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Tourists walk outside El Valle de los Caidos, the tomb of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Tourists outside the tomb of former Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco at El Valle de los Caidos, near Madrid, May 10, 2016 (AP photo by Francisco Seco).

Franco’s Exhumation and the Unsettled Legacy of Spain’s Democratic Transition

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

On June 4, Spain’s Supreme Tribunal halted the exhumation of Gen. Francisco Franco’s remains from his burial site at El Valle de los Caidos, or The Valley of the Fallen, only days before it was scheduled to take place on June 10, and almost a year after the Spanish Parliament had authorized it. The tribunal ruled that Franco’s family, which had brought the case, must be allowed to appeal the government’s decision to exhume the former dictator’s remains and rebury them at a family tomb.

Notwithstanding the Supreme Tribunal’s ruling, the struggle over Franco’s exhumation has little to do with the wishes of the Franco family. In fact, the lawsuit is little more than a distraction. Instead, the exhumation is a symbolic battlefield between the two political sides that fought the Spanish Civil War over decisions made about Spain’s political future after Franco’s death in 1975. In some respects, with the fight over Franco’s exhumation, the political transition to democracy is being relived all over again—and now against the backdrop of a separatist crisis in Catalonia, a surging right-wing populist movement, and a newly elected Socialist administration in Madrid determined to relegate Franco to the dustbin of history once and for all. ...

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