When the recovery of historical memory goes down to the street, to the ground, to the cemetery or to the grave, it ends up running into the window of a town hall. This has been the recent case of the Leonese town of Villadangos del Páramo, which transferred to its neighborhood council the granting of permission to the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) to excavate a common grave in the cemetery in which it is presumed that there are about 70 bodies. The people said no, but the vice president of the Junta de Castilla y León appeared last Monday in the town to settle the matter and activate the exhumation immediately.
Pay a pro-Franco tax on the verge of extinction to exhume graves of victims of the dictatorship
The new memory model in which the State Secretariat for Democratic Memory works articulates its management at the different levels of the State structure, from the state to the municipal, in line with what is already drawn by the future Democratic Memory Law, which is in the parliamentary procedure phase. The municipalities already have in their hand the way to address the memory, although they could have done it previously, with their own will and budget, which is difficult in the case of small councils. All administrations will have to comply with the public policy of searching for graves, both directly and indirectly, collaborating and financing the associations that present projects to carry it out.
Without having to wait for this law and based on the 2007 Historical Memory Law, this articulation at the municipal level began in October 2020 with the transfer of 750,000 euros to the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) for technical work of investigation, location, exhumation and identification of persons disappeared in graves. With this money, the FEMP financed 92 actions, most of them exhumations and, for the most part, in cemeteries.
The 92 municipalities belonged to all the autonomous communities except five: Cantabria, Galicia, Murcia, Navarra and La Rioja. For example, the remains of 10 women in the grave of the Farasdués cemetery (Ejea de los Caballeros, Zaragoza), with the initiative of the councilor who had written a book about it and carried out by the Charata Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory and the Aragonese Memorialist History and Archeology Collective (CHAMA).
At that time, the ARMH, which has been carrying out exhumations for 20 years and is one of the main memorial entities, raised its fears of this transfer of responsibility to the municipalities. His spokesman, Bonifacio Sánchez, described as “nonsense” that “it depends on the will of each city council.” Sánchez did not fail to overlook the fact that the FEMP is chaired by Abel Caballero, also the mayor of Vigo, “who refuses to comply with the Historical Memory Law in his own city,” he said. Caballero appealed in 2014 a court ruling for the removal of the Cruz do Castro, a Francoist monument. This was the purpose that the Viguesa Pola Memoria Histórica do 36 Association was pursuing for years, socially and judicially, without achieving it; the cross still stands. Similarly, the president of the ARMH, Emilio Silva, recently explained that it is “a mechanism that will generate discrimination between families that will have municipal support and others that will not.” Silva has reiterated his request that the family members be able to go directly to a higher authority, such as the Government of Spain, through the delegations and sub-delegations.
This game from the FEMP was just a snack, the municipalities will receive one million euros over four years and the first call for municipalities to request subsidies is now open.
Always stumble over the same stone
The antecedents of impediments and confrontations at the municipal level are sound and hence the fear of the ARMH, as well as the State Federation of Forums for Memory, which is also concerned that the responsibilities and initiatives depend on the municipalities. “As we defend that all exhumations must be done within a judicial procedure, the municipalities have nothing to say,” says its president, Arturo Peinado. It is not just about the search for the disappeared, since the priority of the memorial movement organized around the forums is more on “ritualization” than on exhumations. Xulio García Bilbao, from the Forum for the Memory of Guadalajara, points out the efforts of the Guadalajara City Council to “make invisible” all memory work. “The agreements taken five years ago are now being fulfilled,” he indicates, when the PP ruled. The city has had to wait for a PSOE mayor to govern to activate four motions presented by Now Guadalajara that were already approved: a memorial for the deportees, the name change of six streets dedicated to coup plotters – it was approved in 2015 and has been changed a few days ago—, the installation of a monument in the cemetery and, finally, that the ARMH was not charged a fee for carrying out exhumations.
The partisan interests that instrumentalize memory are key when it comes to understanding the criticism of municipal management. If in the case of Guadalajara, when passing from a government of the PP to one of the PSOE, recognition actions are unlocked, in Oviedo, with the transition from a PSOE mayor’s office, Somos Oviedo and Izquierda Unida to one of the PP with Citizens, hides and does not open a previously subsidized exhibition. This is what happened to Su Alonso and Inés Marful with their exhibition on the reprisals of the Franco regime Ereignis. Vox clamantis.
More dissuasive than collection rates
The ARMH once again encountered the obstacles of a city council in Almadén (Ciudad Real) that delayed the deadlines by two months to grant them the permits. In addition to the bureaucracy trap, the councils have given the memorialists a pulse with the application of fees. This happened in Guadalajara, where a receipt of 2,057 euros was sent to the ARMH for the exhumation of Timoteo Mendieta and 27 other bodies victims of Franco’s repression, a tax that is usually applied to funeral companies that carry out activities in cemeteries , for which they charge money to the families who request them.
Funespaña, a private company concessionaire for the management of the Arganda del Rey cemetery (the first to be done with forensic guarantees in the Community of Madrid, in 2013) did exactly the same when it wanted to charge the same association 728 euros for the exhumation of a grave common in which there were three bodies of deceased in the Battle of Jarama. The explanation of the Arganda City Council, which at that time was governed by the PP, was that the burials were identified in the corresponding book and, therefore, it was “a regular burial.” This was not the only impediment, since the legal service tried to disassociate the ARMH from the exhumation by introducing historical trials: the Battle of Jarama faced “two regular armies” so that “the elements that would legitimize the petitioning association are excluded. his performance”. The Historical Memory Law had been approved for seven years.
The councils also appear, unexpectedly, asking for fees, such as the 150 euros required by the Avila council for an exhumation of three Franco-dictatorships in the municipality of Casillas. This same summer, another organization, this time the Duero River Basin, paid a fee that came from the Franco regime to the same association for exhuming a mass grave in León. In all cases, the memorialists have refused to pay and it is not until the media echoes and the protests appear that, what seemed unappealable, dissolves like wet paper.