Spain’s lawmakers pass bill honouring Franco-era victims

Almost five decades after the death of Francisco Franco, Spanish lawmakers passed a flagship law Wednesday seeking to honour the victims of the 1936-1939 civil war and the ensuing dictatorship.

Spain's lawmakers pass bill honouring Franco-era victims
View of the skull of a woman as archeologists and villagers searched a cemetery in the southwestern Spanish town of Gerena in 2012, looking for a mass grave thought to contain the remains of 17 women who were shot by General Francisco Franco's forces in 1937. AFP PHOTO / CRISTINA QUICLER (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Honouring those who died or suffered violence or repression during war and decades of dictatorship that followed has been a top priority for the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez since he came to power in 2018.

The senate approved the law — which aims to pay homage to those who died, were subjected to violence or persecution during the Franco years — with 128 votes in favour, 113 against and 18 abstentions.

Known as the “law of democratic memory”, the legislation seeks to advance the search and exhumation of victims buried in mass graves and upending decades-old political convictions.

“Today we are taking another step towards justice, reparation and dignity for all victims,” tweeted Sánchez after the vote.

But it threatens to fuel tensions in a nation where public opinion is still divided over the legacy of the dictatorship that ended with Franco’s death in 1975.

The right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) has vowed to overturn the law if elected in the next election, which is due by the end of 2023.

“History cannot be built on the basis of forgetting and silencing the vanquished” of the civil war, reads the preamble to the law.

Franco assumed power after the civil war in which his Nationalists defeated Republicans, leaving the country in ruins and mourning hundreds of thousands of dead.

While his regime honoured its own dead, it left its opponents buried in unmarked graves across the country.

A worker belonging to Spain’s Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory (ARMH) exhumes the remains of victims executed by Franco’s security forces during Spain’s civil war, in Porreres (Mallorca) in 2016. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

Finding mass graves

The bill, which was approved by the lower house of parliament in July, will for the first time make unearthing mass graves a “state responsibility”.

It also calls for a national DNA bank to be established to help identify remains and for the creation of a map of all mass graves in the country.

“The state must exhume the remains of the victims of the Franco dictatorship,” Sánchez told parliament in July.

“There are still 114,000 people who were forcibly disappeared in Spain, mostly Republicans,” he said, referring to people whose fate was deliberately hidden.

Only Cambodia, he said, had more “disappeared” people than Spain, its population suffering atrocities under 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime.

Up until now, it has been associations who have led the search for those who went missing during the Franco era, as portrayed in Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s most recent film “Parallel Mothers”.

The new legislation seeks to build on a 2007 “historical memory” law, which experts and activists say fell short of excavating the hundreds of still untouched mass graves scattered across Spain.

Sánchez’s predecessor, Mariano Rajoy of the PP, famously bragged that he had not spent a euro of public money in furthering the provisions within the law.

Annulling Franco-era convictions

The new law will also annul the criminal convictions of opponents of the Franco regime and appoint a prosecutor to probe human rights abuses during the war and the ensuing dictatorship.

Previous attempts to bring Franco-era officials to justice in Spain have been blocked by an amnesty agreement signed by political leaders after his death.

The deal was seen as essential to avoid a spiral of score-settling as officials sought to unite the country and steer it towards democracy.

And the law will also mean that for the first time, “stolen babies” will be recognised as victims of Francoism.

Those babies were newborns who were taken away from “unsuitable” mothers — Republican or left-wing opponents of the regime, then unwed mothers or poor families.

But not everyone was pleased with the outcome of the vote, with the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) saying the new legislation did not go far enough.

The law “perpetuates impunity for the Francoists” because it leaves the amnesty agreement in force, “it will not put anyone on trial” nor will it “compensate the families of the disappeared”, it said in a statement.

The PP has accused the government of needlessly opening the wounds of the past with the law.

This is Sánchez’s second major effort to tackle the Franco legacy.

In 2019, he had Franco’s remains removed from a vast grandiose mausoleum near Madrid and transferred to a discreet family plot, despite opposition from the late dictator’s relatives and right-wing parties.

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Spain to stop exclusion of newly registered people from social services

The Spanish government aims to ensure that residents recently registered on the padrón can no longer be excluded from essential social services, as well as outlining rules for social care provisions for people who move between regions.

Spain to stop exclusion of newly registered people from social services

On January 17th, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a preliminary draft bill reforming the country’s social service provisions. 

Though ultimately the legal and organisational remits will remain, as before, in the hands of Spain’s regional governments, the proposed legislation seeks to establish a common framework of services, including minimum standards that all autonomous regions must comply with.

Crucially, among them, the regions will be compelled by law to provide ‘essential social services’ to all residents regardless of how long they have been registered on the padrón.

READ ALSO – Padrón: 16 things you should know about Spain’s town hall registration

The padrón certificate is basically proof that shows where you are living. Your town hall – or ayuntamiento – uses it to find how many people are living in the area and what their ages are. If you plan on staying in Spain for more than three months and becoming a foreign resident in Spain, you are required by law to register for your padrón within this time.

Spain’s social service system, headed by Minister for Social Rights, Ione Belarra, provides support for the disabled, families, infants and teenagers, residential care and the homeless community, among many other disadvantaged groups.

As part of the draft bill, the requirement for a minimum time of registration or residence to access basic services will be removed, which will benefit not only Spaniards who have moved from one region to another, but foreigners who have recently become residents in Spain.

READ ALSO: Can I get my padrón online in Spain?

With this legislation, the Ministry of Social Rights aims to make Spain’s social services “more personalised, more comprehensive and inclusive” and remove barriers to care, according to sources within the Ministry.

“The aim is to lay the foundations for a new model of social services, a path that some regional legislations have already embarked on, far from a welfare-based approach and focused solely on emergencies,” the source added.

The bill is still in the draft stage, and the final text must be formally approved first by the Council of Ministers and then pass through the Spanish parliament. Once, and if, it is green-lighted by both those bodies, the Ministry will then have to agree with the regions which social services are specifically considered essential, and outline a catalogue of services that all regions will be obliged to guarantee to all residents, regardless of when they carried out their padrón registration.

The draft bill establishes that “all persons with effective residence in Spain are holders of the rights contained in this law, without any distinction or exclusion”. 

Moving around Spain

Although the regions will no longer be able to set minimum registration times to be ‘empadronado‘, that is, registered on the local census, as a requirement for access to social services, their power to make access to social services conditional on registration in their region looks set to remain.

Fortunately, however, that will not prevent or interfere with another of the new rules proposed in the legislation: the right of access to social services for people who spend seasons or periods outside their region, elsewhere within Spain.

In that sense, the social services model could become similar to public health in that all residents maintain their access rights, even if they are not registered in that region. For example: if a person who is registered with and receives social services in one region spends the summer in a beach house located in another region, the proposed law will establish that second regional administration (the one being visited) will take on the responsibility for social service previsions while they are there.