The dictator has been buried for almost 44 years. But this Thursday in Spain again look at him. With 22 cameras, the public television station RTVE wants to film how Francisco Franco's remains are exhumed from his splendid basilica in the "Valley of the Fallen" at 10.30 am - and then flown by helicopter to the new resting place at the Mingurrubio Cemetery in Madrid. At least five Spanish TV channels will broadcast the transfer of the Franco bones live, and hours of special broadcasts are planned.
It is said, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wants to be the last public act around Franco, the "Generalísimo", who dominated Spain for 36 years with an iron fist. Franco brutally suppressed minorities, had opponents deported, tortured and killed. He forced thousands of political prisoners to carve a colossal cathedral in the rock for him in the "Valle de los Caídos".
Here, northwest of Madrid, since 1975, his corpse, next to the main altar, under a grave plate, on which often the flowers piled up. That's what the dictator wanted it to be.
A "place of pilgrimage for eternity" should become the burial ground - in the side chapels of which the bones of thousands of his opponents rest. The Valle de los Caidos with its 155 meter high concrete cross actually became a place of pilgrimage for veterans, old fascists, new right-wing extremists. They paid homage to their "leader", prayed for him, celebrated masses. Some even got married here.
Pedro Sánchez wants to put an end to Franco's glorification
Democratic Spain not only tolerated the cult of the dead, but the state even financed part of the maintenance of the Benedictine monks. After all, former companions played Franco's pivotal role in Spain's transition to democracy - and the left always shied away from gambling with the rights over the past.
Javier Barbancho / REUTERS
"Valley of the Fallen": pilgrimage site for veterans, old fascists, new right-wing extremists
Pedro Sánchez now wants to finally put an end to the Franco glorification. Already at his assumption of government in the summer of 2018, the socialist had promised to exhume the bones and to have them transferred to a less spectacular place - as soon as possible. But Franco's family resisted, the Supreme Court stopped the Umbettung shortly before the scheduled date. And finally approved it at the end of September.
"The exhumation of Franco becomes a triumph of dignity, memory, reparation and justice," says Sánchez now. "A triumph of Spanish democracy."
Sánchez himself desperately needs a triumph. It is not going well in the election campaign for the parliamentary elections on 10 November. Sánchez himself has to answer for the fourth balloting in less than four years: he did not want to agree on a coalition with the left-alternative Podemos. Since then, his socialists have lost ground in the polls: The incapacity of the left apparently demobilized sympathizers. And the escalation in Catalonia, where supporters of convicted separatists and police battles, has benefited so far only the political opponent.
The nation is divided, as it always is when it comes to Franco
The conservative People's Party, the right-wing Ciudadanos and the far-right parties are rallying their voters with demands for even more rigor against separatists and rioters. Meanwhile, the more moderate Sánchez is damaged by the images of mutual violence. "They show a hopelessness of the conflict and permanent damage to the Spanish state," says Günther Maihold, Deputy Director of the Science and Politics Foundation. "And the Madrid government can do little about it."
Dictator Franco: Dominated Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975
Franco's exhumation comes just right. "Sánchez tries to bring a new emotional element into the election campaign, which strengthens the identity in his political camp and mobilizes the electorate," says Maihold. After all, the reburial has long been a wish of many supporters of the socialists.
The fans of Franco, however, brings them to the barricades. According to the newspaper El País, they are insulting and threatening the company that will remove the two-tonne grave plate so heavily that the owners have already asked the police for help.
The nation is divided, as it always is when it comes to Franco. According to a survey by the newspaper El Mundo, 43 percent of citizens are in favor of exhumation - and 35 percent against it. The rest is undecided or has no opinion.
Once Franco's bones have arrived in Mingorrubio, the public event is to become quite private. Exactly 22 relatives are allowed to attend the funeral service in the family chapel of the Franco, in which also the wife of the dictator rests - as the government has agreed with the clan. According to media reports, given the intimate nature of the chapel, the family may celebrate a Mass for "Generalísimo". Afterwards, the Prior of the Benedictine Monastery from the Valley of the Fallen will bless the bones. Even flags and political symbols may bring the Francos.
They are not allowed to film or photograph the act. Only those who pass a fluoroscopic device and a metal detector can enter the chapel. All cell phones and cameras must stay outside. Images of a new Franco cult Pedro Sánchez just does not need.