Factbox: Franco – Polarizing Spain in life and death

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MADRID (Reuters) – Spain will remove Francisco Franco’s remains from the state mausoleum where he rests on Thursday, as the socialist government seeks to end decades of controversy over the dictator’s resting place.

FILE PHOTO: Former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco (left) speaks from the balcony of the Royal Palace in Madrid next to then-Prince Juan Carlos of Spain in this undated file photo. / Photo by archive

EARLY LIFE

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was born in the northwestern region of Galicia on December 4, 1892, the son of a naval payer and the second of five children.

At 14, he entered the Infantry Academy of Toledo near Madrid, from which he graduated three years later.

A fervent Catholic throughout his life, he quickly rose through the Spanish military ranks and, propelled by a reputation as an effective commander, became one of the youngest generals in Europe at 33.

CIVIL WAR

In July 1936, Franco led an anti-government revolt by army garrisons in the then Spanish-controlled part of Morocco, as a prelude to a widespread uprising the next day on the Spanish mainland.

Supported by right-wing parties, landowners, industrialists, the aristocracy, the Catholic Church and monarchists, the rebellion asserted control over much of Spain, but met resistance from the military. Republican government left in Madrid and other cities.

A civil war broke out in which Franco came to play the leading role. In three years of bitter conflict, he turned Spain into Europe’s ideological battleground, killing around 500,000 people and sowing bitter divisions.

Franco was first excluded from a junta formed when the coup leader, General Jose Sanjurjo, died in a plane crash shortly after the uprising, but he joined it in August after that its Moroccan columns had crossed the continent and advanced towards Madrid.

The rebel generals gathered near Salamanca in September to choose a leader, opting for Franco thanks to his successes on the battlefield and hoped that his fellow fascist leaders Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, with whom he had good relations, would provide military assistance.

Franco assumed the title of head of state and a nationalist government rivaling the elected Republican was installed in Burgos and recognized by Germany and Italy in November.

In April 1937, he merged the fascists of the Phalanx with other traditionalist factions to create the “Movement”, a one-party system that lasted until his death in 1975.

With the help of men, planes, and ammunition from Hitler and Mussolini, Franco defeated Soviet-backed Republicans to seize power in April 1939.

DICTATORSHIP

After crushing the last pockets of resistance, Franco unleashed a campaign of mass executions and imprisonment that lasted for much of the next decade.

His reign remained authoritarian. Other parties have been banned, active opposition figures have been jailed and the police have cracked down on all demonstrations by students or workers, often violently.

When World War II broke out in September 1939, Franco first declared Spain’s neutrality, but after the fall of France in June 1940, he became more openly sympathetic to the Nazis.

Although it was never an official ally, Spain sent a division to fight alongside Hitler’s forces in Russia and provided logistical support to German submarines and fighters.

The Franco regime was politically and economically isolated after the wartime defeat of Germany in 1945, which caused great hardship for most Spaniards.

During the Cold War, however, Franco’s staunch anti-Communist views found a receptive audience. The United States gave aid to Spain in 1953 and it joined the United Nations in 1955. Membership in NATO and the European Economic Community would, however, have to await Franco’s death in 1975.

Franco’s domestic policies became less repressive after Spain became a major tourist destination in the 1960s, although political opposition was still outlawed and censorship remained in place.

In 1969, he appointed as his official successor Prince Juan Carlos, grandson of Alfonso XIII, the Spanish monarch exiled when the Republicans took office in 1931.

Franco died on November 20, 1975. In a posthumous message, he asked forgiveness from all Spaniards. “As with all my heart, I forgive those who declared themselves to be my enemies … I believe that I had no enemies other than the enemies of Spain.”

POLARIZING LEGACY

Franco’s admirers saw him as a steady hand that fostered Spain’s longest period of peace after centuries of unrest, his detractors as a ruthless fascist who abrogated hard-won democratic freedoms.

In an effort to ease the transition to democracy after his death, Spain adopted a pact forgiving political crimes committed during the conflict and its dictatorship.

In 2007, the socialist government passed a law on historical memory which seeks to recognize those who suffered under Franco.

More than a decade later, the same party is keeping its promise to remove Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen complex, which it has long sought to turn into a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of civil war dead.

As the country heads towards national elections in November, the exhumation has revealed deep divisions in parliament. In 2018, only 176 lawmakers voted in favor of his transfer. Two were against while 165 members of the conservative and center-right Ciudadanos People’s Party abstained.

“We are closing a dark chapter in our history,” Interim Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said last month, while Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera accused him of “playing with Franco’s bones to divide us”.

Reporting by David Cutler, Reuters Archive; Written by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Cawthorne

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