Spain drafts bill against remaining legacy of Franco era

The new law will offer citizenship to the descendants of members of the International Brigades

Left to right: Deputy PM Carmen Calvo, government spokesperson María Jesús Montero and Science Minister Pedro Duque.
Left to right: Deputy PM Carmen Calvo, government spokesperson María Jesús Montero and Science Minister Pedro Duque.Moncloa

The Spanish Cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft bill containing a raft of measures that address the legacy of the Civil War (1936-39) and the Francisco Franco regime, which lasted until the dictator’s death in 1975.

The Democratic Memory bill, which builds on existing historical memory legislation, contemplates closing down associations that still glorify the late dictator’s memory, including the Francisco Franco Foundation, which will be declared illegal.

The text also proposes extending eligibility for Spanish citizenship to the descendants of members of the International Brigades, who fought on the republican side in the war.

“The descendants of the members of the International Brigades who fought for freedom and against fascism in Spain will be eligible for Spanish nationality. It was time for this government to say to these heroes and heroines of democracy: thank you for coming," tweeted Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who serves as the Deputy PM in charge of social affairs and the 2030 Agenda.

With this bill, the government also wants to turn the Valley of the Fallen, a controversial, state-run civil war memorial outside Madrid, into a place of collective memory. Last year Franco’s remains were exhumed from the site and transferred to a Madrid cemetery following a long legal battle with the dictator’s descendants.

The bill also makes provisions for the creation of a specialized prosecutor’s office for democratic memory and human rights, and for a national DNA bank to help with the exhumation of victims from mass graves, to be funded with public money. Forensic expert Francisco Etxeberria, who has advised the government during the drafting of the bill, estimates that between 20,000 and 25,000 bodies could be recovered from mass graves in the next four to five years.

“This is an important law for the government, but also for Spanish democracy,” said Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who leads a minority government in coalition with the leftist Unidas Podemos, had pledged to improve on the 2007 Historical Memory law passed under the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, also of the PSOE. But Sánchez will need to secure additional support to get the bill through parliament.

On Tuesday, Senator Javier Maroto of the main opposition Popular Party (PP) said that the executive is using this bill to cover up “its management and its lies” in connection with the Covid-19 crisis. But Maroto did not specify whether the center-right party would vote for or against the bill in the Congress of Deputies.

Voiding Francoist trials

Calvo said the law would declare void all the summary trials held in Francoist Spain, honoring a longstanding demand by historical memory associations.

Calvo also said that overturning those legal proceedings is the best form of reparation for the political trials that led to the summary execution of “important people such as [Lluis] Companys,” alluding to the president of Catalonia between 1933 and 1940 who was shot by a firing squad at Franco’s orders. Catalan premier Quim Torra had recently asked the government of Spain to apologize for that execution.

This is an important law for the government, but also for Spanish democracy
Deputy PM Carmen Calvo

Additionally, the bill significantly alters the way Francoism is to be taught in primary and secondary schools across Spain. United Nations Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff had said in a report about Spain that some schoolbooks described the civil war “in generic terms, perpetuating the notion of symmetric responsibility [by both sides].”

“Spanish democracy could not afford one more day without a law like this one,” said Calvo. “Our young people need to know where we come from. They need knowledge about what must never happen again.”

Steep sanctions

Unlike the 2007 law, which did not set out any sanctions for violators, any infringement of the future law will come with penalties that could be as high as €150,000 in the most egregious cases, warned Calvo.

In a recent interview with EL PAÍS, Calvo said that the 66 items in the bill lay out the foundation “to build a common democratic memory for all Spaniards.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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