A total of €665,000 has been approved by the Spanish government for the exhumation and identification of some 33,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War buried at the Valley of the Fallen.
Since coming to power in 2018, socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has highlighted the rehabilitation of victims of the dictator Franco’s era as a political priority.
Built between 1940 and 1958, the Valley of the Fallen – one of the biggest basilica’s in the world – was constructed using forced labour of the regime’s political prisoners.
Although burial in the basilica and mausoleum was initially intended for those who fought on Franco’s side during the war, he later claimed that the monument was meant as a ‘national act of atonement’ and reconciliation.
In 1959 Franco ordered the exhumation of thousands of his Republican opponents, and their remains were brought – unbeknownst to family members – to be buried in the mass grave at Valley of the Fallen.
Government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero called the government’s decision to fund the exhumation and identification of the Republican remains a ‘moral reparation’.
Montero added that it was the State’s response to the families of victims, and the international institutions, who have spent decades calling for the right to exhume remains from the site.
In recent years, the government has taken a series of steps to remove dictatorship-era symbols from Spanish society. This includes the controversial exhumation of the body of Franco on 24 October 2019 from the Valley of the Fallen to a small family crypt on the outskirts of Madrid.
The left-wing coalition has also pledged that work will continue on the identification of remains in mass graves elsewhere in the country.
It is estimated that more than 100,000 victims from the Civil War and its aftermath still lie in mass graves across the country. According to Amnesty International, this places Spain second to Cambodia in the number of unmarked graves worldwide.
In September 2020, the Spanish cabinet approved a draft bill of a new ‘Democratic Memory Act’ to ‘comprehensively redress the victims of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship’, whilst also seeking to ‘boost policies on truth, justice, redress and guarantees of non-repetition’.
The Democratic Memory Act contains 66 articles grouped under five headings, and aims to ‘uncover the truth, justice, dignify the victims, ensure forgiveness and the co-existence of the Spanish people’. Further details here: Spain drafts bill of ‘Democratic Memory Act’ to redress victims and legacy of Franco regime