Spain’s Democratic Memory Law came into effect on Friday, aiming to unveil what happened during the Spanish Civil War and under the Franco regime while bringing justice to victims.
“Citizens have an inalienable right to understand the historical truth about the violence and terror imposed by the Franco regime, as well as the values and acts of democratic resistance,” reads the 55-page legislation published in Spain’s official state gazette.
Between 1939 and 1975, Francisco Franco ruled Spain after the Spanish Civil War. After his death, Spain transitioned into a democracy.
A key part of the bill includes finding the estimated 140,000 civilians who were forcibly disappeared during the nearly four-decade era. To those ends, the government must create a map of disappearances and a national DNA bank to help identify bodies unearthed in mass graves.
The law also clears the name of all those sentenced to political crimes by Francoist courts and eliminates 33 titles of nobility granted by the regime.
As of Friday, the Valley of the Fallen, once a massive mausoleum to Franco before his body was removed in 2019, has changed its name to the Valley of Cuelgamuros, as stipulated by the law.
The monument contains the remains of hundreds of people who fell victim to the war, as well as other right-wing leaders such as José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Under the law, anyone other than victims of the war will be exhumed.
While the bill also says that organizations engaged in Franco apologizm will be closed, Spain’s Francisco Franco National Foundation, created in 1976 to protect the dictator’s legacy, is still online. It vows that any attempts to close it will be met with a fierce legal battle.
Meanwhile, the bill guarantees free and universal access to public and private archives related to the war and dictatorship.
What is taught in Spanish schools will also be updated to reflect “the repression that occurred during the war and the dictatorship.”
The law is a milestone for Spain’s left-wing coalition government, which insists it will strengthen the foundation for human rights.
But politicians from the conservative Popular Party have vowed to repeal the law when they take office. The party’s leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo says the bill goes against the 1977 Amnesty Law, also known as the pact of forgetting, that he says helped Spain transition to democracy.
The new legislation does not overturn the 1977 law, but emphasizes that international humanitarian law prevails, meaning war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot be subject to amnesty.
While many family members of victims of the regime have come out in support of the bill, others say it doesn’t go far enough.
In comments to Anadolu Agency, Emilio Silva, head of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, criticized the bill for not mentioning the role of the Catholic Church once.
He also pointed out that while institutions repressed under Francoism are entitled to compensation, “people who had their homes, lands and savings taken away … won’t get a penny back.”