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.
Ramón Estévez regrets his name change to Martin Sheen | Culture
At the beginning of the sixties, Ramón Estévez was desperate. His first steps as a television actor had gone well, but he felt stuck in that medium and wanted to get into theater and film. However, at the time, his name held him back: there were few successful Latinos in the United States. “Whenever I called for a position, whether for work or for an apartment, they answered me hesitantly when I gave my name, and when I arrived, I found the position already filled.” He said in 2003. And so, Ramón decided to create an artistic name by merging the name of Robert Dale Martin, the CBS network’s casting director, who had helped him in those essential appearances on the small screen, and that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who, as Estévez’s little sister Carmen recalls, “regularly appeared on TV.”
This is how Martin Sheen came about, and owing to his great talent, he triumphed first in theater and, later as an actor in the movies, notably: Badlands, Apocalypse Now, The Departed, and Wall Street. However, the identity of Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez did not disappear: this name remains in all of Sheen’s official documents (passport, driver’s license and marriage license)… and in the actor’s soul. Last week, in an interview with Closer magazine, he confessed that one of the great regrets of his life was his change of name. He speaks with pride of the obstinacy of his son Emilio, who kept it despite “his agent’s advice to change it”. In relation to his own decision, he reflects: “Sometimes they convince you, when you don’t have enough insight or even enough courage to stand up for what you believe in, and you pay for it later.”
Over time, Sheen recovered his Galician roots, the land where his father, Francisco Estévez Martínez, was born. His father was an immigrant who left Parderrubias, in Salceda de Caselas (Pontevedra), for Cuba at the age of 18 in 1916. He left with no Spanish, a language he learned on the Caribbean Island. In the early 1930s, he emigrated to the United States to a modest Irish neighborhood in Dayton (Ohio), where he married another immigrant, Mary-Ann Phelan.
Martin Sheen’s life has been profoundly marked by his childhood. His father worked at NCR Corporation, an industrial conglomerate that began manufacturing cash registers. Shortly after his marriage, the company sent him to the Bermuda Islands where his first children were born. Sheen was the seventh of ten children (nine boys and one girl), and the first to be born in Dayton, in 1940, after the family moved to the US. His left arm was clasped by forceps during birth, leaving it three inches shorter than his right arm. As a result of this, the character that Sheen interprets in the series The West Wing of the White House, President Josiah Bartlet, puts on his jacket with a strange twist of the body. As a child, he suffered from polio which kept him bedridden for a year, and at the age of 11 his mother died. Thanks to the support of a catholic charity and his own father’s efforts, the family remained united against the distribition of children to orphanages or foster homes, a common practice at the time.
He was the eccentric of the family: he decided to go into acting. Against his father’s objections, Ramón, the most reserved son only enjoyed the theater and decided to study acting. “You don’t know how to sing or dance!”, his father told him, to which his son replied: “You love westerns and in those nobody sings or dances”. “But you don’t ride a horse either!” was his father’s comeback. Despite this discouragement, he moved to New York, following in the footsteps of his idol, James Dean.
In the mythical episode Two Cathedrals of The West Wing, he explains how the character President Bartlet reflects the experiences of his own childhood and adolescence. Estévez/Sheen: a practicing Catholic and relentless campaigner against global warming, a man in favor of civil and immigrant rights, he was arrested several times during demonstrations outside the White House. His activism began when he was just 14 years old in a golf club where he worked. He led a strike of caddies, protesting against the club members’ use of bad language in front of children.
And then there’s the Spanish context. Francisco Estévez did not teach his children Spanish, but the Estévez family went back to their roots. Francisco was able to return to his hometown in Galicia in 1967 (just as Sheen landed his first big role in In the Custody of Strangers), where he began building a house, while making regular trips back to Dayton. He would never see this house finished. He died in Dayton in 1974, and was buried with his wife and son Manuel, who had died in 1968. His only daughter, Carmen, ended up working as an English teacher at a school in Madrid, where she married. For years people in Madrid have bumped into Sheen during his visits to his sister. Carmen finished building her father’s house and inaugurated a river promenade dedicated to his memory. Indeed, she has kept the memory of the Estévez alive in Salceda de Caselas.
The Camino de Santiago, a dream come true
In the early years of the 2000s, Sheen, his son Emilio Estévez and his grandson, Taylor, walked the Camino de Santiago. In Burgos, the grandson met a girl, and at the end of the walk he decided not to return to Los Angeles, but to remain in the Castilian city, where he got married. Influenced by that experience, Sheen and Estévez made the film El camino (2010), in which both co-starred and the latter directed. A few months ago, Sheen spoke proudly of El camino, a great success, and a faithful portrayal of his spirituality. During filming, at a lunch under huge pergolas at the back of Burgos cathedral, Sheen explained: “I am a Catholic, and a lot of that spirituality is in this movie. I have had an extremely happy life, with the normal highs and lows of a career. I have survived disease and my family is wonderful [his four children, including Charlie Sheen, are actors]… I believe in a church that does incredible work in the Third World. Other things, like some of the pronouncements from the Pope [at that time, Benedict XVI], are more difficult for me. I live my faith, and it is between God and I.” A few meters from Sheen and the journalist, at the long tables, was a strange group that didn’t not look like actors: “That’s my wife, that’s my sister and her husband, that my best childhood friend… I’ve invited them to come and have a good time with Emilio, Taylor [who worked as an assistant] and me”. Taylor Estévez currently works as a stunt coordinator in California.
Carmen Estévez says that for decades the family did not understand their father’s deeply Galician sense of humor, until they realized that for much of the time he was not being serious. This sarcasm was inherited by his son Ramón/Martin, and he made a display of this in Burgos. In response to a question about his career, he said: “With my resume full of bad movie titles, what can I say. I’m an actor and that’s how I’ve supported my family. But I’ve been in about 10 films that I can be proud of…” at which point he dropped his cup of coffee and blurted out: “See? For gloating over my career. Divine punishment”.
Buzz Lightyear: To Lesbians and Beyond | Culture
The first homosexual kiss in a Disney movie has been more than expected. Many of us wanted to see it in Frozen: some interpret the ice princess’s song “Let it Go” as a reference to being gay. Lots of people awaited it in Luca, where the love between protagonists Luca and Alberto was at times more obvious even than that of the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain. We longed for a legendary, effervescent kiss, the fruit of a rebellious and passionate love. It was going to be a vindictive kiss, full of fireworks. It would be one of those kisses that precede the mythical The End, when the screen fades to black behind the lover’s mouths. It was a kiss that was going to take everything over. Above all, it was going to be the great kiss of the 21st century, undoubtedly the century of homosexual visibility and the century of the gender revolution, the moment when women fall in love and kiss for the first time and do all of it on the big screen. (Well, not all of it.)
The first lesbian kiss in Disney history appears in the recently released Lightyear, and it has sadly led to the censorship of the film in 14 countries in the Middle East and Asia. The kiss takes place in 1995, that is, 27 years ago. The first homosexual kiss of the Disney Pixar factory recognizes that it is years late. It is a 90′s kiss. It comes not from the 21st century, but the 20th. How? The film starts with the following premise: in 1995 Andy, the protagonist of Toy Story, went to the cinema to see Lightyear. This is the movie he saw then. Lightyear, therefore, is not the end of the saga but its prequel. In addition, the controversial kiss does not happen between a young protagonist and her girlfriend, but between two mature women who have been married for years. We are not facing a rebellious kiss, much less a political or ideological one. This kiss is not intended to be a novelty or to make anything visible. It is an absolutely conventional gesture. Thank you, Disney Pixar for going beyond my wildest dreams when it comes to normalizing visibility. And thank you for listening to your workers and refusing to remove the scene. In the long run, it will be more profitable to sacrifice box-office earnings than dignity.
In addition to being between two women, the kiss happens between two mothers, on the day that they celebrate their son’s birthday. It is not the classic Disney kiss, a culmination of the romantic love between the leading couple, but a stolen moment of quotidian happiness. It is a fleeting kiss, insignificant in the history of lovers. It lasts just seconds. It is not charged with any special meaning in the love story. It speaks of a way of building affections and meaning different from that imposed by the traditional heterosexual canon: seemingly unimportant gestures of are everything. It represents a kind of love where kisses do not represent a turning point in the lovers’ lives, but rather small anchor points in their story history. In this gesture, romantic love is not ultimately the center of life but part of it. In Lightyear, we witness the anodyne kiss on the lips between space explorer Alisha Hawthorne and her wife, and we realize that partners are not at the center of any story, but rather one of those fragments that give meaning to life. It is a sapphic kiss in the sense that it is another way of building love, more horizontal, quieter and healthier.
Alisha—a female, lesbian and black—does not have as much screentime as Buzz Lightyear—male, white and the story’s protagonist. She is the protagonist’s friend, confidante and inspiration. Together they are trapped on an uninhabitable planet due to a mistake he made. From that moment on their lives run parallel but radically different–almost like the story of lesbian and heterosexual love. She adapts to the circumstances and begins to live the life that has befallen her, without rejecting its difficulties. The conditions are not the best, but Alisha falls in love–with a woman–and celebrates her luck. Together they have a son. Along the way, she takes care of those she loves, she has a granddaughter, she fights and she investigates. She fills her life with meaning, and she dies. Buzz, on the other hand, insists on “finishing the mission,” “being important,” “saving the world,” “succeeding,” “being a hero,” “doing things alone” and “being the first.” Buzz, who will never know love, embodies many of the traditional values of heteronormative love, starting with the desire for protagonism and the sense of a linear life narrated through love or milestones, leading only to deep, intimate failure.
Lightyear attempts to travel into space to escape from the planet where he is trapped, failing over and over again. Additionally, though, time is altered every time he subjects his ship to hyperspeed. Every time he returns, a few minutes have passed for him and a few years–four, ten or twenty–for Alisha. He burns through life, while she lives it. In one of the final moments, Buzz Lightyear explains to Alisha’s granddaughter why he and her grandmother became space rangers. “We just wanted to be important,” he says. “Trust me, she was,” she says. And the hero understands that his whole life has been a huge misunderstanding. He will have to return home, knowing that his home is the one he has tried to flee all his life.
The film is a masterpiece, full of action, emotion, humor and imagination. Its commitment to diversity includes a warrior over seventy years old, a rebel whose role is essential in saving the world. No one is talking about the old woman for the simple reason that old age remains invisible even when it occupies the center of the scene. The film also gives us Sox, an adorable robotic cat that demonstrates how the only technology that works is that which helps people, not that which attempts to change them. It is truly one of the great Pixar movies, much more than action and stars.
At this point, it had gotten hard to explain why we humans want to keep going to infinity and beyond. But there is a moment, at the end of the film, when we understand: when the elite protectors of the universe excitedly observe the bronze statue of Alisha, a black lesbian woman, the source of meaning for humanity, because she is the one who knew how to live a small life with greatness.
George Michael revisited: binge-eating ice cream, sex and ecstasy | Culture
George Michael abhorred fame and avoided interviews. Over his 30-year career, the singer of “Faith” released only four studio albums as a solo artist. But his figure left a lasting impact on popular culture. The public’s fascination with him lingers even today, as demonstrated by the recent release of both a documentary and a book about his life, just when the artist would have turned 59. The two works depict the pop star’s life from dramatically different perspectives.
The musician himself worked on the film George Michael: Freedom Uncut with his former collaborator, David Austin. It follows the career of one of the best voices in pop, starting in the eighties and ending in 2016, the year of his death. Narrated in the first person, the documentary gives a partial glimpse of the star. In contrast, journalist James Gavin’s book George Michael: A Life explores the singer’s dark side in great detail. The biography chronicles Michael’s addiction to GHB, also known as liquid ecstasy, his depression and his dependence on sex. According to the account, Michael spent his later years sinking into drugs and prostitution and alienating his friends, including Andrew Ridgeley, the other half of Wham!. Gavin spoke with more than 200 friends and acquaintances of the artist, resulting in a portrayal of an emotionally fragile and insecure man. According to the author’s thesis, which several friends corroborate but his family denies, the performer died not of a heart condition, as was said at the time, but of an intentional overdose: suicide.
The documentary film focuses on the eighties and nineties, the artist’s creative peak. The book, meanwhile, primarily describes his last years of life, when he made headlines more for his arrests than for his music. Both are pieces of a puzzle that the artist created before the public over three decades.
It is difficult to understand the career of George Michael, who would turn 59 this June 25, without delving into his biography. Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in 1963, he rose to worldwide fame alongside his school friend Andrew Ridgeley. Together they formed Wham!, a group adored by teenage girls and despised by critics. Michael enjoyed a global fame that he never wanted. He felt undervalued as an artist, relegated to the status of a teen star. He also didn’t take well to playing the role of a heterosexual idol in order to sell records to the female public. He was ready to embrace his sexuality, but society wasn’t. At the time, both Elton John and Freddy Mercury were married to women. In Spain, Miguel Bosé walked hand in hand with Ana Obregón. A mainstream artist couldn’t afford to be gay.
Still, George Michael represented his sexuality with a certain impudent joy in public. In his later years, looking back, Michael said his sexuality had been an enigma, even to him, but his music was always honest. “I do want people to know the songs I wrote when I was with women were really about women and the songs that I’ve written since have been fairly obviously about men,” he said. “So when it comes to my work I’ve never been reticent about defining my sexuality.” George Michael was sex. His music was too.
On his first solo album, he broke away from his good-boy image to present himself as a sexually liberated man–in a trajectory later imitated by many pop artists, including Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. His first solo song, “I Want Your Sex,” was dedicated to a man, but his then-girlfriend, makeup artist Kathy Jeung, appeared in the music video. “[Kathy] was in love with me but she knew that I was in love with a guy at that point in time. I was still saying I was bisexual,” he explained in a 2004 interview with the British magazine Attitude. The song caused controversy for defending promiscuity in the harshest years of AIDS, and its explicitly sexual lyrics were censored on several radio networks.
In the music video for his second single, “Faith,” Michael played the role of the American macho, wearing a leather jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, combined with close-ups of his butt swaying to the beat. The singer was asserting himself as a mature composer. At the same time, he was sexualizing himself. The song made him a worldwide success. He began to rub shoulders with pop royalty, including Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince. At that time, pop stars were at the heart of popular culture. But only George Michael used his role to confront record companies and eventually renounce media overexposure.
If singers were kings, MTV was their palace. In the 1990s, a good music video could boost a song’s sales and its artist’s fame. That’s when George Michael decided to disappear. He barely promoted his long-awaited second album, much less commercial than the first. Its first music video, “Freedom,” featured the five most important top models of the moment. The video was directed by first-timer David Fincher, who before revolutionizing Hollywood already revolutionized MTV. It has gone down in history as one of the best video clips of all time.
Freedom: Uncut, the new documentary, focuses on that creative stage of the singer. Some of the participants in that video, such as Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, give interviews about Michael, and the film includes discarded footage that Fincher did not use. While the documentary focuses on his art, it also touches aspects of his personal life, including the deaths of his mother and Anselmo Feleppa, his great love, who died of complications from AIDS in 1993.
The two deaths had a devastating effect on Michael, and they triggered the spiral that Gavin focuses on in his book. The author calls the singer a “pathetic, lonely and broken figure.”
George Michael did not publicly come out of the closet. He was wrenched out in the most shameful way possible. In September 1998, a plainclothes officer made a pass at him in a public restroom in Los Angeles, California. When the artist played along, he was arrested. Searching him, police found marijuana and crack. The former leader of Wham! was fined only $810, but the media’s penalty was devastating. Tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic lashed out at him. It was no longer the eighties, but a scandal like that could still end anyone’s career. He explained himself the best way he could: with a song. The video clip for “Outside,” the single from his greatest hits album, was based on the famous incident. It portrays several men dressed as police kissing in the bathroom of a club, while a press helicopter records different couples having sex. Michael took control of the narrative, as sexual and as honest as ever.
But no song could silence the news that followed. A few months later, the musician was arrested again after a car accident. The police found him “drenched in sweat” with “eyes open and pupils dilated.” It was his seventh arrest in 12 years. In the biography, Gavin expands on this stage, at the time portrayed by the press at the time in a disjointed and sensationalistic way. The author places it in the context of the impulses of a depressed, frustrated man taking refuge in drugs and sex. “For Michael, GHB seemed heaven-sent,” the journalist writes about the drug, a central nervous system depressant closely associated with sex parties. “Apart from fueling his sexual compulsiveness, it made a depressed, self-hating man feel attractive. It brought joy where there was little. GHB gave him confidence … but it also took him to a new and terrifying level of self-destruction.”
Gavin describes one of the music industry’s brightest stars as a lonely, friendless man, secluded in his mansion. He spent his days watching episodes of his favorite soap opera, Coronation Street, while binging on Haagen Dazs ice cream and junk food and using GHB. The author writes that the singer held parties with prostitutes and large amounts of drugs in his mansion in north London.
The journalist’s description is consistent with statements made this week by Kenny Goss, who had a relationship with the singer between 1996 and 2009. In an interview on the English program Piers Morgan Uncensored, the art dealer recounted that everyone around him knew that Michael would die soon. “I spent a lot of time worrying about him,” he recalled. “What’s the line he says in one of his songs? He says, ‘I can see it in your eyes when you look at me that way, it tears me in two’. And it really did.”
George Michael died on Christmas day of 2016. The official report says that the death was due to heart failure. His fans remembered him with “Last Christmas,” a song that many read as a Christmas carol, but which actually tells a tragic story about heartbreak and distrust. “All my songs are autobiographical,” the singer used to say.
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