A young Dublin man, out to see something of the world, arrived in Franco’s Spain just a few years after WWII. At a reception at the German Embassy in Madrid (foreign press invited and anywhere for a free meal) he met a tall attractive half-Basque, half-German woman. Lucila Hellmann de Menchaca was multi-lingual – bilingual in German and Spanish through her upbringing, she had also learned English and French. She knew only a few words in Euskera – her mother’s side of the family was not very patriotic and in any case, since the victory of Franco’s military-fascist coup in ‘39, the language was forbidden. They conversed mostly through English.
Deasún, tall with grey-blue eyes and dark curly hair and thin moustache, had been raised only with English language but was learning Irish and Spanish, the latter out of necessity and the former by choice.
They were attracted to one another and began dating; within around six months they were married and soon afterwards on their way to Tangiers, where Deasún had a job waiting for him writing copy for a USA radio broadcasting company. The Moroccan city was an “international zone” city according to the Tangier Protocol, which meant that it was effectively ruled by the British, Spanish and French and, inevitably, full of liberation political activists, smugglers, spies and double-agents.
In that multi-lingual society with the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer five times a day in Arabic and Berber heard in the street along with European languages, Luci was soon pregnant and, as her time neared, went back to Madrid to be near her family. Luci and Deasún first’s child was born in the German hospital in that city; then back to Tangiers soon afterwards, of course.
Their big guard dog, named Bran after one of Fionn Mac Cumhaill’s famous wolfhounds, occasionally takes off to return days later with scratches and bite-marks. He was watchful of the child and one day complains, whimpering to Deasún who, when he goes to investigate, finds the crawling child stuffing the dog’s dinner into his mouth.
Deasún watches his son speaking his first words in Spanish from Luci and some in Irish from himself. Increasingly he feels the need to have his son develop his speech in Ireland; soon the couple are back in the Spanish state and, after a short interlude, visiting the Basque Country of Luci’s youth, crossing the border into the French state by train to the coast and boat to England. A short stay with a cousin there and they and their child are on the way to Deasún’s native Dublin by train and boat.
Some years later in Dublin, his family of sons and a daughter growing up speaking Spanish and Irish in the home and English in the street, Deasún composes the piece of music which he calls “An Ghailseach” (the Foreign Woman”). Luci and Deasún’s youngest son, Cormac, an accomplished flute and whistle player, learns the piece. Some years later again, in the Club an Chonnradh with his father, Cormac plays the air and Deasún is amazed to learn that the piece he likes so much was actually composed by himself.
Cormac records the piece and it is played on an Irish-language radio programme to mark a century since the birth of Deasún. On the morning of the broadcast Cormac cannot listen to it for he is on his way to Stockholm, where the Amerghin Ensemble of which he is a part have an engagement to perform their music. The older son listens to the program just before he is due in the Dublin city centre on a historical conservation commitment. The tears spring to his eyes from the sheer painful beauty of the piece.
Luci and Deasún are years gone (they died within days of one another in 2007) but An Ghailseach has joined the extremely rich and varied body of traditional Irish music, where it will outlast yet other generations to come.
The Central Contentious-Administrative Court No. 6 of the Spanish National Court has notified us on August 5th of the motion put forward by the Ministry of the Interior through the State Lawyers in which the “extinction” of Izquierda Castellana is sought, that is, its disappearance as a legal political organization.
On this occasion, the Ministry of the Interior resorts to administrative tricks, arguing that IzCa’s statutes do not comply with the changes introduced through the legislative reform of Organic Law 3/2015, of March 30, on the control of the financial-economic activity of Political Parties.
It is paradoxical that a political organization that, as is the case with Izquierda Castellana, never in its entire history requested or received any financial subsidy, is intended to be outlawed based on these kinds of reasons, especially when most of the political parties that ostensibly breach the legal regulations on such matters are not even warned of such a possibility.
In our opinion, the attempted extinction / banning of IzCa sponsored by the Ministry of the Interior has a political motivation: the intention of making disappear an organization whose essential activity is the denunciation of all the corrupt, antisocial, antidemocratic and antipatriotic activities of the current Regime of the 2nd Bourbon Restoration; and whose ultimate aim inevitably passes through the establishment of a democratic, republican and social rights system.
IzCa, as we pointed out, has not received or requested a single euro from the public treasury. Our activity is based solely and exclusively on our resources, especially on our human resources, that is, on the militants and activists who support us every day in one way or another. IzCa does not have as such – nor does it claim – representation in the institutions of this post-Franco regime. We do not despise this sphere of action, but it seems to us that the most important and useful thing in this historical moment is to promote the movement and popular organization in the various sectors, and we focus on this and we also believe with some success; that is what the Regime and its successive governments have not forgiven us.
IzCa has suffered permanent harassment from the constituted power since our founding; numerous media-police operations have been plotted against our organization. In 2008 there was already an attempt to ban IzCa, which was finally archived without action in the National Court itself. Last December the trial against our comrade Luis Ocampo was held – Doris Benegas was also on trial – with regard to the events that occurred in the Republican demonstration in Madrid in October 2014. In that trial, a year and a half in prison was requested by the Prosecution. Finally, our comrade was acquitted; in its judgment, the Madrid Provincial Court Court recorded that his version of events was fully credible.
IzCa has been denouncing the repressive policy towards the popular movement and at the same time favourable to the extreme Right that has been carried out by the Ministry of the Interior and very especially by the Government Delegation in Madrid, intensified repression since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. We accurately forecast the overwhelming defeat of the institutional Left in Madrid in the last regional elections on May 4; and we predict – we believe that without the slightest possibility of error – the defeat of the institutional Left in the next general elections if it continues on the current path. If you try to make activist organizations disappear, those that with more dedication and commitment defend the interests of the working classes, you are facilitating the path of access to the government by the Right. If the interests of the peoples of the Spanish State are subordinated to those of imperialism – certainly in a phase of full decline – one of the most significant expressions of which is the scheduled holding of the next NATO summit in Madrid in 2022, it is refusing to build its own project in solidarity with the peoples of the world and, once again, facilitating the advance of the right wing, militarism and warmongering.
We are going to fight against our outlawing at the National High Court and before all judicial bodies, including European ones, where it is necessary. In the National Court, that special court of which we do not recognize any democratic legitimacy, nor for the entire institutional framework of the ’78 Regime,starting with its Head of State, just as “exemplary” in its general terms as the rest of its institutions and whose legality is based on Franco’s legality. But above all, we will continue to fight in the streets.
Study and reflect; organize and mobilize; build popular power. That’s the only way.
Izquierda Castellana, August 6, 2021
The Izquierda Castellana is a revolutionary socialist organisation basing itself on the territory of Castille (a central area of the Spanish state including Madrid) and claiming its right to self-determination, drawing its historical inspiration from the revolt of the Comuneros in the 1520s. The party or organisation seeks social justice internally, self-determination for its own territory and supports the struggles for self-determination of others (for example, the Basques and Catalans), is opposed to imperialism abroad and military alliances such as NATO. IzCa is anti-racist and anti-fascist and has suffered repression.
The potential for revolution in the Spanish State is not in the Basque Country and Catalonia alone, nor only in other areas such as Galiza and Asturies but in the heartland of the State also, in Madrid and in other parts of Castille. It seems clear that the struggles for independence of the Basque Country and Catalonia as in the past will be met with heavy Spanish repression and the only possibility for success in such circumstances would a situation in which the State was met with uprisings in other parts also. I have long advocated the building of the type of alliances that could make that possible.
(Report by Jardun Koordinadora translated by Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee)
The atmosphere was tense on September 25, 2021 in Leitza due to the presence from the early hours of the morning of the Civil Guard and the secret police. To this must be added the checkpoint and identification by the GAR (Guardia Civil “anti-terrorist” Rapid Response Organisation – Translator) of many of those attending the political event organized by the revolutionary organization JARKI. In the same way, the Civil Guard had no problem in stopping and subjecting to identification those who traveled by bus organized from Bilbao and Gernika. This was not the only episode of police repression since several JARDUN activists from Leitza complain of having been followed by the secret police over recent days.
The event organized by the revolutionary organization JARKI gathered hundreds of people in Leitza square. Once the flame was lit, to the sound of the adarras and the txalapartaris (traditional ox horns blown and wooden percussion instrument played – Trans.), the act began, under a gigantic ikurriña (flag of the Basque Country – Trans.). Next, the dantzaris exhibited the “agintariena” (see Notes) while a gust of wind snapped the rope securing the ikurriña and two young people had to climb the pediment to hold it for the rest of the act. Later, two bertsolaris took the stage asserting with their verses independence, socialism and amnesty, as the legitimacy of the fight of the gudaris (volunteer liberation fighters).
To conclude the ceremony, a member of JARKI read a statement in reference to the commemoration of Gudari Eguna. The statement among many other things vindicated the struggle for memory of Euskal Herria, and of those who have given all in for it, thus legitimizing their struggle and the celebration of this day. He also mentioned the presence of ‘dogs’ in different uniforms that act with total impunity, making it clear that there is no type of coexistence between the oppressed and the oppressors. To the revolutionary organization JARKI this underlines a clear principle: confronting who is oppressing you and who is keeping you under their control is not an option, but a necessity.
The act ended with the singing of the Internationale and the Eusko Gudariak.
The Gudari Eguna (Day of the Soldier) originally celebrated the Basques who fell fighting the fascist-military coup in the ‘Spanish’ Anti-Fascist War or who were executed when captured or died as a result of their prison conditions. The martyrs in the struggle against the Franco dictatorship and after required that they also be included in the Gudari Eguna celebrated in October but since the Basque Nationalist Party dominates that commemoration and excludes the later martyrs, the patriotic left movement has changed the date to the last weekend in September and celebrates all the Basque martyrs. The last weekend in September was chosen because of the Franco regime’s execution of two ETA and three FRAP volunteers on 27th September 1975.
Jarki is a revolutionary socialist organisation for Basque independence. Statement on who Jardun are: “It is an image that includes a group of organizations fighting for the achievement of the Basque socialist state, operating under common agreed ideological bases and minimums. JARDUN is a meeting place for different organizational frameworks, a movement that promotes their collaboration. To this end, it provides a common framework for the adoption, coordination and decision-making of the various organizations that make it up. Therefore, at different levels, it is a tool for solidarity between militancy, organizations and groups within it. Using these coordination frameworks, the ACTION will be made up of sectoral organizations with specific functions and well-defined roles to carry out in a sector-specific way. The aim of this sectoral framework is to promote the efficiency of the organizations, which, in turn, incorporate the Basque Country Workers’ Alternative in the field in which they work. In this way, all the organizations that make up JARDUN work within the framework of the same objective and strategic line, each of which deals autonomously with its own line of work.As long as we understand that the workers are the subject of the struggle for an independent, socialist and united Basque state. So, when we talk about the Basque Country Workers’ Alternative, we are talking about a comprehensive political alternative that meets the needs of the Basque Country Workers. Its aim is to reach all areas of Basque society as a tool for activating and organizing the critical pro-independence and socialist masses in the Basque Country. In other words, the Basque Workers’ Alternative must be a tool for confrontation that will lead us to a break with the states. Ultimately, JARDUN must be the organizational framework for the Basque Revolutionary Workers. In order to achieve the strategic goals of the Basque Revolutionary Workers, which must carry out the Basque socialist revolution, it must be a comprehensive alternative that must provide the means to carry out the necessary struggles.”
Leitza is a town in northern Nafarroa (Navarra), one of four provinces of the Basque nation within the Spanish state.
The Guardia Civil are a Spanish state-wide gendarmerie or militarised police force, armed and living in barracks. They were the physical backbone of Franco’s dictatorship and continued in a repressive political role following the “Transition to democracy”.
The Agintariena is a ‘dance’ which resembles a short military parade with ‘arms’ to music; two lines of dancers march while a flag-bearer proceeds between them. At a particular point the dancers all go down on one knee with heads bent while the flag-bearer waves the flag over them all, seemingly in blessing over the fallen in battle. A mass example in a festival can be seen in the video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfoTmQZC_gs with the irrintzi (traditional ullulating call) thrown in for good measure.
Bertxolaris are performers of a traditional format of expression in song and rhyme on any theme. Competitions among these are held in the Basque Country in which the performers must extemporise rhyming verses on a given theme; these receive great public interest.
“dogs in uniform” — “txakkurak” (dogs), a pejorative slang name given for generations to the police in the Basque Country.
The Internationale is a song of revolutionary socialist struggle with lyrics written by an Anarchist activist in the Paris Commune of 1871 and put to music later by Marxist; it has been translated into a great many languages with examples in every populated continent. Eusko Gudariak (Basque Soldiers) is a Basque national anthem (in theme somewhat like the Irish national anthem “The Soldiers’ Song”). It was reputedly sung by ETA martyr Juan Paredes Manot (Txiki) while being executed by Guardia Civil firing squad in 1975, even continuing while mortally wounded by the first volley.
(Changed headline andtranslated from article in Publico.es by D.Breatnach)
(Reading time main text: 7 mins.)
Franco’s repression in Fregenal de la Sierra executed more than 80. Now, a second excavation seeks to recover the bodies of those who did not come to light in 2012, when the skeletons of 43 victims were recovered. The remains found indicate cruelty towards women, disrespecting them even after they were shot.
When they gave her the jacket of her son, who had just been shot, she lost her speech. She was like this for two and a half years, in silence, until she died. The father, a lifelong labourer, said on his deathbed that he bequeathed his little house to his five children. “You only have four,” one of the witnesses told him. “Until they give me the body of my son, I still have five,” replied the man. They were the mother and father of Juan Serrano García, shot in September 1936 in Fregenal de la Sierra (Badajoz1), when the rebels tricked him into returning: “They said that all those who had not committed crimes of blood, would be free of reprisals,” adds Andrés Serrano, representative of the Association of relatives of the executed from the town and Juan’s nephew.
His body was found in 2012 in a mass grave in the town’s cemetery along with 42 other bodies, although many more are still waiting in the ground. At that time, there were seven graves opened. Now, five more are uncovered to try to account for the more than 80 murdered by Franco’s troops of which there is a record. Among the bodies there is an unusually high percentage of women for the situation, points out Laura Muñoz-Encinar, archaeologist and forensic anthropologist at the Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit), attached to the Higher Centre for Scientific Research (CSIC), and who is participating in the exhumation.
The forced and almost physical silence of Juan’s mother testifies to the decades and decades of internal repression of the thousands of victims of the Franco regime. So much so, that Serrano learned about the story of his uncle obliquely from his mother, the political one of the family. She did not tell him directly: “An anthropologist friend wanted to interview her for a job, so I took the opportunity and told him to ask her about what happened in the Civil War. I hid in a room next to the terrace, where they were and thus I was able to hear first-hand and for the first time in my life about the execution of my uncle, the hardships my grandparents went through and the stigmatization my family suffered for being, for everyone else, ‘reds’ “, related the historical memorialist at 68 years of age.
They were in a hurry to kill them
The case of Juan, a militant in the UGT2 and of socialist sympathies, assassinated at the age of 21, is just one more. In Fregenal, more than eight dozen people who were related to politics and social struggle during the Republican period were executed. Located in Badajoz, many townspeople joined “The Column of 8,000”, coming from the north of Huelva, to flee from the fascist barbarism between the air raids. The troops took Fregenal on September 18 and three days later Juan returned to the town together with another comrade. They thought that nothing would happen to them, because they had not committed any blood-crime.
“They arrived at 10:30 in the morning and at 11:15 they were both arrested. They were taken to jail, and no matter how hard my grandparents tried to intervene with some powerful people from the town to save him from being shot, on September 22 he was murdered”, relates Serrano. The same thing happened a few meters away, in those days, in the town square: “They shot about four people in the center of town; it was an exemplary shooting. They wanted to increase the fear that there was already,” he says.
That same September 22nd, Juan’s parents had already guessed the worst. They knew that their son had been detained and that the Francoists had no mercy. Their suspicions were confirmed when, a few hours later and for greater confirmation, they were given the jacket that their son had been wearing. According to Serrano, the rebel soldiers also told them that they should stop searching, that they already knew where he was, and not to bother people, referring to the people to which they had gone to ask for compassion for their young son.
The first exhumation: 43 bodies
More than 70 years later, the team to which Laura Muñoz-Encinar, the archaeologist belongs, arrived. It was 2010 and they couldn’t start the excavation for two years. After the surveys and a research project approved by the Ministry of the Presidency, they excavated seven mass graves. “There were men and women. They were from young to very advanced ages. Among the seven women we found, one of them had a full-term fetus of between 7 and 9 months,” explains the Incipit scientist.
The change of central government in 20113 meant the cancellation of the funding allocation related to the investigation of what happened during the Civil War and the Dictatorship, so they had to wait nine long years until they were able to return to the town. Muñoz-Encinar explains that “During this time almost all the children of the victims, of which there were many, have died. There is only one daughter living, María Lobo Villa. The Francoists executed her mother, three uncles and a grandfather. Now, mainly, grandchildren and great-nephews and great-nieces remain. “
In that excavation they found the body of a woman buried between two men, something recurring according to the expert. Once again, and as always, they got the worst of it. This is demonstrated by what happened to Antonia Regalado Carballar, known as “La chata carrera” (“the flat racer”?-DB). A 22-year-old political activist, this woman transgressed the traditional roles of the patriarchal culture of the time. “They detained her and took her to the cemetery. There they physically and psychologically abused her, and several of them raped her. After killing her, said the undertaker, they put her in the ditch between the bodies of two men,” Muñoz-Encinar explains further. Serrano adds what the rebels who were there said, as the gravedigger recalled, “As men tempt you, there you have men for your whole life.” They haven’t found her body yet.
This type of symbolism, highly contemptuous for all victims and sexualized in the case of women, is not an isolated event. “In the current excavation we have already found a body face down. In a Judeo-Christian culture like ours, the placement of the bodies responds to a ritual of elevating the soul to heaven, that is why the bodies are placed face up and with the limbs stretched , and not doing it like that is a post-mortem humiliation”, the archaeologist explained.
Killed without trial years after the War
She herself points out that all the remains already found and those they are still looking for were civilian victims of extrajudicial repression, executed on the basis of the war party in force from 1936 to 1948. That is that, almost ten years after the end of the war, it was still possible to execute civilians without the need to bring them through a judicial procedure. That is what happened in Fregenal de la Sierra in 1946 to a party of guerrillas4. This is how Muñoz-Encinar relates it: “We know that they were fighting in the mountains, that they were pursued, until one night they entered a brothel. There they were betrayed and, after a scuffle, they were arrested. They were murdered, their bodies were exhibited in the street entrance to the cemetery and then put in a grave.” Also victims of extrajudicial repression years after the Civil War ended, the team of experts does not know if their bodies will be in the five graves they are currently studying and in which they have already found three bodies.
By Diarmuid Breatnach
The Spanish state territory holds more mass graves than any country in the world with the exception of Cambodia. Most of their occupants were killed during the Spanish Antifascist struggle with or without a military court hearing outside of conflict zones, that is to say, either in the rear areas of the fascist-military forces, i.e areas already safely conquered. In some of the areas, there had been little or no military resistance whatsoever but that did not halt the arrests and executions. And after the conclusive defeat of the Republic, the executions continued. Many victims, perhaps even the majority, had never even fired a gun in defence of the Republic but were considered enemies of the fascist State through their support for the Republic, their political ideology, social attitude or sexual orientation.
The punishment was not always a death sentence but people died also in prison due to massive overcrowding, disease, inadequate food or clean drinking water, water for washing or inadequate medical care.
Despite the frequent assertion that the 1936 military-fascist uprising against the elected Republican Government was to “restore Christian values” and was supported by most of the Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy, rape of women and girls was frequent, whether they were afterwards shot or not. This was widely attested in evidence by victims, witnesses and even some war reporters.
Those who survived or did not go to jail faced constant harassment, confiscation and theft of land, animals and produce; fines and public humiliation, in particular the women who were force-fed laxatives and then paraded in nightclothes or underclothes through the neighbourhood, sometimes to the doors of the Catholic church, unable to control their bowels as they walked.
Babies were also taken from murdered supporters of the Republic and later from working class women (who were told their baby had been stillborn) and given to childless fascist couples. Children of the “Reds5” were taunted at school and insulted by teachers.
After its sharpest form abated the repression nevertheless continued throughout the nearly four decades of the Dictatorship and it was extremely dangerous to even speak of disinterring the mass graves and reburying the victims in dignity, not to speak of honouring them as antifascist martyrs. Even after the death of Franco and the Transition to an alleged democracy, many kept silent to protect their families. Schools suppressed the history6. Murderers and torturers were not prosecuted. Thieves kept what they had taken. The ruling class consisted for the most part of supporters of the fascist-military uprising and their descendants and they thronged the civil service, military, police, judiciary, church hierarchy, media (State and private), the education system – along with many businesses and a number of political parties.
More recently, the work of generations of those keeping the historical memory alive, investigating, speaking, marking areas, even disinterring on their own initiatives, is bearing fruit. The Law of Historical Memory, passed through the Spanish Parliament under a social-democratic Government in 2007 helped for a little while but then fell into disuse under the PP Government, though it was not abolished.
Its renovation in 2020 by the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition has spurred more excavation bu the Law and its renovation had been preceded by the work over decades by volunteers of historical memory associations in many different parts of the State, such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, Asturias, Galicia, Andalucia and Madrid. The associations have been assisted by forensic experts working voluntarily. This work has helped create the political-social-cultural atmosphere in which in October 2019 the long-promised removal of the remains of the Dictator General Franco and the leader of the fascist Falange, Primo Rivera, took place from their fascist mausoleum in the Valle de Los Caidos7 (“Valley of the Fallen”, a fascist monument constructed with prisoner labour and a shrine for Spanish fascists).
Nevertheless the renovated Historical Memory Law, or its program posted by the Government, has been criticised by relatives and other historical memory activists, because it rules out any reparations. They are bitter that most of the known torturers, murderers and rapists died natural deaths without having faced even a trial and their accusers8 and that not only do their families hang on to their ill-gotten gains but that the State does not acknowledge its duty to the victims. The State itself, or one of its departments, is also engaged in a judicial-political struggle to recover from organisations and families some properties, including national monuments and one of them of UNESCO World Heritage status. Some local authorities face prosecution and reductions in allocation of central funds because they are holding on to commemorative signs exalting Franco or someone of his supporters.
Of course, the fascists and most varieties of the Right in the Spanish polity are angry at these events and link them to the struggle for Catalan independence as fatal to the Spanish State; they demonstrate and threaten a coup or some kind of repercussion, retired Army senior officers sign declarations and some rattle their sabres in public, the spokesperson of the Franco Foundation reminds the current King Felipe that it is entirely due to Franco that his father became monarch (which is true and Juan Carlos also swore allegiance to that regime, an oath which he never recanted).
Even some liberals are uneasy, feeling that “it’s reopening old wounds”, to which the relatives of the victims and others reply: “the wounds have never closed.”
2Unión General de Trabajadores, a general workers’ union allied to the social-democratic PSOE party. The union was outlawed by Franco and many of its supporters suffered imprisonment or even execution or murder without trial. It is one of the largest unions in the Spanish state today and the PSOE is one of the traditional parties of government.
3In that year’s General Election the right-wing Partido Popular won a landslide victory against the PSOE and the political climate changed considerably. Both the PP and the PSOE support the unionist and monarchist Spanish Constitution but the PP contains a harder Right, including supporters of the Franco regime and memory and outright fascists, some of which have split off at times to form the right-wing Ciudadanos and fascist Vox parties.
4Guerrilla struggle persisted in parts of the Spanish state after the defeat of the Republic, in some cases for decades.
5To sustain the fiction that they were fighting against “Communism”, (no doubt believed by many), those leading the fascist-military uprising constantly referred to their enemies as “Reds”. Some of course were but the Republic was also supported by Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists, democrats, social-democrats, revolutionary socialists, anarchists, libertarians and anarcho-syndicalists. The foreign press mostly referred to them as Republicans (sometimes as “Government supporters”) and the fascist-military side as Nationalists (sometimes as “rebels”). Communists, revolutionary socialists and anarchists predominated among the foreign volunteers who joined the Republican forces through the International Brigades and other routes (for example, Orwell, a member of the Independent Labour Party, fought with the mostly Trotskyist POUM) but they also included socialist Republicans from Ireland for example along with simply dedicated antifascists.
7An event covered in detail on Spanish TV in the style of a state funeral.
8Notable exceptions were Melitón Manzanas, Commander of the Political-Social Brigade of the Guardia Civil, a notorious torturer and Nazi collaborator, assassinated by the Basque armed group ETA in San Sebastian/ Donosti in 1968 and Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s nominated successor, also assassinated by ETA in Madrid in 1973. Manzanas was awarded posthumously the Medal of Civic Merit by the Aznar Government in 1998 as “a victim of terrorism”.
Fascist supporters of bullfighting in Asturias thought they were having fun by naming two bulls due to be killed “Feminist” and “Nigerian” respectively. But their racist and sexist joke-jibes backfired on them in Gijón (Xixón), cultural centre and largest city of Asturias, the celtic nation in the north of the Spanish state.
Bullfighting is generally supported by a traditionalist conservative constituency in Spain, including fascists, who often project it as integral to their image of Spain. On the other hand, the practice is opposed by large sections of the Left and those who want independence for their nations from Spain, such as Catalonia (banned some years ago) and three southern provinces of the Basque Country (where it was suspended for years but limited fights permitted again recently).
BULLFIGHTING IS ENDED IN GIJÓN
Translation by D.Breatnach from Publico.es report
The El Bibio de Gijón bullring will no longer host the traditional Begoña bullfighting fair, as the City Council will not renew the licence of the bullring because it considers that bulls cannot be used to “deploy an ideology contrary to the human rights”.
“The bullfighting festival is over,” said the mayor of Gijón, Ana González, in statements to journalists, after stating that what happened in the last running of the fair this year, where two of the bulls from Daniel Ruiz’s cattle ranch were named “Feminist” and “Nigerian”, has caused great discontent among feminist and animalist associations and has precipitated a decision that was already in the pipeline.
“A city that believes in the equality of women and men, that believes in integration, in doors open to all cannot allow this type of thing,” said the Councilor before stating that “several lines have been crossed”.
González explained that the idea was to end the licence of the El Bibio bullring and later put an end to it, as contemplated in the resolutions of the PSOE congresses but these events have advanced the decision. For this reason, the Consistory will not grant a third extension of the concession signed in 2016 nor will it issue a new call, despite the fact that the payment of the successful bidder represents 50,000 euros per year for the city council.
“The bullfighting fair is over because it seems that too many things were hidden,” explained the Councilor, who argued that if the world of bullfighting is what was seen in the last run of the fair “it does not contribute much to a city like Gijón “.
“The Mayor indicated that in recent years the bullfighting was “clearly challenged” and that there were more and more voices calling for an end to the bullfighting fair in Gijón, a demand that has now been met.
“The names given to these two bulls which were fought by Morante de la Puebla last Sunday, August 15, in Gijón, generated controversy on social networks and have aroused complaints from feminist and animalist associations.”
On June 6th 1944, a flotilla of more than 4,500 ships would transport 130,000 soldiers, and 20,000 vehicles across the English Channel, becoming the largest movement of people and material in the history of mankind. Known as D-Day, the Normandy Landing was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, but it would not have been possible without the key participation of a Spanish double agent, Juan Pujol, alias “Garbo,” who led Hitler to believe that the invasion would take place in Calais, 300 kilometers away. Garbo became a legend but recent investigations seem to indicate that perhaps the spy was not he but rather his beautiful wife. Today we know of a film-like story, the story of Araceli González Carballo, the Galician who deceived Hitler and who changed the course of a war1.
Araceli was born in Lugo in 1914, into a wealthy family. In the middle of the Civil War she volunteered to work in a blood bank hospital, until in 1938 she decided that she wanted to leave her hometown. Her father got her a position in Burgos, where she would work as secretary to the Governor of the Bank of Spain.
In February 1939, she met Juan Pujol, a young Catalan officer who had started the war on the Republican side and later switched to the National2 side, although he no longer believed in it. They get married and move to Madrid.
The two were of the opinion that Hitler would eventually lead Europe into disaster so they decided to offer themselves to the British to act as spies on the Germans in Madrid.
The British turned a deaf ear to her offer, so, in a risky decision, Araceli suggests to her husband that if they win the trust of the Third Reich, then they will be accepted by the British. Pujol, an officer in Franco’s army, appears at the German embassy in Madrid and offers himself to the Nazis. The ploy works and he begins working for the Third Reich’s Secret Services, the Abwehr. He is christened “Arabel” (from Araceli bella) and Friedrich Knappe is assigned as his contact.
Without knowing a single piece of information of interest, they pass reports to the Nazis, making them believe that they reside in London and that they have a network of informants when, really, they live in Lisbon and all they share with the Germans are inventions and rumors.
Knowing that their cover was really weak, Araceli travels to Madrid to fake a fit of jealousy in front of Knappe. She shows up at the Embassy to tell him that she knew the German had held meetings with her husband and to ask him if he knew anything about Pujol, since she had left for London unannounced and had no news from him, fearing that he has abandoned her. Knappe succumbs to Araceli’s tears and beauty and reveals to her that Juan Pujol is doing essential work for the Third Reich. The deception had worked.
After that meeting, Pujol sent Germany highly valuable information about a British fleet that had left for Malta. He had learned the details by chance and considered it to be as false as the rest of the information he sent to the Nazis. But this time he was right, and the Abwehr took the information as a sign of Pujol’s skill.
That report was intercepted by the British and made their Secret Services very nervous so Araceli, without informing Pujol, decided that it was time to try again. And for this she turned to the North American Naval Attaché in Lisbon, Edward Rousseau, who got her an interview with the English. Araceli drops the bomb: “The spy you are looking for is my husband.” British Intelligence recruits Pujol and that is how “Garbo” was born, one of the most important and decisive double agents of the Second World War who, from London, and with a network of 27 false spies, misinformed the Nazis from the year 1942 until the end of the war.
At the orders of MI5, the British Secret Service, they transmitted information to the Germans about which areas should be bombed by their air force, the Luftwaffe, without the Nazis knowing that they were unpopulated targets and without strategic interest. To confuse them, they sent them doctored photos of ruins and corpses, making them believe that the bombings had been a success.
But it is in 1944 when his performance becomes so decisive that there are those who consider that thanks to this couple the Allies won the Second World War3. With their fake spy network, they informed German Intelligence that the D-Day invasion would take place at Calais and not on the beaches of Normandy. That information delayed the German response long enough for the invasion to be a success. The same morning of June 6th, Pujol sent a message to the Germans in which he told them that the real landing was not the one that was taking place, but that it would be in Calais, days later. Hitler bought it.
What is surprising is that, according to declassified MI5 reports, Araceli almost ruined the entire operation. In 1943, Pujol was keeping his wife and his two children confined and controlled at home, which eventually enraged Araceli. “I don’t want to live another five minutes with my husband. Even if they kill me, I’m going to the Spanish Embassy to reveal the truth about him”. To avoid this, the British deceived the Galician woman into believing that her husband had been arrested because of her, so that she would come to her senses, which she finally did.
Despite the collapse of Germany, the Nazis never suspected Garbo, and Hitler would award him the Iron Cross, the highest decoration of the Third Reich.
He would also receive the Order of the British Empire, becoming the only person decorated by both sides of World War II, but was unable to collect it, since he returned to Madrid with his family before he could receive it. In Madrid he was summoned by the Abwehr but it was Araceli who attended for fear that it was a trap. However the Germans just wanted to give him a monetary bonus for services rendered to the late Reich.
Now separated from MI5, they moved to Venezuela but Araceli did not adapt to that life, so she returned to Lugo with her children and separated from Pujol. Three years later, in a precarious financial situation, she settled in Madrid, where the British remembered that Garbo’s wife also got them to win the War, so they helped her with a job as an interpreter for the British and American embassies.
In 1956 news reached her that her husband had died in Angola4 from malaria and she married Edward Kreisler, with whom she maintained a hectic social life in the capital, where they received the most illustrious guests from the United Kingdom and the United States, and they founded an art gallery that would eventually have branches in New York and Miami and which is still in operation today.
However, a twist in this real-life film script was still missing. In 1984 the writer Nigel West met Pujol on the shores of Lake Maracaibo and convinced him to return to London and receive formal recognition of his achievements during the war. It turns out that his former boss at MI5 had spread a rumour that he had passed away in order to get the spy out of circulation. All the British and Spanish newspapers and different European television stations presented him as the hero that he was. And Prince Philip of Edinburgh publicly paid tribute to him in a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
The former spy traveled to Spain and, after asking Araceli for permission, he was reunited with his children and met his grandchildren. The Spain-based family also traveled to Venezuela where Pujol had rebuilt his life and had three other children.
Juan Pujol died in Venezuela in 1988, in Choroní where, in one of his residences, can be read: “Here was the greatest spy in history.” Araceli would die too just two years later, in Madrid, following a stroke. Her remains rest in the Sacramental Cemetery of San Isidro.
No one knew her true story until MI5 declassified a large part of the files that revealed Araceli’s true participation in her husband’s adventures, and writers and journalists such as José de Cora, director of Progreso de Lugo, Ben Macintyre, editor from The Times, Javier Juárez or Edmond Roch (winner of a Goya for his documentary on Garbo), began to investigate.
But Garbo was not a person, it was a team. It would not have existed without Pujol, but neither would it have existed without the help and courage of Araceli. One has to wonder which of the two was really the spy. The answer is not as clear as it might seem.
This is the story how a Galician from Lugo allied herself with a Catalan from Barcelona to have an adventure that would change the course of history, in which they would deceive the Third Reich, the Nazis and Hitler himself. Without them the history of Europe and of the world would have been very different.
1Certainly the Nazi focus on Calais allowed the the US, British and Dominion troops to fight their way ashore and eventually establish a beachhead. But most analysts would say that it was the Battle of Stalingrad that was the real turning point in the War and sealed the fate of the Nazi’s military plans and of the regime.
2The military-fascist side called themselves the “Nationalists” and much of the world’s media used that description in their reporting and many historical references continued that description. They were engaging in a coup against a democratically elected government and in so far as they were “nationalists” they were Spanish nationalists but suppressing the nationalist aspirations of the Basques, Catalans and Galicians, also doing so with foreign military forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. They should be called what they were: military-fascist coupists.
3This is obviously an inflated claim, if it is indeed true that historians are of that opinion; there is rarely one point other than the final battle which can be said to “win” a war (see also earlier footnote with reference to Stalingrad).
Actually what the hierarchy referenced fearing in a recent 95-page statement was “two Spains”, which most commentators took as being a reference to a repeat of the Anti-Fascist war of 1936-1939, with Republican Spain and Fascist Spain. The statement of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) spoke of the “stability” which the 1978 Constitution has given the Spanish State. So have they suddenly now become democrats? Of course, one can think of another way of imagining such a dichotomy: Rich Spain and Worker Spain. I think the Bishops fear another kind of civil war – i.e revolution.
The 95-page document entitled ‘Faithful to missionary sending’ was prepared not only by the collegiate bodies of the CEE but also by external collaborators. Less open to different interpretations are the other concerns raised by the Bishop’s Conference, regarding the increasing secularisation of society, the scandals around abuse of those in the care of Church institutions and pastors, along with the other scandal of church appropriation of public property, including even a UNESCO site1. The Bishops feel that some of these processes and issues are not merely accidental or incidental to modern times but rather are deliberately driven by people in hostility to the Church.
CHURCH AND POLITICS
It is customary and has been so throughout history for the dominant religious institution to have a close relationship with the dominant class in society and this has certainly been the case with the Catholic Church in the Spanish Kingdom. The Spanish ruling elite at the turn of the last century, in a country with underdeveloped capitalist industry was an alliance of two different social classes, the aristocracy and the capitalist-financier class. The social atmosphere was deeply conservative and dominated by the Catholic Church hierarchy which, through them and the religious male and female orders, controlled institutions of social and educational provision. Progressive artists were penalised and often enough went into exile.2
The First Spanish Republic, a brief attempt to liberalise and democratise the State after the abdication of King Amadeo in 1873, survived not even two years before being overthrown in a military coup, followed by repression causing the exile of many of republican leaders and supporters.
However, a wave of revolt against the conservatism and lack of democracy of the Spanish Kingdom came around again and in 1931 the Second Republic was created, overthrowing the dictatorship of General Primo Rivera. Initially the composition of the government was right-wing and the revolt of the Asturian miners was cruelly suppressed by the Army and the militarised police force of the Guardia Civil3. The right-wing government fell in 1936 when a democratic left-wing Popular Front government was elected, which set about legislating for greater social freedoms, equality and discussing autonomy for nations4 within the State.
DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY-FASCIST UPRISING
That was the signal for the forces of reaction to strike and most of the military high command, allied with the fascist Falange5, staged a coup. In Barcelona, the coupists were quickly suppressed by a popular upsurge which took on a revolutionary character. In some other parts, particularly in Madrid, the coupists were suppressed too but without a revolution.
General Franco in partnership with another three generals and senior naval commanders led or joined the coup but Franco’s forces were isolated in part of North Africa (then a Spanish colony). While the ‘democratic’ European powers ‘blockaded the conflict’, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided the logistical support6 to get Franco’s forces to the Canary Islands, then to Spain, where they found little organised opposition but nevertheless carried out a reign of terror. The Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy and most of its priests and religious orders supported the military and fascist rebellious forces with enthusiasm.
A conflict variously called “the Spanish Civil War” or “the Spanish Antifascist War” followed, ending in 1939 with victory for the military-fascist forces, who lost an estimated 175,000 killed in action, and 110,000 died fighting for the Republic.7
Following the earlier pattern of areas the fascists had conquered, a wave of repression ensued against republicans, communists, socialists, anarchists, democrats, trade unionists, Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists, gays and lesbians, with summary executions, military tribunals and executions, mass jailing, public humiliation of women …. Estimates of executions behind the fascist-military lines during the War range from fewer than 50,000to 200,0008. Most of the victims were killed without a trial in the first months of the war and their corpses were left on the sides of roads or in clandestine and unmarked mass graves.Spain has the highest number of mass graves anywhere in the world with the exception of Cambodia9, with 740 mass graves containing the remains of some 9,000 people having been found so far. The support of the Catholic Church for the military and fascists did not waver throughout.
THREE DECADES OF FASCIST DICTATORSHIP
After that initial phase, three decades of political and social repression followed under the Franco dictatorship, again fully supported by the Spanish Catholic Church.
However, the dictatorship was always resisted to some degree or another and that resistance began to grow apace during the 1960s. The Partido Comunista de España and the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero de España, both banned, were organising underground and becoming increasingly popular. Both had affiliated trade union organisations and the Comisiones Obreras10, linked to the PCE was particularly widespread. The youth of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) broke with the conservative and inactive leadership and, joining with a revolutionary socialist movement in the southern Basque Country, formed ETA11, taking up armed struggle at the end of the 1960s.
As the Dictator aged the imperialists began to worry about the potential for a revolution in Spain and contacts in influential circles were sought to persuade the ruling class to replace the Dictatorship with a parliamentary democracy. Some elements in the Spanish Catholic Church opposed those initiatives but one which embraced it was the technocratic Opus Dei, which with some others, steered the country through the Transición.
Amidst a wave of repression including murders of activists by State and other fascist forces, with fear of an indefinite continuation of the Dictatorship, a Referendum on a monarchist and unitary state constitution was held. The PCE and the PSOE were legalised and, with their support, the 1978 Constitution received majority support. It is that Constitution which is regularly quoted when the State declines to permit the Basque and Catalan nations to even hold a referendum on independence.
In summary then, the Spanish State has evolved from a deeply conservative and repressive state, through a fascist-military uprising to a fascist and socially conservative dictatorship, all along with the support of the Spanish Catholic Church. When a revolution was feared, in consultation with imperialist advisers, the technocrat section of the Church, with the support of the social democratic and communist parties, helped prepare a transition to a parliamentary democratic form. Central to the Transition was preserving the mostly fascist ruling class and ensuring it would remain safe from any reparations, not to speak of criminal charges for murder, rape, torture, large-scale thefts …
But now, the Church hierarchy is sounding a warning. If it fears revolution, it has cause to.
VULNERABILITY OF THE SPANISH STATE
The possibility of revolution in Spain may seem far distant to most external and internal observers but two things should be taken into account:
Revolution often grows and matures very quickly from what seemed like unready conditions and
the Spanish State is by far the most vulnerable in the whole of the EU.
INTERNAL FORCES HOSTILE TO THE SPANISH STATE
The Spanish State consists of a number of nations, of which Catalonia, the Basque Country (Euskal Herria) and Galicia (Galiza) are the most obvious. But “Paisos Catalans” includes also Valencia and the Balearic Islands, all areas where Catalan is spoken and Asturias also consider themselves a Celtic nation (as does Galiza).
The southern Basque Country has spent decades mobilising for independence in a wide social and political opposition to the Spanish State and though the official leadership of its movement is now pacified, a strong potential remains there. As the momentum of the latter declined, the movement for independence in Catalonia increasingly matured and in 2017 an unsanctioned referendum returned a majority for independence. Spanish police raided polling booths, attacked the voters and later nine social and political leaders were jailed by the State while others were obliged to go into exile. The 2021 elections returned a majority of pro-independence candidates and the total vote for independence exceeded 50% for the first time since pro-independence candidates presented themselves in elections.
The movements for independence respectively in Galiza and Asturies are nowhere near at the same level as those of the Basque Country or of Catalonia but they are growing. This is true also of the Paisos Catalans and the Islas Canarias.
With regard to the wide workers’ organisations, while the Comisiones and UGT at present maintain overall control, the majority of organised workers in the Basque Country and Galiza belong to trade unions supporting independence. Intersindical, a class trade union12 movement, also supporting independence, is growing in Catalonia and the Canaries.
Generally the Spanish State finds itself increasingly isolated at home and abroad. Its repression measures against the Basques and Catalans have not only disaffected people in those nations but also, despite general media and fascist propaganda, sectors of the Spanish intelligentsia. Writers, actors, artists have experienced repression or have spoken out against the repression of members of their sector. Political activist and rapper Pablo Hasel is in jail while Valtonyc, another rapper, is in exile to avoid imprisonment, both because of their lyrics.
Repeated financial corruptionscandals have increasingly undermined confidence in the political and business classes.
FORCES SUPPORTING THE SPANISH STATE
The image of the Spanish Monarchy has suffered probably irreparable damage. The previous King, Juan Carlos, who was a visible link between the Dictatorship and the current parliamentary system but credited by liberal commentators as managing the “transition to democracy”, has abdicated. His personal reputation was damaged by a number of public relations disasters and he is now being pursued on allegations of financial and political corruption. His son-in-law is serving a jail sentence for financial and political corruption too. The current King, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI, though by no means compromised to any similar degree, has not built up any significant social support either, despite a generally sycophantic Spanish media.
The Catholic Church, the great organisation of social control for centuries and throughout the Dictatorship, has lost much of its influence, a fact bewailed by the Bishops in their communique. In the Basque Country and in Catalonia, the Hierarchy had little influence anyway because of its support for Franco. But the scandals of physical and sexual abuse in church institutions and by pastors, common across much of the western world, have impacted on the Church across the Spanish state too. In addition, the increasing secularisation of modern western society has also weakened the Church’s influence, as have its opposition to contraception and abortion, divorce, homosexuality and of course same-sex marriage, all of which are now legal.
Surveys indicated that only 3% of Spaniards consider religion as one of their three most important values, lower than the 5% European average, though religious festivals remain popular on a mainly cultural level.
According to the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, as of July 2021, while 58.6% of Spanish citizens self-identify as Catholic, only 18.6% define themselves as practicing, with 40% as not practicing. Another 37% have no religion, identifying variously as atheists (15.1%), agnostics (11.5%) or non-believers (10.4%)13. The total number of parish priests, i.e the level of Church personnel most in direct contact with the population, shrank from 24,300 in 1975 to 18,500 in 2018, with an average age of 65.5 years.14
However, the COPE radio network, owned by the Catholic Spanish Bishops’ Conference, broadcasts material ranging from the conservative to the fascist and always for Spanish unionism. COPE, an acronym for Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas (“People’s Radiowaves of Spain Network”) formerly called Radio Popular, is the second most played among Spain’s generalist radio. COPE owns music stations Cadena 100, Rock FM and Megastar FM, in addition to the Spanish generalist TV channel Trece. The station is associated with the right-wing Spanish journal DiarioABC.
The privately-owned media in the Spanish state, whether favouring the PSOE (e.g El País) or the Partido Popular (e.g El Mundo and ABC) tends to be supportive of the union and the status quo15, with the state TV networks even more so. The bias against for example Basque or Catalan independence activists is remarkably obvious, with TV cameras accompanying police on raids to arrests of activists and publication of prejudicial statements long before the accused face trial and again during the trial itself.
Both traditional main political parties have their origins in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. In common with most European parliamentary democracies, the two-party system has lost support in the Spanish state, resulting in recent governments being coalitions of political parties. This increases the potential for political thinking along class rather than party lines while also creating internal difficulties for the coalitions.
The right-wing Partido Popular was formed in 1989 but was a reconfiguration of the Alianza Popular, formed after the State’s change to the parliamentary system to give fascists and deep conservative supporters of Franco a representation in elections. Much reduced now, the PP has given rise to a chain of splits, first to form Ciudadanos, in turn shedding some members to form the more or less openly fascist Vox party. Any return of the PP to governing the Spanish state would require it to form a coalition with one or both of Cs and Vox.
The PSOE, formerly illegal under the Dictatorship, has on the surface many of the features of a western social-democratic party. However, it has been deeply implicated in repression of struggles in the Basque Country, including wide-scale torture of prisoners. Further, under the Felipe Gonzales presidency (prime ministership), the Spanish State ran terrorist squads carrying out kidnapping, torture, murder and bombings against pro-independence Basques. The operation was exposed in a series of articles in El Mundo and, although Gonzales didn’t face even a police interview, the eventual resulting list of convictions included the Minister of the Interior, Director of State Security, Sec-General of the PSOE in the Basque province of Bizkaia, Czar of the “Antiterrorist Struggle”, Bilbao Chief of Police Intelligence Brigade, another Police Chief, regional Governor for the Spanish State in Bizkaia, and a colonel, Chief of the Guardia Civil HQ in Intxaurrondo (Basque Country).
Although successfully unseating the PP Government on a vote of “no confidence” in the Government’s 2018 budget, the PSOE’s leader, Pedro Sanchez, was only able to enter government by forming a coalition with Unidas Podemos16, itself a coalition of left social-democrats, trotskyists and communists. Since the new Government took over the repression of Catalans of its predecessor, only releasing imprisoned Catalan activists on parole recently, it does not have the support of the Catalan independentists, with the exception of one major party which voted to help the Government’s budget scrape through, as did the official leadership of the Basque independence movement17.
Fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state, it merely put on a democratic mask, albeit faded and patched. The current members of the ruling class are mostly descendants of the military-fascist alliance of 1936 and virtually all beneficiaries of the Dictatorship, often sitting on wealth, industry and media expropriated from their opponents defeated in the Antifascist War. There are sections of active and militant fascists across the Spanish state with wide police and military connections, denouncing the independence initiatives in Catalonia, criticising immigration, ridiculing equality measures and parading with fascist symbols and salutes to exalt the memory of General Franco and Primo Rivera. Although some of those activities are illegal, they act with visible impunity. The Vox political party has stated openly that it wants to amend the Constitution to remove the status of regional autonomy, which they believe encourages aspiration for independence and thereby endangers the unity of the Spanish State.
Some government antifascist measures of late, along with the rise of independence activism in Catalonia have caused apprehension among this section of fascists, which finds expression in more rallies and demonstrations and increasingly threatening language and displays. The Government measures include the removal — long-promised by the PSOE — of Franco and Rivera’s remains from the mausoleum in the fascist monumental park of the Valle de los Caidos (“Valley of the Fallen”) which was built with political prisoner labour. The State’s TV service covered the event at length and in a manner resembling a homage ceremony.
Currently historical memory legislation is being promoted to assist in the discovery, investigation and honouring of the graves of the victims of Franco, while another piece of legislation seeks to make illegal any promotion of Franco or of fascism generally. The future of these initiatives is uncertain but the fact that even the current anti-fascist legislation is not upheld does not inspire confidence.
The Bishops’ concerns about the safety of the 1978 Constitutional State seem to be twofold: on the one hand they see the demands for self-determination of nations within its territory as a threat to the State while on the other hand they fear that the fascists will push matters to an extreme, i.e that “civil war” – and this time, the fascists will lose, in the course of which the State will fall. However a close reading also looks like a threat to the national liberation and democratic forces, a warning to desist from their challenges to the status quo – or else!
As to their concerns for their Church, the Bishops are correct in believing that it is under attack but misunderstand the nature of the opposition, a large part of which is more to do with resenting the privileged position of the Church within the Spanish State than a hatred of the institution and faith as a whole. The Church received €144 million in funding from the State18 in 2019, ultimately from the taxes levied on people, no matter what their religion or state of faith, their opinion of the institutions or of their activities. And the tax-payers have no control over those institutions.
Of course, the Church does have its enemies, people who will never forgive it for the role it has played in the abuse of people and for its role in history, in particular its support for the military-fascist uprising, the horrific repression during that war and again during the subsequent dictatorship.
But the Bishops are right about one thing – the Spanish state is very vulnerable. Which is no doubt also the reason for the general contradictory stance of most other states in the EU, which on the one hand wish the Spanish State would act in a more subtle way than naked repression, while on the other fearing the spillover effect of possible revolution and the territorial breakup of “Spain”.
2Cervantes, the most famous Spanish writer and much praised by the State today, never received any support from the Spanish Kingdom. In 1569 he fled a warrant for arrest due to wounding an opponent a duel. Later, his family could not afford his ransom when captured by Corsairs but his freedom was eventually bought by an organisation working to free Christian slaves in the Ottoman Empire. Employed later by the Spanish as a tax collector he was jailed briefly a number of times for “irregularities. He is celebrated as a writer not only in Spanish but his Don Quixote de la Mancha has been widely read in translation.
3The Guardia Civil is a Spanish state-wide police force but militarised — they have military ranks and live in barracks. The gendarme-type force is one common in states needing to control a disparate population with a history of rebellion, eg: the Carabinieri of Italy, Gendarmerie of France, Royal Irish Constabulary of Ireland under British rule (then the RUC in the colony, now the PSNI).
4Catalonia got its autonomy during its popular suppression of the coup attempt and, once the war was underway, three southern Basque provinces got theirs too, while the conservative Carlists in the fourth province, Nafarroa (Navarra) sided with the coup and massacred any supporters of the Government they could find. Galician autonomy was under discussion but after only two weeks of fighting in July 1936, the fascists took control and the project was abandoned. The fascists killed 800,000 people there, mostly civilians and after the hostilities.
5La Falangia Española, a fascist organisation founded by Primo Rivera (son of the General of the same name) in October 1933. It was later remodeled by Franco to unite all the fascist and right-wing nationalist organisations and from then was the only legal political party during the Franco Dictatorship.
6Both fascist powers also provided personnel, weapons, military transport, tanks …. the infamous urban centre bombing of Gernika was carried out by German and Italian planes. The Republican side received some assistance from the Mexican Government and in particular the Soviet Union and volunteers for the International Brigades. The balance of equipment and trained personnel was always however in favour of the fascist-military insurgents.
10The Comisiones today is much less under the influence of the PCE and, together with UGT, which remains under the control of the PSOE, form the two main Spanish trade unions, their leaderships institutionalised and generally collaborative with the State and for the union of Spain.
11Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Country And Freedom) was much more than the depiction of “terrorist” organisation one finds in most descriptions. It was a cultural and social Basque liberation organisation, persecuted by the Spanish State, against which it took up arms after almost a decade of repression and torture. After years of decline but during which the wider movement expanded hugely, ETA disbanded around 2012. Many of its convicted fighters remain dispersed throughout the jails of the Spanish and French states while others are in exile.
12A class union does not recruit members repressive forces (e.g. police, jailers, armed forces), nor of management in work places. Also Intersindical has a very democratic structure with an elected General Secretary permitted to serve for only two years.
15An exception is the attitude to the Catholic Church, which is generally critical in El País, in line with its more secular identity.
16Izquierda Unida (United Left), the often disunited coalition of mostly Trotskyist small groups coordinated by the CPE, formed an electoral coalition with Podemos just before the elections. Podemos arose from a small group of Trotskyists that emerged from 13M, the huge popular opposition to the Spanish State, especially in Madrid, in turn engendered by the protest movement commonly known as “Los Indignados”. Podemos rode that wave of indignation to win five seats in their first participation in elections, those to to the European Parliament in May 2014. In the 2015 General Elections on 20 December 2015, Podemos received 21% of the vote and became the third largest party in the Parliament, with 69 out of 350 seats. In subsequent elections, as part of coalitions, Podemos’ number of MPs in the Spanish Parliament has fallen consecutively to 49, 47, 32 and 26, with its 5 MEPs reduced to three. Conversely, the party’s membership is growing, according to reports.
Governing Social-democratic PSOE voting with the Right and Far-Right
Coalition partners Unidas-Podemos voting with Basque and Catalan nationalists to hunt down the King
The royal house of Spain is of the Bourbons, a fact settled as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which drew in all the major European powers (and in which the Basque and Catalan nationalists supported the losing side). Its current representation and recent history is immersed in controversy, largely but not only around the figure of ex-King Juan Carlos, his former support for a fascist dictatorship, wide allegations of financial corruption and his wildlife shooting hobby.
Rumours of Juan Carlos’ intention to abdicate in the midst of reports of investigations into allegations of financial corruption were denied earlier in 2014. However the King declared his wish to abdicate on19 June 2014, news which was met with celebrations by leftist groups, republicans and groups seeking independence for the nations within the Spanish State.1 Many of these began to press for a referendum to choose between monarchy or republic.
Juan Carlos’ abdication was approved by majority vote by the Spanish Parliament in June 2014 and his son Felipe VI declared King. Backed by the right-wing Partido Popular in government and the formerly republican PSOE in opposition, 299 voted in favour with only 19 MPs of small leftist parties and of Basque, Catalan and Canarianpro-independence parties speaking against and with 23 abstentions.2
The Spanish Constitution (1978) gave the monarch legal immunity for actions taken in accordance with his duties but provided no protection for a former monarch. However, the Government changed the law, leaving him accountable only to the Spanish Supreme Court, a status shared with many high-ranking civil servants and politicians in the Spanish State3.
As reports in the media indicated that a Swiss prosecution alleging financial corruption might be imminent, in 2020 Juan Carlos left the Spanish State for an extended period to a secret destination, rumoured to a country from which he could not be extradited. The former king’s exile was officially confirmed on 3rd August 2020, his current location reported by the Royal Household as being in the United Arab Emirates. There is no extradition agreement between the UAE and the Spanish State.
The leadership of the governing PSOE wants to protect the ex-King and votes in accordance with that position, finding itself voting alongside MPs of the Right, the Far-Right and fascists. PSOE’s governing coalition partner Unidas Podemos (itself a wide Left coalition), backed up by the votes of Basque and Catalan independence MPs, wants to have the King officially exposed and brought to court on corruption charges.
FASCIST DICTATORSHIP BACKGROUND OF JUAN CARLOS
When the electorate in the Spanish kingdom voted in a republic in 1931, the monarchy was abolished and King Alfonso XIII fled. In 1936 a left-democratic government was voted and the fascists and a number of armed forces senior officers staged an uprising against the Republic. In an extremely brutal war, with massive assistance from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, they overthrew the elected government and instituted a dictatorship under General Franco.
In 1947 Franco reinstated the monarchy and skipping the line in succession for the Spanish Crown and, disregarding the exiled Juan, son of Alfonso XIII, who appeared to Franco to be too liberal, the Dictator in 1969 named Juan’s son, Juan Carlos, his successor as head of State. Juan Carlos had been studying in Italy but had returned to the Spanish state in 1969 and had the status of Prince of Spain under the Dictatorship; he was taken under Franco’s wing and in turn Juan Carlos promised to uphold the fascist regime.
Two days after Franco’s death, Juan Carlos became King of Spain on 22 November 1975 and Head of the Spanish State.
After Franco’s death the Spanish State embarked clumsily on the long-envisaged Transition to a parliamentary democracy. The ban on the social-democratic PSOE and Communist Party and their affiliated trade unions was lifted and, in 1978 a referendum was held on a unitary constitution (no right to self-determination for the Basque Country, Catalonia or Galicia nations) and a return to monarchy. Amidst a wave of repression and threat of return to dictatorship, with the PSOE and CPE leaderships advocating a vote in favour, the Constitution gained a majority overall throughout the Spanish state (not however in the Basque Country) and Spain was once again a constitutional monarchy.
The Monarch has substantial reserve powers in his role as the defender of the Constitution and insulting him is a crime in Spanish law, for which political activists, cartoonists, singers and rap artists have been tried and convicted.4
Much is made by liberals and supporters of the State of the fact that Juan Carlos broadcast a statement seeking support for the elected Government in 1981 when Antonio Tejero5, a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Guardia Civil led his short-lived coup attempt. The King’s name had been used by the conspirators to gather support and Juan Carlos’ statement at midnight on the first day of the coup attempt undermined the coup leaders. Subsequently Juan Carlos was presented as a staunch defender of democracy, hailed by liberals, social democrats and the leader of the Communist Party. Juan Carlos’ previous role as a staunch supporter of Franco’s fascist Dictatorship was revised or excused and his role in promoting parliamentary democracy in the Transition exaggerated (still to be found in Wikipedia etc).
Supporters give the impression that the King’s intervention was crucial in ending the coup. In fact, at the outset the plotters had little military backing and had failed to even secure Madrid; Valencia had been taken and surrounded with tanks by the coupists but the commander of the nearby military airport not only refused to support the coup but threatened to send fighters to rocket-bomb the tanks. Elsewhere, in cities and ports, despite a background of calls for insurgency by fascists and discomfort with parliamentarianism in the armed forces, these stayed quiet.
Rarely acknowledged too is that even after Franco’s death Juan, Carlos spoke of his ideological and emotional debt to the Dictator and not once did he retract his oath to uphold the fascist order.
Juan Carlos and his family receive receive the support of substantial funds allocated through the State and are also in possession of properties that were confiscated by the fascist victors of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. In addition, they have wealth accumulated through business connections.
Whispers about corruption in the financial deals of Juan Carlos began to circulate around the turn of this century the King’s overall popularity remained high. However a stunned population learned in April 2012, in the middle of an economic crisis in the Spanish state, that a Spanish Air Force jet had to be dispatched to collect the King from his secret trip to Botswana, Africa, where he had broken his foot. Since he had been photographed in 2006 standing by the body of his trophy elephant shot in Botswana it was widely assumed that had been the purpose of his secret trip.
Although a cartoon mocking the King and Queen had been published in a newspaper in 2007, with copies seized by the Government (but defiantly republished by the right-wing El Mundo), it was not until the Botswana episode that condemnation of him began to be widespread throughout social media, spilling over into the mass media. In April 2012, Spain’s unemployment was at 23% and nearly 50% for young workers. A controversy also arose over his Presidency of the Spanish section of the World Wildlife Fund and an online petition on the actuable.es website said more than 46,000 people had backed a petition calling for the king’s resignation from WWF and in April the presidential position was abolished.6
At the time, the King’s son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, was also being charged with financial and political corruption7, along with the youngest princess, Cristina.
CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS INTO JUAN CARLOS
Kickbacks from commercial contracts in the Gulf States, particularly construction of the €6.7 billion Haramain high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia, lodged in a Switzerland bank account and the purchase of properties in Monaco in the name of his former mistress Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, who is registered domiciled in Monaco. These details emerged in a 2018 leaked telephone conversation between herself and a former police chief. She also alleged being warned into silence by the head of the Spanish State Intelligence Service.
Very recently zu Wittgenstein-Sayn alleged publicly that Juan Carlos had asked for the return of the money, which she had refused and that she has received threats and fears for her safety.
On 14 March 2020, The Telegraph newspaper reported that his son FelipeVII appeared as second beneficiary (after Juan Carlos) of the Lucum Foundation, recipient of a €65 million donation by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On 15 March 2020, a spokesperson for the Royal Household declared that Felipe VI would renounce any inheritance from his father and that the former king would lose his public stipend from the State’s General Budget.
Royal Family credit cards from undisclosed Swiss bank account. Juan Carlos and the Royal Family had credit cards drawing on what appeared to be an undeclared Swiss bank account, with card drawings exceeded €120,000 in one year, comprising undisclosed income and was therefore a tax offence in Spain. Mexican millionaire and investment banker Allen Sanginés-Krause has been named as the owner of the cards, a friend of Juan Carlos to whom he donated sums of money using Air Force Colonel Nicolás Murga Mendoza as an intermediary.
In December 2020, Juan Carlos reportedly paid €678,393.72 to Spain’s tax agency with regard to the “opaque credit cards” used between 2016 and 2018 by himself, his wife and some grandchildren, to avoid further scrutiny from the Supreme Court’s prosecutor, the payment being an admission of fraud.
Jersey and Swiss bank accounts. A third investigation is being undertaken by the Spanish authorities over an attempt to withdraw nearly €10 million from Jersey, possibly from a trust set up by or for Juan Carlos in the 1990s. Juan Carlos claims he is “not responsible for any Jersey trust and never has been, either directly or indirectly.”
A further investigation is taking place regarding the fact that until August 2018, Juan Carlos maintained a bank account in Switzerland containing almost €8 million.
2002 trip to Kazakhstan
It is reported that Juan Carlos made a private trip to Kazakhstan in October 2002 to hunt goats with Presiden Nursultan Nazarbayev and that on departure from the country he was given 4 to 5 briefcases purportedly containing $5 million in cash.
Founded in Liechtenstein in 2003 and owned by Álvaro de Orleans-Borbón, a distant cousin of Juan Carlos who lives in Monaco, the Foundation received a large sum of money from Switzerland in which Juan Carlos is named as the third beneficiary. In 2009 Álvaro de Orleans-Borbón paid a cheque from Mexico for €4.3 million into the account which the Swiss adjudicated was from Juan Carlos. Juan Carlos appears to have drawn down funds from the Zagatka foundation to spend €8 million between 2009 and 2018 on private flights, receiving around €6.1 million.
Zagatka used commissions due to Juan Carlos and paid to Zagatka to invest millions, mainly in Ibex35 companies between 2003 and 2018.
A Swiss prosecutor is investigating.
A Panamanian Lucum foundation had Juan Carlos as the first beneficiary and his son, now King Felipe VI named as second beneficiary (although Felipe VI later relinquished any inheritance from his father Juan Carlos). Lucum received $100 million from the Saudi royal house in 2008. Swiss prosecutors are concerned about who at the Swiss bank, Miraboud & Cie knows who the account was for and what was discovered about the source of the funds from the Ministry of Finance of Saudi Arabia. They are also concerned about a transfer of €3.5m from Lucum to an account held by Dante Canónica in the Bahamas. In 2012 the Mirabaud bank, which had concealed from its employees the beneficiary owner of the account, asked for the account to be closed, due to possible adverse publicity; this was when the bulk of the funds were transferred to Juan Carlos’ ex-mistress Corinna zu Wittgenstein-Sayn.
With the election of the right-wing Partido Popular under Aznar to Spanish Government in 1996, privatisation of public companies in telecommunications, gas and water were carried out. Under the guise that the Monarch had to be involved in the sale of state companies, Juan Carlos’ investment company Los Albertos received financial packages. And later, in 2003, his Royal status and links with the Windsor household were used as intermediary to sell the Zarogazano bank, whose two Chairmen had retired after fraud convictions earlier bank to huge British bank Barclays. Juan Carlos’ intermediary work gained him a €52 million payment.
Recently too the online newspaper Publico revealed that after Juan Carlos abdicated he still carried out ceremonial visits and was on an annual stipend of €190,000 but had made five trips to Saudi Arabia which he had not declared on his schedule. The Spanish State sold armaments to Saudi Arabia in particular during the Saudi war in Yemen, during which Juan Carlos was reported by the Saudi royal information organisation as expressing his support for the Saudi side.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES IN THE SPANISH STATE TODAY
Attitudes of the public vary across the Spanish state territory, with opposition to the Spanish monarchy probably highest in the southern Basque Country and Catalonia but Madrid also has a high Leftist population, along with a high membership of the Right.
The attitude of genuine republicans in the Spanish state is that they don’t want a monarchy, that they had got rid of it democratically and that it was later foisted back on them. Such people include various kinds of socialists and communists even though, as noted earlier, the formerly republican PSOE and Communist Party leaderships encouraged their members and supporters to vote for the monarchist Constitution in 1978. Supporters of Basque, Catalan and Galician independence are also generally republicans.
Currently the PSOE leadership in the Spanish Parliament is resisting the campaign against the ex-King, voting with the Right against the PSOE’s coalition partners who are further on the Left spectrum.
For the Spanish Right generally, the Monarch is a touchstone of their concept of a unitary Spanish state. Even though fascism originally, including its Spanish variant, favoured a fascist republic as opposed to a monarchy, since the Dictatorship, Spanish fascism upholds the symbol of the monarchy along with the memories of Franco and Rivera. The 1971 coupists (unsuccessfully) invoked the name of the King (Juan Carlos then) and fascist party Vox has been doing so again recently with regard to Felipe VI “in defence of his person against insults”.
The anti-monarchical corruption campaign is aimed at having Juan Carlos charged with financial corruption but for many the target is the institution of the monarchy itself. Many remember how Felipe VI in October 2017, rather than condemn the Spanish Police violence against voters in the Catalonia referendum, instead praised them in a special broadcast and lectured the Catalan people. Also, unfavourable comment is passed regularly in some public quarters from time to time on the attitudes and expenses of the Royal Family.8 All this is occurring at a time when the unity of the Spanish State is also coming under strong pressure. Ultimately the whole institution of the Spanish Monarchy – and much associated with it — is once again vulnerable to a degree that has not been seen since the Republic of the 1930s.
1These include the Basque, Catalan and Gallician nations but some also include Asturias, Andorra, Canaries, as well as the extended Catalan “family” of Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
3See Sources and References re immunity and paternity claims.
4Including Basque independence activist Arnaldo Otegi, cartoonist, a puppeteer, 18 singers and rap artists including Strawberry, Pablo Hasel and Valtonyc. https://www.dw.com/en/spain-imprisonment-for-royal-insult/av-56659019. Some of those, like Strawberry for his lyrics and two jailed Catalans who burned a photo of the King in public, were eventually cleared on appeal to a higher court whereas Otegi’s appeal to the European Court of Human Rights was successful and awarded damages against the Spanish State.
5An examination of the trajectory is instructive with regard to the democratic status of the Spanish State and the role of its military. Tejero was courtmartialed with another senior officer of plotting a coup in 1978, along with a third officer whose name has never been publicly revealed (!). Both were sentenced to the minimum, six months’ imprisonment, remained in the armed forces and retained their rank, Tejero’s accomplice even being promoted later. After the 1981 coup attempt, Tejero and some co-conspirators were sentenced to 30 years in jail but when and unrepentant Tejero left jail the last of the conspirators to walk free, he had only completed half of his sentence. He is considered a hero by fascists and right-wing military veterans.
6In 2005 Juan Carlos had also shot nine bears, one of which was pregnant. He was finally removed in as President of the Spanish section of WWF in July 2012 by 226 votes against 13 to delete the post. (See References and Resources).
7Urdangarin was later convicted of embezzling about €6 million in public funds for sporting events since 2004 through his nonprofit foundation, the so-called Nóos case, and of political corruption by using his former courtesy title of Duke of Palma de Mallorcas as the husband of Infanta Cristina (youngest daughter of Juan Carlos). In June 2018 Urdangarin was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison; he is currently imprisoned in Ávilla en relaxed conditions in Ávila (Wikipedia) which are the subject of criticism as being too lax and privileged.
8It was not until 2011 that these became public knowledge, being declared as an annual budget of €8.3 million, excluding expenses such as the electricity bill, paid by the State.
The wolf was hunted to extinction in Ireland during English occupation1 – in fact, a similar bounty was paid by the colonial administration on delivery of Catholic priests and resistance fighters as was paid on a wolfskin2. They were extirpated in most of western Europe and in large parts of the USA and plans to reintroduce them run into lots of opposition. But really, what is the problem with wolves?
The canine with closest ancestry to our domestic dog is the wolf, the Eurasian and American subspecies – close enough to our dog to mate and produce viable offspring – and the divergence from a common ancestor is estimated to have occurred 11,00 to 16,00 years ago.3 The wolf is an apex predator usually in a pack ruled by an alpha male and alpha female, the only ones permitted to mate and their offspring are cared for by the whole pack.
Highly social, adaptable to different terrain and weather, the wolf is a highly-intelligent animal able to travel long distances and fierce in defence or attack. Many people might fear wolves through imagining they or their children being attacked by them – and certainly there are enough childhood stories to feed that fear — but the main opposition to their conservation or reintroduction does not come from that source. Nor is the source those pet owners, particularly of weak or diminutive descendants of the ancient canine stock, like those for example in Los Angeles who complain that a coyote ate their toy poodle.
Wolves playing among themselves in juxtaposition to humans in Gorbeia, the largest natural park in the south-western Basque Country. The presence of wolves there is mentioned in only some of the tourist promotional literature and no explanation was provided with the youtube posting of this remarkable video.
The main opposition, and by far the most powerful, are the livestock farmers4. And their fears are far from irrational. Wolves are top-range predators easily capable of killing a sheep, pig or goat and, as a pack, of killing cows and even horses too5. Most livestock farmers are not going to be convinced by arguments in favour of biodiversity when they largely favour one or two breeds of meat or dairy animal, selectively-bred for high production relative to maintenance cost.
And the bigger the livestock farmer, the more realistic his problem with wolf conservation — or worse, wolf reintroduction. The bigger the herd, the more widely it is dispersed for grazing, the more difficult to protect. Paid guards with high-powered rifles are only effective by day. Corralling by night requires electrified fencing and even they are not infallible.6
So how did people manage before? In some parts of Western Europe, there have been wolves in living memory and people raising livestock in those areas made a reasonable living. How did they do it?
The answer is dogs7. Not the poodle or spaniel or terrier type but big strong dogs capable of fighting wolves and, in the case of some breeds, more than a match in a one-on-one contest. The studded or spiked collar was invented to shield the dog’s vulnerable neck and throat.
PROTECTION FROM WOLVES BY DOG
In a video from the Basque Country I viewed some years ago, some villagers talked about wolves and the mastiff dogs they had and these are discussed also in a video in Spanish included here with shepherds from the Zamora region, in Castille and León, in central Spain. This type of dog is not a sheep or cattle herder8 but rather a livestock guard; living around the livestock, it knows them and does not permit predators of any size to approach them. In some parts of the world and in the case of some breeds, nor will they permit the approach of any humans, other than their masters and their known associates. Livestock guardian dogs are not all mastiffs but all are typically big and strong breeds, hardy to the prevalent weather conditions typical to their area, socialised to the herd animals and therefore at ease with them (and vice versa), protective of the livestock and inhibited from injuring or killing them, even when hungry. They are comfortable enough with their owners (although reputedly some do not enjoy petting) and his or her close associates, with some breeds also very protective of their owners.
There are around fifty currently known breeds around the world to fill this role9 including: Akbash and Aksaray Malaklisi of Turkey, Bakharawal of India, Beauceron of France, Cane di Manara of Sicily, Estrella Mountain dog of Portugal, Georgian Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees and Pyrenean Mastiff, Greek Shepherd, Himalayan Sheepdog, Karakachan of Bulgaria, Mazandrani of Iran, Mucuchies of Venezuela, Slovak Cuvac, Vikhan Sheepdog of Pakistan. The Irish Wolfhound was probably not one, it seems to have been primarily a hunting chase dog, though its name suggests it might have been used to hunt wolves too.10
2019 interviews in Castillian Spanish with shepherds who use Mastiffs livestock guard dogs in Zamora region, central Spain.
It should be born in mind that in many parts of the world, wolves are not the only mammalian apex predators; big cats and bears compete with them; in those regions guard dogs have to be and are willing and able to confront those species too. Despite the size and armament differential, a good guard dog will confront such predators displaying extreme threat in appearance and sound (and possibly also summoning assistance). Livestock guard dogs have been known to fight to the death but bear or even lions will usually back off to seek easier prey. Besides, a flock needs a minimum of two livestock guard dogs and and there might be more.11
These breeds are mostly comparatively rare now in many parts of the world, where apex predators have been extirpated, since their function has largely been dispensed with, or they are maintained as pets or competition show dogs.
None of the Basque villagers interviewed had mastiffs any longer, although one Basque livestock farmer informed the interviewer that his father had two. However, in some other parts of Iberia, the mastiff breed is still active as a working dog and a shepherd in Zamora (Castille and León autonomous community, central Spain) with a flock of 450 sheep has five mastiffs; all five might not be necessary but as he explains, one must have a working reserve in case of injury, sickness etc among the guard dogs. He spends €5,000 p.a on the dogs. The shepherds there have no interest in the show specimens of the breed saying that they are not being judged by their working ability. “If a wolf sees a show dog, it laughs,” says another shepherd. “If our dogs see one, they’d laugh too.” “It is impossible for the necessary qualities of a working dog to be judged in show environment”, says another shepherd, pointing out too that a mastiff that is too heavy cannot run, thereby rendering it it useless for guarding the flock.12 The dogs also need to learn from experience how to respond not just to an individual wolf but to a pack, where individual members of the pack will seek to lure the dog away towards others in ambush, or to detach it from the prey which others will then attack.
A wikipedia entry on Livestock Guard Dogs links their use with wolf coexistence: “With the reintroduction of predators into natural habitats in Europe and North America, environmentalists have come to appreciate Livestock Guard Dogs because they allow sheep and cattle farming to coexist with predators in the same or nearby habitats. Unlike trapping and poisoning, LGDs seldom kill predators; instead, their aggressive behaviors tend to condition predators to seek unguarded (thus, non-farm animal) prey. For instance, in Italy’s Gran Sasso National Park, where LGDs and wolves have coexisted for centuries, older, more experienced wolves seem to “know” the LGDs and leave their flocks alone.”13
Some Basque and Spanish shepherds seem to agree and are prepared to coexist with the wolf, using more traditional methods of livestock farming, corralling their stock by night with dogs to protect on duty as they are also by day.14 With a different apex predator in Australia, the widely-hated by farmers dingo, a few farmers are seeking to coexist with the predator against the opposition of the majority of their colleagues, in areas where dead dingoes may be seen suspended from trees or even roadside structures.
Dingoes are pack animals in which only the alpha pair breed (like wolves) and one of the cattle farmers states that dingo extermination attempts break up the pack, resulting in more individuals breeding. He also relates that kangaroos eat down the vegetation which competes with his cattle but also contributes to drying out of the land. When he stopped trying to eliminate the dingo, he says, they preyed on the kangaroo which in turn resulted in more surviving vegetation and land in better condition.15
A shepherd in the Zamora range states too that the wolf keeps down the numbers of wild boar and deer and generally across Europe these ungulates are reported to be on the increase (the white-tailed deer also in the USA). Boar are well-known in some regions for raiding cultivated fields, trampling growing plants to reach what they find edible, well able to knock down types of fencing, squeeze through gaps and so on. Increasingly on the Internet one can find videos of wild boar, often accompanied by their litter, foraging in villages and towns (in one video, even successfully overturning a trash dumper to feed on the contents). These types of ungulates contribute their own kind of environmental damage in addition in some cases to nuisance to humans16.
The Zamoran shepherd comments also that deer, a natural prey of wolves, often carry brucelosis and infect cattle, which in turn is is transmissible to humans and treated as a serious disease. In cattle it results in loss of weight, abortion of fetuses and lower milk production and as the shepherd says, state control procedures require the destruction of the whole herd upon finding of some infected animals. Apart from anything else, clearly this measure can have serious economic consequences for the farmer and for the whole state in question.17
If wolf conservation and reintroduction is be successful in the long-term, it will require livestock farmers to have smaller herds and a partnership with herd guard dogs, as well as other defensive means. This entails the irony that the expansion in herd protector dogs results in protection for wolves, in preventing their cousins from causing depredation in the herds, which would entail reprisals from humans.
It may be that farmers will occasionally lose a lamb or a calf or a pig from their ranges to a predator – but they lose occasional animals anyway, to pests, disease and mishap. Their stock animals will probably be healthier and tend towards the sturdier types.
Yes, but smaller herds? Well, is it not widely accepted (except by big farmers and banks) that we breed too many meat animals, with huge emission of greenhouse gasses and lots of waste? Smaller herds would surely be environmentally welcome.
CONSERVATION AND REINTRODUCTION PROGRAMS
Reintroduction methods for wolves vary from releasing adult animals from captivity, whether alone or as a pair, to placing captive-bred pups within a wild litter, when according to reports they are fostered without difficulty by the wolf bitch.
The problems involved in projects of conservation and reintroduction are not small. The wild mammalian apex predators can compete with and threaten the other mammalian apex predator – the human. Direct predation on humans by the other land-based predators is statistically low; fatal encounters for humans are much, much rarer than those for the other mammal involved and, when occurring, usually arise from self-defence by the animal or defence of kind (especially of the young), along with rabid animals. So, in general, leave them alone and they’ll leave us alone.
Still of a Mexican Wolf Reintroduction from video (Videocredit: Arizona Game & Fish Dept. 2018)
But leaving our livestock alone is a different proposition entirely and even more so if our livestock and livestock management systems have reduced the wolves’ natural prey, both in number and variety. And we tend to do that. Our systems tend to reduce forest to favour grassland for our domesticated grazers, which reduces or wipes out forest prey. Then we set out to reduce or even eliminate the wild grazers competing with our domesticated ones. Even when we develop forests we tend to favour monoculture or restrict to a few species of commercial timber with high turnover in comparatively shorter time.
Hunting and fishing reserve managers kill predators ranging from hawks, eagles, and owls to stoats, badgers, wolverines, foxes, otters, bears, felines and wolves; legal and illegal means of killing predators include shooting, trapping and poisoning. But those practices also favour only those particular wild species valued for hunting, often edging out a diversity of other species which are now faced with “unfair competition” from the “sport” species, resulting in damage to diversity and to the particular eco-system.
Large-scale elimination of prey animals in order, for example, to protect crops, also reduces the natural prey available to predators. Growing only particular kinds of trees will result in quicker turnover and or greater profits but also in monoculture forests giving little shelter to diverse wild life.
For good reasons as explained by their supporters, the presence of apex predators affects not only their prey and other predators but also vegetation, which in turn affects other animals, birds and fish (through their effect on water courses) – in fact, a top-down effect on the whole local environment which has been shown to beneficial.
The objectors argue that large mammalian predators can cause significant problems to humans and most significant among those humans are the livestock farmers. They, ranging from rancher livestock operations of thousands of animals, down through the medium enterprises of some hundred head, to small farmers with up to a sore or so, are the main source of opposition to wolf conservation or – what are we thinking of? — reintroduction.
The opposition based on fear of attack on person, largely without contemporary logic but relying on ignorance and some folklore, can be educated and managed by conservationists but the livestock farmers are a different proposition. Those who rely on livestock to make a decent living and those companies for which it is big business, along with their shareholders and banks, are not going to be easily persuaded. The smaller or even medium-sized concerns are potentially more amenable to convincing, especially if aided by state grants to offset losses to predation18. The evidence is that for them a change to investing in livestock guard dogs would be manageable and very possibly more emotionally rewarding19.
Big business is another matter. Grants would have to be substantial to convince them and, in any case, ecological grants to big business have not turned out to be of benefit to the environment overall. Quite crudely, big business will need to be forced to reduce the size of its operations or be put out of business one way or another; how that may be achieved is another day’s discussion. Meanwhile, progressing with smaller and medium-sized livestock farmers will make some difference and play an important educational role in what is good for the environment and for us.
NATURAL REINTRODUCTION AND VIABILITY
Not all reintroduction is human-initiated. In the Pyrenean region of the Iberian peninsula, in areas devoid for years of the native wolf, they speak of the appearance of the Italian wolf (sub-species) slightly divergent from its Iberian cousin), though none of those migrants having yet bred and thereby established a pack. This situation is leading to increased discussion around the pros and cons of wolf conservation and herd protection there.
The wolf is protected in Iberia and though classified as game species in the northern part of the Spanish state20 a ban on hunting wolf was introduced even there in February of this year (2021). This had been agreed some years earlier by the Euskadi regional Government but not implemented, until conservationists (with the support of some traditional shepherds took a successful court case to force the implementation.21 Compensation is paid for livestock killed by wolf or bear but in uneven amounts and by different systems across the state.
In the case of achieving general agreement and support for reintroduction, there remains the problem of viability of the reintroduced animals. Although the White-Tailed Eagle reintroduction to Ireland has been successful, reintroduced Golden Eagles struggle to survive and expand on the amount of suitable prey available to them. Wolves might not fare much better, once they had reduced the red and roe deer populations in the country.
However, a puzzle for us is that the earlier well-referenced wolf existence in Ireland predates that of the deer, raising questions on what were its main prey animals at that time. Perhaps it was the wild boar and certainly the presence of the torc is attested to in many Irish place-names.
In a number of other European countries, wolves could probably build sustainable populations preying on deer and boar, in addition to rodents and lagomorphs, along with some waterfowl (in particular ground-nesting ones such as the mallard). Swans in Ireland for example would presumably have to change their nesting habits to more isolated reed-beds and islands (though wolves are good swimmers).
In countries with large wild areas the problems of wolf and human interaction are reduced but Ireland is not such a country. The success of such a project in Ireland would require substantial areas apart from bogland being given over to wildness, with substantial forest coverage (the benefits of the latter are discussed below). Sheep flocks and cattle herds would need to be smaller and require guarding by day and night; the benefits of smaller livestock herds and a mechanism for their protection has been discussed earlier here.
Also required would be a rigorous enforcement of predator protection legislation which does not have a good record in Ireland (see http://trinitynews.ie/2016/10/farmers-wildlife-freak-outs-and-facts/) and and a compensation scheme for farmers in case of livestock loss (or indeed cultivated land loss to wilding habitat, multi-species deciduous forest planting, etc).
SUPPORT — WHY BOTHER?
The financial and educational benefits of eco-tourism are often quoted in defence of reintroduction of wolves and other terrestrial apex predators and, for some, those are sufficient justification. Eco-tourists are particularly interested in seeing apex predators and even hearing them, especially in the case of wolves. Certainly providing for such tourism is a niche which can permit a living to be made from management of low livestock numbers or even land without any livestock at all. As such it can be a convincing argument for small herding communities or for individual farms in livestock country.
Another reason quoted is the psychological and scientific benefits of living more in tune with the natural world and, though hard to quantify, in a world heading for ecological disaster such potential benefit should not be ignored. Which is what it is likely to be, however, in communities and enterprises focused on surviving in the present (not to mention those for whom extracting maximum profits is the only viable reason for any undertaking).
Another and more tangible benefit of encouraging mammalian apex predator conservation or reintroduction is the early and visible environmental improvement resulting in places where it has been tried. Wild grazers compete with livestock grazers, often more efficiently than livestock can manage. Not only that but they will graze areas being left for regrowth by the farmer. Such overgrazing results in arid ground, retaining little moisture, soil erosion and can even end in desertification. What long-term benefit to the environment if reducing domestic herds results in more and more land being overgrazed?
In addition, there are the problems of infection of livestock and in turn humans by diseases carried by wild ungulates (e.g. deer, bison, antelope, boar, wild goats, mountain sheep22).
The large predator can be the solution. Wolves and other apex predators keep down the numbers of wild ungulates, keeping them also on the move (in fear of predators), allowing vegetation to recover from grazing, in turn assisting moisture retention in the soil. These changes in turn benefit many other animals and plants, from invertebrates up to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Previously to wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, the moose had only the occasional bear to worry about and they chewed their way through branch and leaf; rangers had to cull large numbers every year and even so there was substantial deforestation and large numbers of moose would die during severe winters, only to be quickly replenished the following year. Only one family of beavers was seen at work (their food of shrubs and low trees by the water margins was being eaten by the moose).
Twenty-five years after the reintroduction of wolves, willow and aspen had recovered in some areas of Yellowstone, beaver colonies had increased 14-fold, song-birds had recovered and some new species were being seen. The soil is retaining greater moisture. There are arguments about how much these changes are due to the action of the wolves but most experts grant the wolves at least some credit while some others give them a lot.23
So that’s good news for the environment and the wolf, not so good for the moose, right? Actually, it seems to be good news for the moose too, with lower die-off for moose in winter,24 signalling a general improvement in health of the stock surviving predation.
When the numbers of grazers is controlled, tree seedlings of willow and alder get a chance to grow on the edges and banks of bodies of freshwater, which tends to control soil erosion on banks and reduce flooding. When grazers are prevented or restricted from eating seedlings, new trees survive to extend the woods and forests or to replace fallen trees and harvested timber.
Many ecologists and forestry experts blame the white-tailed deer for changes across large parts of the USA, involving reductions in canopy-cover, reductions in diversity of tree species and general forestry maintenance (to say nothing of failure to extend)25.
For the ecology of the world, the thinning out of wild grazers is perhaps the most valuable service rendered by large mammalian predators although other factors need to be taken into account, including pattern and variety of planting and management, domestic herd sizes, along with of course responses to insect and fungal pests.26
It has long been known too that many species of trees prevent or restrict soil erosion and restrict flooding by holding water margins and, in some cases such as mangroves, sap the effects of hurricanes coming from the seaward side, along with tidal waves.
More crucially, trees produce oxygen and consume or hoard carbon. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen”.
We all know that we need oxygen to breathe and also to combine with other elements, such as carbon dioxide, to produce water.27 But the problem of excess loose carbon dioxide is recognised as one of the most serious confronting the eco-system at this moment, with carbon dioxide emissions creating part of the “greenhouse” cover over the earth, contributing hugely to global warming. This process in return is causing sea-levels to rise and also to warm, causing mass deaths in seas, along with big changes in weather systems with devastating effects for human and animal populations.
The wolf can also play a role in mediating the effect of other predators and has done so in part of the USA with regard to the coyote, similar to what the dingo has done to the European-introduced red fox, which has become a problem in Australia.
In Ireland another introduced species, more likely through escape from fur farms, the american mink, is also a problem and is spreading.28 It may be that the wolf can play a helpful role there too, along with having some effect in controlling that other american, the grey squirrel which, in turn, might assist the red squirrel’s return to areas from which it has long been absent.
1Though indications exist of some hunting of wolves by humans in Ireland, in England, wolf persecution was enforced by legislation and the last wolf was killed in the early 16th century during the reign of Henry VII (see Wikipedia on the Eurasian Wolf). Ireland was invaded by British-based forces in 1169 and over time native forces were defeated and the whole country came under English rule until partly independent in 1921.
2For priests: “An 1709 Penal Act demanded that Catholic priests take the Oath of Abjuration and recognise the Protestant Queen Anne as Supreme Head of the Church of England and, by implication, in Ireland. Priests who refused to conform were arrested and executed. ……….The reward rates for capture varied from £50–100 for a bishop, to £10–20 for the capture of an unregistered priest; substantial amounts of money at the time. The work was dangerous, and some priests fought in self-defence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priest_hunter
For Wolves: “In AD 1652 the Commissioners of the Revenue of Cromwell’s Irish Government set substantial bounties on wolves, £6 for a female, £5 for a male, £2 for a subadult and 10 shillings for a cub”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_in_Ireland
4In some parts of the USA and Western Europe, where hunting big game is a widespread activity, fear of competition with the wolf in hunting season is also an important factor and one where “the common man” may come into conflict with those wishing to protect or reintroduce the wolf.
5It is worth noting that wild grazing mammals are capable of defence against hunting canines by outrunning them and, usually as a last resort, by fighting them with horn, antler, tusk, teeth or hoof. In turn, wolves have to plan, ambush, select targets and coordinate attacks. Old and very young grazers are vulnerable but calves and foals are pushed by their mothers to stand minutes after birth; in an hour or two, they can run. A wolf injured in attack cannot travel with the pack and will miss out on most food and, if failing to heal rapidly enough, will die. There is a constantly flexing relationship between the survival mechanisms of both prey and predator.
6In the first place they need to be high enough to prevent wolves leaping or scrambling over them, also proof against digging under. And since anecdotal evidence relates livestock guard dogs being willing to stand the pain of electric shock if sufficient stimulus is provided to get out of an electrified enclosure, one must assume that wolves will develop that same resolution at some point. Finally, there is the issue of possible weather damage and failure of the power supply to the barrier.
8There are a few types that can combine the characteristics of herding and guard, such as the Beauceron but in general livestock dog breeds specialise in either guarding or herding. In Australia, where the apex land predator is not the wolf but the smaller and lighter Dingo, some herding breeds also act as livestock guard dogs.
9Two are known to be extinct: The Alpine Mastiff and the Molossus.
10It seems that this breed was so valued abroad that Irish chieftains and English occupiers exported them, so that no originals of the breed remain. The current breed that goes by that name, a gentle attractive dog of high stature, is derived by cross-breeding. Wikipedia: “Based on the writings of others, Graham had formed the opinion that a dog resembling the original wolfhound could be recreated through using the biggest and best examples of the Scottish Deerhound and the Great Dane, two breeds which he believed had been derived earlier from the wolfhound. Into the mix went a Borzoi (“Korotai”), who had proved his wolf hunting abilities earlier in his native Russia. For an outbreed a “huge shaggy dog” was added, which may have possibly been a Tibetan Mastiff.
14See videos in Spanish from Zamora and the Basque Government region (latter in References & Resources)
15See Sources and References at article end for items in relation to dingo conservation,
16Apart from upending trash containers and raiding farms, boar may also attack humans, especially in the case of a sow accompanied by her litter and is capable of inflicting mortal wounds. Should boar become widespread in very close contact with humans, children might be attacked too.
18A Zamoran shepherd says he receives no grant and though not asking for one, says he should be supplied free of charge the ID chip he is required by law to embed in his dogs. On the other hand the Euskadi regional Government agreed to pay a grant and other regions have done so too, in areas where the wolf and bear are known to be in residence, without having to prove or even claim a kill of any of their stock.
19Partnership with working dogs is likely to be therapeutic in itself and surely wholly preferable to setting out traps, poison bait (which kills other predators and scavengers too) and shooting, including even killing cubs. Besides, break up the pack and more wolves will mate and bear litters.
20Ironically that status can serve to protect predators from extermination and since it was given that status in Poland, the wolf population increased substantially (see Wikipedia the Eurasian Wolf).
Viktor Babariko, leading political opposition leader until he was arrested on corruption charges just before the Presidential election last August, has been sentenced in Belarus to 14 years in jail and a fine equivalent to a little over €47,990. Viktor Babariko was the head of a bank owned by the gas company Gazprom.
The news has already drawn condemnation of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus from the USA’s Embassy and howls of protest are sure to be heard across the EU also. The hypocrisy there on this kind of treatment of political opponents is stark – the Spanish state jailed nine political leaders for their involvement in an independence referendum in 2017, sentencing them to up to 13 years in prison (the State Prosecution asked for around 50 years), while leaders of most EU states and main political parties remained silent.
To be sure, European regimes, even the Spanish one, are more liberal than the one in Belarus. After four years in jail, the Spanish regime recently released those Catalan political activists on conditional pardons, a move unlikely to be equalled in Belarus. But those Catalans are barred from standing in elections and face a return to jail for “any repetition of their crimes” – i.e organising politically for Catalan independence. And some others are in jail for activities during the protest general strikes and over 3,000 are threatened with judicial process for involvement in the 2017 Referendum. Other Catalan political leaders are in exile, including the former President of Catalonia’s autonomous region, who is a Member of the European Parliament.
And European regimes wouldn’t use financial wrongdoing charges against political opponents, would they? Or try to cripple them financially? Actually, right at this moment, the Spanish State, through its audit court, is pursuing former Catalan Government ministers and officials on charges of misusing their Government’s funds, demanding a total of €50.4 million from them (sums of over €2m each). Furthermore, they must put those amounts up as bonds — without being convicted of financial wrongdoing in any criminal court — and have only weeks to do so.
Oriol Junqueras, former Deputy Leader of Catalonia (also elected an MEP while in jail), has been ordered to “repay” €1.9m. Carles Puigdemont, former Catalan President now in exile in Belgium, has also been ordered to pay €1.9m. On Tuesday Puigdemont commented on Twitter that his lawyer had been given only three hours to read 500 pages of court documents and 10 minutes to put his case.
What if those being targeted refuse to pay or simply can’t pay? Their property, including house and car can be seized along with a portion of their income, quite possibly deducted for the rest of their lives.
Andreu Mas-Colell, 76, a former Catalan finance minister, also faces a court demand for a large repayment. A former Harvard economics professor, he has received the support of 53 economists, including 33 Nobel laureates, who last week wrote a letter urging the Spanish state not to impose a large fine on him. His son, Gabriel Mas, told the Financial Times: “In the next 15 days, Andreu will have to deposit a guarantee of €670,000-€2.8m as the result of an administrative decision in which not a single judge has participated.”
With regard to the Babariko sentence, the stink of hypocrisy rising from the Spanish State is appalling — but it covers most of the EU too.