Saturday, November 20, 2010

Removing the scars of the past

In spite of the fact that there are still followers of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, many Spaniards would like to put the memory of the dark days under his rule behind them.

A demonstration has been called at the gates of Valle de los Caidos – The Valley of the Fallen – a vast basilica carved out of living rock in the hills 30 miles northwest of Madrid to call for the monument to be destroyed. The Federation for Historical Memory said that it considers the 500ft high granite cross a "symbol of death and vengeance" and is demanding it be "blown up as a public apology to the victims of Francoism."

The complex, which includes a Benedictine monastery, was built by political prisoners during the Franco era as a memorial to those who died fighting for the dictator's cause during the 1936-39 Civil War. But among the estimated 50,000 bodies buried alongside the generalissimo and Jose Antonio Prima de Rivera, the founder of the fascist Spanish Falange party, are those of Republican supporters whose corpses were added in order to fill the huge crypt.

Campaigners have long called for the exhumation of graves at the site and for the remains to be returned to the descendants of those who were killed fighting for democracy.

The Historical Memory Law, introduced by the socialist government in 2007 in an attempt to heal the wounds of the past, banned political demonstrations on the square in front of the monument, where loyal followers of Franco gathered each year to commemorate the anniversary of his death. But victims' associations claim the law has not gone far enough and say the continued existence of the memorial is "an insult to modern democratic Spain".

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