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Law Giving Redress to Franco Regime Victims Divides Spain

MADRID – From the outside, it seems like any other block of flats in Madrid.

Inside, however, is th..

MADRID – From the outside, it seems like any other block of flats in Madrid.

Inside, however, is the Fundación National Francisco Franco, or Francisco Franco National Foundation, an institution that preserves the memory of the man who ruled Spain for nearly four decades until his death in 1975.

To some, it is a shrine to a fascist dictator, which should not exist in democratic Spain in the 21st century.

To others, it guards the flame of a man who spared the country from communism, presided over its reconstruction after its devastating civil war, and saved it from being drawn into the Second World War.

Almost every centimeter of the walls are filled with paintings or photographs of Franco while the offices contain important papers of state signed by El Caudillo (The Leader) which are consulted by historians.

The foundation is now under threat after the Socialist government passed a law on Tuesday which will ban the organization for “glorifying the dictatorship.”

Lessons about the repression of political opponents under Franco will become part of the national school curriculum.

Unhealed wounds

However, the bill is hugely divisive in a country which is still struggling to deal with this part of its past.

Unlike Germany or Portugal, Spain is the only European country which has never addressed events of its wartime past, and of the long dictatorship that followed.

An amnesty law passed in 1977 prohibited retrospective trials relating to events during the Franco years.

More than half a million people died during Spains 1936-1939 civil war that pitted leftist Republicans supported by the Soviet Union against rightist Nationalist forces led by Franco backed by Nazi Germany. An estimated 120,000 people were killed during General Franco’s time in power while 450,000 were forced into exile, historians estimate.

After Burundi and Cambodia, Spain has the highest number of mass graves in the world, according to the United Nations.

Leftist political parties believe Spain must deal with this aspect of its past in order for future generations to come to terms with events under Francos rule.

However, conservatives see the legislation as only reviving the wounds of a conflict which happened eight decades ago.

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, tweeted: “Today we take another step in recognizing the victims of the civil war and the dictatorship with the Democratic Memory Law. Today we close the wounds a little more; we can look at the past with greater dignity.”

Enrique Santiago, a member of parliament for the far-left Unidas Podemos alliance, the junior partner in the coalition government, said the legislation was an improvement on a law passed in 2007 which offered reparations for victims of Franco but it stalled after a conservative government came to power in 2011 and froze funding.

Santiago said the new legislation provided state funds to search for missing victims, recognized those pressed into forced labor for the dictatorship, and will impose fines of up to $178,000 for glorifying Franco.

“This bill does not go as far as Germany which prohibited Nazism. Unfortunately, there are sectors which still revere the dictator,” he told VOA.

“We hope this (law) doesn’t produce a division. We hope that this establishes the international rights which should not bother anyone,” Santiago said.

Spain divided

The sensitivity of the issue, however, was demonstrated by the swift response from the political right.

The Peoples Party, the largest opposition party, said the leftist government used Franco as an excuse not to address other problems.

“Whenever Sánchez has a problem, he gets Franco out of the Valley of the Fallen,” said Javier Maroto, a party spokesman.

General Juan Chicharro Ortega, president of the Franco foundation, said the organization would challenge the law in the courts.

“This law is anti-democratic. It contravenes the Spanish constitution which guarantees the liberty of expression. It says you can only think one way and negates what half of Spaniards are thinking,” he told VOA.

Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party, the third largest in the Spanish parliament with 52 MPs, called the law “totalitarian.”

Ciudadanos, or Citizens, a small center-right party, believes the government should address a health crisis which has seen the number of COVID-19 cases rise to over 600,000, the highest number if western Europe.

“Of course we condemn the dictatorship but I think most Spaniards right now think the government should concentrate on trying to solve the problems of the pandemic, ” Melisa Rodriguez, a Ciudadanos parliamentary spokesman, told VOA.

For the relatives of Franco’s victims, the new law will bring solace.

When archaeologists were searching a mass grave last weekend, they chanced upon Eugenio Ursúa’s wedding ring, ending his daughter’s 84-year hunt for the father she never knew.

“It was a lovely moment. I wanted to cry. We knew my father was buried here and it was a long wait to find him and now we have,” Rosa María told VOA.

Ursúa, a 29-year-old father of two, was killed just days after the start of the civil war in 1936.

He answered a call to defend the Republican government after Franco led an armed uprising but his unit was ambushed in El Espinar, 62 kilometers north of Madrid.

Pending a DNA test, his remains will be buried next to those of his late wife.

Rosa María, who was six months old when her father died, said,“For us the search is over. This law might give other families some help to find their relatives.”

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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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