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Digging up the present

Spain’s decision to exhume the body of General Franco threatens to disturb more than his bones

Digging up the present

Spain’s decision to exhume the body of General Franco threatens to disturb more than his bones

The Valley of the Fallen—through the main entrance, beneath the high cross and at the end of a high-arched corridor, lies Franco’s tomb
© REX SHUTTERSTOCK

On 13th September, Spain’s Congress of Deputies voted to expel the bones of General Francisco Franco from his Catholic-pharaonic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. Not much longer would the Generalissimo be allowed to repose inside a vast basilica with black marble floors, flanked by chapels dedicated to the patron saints of his army, navy and air force, beneath a simple plate that bears his name but not his rank.

Seven years had passed since a government-appointed Commission of Experts recommended de-glorifying the dictator by way of exhumation. Suddenly it looked like the new Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was going to make it happen.

The following Saturday morning, thousands went to pay respects while they still could. Francoists, nostalgists, day-trippers and rubberneckers formed a traffic jam of pilgrims along the A6 motorway and up the winding access road to the colossal, surreal mausoleum carved into a mountain outside Madrid, where a towering granite cross rises more than 150 metres straight out of the rock.

A motorcycle rider and his passenger stopped to one side, looked towards the monument, and raised their right arms in a fascist salute. Crowds of paying customers flowed into the basilica, past the armed security guards and apocalyptic tapestries, merging with the guests of a couple who were being married by one of the resident Benedictine monks. The atmosphere within flickered between wedding, funeral, theme park and far-right rally.

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In Prospect’s December issue: Timothy Garton Ash and David Allen Green assess Brexit and ask whether it’s too late for things to change. Garton Ash explains how Brexit is just one part of a fracturing Europe and that it might not be too late for the UK’s situation—or that of the rest of Europe—to change. Green takes apart the “shambolic” way that Britain has approached Brexit and suggests a number of options that parliament should strongly consider if minister are to change their views. Elsewhere in the issue: Jo Glanville visits a rural GP surgery and exposes the crises that are played out day-in-day-out all over the country. Stephen Phelan suggests that Spain’s decision to exhume General Franco’s remains threatens to disturb more than his bones. Martin Rees writes about our dreams of understanding the entire universe—and how we may never be able to satisfy that desire.