18 September 2008 **** Front Page

Guerrillas whom history left behind

By Tapani Lausti

David Baird, Between Two Fires: Guerrilla war in the Spanish sierras. Maroma Press 2008.

Lately the Spanish media has been full of information about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Spanish authorities are allowing the opening of thousands of unmarked graves everywhere in the country. The fate of Franco's victims is being investigated after decades of silence. (See e.g. Spain: Judge seeks to clarify fate of Franco victims by Mike Elkin, The Guardian, 3 September 2008; Garzón lanza la mayor investigación sobre los desaparecidos del régimen de Franco por Manuel Altozano, El País, 2 de septiembre de 2008.)

In the Andalucian village of Torrox, where we have been living during the last eight years, talking about the Civil War has been practically impossible. Questions about the tragic history of those times are not welcome. So it was with great interest that I read David Baird's book. The events described in the book took place at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s in the neighbouring village of Frigiliana and the mountains of the area. We can see the sierra from our roof terrace.

Today Frigiliana is a beautiful and wealthy village, popular with tourists. It is difficult to imagine that only 50 years ago the village was dirt poor. Apart from heavy work, there was nothing to do. Life was not only hard but made worse by the political conflicts of the early stages of Franco's dictatorship.

Baird, who is an experienced British journalist, has lived in Frigiliana for many years and was able to persuade local survivors of those awful years to talk about the past. The fascists marched into the village in February 1937. Many republicans had to flee the ensuing terror and join the guerrillas on the mountains. After the Second World War, these maquis were convinced that the allies would come and help them fight Franco. The Americans had even started training Spanish guerrillas. However, the allies later abandoned the Spanish to their own fate. Stalin on his part had other tactical ideas. The men on the mountains knew nothing of these developments.

Left to fight a hopeless guerrilla war, their situation became more and more difficult. An enigmatic character called Roberto (real name José Muñoz Lozano) emerged as the leader of the maquis of the area. (There were guerrillas on the mountains in many parts of Spain, as for instance Gerald Brenan observes in his book The Face of Spain, published in 1950.) Roberto imposed military discipline and the wearing of uniforms. The latter order made it impossible for the guerrillas to slip back to their homes in Frigiliana. This reflected the fact that Roberto was an outsider. In fact, his authority was initially questioned by some locals who did not want to be lead by a communist.

Having been cut off from the village, the question of providing food for the maquis became a vexed one. Guardia Civil watched people carefully and limited the amount of food which people were allowed to take with them when they went to work on the sierra. This all added misery to already suffering families who had loved ones on the mountains. It also inevitably made the guerrillas often seem more like bandoleros than freedom fighters. They would sometimes use blackmail to make people bring food.

When the Frigiliana guerrillas were finally captured to the last men, the history of the episode was left with a big question: Was it Roberto himself who in the end informed the authorities about his fighters' identities and whereabouts? The question comes up often in the numerous interviews which form the latter part of Baird's book. Even if the events took place decades ago, the interviewees reveal an intense feeling about them.

Baird's book is undoubtedly an important contribution to our knowledge of the post-Civil War Spain. And the atrocities committed by Franco's forces being again in the news, this book is definitely timely.


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