La Tomatina, Flamenco, Corrida De Toros (Bullfighting), La Sagrada Familia, Siesta, Calat Alhambra, Spanish Football…… These are some of the things that come to our mind when we think of…Bham!!... Yes, you got it!. It’s Spain.
Spain is famous for its friendly inhabitants, relaxed lifestyle, cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and world-famous folklore and festivities, and its history as the core of the vast Spanish Empire. But one thing that’s unknown to the world is that Spain is also known to be a country that has suffered under the hands of a cruel dictator Franco. During his regime was Spain was known as Francoist Spain and that was the time when the Spanish civil war was taking place.
Spanish parliament had forced former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy out of the office in a vote of no confidence in June 2018. Pedro Sanchez took oath as the Prime Minister two months ago. Now he is vowed to dig up the remains of the fascist leader to tackle the nation’s painful past and move beyond it. Sanchez has also said that he wants the country to come to peace with their past.
Well, the country is now divided over this. Even in his grave, the 20th-century dictator who ruled Spain with an iron fist is the main man behind this.
Fifty kilometres north of Madrid, in the granite mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is the tallest stone cross built anywhere in the world. More than 150 metres high, it stands guard over a vast basilica hewn into the rock below. This place is known as the Valle de Los Caídos or Valley of the fallen. This place houses more than 33,000 bodies and all of them were killed during the Spanish civil war which lasted from 1936 to 1938. One thing that makes this place stand out is that there is a grave for the man who was responsible for the bloodshed. With fresh flowers on the grave every day, the grave can be found right behind the high altar, the very end of the imposing, windowless basilica: a modest granite with the simplest inscriptions: Francisco Franco.
WHO WAS FRANCISCO FRANCO?
Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a Spanish general who ruled over Spain as a military dictator from 1939, after the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War, until his death in 1975. Franco was a conservative and monarchist and he was against the abolition of the monarchy. He wanted to establish the Democratic Secular Republic in 1931. He led a coup against the leftist popular Front that was in power in 1936. Though this coup failed the main aim was to overthrow the republic. This coup was the beginning of the Spanish Civil war.
The Spanish Civil war was between 1936-1939. The war has often been portrayed as a struggle between democracy and fascism, particularly due to the political climate and timing surrounding it. The Spanish Civil War began in July 1936 and officially ended with Franco's victory in April 1939, leaving 190,000to 500,000dead. In early 1939, the Nationalists achieved victory, and Franco ruled over all of Spain until his death in November 1975.
The death of other generals resulted in Franco being the leader of the faction. He gained military support from various authoritarian regimes and groups, especially Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Republican side was supported by Spanish communists and anarchists as well as the Soviet Union, Mexico, and the International Brigades. He established a military dictatorship. Franco proclaimed himself Head of State and Government under the title El caudillo. By 1937 he outlawed all other political parties, and thus Spain became a one-party state.
Once Franco became the dictator after the Spanish civil war more than 450,000 republican refugees left the country for safety. A state of martial law remained in effect till 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Republicans were imprisoned. Between 1939 and 1943 nearly 200,000 were summarily executed or killed.
The Spanish dictator though being dead for 4 decades his legacy still exists in the streets of Spain. Many Spanish cities still boast streets and plazas that honour his memory. Even the odd statue has survived. There is a prominent foundation dedicated to celebrating the dictator’s life and work.
Hundreds of people still nostalgic for the Franco era have even staged protests at the Valley of the Fallen, despite a 2007 ban on public events supporting the old regime. Conservative parties have also accused Sanchez of trying to reopen old wounds and buried memories of the past which has been considered closed for quite some time.
Meanwhile, descendants of Franco’s family are refusing to cooperate with authorities, mounting a legal case against plans to exhume the dictator and refusing to take his remains to the family sepulchral vault in Galicia. With their refusal, authorities are faced with the dilemma of what to do with Franco’s remains.
Opposition leader Pablo Casado, of the conservative Popular Party, said the excavation will only reopen wounds. Mr Casado, whose own grandfather was jailed by Franco, said: “I wouldn’t spend a single euro in unearthing Franco.” He also accused him of lacking originality by following the lead of Spain’s last socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero by “proposing unnecessary issues, only to obtain electoral gains, with the risk of gravely fracturing society”.“I think we need to look to the future,” He said.
The decision to dig up the remains is not just a political one, however; it is in line with the 2011 recommendations of a national commission endorsed by the United Nations. Though it was also a decision made by parliament in 2017.
Unswayed by the opposition, Mr Sanchez’s government has wider plans to establish a “Truth Commission” similar to the body set up in South Africa in the aftermath of apartheid. It wants to unearth and identify the 114,000 victims of the Civil War and the four decades of dictatorship that followed under Franco. There will be an up-to-date census of anonymous burials in ditches across Spain, and a new system for reparation payments for victims’ relatives. There are also plans to transform the Valley of the Fallen – which contains 34,000 people from both sides of the war – into a monument for reconciliation and create a museum against fascism.
Pedro Sanchez has also said that “Our democracy will have symbols that unite citizens, not ones that separate them.”
Spain is now facing a situation where the people are against the actions of the Government. If the Government decides to continue with their plan will there be a major revolt by the people? Is Franco still haunting Spain? Will this plan of the UN and the Government emerge victoriously?
One thing is very clear. Francisco Franco is still living through his legacy and creating trouble for Spain even after being dead for decades.
By: Karuna Balasubramanian