In Almuradiel, roughly halfway between Madrid and Andalusia’s Mediterranean tourist coastline is Casa Pepe – a unique Spanish restaurant where you can enjoy great food, fine wines, and relive the glory of General Franco’s brutal fascist dictatorship. Visitors can peruse bottles of wine honouring General Francisco Franco on their labels, cured Spanish hams and olive oil cans bearing the national flag used during Franco's reign, berets and other Fascist paraphernalia.
“We support Franco. We are proud to honour him and what he did for our country, because it was a really prosperous period in Spain’s history,” explains the manager, Juan Jose Navarro.
The management team has always insisted there's nothing controversial in paying tribute to the Francoist movement, even though it overthrew a democratically elected government, plunging Spain into a civil war that killed around half a million people between 1936 and 1939.
“This is an old, small family business where everybody respects each other’s beliefs,” insists Juan Jose. “In 1975 [when the dictator died], my father got out Franco’s plinth, the regime’s flag and some photos as a way to honour the dictatorship. You had to be brave to do so back then,” he says.
Juan Jose (right) holds the national flag of Spain used during Franco's dictatorship.
Ever since, the restaurant has been a cultish monument to a repressive regime that took the lives of more than 100,000 Spaniards. This shrine of the darkest period of the country’s recent History has been made from donations given by former Blue Division's combatants (Spanish soldiers who fought in the Nazi German invasion of Russia between 1941 to 1944) and from members of Franco's security apparatus and police.
The portraits of Spanish dictators Primo de Rivera (left) and Franco (right) decorate the walls
“This is a really unique and wacky place. Something you can only find in Spain. Actually, this restaurant wouldn’t exist in the Netherlands,” says 60-year-old Martine Offerhaus, somewhat stating the obvious. The Dutch woman has been visiting Spain since 1989 and says she’s still fascinated by Casa Pepe. “I’ve stopped by many times. I’ve even brought foreign friends to see this, because it’s very Spanish.”
Casa Pepe hosts people from all walks of life. Even former Spanish Communist Party leader, Julio Anguita, and Baltasar Garzon, a judge who achieved world renown by demanding that Augusto Pinochet be extradited to Spain for the deaths and torture of Spaniards, have popped in.
Almuradiel’s Mayor and conservative Popular Party’s member Braulio Egido says Casa Pepe is important for the local population of nearly 1,000. “It’s a crucial part of the hospitality sector. Restaurants are the driving force of our economy. Little towns like ours would disappear, otherwise.” The restaurant also sponsors the local football team and the town's festivities. “Casa Pepe is seen very differently from outside. We regard it as a business, just like in any other local bar,” adds Braulio Egido.
The restaurant attracts plenty of visitors. Hanging from the ceiling are the national flag used in Franco's era (left) and the flag of the Falange (right) his political movement.
However, Emilio Valiente, the Mayor of Fontanosas, 130 kilometres away, thinks the business should be closed. “The restaurant glorifies and trivialises a war criminal like Franco, and his anti-democratic system. It shouldn’t be open, but people don’t complain because they don’t want to get into trouble.”
Fontanosas was the first village in the province of Ciudad Real where the 2007 Historical Memory Law allowed relatives of Franco's victims to dig up mass graves to search for their loved ones – funded by public grants. This law was meant to rehabilitate victims of the regime, including the relocation, exhumation and identification of mortal remains, with their return to their families. It also aims to eradicate the public symbols of the Francoist era.
However, the right wing Popular Party withheld financial support from these activities shortly after they won the national elections in 2011. Anthropologist and lecturer at National Distance Education University (UNED) and Cordoba University Julian Lopez, who’s been leading the exhumation of victims of the military regime for the last five years, complains that his team has been working voluntarily ever since. According to Julian, there are still 100,000 people disappeared by the dictatorship, lying in unmarked graves waiting to be found, only 4,000 of them in Ciudad Real.
Hanging from the ceiling, a death notice (right) mocks the symbolic deaths of the two still living Socialist Party leaders, alongside the real dates in which Spanish dictators Franco and Primo de Rivera died.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances released a report on the 30th of July giving Spain 90 days to provide schedule of measures to help relatives of the disappeared, based on a fact finding mission conducted last year. Report author Ariel Dulitzky told the government no to use the economic crisis as an excuse to reject the recommendations – saying that it was a matter of political will.
“Spain is the only European state – including Italy, Germany, Greece, Portugal or even Turkey – which has allowed the preservation of symbols of its dictatorship because there’s never been legislation dealing with this until the recent Historical Memory Law was approved. But this law didn’t fulfil its objectives,” says Jesus de Andres, a lecturer in Political Science at UNED University and an expert in the legacy of dictatorships.
Jesus de Andres compares the Spanish situation with Russia, where Lenin's statue still stands in many town squares. “Some of the symbols have been removed in both cases, but decisions have been always taken by local or regional governments.”
The commission that oversaw the Spanish Historical Memory Law concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over Casa Pepe. “The removal of Francoist symbols only affects public places. There’s nothing related to the private use of this symbols in Spain. Whereas in Germany you’ll receive a penalty fine if you carry any Nazi symbol in the street,” explains Jesus de Andres.
Casa Pepe will celebrate its centenary in less than a decade, which means it has been around for longer than Spain has had a democracy. The place seems still to be attracting about 100 visitors every day – from people who seem to be genuinely nostalgic for Franco, to confused foreign tourists.
“It’s old fashioned and anti-democratic,” says a young guy who just walked in, when I ask what he makes of it. His Dad adds, “we’ve stopped by because it’s really eccentric. The problem is, that once you stop, you end up ordering – and giving money to all this.”
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