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Spain plans to exhume the remains of fascist dictator Francisco Franco

Flowers lie on the tomb of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco at El Valle de los Caidos.
Reuters/Juan Medina
Flowers at his current tomb.
  • Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

History is written by the victors—and it’s always subject to a subsequent rewrite, as Spain is proving.

Forty-three years after the death of the military dictator Francisco Franco—who ruled from 1939 until his death in 1975—the cabinet of socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez approved a decree today (Aug. 24) that will exhume Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen memorial. The action, which still needs congressional approval, is meant to ensure that the dictator’s family and remaining supporters cannot block the exhumation with a lawsuit, El Pais reports.

The decree would modify two aspects of Spain’s 2007 “Historical Memory” law, removing legal obstacles to the exhumation and protecting the process from opposition in court. If approved by congress, it will enable the government to remove a 3,300-pound marker from Franco’s tomb and exhume the body of a fascist leader whose memory still haunts the nation today.

The Valley of the Fallen is dedicated to victims of the Spanish Civil war of 1936-1939, meant to commemorate those who died fighting, on either side. However, it contains just two marked graves—Franco’s and that of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of Spain’s fascist political party. All others are unmarked. And notably, the memorial was built by prisoners of war who resisted Franco’s dictatorship.

“We want to do this because we think that there is a lot left to do in terms of historical memory in our country. There is not a single democracy on the international stage with which we would like to compare ourselves that has maintained a situation like the one that we have maintained for 40 years,” deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said at a press conference. “Democracy is not compatible with a tomb that honors the memory of Franco.”

Calvo says the move is meant to honor war victims and heal the nation. “Having the tomb of Franco there means a lack of respect and peace for the victims who are buried within,” she explained.

The dictator’s family has resisted previous removal efforts with a lawsuit and today dozens of protestors at the Valley of the Fallen voiced disapproval and laid bouquets of flowers at Franco’s grave. The conservative Popular Party and the center-right party Ciudadanos have announced they will not support the decree, El Pais notes.

Nonetheless, the socialist government believes the decree will pass. For those who support the exhumation, it won’t come a moment too soon: “We are late with this, we are all late with this, us too,” Calvo told reporters. “But this government headed by Pedro Sánchez will not be late.”

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