Spanish Parliament Votes to Exhume Franco from Monument He Had Built

Spanish Parliament Votes to Exhume Franco from Monument He Had Built


MADRID — The Spanish Parliament voted on Thursday to exhume the remains of Francisco Franco, the former dictator, from the underground basilica that he had built near Madrid, intensifying a debate over his legacy that continues 43 years after his death.

The vote paves the way for the body to be moved before the end of the year, but it will not end disagreements about Franco’s place in history, nor will it resolve the question of what to do with his burial site, known as the Valley of the Fallen.

Franco had the site built, in part with forced labor, to honor those who “fell for God and Spain” in the Spanish Civil War, and it became one of Europe’s largest mass graves, with the remains of at least 33,000 people. Most had fought for Franco in the war, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, but the monument also contains the bones of many of his Republican opponents, dumped there in anonymity.

“There is neither respect, nor honor, nor justice, nor peace, nor concord as long as the remains of Franco are kept in the same place as the victims,” Carmen Calvo, the deputy prime minister, said in Parliament before the vote. “A dictator cannot be exalted: that is the summary of this debate.”

Parliament approved the exhumation, 172 to 2, with 164 abstentions, and the two who voted against were reported to have done so in error. The two main center-right opposition parties refused to take part in the vote, and the conservative Popular Party plans to appeal the decision before the Constitutional Court, arguing that Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez unjustifiably fast-tracked the measure.

Mr. Sánchez, a Socialist, promised the exhumation soon after becoming prime minister in early June, having ousted Mariano Rajoy and his Popular Party from power in an unexpected vote of no confidence in Parliament. It is not clear where Franco’s body would be reburied.

The debate has also heightened public interest in the Valley, which welcomed more thanover 60,000 visitors in August, a monthly record. Among them were people who came to pay homage to the dictator and to give a Fascist salute before his tomb.

A small association called Movement for Spain has called on citizens to protest the exhumation. The group is headed by Pilar Gutiérrez, whose father was a government minister under Franco.

On the other hand, a few hundred people have gathered weekly in central Madrid to urge the new government to give greater recognition to the victims of Franco, in accordance with the Law of Historical Memory that was approved in 2007, under a previous Socialist government.

Mr. Sánchez has promised to revive the law, which had been deprived of state funding under Mr. Rajoy’s conservative government. One of the measure’s main goals is to help finance the opening of more than 2,000 mass graves across Spain, which date from the civil war.

Mr. Sánchez leads a fragile government that controls only a quarter of the seats in Parliament, but on Thursday he received support for the exhumation from the leftist party Podemos, as well as the Basque and Catalan nationalist lawmakers who helped him replace Mr. Rajoy in June.

In fact, a Catalan party, Esquerra Republicana, wants the Socialist government to go further and annul the court rulings of Franco’s regime, many of which were decided by military tribunals. The Catalans particularly care about restoring the name of Lluís Companys, the Republican leader of Catalonia, who fled Spain at the end of the civil war. The German Gestapo captured him in France and returned him to Barcelona, where he was sentenced to death and killed by a firing square in 1940.

Shortly after winning the civil war, Franco ordered the construction of the immense basilica of the Valley of the Fallen to be carved into a mountainside northwest of Madrid. Construction lasted 18 years, with Republican prisoners among the labor force. The basilica is now run by Benedictine priests who live in an adjacent abbey.

After taking office, Mr. Sánchez met with Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez, who leads the conference of Spanish bishops, to ensure that the Church would stay on the sidelines of the debate over Franco’s remains. But relatives of Franco have opposed the exhumation and could still appeal Thursday’s decision before the national court.

Those opposed to moving Franco’s remains say that he and his history are no longer on the agenda for most Spaniards, and they accuse Mr. Sánchez of using the exhumation question to reinforce his left-wing leadership and credentials.

In a nonbinding vote in Parliament last year, the Ciudadanos party backed the idea of moving Franco’s corpse to a different burial site. But since Mr. Sánchez took office, the party has changed tack, claiming that Mr. Sánchez is unnecessarily reopening old wounds. Lawmakers of the party abstained in the vote Thursday.

Franco died in 1975, which means that most Spaniards are too young to remember his regime, let alone the civil war. But Spain has stood out in European politics recently for not having a far-right party make significant headway in elections.

For most people, “The education of their children, the future of employment and security in the face of terrorism are more important than the bones of Franco,” Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos, told Onca Cer radio last month. The government, he claimed, “is trying to return to the brotherly battles between the reds and the blues.”

Since June, politicians have voiced a wide range of opinions about how to transform the Valley of the Fallen once Franco is removed. Last month, José Guirao, the Spanish culture minister, cited the example of Nazi concentration camps being opened to the public after World War II, “So that people don’t forget the horror.”

Mr. Rivera of Ciudadanos suggested that Franco’s burial site could be turned into a national cemetery, “like that in Arlington” in Virginia.

But Joan B. Culla, a Catalan historian, said in an interview that the Valley of the Fallen could not be compared with Auschwitz or Arlington. He suggested the site could be transformed into a memorial resembling the giant Douaumont ossuary at Verdun, where the French and the Germans fought one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.

“It’s one thing to remove Franco’s bones,” he said. “It’s quite another to agree on what to do about the megalomaniac mausoleum that he built to his own victory and glory.”



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