Franco Exhumation Covered by NPR

December 15, 2019
A visitor holds a portrait of Francisco Franco at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid. (Alfonso Ruiz/AP)

A visitor holds a portrait of Francisco Franco at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid. (Alfonso Ruiz/AP)

In October, ALBA co-chair Sebastiaan Faber was interviewed on National Public Radio’s Here and Now to talk about the exhumation, on October 24, of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco from his tomb at the Valley of the Fallen, an hour outside of Madrid, where he was buried following his death in November 1975.

Franco’s tomb has long been a symbol of Spain’s inability to come to terms with its dictatorial past. Supporters of the former dictator gathered there annually at the anniversary of his death to celebrate his legacy, a practice that wasn’t outlawed until 2007—although it has continued since then. The Valley of the Fallen, a massive monument, was built over 18 years’ time, in part by political prisoners. In addition to the bodies of Franco—now removed—and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of Spanish fascism, it is estimated to hold the remains of more than 30,000 victims of the war.

“It’s tempting to see Spain as a special case,” Faber told NPR’s Tonya Mosley. “But when you think about it, the kinds of big questions that Spain is grappling with today—what to do with the legacies of historical injustice—are questions that a country like the United States is facing as well. What to do with the physical traces of the Confederacy, for example, the statues or even holidays, have stirred up contemporary political controversy. In Spain, one of the legacies of Francoism is socio-economic. The almost 40-long year dictatorship allowed individuals, families and corporations to amass massive fortunes through their connections to the regime, fortunes that today continue to exist. In the United States, questions of historical justice also touch on economic questions—for example, the debate about reparations for slavery. What is the responsibility of present generations for past injustices that they didn’t themselves commit, but whose results and legacies they continue to either suffer or enjoy?”

This was not the first time Franco’s tomb was featured on NPR. In 2003, a radio reporter interviewed Lincoln Brigade veteran Jack Shafran, who had attended a series of memorial events in Spain. Shafran explained that soldiers sometimes make promises that haunt them for their entire lives. While facing bombardments on Hill 666, Jack swore that if he survived the war he’d return someday to piss on Franco’s grave. Not until 1986 did he have the opportunity to come clean with his conscience. With his son Seth, Jack visited the dictator’s tomb. Before stepping inside, he entered a pharmacy and purchased a glass vial, which he took to his hotel room. He filled the vial with urine, returned to the cathedral, and emptied it on Franco’s grave.

Listen to the NPR episode here.