MADRID – The family of military dictator Gen. Francisco Franco has two weeks to suggest where they would like his remains to be buried once they are exhumed from the Valley of the Fallen, a vast mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid where he is currently interred, or the Spanish government will take the decision for them, officials said on Friday.
Justice Minister Dolores Delgado said the government had decided at its weekly cabinet meeting that the dictator’s remains are to be exhumed but that they could not be transferred for reburial to Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral, the spot the family had previously said it would settle for.
“We have arrived at the endpoint of a historic commitment because the exhumation is something that Prime Minister (Pedro) Sanchez had pledged to fulfill,” said Delgado, adding that the removal of Franco’s remains would be “an act of State.”
The Valley of the Fallen, which lies about 55 kilometers (34 miles) northwest of Madrid, near the mountain town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, is one of the most potent symbols of Franco’s divisive 36-year dictatorship and a revered site for those who backed his regime or those who feel a nostalgia for his rule having been influenced by the undertow of fascism.
The vast memorial, topped by a cross that can be seen from many miles away, was paid for by the Spanish state and built over two decades by using the forced labor of thousands of defeated Republican prisoners.
Sanchez’s government had made a point of saying that it was the only state-endorsed mass pilgrimage site for fascists remaining in Europe after the end of World War II.
Other countries, such as Germany or Italy, have undertaken a comprehensive de-Nazification and defascistization process in their public spaces to prevent people from glorifying the totalitarian regimes of their darkest past.
Franco’s family, who have enjoyed a privileged existence since the dictator’s death, boasting aristocratic titles and living in grace and favor estates in some of Spain’s most beautiful sites, have objected to the exhumation and have lodged an appeal against it in the Supreme Court.
The court has already ruled that the exhumation should not be delayed but retains the right to have a final say on the legality of the exhumation and reburial.
Delgado said Spain’s Law of Historical Memory needed to be respected and having Franco’s body interred in the Valley of the Fallen, an immense, triumphalist monument, “did not help towards the coexistence of Spaniards.”
This landmark legislation intended to remove the numerous statues, street names and other monuments still exalting the dictator and his deputies across Spain was originally approved by the government of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who held office between 2004-11.
The United Nations has repeatedly admonished Spain for not complying with its human rights obligations when it comes to restoring justice to Republican victims of the Civil War and failing to end the impunity enjoyed by officials who committed crimes against humanity during the dictatorship’s so-called White Terror, which saw the execution of between 200,000-400,000 of Franco’s opponents, according to estimates by various historians.