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News > Spain

Plans for the Valley of the Fallen After Franco

  • Plans for the Valley of the Fallen After Franco

    | Photo: El Pais

Published 12 October 2019

The Government wants to take the tomb of Primo de Rivera to a crypt of the mausoleum, replace the agreement with the Benedictines and create a memory center.

The Valley of the Fallen is still governed by the same precepts that the Regime lef behind. The post-dictatorship successive governments have invested millions of euros of public money in the financing of a monument that today does not fulfill a function different to the one from the day it was inaugurated: immortalize Franco’s victory in "the Crusade".


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The exhumation and transfer of Franco’s remains will resolve the anomaly this month, which is about to turn 44; the Valley of the Fallen will cease to belong to a dictator and it will be democracy that decides, for the first time, what to do with the monument. Today, the basilica is a religious cemetery and the crypts where 33,800 people lie, a civil cemetery.

“I would not exclude the possibility of breaking the current agreement and leaving everything as a municipal cemetery”, Benedictine and historian, Hilari Raguer says; he participated in 2011 in the committee of experts appointed by the Government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to transform the Valley of the Fallen.

“It would be good for a religious presence to pray for all the victims, but it has to be a community that does not oppose the reinterpretation of the monument, that feels comfortable,” the Benedictine explains after the threat of entrenchment of the prior, Santiago Cantera.

The Government also intends to move the tomb of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera from the basilica. But it won’t happen now, since the Executive has decided to separate both operations.

In 2011, Zapatero's expert committee already argued that the founder of Falange, captured, imprisoned in a Republican jail, sentenced to death and shot in Alicante in November 1936, is a victim, but his preferred location “breaks the same treatment due to the remains of the people buried there.”

Once the remains of Franco have been transferred to the cemetery of El Pardo, the Valley of the Fallen will cease to be a monument to a dictator and the victims will no longer share space with their main executioner, but will remain a monument in serious deterioration. “It is badly built. It was done with great desire for greatness, but bad materials, and the dampness is tremendous,” Raguer explains.

The Regime financed part of the construction with what he called the national subscription (a donation channel opened during the Civil War) and the work of prisoners. The total cost of the works, which lasted 18 years, was 1,086,460,331 pesetas (the equivalent of approximately 247.5 million euros today). The committee of experts estimated in 2011 at more than 13 million euros the cost of a basic rehabilitation of the monumental complex and sculptural groups. Water leaks in some of the crypts where more than 33,800 human remains lie have undone wooden crates and mixed bones.

The Government's intervention in the mausoleum also includes the dignification of these spaces and the return to their relatives of the remains of Republicans that the regime extracted without their consent of mass graves. And here, family members warn - such as Mercedes Abril, 86, who wants to recover his father, or Manuel Lapeña, 95, who since 2016 has a court order that orders his father and uncle to be exhumed - democracy is also going late.

From there, the Executive, now in office and with the budgets of 2018 extended, has not decided how to turn the Valley of the Fallen into “a place of memory” and in any case, these plans will depend on what happens in the elections of November 10. Last summer, during the meeting that Pedro Sanchez held with various groups and specialists related to historical memory, such as the coroner Francisco Etxeberria, the CSIC anthropologist Francisco Ferrandiz, member of the expert committee on the Valley of the Fallen of 2011, asked to the president who was "brave and ambitious", although the resignification of the monument took time.

“The Valley of the Fallen is unique in the world, it is not enough to put a plaque with all the names of the victims. It requires a comprehensive project that works layer by layer on the best example of national Catholicism. The construction of the monument to the victims of the Holocaust in Berlin was a process in which 15 years of social and political debate were invested,” Ferrándiz explains.

One of the options for this resignification of the Valley of the Fallen is to convene a contest of ideas, including international, in which experts who have already transformed other symbols of totalitarianism in countries with tragic past, such as Spanish, can participate.

ESMA (School of Mechanics of the Navy), the epicenter of the tortures and disappearances of the Argentine dictatorship (more than 5,000 men and women passed through there) is today a museum of memory. Its director, Alejandra Naftal, explained to EL PAÍS that the museum “serves today as a tribute center, but also to bother, so that people ask questions. It has an educational function. ” Naftal believes that "Spain will find its way", but warns of some important differences: "In Argentina this is a state policy, whatever comes. Political parties that do not agree on many other issues, they do on this.”

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