Sat, Jan 03, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Spain orders Franco heirs to open up summer estate

THE GUARDIAN , MADRID

After a two-year battle with the government, heirs of the Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco have been ordered to open his flamboyant summer estate to the public.

The regional government of Galicia this week declared the late 19th-century property in the town of Sada a cultural heritage site. As such, El Pazo de Meiras must open its doors to the public four days a month. Franco’s heirs have asked the government to cover the cost of security on those days.

The move is the most recent step in Spain’s belated quest to come to terms with the legacy of its civil war and the Franco dictatorship. The last triumphant equestrian statute of the dictator was removed from public view last month — more than 30 years after his death.

Street signs honoring Franco and his generals have also recently been withdrawn from many towns, and volunteers have dug up the remains of his victims buried in mass graves.

The neomedieval estate was officially given as an “offering” by the city of La Coruna to the Generalissimo — “founder of the new empire,” according to the effusive gift-giving decree — amid the nationalistic furor of the civil war. But the money to pay for this gift came from taxpayers and forced donations by residents of the La Coruna region, where Franco was born.

“In reality, it was plunder dressed up as a purchase,” wrote Manuel Rivas, a Galician writer, in El Pais, adding that the palatial token was a “trophy of triumph.”

The fortress-like property and its surrounding gardens and forests was bought in 1938 from a writer, Emilia Pardo Bazan, for between 400,000 and 750,000 pesetas (US$334,000 and US$626,000), ABC newspaper reported. The generalissimo used it as a summer getaway during his 40-year dictatorship.

“I accept this gift with pleasure exclusively because it is a donation from my beloved countrymen,” Franco is quoted to have said on taking possession.

The Commission to Recover Historic Memory of La Coruna plans to offer guided tours describing the forced donations and other pressures that put El Pazo de Meiras into Franco’s hands.

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