Rehashing the debate over the former Spanish dictator’s legacy, the Supreme Court voted unanimously to exhume Francisco Franco’s body. Francisco Franco seized power in Spain after a three year civil war where himself and other generals rebelled against the leftist Popular Front government in 1936. Franco received assistance from the fascist powers of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy and established a dictatorship, proclaiming himself “Caudillo,” or head of state in 1939. Under Franco’s reign, an estimated 100,000-200,000 supporters of the Spanish Republic were executed as a part of the “White Terror.” Additionally, hundreds of thousands were sent to concentration camps and forced into exile, including many prominent Spanish intellectuals and artists. Franco continued his dictatorship until his death in 1975, when Spain established a democracy.
Following the establishment of democracy in Spain, there has been much debate regarding how to recognize Franco’s legacy. Following Franco’s death, there was an unwritten “pact of forgetting” the atrocities committed under his regime. Physical evidence of the regime including statues of Franco and street names related to the regime were removed, but the hundreds of thousands of victims of the regime were ignored. An Amnesty Law, passed in 1977, prevents any criminal investigation into the Franco years. In 2007, the Spanish government finally acknowledged Franco’s victims with a Historical Memory Law, recognizing those persecuted during the Franco era as victims and qualifying them for monetary compensation. The law also sought to support the opening of over 2,000 mass graves across Spain and identify those inside. These efforts, however, have been slow and divisive, with over 100,000 victims of Franco still missing.
Franco is currently buried in an enormous mausoleum outside of Madrid called the Valley of the Fallen. Constructed under Franco, the Valley of the Fallen is one of the largest mass-graves in Europe, containing at least 33,000. The mausoleum has become a symbol for the triumph of fascism and a shrine to the far right. Many, including Silvia Nararro, whose great uncle died in 1939, wish for Franco’s body to be separated from the those of the Republicans murdered under his regime, “The idea that people who were killed by Franco’s troops are buried together with Franco, it’s very absurd, and they’re still glorifying him as if he was the savior of Spain.” The Spanish government argues that Franco should not be buried in a place where he could be revered and that the mausoleum poses potential security issues. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also stated the decision to exhume Franco was based on “the determination to compensate for the suffering of the victims” of his regime.
Upon entering office, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez promised to immediately exhume Franco. A legal battle ensued between the prime minister and the family of Franco, who stood firmly against the exhumation. Franco’s family appealed the decision to exhume Franco to the Supreme Court, which suspended the exhumation plan in June to provide time to review the case. On September 24th, 2019 the Supreme Court unanimously approved the government’s plan to exhume Franco. Franco’s family remains determined to stop the exhumation, announcing they plan on appealing to the Spanish Constitutional Court. A successful appeal seems unlikely, however, because they would first have to demonstrate that the Supreme Court ruling violated fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Additionally, Franco’s family appealed to a local court in Madrid, arguing that there are technical and safety concerns regarding opening Franco’s tomb. The Spanish government has planned to move Franco to his family crypt outside of Madrid called El Pardo. Franco’s family has stated that the only acceptable alternative to his current resting place is the crypt of Madrid’s cathedral, but the government opposes this.
Franco’s exhumation holds widespread political implications and has yielded various reactions from political figures. Spain is scheduled for a repeat national election on November 10th because Prime Minister Sanchez failed to gather enough support from smaller parties to get voted into office by Parliament. Sanchez plans on completing the exhumation “very quickly,” presumably before the elections. Other political figures such as Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the left-wing party Unidas Podemos, stated that Franco’s exhumation represents “a very important step toward repairing the shame that we have carried during 40 years of democracy.” Contrarily, Santiago Abascal, the leader of an ultranationalist party called Vox, believes the exhumation is a political strategy to increase division, describing the move as “profanating graves” and “unearthing hatreds.” Sanchez is hoping the exhumation of Franco will help raise enough support for the socialists in the upcoming election to achieve an absolute majority in Parliament. This move could prove ineffective, however, with Spaniards believing the exhumation is a political ploy and disillusionment among Spanish voters leading to low turnout.
Franco’s Spain represents a brutal personalistic regime where the ensuing democratic government did not sufficiently address the atrocities committed. The government now must determine whether it is their role to revisit up past tragedies and try to right the wrongs of their predecessors, possibly causing further ideological division, or forget the past and move on, leaving the families of victims alienated.
“Franco Exhumation: Spain’s Supreme Court Backs Move to Cemetery.” BBC News, 24 Sept. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-49807372. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.
Govan, Fiona. “Spain to Offer Compensation to Victims of Franco Dictatorship.” Telegraph.Co.Uk, 6 Oct. 2008, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/3146281/Spain-to-offer-compensation-to-victims-of-Franco-dictatorship.html. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.Minder, Raphael. “Spanish Court Approves Franco’s Exhumation.” The New York Times, 24 Sept. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/world/europe/spain-franco-exhume.html. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.
“White Terror (Spain).” Abuse Wiki, 2010, abuse.wikia.org/wiki/White_Terror_(Spain). Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.