Map of mass graves shows long road ahead to honor Francoism's victims

Government says it is "impossible" to recover bodies of republicans buried alongside dictator

A newly published map of mass graves dug during the Franco era shows more than 2,000 sites, of which only 250 have been opened so far. The government, which has uploaded the map to the internet for public use, based it on information provided by historical memory associations in regions governed by the Socialist Party (the conservative Popular Party refused to cooperate with the project).

The human remains of 5,407 people have been recovered to date across Spain, according to information obtained by EL PAÍS. Of these, 2,840 were found in a single grave at the San Rafael cemetery in Málaga province. The people who were executed and buried there included 152 women, according to the Aranzadi Science Society, which carried out most of the exhumations. A further 225 could not be identified by gender due to the poor state of their remains.

"No human being deserves to be buried by the roadside," said the deputy PM
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The map is the latest government initiative in connection with the Historical Memory Law, which was approved by parliament in 2007 as a way to provide moral restitution to the victims of the Civil War (1936-1939) and the subsequent Franco dictatorship. The legislation does not, however, mandate that graves be opened, a task that has been taken up by private groups and regional governments. The latter could, in theory, refuse the necessary permits to open graves, although in practice this has never happened- not even in PP-ruled regions, where many mass graves have been opened, albeit with central-government funding.

Nevertheless, the law proved controversial, with the opposition claiming that it was best not to reopen old wounds. Supporters, on the other hand, said Spain was finally ready to address this black period in its recent history.

"No human being deserves to be buried by the roadside," said Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba on Wednesday, speaking in Congress.

On Thursday, a historical memory umbrella group, the Federación Estatal de Foros por la Memoria (State Federation for Memory Forums), requested that political parties running for office in local and regional elections on May 22 make "a public commitment that goes beyond temporary or election-oriented opportunism."

The most famous mass grave dating from this era is the one that allegedly contains the remains of the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, thought to be lying somewhere near Alfacar, in Granada province.

Francisco Etxeberria, the forensic expert who has participated in most of the exhumations to date, said he was worried that by divulging the location of the graves, the victims' families may attempt to open them on their own, without following scientific protocols. The government has promised to try to prevent these initiatives, and pointed out that the map only shows the municipalities where the graves are located, not their exact coordinates.

For now, most of the mass graves that have been opened up are in the region of Castilla y León (127), with Castilla-La Mancha coming in a distant second (25) and Aragon third (17). In Murcia, the Balearics, Ceuta and Melilla, no mass graves have been opened.

Since December 2007, the government has earmarked more than 25 million euros for moral-redress projects aimed at victims of the war and Franco. In addition, 187,609 descendants of victims living in exile have been granted Spanish citizenship. A nationwide drive to eradicate public tributes to Franco resulted in 570 plaques, statues and street names being taken down or changed.

Deputy Prime Minister Rubalcaba insisted that the Historical Memory Law is "for everyone," following claims by a PP spokesman that the legislation has "deeply divided Spaniards."

Valley of the fallen

Rubalcaba also justified the government's decision not to dig up the remains of Republicans buried at the Valley of the Fallen- a vast mausoleum to Franco's greater glory, located outside Madrid- because "it is impossible to address in scientific terms."

Eleven families of people who fought on the Republican side during the war and were buried at the Valley of the Fallen had requested to get the remains back for reburial elsewhere. The forensic team sent by the government to examine the remains said that this request was impossible to fulfill, given that the bones are mixed up and severely decomposed.

The Valley of the Fallen contains the remains of 33,847 people, of which 21,317 were positively identified.

Fausto Canales, a son and nephew of Republicans who were executed by Falangists, and then transferred without consent to the Valle de los Caídos, said: "They have to rescue them from that unspeakable place, no matter what it takes."

Rubalcaba asked the representatives of all political groups in parliament to work toward a consensus on what to do about the Valle de los Caídos so that it no longer represents what the dictator wanted it to be: a monument to his own victory.

On May 10, the government will convene a committee to decide whether or not Franco's own remains should stay there.

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