MADRID – The Spanish government on Tuesday approved a new “Democratic Memory” bill to tackle the legacy of General Francisco Franco’s 1939-1975 dictatorship and the civil war that preceded it, with measures honouring those who suffered persecution or violence.
Fourteen years after Spain passed its first “Historic Memory” law, the new legislation drafted by the left-wing government aims to eliminate loopholes and cover a wider range of victims and crimes related to Francoism. It will also promote the search and exhumations of victims buried in mass graves.
If passed into law, the bill will create two official remembrance days to honour the victims and the exiled, and an official registry of the victims will be set up.
Government estimates point to 114,000 civilians who disappeared, presumably killed, behind Franco forces’ lines during the 1936-39 civil war and throughout the dictatorship.
The regime ended with Franco’s death in 1975 and the return of democracy, but in a bid to heal the wounds, left and right-wing parties agreed on a Pacto del Olvido (Pact of Forgetting) to avoid confronting a painful past and to ease the transition.
But his legacy remains a divisive issue in Spain, especially following the rise of the hard-right Vox party in the past few years.
“With this law…we become a more decent country because we serve better the victims,” the minister in charge of the bill, Felix Bolanos, told reporters.
“We want the thousands of families who are still searching for the remains of their loved ones to know that they can count on the government in that mission” of giving them a dignified burial or simply establishing what happened, he added.
The bill, which will be sent to parliament for approval, declares null and void the convictions and penalties handed down by Francoist repressive bodies over people’s political and other beliefs, or sexual orientation.
It will also redefine the grandiose Franco-era monument known as The Valley of the Fallen, where Franco had been buried until 2019, as a cemetery to hold the remains of people killed on both sides of the civil war.
It states no one can be buried in a place of prominence in the complex, meaning the remains of the fascist Falange party’s founder, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, will have to be removed. Franco’s remains were reburied in a family crypt in 2019.