Spain’s Socialists ask for Franco’s body to be moved from Valley of the Fallen

But ruling conservatives have a history of ignoring pleas to bring changes to the dictator’s mausoleum

Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) wants the body of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco to be moved from its current grave at the Valley of the Fallen, a controversial monument around 50 kilometers northwest of Madrid. The main opposition party has introduced a non-binding resolution in Congress that also requests the creation of a truth commission to investigate the Franco years (1939-1975).

The Valley of the Fallen, north of Madrid.
The Valley of the Fallen, north of Madrid.Claudio Alvarez

The initiative seeks to push ahead the development of the Historical Memory Law passed in 2007 by the previous Socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in an effort to provide moral redress to the victims of both the Civil War (1936-1939) and the ensuing dictatorship.

The Socialist motion, which will be debated and voted on in the coming months, has political rather than executive force. It chides the conservative Popular Party (PP) government for effectively deactivating the Historical Memory Law through underfunding and political foot-dragging.

Past attempts at removing Francoist monuments have sparked rows between Madrid’s leftist city officials and conservatives in the regional executive

The PP had vocally opposed the passage of the law in 2007, claiming that the past should be left alone and that the legislation was politically motivated.

This is not the first time that Spain’s left has tried to move Franco’s body to another location. In late November 2011, the acting Socialist government proposed giving his remains back to his family, following the recommendations of an expert committee. But the Socialists had just lost the November 20 election to the PP, which dropped the proposal as soon as it took over.

Now, the PSOE is once again asking for the committee’s report to be taken into account, and for the Valley of the Fallen to “stop being a memorial to Francoism and National-Catholicism and be reconverted into a space for the culture of reconciliation of collective democratic memory, and for giving dignity and providing recognition to the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship.”

The Valley of the Fallen is a popular tourist destination but a political headache.
The Valley of the Fallen is a popular tourist destination but a political headache.Claudio Álvarez

The PP recently stated that the 13.6-square kilometer Valley of the Fallen site is not a Francoist monument, and that it is strictly governed by the rules applicable to places of worship and public cemeteries.

But the fact that the basilica on the site contains only two graves – those of Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, Spain’s fascist-inspired political party – means the monument remains a hot topic of debate.

The new Socialist initiative also requests government assistance to dig up the remains of victims lying in mass graves “in order to give proper burial to those who still lie anonymously in hills and roadsides.”

It further demands the creation of DNA databases “with the urgency and speed mandated by the advanced age of many of the relatives of the people who disappeared during the Civil War and the dictatorship.”

The resolution brings up another issue that has proven controversial over the years: “eliminating symbols and monuments that honor the memory of the winners [of the war] or commemorate the civil conflict or the dictatorship.”

Past attempts at removing such monuments have sparked rows between Madrid’s leftist city officials and conservatives in the regional executive.

The Franco grave dispute is one of several issues that the PSOE has been using in recent weeks to emphasize its role as the opposition party, following accusations that it sold out to the PP by helping Mariano Rajoy back into office in October of last year.

Other topics that the PSOE has recently brought up include linguistic plurality in Spain and the government’s relationship with US President Donald Trump.

English version by Susana Urra.

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS