Category Archives: Society

Leftwing Propaganda: 365-5

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

Over lunch today at my Belgian friend Veerle’s house in the Flanders region, we were discussing what to do in the afternoon. Veerle mentioned that there was a war cemetery less than five minutes’ walk from her house which she had never been to, and given our keenness for exploring and the fun of being a “Home Tourist”, we decided to pay it a visit.

Coincidentally (or not, as 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War and the accompanying media and tourist board excitement), I had meant to ask Veerle about the Flanders fields of The Great War and to think about visiting. Over Christmas, I had watched not only TV channel Dave‘s favourite ever Blackadder episodes, which included the poignant and heartbreaking final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, but also the film Joyeux Noël, a French film about the Christmas truce in the trenches in 1914, which, I think, powerfully portrays the humanity of the soldiers and the removed-from-reality attitudes and callous propaganda of their respective leaders and home countries. It’s in fact the vivid messages of this film (the same messages that are contained in Blackadder Goes Forth) that immediately sprang to mind, when I heard that Michael Gove had this week labelled Blackadder as left-wing anti-war propaganda and dismissed its use by teachers in the classroom. Ironic then, that these films are in fact depicting the humanitarian consequences of the right-wing propaganda of the time, that helped keep Europe at war for so long.

I realised that on my travels I have visited numerous memorials to the holocaust and victims of the Second World War, and various World War 2 museums, but never those of the First. I felt this was something I wanted to address, if nothing else than to acknowledge the droves of men who were killed fighting for their countries, and dedicate some of my time to their memory and loss.

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

Commonwealth War Graves, Lier

So it’s serendipitous perhaps that I am here this weekend. The Lier Commonwealth War Graves house the last resting places of Belgian, British and Canadian soldiers of both the First and Second World Wars. There are memorials to the fallen who have never been identified. The Belgian flag flies proudly amongst the silent gravestones. Each stone succinctly and strikingly tells a story. It is heartbreaking, and a place Mr Gove could learn much from.

Victor Lambiotte. Soldier. Born at Tamines 25th September 1893. Died for Belgium 6th October 1914

Victor Lambiotte. Soldier. Born at Tamines 25th September 1893. Died for Belgium 6th October 1914

Unknown Military. Died for Belgium.

Unknown Military. Died for Belgium.

Pte SA Duckett, aged 19

Pte SA Duckett. 26th September 1944. Age 19. “In memory of our dear son. At the going down of the sun, and the morning, we remember”

A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War. October 1944. Known unto God.

A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War. October 1944. Known unto God.

 

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Having a Quacking Time at The Fringe

The Fifth Duck Cast. Sitting, but not sitting ducks

The Fifth Duck Cast. Sitting, but not sitting ducks

Well Brian has now premiered his show The Fifth Duck at the Edinburgh Fringe (you can read why this is such a big deal for him in my previous post) – so I can finally reveal a little bit more about it!

I have to say I’ve seen Brian in a few productions before, but never have I seen him so relaxed and confident with his performance – clearly being able to run with his own ideas and express himself in his own words suits him down to the ground. And he’s really funny! He manages to turn a haplessly mundane caretaker into an underdog to root for with just the cheekiest of facial expressions, not forgetting an impressive singing voice (so much so that I thought at first we were listening to a recording of Roger Daltrey – where have you been hiding that voice Brian?!!). The Spaceship Driving Lesson sketch, in which he acts alongside saxophonist & dancer Alison, is brilliantly scripted and a joy to watch. There is musketeer vs viking sword fighting, Martyn showing off blacklit circus skills, and a stunning Cabaret homage from Katie. I won’t spoil their adaptation of Aladdin for you but suffice to say the script is fresh, funny and endearing – and you will love the Genie! Oh and in the absence of ducks and monkeys, look out for the squirrel!

If you’re in Edinburgh, you’ve got 4 more days to catch The Fifth Duck at The Gryphon Venues, Tuesday 6th – Friday 9th August every day at 4pm. Please pop along if you can!

The Cast of The Fifth Duck

Poised – The Cast of The Fifth Duck

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These Ain’t No Sitting Ducks

The Fifth Duck Prepare

The Fifth Duck Prepare

My brother Brian has always been into acting. Even before we started going to an after-school drama class aged about 8 or 9, I can remember him reciting Goon Show and Monty Python sketches, and making up little skits of his own around the house. He’s a member of our old local theatre group, he writes, he does tech at fan conventions, went to Edinburgh to study drama at college, started his own DiscWorld fan convention in 2011, and he’s just finished two years at Mind the Gap in Bradford. Working in the theatre is all he’s ever wanted to do.

Brian & Me

Brian & Me

I’ve never asked him what it was that got him hooked on performing in the first place – perhaps it was being able to be whatever he wanted to be without being misunderstood or told off (which is, he won’t mind me telling you, something Brian has had to battle with his whole life, as he has Asperger’s, which nobody recognised till just before he turned 30). Ask him what he gets out of performing today though and he’ll tell you it’s the response from an audience, the interaction of performer and spectator. To hear him talk about it, I guess it’s what makes him tick.

SCRIPT!

SCRIPT!

Next week sees the culmination of a dream for him. Ever since he was at college in Edinburgh, he’s wanted to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not being the best with social conventions, nor wanting to deal with any more knock-backs from what seem like constant misunderstandings from “official” bodies, he’s taken the brave decision to fund and organise it all himself, with the help of some money our grandma left us when she died 4 years ago.

Martyn & Alison Rehearse

Martyn & Alison Rehearse

Now, as his older sister, who has been there to help with quite a  lot of problems in the past, I must admit this prospect left me feeling… trepidatious. Part of me was really pleased for him that he was going to be able to do something he’s always wanted to do (I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the guts to sod it all and follow their dreams), but part of me didn’t want to see his high expectations potentially crushed  in what is, let’s face it, an incredibly competitive and cut throat environment. With a show that was only written 8 weeks before the festival and only performed once before in public. Eeeek!

The Cast of The Fifth Duck

The Cast of The Fifth Duck

However, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise publicly to Brian if I have seemed overly negative in the run up to the show. I went to see the preview at Bradford Playhouse on Saturday, and I really enjoyed it! The Show, entitled The Fifth Duck (and having seen it, I’ve still no idea where ducks come into it, but I’m sure Brian would enlighten you if you asked), is a four-person showcase of talents – a touch of traditional revue mixed with several hilarious running gags, sensitive moments pondering love and friendship, and an entirely new take on the story of Aladdin. The premise is simple and altruistic: everyone gets a turn, everyone contributes to the ideas, Brian turns it all into a script, and then they show the world that even though they may have learning difficulties [three of the four of them do], they’re not write-offs.

The Fifth Duck Cast. Sitting, but not sitting ducks

The Fifth Duck Cast. Sitting, but not sitting ducks

I am proper proud of my little brother for putting this together in such a short space of time, for having the courage of his convictions to take his dream show to The Fringe, and for writing and performing in it so well. I really hope his run goes well next week, he deserves to be seen. Break a leg bruv!

If you are planning a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we’d really love it if you could find time to see his show, The Fifth Duck, at The Gryphon on Bread Street at 4pm, Monday 5th – Friday 9th August. Or, if you know someone who is going, please spread the word!

Photos are by Jamie Boynton

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Flying the Lithuanian Flag

Flags at the Presidential Palace

Flags at the Presidential Palace

So I’m back home now, but I’ve still got  few posts brewing from my brief Lithuania trip. Something I’m always interested in is the history of the country or city I’m visiting, and I like to get a feel for this by talking to locals, and if there’s a good museum I might go there too – if nothing else it can be a good source of questions and conversation starters. One place Lina insists all her guests visit is the Lithuanian KGB museum for the remembrance of the victims of genocide. Having been to the Terror House in Budapest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go (assuming a similar catalogue of atrocities against humanity and a traumatic time courtesy of my graphic imagination), but Lina assured me that it was worth seeing the story from the Lithuanian point of view. So after a morning walking round Vilnius old town, I felt the need for a reference point and took myself off to the museum.

The museum is housed in the old KGB headquarters, and sure enough there are records of disappearances, executions, political prisoners and enemies of the state, people discriminated against and erased for no logical reason. But the main part of the museum focuses on two additional parts of the Soviet Lithuanian story (I didn’t visit the basement execution chambers, which I’m sure focuses more on the story of the political dissidents).

Gediminas, the founder of Vilnius

Gediminas, the founder of Vilnius

The first part of the story focuses on the random mass deportations of Lithuanian citizens to remote parts of Russia, not because they were deemed traitors or undesirable (the fate of these were labour camp sentences or worse) but the Soviets apparently simply wanted a certain type of people in certain places and decided to move others to other places, dragged from their beds in nighttime raids and transported crammed into cattle trucks for days or weeks until they reached their destination. Unsurprisingly many never even made it to their new “home” and died during the journey. The new villages were usually poor and ramshackle, the displaced Lithuanians left to fend for themselves and assimilate into the Russian culture and way of life.

Vilnius Street

Vilnius Street

This baffling population reshuffle seems bizarre for so many reasons, not least because it doesn’t seem to be achieving anything. The regime hated its opponents so sent them to labour camps for “rehabilitation”, which makes sense in its twisted, unethical way. But I can’t work out why the deportees were deported into Russia – if they weren’t wanted in the new Soviet territory of Lithuania, why would they be wanted in the heart of the Soviet Russia motherland? Perhaps the remote poverty stricken villages they were sent to were despised as much as the deportees were. But either way, they were still left to live their lives deeper inside the country that hated them, and for the life of me I couldn’t work out what twisted logic may have been behind this policy.

What I found interesting was that these people were left reasonably well alone, although in poor conditions, without permission to travel (especially not back home to Lithuania) and were expected to integrate into Russian society and schools at the expense of their own culture and language. But these pockets of deported Lithuanians fought hard to keep their culture alive (as did those sent to labour camps), and taught their children the Lithuanian language, culture & customs for nearly 50 years, despite being surrounded by thousands of miles of Russian language and culture, and Soviet oppression. Even after the death of Stalin, some had permission to travel, but Soviet Lithuania refused them permission to return home to live, and they were forced to return to their Russian homes.

The Gediminas Tower

The Gediminas Tower

While these deportees were desperately keeping the Lithuanian flag flying (literally it seems), rebels back home in Lithuania formed an army of Partisans, forced to live in the forests and relying on sympathisers to act as messengers and for supplies – fiercely trying to keep Lithuanian heritage alive throughout the Soviet occupation. They swore oaths of allegiance to their cause and kept their resistance up against all odds.

All of this gives a really powerful insight into Lithuanian national pride, and explains why nearly every building, in the old town at least, flies the national flag. As a westerner it’s hard to imagine the intolerable conditions the deportees had to endure, and equally how hard it was to keep the culture alive for so long in a country they had no choice about living in, through 50 years’ worth of generations. But if the Lithuanian culture was all the deportees, and the partisan fighters, and the labour camp prisoners, had to cling onto to get them through the Soviet occupation and maintain their identity, it becomes reassuringly clear why there is such a sense of patriotism here.

Presidential Palace

Presidential Palace

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ZAP!

Continuing the theme of places that Vilnius reminds me of, I have two more entries. The first is this street, IMG_3676 (Large)

which looks suspiciously like this one in Brasov, Romania. Admittedly the angles are a bit different but they felt exactly the same to walk down.

The second thing is Vilnius’ monument to Frank Zappa, which reminds me of the disembodied celebrity heads in Futurama. Quite why bthe Lithuanians have a replica of Frank Zappa’s head on a plinth and a random car park next to a walk-in health centre is not immediately obvious, as he has no Lithuanian connection , not at least prior to the statue’s erection.

One internet source suggests it’s simply because he’s not Lenin (all the Soviet statues were removed post-independence in the early 90s). Other guide books hint at him being chosen for his freedom of expression, something the Lithuanians had to fight hard for under 50 years of Soviet occupation. Whatever the exact reasons are (I shall have to ask Lina if she can shed any light), Vilnius does indeed now have a Frank Zappa monument, its proponents having reassured sceptics about Zappa’s leftiness (something for recently Soviet-suppressed to realistically worry about), and a Frank Zappa fan club sprang up, led by DJs and artists dedicating weekly shows to his work – and apparently it’s not thriving. Here he is, in all his snowy car parked glory (ubiquitous Bob Marley’s face graffiti is alas obscured behind Frank’s pole):

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa's car park

Frank Zappa’s car park

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A Lithuanian Constitution

Uzupio's Emblem (as far as I could work out)

Uzupis’ Emblem (as far as I could work out)

In case you’re interested, here’s the full 41 points of the Uzupian constitution that’s posted in fifteen languages on one of the walls on a Uzupian street. It was a bit too dark to read them all myself yesterday evening so this is partly so I can read them all too!

Uzupian constitution

Uzupian constitution

    1. Everyone has the right to live by River Vilnene, and the River Vilnene has the right to flow by everyone

 

  • Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof
  • Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation
  • Everyone has the right to make mistakes
  • Everyone has the right to be unique
  • Everyone has the right to love
  • Everyone has the right not to be  loved, but this is not necessary
  • Everyone has the right to be indistinguished and unknown
  • Everyone has the right to idle
  • Everyone has the right to love and care for the cat
  • Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies [not quite sure why this obligation is released at death for dogs, but that the obligation to the cat continues in the afterlife…typical really…]
  • A dog has the right to be a dog
  • A cat is not obliged to love its owner but must help in time of nee [sic] [I’m none the wiser as to how one achieves this either!]
  • Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties
  • Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation
  • Everyone has the right to be happy
  • Everyone has the right to be unhappy
  • Everyone has the right to be silent
  • Everyone has the right to have faith
  • No-one has the right to violence
  • Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance
  • No-one has the right to a design on eternity
  • Everyone has the right to understand
  • Everyone has the right to understand nothing
  • Everyone has the right to be of any nationality
  • Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday
  • Everyone shall remember their name
  • Everyone may share what they possess
  • No-one can share what they do not possess
  • Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents
  • Everyone may be independent
  • Everyone is responsible for their freedom
  • Everyone has the right to cry
  • Everyone has the right to be misunderstood
  • No-one has the right to make another person guilty
  • Everyone has the right to be an individual
  • Everyone has the right to have no rights
  • Everyone has the right to not be afraid
  • Do not defeat
  • Do not fight back
  • Do not surrender

 

Not a bad set of rules if you ask me…

The difference of the last 3 statements to the first 38 felt to me to give them additional significance. They actually seem to be of a more serious and determined mood than the others – as if the Uzupians are saying, take the first 38 as tongue-in-cheek utopian ideals if you will, but do not mistake these last 3:

Constitution in Lithuanian and English

Multi-lingual constitution

When I visited the KGB museum dedicated to the victims of genocide today, I was reading about the Lithuanian Partisan resistance movement who fought the soviet occupiers until Stalin’s death in 1953. Partisans had to swear an oath of allegiance, which if broken, required a trial by fellow partisans, or court marshall for more serious offences. I read one story of a messenger who worked for the partisans who was captured by the soviets, and eventually committed suicide by swallowing some mercury from a thermometer, rather than break her oath not to surrender. The use of this exact word in the Uzupian constitution made me wonder if the constitution was based on this clearly deep-seated sense of allegiance, and if it was possibly a direct quote from the Partisans’ Oath. The museum didn’t clarify, google was non-specific, and when I asked Lina she wasn’t sure either – but she did say it was funny how many people draw similarities between things they see at the KGB museum, and the parts of the Uzupian constitution. So I like to think I was right, and that the Uzupian constitution is more than the product of a load of bohemians and hipsters trying to be edgy and controversial, and that the Uzupian ideology has a serious intention to encapsulate the antithesis of Soviet repression and embrace true freedom.

I’m unclear as to the significance of the Lithuanian name Uzupis sounding so similar to the English utopia, which is what the Uzupians have tried to create of course! I asked Lina about it and she said the the name Uzupis means “behind the River” and that it has always been called that. To her, the words Utopia and Uzupis sound different so I’m clearly reading too much into it but it would be a nice piece of serendipity if it were linked…

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