Posts Tagged ‘Jan Sobieski’

Czech President Threatens Journalists with Fake Kalashnikov

October 25, 2017

More from Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks on the rising threat to freedom of the press around the world. In this clip they report on and discuss the behaviour of the Czech President, Milos Zeman, who turned up at a press conference waving around a replica gun which had ‘For Journalists’ written on it. Zeman himself hates the press, and in the past has described them as ‘manure’ and ‘hyenas’. At a meeting with Putin in May, he joked about how some of them deserved to be ‘liquidated’. As Uygur points out, there is very strong evidence that Putin has had journalists murdered, so that joke really isn’t funny. Zeman, you will not be surprised to know, is also a colossal Islamophobe. He has said that Czechs need to arm themselves against a coming ‘superholocaust’ against them, which will be carried out by Muslims. Uygur comments drily, ‘Who knew there were so many Muslims in the Czech Republic, and they were so powerful?’

Zeman’s gun-waving comes after the death of a female journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta. Galizia was dubbed a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ for her dogged pursuit of uncovering stories of corruption. She was killed a week after revealing that Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of the island nation, had been involved in offshore companies and the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the Azerbaijani government.

Clearly, Malta isn’t anywhere near the Czech Republic, but her death was reported there. And the president, Zeman, thinks so little of the murder of journalists that he ‘jokes’ about it by waving replica firearms around at the press. Uygur also states that the Czechs have just elected a new prime minister, who is the millionaire head of a populist party. He predicts that this won’t end well.

This is clearly a story from a small nation in the EU, but it shows the way journalistic freedoms are being eroded all over the world. The Young Turks point out that democracy isn’t just about voting – it’s also about the freedom of the press and conscience – and this is what has makes Western democracy so great. The Young Turks have also covered the prosecution of journalists and political opponents of President Erdogan in Turkey, and the persecution of another crusading journo in Azerbaijan itself. As well as the attempted assassination of another Russian journo, who was suspiciously stabbed a madman two weeks after the Putin media declared her and her radio station an agent of America.

About ten years ago, John Kampfner wrote a book, Freedom for Hire, in which he described how countries around the world, from France, Italy, Russia, Singapore and China, were becoming increasingly dictatorial. And we in Britain had no cause for complacency, as he described how Blair had also tried to muzzle the press, especially when it came to the Gulf War. The web of corruption Galizia uncovered was so widespread, and went right to the top, so that Malta was described by the Groaniad yesterday as ‘Mafia Island’.

As for the Czech Republic, after Vaclav Havel its post-Communist presidents have been extremely shady individuals. I can remember reading one travel book on eastern Europe, which discussed how his critics had disappeared or been murdered. And following the Fall of Communism, there has come a series of reports and scandals about rising racial intolerance there. The target of much of this is the Roma. It has been reported that the Czech medical service routinely forcibly sterilised Gypsy women in order to stop them having children, and members of various political parties have called for either their expulsion or their extermination. I am not surprised by the Islamophobia, as a little while ago Counterpunch carried a story about one of their contributor’s meeting with a Czech politician, who had very extreme, right-wing views, including a deep hatred of Muslims. There also appears to be an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the country as well. A few years ago, the BBC’s programme, Who Do You Think You Are, explored Stephen Fry’s ancestry. As Fry himself has said many times on QI, his grandfather was a Jewish Hungarian, who worked for a sugar merchants. It was through his work that he met Fry’s grandmother, who was a member of Fry’s, the Quaker chocolate manufacturer, and settled with her in England. Thus he fortunately survived the Holocaust. Fry travelled to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, tracing the movements of his ancestors in the course of their work through the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fry was, understandably, visibly upset and shaken when he found out just how many of his grandfather’s kith and kind had been murdered at Auschwitz.

He was also very unimpressed by the attitude of some of the Czechs he spoke to in his quest. He quoted them as saying that ‘it is very curious. They knew the Holocaust was coming, but they stayed here anyway.’ He was justifiably outraged at the implication that somehow the millions of innocents butchered by the Nazis wanted to be killed.

It’s possible to suggest a number of causes for the rise in Islamophobia. You could probably trace it back to historic fears about the Ottoman Empire and the conquest of the Balkans by the Muslim Turks in the 15th century. The Ottoman Empire still sought to expand in the 17th century, when its army was just outside the gates of Vienna. It was defeated by Jan Sobieski, the king of Poland, and his troops. The Ottoman Empire persisted until it finally collapsed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, amidst a series of bloody massacres. The majority of these were blamed on the Turks, and specifically the irregular troops, the Bashi-Bazouks. It was their massacres that led to Gladstone calling for Turkey to be thrown ‘bag and baggage out of the Balkans’. But other journalists in the Balkans at the time also noted that the Christian nations, like the Serbs, were also guilty of horrific mass slaughter, but that this went unreported due prevailing Western prejudice.

Part of it might be due to the Czechs being a small nation – there are about four million of them – who have had to struggle to survive against domination by larger neighbours. Their medieval kings had invited ethnic Germans into the country to settle and develop their economy. This led to the creation of what became the Sudetenland, the areas occupied by ethnic Germans, and there was friction between them and the native Czechs. This friction eventually exploded into open conflict in the 15th century in the wars following the attempt of Jan Hus to reform the Roman Catholic church. Czech nationalism was suppressed, and Moravia and Bohemia, the two kingdoms, which became Czechoslovakia, were absorbed into the Austrian Empire. The Czechs and Slovaks achieved their independence after the First world War, but the country was conquered by the Nazis during World War II, and then ‘liberated’ by Stalin. It was then incorporated into the Communist bloc. When Anton Dubcek, the president, attempted to create ‘Communism with a human face’, introducing free elections and a form of market socialism, the-then Soviet president, Anton Dubcek, sent in the tanks to quell the ‘Prague Spring’.

Other factors also include the wave of immigrants from Syria and North Africa, that forced their way through the various international borders to come up through Greece and Serbia in their hope of finding sanctuary and jobs in the West. The Counterpunch article stated that there was a real fear that they would turn east, and swamp the small, former eastern bloc nations like the Czech Republic.

And these racial fears are being stoked throughout the former eastern bloc by the poverty and misery that has come with capitalism. The peoples of the former Communist nations were led to believe that the introduction of capitalism would create employment and prosperity. This has not occurred, and the result has been widespread disillusionment. Counterpunch also ran another article, which quoted the statistic that 51 per cent of the population of the former East Germany had responded positively to the statement that ‘things were better under Communism’ in a poll, and wanted Communism to come back. Similar statistics could be found right across the former Communist nations of eastern Europe.

Now, faced with rising poverty, unemployment and inequality, made worse by neoliberalism, the old fears of racial domination and extermination are rising again, and being exploited by ruthless, right-wing populists. So there are a series of extremely nationalistic, Fascistic governments and parties in Hungary and the Czech Republic. Just like in western Europe there’s Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Germany’s Alternative fuer Deutschland, and Donald Trump and the Alt Right in America.

And across the globe, ruthless, corrupt politicians are trying to curtail freedom of speech and the press, in order to preserve their power. Hence the rising racism, Fascism and violence towards ethnic minorities and the press. These freedoms are at the core of democracy, and have to be defended for democracy to work at all, and governments held accountable by their citizens.

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VICE Report on Nationalist March in Poland

April 3, 2016

I’ve been blogging quite a bit recently about the frightening rise of the far Right in Europe, and especially eastern Europe. I put up a video yesterday about the cult of Stepan Bandera, the great, modern nationalist hero of Ukraine. Bandera fought for his country’s freedom from the Soviet Union during World War II. However, he did so by allying himself and collaborating with the invading Nazis. Poland has also seen the emergence of extreme Right-wing groups, such as the National Rebirth of Poland, which is now actively trying to recruit members from the Polish expatriate community living and working over here.

This piece from VICE is a report about this years Polish Independence Day march. This is held annually, and attracts crowds of extreme nationalists. In previous years it’s been marked by violence between these Fascist groups and the police. Many of the nationalists come from gangs of football hooligans. VICE’s reporter shows the march’s stewards, who are themselves drawn from the far Right, training under a bridge in Warsaw to deal with violence, including being bombarded with smoke bombs or CS gas.

After that, he then goes to the town of Lodz in the company of a member of the Ultras, the violent supporters group for the Widzew lower league team. Lodz appears to be quite a grim town. The reporter says it’s quite picturesque, but the area inhabited by the Ultras seems to be quite run down. It’s got an unemployment rate of 12 per cent, which, the presenter states, compares well with the national average, but there is little to distract its young men away from nationalism and violence. As they’re driving through it’s slightly run-down streets, the Ultra he’s with points out the two supporters of a rival team, and states quite plainly that if the presenter wasn’t there, he’d go after and attack them.

The presenter also states that it’s not a mystery that there is so much nationalist sentiment and antagonism to refugees and Islam in Poland. The country now has a new government, and politicians have been appearing on television talking about the threat from Muslim refugees. The documentary shows television footage of one particular Polish politician stating that refugees don’t respect their host countries’ culture or ways of life, and once they’ve become firmly settled there, they then begin to make their sensitivities clear. The reporter then goes to the muster point for the march. This is at a Roman Catholic church, where the reporter says that they’re to thank God for Poland’s independence, and get Him on their side for the day. During the service the priest thanks the biker gangs that are in attendance for joining them. Standing outside the church are bikers and skinheads with Polish flags and armbands. The reporter states that he thinks the Nazis have ruined armbands, and that after them, no-one can wear them without it looking dodgy.

The march itself this year is strangely quiet and uneventful. There are no battles with the police. This is remarked upon approvingly by a couple of older ladies, who have joined the march. The marchers from Lodz carry their banner, showing their support of Widzew, which they made earlier down in the basement of one of the tower blocks. Along with the Polish flag, which the reporter’s companion from the Ultras has told him is ‘sacred’ to the Poles, are other banners for the National Rebirth of Poland. Several are explicitly anti-Islam. Some simply have the slogan ‘Stop Islam’, while others show a mosque with ‘stop’ traffic sign across it, familiar from Western anti-Islamic groups like the EDL over here and PEGIDA in Germany. The speeches at the march, included in this report, are also overtly anti-Islam. A young voice is heard over the loudspeaker system shouting, ‘Pride, pride, pride. We don’t want rape. We don’t want violence. The Gospel, not the Qu’ran!’ The reporter also briefly interviews a middle-aged Polish man, who makes it clear that the people there fear the influx of Muslim refugees. The man states that they don’t want immigrants to arrive in their country, ‘as we aren’t prepared for them. He also says that they don’t know who they – meaning the immigrants – are, and that they should have to wear armbands identifying them for two or three years. It’s exactly the same kind of rhetoric that’s coming out of Trump and Ted Cruz across the Atlantic in America.

Vice’s reporter ends the documentary by saying that although there hasn’t been any violence between the marchers and the police that day, if felt like a victory parade for the Polish far Right after they had conquered the state. The documentary itself ends with the statement that since it was made, hundreds of thousands have taken part in anti-government protests, and the EU is looking into the state of democracy in Poland.

The rise of the nationalist extreme Right in Poland, and the consequent increase in xenophobia and fear of Islam, and the deep link between Polish national identity and Roman Catholicism can partly be explained by the country’s history. Following the rule of Jan Sobieski, the Polish king who broke the Turkish siege of Vienna, Poland was conquered and divided between Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. They only gained their independence after the First World War, when they finally became a united nation once more under Marshal Pilsudski. They have had to fight for their survival as a people and nation in a way which we Brits, or at least, the English, are fortunate not to have to. In the Russian ruled areas, the official language, including that of the schools, was Russian. If schoolchildren were taught Polish, it was as a foreign language.

Secondly, the redistribution of territory following the First and Second World Wars, including the loss of parts of Ukraine, meant that Poland’s population were almost uniformly Roman Catholic. 98-99% of the Polish population belong to the Church, which became the focus of opposition to the Communist regime following the expansion of Soviet power as the Russians pushed the Germans back across Europe at the end of the War. The result is a powerful sense of national identity, which itself is deeply identified with Roman Catholicism, as well as a terrible sense of insecurity and threat from outsiders.

The specific fear of Muslim immigration can strike Western Europeans as peculiar, given that Poland isn’t the destination of choice for refugees from Africa and the Middle East. These mostly want to settle in the more prosperous west of the continent. This, however, seems to be part of a general rise in Islamophobia in eastern Europe – in Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. There’s an interesting report linked to by the anti-Fascist, anti-Islamist organisation, Hope Not Hate, on the rise of militant anti-Islamic politics in the Slovak republic. This also comments on the fact that Slovakia is off the main migration route. However, the article traces the rise to the fact that the Slovaks, compared to Britain, Germany, France and Italy, are a small nation. There are only five million of them. They therefore fear that they will be swamped by mass immigration. And their politicians are also partly responsible, even the left-wing Socialist party, as they have attempted to boost their electoral support by playing on the fears of a mass influx of immigrants from outside Europe. The result has been the resurgence of ugly strands of nationalism, last seen in the collaborationist regime of Monsignor Tiso during the Second World War. Tiso was the Roman Catholic cardinal, who governed the country during its alliance with the Nazis, and was partly responsible for sending his country’s Jews to their deaths in the Holocaust. Tiso himself seems also to have been a hero of the Slovakian far Right for a very long time. I can remember reading in one of the Communist/ Trotskyist newspapers a friend of mine bought in the 1980s an article about the rise of the Fascist right in the Soviet bloc then. Along with a discussion of the notorious, and now defunct Russian Nazi group, Pamyat’, the article also mentioned with horror that the Slovaks were also putting a statue up to honour Tiso.

And finally, I think some of the rise of the extreme Right in eastern Europe is due to the social dislocation following the collapse of Communism. The democracy the peoples of Europe waited for did not bring the prosperity they expected. In fact I can remember talking to a girl, whose parents were Polish, who said that actual conditions in Poland seemed to her to have deteriorated after the Fall of
Communism, to the point where she didn’t feel safe travelling through the country. This was in the 1990s. It was about this time that the Russian economy also went into meltdown due to Yeltsin’s mass privatisation of the state industries. Millions were made unemployed, in a country which had no unemployment support system, as under Communism full employment, provided you kow-towed to the party, was guaranteed. It wouldn’t surprise me if something similar had also happened in the former Soviet satellites and break-away states. And with economic insecurity comes the desire to find a scapegoat, a terrible ‘other’, who can be blamed, or made the focus for all the fear and insecurity. And so in some of the former eastern bloc, it’s back to anti-Semitism and a hatred of the Jews, and now a fear of Muslims.