Saturday, September 15, 2007

Time Catches Up With Fascist Progeny In Spain

THESE are difficult days for the heirs of General Francisco Franco. One of the dictator’s grandsons has been arrested for allegedly beating his girlfriend and a granddaughter was ridiculed for taking part in Spain’s equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing.

More worrying, however, were demands in parliament last week for the Franco clan, reputed to be one of the wealthiest in Spain, to vacate some of its sumptuous properties on the grounds that they had been expropriated by the former leader.

The battle began some months ago when the regional government of Galicia announced that the Pazo de Meiras, the family’s summer residence, was part of Spain’s cultural heritage and should be opened to the public.

Supposedly given to the generalisimo by the people “to congratulate” him on victory in the 1936-39 civil war, this historic three-turreted mansion was in need of renovation after a fire in 1978, the authorities argued. The family ignored an offer of financial help to repair it and on August 30, when a delegation of architects, historians and archeologists arrived to do a survey, they were not allowed in.

The government has since gone to court, threatening the Francos with a fine of £45,000 if they refuse to cooperate.

There were also demands last week that the Francos return other houses “given” to the dictator. Among them are a 2,000-square-metre palace outside Madrid and the 18th-century palace of Cornilde in Corunna. Francis, one of Franco’s seven grandchildren, has been building 4,000 homes on a plot of land confiscated by the dictator in Madrid in 1960.

The Francos’ wealth is matched by flamboyant lifestyles: scarcely a day seems to pass when Carmen Martinez Bordiu, the 56-year-old granddaughter of the late fascist leader, is not seen in a celebrity magazine.

Last month Jaime Martinez Bordiu, her brother, was held by Marbella police and accused of beating his girlfriend.

After the death of Franco in 1975, the government judged it better to encourage forgiveness than to stir antagonisms that could engulf the fledgling democracy. “Recovering goods held by the Franco family at that time was considered unthinkable without provoking riots,” said Jesus Andreu, a professor of political science.

The public mood has altered, however, and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Socialist prime minister and grandson of a republican executed by Franco’s soldiers, has cut off funding for the Franco foundation run by Carmen Franco Polo, 81, the daughter of the dictator.

Zapatero has said he wants to heal the wounds of the war and one initiative is payment of reparation to victims on both sides. It is unlikely the Francos will qualify for any more funds.

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