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The lavish former resting place of dictator Francisco Franco. Shutterstock/Giusparta
Mass Graves

Spain moves ahead with bill to honour victims of Franco dictatorship

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed during the Spanish Civil War or “disappeared” during Franco’s regime.

SPANISH LAWMAKERS TODAY gave the first stamp of approval to a bill which seeks to rehabilitate the memory of leftwing victims of Spain’s 1936-39 civil war and Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

The proposed law threatens to fuel tensions in a nation where public opinion is still divided over the legacy of the dictatorship that ended with Franco’s death in 1975.

Franco assumed power after the civil war in which his Nationalists defeated Republicans, leaving the country in ruins and mourning hundreds of thousands of dead.

While his regime honoured its own dead, it left its opponents buried in unmarked graves across the country.

The “Democratic Memory” bill, passed in the first reading by the lower house of parliament, will for the first time make unearthing the mass graves a “state responsibility”.

Up until now the search for the Franco-era disappeared has been carried out by voluntary associations, as was featured in Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s most recent film “Parallel Mothers”.

The bill makes Spain “a better country and definitively turns the page on the darkest period of our history,” the minister in charge of the bill, Felix Bolanos, told parliament ahead of the vote.

It was approved with 173 votes in favour and 159 against. 

114,000 disappeared

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Tuesday “there are still 114,000 disappeared” in Spain, mostly Republicans. Only Cambodia has more forcibly disappeared people, he added.

“The State must exhume the remains of the victims of the Franco dictatorship,” the premier told parliament as he defended the bill.

The proposed law will also create a DNA database to help identify remains found in the mass graves, create a map of mass graves and prevent publicly-funded institutions from glorifying the dictatorship.

It will also annul the criminal convictions of opponents of the dictatorship and appoint a prosecutor who will probe human rights abuses during the civil war and dictatorship.

Previous attempts to bring Franco-era officials to justice in Spain have been blocked by an amnesty agreement signed by political leaders after Franco’s death.

The agreement was seen as essential to avoid a spiral of score-settling as they tried to unite the country and steer it towards democracy.

Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

In 2019 he had Franco’s remains removed from a vast mausoleum near Madrid and transferred to a discreet family plot.

Repeal threat

The main opposition Popular Party (PP) accuses his government of opening the wounds of the past.

It has vowed to repeal the law if returns to power after the next general election expected at the end of 2023.

Mariano Rajoy, a former PP prime minister, once bragged that he did not spend a euro in public money to enforce an earlier “Historical Memory” law passed by a previous socialist government in 2007 to tackle Franco’s legacy.

Far-right party Vox, meanwhile, has accused the government of “once again dividing Spaniards” with the bill.

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