Recently the Cortes Generales, or the Spanish parliament, passed a non-binding resolution urging the government to exhume the remains of the former dictator from the Valley of the Fallen for transfer to another site.
The motion was moved by the left-wing PSOE on the grounds that the Valley of the Fallen is a national monument to commemorate those who were killed in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939. In that war, the right-wing insurgent forces led by General Franco defeated the popularly elected republican government in Madrid and seized power.
The PSOE asserted that Franco was a mass murderer who started the war, and burying his body at the Valley, therefore, constitutes an outright humiliation to all the victims of that brutal war.
The passage of the motion has sparked a fierce debate in Spain over whether the country should re-evaluate Franco’s political legacy.
The left in Spain have every reason to hate Franco so much. He toppled the left-wing Republican government and was swept to power in 1939 with more than a little help from Hitler and Mussolini.
After seizing power, Franco quickly established his own fascist dictatorship and started purging every corner of his country of Republican supporters.
It is estimated that under his reign of terror, as many as 200,000 Spaniards were killed as a result of his relentless crackdown on dissent, many of whom were left-wing liberal elites.
As far as the average Spaniard is concerned, Franco was a ruthless dictator. But many also take the view that he should as well be given credit for refusing to join the Axis powers despite enormous pressure from the Nazis, thereby keeping his country out of World War Two.
It was also under Franco’s rule that Spain underwent rapid economic growth in the 1960s, and the vast majority of Spaniards witnessed substantial improvement in their standard of living under his governance.
In the meantime, Franco also managed to break Spain’s diplomatic isolation after World War Two by aligning his country with the United States and joining the anti-Soviet bloc. His unwavering anti-communist stance allowed him to gain the trust and support of Washington.
Suffice it to say that Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s might not have been possible without the economic miracle created by Franco.
In recent years there have been calls from the far right for the Spanish people to preserve Franco’s political legacy and acknowledge his contribution to the country’s economic development.
The right-wing opposition party, the PP, steered a middle course on this sensitive issue by calling on parties across the political spectrum to look forward and avoid opening up old wounds for the sake of preserving harmony in the country.
The Spaniards are not alone in having problems in coming to terms with their unpleasant past.
For example, even to this day, the South Koreans are still split over whether former dictator Park Chung-hee should go down in history as a tyrant or a pragmatic leader that facilitated the country’s rapid modernization.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 2
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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