The remains of right-wing dictator General Francisco Franco can be exhumed, Spain’s Supreme court ruled Tuesday, resolving an issue that has divided opinion for decades.
A long-awaited ruling gives the government a green light to remove Franco’s remains from the Catholic basilica, the Valley of the Fallen, just outside Madrid.
The nationalist ruler was interred in the mausoleum – which was partially built by political prisoners of his regime and is the site of a mass grave of Spanish Civil War victims – soon after his death in 1975.
It has since become a draw for tourists and far-right sympathizers who rally at it on the anniversary of Franco’s death on November 20.
“We are very proud of removing the remains of the dictator from the mausoleum 40 years later, complying with what was approved by the UN and the Spanish congress,” Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Carmen Calvo, said Tuesday.
The court also rejected the request made by the Franco family for the body of the dictator be buried in the Cathedral of La Almudena in central Madrid.
His remains, therefore, will be taken to the cemetery of Mingorrubio (in El Pardo to the north of Madrid) where the dictator’s wife is buried.
Ahead of the ruling, a Spanish government spokeswoman told CNN that they are “ready to do the exhumation as soon as possible.”
They will now need to seek authorization from the Church in order to enter the basilica and exhume the remains.
It is unclear whether this will take place before elections on November 10 – which will be held after acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to secure enough support in parliament to form a government.
The exhumation was one of Sanchez’s key policy pledges when he came into power last year. It was made a royal decree in August 2018 by the incumbent Socialist Party, but Franco’s family appealed the decision in the courts.
A Spanish commission, endorsed by the United Nations, had previously called for the exhumation in 2011. The conservative Popular Party (PP), which came to power in a November the same year, did not act on the recommendation.
Franco ruled Spain from the late 1930s until his death. Thousands of executions were carried out by his nationalist regime during the Spanish Civil War and in the following years.
After World War II, he was seen by many as the last surviving fascist dictator and was ostracized by the United Nations. His regime was partly rehabilitated during the Cold War because of Franco’s staunch anti-communist ideology.
In 2007, the Spanish government passed the Law of Historical Memory, which formally condemns the Franco regime and bans political events at the Valley of the Fallen. It also recognizes the victims of the civil war and the Francoist state and pledges aid to those victims and their descendants.