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World War II: The Strait of Gibraltar bunkers that Franco never used | Culture

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View of Gibraltar and La Línea de la Concepción from a bunker on Sierra Carbonera.
View of Gibraltar and La Línea de la Concepción from a bunker on Sierra Carbonera.Juan Carlos Toro

Larissa Swirski and Gabriel Riera probably never met, although both survived that dangerous and intriguing scenario that was the Strait of Gibraltar during World War II; she, as the Queen of Hearts, a double agent for the Nazis and the Allies in Gibraltar’s espionage network, which the British christened Spy Row; he, as a prisoner forced to eat crushed snails to avoid starvation while digging a huge tunnel under the Carbonera mountain range to be used in a German offensive against the Rock that never transpired. Although the history books dwell on other exploits, a tense and discreet battle was fought in Cádiz in the early 1940s; one of frustrated military operations, spies and battalions of prisoners who built more than 640 bunkers and various military infrastructures that were soon to be abandoned to their fate along the coast of Cádiz.

Bunkers, anti-aircraft guns, command posts, tunnels and even a hidden road to Algeciras are living witnesses to a war fought in one of the essential geostrategic corners of the world in which no shots were fired. The infrastructure that extends along the coastline of Cádiz, from Huelva to Málaga, was part of the so-called Plan of Fortifications of the Southern Border, devised by the artillery brigadier general Pedro Jevenois Labernade in May 1939. Just before World War II, Franco’s military studied a fortification and artillery plan that would officially serve to defend the country against possible incursions from the Allied forces. “We are talking about a very serious project,” says Alfonso Escuadra, an expert on the military legacy in Cádiz and its historical context. “Together with the system of fortifications on the Pyrenees line [the so-called P Line, which consisted of 6,000 bunkers built between 1944 and 1948] they are the great defense constructions of the era.”

But no matter how much the Franco regime insisted the fortifications of the Strait of Gibraltar were only for defense purposes, no one would deny that whoever controlled the Strait and the Suez Canal would have the keys to the Mediterranean. In 1940, the regime erected a fortified line, especially dense around Gibraltar. “All the elements of the artillery system and observatories have an offensive nuance,” says Escuadra. On account of this, Nazi Germany included the bunkers that same year as key aspects of Operation Felix – Hitler’s plan to invade Gibraltar in January 1941.

The Punta del Boquerón bunker in San Fernando in Cádiz.
The Punta del Boquerón bunker in San Fernando in Cádiz.“JUAN CARLOS TORO”

“Some people still think that in the Hendaye interview [held between Franco and Hitler in October 1940 to discuss Spain’s entry into the war], no agreement was reached, but that is not so,” says Escuadra. “The fortifications were used as a key element in the negotiations.” In fact, secret documents surfaced in the German Bundesarchiv in which the Nazi general Hubert Lanz declares that the Spanish state had “given him several bunkers located in La Línea.” Escuadra believes it is clear that the plan to invade Gibraltar involved a far greater degree of participation from the Franco regime than has been historically assumed. But the preparations for the seizure of the Rock ended up going awry, as they overlapped with the operation for the German occupation of the USSR, and the subsequent shift of advantage to the Allies.

A discreet war

Meanwhile, on the ground in the Campo de Gibraltar, there was plenty of espionage and even double agents, like Swirski, whose fascinating life has been documented by the journalist Wayne Jamison.

And if it was possible for Franco’s dictatorship to erect more than 640 defensive constructions in just a few months, it was because the state used private contractors, the military and, above all, thousands of prisoners forced to work in extreme conditions. The historian José Manuel Algarbani has calculated the existence of as many as 43 disciplinary units from May 1939 to 1944. “There is the well-known case of the Valley of the Fallen, where there were up to 20,000 prisoners who worked on its construction, but here were 30,000 here, something that few people are aware of,” he says.

According to the journalist and researcher Juan José Téllez, “we have lived under the illusion that Spain did not participate in World War II. But tell that to the residents of La Línea de la Concepción, who were at the receiving end of an Italian bombing of Gibraltar by mistake [on July 11, 1941, with five fatalities].”

When the humid easterly wind from the Strait of Gibraltar mixes with fog, the Rock disappears behind clouds. Looking out from a bunker in the Sierra Carbonera, the apparent absence makes the existence of the bunkers seem even more futile as well as the suffering their construction entailed. “This is only a part of it; in San Roque we have a bunker for every square kilometer,” says Carlos Jordán, who works in the city’s department for tourism and is responsible for cultural routes through these dilapidated structures. “There are more than 180 in the municipality alone.”

Carlos Jordán, from the San Roque tourism department, shines his flashlight on the tunnel that stretches around 500 meters under the Sierra Carbonera in La Línea de la Concepción.
Carlos Jordán, from the San Roque tourism department, shines his flashlight on the tunnel that stretches around 500 meters under the Sierra Carbonera in La Línea de la Concepción.“JUAN CARLOS TORO”

Gabriel Riera, a native of the island of Mallorca, was one of the prisoners who worked on this infrastructure and he documented his experience in Chronicle of a Mallorcan Prisoner in the Concentration Camps (1936-1942): “One day, an inspection team showed up with a colonel of health,” he wrote. “The remaining members of the company were made to line up; there were no longer many of us, and, as we crossed the wire netting, he said: ‘This is a graveyard of living men!’” The lack of food, the diseases, accidents plus work shifts of more than 10 hours a day caused the death of at least 500 prisoners, according to Algarbani. They were useless fatalities, the price of building a fortified line that was never used and which fell into disuse as soon as Franco saw that it was not going to serve either to attack or to defend against the Allies.

Today, the bunkers barely survive as megaliths along a coast that has remained, to a large extent, natural and wild due to the military needs in the area. Mired in a tangle of administrative and property ownership issues, there is no consensus as to how many there are. In 2001, Escuadra and Ángel Sáez made a catalog for the regional Ministry of Culture in which they documented some 500 structures, but Escuadra believes there may be more. Jordán, meanwhile, estimates more than 640, for which he calls for protection as assets of cultural interest (BIC), something promised by the regional government in September 2019. Consulted by EL PAÍS, the Andalusian department of culture has not specified whether it will declare them assets of cultural interest but says that “as part of defensive architecture, the bunkers already have the consideration of BIC in application of the 1985 Heritage Act.”

Algarbani and Escuadra have both been working for decades to rescue the buildings from oblivion, as they are located in areas with undoubted tourist appeal. Eager that the role of the bunkers as places of historical memory should be recognized, Alharbani says, “We have to explain how they were built and why, in order to make them places of memory, and not to destroy them.”

Escuadra goes further. “In two decades, they will be 100 years old and they speak to us about our history,” he says. “Plus this is not a local issue; it places the area in the context of European and world history.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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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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