Dissonant Heritage

Growing public awareness that Republicans had been buried in the crypts drew the Valley of the Fallen into the centre of the debate about the Civil War memory. The monument became a matter of controversy and diverse proposals were put forward for its transformation. Simply entering the monument’s name in any Internet search engine will suffice to appreciate the huge impact of the discussion on its origin, nature, present significance and potential fate in the context of our democratic society.

The social movement seeking to recover our historical memory has played a key role in this far-reaching debate. Positions range from retaining the monument’s status quo (for those who consider it is already a monument to national reconciliation) to its total demolition, and include the call for greater institutional involvement in its transformation in the context of Spain’s democratic identity, by those who consider it a place of Francoist exaltation with regard to which action must be taken.

The social movement has been involved in multiple initiatives to visibilize the monument’s contradictions over the last fifteen years, with considerable impact in the media. Apart from the work done by Asociación de Familiares Pro-Exhumación de los Republicanos del Valle to recover the remains in the crypts, other initiatives should be highlighted: Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica has continually called for the resignification of the monument; since 2007, Foro Social de la Sierra – and later Federación Estatal de Foros por la Memoria and other associations – have organized demonstrations calling for truth, justice and reparation for the victims of Francoism at the entrance to the monument, particularly to protest against the residual celebrations that continued to take place at the monument every 20 November.

Additionally, once the Valley and the management of the Civil War memory entered the public arena, the monument acquired an international dimension as a site of memory, arousing considerable interest abroad and leading to a search for similarities with other complex memory sites worldwide. Major media outlets like The New Yorker, the BBC and the New York Times have reflected the controversy regarding the Valley, which has likewise been widely circulated on social media. Numerous experts on memory politics and the public management of controversial monuments have also taken an interest in the Valley’s fate.

One example is a project entitled “Integrated approach to dissonant heritage in Europe” run by the German Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, which has chosen the Valley as one of ten European monuments in a comparative study. Another comparative project is “Contested Histories”, an initiative of the European consortium EUROCLIO whose members aim to educate people about the past and about memorials in conflict, which has also included the Valley on its repertoire of sites for study and reflection.

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