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Government reopening decisions next week will be ‘very significant’, Ministers say

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Government Ministers have said the Cabinet meeting next Friday that will decide a timetable for reopening key sectors of the economy will be “very significant” as it will restore society to close to where it was pre-Covid-19.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris have both alluded to the three sectors most affected by lockdown, aviation; indoor hospitality; and sport and live cultural events, being in line for timely reopenings during June and July.

Other Government sources have said the “mood music” around aviation, in particular, has improved substantially in recent weeks. The confidence has been bolstered primarily by the success of the national vaccination programme in meeting its targets. It is now likely that 1 million vaccine doses will be administered in May alone, with growing confidence within Government that 82 per cent of eligible adults will have been offered at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of June.

While the Government could delay until mid-August to implement the digital travel certificate, the indications given by several Government sources on Sunday were it was veering towards seeking if possible the middle of July.

The growing confidence was confirmed by Mr Harris on Sunday: “Two weeks ago people were talking about closing the border and mandatory hotel quarantine. Now we are talking about when we can get back in the skies again. I suppose that is a sign of the success of our vaccine programme,” he told RTÉ’s the Week in Politics programme.

Mr Harris said Friday’s meeting would be “very significant as it would address reopening” for what he described as the “three trickiest sectors.”

He said the Government would give clarity on when people could return to indoor dining and entertainment in restaurants in pub and also said his colleague, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin was working on a detailed programme that would allow live events to be piloted, in a similar vein to what has been done with live outdoor gigs in Liverpool earlier this month.

Green certificate

Mr Harris said the EU digital green certificate (to allow passengers who are immune, vaccinated or with clear tests to travel) would form a very big part of the timely return of the aviation sector. Stressing the importance of air connectivity to Ireland, not just for tourism but also for business, he said it was very “very significant that there is political agreement around the green certificate”, which will be formally ratified this week.

Mr McGrath said the Government had provided extensive supports to airports and airlines but its priority was to “get planes back in the sky. We are a country that depends on international connectivity”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, he said a lot of work has been done on the digital certificate but added “some domestic decisions need to be made about the application of that in an Irish context”.

He said the Government wanted to implement it as quickly as possible but would be also taking account of public health advice.

He said no decisions had been taken in relation to the date for reopening.


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See For Yourself, 30 of the New, Modern, Amazing Airports of ‘Stagnating Russia’ (Great Pictures)

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The author is CEO of the Awara Group, which offers consulting, accounting, tax, and legal services. He is the author of several books on politics and philosophy, as well as Putin’s New Russia. He speaks fluent English, Russian, Finnish, and Swedish, and German, French, and Spanish less fluently. He resides in Moscow.

Click here for an archive of his excellent articles on RI about the Russian Economy. This article first appeared at the Awara Group.


What prompted me to write this Awara Accounting report on the impressive development of Russia’s airports was to produce a cure for the but-beyond-the-MKAD syndrome. The MKAD is the 110 kilometer outer ring road around Moscow. And this syndrome refers to the habit of the detractors of Putin’s Russia to claim that any visible development of Russia, if any, has happened only within the limits of Moscow city – “just go outside the Ring Road and you’ll see there’s nothing but poverty and ruin.”

Many of those who suffer from this syndrome live in a deep-seated cognitive dissonance where they just refuse to trust their lying eyes, while some of them are just peddlers of pure propaganda or victims of the latter.

So, let’s see what actually happens beyond the MKAD. Amazing airports have been built or reconstructed both in Moscow and across the vast country and many other impressive projects have been presented.

And it is not just airports, it is roads and bridges, too. Those Awara has covered in other reports in the series on Putin’s incredible infrastructure investments. You can read about the amazing new bridges at this link: Putin the Pontiff – Bridge maker and the great development of Russia’s roads here.

What’s remarkable is also the efficiency and speed of the construction of the new airport terminals. Most of them have been built in three years and some in two or even less. The Simferopol airport (above) was built in two years and was up and running within three years from the decision to initiate the project. Krasnoyarsk (below) needed only1.5 years to complete the construction.

Russia’s 79 international airports

Our method was to review all the airports in a list of all of Russia’s international airports. (An international airport is one into which a plane can fly directly from a foreign country as it runs a passport control). There were 79 airports in our list. From what I had registered from the news and in my travels, I expected that there would be some 10 or 15 cool new airports to present. But no. The task proved much more overwhelming as it turned out that almost every one of the listed airports had been reconstructed or was due for reconstruction.

Instead of writing up an easy piece with nice pics, I ended up spending weeks on identifying and digesting all the information. The investigation showed that practically each one of the 79 airports had either been modernized or about to be so. I identified less than 10 airports on the list of international airports which were not brought up to modern quality standards since 2000 or on the way to it. And of those half were either remote outposts or military airfields. I am confident, that all the passenger airports in the major Russian cities (defined as having some 150 thousand or more inhabitants) will be totally modernized within the next 6 years.

Practically all the development of the international airports has been funded by both public and private money, where the infrastructure like runways and flight controls have been recipients of public funds whereas the terminals have been mostly built by public funds.

In addition to the 79 international airports there are some 60 regional airports with more or less regular traffic. These will all also be upgraded according to a multibillion government program on development of regional airports running up to 2024. This forms part of a broader strategic program ordered by President Putin to improve the Russian economy, demographics and infrastructure with public and private funding amounting to a total of $400 billion.

An important goal with the development of the airports is to help decentralize the economy by way of increasing direct interconnectivity of Russian cities instead of people having to fly transit through Moscow, which has in the past really hampered the overall development of the country.

The new airport facilities are really needed to keep up with the passenger boom

The new enlarged and reconstructed airports cater to a growing number of passengers. In 2000, when Putin first took office, the Russian airports served 35.5 million passengers, but by 2018 the number had grown sixfold to 205 million. That surpasses the 135 million passengers of the USSR in the 1980s. The growth has been huge and accelerating, just in five years from 2014 to 2018 the number grew by one third.

In the meanwhile, the Moscow air cluster with 97 million passengers (2018) has become Europe’s third largest air hub after London (126 mln) and Paris (104 mln).  Sheremetyevo – Europe’s fastest growing airport – alone has grown 4.5 times since 2000 to present 46 million. At the same time, Moscow’s second airport Domodedovo grew from handling 2.8 million passengers in in 2000 to 30 million in 2017.

Air travel is a very solid indicator for economic activity, these figures then show that there is much going on that does not catch the eye of the GDP.

MOSCOW

When I first came to Moscow by air in 1993, the city did not have a single modern airport. Actually, back then the Sheremetyevo international airport, present day Terminal F, should have formally counted as a modern one as it was built only about a decade earlier in 1980 in time for the Moscow Olympics. But the airport – built by a West German company – was terribly outdated in design and functionality from the start. Both the façade and the interior design was informed by a dark and gloomy style prevailing in Russia during the 1970s. My impression as a passenger was that that the terminal must have been in operational neglect at least three decades by then.

I used to hate having to travel through that airport and each time I would wish they’d remove the heavy copper circles which were misdecorating the ceilings and literally weighing over the heads of the passengers. One day sometime in the early 2000s it did happen; the copper was gone and a white suspended ceiling was there instead. Somebody told me that the reason was that the commodity price of copper had surged. Whatever, I was happy for it. In the 1990s the restrooms where stinky and you’d be lucky if they were furnished with paper. And then there was the strong kerosene fumes wafting around the whole airport. An odor which you would connect with Russia in good and bad. For me it actually became so characteristic of Russia, that I later found myself upon arrival inhaling that fume, like one would mountain air, happy as I had returned to Russia from the increasingly oppressive West.

But today all has changed, if Sheremetyevo Terminal F was probably the worst of all the world’s major airports, I considered the new Terminal D as one of the best when it opened in 2009. Presently the terminal is overcrowded as it operates way over its planned capacity, but that should ease when the domestic traffic is fully transferred to the new Terminal B, which opened in 2018.

If Sheremetyevo Terminal G was depressing, then the domestic terminal then called Sheremetyevo 1 was like a parody of all that was wrong with the later stages of the USSR just before its demise. Moscow’s second airport, Domodedovo, at that time was very much the same, but today Domodedovo along with Sheremetyevo are modern international airports meeting the highest global standards. There is a third major Moscow airport as well, the Vnukovo airport. And a smaller, fourth Moscow cluster international airport, Zhukovsky (Ramenskoe) opened in 2018.

In 2018, in time for the FIFA World Cup, Moscow’s Sheremetyevo got the new Terminal B for domestic flights. This one will be merged with present Terminal C, after the renovation of the latter, to form a hub for domestic flights, while Terminals D, E and F will serve international flights. An underground shuttle train opened in 2018 already connects the domestic and international terminals.

The old Domodedovo terminal in Moscow


A waiting lounge at the old Domodedovo


The new Domodedovo (above and below)


New, in 2012 (above) and old, in 2000 (below) Vnukovo, Moscow’s 3rd airport.

Let’s now go beyond the MKAD and look at the other new amazing airport complexes around the country. This is just a selection, there is much more.

SAINT PETERSBURG

Saint Petersburg was really in a need of a modern airport, and it was therefore such a relief when it finally opened in 2013

BELGOROD

Belgorod a city of 350 thousand inhabitants close to the Ukrainian border got this new beautiful terminal in 2013.

VLADIVOSTOK

Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East got a new airport terminal in 2012 as part of the preparations for the APEC 2012 summit.

YEKATERINBURG

Yekaterinburg, Russia’s third largest city on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains received a new terminal in 2009.

KAZAN

This new airport complex was erected in 2012 in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia’s sixth most populous city. It was built in the run up to the 2013 Summer Universiade and enlarged for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

KALININGRAD

This new airport in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave at the Baltic Sea, opened in 2017

NIZHNY NOVGOROD

The new airport in Nizhny Novgorod was also built as part of Russia’s infrastructure upgrade in preparation for the 2018 football World Cup.

NOVOSIBIRSK

The new airport in Novosibirsk is from 2015. Novosibirsk with 1.5 million is a city in Siberia at the Ob River. The Trans-Siberian Railway fueled much of the city’s growth in the 19th century.

PERM

The new terminal in Perm from 2017 is a real architectural gem. Perm has a population over one million and is located in the, Urals 300 kilometers north-west of Yekaterinburg and 400 kilometers north of Ufa.

ROSTOV-ON-DON

Rostov-on-Don is one more of the cities which got a new airport terminal (opened 2017) in preparation for the FIFA 2018 World Cup. In fact, this was a brand new airport built on virgin field, whereas the other airports in this survey represent development and enlargements of previously existing airports.

SABETA, YAMAL PENINSULA

Sabetta on the Yamal peninsula got an airport in 2014 in connection with Russia’s push to develop its Arctic regions and in this case especially the Yamal LNG project and the Yuzhno-Tambeyskoye gas field.

SAMARA

In 2014 opened the new airport in Samara in the southeastern part of European Russia on the east bank of the river Volga.

SIMFEROPOL

Simferopol airport in Russian Crimea is probably the nicest airport in the world. Built in 2018, four years after Crimea’s liberation from Ukrainian occupation.

It was an amazing feeling travelling through that airport. The architect has really managed to do what is most important in places like that, to neutralize the stress factor. Everything is so spacy, harmonious and green that you get a feeling that you are in a giant spa instead of an airport. The Simferopol airport really calmed my nerves on a busy travelling day.

SOCHI

The Sochi airport was built in 2009 and enlarged in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

TALAKAN, YAKUTIA

This airport in Talakan in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) opened in 2012.

TYUMEN

The new international terminal in Tyumen was opened in 2017. Tyumen was the first Russian settlement in Siberia and now has an estimated population of 750 thousand.

UFA

Ufa, the capital city of Bashkortostan at the Urals received this new air terminal in 2015.

VOLGOGRAD

This is the airport in Volgograd, the WWII name of which was Stalingrad. A new international terminal was constructed in 2016 and in 2018 another terminal for domestic flights was opened to accommodate football fans for FIFA 2018.

KRASNOYARSK

The newly constructed airport in Krasnoyarsk opened in December 2017. Krasnoyarsk is located at the Yenisei River in Siberia. With a population over one million it is the third largest Siberian city after Novosibirsk and Omsk. Novosibirsk got a new airport in 2015 and Omsk will get one before 2022.

Those were some of the airports built and upgraded within the last decade, now let’s look on some airport projects underway.

GROZNY

The Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov presented in May 2018 this bold project for the new airport in the Chechen capital Grozny. The construction is expected to commence in 2020.

SARATOV

The projected new terminal at the Saratov airport is one more of the new Russian airports with daring architecture, not only functionality but beauty, too. Saratov on the Volga River and with a population of some 850 thousand will have this airport up and running in 2019.

IRKUTSK

The Irkutsk airport will be modernized with this new terminal in 2020. Irkutsk is a city of 600 thousand people near the Lake Baikal.

KRASNODAR

Krasnodar, Russia’s fastest growing city, in the South of the country will get a new airport and air city hub by 2023.

NALCHIK

This new terminal in Nalchik is due by 2020. Nalchik is a city of 300 thousand situated at an altitude of 550 meters (1,800 ft) in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is Russia’s easternmost big city situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Interestingly, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is actually situated quite a bit eastward from Tokyo if you go by the latitude of geographic coordinates. That should really give you an idea how huge Russia is. This new airport terminal will be erected there by 2021.

KHABAROVSK

As part of Putin’s drive to develop Russia’s Far East, Khabarovsk will get a new modern airport terminal by 2019. Further the airport will be developed into a logistic hub with an air city consisting of business centers, hotels and an exposition center. Khabarovsk, a city of more than half a million people, is located at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers about 800 kilometers north of Vladivostok and only 30 kilometers from the Chinese border.

CHELYABINSK

Chelyabinsk is just to the east of the Ural Mountains and 210 kilometers south of Yekaterinburg. This city with more than 1 million inhabitants will soon get this new airport terminal which is due in 2019. The construction was spurred by the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits to be held in Chelyabinsk in 2020.

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with a population of 200 thousand is on the Sakhalin island, one thousand kilometer west from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their new airport terminal is due by end of 2019 so as to accommodate growing needs of tourism and business.

GELENDZHIK

We will round off this survey with this impressive new airport terminal which will be erected in Gelendzhik. Gelendzhik is a Black Sea resort 250 kilometer west from Sochi. In fact, between Sochi and Anapa on the whole coast, there are no high quality resorts except for Gelendzhik, but this one is truly a gem. The new terminal will be built by 2021. Gelendzhik is the only one in our survey which does not presently have the status of international airport, but that should be taken care of by the time this new airport is done. With Gelendzhik completed, Russia’s Black Sea region will have six modern large airports – Sochi, Gelendzhik, Anapa, Simferopol, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don – in a matrix of roughly 300 kilometers between airport. That is an impressive density in itself and doubly remarkable considering there was not a single decent airport there before 2009. Considering also the road building happening in the region, the area is on its way to develop into a Russian Provence, with which it already shares the climate and nature.

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Estonian state-owned airline Nordica offers to take over Kerry to Dublin route

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Estonian state-owned airline Nordica, which operates PSO routes in Sweden, has offered to take on the Kerry to Dublin route left vacant by Stobart Air’s collapse, it is understood.

Contact was made with the airport over the weekend and the matter is now with the Department of Transport.

Talks had been underway for some months between Kerry Airport and several airline companies in anticipation Stobart Air facing difficulties continuing to operate the Kerry to Dublin route for the remaining seven months of its contract.

Approaches to Nordica were already at advanced stage when news emerged of Stobart Air’s immediate collapse at the weekend and are understood to have progressed further since.

Stobart operated the Aer Lingus Regional network, mainly connecting British regional airports with the Republic, under a deal that was due to run until next year.

It also operated Government-funded public service obligation (meaning the route is subsidised by the government) services between Dublin and Kerry and Dublin and Donegal.

Of the 12 routes immediately affected by Stobart Air’s decision to cease trading, Aer Lingus will operate five routes, and for at least the next week BA CityFlyer will operate two.

At the moment there are no plans to service the two regional routes from Kerry and Donegal to Dublin.

The Kerry to Dublin connection accounts for a third of passenger numbers for Kerry Airport and is considered vital. Other airlines including Emerald have also shown interest in the contract.

John Mulhern, chief executive of Kerry Airport said on Monday he was confident a replacement carrier was ready to step in.

“I am very confident, if the arrangements can be put in place, this may be a lot sooner than expected,” Mr Mulhern said, when asked if another airline could be found to maintain the four flights a day to and from Dublin.

The airport was braced for Stobart pulling out and it is owed less than €400, Mr Mulhern said.

The PSO contract process allows for a replacement carrier to be appointed, without going through the full tender process, should an appointed carrier cease to operate. This could see another carrier take on the remainder of the current contract relatively swiftly.

There are also contingency plans for dealing with a financial loss to the airport should the vacuum continue for the next seven months when the PSO contract is out to tender again.

Coincidentally this is the timeframe allowed for a replacement under provisions in the government funded public service obligation contract should a carrier cease to operate.

The subsidised route is considered vital for Kerry tourism and business and it serves an important role in carrying cancer patients and others for medical treatment in Dublin.

Passenger numbers had been growing prior to the pandemic and more than 58,000 people flew on Dublin Kerry route in 2019.

Numbers were gradually increasing again with flights about half full in recent weeks following a period of reduced passenger demand during the pandemic.

Staffing had also been reduced at the airport with private agreements reached with just under ten staff, he said.

Flights from Kerry to London, Franfurt Hahn, Faro and Alicante are set to return in July. The regional PSO four flights a day continued to operate throughout the Covid restrictions.

The airport is also trying to grow its private jet business.

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Anthropology: The Spanish explorer who desecrated graves in the name of science | Culture

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Domingo Sánchez first saw the sea at age 25. “The spectacle of the sea,” he would recall in amazement, years later. He was the son of “honest farmers” and had worked as a goatherd back in his home village, Fuenteguinaldo (Salamanca). Domingo had studied thanks to the determination of his mother, a peasant woman who “was addicted to reading” and could quote entire passages from Don Quijote from memory.

On July 22, 1885, Sánchez hugged his parents, mounted a horse and trotted away. Ten days later he was in Barcelona, where he boarded a steamer headed for the Philippines, then a remote Spanish colony that had been named after King Phillip II.

The Spaniard was starting out a new life as a collector of exotic animals for the Ministry of Overseas Affairs. “I was flattered by the thought of being a naturalist explorer, and by the fact that this profession would enable me to experience real-life episodes out of the novels of Jules Verne and Mayne Reid that I was so fond of,” he wrote.

Sánchez left the Philippines over a decade later, after having sent to Spain an entire zoo’s worth of dead animals as well as numerous human remains, some of which are still on display today at the National Anthropology Museum in Madrid.

First page of the memoirs by Domingo Sánchez.
First page of the memoirs by Domingo Sánchez.Colección familiar

His memoirs, plucked out of oblivion by an association based in his home village, do not conceal the shady origin of these items. Rather on the contrary. In the Philippines, Sánchez would introduce himself as a naturalist explorer scouring the islands “on the King’s orders, collecting plants and animals to make medicine to cure disease.” But his real obsession was with human remains, reflecting the 19th century’s obsession with anthropology.

In his autobiography, Sánchez recounts a 1890 expedition to rob bodies from the Tagbanwa, the inhabitants of Palawan island. “I wasn’t very afraid of those little men, half-Malay, half-Black, who looked upon me with great respect and for whom my rifle was a terrible weapon,” he wrote. “I was not unaware that what I was trying to do represented the greatest of crimes for those poor people. The desecration of their graves, the desecration of their dead, was the biggest offense imaginable against them, and it would have justified any attack, any kind of reprisals. But the benevolent, compassionate man had left my body. Only the naturalist was left behind, and to him, obtaining those samples deserved some sort of sacrifice. I spent that night projecting and planning the theft, because theft is what it was,” writes Sánchez in his memoirs.

The following night, when everyone slept in the hamlet of Iüahit, Sánchez and his assistant crept into the sacred cemetery of the Tagbanwa, stole a coffin and got away on a boat. From the shoreline they saw a plume of smoke rising in the sky, illuminated by flames. “Somebody found out about the desecration, probably warned other members of the tribe, and agreed to set our house on fire, thinking perhaps that we were still inside. Even if that was the case, I would never think of calling those wretched people bandits or criminals for seeking revenge for the profanation of their dead. Many peoples of the world who boast of being civilized and cultivated would have proceeded in the same manner, and perhaps even more cruelly. The fact of the matter is that we made it safe, and we saved the booty. That coffin was a good option,” reads the autobiography.

The skeleton of a Filipina woman at the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid, next to two 19th-century statues of people from Equatorial Guinea.
The skeleton of a Filipina woman at the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid, next to two 19th-century statues of people from Equatorial Guinea.

Mercedes Sánchez, 78, keeps the original manuscript handwritten by her great-uncle (who died in 1947) inside her home in Fuenteguinaldo. The memoirs take up two hefty volumes that she inherited along with a set of photographs and other notes. “We used to call him grandfather because he didn’t have any grandchildren of his own. He would bring us candy and sit us on his knee,” recalls Mercedes in a telephone conversation from Alicante, where she is spending her retirement years.

The local association Amigos del Castro de Irueña recovered Sánchez’s memoirs, published them last year, and are working to give them greater exposure. “I’m reading them now for the first time,” admits his great-niece.

The manuscript, titled Historia vulgar algo novelesca de un naturalista médico español (or An ordinary, somewhat fantastic tale of a Spanish naturalist doctor), contains a succession of hunting expeditions. Sánchez would shoot down anything that crossed his path: monkeys, armadillos, alligators, bats, otters, porcupines, black storks. He didn’t shrink away from anything. On one occasion, he required four men to help transport a python he’d just hunted down. During his expeditions through the jungle, he would stay at missionary convents or at the homes of Spanish settlers. One day in 1892, he stayed at the home of a man in Mamburao, a middle-sized town on the island of Mindoro. “In the afternoon we dug up the skeleton of a young Black girl whom my host had watched get buried,” writes Sánchez.

On a recent Wednesday, the National Anthropology Museum was practically empty due to the coronavirus pandemic. The so-called Room of the Origins of the Museum does precisely that, take visitors back to 1875, the year that King Alfonso XII inaugurated the building. Inside an old display case, there are two skeletons standing side by side: those of a female orangutan and of a Filipina woman. Hers was one of the human bodies brought back to Spain by the explorer from Salamanca.

Filipino men at Retiro Park in Madrid during the 1887 Exposition on the Philippines.
Filipino men at Retiro Park in Madrid during the 1887 Exposition on the Philippines.J. Laurent y Cía

“The female skeleton is from the island of Luzón. All we know is that it was sent by Domingo Sánchez, but we don’t know when or how,” explains a spokesperson for the museum, which is overseen by the Culture Ministry. “The items in the Physical Anthropology collection have yet to be investigated. Their origin is very complex and hazy.”

Many of the samples obtained by the explorer arrived in Madrid for the General Exposition of the Philippine Islands, held in 1887. Sánchez sailed from Manila on April 1 of that year, on a steamer whose deck was filled with cages containing live animals, including monkeys, deer, pythons and carabaos, a buffalo-like grazing mammal. Up near the bow, there was a multitude of birds, especially parrots and magpies. Among all these animals, there was also a group of 43 indigenous people who were getting paid to go on display at Madrid’s Retiro Park.

María Cristina, the queen regent, solemnly opened the Expo on June 30, 1887 at the park’s Crystal Palace, which was built for the occasion. At night, the park would light up with the recently installed electricity, fascinating everyone who looked on. News reports of the day talked about more than 30,000 visitors a day.

The historian Luis Ángel Sánchez Gómez analyzed the circumstances surrounding the exhibition in his 2003 book Un imperio en la vitrina (or An empire in the showcase). Over the course of just a few weeks, three out of the 43 Filipinos died, and a baby was born. They were all sleeping in Retiro Park. One of the deceased women, Dolores Nessern, was a Catholic and she was buried at La Almudena cemetery. The newspaper La Iberia described the ceremony thus: “The lifeless remains of the young island woman were taken to the East cemetery, where religion and science battled hard over them. In the name of anthropological and ethnographic studies, very profound doctors meant to snatch the body and study it in the dissection room, and later deposit the bones inside a museum hall. The priest bravely fought for those remains.”

Domingo Sánchez (second from left) listening to Santiago Ramón y Cajal at his Madrid lab in 1915.
Domingo Sánchez (second from left) listening to Santiago Ramón y Cajal at his Madrid lab in 1915.

“Body snatching was relatively common,” underscores Sánchez Gómez, of Madrid’s Complutense University. This historian brings up the case of Doctor Pedro González Velasco, founder of the National Anthropology Museum, who had a small palace built next to the old cemetery in the Basque city of Zarautz, where he would sometimes venture at night with the French anthropologist Paul Broca to steal craniums from the ossuary. It was 1862, and there were theories in vogue linking the shape of a person’s head with the alleged superiority of specific races. The skulls of Basque people, deemed to be primitive, were in high demand among some anthropologists. And if this required stealing them, then so be it. “It was clear that it was not a morally acceptable, or a legal, thing to do, regardless of whether it was being done in Europe or in ‘wild’ territory, but they assumed that it was justified because of the scientific interest involved,” explains Sánchez Gómez.

Domingo Sánchez returned definitively from the Philippines in 1898, after spending 13 years there. He fled with his wife, Encarnación, following the victory of the Filipino uprising that ended more than three centuries of Spanish rule.

The National Museum of Anthropology still stores nearly 40 human skulls sent by Sánchez, according to a list drawn up by the museum at this newspaper’s request. The National Museum of Natural Sciences, also in Madrid, holds some of the animal specimens collected by the explorer, including monkeys, bats and a tamarao.

But most of Domingo Sánchez’s “treasure” no longer exists. On April 28, 1897, the bells of Manila cathedral went off to signal a fire that ended up devouring four city blocks. The flames reached the Inspectorate General of Forestry of the Ministry of Overseas Affairs, which stored over 5,000 jars containing animals preserved in alcohol. “It was a terrible thing to watch,” wrote Sánchez. “The flames reduced to ash those beautiful collections representing my work of nearly 12 years. My anthropology collection, made up of nearly 500 skulls, a few skeletons, many pelvises and other human remains were also burnt down.”

Sánchez recalls that one time, after snatching human remains from a cemetery in the mountains in the north of Luzón, he felt remorseful: “I didn’t feel at ease in that place. It was as though my conscience was accusing me of stealing those people’s treasure, of desecrating the remains of their ancestors. Behind the naturalist, there peeked out the man who presumed to be honest and just. I was starting to be mortified by notions of consideration and charity. But it was no longer possible to go back, nor was I thinking about it. And I resolved to leave that place as soon as possible.”

The old explorer was 76 and working on a clean copy of his memoirs when the Spanish Civil War broke out. He was in Madrid, himself turned into “a walking skeleton” by hunger, and outraged by the assassinations of priests, monks and nuns “under the Reds.” Sánchez, who studied natural sciences before emigrating to the Philipines and who finished his medical studies at age 40, had started to work in 1903 at the lab of the famous neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, then located in the same building that today displays the skeleton of the Filipina woman. During the war, Sánchez studied the structure of insects’ nervous systems under the microscope.

“This pleasant task was frequently disturbed by the sound of cannon, by exploding howitzers, by the shots of anti-aircraft missiles and machine guns,” he wrote with sadness. “There is no greater ferocity than the one on display during the cruel and fratricide war we have just endured. I never could have thought that our dear, chivalrous Spain could hold so much ferocity and shamelessness, so much moral misery! Our fellow countrymen, who have sponsored and committed such repugnant crimes or witnessed them with glee, have far surpassed the most savage and bloodthirsty Igorotes from the mountains in the north of Luzón in the Philippines.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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