A Bulwark Made of Words: the Francoist Press during the Second World War

By Miguel Rivas Venegas

In the opinion of Sir Samuel Hoare, British Ambassador in Spain, the Spanish press from the 1940s was a toy in the hands of the Third Reich’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels. Newspapers were full of terminology described by the researcher Luis Veres as the ‘lexical arsenals’ of authoritarian regimes, and were as Hoare underlined, ‘literally illegible’.[1] The American ambassador, Alexander Weddel, who would accuse the Home Minister, Ramón Serrano Suñer, of organizing a propaganda campaign coordinated by Nazi agitators, shared the opinion of the British diplomat in Spain.

According to Weddel, the German Press Attaché was indeed behind many of the articles and editorials of the Falangist newspaper Arriba, which were ‘clearly translated from another language’. Stanley Payne also discussed translations in reference to the early fascist newspaper El Fascio,[2] promoted by the J.O.N.S member,[3] José María Alfaro, close collaborator of the German Press Attaché Hans Lazar.[4]  Research on Jonsist language reveals possible translations and adaptations of the ‘Lingua Tertii Imperii’ within the language and rhetoric of Spanish Jonsists, Falangists and Francoist propagandists of the late 1930s and 1940s.[5]

Report in Spanish newspaper, ABC, on Hitler’s activities in Berlin. Source: ABC (Sevilla), 9/4/1943

The enormous power of journalists and Spanish correspondents in Germany under the command of Hans Lazar, as well as the influence of the media in general should not be underestimated. As Weddel would claim, a systematic, coordinated press could be enough to drag the exhausted masses of Spain into a ‘new battle of the same war’ –asserted Franco– against the enemies of the Fatherland.

Spain was represented by the Spanish Caudillo, German propaganda, and General Moscardó (who was in charge of the Deutsch-Spanische Geschellschaft),[6] as the first front of the crusade against bolshevism and its ‘allies’. The press should be, as Home Secretary Serrano Suñer claimed in 1940, ‘Military column, militia, and fundamental backup to the State’.[7] As stated in one Diario Norte article signed by the National-Socialist press agency Arco-SPES, the journalist should become a soldier,[8] and get rid of his civilian clothes. Discipline under a strict chain of command included linguistic discipline:[9] dilettantes or propagandistic improvisation could be more dangerous than enemy counter-propaganda. Arsenals of words, or, ‘purr’ and ‘snarl words’, as Hayakawa would categorize certain political vocabulary,[10] should be cautiously and meticulously chosen.

The so-called ‘New Spain’ needed its journalists on the front lines of combat. Germany would be the best example of the strong power of persuasion of media under a rigid, sophisticated and, according to General Director of Propaganda Dionisio Ridruejo, ‘perverse’ control of the State.[11] Spanish news correspondents were positioned in many European countries, another one of the Generals’ weapons since the First World War.[12]

At first glance, Spanish newspapers showed not only a non-belligerent attitude towards the political and imperialistic aspirations of the Axis, but clear support of their propaganda and propagandistic language. Information relating to Japanese expansionism presented to Spanish readers in the newspaper ABC was similar to the allusions that appeared in Arriba or Levante, in which German imperialism and the offensive against Poland was described as a ‘vital necessity’, clearly supporting the hitlerian principle of Lebensraum. According to these newspapers, the egoism, incompetence, and lack of empathy of the so-called decadent democracies provoked the German reaction and made any pacific solution to the conflict impossible. The newspaper El Norte de Castilla would affirm that German troops were obligated to penetrate the Polish territory, as the Poles rejected any pacific alternative.[13]

The Falangist daily, Arriba, delivers Hitler’s speeches to a Spanish audience. Source: Arriba, 31/1/1941

Germany was pictured as a proud nation reacting to the constant provocations and warlike offenses of those ‘false democracies’ that according to Franco ‘did not want peace in Spain’. [14] Salvador Merino, Head of the Falangist Trade Unions, would talk about an ‘obliged war’, a defensive war, of Germany against its offenders. The opinion of the prominent Falangist appears in the Pueblo newspaper right after one of his ‘formative trips’ to National-Socialist Germany.[15] According to his own description of these visits, he contacted prominent Nazi leaders and studied (and in many senses reproduced) the structure of the German Labour Front.

The same subjective, laconic, imprecise and propagandistic description can be found in El Alcázar referring to the German offensive in Norway.[16] The position of certain Catholic newspapers towards Nazi racial measures in occupied territories can be easily perceived in the pages of El correo de Andalucía. They exhale the same anti-Semitism found in the pages of Onesimo Redondo´s Libertad:

‘When going down Nawrek Street the citizen formation decreases and changes, turning, degenerating into filthy residences corresponding to the Jewish suburbs. Even the three-floor buildings look nauseating and disgusting. The “doroskas” stroll around streets full of dirty and ragged kids. The Jewish caftan stands out over any other clothing and the beards are legion as the fear of an epidemic disease’.[17]

The Spanish press commonly pointed towards ‘British egoism’, which was described constantly in ABC. The origin of the Japanese occupations was, according to this newspaper, an ‘obliged’ defence against the British manoeuvres:

The fight of Japan against the Anglo-Saxon powers is a transposition of the social war on the international scene (…) the Japanese archipelago is too small for it’s almost one hundred million inhabitants (…) if the Anglo-Saxons would have understood the vital necessities of the Japanese people, the actual conflict could have been avoided.[18]

The first Press Office Director and member of the Office of Press and Propaganda, journalist, and correspondent Luis Antonio Bolín considered, at the beginning of the conflict, that the war should be won by force of arms. Maybe his early contacts with non-Spanish journalists and propagandists in Salamanca changed his mind. Propaganda and the press were, as Bernays claimed in 1928,[19] a fundamental tool in modern times. Weapons were not enough. A bulwark of words, also serving the propagandistic goals of National-socialist propaganda in Spain, was successfully built in the newly-born ‘España Nacional’.

Miguel Rivas Venegas is a second year PhD student in the deparment of Art History and Theory of the Autónoma University (UAM) in Madrid, where he forms part of the research group  ‘Artistic and Audiovisual Cultures in the Contemporary World’. Miguel currently lives in Berlin, where he has spent time as a scholar at the Humboldt University. His PhD research investigates the similarities and differences between the totalitarian language of Nazi Germany, and that of Francoist Spain. 

[1] Ingrid Schulze Schneider, ‘Éxitos y fracasos de la propaganda alemana en España: 1939-1944’. Melanges de la Casa de Velázquez 31-3, (1995), pp. 197-217.

[2] Stanley Payne, Falange. A History of Spanish Fascism (Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 31.

[3] The Juntas Ofensivas Nacional Sindicalistas was the first relevant political movement in Spain.

[4] Schulze Schneider, ‘Éxitos y fracasos’, p. 200.

[5] The German philologist Viktor Klemperer defined the particular use of language and rhetoric of the Third Reich as “Lingua Tertii Imperii”. See Viktor Klemperer, LTI. Notizbuch eines Philologen (Berlin, Aufbau,1947).

[6] Speech by General Moscardó, president of the German-Spanish Society- Quoted in El Alcázar, 6 August 1941.

[7] Speech by Serrano Suñer to the journalists of Valencia. As quoted in Informaciones, 24th April,1940.

[8] ‘La prensa en la guerra’ Norte. Diario de Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las J.O.N.S., 27th February 1940.

[9] The propagandistic possibilities of the press, particularly during armed conflicts, had been obvious to German propagandists since the First World War. For more information, see Almut Lindner-Wirsching,‘Patrioten im Pool. Deutsche und französische Kriegsberichtestatter im Ersten Weltkrieg‘ in Ute, D. (Ed.) Augenzeugen. Kriegsberichterstattung von 18. Zum 21. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 2006).

[10] S. I. Hayakawa, Language in thought and action (Orlando, A Harvest/ HBJ Original, 1990 [1939]).

[11] Francisco Sevillano Calero, ‘La estructura de la prensa diaria en España durante el franquismo” Investigaciones históricas: Época moderna y contemporánea, ISSN 0210-9425, Nº 17, 1997, p. 316.

[12] Reinhard Stauber, ‘War and public Sphere. European examples from the Seven Years´ War to the World War I.’ in Seethaler, J., Karmasin, M., et al., Selling war. The role of Mass Media in Hostile Conflicts. From World War I to the “War on Terror”. p. 28.

[13] Appeared in the newspaper El Norte de Castilla. Quoted in Virginia Martín Jiménez, ‘La prensa vallisoletana ante el final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial’, in Pena, Alberto (ed.), Comunicación y guerra en la historia, pp. 343-344.

[14] Paul Preston, Franco (1995), p. 415.

[15] ‘La estancia del Delegado Nacional de Sindicatos en Alemania’. Appeared in Pueblo. Diario del trabajo nacional. 5th of May,1941.

[16] The Carlist newspaper would briefly refer to that 1 September ‘in which the democratic powers declared war on the Third Reich (…) on the triumphal Germany (…) that possessed the moral of victory’. In ‘En vísperas de las grandes batallas’, El Alcázar, 10 May 1940.

[17] ‘La paz  no depende de Alemania’, El correo de Andalucía, 11 October 1939.

[18] ‘Los japoneses han ocupado la capital de Tailandia.’ ABC, 10 December 1941.

[19] Edward Bernays, Propaganda. (Brooklyn, 2005 [1928]), p. 54.


Just how ‘pro-Russian’ is the youth of Eastern Ukraine?

By Victoria Hudson

Media outlets have often presented Ukraine as a fractured country, even before the ongoing conflict in the eastern part of the country. Such reporting has frequently contrasted a pro-European, Ukrainian-speaking population in the West with a diametrically opposed Russian-speaking, Sovietised community in the East, with both sides locked in a struggle for their country’s geopolitical future. This simplification of Ukraine’s historical, cultural and linguistic diversity has been presented as a gentle introduction for readers and viewers with little prior knowledge of this large, strategically significant country on the eastern border of Europe.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yet, particularly when it comes to the population of the East, even the more in-depth coverage frequently presents a rather monolithic view of the people there, as if the regions bordering Russia are still churning out a generation formed in the collectivistic, authoritarian Soviet mould, unthinkingly longing for reunification with the motherland.

It is widely accepted that Russia strives to influence public opinion and promote an attractive image of itself in Ukraine through a variety of media and public organisations. Yet audience reception research undertaken in autumn 2011 amongst higher education students revealed that Russia’s attempts at cultural attraction have not been an unqualified success, even in the supposedly pro-Russian heartland of the East.[1] While survey respondents in the eastern cities of Kharkiv and Donetsk generally did have more sympathy for Russian perspectives than their counterparts in western L’viv and the capital Kyiv – 65% and 82% received Russian narratives positively in the former, compared with 34% and 59% in the latter – the focus group participants by no means took an uncritical view or endorsed Russian engagement in Ukraine.

The degree of affinity with Russian culture varied a lot across the country, as one might expect given that Russians are but a small minority in the western nationalist heartland. In contrast, in the east Russians make up around 30% of the population and live in proximity to the rather permeable border. Nevertheless, only one single study participant from the East considered himself Russian, whereas the majority identified with Ukraine, regardless of ethnicity and despite their often limited Ukrainian language skills. How they

Students’ meeting in Kiev, Ukraine (via Wikicommons)

understood ‘Ukraine’ varied, however: those buying into the folkish nationalist narrative assumed that it encompassed all Ukrainians, while participants in Kharkiv and Donetsk often perceived themselves as different, as more indigenous to Eastern Ukraine.

In focus group discussions, many participants indicated that they found the socially conservative perspective articulated by the Russian Orthodox Church on value issues to be ‘objective’, indicating that it corresponded with their own common sense understanding of social norms. In fact, questionnaire returns found that there was no statistically significant difference in the acceptance of these ideas across the cities surveyed, suggesting that, despite the political divisions, the nation does possess elements of a common social value basis, albeit one that shares much with Russia.

When it came to Russia’s foreign policy, the students were more sceptical across the board, although 77% in Donetsk and 50% in Kharkiv still reacted positively to Moscow’s stance. Insofar as the discussion stayed clear of Moscow’s Ukraine policy, even in Kyiv and L’viv students favourably acknowledged Vladimir Putin’s defence of Russian interests against ‘American unilateralism’.

Vladimir Putin. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It must be noted that, as a method of data collection, focus groups inevitably tend to attract a more engaged kind of participant, and thus the picture that emerged from the group discussions was generally more critical than the surveys of the broader student population, including in the Eastern cities.

Strikingly, criticism of Russian ‘soft power’ overtures was framed almost identically across the whole country: propaganda was described as attempted ‘brainwashing’ and ‘zombification’. There was a mostly unspoken assumption of a political subtext, which when teased out, inevitably meant a Kremlin desire to reunite with Ukraine. Seen from this critical lens, public diplomacy was often cast as a chauvinistic attempt to foist Russian friendship upon Ukraine. Aspersions were cast on the character of Russia’s cultural, religious and political representatives, seen as self-interested hypocrites and puppets of a political project.

The presence of so many common themes in perceptions of Russian soft power initiatives suggests that for all the differences in cultural identity, the highly educated youth of Ukraine participates in a common national information space. For this cohort, this increasingly means the internet; they  claim little time for TV, where coverage is often more pro-Russian in tone. At least for the well-educated youth represented in this sample, the attraction of Russian culture, ideas and values by no means indicates unqualified support for the Russian Federation’s policies.

Recent Russian interventions in the Donbas and in Crimea may well have confirmed the suspicions articulated in the discussions, and might serve to further unite the young leaders of the future -wherever they might hail from in Ukraine. The challenge facing this new generation remains the need to reconcile the whole nation – and not just a privileged few – to the reality of Ukraine’s diverse identities and find a way to cohabit with their significant neighbour.

Dr. Victoria Hudson is a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow within King College London’s Department of War Studies. She completed her thesis on the civilisational aspects of soft power in contemporary Ukraine at the University of Birmingham in 2014, and has since published her work in the journal Politics. Her latest article, entitled ‘”Forced to Friendship”? Russian (Mis-)Understandings of Soft Power and the Implications for Audience Attraction in Ukraine’, can be found here.

[1] Victoria Hudson, ‘A study of the civilisational aspects of Russian soft power in contemporary Ukraine’, Ph.D. thesis, (University of Birmingham, 2014).

Red Whirlwinds: Fyodor Lopukhov and the Ballet Revolution

By Olivia Bašić

In April 1923, at the Twelfth Congress of the Russian Communist Party, it was decided that the theatre would become an essential tool in the organisation of mass propaganda regarding the struggle of communism. A resolution was passed declaring ‘it was necessary to strengthen the work for the creation and selection of a corresponding revolutionary repertoire, utilising in it heroic moments of the struggle of the working class’.[1]

It was not until the following year that the (then) Leningrad State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (GAOB) were to take up this directive.[2] Whilst the Ballet Theatres had already begun to reform and ‘improve’ classics from the Imperial era, the desire to create works ‘of revolutionary content’ had become imperative as the seventh anniversary of the October Revolution approached.[3]

The repertory inherited from the Imperial era had provided a model for the full-length ballet and a language of expression, but even with new and updated librettos the ballet was widely considered ‘an integral component of tsardom’ and thus required a radical

Act One of ‘The Red Whirlwind’, 1924

transformation of both form and content.[4]

As director of GAOB, Fyodor Lopukhov attempted to fulfil these ambitions with a new ballet, The Red Whirlwind, depicting ‘the great events of October’.[5] In choosing the image of the whirlwind, Lopuhkov was drawing on a plethora of associations recurrent in Russian and Soviet culture suggestive of upheaval, struggle, growth and renewal. He understood the significance of images and symbols as instruments of the revolution and as tools for the remaking of a new culture, explaining:

‘We wanted to display the events of the revolution, a new life. We have seen such attempts undertaken in the Drama Theatre, we heard talk that the revolution needs images in allegories and symbols which would rise above the chronicles’.[6]

These images are all that is now left of the ballet. On October 29, 1924, after only one performance the ballet was dropped and the choreography has since been lost. Contemporary reviews, accounts of the action on stage, and programme notes outlining the choreographer’s intentions have often been scrutinized, to attest to the failure of the production as an allegorical characterisation of the ‘birth of socialism’.

The criticism focuses on the choreographer’s unsuccessful simplification of the classical dance language. In an attempt to create a modern dance lexicon suitable for the theme and new proletariat audience, Lopuhkov avoided using movements suggestive of court spectacles. Relying on marches and shape formations that resembled gymnastic exercises, the result was unsophisticated and oblique.

However, the striking symbol of a powerful force journeying across the earth in helical movements destroying and uprooting the old and propelling the new forward, perfectly allegorises the revolutionary change taking place on and off stage. The whirled image and

Act One of ‘The Red Whirlwind’, 1924

repetition of spiral formations continued throughout Lopukhov’s career. It is a curious and at times subtle image but nonetheless it is useful for an interpretation of his work.

Spinning snowflakes in The Nutcracker conjured up the harsh Petersburg winters, but also represented a perpetually shifting cultural climate throughout the 1920s. The spiral formation of eighteen dancers at the climax of The Magnificence of the Universe were recognised as a homage to the constructivist style celebration of industrial production.[7]

Despite varying degrees of success, each new avant-garde interpretation of classical dance promoted the idea of carrying society forward alongside a dialogue that questioned the extent to which classical heritage should be reformed or retained.

Lopuhkov’s career marked an exciting experiment with the possibilities that the revolution afforded the Ballet Theatres, as well as a desperate attempt to relate ballet to contemporary life. If nothing else, Lopukhov’s modernisation of the ballet demonstrated a radical change in approaches to choreography, which mirrored the ‘great upheaval’ in Soviet cultural and political life.

Olivia Bašić is currently completing her MA in Art History at the University of Manchester, where her research interests include the influence and legacy of the Russian Ballet. You can find her on Twitter at @bonjoursouffle_


[1]  Mary Grace Swift, The Art of Dance in the U.S.S.R., (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), p. 61.

[2] The Imperial Mariinsky Theatre was renamed State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in 1920 and renamed again Leningrad State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in 1924. It is often referred to by its Russian acronym GATOB (Gosudarstvenniy Akademicheskiy Teatr Operi i Baleta).

[3] Tim Scholl, Sleeping Beauty: A Legend in Progress, (Yale University Press, 2004).

[4] Fyodor Lopukhov, Shest’desiat let v balete: Vospominaniia i zapiski baletmeistra, (Moscow, 1966), p. 192.

[5] Lopukhov was made director in 1922, Lopukhov, Shest’desiat let, p.58.

[6] Lopuhkov, Shest’desiat let, p. 193.

[7] Elizaveta Surits, ‘Soviet Ballet of the 1920s and the Influence of Constructivism’, Soviet Review, Vol. 7.1, 1980, p 119.

Full Image Attributions:

Image 1: Act 1 of The Red Whirlwind, 1924 – taken from Dobrovol’skaia, Galina, Fyodor Lopukhov, (Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1976).

Image 2: Act 1 of The Red Whirlwind, 1924 – Dobrovol’skaia, Galina, Fyodor Lopukhov, (Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1976).