One year after the exhumation of Francisco Franco, the government of Spain presents a law against any exaltation of the dictator

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The Democratic Memory project will be analyzed by Parliament. The Valley of the Fallen, where the mausoleum was, will now be a civil cemetery.

A year ago, Francisco Franco literally flew out of the Valley of the Fallen. On October 24, 2019, at noon, an Air Force helicopter moved the coffin of the dictator that bled Spain for almost forty years until his death in 1975, from the majestic mausoleum that he himself had ordered to dig into the rough edges of the Sierra de Guadarrama to the Mingorrubio cemetery, in El Pardo, where his wife, Carmen Polo, is buried.

The move, a promoted promise of the PSOE, at that time in the campaign for the November 2019 elections that led the current president Pedro Sánchez to the first coalition government -PSOE-Podemos- of the Spanish democracy, cost 126,000 euros and damaged the popularity of the monument in which more than 33 thousand victims of the Spanish Civil War were buried: without the Manichean curiosity aroused by its guest of honor, a month after Franco del Valle’s departure, 54 percent fewer visitors came to walk it.

The government of Spain has just presented what will become the Democratic Memory Law that, although it could be discussed in Parliament only next year, it proposes to eradicate all kinds of exaltation of Francoism and repair the pain of its victims.

“The Valley of the Fallen will become a civil cemetery for the recognition of those buried there. There is no doubt that it was one of Franco’s fetish projects and the main architectural expression of National Catholicism, the political ideology that, with variations and adjustments, gave political and religious meaning to his dictatorial regime ”, he tells Clarion Fernando Martínez López, the Socialist senator who has been Secretary of State for Memoria Democrática since January.

“The Valley of the Fallen will be a place of Democratic Memory whose resignification will reveal how it was built, the period in which it is inserted and its meaning”, adds Martínez López, who is also a professor of Contemporary History at the University of Almería, city ​​council that governed like mayor between 1991 and 1995.

-It is one year since Franco’s departure from the Valley of the Fallen. What have been its effects?

-The exhumation of Franco constituted a triumph of democracy with which a black chapter in the history of Spain was closed and justice was done to the victims of the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. It is true that it took place after a bitter social and media debate, since the dictator’s defenders pushed the available judicial instances to the limit, so that it had to be the Supreme Court that endorsed the government’s decisions and authorized the exhumation. What is surprising is that, once the dictator was buried in the Mingorrubio cemetery, the issue came off the media agenda with surprising speed. Regarding the effects, we can frame them within the democratic normality, in which it is not possible to maintain an honorary burial of a dictator, as happened in the Valley of the Fallen.

-Vice President Carmen Calvo pointed out that the draft of the Democratic Memory law was inspired by parameters of international organizations and the experience of other countries that experienced similar traumatic situations. Argentina is one of them. Did Spain take the Argentine case into account? In what way?

-The Argentine case resonates in many ways in the Spanish case. In the first place, the memorial movement has always looked at and has been reflected in the memory processes of the Southern Cone. A good part of the rituals, iconographies and even claims, is inspired by those that have been consolidated in this environment. For example, the figure of the disappeared person (although the conditions of disappearance are historically very different) has been consolidated in Spain to demand rights from the victims of Franco’s repression. When the exhumation process began and resumed in 2000, few used this terminology. In this example you see a clear debt. From a technical point of view, the exhumations, which were resumed with scientific rigor in 2000 in Spain. They have used protocols like the one in Minnesota, drawn up by the UN, rooted in the experiences of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which was the main meeting point between forensic science and human rights practices several decades ago. From the point of view of the institutions, the measures that have been taken in recent decades in Argentina and Chile have been analyzed, fundamentally when it comes to thinking about public memory policies in Spain.

-Argentina has had a National Genetic Data Bank since 1987 with genetic material of relatives of victims of the Argentine military dictatorship. How will the one who thinks to create Spain be?

-A national Genetic Bank will be launched, with all technical guarantees, in coordination with all the autonomous communities. Some of them had developed gene banks of an autonomous nature, but it is evident that for a historical event such as a civil war, which extends throughout the territory, an integrated base is necessary, based on cooperation between institutions.

-How will Spain recover its memory, historical or democratic, after more than 40 years?

-That is undoubtedly one of the great challenges we have now and it is evident that Spain has arrived late. Even so, it should be noted that, since the transition, the State has carried out a large number of reparation measures, especially economic ones, but outside of a global and integrated framework of public policies. The 2007 Historical Memory law laid the foundations to undertake comprehensive memory public policies and the draft bill currently being processed covers the deficits that have been detected in the previous law. In between, many autonomous communities have developed their own laws and memorial institutions.

-What place do victims’ associations occupy in this process?

-We must recognize the crucial role of the associative movement, because, to a large extent, the development of public policies of Memory, is indebted to its work of many years on the ground, contacting families of reprisals, making possible the emergence of the stories of repression silenced for decades (even within the families themselves), locating graves, promoting exhumations, and organizing reparation acts of various kinds. This has been a long-term endeavor to which numerous researchers from within and outside the university world have joined.

-There were also private initiatives that still look for the remains of their relatives in mass graves …

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