Spain exhumes dictator Francisco Franco after years of bitter controversy – The Washington Post, The Washington Post

Spain exhumes dictator Francisco Franco after years of bitter controversy – The Washington Post, The Washington Post

MADRID – Spain began exhuming the remains of dictator Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen outside Madrid on Thursday, 44 years after his death and following years of bitter controversy over how to commemorate adark and complicated past.

Critics had argued that the imposing mausoleum where Franco was buried paid inappropriate homage to his fascist regime.

The exhumation began Thursday morning in the presence of 22 Franco family members, including his seven grandchildren .

Franco’s family had objected to moving his remains. But Spain’s Supreme Court last month ruled the government could proceed. The remains will be relocated to afamily crypt35 miles away.

Members of Spain’s Socialist government, which ordered the exhumation , were also in attendance on Thursday, while more than 500 journalists congregated outside the entrance to the complex.

The exhumation comes at a time ofpolitical polarizationin Spain, weeks before voters cast ballots on Nov. 10 in the country fourth general election in less than four years.

The government defended its decision on Thursday and promoted a related effort to locate and honor those buried in unmarked graves during and after the Spanish Civil War.

“Exhuming the dictator was a key part of the many reflections made over the years by the men and women in this country who didn’t want their relatives to be in the dark, ”Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said Thursday morning.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us,” she said. “We are the second country in the world in terms of missing people from the war. That is unacceptable. The Valley of the Fallen will be a place of memory and honor, justice for all, for both sides. Because there are more than 30, 000 people buried there from both sides. ”

Franco, who ruled Spain from 1936 until his death in 1975, came to power after defeating the democratic government in the Spanish Civil War.

His death paved the way for Spain’s peaceful transition to democracy. But his burial site became a place of pilgrimage for his supporters on the far right.

Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law formally condemned Franco’s regime, recognized victims on both sides of the civil war and called for the repurposing of the monument to represent all Spaniards.

“ Today the doors of the Valley of the Fallen are opened so that democracy can enter, ”said Emilio Silva, who heads the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory. “And it ends the marginalization that the victims of the Francoist dictatorship have suffered for 40 years. ”

About 300 Franco supporters who oppose the exhumation and relocation congregated at the entrance to the private cemetery where his remains will be reinterred. Wearing pro-Franco flags and scarves, protesters chanted: “Long live Spain. Long live Franco. ”

Weather allowing, the double coffin with its zinc interior will be flown by helicopter to the family crypt in Madrid’s Mingorrubio Cemetery, where Franco’s body will be buried next to that of his wife, Carmen Polo, in a private family ceremony.

Antonio Tejero, the son of a Spanish Civil Guard general who attempted a coup d’etat in 1981 in support of Franco’s legacy, is the priest the Franco family has chosen for the funeral Mass.

McAuley reported from Paris.

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