Spain: govt bill targets supporters of Franco’s dictatorship

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s government wants to outlaw expressions of support for Gen. Francisco Franco’s 20th-century dictatorship and ban bodies which praise that period’s policies and leaders.

The Socialist-led coalition government’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft bill that takes aim at anyone who “extols (Franco’s) coup and the dictatorship or extols its leaders, denigrating and demeaning the dignity of the victims of the coup, of the Civil War or of Franco’s rule.”

The bill is another milestone in the center-left Socialist party’s stated goal of healing divisions over Franco’s place in Spanish history, providing redress for his victims and stamping out right-wing extremism, amid the recent popularity of far-right party Vox which has won seats in parliament.

Félix Bolaños, the minister overseeing the bill, said it was Spain’s “first law that expressly condemns and repudiates the coup ... and the ensuing dictatorship, which ushered in the darkest period of our contemporary history.”

Two years ago, a Socialist government ordered the exhumation of Franco’s remains from his grandiose mausoleum outside Madrid and reburial in a small family crypt north of the capital.

The so-called ‘Law on Democratic Memory,’ which now goes to parliament for a vote, is likely to re-ignite a debate over freedom of expression and how Franco is seen — an issue that still provokes strong emotions among many Spaniards.

More than 500,000 people died in the war between rebel nationalist forces led by Franco and defenders of a short-lived Spanish republic. Franco declared victory on April 1, 1939, and ruled ruthlessly until his death in 1975. More than 110,000 victims from the war and his dictatorship remain unidentified.

The bill opens the door to the abolition of the high-profile Francisco Franco Foundation, which promotes the former dictator’s legacy.

Expressing support for Franco-era figures and ideas will carry a planned maximum fine of 150,000 euros ($177,000).

The bill establishes a national DNA bank to help trace people who are missing and presumed dead, often in unmarked or common graves that are still being dug up. Spanish authorities will take charge of finding and exhuming the victims. Civic movements and families have often taken on that responsibility.

The bill also aims to uncover the truth about persecution and atrocities during the war and Franco’s rule, with the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate crimes from the Civil War’s outbreak through to the 1978 approval of a new Constitution. An audit of assets seized under the dictatorship is also planned.

The bill overturns convictions on political, religious or sexual grounds that were handed down under Franco — sparing victims long legal procedures to clear their name — and strips aristocrats of their titles if they were granted by the dictator.

In education, a new emphasis is planned on teaching democracy, human rights, anti-fascism and the country’s 20th-century struggle for freedom, the government says. That will apply not only to high school and university courses but also professional training courses.

A separate decree-law, which does not require parliamentary approval but which lawmakers can later throw out, paves the way for turning the Valley of the Fallen — Franco’s public mausoleum where his remains lay for more than four decades — into a “civilian cemetery” for victims on both sides of the Civil War. Monks who have managed the site are expected to leave under an agreement still to be discussed with the Catholic Church.