Spain still divided over long-dead dictator

Thirty-eight years after the dictator Francisco Franco died, Spaniards remain divided over the final resting place of his body, which lies in a controversial monument carved into a mountain near Madrid.

Spain still divided over long-dead dictator
The row over Spanish dictator Francisco's Franco tomb is just one of the open wounds in Spain concerning the 1936–1939 civil war and the 40 years of dictatorship that followed. Photo: AFP

Since his death in 1975, Franco has lain in a basilica in a giant hillside monument called The Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos), along with tens of thousands of Civil War dead transferred from other graves around the country.

To mark the 38th anniversary of Franco's death on November 20th, an association for his victims has called a demonstration this Saturday at the entrance to the mausoleum, where his admirers still come to lay flowers on his grave.

The protesters called the rally "to denounce the maintaining of the Valley of the Fallen as a mausoleum for Franco and a place of pilgrimage for international fascism", they said in a statement.

Fausto Canales, 79, son of one of the victims, says he cannot bear to go the Valley of the Fallen, even to protest, knowing that his father buried there.

"That monument absolutely revolts me," said Canales. "It makes me psychologically uneasy, as if my father were being kidnapped and murdered all over again."

Canales was three when his father, a farm labourer and republic sympathizer, was taken away on August 20, 1936, shot and thrown into a mass grave.

In 1959, he says, his father's body was taken from that grave and buried in the Valley of the Fallen.

The monument was built between 1940 and 1958 partly with the forced labour of republican prisoners.

Modern Spain does not lack those ready to defend Franco's memory, however.  

'Resentful people'

Efforts to alter the monument "are initiatives of resentful people, who do not want to recognize their own part in history," said Jaime Alonso, vice-chairman of the Francisco Franco Foundation.

"From a legal point of view, there is no possibility" of Franco's body being moved, he added. "And we will do everything possible to stop it."

A commission appointed by the outgoing Socialist government led by José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in November 2011 recommended that Franco should be dug up from the mausoleum and reburied elsewhere.

The opposition Socialists last month renewed the drive to have him moved.

They launched a parliamentary motion for the site to be converted into a monument for "reconciliation" and "dignity" for all victims of the war and the dictatorship.

The conservative government, which during its two years in office has focussed on dragging Spain out of its economic crisis, said the tomb issue was not a priority.

"Do you really think that the Spanish people would understand if at this time we allocated €13 million ($18 million) to something that the commission itself said we should only do when we have the resources?" said Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón on Tuesday.

Edurne Rubio, leader of a grouping of victims' associations, retorted: "The state's legal obligations to the victims have nothing to do with the crisis…It is a question of political will, not economics."

The row over the tomb is just one of the open wounds that still fester in Spain concerning historical memory and justice for the victims of the 1936–1939 civil war and the four decades of dictatorship that followed.

A United Nations working group in September urged Spain to investigate the suspected forced disappearances of 100,000 people during that period.

Groups representing victims' families demand that their loved ones be exhumed from mass graves and identified, but no national effort has been launched to do so.

Bids to bring legal action over alleged atrocities have been overturned on the grounds of a 1977 amnesty law, which was seen as a necessity by the leaders tasked with unifying the country after the dictator's death.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.