nash
SPAIN is awash with cultural events marking the birth of Federico Garcia Lorca in Granada 100 years ago this month. But critics complain that the official celebrations have airbrushed away the most important features of the poet's life: his revolutionary politics, his homosexuality, and his murder by a fascist firing squad.

Lorca's biographer, Ian Gibson, whose 1971 book The Assassination Of Federico Garcia Lorca was banned by Franco, said last week that the Spanish authorities were "hiding" the revolutionary sympathies of the poet in the celebrations, and "minimising the political aspects of his death".

Gibson, an Irishman who adopted Spanish nationality in 1984 and lives near Granada, complained: "The conservative Popular Party, which governs both in Madrid and Granada, wants to ignore the fact that Lorca died for his ideas because he was homosexual. A strong political thread runs through the philosophy of his work, which is that of a revolutionary writer. He was outspoken in his condemnation of fascism, a genuine subversive.

"This is what some people want to ignore."

A 700-piece exhibition devoted to Lorca opened last week at the Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid in the presence of the Culture Minister, Esperanza Aquirre, and the heir to the throne, Prince Felipe. In the succession of rooms illustrating Lorca's life, work and view of the world, there is no reference to his sexuality, not the faintest hint of a political opinion, and no indication of how he died. The only exhibit that refers to his assassination in August 1936 at the age of 38, is the official death certificate that attributes his death to "war wounds". The art critic of El Mundo newspaper wrote a blistering critique headlined: "The Reina Sofia presents a Lorca without sexuality or political ideas".

Fuelling the polemic, one of Spain's grand old men of letters, the Nobel literature prizewinner Camilo Jose Cela, recently launched a furious attack on the enthusiastic celebration by Spanish gays of their idol's memory. Asked whether he would like to receive a homage comparable to that granted to Lorca, Cela said he would prefer a "more solid, less anecdotal celebration, without the support of the gay community".

He was "neither in favour or against" their demands, Cela said, but they should "not take men por el culo" (by the bum). This provoked outrage, prompting one commentator to observe bravely: "It is more dignified to take someone by the bum than lick the bum of those in power, as Cela has often done." The local authorities in Lorca's home village of Fuente Vaqueros, furious at the insult, declared Cela persona non grata.

Earlier this month the Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, attended a commemorative event at the Residencia de Estudiantes, the legendary students' hostel in Madrid where Lorca, Salvador Dali and the film-maker Luis Bunuel began their artistic careers in the early 1920s. Oblivious to the dangers of looking foolish in the crucible of surrealism, Mr Aznar solemnly intoned part of Lorca's poem "Romance of the Moon" as if reading his laundry list. He broke off - "there's more of course, but I'm not going to recite it all" - just before the line, "and reveals pure and lubricious breasts of hard steel." The prime minister then laid down the official version, faithfully reflected in the exhibition: "Some Spaniards insist that the rest of us should discuss things that have no sense. Poetry has no ideology, it is spirit and beauty."

The veteran poet Vicente Aleixandre is one of the few to have expressed the truth: "Even the stones knew he was gay." In a tribute written in 1937, Aleixandre evoked Lorca's mysterious, nocturnal personality. "His deepest self, as with all great poets, was not happy. Those who thought him a gaily-coloured bird passing blithely through life never really knew their man."

Lorca adored Salvador Dali, and wanted a physical relationship that Dali was too frightened to consummate. "Dali confessed this to me on his deathbed," Gibson says. In another example, Lorca wrote to a friend, Rafael Martinez Nadal, about a poem that was, in the poet's words: "frankly homosexual". Lorca's letter goes on: "I think it is my best work. Here in Granada I amuse myself these days with delicious things too. There is a young bullfighter ..." At this point, Gibson says: "Nadal, who showed me this letter, folded the page and refused to let me see any more."

Gibson painstakingly reconstructed Lorca's last hours for his book that inspired the Hollywood movie Death in Granada starring Andy Garcia, and discovered that shortly after the poet was killed, one of his assassins confessed he had given him "two shots in the bum, because he was a poof". Gibson also quotes Ramon Ruiz Alonso, the Falangist who took Lorca to his death, as saying: "Lorca caused more damage with his pen than others with a pistol."

Egged on by prudish surviving members of Lorca's family, however, the authorities seek to perpetuate a political and sexual cover-up that persisted during the Franco years, and caused numerous testimonies to be hushed up, says Gibson. "By saying that his work stands alone, outside any political context, they want to forget that Lorca tried through his work to change society. They just don't want to stir things up."