MADRID — Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that Francisco Franco’s remains can be removed from the Valley of the Fallen, endorsing the Socialist government’s plans against his descendants’ will.
The generalísimo’s body is set to be disinterred from the giant mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid — a basilica dug into a hillside topped by a cross 150 meters high — and relocated to a more discreet cemetery at Mingorrubio, also close to the capital, where Franco’s wife is buried.
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced his plans to exhume Franco’s remains shortly after taking office in June last year, but they had been bogged down in the courts, marred by controversy with the Catholic Church and used as ammunition by political rivals.
“Today we are living a great victory for the Spanish democracy,” Sánchez said on Twitter shortly after the court’s decision was made public. “The determination to repair the suffering of Franco’s victims always guided the action of the government.”
Hoy vivimos una gran victoria de la democracia española. La determinación de reparar el sufrimiento de las víctimas del franquismo guio siempre la acción del Gobierno. El Supremo avala la exhumación de los restos de Franco y su traslado a El Pardo.
Justicia, memoria y dignidad.
— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) September 24, 2019
The decision — which is directly enforceable, even though relatives could still appeal to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights — sets the stage for a highly political showdown as Spain gears up for a general election on November 10.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told reporters on Tuesday that the government wantsd to carry out the disinterment “as soon as possible,” suggesting it will be done before the official electoral campaign kicks off on November 1.
“We’re very satisfied,” Calvo said of the court’s decision. “We were the only European democracy which had a dictator in a state mausoleum.”
Franco’s descendants had attempted to block the exhumation in the courts, with successive appeals. They had also demanded that his remains be reburied in La Almudena Cathedral in downtown Madrid if they were removed from the Valley of the Fallen.
The Supreme Court rejected both appeals on Tuesday.
Socialist ‘campaign plan’
The ruling has the potential to play a significant role in the November election.
On one hand, the Socialists successfully mobilized the electorate in the last national ballot in April in part by warning of the rise of the far right — and the unearthing of Franco’s remains could once again play that role if it sparks protests by franquistas.
On the other hand, the rise of the far-right party Vox, which entered parliament in April, is set to complicate the position of the whole right-wing spectrum in Spanish politics on this subject.
“We have to leave the dead in peace,” Vox’s spokesperson Iván Espinosa told reporters in Congress. “This is nothing other than the campaign plan of the Socialist Party.”
“Fortunately, the dictatorship of Franco ended 44 years ago. Sánchez has been playing with his bones for one year to divide us between reds and blues,” tweeted the center-right Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera.
“We have to leave the dead in peace” — Spanish far-right party Vox’s spokesperson Iván Espinosa
Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party, which was founded in the late 1970s by a former Francoist minister, didn’t immediately react to the news.
In September 2018, the Spanish parliament approved a law allowing the government to carry out the exhumation. The bill was promoted by the Socialists and backed by the far-left and regional nationalists. Both the Popular Party and Ciudadanos abstained in the vote.
Franco launched a military coup against the democratic government of Spain in 1936, emerged victorious after a three-year-long civil war which left hundreds of thousands of victims and ruled the country until his death in 1975.
He ordered the construction of the Valley of the Fallen after the civil war and inaugurated it in 1959. Some 34,000 victims of the conflict and repression, from Franco’s side and the defeated Republicans, are buried in the site, some of them unidentified.
The associations for historical memory and victims of Franco had long demanded that his remains be removed from the Valley of the Fallen, essentially arguing that he wasn’t a victim of the civil war — as was the case with the other people buried at the site — but the leader who provoked it.
In 2011, a national commission of experts argued that Franco’s remains should be removed, a position that was endorsed in 2014 by U.N. human rights expert Pablo de Greiff in a series of recommendations to Spain on how to deal with Franco’s legacy.