Spain introduces bill to honor victims of dictatorship

MADRID, Spain — Spanish lawmakers gave the first stamp of approval on Thursday to a bill that aims to rehabilitate the memory of left-wing victims of Spain’s 1936-39 Civil War and Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

The proposed law threatens to fuel tensions in a country where public opinion is still divided over the legacy of the dictatorship that ended with Franco’s death in 1975.

Franco took power after the civil war in which his nationalists defeated the republicans, leaving the country in ruins and mourning hundreds of thousands of dead.

While his regime honored its own dead, it left its opponents buried in unmarked graves across the country.

The “Democratic Memory” bill, passed in first reading by the lower house of parliament, will for the first time make the exhumation of mass graves a “responsibility of the State”.

Until now, the search for missing persons from the Franco era was carried out by voluntary associations, as evidenced by the latest film by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar “Parallel mothers”.

The bill makes Spain “a better country and definitely turns the page on the darkest period in our history”, the minister responsible for the bill, Felix Bolanos, told parliament ahead of the vote.

It was approved with 173 votes for and 159 against

-114,000 missing –
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Tuesday “there are still 114,000 missing” in Spain, most of them Republicans. Only Cambodia has more forcibly disappeared people, he added.

“The state must exhume the remains of the victims of the Franco dictatorship,” the prime minister told parliament as he defended the bill.

The proposed law will also create a DNA database to help identify remains found in mass graves, create a map of mass graves and prevent state-funded institutions from glorifying dictatorship.

He will also overturn the criminal convictions of opponents of the dictatorship and appoint a prosecutor who will investigate human rights abuses during the civil war and the dictatorship.

Previous attempts to bring Franco-era officials to justice in Spain were blocked by an amnesty agreement signed by political leaders after Franco’s death.

The deal was seen as key to averting a spiral of settling scores as they tried to unite the country and steer it towards democracy.

Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

In 2019 he had Franco’s remains removed from a sprawling mausoleum near Madrid and moved to a discreet family plot

– Repeal the threat –
The main opposition party, the People’s Party (PP), accuses his government of opening the wounds of the past.

He has pledged to repeal the law if he returns to power after the next general election scheduled for the end of 2023.

Mariano Rajoy, a former PP prime minister, once bragged that he had not spent a euro of public money to enforce an earlier law on “historical memory” passed by a previous socialist government in 2007 to attack Franco’s legacy.

The far-right Vox party, meanwhile, accused the government of “dividing Spaniards once again” with the bill.

The anger on the right is fueled by a concession Sanchez made to the far-left Basque independence party Bildu in order to win his support for the bill in parliament.

Specifically, the law provides for the drafting of a report on possible human rights crimes committed between 1978, the year of the adoption of the Spanish democratic constitution, and the end of 1983.

In 1983, Spanish security forces created a paramilitary squad called GAL which targeted suspected members of the Basque separatist armed group ETA.

The GAL is accused of the deaths of 28 Basque extremists between 1983 and 1987.

This amendment – which was proposed by Bildu, the heirs of the former political wing of ETA – has even sparked dissent within Sanchez’s socialist party.

Among the critics is former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, who ruled between 1982 and 1996.

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