Madrid: Spain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the green light for the government to remove the remains of Francisco Franco from a grandiose state mausoleum, rejecting an appeal against it by the late dictator’s descendants.
In a unanimous ruling, the court decided “to completely reject the appeal lodged by the family in relation to Francisco Franco’s exhumation”, the judges wrote.
Franco, who ruled with an iron fist following the end of the 1936-39 civil war, is buried in an imposing basilica carved into a mountain in the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometres outside Madrid.
But plans to move his remains to another site has divided opinion in Spain, which is still conflicted over the dictatorship that ended with Franco’s death in 1975.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government has made transferring his remains a priority, saying Spain should not “continue to glorify” the dictator, whose hillside mausoleum is topped by a 150-metre cross and has attracted both tourists and right-wing sympathisers.
The government had planned to move Franco’s remains to a more discreet family tomb on June 10, but the court suspended the exhumation pending the outcome of an appeal by Franco’s heirs. Six magistrates from the country’s top court began meeting around 10am (local time), issuing their ruling some 90 minutes later.
Tuesday’s hearing was one of four appeals against the plan, but arguably the one that carries the most weight, with a court spokesman saying it was “foreseeable” that the judges would issue a similar verdict in the remaining three cases.
It was not immediately clear when the court would rule on the other three appeals.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo had described as “inexplicable” the fact that “the dictator’s remains continue to rest in a public mausoleum”.
“There is not a single other (European) dictator whose (remains) are kept in conditions like Franco in Spain,” she said.
“Democracy is not compatible with holding Franco in a mausoleum like this.”
Many on the Left are repulsed by the huge memorial at the Valley of the Fallen, comparing it to a monument glorifying Hitler.
The site was built by Franco’s regime between 1941 and 1959 — in part by the forced labour of some 20,000 political prisoners — and the monument holds the remains of more than 33,000 dead from both sides of the civil war.
But descendants of the former ruler had vowed to fight for his remains to stay at the Valley of the Fallen.
“We will continue our legal battle to the end so Franco stays there,” said Juan Chicharro Ortega, spokesman for the Francisco Franco Foundation, which defends his memory and has filed one of the remaining three appeals.
The government wants Franco’s remains to be reburied next to his wife in the family tomb at Mingorrubio El Pardo, a state cemetery some 20 kilometres north of Madrid where various political figures are buried.
But the family have said that if the exhumation were to go ahead, they would want Franco to be moved to the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, where his daughter is buried.
The government has opposed such an idea for fear such a central location could become a pilgrimage site for Franco supporters and has successfully lobbied the Vatican to reject this option.
The court ruling comes as Spain gears up for its fourth election in as many years on November 10, with Sanchez’s Socialist government saying it wanted to ensure Franco’s remains were moved before the vote.