I can’t think of a more perverse monument than the Valley of the Fallen in Madrid. A pharaonic mausoleum erected by enslaved labour where 33,000 victims of the Francoist regime were buried against the will of their families. Topping it off is the tomb of Francisco Franco himself: a dictator buried with honours upon the bones of those slaughtered by the winning side during the civil war. But today, 24th October 2019, is a historic moment for Spain, marking the end of Franco’s tenancy in the Valley, where he was worshipped with daily masses and venerated over those his dictatorship murdered. Forty-four years after his death, the families of the victims killed by the regime in a ditch and unceremoniously buried in the mausoleum will finally obtain some redress. As I write this, the corpse of the dictator is being exhumed and transferred to the Mingorrubio cemetery, the final resting place of his wife and multiple senior Francoist officials. Unsurprisingly, the four decades that Franco has remained in the Valley have stained Spain’s transition to democracy, proving how different the country continues to be from European neighbours that it has tried so hard to imitate. But the reason why reaching the decision to exhume Franco has taken so long is because a part of the dictator continues to live in the minds of many Spaniards. Some, perhaps affected by fond memories of his regime, have gone so far as to accuse the Spanish government of “profaning graves” and “unearthing hatreds.” Against the backdrop of the current constitutional crisis in Spain, the debate couldn’t be more timely. As the narrative goes, Spain has never been a united country. Las dos Españas– a term that has existed since at least the 19th century – is a reflection of years of division of “two Spains” coexisting in perpetual antagonism. Like other stories about heroic imperial pasts and civilising enterprises in the name of progress and unity, the story of post-Franco Spain has indeed been abused through denial and inaction, which have let historical figures like the dictator literally get away with murder. Moving Franco is the first step in removing his legacy from the country’s institutions. However, as long as supporters of the regime are allowed to publicly praise his memory and policies, the ideas that inspired four decades of oppression and persecution will continue to haunt the Spanish people. Contrary to those who advocate leaving things as they are, the enactment of stricter rules on the exaltation of Francoist symbols is needed to redress the injurious consequences of a shameful period, and bring peace to a country that still struggles to come to terms with its past. Only by healing the wounds of those forgotten by Franco’s reign of impunity will the people of Spain find the peace they need to overcome his ghost.
Written by Javier Maquieira, Associate