Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fugitive Ireland

When I was a young lad a neighbour gave me a box of magazines,  published during the Second World War, called Hutchinsons Pictorial History of the War.  It was interesting to note how the magazine's appearance changed as paper shortages hit.  The number of pages in each issue diminished and the quality of the paper fell by a few notches.

Since there was not a great deal happening during the Phony War quite a lot of the stories and photographs featured the struggle of the gallant Finns - which I guess they were - against the Red Army.  Of course by the summer of 1941 all that had changed and Finland was an ally of Nazi Germany and an enemy of our equally gallant Soviet allies.  It was an early lesson in the pitfalls of seeing the world in black and white.

Of course shades of grey don't apply to the London media who regularly trot out the fact that De Valera signed a condolence book, at the German Embassy, when Hitler did the decent thing in 1945.  Such viewpoints ignore the close co-operation between Irish and British intelligence - the Americans were less forgiving - and the  50000 or so citizens of the Free State who served with the Allied forces.  At the same time support for Germany was widespread  amongst the population,  both as a result of anti-Britishness and right-wing Catholic prejudices against Communists and Jews.

This is the background against which this book - I picked it up for a song from an Irish bookshop -  was written.  In the main it tells the story of the fugitives from post-War Europe who found a safe haven in Ireland.

Of  course my main interest lay in the story of the support given by Welsh Nationalists to Bretons fleeing from the victors' justice of the French state.   For the Welsh such support was seen as an example of Celtic solidarity.  In Ireland, where many Bretons ended up after being spirited through Wales, such romantic niceties cut little ice.  It's the Australian author's view that Catholic solidarity lay behind the sanctuary given both to the Bretons and some dubious characters from Flanders and Croatia  - in particular the "Butcher of the Balkans" Andrija Artukovic.

All this can still raise passions or in the case of the Welsh government Heritage minister, Huw Lewis, perhaps a better word would be bluster.  At the end of 2011 he attacked the National Library for accepting a £300K legacy from the recently deceased Breton fugitive Louis Feutren.  Feutren was indeed a Nazi collaborator but then the German regime in Brittany had  been more "liberal" towards Breton culture than French governments before or since.  Unlike many in Eastern Europe - for example - the Bretons, even the handful who took up arms, were not eager participants in genocide and the slaughters aimed at the ethnic cleansing of close neighbours.  Never mind the Nazi slur has been a stick with which to beat the Breton separatists ever since.  Feutren's £300K was doubtless earned at the expense of generations of Dublin schoolboys rather than the spoils of war.

For Welsh nationalists to have taken-up such an unpopular cause as aiding these Bretons on-the-run in the aftermath of the Great European War seems to me to have been a laudable page in the history of the movement.  Would such selfless and politically incorrect actions come easily to the present generation and imagine the twitter storm if they did?
Andrija Artukovic
Andrija Artukovic

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Songs of the Minorities

Are the Rusyns of the Carpathian mountains a people?  The Slovaks and Hungarians think so, the Ukrainians don't.  That's the problem with a language continuum like East Slavonic, where you draw the line between a dialect and a language is essentially a political decision.  As they say a language is a dialect with an army and likewise if Scotland had remained an independent country, the guid Scots tongue might have developed as a distinct language of government.

According to the Ukrainian census there are 10000 Rusyns in the country, however, like the Welsh in 2001, this census did not make provision for such an identity.  Others claim that there are more like 500000.  No doubt many of these unrecorded Rusyns would identify themselves as Ukrainian, but others don't - they campaign for basic language rights against a disdainful Kiev.

The turnout figures for Transcarpathia in the recent Ukrainian presidential election are interesting. In parts of Transcarpathia this fell below 40% whereas in neighbouring Galicia it was often more than 80%.  This may be due to abstentionism on the part of the Hungarian minority but perhaps Rusyn identity played a part as well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Foggy Bottom Blues

There's a scene in the recent Coen Brothers film "Inside Llewyn Davies" where the eponymous anti-hero is angered by the refusal of the Seaman's Union to let him ship out.

"Is it because I'm a Communist?" he asks.
"Shachtmanite?" ponders the official.

Being a folksinger not a Communist young Llewyn had no idea what the official was talking about.  I'd expect most of the cinema audience, at least outside America, were equally puzzled, it being something of an in-joke.

Max Shachtman was a leading American Trotskyite who broke with the leader in the late 1930s, more importantly he has been described as the godfather of neoconservatism.  The late Christopher Hitchens even claimed that "a biography of the protean, scintillating revolutionary and Cold War sage Max Shachtman could be an intellectual Rosetta stone for the story of mental and moral combat in the modern American mind."

Trotskyism? Neoconservatism? Well the revolution was never meant to happen in a backward state such as Russia;  American capitalism was seen as the most progressive force in the world and its absolute hegemony
the prelude for the next stage in human history.  Unfettered capitalism at home and an aggressive, nationalist American foreign policy were the watchwords of those Shachtmanites who went on to influence the emerging doctrine of Neoconservatism.

The Neocons also adopted some of the less worthy traits of their old Trotskyite gurus: misplaced intellectual arrogance; a contempt for wishy-washy liberals; the idea that the ends justify the means; shambolic permanent revolution, and in Eastern Europe a nostalgic Russophobia.  Today their cadres - and it seems they love using old Bolshevik terminology - continue to have a good deal of influence within the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy. 

They're well worth researching and their fruits are on front-pages everywhere.  Oh and I think they could work well with this "liberal" interventionist charmer if she's ever elected president:


Friday, June 13, 2014

A Virtual Death

Sometime back in March, I'm not sure of the exact date, Radnorian passed away.  Not, let me hasten to add, the Radnorian of the real world ..... no this was the virtual beast; cause of death, computer malfunction.

At the time there was no great need to get back on line. Here was an opportunity, for example, to read a few books, including some that had remained unopened since purchase a couple of decades ago.  Of course there were drawbacks - following the situation in Ukraine via the mainstream media was a trial, with very few correspondents reporting the news rather than the narrative.

I would also have liked to have had a say on the Euro elections. I'd long ago thought up a snappy blog post heading "Why I'm Voting UKIP." Truthfully there was no chance of that happening and in the end I voted, without enthusiasm, for Plaid Cymru.  I wonder how many, like me, voted Plaid despite rather than because of their policies?  Perhaps Robert Griffiths of No2EU would have been a better choice and I did think of supporting him - in Powys he ended up with just 98 vote.  This for the party of Bob Crow, with a serious and well-qualified candidate.  So much for radical Wales and the idea that Labour can be out-flanked on the left.

Nowadays many of us have two lives.  In the real world we may be anonymous but in the virtual world you're a keyboard warrior.  Others, like Mr Griffiths, may be out addressing public meetings and leading a party but are largely unknown to Twitter.

I did wonder if my death last March might be noticed in the virtual world.  Would there be a few blog comments awaiting moderation regretting my passing, even a couple of tweets noting my demise?  Such vanity.  Radnorian died without so much as a whimper ...... now he's returned, chastened, to have his say.