Posts Tagged ‘Baltic Sea’

The British Press’ Glowing Reviews of Second World War Pro-Nazi Book

February 10, 2018

Richard Griffiths, What Did You Do During the War? The Last Throes of the British pro-Nazi Right, 1940-45 (London: Routledge 2017).

I recently sent a review of the above book to the conspiracy/parapolitics website and magazine, Lobster. It’s been proofread and corrected, and hopefully will go up on the site before too long. The webmaster’s been very busy with work recently, hence the delay.

Richard Griffiths is an Emeritus Professor of King’s College London, and the author of several books on the British and European extreme Right. These include a biography of Marshal Petain (1970), the head of the collaborationist Vichy government during the Second World War, Fellow Travellers of the Right (1980), Patriotism Perverted (1998) and An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Fascism (2000).

The book is a study of how British Nazis and Nazi sympathisers reacted to the outbreak of the Second World War and internment. Some gave up their activities entirely, others carried on underground. A number also carried on as before. And some angrily denied that they had been Nazis, and blamed and attacked instead their former comrades. Another tactic was to infiltrate genuine, non-political pacifist groups, like the Peace Pledge Union, in order to influence British politics to avoid a war with Nazi Germany.

Oswald Mosley’s Lies about Not Collaborating

One chapter gives the British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, another well deserved kicking. Mosley claimed that when war was declared, he ordered his goose-stepping squadristi to cooperate with the authorities and obey their orders. This was in the text of a speech published in Action, the British Union of Fascists newsletter. In fact, Mosley advised only those members of squalid organisation, who were members of the armed forces, to obey orders and cooperate. In the original speech he made it clear that he expected the rest of the thugs to carry on their activities and pro-Nazi propaganda as normal. The speech was then carefully edited, published in Action to make it appear that Mosley had issued orders for comprehensive cooperation with the authorities. This was then taken up uncritically by his biographers.

This is another piece to add to the mountain of scholarship demolishing the sympathetic picture of Mosley created by Skidelsky’s biography in the 1970s. This was comprehensively refuted by Stephen Dorril in his biography of Mosley, Blackshirt, which came out a few years ago. Among other things, Dorril disproved Mosley’s claim that if the Nazis had invaded, he would never collaborate with them and serve in government ‘as another Quisling’, referring to the head of the puppet Norwegian government. In fact, he was quite prepared to do so.

Bryant’s Nazi Apologia, Unfinished Victory

But one of the most unsettling studies in the book is chapter 2, ‘The Reception of Bryant’s Unfinished Victory ‘, subtitled ‘The myth of public unanimity against Nazi Germany in early 1940’. Arthur Bryant was a writer of popular histories, such as English Saga (1940), The Years of Ednurance 1793-1802 (1942) and The Years of Victory 1802-1812 (1942). In the ’30s he had written academically respected biographies of Charles II and Samuel Pepys.

Bryant was a committed Conservative, and one of that party’s functionaries. In 1929 he became educational advisor to the Bonar Law Conservative College at Ashridge. His first book was The Spirit of Conservatism. Shortly after its publication he became editor of the college magazine, Asbbridge Journal. In 1937 he was made general editor of the National Book Association, the Tories’ answer to Gollancz’s Left Book Club. He was not only strongly in favour of appeasement, but also a supporter of Hitler and the Nazi regime. In 1934 he described Hitler as a mystic, who had enabled Germany ‘to find her soul’. From the late 30s he included in his columns in the Ashbridge Journal and The Illustrated News diatribes attacking what he saw as the libels and slanders put out by the ‘warmongers’ who were leading the country into conflict with the Nazis. In 1939 he was asked by Horace Wilson to write an article on the British point of view for the German press. This was never published, though it did form the basis for much of Unfinished Victory, and was approved by Chamberlain. In July 1939 he was unofficially authorised by Chamberlain to go to Germany to speak to a number of Nazi leaders, and Chamberlain later offered to pay his expenses from Secret Service funds.

The book’s introduction began by asserting that now we at war, Britain would fight with a unity of resolve and purpose. But it then qualified this with arguments for peace with the Nazi regime. And much of this was explicitly anti-Semitic, following Nazi propaganda. He described how Hitler’s seizure of power was greeted with joy by the German people as the new revolution.

He then went on to blame the Jews for the abortive Communist Revolution, claiming that it was led by the ‘Jew, Kurt Eisner’, and the Russian ambassador, the ‘Hebrew, Joffe’. Joffe had indeed been involved in promoting the Communist revolution, but Eisner was the leader of the workers’ soldiers and peasants’ council in Bavaria. I think he was a radical Socialist, rather than Communist, who believed that the Councils should form an addition to parliamentary government, not their replacement. It’s an attitude very different to Lenin’s idea of a bureaucratic state controlled by the Communist Party.

He then went on to accuse the Jews of exploiting the property market in the First World War, so that by 1939 after by five years of anti-Semitic legislation and persecution they still owned a third of real property in Germany. He stated that the Jews had exploited the 1929 Crash and the consequent inflation to make themselves increasingly dominant in politics, business and the learned professions. A quarter of the Social Democrat politicians in the Reichstag in 1924 were Jews, and they controlled the banks, the publishing industry, cinema and theatre, and a large part of the press ‘all the normal means in fact, by which public opinion in a civilised country was formed’.

He then claimed that there was a Jewish campaign to remove gentiles completely from politics and the privileged occupations. He wrote

Every year it became harder for a Gentile to gain or keep a foothold in any privileged occupation. At this time it was not the Aryans who exercised racial discrimination […]. By the third decade of the century it was the native Germans who were now confronted with a problem – that of rescuing their indigenous culture from an alien hand and restoring it to their own race.

Press Reaction Largely Positive

This is vile, murderous nonsense supporting a regime bent on persecuting the Jews to their deaths, even before the launch of Hitler’s infamous ‘Final Solution’. So how did the British press react to this nasty, mendacious piece of Nazi propaganda? In general, they loved it. The book received glowing praise from the Times Literary Supplement, the New English Weekly, the Fortnightly Review, the Church of England Newspaper, Peace Focus, and very many provincial newspapers, like the Sheffield Star, the Aberdeen Press and Journal, the East Anglian Daily Times, and the Cardiff newspaper, Western Mail.

There were critical reviews, however, in the Spectator, which was strongly anti-appeasement, the Jewish Chronical, the Manchester Guardian, New Statesman and other newspapers of that type. Two female critics of the Nazi regime submitted highly critical reviews in the journal Time and Tide. One of these was Emily Lorimer, the author of What Hitler Wants, who stated

“All the best and biggest Nazi lies are here, presented with a garnish of scholarship and erudition […] Please God, your clever book has come too late to take any readers in. “

Rebecca West writing in the same magazine declared that the book was
“a paean to Hitler so glowing, so infatuate, that it might be have been entitled ‘Kiss Me, Corporal’.”

The great historian, A.J.P. Taylor called the book and its author what they were in the Guardian in the very title of his review ‘A Nazi Apologist’ and made the point that much of the book was based on Hitler’s speeches. And Richard Crossman in the Staggers pointed to Bryant’s connection to the Conservatives and the appeasement camp.

Bryant himself started a series of correspondence defending himself with the Spectator and the Jewish Chronicle. His publishers at MacMillan, initially enthusiastic, became progressively cool towards it, trying to find reasons to refuse publication. Bryant was still promoting and defending his book as late as May 1940. What changed his attitude was the accession of Winston Churchill as PM, and the disappearance of pro-Nazi groups like Information and Policy. Later in the month Lovat Dickinson of MacMillan’s asked Hugh Trevor-Roper to inquire whether Bryant should be interned as a Fascist. Trevor-Roper advised against this on the grounds that views change with the times. And Bryant ended up writing pieces in the Ashridge Journal describing Hitler as ‘a terrible calamity’ and referring to the ‘terrible and evil things we are fighting’.

The Myth of British anti-Nazism and Concern for the Jews

One of the great myths about the Second World War was that it was fought to defend the Jews. In fact, as the Tory journalist and polemicist, Peter Hitchens points out, Britain entered the war to honour the defence treaties we had made with France and Poland. And the historian Martin Pugh has also said that Churchill’s reasons for promoting war with Germany were hardly altruistic. They were entirely geopolitical. Churchill was afraid that German domination of the North Sea and Baltic would threaten British naval supremacy. And although in private he described Mussolini as ‘a perfect swine’, he had made trips to Fascist Italy and was an admirer of General Franco. And a friend of mine pointed out that in none of Churchill’s speeches does he ever condemn Fascism. He attacks Nazism and the Axis, but says nothing about the wider political ideology to which they belonged.

Griffiths points out that the book’s enthusiastic reception by the majority of the British press shows that large numbers of the British population were indifferent to the sufferings of the Jews. He argues that the idea that the war was fought to destroy a brutal regime was a later war aim. Most Brits at the time believed that Nazi aggression had to be countered, but there was more interest in understanding Nazi Germany than condemning the internal structure of Hitler’s vile dictatorship.

He also argues that while there was little of the visceral anti-Jewish Hatred in Britain like that, which had propelled the Nazis to power, there was considerable ‘social anti-Semitism’ in popular culture. Jews were excluded from certain social groups, jokes based on anti-Semitic caricatures, such as their supposed greed for money, ignorance of British social conventions, as well as the suspicion in popular literature that they were the leaders of subversive groups, and were cowards and profiteers in war. Griffiths writes

Though, in contrast to rabid anti-Semitism social anti-Semitism may have appeared comparatively innocuous,, its depiction of the Jew as ‘other’ could lead to apathy and lack of concern when faced with examples of racial intolerance and persecution. On the one hand, as Dan Stone has pointed out, the British public could manifest a ‘casual anti-Semitism’ which fell into the trap of accepting the ‘reasons’ for the German dislike of the Jews. […] on the other hand, while Nazi measures could shock people of all views, may people found it possible to ignore the problem altogether, while speaking only of the matters, in relation to Germany, that they believed to be ‘important’.

The Importance of Maintaining Auschwitz and Educating People about the Holocaust

This attitude clearly changed after the War when the Allies investigated and condemned its monstrous crimes against humanity, prosecuting and hanging the Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. And an important part of this change was the revelations about the Holocaust. Which is why Holocaust Memorial Day, the preservation of Auschwitz as a museum and memorial to the innocents butchered there and the various Holocaust memorials and museum across the world are important. Its why the real Nazis, unlike Mike, are keen to minimise the Holocaust and deny it ever occurred.

Hypocrisy of British and Libels against Mike and the Left

But this also shows up the hypocrisy of the various papers, which last week published the gross libel against Mike, accusing him of being a Holocaust denier when he is certainly no such thing. Much has been published on the Net and elsewhere about the Daily Mail’s murky, pro-Nazi past, including how the father of editor Paul Dacre was a fanboy of Adolf. And the scum are still doing it. Mike has put up an article this morning about a vile piece in the Torygraph repeating the anti-Semitic tropes of the American Right about the Jewish financier and multi-millionaire, George Soros, accusing him of covertly funding anti-Brexit groups. This part of the American Right’s suspicion that Soros is responsible for all manner of anti-democratic, subversive political groups. It’s part of the anti-Semitic trope of the Jew as leader and instigator of subversion. Perhaps they’d like to go a bit further and claim that he’s also trying to enslave the White race and bring about its destruction through race mixing?

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/02/10/anti-semitic-jewish-conspiracy-story-about-soros-confirms-the-businessmans-own-fears/

Soros against Zionists Because of Collaboration with Nazis in the Murder of Hungarian Jews

Of course, this is just more politically motivated smears. The Israel lobby also hates Soros, because, as Mike points out, he is bitterly critical of Israel’s persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Soros himself is of Hungarian descent, and he despises Zionism because of the way they sold out Hungarian Jews to the Nazis. Kasztner, the leader of the Zionists in Hungary, tried to make an agreement with the Nazi authorities to allow several thousand Jews to be deported to their deaths, so long as the Nazis spared some by sending them to Israel. it’s another example of the way Zionists would collaborate with real Nazis and murderous anti-Semites to promote their own cause, even if it meant the mass murder of Jewish men, women and children.

The Hypocrisy, Smears and Anti-Semitic Tropes of the Israel Lobby, the Blairites and the Lamestream Press

This shows just how selective and hypocritical the British press’ attitude to anti-Semitism is, as well as that of the groups promoting the smears – the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Tories and the Blairites in Labour. These smears are used exclusively to isolate and marginalise the Left as a political threat to the cosy neoliberal politics and support for the racist, persecutory regime in Israel. But when it serves their purpose, they will use the same anti-Semitic tropes against those Jews, who also threaten them.

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From C. 1989: Pravda International on Launch of Greenpeace Rock Album in Soviet Union

October 18, 2017

Pravda International, with pic of Yeltsyn before he became president. This seems to have been before the drunkenness took hold. It also doesn’t show his uncritical adulation of capitalism, which destroyed the Soviet economy and caused massive unemployment and poverty.

Way back in the 1980s when I was at College, I used to buy Pravda International occasionally. It was, very roughly, an English language version of the Russian Communist party newspaper, but with articles also drawn from the other Russian newspapers and magazines Izvestia, Argumenty I Fakty, Moscow News, as well as by the English editions own staff. Like many magazines over the years, it seems to have folded due to lack of interest. I tried to buy it from my local newsagent, but found out that it was unavailable. The two big magazine distributors had divided Bristol up between them, and one of them wouldn’t carry it. So guess which half of Bristol I was in.

I nevertheless kept hold of some of them, as they were records of an exciting, historic time. This was when Glaznost and Perestroika were in full swing, the Soviet Union was being democratised according to Gorbachev’s belief that democracy and Communism could be combined to produce a new, vigorous, prosperous Soviet Union. The Soviets were opening their borders and allowing western media into the country. The Cold War was thawing rapidly, and right across the Communist bloc censorship was being lifted. The Soviet people were making their voices heard, and books, plays, poetry and art that had previously been banned were now being published and publicly discussed. Stalin and his minions stood, thanks to dissident Marxist historians like Roy and Zhores Medvedev, openly condemned as monstrous mass murderers. And the families, friends and loved ones of his victims organised to demand memorials to the millions he had murdered. And instead of hatred, distrust and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, for a few years it looked like the peoples of the West and East would live as friends and co-workers. The missiles were being decommissioned, the silos filled in. Across the world it seemed that our peoples would never again have to fear the threat of nuclear attack, or invasion from across the other side of the Iron Curtain.

And I also dug out the old copy of Pravda International out of a sense of mischief. RT UK and America have been under attack recently, accused of spreading Russian propaganda and interfering with our politics. What this means is that the Russian-owned news agency has actually done some good journalism, and uncovered the poverty, misery and despair caused by corporatist late capitalism and the gutting of the British and American welfare state and working class organisations. It’s what our own, domestic news networks should be reporting on, but instead they’ve been turned into part of the same corporate system, publishing nothing but mainstream propaganda for the corporatist elite and their puppets and shills in the political parties. I wanted to dig it out to show that the Russians have always had a media presence in the West, and there was a time when it also really frightened some capitalist interests. Although flicking through that issue of the magazine, many of the stories were about western businesses, including British firms, securing contracts to work with Soviet enterprises, as the economy opened up.

Russia, like everywhere else, is also suffering from environmental damage and climate change. Simon Reeve, in his recent TV journey across Russia from the Far East to St. Petersburg, stopped in Siberia to show the terrifying changes that are occurring in the Russian north. The permafrost is melting causing the remaining rock and soil to subside. This has created vast craters in the tundra. One Russian environmental scientist took Reeve to see one of these. It was staggering, the size of the vast Arizona meterorite crater in the US. It was as if a piece of land the size of a city had been scooped out of the Arctic.

These climatic changes are threatening the stability of many of the cities the Russians built up in the north. They’re also a further threat to all humanity, as they release methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. About 25 times more powerful. This threatens to create runaway global warming beyond the tipping point, to the point where the survival or human civilisation, if not the human species itself, is very much under threat.

Looking through this old issue of Pravda International, it was therefore particularly interesting to find an article by their staffer, Jennie Walsh, reporting the launch of a rock album by Greenpeace, released by the Soviet recording company Melodiya, to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The article, ‘Breakthrough for the Environment’, reads

The ecological pressure group Greenpeace has long highlighted the international potential of the environmental movement. The recent release of their rock compilation album, Breakthrough marks an important step forward for the campaign, and for Western music.

Two years ago Greenpeace chairman David McTaggart approached Ian Flookes of the Wasted Talent Artists Agency with a view to putting on a concert of Western bands in the Soviet Union in order to generate roubles for a Soviet-based Greenpeace campaign. Political problems prevented this at the time, but in the changing climate of perestroika the plans were restarted last year, though a compilation record was considered more appropriate.

‘After what happened at Chernobyl, I think the Soviet authorities have become extremely environment-conscious and their approach to Greenpeace and to the project has been one of great support’, Flookes told Pravda International.

With the full cooperation of the Soviet state record company Melodiya, who were granted independent status last year, Breakthrough is the first major release of contemporary Western rock music in the USSR.

It is the first time that Melodiya has been able to do a ‘normal’ promotion campaign, with many of the artists (who all gave their services free of charge) present at the Moscow launch in March. There was an incredible reception. One record store queue was over 7,000 people, which is quite phenomenal – even by Soviet standards!

The purpose behind Breakthrough, however, must not be forgotten amid such hysteria. Kate Karam of Greenpeace emphasised that in releasing the album, they wanted to educate as much as to entertain. Despite perestroika, it is still difficult to put out independent information in the USSR, and the album provided a vehicle for the distribution of a booklet highlighting the work of Greenpeace and the environmental problems of the USSR.

The profits from the record sales will be shared between Greenpeace and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, one of the first independent, non-governmental organisations to be founded in the Soviet Union.

The money will be spent only on projects within the USSR. This is a major indication of the political changes that have taken place. Greenpeace is quite a radical organisation by any standards, and to have some of the top soviet scientists and public servants (including Velikov, vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) support them through the Foundation, has been vital to the project. It is also an important challenge – a challenge to get programmes started in the USSR while maintaining the traditional Greenpeace principle of direct action.

Several environmental projects have now been formally agreed. Greenpeace will use some of the funds from the record to organise an East-West exchange programme in cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for children to study environmental problems. Projects in the pipeline include work with the International Foundation to establish a central clearing house for information on atmospheric pollution problems and trying to involve the Soviet Union in the campaign to stop the industrial pollution of the Baltic Sea.

‘We don’t want to impose our Western standards about the environment on the Soviet Union,’ explains Karam. ‘I think that’s a danger with many of the Western organisations taking advantage of the new political climate there. Greenpeace is going to Russia to learn about their specific problems, because it is wrong to develop homogeneous attitudes about the environment. We need to study and talk to people before we launch into setting up offices and membership drives. Getting educational materials out in Russia is a big enough challenge right now without going straight into direct action projects.’

The popularisation of ‘green politics’ in the West may be little more than rhetoric on the part of its leaders, but it has encouraged the critical eye to fall on eastern Europe with regard to its environmental record. The socialist system may have failed the environment as much as the capitalist, but the big difference is the West has had 10 years lead time with environmentalists pushing legislation through. ‘I think the question is now how bad the USSR’s record is, but what is going to happen over the next 10 years – not in the past 50. I don’t think its fair to criticise.’

Now that the Soviet authorities have made active moves to encourage environmental concern, particularly by creating a Ministry for the Environment, Greenpeace are keen to see whether other east European countries follow suit.

Breakthrough is to be released in all the east European countries as well as in the UK, USA, India, Australia and Japan, emphasising the international aspect of the green movement.

The release of the album worldwide, under the title Rainbow Warriors, will probably be slightly more of a gamble than it has been in the Soviet Union. Compassion fatigue in the West, however, might be overcome by the quality of the record.

There probably hasn’t been an album released yet, which features so many top musicians – U2, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Sting to name a few. There are 26 tracks, all of which have recently been hits. For many, the album will probably have an intrinsic value just for this reason. The fact that it supports Greenpeace will be a bonus.

In the three weeks since the album was released in the USSR over 10,000 copies have been received on the forms that were enclosed in the information booklets.

The worldwide launch is on May 22nd and if it sells for reasons other than its musical content, its educational and mobilising potential could be as effective as the fundraising.

Now, unfortunately, we have had Russian hackers releasing scientific data in an attempt to discredit climate change and global warming, while Trump is also trying to stifle climate science, including the virtual closure of America’s Environmental protection Agency. He and the rest of the Republican party are determined that only the paid propagandists for the Koch brothers will be heard.

NATO and the Economic Exploitation of Eastern Europe

January 31, 2015

I also found this little piece in ‘The View from the Bridge’ column in Lobster 45, reproducing statements from elsewhere that NATO was being used to exploit the former eastern bloc countries that have joined it after the fall of Communism. Although over a decade old, it’s relevant now as we are in period of diplomatic tension with Russia over the civil war in Ukraine. This has been presented as a case of pro-Western Ukrainian patriots attempting to free themselves from Russian domination. The reality is somewhat murkier, as the pro-Western side themselves were guilty of considerable corruption. It also includes open Neo-Nazis.

Under Comecon and the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union did indeed exploit its satellite economically, and dominate them militarily through a complex of joint industrial companies, trade treaties and military obligations. If the two pieces cited in the Lobster article are to be believed, then NATO is little better.

NATO and Eastern Europe
Who wrote the following?

‘Nato is now a device to exert control and extract cash. Those who resist, like Belarus, are punished… All eastern European states are required to sell off their national economic assets to foreigners, and close down their agriculture by accepting the dumping of subsidised EU food imports. This creates massive social disruption and unemployment. In addition, they must spend 2% of the GDP on defence, preferably on arms made in the US.

Consequently, a small country like Lithuania, whose economy has collapsed so catastrophically, has just announced the purchase of $34 million worth of Stinger missiles, made by the Raytheon Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. When Tanzania announced it was spending $40 million on a new civilian air traffic control system, there was an outcry; but Lithuania, whose official GDP is not much larger than Tanzania’s, will have to spend $240m on arms every year as the price for Nato membership. And Lithuania is just one of seven new member states, all of which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on arms’.

Someone on the left? Paul Foot? Greg Palast? John Pilger? None of the above. (None of the above would use the term foreigners…) They were written by John Laughland, generally presented and perceived as an anti-EU right-winger. But take out the word foreigners…

Along similar lines the following appeared on John Young’s Cryptome site a month later:

It might interest your readers to understand the aggressive US tactics used to win the Lockheed F-16 deal with Poland last week. Information from an official translator who has first-hand knowledge of various meetings … an aggressive campaign, including electronic surveillance to ensure that Lockheed, rather than Swedish/French rivals, won an order for fighter jets. This campaign included … If Lockheed’s offer was not successful, the US would block or substantially reduce World Bank and International Finance Corporation loan/assistance package worth an estimated $1.4 billion (measured over 2003-2005); US officials warned that the loss of the Lockheed deal would create “substantial setbacks” for Poland’s activities within NATO which could prevent the placement of Polish military officials in special NATO committees and command structures … the US official restated that Poland would not have preferential treatment in the reorganisation of Baltic Sea deployments and planning should Lockheed fail in its bid.’

This makes you really wonder what the reality behind the ousting of President Yanukovych in Ukraine really was, and who was supposed to benefit: the Ukrainian people, or Western multinationals.

Movie Review: Black Sea and Mark Kermode on Countdown to Zero

December 6, 2014

Yesterday a friend and I went to see the submarine thriller, Black Sea. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s been advertised on the TV, and the basic plot is that a group of British and Russian divers and submariners get together to search for a sunken German submarine lying at the bottom of the Black Sea. The sub’s cargo is a consignment of gold from a loan the Germans extorted from Stalin during the brief period of peace during the Nazi-Soviet pact prior to the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Ethnic tensions between the Brits and the Russians, and personal betrayal leads to a series of catastrophes that eventually scupper the mission and lead to a battle for sheer survival. It’s a taut thriller, with much of the tension derived from the situation of desperate, dangerous men working in a highly confined, dangerous environment, while trying to avoid detection by the authorities.

Despite the ethnic friction between Brits and Russians, I also found the film optimistic in its portrayal of relations between the two nations. The two leading characters, who set it up, one British and one Russian, are friends living in London. Even after the outbreak of violence, the hero and his Russian counterpart continue working together and try to prevent its escalation. Even after the end of the mission, the friendship between the few surviving crew, Russian and British, continues. I liked it, because not only does it show the current reality in that since the fall of Communism, people from the former eastern bloc, including Russia, have come over here to live, work and set up businesses, but that friendship co-operation between Brits and Russians is as much the norm, indeed possibly more normal, than chauvinistic distrust.

Glasnost and the Rise of a Shared Pop/Rock culture

In this respect, it’s a slightly better world than when I was growing up. I was at secondary school during the new Cold War between Reagan, Thatcher and the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. It was an absolutely terrifying time, when many people feared that at any second the world would end in a flash of gamma radiation and fall out. There were some truly horrific films, like Threads and The Day After on American TV, showing what a nuclear war and its consequences would be like, along with documentaries about the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe. It was very much a cause for celebration when tensions eased when Reagan and Gorby started to talk to each other around the negotiating table in Iceland, and the USSR began to open up to Westerners and western influences. The first pop video I bought was of UB40’s concert in Moscow, not so much because I liked the great Reggae popsters themselves, but because I was fascinated and delighted by the fact that they were now playing live in Russia in front of their fans from that side of the former Iron Curtain.

And the same process happened in reverse too, as Russian bands and clothing became fashionable over here. The USSR always had a very strong youth culture, and they were not as nearly as backward as was often portrayed in the British press. If you believed the Sun – I know, that’s a very big stretch, but go with it – then the young and cool in the Soviet Union had only just caught up with the Beatles in the 1980s. In fact, the Soviets had a large skinhead culture, who were, I was told at College, referred to by the rest of the Soviet press as ‘British horrors’. A massive Heavy Metal rock culture developed extremely rapidly. The greatest and most visible exponents of Soviet Heavy Metal were the mighty Kruiz, who toured the West and whose albums were available over here. I think one of their songs was ‘Heaviest in Town’, in which the singer searches for the heaviest rock band, only to conclude ‘I’ll fly to Moscow for Kruiz’. There were also a number of other Russian bands, who were virtually unknown over here. Martin Walker, the Guardian’s Russia correspondent, tried to make people on this side of the Baltic aware of some of the best and most interesting in his column. There’s a lot of really good rock and pop in Russia and the former eastern bloc states, quite apart from some of the stuff that appears on the Eurovision Song Contest. They’re on Youtube and worth checking out.

Black Sea reflects this changed situation, and I am profoundly glad that it does and the world has moved on and improved just that little bit since the late 70s and early 80s. Moreover, the film’s sympathetic portrayal of the Russian characters shows it’s aimed partly at the Russian market. Its release during this period of strained international relations between Russian and the West over the situation in the Ukraine shows that the friendship and co-operation between Russia and Britain is now considered the natural, normal reality. My deepest hope is that this situation will continue and that our politicians will have the wisdom to build on it, and not let the conflict in Ukraine drag us back to the fear and hatred of the Cold War, that nearly destroyed our world.

Countdown to Zero and the Persistence of the Nuclear Threat

Mark Kermode is the film critic over at Radio 5 live. He’s a very literate commenter, having a doctorate in Horror film. When he was younger, he was the British correspondent for the Horror film magazine, Fangoria, or as he states it was known to aficionados, ‘Exploding Chests Monthly’. His reviews are always interesting and well argued, even if you disagree with him, such as on the subject of the Star Wars films. He dislikes them, while I really loved the first three films, and enjoyed the prequels. He also genuinely appreciates his listeners writing to him and giving their views, even when they take the opposite view to his.

One of the films he reviewed is Countdown to Zero, a documentary about what happened to all the nuclear weapons that were supposedly packed away at the end of the Cold War. The film shows that the weapons and the hair-trigger response systems are still in place. A nuclear bomb is much easier to make than may be thought, and the danger that these could fall into the hands of terrorists and rogue states is very real. The film reveals how at several points after the supposed end of the Cold War, mistakes made by the superpowers could have resulted in a nuclear holocaust. I haven’t seen the movie, but it does sound like a deeply unsettling, thought-provoking movie, and the opposite of the slightly more optimistic vision behind Black Sea. Hopefully, the optimists and peace-makers will win through, and that the world won’t go back to the ideological, economic and nationalistic fears and hate that nearly led to nuclear Armageddon. Countdown to Zero shows that we shouldn’t be complacent, but it does seem that the world is just that little bit better after the end of the Cold War. And we should be profoundly glad of that.

Kermode’s review of Countdown to Zero is on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfkfn4W_hgM. It’s well worth a listen, especially as it shows we still need to get our politicians working on a truly secure peace.