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Spain’s takeover of Catalonia casts uncertainty on exhumation of Civil War mass graves

The creator of a DNA bank to find the disappeared said that even the possibility of historical memory policies being in danger is “an attack on democracy”


30 November 2017 07:37 PM


ACN | Barcelona

Spain’s direct rule on Catalonia following a declaration of independence casts uncertainty on the continuity of policies put forth in recent years to investigate disappearances during both the Civil War (1936-1939) and the subsequent dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975), say Catalan administration sources.

The pro-independence executive in Catalonia fostered the exhumation of mass graves and created a DNA bank to collect samples from relatives of the disappeared. The creator of the bank, Roger Heredia, said that even the possibility of Madrid’s takeover putting in danger historical memory policies is “already an attack on democracy”.

“This project was returning the hope to thousands of citizens in this country,” he said. Heredia himself lost his great-grandfather in the Battle of the Ebre, the war’s deadliest. Eighty years later, the whereabouts of his corpse remain unknown.

  • "This project was returning the hope to thousands of citizens in this country”

    Roger Heredia · DNA Bank founder

On October 27, the Spanish government triggered Article 155 of the Constitution to suspend self-rule in Catalonia; the pro-independence executive was dismissed, the Parliament was dissolved and new elections were called.

The Catalan administration has been under Madrid’s control since then. Meanwhile, the Spanish government has not confirmed whether it will lift Article 155, should pro-independence parties win a majority of seats in the December 21 election and regain control of the government.

Heredia — a candidate for pro-independence ERC party — criticized unionist parties for backing Article 155 and putting historical memory policies on hold. “Who better than them, to look my grandmother in the eyes and telling her ‘Look, Roser, thanks to the application of this article, the hope you had to find your father has been put on hold,” said Heredia.

Some 130 mass graves have been found in recent years in Catalonia, and several of them have already been excavated. Thanks to this, the remains of more than a hundred people have been recovered.

United Nations report

According to the United Nations, the whereabouts of 114,226 people remain unknown in Spain. In a report published last September, the UN stated that Spain’s failure to investigate the disappearances of civilians inaction was “alarming” and “especially worrying”.

“To date, the Spanish state has not acted with either the urgency or the celerity needed in the matter of forced disappearances," reads the report.

The head of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and author of the report, Ariel Dulitzky, told ACN that the only place where the situation had improved was in Catalonia. “Due to the government’s inaction, the initiatives at the regional level are more relevant,” he said.

Civil War, Franco, and historical memory

The Spanish Civil War was won by fascist forces, which established a military dictatorship that only ended when their leader, Francisco Franco, died in 1975. More than 40 years later, it is still the subject of intense debate in Catalan and Spanish politics, as most of the 2,000 mass graves in Spain are yet to be exhumed.

The Spanish Parliament passed the Historical Memory law in 2007, which recognized the victims of the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. For the past four years, Spain’s ruling People’s Party have allocated no funds to historical memory policies.


  • The founder of the DNA bank Roger Heredia (by Guifré Jordan)

  • The founder of the DNA bank Roger Heredia (by Guifré Jordan)