The tomb is one of the most divisive legacies of the Spanish Civil War and has become a pilgrimage site for right-wing fanatics. But yesterday an official government commission proposed the remains of General Francisco Franco be exhumed and reburied elsewhere.
When Franco died in 1975 he was laid to rest in a Catholic basilica in the Valley of the Fallen, which also contains the graves of 33,847 victims of the 1936-1939 war, many of whom died at his hand. The site's massive 150m cross, visible for miles around the sierras west of Madrid, is the last national monument in democratic Europe to a former dictator.
Commission member Virgilio Zapatero argued when presenting the report that the site, which contains victims from both National and Republic sides, should should become a "place of homage for all those who died in the conflict, regardless of which side they were on" and contain solely war victims. The committee also recommended the body of Fascist Party leader Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera – executed by the Republicans in the early days of the conflict, and as such a Civil War victim – could remain in the Valley, although in a far less prominent position. They also suggested building a permanent exhibition in memory of the war in the Valley, as well as a non-religious meditation centre.
However, three members of the commission, created by the former Socialist government last year, have already expressed their personal opposition to the proposal to exhume Franco's body, calling it "untimely" and warning it would risk "splitting and radicalising public opinion". The three commented that "the exhumation of the remains of a head of state, because of discrepancies with his political regime, would be inappropriate".
Franco's exhumation would go some way to resolving the longstanding grievance amongst Republican families that thousands of their executed relatives are buried in the Valley of the Fallen alongside the man ultimately responsible for their death.
Due to Franco's macabre wish to fill the Valley with Civil War combatants, more than a third of the bodies buried alongside him are unidentified: some were killed in the 20-year construction of the monument, while others are victims of mass executions of Republican prisoners in other parts of Spain, but who were exhumed from graves elsewhere to "top up" the crypts.
However, fears are already growing that the committee's recommendation, which needs both an Act of Parliament and the approval of the Catholic Church – currently responsible for overseeing the Valley of the Fallen and holding masses in its chapel to go ahead – would not be carried out following the victory of the centre-right Partido Popular [PP] party in recent elections.
Yesterday morning, the Socialist caretaker government minister Ramon Jauregui, who set up the commission, called on the PP "not to let this report be filed away in a drawer. It is an act of justice for the victims". So far the PP have not responded.