‘Frozen Franco’ artist found not guilty

An artist who created a wax model of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco “frozen” in a fridge has been cleared from a lawsuit against him presented by the leader’s foundation.

'Frozen Franco' artist found not guilty
The artist has said the initial idea behind the sculpture was to showcase how Franco was frozen in Spanish people’s minds rather than to mock the former dictator. Photo: Camille Manceau

Eugenio Marino grabbed the limelight at last year’s ARCO modern art fair in Madrid with his satirical work of art, titled “Always Franco”.

The piece depicted nationalist leader in full military gear frozen inside a Coca-Cola fridge.

As soon as the Franco Foundation – an organization devoted to perpetuating the memory of the “Generalísimo” – got hold of the news, they decided to sue the sculptor for dishonouring the former dictator.

The foundation, headed by Franco’s daughter, told the Regional High Court of Madrid last Thursday they would be asking Merino to pay €18,000 in damages.

The public prosecutor, however, asked for the charges to be dropped because the work was “in keeping with current social usage”.

The judge found Merino not guilty on Wednesday.

The artist told national daily El País that the initial idea behind the sculpture was to showcase how Franco was frozen in Spanish people’s minds rather than to mock the former dictator.

“The bigger a deal they make of this, the more people support me,” Merino said outside the court in reference to the Franco Foundation’s insistence on pursuing the case.

“They’ve already buggered me and got what they wanted: publicity.”

Franco, who ruled Spain from 1936 till his death in 1975, is usually absent from public discourse in modern Spain.

Franco’s last official statue was pulled down in 2008, although a massive mausoleum he built is still home to a monastery and looms over the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) near Madrid. 

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Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen

The Spanish government on Tuesday approved a special fund to exhume graves at the Valley of the Fallen, where thousands of victims of the Spanish Civil War and dictator Francisco Franco are buried.

Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen
Women hold up pictures of their fathers and relatives, who were condemned to death during Franco’s dictatorship. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

The Socialist government said it had set aside €665,000 ($780,000) to exhume some 33,000 victims whose remains lie behind a vast basilica near Madrid.

Franco was buried in the basilica when he died in 1975 but his remains were removed in 2019 and transferred to a discreet family plot on the outskirts of the capital.

Government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montera told reporters that more than 60 families and international institutions had called for the exhumation of the victims to give relatives who suffered during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship “moral reparation”.

Campaigners estimate more than 100,000 victims from the war and its aftermath remain buried in unmarked graves across Spain —- a figure, according to Amnesty International, only exceeded by Cambodia.

Human remains discovered during exhumation works carried out by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory of Valladolid, in a mass grave where the bodies of hundreds of people were dumped during the Spanish civil war. Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP

Built between 1940 and 1958 partly by the forced labour of political prisoners, the imposing basilica and the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen was initially intended for those who had fought for Franco.

But in 1959 the remains of many Republican opponents were moved there from cemeteries and mass graves across the country without their families being informed.

The crypts and ossuaries where some of the victims are buried are inaccessible as they were walled off at the time.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

As well as the Valley of the Fallen, his government is also focusing on identifying remains founds in mass graves across Spain.