First Civil War mass grave exhumed in Catalan government initiative
17 bodies found in common burial in Pyrenees to be genetically analyzed and identified
Catalan foreign minister, Raül Romeva, visited the first Spanish Civil War common burial site to be exhumed in Catalonia as part of the Catalan government’s 2017-2018 mass grave plan, on Wednesday. The exhumation in the north-western town of Figuerola d’Orcau, in the Catalan Pyrenees, found the remains of 17 bodies that were lined up and buried with military elements, such as uniforms, boots and ammunition belts, which makes experts think they were soldiers. The remains will now be genetically analysed so that they can be identified in the future.
The Catalan government launched a genetic identification program last year, in which relatives of people who went missing in the Civil War can register their genetic profile. This data will be cross-referenced with the genetic information gathered in the exhumations, such as the one started today and those to be carried out in the coming months. “The mass graves plan was launched as an annual project, but seeing how the first operations have developed, we felt it necessary for it to become a biannual initiative, which could be extended for two more years, while we tripled its budget,” said minister Romeva.
"The path started today leads us towards the normality in healthy countries"
Raül Romeva · Catalan Minister of Foreign Affairs
The head of historical memory policy in the government also stated that more operations have been carried out in the past few months: “We have worked in the localization and documentation of 129 new mass graves and in the on-site collection of the remains of at least 30 people.” “The path started today leads us towards the normality in healthy countries, who are respectful of the past and the present," he added.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was won by the fascist side, which established a military dictatorship that only ended when its 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. This is despite the Historical Memory Law passed 9 years ago obliging the Spanish government to aid in the exhumation of wartime burial sites containing unidentified bodies.
Spain is the second country in the world with the most mass graves after Cambodia, according to different sources. One of the most well-known people still to be disinterred is Andalusian poet Federico García Lorca, who was killed by the fascist side in August 1936. The Catalan government’s initiative aims to help families find the bodies of their relatives, which could still be in one of the 235 confirmed mass graves or the 268 suspected graves that have been pinpointed in the country.