Spanish lawmakers pass law honoring victims of the Franco era

Spanish lawmakers pass law honoring victims of the Franco era


Almost five decades after the death of Francisco Franco, Spanish lawmakers on Wednesday passed a flagship law intended to honor the victims of the 1936-1939 civil war and the dictatorship that followed.

Honoring those who died or suffered violence or oppression during the war and subsequent decades of dictatorship has been a top priority for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s left-wing government since he took office in 2018.

With 128 votes in favour, 113 against and 18 abstentions, the Senate approved the law intended to commemorate the dead, victims of violence or persecution during the Franco era.

Known as the ‘Act of Democratic Remembrance’, the law aims to speed up the search for and exhumation of victims buried in mass graves and overturn decades-old political beliefs.

“Today we take another step towards justice, reparation and dignity for all victims,” ??Sanchez tweeted after the vote.

But it threatens to stoke tensions in a country where public opinion remains divided over the legacy of the dictatorship that ended with Franco’s death in 1975.

The right-wing opposition People’s Party (PP) has vowed to overturn the law if elected in the next elections, due by the end of 2023.

“History cannot be built on the basis of the oblivion and silence of the vanquished of the Civil War,” reads the preamble to the law.

Franco seized power after the Civil War, in which his nationalists defeated the Republicans, leaving the country in shambles and mourning hundreds of thousands dead.

While his regime honored its own dead, it had its opponents buried in unmarked graves across the country.

– find mass graves –

The bill, approved by the House of Commons in July, makes the excavation of mass graves a “state task” for the first time.

It also calls for the establishment of a national DNA bank to identify remains and the creation of a map of all mass graves in the country.

“The state must exhume the remains of the victims of the Franco dictatorship,” Sanchez told parliament in July.

“There are still 114,000 people who have been forcibly disappeared in Spain, mostly Republicans,” he said, referring to people whose fate was deliberately concealed.

Only Cambodia, he said, has more “disappeared” people than Spain, whose population suffered atrocities under the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-1979.

So far, it has been associations that have led the search for the missing people of the Franco era, as portrayed in Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s recent film, Parallel Mothers.

The new legislation seeks to build on a 2007 “historical memory” law that experts and activists say has failed to excavate the hundreds of still-untouched mass graves scattered across Spain.

Sanchez’s predecessor, Mariano Rajoy of the PP, famously boasted that he had not spent a euro of public money to advance the provisions of the law.

– Cancellation of Franco-era convictions –

The new law will also overturn the criminal convictions of opponents of the Franco regime and appoint a prosecutor to investigate human rights abuses during the war and subsequent dictatorship.

Previous attempts to bring Franco-era officials to justice in Spain have been blocked by an amnesty deal signed by political leaders after his death.

The accord was seen as essential to avoid a spiral of reckoning as officials sought to unite and steer the country towards democracy.

And the law will also mean that, for the first time, “stolen babies” will be recognized as victims of Francoism.

These babies were newborns taken from “unsuitable” mothers – Republican or left-wing opponents of the regime, then unmarried mothers or poor families.

But not everyone was happy with the outcome of the vote, as the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) said the new legislation didn’t go far enough.

The law “perpetuates impunity for the Francoists” because it keeps the amnesty agreement in effect, “it will not bring anyone to justice” and “compensates the families of the disappeared,” a statement said.

The PP accuses the government of unnecessarily reopening the wounds of the past with the law.

This is Sanchez’s second major attempt to address the Franco legacy.

In 2019, he had Franco’s remains removed from a huge grandiose mausoleum near Madrid and transferred to a discreet family plot, despite opposition from the late dictator’s relatives and right-wing parties.

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