Eva Forest: The Passing of a Spanish Icon


It was typical of Eva Forest, who died after an illness on May 19 at Hondarribia in Basque country, Spain, at the age of 79, to tell a friend days before her passing that she was living the best days of her life. A Left-wing icon whom the Spanish state could never silence nor smear, defiant till the very end of the harsh Spanish political system, and a great friend of Vietnam, Cuba and latterly of Venezuela and Bolivia, she is being remembered with great affection throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

 

Eva was born into a politically active family in Barcelona in 1928. Her painter father, an anarchist who felt that schools were a repressive institution, kept her at home for as long as he lived. It was some time after his death in 1936 that she set foot in a formal educational institute. That also was the year in which the civil war started and in 1939 Eva was at the point of being flown out to Russia from a nursery created with Swiss help for Spanish children, when her mother pulled her out of the truck moments before it set off towards the evacuation point.

 

Eva Forest gained a degree in psychiatry at Madrid and at the final year of her studies in 1955 she met and married Alfonso Sastre, playwright, essayist and a relentless critic of censorship lf the Franco era. They stayed together till the end, a couple who collaborated so closely in their work that they progressively thought and wrote alike.

 

With Aflonso’s persecution in Spain, the couple left for Paris in 1956, where their first son was born. At this time, she moved away from psychiatry towards a “sui generis sociology” and wrote her first novel, Febrero. They returned to Spain in 1962 and she was detained after joining other women demonstrating in support of Asturian miners. She was fined, refused to pay it and was sent to prison with her new-born daughter.

 

In 1968, Franco imposed a state of emergency. Eva’s response was to edit, along with her friends, a clandestine journal, Information, and the more widely circulated samizdat publication, State of Emergency. A Catalan by birth, her identification with the Basque cause started with characteristic fearlessness in 1970, when she was among those who worked to set up a solidarity committee during the farcical Burgos trial of 1970 against Basque prisoners, which ended with death sentences being handed out and later commuted following an international outcry. She was arrested in 1974 for writing under the pseudonym of Julen Agirre Operation Ogre, a book that detailed the car bomb assassination in 1973 by the Basque group, ETA, of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Spanish premier and Franco’s most intimate collaborator. Eva was tortured and kept in preventive custody for three years, accused of collaborating with ETA, a charge never proven.

 

Her account of imprisonment, translated as From a Spanish Prison, shone light on the arbitrariness of the Spanish justice system and her own humanity and capacity for love for her children, her family and others amid great adversity. Prison was also the impulse for her to set up TAT, a group dedicated to working against torture, and to write extensively on the subject. As a torture victim herself, she campaigned till the very end against torture, ruing that despite years of all the work, it still tended to be common place.

 

After her release, the family moved to Basque country where Eva lived till the end. She aligned herself with the Basque Left and was at one time elected as a regional Senator on a Left ticket. She was also an incorrigible internationalist who could feel as her own the pain of others. We are responsible for own actions and our own silences, she said and Eva did not do silence. She visited Iraq in 1998 and wrote a book about it, ‘Iraq, a Challenge to the New World Order?’ She was intrigued by the anthropology of the ‘new man’ emerging in Cuba, interviewing peasants who learn for the first time to speak out in public and live in solidarity with others.

 

Eva Forest was a prolific writer, of novels and polemical reports on issues that were not profitable to commercial publishers. Since 1990 she kept herself busy with Hitu, her own publishing company that functioned on cooperative lines. She would edit, translate, pack and even sell books. The most eloquent homage to her is something she had written as an eulogy for one of her companions: “Pick up the sleep of our deaths and turn them into a creative arm that perforates impossibles and drills through utopia in search of new ways of speeding up the process of humanisation.” Alfonso, her own companion of a lifetime, survives her and so does his little prophecy: “And one day, companion, we will return in triumph to the inhabited space that never was ours”.

 

(Eva Forest 1928-2007)

 

 

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