In 2007, the Spanish parliament approved the “Law of historical memory”, the final goal of which was to mitigate the symbolic presence and memory of the period in which Francisco Franco governed Spain. The proposal was presented by PSOE (Spanish socialist party), at the time when Zapatero was Spain’s Prime Minister. The law had some consequences in the following years, with the most recent one manifesting itself just a few months ago. In light of the law approved in 2007, some measures were applied: in 2008, the last Francisco Franco statue within Spanish ground was removed from the community of Cantábria; in 2012, the children and grandchildren of people who had to flee from the Spanish dictatorship were conceded the right to claim Spanish citizenship (resulting in 442,000 new Spanish citizens); and, on the 24th of October 2019, the Spanish Dictator’s body was removed from its original gravesite.
In June 2018, after PSOE’s victory in the general elections, the recently elected Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, promised the Spanish People to accomplish one of the most essential consequences of the Law of Historical Memory: to resurrect Franco’s body from Valle de los Caídos, making it one of the greatest goals of his governance. Francisco Franco’s body has been buried at the Valle de los Caídos memorial ever since his death in November 1975.
What is Valle de los Caídos, after all?
Valle de los Caídos is a monument located near the city of Madrid. It was erected in 1959 at Franco’s demand in order to pay tribute and to bury nationalist fighters that died during the 3 year-long Spanish Civil War. Nearly 34,000 bodies rest at this site. In 1975, in accordance with his wishes, Franco’s body was also buried in the same place. Many criticized this deed, since Francisco Franco was not a victim of the Civil War and, therefore, his burial would contradict and distort the monument’s original purpose.
Why did it take so long since the 2007 law approval?
Only in September 2018 was the law of historical memory modified in such a way that made Franco’s body removal from Valle de los Caídos possible. The proposal, presented by Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE, was approved in the Spanish Parliament with 172 favourable votes and 164 votes against. In June 2019, the Government decided to unfold the parliament’s will, decision which was once again delayed due to a judicial fight that broke out between Francisco Franco’s family and the Spanish Government. In September, the Spanish Supreme Court of Justice decided in favour of the Spanish Government.
Where do other dictators lie?
Many argue that no dictator should be buried in a prestigious place that promotes regime nostalgia. But where are other dictator’s tombs located? In Russia, for instance, Joseph Stalin’s tomb is located in the country’s most famous square, The Red Square, in a cemetery destined to the most influential and recognized Russian personalities. In Cuba, Fidel Castro’s mausoleum contains the dictator’s ashes. The mausoleum is located at Santa Ifigenia cemetery, a resting place for a few notable Cuban personalities. Mao Tse Tung had a building made just to accommodate his embalmed body and it is located precisely at the centre of the Tiananmen Square.
How was Franco’s exhumation perceived in Spain?
Both VOX and PP contested Franco’s exhumation, accusing PSOE of performing political campaign with a highly sensitive subject. Both parties also accused the government of trying to mask the severe problems affecting Spain, such as the separatist movements striking Catalonia. VOX went even further, accusing the government of “digging up hatreds”. The left parties, in contrast, hailed the government’s initiative.
The fact is that Francisco Franco was the first dictator in world history to see a change to their burial place. While some support this for the sake of democracy and to respect the memory of those who were killed and oppressed during Spain’s dictatorship, many others also argue that no government has the power to decide upon one man’s body, independently of the circumstances and, especially, when it goes against the deceased’s family’s will. Critics also pose the following question: doesn’t this resemble an attempt to erase an indisputably important period of Spain’s History?