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The last public statue commemorating General Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator who was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and violent human rights abuses, has come down. Located at the city gates of Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the northern coast of Morocco, the monument was erected in 1978 to commemorate Franco’s role in the Rif War, a conflict between Spanish colonial forces and the Berber tribes of the Moroccan Rif region.
“It’s a day for history,” tweeted the local government of Melilla, along with images of the sculpture being dismantled and carried off Tuesday night.
Franco rose to power during Spain’s bloody Civil War and ruled the country in a one-party military dictatorship until 1975. His regime is remembered primarily for its silencing and assassination of political opponents and civilians during and after the war, a period known as the White Terror or Francoist Repression.
In 2007, Spain’s former Socialist government passed the Historical Memory Law, which mandated the removal of any Franco symbols, including monuments and street names. But the process has been slow going. As of 2019, more than a thousand streets and squares in Spain still bore the names of Franco-era government figures, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE).
During the vote by the local assembly this Monday, Javier da Costa, a deputy of Spain’s far-right Vox party, defended the statue as a “cultural asset and part of Melilla’s history.” He also argued that the monument was a tribute to Franco as Commander of the Spanish Legion forces that protected Melilla during the war, and should thus be exempt from the Historical Memory Law.
Nevertheless, the motion to remove the sculpture passed by a majority vote, with only the Vox party voting against and the conservative Popular Party (PP) abstaining.
The symbolic move to reckon with its past comes as Spain grapples with a tumultuous dialogue over free speech in the present. Over the last week, mass protests have rocked the country following the arrest of Pablo Hasél, a rapper who was given a nine-month prison sentence for tweets and song lyrics praising terrorist organizations and criticizing the Spanish royal family. The incident has spurred a national debate about freedom of expression and international calls for Spain to repeal legislation that curtails artistic liberties. A petition signed by hundreds of Spanish cultural figures, including film director Pedro Almodóvar, said Hasél’s detainment endangers all public figures who “dare to openly criticize the actions of state institutions.”