Father Andrew Phillips, is a long-serving priest in the ROCOR Orthodox church in Essex, UK. Biography. He is a prolific writer, particularly on Russian history and current events, from an Orthodox Christian perspective.
In this January 2013 article, he answers readers’ questions about the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, debunking decades of deliberate, slanderous lies coming from the media, academia, and governments of the UK, Germany, and America, but mostly from the UK.
For another excellent article debunking this anti-Russian propaganda which is so ingrained in the West, see his fascinating article about Rasputin, whom he sees as a hero, also maliciously slandered by Russia’s enemies.
Q: Why are most academics so negative about Tsar Nicholas II?
A: Western academics, like Soviet academics, are negative about him because they are secularists. For example, I recently read the book ‘Crimea’ by the British historian of Russia, Orlando Figes. This is an interesting book on the Crimean War, with many well-researched details and facts, written as senior academics should write.
However, the author starts out from unspoken, purely Western secularist criteria, that since the Tsar of the age, Nicholas I, was not a Western secularist, he must have been a religious fanatic, and that his intention was to conquer the Ottoman Empire. Through his love of detail, Figes overlooks the main point – what the Crimean War was actually about from the Russian side. All he can see is Western-style imperialist aims, which he then attributes to Russia. This attribution is a projection of his Western self.
What Figes misunderstands is that the parts of the Ottoman Empire which Nicholas I was interested in were those where an Orthodox Christian population had for centuries suffered under the Muslim Yoke. The Crimean War was not a colonial, imperialist Russian war to expand into the Ottoman Empire and exploit it, like those conducted by Western Powers to expand into Africa and Asia and exploit them. It was a struggle to liberate from oppression – in fact an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist war. The aim was to free Orthodox lands and peoples from oppression, not to conquer someone else’s empire.
As for Nicholas I being a religious fanatic, in the eyes of secularists all sincere Christians must be ‘religious fanatics’. This is because secularists do not have a spiritual dimension. They are always one-dimensional, unable to see beyond their own secular cultural conditioning, to think ‘outside the box’.
Q: Is this secular outlook why Western historians charge Tsar Nicholas II with being weak and unfitted?
A: Yes. This is Western political propaganda, invented at the time and still parroted today. Western historians are educated and paid by Western Establishments and cannot see outside that box.
Serious post-Soviet historians have disproved these charges, invented by the Western and the Westernised, gladly repeated by Soviet Communists, as their justification for the dismantlement of the Tsar’s Empire.
The only justification for the charge that the Tsarevich was ‘unfitted’ is the fact that he was at first unprepared to be Tsar because his father, Alexander III, died suddenly and at a young age. But he soon learned and became ‘fitted’.
Another favourite false accusation is that the Tsar started wars, namely the Japano-Russian War, called the Russo-Japanese War, and the Kaiser’s War, called the First World War. This is untrue. He was the only world leader who wanted to disarm, he was anti-militaristic. As regards the war against Japanese aggression, the Japanese, financed, armed and encouraged by the USA and Britain, started the Japano-Russian War. It attacked the Russian Fleet without warning in Port Arthur – a name that almost rhymes with Pearl Harbour. And, as we know, it was the Austro-Hungarians, urged on by the Kaiser who was desperate for any excuse to start a War, who triggered the First World War.
Let us recall that it was Tsar Nicholas who for the first time in world history had urged disarmament at The Hague in 1899, because he could see that Western Europe was a powder keg, waiting to explode. He was a moral and spiritual leader, the only world leader then who did not have narrow, national interests at heart and was not re-arming at huge cost.
Instead, as the Anointed of God, he had at heart the universal interests of all Orthodox Christendom, to bring to Christ all God-created mankind. Why else make sacrifices for Serbia? To have survived, he must have been incredibly strong-willed, as, among others, the French President Émile Loubet remarked.
All the powers of hell unleashed against the Tsar would never have been unleashed to remove him if he had been weak. Only the strong have to be destroyed, as is confirmed by those who knew him at the time.
Q: You say that he was profoundly Orthodox, but it is true that he had very little Russian blood, isn’t it?
A: Forgive me, but that statement contains a racist presumption, that you have to have ‘Russian blood’ to be Orthodox, a universal Christian. The Tsar was, I believe, one 128th Russian by blood. And so what? The Tsar’s sister answered this very challenge very adequately over fifty years ago. Interviewed by the Greek journalist, Ian Vorres, in 1960, his sister, the Grand Duchess Olga explained: ‘Did the British call George VI a German? He had not a drop of English blood in him…Blood is not everything. It is the soil you spring from, the faith you are brought up in, the language you speak and think in’.
Q: There are some Russians today who describe Tsar Nicholas as a ‘Redeemer’. Do you believe that?
A: Certainly not! There is only one Redeemer, the Saviour Jesus Christ. What can however be argued is that his sacrifice, and therefore that of his Family, of his servants and of the tens of millions of others who were murdered by the Soviet and Fascist regimes that followed, was redemptive. Rus was crucified for the sins of the world. Indeed, the sufferings of Russian Orthodox have been redemptive in their blood and in their tears. However, it is true that all Christians are called on to redeem themselves through living in Christ THE Redeemer. Interestingly, the pious but not well-educated Russians who call the Tsar a ‘Redeemer’ also call Rasputin a saint.
Q: Speaking of this, what should we think of Rasputin?
A: Hundreds of books have been written about Rasputin – nearly all of them by people who never knew him. I would only repeat the words of the Tsar himself, ‘He is a simple, good, religious Russian’, and the words of the Tsar’s sister, Grand Duchess Olga, ‘He was neither saint nor devil…he was a peasant with a profound faith in God and a gift of healing’. The fact that Rasputin was later atrociously slandered, and finally in December 1916 tortured by Russian aristocrats – a sign of just how sick the upper class was – and assassinated by British spies, only helps him in eternity.
Q: But what about all the charges that he was a drunkard, a thief and a debauchee?
A: Soviet and Hollywood fiction writers, like the Soviet novelist Radzinsky, love this image of Rasputin. Contemporary historians inside deSovietising Russia have proved that virtually all, perhaps all, of these charges were slanders, fiction. Moreover, they were made up not to discredit Rasputin – he was only a pawn in the hands of the slanderers – but to discredit the Imperial Family.
Their logic was that if the Friend of the ruling family could be presented as a thief, drunkard and debauchee, therefore the Family must also be like that, and that therefore they were unworthy, and that they the slanderers should have power. Such slander was very simple and very primitive. People, decadent and without any spiritual depth, believed in it because they wanted to believe in it, because such always prefer slander, scandal and gossip to the Truth of Christ.
Q: If we can come back to our main point, what is the relevance of Tsar Nicholas II today? Orthodox Christians are a small minority among all Christians. Even if he were important to all Orthodox, he would still be a minority interest among Christians.
A: Of course, we Christians are a minority. According to the statistics, of seven billion human beings on the planet, Christians number 2.2 billion – 32%. And Orthodox Christians are only 10% of all Christians, so only 3.2% of the world population, about one in thirty-three.
However, if we look at these statistics theologically, what do we see? For Orthodox Christians, all Non-Orthodox are lapsed Orthodox, who were brought involuntarily by their leaders, for all sorts of political reasons, worldly reasons of convenience, to become Non-Orthodox. For us, Catholics can be defined as Catholicised Orthodox and Protestants as Protestantised Catholics. We unworthy Orthodox are the leaven that leavens the lump.
Without the Church, there is no light and warmth of the Holy Spirit to radiate out into the rest of the world. Just as, even though you are outside the Sun, you can still feel the Sun’s light and warmth, so too the 90% of Christians who are outside the Church are still aware of the effects of the Church. For example, most of them confess the Holy Trinity and Christ as the Son of God. Why? Because of the Church which established such teachings long ago. Such is the grace of the Church that shines out of Her. Now, if we understand this, we will begin to understand the importance of the leader of Orthodox Christianity, the last successor of the Emperor Constantine, Tsar Nicholas II. His deposition changed the whole history of the Church, as also his Golgotha and his glorification today.
Q: If this is the case, why then was the Tsar deposed and then murdered?
A: Christians are always persecuted in the world, as our Lord told His disciples.
Pre-Revolutionary Russia ran on the Orthodox Faith. This was the oil that made the whole engine run. However, that Faith was rejected by the mass of the Westernised ruling elite, the aristocracy, and many others in the growing middle class. The Revolution was caused by a simple loss of faith, the engine ground to a halt and exploded for lack of oil.
Most of the Russian upper classes wanted power for themselves, in the same way that wealthy merchants and middle classes wanted power for themselves and so caused the French Revolution. Having obtained wealth, they wanted to mount the next rung in the hierarchy of values – the rung of power. In the Russian context this lust for power, which had come from the West, was therefore based by definition on a blind admiration of the West and a hatred of Russia. This we can see from the very beginning with figures like Kurbsky, Peter I, Catherine II and Westernisers like Chaadayev.
This lack of faith was also what poisoned the White Movement, which was disunited by its lack of a common and binding faith in Orthodox Tsardom. In general, Orthodox self-consciousness was absent in the Russian governing élite, which substituted various surrogates for it, whimsical mixtures of mysticism, occultism, freemasonry, socialism and a search for ‘truth’ in esoteric religions. Incidentally, these surrogates lived on in the Paris emigration, where various figures distinguished themselves in theosophy, anthroposophy, sophianism, name-worship and other very eccentric, but also spiritually dangerous fantasies.
These had so little love for Russia that they actually went into schism, breaking away from the Russian Church and justifying themselves for so doing! The poet Bekhteev wrote very sharply of this in his 1922 poem, ‘Come to your senses, upper classes!’, comparing the privileged situation in Paris to that of the people of crucified Rus in the homeland:
And once more their hearts are full of intrigue,
And once more treachery and lies are on their lips,
And life writes into the chapter of the last book
The vile treason of the grandees who knew it all.
These members of the upper classes (and not all were traitors) were sponsored from the beginning by the West. The West considered that once its values of parliamentary democracy, republicanism or constitutional monarchy were introduced into Russia, it would become just another bourgeois Western country. For the same reason, the Russian Church had to be Protestantised, that is spiritually neutralised, or rather neutered, as the West has tried to do with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and other Local Churches fallen under its power since 1917, as soon as Russian patronage was removed.
These attitudes were caused by the arrogant presumption that somehow the Western model could be universal. Incidentally, this is the arrogant presumption of the Western elites to this day, as they try to impose their model worldwide, presenting it as the ‘New World Order’.
The Tsar, the Lord’s Anointed representing the last bulwark of Church Christianity in the world, had to be removed, as he was blocking the power grab of the Western and Westernised world. However, in their incompetence, the aristocratic revolutionaries of February 1917 soon lost control of the situation and within a few months power had descended from them to the lowest of the low, to the criminal Bolsheviks. These set out on a course of massacre and genocide, of ‘red terror’ – just as in France five generations before, only now with far more murderous, twentieth-century, technology.
It was in this way that the motto of the Orthodox Empire was deformed. I remind you that it was ‘Orthodoxy, Sovereignty and People’. This was deformed by Westernised Russians and Western secularists, both then and now, into: ‘Obscurantism, Tyranny and Nationalism’.
Atheist Communists deformed it even further into ‘Centralised Communism, Totalitarian Dictatorship and National Bolshevism’. What did this motto in fact mean? It simply meant: ‘(Full-bodied, incarnate) Authentic Christianity, Spiritual Independence (from the powers of this world) and Love for God’s People. As I have said above, this motto is the spiritual, moral, political, economic and social programme of Orthodoxy.
Q: A social programme? But surely the Revolution came about because there were so many poor people and so much exploitation of the poor by the super-rich aristocrats, and the Tsar was at the head of that aristocracy?
A: No, it was precisely the aristocracy that was opposed to the Tsar and the people. The Tsar gave away much of his personal wealth and taxed the rich to the hilt under his brilliant Prime Minister Stolypin, who did so much for land reform. Sadly, the Tsar’s programme of social justice was one of the reasons why many aristocrats hated the Tsar. The Tsar and the people were one. They were both betrayed by the Westernised elite. This is clear from the assassination of Rasputin, which was the preparation for the Revolution. In it the peasants rightly saw the betrayal of the people by the upper classes.
Q: What was the role of the Jews in this?
A: There is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that only Jews were – and are – responsible for everything bad in Russia (and everywhere else). This contradicts the words of Christ. First of all, the Jews who were involved in the Russian Revolution – and it is true that most of the Bolsheviks were Jews – were apostates, atheists, like Marx, and not real, practising Jews. However, those Jews who were involved worked hand in hand with Non-Jewish atheists, like the American banker Morgan, or with Russians and many others and depended on them.
Thus, we know full well that Britain organised the Revolution of February 1917, applauded by France and financed by the USA, that Lenin was transported to Russia by the Kaiser and financed by him, and that the masses who fought in the Red Army were Russian. None of these were Jews. Some people, captives of racist myths, simply refuse to see the truth – that the Revolution was Satanic and that Satan can use any nationality, any of us, for his poisonous works, Jews, Russians and Non-Russians. Satan favours no nationality, but makes use of any who surrender their free will to him for his ‘New World Order’, in which he will be the Universal Ruler of the fallen world.
Q: There are Russophobes who say that there continuity between the Tsar’s Russia and Communist Soviet Union. Is that so?
A: There is certainly continuity of Western Russophobia! Read copies of The Times newspaper from 1862 and 2012 for example. You will see 150 years of xenophobia. Yes, it is true that many in the West were Russophobic long before the Soviet Union came into being. There are the narrow-minded among all peoples who are simply racist. Any nationality other than their own must be demonised, whatever their particular political system and however that system may change. We saw that in the recent Iraq War. We can see it now in the tabloid reports on Syria, Iran or North Korea, which try to demonise the peoples of those countries. We do not take those narrow minds seriously.
Now, let us turn to the question of continuity. Following the generation of obscenities after 1917, continuity did re-emerge. This was after Germany had again invaded Russia on the Feast of All the Saints who have shone forth in the Russian Lands in June 1941. Stalin realised that he could only win the war with the blessing of the Church, by recalling the victories of Orthodox Russians in the past, like those of St Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy, that any victory would have to be the victory of his ‘brothers and sisters’, the people, not of his ‘comrades’ and his idiotic Communist ideology. Geography does not change, so there is continuity in Russian history.
It is just that the Soviet period was an aberration from that history, a falling away from national destiny, especially in its violent first generation. What is important is the way that the Soviet Union acted that was so perverse, not necessarily what it did, but how it did it. I was struck by the words of the Tsar’s sister, the Grand Duchess Olga, who in her 1960 biography stated: ‘I have always followed Soviet foreign policy with great interest. Hardly anything in it is different from the course adopted by my father and by Nicky’ (by Alexander III and Nicholas II). The difference is that Soviet policy worked through violence and lies, the Tsar’s policies worked through peace and sincerity.
Q: Can you give an example of this?
A: What would have happened if the Revolution had not taken place? We know (and Churchill expressed it very well in his book, ‘The World Crisis 1916-1918’) that Russia was on the verge of victory in 1917. This is why the revolutionaries took action then. They had a very narrow window in which to operate before the great spring offensive of 1917 began.
Had there been no Revolution, Russia would have defeated the Austro-Hungarians, whose multinational and mainly Slav army was on the point of mutiny and collapse anyway. Then Russia would have pushed back the Germans, or rather their Prussian warlords, to Berlin. In other words, the situation would quite possibly have been similar to that in 1945 – with one vital exception. That is that the Armies of the Tsar would have liberated Central and Eastern Europe in 1917-18, not invading it, as in 1944-45. And so they would have liberated Berlin as they liberated Paris in 1814, peacefully and respectfully, without the errors and drunkenness committed by the Red Army.
Q: What could have happened then?
A: The liberation of Berlin, and so of Germany, from Prussian militarism would surely have led to the demilitarisation and regionalisation of Germany, restoring something of pre-1871 Germany, the Germany of culture, music, poetry and tradition. This would have been the end of the Second Reich of Bismarck, which itself was a revival of the First Reich of the militaristic heretic Charlemagne and which led directly in its turn to the Third Reich of Hitler.
If Russia had been victorious, there would have been a humiliation of the German / Prussian government, the Kaiser being sent perhaps into exile to some remote island as was Napoleon. But there would have been no humiliation of the German peoples, the result of the terrible Treaty of Versailles, which led directly to the horrors of Fascism and the Second World War. And that, by the way, has led directly to the Fourth Reich of today’s European Union.
Q: Would France, Britain and the USA not have objected to victorious Russia’s dealings with Berlin?
A: France and Britain, bogged down in their blood-soaked trenches or perhaps by then having reached the French and Belgian borders with Germany, could not have objected to this, because the victory over the Kaiser’s Germany would above all have been a Russian victory. As for the USA, it would never have entered the War, if Russia had not first been knocked out of it – partly by the US financing of revolutionaries, it must be said. And that in itself is why the Allies did their best to eliminate Russia from the War, because they did not want a Russian victory. All they wanted from Russia was cannon fodder to exhaust Germany, in order to prepare it for defeat by the Allies, so that they could finish Germany off and take it over.
Q: Would the Russian Armies have retreated from Berlin and Eastern Europe soon after 1918?
A: Yes, of course. Here is another difference with Stalin, for whom ‘Sovereignty’, the second element in the motto of the Orthodox Empire, had been deformed into Totalitarianism and that meant occupation, oppression and exploitation by terror. After the fall of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, there would have been freedom for Eastern Europe with population transfers in border areas and the establishment of new countries without minorities, like a newly-reunited Poland and Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Carpatho-Russia, Romania, Hungary and so on. This would have created a demilitarised zone throughout Eastern and Central Europe.
This would have been an Eastern Europe with rational and protected frontiers, so avoiding the errors of conglomerate States like the future, and now past, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. As regards Yugoslavia, in 1912 Tsar Nicholas had already set up a Balkan Union in order to avoid further Balkan Wars. True, this failed because of the intrigues of the German princeling Ferdinand in Bulgaria and nationalist intrigues in Serbia and Montenegro. We can imagine that after a First World War in which Russia had been victorious, such a Customs Union, established with fair borders, could have become permanent. Involving Greece and Romania, it could at last have established peace in the Balkans, its freedom guaranteed as a Russian protectorate.
Q: What would have been the fate of the Ottoman Empire?
A: The Allies had already agreed in 1916 that Russia would be allowed to free Constantinople and control the Black Sea. This was only what Russia could have attained sixty years before, preventing Turkish massacres in Bulgaria and Asia Minor, had it not been for the Crimean invasion of Russia by France and Great Britain. (We recall how Tsar Nicholas I was buried then with a silver cross depicting Aghia Sophia, the Church of the Wisdom of God, ‘so that in heaven he would not forget to pray for his brothers in the East’). Christian Europe would at last have been freed of Ottoman oppression.
The Armenians and the Greeks of Asia Minor would also have been protected and the Kurds would have had their own State. But more than that, Orthodox Palestine and much of the future Syria and the Jordan would have come under Russian protection. There would have been none of the permanent war that we see in the Middle East today. Perhaps the situations of today’s Iraq and Iran could have been avoided. The implications of this are huge. Can we imagine a Russian-controlled Jerusalem? Even Napoleon recognised that, ‘he who controls Palestine, controls the whole world’. This is known today to Israel and the USA.
Q: What would the implications have been in Asia?
A: Peter I opened a window on Europe. It was the destiny of Nicholas II to open a window on Asia. Despite his generous Church-building in Western Europe and the Americas, he had only a limited interest in the Catholic/Protestant West and its extensions in the Americas and Australia, because it had and has only a limited interest in the Church. In the West, there was and is relatively little potential growth for Orthodox Christianity. Indeed, today, only a small proportion of the world population lives in the Western world, even though it covers a huge territory.
Tsar Nicholas’ aim to serve Christ was therefore more concerned with Asia, especially with Buddhist Asia. He had former Buddhist citizens in the Russian Empire who had converted to Christ, and he knew that Buddhism, like Confucianism, is not a religion, but a philosophy. The Buddhists called him ‘The White Tara’ (King’). So he worked with Tibet, where he was called ‘Chakravartin’ (The King of Peace’), Mongolia, China, Manchuria, Korea and Japan, countries of potential. He was also concerned with Afghanistan, India and Siam (Thailand). The King of Siam, Rama V, visited Russia in 1897 and the Tsar prevented Siam from becoming a French colony. This was an influence that would have spread to Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia. In population terms these countries have nearly half of today’s world.
In Africa, with a seventh of today’s world population, the Tsar had diplomatic relations with Ethiopia and successfully protected it from Italian colonialism, also intervening on behalf of Morocco and also the Boers in South Africa. His detestation of what the British did to the Boers, killing them in concentration camps, is well known. We can think that he must have thought the same about French and Belgian colonialism in Africa. He was also respected by the Muslims, who called him ‘Al-Padishah’, ‘The Great King’. In general, sacral, Eastern civilisations had far more respect for ‘the White Tsar’ than the bourgeois West.
It is significant that later the Soviet Union also opposed the cruelties of Western colonialism in Africa. Here there is also continuity. Today there are Russian Orthodox missions in Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, India and Pakistan, as well as churches in Africa. I think that the contemporary BRICS group, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is also very representative of what Russia could have achieved 90 years ago, as a member of a group of independent countries. Indeed, the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Duleep (Dalip) Singh (+ 1893), had asked Tsar Alexander III to free India from British exploitation and oppression.
Q: So Asia could have been colonised by Russia?
A: No, definitely not colonised. Imperial Russia was anti-colonial, anti-imperialist. We only have to compare Russian expansion into Siberia, which was basically peaceful, with European expansion into the Americas, which was basically genocidal. The same people –native Americans are basically Siberians – were treated in totally different ways. Of course, there were in Siberia and in Russian America (Alaska) exploitative Russian merchants and drunkard fur trappers who behaved like cowboys towards the local population. This we know from the life of St Herman of Alaska and missionaries in eastern Russia and Siberia, like St Stephen of Perm and St Macarius of the Altai, but this was not the rule and there was no genocide.
Q: All of this is very well, but it is not very relevant to talk about what might have been. It is all hypothetical.
A: Yes, it is hypothetical, but hypotheses can give us a vision for the future. We could view the whole of the last 95 years of world history as a hiatus, a catastrophic aberration of tragic magnitude that has killed hundreds of millions. This is because the world became unbalanced after the fall of the bulwark of Christian Russia, whose fall was implemented by transnational capital in order to create a ‘unipolar world’. And that is simply code for the New World Order of a One World Government, that is, a Universal, anti-Christian Tyranny.
Only if we understand this, can we have a vision for the future. This vision is to suppose that after July 2018, we may still be able to resume where we left off in July 1918, and gather the fragments and oases of Orthodox civilisation worldwide together, before the end. However terrible the present situation is, there is always the hope that is born of repentance. Repentance means going back, and that is what we have been talking about, resuming from where the world left off on that terrible, world-changing night in Ekaterinburg in July 1918.
Q: What would the fruit of such repentance be?
A: A new Orthodox Empire, centred in Russia, with Ekaterinburg, the centre of repentance, as its spiritual capital, and so the chance to rebalance this whole tragic, unbalanced world.
Q: You could be accused of being far too optimistic?
A: Yes, this is very optimistic. But look at what has happened over the last generation, since the celebration of the millennium of the Baptism of Rus in 1988. The situation of the world has been transformed, or rather transfigured, by repentance among enough of the people of the old Soviet Union for the whole world to change. The last 25 years have seen a revolution, the only true revolution, a spiritual revolution, the return to the Church.
Suppose the next generation continues in that revolutionary repentance? Given the historic miracle that we have already seen, which seemed like a ridiculous dream for us who were born during the nuclear fears of the Cold War and can remember the spiritually grim 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, why should we not envisage at least some of the possibilities outlined above?
In 1914 the world entered a tunnel. During the Cold War we lived in that tunnel and we could see neither light behind us, nor in front of us. Today we are still in the tunnel, but we can now actually see a glimmer of light on the road ahead. Surely this is the light at the end of the tunnel? Let us recall the words of the Gospel: ‘With God all things are possible’.
Yes, humanly, all the above is highly optimistic and there is no guarantee of anything. However, the alternative to the above is not just pessimistic, it is apocalyptic. That time is short is our chief anxiety.
We hurry in a battle against time. And that must be a warning and a call to us all.
The macro pig farm threatening a historical gem in northern Spain | Culture
Christians and Muslims fought over the castle of Gormaz in Soria in the Spanish region of Castilla y León for two centuries. Now, after a lapse of hundreds of years, it is once again under threat – this time, from a macro pig farm for 4,200 animals. The proposed farm is within two kilometers of the fortress, and will be visible from its impressive caliphal gate, which is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the medieval site.
Environmental and neighborhood associations, architecture and restoration professionals, as well as the town councils of Recuerda, a village of 70 inhabitants, and Gormaz, a village of 20, call the plans an “attack” on one of the most impressive Islamic fortresses on the peninsula. With a perimeter measuring more than one kilometer, the castle of Gormaz was once the largest in Europe. It was this fortress that the Caliph of Córdoba, Al-Hakam II, ordered to be reinforced and expanded at the end of the 10th century to stop the Christian advance from the north.
Meanwhile, the company behind the project, Agro Peñaranda Esteban, insists it will comply “strictly with the law” and that if the permits are not issued, it will go elsewhere. “It’s great to eat torreznos [a kind of fried bacon snack] from Soria in a good restaurant in a big capital city,” says one of the shareholders, who is from the area. “People must think that they fall from the sky.”
The castle of Gormaz was built in the 9th century to strategically support Medinaceli, the capital of the so-called Muslim Middle Frontier. Divided into two large areas separated by a moat, there is the fortress with the tower of Almanzor and the caliphal quarters, and then the area for the troops, where the main entrance is located. Altogether, it has 28 towers with battlements and arrowslits.
The Soria fortress defended the routes to the north of the peninsula that followed the banks of the Duero river and was coveted by a number of figures, including Count García Fernández, Sancho II of Pamplona, Ramiro III of León, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar and the de facto ruler of Islamic Iberia, Almanzor. And so it passed from one side to the other until, in 1060, Fernando I of León seized it once and for all. During the reign of Spain’s Catholic Monarchs, it was turned into a prison as it no longer had any strategic value.
But now it is administrative forces that are advancing on the castle. On June 29, the Castilla y León regional government published “the announcement of a pig farm of 4,200 pigs in plot 20114 of industrial estate 1 of the municipality of Recuerda,” which backs onto Gormaz. August 10 was the deadline for anyone wishing to take issue with the environmental impact assessment, which states that the farm would not alter the surrounding landscape. “It is a landscape altered by human activity, due to its agricultural use, with no dominant variations or striking contrasts,” claims the report.
This contradicts the regional plan for the Duero Valley, approved by the Castilla y León regional authorities in 2010, which mentions a series of Landscape Management Areas (AOP) needing a specific regime of protection, management and planning. One such area includes the castle of Gormaz and the surrounding area where the farm would be located.
Luis Morales, architect and member of the Soria Association for the Defense of Nature (Aseden), points out that the castle’s environment is “totally agricultural – fields and forests – and very similar to what it might have been in the Middle Ages, when Gormaz was built. To put an industrial complex of enormous dimensions to house more than 4,000 pigs, which is what they intend, is barbaric,” he adds. “It breaks up the landscape from the same caliphal gate, the one that is so often photographed for tourism purposes.”
Morales also believes that the municipalities have the means to stop the project, “because the land is rustic and can therefore be classified as protected, which would prevent the livestock complex from being built.” Meanwhile, the Aseden association points out that the regional authorities were responsible for the White Paper of the Territorial Enclaves of Cultural Interest (ETIC), which selected 111 locations of cultural or heritage interest, one of which was Gormaz.
According to the NGO Ecologists in Action, in this type of facility whose surface area would be 4,000 square meters plus another 2,000 for slurry, “the problem of odor emissions is very important because of its proximity and orientation with respect to inhabited areas and other places of interest.” It explains: “In this case, the farm would be to the west, 1.3 kilometers from Recuerda and two kilometers from the castle of Gormaz. According to data from [Spain’s national weather agency] Aemet, the prevailing winds are from the west. In other words, it would bring unhealthy smells for most of the year to Recuerda. Surprisingly, the project says that the prevailing winds are from the northeast.”
Consuelo Barrio, mayor of Recuerda, agrees. “It is not only the visual impact, which is very important, but also the environmental impact due to the possible contamination of the water from the slurry as we are in an area of aquifers; this is in addition to the smell that would come our way as we are barely a kilometer from it.”
Meanwhile, the company behind the project considers it is under “unjustified attack.” According to one 38-year-old businessman involved in the project, “in this part of Soria there are at least three farms: Quintanar, Gormaz…. And if ours smells, it means they all smell. It’s not like years ago, when pigs were thrown into the Duero – some of which I have seen floating – or the slurry was dumped down drains. No. There are strict environmental laws and we will comply with them. It is easy to talk about ‘deserted’ Spain and all the things the politicians are saying, but when you try to create wealth, obstacles are thrown up because you can be seen from the castle two kilometers away. If they don’t let us set up here, we’ll go somewhere else,” he adds angrily.
Marisa Revilla, president of Amigos del Museo Numantino, is particularly upset by the visual effect of the pig farm. “The impact report does not take into account the horizontal impact. It only states that they are going to put up some hedges to hide the farm. But the installation will not only affect the castle, it will also affect the nearby Romanesque San Miguel hermitage.” This hermitage was inspected in the 1990s by architect José Francisco Yusta, who specializes in historical monuments and also opposes the construction of the farm. “There is no justification for breaking up the landscape,” says Yusta, who has worked on such architectural gems as the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and castle of Gormaz itself.
“I believe it is not worth destroying our landscape for the two jobs that the macro-farm will provide, which are those proposed by the promoters,” says architect Luis Morales. “If there were only 200 for deserted Spain….”
English version by Heather Galloway.
Ex-Ireland rugby player charged with stealing almost €600,000 from BOI
Former Irish rugby international Brendan Mullin is to face trial accused of deception, false accounting and theft of close to €600,000 from Bank of Ireland where he held a senior executive position.
Mullin (57) appeared at Dublin District Court on Tuesday following an investigation by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) into bank fraud allegations going back a decade.
The former rugby star won 55 Irish caps between 1984 and 1995 before he went into financial services and became managing director at Bank of Ireland Private Banking Ltd.
He was arrested at 9.08am on Tuesday when he met gardaí in Dublin city-centre. He was brought to the Bridewell Garda station where he was charged with 15 offences which allegedly took place between 2011 and 2013.
He is accused of stealing €500,000 on December 16th 2011, at Bank of Ireland Private Bank at Burlington Plaza, Burlington Road, Dublin 4.
Mr Mullin, of Albert Lodge, Stillorgan Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, is charged with eight further thefts of amounts totalling €73,000 from the bank.
Five counts of false accounting were also put to him.
He was also charged with deception by inducing a named man and woman to sign a payment instruction with the intention of making gain for himself or another on July 27th, 2011.
Dressed in a grey suit and light blue shirt, he sat silently during his hearing before Judge Michael Walsh.
GNECB Detective Sean O’Riordan told the court Mr Mullin made no comment when charged.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has directed trial on indictment meaning his case will go before a judge and jury in the circuit court.
The DPP has also stated that he can be sent forward for sentencing on a signed plea, should that arise, but defence solicitor Robert Purcell told Judge Walsh a book of evidence will be required.
Bail terms had been agreed, Judge Walsh noted, and it was set in Mr Mullin’s own bond of €10,000.
He was ordered to surrender his passport but this was not made a precondition of release; Judge Walsh warned him that it must be handed over to gardai within 48 hours of taking up bail.
Mr Mullin needed to travel for work purposes and that could be done once the GNECB detective is notified in advance, the judge said.
He must appear again at the District Court on November 11th next to be served with the book of evidence by the prosecution.
A trial order can then be granted.
Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row
The killing on Saturday evening in the western town of Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, is believed to be the first in Germany linked to the government’s coronavirus rules.
The row started when the cashier, a student, told the customer to put on a face mask, as required in all German shops. After a brief argument, the man left.
The suspect then returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he brought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off the mask and another discussion ensued.
“The perpetrator then pulled out a revolver and shot him straight in the head,” prosecutor Kai Fuhrmann told reporters on Monday.
The suspect, a 49-year-old German man, walked to a police station the following day to turn himself in. He was arrested and has confessed to the murder.
He told police he felt “cornered” by the coronavirus measures, which he perceived as an “ever-growing infringement on his rights” and he had seen “no other way out”, Fuhrmann said.
Idar-Oberstein mayor Frank Fruehauf called it “an unfathomable, terrible act”, and residents have laid flowers and candles outside the petrol station.
The murder comes just days before Germans head to the polls for a general election on September 26 that will see Chancellor Angela Merkel bow out of politics after 16 years.
Katrin Goering-Eckardt, the parliamentary leader of the Green party, tweeted that she was “deeply shaken” by the killing, which she said was “the cruel result of hatred”.
Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner from Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, who hails from the region, said the murder was “shocking”.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper said far-right chat groups on Telegram were applauding the murder, with one user writing “Here we go!!!” while others posted thumbs-up emojis.
Germany has seen repeated protests from anti-mask demonstrators throughout the pandemic, some of them attracting tens of thousands of people.
The Querdenker (Lateral Thinkers) movement has emerged as the loudest voice against the government’s coronavirus curbs and regulations. Its marches have drawn a wide mix of people, including vaccine sceptics, neo-Nazis and members of Germany’s far-right AfD party.
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