Spain Orders Removal of Dictator Franco's Remains

(Bloomberg) -- The Spanish government decreed the removal of dictator Francisco Franco’s remains from a mausoleum outside Madrid, fulfilling a pledge made by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez when he took office in June.

The decree was approved Friday and is still subject to confirmation by a vote in parliament. Until that happens, Franco won’t be removed from the Valley of the Fallen monument, 54 kilometers (34 miles) from Madrid. The government has disclosed no new destination.

Spain Orders Removal of Dictator Franco's Remains

The military general governed the country from 1939 until his death in 1975 after leading nationalist forces to victory in the Spanish Civil War in which an estimated half a million people lost their lives. The dictator’s body was interred in a basilica cut into the mountainside near the town of El Escorial under a giant stone cross that for many Spaniards remains a symbol of the divisions of the conflict.

The memorial was built using forced labor from political prisoners between 1940 and 1958. It contains the remains of 33,847 people killed during the civil war, according to Patrimonio Nacional, the agency charged with managing the property. The dead are from Franco’s winning nationalist army and the losing Republican side.

‘Lack of Respect’

“To have the victims of both sides in the same place where Franco continues to have -- in a manner that’s totally unacceptable for a modern democracy like ours -- a state tomb, is a lack of respect and peace for the victims who are buried there,” Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said in a news conference on Friday.

Spain Orders Removal of Dictator Franco's Remains

About 41 percent of Spaniards approve of the idea of removing Franco from the monument compared with 38.5 percent who don’t, according to a Sigma Dos survey carried out last month for El Mundo, a center-right newspaper. Even though the survey pointed to a slim majority in favor of exhuming Franco, 54 percent of those asked said they didn’t think that now is the right time to do it, according to the poll released July 15.

The conservative People’s Party, the largest group in the Spanish parliament, and the liberals of Ciudadanos -- the fourth biggest -- say they don’t support Sanchez’s bid to remove Franco because the government should have other more important priorities.

The Spanish parliament last year approved a Socialist proposal to remove Franco from the monument but the symbolic vote had no legal force.

Sanchez promised to unearth Franco’s remains from the memorial when he made his case in late May to overthrow his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, in the country’s first successful no-confidence motion in its 40-year democratic era. The Socialist leader lined up an alliance of formations including anti-establishment party Podemos, and nationalists and separatists groups from Catalonia and Basque Country regions.

About 500,000 people died in the Civil War, according to estimates cited by the Encyclopedia Britannica.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.