'Hands off our summer palace': Franco's grandson accuses Spain of rewriting history

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A provincial government in Spain is moving to seize Pazo de Meiras, the summer palace of former dictator Francisco Franco - Getty
A provincial government in Spain is moving to seize Pazo de Meiras, the summer palace of former dictator Francisco Franco - Getty

Perched in his gold-rimmed baroque-style armchair in the bay windows of his Madrid home, the grandson of General Franco offers his thoughts on attempts to seize his family's summer palace.

“The government is trying to rewrite history by decree," he says calmly. "But fortunately you cannot wipe out historical facts. And in the end people get angry when they realise they are being deceived and go the opposite way."

His words are another shot at the Socialist government over its moves to dismantle the symbols and vestiges of the dictatorship in a country often accused of failing to confront its past.

The Franco family’s Pazo de Meirás summer palace is the latest chapter of a growing conflict with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which has included digging up the dictator and removing his body from a vast mausoleum to a low-key grave.

Spanish courts have so far sided with the government's claim that the palace belongs to the state. A recent ruling, however, said the government was wrong to strip the family of all the mansion’s contents.

'It would have killed my mother to see this'
'It would have killed my mother to see this'

For 66-year-old Francisco Franco, the third-eldest of the seven children of Franco’s only daughter, who died in 2017, the Pazo de Meirás is the place of his brightest childhood memories. For Spain’s government and millions of Left-wing voters, it’s a symbol of a dictatorial privilege that was an anomaly after Spain’s return to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975.

“It hurts to lose the palace. It would have killed my mother to see this; it was the only house that was a real home to her,” Mr Franco said in an interview conducted in his Madrid home.

The Pazo de Meirás, a mansion with crenelated towers amid 16 acres of lush grounds in Galicia, was given to Franco in 1938 by local dignitaries who wished to curry favour with the general whose Nationalist troops were close to victory in Spain’s civil war.

Francisco Franco y Martinez-Bordiu flicking through family photos - Rafael Fabres
Francisco Franco y Martinez-Bordiu flicking through family photos - Rafael Fabres

After Franco’s death, the family carried on enjoying the property with few questions asked until 2008, when it was declared a site of cultural interest and they were forced to open it to public visits, something they were criticised for failing to organise properly and then handing the responsibility over to the Francisco Franco Foundation (FFF), whose tour guides lionised the fascist dictator.

In 2018 Franco’s heirs put the Pazo up for sale with an €8 million price tag, and various government bodies moved to dispute their ownership of a property that was expanded and maintained with public money during the dictator’s lifetime. Last September a judge in the city of A Coruña ruled that the property was not a personal possession of the dictator, meaning he could not legally bequeath it to his heirs.

Mr Franco argues that the ownership issue is “not black and white”, but has little faith that Spain’s Supreme Court judges will rule in the family’s favour on appeal.

“The government is pulling out all the stops to control the judiciary and use any legal trick so that it can take what doesn’t belong to it. I think the justices will take the easy way out and agree with the lower courts. Spain is a country of cowards.”

Francisco Franco y Martinez-Bordiu at home in Madrid  - Rafael Fabres
Francisco Franco y Martinez-Bordiu at home in Madrid - Rafael Fabres

Spain is politically more polarised than at any other time since Franco’s death, and the legacy of the dictator has become a fierce battleground. Mr Sánchez’s moved in 2019 to exhume his body from the monumental Valley of the Fallen mausoleum against the family’s wishes.

Polls showed that only a narrow majority of Spaniards approved the removal of the dictator from his tomb inside a basilica he had built mainly by political prisoners in the 1940s and 1950s, and whose crypt still contains the remains of more than 33,000 dead from both sides in the civil war.

Spain’s government is also drawing up a reform to the country’s historical memory laws promising to make glorifying the Franco regime and the FFF illegal. It also wants to convert the Valley of the Fallen into a civil cemetery, void the dictatorship’s court martial decisions and launch a nationwide plan to exhume the tens of thousands of war dead who remain in mass graves.

General Franco's former resting place, the Valley of the Fallen
General Franco's former resting place, the Valley of the Fallen

For Mr Franco, the government is using the family and a “Communist” vision of history to “deflect attention” from its controversial handling of Covid-19, with the opposition accusing it of lying about the numbers of dead and authoritarian tendencies, and an economy in tatters and unemployment at 16 per cent.

He said: “Franco united Spain and he knew that democracy would be installed after his death.”

Mr Franco and his siblings successfully sued the producers and participants of two television programmes for repeating claims of corruption and that Franco’s heirs had amassed a fortune of more than 500 million euros.

“With the information that is being bandied around today, anyone under the age of 50 is bound to think that my grandfather was a monster. I am under the microscope; I have had three tax inspections in the last five years, but I have nothing to hide.”