35th anniversary of Franco's death opens old wounds

Mon, Nov 22, 2010, 00:00

THOUSANDS OF neo-Nazis and hundreds of Spanish anti-fascists came face to face this weekend on the 35th anniversary of the death of dictator Gen Francisco Franco.

Twelve-kilometre traffic jams blocked the motorway linking Madrid to the Valle de los Caidos – Valley of the Fallen – as the Franco faithful, many of whom had travelled from across Europe, drove 45km for their annual commemorative Mass at the vast basilica.

It marks the grave of the old dictator and that of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of Spain’s Falangist Party.

More than 100 José Antonio supporters carried a large laurel wreath and marched overnight in freezing rain from his birthplace in central Madrid to the basilica.

This year they were forced to hold their Mass on the esplanade outside, supposedly because the basilica is being repaired, but also because it has become the event which commemorates the Franco faithful and ignores republican victims.

Police in riot gear lined the road leading to the Valle de los Caidos to keep the two sides apart as they shouted insults at one another.

“Red sh**”, let’s take our guns into the street and finish them off!” The response from the other side: “Murderers! Bodysnatchers!” The raised right arm fascist salute was met by the communist clenched-fist riposte.

Jose Maria Pedreño, president of the anti-fascist groups, appealed to his supporters to keep calm. “Don’t provoke them, that is what they want. We have come here to appeal for justice, truth and reparation for the victims of Franquismo.”

The vast complex, hewn out of solid rock by thousands of republican political prisoners – many of whom died during the process – consists of the huge basilica, a 150-metre (500ft) dominant granite cross and the graves of an estimated 50,000 who died fighting on the Franco side in the 1936-39 civil war. It also contains a Benedictine monastery whose monks have maintained the Valle de los Caidos since its completion.

The Federation for Historic Memory is demanding the exhumation of Franco’s and José Antonio’s graves from the building so their remains can be returned to their families.

They want DNA testing of the remains of the tens of thousands buried in the crypts where it is rumoured many republican prisoners who perished during the construction also lie. The federation is demanding that the building be turned into a museum in memory of all those who died.