Evidence that Spain continues to grapple with the lingering effects of dictator Francisco Franco’s nearly four decades of authoritarian rule can be found in the ongoing debate over whether his body should be exhumed from its resting place in a mausoleum near Madrid and reburied elsewhere.
An official commission Tuesday endorsed transferring Franco’s remains to a place “designated by the family, or to a place considered worthy and more suitable,” it said in a report.
The Valley of the Fallen is a Catholic basilica and a monumental memorial erected at Cuelgamuros Valley in the Sierra de Guadarrama. It was conceived by Franco to honor those who fell during the Spanish Civil War and constructed on his orders between 1940 and 1958.
The commission of lawyers said in their report that the site should be officially designated as a memorial for victims of both sides in the conflict and Franco’s remains should be removed because he did not die in the war, but rather of natural causes in 1975, according to a Huffington Post report.
Removal of the remains from the basilica would require Church approval, the report said.
In addition to Franco, the mass graves contain the remains of more than 33,847 people, both his supporters and Republicans who opposed them in Spain’s bloody 1936-39 Civil War, which ended with Franco in power, according to Agence France-Presse.
Commission member Virgilio Zapatero, presenting the report at a news conference, said the commission proposed setting up a historical exhibition at the site in memory of all those killed, regardless of which side they were on.
“Spaniards have a right to detailed information on what happened,” he said.
He said the report’s release had been delayed until after the November 20 general election because of the site’s political sensitivity.
For many Spaniards, the memorial site – carved into the side of a mountain in part through the forced labor of thousands of political prisoners – is their country’s most divisive and potent reminder of the Franco era.
In addition to tens of thousands of Spaniards who were executed during the Spanish Civil War, there are estimates of 100,000 or more individuals that were killed at the hands of Franco’s forces in the years immediately after the end of the conflict.
Political oppression remained a regular feature of Spanish life up until Franco’s death.