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Spanish Civil War: Paul Preston: ‘Franco was shy with women, Mussolini an aggressive predator, and Hitler harbored a range of perversions’ | Culture

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With the United Kingdom in a post-Brexit tailspin, Paul Preston, 75, is living in London in what he considers a kind of dystopia. “Well, we knew this was coming with this incompetent, corrupt and lying government,” he says.

His forte is clarity, both as a person and a historian, which comes in very handy when approaching his specialty, Spain’s 20th century, particularly when there are those who continue to twist the truth. Preston’s insightfulness has delivered the best biography on Francisco Franco to date, and he has also penned a number of essays on the more ruthless aspects of the late dictator to counteract his portrayal both in Spain and abroad as a mild version of his tyrannical contemporaries.

Preston has made sure to point out that when it comes to cruelty, Franco was on a par with his fellow fascist colleagues. And this cruelty stemmed not just from fanaticism but also from opportunism, to ensure that he would remain in power until his death. This goal of dying as head of state was achieved by crushing his opponents and making sure they did not stand in his way.

This behavior is described in Preston’s The Spanish Civil War, A People Betrayed and the book which he found hardest to write, The Spanish Holocaust. Now, he depicts Franco’s brutality again in Arquitectos del terror (or, Architects of terror) in which he narrates how Francoism took hold in the 1930s due, among other things, to misleading information that provoked a civil war at the time and now, 90 years later, is still being spread among a not inconsiderable sector of the population, as incredible as that may seem.

The attempts to whitewash Francoism are unrelenting. We have had to listen to leaders of Spain’s conservative Popular Party deny the war took place after a coup d’état in 1936, and to the far-right Vox describe the current government of Pedro Sánchez as the worst in 80 years; in other words, more harmful than the dictatorship. Do you find it depressing that, after years of countering these claims with facts, they continue to be spouted by political leaders?

I remember 20 years ago, when journalists used to ask me if the tension over the Spanish Civil War was going to last, I, an innocent foreigner, would answer, “No, it is surely just a matter of time.” But every time I say this, there’s a concerning new outbreak of Francoism. What I don’t understand is what advantage can be gained from speaking in these terms. In the West, there is an intense and interesting debate between the left and the right on issues that affect people whereas in Spain, this is reduced to a cultural war. This is particularly so when they touch on issues such as homosexuality and come up with nonsense fueled by bitterness. Even in the UK, now that everything has become polarized over Brexit, it hasn’t come to that. A colossal amount of time has elapsed since the 1930s. But, even so, they’re still going at it.

Preston pictured in Highgate Wood in London.
Preston pictured in Highgate Wood in London.Manuel Vázquez

Is this due to masochism?

There is some justification for those on the left or the relatives [of the victims] to still be talking about pending issues. But the right already mourned their dead. They solved that on the spot in the areas taken by the Francoists. So what the hell are they going on about?

When you first came to Spain in the 1960s, as you say, it was only a matter of time before you would start talking about the war. How long did you think you would be discussing it for?

I understood very little. It was truly a strange and foreign country. My grandfather used to warn me, “Be careful, son. They eat very strange things there and they cook everything with olive oil…” I was born just after World War II. In almost all the atlases in school there were many countries that were colored red; that is, countries that were part of the British Empire. We were brought up with this superiority complex that I soon got rid of. And now, you see, this is where Brexit has come from. When I began to study Spain, the Republic, the Civil War, I was shocked by the pigheadedness of the right. British conservatives, by comparison, were much smarter.

In what respect?

They applied what the Italian author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote in The Leopard: “If we want everything to stay as it is, everything has to change.” Now the British right is almost as pigheaded as the Spanish one.

You say you got rid of that sense of superiority early on. How?

By traveling. For me, the most important thing in my life were the years I spent in Spain. That’s how I became aware of what it meant to be British, by living abroad. I learned at Oxford that to become a specialist in a country you have to acquire a kind of second identity. During the four years I spent in Spain, I developed a perception of difference and an appreciation of the meaning of family life. With the industrial revolution in the UK, many folkloric, traditional customs had disappeared. But not in Spain. And that seemed wonderful. Also, the fact that accents were not linked to social class. I belong to the northern working class. Now it doesn’t matter. I’m old and closer to kicking the bucket, but to survive in the world in which I grew up – for example, my going to Oxford on a scholarship was not at all normal. That’s still the case. It’s still very elitist. You felt that pressure; the pressure to speak like them. What happens is that, being from Liverpool, we have a tough attitude that helps us defend ourselves. You could say that in the UK there are two languages: Norman for the upper classes and Anglo-Saxon for the lower classes. I was very struck by these differences.

How long did you stay in Spain the first time?

It took me a long time to return [to the UK]. Traveling then was very expensive and more complicated. I stayed for about two years. [When I got back] I arrived at Gatwick airport at rush hour. I was accustomed to people with olive skin and when I got on the train, I was surprised to see so many red faces. They all looked like caricatures from Dickens novels. I was pleased to have learned another language. That is something that has been lost now too with the Erasmus scholarship – that wonderful thing that has been axed thanks to the Brexit ne’er-do-wells.

Paul Preston at Highgate Wood in London.
Paul Preston at Highgate Wood in London.Manuel Vázquez

It brings to mind the old news announcement from World War II: “Fog in the channel, the continent is isolated.” Does that depress you?

Very much so! On top of that, the pandemic has benefited [UK prime minister] Boris Johnson. It has delayed the consequences, which we are going to see far more of than we are seeing now. The referendum was bad enough. A victory of just 51% should not have been allowed. Too many mistakes have been made. If, as in the Scottish referendum, they had allowed 16-year-olds to vote, the result would have been different.

When you first came to Spain, is it true that you went straight down to the working-class district of Vallecas in Madrid?

It was just one day, to get in touch with a friend. But when I arrived in Madrid, what surprised me in the area around the central Puerta del Sol were all the orthopedic shops for those wounded in the war; also, the smells in the restaurants and the craftsmen working outside their stores. For a Brit, it was very exotic.

One has to feel sorry for you after reading your latest work. It must have been traumatic, while researching the book, to have to pore over speeches by General Queipo de Llano [responsible for mass killings in Seville during the civil war] and Emilio Mola [one of the leaders of the 1936 coup] or those of Father Tusquets [who disseminated anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories] and the pro-Franco writer José María Pemán. How do you cope with that?

Well, I had already developed a thicker skin during the writing of The Spanish Holocaust. Back then, my wife would often find me crying at the keyboard when she came home from work. The crimes against women and children were unbearable. In this book, I was tracing concrete biographies. We are talking about twisted, perverse figures or, in the case of Tusquets and Pemán, people whose doctrines led to many deaths despite the fact they themselves at times gave the impression of being lay saints. The Pemán who was still around during the Transition had little to do with the man who was around in the war. Regarding Father Tusquets, for someone like me who grew up a Catholic – though I am no longer one – I find the case repulsive because of the inherent hypocrisy.

They couldn’t leave the Jews alone. They were fanatically anti-Semitic.

It was unbelievable. There were 3,000 Jews in Spain before they began to be expelled from northern and central Europe. Then the figure rose to 6,000. And there were more or less 8,000 freemasons. In Tusquets’ file, it was stated that there were 80,000; many of Franco’s military were listed among them. How could this be true? The fact is that it served as a good excuse to persecute whoever.

In fact, Franco’s own library had a few masonic volumes, which would have put him in a difficult position, had word of it got out.

Of course! It’s very interesting. It seems that, yes, Franco flirted with freemasonry and tried to join it.

Yes, because, early on, did Franco even know what it was to be a Francoist?

Indeed, his wife, Doña Carmen, had to teach him that.

Before that, he was a kind of ideological amoeba. He kept his cards close to his chest.

He didn’t even know where he kept them.

And your new book makes it clear that he was the moderate one compared to Mola, Queipo de Llano or Tusquets and Pemán. Did he take them seriously?

By comparison, yes, he was. And not only compared to these individuals, who have their own chapter in the book, but also in relation to their satellites: [Francoist politician Ramón] Serrano Suñer and [Franco’s right-hand man Luis] Carrero Blanco both became crucial for the regime as prominent members of the government, but also the writer [Ernesto] Giménez Caballero. All of them were very moralistic without exactly leading an exemplary life themselves.

Regarding the anti-Semitism they all shared, didn’t the Spanish Church maintain a more ambiguous position?

I believe that the Church was then clearly anti-Semitic. But, as it was with the Nazis, there was no distinction for any of them between the ethnic and the religious. They were simply anti-Semitic, period.

Where does the right’s sense of ownership over Spain come from?

Among other things, from the construction of the anti-Spain as a concept. It pushed them to want to eliminate 60% of the population. The majority was “against” the country. That is why they decided to exterminate or expel them.

British historian Paul Preston.
British historian Paul Preston.Manuel Vázquez

Special attention was paid to teachers, for example, and there was an aversion to the influential educational center Institución Libre de Enseñanza, which formed liberals rather than a dogmatic left.

They talked about the dangers of education. This was due to fear rather than contempt. Hence their reluctance to make education more accessible, because they believed that educating laborers or shepherds increased the risk of revolt.

Did the fanaticism and radicalism of Mola and Queipo de Llano scare Franco himself? You use data to illustrate almost beyond doubt that the death of the former could have been deliberately provoked. And that the fall from grace of the second is not surprising. And in the case of the latter, you also mention the strange relationship he had with his daughter. What happened?

He had an unhealthy relationship [with her], I would say. In the biography written by his granddaughter, Ana Quevedo, she describes the bond of the general with his daughter Maruja as suffocating and triggering his wife’s suspicions. When Maruja decided to marry without his consent, Queipo disinherited her in a fit of uncontrollable rage. His wife then gave vent to her suspicions and asked Maruja if his opposition to the marriage was due to motives “that went beyond paternal love,” as she put it. And she asked her, “Has he ever made a pass at you?” Maruja refused to answer. They were all immersed in double standards and hypocrisy. It’s delicate territory. I have been very careful. On the one hand, the book portrays adoration; on the other, rejection. I have dealt with the material within what is legally permissible.

Hence the title of the chapter devoted to Queipo, whom you call the psychopath from the South? It’s an extreme allegation maintained by witnesses of the violence and abuse with which he incited his troops.

He was absolutely repugnant.

But his remains are still inside the Basilica of Macarena in Seville.

It is curious that he is still there, yet Franco himself has been taken from the Valley of the Fallen.

Having spent your life using facts to flag up the brutalities carried out by these characters, do you despair that they have been either vindicated or their crimes downplayed?

I am aware that my books reach a tiny section of the population. I try to be honest, even if the right-wing press paints me as an amateur and a liar. But I don’t feel like responding to them or to those who spend their lives trying to discredit me. I am aware that I can only do so much. Besides, I don’t use social media. They seem to me to be a waste of time – time that I prefer to spend reading the classics.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on something that I’m not sure will come together. I’m collecting material and I’d like to write something about the sex life of the dictators. It’s going to be complicated, though. I’d like to tackle Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. There’s not much on the others. I could write hundreds of pages on Mussolini, but three at the most on Salazar [the head of Portugal’s authoritarian government from 1932 to 1968].

So what were Franco, Hitler and Mussolini like in that department?

Franco was shy with women; Mussolini was an aggressive predator – a rapist even, and Hitler harbored a range of perversions.

That sounds juicy. What about the political noise in Spain right now? Does it come to your attention in the UK?

I know about it because I read the Spanish media, but if I were to limit myself to the reporting in the UK, I would not be aware of it. They neither cover it, nor give it any importance.

Does that worry you?

What I often say is that I spend enough time wrestling with the past to worry about the future. Perhaps I am too complacent but first, it is very difficult for violence to erupt within the European Union. What they are blatantly seeking is a return to power. And that will depend, as always, on the left not being divided.

That mistake could easily be made again. Don’t you feel exasperated that a lack of appreciation of the past will lead to it being repeated?

In the UK, this is already happening. The current moderate leader of the Labour party, Sir Keir Starmer, is trying to move it towards the center to avoid the mistakes made by his left-wing predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. The followers of the latter, with whom a very interesting comparison can be made with [Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic Francisco] Largo Caballero for his hollow revolutionary rhetoric, are standing in the way of what Starmer hopes to achieve. So, it could be said that the British left is unaware of Spain’s past. The person who was very aware of it and acted accordingly, at the beginning at least, was [former Socialist Party prime minister] Felipe González. And I think [the current prime minister] Pedro Sánchez is too. Having said that, I have to stress that I don’t know if politicians read the books that deal with these issues. I have no idea to what extent a politician has time to read a 700-page tome.

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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