Gian Antonio Orighi
November 21, 2011
MADRID - On Sunday evening, Mariano Rajoy fulfilled the largest ambition of all, appearing on the balcony of his Popular Party's headquarters in Calle Genova in Madrid to claim the party's victory in the general election and his arrival as Spanish Prime Minister.
Rojay, 56, had already appeared on that balcony on four other election nights. Twice, in 1996 and 2000, he stood silently at the side of the then-leader of the party, José María Aznar, as he claimed victory. In 2004 and 2008, Rajoy was the candidate there to concede defeat to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's Socialists Party.
Rajoy's triumph is sweet revenge, seven years in the making. He was widely predicted to defeat Zapatero in 2004, but Al Qaeda train bombings in Madrid on March 11 that killed 191 people is believed to have turned that election around at the last moment. Some voters blamed the Popular Party for trying to initially blame the bombing on Basque separatists, while others saw the Al Qaeda attack as a consequence of Aznar's decision to have Spanish troops participate in the Iraq war.
By now, Spaniards know Rajoy well. Born in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, he is a trained lawyer, and a son of a judge. He is married to Elvira Fernández, an economist who, to support his campaign, has taken a leave from her work at the Spanish broadband and telecommunication provider Telefónica. The couple has two children.
"He is a normal man," says an old Rajoy friend and former union leader from Galicia.
Rajoy could have kept his lucrative career as a "registrador della propriedad," property registrar, but inherited a passion for politics from his grandfather, a supporter of Galicia's autonomy, and from the influence of Manuel Fraga Iribarne, a minister under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and founder of the center-right party once democracy had been established.
Rajoy started his political career in 1981, as a member of the then-People's Alliance, and is the only Spanish leader who has been in Parliament continuously for 30 years. He is famous for his sense of humor, his passion for the Real Madrid soccer team, for cycling (he was a radio sports commentator during La Vuelta, a Espana bike tour), and for enjoying good food and cigars.
He served as a Minister of Instruction, Culture and Interior between 1996 and 2003, was deputy prime minister, and was hand-picked by Aznar to succeed him as a leader of the Popular Party in 2003.
Scars and a charisma deficit
He has never been seen as a charismatic leader. According to his autobiography En Confianza (In Confidence), a 1979 car accident left Rajoy with a slight speech defect, and has to hide the scars on his face under a by now signature beard.
"When you meet a Galician on the stairs, you never know if he's going up or down," states a famous saying from his native region, which can well define Rajoy.
A good listener and hard worker, the incoming Prime Minister is not one who readily shares his opinions – or is likely to improvise. Nationalist in spirit and Catholic by faith, he is nevertheless not seen as fundamentalist in his approach to either. "We are not the bishops' party," he said, qualifying his opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage, approved in 2005 by Zapatero's government.
Still, having consistently opposed all Socialist government decisions, Zapatero nicknamed Rajoy El Señor No.
The toughest period politically was following Zapatero's reelection in 2008. The most important party's leaders, the President of Madrid Region, Esperanza Aguirre, and the Mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, tried in vain to get rid of him, after his second defeat.
"Politically, Rajoy's psychology is fascinating because he is far from the kind of leader his party would like to have: a populist authoritarian like Aguirre or an ideological authoritarian like Aznar," says the sociologist José Luis Álvarez. "Instead, the current leader of the Popular Party has taken to politics his skills of a local registrar. He writes, guarantees, informs, but does not transform. Marx would say that he is a perfect fit as a secretary of capitalism's board of directors," says Álvarez.
In his autobiography, Rajoy admitted he felt tempted to leave politics in 2004 and 2008, after the debacles against Zapatero. He admitted that his main regret was the bad management of the sinking of oil tanker Prestige, in 2002, when he denied for days that an environmental disaster was taking place on the coast of his Galicia. Even Aznar was nicknamed Aznarín (little Aznar), before becoming a charismatic leader. Rajoy, "el normal," will try to follow his example.
Read the original article in Italian
photo - Populares de Cantabria
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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