Spanish cabinet approves historical memory bill to address legacy of Francoism

Congress to vote on law that would ban Franco Foundation, recognize victims and aid exhumation of Civil War graves 

Valle de los Caídos ('Valley of the Fallen') monument, viewed from the esplanade.
Valle de los Caídos ('Valley of the Fallen') monument, viewed from the esplanade. / ACN

ACN | Barcelona/Madrid

July 20, 2021 06:39 PM

The Spanish cabinet approved on Tuesday the text of a draft historical memory law which will attempt to address the legacy of the Spanish Civil War and Francisco Franco's subsequent dictatorship.

The bill, which has to be voted on in Congress, includes a ban on glorifying Francoism, which could force the closure of the Francisco Franco Foundation, despite a report by the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) which argued that fascism apologists were protected by "freedom of speech." Praising the 1936 coup d'état, or the war or dictatorship which followed, could carry fines of between €200 and €150,000.

The new 'Democratic Memory' law replaces and expands upon Spain's 'Historical Memory' law, passed by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialist government in 2007.

Current presidency minister Félix Bolaños explained that the aims of the new legislation are the safeguarding and spread of democratic values and fundamental rights, and the recognition of the victims of the coup d'état in 1936, the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship.

According to Bolaños, this is the first Spanish law that directly rejects Francoism and responds to the requests from several international organizations that have demanded that Spain give more attention to the victims of Francoism. This, Bolaños said, will bring Spanish law into line with other European countries on such matters. He hopes that "no democratic force" will oppose it by voting against the "dignity" of victims.

Valley of the Fallen

The new law would see the Valley of the Fallen foundation wound up. That organization oversees the Francoist mausoleum outside Madrid where the former dictator was buried, until his remains were exhumed in 2019. The site will be reworked, including the removal of the remains of fascist politician José Antonio Primo de Rivera.

Three linchpins

The three linchpins of the law, according to Bolaños, are as follows. First, putting the victims and their families center stage, with all human rights violations declared unjust, Civil War courts deemed illegitimate, and all their convictions declared null and void. Two days a year will be dedicated to recognizing the victims: October 31 for all victims and May 8 for those exiled. The second linchpin will be highlighting the role of women, for the double repression they suffered during the dictatorship. The third is recognizing the role of those movements that have tried to maintain and recover historical memory.

Truth, justice, reparation and remembering

The new legislation is also based on four fundamental principles: truth, justice, reparation and duty to remember.

Regarding truth, Bolaños said that the state is responsible for looking for victims, many of whom are buried in unmarked graves, which will be done with a four-year plan and the creation of a DNA bank. Historians will also be given the right to access archives and a center of democratic memory will be created in Salamanca. Some 20,000 Spanish Civil War victims are thought still to be buried in at least 527 mass graves in Catalonia alone, over 80 years after the end of the conflict.

The principle of justice appears in the investigation of all human rights violations between 1936 and 1978. A democratic memory prosecutor's office will also be created, but Bolaños has admitted it will be very difficult to punish historical violations of rights.

As for historical and moral reparation, that will be based on the audit and inventory of property confiscated by the Franco regime for ideological reasons, but Bolaños said that there will be no financial compensation. He said that since the transition to democracy more than €21.6bn has been paid in compensation to 608,000 people. "This part is already covered, now we take a step further, towards dignity," he concluded.

Finally, the duty to remember the past will be included in the school curriculum, focusing on democratic values and fundamental rights.

An interterritorial council will also be created to coordinate the remembrance policies of the various regional administrations and a new democratic memory council.

Having been approved by the cabinet, the law will now go to a vote in the Spanish Congress. Right-wing parties have accused the government of reopening long-healed wounds, while Catalan pro-independence parties and others say the legislation is not ambitious enough.

In 2017, the Catalan parliament voted unanimously to nullify the politically motivated death penalties and prison sentences handed down by courts in Catalonia during the Franco regime, including the execution of Catalan president Lluís Companys. The vote in Catalonia was symbolic in nature and pro-independence parties want Spain to officially declare the trials void.