El Caudillo rides again?

17th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

Sunday will be the 30th anniversary of the death of Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco. We examine how Spaniards view El Generalisimo now.

Supporters carry picture of General Franco

When a statue of General Francisco Franco was pulled down in Melilla – then put up again – it made the front pages of most newspapers.

Franco died of natural causes on 20 November 1975 after 36 years in power. He was 83.
Despite once being described by Salvador Dali as a "saint" after the two met, Franco lacked charisma, unlike other 20th century dictators.

But his spectre still casts a long shadow over Spain.

The country is marking the 30th anniversary of his death with every kind of memorabilia from unseen television film of the dictator's last days to a series of books and TV programmes tracing those who queued to pay their respects at his coffin.

Thousands of Franco's original followers are expected to pay homage at the Valley of the Fallen - the vast, underground mausoleum built in the mountains 30 miles from Madrid using Republican forced labour.

But others will remember Franco with less affection.

*quote1*Many are angry Spain's Socialist government has failed to fulfil a promise to find justice for those persecuted or killed under the Franco regime by the 30th anniversary of his death.

When prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's party won a shock general election victory last year it became the first government to promise justice for those who lost their loved ones during the dictatorship.

Since Franco's death, during the transition to democracy, a pact of silence has existed, with many sections of Spanish society preferring to move on than look back.

But Zapatero's government was determined to address running sores which still existed in Spain's collective memory.

It set up The Commission for the Study of the Situation of the Victims of the Civil War and Francoism to examine each case.

But the task has proved far more complex than expected and the government was forced to concede it may take many years to examine all the claims.

The Valley of the Fallen, Franco's mausoleum

The Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory has single-handedly exhumed over 500 graves Republicans who died in the Civil War.

Franco exhumed most of the graves holding Nationalists but not those from the Republican side.

Emilio Silva, president of the association, said his group wants the government to take on the grisly task.

"We have been forgotten for too long. We are too angry. We thought we would see action from the government by now," he said.

Twenty groups have also called for the Valley of the Fallen to be converted into an educational centre in time for this anniversary.

Jaume Bosch, of the Catalan Green Party, one of the groups behind the plan, said: "It's not normal for a democratic society to have failed to resolve this issue. Too many years have passed for us simply to leave the Valley as the Franco regime left it," he said.

But other sections of Spanish society, which still venerate Franco, have opposed every step to eradicate his memory.

When the government started to pull down statues of Franco in Madrid and other cities there were protests from the conservative opposition Popular Party and the Franco Foundation.

Faced with the sensitivity of Franco's memory, even 30 years after his death, others have sought more innovative ways to deal with the issue.

*quote2*A museum at Vilafranca del Penedes, near Barcelona, has erected a bust of Franco – something which might provoke protests in itself now – and invited people to explain their feelings about the dictator.

The idea of the exhibition Escucha Franco (Listen, Franco) is to allow people to express feelings towards Franco - something they could not do when the dictator was alive.

And six film directors who were all born after Franco died have made a documentary Entre el dicatator y yo (Between the dictator and me) in which they examine what he means to them.

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