Spain: A country tempered by sadness

Public adulation of Franco has ended; private sorrows remain.

The Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship entrenched hatred and division based on politics, class, education, and wealth. As historian Andy Duggan points out, “The wide-ranging nature of Nationalist terror was not coincidental, a by-product of civil war, but reflected a much deeper ideological outlook that sought to purge the ‘anti-Spain’ and eliminate the ‘cancer of communism’” (The Spanish Civil War, 2007). Franco not only knew what was happening, but personally authorized the crimes.

An estimated 140,000 people disappeared during and after the civil war, not including those killed in combat. After the restoration of democracy in 1978, Spain remained reluctant to investigate the dictatorship’s terrorism, the collusion of Spain’s elite families and businesses, its Roman Catholic hierarchy, and the decades-long impunity that enabled Franco to remain in power until his death in 1976.

It is estimated Franco left 60-100 billion pesetas [US$500-US$800 million] tied up in holding companies and real estate. The family still owns several valuable properties, including the Pazo de Meirás – a manor house used by Franco as a summer residence, “given” to him at the end of the Civil War and which the Galician authorities have long been trying to get back. The Franco family’s worth today ranges from 350 to 600 million Euros. According to Mariano Sánchez Soler’s book, Los Franco S.A. (2003), the family had interests in more than 150 companies during the dictatorship years and banked considerable profits abroad.

After the restoration of democracy in 1978, many members of Franco’s regime were pardoned for their crimes in the name of national reconciliation. Those pardons fostered resentment throughout the country and for many the basilica of the Valley of the Fallen – which contains the bones of 33,847 victims of the War and where until last week Franco was interred – became a focal point for that resentment. In “Spain is fulfilling its duty to itself: Franco’s remains exhumed” (The Guardian, 24 October 2019), Sam Jones suggests why:

“Almost four years ago a court granted Maria Purificación Lapeña permission to recover the remains of her grandfather and great-uncle. Manuel Lapeña, a vet, and his brother Antonio, a blacksmith, were executed by Francoist forces in the early days of the war, buried in a mass grave and then dug up decades later and reburied in the basilica without their families’ knowledge or permission.

Like many others, Purificación Lapeña is still dreaming of the day the Franco family dreaded. ‘We’re not really bothered about what they do with Franco,’ she said. ‘What matters to us is getting the bodies of our relatives back. They need to get all the other bodies out and give them back to the families where possible.’

When that was done, she said, the valley should be deconsecrated, the monks sent packing and the site turned into a historical education centre ‘where they tell the truth about what happened with the coup and during the Spanish civil war’.

Rosa Gil’s grandfather, Pedro, was killed fighting for Franco and now lies in the Valley in a box bearing the number 6,427 and the date of his death, 1 June 1937. For the sake of her 83-year-old father, who was one year old when his father died, she wants to bring Pedro out and bury him in the village cemetery in Soria.

‘As a Spaniard I’m glad that Franco’s coming out – it’s an important symbolic act for the country,’ said Gil. ‘But my grandfather is a bit more important to me personally. As long as my grandfather stays in there, the joy is tempered’.”

As Spain’s most famous author wrote in El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, “Many were the offenses to be undone, the wrongs to be rectified, the grievances to be redressed, the abuses to be corrected and the debts to be satisfied.”


Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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