Sunday, 11 March 2012

The end of the Wrocław workshops blog

No, it's not the end of Wrocław workshops.  It's just that this blog was becoming too diverse, and therefore I have started two new blogs, carrying on the tradition of this one: is a blog which seeks to strengthen the civil society in Poland, as well as across Europe.  There I shall write about human rights issues, political activism, protests, anti-fascism, work against discrimination, education about crimes by the Nazis, and so on. is a blog about singing, and life in general in Wrocław and Poland.  There I shall write about singing (well, of course), about tips for good singing, about music in Poland, as well as other things like reviews of places and events here in Wrocław and the rest of Poland.

I hope to see you all there!

Thanks a lot to all my readers!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Freud was right. Kind of.

Being pro-human rights and anti-discrimination puts one in positions that certain people may find contradictory.  A man can be pro-male (such as by supporting International Men's Day) and try to raise awareness of issues like violence against men by women.  At the same time, one can also try to raise awareness of violence against women (to give one example from Amnesty International) and discrimination against women.  It goes without saying (I would hope) that women all over the world face discrimination and violence.

In that line I would like to draw your attention to something that has been bugging me for a while.  In the various campaigns against governmental cuts/for greater gender equality one arouses all manner of opposition.  This opposition may be considered, or can be based on the standard prejudice against the left-wing.  Sometimes, however, its gender specific, to a disturbing degree. 

"You should have your tongue ripped out!"

Sometimes, those who are at the forefront of creative campaigns are women.  It's them who receive a barrage of abuse which goes beyond the standard anti-left-wing prejudice.  The fact is that these women become a scapegoat for all that is seen to be a threat.  A look at this article by Helen Lewis Hastely will demonstrate that.

Here's a few quotes from what people have said to her and other bloggers online:
"deserve to die at the rusty scissors of a backstreet abortionist" 

Male bloggers appear to not receive such gender-related abuse.  There the onus is more on accusations regarding the lack of intelligence or the standard anti-left-wing stuff.

When it's not abuse, it's patronising or a liberal form of victim playing that comes into play.  For example, Suzanne Moore wrote an article dealing with online sexist abuse in the Guardian.  The first comments were:
"This is a conversation..."
Really? It seems to be the latest in a stream of diatribes on this topic from female contributors to the Graun. Maybe a male viewpoint could be forthcoming ATL?
Men-hating is all over the internet – believe me, I know
Now , rather than viewing it as a one gender issue Suzanne, lets try and be really constructive and useful and try and think of ways we can all come together ( Men and Women ) and try and eradicate this problem together.
What about man haters,they are all over the internet too. Any ideas what we can do about them Suzanne?"
I very much doubt whether the comments are genuine attempts to deal openly with the subject of sexism by both sexes.  I see such comments as being an attempt to avoid talking about male sexism.  Let me be clear, such examples of online abuse of women are obviously unpleasant for the women involved.  It's more than that though, they set the tone for making such abuse acceptable, and can lead to an increase in actual violent attacks by men on women.

Why does this happen?
1. The women appear "weaker" and therefore are an easy target for bullying.
2. The abusers believe that politics is man's business (they may like Thatcher, who is however respected for her "masculine" characteristics) and therefore want to shut women up.
3. They are afraid of women.

Having a bath and looking at ones genitals in the mirror

I once attended a theology course whereby we had one session about feminist theology.  To be honest I went there assuming it was to be two hours of anti-male stuff.  The lecturer told us a story which went something like, "Years ago I did a talk on feminism at an all-women event.  At the end a woman told me that she had had a bath before the event, as she assumed that we would all be given small mirrors and asked to sit in a circle looking at our vaginas", and went onto show that feminism is about fighting domination (and "patriarchy"; I avoid this term myself though agree with what is meant).  I came out saying "Bloody right!"

In other words, feminism is seen as a threat.  Somewhere beneath all that bluster there is the fear of women doing "bad" things.  That can mean that men have less power in societies.  It can also be tied to more left-wing policies coming into being, more democracy.  This is rational.  Many feminists want these things.  (So do I!)  It can however mean a fear of losing not just political, societal and economic power, it can also mean a fear for.....well, what?  I will here speculate that "castration anxiety" plays a big part here.:
"Symbolic castration anxiety refers to the fear of being degraded, dominated or made insignificant, usually an irrational fear where the person will go to extreme lengths to save their pride and/or perceives trivial things as being degrading making their anxiety restrictive and sometimes damaging." (From wiki)

That article shows that such an anxiety (with the resulting fear of female sexuality) has been a component in literature for centuries.  (Hence women being scapegoated.)  Freud himself put the issue being resolved by passively submitting to authority (the father).  Now, that Freud based this on his Oedipus complex theory leads me to doubt this.  That however, as shown in this article by Mia Hepburn such a fear is a lot older than Freud, shows that the issue was one of a cultural male fear of having sex with "strange" women, or that the triumphant entry of the male into the vagina is followed by a diminished ending.

Whether one agrees with that or not, one would be more open to agreeing with Dr. Stephen Diamond that the way of resolving the "castration complex" is: "At the end of the day, men and women need to become more aware of the psychological source of our mutual apprehension, mistrust and animosity in order to transcend it. Angrily projecting the blame on each other for our own fears of sex, love and intimacy simply won't do.  [...]  Knowing our own complexes, fears of intimacy and defense mechanisms against it, and addressing them therapeutically, is crucial (From here).

These specific men are not victims

In discussing this issue with women I have been told twice by women that they admit to "castration" or "Delilah" desires (metaphorically!), wanting to emasculate men.  Of course, two women don't make up the billions of women who exist, but some women are sexist against men and abuse them.  These two women were self-aware enough to recognise their desires and work with them.  (Female abuse of men is a subject I shall deal with separately later this year, as I don't wish that the the issue becomes confused with the subject of this article.)

These men who write abusive messages online have no excuses for their behaviour.  I am simply speculating as to the reasons for such actions.  I believe that all people, whether male or female can have unconscious fears regarding the other sex, fears which in the examples above turn into pretty ugly threats, ugly threats that are intolerable.

A raging hatred of women is frowned upon by society, therefore it finds outlet online.  Focuses on combating sexism by men against women tend to concentrate on the decisive level, on thought patterns and conditioning.  Less work on fear is done.

In any case, people who live in Wrocław can help by attending the feminist event Manifa from the 8th till the 11th of March.  More details here.

What do you think?  Please write your opinions in the comments underneath.

Otherwise, you can follow this blog now on Twitter or on Facebook

(Please excuse the slightly slanted text in the centre of this article.)

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Is it better to live in Britain or in Poland?

A long time ago a dodgy liberal British newspaper ran a series on Poland, and here I gave a link to a number of comments by both British and Polish people regarding living in Poland.

 Like with the animation of Jan Lenica (here a still from "Labirynt") there are many hidden treasures in Poland

Now, a dodgy right-wing British newspaper has ran two articles on the quality of life in Britain and Poland.  This article showed that "lifestyle is better in Poland than in Britain", while this article gives a contrary view, "Poland better than Britain?  That's not what the Poles think".  (Yes, I know, links to the Mail.  It could be worse.)

I found the articles interesting, because they chime with my experience of hearing from British people living in Poland, and Polish people living in Britain.  To summarise, while people in Britain may be richer, they consider themselves to have a low quality of life due to "high crime, violence and the cost of living".  Now, leaving aside the Mail's tendency to exaggerate crime levels in GB, let's compare the quality of life Britain and in Poland.  Here is a summary of what I have heard British people say (bearing in mind of course that other people may have radically different views; in any case the views given may be more self-revealing than anything else):

Shopping:  Like with many things in Poland, the same thing can be both good and bad at the same time.  In Poland one can buy more or less what one needs (if you leave out certain non-Polish specialities), if you are prepared to go outside of town to certain shops, or if you go to more expensive shops.  The average shop in Poland has less selection, the reason being that they are small.  Therefore, you won't be able be buy things like camembert in the said shops.  Now, that's just one example.  You may not eat camembert every day, but when one adds up all the slightly luxury things that one wants to buy, one'll have a lot less choice here, certainly in villages.

However, it depends on your needs.  The brilliant thing in Poland is that supermarkets are less dominant.  In the square mile around where I live, I have a choice between, I would guess at least 10 fruit and veg shops, 10 Bar Mleczny, 3 bakeries and countless convenience stores.  Additionally, there are loads of pharmacies, one cobblers, one bag repair place, and three clothes pressers.  There is also the best beer shop I have ever known.  For basic needs, I don't need to leave the local area.  That is not the case in Britain.

Food:  To add the issue of shopping it must be pointed out that food is massively cheaper in Poland.  The standard fruit and veg (pots, carrots, leeks, apples, etc.) are very cheap, and the slightly luxury foods (strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, apricots) are extremely affordable.  One can eat better, healthier and cheaper in Poland.  Additionally, food in the local shops is fresh and doesn't tend to be massively over-packaged.

Now, owing to the small number and nature of immigrants to Poland, there is deffo a wider choice of restaurants in Britain.  There one can choose between many different variations of British food (Polish people find it difficult to understand that Indian and Bangladeshi food can be British).  Here, non-Polish food often disappoints.  On the other hand, Polish cuisine can be very good.  If one eats normal food, or if one eats meat, the food is largely local and fresh.

Travelling:  In cities, there can be extensive bus and tram networks.  Generally, they are of a decent standard.  If one travels in the rush hour people who have issues with body space will not have a pleasant time.  Getting from one side of the town to the other can be a long and complicated journey on Sundays and bank holidays.

Outside of the cities, travelling by train and bus can be a very mixed experience.  On trains, one shouldn't always expect to have a seat when one travels on weekends/holiday times, or also expect that there'll be water/paper/functioning heating/people who don't smoke/clean toilets.  On the positive side, travel is exceedingly cheap and the views are very nice outside.

A key thing for the British person is that Poland borders many other countries.  Non-British people find this difficult to understand, that Britain feels psychologically far from other countries.  Here many interesting countries are not that far away.  Even the Balkans seems less insurmountable.

Safety: As I said, I believe that violence is exaggerated by the right-wing media.  Here there is no real difference.  Certainly, I hear about things being stolen here.  Saying that, walking in town centres can be a more pleasant affair here on a Saturday night in Britain.

A difference is that, if one has black skin here, I would imagine that one is more likely to be attacked than in Britain.  Another difference is that I believe elderly people to be more openly aggressive here.

People: I have dealt with the subject of making friends in Poland before.  Check out this article to see the views of British and Polish people on this subject.  To summarise: Polish people can be very open, and also very closed.  British people likewise.  The the individual British person in Poland or Polish person in Britain, their view of the friendliness of the other can be dependent on what they expect, and what they understand culturally.

Service: It took me a few years to stop getting annoyed with the "nie ma" ("we don't have them") in shops.  Generally, friendliness and politeness are less important in Poland than in Britain when one is buying something.  Staff can be very unhelpful and occasionally rude.  On the other hand, they can be more likely to say "Hello" and "Goodbye".  Additionally, when they notice that you're a (white-skinned western) foreigner who speaks Polish, they can smile and be friendly.  Occasionally this can be patronising, but it's better than nothing.

Gender roles: If you're a man coming to Poland (leaving aside stereotypes about Polish girls) on the one hand things can be quite cool.  It is less to be expected that you help with cooking and cleaning when visiting places.  You're not expected to make a big effort to look good.  One is generally treated with respect (leaving aside the fact that you may be young).  On the other hand you may be expected to look after the "weak" female, giving any random woman your seat, lifting their bag up.

For women I think things can be harder, as women are kind of expected to be pretty and put make-up on.  Women who do things like lift their own bags can be looked upon as being strange.  Though saying that, I know many exceptions to that rule.  However, compared to Britain, I would say that gender roles in Poland are more fixed.

Religion: If you're a church goer you'll largely like it in Poland, as going to church is culturally accepted, something which is not the case in Britain.  Days off are given to various Christian festivals.  Of course, if you're not Roman Catholic-friendly you may have a hard time.  Even though not all Polish people are believers, things like going to graveyard and lighting candles are mainstream.

 All Saints and All Souls in Oświęcim

In Britain there are some Protestant bigots, but they are small in number and low in influence.  Here there are a higher proportion of Roman Catholic bigots, and they can be high in influence.

Going out: Generally in Poland there is less choice as to the type of place one wants to go to.  It is also the case that it tends to be people in their 20s who tend to go out.  People over 30 tend to stay in.  On the positive sides, places tend to be less standardised like in Britain, and are deffo cheaper.

Civic life: Here Britain is clearly better, as Poland is still facing the hangover from the communist state rule, whereby people left things to the government.  Authoritarianism is such that any state institution received an overt form of respect.  Regarding newspapers, there are few and read by a small proportion of the population.  For that reason, Poland lacks a developed criticism.  For an example, see the fascist marches in Poland last November, supported by many who didn't think to ask about who was organising them.

Saying that, a weaker media means that people are less influenced by the media, something which would have been good in the recent debacle about the allegations towards Luis Suarez recently.

Football: Obviously, the Polish league is not as good as the English one.  The Scottish one is also better.  With a population of 1.8m, only the Welsh league is worse than the Polish one.  Hooliganism is a problem in Poland.  Generally, the football culture in Poland is weak in Poland.  Poland has many wools, people who pretend to be "proper" football fans, but really know nothing of the culture of the English teams they "support".  I imagine there are exceptions to this.

For this reason, watching football in Poland in pubs is not a good experience.  There is a positive, however.  Poland lacks the many gobshites who watch football in pubs in Britain.

Nature: Nature in Poland is excellent.  While there's hardly any coast (and the coastline is flat) there are plenty fields, forests and lakes.  Wildlife is immense.

Saying that, there's loads more litter in Poland.  A river close to me has got tons of plastic and glass bottles and other stuff by them.  Fag ends are also ubiquitous.  And don't ask me about dog shite.

Weather: Poland has more extremities.  This means nicely hot summers, and bloody freezing winters.  If one likes that, one'll prefer Poland.  Here one can see tons of snow, and get something resembling a tan in summer.  The only thing that Poland lacks is a good fresh wind.


For the British person there are many positive things about life in Poland.  While somethings can be bloody terrible here, there are also things that are miles better than in Britain.  

For Polish people living in Britain, the second article I linked to shows a woman who has a well-paying job.  No wonder she's happy in Britain!  The fact is, one earns more in Britain.  I see nothing wrong in Polish people wanting to make the most of that.  Britain has made itself rich and powerful through taking the wealth of other countries in the past.

Generally from Polish people I know, they like the general cosmopolitan lifestyle in Britain (not just in England's capital) and find the nature and rich history (Wales is full of castles) to be very attractive.

All in all, there is no quantitative way to measure which country is best to live in.  I will guess that those Brits who are happy here have a positive relationship to people here (probably a wife) along with being able to experience the best (and worst) of the kind of life one had in Britain over thirty years ago (such as cheap food, local shops).  Seriously, I've heard this many times.

There is no empircal way to measure which country is better to live in.  I know that the birth rate of Polish people in Britain is higher than that in Poland, the reason being the superior children, health and social security provision in Britain.  Apart from that, anything else is dependent on ones experience.  If Polish people have good jobs and have made good friends it is to be expected that they will want to stay in Britain.

Why then, are British people less happy with life in Britain?  Well, as the articles say, British people are quite capable of complaining.  For this reason, I have the theory that British people expect less of Poland, and therefore are less disappointed with the problems here than they would be with lesser problems in Britain.  Polish people on the other hand have lesser expectations and therefore find Britain to be so good (the same Britain that British people complain about).

As I have shown, there is no one thing in Poland or Britain that is better.  Everything has positive and negative aspects to it.  If one is generally happy with life, and is open towards other behaviours, both Polish and British people can be happy in the other countries.

What do you think?  Are you a British person living in Poland?  Do you prefer life here, and why?  Or are you a Polish person living in Britain?  Where do you prefer?

Let us know in the comments underneath.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Dresden, 13th February 2012. Part II

 Picture taken from a Roman Catholic student group

Whenever fascists/racists march, the reaction usually contains a mixture of utter stupidity (from the state apparatus, media and a handful of anti-fascists) and utter brilliance (from the anti-fascists and other parts of civic society).  The recent case of the Nazi march in Dresden on the 13th of February this year saw largely a positive example of openly combating fascism and racism.

Regarding other racist marches it is the ONR/NOP marches of Warsaw and Wroclaw (now a tradition on the 11th of November) that are mostly similar to that in Dresden.  Anti-EDL or anti-Pro-Köln/Deutschland protests focus on groups/marches that deal largely with Islamophobia (though anti-immigration and anti-socialism is also a feature) and therefore the anti-fascists build contacts with Muslims.  Regarding Dresden or the ONR/NOP marches the focus is on national myths of history, as well as on how to commemorate events of the past.  Consequently, the reaction to the Dresden Nazi march offers lessons for Polish anti-fascists.


The Allied bombing of Dresden on the night of the 13th and 14th of February 1945 led to the deaths of about 25,000 civilians and destruction of the city.  This was clearly a war crime.  Commemoration of the event until 1990 was led by communist state authorities who concentrated the commemoration on fighting imperialism, and left no room for individual biographies and memories to be recognised.  After 1990 it was the case that it was Nazis who took the lead in commemorating the event, seeking to portray Germans as being the "victims" of WWII, a myth held by many people in Dresden (just to be clear here, those who died during the bombing were victims.  It doesn't mean that Germany as such was a victim of WWII).  To begin with, in Dresden, only a few hundred Nazis marched through town.  By the 2000s this had increased to a few thousand, supported by Nazis from other countries.  Accordingly, anti-fascist numbers (left-wingers, anarchists, Christians) also increased.

The Nazis have tended to do their main march on the nearest Saturday to the 13th, wanting to gain bigger numbers. This led of course to bigger numbers of anti-fascists being able to come.  Last year saw, for the third time in a row, a successful blockade of the Nazi march.  However, the public discourse saw a focus on violence, as the police were particularly violent last year (as were some anti-fasicsts, some of whom having been provoked by police and Nazi violence).  Afterwards, anti-fascist and other civic society organisations saw themselves criminalised by the Saxony state, whereby offices were occupied, people were stripped naked and phone numbers of 40,000 people were taken illegally by the police.

2012 saw the Nazis being demoralised and divided.  Many didn't want to do their main march on the nearest Saturday, as they didn't want to face a humiliating blockade again.

2012 also saw the Saxony government making changes, wanting to avoid the problems of last year.  A cross-party political group was set up to organise a civic commemoration of the event, a "traces of the perpetrator" march by anti-fascists was finally legalised, and generally the police were better prepared and less willing to use violence (though tear gas was used on some anti-fascists).  Owing to this, and also the news about the Zwickau Nazi cell more people turned up to the human chain, some of which also went onto the anti-fascist blockade.  It seemed that the mainstream had had enough of Nazis and violence dominating the anniversary.

Posters by state institutions, businesses and NGOs (such as shown here) have been in existance in Dresden for a few years now.  What was different this year, however, was the determination to give a respectful commemoration to those who died, while still remembering that it was Germans who had started WWII, and that Nazis are still a problem in Germany.  While anti-fascists and other civic society organisations had been saying this for year, 2012 was the first time when this became the narrative of the anniversary.  In addition, the anti-fascist blockade was fairly successful, forcing the Nazi march route to be massively shortened.  In the end less Nazis came to Dresden than expected, about 1,200 (compared to 5,000 anti-fascists).  "Dresden Nazifrei" are calling this the end of the big Nazi marches in Dresden.

News reports largely said the following: The commemoration of the event was dignified, the mainstream of Dresden took part, churches provided a platform for commemoration, remembering the dead was linked to being anti-Nazi (white roses were laid in remembrance of those who died, more about this later).  The anti-fascist blockade was also seen to be positive.


The narrative was visual and moving: People old enough to remember the event was interviewed and photographed.  The laying of white roses and lighting of candles in front of the Frauenkirche and in many churches provided the mainstream with the opportunity to do something dignified.  Bells were tolled.  The anti-fascists were colourful, musical and lively, and largely seen to be positive.  I would say that it was anti-fascists who took the lead in opposing Nazis, and the mainstream followed.  Indeed, a leading politician of Germany, wothisname said that "one cannot criminalise those who combat fascism".  Perhaps the prejudice against anti-fascists is lessening?

On the one hand, I find the usage of white roses to commemorate the dead to be slightly questionable, to be honest.  White roses are of course the symbol of the "Weisse Rose", a group of Protestants who were a resistance group in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.  Those who died in Dresden were not necessarily those who actively resisted the Nazis.  Some of them may have done.  Some of them may have also been big supporters of the Nazis.  There is an old myth in Germany (well, old in western Germany) that it was a minority of Germans who were responsible for the crimes of the Nazis, or that the public couldn't do anything against the the Nazis.  However, it is nonetheless good that the official way now of remembering those who died is being tied to being anti-Nazi, something that, I believe, led to the wider acceptance of the anti-fascists this year.  Indeed, the white roses are officially signs that "people from Dresden stand against those who use the 13th of February 1945 to promote anti-democratic and inhumane ideologies [...] By wearing white roses that we show that our remembrance has a diferent horizon: A sign for the ending of war, racism and violence!"

A second protest against fascism has taken place on the 18th of February, a report will follow in part III of this report, together with a consideration as to the future of Nazi marches in Germany.

Now, what about Poland?

The lessons are probably obvious to the reader, but I'll highlight a few ones:

Actually turn up to protest, and block

A strong anti-fascist base is a foundation for success in combatting racists.  Blockades frustrate Nazis and demoralise them and make them less likely to turn up.  Making it clear (to quote the Protestant church in Germany, "love requires clarity") our opposition to them in big numbers makes a difference.  It also makes being Nazi "uncool".  In Poland we need all people concerned about the ONR/NOP and other nationalists to actually turn up to their marches to achieve similar successes, instead of sitting on their arses complaining.  While some may be afraid of being attacked, the truth is that Polish people have traditionally included people who have stood up to people who attack us.  There is strength in numbers.

A positive message is needed

The Nazi message in Dresden was essentially negative (something acknowledged by the NPD), of being the "victims".  The anti-fascist message was positive, lively, musical and "cool".  Somehow the anti-fascist events in Poland were not seen as positive, despite the music and colour in Warsaw.  We need to strongly portray fun to the media and mainstream.  We need our counter-demos to be obviously happy events, not just negative.  We need to be clearer in our alternative to nationalism in order to win more people over.  There are obvious messages that we can portray: From 11/11/18 Poles could vote in elections, they could form their political parties, they were not under foreign occupation, Poland was multi-cultural.  Those are things to celebrate.  You know that, stupidly, many believe that the anti-fascists in Poland are against Poland not being occupied.  Let's not just say "blokujemy", let's say "swietujemy".  No, let us promote the celebration of the creation of a multicultural and free Poland.  (Of course, one can take the view that nation states lead to the abuse of people via the centralisation of power, the creation of a monopoly of violence and concentration of the human identity on one particular part of our identities.  However, one can still say that Polish people should have the same rights as people in other countries.  In any case, freedom should always be emphasised.)

Be visual

The visual message is important.  Let's have clear symbols that portray our message, symbols that average people can use.  Like in many places, flowers and candles are popular symbols in Poland.  Despite our rightful reservations about the RC church in Poland, such symbols are useful.  We need symbolic actions that people can do, more than shouting chants at Nazis.  If, for example, a rynek became an area where people were invited to light red and white candles in order to create a big Polish flag, or with other colours to promote a multicultural Poland, or if we threw flowers at Nazis when they throw lit torches at us, if people got soup and paid donations, if people could buy grilled cheese with cranberry sauce and other foods from Poland, if people could attend poetry reading from Polish poets, hear music performed (say, by Gorecki) on the street, people will receive a better message.  There are enough creative people within anti-fascism to come up with some good visual symbols.

This involves all of us

Civic society shouldn't, as Andrzej Rychard said, just leave it to the anti-fascists.  We need governmental institutions, churches and NGOs to make clear their opposition to racism.  Now, of course, we all know that there are people within the first two groups who tend towards the ONR/NOP rather than us.  But not all of them do.  Those of you who have connecti ons within such groups needs to think about how you can corporately show your opposition to Nazis, while still (as in Dresden) promoting a positive message.  Posters can be part of this, like the ones I showed here.

Get off your arse

Across central and eastern Europe Nazis are getting more active.  In the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria and in Romania Roma are being attacked.  In Serbia, Montenegro and again in Hungary gays are being persecuted.  Here in Poland of course, Wrocław has lately seen new Nazi graffiti appear (to be reflected upon in a later article), gays need police protection during their parades and there has been an arson attack on a house where Roma live, to name just a few examples.  Are we to wait till the situation gets worse before we react, or we are to work for fighting Nazism now?

In any case, let us strengthen a spirit of criticism.  People in Poland often like to complain, anyway!  Let's use this criticism to test things in the public sphere.  I have an example here of a student group in Wroclaw that tolerates racists.  You'll have to wait till another article to find out more about that however.  To keep in touch with this blog, "like" Wroclaw workshops on Facebook.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dresden, 13th February 2012. Part I

German people really can be ace:

Civic society in Germany makes it clear, what they think about the attempt by Nazis to instrumentalise the anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden:

 A "human chain to remember the destruction of Dresden 67 years ago - with courage, respect and tolerance - Dresden professes colour" of about 13,000 people around the old town, (Photo Jens Meyer / The Associated Press)

"For diversity, for tolerance, for Dresden"

"Dresden greets our guests....and good riddance to Nazis!"  
From the SPD site.

"In all mischief that happens it is not those who do it who are guilty, rather, those who didn't stop them.  Dresden theatres, museums and orchestras against right-wing extremism".
A poster hanging from the Dresden State Theatre.

A report from the anti-Nazi demo will follow in part II, including an analysis of the implications of the event for Polish civic society.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Review: Róża

Thank you,

Wojtek Smarzowski is the film director of the grotesque films "Wesele" and "Dom zły", films which take an unflinching look what life in Poland can bring.  Certainly, Wesele may be somewhat OTT, but themes of alcohol, corruption and social hypocrisy regarding sex can be features of life in Poland (though of course this isn't limited to Poland!).  Dom zły also shows the abuse of alcohol and corruption (this time at the state administrative level), while dealing with difficult historical areas (the militia and secret police and their abuses).

Róża is also uncompromising.  Certainly, the first scene of the film sets the scene for the film in that it shows a rape and murder of a Polish woman by a German soldier during the German counter-attack during the Warsaw Uprising, watched by her husband, Tadeusz.

The film is based around the figure of Róża, a woman who suffers all manner of abuses during the film, and is set in Mazury, an area which used to be part of East Prussia (part of Germany) and became Polish possession towards the beginning of the film.  Now, ethnic groups in Poland are quite a complicated business (despite what many will say, talking as they do of "proto-Germans" and "proto-Poles"); you just need to know that Masurians have a mixed ethnic background, and tended, by the 20th century to be German speaking Lutherans, though, as the film shows, many could also speak Polish, as Róża does in the film, as well as the other main character, Tadeusz.  Some define themselves as being Masurians, not German or Polish.

That she is not seen to be Polish and lives alone on a farm leads to terrible events for Róża, including being raped and beaten many times, despite the attempts of Tadeusz to (occasionally successfully) fight off those who attack her.

The film has two main plots: Róża and the attacks on her (as well as those on the German speaking community in the village) and the story of Tadeusz.  With the former, it shows what happened to the areas which had been in Germany, the discrimination towards Germans (not being given food, having their possessions being plundered, being beaten by Soviet and Polish militia, being raped), as well as the "repatriation" of Poles from the east of what was pre-1945 Poland (a family speaking the dialect of eastern Poland appears to live in and eventually take over Róża's house).  To add to that we see Germans being forcibly expelled to the new borders of Germany.

Regarding Taduesz, he had fought in the Armia Krajowa partisan army.  Now, members of the Armia Krajowa were viewed with suspicion by Soviet and later Polish authorities (the later Polish communist head Władysław Gomułka said "Soldiers of AK are a hostile element which must be removed without mercy").  For this reason Tadeusz tries to keep his head down to avoid being detected.  He eventually meets someone who had also been "in the woods" (euphemism for being a partisan) who urges him to declare his past to the communist authorities, something he declines to do (something that results with Tadeusz being arrested, tortured and imprisoned).

In doing so, the film deals with a few essential themes, relevant for modern Poland.

Rape is a key feature of the film.  As I said, one sees a Polish woman raped at the start.  Róza is raped many times, as is the Polish woman who comes to live with her.  Like as shown in the film Anomyma, the rapes were perpetrated by members of the Red Army (one mass-rape by Red Army soldiers is also shown in the film).  However, the film also shows the rape of Róża by Poles.  This is a very important issue.  The film was made by a Pole, and is, as far as I know, the first film made in Poland to thematise the abuse of German woman by Polish men.

It's a similar case with the discrimination towards Germans, showed in their eventual expulsion towards the new version of Germany.  The film shows Polish officials and militia organising and carrying out that expulsion.  The depiction of rape follows the line of Anomyma which came out in 2009 was the first film in Germany to bring the attention of the mass rape of German woman by Soviet soldiers (certainly, Die Blechtrommel in 1979 did contain a rape scene; however it wasn't the main story of the film) shows that this is a sensitive theme that is only now being addressed openly (this was a repressed theme in the GDR, and in the BDR the official myth of German victimhood during and after WWII was dominant, though that was heavily challenged in the 1960s).

Róża is therefore a contribution towards the efforts of Germans in coming to terms with their past (following a Czech near-equivalent, Habermann in 2010 which partly deals with Czech abuses of Germans, including their expulsion from the Sudetenland after the end of WWII.  Thanks to a reader for that tip).  This is a healthy development at the mass level, supported by smaller initiatives, such as this talk between a German woman who feared for being raped in Wrocław* after the end of WWII and a Polish former forced labourer; as well as that by Karta, who have organised meetings between German expellees and Poles who are now living in the towns the Germans used to live in, Poles who themselves had been expelled from areas now in Belarus and the Ukraine.

While the film may prompt debate in Germany, I am interested as to what impact the film will have in Poland.  As I wrote here, there is a tension in Poland regarding the themes of the rape of German woman by Polish men, the expulsion of Germans, as well as, to a smaller degree, Stalinist terror in Poland from 1944.  Despite the views of some foreigners, Poland is more than Warsaw and the issues of the Nazis and the communists; the issue of the "reclaimed territories" is a big issue not often dealt with in a productive way.

Is the film any good?  Well, for someone like myself aware of the context of tensions in Poland and Germany about these issues, it was interesting.  Generally the film is difficult.  While murder is commonly shown in films, rape is not.  For that reason, perhaps, I found the rape scenes to be horrific (of course, rape is horrific, but we are less sensitised to the depiction of it in films than with murder).  Otherwise, the acting in the film is very good.

I therefore can recommend the film.

* Of course, the story of Mazury is similar to that of Lower Silesia, whereby Germans (and, regarding stealing and rape, Poles as well) faced similar ordeals.
"On February 6th, at seven o'clock in the morning, Renata B. a girl of fifteen, who was on the way to the children's mass in [...] the church of St. Mary-on-the=Sand, was stopped by a Polish militiaman.  He dragged her into a demolished building, raped her, and stole her clothes"

From an eyewitness account by a Polish man, quoted in "Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City" by Norman Davies

I watched the film in a cinema containing a high proportion of elderly people, people old enough to have been those expelled from the east to Wrocław, and old enough to have experienced those times.  If only there had been an open discussion about the film afterwards.

PS: Seeing as Germans supported Poles who took a stand for democracy and against racism last November, perhaps Poles could so likewise on next Monday (the 13th) and/or next Saturday (the 18th)?  Poles were deffo there last year.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Holocaust Memorial Day 2012

It's too late now
you're not there
paying attention

It should be hopefully increasingly clear that the way in which anti-prejudice work can, to put it mildly, be lacking of a certain commitment to, err, anti-prejudice work.  As I pointed out here, some people, in their desire to combat prejudice may say and do prejudicial things of their own, either wittingly or, by some well-meaning but misguided people, unwittingly; a planned anti-homophobia action last year which had Islamophobic roots being one example.  Anti-prejudice work can sometimes involve the maintaining, spreading and strengthening of prejudice.

Why I am telling you this?  Well, in my time in online social networks (which is a posh way for saying "dossing around on Facebook") I have come across people using this Holocaust Memorial Day in order to go on about, well, Jews this, doing a Holocaust that, acting like Nazis the other.  My objection that it is possible to criticise behaviour without resort to anti-semitism (for indeed, for these are slurs in Jewish people) were met with "Palestinians are human beings too"!

There is a widespread misconception that anti-semitism hasn't changed since 1945, that's it's all about racism.  No, anti-semitism is much more than racism, and there's a whole load of anti-semitism that has developed because, yes, because of Auschwitz (I shall come back to this theme later this year).  At a training I once attended, we were told that the point of anti-semitism is not that it says anything true about Jewish people, rather, it says something of the self-picture of those saying anti-semitic views (often, that they feel themselves to be "victims" and therefore with a perceived "victim-group" and challenging their anti-semitism is seen as an attack on their self-image).  Certainly, I have heard people being against the "Jewish monopoly on 1933-45" while seeking to "talk (only) about other Nazi victim groups".  The irony here is surely clear to the reader.

 From an arson attack on a synagogue in Corfu by two British people

What bugs me though is the way that the narrative changes, whereby we move in one breath from discussing Jewish people as victims from 1933 till 1945 to then talking about them as aggressors and perpetrators of evil (and being the key bad people) afterwards.  All within the scope of discussing Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is right to consider what has happened since 1945.  Some are critical of Holocaust Memorial Day, as it puts a focus on the past and "hasn't stopped genocide since 1945".  Well, the day is actually six years old.  But anyway, as if one day has the power to stop genocide.  (Incidentally, I often believe that most people don't actually know what the standard definition of genocide is, and how the term tends to be decided upon with regard to cases.)  In any case, one tension which arises around the time of Holocaust Memorial Day is that between remembrance and action.  Some critics think it's all about the past and nothing about the future.

Others may complain about the attention not given to other victim groups.  Within this is sometimes the vague enemy figure of "*** ****" who "get all the attention" and "don't want us to focus on other groups".  People who say this may belong to, but not necessarily the other victim groups: Romany, the disabled, gays, non-Jewish Poles and members of the Soviet Union, political opponents, Priests and Pastors, anarchists, Jehovah's Witnesses; the homeless, unemployed, alcoholics, prosititutes and other people labelled as "asocial", among others. 

Others may wish us all to shut up about modern things and just show respect to those who died in the past.  Those who cannot speak for themselves should not be used in order to make emotive points, they may say.

A look at the Holocaust Memorial Day trust (UK) gives us the meaning for the day:
"Holocaust Memorial Day provides an opportunity for everyone to learn lessons from the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides and apply them to the present day to create a safer, better future. On HMD we share the memory of the millions who have been murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur in order to challenge hatred and persecution in the UK today"  
From here

Those who wish to place a focus on modern prejudices and post-1945 genocides are right.  That Holocaust Memorial Day should have a focus upon hindering the possibility of genocide is also right.  Those who wish us to focus upon showing respect to those who died are also right.  We can be too close to modern-day events to be able to understand them properly.  Those who wish that non-Jewish victims receive attention are also right, as are those who wish to give attention to Jewish victims.  These wishes may seem to go against each other.

How, then, to achieve a proper way of commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day?

First: Shut up.  There are people who have suffered.  There are people who died.  There are people who survived and are plagued by memories, or by the suffering and/or death of their friends and family.  Additionally, Europe now faces "the presence of absence".  Here in Poland, for example, are houses where Jewish people used to live.  Synagogues where they used to pray.  Some of these former synagogues are now used for other purposes.  Sometimes they are now museums, museums to a past.  A key part of European history was Jewish, and only occasionally is work done to remember that.

There is also the silence of the areas of the countless places where people were killed, such as in Khatyn in Belarus (not Katyń!).

That is just one of many examples I could give.

Secondly: Surely working against prejudice means just that.  We need to be self-critical, being aware of our own prejudices.  Not scapegoating others.  Not projecting all of the evil of the world onto one particular group.  Some project all evil onto Nazis, or Germans.  No, I believe that we are all capable of good and evil.  That doesn't mean that we should stop talking of modern human rights abuses, but it does mean that we don't focus on one particular group all the time.

Thirdly: There is the (for some, radical) stance that we can remember Jewish victims and non-Jewish victims of the Nazis, as well as subsequent genocides and human rights abuses.  One can do that not by taking away attention from Jewish victims, but doing it alongside.  While a focus on anti-semitism after 1945 is needed, so is on prejudice against other groups, such as Romany (a pogrom happened within the UK recently, and the Hitler-supporting newspaper has also come out pretty strongly against them).

May I add the caveat here, that this means the giving of attention not just towards the group that one belongs to.  I was once at a Roman Catholic event about Judaism here in Wrocław, whereby we heard a lot of Jewish music.  A RC Priest later said that "we must not forget that Poles were also victims".  Let us not engage in a "competition of memory".  It's both/and, not either/or.

Oh, and this means not saying that the victims of Nazi are like those who are victims of Communist terror, despite what some people think.  (Here in English) 

As someone who likes to think of themself as being anti-prejudice, I have high expectations of those who purport to be likewise.  Being anti-prejudice means, to quote Radiohead, "paying attention" to ourselves, i.e. being self-critical.