Spain wrestles with Francos resting place
A group of experts has recommended that Franco be exhumed and El Valle de los Cados, the notorious monument to him, be transformed into a place of reconciliation. Its extremely unlikely to happen, but one day Spain must resolve the conundrum presented by this sinister reminder of Francoism and the Civil War.
When friends or family come to Spain to visit and ask me to name the sites they should see in and around Madrid, theyre always surprised when I put a monument to fascism near the top of the list.
But theres no denying it, El Valle de los Cados, or the Valley of the Fallen, the resting place of dictator Francisco Franco, is an awe-inspiring place. You can see it from miles away, a 150-meter-high stone cross one of the worlds largest rising up out of a rocky hillside north of the capital. Beneath the cross a huge esplanade gives a view over a strangely peaceful, wooded valley. Go on a clear day and the blue sky is a breathtaking backdrop to the scene. Go there in rain or sleet and an eerie drama is more apparent.
The fact that the remains of Franco lie buried in a basilica beneath the famous cross is undoubtedly what lends this site much of its sinister nature. But a commission of experts, appointed by the government in May, has recently concluded that the Caudillo should be exhumed and buried elsewhere, as part of an effort to make El Valle de los Cados a place of reconciliation.
This is clearly a worthy aim. Besides being a relatively popular tourist attraction, its also a magnet for far-right nostalgics, who like to gather there on the November 20 anniversary of Francos death to honour him, a disturbing notion, especially so when you remember that this is also a religious site, hosting a Benedictine monastery. Its also important to remember that defeated Republican prisoners built El Valle de los Cados, compounding its status as a monument to the victors.“Blow it up?”
But how realistic is it to de-Franco the greatest monument to Franco that exists?
Utterly impossible, according to Jos lvarez Junco, a historian at Madrids Universidad Complutense, who was asked by the government to form part of the commission. He turned down the invitation.
This is Francisco Franco, this is the dictators tomb and it has the meaning it has and it was built under the close direction of the dictator, he told Iberosphere shortly after the commission was first appointed. And it has all the symbolism. It is very important, very meaningful. The only way to convert that into a thing with a different meaning would be to blow it up.
He points to the monuments appearance as proof that its essence can never be changed. The huge cross and a Francoist eagle insignia on the front of the building clearly evoke nacionalcatholicismo, the far-right, deeply religious ideology of the Civil Wars victors.
Even the commission itself doesnt seem to have been convinced about removing Francos body, with some members voting against the move. Francos own family has voiced opposition and, predictably, so have far-right groups, with one threatening to sue the government.
Besides this resistance, the experts recommendations, which also include offering more viewable data at the site so that it becomes more like an information centre, are almost certainly not going to be implemented. The report was commissioned by the Socialist government, which made broaching Spains historical memory a key part of its political agenda. But with the Popular Party PP romping to victory in the November 20 election some think the choice of date was a Socialist attempt to scare voters into not backing the conservative PP, the report will almost certainly be put in a draw and forgotten about.
The PP has always been wary of the Franco issue, opposing the Socialist historical memory law as needless raking up of a painful past. With an economic collapse to avert, incoming Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy currently has another reason to ignore the Valle de los Cados report.
But however politically divisive and impractical removing Franco from his tomb may be, ultimately it has to be a step Spain takes. Maintaining a site that disgusts many Spaniards while being revered by an extremist minority is hardly apt for a civilised country. El Valle de los Cados is a breathtaking place and one whose drama pays tribute to a repressive dictator who died of natural causes, rather than to the thousands who died in the war he unleashed.In June, freelance journalist and Iberosphere contributor Nick Lyne visited the site of General Franco’s tomb outside Madrid to ponder its status in modern Spain. © Iberosphere: Spain News and Portugal News - Information and Analysis