Franco’s exhumation suspended by Spain’s Supreme Court

Spain's Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the exhumation of the remains of dictator Francisco Franco while it considers an appeal from his family against the move, which divides opinion in a country still conflicted about the nationalist regime.

Franco's exhumation suspended by Spain's Supreme Court
Photos: AFP

Spain's Socialist government had planned to move the remains on Monday from the opulent mausoleum near Madrid to a more discreet state-run pantheon but the plans have been fiercely resisted for nearly a year by Franco's heirs.   

The court said in a statement it had decided unanimously to suspend the exhumation to avoid “harm” that could be caused if it was ultimately found that his remains should not have been moved.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's government has made transferring Franco's remains a priority since he took office in June 2018, arguing the country could not “continue to glorify” the dictator.

The government said in a statement it was “convinced” that the court will ultimately reject the family's appeal when it gives a final verdict “in the coming months”. 


Divided opinion

Franco, who ruled with an iron fist from the end of the 1936-39 civil war until his death in 1975, is buried in an imposing basilica carved into a mountain at the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside Madrid.

A 150-metre (500-feet) cross towers over the site.   

Built by Franco's regime between 1940 and 1959 — in part by the forced labour of some 20,000 political prisoners — the monument holds the remains of 37,000 dead from both sides of the  war, which was triggered by Franco's rebellion against an elected Republican government.

It was long used for tributes to the dictator on the anniversary of his death, but that was stopped by a 2007 law.   

Franco, whose Nationalist forces defeated the Republicans, dedicated the site to “all the fallen” of the conflict in an attempt at reconciliation but critics say it is unacceptable to give such ostentatious recognition to a 
brutal leader.   

Critics compare the situation with neighbouring Portugal, where late dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar is buried in a municipal cemetery, or Italy, where former fascist leader Benito Mussolini lies in a family crypt. 

Many on the left are repulsed by the existence of the Valley of the Fallen, comparing it to a monument glorifying Hitler. Others, often on the right, insist it is just a piece of history that has had its meaning twisted by critics.

Long battle

The government planned to move Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen to be reburied next to his wife in the family tomb at Mingorrubio El Pardo, a state cemetery where various political figures are buried. The ceremony ws to take place without media coverage.

But Franco's closest living relatives, his grandchildren, had asked that the Supreme Court suspend the exhumation until it reaches a final ruling on the case, arguing it should not take place until all of the legal channels have been explored.

Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina, a lawyer for the family and the son of a minister in the dictator's government, welcomed the court ruling, telling Spanish public television that it showed that his client's arguments were 
“worthy of consideration”.   

If the exhumation could not be stopped, Franco's heirs had wanted his remains to be moved to the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid where his daughter is buried.

But the government feared the central location could become a pilgrimage site for Franco supporters and successfully lobbied the Vatican to reject this option.

Less than half of all Spaniards, 48.9 percent, supported the government's plan to exhume Franco's remains, in a poll published in January by online newspaper El Español.

About a third, 30.6 percent, opposed it.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Spanish govt's vow to exhume Franco

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Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner