The Sunday Telegraph
Franco’s legacy has become battleground against Socialist government
Perched in his gold-rimmed baroque-style armchair in the bay windows of his Madrid home, the grandson of General Francisco Franco offers his thoughts on attempts to seize his family’s summer palace.
“The government is trying to rewrite history by decree,” he says calmly. “But you cannot wipe out historical facts. In the end people get angry when they realise they are being deceived and go the opposite way.”
His words are another shot at the Socialist government over its moves to dismantle the symbols and vestiges of the dictatorship in a country often accused of failing to confront its past.
The Franco family’s Pazo de Meirás is the latest chapter of a growing conflict with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which has included removing the dictator’s body from a mausoleum to a low-key grave. Spanish courts have backed the government’s claim that the palace belongs to the state. A recent ruling, however, said the government was wrong to strip the family of all the mansion’s contents.
For 66-year-old Francisco Franco, the third-eldest of the seven children of Franco’s only daughter, who died in 2017, the Pazo de Meirás is the place of his childhood memories. For Spain’s government and Left-wing voters, it’s a symbol of a dictatorial privilege that was an anomaly after Spain’s return to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975.
“It hurts to lose the palace. It would have killed my mother to see this; it was the only house that was a real home to her,” Mr Franco said. The mansion with crenelated towers amid 16 acres of lush grounds in Galicia, was given to Franco in 1938 by dignitaries who wished to curry favour with the general whose Nationalist troops were close to victory in Spain’s civil war.
After Franco’s death, the family enjoyed the property until 2008, when it was declared a cultural interest and they had to open to the public. They were then criticised for failing to hand the responsibility over to the Francisco Franco Foundation (FFF), whose tour guides lionised the fascist.
In 2018 Franco’s heirs put the Pazo up for sale for €8million (£6.9million), and various government bodies moved to dispute their ownership of a property expanded and maintained with public money during the dictator’s lifetime. Last September a judge in A Coruña ruled that the property was not a personal possession of the dictator, meaning he could not legally bequeath it to his heirs.
Mr Franco argues that the ownership issue is “not black and white” but has little faith that Spain’s Supreme Court judges will rule in the family’s favour on appeal.
“The government is pulling out all the stops to control the judiciary and use any legal trick to take what doesn’t belong to it. The justices will take the easy way out and agree with the lower courts. Spain is a country of cowards.”
Spain is more polarised than at any time since Franco’s death. Mr Sánchez moved in 2019 to exhume him from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum. Polls showed that only a narrow majority approved the removal of the dictator from his tomb in a basilica he had built by political prisoners, and whose crypt still contains the remains of 33,000 dead from both sides in the civil war.
Spain’s government is also changing the law to make glorifying the Franco regime and FFF illegal. It also wants to convert the Valley of the Fallen into a civil cemetery, void Franco’s court martials and exhume the tens of thousands of war dead in mass graves.
Mr Franco says the government is using a “Communist” vision of history to “deflect attention” from its handling of Covid, with the opposition accusing it of lying about the numbers of dead and authoritarian tendencies, an economy in tatters and unemployment at 16 per cent. He said: “Franco united Spain and he knew that democracy would be installed after his death.”