Spain Reclaims Franco's Shrine

Roundup: Talking About History

David Sharrock, The Times (London), 02 Nov. 2004

Even when its 300ft cross is swathed in cloud and the granite flagstones gleam with rain, the coaches never stop arriving at Spain's most controversial tourist attraction -the vast underground basilica where Francisco Franco lies buried.

Most visitors come simply out of curiosity, but the Valley of the Fallen is also a pilgrimage for Spain's dwindling band of diehard Francoists. They will gather here on November 20 to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Caudillo's death and recall the"good old days" before the restoration of democracy after his death in 1975.

Whether they will gather for the 30th anniversary in 2005 is less certain, for this emblem of dictatorship is expected to be transformed into a place from where the vanquished of the Spanish Civil War will no longer feel excluded. Emboldened by the Socialists' general election victory six months ago, proponents of change believe that the truth about the monument should be displayed. Franco built it using captured Republicans as forced labour.

A committee of ministers has been set up to consider ways to memorialise the suffering of Franco's victims, and Jaume Bosch, a Catalonian senator in the Spanish parliament's Upper House, is proposing important changes to the way in which the tens of thousands of visitors to the monument would interpret what they are shown.

"I want what was in reality something like a Nazi concentration camp to stop being a nostalgic place of pilgrimage for Francoists," Senor Bosch said."Inevitably, whether we like it or not, it's part of our history. We don't want to pull it down, but the Government has agreed to study our plan."

He wants"a monument that not only remembers the dictatorship in a one-sided way, but also denounces it. For millions of Spaniards, this place continues to be an insult to our democracy." Ideas range from information boards telling visitors what really happened to the incorporation of a new memorial honouring the Republican dead.

On the first anniversary of his victory in the civil war against the Republic in 1939, Franco announced his intention to raise a vast monument to those who had fallen on the Nationalist side."The stones that are to be erected must have the grandeur of the monuments of old, which defy time and forgetfulness," he declared.

A project that was to take a year took two decades. Around 20,000 Republicans were used as forced labour. Officially 14 died in accidents, but some historians say that hundreds died. The monument, with its basilica, monastery and giant crucifix, can be seen from 30 miles away. It cost the equivalent of £200 million.

A simple bouquet of red carnations this weekend lay atop the monumental stone engraved with the words"Francisco Franco, Caudillo".

Visitors were uncomfortable to be questioned about their day out."It's our history. People don't have to come if they don't want," said one irritated, middle-aged man from behind dark sunglasses, in spite of the driving rain.

Senor Bosch is confident that, within a year, the Valley of the Fallen will no longer be as it is today."The previous Socialist governments didn't dare touch the subject, it was too soon. But that's no longer the case, we've all grown up."

* December 4, 1892: Paulino Hermenegildo Teodulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo de Andrade, born in El Ferrol, Galicia
* 1915: Becomes the youngest captain in the Spanish Army
* 1931: Spanish monarchy falls when King Alfonso XIII abdicates
* 1935: Appointed army Chief-of-Staff
* 1936: Demoted by left-wing government to military governor of the Canary Islands.
Military rebellion is announced on the Canary Islands on July 17, signalling start of the Spanish Civil War
* 1939: War ends. Up to 500,000 people dead. Becomes Head of State and Commander-in-Chief
* November 20, 1975: Franco dies in Madrid

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