Government, History, International, Policy, Politics

Plan to Exhume Former Spanish Dictator Sparks Controversy

The Valley of the Fallen in Spain is a controversial monument where Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco is buried alongside civil war veterans. (C) 2018 Sabrina Maggiore

Audio Transcript: Valley of Fallen Script

By Sabrina Maggiore  MADRID, SPAIN (NCC News)- The United States has been a democracy since its inception.  But for other countries this hasn’t always been the case. While today Spain enjoys a democracy, the Valley of the Fallen in Madrid, Spain, serves as a reminder of the country’s authoritarian past.

The valley has always been controversial.  It’s the final resting place of one of the most polarizing leaders in the history of Spain, and it’s the centerpiece of a debate that is stirring up emotions that go back nearly a century.

After coming to power following the Spanish civil war in 1939, Francisco Franco ruled Spain for 70 years. Franco’s military reign was marked by severe cuts in civil liberties and a crackdown on political opponents.

Louis Suarez-Carreño was part of a rebel organization during Franco’s dictatorship.  He spent nearly 3 years in prison for belonging to the organization and speaking out against Franco’s regime.

“You didn’t have freedom for expression, for speech we didn’t have freedom for meetings… you were interrogated and you were tortured and subject to different kinds of pressure and violence,” said Carreño.

Suarez-Carreño was released from Prison following Franco’s death in 1975.  At this time, a moderate government took over and oversaw Spain’s difficult transition to democracy. Suarez- Carreño witnessed first-hand this transition.

“We still have lots of wounds that have not been healed. There are many people that were treated unjustly, Said Carreño.

During the transition, the government passed an amnesty law that prevented war criminals and Franco collaborators from being prosecuted. The government adopted an official policy of forgiving and forgetting crimes attributed to the Franco regime. Because of this, some survivors like Suarez-Carreño say, there wasn’t any accountability for the atrocities that had been attributed to Franco.

“This particular guy is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people whose only crime was to defend democracy, freedom, liberty and social justice.  There were lots of different forms of crimes that were never not only taken into trial but even, they were never known, they were never published, explained Carreño.

In many ways, the current government’s new plan to move Franco’s remains is reopening old wounds. While the burial site of Franco, the valley of the fallen, is officially a monument to honor victims on both sides of the Spanish civil war, the site is seen by many as one that honors Franco’s regime. Because of this, the current government has vowed it would move Franco’s remains to private land where the dictator can’t be revered. Spanish professor of sociology Davíd Caro explained the sites controversial nature.

“El Valle de los Caídos [the Valley of the Fallen] is –a monument for celebrating Franco but at the same time it’s a symbol for all the people who died during the civil war.”

The Spanish government is adamant that any monument to honor a dictator is contradictory to the country’s democratic values. Thus, believes removing Franco’s remains is necessary. But the move is unpopular in Spain, especially among young Spaniards who say the renewed controversy unnecessarily brings up an authoritarian past that they want to put behind them.

Juan Chicharro is President of the National Foundation of Francisco Franco, an organization that works to promote the memory of the dictator.  He views the government’s plans to exhume Franco as a misguided attempt to erase history.

“History is what is history. History can’t be changed,” Said Chicharro.

Chicharro as well as some other in the country view Franco as a nationalist who saved Spain from a communist regime. He says the limited freedoms and civil liberties during Franco’s dictatorship, were necessary at the time to bring Spain out of economic turmoil following the country’s civil war.

“They say there was no freedom. Okay its true. Freedom was different, but history must be studied from the point of view of the time,” said Chicharro.

While the legacy of Franco is still very much debated in the nation, the battle right now is over the future resting place of Franco’s remains. The clash pits the government of Spain against the family of Franco.

“The problem is now the family is free for putting the rest of the dictator in any catholic church and they have chosen the cathedral of Madrid in front of the royal palace in the center of the city,” said Caro.

The families plan sparked protest in the country among individuals who believe moving Franco’s remains to a public space in the center of the city is worse than leaving him in the Valley of the Fallen.

“People in this city, we were shocked when this was proposed by the Franco’s family and we would be very shocked if the Spanish church will allow it. I hope the Spanish government will not,” said Suarez-Carreño.

Spain’s government has since said it won’t allow Franco’s remains to be moved to the crypt at the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid’s city-center. However, this decision ultimately lies with the catholic church.

So far, the archbishop of Madrid said he would not try to prevent Franco’s exhumation from the basilica in the valley of the fallen.  He also said he would not try to stop Franco’s heirs from burying the dictator in the crypt of the Cathedral in Madrid.

The Spanish government is currently trying to negotiate a deal with Franco’s family and the Catholic church, but the situation has grown increasingly complex. And, with a self-imposed deadline of the new year set to exhume Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen, the government is running out of time to find another solution.