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

1 comment:

welsh politics observer said...

You may not have had any comments awaiting moderation while you were away, but your blog is always an interesting read and I always learn things about Wales here.

Huw Lewis's reaction sums up the welsh political class, spineless, gutless and afraid of anything that might remind people their welsh and have a different outlook and values from Britain.

As for the Nazi tag its par for the course for Celtic nationalists, former Chancellor Alistair Darling used the 'blood and soil' Nazi reference in the Scottish Independence debate and like Plaid Cymru, the SNP have been tared by association by Labour politicians as well.