Posts Tagged ‘Vaclav Havel’

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.

Coming Soon to TV this Christmas: IDS – A Real Video Nasty?

December 13, 2014

Ever since Charles Dickens invented the ‘traditional’, Victorian Christmas with A Christmas Carol, ghost and horror stories have been a part of the season’s entertainment. In the 1970s and ’80s the BBC broadcast a series of ghost stories, including a version of Dickens’ The Railwayman, and the chilling tales of the master of the British ghost story, M.R. James. The latter were told by Robert Powell, taking the part of James himself, who every Christmas settled down in his room at Oxford to tell a story of the ghastly and supernatural to his students. Last year Mark Gatiss of the League of Gentlemen and now Dr Who, presented a documentary on James’ life and career. Gatiss and the other members of the League were horror fans, and arguably much of the new Dr Who has its roots less in Science Fiction than Dark Fantasy and Horror. He therefore was a good choice as the programme’s presenter.

Other spooky delights on offer on TV in the past were Hammer’s gory and grisly tales, such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and The Wolfman, featuring Oliver Reed as a werewolf, a part, which it could be said, he continued playing in many of his subsequent dramatic performances on chat shows around the world for much of his life. Some of his still remember his finest hour when he was thrown off the final programme of the discussion programme, After Dark.

Now watching the trailers last night for the forthcoming seasonal delights on the Beeb, I came across something that was genuinely unpleasant, far more so than anything dreamed up by Terence Fisher and the other fevered minds at Bray Studios in the 1960s. It was for a celebrity edition of University Challenge, and one of the faces looked like that of IDS.

This is genuinely grotesque. Christmas is traditionally a time of peace and goodwill to all, and yet there’s precious little of that on display with IDS and his actions. This is the politician, who has cut benefits and imposed sanctions to the point where claimants have actually died of cold and starvation on Britain’s streets, in their homes, or taken their lives through desperation. This is the politicians, who has lied and lied again about the effects of his policies to parliament. Not only that, but he is also personally treacherous and utterly without honour. When one lady, a Dutchwoman who had grown up here, worked all her life and paid her tax came to him as her MP about immigration problems, not only did … Smith refuse to help, he tried to have her deported.

Good King Wenceslaus, the song goes, took pity on a poor man ‘gathering winter fuel’, and so took him home to share his food and hearth out of charity. The real King Wenceslaus was the early medieval king of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, who converted the country to Christianity. I’ve got the feeling that the Czech version of his name is Vaclav, which is obviously still a popular name in the Republic. It’s the first name, for example, of the dissident poet and first democratic Czech president after the fall of Communism, Vaclav Havel. I don’t know whether the real King Wenceslas ever did what the carol describes, but it’s not impossible. Medieval religion strongly emphasised charity and the ‘works of mercy’ as part of the co-operative grace granted to humanity through which they could gain salvation partly through their good works. It formed what modern scholars have termed an ‘economy of salvation’ in which wealthy merchants and rich noblemen were careful to work out exactly how much money they should spend on charity for the poor in order gain time off in Purgatory. Looking after the material needs of the poor was particularly important, as it was believed that they far dearer to the Lord than the rich, and so their blessings and prayers were particularly important in securing God’s pardon.

For all IDS’ rhetoric about ‘social justice’, I’ve seen precious little evidence that IDS has anything but hatred and contempt for the poor. Far from helping the poor man collect his firewood, and show due concern for the page following in his footsteps against treacherous, icy footing, IDS strikes me as far more likely to have taken away the pauper’s firewood as above the level allowed by feudal law, and given him a strong lecture on his improvidence and lack of self-sufficiency in not having rationed his firewood properly in the Christmas season. And the page would have to have made his own way to keep up with the king, as this would have been the only way to give him the proper training to compete in the go-ahead, globalised economy of the 11th century.

It also struck me as the beginning of a charm offensive by the Tory party in preparation for next year’s election. The Tories are keenly aware that they have an image as ‘the nasty party’. IDS himself is surely aware that he is one of the most hated men in Britain. It’s why he opened a jobs fair in his constituency, Chingford, early and left before the masses arrived. It’s also why he has been forced to sneak out the back when appearing at a job centre in Bath, as well as hide in laundry baskets to escape protesters. He’s also such a physical coward that when he appeared before a select committee in parliament to give evidence, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed cops, pointing their guns at the public, including a number of disabled people and their carers in the public gallery.

His appearance on a festive edition of University Challenge looks like an attempt to present him as genial and family-friendly, a jolly type quite prepared to make a fool of himself on a quiz show at this time of year, rather than the vindictive, mean-spirited curmudgeon his really is.

It also seems to bear out a comment by Mark Kermode about the personal character of the makers of Horror and Family movies. Kermode’s the film critic on Radio 5 Live. He’s a long term Horror fan, having written books on Horror cinema and spoken before the British Boards of Film Certification about the censorship of particular video nasties. You remember them. They were films like Driller Killer, I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left, that were so disgusting that when they appeared in the 1970s and ’80s they were banned. Kermode has said in his reviews that the makers of Horror movies all invariably tend to be really nice people. Wes Craven, who made Last House on the Left and then the Nightmare on Elm Street series, was actually a genuinely nice, highly educated, intelligent man. Craven has said in interviews that the extreme and genuinely disgusting violence and brutality in Last House on the Left was partly inspired by the images that were coming out of Vietnam in 1973. He saw the film as a polemic against violence, and showing how violence simply begets even more violence. To that point, he once walked out of one of Quentin Tarentino’s flicks. When one of the horror great Horror directors asked him how he could walk out of Tarentino’s movie, after he had directed something as revolting as Last House on the Left, Craven replied, ‘Well at least my movie’s about something!’

M.R. James seems to be another case in point. Rather than being a pale, sour misanthrope, Gatiss’ programme described James as quite a jovial, very sociable figure in real life, who enjoyed physically romping with his fellow students. Gatiss talked to the son of one of James’ students, who said that his father believed him to have been a non-practicing gay. Regardless of the speculation about James’ sexuality, what was clear was that James was a genuinely friendly man, who enjoyed his friends’ company and affection.

By contrast, according to Kermode, you can bet that the people who make family films are personally nasty. Well, this seems pretty much the case with IDS, which is no doubt why he wants to appear on TV in a positive light. Forget Hammer, Frankenstein, Dracula and Freddie Kruger, this is one Horror story I’ll be glad to miss.