The remains of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange party, are being removed from a grand basilica to be buried in a low-key family grave as part of Spain’s efforts to stop the glorification of its fascist past.
Monday’s exhumation comes six months after Spain passed a law aimed at tackling the legacy of the 1936-39 civil war and decades of dictatorship that followed.
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The party Primo de Rivera founded in 1933 became one of the pillars of Francisco Franco’s brutal regime, along with the military and Spain’s Roman Catholic Church.
Primo de Rivera was executed in November 1936 at the start of the war for conspiring against the elected Republican government.
He was buried in 1959 inside the basilica at the Valley of the Fallen, 50km (30 miles) northwest of Madrid, where the body of former dictator Franco also once lay.
Early on Monday, two black funeral cars could be seen outside the complex.
The remains will be transferred to San Isidro Cemetery in Madrid. Primo de Rivera’s descendants chose April 24 because it falls exactly 120 years since his birth.
Under Spain’s so-called Democratic Memory Laws, no figure linked to the 1936 military coup, which triggered the civil war, should be buried in “a prominent public place”, so acts of homage or exultation are avoided.
According to reports by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, a dozen of Primo de Rivera’s supporters were present.
They did not bring flags or banners, which the law prohibits, but some supporters were overheard saying, “José Antonio is present.”
Symbol of Francoism
The basilica, topped by a 150-metre (500-foot) stone cross, and mausoleum house the remains of more than 30,000 victims from both sides of the civil war.
It is a deeply divisive symbol of a past that Spain still finds difficult to digest.
The law passed in October aims to turn the Valley of the Fallen into a place of memory for the dark years of the dictatorship.
It also promotes the search for the regime’s victims, who are buried in mass graves across Spain, and annuls the criminal convictions of opponents of the Franco regime.
Right-wing parties say the law needlessly dredges up the past.
Santiago Abascal, leader of far-right Vox movement, accused the government of seeking to “once again desecrate tombs and dig up hatred” with Primo de Rivera’s exhumation.
Spain is gearing up for regional and local elections on May 28 and a year-end general election, which polls suggest will be tight.