Revolutionary socialist & anti-imperialist; Rebel Breeze publishes material within this spectrum and may or may not agree with all or part of any particular contribution. Writing English, Irish and Spanish, about politics, culture, nature.
The Diada, national day of Catalan identity and of resistance was celebrated in Dublin’s Merrion Square on Saturday 7th September with traditional food, drink, games and music. Catalan independentist flags and banners were also on display as were portrait placards of Catalan political prisoners of the Spanish State.
The Diada Nacional de Catalunya (Diada for short) is the National Day of Catalonia, a one-day event celebrated annually on the 11th of September. It commemorates the fall of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, which resulted in Catalonia’s institutions and legal system being abolished and coming under the domination of the Spanish crown.
The Army of Catalonia backed the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne, believing thereby that Cataloni’s national autonomy would be respected. However, the army of the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain was successful and Barcelona fell after a siege of 14 moths.
It Diada first began to be celebrated in 1888 and gained in popularity over succeeding year and in 1923 was a mass event with events all over Catalonia. However clashes with the Spanish police resulted in 12 protesters and five police being wounded and a number of arrests. Primo Rivera’s dictatorship banned it but during the 2nd Spanish Republic (1931-1939) the Catalan Generalitat (Government) made it an institutional festival. With the fall of Catalonia to the military-fascist forces of Franco and others, it was banned and celebrated only in people’s homes.
The first renewed public celebration of the festival was in 1976, following the death of Franco the preceding year and in 1977 was the occasion for a huge demonstration demanding independence for Catalonia and in 1980 was made official by the Generalitat.
With the renewed growing push for Catalan independence, the day has been the occasion for huge demonstrations demanding self-determination. For some years now the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia), which claims to be the largest grass-roots organisation not only in Catalonia but in the world, has been the main organiser of the Diada and has used it as part of its mobilisation for indpendence (which presumably is the reason the Spanish State has put its former President, Jordi Sanchez, on trial on charges of sedition and rebellion and in detention since 2017, the verdict expected this month or next.
Although the Diada commemorates a crushing defeat for Catalan self-determination, its celebration has become an occasion of re-affirmation of that desire, a public sign of resistance. Massive demonstrations once again have been held and, as in Dublin, expatriate and Catalan diaspora communities around much of the world have celebrated it publicly this year, particularly in Europe but also in Latin America and in the USA.
Merrion Square, a public park in the Dublin city centre, was the venue for the Diada event organised by Catalans in the Irish branch of the ANC and by Dublin CDR (Comite de Defensa de la Republica) on a the 7th, which was a Saturday.
The area was decked out with estelladas (Catalan independence flags) and placards bearing portraits of the Catalan political prisoners (see following section on the Situation in Catalonia). Parents attended with their children and games were played with them as well as a traditional Catalan game being available for adults and a few engaged in a version of the poc fada Irish activity with camáin (hurley sticks).
Traditional food and drink was provided also. Commenting on the event, a spokesperson for the organisers said:
“We had a festive and family-oriented Diada (National Catalan Day) in Dublin. We also publicised a call for freedom for the political prisoners and the right of self-determination for Catalonia.”
SUMMARY OF SITUATION IN CATALONIA
The Catalan Parliament has twice passed a number of legal measures which have been judged “unconstitutional” by the Spanish Court and therefore cancelled. These included:
Increased taxes on large companies
a “sugar tax” on sweet soft drinks
ban on bullfighting
access to public medical care for migrants
ban on evictions and high rents
The growing push for Catalan self-determination found expression in a number of growing public events and in October 2017 a referendum was held. The Spanish State banned the referendum and its police raided the Government offices and other places for ballot boxes. On the day of the Referendum, October 1st, Spanish police attacked voters and referendum supporters with a reported nearly one thousand seeking medical attention. They also fired rubber bullets, which are banned in Catalonia, at peaceful demonstrators.
The Catalan right-wing anti-independence parties had called for a boycott of the referendum and many ballots were confiscated by the Spanish police. The majority of those available gave a high majority for an independent Catalonian republic (there were no other options other than “No”).
The then President Puigdemont, backed by the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament, acting on their mandate, in 2017 declared an independent Catalan Republic but immediately suspended it, urged by EU advisers to seek talks with Madrid (which he reflects now was a mistake).
Subsequently the Spanish State prorogued the Catalan Parliament until new elections were held and also charged a number of politicians and social activists with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds (allegedly to fund the Referendum). Some, like Puigdemont, went into exile and others to jail without bail; their trial is now over and the verdict is expected later this month or next. In addition, numbers of secondary school teachers have been called to testify because of their responses to the questions of pupils about the Referendum and the destruction to their schools by police and around 700 town mayors are also called to testify for allegedly facilitating the Referendum.
The elections forced by the Spanish State returned a broad political backing for Catalan independence from right to left which finds expression in a number of coalition parties (Junts per Catalonia, Esquerra Republican and Candidatura d’Unidad Popular), opposedby a substantial but minority hard-right unionist oppositioncoalition too (mostly Ciudadanos). The coalition based on the Catalan version of Podemos also has seats but its actual position on independence is not easy to define.
Since then, the Spanish State elections and the European elections have also returned pro-independence candidates but EU senior officials blocked Catalan MEPs who are in exile from taking their seats and another is in Spanish jail, awaiting a verdict.
Chinese people protesting the proposed extradition law in Hong Kong and the repression of protests there by the authorities were outnumbered, out-coloured and out-sung by their Chinese opponents in O’Connell Street on Saturday 31st August. However the counter-protesters gave the impression of having been mobilised through the Chinese Embassy.
Those protesting the proposed Hong Kong legislation outside the GPO seemed somewhat cowed by the counter-protesters facing them in the central pedestrian reservation. The former had some printed placards while their opponents had a massive banner bearing the legend “We Love Hong Hong”. They also had an effective public address system and a cheer-leader with a microphone and every now and again he got the whole crowd to burst into some Chinese song. Their numbers and coordination made one think of the cast of the film version of the Chinese revolutionary opera “The East Is Red.”
I chanced upon the protest by accident, cycling up O’Connell Street, not having heard about it in advance. As I neared to take a photo, I noted that among the Chinese protesting about Hong Kong, there were some placards of the People Before Profit organisation and some familiar faces.
Upon commenting to their leader that they had been outsung (a flippant comment, I’ll admit), he told me that those protesting about events in Hong Kong had felt apprehensive and had asked for solidarity. He commented to me that he would “always support people struggling for democracy, against extradition” etc. Perhaps – but I don’t recall seeing him (or most of his party) on pickets calling for civil rights for Irish Republicans or against their extradition from the Irish state to British administration.
I don’t believe for one minute he and his party prefer Chinese to Irish people but I do think they are much readier to take up cases of injustice where the target is not either the Irish or the British state. Which is curious for an organisation that declares a revolution in Ireland to be necessary.
SOME HONG KONG BACKGROUND
Hong Kong has a population of around 7,300,000, which includes many who are not nationals. It is a port city of 1,104 sq. Kilometres (426 sq. Miles) and one of the most densely-populated areas in the world.
Hong Kong was occupied by the British in 1812 after they beat the Chinese in the First Opium War, fought by the British in support of their right to sell opium through Chinese ports to the Chinese, which the Emperor unreasonably thought was destroying the Chinese aristocracy and administrative classes.
The British extended their territorial base in Hong Kong to Kowloon in 1860 after beating the Chinese again in the Second Opium War (there were still unreasonable Chinese who didn’t want the British selling opium to them). From 1898 the British ran Hong Kong on the ‘legal’ basis of a 99-year lease (which actually, the British forced the Chinese to grant them) which ran out in 1997. In 1941 the British surrendered Hong Kong to Imperial Japanese forces which remained there until 1945, after which the British took it over again.
The Chinese Emperor having long gone by 1997 and the Taiwan western-supported authorities having no legitimate or believable claim, once the lease ran out, Hong Kong reverted to the main Chinese authorities, i.e the Government of China. Unfortunately for the Hong Kong people, that is the People’s Republic of China which, though flaunting communist symbols, has long ago ceased to be any kind of Communist regime but is not a capitalist democracy either.
However, under arrangements made when the British lease expired, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from those of mainland China, expressed in the phrase “one country, two systems.”
Headlines in the leaflet being distributed by the Hong Kong protesters in Dublin declared that the fight is about democracy and democratic rights. Many media commentators agree with them. Some even talk about restoring democracy to that region.
In fact, Hong Kong has never had democracy. Before Britain annexed it, the port city was run by officials appointed by the Chinese Emperor. After the British took it over, not only was there no democracy for Chinese working people but the administration was openly racist and some “public” areas there declared that no Chinese were permitted entry. In 1925, British troops and police opened fire to suppress a dock strike and demonstrations in Shanghail resulting in over 60 killed in two separate incidents. The resistance spread to Hong Kong and the port was also boycotted, which cost the British dearly.
Even in modern times, the Hong Kong administration was known to be highly corrupt and the special anti-corruption police squad became known as “the graveyard of corruption complaints”, for that is where the allegations and complaints were buried by those supposedly investigating them.
In 1967 Leftist demonstrations grew out of a strike and became wide-scale riots when Hong Kong Police moved to brutally repress them and many of the demonstrators’ leaders were arrested.
In 2013 a dockers’ strike in Hong Kong fought a hard battle against shipping transport companies for 40 days, out of which they emerged victorious. The working conditions that came to light during the struggle revealed aspects that organised workers would not accept in any capitalist democracy or even in some dictatorships.
The present Hong Kong authorities seem to have come to an arrangement with the mainland Chinese Government, since Carrie Law, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, introduced the bill which has sparked three months of protest. Under the provisions of this bill, an alleged lawbreaker in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China. When people protested in Hong Kong, the authorities sent their police to beat up the protesters and to arrest them, just as the British used to do in the old days.
And the laws that are being used to attack and jail demonstrators are exactly the same ones that have been in force for decades in British Hong Kong, as the Financial Times points out, although it suggests they were OK under the British but are “outdated now” (see References)!
The opposition to the bill has seen demonstrations, occupations and strikes. On 5 August, there was a strike, this time successful, with the airport and flight industry employees playing a prominent role. The Communist Party of China is now asking for the list of Cathay Pacific employees who went on strike but the union won’t release the list. Estimates of participation in the strike vary between 300,000 and 400,000 people.
Airport public areas have also been occupied en masse which of course hits tourism and personal contact business, along with some exports and imports. On 12 August, another huge occupation of the airport brought about a threatening response from the PRC State; it sent about 10,000 armed police to the border with Hong Kong.
Carrie Law recently stated that she has withdrawn the bill which satisfies one of the demands of demonstrators but another four have been put forward:
“Retract the classification of the protests as ‘riot’ ” (presumably with legal consequences)
“Appointment of an independent commission to inquire into the excessive violence used by the police in the protests”
“Dropping charges against demonstrators” (but what about those already jailed?)
“Implement a Dual Universal suffrage to elect a truly democratic government”
WHO OR WHAT SHOULD WE SUPPORT?
As in many of these types of struggles there are likely to be a number of elements involved among the demonstrators and strikers, including leftists, basic democrats, anti-communists (even fascists) and pro-western imperialists.
I do not see any reason to defend the current or past administration of Hong Kong – quite the contrary. Nor do I see any reason to defend the Chinese State administration which has lost all content of communism it once had and in which only some of its form survives. As far as democracy goes, the People’s Republic of China has suppressed demonstrations against corruption or by defenders of their environment, as well as hundreds of strikes and sent tanks to suppress a demonstration in Tienamen Square, resulting in an unknown number of dead, injured and jailed. On the other hand, Hong Kong is not even a bourgeois — to say nothing of a workers’ – democracy as is shown at present and in its past.
It is natural that people in Hong Kong would not want to be extradited to the PRC and it seems to me that resistance to that is worthy of support along with in general the other four demands (although what “independent commission” to enquire into “excessive violence by police” can be appointed in this setup?). But the fundamental problem is that working people in Hong Kong do not control the fruits of their labour and the granting of not even all of the five demands can possibly change that. Where workers are in that situation, their rulers will alway keep repressive measures on hand for use whenever they feel the need to employ them.
Clearly the solution is not for the intervention of the USA or any other imperialist state either.
Therefore what I think we should support most is the mobilisation of the working people for socialist revolution and their participation in these current struggles will educate them as well as giving their most class-conscious elements the opportunity to enhance that education and, necessarily, organisation.
SPEAKERS WARN OF RISING FASCISM, CALL FOR UNITY OF ANTI-FASCISTS
Flags of various kinds flew above a gathering in Monagear, Co. Wexford on Saturday 7th September, while a number of banners were visible among the crowd: Peter Daly Society, Connolly Association Manchester, Wexford Community Action, Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Friends of International Brigades Ireland, Éirigí, Connolly Column. Also in attendance was a group of young men and women dressed to represent the International Brigaders and the POUM1 milita, organised by the Cavan Volunteers group. The event had been organised by the Peter Daly Society with support from the Peadar O’Donnell Forum.
Monagear is a small village in the centre of Co. Wexford, a few kilometres north-east of Wexford town. Also known a Monageer, both words are, like most place-names in Ireland, from the original Irish language: Móin na gCaor, “the bogland of the berries” (probably of the Rowan or Mountain Ash, which in Irish is Crann Caorthainn). Not far from it are the historic place-names associated with the United Irishmen uprising of 17982 in that county, such as Boolavogue and Enniscorthy and indeed, a small commemoration garden in the village has memorial stones dedicated to that struggle and to others since.
At a signal, the gathering of people with flags and banners, led by a colour party flying the Irish Tricolour, the flag of the 2nd Spanish Republic, a red starry flag and the Irish workers’ Starry Plough, moved in procession down into the village area and assembled outside the raised platform containing the tasteful simple memorial to Peter Daly, International Brigader killed in the War Against Fascism in the territory of Spain (1936-1939).
Steve McCann, Chairman of the Peter Daly Society, with another man beside him, opened the ceremony from the memorial platform by briefly outlining the history of the Peter Daly commemorations and of the Society (founded in 2011) which he said had from the beginning welcomed the involvement and participation of Irish Republicans, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and plain anti-fascists. After outlining the program of speeches and songs for the day, he called Gearóid Ó Machaill to give the first speech, on behalf of the Friends of the International Brigades, Ireland.
“THE IRISH ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FASCISM”
Ó Machaill opened his speech in Ulster Irish, thanking the organisers for giving him the opportunity to speak there at the cradle of Peter Daly, Irish Republican, socialist, anti-fascist. Continuing, he said that the conditions that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s are very similar to those of today. Speaking of the Republican Congress of 1936-1938, he said it had worked to overcome divisions in the working class and in the anti-imperialist movement. But it had fallen apart in disunity, unfortunately and in Ireland today, the anti-fascist forces are as divided too.
The Irish were not immune to fascism and had a strong fascist movement in the 1930s, supported for awhile by the State, X said. In the years since the defeat of fascism around most of the world, attempts to set up a fascist movement in Ireland had been smashed, said Ó Machaill but cautioned against complacency.
In some other parts of the world, workers betrayed by social democracy and hurt by capitalism, turned to hard right parties and outright fascists and it was entirely possible that such fascists would become popular while leading a campaign against bankers and even imperialism, pushing a line of “Irish for the Irish”.
“We cannot afford the divisions and need to unite ….. as Republicans and Socialists did in preventing the attempted launch of Pegida in 2016,|” said the speaker.
Steve McCann introduced the man beside him as Diarmuid Breatnach and called him to sing the first song of the selection for the ceremony and to say a few words about its content. Breatnach pointed out that migrants are often a prime target of fascists and the song he was to sing was about migrants and their treatment. On 28th January 1948,a DC-9 transporting Latino illegal migrants and “guest workers” crashed in the Los Diablos region of California and all 32 on board were killed. The radio news reported the crash but only gave the names of the crew members and the Immigration Department guard, saying the others killed were “deportees”. The names of the dead were known in their localities and were printed in local newspapers but were not deemed worthy of mention on the radio.
Wood Guthrie wrote a poem called “Deportee” about the tragedy which was put to music by Martin Hoffman, the song since called Deportees or Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Breatnach then sang the song, the chorus of which says:
Goodbye to my friends,Farewell RosalitaAdios mis amigos, Jesús y Maria;You won't have a name When you ride the big airplane --All they will call you Will be “deportees”.
LESSON OF HISTORY – NOT LIBERALISM BUT ROBUST ACTION IS NEEDED
Mags Glennon was called to read a statement on behalf of Anti-Fascist Action. Moving on from the background to the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and the background of those who fought to defeat it, Glennon read: “Far-right parties have risen from minor subculture to government across Europe in recent years, showing the glaring need for principled and active opposition to fascist and far right forces. The most concerning aspect of this political resurgence is the support it has received from young people and large sections of the traditional working class, due to the abandonment of these people by social democrats, and other parties who claimed to ‘represent’ them. Well meaning liberalism has never defeated fascism. It never will.”
Reading from the statement, Glennon called for a “re-energising” of the struggle to defeat those “aiming to distract our communities and young people from fighting their real enemy. Where there are fascists we must oppose them.”
Glennon concluded by reading: “Appeals to the police, to parliament or to Google to censor fascists have no place in anti-fascist struggle. History has shown that robust action against fascists in Ireland has always sent them running back to the gutters to think again. Long may it continue. La lucha continua!”
“MUST ORGANISE IN WORKING-CLASS COMMUNITIES”
The MC, Steve McCann, introduced the anti-fascist and community activist as well as Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ciaran Perry. Speaking without notes, Perry outlined the historical necessity of defeating fascism politically and physically.
Echoing a previous speaker’s comments, Perry too called for unity of the antifascist forces against fascism but also against capitalism and imperialism. He said that working-class communities, betrayed by social democracy and distracted by identity politics, had become prey to the propaganda of fascists.
Fascism is a facet of capitalism”, Perry said “and therefore the enemy of the working class. The working class should be our natural constituency.”
Going on to suggest that if fascists build bases in working class communities it is because of the failure of the Left, he called on socialists and antifascists go into those communities and to build their bases there.
ESCAPE FROM DACHAU AND DEATH IN SPAIN
Breatnach stepped forward to sing a combination of two songs from the German side of the anti-fascist struggle. The German political prisoners in the concentration camps were forbidden to sing socialist songs and had written their own, one of which became famous around the world was The Peat Bog Soldiers, lyrics written by Johann Esser, a miner and Wolfgang Langhoff, an actor and melody composed by Rudi Guguel.
“Hans Beimler (1895-1936) was a WWI veteran, a Communist, a Deputy elected to the Reichstag in 1932,” said Breatnach. “In January 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. The Communist Party was banned and in April 1933 Beimler was arrested and sent to Dachau extermination camp where, in May, he strangled his SA guard and, putting on the man’s uniform, escaped. He went to Spain where he was a Commissar with the International Brigades and was killed in the Battle of Madrid on 1st December 1936.”
He would sing two verses of the Peat Bog Soldiers, Breatnach explained, combined with the Hans Beimler song.
“THE NORM WAS FOR ALL CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL BRIGADERS TO BE EXECUTED”
The sun sinking towards the west shone over the heads of the attendance on to the raised bed of the memorial stone and its flagpoles and, except when covered by clouds, into the eyes of those on the platform. Outside the nearby pub some locals gathered and behind those gathered around the monument, others in attendance lined a low wall while nearby other local people, mostly youth, congregated for a time. Occasionally a passing car drove carefully along the street past the crowd. House martins darted above, a wasp occasionally bothered the speakers and the smokey-blue soft curves of the Silvermine Hills and Knockmealdown Mountains rose to the west.
The Chair of the event called Harry Owens to speak.
Harry ‘s speech traced the history of world events that had led up to the fascist coup and war in Spain. He also spoke about the kind of people the Brigadistas had been, quoting from their comrades, journalists and opponents. That Captain Frank Ryan had his life spared was unusual, he explained, as the tendency was for all anti-fascist officers to be executed and all International Brigaders of all ranks. Whilst the Spanish fascists wanted to execute them, the Italian soldiers tended to keep them alive in order to exchange them for Italian prisoners of the Republican side.
The death toll among officers and men in the International Brigades had been higher than the norm in warfare and the average in the Irish contingent higher still, Owens said. The food and armament supply conditions of the Republican side had been poor in many areas but almost to a man they had fought on until death, capture or demobilisation. It was their conviction, that they knew what they were fighting for and believed in it that accounted for that.
After Owens’ speech, Breatnach stepped forward to sing, without introduction, Viva la Quinze Brigada3(the song written by Christy Moore about the Irish who fought in the 15th International Brigade). The song mentions Peter Daly in the verse:
This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan,
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too,
Peter Daly, Charlie Reagan and Hugh Bonner,
Though many died, I can but name a few.
Danny Doyle, Blazer Brown and Charlie Donnelly,
Liam Tumlinson, Jim Straney from the Falls,
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy,
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill.
The words of Moore’s chorus rang out along the street:
“Viva la Quinze Brigada!
No Pasarán!” the pledge that made them fight;
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside,
Let us all remember them tonight.
…. and concluded with the cry “Viven!” (“They live!”)
WREATHS, THE INTERNATIONALE AND AMHRÁN NA BHFIANN
McCann called for those who wished to lay wreaths on behalf of organisations and the following came to lay floral tributes: John Kenny, activist of the Peter Daly Society; Gary O’Brien of Anti-Fascist Action; Seán Doyle for Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland (who had provided the colour party); Connolly Association Manchester; and Éirigí. Messages of support had been received from the CPI, IRSP and the Connolly Association Manchester.
McCann then called Breatnach forward to sing the Internationale, the international anthem of the working class, the lyrics of which Breatnach explained had been composed by Anarchist Eugene Pottier of the Paris Commune, in 1871, the first time the working class had seized a city. It had been written to the air of the Marsellaise but later put to its own melody by worker-composer Pierre de Gayter.
“It was written in French”, said Breatnach, “which is why I propose to sing the chorus once in French at the start but it has been translated into many languages. Youtube has a post with 95 translations ….. and there are at least three versions of it in English and people are welcome to sing along in any version they know,” Breatnach concluded before singing the French chorus, followed by two English verses and chorus.
The MC Steve directed attention to a bodhrán decorated with a dedication to Peter Daly by Barry O’Shea which was displayed by Erin McCann and which would be raffled as a fund-raising exercise at the reception inside the pub.
Steve McCAnn then called Marie Kenny Murphy and Marilyn Harris up on to the stage, where they played the Irish national anthem on flutes, with many people singing along in its Irish translation4:
Anocht a théim sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghael chun báis no saol;
Le gunnaí scréach, faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann.
REFRESHMENTS, EXHIBITION, RAFFLE, SONG AND CONVERSATION
All the speakers had referenced the historical memory of the Anti-Fascist War on Spanish territory to the struggles of today and even of tomorrow and the selection of songs had been deliberately chosen to emphasise internationalism and workers’ solidarity from the past and needed today.
McCann thanked all the performers, speakers and participants and in particular welcomed the participation of the Connolly Association contingent from Manchester, encouraging them to attend again the following year. Inviting all to enter the local Monageer Tavern to view the Antifascist War memorabilia and to have some food, the MC brought the ceremony to an end.
Inside the local pub, the Monageer Tavern, food had been made available by the owners and the function hall was provided for the commemoration participants.
An interesting display of memorabilia of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War had been erected inside by the Cavan Volunteers history group. The walls of the function room on one side were also covered with permanent framed photographs and other images of Irish history, among which Joe Mooney, anti-fascist, community worker and activist of the East Wall History Group, spotted a photo of the Dublin docks with a docker well-known to his community in the foreground!
Music was provided by Tony Hughes with voice and guitar, singing a selection of songs including anti-racist and Irish Republican ballads, also Viva La Quinze Brigada.
When the raffle was held a search went on for the winning number ticket which eventually unearthed it in the possession of Helena Keane, seller of the tickets and who adamantly refused to take the prize. Another dip into the stubs brought Gearóid Ó Machaill’s ticket out, ensuring the decorated bodhrán would find a new home somewhere in the occupied Six Counties.
1The International Brigades were organised through the Comintern and Communist parties in various parts of the world but a number of International Volunteers came also through the mainly Trotskyist POUM, including Anarchists. One Irish volunteer went to join the Basque Gudaris and was killed fighting the fascists there.
2First Republican rising in Ireland, organised and led for the most part by Protestants, descendants of British colonists.
3Christy Moore called this “Viva la Quinta Brigada” (i.e the Fifth) but in later versions sang in English a line in the first verse calling it “the 15th International Brigade”. It appears that from different chronological perspectives one can call it either the Fifth or the Fifteenth but the mostly English-speaking brigade of the International Brigades is usually named the Fifteenth. Quinze is the Spanish word for “fifteen” and Viva la Quinze Brigada scans in the song while “decimoquinta Brigada” has too many syllables to fit.
4The Soldier’s Song was written originally in English by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican worker with socialist sympathies and put to music by worker-composer Patrick Heeny. It was translated to Irish by Liam Ó Rinn under the title Amhrán na bhFiann and published in 1923. Only the chorus became the anthem of the Irish State and that was not until later. The Irish-language version is the one most commonly sung at non-State occasions now.
(Reading time: 10 minutes)
(Translation by Diarmuid Breatnach of review in Castillian in 2016 of the book of that title and interview with one of the authors in El Confidencial). Para versión original en Castellano mirase al enlace al fin.
‘The boarding schools of fear’ (Ed. Now Books) came into our hands a few days ago. We devoured the 300-page book in just three afternoons. Each page that we turned was leaving us more exhausted, confused and horrified. How is it possible that even today there are no consequences following what happened then?
We talked about sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, experimental operations, baby theft and slavery, among other things, that thousands of children experienced during the Franco regime only because they were classified as ‘children of sin’. These children were children of single mothers, they came from poor families or, what was even worse at the time, their parents were Republicans.
The State ‘hunted’ these children and interned them in centres, of which the vast majority were managed by religious orders by government grant. Judging from the research in the book, in what more than boarding schools looked like prisons and torture rooms for minors. In the text we read a dozen testimonies of victims that leave us nauseous: boys raped by priests, nuns who mistreated hundreds of girls until they tired of it, Salesians who employed all kinds of torture, children who died of beatings, minors who were sold as slaves for 100,000 pesetas (600 euros today), young people locked up in psychiatric hospitals who were subjected to injections the nature of which remainsunknown … A series of horrors that have never been recognized by the State (it was the entity in overall charge of the centres and had the judicial guardianship of minors), nor by the Church (according to the book, hundreds of Salesians, priests and nuns committed atrocities with children), much less by companies that benefited from the slave labour of these imprisoned children.
We have many doubts and we want to know more. We need someone to explain to us how even still this can be silenced. That is why we get in touch with Ricard Belis, one of the authors of the book, together with Montse Armengou, who offers us his view of the past, present and future of this situation. Ricard is an expert in Franco’s history, a subject to which he has dedicated decades of journalistic research. After chatting with him, we come to a valuable conclusion: the damage is already done, but to make known the history of these children and that those responsible for it be known publicly can heal the pain of many victims of the ‘boarding schools of fear’.
QUESTION: As soon as we begin the book we find a statement. You say that, contrary to what happens in other countries – from Argentina to South Africa through the Congo, Bosnia and other places – here in Spain there is no state agency responsible for investigating complaints that arise from people who, from one way or another, themselves suffered from the Franco dictatorship. Why is there no such body in Spain?
ANSWER: Everything is the result of the transition to democracy in Spain. It was done with a system that, although in the first years had its reason for being, decided not to look back at any time. In this way, one enters into a dynamic of many years of silence, which leaves all the victims of the regime forgotten and separated. That has done terrible damage to the victims themselves – for the fact of not being able to express their pain and having it remain inside them – and to Spanish society in general – because the fact of not knowing well what happened would be quite unthinkable in another democratic country.
Q: Do you think that at some point such a state agency could be created or do you consider it something utopian?
A: Well, I would like to see it … but I see it as impossible in near future. This book is the offspring of a documentary that was screened in Catalonia, where it was successful in terms of viewing figures, but nothing happened. There were signatures to a petition demanding that the Church ask for forgiveness, but nothing more. I think it is of greater importance that the Spanish State make these apologies, because it is ultimately responsible for the majority of these boarding schools, centres that were run by religious orders but by state concession. That task remains pending.
I will recount you an anecdote. We took this documentary to a very famous festival in France, in which reports from other countries were screened. After viewing our investigation, the French public did not understand how the Spanish State never apologised or accepted what happened to those interned. Then, by coincidence in the same room a Swiss documentary of a similar theme was projected (child abuse in Swiss boarding schools). The big difference is that this documentary began with the current Swiss Government asking for forgiveness for what previous governments had done.
TV3 DOCUMENTARY ON WHICH THE BOOK IS BASED
Q: In the absence of policies on historical memory, in a country denounced by different international organizations (UN, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe) and with a Partido Popular Government that fulfilled its electoral promise to close the office of Victims of the Civil War and Dictatorship, associations and the media are the only platforms to which those affected can go. Could this situation change with a new government? If, for example, a new political party like Podemos won the elections, do you think they would be willing to investigate all these cases and apply pressure for the creation of such an organization?
A: I am not optimistic for two reasons: first because there is no survey that predicts victory for Podemos, which, although it is one of the few parties presenting at state-level which contains this in its electoral program, it is hardly going to obtain an absolute majority to implement the policies they propose; and second, in this country we have had more years of left-wing than right-wing governments and both have been very shy and inactive on this issue, including the PSOE. It is true that Zapatero brought in a Law of Historical Memory, but it fell short and has hardly been applied. Anyway, I’m not very optimistic. I hope that some year something will happen, although at this rate I fear it will be when the victims are no longer alive.
Q: Why does the Spanish Government not pronounce on this? Is it afraid of the reaction of society?
A: I don’t know very well how to answer that question, because its inactivity is incomprehensible. Because it does not matter if a government is right-wing or left-wing, what cannot be consented to is that the victims of a dictatorship are forgotten and the pain they have suffered is not recognised. I give the example of Angela Merkel, who strongly condemns the crimes committed in the Nazi era.
P: The children of these boarding schools were mistreated both psychologically and physically. They burned their bums with a candle, were forced to eat their own vomit full of insects, were subjected to sexual abuse … Is this perhaps the worst episode that has happened in the history of Spain?
A: The theme of childhood is one of the toughest episodes. When abuse, violence and ill-treatment is employed against a child, it is very traumatic. And not only the pain left inside them but also in their families. It is difficult to rank the hardest moments in the history of this country.
One of the things that has impressed me most doing this research, beyond the abuse, violence and ill-treatmentis the fear and lack of affection felt by most children who lived in these boarding schools. Such was this lack of affection that many of those children came to confuse the first symptoms of sexual abuse as affection. I think it’s a terrible perversion. Some children who have never received a caress, accustomed to receiving beatings, when a priest arrives, touches them and that ends in sexual abuse … it has to mark them for a lifetime.
We always emphasise that this is not a historical investigation, but that it is current, because the damage that was done is still present. That the State does not recognize what happened only increases and magnifies the damage to the victims. The damage that the Dictatorship did is multiplied by the neglect of democracy.
Q: The Church played a great role in that drama. Do you think that with your research, like the one in this book, you will end up engendering a total rejection of the Church in the new generations?
A: I believe that the Church, on a global level, is beginning the process of acknowledging its guilt. The previous Pope, Benedict XVI, has already begun a firm policy against child abuse and sexual abuse, and in that sense it can be said that they are beginning to clean up their house. Late, yes, but we already know that the Church goes a little slower in everything. Here in Spain, there has not been any movement yet. The Church needs a modernization and many duties remain to be carried out, therefore it is normal for new generations to find it harder to believe in the Church.
We have testimonies of victims who ask that the Church apologize, because they are believers and for them it would be of great significance and even very restorative. Others, on the other hand, do not want to know anything about the religious orders, since they are never going to forgive them. In this regard, I think it would be good for the Church to ask for forgiveness, but I think it is more important for the Government to do so, because it is the one ultimately responsible. Although the Popular Party, which currently governs, has no responsibility for what happened, it is the heir of that State. It would be Mariano Rajoy who should ask for forgiveness, but not for anything on his own behalf but rather because he is the current President of Spain (since this was written Sanchez of the PSOE has been the President of the Spanish State – Trans.).
Q: If Mariano Rajoy recognized and apologized for what happened in those boarding schools, would it benefit him in any way with regard to public opinion?
A: In any case it would not hurt him. That a leader recognizes that the State did something wrong, but has no responsibility for it himself, is worthy of admiration. So I think it would mostly be to his benefit. I do not think that it would seem bad to any well-intentioned person that he apologized for the abuses that were committed at that time. Rajoy has no responsibility for it but he is the heir of that dictatorship.
Q: A lot of money was generated around the boarding schools. The Church received huge amounts from the State for the support of the little ones (and only a small part of it reached the minors, since they lived in subhuman conditions and were very hungry) and also pocketed millions of pesetas with the sale and labour exploitation of these children…
A: Yes, the Church took advantage of the situation and profited by it. The minors were a source of funding. The Church found a workforce to which they taught trades with the excuse of training, but the situation resulted in pure and hard exploitation. This situation reminds me of what happens in other countries, where thousands of children, such as from India or Asia, are exploited.
Q: In addition to the Church, large companies in our country also took advantage of the situation and hired this cheap workforce. In the book you mention El Corte Inglés – which at that time were the Almacenes Preciados (Precious Stores – Trans.) – and even Banco Popular and Caja Madrid. Did these companies know that they were hiring exploited children who lived as ‘prisoners’ in boarding schools?
A: I give you the example of El Corte Inglés (chain of shopping malls in the Spanish State – Trans.). They went to religious orders and paid the nuns for labour. They paid little, but they paid. They never hired a child directly. What happens is that, of course, we could say that they could suspect or intuit something with regard to the service being provided so cheaply. I could not tell you that these department stores are directly responsible, because they did not hire the children, although they have some social responsibility. They could imagine what was happening there.
Q: You spoke with those responsible for El Corte Inglés about the subject. And, although at the beginning of the conversations they were pleasant, they ended abruptly with a total refusal on their part to collaborate with your investigation. Do you think that if it was shown that these department stores made use of these children for their business, it would affect their reputation or sales?
A: I think it has been a long time. They are tactics that are currently being used by numerous countries abroad. And, in addition, it could not prove more than than that the Cortes Inglés had a contract with religious orders. The company did not have to know what was done with these children or if they were paid. They could intuit what was happening, but they did nothing illegal. It would be more of a moral issue.
Q: As for you, after gathering so many testimonies and talking to more than 200 victims of these abuses, do you feel that this investigation has taken its toll in some way?
A: We are not made of stone. When you talk to a person who has suffered these abuses you are making her return to one of the worst episodes of her life. Sometimes you leave the interviews affected. But on the other hand it is very comforting, because the victims feel relief through having the opportunity to tell their story to their fellow citizens. In addition, these investigations are doing what the State should do, in the sense of making it known and recognizing it, which is the start of repairing the damage caused.
I remember my first lesson at school. First lesson from a teacher, that is, because you learn other lessons in school as well, from other kids. That particular lesson has remained with me for the rest of my life.
OK, it couldn’t have been the first lesson – it was my second year at school — but it is the first I remember which, in a way, does make it the first. And it wasn’t from any book or written on the blackboard.
That was in senior infants then, I was five years old and our teacher was Iníon Ní Mhéalóid, Miss Mellet in English. It’s a rare Connemara family name, I know now and that is where she was from. She was handsome, maybe even more than that, I can’t remember now. I never had a crush on any teacher who taught me but if I had, it would not have been on her.
The day of this particular lesson, I must’ve been misbehaving in some way, I suppose. Not paying attention to her and talking or laughing with another kid, probably.
She called me out from my desk, admonished me, told me to stick my hand out and … whacked it with a ruler. Maybe my eyes gave her a message, I’m not sure. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul and right then, at that moment, I guess my soul must’ve been pretty dark.
“What are you thinking?” she asked me in Irish.
Now, my Da had brought me and my brother up to tell the truth – always. Years later, my young sister at school would have teachers tell her that though I had often misbehaved, I had always told the truth. I did too, mostly.
When Iníon Ní Mhéalóid asked me that, my training came to the fore but it was more than that – I wanted to tell her what I was thinking.
“I think you’re horrible,” I replied, in Irish too, of course.
I thought I heard my classmates suck in their collective breath.
“Hold out your hand again!”
I did so, half disbelieving. She’d asked me, hadn’t she?
“What are you thinking now?”
“That …. that …. you’re h-horrible,” I sobbed.
“Hold out your hand again!”
“What are you thinking now?” She had a glint in her eye.
I paused, conflicted, then replied.
“An bhfuil tú cinnte (are you sure)?”
“Tá (I am)”.
“Go back to your seat then.”
So now you’re thinking things like “physical abuse, abuse of power, bully, traumatic experience” and feeling sorry for me. Right?
You have it wrong.
Iníon Ní Mhéalóid had taught me a very valuable lesson, relating to truth and power. It is this:
You can speak truth to power because you feel like it, through pride, to encourage others or for any other reason. But those in power are not like your equals down below. You don’t owe those in power any truth and it is perfectly acceptable to tell them lies, to protect yourself or others.
You can of course speak the truth out of choice but know that they do not respect it, will probably use it against you and ….. you must be prepared to pay the price.
You don’t care about history? Well, perhaps but history cares about you. Or rather, it affects you and the world you live in, explains how you got to where you are, your successes and failures – and where you might yet go.
Of course, what I said earlier was kind of a slick answer; history doesn’t really care about you …. or about me …. or anyone else. The wind moves the trees, fills the sails, cools us or brings rain or snow – it affects us, moves us and things around us …. but is not moved by us. That is a useful metaphor because often people think they can stop some things happening by wishing strongly that they would not. Liberals and social democrats, for example …. But the metaphor breaks down – unlike our relationship with the wind, we can move things.
The shape of a tree testifies to the forces that have come to bear upon it as it was growing and its bark rings tell us of years of plenty or scarcity. To say that you don’t care about history is like, in a way, saying you don’t care about your childhood. That period of your past life and the influences that came to bear upon it and how you reacted to them have made you, to an extent, who you are today. Certainly they have hugely affected you, as any psychologist will tell.
If you really don’t care about history, you should not care whether you experience pain or pleasure. Typically, humans like to repeat pleasure and to avoid pain. But how do we know in advance what will give us pleasure or instead cause us pain? Experience. And that too is a kind of history. Which may also teach us what pleasure may be reached through pain, as for example in certain kinds of exercise – or what pleasures may end in pain, as with addictions. And we don’t only have our own experience to go on but that of many others, in their stories and in the accounts of those who have studied them. Another kind of history.
To say that you don’t care about history is to say that you don’t care about cause and effect. You don’t care about science, in other words. Science, in the sense of observation of processes and in the sense of experiment, is a kind of history. If you do this to that, in this atmosphere at that temperature, this will be the result. How do we know? It has been observed or tested, time and time again and recorded. Very like history.
Perhaps history was not taught to you in the way most suited to you at the time. Or rather, perhaps it was not introduced to you as it would best have been. A required subject to study, to gain marks and to ignore forever afterwards is hardly likely to inspire. A list of dates, of kings and queens, of prime ministers, along with their desires, though they figure in it, is not really history. “Facts” without encouragement to challenge, to interpret, to ask and to search for why and how – these drive some minds away while others learn them – but only as dogma.
Kings, Queens, Generals and Leaders of insurgents helped make history – but they didn’t really make history, though we are told they did and often say it ourselves. No king built a castle or a city though we are often told that is what happened. People build castles and cities: they dig foundations and sewers or latrines, dig wells or canals, cut timber and stone, mine and forge metal, construct buildings, grow food, settle, take up livelihoods, raise children, study nature, perform arts, record in print or orally …. History was made by people, ordinary people mostly with a few extraordinary individuals; history was made by people like you and I.
Or perhaps you acknowledge all that but think ok, as an ordinary person, there is nothing you can consciously do to alter the course of things now? Yes, our masters would like you to think that. The reality is that you can make choices: to join that organisation or movement, participate in that action or demonstration …. or not. To vote for one person or party or another – or to abstain. To treat people in this or that way.
What will help you make those choices? Well, for a start, your experience. And experience is a personal history. I did that and this happened; I didn’t agree with that outcome so now I will do something else. But we also have the experiences of millions of others upon which to draw, across thousands of years. History.
You are not an isolated individual and your people, your nation or state, is not an isolated mass. The productive forces of emerging capitalism struggled with monarchy and feudalist systems and elites and produced republicanism. Republican ideas were promoted by English and French intellectuals, for example and found receptive minds among the capitalist sons and daughters of English colonists in Ireland, bringing about the bid for a democratic parliament of all the people in Ireland. When that attempt failed, the ideas impelled some to found the United Irishmen, which hundreds of thousands of others supported because they wished for freedom from the colonial power. Less than a decade after the failure of Grattan’s Parliament to admit representation by Catholic and Dissenter, the United Irish rose in revolutionary upsurge. That was in 1798 and they looked for support from republican France, which had its revolution less than a decade earlier, in 1789. The Irish and the French republicans were encouraged by the American Revolution, which had begun in 1765 and emerged victorious in 1783.
The republican revolutions were carried out by the ordinary mass of people but it was the capitalist class that they brought to power; today the working class struggle to overcome them and come into power themselves, for the first time a majority class taking power and holding up the possibility of the end of classes and therefore of class exploitation. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”, wrote Karly Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.
You are in history. You are a product of history. What you do now affects the historical outcome to some degree at least – to one degree or another you are making history. You might as well study its process and use its lessons to illuminate your way: the distilled and concentrated experiences of millions of human beings like you.
A recent article of the Belfast Telegraph, a British-Unionist paper, reports that nationalist youth have built a bonfire and decorated it with, among other things, a banner representing the Parachute Regiment and another representing “Soldier F”. The article reports that the Police Service of Northern Ireland are treating this as “a hate crime”.
The newspaper comments also that this bonfire is associated with “anti-social behaviour” the nature of which however they neglect to specify. Although the article treats the PSNI statement as unremarkable and neglects to interrogate it as responsible journalism should do, the police statement is actually not only totally inaccurate in terms of law but also discriminatory and oppressive.
One definition of “hate crime” from an on-line dictionary is a crime, typically one involving violence, that is motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds.
Wikipedia posts at greater length and depth:A hate crime (also known as a bias-motivated crime or bias crime is a prejudice-motivated crime which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of their membership (or perceived membership) in a certain social group or race.
“Hate crime” generally refers tocriminal acts which are seen to have been motivated bybias against one or more of the social groups listed above, or by bias against their derivatives. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, mate crime or offensivegraffiti or letters (hate mail).
Now, how does placing an emblem or banner to represent the Paratroop Regiment constitute a “hate crime” under any of those definitions? First of all, is it a crime to burn the banner? Not in itself, no and therefore it cannot be a hate crime. But even if burning a banner were defined in law as a crime, how would it fit the definition of “hate crime” as given above? It is none of those categories above that leads to the Parachute Regiment being reviled.
It is interesting, since the issue of “hate crimes” was brought into law, how incorrectly they are being ascribed by people in authority and by mass media and, curiously, applied to people struggling for national self-determination against repressive states and also to those opposing fascists. In other words, it is progressive forces that are being accused of “hate crimes” because of their resistance to oppression and resistance. Not the reactionary forces one might suppose were the object of the classification.
Certainly, it is the discriminatory and repressive behaviour towards its large Catholic minority of the ‘Northern Ireland’ statelet since its formation which clearly fits into the definitions of “hate crime”, although often its actions were not defined as crimes since they were authorised by its repressive legislation. Nevertheless, even within the parameters of that body of legislation the Statelet and its police committed thousands of crimes, including petty harassment, beatings, torture, perjury, arson, collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries and murder.
The British Army became an active participant in those crimes when it was sent into the Six Counties to bolster the crumbling government and exhausted sectarian police. Chief among those in criminality was the Parachute Regiment, responsible for an admitted list of unarmed civilian fatalities which includes 10 in Ballymurphy in August 1971, 13 in Derry in January of 1972 and another five in July of that year on the Springfield Estate.
It is perfectly reasonable, natural and, I would say healthy to hate the people who carried out those massacres. And to hate them cannot reasonably be called a crime.
“Soldier F” is the only member of that regiment to have been charged with the crime of murder and to be facing trial. As a representative of that murderous regiment he did not become a public target of hate until the Loyalists chose to publicly flaunt their support for him with banners, graffiti and badges. None of those, motivated by hate for the nationalist community, were charged with committing a hate crime. However, when nationalist youth, responding to that hateful campaign of the Loyalists, place the soldier’s alias on a bonfire, suddenly it is they who are accused of perpetrating a “hate crime”.
Unfortunate it may be that the nationalist youth have focused on this individual soldier but it is not a hate crime. They are targeting him not because of race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sexuality, disability etc, etc but because of his membership of a murderous regiment and, furthermore, in response to a campaign of provocation by Loyalists against which the sectarian PSNI and Statelet authorities have taken no action whatsoever.
And you know what? Although I am not from Derry or Belfast, I hate the Paratroop Regiment too.And the sectarian Statelet and its sectarian police force and the Loyalist bigots who support it and try to suppress the democratic rights of the nationalist population, as well as of migrants, women and LBGT people.
I could get to hate the Belfast Telegraph as well.