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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

Voice Of EU



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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Senior figures in Washington stand behind Belfast Agreement and protocol, McDonald says

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Senior figures in United States politics have made it clear that the government of Boris Johnson in the UK will face negative consequences internationally if it attempts to rupture or dispense with the Northern Ireland protocol, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said.

In a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Thursday she said the protocol was “necessary, operable and going nowhere, despite what Boris Johnson might wish to believe”.

She said she had met with “people of considerable influence” in the US Congress and in the Biden administration on her visit to the US this week and they all stood four square behind the Belfast Agreement and the protocol.

“I heard yesterday on the Hill the clearest possible articulation across the board that any notion of walking away from the protocol would not be acceptable to the United States.”

Asked about a report in the Financial Timed that Washington had delayed lifting tariffs on UK steel and aluminium products amid concerns about threats by the UK to invoke article 16 of the protocol, Ms McDonald said this was a matter for the Biden administration.

However, she said: “There is no doubt where the US stands. If Johnson believes he can walk away from the protocol, he is wrong and there will be consequences for Britain if he chooses that course of action.”


Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie, who was also in Washington DC on Thursday, said if the lifting of tariffs was being delayed due to concerns about the protocol, he would argue at a meeting with the US state department that it had “got it wrong” in its view on what article 16 was about.

“If people say we have to adhere to the protocol and article 16 is part of the protocol then it becomes a legitimate thing you can use.”

“It is not about whether you should or should not use it. It is about how you should use it.

“You should use it in a narrow sense of a particular issue that is causing economic or societal harm in Northern Ireland, for example, medicines .”

“If the medicine issue has not been fixed and is starting to affect the people of Northern Ireland, it would be right to instigate article 16 to focus minds on that issue.”

Ms McDonald also told the press club event that she expected the United States would “be on the right side” on the controversy over British plans for an amnesty in relation to killings during the Troubles.

She said the British government was going to the ultimate point to keep the truth from the people about its war in Ireland.

She said the Johnson government’s plans would mean “in effect no possibility of criminal action, civil actions or even inquests into killings in the past”.

Ms McDonald also forecast that a point was coming over the coming five or 10 years where referenda would be held on the reunification of Ireland. She urged the Irish government to establish a citizen’s assembly to consider preparation for unity.

She also said “there will be need for international support and international intervention to support Ireland as we move to transition from partition to reunification”.

Separately, asked about a recent Sinn Féin golf fundraising event that was held in New York, Ms McDonald said the money that was raised would be spent on campaigning and lobbying in the US.

She described it as a patriotic expression by people in the US who had a deep interest in Ireland and the peace process.

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Drop in cancer diagnoses as high as 14 per cent during pandemic, early data shows

Voice Of EU



The drop in the number of cancers detected during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 14 per cent, preliminary data has suggested.

A report from the National Cancer Registry said it was still too early to provide “definitive answers” on whether pandemic hospital restrictions last year led to a reduction in the number of cancers diagnosed.

The registry’s annual report said an estimated decrease of 14 per cent in detections pointed to the “potential scale” of Covid-19’s impact on other healthcare.

A separate analysis of data on microscopically verified cancers diagnosed last year showed a reduction of between 10 and 13 per cent, the report said.

The drop in confirmed cancer cases, when compared with previous years, could be partly accounted for by “incomplete registration of cases already diagnosed”, it said.

Prof Deirdre Murray, director of the National Cancer Registry, said there were “clear signals that, as expected in Ireland, the number of cancer diagnoses in 2020 will be lower than in previous years”.

‘Very worried’

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said the organisation was “very worried” over the significant drop in cancers diagnosed last year.

The shortfall in cancers being diagnosed would present a “major challenge” in the coming years, with lengthy waiting lists and disruptions to screening services “all too commonplace” already, she said.

Ms Power said it was frightening to think of the people who were living with cancer but did not know it yet. She added that existing cancer patients were “terrified” of having treatments delayed due to the recent rise in Covid-19 cases.

The registry’s report said there were about 44,000 tumours identified each year between 2017 and 2019.

Not counting non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnoses were for breast and prostate cancer, which made up almost a third of invasive cancers found in women and men respectively.

For men this was followed by bowel and lung cancer, and melanoma of the skin. Lung cancer was the second most common cancer for women, followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma of skin.

Nearly a third of deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer, with lung cancer the leading cause of death from cancer, the report said.

The second, third and fourth most common cancers to die from in men were bowel, prostate and oesophagus cancer. For women breast, bowel and ovarian cancers were the most common fatal cancers.

The report said there were almost 200,000 cancer survivors in Ireland at the end of 2019, with breast cancer patients making up more than a fifth of the total.

Mortality rates

The research found cancer rates among men had dropped between 2010 and 2019, with mortality rates decreasing or remaining the same across nearly every type of cancer. Rates of cancer detected among women had increased between 2008 and 2019, with mortality rates for most cancers decreasing.

The report said the five-year survival rate from cancer had increased to 65 per cent for the period 2014 to 2018, compared with 42 per cent two decades previous.

There had been “major improvement” in survival rates for most major cancers, however, the research noted the chances of survival varied significantly depending on the type of cancer.

Prostate, melanoma of the skin and testis cancer had survival rates of more than 90 per cent, followed closely by breast and thyroid cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. Pancreas, liver, oesophagus and lung cancers had much lower five-year survival rates on average, the report said.

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How Germany has made it easier to cancel broadband and phone contracts

Voice Of EU



What’s going on?

On December 1st, new amendments to the Telecommunications Act came into force in Germany. The updates bring with them wide-ranging changes to consumer rights laws for people who’ve signed – or will sign – new mobile, landline and internet contracts.

The headline change relates to the amount of time contracts are allowed to run for after they renew. If a customer signs up to a 24-month mobile contract and doesn’t cancel before it renews, telecommunications companies will no longer be allowed to sign that customer up for another one or two years without their permission.

Instead, people who don’t cancel in time will be put onto a one-month rolling contract that essentially allows them to terminate at any point with just one month’s notice.

It’s an end to a tax on the disorganised that has seen people stuck paying for contracts they no longer want or need for up to 24 months longer – often at higher prices than they agreed when they first signed the contract.

Does that mean all contracts will be rolling contracts?

Not exactly. As before, most new contracts will run for a minimum 24-month term – so expect to be locked in for at least this long, unless you specifically look for a more flexible contract. 

The change affects what happens after this initial term is up, meaning if you do sign up for a yearly contract, one year won’t automatically turn into two if you don’t remember to cancel it in time. 

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in December 2021

What else is new?

Alongside the key changes to contract durations, there are also changes to the way in which contracts are agreed and tougher standards for internet providers.

In future, if you agree a contract over the phone, you have to receive a summary of the terms of the contract and confirm it in writing before the agreement is legally valid. 

This summary must include the service provider’s contact details, a description of agreed services, details of any activation fees, the duration of the contract and any conditions for renewal and termination. Without written approval, the contract has no legal standing and the provider has no claims against the customer – even if they switched to the new services immediately after the telephone call.

A young man on the phone in Hannover
A young man takes a phone call on a tram in Hannover. Under the new changes, contracts agreed over the phone will not be valid until they are confirmed in writing. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

If a provider makes a change to a contract after it’s up and running, customers now have the right to terminate without notice.

In future, providers must inform customers if there are more favourable offers available and a change to a new contract would be possible.  This must happen once a year, and once again, providers aren’t allowed to do this solely over the phone. 

For broadband customers, there’s more good news: internet providers will in future face issues if they don’t provide the bandwidth stated in the contract. 

That means that if your internet is slower than promised, you should have the right to pay a reduced price or terminate the contract. 

READ ALSO: Moving house in Germany: 7 things you need to know about setting up utility contracts

I signed a new contract a while ago. Do the new rules still apply? 

Yes, they do. Regardless of when you signed your new contract, the amendments to the Telecommunications Act will apply. 

That means that once your initial contract period is up, you should be able to cancel freely and only pay for the month’s notice. You should also be informed of any changes to your contract or better offers and be eligible for compensation if your internet goes below the promised bandwidth. 

If you’ve already been locked in to a 12- or 24-month contract through an auto-renewal, the situation is a bit less clear – but it may be worth contacting your provider and asking them if the terms of your contract have changed in light of the new law. 

READ ALSO: Has it just got easier to end credit agreements in Germany?

What are people saying?

The Telecommunications and Value-Added Services Association, which represents the industry, said it was important than the initial 24-month contracts were allowed to continue. The subsequent new notice periods are a good compromise, VATM Managing Director Jürgen Grützner told Tagesschau

“On the one hand, this means better financial forecasting for expanding providers’ networks and, on the other hand, the best of both worlds for consumers,” he added. 

Campaign for faster internet
“We need fast internet!” is scrawled in huge letters across a street in Weetzen, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

However, Grützner believes the new rules on bandwidth could cause difficulties for providers who struggle to offer the same quality of internet across all regions. 

Meanwhile, consumer rights advocates have welcomed the improvements to contract law. 

In particular, the Federal Consumer Advice Centre “expects competition to improve as a result of the new regulation, including the price-performance ratio,” Susanne Blohm from the organisation’s Digital and Media Division told Tagesschau.

In an initial sign of the regulation’s positive impact, the provider Telefonica has announced that it will abolish surcharges for contracts that don’t have a minimum cancellation period. 


amendments – (die) Novelle

bandwidth – (die) Bandbreite 

minimum contract term – (die) Mindestlaufzeit 

provider – (der) Anbieter

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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