It’s been more than 80 years since Francisco Franco started a civil war to topple a nascent left-wing republic in Spain. As many as 500,000 people died in the fighting. But the legacy of that conflict — and the military dictatorship that followed — remains a bitterly divisive issue in Spain.
In September, Spain’s parliament voted to remove Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen, the mountain mausoleum that the dictator built for himself after the war and where he’s been buried since his death in 1975.
But Spaniards are split over the decision to exhume Franco. Proponents see the exhumation as a necessary pathway toward a true democracy.
“Removing Franco from the Valley is a democratic obligation,” Marcos González, Vice President of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, told VICE News. “If we want a full democracy in Spain, a fascist, dictator and murderer cannot have a privileged place.”
But others view the country’s civil war as settled history, and worry the new effort will only stoke division.
“This path does not lead to reconciliation. They are dragging out feelings that we’d put behind us, and that Spaniards had already overcome,” said Juan Chicharro, President of the National Francisco Franco Foundation. Chicharro is leading the charge against exhuming the dictator.
After Franco’s remains are removed from the site, Spain’s government says it wants to make the Valley into a public cemetery and set up a truth commission to reach a consensus about the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship.