Spain: The Eternal Fight to Dismantle a Fascist Symbol and Mass Grave

The esplanade at the Valley of the Fallen, Madrid. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Madrid's Valley of the Fallen, the ostentatious memorial monument built by fascist dictator Francisco Franco, is perhaps the biggest symbol of Francoism and the biggest mass grave in Spain. Almost 40 years after the death of the dictator, marking the start of democracy in Spain, the exact figure regarding the number of victims from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is still unknown. Many of them have been laid to rest alongside their executioner. In 2010, the Spanish government had identified 33,833 [es] but there could be many more.

On 19th March 2013, the national Catalan television channel aired the documentary “Avi, et trauré d'aquí!” [ca] [“Grandfather, I will get you out of here!”], which set off comments on the social networking sites about the mausoleum. According to what was published on the webpage [ca] about the programme, it generated more than 2,600 tweets and the hashtag #ettrauré [ca] [#Iwillgetyouout] was ‘trending’ on Twitter throughout the programme and well into the night.

Built between 1940 and 1958 with the help of political prisoners, the Valley of the Fallen is still today a symbol of the victory for the fascist troops over the forces that were defending the Second Spanish Republic, proclaimed in 1931. The death of Franco in 1975 and the end of his forty year dictatorship gave way to the Spanish democratic state. It was a smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy which took care to not reopen old wounds between the opposing sides from the Civil War. Despite the Historical Memory Law, passed in 2007, the relatives of the victims from the losing side in the war and Franco's dictatorship fought via civil society organisations, often passively criticising successive governments, so that the bodies of the buried relatives could be recuperated from the mass graves and so that justice could be done.

The historian Queralt Solé (@qbru), who also appeared in the documentary, explains, in her article [ca] on the Centre for International History Studies‘ blog [ca], published by the Catalan history magazine Sàpiens [ca], the process that the regime used in order to stuff the human remains in Franco’s mausoleum:

El procés es va realitzar amb absoluta transparència, es van publicar als principals diaris estatals i en els butlletins oficials de totes les províncies anuncis oferint la possibilitat de la inhumació al Valle de los Caídos. Però la resposta per part de familiars de víctimes franquistes de la guerra no va ser ni molt menys la que el règim esperava. Les sol·licituds individuals dels familiars dels “màrtirs” van distar tant de les previsions, que es va decidir incrementar les exhumacions de fosses de soldats franquistes morts al front, així com afegir-hi l’exhumació i trasllat de fosses de soldats republicans sense, en aquest cas, informar els familiars.

The process was carried out with absolute transparency; announcements were published in all the main state newspapers and official bulletins within all the provinces offering the possibility of burial in the Valley of the Fallen.  But the response from the relatives of the pro-Franco victims in the war was similar to what the regime was expecting.  The individual requests from the relatives of the “martyrs” was so far from what was predicted that it was decided to increase the grave exhumations of Franco soldiers who died on the front as well as exhuming and transferring the graves of Republican soldiers without, in this case, informing their relatives.

Within a few hours, Twitter was filled with critical comments driven by the political motive of historical memory under the hashtag #ettrauré.

The Independent's collaborative Twitter account (@LaIndepe) criticised [ca] the lack of resoluteness from the successive governments led by the Spanish majority parties; the People's Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE); in relation to the crimes committed during Franco’s dictatorship. The similar positioning of both the parties has given way, in recent years, to the ironic and informal use of the acronym PPSOE, which refers to the two parties at the same time.

El Valle de los Caídos és un parc temàtic del feixisme emparat pel PPSOE #ettrauré

The Valley of the Fallen is a fascist themed park protected by the PPSOE #ettrauré

Many other Tweeters cast doubt on the democratic spirit of Spain, like the editor and bachelor of Law Quim Torra (@QuimTorra) [ca] or the journalist Jordi Finestres (@jordifinestres) [ca]:

Fins que Espanya no es posi davant del mirall i es jutgi a ella mateixa no serà mai una democràcia #ettrauré

Until Spain stands in front of a mirror and judges itself, it will never be a democracy  #ettrauré

Mentre manin els néts dels que van fer construir el #valledeloscaidos Espanya no serà mai una democràcia #ettrauré

While the grandchildren of those that constructed the #valledeloscaidos [#valleyofthefallen] are in charge, Spain will never be a democracy #ettrauré

Comparisons with the social and legal treatment in Germany and all that can be considered to justify Nazism were recurrent. David Martí (@davidmarti) [ca], a university professor; Èric Fornós (@fornoseric) [ca], a law student, and Lluís González (@focfollet) [ca], a philologist and linguist, commented:

#ettraure Us imagineu Hitler enterrat en un mausoleu públic a 60 km de Berlín envoltat de jueus i gitanos gasejats pel règim? Doncs això.

#ettraure Can you imagine Hitler being buried in a public mausoleum, 60km outside of Berlin, surrounded by jews and gypsies that were gassed during the regime? Exactly.

Exaltació del nazisme a Alemanya, 40 anys de presó. Exaltació del franquisme a Espanya, total llibertat #ettraure

Praising Nazism in Germany: 40 years in prison. Praising Francoism in Spain: complete freedom #ettraure

Alemanya va fer la neteja que Espanya no ha fet mai. Certs partits, entitats, associacions o webs hi estarien prohibides. #ettrauré

Germany did the cleansing that Spain has never done. Certain parties, entities, associations or websites would be forbidden there #ettrauré

Others relate to the Catalan independence movement. Moisès Trullàs (@CalDirHo), who expresses his desire for Catalonia to be independent from Spain on his profile, said [ca]:

Hem de treure els cossos dels nostres morts de El Valle de los Caídos i els dels nostres vius d'Espanya. #TenimPressa #ettrauré

We have to take the bodies of our dead out of the Valley of the Fallen and those of our living out of Spain #TenimPressa [#WeAreInaHurry] #ettrauré

On the same topic, the sociologist Marta Rovira expressed herself in her opinion column [ca] for the online newspaper [ca]:

“Cal recordar també que l'Estat espanyol és l'únic estat de la UE que no ha dut a terme una política de persecució i reparació dels crims contra la humanitat comesos durant el segle XX. I no només això, sinó que les víctimes i els seus familiars continuen patint la indiferència, la negació i sovint la incomprensió de les institucions públiques espanyoles.

Avui encara, el franquisme és una dictadura sense condemna pública (amb símbols, monuments i un dels mausoleus més gran del món —el Valle de los Caídos— intactes), un sistema criminal sense judici, una font de patiment sense reparació, i un persistent fonament antidemocràtic del sistema polític espanyol. Per això, el dolor del passat és la vergonya del present.”

We must also remember that Spain is the only state in the EU that has not carried out a policy to persecute those responsible and to repair itself following the crimes against humanity committed during the 20th Century. And not only that, but the victims and their relatives continue to suffer from the indifference, denial, and often lack of understanding from the Spanish public institutions.

Still today, the Franco era is a dictatorship that hasn't been publicly condemned (with symbols; monuments; and one of the biggest mausoleums in the world, the Valley of the Fallen; still intact), a criminal system without justice, a source of suffering without repair, and a persistent antidemocratic foundation for the Spanish political system. Because of this, the pain of the past is the shame of the present.



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