Spain’s former dictator exhumed from massive mausoleum

Francisco Franco's body transferred to the cemetery, where his wife is buried

Alyssa McMurtry   | 24.10.2019
Spain’s former dictator exhumed from massive mausoleum

OVIEDO, Spain 

The body of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, which rested in a giant mausoleum containing the bones of thousands of his victims, was exhumed on Thursday and flown by a helicopter to a cemetery north of Madrid.

Upon Franco’s death in 1975, his body was embalmed and prominently placed in the massive Valley of the Fallen monument, which boasts the world’s tallest cross -- with a 150-meter (492-feet) height -- and one of the world’s largest basilicas.

Located in the region of Madrid, the Valley of the Fallen was built in large part by Franco’s Republican prisoners. The remains of at least 33,800 victims of the Spanish civil war, including thousands of Republicans, are contained in the monument.

"Today is a great triumph for the victims and all the country’s democrats because it puts an end to a historic barbarity that this monument was perpetuating every day. Starting today, we enter into a new era of truth," said prominent Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon on Spanish broadcaster La Sexta on Thursday.

A small group of Franco’s family members and close supporters attended the exhumation ceremony. When his body was placed in the vehicle to bring it to the helicopter, they cried out "Long live Spain! Long live Franco!"

Franco’s body was then placed in the helicopter and flown to the Mingorrubio Cemetery north of Madrid to be buried next to his wife. Around 100 Franco supporters gathered nearby and sang fascist hymns upon the arrival of Franco’s body.

A recent poll carried out by Invymark suggests that 57% of Spaniards support Franco’s exhumation and 25% oppose it.

Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox Party is among those who are fiercely opposed to the exhumation. He has accused the Socialist party of carrying out and using the exhumation for political reasons. Spain will hold national elections in less than a month.

"There’s a government that wants to revitalize old hatreds, and there’s nothing sadder than that," said Abascal in an interview with Spanish broadcaster Antena3 on Wednesday.

According to experts, until today, Spain was the only democratic country in the world with this type of massive mausoleum for a former dictator. The body of Germany’s fascist leader Adolf Hitler was said to have been burned, shredded and thrown into a river. The body of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was hidden for ten years in places including a car trunk and a closet, and then finally buried in a family crypt.

Yet, in Spain, Franco ruled with an iron fist for 36 years until his death. After he died, the country transitioned to democracy. During that time, the so-called Pact of Forgetting and an Amnesty Law were enacted, which suppressed difficult questions about Franco’s legacy, his victims and Spanish history in favor of a smooth national reconciliation.

According to Carmen Calvo, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Spain still has the second-largest population of unidentified disappeared people in the world.

"We still have a lot of work ahead of us," she said during a media scrum on Thursday, adding: "The Valley of the Fallen will become a place of memory and honor, a place of justice for everyone, no matter which side they fought on".

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