Spanish tempers fray over Franco anniversary
Police kept the crowd of about 200 chanting “Franco! Franco! Franco!” away from the Femen members who ran into the gathering.
Protesters were filmed being kicked by Franco supporters as they lay on the floor, while others were grabbed and hurled to the ground.
The rally is held on the Sunday closest to November 20, when Franco died in 1975 after ruling Spain for 36 years.
The topless Femen activists had “Legal fascism, national shame” written across their chests and “stop 20N” on their backs, in reference to the anniversary.
The Franco supporters marched to Madrid’s Royal Palace with placards reading “movement for Spain” and “Sánchez stand down and leave Franco in peace”.
Spain’s minority Socialist government, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, plans to exhume Franco’s remains from the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) mausoleum northwest of Madrid that Franco ordered to be built as a memorial to the 1936-39 civil war. Around 34,000 people from both sides of the fighting are buried at the site, most of them never identified. It was partially built by the forced labour of political prisoners and activists say Franco should not have been buried with the war dead.
The decision has infuriated fascist groups and drawn criticism from Spain’s centre-right parties, who consider it unnecessarily provocative.
The parliament has approved a motion paving the way for the exhumation but Franco’s grandchildren want the remains moved to la Almudena cathedral in central Madrid, where they own a plot. The government fears that this would make the cathedral a far-right pilgrimage site.
On Sunday, supporters of the government’s plan to move Franco’s bones gathered at the Valley of the Fallen.
The protesters held a banner reading, “Truth, justice and compensation for the victims of Franco”.
They chanted: “We won’t forgive, we won’t forget!”
Last month, the activist artist Enrique Tenreiro painted a red dove on Franco’s tomb next to the main altar in the basilica at the Valley of the Fallen.
The ruling Unidos Podemos coalition has drawn up about 60 amendments to the 2007 historical memory law, including the proposed creation of a special prosecutor to pursue abuses committed by the regime. An amnesty currently prevents legal action from being taken.
The coalition also calls for the dismantling of the 150-metre-tall cross at the Valley of the Fallen.
The government is expected to present the amendments in the coming days, including plans to exhume the body of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of the Falange party who was killed at the beginning of the war in 1936.
It also wants to withdraw nobility titles awarded by Franco, saying the process will be completed by the end of the year.
Femen protesters in Madrid on Sunday. Picture credit: YouTube