© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News Partners

Spain Plans To Move Franco's Remains To A Madrid Cathedral

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Spain is altering what some see as a monument to fascism. By the end of this year, the Spanish government plans to exhume the remains of the late dictator Francisco Franco from a national monument. That same monument holds the remains of more than 33,000 people who fought on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, which brought Franco to power. As Lucia Benavides reports, there are unresolved questions in Spain's past.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN PLAYING)

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Dozens of people are holding a Catholic Mass in the underground basilica of Spain's Valle de los Caidos, or Valley of the Fallen. It's a vast complex that includes a monument and a church that leads to the tomb of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. On this Saturday, it's covered in flowers. Several people kneel down and kiss the tomb.

MARIA LEGAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Maria Legaz holds back tears as she tells me that seeing the tomb was emotional for her. She was born in 1939, right after Spain's civil war ended, and many of her family members were killed by the Republican army fighting against Franco.

LEGAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: "There's a lot of history behind this monument," she says, "so why ruin it?" Franco's reign, which lasted until his death in 1975, was notorious for the imprisonment, torture and killings of those that spoke out against his regime. This September, in a move that angered Franco's family and his supporters, the Spanish government passed legislation that will allow them to remove Franco's remains to a cathedral in Madrid. Queralt Sole, history professor at the University of Barcelona, says the move is more of a symbolic gesture.

QUERALT SOLE: (Through interpreter) The monument is the petrification of Francoism. You can touch it there. So even if they remove Franco, it doesn't take away the symbolism of the monument, which is very strong.

BENAVIDES: From 1940 to its inauguration in 1959, Franco used the slave labor of political prisoners to dig nearly a quarter of a million tons of granite out of a hill outside Madrid to build the basilica. They then used the stones to erect a 500-foot cross. Sole says the idea was to build a monument for the winners of the civil war. But the remains of thousands of Republican soldiers were also buried there, some without their families' consent. Sole says that the place, much like Franco's regime, is a mixture of ideology and religion.

SOLE: (Through interpreter) It's very serious that Franco's legacy is still very present. It's a much deeper and difficult change than just removing plaques.

BENAVIDES: Franco supporters have showed up in droves in recent months to protest the removal of his remains, singing nationalist songs and doing the fascist salute. Thirty-year-old Alejandro Rata Carrion is one of many visitors at the Valley of the Fallen this Saturday. He thinks there's an issue with the way Spaniards are educated about the civil war and its resulting dictatorship.

ALEJANDRO RATA CARRION: (Through interpreter) It's something that has been covered up a lot. For example, I never studied recent Spanish history in school. It was always something that was left for the end of the course, and then we'd never get there.

BENAVIDES: Rata Carrion says that for him, there's no room for a dictator in a public national monument like this one. For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.