Barcelona topples the final reminder of Franco's regime

 

Madrid

Almost 72 years to the day after Nationalist troops swept into Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, the city's last monument to General Francisco Franco and his dictatorship has finally been taken down.

The removal of the four-metre-high bronze "Victory" statue – situated in the central Avenida Diagonal, the boulevard down which Franco's forces advanced on 26 January, 1939 – was watched by a small crowd of about 200.

Thanks to the law of Historic Memory passed in 2007 by Spain's socialist government, monuments of all kinds to the general who ruled Spain for nearly 40 years, from statues to street names, are gradually being removed.

In fiercely nationalist Catalonia, where Franco outlawed the region's language and abolished local government, the town halls have been singularly thorough at weeding them out. And in a city like Barcelona, famous for its hard-headed entrepreneurs, only the risk of traffic jams for shoppers rushing to January sales provided a last-minute delay on the statue's removal.

"Franco's triumph represented a great defeat for Catalan culture and values," said Barcelona's Mayor, Jordi Hereu, as "Victory", erected in 1940, came down. "It was nothing to be proud of at all." But he added: "We've been one of the cities that's been fastest to apply the [2007] law."

There was scattered applause from the mostly elderly spectators, as the monument, swathed in building harnesses, was shifted from its plinth to a waiting truck – its destination a local museum. While some shed tears, there were also calls for the monument to the defeated Republic, which had stood there previously, to be returned.

The removal of the final trace of Franco's era in Barcelona had more than usual symbolic value, given that the city was a Republican stronghold during the Civil War.

Barcelona's relative speed at eliminating past reminders of Franco's regime also contrasts sharply with Madrid's dilemma over the general's mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen, just outside the capital – democratic Europe's last national monument to a dictator.

Towering above Franco's crypt is a giant granite cross which can be seen for miles. Also buried there are thousands of Republican prisoners, many of them killed during its construction.

The Valley of the Fallen has re-opened after repairs, and remains a meeting point for local fascist groups and those nostalgic for Franco's regime.

"Getting rid of the Valley of the Fallen should be a top priority," Juan Luis Castro, a spokesman for the Foro por la Memoria pressure group, told The Independent. "These relics of the Franco dictatorship are an insult to those who died for democracy."

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