Spain finally attempts to lay ghosts of the Franco era

Spain's Socialist government yesterday proposed measures to help families of the victims of General Franco's dictatorship dig up mass graves, but refused to annul tens of thousands of summary death sentences handed down by his regime.

A long-awaited proposed law, to compensate victims of the Spanish civil war and the 36-year dictatorship that followed it, also bans the far right from holding rallies at Franco's grave in the Valley of the Fallen outside Madrid.

Members of the International Brigades, the leftwing volunteers from around the world who travelled to Spain to fight Franco, would be given the right to take on Spanish nationality without having to renounce their own.

Measures are also proposed to compensate political prisoners who worked in labour battalions on government projects or for pro-Franco businessmen.

"This is not a case of the government rewriting history," said deputy prime minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega as she set out the details of a law which had aroused controversy even before it was announced. "That job is for historians."

Spain's opposition People's party denounced the law as an attempt to revive ancient conflicts. "The vast majority of Spaniards do not want to start talking again about the republic or about Franco," said party leader, Mariano Rajoy. He claimed the government was set on "creating problems and generating tension".

The government said local authorities should help people locate and dig up mass graves, but declined to get involved itself.

Campaigners who had expected the government of the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to come up with a bold law banning any kind of apology for the Franco regime, said the law had been so watered down it was almost worthless.

"It is very sad," said Emilio Silva, a campaigner who discovered and dug up his grandfather's mass grave six years ago. "We will have to keep doing the exhumations ourselves, when it is the government that should do it."

Volunteers have dug up 420 victims from mass graves over the past six years and claim that up to 30,000 victims of the Franco regime remain in them. Mr Zapatero's grandfather is one of those who were shot for being a Republican supporter during the war.

Individual cases of those executed or imprisoned will be considered by a committee of "five wise men" to be set up by the Spanish parliament. The committee will deliver an unspecified form of "moral rehabilitation" to the victims' families.

Families of victims of repression by the Republicans during the civil war can also take their cases to the commission. Anarchist and communist groups killed tens of thousands of people during the civil war, including more than 6,000 bishops, priests, monks and nuns. Franco's regime did its best to imprison or execute those involved in leftwing repression.

Money would also be set aside to sort out Spain's civil war and Franco-period archives, some of which remain virtually untouched. "There is a lot of archive material," said a spokesman at Mr Zapatero's office. "In some places it is measured by the kilometre."


The Spanish civil war started in 1936 with a rising by rightist generals against an elected leftwing Republican government. It ushered in almost 40 years of rule by dictator General Francisco Franco. An intense period of repression followed, with tens of thousands killed. Franco routinely signed death sentences while eating breakfast. There are no firm figures for the number of people shot by his firing squads or the death squads, but they are thought to number more than 100,000. Among the victims was the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, shot on a hillside overlooking Granada. Campaigners claim some 30,000 victims remain in mass graves. When the dictatorship ended in 1975 an agreement not to rekindle the embers of the civil war was a key element of the transition to democracy.

Francoist symbols are to be removed from state-owned buildings, except where they are of historical or artistic merit. Town councils and the church are urged to remove symbols from their buildings and rename streets that bear the names of Franco or his followers.

[Source: By Giles Tremlett in Madrid, The Guardian, London, 29Jul06]

Tienda de Libros Radio Nizkor On-Line Donations

DDHH en España
small logoThis document has been published on 01Aug06 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.