Spain began a move both symbolic and literal on Thursday against the largest figure in its modern history. The government started exhuming the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco from a state mausoleum built in part by the labor of his political prisoners, reports the BBC. Franco will be reinterred at a more modest cemetery in Madrid, where his wife is buried. The controversial move is "a great victory for dignity, memory, justice and reparation—and thus for Spanish democracy," says Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. Franco took power after the nation's 1936-39 civil war after leading rebels backed by Hitler and Mussolini, notes Reuters. Spain transitioned to a democracy after his 1975 death, and the exhumation from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum is modern Spain's most tangible way of distancing itself from his autocratic rule.
"It’s intensely symbolic for Spain," says political scientist Pablo Simon, "because the (Franco) monument has always been connected to those who miss the old regime." Thursday's exhumation was being attended by a small group, including 22 of Franco's descendants. "I feel a great deal of rage because they have used something as cowardly as digging up a corpse, using a body as propaganda and political publicity to win a handful of votes before an election," his grandson, also named Francisco Franco, tells Reuters, referencing the country's Nov. 10 election. It's not just family members who oppose the move, however. An El Mundo poll found that 32.5% of the nation disagreed with the exhumation. (Read more Francisco Franco stories.)