Why this story matters:
The Spanish government wants to exhume and move the remains of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975) from his tomb in the Valley of the Fallen, a monument located north of Madrid. The site, crowned with a large cross, was conceived by the dictator to honor and bury the people who had died in what he considered his “glorious crusade,” the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
The move by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has reopened the debate on historical memory in Spain and how the wounds of the Civil War have only recently started to heal.
The fact that the remains of the dictator continue to lie in a prominent tomb in the Valley of the Fallen is considered by many to be a glorification of genocide and repression.
The decision to exhume and move Franco’s remains is controversial and not an easy task. Although the Socialist government’s initiative has the backing of a majority, the Popular Party does not want to open the debate. It has also said that the government needs the permission of the Catholic Church -- which supported the dictator while he was alive -- as the tomb is in a Catholic basilica.
“We cannot build a comfortable future by ignoring an uncomfortable past,” said Sánchez, who is looking to dismantle the remains of the dictatorship and repair the damage done to the victims of repression.
Details from the story:
- Franco ordered the construction of the Valley of the Fallen and is buried there with José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the far-right organization Falange Española.
- As well as Franco, the bodies of 33,847 people from both sides of the war are buried at the site.
- Nationalists and Republicans are not separated but mixed in what is considered “the largest mass grave in Spain.” Around 20,000 men, many of them political prisoners, built the memorial.
- Dozens of families from both sides, but particularly the losing side (the Republicans), have asked to recover the remains of their relatives who were buried there without their consent.
- In the 42 years since Franco’s death, no government has ever intervened in the monument, which symbolizes the glorification of the dictator’s victory.
- Since 1999, the number of the visitors to the Valley of the Fallen has varied from 150,000 to 500,000 a year. The Spanish state receives an average of €2 million a year from the site.
- In recent years, Spain has begun to review symbols from the Franco dictatorship, renaming streets with references to the dictator and removing certain statues.