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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Spain to exhume civil war victims from fascist-era basilica

The government has set aside money to help families identify the remains of their relatives killed during the civil war and subsequent dictatorship.

By: Deutsche Welle |
March 31, 2021 1:32:53 pm
The decision followed calls from over 60 families and international institutions to locate the bodies of relatives who died during the civil war that ravaged Spain between 1936 and 1939. (Source: Reuters)

The socialist-led Spanish government said on Tuesday that it had earmarked funds to exhume and identify thousands of bodies of people who had died during the Spanish Civil War.

The government decree set aside €665,000 ($780,000) to unearth some 33,000 remains buried underneath the Valley of the Fallen basilica — a fascist-era complex outside the capital Madrid and former burial site of the dictator Francisco Franco.

The plan was confirmed by First Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo on Twitter.

“Maintaining the memory is not just reparation and justice for the acts of the past, but also for building democracy in the present and future,” she added.

Thousands of unmarked graves

The decision followed calls from over 60 families and international institutions to locate the bodies of relatives who died during the civil war that ravaged Spain between 1936 and 1939.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 bodies of people who died in the war remain buried in unmarked graves across the country. According to Amnesty International, only Cambodia has more unmarked graves.

The Valley of the Fallen was originally intended only for the bodies of those who had fought alongside Franco against the Republic.

But in 1959 the remains of many Republican opponents from across Spain were moved there without the victims’ families being informed.

Unearthing Spain’s dark history

The imposing basilica and mausoleum were built partially by the forced labor of political prisoners between 1940 and 1959.

The complex remained a place of pilgrimage for fascists and other supporters of Franco from his death in 1975 until the dictator’s remains were removed and buried in a discreet family plot outside of Madrid in 2019.

Spain’s socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, made rehabilitation of the victims of the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship a key pledge during his electoral campaign in 2018.

Some €2 million has also been earmarked for Spain’s various regions to exhume and identify the bodies buried in unmarked graves around the country.

The government also plans on turning the Valley of the Fallen into a memorial to document the history of Spain’s dictatorship-era.

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