Exhumation of the Spanish Dictator: What’s The Controversy?

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Last Thursday, the 24th of October, the Spanish government with the Supreme Court’s approval carried out its promise to exhume Francisco Franco’s remains from El Valle de lo Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen). Many international media outlets have echoed and applauded this so-called controversial decision.

Despite the democratic intentions in fulfillment of the Historical Memory Law, some have criticized the government’s action as an “electoral move”, others have claimed its uselessness after 44 years, and many others have labeled the exhumation as “profanation” and an insult to Spain’s history.

What could be so controversial about removing a dictator from a National Public Heritage monument? The fact is that the exhumation has revealed Spain’s unresolved recent history, to be sure: the dictatorship following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and its consequences even in the democratic moment.

Unlike other countries with a dictatorial regime, Spain only passed its Historical Memory Law in 2007, almost 30 years after the transition to democracy and the approval of the 1978  Constitution. Still today, Spain remains the second country in the world with more mass graves, only after Cambodia,  and particularly in El Valle de los Caídos, there are more than 33.000 unidentified people laying underneath.

The exhumation of Franco is a perfect example to reveal how sociological Francoism is still alive and present today in Spanish society. In 1977, when Spain was transitioning to democracy, the Amnesty Law was approved, impeding to judge the dictatorship crimes that are imprescriptible according to International Law, something that has been remarked by the UN Human Rights Office, even calling for Spain to repeal the Law. 

While the transition has been repeated to be “exemplary”, there was no depuration of responsibilities or any Commission for Truth and Reconciliation to shed light on the crimes of the dictatorship. In this regard, the only current open cause investigating and persecuting Franco’s repression and crimes is in Argentina.

The transition thus proved to be a reform of the political regime rather than a complete rupture. Institutions in Spain such as the Catholic Church or right-wing political parties have not yet condemned the dictatorship. Without a political consensus on the issue, Francoism rests surrounded by an aura of veneration or an image of a time that was not that bad.

Let’s not forget that democracy is incompatible with the defense of a dictatorship; and that it is never too late to improve the democratic quality of a country by removing a dictator from a National Heritage Monument. The past always requires to be dealt with, symbolically and substantially.

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