Political conflict arises in Spain over the fate of Franco’s body
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Political conflict arises in Spain over the fate of Franco’s body

September 22, 2019

JUDY WOODRUFF: There are times when history
emerges front and center in a current debate. That’s true in Spain right now, and it centers
on the body of the country’s former dictator, Francisco Franco. He’s buried in an extravagant mausoleum near
Madrid. The new left-wing Spanish government wants
Franco’s remains moved in order to help settle grievances that still divide the country. But there’s resistance among those who have
fond memories of the dictator. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has
our report. It was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer
Center. MALCOLM BRABANT: The giant cross reminds anyone
for miles around that here lies Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain with an iron fist
for 36 years until his death in 1975. The mausoleum, an hour’s drive northwest of
Madrid, is located in a former battlefield of the 1930s Spanish Civil War. The bones of thousands of fallen fighters
are hereabouts, but only the generalissimo’s tomb is marked with a temple of gloom. Filming is strictly forbidden. But dictatorships always spawn rebellion. MIGUEL URBAN, European Parliamentarian (through
translator): For us, it is essential not only to exhume Franco’s body, but also to exhume
what Franco’s dictatorship means, both from the valley and our institutions. MALCOLM BRABANT: Miguel Urban is a member
of the European Parliament for the popular left-wing party Podemos. He is angry that, 43 years after Franco’s
death, Spain has not been able to judge the crimes of the dictatorship or prosecute so-called
Franquistas, subordinates who enforced his tyranny. MIGUEL URBAN (through translator): We are
an abnormal democracy in Europe because we maintain a regime of impunity. To exhume Franco and to exhume Francoism from
the valley can allow us to initiate a step of justice, recognition and restoration for
the victims, an element to end with the impunity that has reigned in our country. MALCOLM BRABANT: Spain’s Parliament voted
in September to approve the disinterment. But conservative lawmaker Jose Villegas is
skeptical of the motivation of the country’s politically fragile new Socialist-led administration. JOSE MANUEL VILLEGAS, Citizens Party (through
translator): After 40 years, in my opinion, the exhumation of Franco’s remains is not
a priority or urgent for the majority of Spaniards. As we said, the prime minister does have an
urgent matter, and that is to launch a smokescreen to cover the embarrassment and the weak points
of his government. MALCOLM BRABANT: But the argument of socialist
lawmaker Adriana Lastra won the day. ADRIANA LASTRA, Socialist Party (through translator):
Can you picture a monument 20 kilometers away from Berlin in honor of Hitler, or one 20
kilometers away from Rome in honor of Mussolini? I don’t want that for my country, because
I want to have a country that is democratically advanced. I want to put an end to that abnormality,
and so does the prime minister and Spanish society. JUAN CHICHARRO ORTEGA, Franco Foundation:
This is the best picture we have. MALCOLM BRABANT: The dictator is lionized
in a time capsule not far from the center of Madrid. Busts of Franco are in every room, even on
the filing cabinets. If this was Germany, these people would be
prosecuted for glorifying the Third Reich. But in modern Spain, the Franco Foundation
is able to promote what it regards as his legacy. Foundation President Juan Ortega: JUAN CHICHARRO ORTEGA (through translator):
We are David against Goliath. But we are sure we will win. And we don’t think they will exhume him, because,
as long as there is the rule of law in Spain, the law protects us. MALCOLM BRABANT: Ortega believes that the
proposed exhumation is an act of left-wing-inspired vengeance. And he bridles when Franco is compared to
Hitler and Mussolini. JUAN CHICHARRO ORTEGA (through translator):
History can’t be changed. It is what it is, and we need to respect that. For example, we could think of Napoleon in
Paris, Lenin in Moscow, Ataturk in Turkey, or Cromwell in London, and no one intends
now to exhume Napoleon. History is the way it is. And here we have some people who are not using
modern thinking. They’re using Marxist thinking. What they want in a way is to eradicate Franco
and the system that Franco worked for 40 years to build. MALCOLM BRABANT: Franco came to power in 1939,
after a three-year civil war. Up to half-a-million people were killed during
the conflict. During his ensuing dictatorship, tens of thousands
of his opponents were killed or imprisoned. Franco was ideologically aligned with Hitler’s
Nazis and provided military and material support to the German-led Axis, but stayed out of
the Second World War. Historian Nicolas Sanchez-Albornoz, now 92,
spent six years in prison with three other students for opposing Franco politically. NICOLAS SANCHEZ-ALBORNOZ, Historian (through
translator): It didn’t go further than expressing opinions and a certain propaganda, and it
led us to being arrested and to stand before a military court. The Valley of the Fallen is a monstrosity
of the years after the war. It should be turned into a national cemetery
and be neutral and respectful to all those buried there. MALCOLM BRABANT: Once a week in a central
Madrid square, history buffs gather to tour significant sites in the fight against Franco. The organizers are trying to preserve the
memory of his opponents and maintain pressure over the disinterment issue. MAN: I think it’s something made lots of years
ago. And, well, I don’t there’s a big problem it
being there, but I think the problem is the symbol. WOMAN (through translator): It is very important
to change the symbols of a fascist regime, like the Francoist one, because, at the end,
those symbols stay in the culture and keep making the country undemocratic. MALCOLM BRABANT: But although Parliament has
voted in favor to remove Franco’s body, some sides in this debate believe a stand-off is
looming. We have spoken to the Benedictine order of
monks which administers Franco’s mausoleum, and they insist that there is going to be
no exhumation. They say that they were entrusted by the former
King Juan Carlos to care for Franco’s body, and say that the only person who can reverse
that decision is the current King Felipe, and he has to do it by expressing his desire
to remove Franco’s body and to start the process himself. If true, this would present a huge dilemma
for the royal palace. The king is supposed to be a neutral figurehead
who unites the nation. Taking sides could be perilous for the monarchy,
which, as it happens, was put back on the throne by Franco as he approached death. So, where does Spanish law stand on this issue? Constitutional lawyer Gustavo Lopez-Munos: GUSTAVO LOPEZ-MUNOS, Constitutional Lawyer:
The Parliament is the representative of all the power of all the people of Spain. If the people of Spain, which have all the
powers, even more than the king, because, in Spain, the king is subject to the constitution,
the Parliament, if it approves the exhumation of the body of the remains of Franco to any
other place, that is perfectly legal. MALCOLM BRABANT: Perhaps anticipating the
inevitable, Franco’s grandchildren have said that, if his body is to be exhumed, they would
like it reburied in the crypt of the Almudena Cathedral, opposite the royal palace in the
center of Madrid. Miguel Urban of the Podemos left-wing party
says Franco’s family shouldn’t be allowed to decide where his remains are finally laid
to rest. MIGUEL URBAN (through translator): This needs
to be a government decision. And the government needs to work, so that
the new emplacement of Franco’s body is a place where there cannot be a memorial, where
there can’t be a fascist pilgrimage. It can’t be a space for the remembrance of
Francoism and fascism. And that needs to be ensured through public
policy. Of course, burying him in the center of Madrid
doesn’t meet these characteristics. MALCOLM BRABANT: Fresh flowers adorn the tomb
of Franco’s daughter, Carmen, in the cathedral crypt. If the former dictator was buried nearby,
this would become even more hallowed ground for his supporters. With right-wing nationalism on the rise across
Europe, this has become an important battle for hearts and minds. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant
in Madrid.

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