From Fascist Salutes to Chants: The Fight for the Franco Legacy

A huge crowd gathers at late Spanish dictator Franco’s tomb to protest plans to move his body | Image: BBC

Not far from Madrid, in the province of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, one can witness the 150-metre-high cross of the Valle de Los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) monument where nearly 30,000 combatants from both sides of Spain’s civil war are buried. In what might seem a visually arousing monument, holding the ideals of atonement and reconciliation, lies seemingly opposite public opinion, further complicated with governmental compulsions. The root source of all these complications is the legacy of the late right-wing, fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

Franco ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. He claimed power during the Spanish Civil War when, with the assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, his forces overthrew the elected Second Republic. Franco himself was responsible for the sanctioning of the Valley of the Fallen monument to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930s. After his death, Franco’s body was interred at the Valley of the Fallen too, with a colossal memorial built to honour his name.

Masquerading the Valley as a politically neutral monument has witnessed a number of challenges, mostly due to the opposing opinions on the issue. The recent issue began with Spain’s newly sworn-in socialist Prime Minister – Pedro Sanchez, announcing on a television interview, the plans of removing Franco’s remains from the Valley, to make the monument more about remembering the Civil War and not glorifying his dictatorship. No date was fixed, but the intent was made certain. An outburst of opposing opinions was evidenced on the 15th of July when hundreds of people gathered at the Valley of the Fallen to protest the removal of his remains from the controversial monument north of Madrid.

The Pro-Franco demonstrations witnessed Spaniards travelling from different parts of the country to come and protest at the Valley. The Valley was filled with protesters chanting slogans to commemorate Franco’s legacy with some even doing, what might seem politically incorrect, fascist “salutes” in-front of the basilica that holds Franco’s tomb. Many of the protesters are of the opinion that the ruling left-wing socialist government is attempting to score a political victory by seeking vengeance against a political ideology opposite to theirs.

The demonstrations, however, under Spanish Law, might be something that could result in penalisation. This is due to the Historical Memory Law that seeks to commemorate victims on both sides of the Civil War, but outlaws any acts which celebrate the War, it’s protagonists or the Franco era dictatorship. In spite of this law, demonstrations have continuously occurred over the years to honour the Dictator, which has caused the police to intervene in some occasions such as in November 2010.

However, many centrist and left-leaning politicians historically have always sought to modify the monument as they felt something that was equivalent of a Nazi camp should not be the source of nostalgia or pilgrimage for “Francoists”. The comparison to a Nazi camp was due to the controversy regarding the monument’s constructors using war prisoners and forced labour for its completion.

The protesters, on the other hand, are of the view that the government and its allies are so concerned about asserting their political left-wing ideology as more superior over others, that they are ready to modify history for it. Various independent party leaders have also highlighted the Socialist Party’s agenda to wage a silent culture war over its political opponents.

Yet, since taking over office via a no-confidence motion, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) continue to be adamant about removing what they call the “wounds” of the Civil War and Dictatorship era. The administration even sanctioned a scheme to search for missing family members from the Franco regime, whose deaths to this day have no official record. Hence the fight over seeking political and historical legitimacy is bound to continue, in what has turned out to be a political scandal rather than simply a socio-cultural one.



*Rayan Bhattacharya is a Research Intern at The Kootneeti

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