Click on image to read article (in English and Spanish)

At 10.00 a.m. on 20 November 1975, only hours after his demise had been formally announced, Carlos Arias Navarro gave a public reading to the political testament of Francisco Franco, a “faithful son of the Church” who had had no enemies other than “those who were the enemies of Spain.”

At the state funeral on 23 November, Marcelo González Martín, the cardinal primate of Spain and archbishop of Toledo, recalled the obligation to preserve “Christian civilisation, [a duty] which Franco sought to carry out, freedom being a mirage in its absence.” That very evening, a 1,500 kilo granite block covered up the grave opened for the Caudillo in the basilica of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos, alongside the grave of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Blessed by the Catholic church, sanctified and surrounded by a heroic-messianic aura that placed him on a par with the greatest saints in history. Such was Franco’s death.

His legacy and the lengthy dictatorship that he presided over cannot easily be encapsulated and are a matter for debate between historians and differing opinions among the citizenry.

Franco set out and managed to annihilate his enemies and, though they may have been only the enemies of Spain, they really were legion. He governed through terror and repression but also enjoyed significant social support which was very active on the part of the many who blessed his victory in the Civil War and rather more passive on the part of those consigned to apathy through fear or who were thankful to him for improvements in the standard of living over his final 15 years in power.

When he died, his dictatorship fell apart. There was a general rout of the so-called reformists or “aperturistas” out to carve themselves a new political identity. Lots of life-long Francoists, in or out of power, turned overnight into life-long democrats.

Most of the  polls carried out over the declining years of the dictatorship indicated a growing support for democracy, although it was not going to be easy, given the dose of authoritarianism that had seeped into Spanish society over such a long time.

In the wake of a complicated Transition, strewn with frictions and hurdles, democracy changed Spain’s standing in Europe as she fully integrated into Europe, a dream cherished by Spanish intellectual elites since the late 19th century.

The challenge to 21st century Spaniards now is not the creation of a full democracy with equal rights and freedoms (the sometimes bloodied warhorse of some of the generations who have gone before us)  but  to pursue the change so as to improve upon it and bolster civil society and  civic participation.

Thirty five years on from the death of the last dictator Spanish history has to show, Spanish society  has managed to leave behind some of the fundamental problems that most troubled it in the past. But from the grave, Franco appears still to be pointing the way to go with regard to other, no less important, issues.

The Valle de los Caídos was his in life and remains his after his death, as our democratic governments have shown themselves incapable of working out a coherent policy for the public management of our history. Unfettered probes of this traumatic past and political, legal and moral rehabilitation for the victims of Francoist violence have been shunned and stymied by powerful cliques firmly ensconced in the judiciary, in politics and in the media.

And the hierarchy of the Catholic Church which has managed, under democracy, to preserve (and expand upon) the privileged position awarded to it by Francoism, fights tooth and nail to protect its finances and the rights it has acquired in education and, with vigorous backing from the Vatican, disputes every inch of territory that the state aims to capture in moral terms. Thirty five Franco-less years and we still have no law of religious freedom suited to our present, pluralist and culturally diverse democratic society.

With democracy now firmly embedded, we should remember the past if we want to learn. Thousands of families wait for the state to mobilise the resources to retrieve their murdered loves ones, who were buried underground, without benefit of trial or evidence, so that no trace would ever be left of them. We need to publicise the roll-call of the victims of Francoist violence during and after the war and release information about where they were executed and the graves into which they were dumped.

And, faced with these as yet untold stories, we cannot allow the memory of the victors to go by the by, or be neglected or destroyed. Their places of remembrance are the best proof of the real weight carried under the dictatorship by that union between religion and patriotism.

We simply cannot walk away from the duty of knowing that different memories and different traditions exist alongside one another. But for that to happen, we must first bulldoze aside the obstacles stopping us from rescuing all those victims of torture and execution from the isolated culverts and ditches in which they lie. Thirty five years on from the death of the main culprit.

El País 19 November 2010