The Beginners Guide to the 40th Anniversary of Franco’s Death – ‘History’ Remains Fluid

El Caudillo. The Generalissimo. Supreme patriotic military hero by the Grace of God. Whatever you want to call him, Franco was a short man with a penchant for moustaches and murder. When people think of dictators, they think of Franco’s mate Hitler, or more current dictators such as Mugabe or the North Koreans with bad haircuts. Some would say Franco was a coward in comparison, or more moderate. If you turn from the word dictator and instead to fascism, the dictionary will give you Franco as a definition. Call Franco whatever you like, but November 20 is the day to celebrate his slow and painful death. The day in 1975 when cava and champagne bottles were popping faster than overheated popcorn. That day, Spaniards, at home and in exile, could finally shake off their not-so wonderful leader.

Born in December 1892 in Galicia, Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco Bahamonde was one in a long line of relatives in the navy. But instead Franco chose the army in 1907, and worked his way through the ranks through wars in Morocco, and was shot in the stomach in 1916, and lost a testicle (it is rumoured). He continued fighting and winning medals, and by the mid-twenties, he was ranked high enough to be before the King in Madrid. The royal family got run out of the country when the Second Spanish Republic took hold in 1931, but it wasn’t until Franco’s cozy position at the army academy in Zaragoza being extinguished did Franco start getting angry. Posted to the Balearic Islands for a few years, Franco got a taste of killing his own people during the miner’s strike in Asturias in 1934. He crushed innocents defending their rights, and the left and right side of politics only continued to divide as bitterness set into the young Republic. After the 1936 elections, all went to hell, and Franco found himself leading an army from Morocco into Spain to depose the Republican government.

Fast forward through three years of brutal civil war though 1936-1939 (if I explain that in detail, we will be here forever), and Franco’s Nationalist army, backed by fascists, Carlists, monarchists, any right-wing nutball group really, had defeated the Republicans, with the communists, anarchists and general plucky young men and women from Spain and overseas fighting for freedom. After gross atrocities, upwards of 200,000 people were killed. Franco was the leader of Spain, a nation decimated by force and hate. The short, moustached, one-testicled Hitler lover was in control.

Spain was no picnic. So many fled the country, many to France, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina… basically anywhere but Spain. Artists, teachers, bright minds, and those of the left-wing all ran for their lives. Spain skipped the Second World War after basically being in pieces, claiming neutrality, though Franco loved Hitler’s style of hating. While Franco was claiming that Spain had struck gold and all would be well, 200,000 people starved to death in the first half of the 1940’s. The whole decade was spent rounding up people who had supported the Republican side of the civil war, and up to 50,000 were killed, or put in concentration camps, or just ‘disappeared’.

Franco was brutal and bizarre. He could be easily played with wild schemes. But his own plan, being anti-Communist, won him love from the United States. They were allowed to set up military bases, Spain got money and their love for Hitler, Mussolini, etc was swept under the carpet. Spain and its technocrats were keen to move on and make Spain wealthy and prosperous again, though naturally, all spoils only went to the people at the top of the food chain. Spain’s Años de Desarrollo, years of development began through 1961-1973, with Franco promoting tourism, bullfighting, flamenco, everything super-Spanish. Financially, things got much better, but since everyone was doing so poorly, ‘much better’ still wasn’t great. Many Spaniards were still living overseas. Riots broke out at universities, women were still horribly oppressed, with divorce, abortions and birth control illegal. They couldn’t have bank accounts without male oversight, and couldn’t even leave a violent husband, real middle-ages style of living. The church was sticking its evil nose into everything, being gay was illegal, local languages were banned, and nuns loved hitting kids in schools and orphanages.

By 1969, Franco was getting old and handing more power to the lecherous bastards who profited from his reign. It was time to choose an heir. Franco had one daughter (though that has been questioned, given the testicle incident, but never mind), and Franco chose Juan Carlos de Bourbon, grandson to the Spanish King exiled to France in 1931. The young man, dutifully married to a Greek princess, would be modelled and educated in the ways of Francoism – basically being a murderous douche.

Even as Franco was getting super old in the 1970’s, he was still being real bastard, handing down executions just months before his death. Young people were rising up, wanting change in their country, and groups such as ETA wanted their regions’ independence back, as did Catalonia, Galicia, Valencia – basically everyone. In the final months of Franco’s reign, countries were having protests against his execution decisions, Mexico tried to have Spain kicked from the UN, and the Pope wasn’t interested in him anymore, which isn’t cool for a Catholic nation. But on October 1st, Franco have a hate speech from his palace and left in tears. From that moment, his number was up.

Pneumonia, heart attacks and then internal bleeding took hold. Machines kept the old man alive and drugged. Doctors worked day and night for the man who let people be shot by firing squads or starve to death. But after 35 days of pumping life into a frail old man, on November 20, 1975, Franco finally passed away.

The parties started, in Spain and all around the world, where Spaniards had waited for the day. Half a million people went to see his body, just to see the proof for themselves (this figure remains disputed, like all figures during Spain’s 20th century). Spain, which had been lying dormant, could live again. The protege, Juan Carlos, was crowned King, and tossed Francoism aside, opting for democracy. None of that was an easy ride as the road to the Transition began.

The trouble is, those killed during and after the war are still buried in their makeshift graves. Those lecherous wannabes who circled Franco did not lose their place in politics, and among the wealthy and elite. Those who were evil were all given amnesty, to smooth the road for democracy. Justice was never served; Spain’s hard questions remained unanswered for so many. Those who did wrong have grown old, as those who were harmed. The varying levels of independence of Spain’s 17 regions still causes headaches. Does Spain still need to ask questions of its past, or is the future hard enough?

Either way, pop a cork off champagne today, at least to celebrate the freedom Spaniards would have felt on 20 November, 1975.

Read more of what has changed in Spain since Franco’s death, and what is to come – Spaniards aim for a new democracy and end to Franco’s long shadow

Read more about Valle de los Caídos, Franco’s super creepy tomb, where monks will be praying for him today (yes, that’s a thing!)

Read more about Franco’s war, reign, and death in the Secrets of Spain  novel trilogy

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Help and Hear a Writer about Spain/Ayuda a un escritor sobre España

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Off I go again, time to write another book. In fact, I have three projects on the go at the moment, but it’s time to knuckle down and finish (read: start) Death in the Valencian Dust. This project was planned and researched long ago, and now it’s time to start the first draft of this story, the third book in the Secrets of Spain series. Even though I have all this well in hand, I am putting out a request for assistance for any of the following –

Any photos of Valencia and Madrid in 1975 – people, buildings, anything big or small

Newspaper articles relating to ETA in 1975

Coverage of Franco’s death in 1975

Any tidbit in relation to the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco in 1973

Pretty much anything about the Movimiento Nacional

Bullfighting photographs from the late 60’s and through the 70’s

The execution of Catalan anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974

Any piece of information is useful, no matter how simple. While I have already been studying all these subjects, sometimes the most helpful tips come from others. Be it a photo, link to an article, either one or one hundred pages long, anything would be much appreciated from all the fine Spain lovers out there. Everyone who helps will of course be acknowledged in the book.

I get asked often how the process of booking writing goes. I can only speak for myself, so throughout this book I will be tweeting each day I work, and what I managed to achieve (or not achieve). I will use the hashtag #ValencianDust in my tweets (even if just so I can keep track of my own progress!). I will start tomorrow, September 8, day 1 of the project. I was meant to start last week but an emergency situation got in the way. Let’s see if I can start on a high, since I am also starting my Spanish language studies again (God knows my nerves when speaking Spanish hinder my ability to ever progress).

Thank you!

Tiempo para escribir otro libro. De hecho, tengo tres proyectos en marcha en este momento, pero es hora de que los nudillos hacia abajo y acabado  Muerte en el polvo Valenciana. Me estoy poniendo a cabo una solicitud de asistencia por cualquier de los siguientes –

Las fotos de Valencia y Madrid en 1975 – las personas, edificios, cualquier

Los artículos de prensa relacionados con ETA en 1975

La cobertura de la muerte de Franco en 1975

Cualquier dato en relación con el asesinato de Luis Carrero Blanco en 1973

Casi cualquier cosa sobre el Movimiento Nacional

Tauromaquia fotografías de los años 60 e 70

La ejecución del anarquista catalán Salvador Puig Antich en 1974

Cualquier pieza de información es útil, no importa cuán simple. he estado estudiando todos estos temas, a veces los consejos más útiles provienen de otros. Ya sea una foto, enlace a un artículo, ya sea uno o cien páginas, nada sería muy apreciada. Todo el que ayuda, por supuesto, ser reconocido en el libro.

Gracias!

A LITTLE JAUNT TO SPAIN – REVIEW PART 7: Valle de los Caídos: A trip to Franco’s tomb to see a divided Spain

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You know how Germans dress in their best every Sunday and go to leave flowers and prayers at Hitler’s grave? Oh wait, they don’t, they opened up about their past, dealt with their issues and moved on as a people decades ago. So why are Spaniards having family picnics near the tomb of fascist dictator Francisco Franco? I packed my best possible neutral opinion and set off into the Madrid forests to find out.

“The moment you move the soil over shallow graves, the agony of Spain will pour out, like fresh blood from a wound. All that pain and hatred is covered by a thin layer. Don’t stir up something you can’t understand” – Blood in the Valencian Soil

I’m no ignorant tourist. I’m aware of the tensions that surround El Valle de los Caídos, the Valley of the Fallen. Some say it shouldn’t be open at all, and for a time when the PSOE was in power, it was closed to the public. It was one of the few places on my trip where I was the only foreigner, trying to quietly pass between families of all ages inside a macabre and eerie Basilica inside a mountain.

What is Valle de los Caídos?  It is a giant memorial to those killed in the Spanish Civil War, but ended up as a monument to only the Nationalist side, headed by ultra-conservative war winner Franco, who is buried there. Even the history surrounding the place is murky. ‘Official’ records say it was built by approximately 2,600 workers, and a handful of them were Republican (left-wing anti-Franco) prisoners. (Long story short, Republican prisoners were basically anyone the new dictatorship didn’t like. Proof that ever committed any crime, against the public or the State was tough to find, unless being a Republican soldier counts as a crime, and it was back then). It was commissioned in 1940 and finished in 1959, but a more accurate report was of 20,000 Republican prisoners taking part, and the number  killed in the process is unknown, some say dozens. You can get an idea of how touchy this subject really is.

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Franco inspects the site of Valle de los Caídos in 1940

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Republican prisoners building the cross

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Remains of soldier killed in Toledo arrive to be reburied in 1959

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Watching the opening of Valle de los Caídos in 1959

(click to enlarge the photos will launch an amazing slideshow of pics)

Franco created Valle de los Caidos in the Sierra de Guadarrama, the mountains outside Madrid city. Nearby is San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the once summer palace of the royal family (I visited, and the golden tomb is WELL worth the visit – for another post).  The trouble is, Valle de los Caídos was filled with the bodies of killed men, Nationalist (Franco) soldiers and sympathisers. It was a civil war, Spaniard against Spaniard, but those who opposed the rebel army takeover of the Republic were simply forgotten. José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the fascist Falange party is buried there, and Franco was also placed inside a tomb under the basilica in 1975. The exact number of bodies laid to rest inside Valle de los Caídos is unknown, and could be anywhere from 30-35,000. In the last 10 to 15 years, a large number of Republican families and organisations have found the strength and courage to dig up their relatives who were murdered and thrown in mass graves around Spain. However, some have been removed from these graves and placed in Valle de los Caídos without family permission, which only serves to give this place an even more heartbreaking feel.

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View while driving up the mountain

Political views aside, the sight of this location is incredible on its own. You can see it while driving along the motorway, sticking out of the otherwise peaceful mountains the surround the north side of the Madrid province. We went through an innocuous gate off the main road to El Escorial and made our way several kilometers up the mountainside on a bright and beautiful Sunday morning. You constantly catch glimpses of the behemoth through the trees, but until you are standing below the enormous cross  built on the hillside (152 metres, the worlds’ tallest), you cannot grasp the size and scope of the this place.

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The carpark was filled with cars and buses, and I suspected I was about to turn into another touristed location. Not so! Once at the arch doors to the entrance, the only people in sight were the Guardia Civil. The place itself is situated in a beautiful location and the quality of work done is exquisite. The place could have been built as a place to honour those lost in the war and the healing of a great nation. But given that the crypt is a basilica, and that the church oppressed the Spanish population and the Republican (or left-wing if you prefer) side didn’t support the church, there was never the possibility that the monument could honour both sides of the nation.

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Entrance archway

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View of the Sierra de Guadarrama

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Statue over the entrance – The Pietá

I stepped inside, sadly unsurprised that there is gift shop (After all, what child doesn’t want a gift of a colouring book and pencils from a crypt, or a fan with Franco’s grave printed on it?) I put my camera in my satchel, as photos were forbidden, but I had my iPhone in my pocket, just in case. Then I entered the nave.

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Nave

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Ceiling over the altar

From the moment you go inside, the overwhelming and solemn feel of the cold and dark place takes you over. Giant gloomy and menacing angels brandishing swords bear down on you. The nave is filled with masterpieces of religious painting and tapestries. The attention to detail is second to none. I paused to take in them and the angel statues, but the foreboding sense of the place had already sunk into my bones. Mass was finishing up as I arrived at the altar, and I sat down quietly to listen to children sing in the choir. Children were singing in this place that spoke of death.

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Altar angel

Mass ended and the faithful began to wander around the altar, me included. The first thing I noticed was not the menacing  angels, or the elaborate golden Jesus, but the grave of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, which someone had left flowers. Now, can I judge those who come here? No, I can’t. I don’t know why they come. Perhaps their loves ones were buried here,  as Nationalist believers to the Franco cause. It was a civil war and everyone lost one way or another. Can I, or anyone, look down on these people for coming  to pray? No. Whether it’s for a loved one, to feel closer to the history of Spain, or even if they supported Franco, that’s their decision. But what about the people who came to leave flowers on the grave of the founding father of Spain’s fascist party? What was the motivation there? A grieving loved one, or someone with old evil ideas that haven’t been forgotten? It was shiver up the spine stuff.

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Altar

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As priests wandered about and nodded hello, I found what I had (kind of) came for – the tomb of Franco placed on the opposite side of the altar below the semi-circle of wooden stalls made for the monks and the choir. There lay flowers on the grave, and this time I saw no reason why anyone would place them there. There are many reasons why people continue to support Franco (and it’s a discussion too long for this post) and I don’t see the merit in any of them. Just to the right lay more floral tributes – dozens to be precise, which had been placed to one side presumably because of the sheer volume. A few people were taking photographs, under the watch of a guard. These people had laid the flowers and wanted to capture the moment, no mistaking their alliances in this case. I asked if I could also take a photo with these people and got permission. Why take it? I don’t know, it’s like watching a car crash, it’s awful but you can’t look away.

I was surprised by the state of the place. Perfection? No. Built into a mountain, they must fight their own war with damp, and you can see that in the granite stonework. Water seeps in here and there, which only gave the place a more unearthly and morbid feel. After all, we were all underground, surrounded by graves…

To the left and right are small rooms, with rows of seats and monuments to Spain’s fallen. People lit candles and families laughed and chatted with priests. What says family day out more than this? I sat in the right room, the entombment, which featured an alabaster Jesus statue. I sat and looked at the wall.  Caídos – Por Dios y Por España. Fallen – For God and For Spain.  All of Spain? Many disagree. Republicans denounce this place, and many here on this random Sunday wore Falange symbols on their lapels.

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Inside the chapel of the emtombment

I will admit it – I silently cried as I sat there, which drew the attention of a priest who thought I needed comfort, and the ‘comforting’ hands of old ladies on my shoulder. Me, the young Catholic attending Mass here? Oh boy, that couldn’t be more untrue.

I headed back through the place, fairly certain I wouldn’t ever be back. I stopped by the gift shop to buy a book on the place, in Spanish, about how the place has reconciled Spain. Hmm. I also grabbed an excellent copy of a collection of civil war photographs. The crypt trinkets and religious adornments could stay where they were. After all, who would wear a Valle de los Caídos t-shirt? Why would you, and for what purpose?

The shining moment came as I left the crypt and stepped out in the sunlight. There stood a group of men, all aged 70 or more, hailing a fascist salute at the cross above the entrance. It was well and truly time to leave.

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Panoramic view from the main entrance after the fascist saluters said hello and went inside

If there is one thing, it’s that this place is full of emotion. Good emotions? Not all of them. No good ever came from a fascist salute, but it would be too simple to label everyone who visits there, whether they’re crying at Franco’s tomb or having a picnic outside in the sunshine. I am not a religious person and I am not going to tell Catholics how to pray to their God in that Basilica. The books I bought there, their glossy pages gloss over Spain’s history entirely – after all this time, the war and the subsequent dictatorship is not talked about like it should be. Spain shouldn’t have to hide its past. It has been 74 years since the end of the war and yet its presence still lives in Spanish life, whether people say so or not. In 2011, it was decided that moving Franco’s body would be a way of restoring Valle de los Caídos’ image and making it a truly impartial monument to Spain’s fallen, however as the crypt was elevated to Basilica status, the church can decide, and their opinions are not so easy changed.

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Franco’s burial in 1975  I wonder who the crying  guy is on the left (click to enlarge and view slideshow)

My personal opinion? The place is worth the visit, despite being a pain to get to if you don’t have a car. I travelled alone, and would I want to take my young family there? I’m honestly not sure. It’s not something you will find in the Spain brochures during your Ryanair flight to the beach in Benidorm or Malaga. But if you’re into Spain history, or have a personal or familial connection to the civil war (as have I) you really should visit. Just leave your camera behind and hush your opinions while you’re there. I know what side I stand on, and I took the bus back to Madrid, convinced more than ever of my opinions. But they remain mine. The other people there were very polite, and believe in what they love – that Spain was better under Franco. Nothing I stumble out in Spanish will make the slightest bit of difference. Check out this photo of a wedding over Franco’s tomb though, that was a surprise find. Just goes to show how divided this place can make people.

Photos by abc.es – protesters waved Republican flags and supporters gave out fascist salutes when Valle de los Caídos reopened. The salute seems to be pretty popular

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Want to visit for yourself? – Valle de los Caídos website

Up next, Part 8 of A Little Jaunt to Spain…. Learning to be a tourist in Spain

Click here for past editions of A Little Jaunt to Spain – Spain 2013 in Review

All photos are author’s own, or linked to original sources