Court summons are starting to filter through for demonstrators who peacefully ‘invaded’ a palace in A Coruña last August to protest over its still belonging to dictator General Franco’s family some 80 years after it was reportedly ‘robbed’ from the people.
The Meirás country estate, with its faux-Mediaeval mansion (pictured), is said to have been donated to the dictator during the Civil War due to the region’s loyalty to him, given that he was born in the far-northern port town of Ferrol.
But historians have since shown the estate was ‘anything but’ a voluntary donation, and that local residents were forced to give up a slice of their hard-earned cash to buy, extend and furnish the Meirás complex for the dictator to use as his country pied à terre.
Almost ever since Galicia’s residents and politicians have been calling for the estate to become public property again.
As yet, the regional government has only managed to legally require the Francisco Franco Foundation to open it now and again to visitors, by declaring it an official heritage site.
But the family refused to open it as planned on August 30, and 19 activists entered, waving banners.
They left two hours later when ordered to do so by the Guardia Civil, without putting up any resistance.
The protesters did not break in, but instead climbed the boundary wall and went up the tower, spreading out a huge banner on the roof.
One demonstrator, 32-year-old Lucía López, says the first and most striking sight inside the palace was a giant bust of Franco, and that ‘as you go through the house, it becomes clear its only purpose is as a shrine to the dictator’.
Now, some of the activists have received court summons and been informed that they could face up to 13 years in jail for breaking and entering – which includes the tort of trespassing, in Spain – property damage, slander or ‘harming the reputation’ of a dead or living person, and ‘hate crimes’.
The legal action was filed by Franco’s children, Carmen Franco – who died earlier this year – and José Cristóbal Martínez Bordiú who, along with other relatives, are trustees of the Francisco Franco Foundation.
The protesters who have been notified of the attempt to prosecute them are outraged at being accused of ‘hate crimes’ for campaigning for a property exploited by a dictator to be returned to public hands.
“In other words, the inheritors of a dictator who was behind mass murder, torture and land-grabs actually dare to use the expression ‘hate crime’ to try to defend their ill-gotten privileges,” storms Lucía.
The crime of ‘incitement to hatred’ was created in order to protect minorities and the vulnerable from being discriminated against and suffering fascist abuse.
“It’s a bit ironic, then, to be accused of incitement to hatred by a fascist dictator’s family,” said protester Néstor Rega.
Óscar Calvo, another demonstrator, said nothing was damaged, nobody was threatened and no inconvenience or disturbance was caused – and the complex was legally required to be open to the public that day anyway.
“It was merely a peaceful act of freedom of expression,” he says.
Manuel Monge, a former BNG councillor in A Coruña, was a political prisoner during Franco’s time, in 1973, and is particularly passionate about the Meirás estate issue.
“We are clearly still living with the remains of Francoism,” he complains.
Speaking of the Francisco Franco Foundation – which a petition on Change.org is calling to be outlawed – Monge says its mere existence is ‘unthinkable in a democratic country’ and that it is ‘even more unthinkable’ that the descendants of a fascist dictator should ‘continue to enjoy what has been stolen’.
“And to cap it all, they try to prosecute people who are calling for democracy instead,” says a furious Monge.
Each of the activists is being threatened with a €500,000 fine and 13 years in jail – or will be, when they receive the letters which are gradually finding their way to their addresses.
And the process is agonisingly slow – the legal letters which have arrived are signed off by Carmen Franco, who died on New Year’s Eve.
MEP for the BNG, Ana Miranda, says she intends to take the matter to Europe.
“It’s obvious they’re doing this for the money because the estate needs constant repairs and maintenance,” she says.
“Clearly, the Franco family is trying to scare them into submission. It’s as though everything’s back to front; a joke in very poor