In a measure that reflects Spain’s desire to distance itself from its Fascist past, a judge has ordered the city of Valencia to strip former dictator Francisco Franco’s honorary title of mayor.
The judge upheld a motion proposed by a left-wing coalition called Compromis and rejected a plea by Valencia’s municipal government to retain the honor which was awarded to Franco in 1939, at the end of Spain’s Civil War.
The judge cited that anything that placed Franco in a favorable light is contradictory to the values of a modern democracy.
"To maintain this distinction for the top figure in the military uprising and subsequent dictatorship is a clear attack on the legal system," stated Compromis.
More than 35 years after Franco’s death, the generalissimo remains a divisive figure -- detested by liberals and socialists, ignored by many, but revered by an ever-diminishing group of right-wing admirers.
The Valencia episode comes on the heels of many other cities across Spain that have similarly removed honors and titles held posthumously by Franco. Many streets and plazas that were named after him have also been changed, while other public references to him have been eliminated under the auspices of the Historical Memory Law, which was passed in 2007 under the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Indeed, two years ago, the last statues of the former dictator were removed from military headquarters in Valencia.
However, the most prominent shrine to Franco, the Valley of the Fallen, which features a 500-foot cross and mausoleum, just north of Madrid, remains in place and attracts an annual pilgrimage of neo-fascists from around Europe and North America every year.
Socialists have long urged the authorities to either tear down the monument or replace it with some other structure, perhaps a basilica, while exhuming Franco’s body from the site.
However, such plans have been scrapped with the emergence of a new conservative government that has far more pressing subjects to deal with, namely Spain’s catastrophic economic collapse and 25 percent unemployment.
Laura Gonzalez, an assistant professor of finance & business economics, and a native Spaniard herself, said that Spain has never gotten over the death of their long-time dictator.
“Upon Franco's death, the common understanding was to leave everything on ‘stand-by’ for the sake of the country's progress,” she said, adding that Spanish schools did not teach much about the Civil war of the 1936-39 which brought the Fascists to power.
However, over the past ten years, there occurred a sea change in attitude towards the Civil War, especially among the relatives and descendants of Franco’s victims.
Research and investigations unearthed a trove of tragedies and atrocities, including the theft of babies, unmarked graves and reports of missing people.
“Families basically want to find their loved ones and sometimes, the institutions do not make it as easy as expected,” Gonzalez noted.
Franco’s reign lasted thirty-six years (1939-1975), during a period when other Western European nations developed modern, secular democracies. Under Franco, Spain was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, the army, and the conservative upper classes, Franco’s three principal pillars of support. Indeed, the strong support of the church meant that Franco was able to pass laws the reflected Catholic teachings, including a ban on divorce, contraception and homosexuality, among other measures.
Franco largely banned political parties, centralized the state, outlawed the Basque and Catalan languages (in favor of Castilian Spanish) and heavily censored media).
During the Cold War, the Unites States looked upon Franco favorably as a bulwark against the spread of Communism.
It is unclear how much reverence there remains in Spain from Franco – Gonzalez estimates less than 10 percent of the populace look upon him favorably. However, she adds that a similar proportion of the Spanish public likely favors the other extreme end of the ideological spectrum, Communism.
She adds that, given the economic crisis Spain is currently mired in, the country’s political system has many inherent structural problems may need to enact more changes in the near future.
“Spain is in crisis because of its politics,” she said.
“We have a leadership crisis… citizens can only vote for the candidates chosen by each party, which makes it impossible for capable leaders that want to challenge the status quo to ever get on the [candidate list] and be elected. Once the Spanish political system starts a full primary election system, like in the U.S., Spain will get the chance to elect capable, independent leaders.”
The other problem, she adds, is lack of accountability.
“Parties tend to protect their members and hide skeletons in their closets, which is not good for the parties or the country,” she noted.
“If Spain had more political accountability and representation, the economic crisis could have been avoided.”