I’ve regenerated

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The theredandblackstork blog is now finished, an ex-blog, if you please.  I worked out that not a single person remembered what the blog was called, and therefore have opted for a more snappy czarnykapturek.  I mean, that is my name.  (For people who don’t speak Polish, it is pronounced charnuh captoorek).

So long, goodbye, and thanks for all the fish.

Burakburgers

This article is not about burakburgers.  I couldn’t think of a snappy title.  But anyway, before a few brief points, I just want to say that I have come to the view that one hasn’t really lived in/been to Wrocław until one has had a burakburger.  I did think about coming up some ill-fitting metaphors about how this blog is the burakburger and you are the tomato sauce, but I didn’t even convince myself of that, so here’s a nice photo I nicked:

ImageNo really.  The ones at the Christmas market by Vega were well nice, and the ones made by Złe mięso are boss.

Anyway, a few points:

Firstly, you know the film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” by Werner Herzog?  It is an excellent film, and the beginning is stunning.  “What does this have to do with Wrocław?” I hear you say.  Well I got a bit bored when I saw it, wanting the action to begin.  However, it’s worth seeing, and while the rest of the film carries the plot, the film without the beginning loses something.

It’s like that with my series about “multicultural Wrocław”.  The upcoming articles will be dead good (the next one will look at the issue of language), seeing as stuff will be said that I’ve never heard said, good stuff, but the series will be more complete by reading the introduction.

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To crowbar – to forcefully include an irrelevant theme into a text/dialogue

I’m not saying that the articles will witness a slow grasp on reality culminating in murderous activities, like Klaus Klinksi brilliantly portrays in the film.  I’m not begging you to read it.  That’d annoy me if someone did that to me , or if I begged you to post the article on Facebook/tweet it/read them out in front of masses of people/hang upon my every word and the such.  Nah, I’m just saying that I reckon it’d be worthwhile to read it (which is me being very polite.  Basically I believe that you should read it, but I won’t come out and say that.  The article is boss, as is most things that I write).

Second thing.  Yeah, it was cool when the Facebook page of the “March of Independence” was deleted by the Facebook administration.  I mean, it’s ran by (what 161.infocafe rightfully call as) rebranded fascists and its parades in Warsaw and Wrocław have been linked to violent attacks.  Turns out that Facebook in Poland want to clamp down on hate speech.  Well I’m not so glad about this.  Firstly, the evening after the deleting saw a new “March of Independence” page set up, which got 10,000 “likes” within two hours.  The same day saw the “Big clean up of Facebook from hate speech” page deleted by Facebook as well, presumably due to complaints by fascists/racists/idiots about “left-wing hate speech”, something that I’ve seen elsewhere, whereby an antifa group page got taken down.  This belays a common mistaken belief that there is such a thing as a left-wing version of the likes of Neo-Nazis.  I’ll write more about this fallacy another time, but for the moment I’ll summarise by saying: It’s a load of rubbish.

More cutting analysis after the weather.

I mean, the thing is is that the old March page was “liked” by many people who don’t live in Poland, and that they gain a lot of financial help from immigrants in GB as well as US Poles/Pole-Americans (whatever they call themselves), where, and I say this with respect for the anti-fascist/left-wing tradition there, there is a strongly polarised view of matters of Islam, multiculturalism, sexuality and so on.  When I say strongly polarised I mean, as one says in the US, “bat shit crazy”.

But still.  A strong reaction against fascism and racism requires people to report hate speech on Facebook and Twitter and stand up against it online and in real life.  Dodgy views in a healthy civic society would be automatically challenged.  Even if that means trailing through comments on Gazeta Wyborcza.  This means being vigilant about, say, a protest planned in Wrocław by a group known for violent attacks on Roma premises by reporting this to the Facebook admin.  Yes, I know it won’t stop the protest, but still, the dissemination of hate speech must be countered, even if the Facebook admin are very flawed.

Which brings me to point three.  We need more than internet activism (yes, you know that. Yes, I know that you know that).  Protests by some residents of Tarnogoj about the setting up of places of residents for the Roma from Romany who have been living on a settlement on ul. Kamieńskiego had strongly antiziganistic undertones.  In a later article (me saying that must get annoying by now) I shall look at this more.  I won’t lecture you on concrete signs of solidarity that these Roma need, things like teaching them Polish, something Nomada have been asking for.  (Anyone of you speak fluent Polish and have some time?)

Right, that’s all for now.  Hope you’re having a good start to 2014.

“Multicultural Wroclaw”

Is Wrocław multicultural?  I reckon not, and not only I think that.  In their special on Wrocław, Polytka magazine quotes Professor Hana Cervinkova who says that “Vratislavians claim that their city is multicultural but really it is monocultural”.  Pope John Paul II may have said in 1997 that “Wroclaw is a city situated practically at the meeting point of three lands which through their history are very closely united to one another. It is, as it were, a city of encounter, a city that unites”, but this meeting doesn’t happen.  Bohemians, Germans and Poles have been here, but hardly any of them have been here at the same time.  There was and there is little meeting.

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Wrocław 2016: The shallow city?

Nah, I reckon that multiculturalism as it tends to be understood is flawed in that when people talk of it they tend to only mean different nationalities and religions.  From that perspective Wrocław isn’t multicultural.  Recent census results have shown that if you look at nationalities other than Polish in Wroclaw among people who are registered we’re talking about less than one thousand people who have other nationalities.  Same with confessions/religions other than the RC church.

This concentration is flawed.  I wish to say more about this in a later article, but for now will simply point out that Amartya Sen, in his book, “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destinyshows that we are comprised of many different identities and that (what is often called as) intercultural meetings does indeed happen in Wrocław, but not in the way in which people most people think.

I mean, “when you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good”.

Now, as it happens, at an event in the Wroclaw museum of contemporary art last November, Dr Julia Makaro and Dr Kamila Dolińska presented their report, “On the multicultural monocultural Wroclaw” whereby they interviewed people in Wroclaw about multiculturalism in Wroclaw.  They came to the surprising conclusion that the great majority of people think that Wroclaw is multicultural, and 97% of them see this as positive.  The reason why they believed that Wroclaw is multicultural is that they hear different languages, can buy different types of food and see different styles of architecture.

For me this, while being fairly shallow, and leaving aside the issue that those who speak other languages tend to be tourists (by that logic Oświęcim is a multicultural town), and those who sell different types of food tend to be Poles, this is a useful starting point in trying to build respect for diversity.

Klaus Bachmann righfully points out that there’s a difference between being for multicultural in theory and in practise.  We might as well be pragmatic and try to make it work in Wrocław, to stop Wrocław from being a shallow city (well the water can stay shallow) and be a fitting Capital of Culture.  This blog shall therefore see a series of articles addressing various multicultural competences (let’s call them that, I prefer “transcultural competences”, but explaining that will require a whole article which would tire your patience) such as the issue of languages, power, identity, the creation of the concept of “foreigners”, the situation of Roma from Romania and other clever stuff.

 

The dead bird around our white necks

The poem, “Rime of the ancient mariner” by Samuel Taylor Colderidge tells of a mariner who, on a ship bound on sail killed an albatross, the “bird of good omen”. Bad luck befalls the shipmates, they run out of water, and they “blame the luck on the mariner, about his neck, the dead bird is hung”*.

Picture from the film Black Venus

Picture from the film Black Venus

White people have a dead bird hanging around our necks, that of the legacy of colonialism, which has resulted in a racist socialisation that not only manifests itself in being anti-”PC” but also, and even in anti-racist initiatives.

This reflection has been prompted by the “Exhibit B” performance that took place as part of the Dialogue festival in Wrocław.  I’ll describe it as I experienced it.

Once we had showed our tickets we sat in a cafe (in the Browar Mieszkański), where people were allowed 25 at a time to enter the performance area. I was in the last group, which went into a small room, sat down and two women spoke formally to us about us not being able to take photos or talk in the exhibition. We were given numbers and my number was called first, so I was the first to go in.

The first part was an exhibition with skulls of antelopes and other animals, as well as costumes. There was a board saying what was in the part, which included “pygmy (male), pygmy (female)”. Indeed, there were two people standing still. I didn’t know what the hell to do. Should I say hello? Should I look at them? Feeling unsure, I went to the next part, which again had a living person, this time with a board about “asylum seeker” with height measurements, weight, religion and other personal details written on it. The “asylum seeker” stood still, looking at me. Again, I felt uncomfortable and moved quickly on.

Now, after giving our tickets we were given pieces of paper which gave a bit of info about colonialism in Africa and the “human zoos”, whereby Black people from Africa were showed as exponates in order to show white Europeans how exotic, undeveloped and backward they were. This knowledge in my mind, I decided to only briefly look in the eyes of those in the exhibition, not wanting to stare and be rude.

The exhibition went on and got more grisly, with parts related to slaves who had been killed in brutal ways, or heads from Herero people who had died during the genocide between 1904 and 1907 who had been cut off and sent to German scientists in order to “biologically prove” their backward nature. I continued to feel uncomfortable, even though this is a theme I know more about, the death of people trying to enter/trying not to leave the EEC/EU. The thing was, the people looking at me were not looking neutrally, rather, with emotion in their eyes.

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In the last room were posters showing those who were playing in the performance. One spoke of the sense of “guilt” Europeans feel.

Here’s the thing, in my work I do anti-racist workshops, I’ve been involved in initiatives against prejudice (with racism forefront in mind) and I’ve openly spoken about the need for people from GB to deal effectively with their colonial past. Why would I feel uncomfortable? Is it guilt?

Unconscious racism among the “good people”

Well…I remember saying racist things as a child in the 1980s. I remember saying nothing when I saw racist things happen. There’s more to it than that though. I mean, I was quite young then, not reflected. Nah, there’s more to it than that. I remember how, when meeting people from the Solomon Islands in about the year 2000 I was all nice, buying them posters and generally speaking slower and louder to them, all from the motivation of being “nice”.

Once while attending a training about combatting anti-semitism, we were taught about one form of German anti-semitism whereby non-Jewish Germans may not feel comfortable when meeting Jewish people (from any country); this will be demonstrated through a feeling of being ill at ease, passive hostility or even being patronisingly nice, no matter what generation they belong to.

My theoretical knowledge about a non-Jewish German defensiveness about Jewish people became more real in this exhibition. Those who were looking at me were representing victims, and I as a member of a white society am representative of the perpetrators, in that I (a) was born into the western civilisation that did racist crimes and (b) as a result of my socialisation have acted “oddly” around Black people, even in my attempts to combat racism.  I am not saying that I felt guilty because I thought that I made those things possible, rather, a sense of shame that I am part of the thought system that makes modern day racism possible.

Unconscious guilt among those who are “anti-PC”

Notice how so far I’m talking about myself. As the designer of the performance Brett Baily said, the main actors and actresses are the visitors. Indeed, on the list of the exponates was also written “visitor(s)”. Like how people from Africa have become a huge area of projection, this exhibition was about myself, about how uncomfortable I felt with feeling like a perpetrator. It is this uncomfortable feeling that I know with modern German anti-semitism that can lead to feelings of resentment or a desire to switch round the victim/perpetrator relationship; this is similar the many comments in online social mediums about those refugees who died in the shipwrecks at Lampusa were “to blame”, or that those to blame where those who were transporting them, instead of looking at an inhuman EU policy regarding refugees.

The German feminist Birgit Rommelspacher wrote in her excellent book Dominanzkultur that white people, when they meet Black people do not react neutrally, they’ll feel like they’re walking on eggshells, they have to watch what they say in case they get called racist, they are aware of the crimes done to Black people and therefore feel unconsciously guilty; they also know that racism still exists. Like with non-Jewish Germans when they meet Jewish people, this can take the form of hostility. A need to defend oneself from being “guilty” among young Germans is something I’ve heard many times when, it must be noted, no-one mentioned the need for those present to be feel “guilty”. It may sound far-fetched, but why would some white people take so much effort to defend themselves, I mean, if they’ve done nothing, they have no need to defend themselves. They could simply laugh accusations off.

The issue is not whether someone is guilty or not or consciously feels this sense of shame, it’s about that people have not dealt with difficult areas of the biographies of their families or nations and therefore the mere presence of representatives of the victim group can call into question their (or their familes’) sense of being “good”.

White people using Black people in advertising

In the aforementioned “Deutschland schwarz weiss” book Noah Sow gives excellent examples of how even attempts to seeingly make people “pro-African” can be racist.

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“In Africa the children never come too late to school, rather, they never go to school”

Ah, right, so white children are educated but black ones aren’t, so Africa is one homogeneous place, so black means dirtiness (note the black coming off on the T-shirt).

It is here where, despite the fact that Poland didn’t have colonies (though the human zoos did get shown in Prussian-occupied Poland in Warsaw and possibly Poznań), Polish people cannot be left off the hook. Even if this is just a clumsy form of racism, the fact is that people in Poland have been influenced by the standard form of European racism. I mean, look at this advert, where Mike Tyson sings about not being able to control himself, is rough and wild, because “that’s how Black works”.

I am not writing about beatings ones breast, simply I am saying that it is possible to acknowledge the way in which we were socialised into racist thoughts without having to get all hung up about being “bad” people.  Let’s chill.  Our parents and teachers and others who influenced us were not necessarily arseholes.

* Yes, I am quoting the Iron Maiden song. I hadn’t heard of the poem before I had heard the song.

Thatcher, Poland and a false dichotomy

The death of Thatcher has resulted in mixed reactions in the UK.  In Poland I’ve seen a smidgeon of praise for her, including from Donald Tusk who follow the standard western right-wing line of her being “against communism” and her “support for Solidarity” and her eventual “victory”.

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Accepting this narrative would require one to see contradictions in Thatcher’s actions in Poland.  First, let’s look at this video:

That was in the November of 1988.  This is the incident which is used to show her “help”.  Now, I’m not saying that Solidarity did not gain from her visit.  That hundreds of workers were chanting her name, and that people like Archbishop Jankowski were praising her contribution to Solidarity shows that she did have a beneficial impact upon Solidarity.  In that November aid was offered to the Polish government on the condition of talking with Solidarity.

She wasn’t always so helpful towards Solidarity, though.  1981 saw the  martial law come via the PM Wojciech Jaruzelski (who as Minister of Defense had ordered Polish troops to enter Czechoslovakia in 1968) , whereby thousands of opposition activists were interned without charge as up to 100 people were killed.  Solidarity was itself declared illegal in 1982.

Thatcher was to be one of various western leaders who would do speeches in 1982 supporting Solidarity, but the period prior to the imposition of martial law saw her, as shown by the release of confidential German documents in 2012 to be “suspicious” of Solidarity, that she only backed Solidarity out of “respect for public opinion” and that in a usual situation the British government would be “on the side of the Polish government”.  There was talk within the British government of helping the Polish government in repression against Solidarity if they get “out of control”.  It could be argued that the lack of threat of reprisals against a potential imposition of martial law by the British government contributed to the likelihood of its existence.  This was a dire time for Solidarity, and regarding Thatcher, they were walking alone when they most needed help.

This interesting article from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation of all places offers an explanation.  Her opposition towards sanctions against Poland appears to be grounded in her concern for British businesses in the Soviet Union who were part (along with US firms) of building a gas pipeline in Siberia.  In other words, she didn’t want to annoy the Soviets.

Now we come to the UK miners’ strike of 1984-85.  This was a very bitter strike, very symbolic in attacking not just the coal industry, but trade unions in general.  Thatcher arranged that coal be brought from Poland so that there would be stockpiles, thus helping the UK government to win against the miners.  What that means, therefore, is that Thatcher was happy to do a deal with Jaruzelski.  (Indeed, she was full of praise for him.)

thatcher-jaruzelski

Bear in mind that the Polish government had a very high foreign debt (over $20bn) at that time.  In fact it was the bad financial situation of the 1970s that contributed greatly towards the establishment of Solidarity in 1980.  To quote Norman Davies, “By 1976, it was clear that a depressed world market did not need substandard Polish exports, and that Polish industry was too inefficient to produce them at any rate.  [...] It was surprising that the regime lasted as long as it did“, (italics added by myself).  Now, the world market in 1984 was not in so strong a depression (though most western countries were either in recession or just coming out of it), but the fact is that, when the government of Poland needed financial help in order to keep afloat, the government who had just a few years earlier had led to the death of opponents, Thatcher came in and helped them out.

Now, this article shows that Solidarity members were supportive of the miners on strike in the UK (Wałęsa was as well, though critical of miners’ violence, and was respectful of Thatcher.  I’ll come back to him later).  For example:

 “The underground Provisional Co-ordinating Committee of Silesian miners sends you fraternal greetings and our support and solidarity for your struggle for the right to work

“We will do everything possible to support your struggle, including in action. The protest we have sent to the Polish government and Parliament is an initial measure taken in support of your struggle”.

(Solidarity miners in Silesia)

 “The slave labour of the Polish miners serves to break the resistance of the British miners.

“British miners! In the prevailing conditions of terror, the. Polish workers movement is at present not in a position to undertake protest actions. But you may be certain that we are in solidarity with you”.

(Solidarity members in Warsaw)

 “Neither the British government’s mounted police charges nor its truncheon blows, any more than the Polish junta’s tanks or rifle fire, can break our common will to struggle for a better future for the working class.”

(Solidarity members in Upper Silesia)

Wojciech Jaruzelski was therefore a scab whose decision to sell coal to Thatcher helped her to win the strike.*

Coming back to Thatcher’s visit in 1988 and the help it gave to Solidarity, one has to see that visit in the context of the time in Poland.  Foreign debt was that year $39bn (despite the lack of British sanctions).  The PRON attempt to gain the regime support was failing dismally.  There were food shortages.  The case of Father Popiełuszko was illustrative of a failing regime.  That, for the first time ever in post-1945 Polish history the government were forced to admit that someone had been killed by its members and that these were put in prison showed a crumbling regime.

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That is the context of Thatcher’s visit in 1988.  To listen to some right-wing commentators, it’s as if she was playing for Solidarity and scored the winning goal.  No.  Solidarity were already winning.  It’s as if that she came on in the 86nd minute and helped to energise the team to hold that lead.  The spring and summer of 1988 saw many big strikes in Poland, and the effect was such that the communist authorities had to admit defeat and ask Wałęsa to ask strikes to go back to work.  Out of this grew the Polish Round Table Agreement, from which came the end of communism.  To use another metaphor, Thatcher was Sean Connery in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, coming into the film right at the end.  Perhaps she simply saw which way the game was going and decided to get in the good books of Solidarity.

I don’t wish to downplay her role in helping end the communist state, but the fact is that her role was minor, compared with Solidarity, the Polish pope, the effect of Gorbachev and Jaruzelski himself.

A false dichotomy

There is seemingly a contradiction in Thatcher’s behaviour regarding Poland.  How can someone who clearly works for capitalism do something that helps a communist state to last longer?  How can someone so concerned with “personal freedoms” effectively countenance communist production and at the same time the poor pay of Polish miners?  Even those Thatcher fans who manage not to ignore Thatcher’s support of Pinochet (of which more underneath) call it an “aberration”, when in fact, what she did in Poland and Chile is entirely consistent with her work as a class warrior on behalf not just personally on behalf of individuals who she trusted, but also impersonally on behalf of capitalism in all its contradictory, bringing riches-and-poverty, liberation-and-captivity, life-and-death self.**

It’s this that enabled her to do deals with Jaruzelski for her own benefit.  It’s this that enabled her to support Pinochet, including for his free-market policies.  It’s this that say her brand Nelson Mandela a “terrorist“.  It’s this that saw her support the Khmer Rogueafter they had done a genocide.  It’s this that saw her call Suharto a “friend“.  (It’s similar with Reagan, after whom a square is named here in Wrocław; see the impact of his work in Central America.)  As I wrote here, the pre-civil war Spain shows us capitalists and fascists working together, something respected by Maciej Giertych, a Polish MEP free-marketist, who is a fan of Franco and Salazar.  It’s not personal, it’s just business.  It’s capitalism.  Even if that involves dealing with communists like Jaruzelski and the Khmer Rogue.  Even if relative and absolute poverty increase in the UK she can justify her rule due to the benefits received by others.

Of course, unlike Franco and Pinochet, she didn’t set up concentration camps.  On the authoritarian scale she’s not as high up as them, but under her the British police got politicised against what she termed as “the enemy within”, she created a culture of impunity that contributed to the cover-up of the police’s culpability for the death of 96 Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough disaster and was criticised for “bullying” colleagues.

The Battle of Orgreave

The Battle of Orgreave

The question isn’t whether someone or something is communist or capitalist.  The question are rather, can people protest without facing police violence, do workers receive good pay, are states working against minorities (see the UK and Poland), are workers represented democratically and have a say in what happens to the produce they make***, are institutions authoritarian?  The answers in Jaruzelski-era Poland and Thatcher-era GB are pretty similar, even if the extent to the answers are different.

Speaking of authoritarianism, Wałęsa himself was to prove to be anti-democratic  and a scab (he said last year that a strike somewhere in Poland should end and that the police should intervene, I can’t find a link for that story though).  Bożena Keff here (on pages 18 and 19) believes Solidarity to be less than democratic, in that she shows how RC members of Solidarity betrayed women members after 1989.  Note how Archbishop Jankowski in the video praises Thatcher for being a “strong leader”.  Communism has gone from Poland, but authoritarianism remains.****

In other words, in order to understand Poland now (and most western people are stuck in 1989) we need to look beyond this standard mindset.  Lewica Wolnościowa and 161.info.cafe are just two organisations Polish that are leading the way.

* In addition to financial input that Jaruzelski received, states that called themselves communists have right from the start been happy to have deals with businesses (for example).  Here I’m looking at left-wing criticisms of Stalinism and Real Socialism.

** This offers lessons for people opposed to Thatcher.  Rather than seeing her as evil, or even as ground-breaking, it’s more fitting to see her as an embodiment of capitalism, a capitalism that isn’t like the X-Files (maintained by secret men behind closed doors) or The Silence (a demonic force which controls us)  rather, we are capitalism.  We gain (as Marx knew) benefits from it.  We maintain it.  An effective left-wing criticism of capitalism requires a handling of this irony.  This enables us to understand why some people ignore all the bad that happened through her, in that they concentrate on the good.

*** Not just with workers’ representation only via party members in Poland, but also I question whether the British trade union system was effectively democratic, in that I believe positions of power to corrupt people, and prefer collectives.

**** The standard line is to blame communism for authoritarianism in Poland.  There is truth in this, but I believe it owes itself to an old mindset of people such as parents, priests, politicians, professors and, err.. something else beginning with “p” should have more respect.

Wroclaw for everyone without hate parade 2013

Look, I’m not claiming the credit for the “Wrocław for everyone without hate” parade and should be carried shoulder-high through the streets of Wrocław.  That should go to the many hard-working people I’ve met over the past week.  I’m just saying that, last November I wrote that we need a Wrocław coalition against fascism, and somewhere, I can’t remember where but I think it was on this blog’s Facebook page that I said that the first action could be a protest against hate crimes.

 

This is, of course, a coincidence.  Literally no-one reads this blog.  In fact, this blog has minus reader figures.  I’m just saying that, behind this bluster and oh-so-western opinions, sometimes, just sometimes I am right.

Sometimes in a bad way.  (See this article from November 2011 and this one from a few weeks ago.)  Sometimes, as shown yesterday, in a good way.  Therefore perhaps, just perhaps you should mark my next words:

The parade was excellent.  There were tons of people, maybe as much as 2000 people.  There was an excellent mood.  It was well colourful, well creative and contained some excellent music.  Passers-by saw us having fun.  We needed a positive kick to our system following the fascist activities of the few years.  The PR beforehand was very good.  It was excellent to see NGOs and small businesses get behind us.

Uczestnicy parady 'Wrocław dla wszystkich bez nienawiści'

Photo: Tomasz Szambelan / Agencja Gazeta

I hope that this is just the start.  It’s all very well having fun but we have to learn from mistakes which were made.  Passers-by should have received flyers or other forms of information to find out what we were about.  We had too many pauses, though the cold made that worse.  Some left the parade due to the cold, having to stand around, and due to the length.  I believe that the parade should have been shorter.  Of course, and this is important, better weather would have helped.  Still, we could have dealt with this better.
Photo: Kamil Downarowicz

Photo: Kamil Downarowicz

Some have complained about the presence of a few people with covered faces among us.  To tell the truth, I was somewhat wary of the reaction to them, but when one remembers the brutal violence of fascists towards initiatives like ours, I felt somewhat comforted to see them.  Some people however don’t know much about anti-fascist action (which was a part of the parade, despite its emphasis on a positive message) or are less comfortable with confrontation than myself, and were put off.  It didn’t help that they were at the front of the parade.  Saying that, I repeat that I myself was glad to see them.  It was unfortunate that some of them reacted to the clearly drunk and confused four nationalists who followed us, giving them the attention they wanted.

The future of Wrocław anti-fascism is dependent on dealing with a few issues: Will the coalition continue?  Will it enlarge its target audience to meet those who are not even aware of problems with discrimination in Wrocław?  With active Christians?  People over 35 (who were there, but were a minority)?  Such issues, as well as that of racism in Polish society, lack of civic intervention when hate crimes are witnessed or the high profile role of violence in Polish culture are big issues.

Photo: Kamil Downarowicz

Photo: Kamil Downarowicz

Still, this was just a start.  Mistakes are to be made, and learned from.  I repeat, the parade was excellent.  I reckon the parade will be like a demonstration I attended in Birmingham in 1998.

You see, about 70,000 people (including myself) went to Birmingham in May 1998 to protest against the economic policies of the G7, specifically for the cancellation of debt owed by Global South countries.  These people were largely apolitical people, or least, not the kind of people who were normally politically active.  This contained many Christians.  They came, saw many people with the same concerns, felt more powerful, went home, and got politically active on an international as well as local levels.  Birmingham 1998 was a big kick-start for us.

Yesterday was on a smaller scale than Birmingham, but contained many who hadn’t been to such events before.  I believe that Wrocław 2013 will play a  kick-start role for them, as well as for us more seasoned activists.  We can’t rely on politicians.  It’s up to us to push on.

Thanks to all those who attended!  See you again (and again, and again, and again…..)

International Women’s Day 2013

“I’m not giving any flowers to anyone.  It’s a load of sexist shite; women are expected to do all of the work at home, be reduced to the role of mother, get less pay at work, are excluded from high positions and then, as way of thank you, receive a flower.  Nah, International Women’s Day in Poland is about the illusion of respecting women.  In fact it’s sexist towards women”.

Said my male friend.

“But I like it”, I replied.  “My only bother with women’s day is the environmental cost of sending tulips from Holland here.”  “Or even from Kenya.  Remember that article we saw about Kenyan girls being paid little money in order to pick tulips, where they are exposed to pesticides?  They’re paid little in order that some western white person can give them to women here”, he replied.  “Well, as a girl I got flowers from my father and my brother, carnations, grown in Poland.  It was always a nice day”, I said.  “That’s as may be, but still.  Nice things aren’t always good, as I always say”, he countered.   “No, you don’t say that.  You say ‘Not everything that is good is legal’”, I said.

Taken from the Cafe Pestka page on Facebook

Taken from the Cafe Pestka page on Facebook

“Oh yeah”, he said, distracted.  He sipped his coffee as he watched a black cat with white paws going by outside.  He followed the cat’s progress, as the cat tried to avoid walking in the snow.

I brought his attention back to myself.  “I’ve never called myself a feminist, you know”, said I.  “Feminists are those who are just too…..extreme.  Yesterday on Twitter I was looking at what women were writing about men, in relation to International Women’s’ Day.  It was full of shite like, ‘Give the man a simple task, they can’t multi-task’ and ‘Do we even need men?’ and the such.  Remember that video of feminists disrupting a talk about battered husbands?   Nah, I can’t call myself a feminist.  My mother was a feminist and bossed my father around, and he just took it.”  “Heh”, said he, “Then I have a more radical feminist position that you or indeed another women I know.  Being feminist isn’t about being anti-men, you know.  That’s so 1970s”.

I changed track, “I’ve been following the debate in Germany about whether companies should have a minimum quota of women on boards of directors.  Among some young German women I know, this is the theme they talk of.  I read this article in a left-wing magazine that pointed out that these women who may go on boards are those women who have worked hard, and as a consequence have paid girls to look after their children in order to free them to work.  These paid girls mostly get paid little, and many come from Poland.  Is that feminism?  Where rich western women end up being paid more?”

During my little speech my friend was supping on his latte.  As I mentioned the words “rich western women” he put his coffee down and leaned forward.  “I was reading that book by Birgit Rommelspacher in which she complained about the same thing, from a feminist perspective.  She pointed out that domination happens across many levels: Being women, being an immigrant, not being able bodied, having dark skin…..the question is whether a white-skinned middle class woman in Germany is more discriminated than, say, a male asylum seeker from the Sudan”.

I nodded.  I saw a man in a suit come in, and remembered something.  “You know what pisses me off, though?  I was at work the other day and a male apprentice was there.  A customer came in and he spoke to the apprentice, even though I was at the desk and he was trying to work on the side of my colleague’s desk”.

“What did you do?”, he asked.  “I simply smiled and answered.  Still, the customer continued to talk to the apprentice like I wasn’t even there”.  “Gobshite”, he said, sitting back.  Things in Poland really have to change.  Stuff like abortion or pay or textbooks in schools are important, but daily relations are important as well.  It’s ridiculous that, for example, that woman politician, what’s her name?  You know, that local one from PO.  She did a speech on TV and what was the debate about afterwards on the comments board on Gazeta Wyborcza?  That she’s put on weight.  Winds me up, that kind of shite”.

“You can’t always be angry on women’s behalf, you know.  I’m doing my best to get by.  Sometimes one has to accept society’s rules in order to get on.  It’s alright for you, a man, to sit there getting wound up about feminism, but in the reality of my life I benefit from accepting society’s rules.  Keeping the peace can get one further”.  “At what cost, though?.  You get pissed off about being talked down to.  Just the other day you were complaining about a male colleague who works less hours but gets paid more”.

“True.  Anyway, I can’t always be the radical kind.  It costs me energy.  I don’t want to be the forever angry woman like my mother”, I replied.

At this point a flower seller came in, going to my friend and asking him whether he wanted to buy one for me.  He said no.

After he left my friend said, “Sexist shite, expecting me to be the active one and you to be the passive and thankful one.  It’s like on trains when a girl comes on and men offer to help her with their luggage.  It’s about showing who is weak and who is strong”.

“You’re one for strong opinions today”, I replied.  “How many coffees have you drunk?”  “Just this one.  Nah, I mean it.”  “I know girls who do have problems with lifting luggage”, I offered.  “You don’t have such problems”, said he.   “You’re right.  I’ve got strong shoulders.”.  “Because you go swimming a lot.  Girls who don’t exercise their body will end up weak.  I find that these gentlemen who always let women first onto trams and the such are actually sexist in that they consider the woman to be in need of help”.

“Girls aren’t expected to be physically strong.  They’re expected to do all the work at home, and be pretty”.  “So you’re agreeing with me?”

“Not really”, I said.  “What you don’t understand is that many women in Poland like to receive flowers, and have men lifting luggage for them.  These men who buy flowers and lift luggage are not thinking “haha I’m being a sexist bastard now’, rather, they want to help.  In any case, you help women with luggage”.  He looked at the window and thought.  He replied, “Well, I tend to be stronger than them.  In Poland certainly.  Apart from reproductive stuff, our bodies are the product of sexually constructed gender roles”.

One can tell that he’s been reading academic books lately“, I thought.  He continued, “In any case, those complaining about rich white German womens’ feminism are German feminists themselves.  That’s the thing I like about Manifa in Poland.  The criticism that is being done is not narrow, rather, it takes an anti-capitalistic point.  Last year on the march there were many banners about the cost of the new stadium in Wrocław and how that money could have been spent on affordable homes for people in Wrocław who live in poor quality flats, such as without toilets.  Actually, half the people at the march were men.  For me, this was a feminism I was very comfortable with”

"Women pay for the crisis".  Meeting at 2pm on Sunday the 10th of March on the rynek by the Fredro momument.

“Women pay for the crisis”. Meeting at 2pm on Sunday the 10th of March on the rynek by the Fredro momument.

“Anything about abortion?”, I asked.  “Yeah”, he replied,”I saw a few banners about that theme close to me., saying “My body, my decision”, and the such.  There were also some socialist banners.”

“That’s good.  You know that story of the Socialist Workers’ Party in GB, where the upper echelons (largely comprising of men) covered up a rape allegation against a man and then slurred the woman?  That was a disgrace to the left-wing.  I would hope that the left-wing at least would be pro-women.”

I finished my coffee, thinking as I did so.  “I guess this shows that the problem is not men, rather, domination.  These men work in a hierarchy, and hierarchies tend to be self-preserving”, I said.  I asked for another espresso and reconsidered, “No, that lets men off too easily.  That men tend to be in the top of hierarchies and that they live in a man-world (their colleagues and friends are male), they don’t know the world of having strangers commenting on their body on the streets.  I don’t think they even want to know”.

“Note how those men who are against International Men’s Day tend to be those who are middle-class and sexist towards women.  They are talking from a position of strength and don’t like hearing uncomfortable things like men being more likely to be homeless, killed in war, in prison, die earlier, or suffer domestic violence at the hands of women.  Talk of an apparent “weakness” of men makes them feel scared.  It’s similar when they hear about rape of women, this produces a feeling of resentment against women, as they don’t like to be confronted with the fact that some men do bad things,” said my friend.

“That weekend we went to in the countryside where there were loads of New Age and political type of people.  Note how the men tended to play drums while the women tended to cook and wash up.  Theoretically, these people were going to be the more progressive people.”  I drained my espresso and said, winking, “Keeping to the praxis of feminism, we need to go, and therefore we have to pay.”  I asked the waitress for the bill.  “You watch who she gives the bill to now”, said I.

The waitress came over with the bill.

She put it on the centre of the table.

I laughed.  “That proves nothing”.

As we walked out the cafe my friend told me “You look thoughtful”.

“Nah, I’m just wondering whether it would be better if this article would have been written in a standard format instead of this story-style.”

“I’m not even sure whether people will read this article all the way to the bottom”.