This week marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Spain’s fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. The Caudillo’s dictatorship began in 1939, and from its inception it was characterised by a strong anti-communist sentiment and close alliance with the Catholic Church. During the first few years of the dictatorship hundreds of thousands died as a result of dire poverty, disease, and political execution. Franco’s regime curbed all political freedoms, establishing his Falange as the only political party and eradicating free elections. The banning of the regional languages of Catalonia and the Basque country was a crucial aspect of this repression, and the devolutionist attitude of such regions today serves as a reminder of Franco’s legacy.
Although Franco’s regime became comparatively less autocratic throughout the century, it was still riddled with problems. Spain was ostracised for its fascist ideology in the post-war period and did not become a member of the United Nations until 1955. It experienced dire economic problems until the 1960s, which heralded the advent of the ‘Spanish Miracle’ and a burgeoning tourist industry in the 1970s.
Although Franco died in 1975, change after such a long and severe regime was inevitably slow. Juan Carlos I became the head of a constitutional monarchy, but this was only legitimised in 1978 when the Spanish Constitution was enacted after a referendum. The first Prime Minister to succeed Franco, Adolfo Suárez, had the task of aligning old Francoist politicians with the transition to democracy, and resistance could be seen up until 1981, reflect by an attempted military coup.
Franco’s legacy remains both prevalent and divisive. While some champion his ‘traditional values’, others still feel the regional impact of his policies today. Although the last public statue of him in Spain was taken down in 2005, the memory of his dictatorship remains ubiquitous; what is necessary now is a retrieval of the historical evidence lost during the regime and a focus on the memory of the victims of Francoism.
Image: Eugenio Morales