23rd February 2024
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Spanish police clash with far-right as fascist party founder re-buried

Spanish police clashed with far-right protesters in Madrid on Monday, as the remains of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, a fascist party founder, arrived at a city cemetery to be re-buried in a simple grave after being exhumed from a vast mausoleum.

Primo de Rivera founded Spain’s fascist Falange movement in 1933, which went on to become one of the pillars of dictator Franco’s brutal regime, along with the military and Spain’s Roman Catholic Church.

Primo de Rivera was executed by Spanish Republicans in November 1936, after Franco led an uprising of soldiers in July of that year to bring down Spain’s democratically elected government. The ensuing Civil War ended in 1939 with hundreds of thousands dead and the country left in ruins.

As his remains arrived for reburial at Madrid’s San Isidro cemetery, scuffles broke out between police and around 200 far-right activists chanting and making fascist salutes.

Police had blocked off access to the cemetery, although banner-waving supporters began gathering outside before the arrival of his remains.

Primo de Rivera’s family agreed to have his remains removed, selecting 24 April because it marks 120 years since his birth.

The basilica where Primo de Rivera’s remains lay for over six decades, is part of a vast hillside mausoleum built after the civil war by Franco’s regime — in part by the forced labour of 20,000 political prisoners. The huge complex was known as the Valley of the Fallen and was always a draw for those nostalgic for the Franco era. It has only recently been re-baptised with its pre-war name, Cuelgamuros.

Cuelgamuros is also the burial site of 34,000 people killed during the Civil War. Many of the dead were initially buried in mass graves which were dug up at Franco’s request. The bodies were moved to fill the site with victims from both sides.

After Franco won the war in 1939, he ruled the country with an iron fist until his death in 1975. He was then himself laid to rest in the Valley of the Fallen, in a tomb by the altar until 2019, when his remains were flown to a nearby cemetery by helicopter. ALSO READ: Franco removed, but ‘Francoism still very present’ argue many.

Primo de Rivera’s remains were exhumed in line with updated legislation that bans the glorification of Spain’s dictatorship and fascist legacy. 

Since taking power in 2018, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has made several moves to address Franco’s legacy, including the exhumation of the dictator in October 2019. Franco’s legacy has remained a very divisive issue in Spain, and even more so since the rise of the Vox party in the past few years, currently the third largest party in the country.

Last year, Spain approved a new law on historical memory that nullified legal decisions made during the dictatorship. It makes the central government responsible for the recovery of the still-missing bodies of tens of thousands of people forcibly disappeared by the regime. ALSO READ: Senate approves law that bans support for Franco and seeks to bring ‘justice’ to victims.

The new law also bans expressions of support for the former dictator, and seeks to bring ‘justice’ to the victims of the 1936-1939 Civil War and the ensuing dictatorship.

Organisations that praise or support the policies and leaders of Spain’s 20th-century dictatorship, including the private Francisco Franco Foundation, are now be banned under the legislation. Fines for non-compliance range from 200 to 150,000 euros. The new law does not allow for crimes under the dictatorship to be prosecuted, however.

The law also allows for a national DNA bank to be established to help identify remains and for the creation of a map of all mass graves in the country.

The government wants to turn the mausoleum site at Cuelgamuros into a place for reflection. It wants the bodies taken there without consent to be returned to the families affected.

Education Minister Pilar Alegría said the exhumation and re-burial on Monday was ‘one more step towards restoring the dignity of Spain’s democracy’ which would see the complex repurposed as a space of remembrance for the victims.

‘It can never again be a place where any figure or any ideology that evokes the dictatorship can be glorified,’ she told reporters.

But the law and the exhumation have angered Spain’s right-wing parties, which has accused the government of needlessly dredging up the past, noting the upcoming local and regional polls on 28 May and the year-end general election.

‘When the prime minister has problems, he digs up the dead. He did it before the last elections and he’s doing it today,’ said Santiago Abascal of the far-right Vox, referring to Franco’s exhumation just weeks before a general election.

‘We are totally fed up with this government that is only interested in digging up hatred and pitting Spaniards against each other,’ he said.

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