The author is a well-known academic historian of Russia and Ukraine, which he approaches from a Christian (Russian Orthodox) and nationalist perspective, arguing that nationalism and Christian Orthodoxy are inseparable. He also writes widely on current affairs. Rare for contemporary Western historians of Russia, he sources original materials in Russian, pulling back the veil on much misunderstanding, ranging from modern history back to Russia’s very beginnings in the Middle Ages.
His latest book, Ukrainian Nationalism (2019), (Amazon), is the definitive treatment of this topic and is essential reading to understand the current political turmoil in Ukraine. It argues that Ukrainian nationalism is real and legitimate, but needn’t be Anti-Russian, and that Russia and Ukraine are in fact natural allies. Here is his article on Russia Insider explaining some of the ideas in the book. There is no other scholar writing today about Russia and the Ukraine with this extraordinary command of historical detail and meaning. Johnson is a national treasure, and his works are highly recommended. For a fascinating audio podcast discussion of the book by Johnson and Andrew Carrington Hitchcock, see here.
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“The Jews were forwarding money to separatist princes in an effort to permanently divide Russia. … Jewish usury was a revolutionary development that required rapid intervention.”
“… the Jews had been given permission to enslave the Russians in exchange for a regular subsidy. Very soon, Jewish usury had much of the country in debt …”
” … the Jewish moneylenders received protection from Kiev and shared their cash with the prince. In turn, he would use this to maintain the army and keep all anti-Jewish forces at bay …”
“Jewish slave dealers had a special hatred for Slavic slaves. St. Eustratii (was) sold to a “ferocious Jew” on Korsun. Trying to force him to renounce Orthodoxy, he was tortured to death by the Jewish slave traders. All told, 50 Russians died this way from this same raid.”
In Old Kiev, prince Sviatopolk II Izyaslavich ruled the city through his dependence on Jewish usury. It was proof of illegitimacy in that this was his major prop of financial support. The Chronicles state that the invasion of the Polovtsy from the south were God’s punishment on this excoriable policy.
Upon the death of Yaroslav the Wise in 1054, his successor was Izyaslav. The prince of the powerful and increasingly independent Turov, Vyslav, challenged him and drove him from the city. Kiev was pillaged while the population demanded the return of Izyaslav. In the meantime, the city had disintegrated. Izyaslav was then challenged by Sviatoslav, who in the meantime had gone to the Germans. In response, Izyaslav went to Rome in 1076.
Detail from one of the most extraordinary monuments in Russia, “The Millenium of Russia” (1862), in Novgorod. For more details see this excellent Wikipedia entry)
Once Sviatoslav died, four princes vied for power: Vsevolod, Sviatopolk II, Vladimir Monomakh and Izyaslav. The coalition of Vsevolod and Sviatopolk II defeated the endlessly embattled Izyaslav, who died soon afterwards. Vsevolod and Sviatopolk II then ruled the state. The context then was an era of constant violence from local princes and several foreign powers, including the steppe nomads (the Polovtsy), Germans and Poles. The formerly strong, law-bound economy was gone and the rule of the strongest was the norm. Society was demoralized. This gave rise to the dominance of money lending.
Given that this prince gave the usurers free rein, a powerful oligarchy developed on the backs of rural communes. Slavery resurfaced as debt-bondage was the only recourse for many. As more and more land became forfeit due to debt, this oligarchy grew fangs. One manifestation of this was salty speculation during the embargo created by Galicia, the major salt exporter of Central Europe. The Caves Monastery released its stores, thereby reducing the price to manageable levels. The result was that Sviatopolk ordered the confiscation of all salt held by monastic institutions. The population had other plans, and a mob quickly reversed that policy. The mob was not stupid – they marched straight to the Jewish quarter where the salt was found.
Both the Caves Paterikon and the Chronicles state clearly that the oligarchy was aware of its illegitimacy and that it ruled solely by deceit and usury. It also stated baldly that they were very nervous. The death of the prince unleashed a revolt of the population explicitly and clearly dedicated to ending usury and debt bondage in 1113. It was an agrarian revolt against rentier income: income that is unearned, based on one’s commanding position economically or politically. It was not directed against the “feudal elite” as most history books in both English and Russian will state. It was aimed at oligarchy. Soviet era historian MN Tikhomirov writes:
It was directed against exploitation in all its forms, and clearly usury and the resultant bankruptcy and forfeiture of its victims. The collection of compounding interest became a tool for the enrichment of the boyars, merchants and upper clergy. Although religious canons always insisted that “rezoimanie” (usury) is a sinful thing, all church decisions in this regard were of a purely declaratory nature. During the second half of the 12th century, Ilya, the bishop of Novgorod bishop threatened severe punishment for clergy engaging in this practice. Monastic usury was widespread and carried out under various pretexts. . .(Tikhomirov, 2013)
This historical analysis is deeply flawed. There is little evidence of systematic usury among clergy and monasteries in an economy largely non-monetized. Jews controlled banking in the country and hence, made themselves easy targets of the riots they engendered. Church prohibitions against usury are well known, but since no such concept as “centralized, bureaucratic power” existed at the time (nor could it have), there is no organized way to haul sinners into court. All canons are “declaratory” in this sense.
In Novgorod, the boyar class was deeply usurious and so were all who functioned within her walls. Her “republican” government was like all others of its ilk, a shoddy cover for oligarchy that would (and was) ditched at the moment it ceased to assist them. The entire economy was based on usury, the merchant class and exploitation. When a power threatened her elite no value was too sacred to be thrown overboard. The elite maintained regular ties with Poland, the Grand Duchy and elsewhere so their political allegiances could be altered at a moment’s notice. This is why Moscow needed to act so quickly against them. It was from Novgorod that the Strigolniki and Judaizer heresies spread, both of which justified and ritualized usury.
Further, the problem with Tikhomirov’s view is that these were never systematic. Only the Jewish banking regime was a system of relations that had global connections. The later network spanning the great capitals of Europe was far into the future, but its outlines could clearly be seen. While the system’s text-books speak of the “rebellion against feudalism,” the fact remains that Jews had monopolized usury by the 12th century. Tikhomirov is simply incorrect.
Sviatopolk tolerated the Jewish trade in Russian slaves. The governor of Crimea was a Jew at the time of severe weakness in the Byzantine empire. While formally a Christian, this ma immediately permitted Jewish trade in slaves. While the Khazar state had been smashed a century prior, the domination of Jewish traders in the area had not abated. In this case, Sviatopolk brought them into Kiev as a means to ensure an income against his relatives.
The Jews used the Polovtsian raiders to obtain slaves. The Turkic hordes now had Jewish patronage. By 1092 or so, these raids increased markedly. They were then sold to the Jews on Crimea. By all accounts, Jewish slave dealers had a special hatred for Slavic slaves. St. Eustratii the Faster of the Kiev Caves, according to the Paterik of the Kiev Caves, was taken in a Polovtsy raid along with 20 or 30 others and sold to a “ferocious Jew” on Korsun. Trying to force him to renounce Orthodoxy, he was tortured to death by the Jewish slave traders. All told, 50 Russians died this way from this same raid.
St. Vladimir had five sons. Upon his death, Sviatoslav attempted to form his own state with Turov. Yaroslav fought against this and the former was killed in the fighting. In Novgorod, Yaroslav then had to fight Sviatopolk, seeking to take Kiev. Soon, outmatched at home, he went to Poland. The rape of Kiev with Polish soldiers made their paymaster very unpopular. With broad support, Yaroslav defeated Sviatopolk, but the resulting power was too much for Mstislav, a grandson of Vladimir.
The next generation saw Izyaslav, son of Yaroslav the Wise, defeated for Kiev by Vesvolod of Polotsk. Izyaslav went to Rome and converted to the Roman church in Poland. At Sviatoslav’s death, Vsevolod and Izyaslav mad peace, but this was not to last: a coalition of Vsevolod and Monomakh defeated him, and he died in 1078, Vsevolod died in 1093. The Liubech Code was partly the result of this chaos.
The first Kievan synagogue was built under Sviatopolk. His father Izyaslav, during one of the many civil wars that plagued old Kiev, fled to Poland for assistance. While living there, he became quite the Judeophile. Later, he ran to the Germans, promising to make Kiev a tributary of the German state if an army were given him. He was even willing to accept papal rule over Kiev as well. It is from the Jewish influx under Izyaslav that Jews first penetrated Russia.
Both rulers knew the Jews had been given permission to enslave the Russians in exchange for a regular subsidy. They quickly became unpopular, but Svyatopolk’s police protected them diligently. As always, the synagogue, contrary to popular belief, was never meant as a prayer house. It was a fortress for protection and a center for military and ideological mobilization. While protected, the Jews never quite needed it. They had a martial tradition of their own. Very soon, Jewish usury had much of the country in debt, and, especially when facing unrest among princes, foreign occupation and defeats from the Polovtsy, the population had enough.
The mob looted the Jewish quarter in that same year of unrest. Since it was an urban movement, it could not have been a rebellion against “feudal exploitation” but, since no such conceptual objected existed at the time, it was directed against those that did: merchants, Jews and those profiting from them. These were foreigners, those who had no connection to the soil and hence, used human material as the “soil” to grow their profit.
The power of the boyar class at the time was as obnoxious as ever. Its faction fighting destroyed the property of Galicia as nobles, caring only for property and profit, used Turks, Cumans, Poles, Hungarians or Tartars to invade the territory of their rivals. The surplus of the promising Galician economy was decimated. The Jews were singled out, again, because of the systematic and deceitful means used that set them apart.1 Importantly, it was under the rule of Sviatopolk where the Jews, invited and encouraged, first made their agenda obnoxiously known.
Thus, it was a fairly new phenomenon.
The riot in 1113 was very popular, aimed at Jews and the gentiles that had business relationships with them. These were well known and were anything but arbitrary. It was the nobility, fearing for their money, that sent for Monomakh to restore “law and order.” They stated that, if left unchecked, they might even “rape your daughter and family.” This was a lie, since the targets of the mob were very clear. They wrote to Vladimir saying: “Come, prince, to Kiev so as to stop the violence; the Jews will attack the nobles, the monasteries and even the royal family itself. They will plunder if you do not come.” A meeting of princes concluded that Jews needed to be expelled from Kiev. He did so, and anti-usury legislation was immediately drawn up.
First, interest could not be compounded. He did make a distinction between the charge for the use of money and usury. The interest charged could not be more than the principle. If the lender tried to charge more than the principle over time, the debtor was freed from the obligation of paying the principle at all. The maximum rate of interest could not exceed 20% a year. The Bankrutsky Statute protected the property of smallholders and artisans from confiscation.
Debt slavery was outlawed. Repayment could be done on a installment plan of up to five years if the debtor had a regular income. Interest could not be collected for longer than two years. After that, the loan was no longer interest bearing. When a debtor had to work off a loan, he had the rights of any Russian and was not a slave. The only time slavery was permitted is if the debtor tried to defraud the creditor.
The Testament of the metropolitan of Kiev Nikifor states that “if you take the wealth of your brother though usury, it will do you no good and provide no security or virtue. If you eat meat, you are not eating the meat of sheep or other animals, but the flesh of your brothers, cutting into his flesh though the evil methods of extortion, bribery and unjust debt collections.” This shows that the practices of the Khazars were well known and that many were aware that the mind of that empire has not gone away.
Ancient Khazaria is essential to understanding the Jewish mind. By the early 8th century, it reached from the west Caucasus to the Sea of Azov and took most of the Crimean steppe. To show its commercial nature, its capital lay at the mouth of the Volga. In the work of Lev Gumilev and Tatiana Gradev, the Khazar civil war of 810-820 led to the total Judaization of the elites. The war was between Islam and Judaism, two social views very similar, but ultimately, it concerned the orientation of this commercial parasite.
The empire was a “chimera” in Gumilev’s view defined as any x having two distinct rhythms or functions, creating a cacophony understood only subconsciously. This consists of a state without any real ethnic or racial basis, merely a gaggle of people held together by force. The ethnic mix was chaotic, maintaining the Jewish ruling class secure. From this time forward, “Gog and Magog” were exclusively used in reference to Khazaria. Only during the Crimean war did the English propaganda machine equate “Ros” or “Rosh” with “Rus.” In reality, it refers to the chief prince rather than a people. In a letter from Hisday ibn Sharput in 9th century Spain, the Khazar king is referred to as “Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.” The testimony of the church fathers of both east and west was that Antichrist is Khazaria.
The Pecheneg and Polovtsy forces that harassed Kiev through much of its existence were popularly associated with the Jewish control over the slave trade. The profit for the nomads was to sell the Slavs to the Jews. Klyuchevskii argues that short-term loans were extremely expensive and not regulated by law at all. He further suggests that the real agenda of Jewish moneylenders at the time was not so much the quick payoff, but the destruction of Russian capital. Default meant that the property went to the Jews and its debtors became slaves.
Once the Khazar Khanate was destroyed, the Jews moved to Tmutarakan, from which they orchestrated the nomadic attacks on Russia. From there, they moved north to Kiev. Since the Jews had great experience in banking, they were easily able to dominate their gentile competitors. This served as a convenient midpoint between Byzantium and Kiev and was at one time the capital of St. Vladimir himself.
Rather than making war on the nomads, rulers such as Izyaslav would much rather hire them out than fight them. For the first time – specifically in 1068, the veche became a powerful voice in Russia. If the ruling class and pagan aristocracy were planning on working with the Poles, Jews and nomads, then the most patriotic of the elite organized into the veche. Izyaslav took his revenge on the urban poor the veche were advocating for.
Similarly for 1113, Sviatopolk II, rather than go to the nomads, made an alliance with the Jews. Each ruler and faction was trying to discover which alien group would give them the best advantage over the others. At the end of the 11th century, there were three factions in Kiev: the old nobility, the pro-western associates of Sviatopolk II and the veche. Sviatopolk threw in his lot with the Jews. The result was that Jews were able to rule at will.
The westernized nobles along with the prince and Jews eased out both the church and the old nobles, permitting the Jews to absorb the capital of the area in exchange for financial support. Lev Gumilev writes:
The control mechanism was extremely simple: the Jewish moneylenders received protection from Kiev and shared their cash with the prince. In turn, he would use this to maintain the army and keep all anti-Jewish forces at bay (Gumilev, 2014).
It was the death of this prince that permitted the old nobles and the people to fight back. The collapse of the older tribal system and the rise of the state separated the people from the traditional sources of morals. The church was not as yet firmly in control, so chaos demoralized most people. As the factions fought it out for control of the state, money and finance became very important. Hence, the Jews were as well.
The destruction of Jewish usury and their removal from power by Vladimir Monomakh was significant largely because it restored the power of the church and assisted greatly in the Christianization of the country. The importance of this cannot be overstated: The Russian empire was to be the very opposite of the Khazar mind and this was made explicit in document after document.
Vladimir Monomakh was the first “gatherer of the Russian lands.” The Jews were forwarding money to separatist princes in an effort to permanently divide Russia. The warfare among princes had debased the population. Jewish usury was a revolutionary development that required the rapid intervention of a legitimate prince.
Kalyuk, E. (2012) Bankrotstvo fizicheskikh lits: dolzhnikov bit’ ne planiruyetsya. The Journal of
Pakhmonov, S. (2014) The Reality of Debt and the Civilization of Ancient Russia. «Бюджетный учет» October http://b-uchet.ru/article/263334.php
Golb N., O. Pritsak Khazar-Jewish documents of the X century. M., 2003, pp 21-22, 30-31.
2 Richard Pipes. Russia Under the Old Regime. NY, 1974. P. 28-31.
Kulisher IM History of the Russian economy. 2nd ed. Chelyabinsk Society, 2004
Russian legislation X-XX centuries. The 9 tons. Ed. OI Chistyakov. Legislation ancient.
Tatishchev VN Russian history. The 7-ton. T. 2. M., L., 1963. S. 129
Tikhomirov, MN (1955) Ancient Russia. Reprinted Online at the Journal of Alexander Nevsky
Froyanov, I. (2012) Ancient Rus IX-XIII centuries. Popular movements. Princely power and Veche. Reprinted Online at the Journal of Alexander Nevsky
LN Gumilev (2014) Ancient Rus and the Great Steppe. Aris Press
Sonny Barger, founder of Hells Angels, dies at 83 | USA
Sonny Barger, the founding member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, died on Thursday in California at the age of 83. Barger was the face of the biker gang that became one of the main counterculture movements in the United States in the 1960s. Barger’s family confirmed his death in a message on Facebook. “Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer,” the message stated.
Sonny Barger – whose real name was Ralph Hubert Barger – was born in northern California, and taught himself to ride a motorcycle when he was 11 years old. It was an American-made Cushman scooter. From that moment on, he tried to only assemble motorbikes with parts made in the US, a task that became increasingly difficult as the world became more open to international trade.
In 1957, he founded the Hells Angels chapter in Oakland, California. This chapter was founded nine years after the first one opened in Fontana, in the same state. Barger was the national president of the Hells Angels, a group that became notorious for its links to violent and organized crime. Barger was arrested more than 20 times and spent 13 years of his life in prison for different crimes. In November 1992, for example, he was released from federal prison after spending four years behind bars for organizing to kill members of the rival Outlaws Motorcycle Club. When his parole came to an end in 1994, 700 bikers came out to celebrate the news.
But the darkest chapter of the Hells Angels took place on December 6, 1969. That night, the biker members were hired as security guards at the Altamont Free Concert in California, where the Rolling Stones performed. Representatives of the band reportedly offered the Hells Angels $500 worth of beer in exchange for providing security. Members of the biker gang had worked without incident as security at concerts for bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. But at the Altamont Free Concert, which brought together 300,000 people, the situation became violent. During the Rolling Stones’ performance, fights broke out in the audience. Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old concertgoer, was stabbed to death by a member of the Hells Angels after approaching the stage. The incident was caught on camera and became a central scene in the Maysles Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter, in which Barger admitted the bikers did not have the training to do security work. A few days after the concert, in a call to a local radio station, he said: “I ain’t no cop. I ain’t never gonna police nothin.’”
The incident stained the image of the Hells Angels and Barger – who had the name Hell’s Angels Oakland tattooed on his right shoulder – struggled for several years to change the gang’s violent reputation. “Catholics probably commit more crimes than we ever thought of,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 after being released from prison on parole. “Probably politicians commit more crimes.”
Writer Hunter S. Thompson compared the biker gang to the student protesters of the 1960s, who paved the way for civil rights in America. “The difference between the student radicals and the Hells Angels is that the students are rebelling against the past, while the Angels are fighting the future. Their only common ground is their disdain for the present, or the status quo,” he wrote in his book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.
The Hells Angels were one of America’s most striking subcultures, and their influence can be seen in many areas of society. In one of his books, Barger claims that Harley-Davidson – the motorcycle brand favored by the group – adopted the gang’s ideas into its models. Barger played himself in the 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels, where he appeared alongside Jack Nicholson. He also had a small role in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.
Barger was a difficult character to define. He got up at 4.30am to feed his dogs and horses, then worked out for three hours, doing weights and going jogging. By 8am, he was on his motorcycle and driving down an off-beaten track. Unlike the stereotypical biker, he wore a helmet that covered his entire face. This was due to the fact that he had his vocal cords removed in 1982 after suffering from throat cancer.
Art fakes: Disputed ‘Basquiats’ seized by FBI shake the US art world | Culture
While New York surrenders once again to the genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat with an exhibition of unpublished work curated by his family, in Orlando (Florida), there is considerably more controversy over the work of the artist who died at the age of 27. An exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art dedicated to the former close friend of Andy Warhol, entitled Heroes & Monsters, has cost the head of that gallery his job, while the FBI investigates the authenticity of 25 of the works, not to mention the threats made by the director against an expert who had been commissioned to evaluate the authorship.
Although the scandal began to take shape in February, when the exhibition opened, the FBI raid took place last Friday with the seizure of the paintings with a contested attribution to Basquiat. Aaron De Groft, director and chief executive of the museum, has relentlessly defended that these are genuine works, while emphasizing that it is not a museum’s role to certify the authenticity of the works it exhibits. “[The paintings] came to us authenticated by the best Basquiat specialists,” he told the local NBC television station in February.
De Groft had for months championed the importance of the paintings, asserting that they are worth millions of dollars, until an expert showed up who’d been hired by the owners of the paintings and she began to question his version of events. The director was fired on Tuesday, just two business days after agents seized the 25 suspicious works. The museum’s board of trustees met for hours that day, but not before warning employees that anyone who dared to discuss the matter with journalists would suffer the same fate as De Groft. Hence, it is impossible to know the version not only of the former director, but of any worker at the center. Nor can any information be gleaned at the New York exhibition, a mixture of unpublished work and memorabilia, where organizers are fearful of the devaluation caused by the Orlando scandal.
“It is important to note that there is still nothing that makes us think that the museum has been or is the subject of an investigation,” Emilia Bourmas-Free told the local chain on behalf of the art gallery. Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the museum’s board of trustees, expressed itself in similar terms in a statement, saying that the board of trustees is “extremely concerned about several issues related to the exhibition Heroes & Monsters,” including “the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” as reported by The New York Times.
The statement refers to a disparaging message sent by De Groft to the specialist hired for the expert opinion, cited in the FBI investigation as “Expert 2″ but who the New York Times has confirmed is Jordana Moore Saggese, an associate professor of art at the University of Maryland. This expert, who received $60,000 for a written report, asked the museum not to have her name associated with the exhibition, according to the FBI affidavit. Angry, De Groft threatened to reveal the amount of the payment and share the details with her employer, the university.
“You want us to put out there you got $60,000 to write this?” wrote De Groft, according to the affidavit. “Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.” The board said it has launched an official process to address the matter. The scandal was precipitated a few hours after the closing of the exhibition, which had originally been meant to travel to Italy.
The mystery of the cardboard box
But how did the paintings get to the Orlando Museum? The museum and its owners maintain that the paintings were found in a Los Angeles storage unit in 2012. The New York Times reported that questions arose over one of the paintings, made on the back of a cardboard shipping box with FedEx lettering in a typeface that was not used until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death, according to a designer who worked for the company.
Both De Groft and the owners of the paintings maintain that they were made in 1982 and that Basquiat sold them for $5,000 to a famous television screenwriter, now deceased, who deposited them in a storage unit and forgot about them.
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”.
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