The keys to the Law of Memory: women, graves, the Valley of the Fallen and Franco’s foundations


There are laws that go by motorways and others, such as that of Democratic Memory, that seem to go by cart tracks. A year has passed, from one summer to the next, to complete a lap in which the law arrived as a preliminary draft to a Council of Ministers and has now been approved as a bill before a table full of new faces. It even brings a different driver.

The draft of the Law of Memory does not convince the associations nor part of the left: “It fails in the first year of anti-fascism”.

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The law of Carmen Calvo passed through the consultations of the Fiscal Council and the Judiciary, transforming itself little by little, perhaps not in the essential. And it has arrived back at the Moncloa in the briefcase of the current Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, who was not at all unfamiliar with the text.

The Law of Democratic Memory repeals the Law of Historical Memory of 2007, which is why it includes in its articles many measures that are already in force, such as the removal of symbols contrary to memory or the moral recognition of the victims. These are its main keys:

What will happen to the victims

They will appear in a single public register along with information on the violence perpetrated against them and the place and date of their death, if known. The law defines what a victim of Francoism is and puts a time limit on the approval of the Constitution in 1978.

Some of the most forgotten victims are those who were forced labourers. The law will promote initiatives to mark these places, such as the Madrid-Burgos railway line, Lavacolla airport or the Valley of the Fallen itself. There will also be a census of these works and of the companies that benefited from them, such as Huarte in its day, whose heir today is OHL. Among these initiatives to be promoted will be for these companies to adopt measures for recognition. The members of the International Brigades (if any are still alive) will be granted Spanish nationality.

What will happen with the political sentences of Franco’s regime?

The Law of Historical Memory considered Franco’s courts illegitimate. With this law, their political sentences will be considered null and void, but for that to be effective, they would have to be claimed one by one in a court of law.

What will exhumations be like from now on?

The State will be responsible for the search for missing persons and will have to carry out multi-year search, location, exhumation and identification plans. It will do so ex officio or on request. Until now, this has been a job that has been done voluntarily by the memorialist network, with financial support when the government was left-wing or with zero euros when it was the Popular Party.

Every year the data of the open graves and the exhumations, both those carried out and those that have failed, will be published. If they are found on land whose owner does not give consent, the administration will be able to authorize temporary occupation and compensate the owners. The transfer of victims’ remains without administrative authorisation will be considered a very serious offence (fines of between 10,000 and 150,000 euros), as will the destruction of graves.

Until now, when a memorialist association found skeletal remains, especially with signs of violence, they would bring it to the attention of the nearest court, an act that did not do much good because they are considered prescribed offenses and the file was immediately archived, continuing the association with its work. From the law, they are obliged to bring it to the attention of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the administrations, creating a special prosecutor for the crimes of war and dictatorship.

When these associations completed the work of identification, they returned the remains to their relatives in public acts, but with the law a representative of the public authorities will always have to be present. Another novelty is the creation of a national DNA bank, where biological samples from relatives will be stored for comparison with a view to future identifications.

What will happen with the Francoist foundations

The law points to the supervisory body of the foundations, the Protectorate, as the body responsible for judicially urging the extinction of a foundation that makes apology. of Francoism and humiliate the victims, since if it only exalts the dictatorship it would fall within the territory of ideological freedom, as the General Council of the Judiciary warned the Government.

How the public policy of memory will be articulated

There is currently a Secretariat of State for Democratic Memory, created by the Government of Pedro Sánchez. With the law, a Territorial Council of Democratic Memory will be incorporated, attached to the Ministry of the Presidency, in which the autonomous communities and municipalities will participate through the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces.

The law does not foresee the creation of an office that would serve as a one-stop shop or interlocutor for the victims’ families. Nor does it provide for a specific institute to investigate and accompany victims in processes such as the exhumations of the Valley of the Fallen, as does exist in the Basque Country with Gogora.

There will also be a catalogue of anti-memorial vestiges to be eliminated and another of places linked to memory, the struggle of citizens for their rights, the repression and violence resulting from the resistance to the coup d’état of 1936, the exile and the struggle for the recovery of democratic values. This last inventory of assets will have a protection regime and will be published in the BOE. Destroying or undermining a place of memory will also be a very serious offence, as well as carrying out acts of exaltation of the war or the dictatorship in spaces open to the public that belittle the victims or their relatives. It will be seen whether the acts carried out on 20 November or the tributes to the Blue Division fall into this category.

Another newly created entity will be the Council of Democratic Memory, a consultative body with the participation of the Government and memorialist entities. In addition, a state register of the entities that make up the memorialist movement is envisaged, provided that they are legally constituted.

What the documentary archive of memory will be like

It will be centralized. The law remains committed to the Documentary Centre of Historical Memory, located in Salamanca, with the function of gathering and recovering all possible documentary collections.

The future of the Valley of the Fallen

With the approved law, the burial there of José Antonio Primo de Rivera will be illegal, so that its exhumation would be the next step. The Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, which depends on National Heritage and which has regulated since 1957 the monument and the rest of the facilities under the care of the Benedictine monks, such as the choir and the guest house, will be extinguished.

The crypts of the Basilica will form a civil cemetery, which will be dignified and all the people who ask for the exhumation of their relatives buried there will be attended to. A royal decree will be issued to establish the new legal framework for the Valley of the Fallen, which in the Law of Democratic Memory will continue to be called as Franco decided.

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