Spain Grapples with its Fascist Past

The body of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera was on Monday exhumed for the fourth time, and buried for the fifth time. Rivera was the founder of the Spanish Falange party, one of the primary fascist movements in Spain, and was executed by Republican forces in 1936, soon after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Rivera’s exhumation comes four years after Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco’s body was exhumed from the same location in 2019, after a lengthy legal battle. Both exhumations come out of a mausoleum Franco named the “Valley of the Fallen”. Last year the area was returned to its original, pre-dictatorship name, the “Valley of Cuelgamuros”.

The exhumation, as well as the renaming, are both apart of Spain’s “Democratic Memory Law”, which was passed at the end of 2022. The law carries with it several provisions seeking to dismantle the legacy of the dictatorship, commonly called “Francoism”. Besides renaming the monument, it also makes mandatory education about the dictatorship period in secondary school, and also declares tens of thousands of convictions of military rebellion against Franco from 1936-1938 void. It also bars anyone targeted by said convictions from suing the government for compensation.

A propagandistic depiction of Rivera. Promoting fascist symbols in Spain can now carry a 200- 150,000€ fine, as per the Democratic Memory Law.

The monument, when built, was meant to be a monument to those killed during the civil war, on both sides. However, the tomb in part was built by Republican prisoners of war, and has a number of more prominent tombs glorifying fascist leaders. One further provision of the Democratic Memory Law is that the mausoleum, which in its extensive crypts holds 34,000 people, cannot have any remains placed in prominence over any others, which Rivera’s was.

Rivera’s body was moved to a much smaller cemetery within Madrid, in which several of his family members are also buried. He has been lain in the San Isidro Roman Catholic cemetery, partially in accordance with his will that he be buried on “blessed Catholic ground”.

His removal and reburial was met with small protests by his modern-day supporters, who briefly clashed with police. There is no word on if any injuries resulted from clashes.

Primo de Rivera’s supporters protest his exhumation (Photo from Reuters).


Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.


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