Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen

The Spanish government on Tuesday approved a special fund to exhume graves at the Valley of the Fallen, where thousands of victims of the Spanish Civil War and dictator Francisco Franco are buried.

Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen
Women hold up pictures of their fathers and relatives, who were condemned to death during Franco’s dictatorship. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

The Socialist government said it had set aside €665,000 ($780,000) to exhume some 33,000 victims whose remains lie behind a vast basilica near Madrid.

Franco was buried in the basilica when he died in 1975 but his remains were removed in 2019 and transferred to a discreet family plot on the outskirts of the capital.

Government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montera told reporters that more than 60 families and international institutions had called for the exhumation of the victims to give relatives who suffered during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship “moral reparation”.

Campaigners estimate more than 100,000 victims from the war and its aftermath remain buried in unmarked graves across Spain —- a figure, according to Amnesty International, only exceeded by Cambodia.

Human remains discovered during exhumation works carried out by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory of Valladolid, in a mass grave where the bodies of hundreds of people were dumped during the Spanish civil war. Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP

Built between 1940 and 1958 partly by the forced labour of political prisoners, the imposing basilica and the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen was initially intended for those who had fought for Franco.

But in 1959 the remains of many Republican opponents were moved there from cemeteries and mass graves across the country without their families being informed.

The crypts and ossuaries where some of the victims are buried are inaccessible as they were walled off at the time.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

As well as the Valley of the Fallen, his government is also focusing on identifying remains founds in mass graves across Spain.

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Spain removes last statue of dictator Franco

Spain's north African enclave of Melilla has removed the country's last public statue of former dictator General Francisco Franco 45 years after his death.

Spain removes last statue of dictator Franco
Photos: AFP

“A day for History,” the regional government of Melilla tweeted along with pictures of workmen backed by a mechanical digger removing the statue on Tuesday evening from the gates of the city.

The bronze statue, which shows Franco standing, was erected in 1978 to commemorate his role as commander of the Spanish Legion in the Rif War, a conflict Spain fought in the 1920s against Berber tribes in Morocco.

As a result of the statue's removal, no more commemorative tributes remain in public streets to the man who ruled Spain between the end of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War and his death in November 1975.

The head of the regional government of Melilla said the statue was taken to a municipal warehouse, without clarifying whether it would later be put in a museum.

A 2007 law passed by a previous Socialist government obliges towns to remove public symbols of the Franco era and to rename streets named after the dictator or generals who fought with him in the civil war.

As a result, symbols of the dictatorship have slowly been removed, including other high-profile statues around Spain.

A man waves a flag of the Spanish Falangist movement as a statue of Franco is removed in Santander in 2008.

The local assembly voted on Monday to remove the statue — which the government of Melilla said was “the last statue of Franco in the public sphere in Spain” — to comply with this law, with only the far-right Vox party voting against. The conservative Popular Party (PP) abstained.

Vox argued the statue was a tribute to Franco for defending the city during the Rif War against Moroccan rebels and not a homage to him as a dictator.

Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist during one of Europe's longest dictatorships. His regime was notorious for imprisoning, torturing and killing people who spoke out against his rule.

Franco with his brother in law and Foreign Affairs Minister Serrano Suner (L) and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (R).

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has made reparations for the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

In October 2019 he had Franco's remains removed from a vast basilica in the Valley of the Fallen near Madrid where he was buried when he died in 1975, and transferred to a discreet family plot in El Pardo cemetery on the outskirts of the Spanish capital.