World News

Dove Painted on Franco’s Tomb Reignites a Debate

Posted October 31, 2018 10:29 p.m. EDT

MADRID — A Spanish artist painted a dove on the tomb of Gen. Francisco Franco on Wednesday as a protest against the former dictator, the latest in a series of controversies over his tomb and plans to move his remains.

The artist, Enrique Tenreiro, smuggled red paint through the security gate of the huge underground basilica that Franco had built, spray-painting the words “For Freedom” along with the dove on the tomb.

Tenreiro, who was taken away by a guard and faces a police investigation, issued a statement saying he had not meant to offend Franco’s family and supporters, but had wanted to “alleviate the suffering of those who lost a Civil War that shouldn’t have occurred.”

What does the government plan to do with Franco’s remains?

The protest came amid a heated debate set off by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s decision to exhume Franco’s remains from the basilica, built on a site known as the Valley of the Fallen, an hour’s drive from Madrid.

Spain’s new Socialist government believes Franco should no longer be honored in a place that the dictator also turned into one of Europe’s largest mass graves, containing the remains of at least 33,000 people killed during and after the Spanish Civil War. Most had fought for Franco, but the remains of many of his opponents were also anonymously dumped there.

What happens next?

Shortly after taking office in June, Sánchez announced that Franco’s exhumation would happen immediately.

In September, the government won approval from parliament for the exhumation. But it has yet to determine exactly when and where to relocate the remains. Franco’s family has opposed his exhumation but says he could be reburied inside the crypt of Madrid’s cathedral — a proposal the government has vowed to block.

The issue has gone beyond politics. Because Franco’s basilica is run by Benedictine monks, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo, raised the matter during an official visit to the Vatican on Monday. The Vatican does not have a direct say in the relocation, though its backing could be helpful.

Proposals for the current burial site are already being offered. José Guirao, Spain’s culture minister, has suggested the Valley of the Fallen be transformed in the way that Nazi concentration camps were opened to the public after World War II, “so that people don’t forget the horror.”

Albert Rivera, one of the main opposition leaders, has said he wants to create a Spanish national cemetery comparable to Arlington in the United States.

Have artists targeted Franco before?

Another artist, Eugenio Merino, exhibited a statue of the dictator inside a Coca-Cola refrigerator during Madrid’s art fair in 2012.

In 2016, when Barcelona hosted an exhibition about Franco’s legacy, the centerpiece was an outdoor equestrian statue of the dictator — headless from an earlier act of vandalism. Activists pelted the statue with eggs, splashed it with paint and eventually knocked it over, only a few days after the start of the show.