Posts Tagged ‘Gold’

Video Debunking Rees-Mogg’s Poisonous Revisionist Lies about British Concentration Camps in Boer War

February 18, 2019

Yet more evidence to add to the growing mound of it that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a monster, who should not be let anywhere near high office, and that Question Time is horrendously biased. After John McDonnell made his remarks in an interview with Politico during the week, in which he said that Churchill was a villain because he sent in the British army to shoot down striking miners during the Tonypandy riots, Churchill’s legacy was apparently taken up and debated on Question Time. One of the guests on the panel was the Young Master, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who declared that the concentration camps in which Afrikaner women and children were imprisoned during the Boer War, also called by historians the Anglo-South African War, were beneficial to their residents, ‘humanitarian’ and that the death rate in them was no higher than in the Glasgow at the time.

This is, quite simply, a pack of utterly odious, reprehensible lies. The death toll in them was horrifically high, and generations of historians have condemned them as an atrocity. Rees-Mogg’s comparison of their death rate with that of Scotland’s great industrial toon provoked articles in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. I also found this video below on YouTube on the A Different Bias channel very effectively demolishing it and denouncing Mogg for what he is.

The presenter, Phil, begins by saying that there are two types of people on the subject of the British Empire. There is one set, who believe it is over and done with, while for another the Empire has not gone away. It has merely declined, and that is a good thing. He makes the point that there are misapprehensions of history on both sides, and that these need correcting. Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

He describes the background to the debate, and says that John McDonnell was na├»ve. Politico had set a trap for him, and instead of walking into it, declaring Churchill was a villain, he should have said, ‘Second World War – Hero’ and left it at that. He then moves on to talk about the concentration camps. He states that he believes the term ‘concentration camp’ first appeared during the Boer War. This erupted when the British tried to take over the gold fields in the free Afrikaner republics. The Afrikaner government granted concession after concession to the British, but this was not enough for Lord Milner, who wanted everything. And so War broke out.

However, despite the British forces outnumbering those of the Afrikaners, we were losing. We didn’t know the terrain; the Afrikaners did, and resorted to guerrilla warfare to defeat us. Lord Kitchener, the chief of the British forces, responded with a scorched earth policy. Boer farms were raised, their crops destroyed and livestock slaughtered. As a result, Afrikaner civilians displaced by the war fled to the camps, which were initially refugee camps. This became official military policy, with the British forcibly moving Afrikaner civilians into them. It was a deliberate attempt to defeat the Afrikaners through the detention of their women and children.

Inside the camps, conditions were atrocious. Hunger and disease were rampant. 50,000 died, 80 per cent of whom were children. This is illustrated very clearly by the photo Phil uses as the background for his talk, which shows a skeletally emaciated Afrikaner child. And the death rate at the time was nowhere near that of contemporary Glasgow. The death rate in the camps was 50 per cent. In Glasgow it was about 2 per cent. He gives the exact figures in the video. Furthermore, the suffering in the concentration camps was deliberately inflicted, while no-one was trying to kill the Glaswegians, except possibly other Glaswegians on a Friday night. The camps’ horrors were widely reported in the British press, creating a storm of public outrage. The government commissioned a committee of inquiry hoping to whitewash it all. Instead of finding that the reports were mistaken and the suffering exaggerated, the committee found that in fact conditions were actually far worse. As a result, the British government was forced to hand over management of the camps to the committee, who managed to reduce the death rate to 2 per cent.

At the beginning of his video, Phil asks rhetorically if there’s anyone who believes that concentration camps are beneficial to those interned in them, or that they do anything but bring shame upon their masters. He concludes, ‘No’, and so goes on to discuss them. He states that when Rees-Mogg came out with this vile nonsense, he was clapped by the audience and the presenter did not interrupt him.

Phil also recognizes that there are many shameful incidents in the past, which are only seen as atrocities in hindsight today, through the lens of our modern values. But the concentration camps aren’t one of them. They were seen as abnormal and barbaric at the time. He ends by describing Mogg as a monster, and he is ashamed and concerned that he has such a grip over the British people.

Absolutely. One of the people I worked with at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a White anti-racism activist, who had lived for a time in the former Rhodesia and had friends in South Africa. I gathered from him that while the Afrikaners liked us, referring to us as ‘nefe Brit’ – ‘nephew Brit’, the concentration camps and the atrocities of the Boer War were still bitterly resented. There was a museum to them, and one of the items on display was supposedly the bits of glass and nails that were put into the prisoners’ food.

There is absolutely no doubt that the concentration camps were an atrocity and are very definitely a deep stain on the history of the British Empire. Rees-Mogg’s attempts to justify them on Question Time really can’t be seen as anything less than an act of historical revisionism, as noxious as any other attempt to erase atrocities from historical memory. Mogg is polite, and studied history at Oxford, though no-one seems to know precisely what period or subjects he studied. He’s either thus deeply ignorant or a liar. I think he’s probably the latter. He should have been stopped, and someone with better knowledge of this period allowed to speak. Now the video does show Mogg making these terrible statements, and a female panelist looking incredulous at him and trying to rebut him. But he goes on with them nonetheless.

It’s the responsibility of historians to look at past events critically and try to strive for accuracy and objectivity, not matter how uncomfortable, distressing or shameful the subject. Mogg has not done so. He has shown himself indifferent to human suffering, both of past generations and of the present, where people are being reduced to starvation through the Tories’ wretched austerity programme and Brexit. As for those, who clapped him, well, what can you say? They have shown themselves to be the ‘gammon’ of fervent Brexiteers that get outraged whenever anyone dares to challenge their conception of Britishness or right-wing British values. And they can’t bear to acknowledge that we were also responsible for committing atrocities in our imperial heyday.

Mogg indeed is a monster. He is unsuited to be an MP, and, like Boris Johnson, his patriotic, Tory views of the past and the Empire are a threat to British people at home, and our standing and friendship with other nations in the wider world. And the ignorance and bigoted nationalism of his followers are also a threat and a disgrace. Just as it is also disgraceful that they are the audience the Beeb’s Question Time now seems determined to play up to.

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Facebook Censors George Monbiot Movie on Western Imperialism and Genocide

October 27, 2018

Facebook has been accused recently of censorship and pulling down masses of left-wing and alternative sites. In this video, RT America reports on Facebook’s censorship of a film by Groaniad columnist, George Monbiot for Double Down Media, on the crimes of the British Empire and Columbus’ genocide of the Amerindians. RT’s reporter states that it disproved the claim that the West’s conquests were less barbaric than others.

This is then followed by a piece from movie, in which Monbiot explains that before Columbus landed in the New World, there were 100 million native Americans. By the 19th century, there were less than one million. It was a policy deliberately endorsed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote of the necessity of wiping out Native American peoples.

There then follows a Tweet from Double Down News reporting how Facebook had taken down the movie for ‘violating community standards’. The company states that it was a work of serious journalism which had gather 1 million views. The company was given no right of appeal or any reason for censorship. Why, they ask, is Facebook censoring history?

This came after Facebook took 800 pages they claimed were posting spam. They also used that excuse to pull down other alternative sites, like police watchdog groups and a fan page for RT correspondent Rachel Blevins. Monbiot himself tweeted that he thought the company’s banning of the Columbus film was a one-off, but now it appears to be part of a purge of dissenting posts.

The piece’s host then turns to interview George Galloway in London, asking him if this latest act of censorship by Facebook will lead to more people paying attention to the story.

Galloway replies that it sounds like a great video, and that he’ll try and see if he can go and see it somewhere, observing that the book they try to ban always goes to the top of the bestseller lists. Hopefully this will backfire on Facebook. He goes on to say that he himself has about a million and a half followers on social media, and because he is so well-known, he always thought he’d be invulnerable to this kind of thing. But George Monbiot is a very famous journalist and something of an insider in the British establishment, and now it’s happened to him. He states that it is quite intolerable that Facebook, a private company, can take an anti-commercial decision – which it is, if the movie had a million views – based on the political view of censoring history. And he states that he’s always known that British imperial history is censored from schooldays onward. We’re taught all about the crimes of Hitler and Stalin, but never about the crimes of imperialism.

The programme’s presenter states that there is an irony there, as Monbiot’s film touched on the way that history has been censored, and then Facebook does it all over again. Galloway replies that some of this censorship will be accidents, performed by some machine or factotum somewhere striking down something that casts an unfortunate light on the proprietors. It may be reinstated. But the general pattern seems to be that Facebook has become an adjunct of the Deep State in Britain, the United States and elsewhere, and that Deep State is bent on suppressing dissident views. This should open up a space for capitalism to work, of it works as it’s claimed to, for new Facebooks to come online, because after all it’s just a noticeboard. He hopes that the laws of commercial reality will reassert themselves. And people will know that if there’s a million views for Monbiot’s video, that’s a market not just an audience, and we’ll have to wait and see what emerges.

The host then goes on to ask him to talk about the crimes of western civilization and the British Empire which he thinks are overlooked. Galloway responds by saying the one she’s just discussed, about the massacre of nearly 100 million native Americans, is fairly hard to beat. ‘That is a Holocaust with a double capital ‘H”. But, he continues, the British Empire was committing crimes well into his own lifetime. We were shooting down Yemenis in Aden in the Crater(?) district when the Beatles were No. 1; we were shooting down Irish people on the streets of the Six Counties in the North of Ireland when the Beatles had been gone for several years. British imperial crimes are almost without number. He quotes his Irish grandfather as saying that the sun never set on the British Empire as God would never trust them in the dark. He goes on to say that the crimes of the British Empire continue to this day, in Yemen and Syria. Galloway describes the Kenyan examples, which Monbiot discusses in his film, as ‘quite extraordinary’. In Kenya and Malaya we were paying British servicemen a bounty for coming in with the heads of rebels, who were fighting for their own countries’ freedom from the British Empire. ‘And they talk about savages’.

It’s astonishing that Facebook should censor Monbiot’s video. I haven’t seen it, and don’t know anything about it except what is said here. But it seems to be well-established, uncontroversial fact. Columbus’ landing in the Americas did lead to the genocide of the Native American peoples. This was through exposure to European diseases, to which they had no immunity, enslavement and being worked to death. And what Columbus and the Spanish did the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean is truly horrific. They were worked to death producing gold. If they didn’t produce enough, they were mutilated. Their hands were cut off and hung round their necks. Indigenous women were raped by the conquistadors, and beaten if they didn’t show themselves to be sufficiently enthusiastic about pleasing their masters. Quite apart from the murder of their priests and aristocracy as pagans.

As for what the British did in Kenya, that can be read about in books like Africa’s Secret Gulags, amongst other books. I’ve posted reviews here from Lobster of more recent books discussing more recent British covert actions aimed at subverting nationalist movements and the democratic process in the former British colonies.

Facebook’s censorship of dissident and oppositional pages is a threat to the new freedoms of information that the internet has brought. Alternative news shows like Sam Seder’s Majority Report are discussing the possibility that the Net should be brought into government ownership in order to preserve it from interference and censorship by private corporations. I’m not sure this would do much good, as it would leave the American government able to censor it, in the same way that Blair, Sarkozy and Berlusconi used their power to censor and control information and news on state television. But I don’t think there can be much doubt now that Facebook and other big internet corporations are censoring news very much in concert with the demands of the Conservative elite and Deep State.

RT’s Lee Camp on What the US Military Is Doing in Niger

November 5, 2017

‘All the things we ever needed
I don’t need them now.
And all the things we did
Were confidential,
And hidden from me anyhow.’

– The Sisters of Mercy, Something Fast, early 1990s.

Remember those five US squaddies, who were killed in Niger the other week, but the American government couldn’t tell anyone what they were doing there in the first place? In this short piece from RT’s Redacted Tonight, comedian Lee Camp reveals what America is doing in this country in West Africa, and how the American military-industrial complex, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have worked to screw over yet another country.

He begins by stating that Africa possesses many of the vital mineral resources needed by the modern world – gold, diamonds, oil and so on. However, American investment and hegemony over the continent is being challenged by China, which has secured deals in recent years with African nations covering nearly ever sector of the continent’s economy. To maintain their military readiness for conflict in the region, in 2008 the Americans set up AFRICOM. From 2010 to 2017 the number of US troops in African increased by 2000 per cent. Most African countries don’t allow American drones to be armed. Niger was the one exception that was open to the Americans flying armed drones within its borders. The country has rich deposits of cobalt, manganese, chromium and platinum, metals that are used in modern weapons systems. It does not have any of the yellow cake uranium that Bush and co. claimed Niger was supplying to Saddam Hussein in preparation for Iraq making a nuclear bomb. This didn’t stop the claim being revived again in 2011, when it was alleged that Niger was sending the mineral to Iran.

Between 1990 and 1995 there was a Tuareg rebellion in Niger and Mali against poverty, corruption and exploitation. This came to end when the rebel leader was killed in a plane crash, which many of them blamed on the C.I.A. It looked suspicious, because an autonomous Tuareg region in the north of Niger threatened the plans of Exxon and other American oil and mining corporations to have a free hand in exploiting the region around Lake Chad.

This was followed by a famine, which was created not by a shortage of grain, but through the deregulation of the grain markets and the price of oil ordered by the I.M.F. and World Bank. The civilian government was then overthrown by a military coup in 2011, which suspended the constitution. The American government has a policy of not supporting governments that have come to power through military action. But Obama’s administration showed that they were as ready to embrace them, as they were to embrace the military regimes that had also seized power through C.I.A. sponsored coups in Honduras and Paraguay.

Then there was the NATO bombing of Libya and its assistance for the rebels, who overthrew and assassinated Colonel Gaddafi. As part of their policy of regime change, the American government also armed and gave aid to various Islamist groups connected to al-Qaeda. After the fall of Gaddafi’s government, these groups spread out across north Africa, and moved south across the Sahel down to Niger, to cause trouble to American corporations in the region in another example of the blowback that has come from terrorist groups armed as part of American imperialism.

Camp then goes to explain why Americans should care about the situation in Niger. It’s because this is where Americans’ tax dollars are going. He states that America now has a military government in charge. It is also another area in which America’s brave young men and women are fighting, and from where they’re coming back in coffins.

The clip concludes with comments from John Perkins, the author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, who states that after the Fall of the Soviet Union, America had the opportunity to practise good business practices around the world. They didn’t, and instead did exactly the opposite, promoting exploitation. As a result, the Chinese are stepping in to take advantage of the mistakes America has made.

The video’s entitled ‘What They Won’t Tell You About US Troops in NIGER’, and my guess is that they really aren’t going to be keen about the folks on this side of the Atlantic knowing about it either. Because whatever America is doing, we have to join in as part of the Special Relationship. Which means that we cling to our status as a world power by riding on the Americans’ coat-tails, acting as their poodle. Just as we did under Blair, and as we have done ever since World War II. And under Blair, we also sent ‘peace-keeping’ missions into West Africa – I think one of them was in Sierra Leone during their civil War in the late ’90s and early part of this century. So it really isn’t going to surprise me if it’s revealed that we’ve also got troops in there, or will have to send some in shortly if the situation escalates further.

As for the famine created by the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, that scenario has been played out in just about every country across the globe which has been forced to go to them for help. Way back in the 1990s there was a short film on Channel 4 about the IMF had trashed the economy of one of the countries in Southern Africa. The country was in dire economic straits, but had a healthy industry cultivating and exporting peanuts under government control. So the I.M.F. insisted that the industry be privatised and deregulated, with the result that the industry fell apart, creating more poverty and economic stagnation.

This isn’t the exception to the rule. This is the rule. Many of the countries in the Developing World, which have prospered, have done so precisely because they told the I.M.F. and World Bank where they could stick their recommendations. And these recommendations are always that industry should be privatised, deregulated and whatever there is of a welfare system should be cut back. Lobster has also described them as another important component of American imperialism, as they always recommend that the privatised industries should be sold to an American company.

Once again, American forces are being deployed in another part of the world to defend and expand American corporate interests against Chinese competition, and terrorist action by the same groups American armed against Colonel Gaddafi.
But the squaddies’ presence has been explained away as just being in an advisory role. Just like they were explained away in Vietnam.

Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

September 2, 2017

This clip from Telesur reports that Los Angeles has decided to drop Columbus Day from the holiday calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The clip states that the city was a centre of indigenous American culture when it was inhabitant by the Tongva tribe. The Tongva were, however, subjected to the Spanish mission system, in which they were forcibly attached to Roman Catholic missions in order to convert them to Christianity. This was part of the wave of dispossession, enslavement, forced conversion and genocide that overtook the indigenous peoples following Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1495.

I’m sure that city council’s decision to replace Columbus Day with a holiday celebrating the Amerindians will be criticized by the Republicans, and the Alt-Right and overt Nazis that have come out of the woodwork under Trump as another ‘loony left’ conspiracy to destroy America and White culture. I can just hear right-wing blowhards and ignorami like Rush Limbaugh even now spouting it over the airwaves, from political platforms and on the Net. But Columbus and his legacy have been immensely controversial for a long time.

Over 20 years ago, back in 1995 there was a storm of controversy surrounding the 500 anniversary of his discovery of America. Indigenous Americans argued that the celebration of his voyage amounted to celebrating their genocide at the hands of the conquistadors and the other European colonisers that followed. From what I remember, the Italian-American community got extremely upset at these remarks, as Columbus was Italian and therefore a great hero to them.

But the American First Nations have history on their side. Columbus’ discovery of the New World – actually the West Indies. He believed he’d actually gone all the way around the world and landed in Asia, and only dimly became aware that the place on which he’d landed might be an entirely new continent at the end of his life. It’s been estimated that the West Indies had a population of 3 million before Columbus’ arrival. The peoples of theses islands included the Arawaks, Caribs – from whom the word ‘cannibal’ is derived, because they were believed to eat people – and the Taino. The rock art produced by these ancient cultures still survives, and has been studied by archaeologists.

These people were then enslaved and decimated as the New World was claimed by the Spanish. They were forcibly converted to Christianity. Those that weren’t were executed. A year after Columbus’ arrival, most of the indigenous chiefs or caciques, who had welcomed him on his arrival, had been burned to death for their continued adherence to their traditional religious beliefs. Those that survived this, were enslaved and worked to death mining and producing gold for the Spanish. Those who tried to resist, or simply didn’t work hard enough, were tortured and mutilated in horrific ways. There are descriptions of Indians having their hands cut off and hung round their necks as a punishment, for example.

The Spanish mission system is also immensely controversial for the very same reasons. There’s been a long campaign by indigenous Californians against the conservation of the mission complexes as part of the state’s culture, because of the suffering they inflicted on the peoples forced into their care. Peoples like the Tongva were enslaved, their members isolated from each other, subjected to a system of cruel punishments. Many of them died from disease and hunger.

We British were also a part of this system of genocide and enslavement. The British popularized the Spanish persecution and extermination of the Caribbean peoples as part of a propaganda campaign to create hostility against them. The Spanish were resented as the Roman Catholic superpower that had threatened Protestant England, and the other Protestant European states. European Protestants drew parallels between their persecution of Amerindians their persecution of Protestants. This created the ‘Black Legend’ of the Spanish in America. However, when we expanded in the West Indies, we also persecuted and sought to exterminate and clear the islands we claimed of the remaining Caribs. Quite apart from the wars and genocide committed by us on the North American continent itself.

However, enslavement and genocide is not the whole of the history of the relationship between Christianity and indigenous people in America. In the 19th century many of the Protestant missionaries working amongst the American First Nations were staunch supporters of indigenous rights, and were profoundly concerned about the threat to them from White settlement. They were in contact, and often close friends, with British missionaries, who had worked with indigenous Australians and Polynesians, who were also members of the British Anti-Slavery Society. These missionaries, American and British, strongly believed that, while Native Americans would benefit immensely from conversion to Christianity, they also needed proper legal protection, and should be left firmly in possession of their ancestral lands. These missionaries formed the Aborigines’ Protection Society in order to defend the indigenous peoples of the British empire from exploitation and dispossession. Several of the 19th century missionaries were also firm in their view that Christianity should not be forced on to indigenous peoples in European cultural forms, but that it should be adapted to their culture. They thus looked forward to these nations developing their own distinctive Christian culture, and so contributing to Christianity as a world religion composed of many different and distinctive peoples and cultures.

ISIS’ Destruction of Muslim Cultural Treasures in Timbuktu

March 17, 2015

Yesterday I put up a number of pieces on ISIS’ destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures, seen in the smashing of ancient Assyrian artefacts in a museum in Mosul and the destruction of an Islamic shrine of Adam’s son Seth, revered in Islam as the prophet Sheth. The Islamist terror group hasn’t confined its destruction of items and monuments of immense cultural heritage to Iraq.

This is a report from Euronews from 29th January 2013, reporting how, when they were expelled from Timbuktu, they smashed one of the important local graves, and set fire to the local library, in the hope of destroying the priceless books and manuscripts within.

ISIS’ Attack on the Graves of the Sufi Saints

This was a calculated attempted to destroy Mali’s peculiar Islamic culture, and its rich intellectual heritage that is only just beginning to be discovered and truly appreciated by Western scholars. And it shows clearly what ISIS would like to do to other Muslim nations and their cultures, including those in the West, simply for not following what they consider to be the correct interpretation of Islam.

The desecration of the ancient grave looks to me like an attempt to destroy an aspect of Sufi worship, which is strongly rejected in Wahhabi Islam. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism, in which the practitioner attempts to achieve union with the Almighty through a series of spiritual exercises. These can include singing and dancing. There are a number of different Sufi orders, some of whom may differ widely from orthodox Islam. The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey are one Sufi order. These orders are under the guidance of a sheikh, the term given to their spiritual head. The orders’ founders are revered as saints, their graves are frequently the sites of veneration and special ceremonies.

I was taught at College that most Muslims in fact belong to a Sufi order. Sufi mysticism was practised not only in the Near East, but also amongst European Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire. Many of these communities were converted to Islam through their preaching, and in particular that of the Bektashi order, who served as the chaplains to the Ottoman forces. Unfortunately, this aspect of the traditional Islamic heritage of the Balkan nations has been under attack, not only from Non-Muslim nationalists, but also from Islamic fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. I can remember reading years ago in the Independent how graves in Muslim cemeteries in some of the Balkan countries had been destroyed as part of a fundamentalist attack on monuments and practices they considered non-Muslim.

There are British Muslims, who perform religious rites to venerate the graves of religious leaders in this country. If ISIS had their way, the worshippers and mystics at these shrines, who follow the traditions of their orders, would find their beliefs and practices banned and suppressed. Just as ISIS would kill and maim their non-Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Timbuktu’s Ancient Heritage of Learning

As for the destruction of the library, Timbuktu was one of the richest towns in West Africa during the Middle Ages because of its position on the major gold trading route. So rich was the country, that when the ruler of Mali went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in the 12th century, he took so much gold with him that it sent Egypt into recession.

Mali was not only rich, but cultured. Timbuktu was a university town, where the Islamic texts and doctrines were studied and copied. Not only that, but its scholars were also interest in the secular sciences that were pursued by Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages. One of the books shown to the Beeb’s Aminatta Forna in her programme on Timbuktu’s lost library was a scientific text arguing for a heliocentric model of the solar system. That’s the same model as proposed independently in Europe by Copernicus, in which the Earth goes round the Sun, rather than the usual medieval notion of the Sun and the planets going round the Earth.

Forna’s programme was a fascinating documentary on the sheer wealth of the city’s and Mali’s medieval culture and learning. It’s also on Youtube. Here it is below. It’s nearly an hour, so not short, but well worth watching.

The modern Arabic word for literature is adabiyyat, which I understand is derived from adab, meaning manners, but also ‘culture’. ISIS in their destruction of the world’s cultural heritage and learning have shown themselves to be its enemies, both those of Muslims and non-Muslims. And if they continue, the world will be a much poorer place.

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.