Exhuming Franco’s body: an act of historic, democratic reparation

The Spanish government has opted for a decree, which bulletproofs their decision while forcing the political groups to clearly state their position on the matter

The remains of Francisco Franco —the general who staged a military coup against the legitimate government of Spain’s second Republic in 1936 and started a bloody Civil War that led to a long, dictatorial regime— might finally leave the Valley of the Fallen, a publicly-funded mausoleum built in celebration of fascism. On Friday the Spanish government intends to issue a decree that —in principle— cannot be appealed by the dictator’s family or any related groups who could have otherwise argued that the state will be desecrating the dictator’s grave.

Spain’s Minister for Culture, José Guirao, unveiled the government’s plan in an interview last Tuesday. Mr Guirao remarked that, for two months, the Spanish executive has been studying the best way to legally bulletproof the body’s exhumation. Spain’s ruling socialist party (PSOE) had pledged to remove the body as part of their election manifesto, a decision which has been delayed several times.

Spain did not wipe the slate clean with the political Transition that followed Franco’s death

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether this time they will be able to go ahead with their plan, as the decree first needs to be passed in parliament, where Ciudadanos and Partido Popular have announced that —in principle— they intend to abstain or oppose it. This means that the PSOE would need the parliamentary support of the rest of the opposition. So far ERC has stated it will only support the initiative if all the death sentences issued during the dictatorship are declared null, including that of Catalan president Lluís Companys. It would be ironic if that prevented the exhumation from going ahead, but political strategy sometimes makes strange bedfellows.

Because the decision was long expected, several groups who are nostalgic about Francoism have been spraying graffiti, holding meetings and writing statements —including one where 180 military officers in the reserve praised the Spanish dictator— against the exhumation. The Valley of the Fallen has seen an unprecedented spike in the number of visitors and a certain sociologic Francoism has raised its head again, after its existence became apparent in Catalonia before and after the independence referendum on October 1 last year.

The moment of truth has come and it will be interesting —and important— to see what happens eventually and what the reactions are. The political parties will have to show their true face in the parliamentary debate and the ensuing vote, thus clarifying their understanding of democracy and what it means to respect the outcome of a ballot. Francoists claim that the 1936 coup was in response to the wrong election result. To use this same argument in the 21st century and in a democratic Europe is more dubious.

Spain did not wipe the slate clean with the political Transition that followed Franco’s death and the remnants of the regime have thrived in many areas of political, financial and economic power. That explains a great deal about the situation that we must endure at present, and also about the reasons why a significant part of Spanish society struggles to come to terms with the cultural and ideological diversity of some regions.

The exhumation of Franco’s remains might be an opportunity to expose the ghosts. It won’t be easy because Franco’s new and old supporters have got a second wind and there are still many unknowns. But it could be an act of historic, democratic reparation that might allow us to start turning a new page.

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