MADRID – Spain’s government announced on Saturday plans to excavate Civil War and Franco-era mass graves across the country so that the descendants of victims had the chance to hold dignified burials.
The Spanish Minister for Justice, Dolores Delgado, said acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s socialist government already had a roadmap for the operation, which could take up to six years.
There are still an estimated 114,000 bodies buried in mass graves dating from the Civil War (1936-39) and Francisco Franco’s subsequent dictatorship (1939-75) in Spain, more than any other country in Europe and second only to Cambodia in global terms.
“It is the task of the State to assume the opening of the graves,” Delgado said during a ceremony in Madrid paying tribute to three Republicans who were deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp during the early years of Franco’s dictatorship (1939-75).
Delgado was one of three government ministers who on Thursday attended the exhumation of Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, the grandiose mausoleum north of Madrid where he was interred following his death in 1975.
The remains of the former military dictator were transferred by helicopter to the more discreet Mingorrubio cemetery where he was reburied next to his wife in a private ceremony held by his descendants.
Crowds of nostalgic supporters of the regime gathered outside the cemetery and some could be heard chanting pro-Franco and fascist statements.
Previously, in an interview with EFE, Delgado said she was in favor of reforming Spain’s Criminal Code to criminalize acts of Franco apologism.
While Germany, Italy and France went to great lengths to ban the exaltation of Nazism and fascism, in Spain, any such show of support must include the incitement of violence to be considered a crime.
“We cannot have a dictator in a public mausoleum, our democratic memory requires us to end it,” Delgado said of Franco’s exhumation.
Removing Franco’s remains from the basilica at the triumphant, granite-hewn complex near the historic town of El Escorial de San Lorenzo, had been a flagship policy of the Sanchez government.
The basilica at the Valley of the Fallen, where the dictator’s body remained for 44 years, houses the remains of 34,000 Spanish fighters from both sides of the fratricidal conflict, making it the largest mass grave in the country.
Sanchez intends to turn the monument into a “place of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.”