IN PICTURES: Franco exhumed, transported by helicopter, and reburied as Spain takes ‘step towards reconciliation’

Spain has exhumed the embalmed body of Francisco Franco from a grandiose state mausoleum ahead of its relocation it to a more discreet grave in a country still conflicted over the dictator's decades-long regime.

IN PICTURES: Franco exhumed, transported by helicopter, and reburied as Spain takes 'step towards reconciliation'
Photos: AFP

Spain exhumed the embalmed body of Francisco Franco from a grandiose state mausoleum on Thursday, reburying it in more discreet grave in a country still conflicted over the dictator's decades-long regime.

The carefully-choreographed operation which began inside an imposing basilica in Valley of the Fallen and ended some four hours later at a state cemetery outside of Madrid, was hailed by the government as ending “an insult to Spanish democracy”.

“This decision puts an end to the moral outrage of the glorification of a dictator in a public space,” said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

“It takes us one step closer to reconciliation… and gives prestige to our democracy, not only in our own eyes but in the eyes of the world.”   

The delicate procedure drew a line under a sombre drama which had threatened to open barely-healed wounds in a nation still divided over Franco's legacy 44 years after his death.

The coffin bearing the embalmed body of Spain's Francisco Franco was carried out of a grandiose basilica after being exhumed Thursday from the grave where it had lain since 1975, in images  broadcast on live televsision.

The long-awaited exhumation process began at around 11:00 am (0900 GMT) with his coffin carried out of the imposing basilica at the Valley of the Fallen some two hours later.

The dictator's coffin was borne by eight family members and placed into a hearse to be transferred a few hundred metres to a waiting helicopter to carry it to a more discreet grave just north of Madrid.

Some 22 relatives of the late dictator were on hand to witness the opening of the grave near Madrid, which has been a draw for both tourists and right-wing sympathisers.

After removing the heavy flagstone on top of the grave, which reportedly weighs some 1,500 kilogrammes (1.5 tonnes), the dilapidated casket was then secured before being extracted, a government spokesman said.

Santiago Cantera (C), the prior of the Valle de los Caidos basilica greets Francisco Franco's relatives before the exhumation of the Spanish dictator at the Valle de los Caidos

A helicopter carried Franco's coffin from the Valley of the Fallen to El Pardo for reburial.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made moving Franco's remains a priority since coming to power in June 2018, saying Spain should not “continue to glorify” a man who ruled with an iron fist after the bloody 1936-39 civil war
won by his Nationalist forces.

A group of pro-Franco demonstrators hold a banner reading “dictatorial state” during the exhumation 

Chasing 'Franco's mummy' votes

The hearse drove the coffin several hundred metres to an open plaza where it was transferred to one of two waiting airforce helicopters for the brief flight to El Pardo, some 50 kilometres away.

There his body was reburied alongside that of his wife in Mingorrubio state cemetery.

Ahead of his arrival, around 200 supporters of the diminutive dictator rallied outside the cemetery, some holding Falange banners, others draped in older Franco-era Spanish flags, shouting “Long live Franco!”   

“Franco will never die. For me, today is about loyalty. I had to come to thank him for everything he has done for us,” said Miguel Maria Martinez, a pensioner from the Basque Country.

Someone holds up a Falange flag with the portraits of late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and founder of the Fascist Falange Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, at the entrance of the Mingorrubio cemetery at El Pardo

Stickers supporting Francisco Franco are pictured during the exhumation of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco at the Valle de los Caidos 

Initially scheduled for June 2018, the operation was delayed by a string of legal challenges filed by Franco's descendants.

Sanchez has described the operation as “a great victory” for Spanish democracy.

But coming just over a fortnight before a general election, his rivals have accused him of electioneering, with Pablo Iglesias of the radical leftwing Podemos saying he had unearthed “Franco's mummy” to win votes.

Spaniards are divided over the exhumation, with 43 percent in favour, 32.5 percent against and the rest undecided, according to an El Mundo poll published earlier this month.

An archive image of Gen Francisco Franco and King Juan Carlos before he came to the throne. Photo: AFP

'Glorious crusade'

Ordered by Franco in 1940 to celebrate his “glorious (Catholic) crusade” against the “godless” Republicans, construction of the Valley of the Fallen lasted for almost 20 years.

Partly built by the forced labour of political prisoners, the site is one of Europe's largest mass graves, housing the remains of over 30,000 dead from both sides of a civil war that was triggered by Franco's rebellion against an elected Republican government.

Most had fought for Franco but the monument also contains the bones of many Republican opponents who were moved there from cemeteries and mass graves across the country without their families being informed.

A 150-metre (500-feet) cross towers over the site which Franco dedicated to “all the fallen” of the conflict in what he called a gesture of reconciliation.    

Since Franco was buried there after his death in 1975, flowers have been placed daily on his tomb.

A helicopter can be seen coming in to land at the Valley fo the Fallen. Photo: AFP


In 2017, the parliament approved a non-binding motion calling for Franco's remains to be removed from the Valley of the Fallen, but it was ignored by the former conservative government of Mariano Rajoy.

Conservatives repeatedly accuse the left of opening wounds from the past with a so-called historical memory law, approved by a previous Socialist government in 2007.

That law ordered the removal of all symbols of the Franco regime and called for the identification of those bodies dumped into mass graves during the civil war.

Rajoy, who governed from 2011 until 2018, proudly said his government never gave any money to apply this law.

Spanish dictator's great-grandson Prince Louis Alphonse of Bourbon, Duke of Anjou (C) arrives for the exhumation of the Spanish dictator at the Valle de los Caidos 

Francis Franco, grandson of Spanish dictator Franco, arrives holding a Spanish pre-constitutional flag.

EXPLAINED: Why Spain is on the verge of digging up General Franco

Meanwhile at the Mongorubio cemetery, pro-Franco crowds were also gathering to pay tribute to the late dictator when he reached his new final resting place. 

Around 200 people, some wearing insignia of Spanish fascists and saluting to a chorus of 'Viva Espana' or singing 'Cara al Sol', the anthem of the Falange, gathered at the cemetery gates. 



EXPLAINED: Why Spain is on the verge of digging up General 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