Activists from the feminist group Femen chose a controversial site from which to launch their plea for a minority of Spaniards to stop marking the November 20th anniversary of the death of Francisco Franco, the military leader who ruled Spain as a dictator from 1939 to 1975.
Bare-breasted as usual, and with their torsos daubed with slogans, three Femen members painted the slogan "Stop 20N" on the massive white cross on the steep hillside at Paracuellos, itself a memorial to the at least 2,000 people summarily executed at the site by Republican government authorities in Madrid before Franco's forces were victorious in Spain’s Civil War.
Those killed were perceived supporters of Franco’s Nationalist side in the conflict.
The cross is visible from many parts of Madrid’s Barajas international airport.
The feminists’ protest, carried out under the slogan "Stop 20N, stop canonizing fascism", was held on Wednesday evening, just before the Thursday anniversary of Franco’s death. Each year small groups of people gather to show their continued support for dictator, assembling at the Valley of the Fallen site of Franco’s tomb outside El Escorial, among other places.
"Spain’s Popular Party government is committing an attack on democracy, supporting and urging people to celebrate the anniversary of Franco, who repressed Spain for 40 years,” Femen said.
The conservative PP government has made no comment about the anniversary of the dictator’s death, but has been criticised in many circles, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, for withdrawing public funding from excavations led by families who wish to recover the bodies of those killed by Franco’s forces during and after the 1936-39 war, as well as preventing relatives from seeking justice for human rights abuses relating to the dictatorship period.
The current government has also shelved recommendations made by a specially appointed commission on turning the Valley of the Fallen into a centre for historical memory. At present, the site remains a Benedictine abbey, run by monks. Besides Franco and the Falangist leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera, thousands of Civil War victims are buried at the site under a gigantic stone cross, built by Republican prisoners in the 1940s and 50s.
Some relatives of those interred at the Valley of the Fallen wish to remove their ancestor’s remains, and, according to the Público news site, one family has just launched the first civil lawsuit requesting such an outcome. Purificación Lapeña has spent years trying to pursue her bid to provide proper burial for her grandfather and great uncle through Spain’s criminal courts, even making an unsuccessful appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Lapeña, whose two relatives’ bodies were transferred from their initial graves to the Valley of the Fallen in 1959 without the family’s consent, was due on Thursday to present a lawsuit in El Escorial, arguing that the state has the responsibility under international treaties and its own laws to restore families’ honour and put right such wrongs of the past. Almost 34,000 people are entombed at the site.