Hundreds protest against Franco statue removal
18 March 2005
MADRID- Several hundred people staged a protest against the surprise removal of the Spanish capital’s only statue of dictator Francisco Franco.
Erected in 1959 in front of a government office complex that still houses several ministries, the monument was carted away early on Thursday as police stood by to prevent any trouble.
But Franco partisans began congregating around the statue’s former home late the same day to place floral offerings and blast the Socialist government for removing the sculpture.
By the afternoon, the crowd was in the hundreds. While the majority were middle-aged or older, the pro-Franco contingent also included some young men who climbed the scaffolding surrounding the statue’s base to hang a portrait of their hero.
Chanting “Viva Franco” and fascist slogans, the protesters unfurled Spanish flags bearing the eagle that Franco added during his 1939-1975 rule, which was removed after the restoration of democracy.
Scores of police cordoned off the area to avert any possible confrontations between the Franco supporters and some of the many Spaniards who revile the dictatorship.
At one point, the crowd burst into “Cara al sol” (Face to the Sun) the anthem of the Falange, Spain’s only legal political party under Franco. Many had their right arms raised in the traditional fascist salute.
Admirers of the strongman have gathered at the statue every year to mark the anniversary of his death on 20 November 1975, while anti-Franco militants often hurl red paint at the figure during protests.
Representatives of both groups were on hand on Wednesday night, with some 50 Franco supporters heckling the workmen who removed the statue and trading insults with a small crowd that applauded the tow-truck crew.
Some of the pro-Franco group railed against Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose government ordered the statue’s removal and announced early on Thursday that it planned to replace the monument with a symbol “representative of concord among Spaniards.”
Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez said she will convene a competition to select a design for the new structure
Spain’s main opposition, the conservative Popular Party, was unhappy with the move.
PP parliamentary spokesman Eduardo Zaplana called it an example of the Zapatero administration’s zeal to focus political discussion “permanently on the past” and its predilection for “partial readings of our history.”
Zaplana said the country should look toward the future and not be drawn in by “the government’s attempt to reopen quarrels among Spaniards.”
Responding for the administration, Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said the removal of the Franco statue was consistent with “decisions adopted in the course of the current legislature to finish removing the last symbols of the dictatorship.”
The minister said the statue was removed at night because of “the viability of the manoeuvre,” stressing that he did not find out about the dismantling of the monument until Thursday morning, “like the rest of the citizens.”
Meanwhile, the labour and social affairs minister, Jesus Caldera, said the Franco statue was taken down in preparation for digging a new rail tunnel, though he acknowledged that officials in the Zapatero government “didn’t like one bit” seeing the monument to the dictator when they gazed out their office windows.
Caldera said the decision to remove the Franco-on-horseback was “normal and reasonable” in a democracy and denied that the operation was deliberately timed to coincide with a Wednesday-night gala celebrating the 90th birthday of former Spanish Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo.
The Communists were one of the most powerful forces on the losing side of the 1936-39 Civil War won by fascist troops led by Franco.
Many thousands of leftists chose exile following their defeat, and those who remained in Spain and continued politically active were jailed and persecuted for decades.
Some of those attending Carrillo’s party heard about the removal of the statue and flocked to the site to witness what singer Victor Manuel described as “this unrepeatable night.”
Since the restoration of democracy following Franco’s death, Spaniards have argued unceasingly about the tangible everyday legacy of the dictatorship, consisting of various statues and monuments as well as streets named for fascist-era politicians and military officers.
In general, leftists have called for their removal, while the right says that would be tantamount to erasing 40 years of Spanish history.
But some prominent figures have deviated from ideological purity on this question.
Spain’s first post-dictatorship Socialist premier, Felipe Gonzalez, once said: “If knocking Franco off the horse was worth doing, it should have been done when he was alive.”
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news