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A valley for all of the fallen?

A special commission must redefine the status the vast monument created by Franco as a mass grave for his side's war dead and his own tomb

H e may be buried under 1.5 metric tons of granite, but General Francisco Franco is still very much with us. As the recent furor over the Royal Academy of History's refusal to label him a dictator in its latest biographical dictionary shows, more than 35 years after his death, Spain has still not come to terms with either the man or his legacy.

And there is no more powerful and enduring symbol of the man and his legacy than the Valley of the Fallen, his monument to the fascist victory that ended the 1936-39 Civil War carved out of a mountainside close to El Escorial, some 50 kilometers north of Madrid, and which remains his burial place.

Spain's first two post-Franco prime ministers, Adolfo Suárez and Felipe González, set up commissions to decide what to do with the Valley of the Fallen, but came up with no answers. Now, with less than a year to go before the next general elections, Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has asked a group of experts to come up with a plan in five months to resolve the issue.

The Valley of the Fallen is not a monument to all those who died in the Spanish Civil War; it was built by Republican prisoners in memory of the victors, not the vanquished.

"There is nothing else like it anywhere in the world," says one member of the latest commission, which includes historians, lawyers, philosophers and even a Benedictine monk. EL PAÍS has talked to the commission's members on how to convert this "monument to the war and national-Catholicism," in the words of its president, Socialist Party politician Ramón Jáuregui, "into a place of reconciliation."

What to do with the Valley of the Fallen is the big question, but it is also worth asking why it has taken so long to pose that question. How is it that almost four decades after the death of Franco the monument retains the legal status given it by the dictator?

"Fear," is historian Ricard Vinyes' short answer. "Nobody had the courage to tackle the issue, nor the sensitivity to know how to go about it. And that is extraordinary, because it is the most important monument to the victors that the dictatorship left behind."

Julián Casanova, a fellow member of the commission and also a historian, says that the monument is "too big, with too many conflicting interests involved, and so nobody knows what to do. And when we were asked what to do, nobody liked our answers." Casanova doesn't believe that the Valley of the Fallen can ever be a place of reconciliation. "It is a monument to the victors, and it should remain that, but it should be explained to visitors through a museum on the site."

Veteran Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo, who is himself accused of war-time atrocities against Nationalist prisoners, argues that the reason nothing has been done to the Valley of the Fallen is "because the right wing in this country still hasn't broken its ties to Franco, while the left is timid, and afraid of facing up to the prejudices of public opinion."

Philosopher Reyes Mate says that the delay in addressing the question is to do with what he calls "Spain, and Europe's culture of forgetting. We have refused to look at the past because many people think that it is dangerous, that it creates problems, when of course it is the only real way to find a solution."

Most of the experts on the panel agree that fear is the overriding reason why successive governments have avoided the issue. "This is a historic opportunity, and at the same time a challenge as huge as the cross that towers over the Valley of the Fallen. We need to be conscientious, imaginative, and above all courageous," says anthropologist Francisco Ferrán.

"The first thing that we have to do is to explode the myth of the Valley of the Fallen, defuse its symbolic value; we have to turn the whole meaning of the thing round. It isn't enough to just put up some panels explaining to visitors what these stones mean," he says.

The commission is all too aware of the strong feelings that the Valley of the Fallen arouses, particularly from those opposed to changing its status. For this reason its members say that they will not discuss their ideas and proposals with the media until they have reached a conclusion they all agree on.

That said, some decisions have been made. The 150 meter-cross that dominates the site will remain, despite requests from some groups that it be dismantled. The Benedictine monastery there will also remain. A memorial will also be constructed to honor those who are buried there, as well as to the prisoners who were forced to build the site.

A more delicate question that the experts will have to address is what to do with the remains of Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, and who is also buried there as a hero. Some say that while their bodies remain on the site, the Valley of the Fallen will always be their monument. They say that Franco should be reburied alongside his wife, in the small cemetery outside the Pardo, once the dictator's official residence just outside Madrid.

Primo de Rivera's case is different: he was, after all, executed by Republican soldiers in Alicante following his arrest at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Does that make him a victim of the war? "Removing Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen would send a powerful symbolic message," says one member of the commission. Others say that he should be left there, and that all the statues of Franco that have been removed from public places throughout Spain should also be deposited there.

If the commission does finally decide to exhume Franco, the government would have to involve his family. EL PAÍS tried to contact Franco's daughter, Carmen Franco Polo, but was told by Emilio de Miguel, the spokesman for the Franco Foundation, which is presided over by Franco Polo: "Franco deserves respect, as do all the dead. If they wish to build a museum, there is plenty of mountainside on which to to do, but not there."

Of course, Franco and Primo de Rivera are not the only two bodies that lie in the Valley of the Fallen. The site is the largest mass grave in Europe, with the remains of some 33,833 people buried there. Among them are hundreds of Republican prisoners whose remains were dug up from the roadside graves they had been thrown into and taken to the site to make up the numbers. Eleven families are now demanding that their loved ones be returned to them.

Historian Queralt Solé, who has written about the Valley of the Fallen in the book Los muertos clandestinos (or, The hidden dead), says that Franco did not want Republican prisoners buried in the Valley of the Fallen. But she also points out that many families who supported the Nationalist cause didn't want their loved ones buried there either, which is why Franco had to resort to burying casualties from the defeated side there.

Many towns and villages around the country were only too happy to dig up the mass graves of Republican soldiers and sympathizers to make more room in the cemeteries. Solé says that Franco and Primo de Rivera should remain where they are so that "the Valley will be conserved as the pharaonic tomb that the dictator ordered to be built, an example of something that should never be allowed to happen again." But she agrees that the mass graves there should be exhumed over time and the dead given proper burials.

Casanova also says that Franco should be left in his current tomb. "He had it built for his own glory, and that should be explained. José Antonio should be with the other martyrs because this person lived until November 20, 1936, and was then reinvented by Franco. In February 1936, he was not even elected, and led a tiny party with no influence until the military uprising in July of that year.

Miguel Herrero y Rodríguez de Miñón, a jurist who has held several senior posts within the Popular Party (PP), and is currently a member of the Council of State government advisory body, is also on the commission. He believes that the most difficult task is to decide how the Valley of the Fallen will be run. The commission has to reach agreement with the Benedictine community currently in charge of the site, but which is funded by Spain's National Heritage organization, despite not being on its list of sites. In other words, the Valley of the Fallen has no owner.

Legislation passed by the current government on commemorating those who were killed during the Civil War and subsequently by the Franco regime says that the foundation responsible for running the Valley of the Fallen, which was set up in 1959, should "include among its objectives the rehabilitation of all those who died as a consequence of the war and the repression that followed and that it should deepen our understanding of this period of history and our constitutional values."

But Rodríguez de Miñón says that "with common sense and good will, we can resolve this; it isn't as though we have to rewrite the Constitution." Others on the commission say that the site must first be deconsecrated, a task that will doubtless be opposed by some. "I am concerned about the pressure that the Catholic Church and the PP will apply to the commission," says Vinyes.

What would you do with the Valley?

- Marcos Ana, 23 years in Franco's jails. "Many prisoners wanted to be transferred to the Valley of the Fallen, to work on the construction site there because they thought that they would be able to escape, but they only used prisoners with shorter sentences. I had been sent down for 60 years, so I never went there. The victors are still a very powerful presence in Spanish society - they are woven into the fabric of the state, and, of course, in places like the Valley of the Fallen. I would like to see it turned into an anti-Franco museum, a place that remembers those who built it."

- Santiago Carrillo, former leader of the Communist Party. "From the moment that I returned to Spain, I decided never to visit the place. I used to think that it should be cased in lead, like Chernobyl. But now I think that it should be turned into somewhere that we can all go to, and that would involve removing Franco, dismantling the cross, and converting it into a secular site, given that many of those buried there were not religious. It would be a good thing to build a museum that explained how it was built.

- Luis Eduardo Aute, singer-songwriter. "I have never been. For me it is a symbol of horror, of the terrible Civil War, a symbol of the coup leaders' victory. I think that it should be turned into a museum about the civil war, in the same way that the concentration camps have been used to explain Nazism. But to do that, Franco and Primo de Rivera would have to be removed.

- Emilio de Miguel, spokesman for the Franco Foundation. "I would leave it as it is. A lot of problems are being created needlessly, while at the same time people are going hungry, which is a bigger problem. The commission that has been set up seems very sectarian to me. Who are they to decide? Franco isn't there because he wanted to be, but because the king authorized it. If they want to build a museum, let them do it somewhere else, and leave the dead in peace."

- Juan Diego Botto, actor, and son of one of Argentina's disappeared. "For me it is the mausoleum of a dictator paid for with public money, and a site of pilgrimage for the far right. It has no place in democratic Spain. Franco and Primo de Rivera's remains should be removed and it should be turned into a place to remember all those who died fighting for democracy. Fear has prevented the government from doing anything until now. It is amazing that there are still so many monuments and streets named after murderers in this country."

- Fernando Savater, philosopher. "I have an uncle who is buried there. He was among those killed by the Communists in Paracuellos. At the same time, Franco, who ruined my youth, and stuck me in prison, is also buried there. I think that the best thing would be to remove all the dead from the Valley of the Fallen and bury them in a cemetery. The site should be turned into a church."

- Fabio Gándara, law graduate, currently camped out in Madrid's Puerta del Sol as part of the May 15 protests. "The whole thing has been very badly handled. I think that it should be left as it is, but turned into a site where Spaniards can remember the prisoners who built it, along with the Republicans buried there: a kind of museum to their memory."

- Juan José Solozábal, professor of constitutional law. "I am absolutely against the idea of removing Franco and Primo de Rivera's remains. What is important about the dead is their memory rather than their relics, which are all too easily manipulated. I think that the Valley of the Fallen should be turned into a study center, and that a memorial should be created there to commemorate all Spaniards, which is both necessary, and possible."

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