Saturday, February 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Leopold Trepper!

 A guest writer, Marcus Barnett, contributes this tribute to a heroic fighter who never gave up his hope for humanity's future.

Happy birthday to Leopold Trepper, who would have been 110 today!

Born into a Jewish working class family in Novy-Targ, Poland, Trepper was radicalised by seeing the struggle of coal miners repressed by Police in Silesia, and joined the Marxist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, moving to Palestine in 1925 to build socialism there. Having worked on a kibbutz with ‘boyish enthusiasm’ he became disillusioned by the Histradut (Zionist trade union)’s estrangement from and treatment of Arabs, seeing that it ‘was trying to perpetuate the very social relations we wanted to abolish’, and joined the Communist Party.

Having thrown himself into full-time work for the Ichud, a Communist rank-and-file network seeking to unite Arab and Jewish workers, he lived under conditions of general illegality; it is from here that he began working under his first false identity, Leiba Domb. After the British feared the Ichud’s growth amongst the small Palestinian working-class and (crucially) amongst the large, armed kibbutzim, he was jailed alongside two dozen Communist militants and deported to France, becoming a Communist militant amongst the immigrant populations of Marseilles and Paris. 

In the mid-30s, he studied in Moscow’s International University under Esther Frumkin, the Bundist leader turned-Bolshevik. Alongside studying, he wrote for the Yiddish edition of Pravda, Der Emes, and discovered the grim reality of the Purges, where he saved a close friend at the expense of falling under suspicion himself. He was close to Jan Berzin, an Old Bolshevik in charge of foreign intelligence, who encouraged him to move West in order to collect intelligence on Nazi military, governmental and economic institutions. Berzin, upon developing this network, was signing his own death warrant, given that the current Party line was to appease Hitler and avoid war with Nazi Germany.

Thus the “Red Orchestra”, as it came to be known, was formed. Trepper had solid success in the early stages of the war in setting up the Simex Company in Brussels, assuming the identity of a Quebecois industrialist - “Jean Gilbert” - hobnobbing with high society and befriending Nazi officers and collaborators during the Occupation. An astute businessman, himself and his comrades Hillel Katz and Leo Grossvogel established themselves internationally through the sale of ‘quality rainwear’, and tied themselves intimately to the Todt slave labour organisation that was so crucial to the Nazi war effort. Prior to the German attack on the Soviet Union, he sent an incredible array of unique – and damning – information about Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union, including German troop movements to Soviet intelligence.

Having been rumbled, the core militants fled to France, were they continued activities and were eventually arrested in 1942, Trepper from the dentist’s chair. The Gestapo treated the charming Trepper leniently, recognising his potential as a future double-agent, and he in turn allowed them to trust their inclinations. After having fed them useless information, maintaining a high decorum that implied that counter-accusations from Soviet agents turned informant were blustering and nonsensical, he gained a level of trust with his captors that enabled him to live in a better cell and have access to pen and paper, and incredibly managed to send a report explaining the situation to Moscow.

After having given advice on local pharmacies to his ailing prison guard, he was asked to show the guard where the preferred store was. Astonishingly, the guard asked him to collect the prescription for him, and he seized the opportunity, walking through the entrance, out the exit, and onto the first bus to a safehouse he knew - above the headquarters of the collaborationist militia. With exceptional chutzpah, he stayed out the war here, regaining contact with the Communist underground, and fought with the Resistance in the liberation of Paris, being part of the group which took over his former prison.

Following war’s end, he returned to Russia, and was promptly jailed for 8 years in Lubyanka. He vigorously defended his position, avoiding execution because of his intransigence, and was amnestied in 1953. Following his release, he returned to Poland to his wife and three sons, who did not recognise him, and became a cultural leader in Yiddish-language publishing. After the Polish government’s anti-Semitic outrages in 1967, he attempted to flee to Israel, but was kept under house arrest until a wave of solidarity hunger strikes and international outrage forced his release in the early 70s. He died an unrepentant communist, defending a socialist future against the seemingly unbreakable realities of capitalism and Stalinism:

“We lived in the future, and the future . . . the absolute idea that gave meaning to our lives has acquired a face whose features we no longer recognize. Our failure forbids us to give advice, but because history has too much imagination to repeat itself, it remains possible to hope. . .
I do not regret the commitment of my youth, I do not regret the paths I have taken. I know that youth will succeed where we have failed, that socialism will triumph, and that it will not have the colour of the Russian tanks that crushed Prague.”

Readers who liked this may also be interested in the article from Jewish Socialist (1987)reproduced in my other blog, Historical Passages.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Making Profit Out of Misery

It's not enough to replace ATOS
PROTEST outside Ealing Job Centre, Wednesday morning. One of many around the country.
(photo Raj Gill) 

ON the same day that demonstrations were held around the country against the French-owned firm ATOS, which runs the assessment tests of sick and disabled people to find them fit for work, the news came that the government is thinking of handing this task over to another firm.
Controversial security firm G4S and privatisation profiters Capita could be in the running.

There were no less than 144 demonstrations around the country on Wednesday. Disabled protestors in wheelchairs blocked doors in ATOS headquarters until police managed to remove them. At Southend, ATOS staff themselves walked out nd joined the protest.

At West Ealing, in London, where I joined the protestors at 8am outside the Job Centre, someone had brought a coffin to remind us of the poor unfortunates who have been driven to their deaths by having benefits stopped even though they could not work, or by the stress of the tests they faced.

Besides the red flags of Unite the Union's Community branch, a PCS civil service union member with his flag, and Ealing trades union council members with their banner, a woman arrived dressed as the grim reaper, complete with scythe, to emphasise the  point. The mood of the disabled demonstrators particularly was spirited, angry and defiant. The response of the passing public, whether taking leaflets or sounding car and bus horns, was sympathetic.

Despite persistent propaganda against "scroungers", people have been hearing about some of the things really going on. Yesterday's Mirror described how a 50 year old man in Stoke on Trent, who had lied about his ill health in a desperate attempt to find work, was sacked because of epileptic fits, and had to claim benefits. But then his benefits were stopped because ATOS had decided he was fit for work. Fortunately his benefits have now been reinstated after an appeal.

But as Eve Turner, of Ealing trades council told us on Wednesday, though half the people stopped by ATOS have won their appeals, many people have died in destitution waiting for their appeals to be heard. The government is even considering making claimants pay for their appeals, in the same way it has moved against workers wanting to bring wrongful dismissal cases to tribunals.  

Campaigners estimate that more than 10,000 disabled people have died after ATOS work capability assessment. This may include people who were in the final stages of serious illnesses and dying anyway, though ATOS assessed them fit for work, and people who committed suicide because of the way they were treated. 

This government, like its predecessor, claims it is about helping people off dependency and into paid work. The same government has presided over the closure of more than 50 Remploy workshops which provided useful, often skilled, employment to people with disabilities.
ATOS is not helping people find jobs, other than its own staff, it is an IT firm which saw the profits to made from Britain's "austerity" policies, and set up ATOS Healthcare though it does not care for anyone's health. It has been given the job of getting people off benefits, and is being paid  £100 million a year from the taxpayer, while job centre staff are among public servants whom the government is laying off. Its staff have targets to meet, and not much in the way of qualifications, so that its costing the public upwards of £50 million a year in appeals against flawed decisions. But perhaps this government has plans for that too.

The object is to drive people into desperate poverty, provide employers with a ready supply of cheap, sackable, labour, (witness the way people have been sent to work for their dole), and make sure that however much misery is caused by austerity policies for the mass of people, they can still be a source of profit for the government's chums. If this game of robbing the poor to pay the rich more causes thousands of deaths, well that's not just collateral. It is one way of getting a result.

Labour, which introduced the work capability assessments - and commenced the rundown of Remploy - says now it would remove ATOS. There are reports -possibly put about by the company itself, that it wants to move out of this work. The government is letting it be known that it has other bidders in mind. But however awful the ATOS record is, replacing it with another capitalist firm out for profit from misery is not the answer we want.

One of the companies mentioned is security giant G4S, whose CV, beside the Olympic debacle when it failed to recruit enough staff, has included deaths of asylum seekers from here to  Australia's Manus Island facility in Papua, New Guinea. Just the kind of reliable, sensitive hands to which we can entrust disabled or mentally ill members of the community to be looked after.

Why can't people's health and fitness be assessed if necessary by their GPs or other qualified professionals employed by the National Health Service? Why can't those who need help back into work be assisted by properly trained, in-house employment staff, dedicated to public service, and not to chasing degrading targets or private profit?  Could it be this contradicts the government's aim of getting rid of civil service trade unionists?

We need not just a change of  government, but a change of direction and policy. And till we get both, let's hear it for the resistance!

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hearts and Flowers

 COLOMBIAN flower worker

YESTERDAY was St.Valentine's Day, and having been cheered amid the lingering Winter's harsh winds to receive a card myself, I put aside my usual grumbles about commercialised calendar occasions and set out with renewed spring in my step to keep a social engagement. 

Today I can turn to a report by Paddy McGuffin in Friday's  Morning Star which says Valentine's Day "is the most lucrative date in the flower retailers’ calendar yet workers in developing countries are risking their health and toiling for a pittance supplying British supermarkets".

"Bouquets are sold for vastly inflated prices but research by anti-poverty charity War on Want has found the mainly female workforce in Colombia and Kenya supplying those flowers continues to slave for as little as half the living wage.

"Workers also suffer problems such as disabling repetitive strain injuries and miscarriages through exposure toxic to pesticides, the charity said.

"Supermarkets sell around 70 per cent of all the flowers bought in Britain — the highest proportion in Europe. While many British firms have adopted voluntary standards for their suppliers, these are still failing to protect the health and safety of workers or ensure basic workers’ rights.

"War on Want believes government regulation is necessary to introduce binding legislation to hold companies to account for the impacts in their supply chains.It argues that workers supplying multinational companies in Britain should have the right to redress in this country and the ability to seek compensation for damage to their health or loss of earnings as the result of actions of British companies and their suppliers.The charity is calling for the establishment of a supermarket watchdog to tackle abuses by British firms and their suppliers."

The Star quotes War on Want spokesperson Paul Collins:
“Millions of people buying Valentine’s Day roses for their loved ones will be shocked to learn that many workers supplying them face poor pay and conditions. It is nothing less than a disgrace that company bosses are piling up profits while Kenyans on flower farms struggle to feed themselves and their families, and live in slum housing. British corporate leaders must ensure a living wage and decent conditions for them.”
Paul Collins added that with London Fashion week due to begin today, “we urge shoppers not only to press retailers on flower workers’ treatment, but on the need to guarantee a living wage and good, safe conditions for those who make our clothes or supply fruit, tea and wine sold in UK stores.”

While we are thinking about those flower workers, maybe we should also be asking whether growing flowers for export in food hungry regions of the world, then flying them to the wealthier places that are suffering austerity, is the most rational and human use of the global environment. It's  a thought.

 As we've been reminded, Britain is not immune from natural disasters and the possible effects of global warming, or governmental failure to heed warnings, and the same certainly goes for exploitation. Reading about the flower workers in Colombia and Kenya reminded me of something else.

Here is a BBC item from five years ago:

Flower pickers were 'slaves'

A group of more than 50 Greek nationals have returned home after payment for work on a flower farm in west Cornwall failed to materialise. 
  The workers say they were treated as "slaves" and had to survive on meagre rations during their time in the Hayle area.

The claims come as the issue of so-called gangmasters using cheap migrant labourers in the UK is highlighted following the deaths of 19 cocklers in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.
Greek police are hunting the gangmasters who recruited the 54 flower workers in the village of Sofades in the north of the country.

Slice of bread 
The Greek embassy said the village had a high rate of unemployment and the workers were offered up to £25 a day and free board.

But they were not paid and three of them had to share a slice of bread and a tin of food a day.

The Greek group told Reuters news agency that they had arrived in Britain legally in mid-January to take up jobs.

The group, among them 10 women, travelled to their workplace to find they would be staying all together in a barn with no heating or proper plumbing.

We'd come back to that shed where we were sleeping and get dog food cans for dinner

"We were out working like slaves everyday... picking flowers," said Thomas Dalipis, one of the workers.
"We'd come back to that shed where we were sleeping and get dog food cans for dinner, and not even one per person.
"Ten people had to share one cigarette."

Mr Dalipis said at the end of the first week, the workers asked for their wages but the boss refused, saying they were still in his debt as he had put up the money for their fares from Greece.

"Same story the next week," he said. "We tried to make a run for it but they sent in some heavies with sticks one night and threatened to hurt us. They beat up a couple of people as well."

After two weeks, the group got in touch with their home town and the Greek embassy co-ordinated their return on Wednesday night when coaches picked them up from their accommodation at the Marsh Lane industrial estate in Hayle.

Devon and Cornwall Police were on hand to help, but have received no complaints from the workers.
Many Cornish flower and bulb farms rely on foreign workers and local MPs have raised concerns about the influx of illegal workers as demand grows.
Story from BBC NEWS:

I like that bit about local MPS concern at the "influx of illegal workers" - not the illegal exploitation of migrant workers, from the fields of Cornwall to the sands of Morecambe Bay, where those cockle pickers were drowned so far from home.. It sums up a lot about the views of papers like the Daily Mail and so-called "Middle England".

I'm glad to hear the South West of England TUC has published a fact-filled broadsheet on the truth about migrant workers, and now the Southern and Eastern Region has decided to follow.

About that 'social engagement' I mentioned (I'm sure my readers are dying to know more), I had agreed to join some young friends clearing old, obsolete office equipment and other junk out of Willesden trades hall so they can put the space to better use. After hauling the stuff out in the rain to the waiting lorry it was good to relax together, enjoy some tasty home made food one of the comrades had prepared, and talk politics. It's good to see younger people bringing new life into our old, neglected and even decrepit institutions (they have already established an extensive library in the trades hall just when the local authority is closing their's), and being invited to help them is a privilege.

The other week I was enjoying a Burns Night Supper at West London Trade Union Club, in Acton, and while enjoying my second pint before they piped in the haggis, I heard from Ealing Trades Union Council secretary Eve Turner about her plans for an International Women's Day event in the club. Now I have the details:  


Saturday March 8th      7.30 pm

 West London Trade Union Club, 33–-35 High Street Acton W3

 We are delighted to welcome:

 Ø Christine Blower - the dynamic General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers

Ø Jackie Simpkins from War on Want who will talk about some of the inspirational battles against poverty by women workers around the world 

 Bar, food & music by the amazing


 All welcome! Entrance free (donations welcome)

 Organised by Ealing Trades Union Council and the West London Trade Union Club


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Monday, February 10, 2014

Class Revolt in Bosnia

BOSNIA and Hercogovina has shaken by an eruption of public anger aroused by privatisation, factory closures, profiteering and unemployment. This has been the country's crash course in free market capitalism, as people tried to rebuild their lives after the bloody war of two decades ago which left it saddled with a US and EU backed peace accord preserving its division in two.

Perhaps the brightest sign to come out of this seemingly spontaneous outburst of protest and riots is that it cut across the ethnic division and boundary, encouraging people to come out for unity. This may not be a homogenous political upheaval, but it is a movement of class.

The movement began, fittingly, in Tuzla, the mining and industrial town in north central Bosnia where people steadfastly resisted not only Serb nationalist forces in the war, but the influence of sectarian religious elements and Bosnia's governing SDA. Tuzla has a tradition of resistance going back to the 1920s struggles against the Yugoslav monarchy and rising again in partisan war against the Nazis in World War II. It was the partisans who proclaimed Bosnia a republic for all its people, and it was for this multi-ethnic character that the people fought when Yugoslavia came apart. At least a quarter of the population were of mixed origin anyway.

The end of the Bosnian war brought new problems, of US occupation, EU pressure, and those who had done well out of the war hoping to do better out of privatisation, and trusting a war-weary working class would not put much fight. What has really angered people however is that these new bosses have not even been after production and modernisation, but simply made a fast buck closing factories and selling assets.

 In Tuzla, the trigger this week was the sudden collapse of four formerly state-run companies that employ thousands in the city. The companies were privatised but the new owners sold the assets, sacked the staff and filed for bankruptcy.

On Thursday in Tuzla, workers from Vladom TK took it to the streets to demonstrate peacefully to put a stop to their factory being shut down and to save their jobs. Riot police attacked them to break their demonstration and beat the people who called the protests. They arrested their union leaders. One of them, Sakib Kopić, from “Polihema” union, spoke to local journalists by phone while he was under police arrest: “They keep us here for more than an hour, and nobody tells us anything.”

The government arrested Aldin Širanović, one of the leaders of the group called “Stroke,” which together with another group called “Revolt” helped people organize. He was released after a few hours, and said he was severely beaten under arrest. Union leader Sakib Kopić said he saw Širanović broken by the police: “Blood was pouring from his nose. They did not take him to hospital.”
“They were given the order to remove us from the streets, and that’s it. Then they started to attack us. Lots of people got injured. I saw a child of 15 years old who was all bloody, and who was crammed in one bus. They did not let him out. Doctors wanted to help him, but the cops locked the boy in the bus,” said Kopić.

People’s fury exploded. Some 5,000 local residents, including students from the technical college, joined the workers and set fire to government buildings, tires and police cars. “You have really hungry people who decided to do something,” said Dunja Tadic, a woman from Tuzla. ”People here are not living lives, they are simply surviving. Maybe 15% of the population lives well, mostly those who are stealing and their relatives. They destroyed the so-called middle class. All in all I don’t see how it can be any better here.”

Hana Obradovic, an unemployed philosophy and political science graduate who participated in the protests explained: “Our government sold state companies for peanuts, leaving people without their pensions or social security, Their families have nothing to eat, while our politicians sit in these institutions and steal from people.”

At one point some of the 5,000-strong crowd stormed into a local government building and hurled furniture from the upper stories. "The people entered the government building," said Mirna Kovacevic, a student who witnessed the protests. "They climbed to the fourth floor and started to throw files, computers, chairs from buildings. They burned parts of the building …
"Four storeys are blackened. People have burned the stuff that was thrown outside … Some people are trying to put the fire out. It's hectic."

On the walls of government buildings in Tuzla people wrote “Everybody to the streets. Death to nationalism!”. Throughout the Bosnian war, while the Muslim SDA party headed the government, Tuzla was run by mayor Suleiman Beslagic's Social Democrats, non-nationalists. 

But the fires lit in Tuzla this time spread through the country. On Friday night, the scene was enacted in Sarajevo, the capital, as fire raged through the presidency building and hundreds of people hurled stones, sticks and whatever else they could lay their hands on to feed the blaze. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon trying to disperse the crowd. Buildings and cars were also burning in downtown Sarajevo and riot police chased protesters.

"It is about time we did something," said a woman in her 20s who gave her name only as Selma. "This is the result of years and years of not paying attention to the dissatisfaction of the people."

"Everyone is here because everyone has a problem with this government," said a twentysomething male protester who did not want to be identified. "Young people don't have jobs. Older people don't have pensions. Everyone is fed up."

In Zenica, another central Bosnia city, protesters set fire to part of the local government building.

A fire at the National Archive of Bosnia, thought to have destroyed documents from the Late Ottoman and Austrian periods of rule, is less hard to justify, adding a sad sequel to the Serb incendiary attack on the National Library of Bosnia at the start of the war. But it is not certain this was the work of demonstrators or clear what its purpose would be. 

Although the protests were largely confined to the Croat-Muslim half of Bosnia, there was also a rally in Banja Luka, the main city in the Serb half of the country. About 300 activists and citizens staged a peaceful march to call for unity among all Bosnia's ethnicities. "We are all citizens of Bosnia and we all have the same difficult lives here," organiser Aleksandar Zolja, president of the non-governmental organisation Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, told the rally.
In Brcko, a demonstrating crowd held the mayor hostage, while in Bihac people took over government buildings.  Elsewhere, police intervened at the mansion home of an SDA politician who was brandishing a gun at the crowd. But in Mostar, demonstrators were even-handed, attacking the premises of both the SDA and the Croat nationalist HDZ party.

On 7 February, Bosnian Federation Prime Minister Nermin Nikšić held a press conference, with prosecutors, and accused hooligans of creating chaos.  Bakir Izetbegović, one of the country's three presidents and leader of the Party of Democratic Action said, "I believe that people want a change of power. I believe that within three months we should offer citizens a chance to choose who they trust, because it's obvious that this isn't working anymore".

In the Serb held part of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, president Milorad_Dodik said he was "proud of the citizens in Republika Srpska" for not falling for provocations that could make the unrests in the federation spread further. He has also expressed suspicions that there might be an underlying political project that intends to somehow make the recent unrests expand into Republika Srpska.

European Parliament member Davor Ivo Stier said that  "When people who set things on fire in Mostar are yelling 'This is Bosnia!', it incredibly reminds me of the Chetniks during the agression against Croatia yelling 'This is Serbia.'. When Zlatko Lagumdžija accuses the European parliament because of a resolution which condemns centralism, it is clear just how much the centralist elites are against the European peace project. Croatia and the EU cannot be passive towards this downward spiral of violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is time to show leadership. End to centralism! End to violence! It's time for an European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina!", he commented on his Facebook profile the riots in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(Zlatko Lagumdzija is leader of the Social Democratic Party and currently Bosnian Foreign Minister)

Davor Ivo Stier,  a Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) politician, and Croatian member of the European Parliament, was born into a Croatian expatriate family in Argentina—his paternal grandfather was a colonel in the fascist Ustaše who left for South America after World War II.He  returned to Croatia in 1996 and worked as a diplomat in Washington and Brussels.

When he talks about fires and violence in Mostar, it might be unkind to visit the sins of the father upon the son by remembering the crimes of the Ustashe during World War II. But talking of Mostar and fires, we cannot forget the more recent war, when so much of that historic town was reduced to rubble under fire from both Croat nationalist and Serb Chetnik forces either side. Such criminal, barbaric conduct does not seem to have hindered Croatia or Ivo Stier's "European path".

As we approach the centenary of an incident in Sarajevo, and the events it helped ignite, I see the Austrian government too has expressed concern over these riots and said it might reinforce its troops  in Bosnia. But that's enough history for now.

Rakovsky centre solidarity statement

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Monday, February 03, 2014

Kemal's Village

My mixed school class of Serbs and Muslims. We all look the same.

KEVLJANI, in north-west Bosnia, looks a peaceful place, a pretty village whether in the sun or Winter snow. There was a time, as Kemal Pervanic recalls, when he and his friends at school thought only of their happy future, and what they wanted to be,

That's them in the lower picture, under the portrait of Tito, whose partisans first declared Bosnia and Hercogovina a republic, and who proclaimed the watchwords 'Brotherhood and Unity'. As Kemal says, some of the children in this picture were Serbs, and some were Muslims, but if you try to spot the difference you can't because "there wasn't any".

Then things changed. Some of the causes lay far from Kevljani, but their terrible consequences in 1992 affected everybody in the vicinity. As armed Serb nationalists erized control of the area, homes were destroyed, people forced to flee, or beaten, raped and killed.

Young Kemal had dreamed of what it might be like one day to study amid the dreaming spires of Oxford, never thinking that he would end up on that city's streets as a refugee, after surviving the nightmare of the concentration camp at Omarska. To add to the trauma of that Serb-run camp, some of the guards who beat and tortured prisoners were not a foreign force, or imported thugs, but locals,who had turned upon their neighbours. Two of them had been Kemal's teachers.   .

Some of Kemal's friends and relatives did not survive. Nearby Kevljani a mass grave has been uncovered with some 342 bodies, some identified as local people, others brought there from elsewhere. In this small corner of North West Bosnia over 1000 persons remain unaccounted for.
When I first met Kemal almost twenty years ago he was busying himself at an office near Victoria, helping other Bosnian refugees find work or education, and telling those who longed to return home that they'd do better to get some training if they were going to take part in reconstruction. He kept up a cheerful exterior and did not have much to say about his own experiences.

But he did write a book, The Killing Days, and for the past couple of years he has been working on a film, Pretty Village, about Kevljani and its people. The film has alreday had a preview showing at the Frontline Club.  but it will hopefully be completed by the end of Mrach, and ready for distribution and showing.

It is a film about what happens to ordinary people, about cruelty and death, but it is also about their will to overcome obstacles and rebuild. For nearly ten years Kevljani was a ghost village. Survivors, of the killings and camps, were not allowed to return till early 2000. A few have decided to come back, but on their return they face the daily trauma of how to live amongst people who watched as their loved ones were killed or actively participated in the violence.

Part of their struggle is for remembrance. Survivors wanted to create a memorial on the site of the biggest massacres conducted at The Omarska Iron Ore Mine, now owned by Arcelor Mittal, the sponsors of The London Orbit. The company, in collusion with Serb run local authorities continue to deny them the right to create a memorial to the victims of the war.

The film asks what draws these people back to this place of suffering and how do they deal with life in the midst of their tormentors. It aims to raise awareness of these issues and why reconciliation remains a distant dream. It also looks to the future and asks what can be done to heal the wounds of this terrible conflict.

The film makers - Kemal Pervanic, and director David Evans, - are not hoping for Oscars or big bucks backing or profit with this film, but say it will be used for educational purposes and copies of the film will be sent to schools, government agencies and international policy makers in an attempt to spark a public dialogue about these issues. 

They are also hoping that by kick starting a dialogue between two communities in one corner of Bosnia they can help in healing, and contribute towards both groups eventually coming together to build a better, shared future in the region. 

Last week it was Holocaust Memorial Day, and as one who believes that "Never Again!" must mean Never Again to Anyone, and we must remember all, I was pleased to see that Kemal Pervanic had been invited to speak at an event for this occasion. This week I have been belatedly pleased to learn that I could contribute, however modestly, to the making of this film, and I am happy to publicise it best I can and encourage others to do so. 

photo by Kevac

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

A Shameful Day's Work for All Souls College - and for Brent's Labour council

 PUBLIC ENTERPRISE wrecked by drive for private profit

WHAT sort of vandals tear down library shelving and dump the books out on the pavement in the rain? Security men hired by a property firm did this in Kensal Rise, west London, on Friday morning, demolishing the pop-up library which local residents had set up, and dumping the books, while putting up metal fencing around the closed library building which the owners want to "develop" for other use.
By the afternoon supporters of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library campaign had done what they could to save their book collection under tarpaulins, and were gathering for a protest rally against the library closure and the raid on their volunteer effort.

Recriminations were echoing back and forth between the property developers, the owners - who happen to be the prestigious All Souls College, Oxford (registered as a charity for the furtherance of knowledge) and Brent's Labour council (elected to serve the community and raise education, as part of the public's wellbeing). It was the council's decision to close six local libraries in Brent, Kensal Rise being one of them, which brought on local resistance, efforts to keep the library, and the setting up of the "pop up" library as a stop-gap measure maintaining a service and showing they were in earnest.  Campaigners have been pressing for a community library space in the proposed new development of the site by developer Andrew Gillick.
Brent council claimed its library closures were not just cuts but part of  a 'library transformation' project, pointing to the opening of a new library as part of the expensive civic centre built in Wembley. Meanwhile people in Kensal Rise were advised to use the library in Willesden Green, a bus ride away, though this was hardly a satisfactory alternative for young chidren, or the elderly. It then turned out that Willesden Green library was also being closed for redevelopment.

The Kensal Rise campaigners attracted wide attention, holding literary events at the library with well-known writers, such as J.K.Eowlings and Alan Bennett, for both adults and children, before the building was closed. Some Labour councillors, as well members of the local party, opposed the council and sided with the library campaign.

Among those who contributed to the pop up library, posthumously, was my late friend Kyran Connolly. A former president of the National Union of Journalists(NUJ) and writer for encyclopedias, Kyran lived in Kensal Rise, and supported the library campaign, so relatives and friends thought it appropriate that some of his impressive book collection be donated to the library. I can imagine Kyran's explosive rage if he caught the property men dumping his books on the pavement!

It was a predecessor of his, Sir Hugh Gilzeal Reid, the first president of the NUJ, who had an important part over a century ago in starting Kensal Rise library. Sir Hugh, the son of a Scottish shoe-maker, was a self-educated man, who had to start work on a farm at the age of 8, before starting his rise to eminence. It was in 1900, that he invited a successful American writer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, to come and stay at his house in Dollis Hill.

Hearing that Twain was staying locally, and knowing perhaps that he too, having started work young, had educated himself  in public libraries, Kensal Rise Library Committee thought he would be just the fellow to come and open their Public Reading Room, which was built on land given to Willesden Council by All Souls College Oxford under a restricted covenant that said it could only be used as a site for a free public reading room and library. Beside the brass plaque commemorating his visit, the library proudly held a photograph of Twain with local dignitaries.

Twain had expressed the hope that reading room would grow into a full library, and in 1904, Andrew Carnegie donated £3,000 so it could do just that. In more recent times the pleasant Victorian redbrick building was tastefully modernised inside, and it had become a favourite place for local children, for story groups, a relaxing place to read, or a quiet place to study and use computers.

In 1988 an earlier attempt to close Kensal Rise library was resisted by local people who occupied it overnight to prevent closure. They also won support from All Souls College and promises of free legal representation. The council backed off, realising the strength of opposition.

In May 2012 the council adopted a tougher line, staging a raid to empty the library of its contents, and also taking the Mark Twain plaque away. Meanwhile however the library campaigners won suppot from the Mark Twain institute in the United States, and had hoped that All Souls College too would honour its tradition by supporting the building's continued use for the community. 
This time it is different. Property developer Andrew Gillick appears to have the go ahead even though a previous planning application was dogged by reports of fraudulent e-mails submitted in support. Some of these appeared to come from other libraries, and people who could not be traced, others from an address the developer allegedly owned. Some people who were traced said their names and addresses had been used without permission and they actually opposed the development.An investigation has not yet been completed.

But in reply to questions from Brent Labour Party member Michael Calderbank, who is also a member of the left-wing Labour Representation Committee, Brent Council leader Mohammad Butt says police are not pursuing further investigation. 

Fake e-mails support developers

The latest news is that, while local councillors were expressing real or crocodile tears or sympathy for the angry Kensal Rise residents,  All Souls College, Oxford, which handed the management of the now defunct library Gillick, is blaming Brent council for the destruction of the beloved makeshift library.
In a letter seen by the Times, a planning enforcement officer threatened action after stating the build of the pop up library was in breach of planning control.
“I am of the opinion that this is unacceptable and it is my intention that enforcement action should be taken to remedy this breach of planning control,” the letter read.
A spokesperson for the college said: “The council asked us to do this a long time ago but we didn’t in the interest of the community.
“We waited till the last possible moment until we were legally obligated to vacate the property.”

 Owners blame council

All in all, a sad undignified spectacle for both the hallowed Oxford college and the once supposedly left-wing Brent Labour council, even if the latter seems to leave it to paid officers to lay down the line.  Versus a brave, ongoing struggle by "ordinary" members of the community determined to defend services and cultural amenities against the property profiteers. This is the reality, not David Cameron's increasingly forgotten myth of the "Big Society".

VICTORIAN VALUES?  Mark Twain at opening ceremony for Kensal Rise library, 1900.

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