With the transfer of the remains of Francisco Franco from his ostentatious mausoleum to a small family crypt in a discrete cemetery, Spain began to settle an old debt with the hundreds of thousands of victims of the dictator.
Buried with all honours 44 years ago, Franco’s embalmed body was removed on 24th October from his state tomb in the grand mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen and buried in the Mingorrubio cemetery, in the Madrid neighbourhood of El Pardo.
The work to get the dictator out and bury him again that same day lasted only six hours, in a historic operation undertaken by the acting government of Pedro Sánchez, who had to overcome more than a year of administrative and legal obstacles.
When he took office in June 2018, Sánchez said that “the dictator’s remains could not continue in a public mausoleum that would exalt his figure, something expressly prohibited by the Historical Memory Law”.
The Supreme Court ruling on 30th September ended the contentious administrative process brought by the descendants of the tyrant to try to prevent his departure from the Valley.
The leader turned that wish into one of the priorities of his short term, so that the gigantic complex ceased to be a place of defence of the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975).
Since his death in 1975, Franco was buried in the Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen, built in part by the forced labour of Republican prisoners of war and political prisoners of his regime and where nostalgic people continued to praise him and hold masses for him.
Located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 50 kilometres from Madrid, the vault in question is the largest mass grave in all of Spain, where 33,883 people are buried, according to human rights organisations.
In a transcendental decision, on 13th September 2018 the Congress of Deputies ratified the decision of the government to exhume the remains of the man who ruled this country with an iron fist between 1939 (the end of the Civil War that began in 1936) and 1975. Supported by a reform of the Historical Memory Law (2007), the interim administration of the Socialist Party (PSOE) agreed that the body of the despot would be exhumed from the Valley, until then the only standing monument to a fascist leader in Europe.
The opposition accused the leader of PSOE of using this transfer to obtain electoral returns a few days after the general elections of 10th November, but the truth is that his intention was to do so immediately.
The procedure marks a milestone in the way in which Spain faces its complicated and stormy recent past, with an autocrat who died in 1975 after almost four decades in power and a transition to democracy agreed to leave the regime’s violence behind.
An agreement that, in the opinion of numerous historians, respected much of the Francoist legacy in pursuit of national reconciliation.
The exhumation puts an end to the moral affront of having a dictator in a public mausoleum where he could receive tributes, Sanchez said in an institutional statement at the end of the process.
For the interim president, modern Spain is the result of forgiveness, but it cannot be the product of oblivion, Sánchez said solemnly.
However, Franco’s exhumation did not close all matters related to his regime.
Spain still has more than 114,000 people missing, killed and buried in ditches and mass graves throughout almost all its terrain, which makes it the second country in the world in this regard, barely surpassed by Cambodia.
Until now, victims’ associations complained about the lack of political will to solve this issue and the privileges that the Franco family still enjoys.
Critics aside, the head of the acting Executive and general secretary of the PSOE will go down in history for having removed Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, Esther Palomera said in an article for the digital publication Eldiario.es.
“Others did not dare before. Or because democracy was still young or because under the ashes of Francoism there were still embers or because they yielded to the pressures of the Catholic Church and the political right,” said the journalist.
The case is that it was Sánchez who did it, in compliance with the Historical Memory Law, after the approval of a decree of the Government validated in Parliament – which had the abstention of the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the liberal Citizens (Cs) – and with the endorsement of the Supreme Court, she recalled.
Now they accuse Sánchez of electioneering by executing the transfer within a few days of the beginning of the electoral campaign, although nobody knows whether or not PSOE will profit from it or if it will be the ultra-right-wing Vox who capitalises on the issue from polarisation and regrouping of those nostalgic for the regime, Palomera said. (PL)
(Translated by Hannah Phelvin – Eail:firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay