When governments and citizens instead of being armed with weapons, are equipped with historical perspective they reshape our national and local discussions on the rationale for certain monuments and memorials. And if the end result of this public dialogue culminates in a towering figure being toppled, the sound is resounding. This past week, a Confederate statue fell on a college campus in America, but the Civil War I am writing about here is the one that still haunts Spain.
On August 24th the Spanish government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez approved a decree to exhume the preserved corpse of General Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, a gigantic mausoleum near Madrid that the dictator had designed to eternally enshrine his victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The site is also the final resting place of Falangist Party founder Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera and contains the remains of some 35,000 civilians and soldiers, many of them Republicans executed by Franco’s regime, and transferred to the site on his orders.
Why has it taken so long to decide to remove the body of a dictator from a sanctuary that celebrates and in essence beautifies his rule? And why now?