The inspiration for today’s post was found within the Opinions section of one of Madrid’s popular weekly commuter newspapers. A reader had written in to discuss her opinion about the recent proposal to have the remains of Spain’s former dictator removed from his official burial site in the Valle de los caídos (a giant basilica honoring the dead of the Spanish Civil War built into a mountain outside of the capital).
Before jumping into the content of this post, let me give you a brief Spanish history lesson to help bring you up to date 🙂
The Spanish Civil War began in the year 1936. It was fought between the Republicans and the Nationalists. The Republicans were left-winged in ideology who, during that time, had control over the government. The Nationalists were the rebel group who possessed a politically right-wing ideology looking to overthrow the current government and establish their own regime.
After almost three years of fighting, the war came to an end in April of 1939 when the Nationalists defeated the Republicans and gained control of the capital. Shortly after their victory and the persecution of the remaining Republican forces, the Nationalists established a new government in Spain. They replaced the former Republic with an extreme right-wing dictatorship lead by one of the Nationalists generals, Fransico Franco. The General ruled Spain as its fascist leader until his death in 1975.
For me it’s always mind blowing to think that this modern country had, until relatively recently, been ruled under a repressive dictatorship. It’s really only been since the 1980’s that Spain has had a stable Democratic government!
The War Monument
Back to the history lesson, after Franco’s death his body was buried in the Valle de los Caídos. This is a monument that Franco himself had commissioned to be built in honor of those who died in the Civil War.
As you can probably imagine, the Valle de los Caídos is still somewhat controversial to this day. First off because it is reported that the Fascist government forced Rebel war prisoners (Republicans) to work as its laborers in the construction of the monument. The task of carving a basilica into a rocky mountain side proved to be very dangerous work and many Republicans lost their lives in the process.
The second reason why this monument is controversial is because Franco’s tomb takes center stage within the basilica – a treatment usual reserved for important religious leaders, not a former dictator. Also, at least when I visited the site, the tomb was decorated with flowers. For me this felt like an odd (or even inappropriate?) gesture considering that Franco’s regime was responsible for the death, persecution, and exile of thousands of Spaniards during the course of his 40 year rule.
It’s important to remember though that there’s always two sides to any issue. I know for a fact that there are still people who are alive today who were supporters of Franco and his conservative government. These people probably had distant family members killed by the Republicans during the Civil War. So naturally for them the honorable burial of Franco is an appropriate gesture.
The Newspaper Article
While the Valle de los Caídos itself is always a source of mild controversy in the minds of the Spaniards – recently it has found its way into national headlines. Like I stated before, the reason for its sudden media attention is that fact that some are calling for the removal of Franco’s tomb from the monument. The official reason stated for the proposed removal is the fact that Franco wasn’t a Civil War causality – he died of natural causes almost 40 years after the war – and therefore doesn’t have the right to be a prominent feature in a public monument honoring those who gave their lives on the Civil War battle field.
As an outsider observing this situation, I would assume that the Spanish people would be banded together in the effort to remove the former dictator from their official war memorial. Yet despite the fervor in the press, it seems that at least some Spanish people are ambivalent to whether Franco stays or leaves the Valle de los Caídos.
In the Opinions article that I read, a woman wrote into claim that she, like many other Spanish people, had come to terms with the fact that Spain was once ruled by a dictator and the fact that his tomb was on display in an official government protected site. The woman asked for the focus of the media to be shifted from this irrelevant issue to something more pressing like the creation of jobs and the stimulation of the economy.
I was personally very surprised by the response of this woman. Franco’s regime ended less than forty years ago and already it’s considered “a thing of the past” in the minds of the people?
What do you think? Are you still affected by important events that happened in the US forty years ago? Are those issues still relevant today? Or does the current economic situation deserve to take center stage?