July 27, 2009

EVEN TODAY Spain is different. A visit to a huge monument 50 kilometres from Madrid demonstrates that.
Europe’s fascist dictators perished in appropriate fashion. Hitler committed suicide as Berlin collapsed in flames and Mussolini was killed and humiliated by Italian partisans.
General Franco, however, died of old age and is interred in a vast granite mausoleum at the Valle de los Caídos. Alongside Franco lie the bodies of 33,800 victims of the Spanish Civil War, combatants from both sides. They were brought there from mass graves all over the country.
Far from being a monument to all those who died in the terrible conflict, the Valle de los Caídos has become a symbol of a brutal dictatorship and a place of pilgrimage for unreconstructed fascists.
Dolores Cabra, of the Asociación Guerra y Exilio, one of many demanding justice for those who suffered under the Franco regime, wants the dictator’s remains removed to a family grave. For her and many others it is “a bloody and painful contradiction for victims of reprisals to lie next to their executioner”.
The mausoleum, topped by a 150-metre cross, is reminiscent of the grandiose structures built by the Nazis. Some 20,000 Republican prisoners toiled to construct it, many of them suffering fatal accidents.
Today some Spaniards want the whole structure demolished, others believe it should be converted into a permanent exhibition to remind the world of the consequences of fascism — something which has long been done in Germany with gory relics of the Hitler regime.
Thousands of foreign tourists visit the Valley of the Fallen every year. Few realise what extreme emotions this symbol stirs in a Spain still grappling with its past.