- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 5, 2006

SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL, Spain — Of all the legacies of the Spanish Civil War, none looms as vividly on the landscape as the 490-foot granite cross towering above the burial place of the dictator who built it, Gen. Francisco Franco.

Now, after Spain marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the war on July 17, 1936, the government ponders redesignating the monument as a place of healing rather than a tribute to Franco. But in doing so, it is treading on sensitive ground.

That’s because any tampering with “The Valley of the Fallen” would violate the all-party consensus that enabled Spain to put the war and dictatorship behind it after Franco’s death in 1975 and embrace democracy.

The silence has been cracking. In recent years, streets bearing the dictator’s name have been renamed and virtually all his statues taken down. Bodies of Franco-regime victims, hidden in ditches or unmarked mass graves, are being dug up and reburied — acts that were taboo during the dictatorship.

The government is expected to approve legislation to compensate victims of the war and the dictatorship. And now comes its proposal to change the meaning of the monument, at the risk of angering loyalists who see any change as a further attempt to downgrade the man they revere.

The 1936-39 war began with Franco leading a military uprising against Spain’s secular, leftist government, and put him in power for nearly four decades.

The war is sometimes called a rehearsal for World War II. The battle between Franco’s Nationalists and the Republican forces defending the government inflamed ideological nerves the world over. With Adolf Hitler backing Franco and Josef Stalin helping the Republicans, the conflict crystallized the forces — democracy, fascism, communism — soon to clash all across Europe.

Franco’s supporters see him as the man who held Spain together and saved it from Bolshevism. His critics call him a dictator who kept fascism alive in Spain for 30 years after World War II.

Given that deep divide, many think silence remains the safest course. That may help explain the government’s reluctance to detail the workings of the commission is set up to study the future of the Valley of the Fallen.

“It’s a very complex issue, and the commission has studied many proposals,” said spokeswoman Ana Salado.

Santos Julia, a respected historian, wrote in the newspaper El Pais: “To forget is as important as to remember. There is no historical memory without voluntary forgetting.”

The Valley of the Fallen is a mausoleum with the colossal cross and a vast esplanade emerging from a mountainside on the outskirts of Madrid.

Also buried here is the founder of the Falange fascist movement, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. The grounds hold the remains of about 40,000 people killed in the civil war. They are both Republican and Nationalist, which would seem to make the monument a natural symbol of reconciliation. But to the older generation, it is a symbol of division, not least because Republican prisoners were forced to work on its construction.

Consuelo Garcia, 80, was married at the site and attends daily Mass at the basilica there. “Franco did not build this place for himself, but to bury all those who had died for Spain,” she said. “People in this country keep telling a lot of lies” about Franco and his regime.

Paul Preston, a British historian of the war and the Franco years, says the site cannot stay as is.

“It would be inconceivable in Germany to have monuments to the glory of Hitler, like the Valley of the Fallen, a monument to the glory of Franco,” Mr. Preston said. “What needs to be done is to turn these places into what might be called places for memory, not knocking them down, but explaining their historical significance.”

At the Francisco Franco Foundation, keeper of the late ruler’s memory, officials say they are sure any plan to overhaul the monument will collapse in political discord.

But to the victims of Franco’s dictatorship, the Valley of the Fallen is a lesser priority than ascertaining the fate of those still missing — 30,000, according to Emilio Silva of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory.

“There has never been oblivion, nor amnesia on the part of the victims,” said Mr. Silva. “Historians and politicians do not repair what happened to us. They do not exhume bodies out of the graves; people do.”


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