Category Archives: History

Franco and Hitler: A Meeting and its Consequences

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 June 2021

By the autumn of 1940, the entirety of Western Europe except Spain and Portugal lay under Nazi control, as did much of the Centre and parts of the East: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France had all fallen without serious resistance, and Britain’s refusal to take the German offer of leaving the Continent to the Nazis and the Nazis would leave the British with India had incurred the wrath of the Luftwaffe with night after night of air-raids.

It was in this context that a meeting was held, on 23 October 1940, between Adolf Hitler and Spain’s ruler, Francisco Franco. The meeting, taking place at the railway station in Hendaye, within conquered France, on the western-most point of the Franco-Spanish border, was also attended by the foreign ministers, Ramón Serrano Súñer (Spain) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (Germany). The Germans arranged the meeting to try to get Spain into the war, and General Franco attended the meeting intent on refusing—politely. Continue reading

How Many Christians Were There in the Roman Empire?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 11 June 2021

The numbers on the growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire are very uncertain, but there are enough data points to hazard a reasonable estimate. Continue reading

The History of “Central Europe”

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 June 2021

The Idea of Central Europe: Geopolitics, Culture and Regional Identity (2018), by Otilia Dhand, is an engaging and rather ambitious book, a work of intellectual history. Dhand’s core argument is that from the introduction of the term “Central Europe” in the nineteenth century, it did not describe a set geographical zone and the definition was always contested since the term was an attempt to construct local identities, a self separate from some other, as an instrument in the pursuit of geopolitical interests, always revisionist: these were attempts to will something into existence by influencing political behaviour. Continue reading

The Last Coup of the Russian Tsardom

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 March 2021

Tsar Pavel I

A few days ago, it was the 220th anniversary of the palace coup that, in the early hours of 24 March 1801, deposed the Russian Tsar, Pavel (Paul) I, the last of the Russian monarchs to fall in this way.[1] Continue reading

The Impact of Plague: From Antiquity to the Present

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 March 2021

Almost exactly a year ago, the British government announced the first lockdown to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and around the same time such measures were adopted in almost every other country. With Britain having now vaccinated nearly half the country, including all of the most vulnerable, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson having set out a timetable for the lifting of restrictions, it is possible to think of the post-COVID 19 situation and to wonder about how or if it will be different to what came before. Continue reading

The Munster Millenarians: Anabaptism and the Radical Reformation

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 February 2021

Execution of Jan Beuckelszoon // Illustration in a book by Lambertus Hortensius

In 1534, shortly after the onset of the Protestant Reformation, a radical sect from this new movement, the Anabaptists, seized the city of Munster in Germany and governed it for sixteen months as a millenarian cult in a manner so alarming it managed to bring together Catholic and Lutheran forces to put it down. The experience had a profound influence not on the development of Anabaptism thereafter, but on the manner in which the Reformation more generally unfolded. Continue reading

The Confrontation that Began the Protestant Reformation

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 January 2021

“Luther at the Diet at Worms”, by Anton von Werner, 1877

The Diet of Worms convened 500 years ago today.[1] Four years earlier, Martin Luther had sent his Ninety-five Theses as part of a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg. The date on which Luther sent this letter, 31 October 1517, is now celebrated as “Reformation Day”, but the Reformation in a serious sense did not begin until after Luther was summoned before the 1521 Diet of Worms. Continue reading

Crusader Whodunnit: The Curious Case of Conrad of Montferrat

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 August 2020

Conrad of Montferrat … imagined. Picture is from the Paris of the 1840s, by François-Édouard Picot.

Conrad of Montferrat, the monarch of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, one of the four Crusader principalities, was assassinated in Acre on 28 April 1192 by the Nizari Ismailis, the legendary Assassins. The event received a lot of interest in its own time and since in the Christian world—and fuelled the various myths about the Nizaris either being focused on the Crusaders (the Nizaris’ war was always with the Sunni order) or operating in Europe (which they never did). There has also long been speculation about a third party having sponsored the Nizaris, and a paper by Patrick A. Williams examines this issue. Continue reading

The Soviets’ Bagman in Britain

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 February 2020

Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist) (CPGB-ML) carrying banners and Stalin postsers at a May Day parade // May 2016

Jeremy Corbyn has been dogged throughout his time as leader of the British Labour Party by his associates. Having Seumas Milne, a believing Stalinist and general conspiracy theorist, as his spin-doctor and primary strategist is actually among the least disgraceful things about Corbyn. Corbyn was, despite later attempts at obfuscation, a vocal supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Corbyn was paid £20,000 for pro-Iranian propaganda by the clerical regime. He laid a wreath honouring Black September, the deniable unit of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) responsible inter alia for the mutilation and murder of Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972. Then there was Fidel Castro, HAMAS, Hizballah, and on and on.

Thus, when it was revealed, two years ago this month, that Corbyn supplied political and other intelligence to the secret police of Communist Czechoslovakia, it was unsurprising. Corbyn was known to have supported the Soviet side in the Cold War, from Castro’s Cuba to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; had he known of Soviet support to PIRA, it would not have turned him against them. So, it was all taken very much in stride. Putting aside the lament that it should have been a bigger scandal that the Leader of the Opposition was once an “operational contact” for the Soviet Bloc, it was an interesting look at how the Soviet Union, through its satellite states, sought to cultivate sympathisers and exert influence in Britain—and how little is known, even now, about the scale and success of such things.

Somebody who could have shed more light on this was Reuben Falber, a senior official of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and its key liaison with the KGB. When he died on 29 April 2006, he took most of his secrets with him. Still, what is known of Falber’s career gives some insight and such insights are by no means all retrospective. Continue reading

The PKK and Russia

By Oved Lobel on 18 November 2019

PKK at a terrorist training camp in the Asad regime-held Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, 1991 [source]

My friend Oved Lobel, a researcher focused on Russia’s role in the Middle East (among other things), found several interviews the Russian media did with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leaders, one with the leader himself Abdullah Ocalan, talking about, inter alia, the group’s relationship with Moscow. He very helpfully translated them and with his permission they are published below.

The broad outline of the PKK’s relationship with the Soviet Union—and then the Russian Federation—is fairly clear. After the PKK was founded in Turkey in the late 1970s by Ocalan, it was evicted from the country during the 1980 military coup. The PKK moved to Syria, where Ocalan was already based, having fled Turkey in June 1979. From there, the PKK moved into the Bekaa area of Lebanon, at that time controlled by the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Asad, and the Soviets acted through Asad, as they so often did in dealing with terrorist groups, to build the PKK into a fighting force that was then unleashed in 1984 on Turkey, a frontline NATO state in the Cold War. Continue reading