Burying history? How the Valley of the Fallen is about to change

31st October 2007, Comments 0 comments

As Spain passes a controversial law to seek redress for victims of the Franco regime, the dictator's mausoleum is to be converted in a museum. By Dominique Orin and Olivier Thibault.

MADRID -(AFP) More than 60 years after he was forced to work on the construction of a massive mausoleum under right-wing General Francisco Franco's orders, Tario Rubio can still remember the insults he was pelted with.

"We worked under difficult conditions, constantly being called 'son of a whore' or 'Reds', which was worse then the ill-treatment we got," said Rubio, 88, one of the last living survivors of the forced labour work.

Rubio was one of an estimated 15,000 prisoners from the losing left-wing Republican side of Spain's Civil War who were made to work between 1940 and 1958 on the underground mausoleum located some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Madrid where Franco is buried.

Uncooperative prisoners were forced to work with bags of dirt weighing between 20 and 30 kilograms (44 to 66 pounds) tied to their backs, said Rubio.

Prisoners were ordered to go into tunnels in the rock immediately after they were opened with the use of dynamite, despite the risk of cave-ins.

"Many never came back out," said Rubio, who added dozens of workers were injured every day.

The underground crypt at the "Valley of the Fallen" tunnels through rock for 260 meters, making it longer than St.Peter's at the Vatican. It was declared a basilica by Pope John XXIII in 1960.

For many the mausoleum, with its giant granite cross that is visible for kilometers around, is a painful reminder of the suffering endured under Franco's repressive dictatorship, which only ended after his death in 1975.

But a controversial law to be voted on by parliament Wednesday which aims to honor the the victims of the 1936-39 civil war and the dictatorship that followed it, includes measures to depoliticize the grounds.

The "law of historical memory" would ban political rallies from being held at the mausoleum in celebration of Spain's former dictator or his ideological mentor Primo de Rivera who is also buried there.

Every November 20 -- the anniversary of Franco's death in 1975 and that of Rivera in 1936 -- supporters of the late dictator stage a ceremony in honor of the two leaders at the Valley of the Fallen.

The law could also lead to the removal of two large stone shields in honor of the Franco regime located at the entry to the mausoleum under a requirement that all symbols of the dictatorship be removed from public buildings.

Churches with plaques commemorating Franco and the victims of his republican opponents risk losing state aid if they refuse to remove them.

The law would declare "illegitimate" the verdicts of summary trials the Franco regime staged against people suspected of opposing it.

Historians estimate about 500,000 from both sides were killed in the civil war. Franco's regime honored its own dead but left tens of thousands of its opponents buried in unmarked graves.

Between 40,000 and 60,000 people are buried in the crypt at the bottom of the basilica at the Valley of the Fallen.

Many of the victims on the Republican side buried there were taken to the mausoleum without the consent of their family members, who do not have access to the crypt.

The "law of historical memory" was a key pledge of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose grandfather was shot to death by pro-Franco troops, when he came to power in 2004.

It has the backing of several smaller left-wing and nationalist parties, making its passage all but certain ahead of a general election in March 2008.

Only the main opposition right-wing Popular Party has opposed the law -- which will for the first time officially acknowledge the victims of the civil war -- on the grounds that it opens old wounds and is divisive.

For Rubio and many other victims of the civil war and its aftermath, the law does not go far enough.

"It is a decaffeinated text. I am really unhappy. It is shameful," he said.

Rubio wants symbols of the Roman Catholic church, which largely backed Franco

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