New Spanish bill aims to outlaw glorification of Franco era

MADRID (AP) — A new bill in Spain aims to ban a foundation promoting the legacy of Gen. Francisco Franco as well as offer reparations to the victims of the late dictator, among other long-standing unresolved issues from the country’s recent past.

The so-called ‘Law on Democratic Memory’ will also pave the way for turning the Valley of the Fallen — a public mausoleum that Franco ordered to be built and where his remains lay for more than four decades — into a “civilian cemetery” for victims on both sides of the 1936-39 Civil War, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said on Tuesday.

The law has been a key electoral promise of Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, who last year completed during his first short term as prime minister the exhumation and relocation of Franco’s remains to a small cemetery in Madrid.

Sánchez is now in a left-wing coalition with the far-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos) party, and his Cabinet on Tuesday approved the new bill’s draft. It builds on an existing law from 2007 that relatives of victims of the 1936-39 Civil War and the ensuing dictatorship regarded as insufficient.

It could take months for the draft to be tweaked and the law to go through various layers of parliamentary approval.

One of the most controversial aspects is the prohibition of organizations that benefit from public funding or tax cuts while defending Francoism.

Juan Chicharro, president of the Francisco Franco Foundation, said the government was trying to “divert attention from real problems,” with a bill that he regards as “totalitarian” and “distorting of history.”

“It’s no longer an issue about whether our foundation gets banned or not, it’s about defending freedom,” said Chicharro, whose foundation was founded in 1976 upon Franco’s death. “Doesn’t the Spanish Constitution allow us to think freely?”

Calvo, who has been the main force behind the bill within the Spanish Cabinet, said that foundations like Chicharro’s “are precisely the contrary to the entrenchment and deepening of the democracy we are at the moment.”

She also said that the law puts Spain at the same level as other countries that have recognized their tragic past: “It will allow us to move in the international arena with the dignity that corresponds to our country.”

More than 500,000 people died in the war between rebel nationalist forces led by Franco and defenders of a short-lived Spanish republic. Franco declared victory on April 1, 1939, and ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1975. More than 110,000 victims from the war and his dictatorship remain unidentified.

Their relatives and descendants had complained that the previous law required them to apply for funding and organize themselves the opening the hundreds of mass graves of those vanished and executed during and after the war. A previous conservative administration refused to allocate any budget for the task.

Emilio Silva, representative of the Association for the Recovery of the Historic Memory, said that the exhumations need to be performed directly by the government.

“Human rights are not something that need to receive a grant,” Silva told Spanish broadcaster TVE. “What is needed is more political willingness to make things happen.”

The new law establishes a national DNA bank. It will also overturn sentences from political trials conducted during Francoism and will strip aristocrats of their titles if they were granted by the dictator.

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