Spain, historic event: last standing monument to Francisco Franco removed

Spain removed the last monument of Francisco Franco still standing in the public square-a day that has been called historic.

The day before yesterday, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, the last monument depicting Francisco Franco that had remained displayed in the public square on the territory of Spain was removed. It was a bronze statue that stood at the entrance to the port of Melilla, an autonomous city located on the coast of Morocco and which along with Ceuta is one of Spain’s two autonomous cities on African soil. The resolution to remove the statue had only been approved on Monday, with 14 votes in favor (eight from the Coalició por Melilla civic list, four from the PSOE, one from Ciudadanos, and one from councilman Jesús Delgado, an autonomous), 10 abstentions (all from the Partido Popular), and 1 against (the councilman from Vox).

The bronze statue, created by sculptor (as well as former military man) Enrique Novo Álvarez (Tuy, 1927 - 1995), depicts Franco in the garb of commander of the Spanish Foreign Legion during the War of the Rif, in which the future Spanish dictator took part: the war was fought between 1921 and 1926 in Spanish Morocco (the area on the north coast of the African state that Spain administered as a protectorate between 1912 and 1956), and saw on one side the Franco-Spanish alliance and on the other the Republic of the Rif, i.e., the state created in 1921 by Moroccan rebels who unilaterally declared independence from Spain, tired of colonialism (the Republic was later dissolved in 1926 when the war was won by the Franco-Spaniards).

Curiously, this was not a monument erected when Franco was alive: it was in fact erected in 1978, three years after the dictator’s death, following a 1975 city resolution ordering the erection of a monument to Franco in the guise of commander to commemorate that precise period in Spanish history. It was December 3 (a few days after the Caudillo’s death) when the Melilla administration decided to erect a monument to commemorate him. There was a national competition for a monument “to Generalissimo Franco,” won by Enrique Novo. Initially it was to be a monument depicting Franco in the guise of a head of state, but during its construction, for reasons not known but probably traceable to the fall of the dictatorship, they opted for a work depicting him in the guise of the commander of the War of the Rif, the liberator of Melilla. On October 23, 1977, shortly before the work was finished, all the leftist parties in Melilla issued a communiqué expressing their strong opposition to the operation, but the statue was installed anyway, on May 5, 1978, without any unveiling.

Melilla is probably the Spanish city where the legacy of the dictatorship has endured the longest: until 2010 it was still possible to see an equestrian monument to the dictator in the square, and until the other day, of course, the statue now removed (although it has been much criticized in the past). Removal has been talked about since at least 2019: everyone agrees except Vox, the right-wing populist and ultranationalist party, which objected to the operation because the statue depicts the “commander” Franco who fought in the Rif war and not the dictator, and because the monument was intended to celebrate the entry of the Spanish legion into Melilla, a fact that, according to Vox, could make Melilla remain a city of Spain.

Those in favor of the removal, on the other hand, see it as an application of the so-called Ley de Memoria Histórica, the “Law of Historical Memory” wanted in 2007 by the Zapatero government then further amended in 2020 by the Sánchez government: with the law, Spain repudiates and condemns the period of the dictatorship (which lasted from 1936 to 1975) and, among other measures, also provides for the withdrawal of symbols contrary to democratic memory (including monuments and streets named after the Caudillo and other exponents of the dictatorship) and prohibits activities that glorify the Franco regime. And removing the work to move it to a museum was talked about as early as 2009, but nothing was done about it until the day before yesterday.

“This is a historic day,” comments the Melilla City Council. “The last statue of Franco on a Spanish public street, which was located in our city, has been removed. We are following up on the mandate of the assembly, which yesterday approved the junta’s proposal by an absolute majority. Melilla thus applies the Law of Historical Memory.” However, the work to erase the presence of Francisco Franco and his regime from Spanish territory is still long. The main problem lies inodonomastics: in 2019 alone, the INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística) estimated in fact that there are still a thousand streets and squares with dedications still linked to the regime. In addition, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife there is still a huge monument dating back to 1966, the Monument to Su Excelencia el Jefe de Estado, in which an idealized figure standing on the wings of an angel, bearing a flag and a sword, was presented at the time of its creation as a depiction of the generalissimo. Today the work has undergone a name change(Monumento a la Victoria), and there is still debate about the character’s actual resemblance to Franco (and indeed, from the original description by the author, Juan de Ávalos, it appears to be an allegorical figure: “the island of Tenerife from which the Caudillo emerges emerges from a great pond, and an archangel in the form of an arrow advances toward the sea, and above it rides a figure who, naked, with only the flag covering it, a sword and his faith, advances toward victory.”) In contrast to the statue in Melilla, which is unquestionably a depiction of the dictator as a young man.

Spain, historic event: last standing monument to Francisco Franco removed
Spain, historic event: last standing monument to Francisco Franco removed

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