Spanish Civil War combatants found dead in mass graves 80 years on
“It’s impossible to understand how in 2017, some 80 years after that disgrace, hundreds of our people are still missing,” says Catalan foreign affairs minister
It’s been more than 80 years since the Spanish Civil War tore the country apart, and 40 since dictator Francisco Franco’s rule made way for democracy. Yet, some wounds remain open, and more than 100,000 people are still missing in Spain, according to the United Nations (UN). In Catalonia alone, the number is at least 4,000.
However, several corpses were found on Friday, when mass graves were opened in the Catalan towns of Vilanova de Meià and Prats de Lluçanès. At least three of the bodies are believed to be those of three soldiers who fought for the left-wing Republican side in the late 1930s, defending the Spanish government after a failed coup attempt by right-wing Nationalist insurgents.
“As a society, and as an institution, we have the duty to put truth on the table and truth will only appear if we dig it out”
Raül Romeva · Catalan Minister of Foreign Affairs
“It’s impossible to understand how in 2017, some 80 years after that disgrace, hundreds of our people are still missing,” said the Catalan Minister of Foreign Affairs Raül Romeva. “As a society, and as an institution, we have the duty to put truth on the table and truth will only appear if we dig it out,” he added.
One of the presumed soldiers is believed to have been under 25, while another seems to have suffered from osteoarthritis, so he might have been an older man. Whatever the case, the task of finding them was not easy.
On the basis of oral memory, it was known that during the war, a battle in Vilanova de Meià left dozens of combatants dead, but only the corpses of the republican soldiers were left on the battlefield, with those of the insurgents taken away.
A local said he had buried the soldiers himself. He said there were 12 bodies in all.
But the difficulties that finding mass graves and digging them up pose are not merely technical. For years, the Spanish government has refused to investigate the disappearances during the Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and even the UN has criticized Spain’s inaction.
“If we’re here today, late, it’s because in all this time there has been a clear will to institutionalize the lack of memory. But they have not succeeded,” said Romeva.
United Nation’s demands
Spain has not complied with the United Nation’s demands to investigate the disappearances of civilians during the Civil War (1936-1939) and the subsequent dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1939-1975), said Ariel Dulitzky, the head of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
According to Mr. Dulitzky, the group’s next report on Spain, to be published in September, will state that most of the requirements outlined in 2013 by the previous report have not yet been addressed. “Regrettably, there have been no changes,” he said.
The only place where the UN says the situation has improved is in Catalonia. “We saw some progress that has continued after our visit. Due to the government’s inaction, the initiatives at the regional level are more relevant,” Mr. Dulitzky said.
The Catalan government launched a program to identify and open up mass graves, as well as a program to help families identify their missing relatives with genetics. So far, the remains of at least 164 people have been discovered.
In 2013, the UN urged Spain to act immediately “given the passage of time since most of the enforced disappearances began and the advanced age of many of the witnesses and family members.” Establishing the fate and whereabouts of the missing persons should be an immediate priority, the report said.