Monument to Franco may be converted into memorial to his victims

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The Independent Online

The deep subterranean crypt is topped by a granite cross that towers above the mountainside north of Madrid, and can be seen for miles. Francisco Franco's mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen, democratic Europe's last national monument to a dictator, has been a scar on Spain's conscience for decades.

The deep subterranean crypt is topped by a granite cross that towers above the mountainside north of Madrid, and can be seen for miles. Francisco Franco's mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen, democratic Europe's last national monument to a dictator, has been a scar on Spain's conscience for decades.

But as pressure mounts within ruling socialists' ranks to challenge this extravagant homage to the dictator, plans are afoot to transform Franco's celebration of triumph and revenge into a memorial to his victims. "Our aim is to convert the mausoleum into a study centre of Francoism to explain to people the meaning of the dictatorship and its horrors," said Jaume Bosch, a Senator in Spain's upper house and vice-president of Catalunya's Left-Green Initiative (ICV), part of the region's Socialist coalition.

José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government planned a draft law proposing a change in the orientation of the monument to put to parliament before June, Mr Bosch said yesterday. The government had confirmed its intentions in confidential meetings with the Senator in recent weeks, Mr Bosch said.

"It's the perfect site to be converted into a study and education centre," said the Senator. "We must explain why and how the Valley of the Fallen was constructed in the style of great Nazi monuments."

Defeated Republican prisoners who escaped execution in the Spanish Civil War were organised after 1939 into forced labour batallions; 20,000 undertook "quarrying duty" at the valley, 14 died and were reputedly buried where they fell, entombed beneath the granite on which they toiled.

Their deaths remain unrecorded. Countless more lost limbs or were stricken with silicosis during 20 years of work on Franco's obsession. When the Valley of the Fallen was inaugurated in 1959, Franco praised his monument to "our fallen". The dictator's speech was "triumphant and vengeful", wrote the historian Paul Preston in his biography of Franco. "He gloated over the enemy ... and showed not the slightest trace of desire to see reconciliation between Spaniards," he writes.

Post-Franco Spain did not challenge the monument's spurious claim to honour "the civil war dead of both sides". The Valley of the Fallen is administered by the Culture Ministry, whose visitor's guide observes that The Cross is "one of the greatest and most popular tourist attractions around Madrid". Few Spaniards visit, however.

Mr Zapatero promised last year to bring justice to Franco's victims, breaking the "pact of forgetfulness" that has stopped Spain coming to terms with its past. Mr Bosch wants the truth explained about the monument, as Germany has done with Nazi camps, and Argentina with its Navy School clandestine torture centre. The Culture minister, Carmen Calvo, said yesterday she had received "no formal notification of the plan. Perhaps there is a proposal, but it hasn't reached my desk."

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