Thirty years after Spain's right-wing dictator died, Spaniards are finally getting ready to lay him to rest

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Even after Franco's death in 1975, parties across the political spectrum maintained a "pact of silence" about the Civil War and decades of dictatorship to ensure, they said, a peaceful transition to representative government. But after watching their democracy survive tests ranging from the legalization of divorce to the Madrid bombings, Spaniards are ready to break that silence.

Unlike his allies Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco survived World War II, retaining his dictatorial grip on Spain for another 30 years. Even when he died, he avoided the fate of his fellow despots. Hitler's body was likely incinerated outside his bunker; Mussolini's corpse swung from a gas-station awning in Milan; but Franco still lies in a grand tomb funded and carefully maintained by the country he subjugated. On Sunday, the 30th anniversary of his death, several thousand Franco supporters will make their annual journey to the Valley of the Fallen, some 50 km northwest of Madrid, where a colossal basilica is carved into the craggy Guadarrama Mountains. There, they will lay wreaths and offer fascist salutes, as they do every year. But this time, their pilgrimage will take place in a country that is ready to confront the dark chapter of its dictatorship — and perhaps finally put to rest the legacy of Francisco Franco.

After igniting a civil war in 1936 when he led a coup against Spain's democratically elected government, Franco and his Nationalist forces — aided by Germany and Italy — finally prevailed in 1939. For the next 36 years, Franco ruled the country; he sent political prisoners to concentration camps and homosexuals to mental asylums, and women were not allowed to work without the permission of their husbands or fathers. Speaking out — for democracy or against the regime — was hazardous to your health.

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