archive fever

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The Schlesinger Library at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has acquired more than 150 boxes of papers, photographs, pamphlets and other material that span Angela Davis’s life.

Professor Davis’s archive, reports the New York Times, “ranges from her childhood in segregated Birmingham, Ala., where she was born in 1944 to activist parents; to her studies with the Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse (who recalled her as his most brilliant student); to her more recent activism with groups like Critical Resistance, the prison-abolition advocacy group she helped found in 1997.”

The archive also includes the typescript of Davis’ 1974 autobiography, complete with handwritten queries and comments from her editor, Toni Morrison.

“Its richest vein concerns the tumultuous period that began in 1969, when then Gov. Ronald Reagan ordered [Davis] fired from her teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles, because of her Communist Party membership, before she had even taught her first class …

In 1970, she was charged with murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy charges after guns she had purchased were used in an attack on the Marin County Courthouse that was aimed at liberating the Soledad Brothers, but instead left four people, including the attacker, dead.  The trial that followed — in which Professor Davis participated in her own defense — sparked an international campaign, turning ‘Free Angela’ into a global rallying cry.”

And today, nearly half a century on, a white supremacist sits in the White House and the prisons are fuller than ever with black bodies.  Progress, y’all.


field notes from liberal America

Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church

“Long before Trump came along to capitalise on it, Islamophobia was building in the US, bubbling up like swamp gas from the depths. Often, racial conflict would manifest itself in small, seemingly isolated local planning fights over proposals to build mosques …

There is, literally, an anti-mosque playbook. Tactics were once unwritten, spread through websites and word of mouth, but more recently they were set down in a book titled Mosques in America: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight. Written a Texas attorney, it was published by the Center for Security Policy, an organisation headed by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official who has long espoused the theory that Muslims are engaged in a secret plot to impose sharia law on the US. Gaffney writes in the book’s introduction that it is a ‘how-to manual for patriotic Americans who are ready to counter the leading edge of Islamic supremacism.'”

Well-researched, informative, and decidedly chilling long read from the Guardian.


field notes from Trump country

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“Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they’ve identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

‘This is the largest cluster of progressive massive fibrosis ever reported in the scientific literature,’ says Scott Laney, a NIOSH epidemiologist involved in the study.

‘We’ve gone from having nearly eradicated PMF in the mid-1990s to the highest concentration of cases that anyone has ever seen,’ he said.

The clinics are operated by Stone Mountain Health Services and assess and treat coal miners mostly from Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia, a region that includes what have historically been some of the most productive coalfields in the country …

PMF, or complicated black lung, encompasses the worst stages of [pneumoconiosis], which is caused by inhalation of coal and silica dust at both underground and surface coal mines.

Miners gradually lose the ability to breathe, as they wheeze and gasp for air … Lung transplants are the only cure, and they’re possible only when miners are healthy enough to qualify.”

Beautiful, clean coal.


Polish. Death. Camps.

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BBC reports that “Poland’s Senate has approved a bill making it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.  The bill provides that ‘whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.’

President Andrzej Duda says Poland has the right ‘to defend historical truth.'”

Alternative facts, anybody?


 

little local library

hrabal wall

Heartening to read that while President Erdogan fires academics and imprisons journalists, “Turkish garbage collectors in the country’s capital city of Ankara have opened a public library that is full of books that were originally destined to be put into landfill. The workers began collecting discarded books and opened the new library in the Çankaya district of Ankara. News of the library has spread and now people have begun donating books directly to the library, rather than throwing them away.

As CNN reports, the library was originally created for the use of the employees’ friends and family but, as it grew in size, the library was officially opened to the public in September of last year …  The library now has over 6,000 fiction and non-fiction books and includes a children’s section, an area dedicated to scientific research books, and a number of English and French language books for those who are bilingual.”

Eerily reminiscent of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

 

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“STOP immigrants and Drahoš. This land is ours! Vote Zeman.” Election posters all over the Czech Republic, January 2018.

“This is the order of the moment for every one of us, it is the historical task of our generation … Our new republic cannot be built as anything other than a purely national state, a state of only Czechs and Slovaks and of nobody other than Czechs and Slovaks! Although our land is beautiful, fertile, rich, it is small and there is no room in it for anybody other than us … Every one of us must help in the cleansing of the homeland.” Prokop Drtina, Minister of Justice in postwar Czechoslovak National Front Government, 17 May 1945.

The Bohemian Germans of whom Drtina wanted the homeland “cleansed” had lived in the Czech Lands of Bohemia and Moravia since they were invited in by Czech kings in the 13th century.  The chronicle of František Pražský, written in the 1340s, records that as early as 1315 Czech lords complained of “these foreigners who are in the kingdom,” requesting instead that the king favor “us, who were born in the kingdom …”

Six hundred years later Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald echoed the lords’ complaint in Brno on 23 June 1945, denouncing “the mistakes of our Czech kings, the Přemyslids, who invited the German colonists here” and demanding that Czechs expel “once and for ever beyond the borders of our land … an element hostile to us.”

Between 1945 and 1946 over three million Bohemian Germans (and thousands of Hungarians) were forcibly expelled from Czechoslovakia.  At least 15,000 people, and probably many more, perished in one of the worst examples of ethnic cleansing in 20th-century Europe.  Czechs made up 70% of the population of the Czech Lands of Bohemia and Moravia—the present-day Czech Republic—in 1939.  In 1950 they made up 94%.

The Sudetenland was resettled by Czechs and Slovaks, who showed their gratitude by voting in huge numbers for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in the elections of 1946.  To this day, the region remains one of the most desolate and depressed parts of the country.  Needless to say the former Sudetenland voted heavily for Zeman in the election of 2013 (in which, astonishingly, the events of 1945-6 became a major issue between Zeman and his liberal opponent Karel Schwarzenberg) and again in 2018.

As I said in my previous post, history is never past.


 

PS.  Before the war Prokop Drtina was a prominent member of the National Socialist Party who became Edvard Beneš’s personal secretary and confidant.   He was a member of the London-based Czechoslovak government-in-exile, familiar to Czechs from his BBC radio wartime broadcasts as Pavel Svatý.  He went on to become one of the “bourgeois ministers” in Klement Gottwald’s communist-led coalition government, whose collective resignation in February 1948 precipitated the coup d’état that led to 42 years of communism in Czechoslovakia.  Drtina unsuccessfully attempted suicide three days later and was imprisoned until 1960.  Later he became a signatory of the dissidents’ Charter 77.  He died in 1980, with no end of communist rule in sight.  His autobiography, published by the émigré publishing house 68 Publishers in Toronto in 1982 and in Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1991, is called Czechoslovakia My Fate.

 

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“Years ago we saw No-Man’s-Land, in a film, and because the film took place in 1918, we thought, fools that we were, that it was past history.  We went home from the cinema with a feeling of pride in the free radiant future toward which the people of today walk hand in hand.  At that time we had not yet experienced the strange twists and turns, the detours, dead ends, blind alleys, that history creates” (Milena Jesenská, “In No-Man’s-Land,” Přítomnost [The Present], 29 December 1938; translated by A. G. Brain, in Jana Černá, Kafka’s Milena, Northwestern University Press, 1993, p. 201).

Three months later Czechoslovakia was dismembered and Bohemia and Moravia invaded by Hitler’s Wehrmacht and turned into a Protectorate of the Third Reich.  Milena Jesenská was arrested in November 1939.  She died in Ravensbrück concentration camp in May 1943.

Today, almost 100 years after Czechoslovakia declared independence from Austria-Hungary and 28 years after the Velvet Revolution, Czech history veers off down another inimitably Czech country lane.

Miloš Zeman, who has warned that if the Czech Republic accepts more refugees from Syria (currently it has admitted a grand total of 12) “unfaithful women will be stoned, thieves will have their hands cut off and we will be deprived of the beauty of women, since they will be veiled” was re-elected as President of the Czech Republic.  At least the margin of victory was narrow (51.36% to Jiří Drahoš’s 48.63%) and the major cities of Prague, Brno and Plzen turned out in force for Drahoš.

Moral: history is never past.  Good thing Václav Havel appreciated the absurd.

European right-wing leaders meet in Prague, slam EU and immigration

Le Pen in Prague

Marine Le Pen insisted that none of the parties were xenophobic. “We like diversity.  I like the Dutch to be Dutch, I like the Czech to be Czechs, I like the French to be French, I like the Italians to be Italian.”  A priceless photograph.


 

An everyday story of country folk

no polish fishermen

Field Farm fisheries, near Bicester in Oxfordshire, England, which describes itself as “picturesque, tranquil and an idyllic setting” with an “extensively stocked” lake for leisure anglers, has put up a sign saying “No vehicle access. No Polish or eastern bloc fishermen allowed. No children or dogs.”  Nuff said.


 

Puerto Rico Sketchbook: There Are Dead in the Fields

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“A cantastoria is a vagabond fusion of art and music, so old it turns up all over the world.  In each set, a performer displays an illustrated scroll, then, while pointing to each image with a stick, tells a story in song.  The cantastoria first developed in India as a way for itinerant performers to bring the legends of gods from door to door. By the time it hit Central Europe in the sixteenth century, it had mutated away from its sacred roots into a wandering carny show of sex, crime, and political sedition.

After the hurricane, the Puerto Rican puppetry collective Papel Machete created a new cantastoria: Solidarity and Survival for our Liberation …”

Excerpts from artist Molly Crabapple’s sketchbook of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria


 

Sarah Mullally appointed bishop of London

apostles

“Tony Robinson, bishop of Wakefield and chairman of Forward in Faith which does not accept women’s ordination, said Mullally’s appointment in a diocese where so many people rejected the ministry of women would result in ‘a deeper impairment of communion.'”


 

An Intimate History of America

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Voodoo Guitar “Marie” made by Don Moser with debris from Hurricane Katrina

“Exhibitions like these invested me in the museum not only because they tell the story of black America but because they insist that the story of black America is indeed the story of America itself.”

PhD candidate Clint Smith on a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.


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One of my earliest attempts to formulate the argument of my Prague Trilogy was in a keynote lecture I wrote for the conference New Directions in Writing European History at the Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara, Turkey, on October 25-6, 1994.  I was one of three keynote speakers, along with Paul Langford and John Hall.  My lecture was titled “Prague as a Vantage Point on Modern European History. ”

The conference proceedings, including the three keynote lectures, responses by Turkish scholars, and a transcript of audience questions and panel discussions, were published in English in METU Studies in Development, vol. 22, no. 3, 1995.

I am pleased to belatedly discover that my lecture, along with those of John Hall and Paul Langford, has appeared in Turkish translation in Huri Islamoglu (ed.), Neden Avrupa Tarihi (Istanbul: Iletisim Yayincilik, 2nd ed, 2014).  I like the cover too.

The title means “Why European history?”—a good question.   I began my contribution to the discussion of John Hall’s paper (which was titled “The Rise of the West”) as follows:

I found the presentation very compelling and I was suspicious precisely because of that.  It was the clarity, the simplicity, the elegance of it that came across so strongly, but I wonder can you do that when you are talking about 2000 years of European history and contrasting it with the rest of the world?  Can you compass that complexity within so simple an argumentative framework, within a single theory?  I want to try to pin you down by asking three simple questions …

The simple questions are: first, what is Europe?  Second, where is the West?  And third, when was modernity? 


 

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My 1986 book with David Frisby, Society, has coincidentally also just appeared in Turkish under the title Toplum.  The same publisher previously did a Turkish edition of The Violence of Abstraction.

Given the appalling repression going on in Turkish universities since the failed coup in 2016, it is heartening that such texts are still being published.

Earlier this year New Perspectives published an updated version of a paper I had been working on—on and off—for more than a decade, in which I tried to re-examine some of the arguments about English state formation presentein my 1985 book with Philip Corrigan, The Great Arch, in light of my later work on Czech history in my Prague Trilogy.

Abstract

Considering the differences between the superficial orderliness of the English/British table of royal succession and the apparent anarchy of its Bohemian counterpart, this essay questions aspects of the analysis of English state formation offered in Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer’s 1985 study The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution. Rather than providing a contrast to England’s institutional political continuities over centuries, Bohemia’s manifestly fractured history furnishes a vantage point from which the ideological character of such claimed historical continuities becomes clear.  E. P. Thompson’s image of a “great arch” of state formation attributes far too much shape, solidity, and coherence to a process that was always, whether in England or Bohemia, a matter of flux and fluidity – a landscape in constant erosion, upon which coherence is only ever imposed in momentary retrospect.

New Perspectives has just made the text freely downloadable here.  I would welcome any comments.

Benjamin Tallis and Derek Sayer

Czech PM-designate Andrej Babis (left) with Austrian People’s Party leader Sebastian Kurz. Wikimedia commons. 

 

The Iron Curtain may have been drawn back in 1989-1991, but you wouldn’t know it to read much of the commentary on the Czech parliamentary elections – and much recent commentary on ‘Eastern Europe’ more generally.

Much attention has been lavished on comparing Czech politician Andrej Babiš to Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Donald Trump and, more plausibly, to Silvio Berlusconi, but this has obscured deeper problems in western analyses of the region. Many of the sins laid at the door of central and eastern Europeans are no less prevalent in western countries, but this is too often lost amidst enduring Cold War stereotypes.

In a recent Op-Ed typical of this trend, Jochen Bittner charged that across the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia), “leading politicians agitate against the European Union, portraying it as an imposing, undemocratic force.”

This is true. But populist politicians across western Europe portray the EU in exactly the same way. Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands both promised their electorate referendums on EU membership in hopes of emulating Brexit, whose champion was the anti-establishment politician and Donald Trump ally Nigel Farage …

 

Read full article in Open Democracy.

 

This is an Op-Ed piece I wrote for CEE New Perspectives, the companion blog of the academic journal New Perspectives which is published by the Institute of International Relations (IIR) in Prague.  I reproduce it here with permission.

http://ceenewperspectives.iir.cz/2016/01/08/prejudice-hysteria-and-a-failure-of-political-leadership-of-refugees-and-november-17-in-prague/

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