The Czarny Kapturek Manifesto

 

Trump winning in the US, a small majority voting for leaving the EU in the UK; the electing of the PiS government in the UK and its subsequent high ratings, despite its Stalinistic attack on democracy; Fidesz in Hungary, the EU’s backing for a government in Ukraine with neo-fascist members; Front National polling highly in France and the sudden growth of AfD in Germany, we are seeing all over the world attacks on democracy, health care, the rights of immigrants and refugees, working conditions and pay and the environment.

How do we deal with this?  In the Czarny Kapturek Manifesto, I am addressing political activists, those who deal with non-formal education and the voluntary sector, NGO members, members of various religions, concerned people who work in corporations and historians.  I am familiar with and to some degree work as part of each of these sectors and therefore see strengths, but also weaknesses.  Therefore, the Czarny Kapturek Manifesto takes aim at key beliefs and practices within these groups that are failing, that fall short of what’s needed.  You may therefore feel attacked.  That’s the aim.  I am not disrespecting your values or aims, rather, the way you try to achieve them.  Some may feel more attacked than others; put this down to the fact that some people are more present in attacking (for want of a better word) Trumpism than others, and therefore are more dominant.

  • Internationalise problems. We are seeing a global wave of racism and authoritarianism.  Each country has its specifics, of course, but we no country is more moral.  Americans, the British or the Poles are not “idiots”.
  • Don’t be relativist. A commitment to human rights means that we can’t be so liberal as to openly wonder whether it’s OK for huge amounts of people to die due to a lack of health care and basic positions.  Note that the people more likely to die are people poorer than you.
  • So you’re post-materialist and have cut down on your consumption?  Good for you.  For many however, including those who either (a) voted for the likes of Trump or (b) didn’t vote for social-democratic parties, don’t have this luxury and need bread on their table.
  • We will have no success if we avoid the issue of class. All over the place, working-class people are increasingly turning to racist and authoritarian parties/leaders, be that Front National, UKIP, PiS or AfD.  Either that, or they’re not convinced by social-democratic parties.  Class is an issue.
  • You think you don’t live in a class society?  Even if it takes different forms in different countries, there are differences: Whether you live in a gated community or not, how often you buy new clothes, how often you go abroad on holiday, whether your job is respected in society (compare teachers/trainers and those who work as cashiers in supermarkets), whether you speak more than one European language, whether you can afford to go to hipster places and the such all show issues of power and money.
  • It therefore follows that you cannot look at the issue of Trumpism without addressing neo-liberalism. For decades now, the rights of workers have been attacked, welfare is being cut and the working- and under-class have become increasingly demonised.  Values of competitiveness, hierarchy, order and self-sufficiency are growing and this leads to less solidarity and a desire for social justice; people are increasingly wanting the state to be penal against perceived enemies in order to feel safer.
  • Seminars/memes/workshops/articles/courses/books tend to ignore this, focussing on non-class and non-disability related identities.  This work is very needed, but doesn’t speak to the kind of people who vote for Trump/don’t vote for social democratic parties.  Some intersections are sexier than others, reflecting biases.
  • You do work for diversity?  Good.  It does however have limits, set by economics, which is currently dominated by neo-liberalism.  These limits will always exist as long as you don’t deal with economical issues.  Get smart about neo-liberalism.  It’s complex, but without dealing with the concerns of people who vote right-wing/don’t vote, we have no chance.
  • Don’t call those who vote for Trump/PiS/UKIP etc. idiots. That doesn’t help to convince them.  That they are less likely to be university-educated does shows more about class  (middle-class people are more likely to go to university) than anything else.
  • At the same time, don’t underestimate neo-fascists.  They are real, are spreading their hate, are killing people and are well-organised.
  • Don’t embrace nihilism. Nihilism means surrender.  Embrace hope.
  • Be aware of your own biases. Be properly intersectional.  Of course combat discrimination the women face, but note that, to paraphrase Birgit Rommelspacher, feminism can be about enabling the white middle class to participate in domination.  Hilary Clinton’s actions are that of racism, classism and imperialism.  In other words, don’t be single issue about themes related to one of your intersections.
  • Take racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia seriously. “Listening to the concerns of Trump voters” doesn’t mean that one accepts their views and needs to support the discrimination of others.  Again, note class.  This isn’t about trading anti-racist work for a more class-conscious work.
  • Embrace socialism. This doesn’t mean, dear liberal, embracing the gulag.  Note that it is socialists who through their work enabled legislation for good working conditions, better pay, free health care, good housing, welfare and peace work.  People who vote for the likes of Trump have been socialised to blame the lack of these provisions on immigrants.  Even if you don’t embrace socialism, at least realise that a lot of good things have come from that tradition.
  • Be aware of jargon that you use. University campuses and academics have become increasingly good at producing words and phrases that are well-meaning and may be just, but can also exclude people and lead to dogmatism.
  • Be critical of your own tradition. No single movement is holier than others.  Of course, criticism of your tradition by white racists is one thing, criticism by allies and people within your tradition is another.
  • This means embracing nuance about themes that the left/”progressives” tend to be dogmatic about: Israel, religion and men’s issues.
  • Question whether your anger is sustainable for your health. One can find solace in a perceived world full of things to get angry about, an anger that is manufactured.  By all means, get angry, but consider the effects.  One can surround oneself with people who stirup your anger and read books/look at memes that do so; question whether this helps you win people over.
  • Trainings, flashmobs, memes and art events are all well and good. Do they however reach people who are not like you, or do they bolster the white middle-class and in doing so, increase the distance between you and those who vote for the likes of Trump?  We need more than the spreading of the values of diversity and respect.  For many people, diversity is seen as a threat.  That doesn’t mean less trainings etc. about diversity and talk of “love”, rather, ones that enable people to talk about their fears and, and this is important (which is why I mention it again) deals with neo-liberalism and class.
  • Be militant. That doesn’t mean buying weapons.  It means learning how to intervene when discrimination happens.  It means supporting strikes, protests and occupations.  Do you want the likes of Trump voters to see your support for their problems with work, or not?  At the same time, attend anti-fascist demos.  Block their parades.  Destory their posters/stickers.  But be safe.
  • Realise that the police are not your friends.
  • Network, network, network. Especially in Poland we see many small groups of people who like each other and agree with each other doing their own cool project.  Embrace trust.  We stand no chance if we only see ourselves as being parts of small groups.  Embrace the mass.  Otherwise the right will.
  • Don’t fall for talk of “extremism”. There is no comparison between a few stones thrown at armoured policemen and women by anarchists and the murder of People of Colour by Neo-Nazis.  The left has many problems, but they’re not worse than the right.
  • Don’t be vague, analyse how prejudices are perpetrated and made possible by institutions such as the state, schools, churches, family structures, informal groupings and the such. Putting your values of solidarity, respect, tolerance, diversity, freedom and justice into action needs form, not just by sharing links on Facebook.
  • Have concrete policies that you can aim for, and market; policies that target Trump etc. voters that are environmentally friendly that deal with investment, such as the setting up of state banks that invest in green small businesses, subsidised child care, the mass building of environmentally-friendly accommodation, minimum wages, the living wage; jobs in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, care homes, carers, disability assistants, green tourism, transport and technology.
  • Embrace democracy. Pursue it at all levels, including within the family.
  • Show solidarity by turning up to events that are done by other organisations. Talk with them beforehand to make sure that you are not competing for a similar event happening at the same time.
  • Don’t fall into escapism such as through music. But look after yourself.  Go to concerts, films, theatre, opera and the such to recharge your batteries.  Allow yourself to be happy. Look after your health.  Just don’t be individualistic about it.
  • Laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Don’t try to make yourself unhappy by seeking to control at all costs situations that may lead to a repeat of past trauma.  See people are multi-faceted and being capable of being loving and hateful.  Be aware of your inner tensions and contradictions.  Of course, be safe; get out of abusive relationships and evaluate whether situations can be dangerous.  At the same time, forgive yourself and others. Don’t expect perfection.  You don’t have to compete.  Laugh at failure and learn from it.  Express anger creatively.  Don’t however be holier-than-though, using a more reflected vocabulary.

American Film Festival review part 2

Following part 1, here are more films:

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Mississippi Blues (1983)

This was about a French team going round the Delta Valley and speaking with local blues artists and pastors, showing footage of them doing music either at home, in pubs or in churches.  From a musical point of view the singing was stunning.  Even small towns saw world class singers in the choirs.  Politically speaking, one pastor spoke of the evolution of how Black pastors changed their messages; in the 1940s and 1950s they spoke of “the golden slipper” in heaven, while the 1960s saw them wanting footwear now, and being political.  The stunning music and strong political messages in the churches combined with the immense talent of the blues’ players made this an enjoyable film, including in how it showed that what we now know as soul has roots in churches.

The Last Laugh (2016)

Containing interviews with many Jewish comedians and Holocaust survivors, this film analysed the role humour has played with regards to the Holocaust as well as Nazis.  Films such as those done by Mel Brookes and various excerpts from comedians show that some will use humour only with regards to Nazis, in making fun of them, while others will tackle the more tender subject of the Holocaust itself.  Doing so proved to give a degree of being cathartic, releasing tension about a tragedy.  That some Jewish people do anti-semitic jokes in order to send up anti-semitism raised the question of what happens when non-Jews do such jokes; people can be laughing for the wrong reason.  The question of who defines the right person to make a certain joke however did not find unanimity.

Dear White People (2014)

This film deals with a supposed “riot” that took place in response to a “Black-themed party” attendes by whites whereby they wore blackface and posed with guns.  This was an interesting film.  On the one side white middle-class students in powerful positions were portrayed, including the father of one of of them who was the dean of a university who saw now racism-problem in that uni.  On the other were Black students who were in the Black Student Union, which saw them being portrayed as militant.  Other Black students were either fairly unpolitical and not considered to be really Black, or middle-class wannabees who accused the Black Student Union’s members of not trying to achieve in life, hiding behind a supposed racism.  Analysis provided by the (Black) female main role regarding cultural topics such as Gremlins, in which she saw white people projecting their fear of Black people onto gremlins, seemed to have been played for laughs in the film.  I certainly got the impression that no side was made out to be all holy and it was left open whether the main female role provoked the supposed “riot” or not.  As the credits rolled though, real photos of white US students with black faces over the past few years were shown.  Certainly, while showing the Black militants to have their flaws, this film accurately shows racism within US universities.

Falstaff (1965)

An Orson Welles film.  Using Shakespearean themes and language, I had to concentrate to understand this film.  What struck me, politically speaking, was the heroism attached to the combatants of war.  This seems nihilistic.  This is our heritage.

Eat that question – Frank Zappa in his own words (2016)

This film showed the genius of Zappa, largely through interviews with me, but also with some excerpts of music.  I’ve read a book by Zappa in which he describes himself as a capitalist.  During one interview in the film he also described himself as a conservative.  He was no friend of communists, certainly and some songs lapoon unions, who he also was critical of.  One can safely say about Zappa though that he was critical of all groups, whether they are hippies, the counter-culture in general, the Republicans as well as Democrats.  Some of his views, say about reactionary religion and free speech in the face of that are very much applicable to Poland.

American Film Festival review part 1

Seeing as I’ve got a season ticket for all films, i thought I’d use my time between films to reflect upon the films I watch, looking at their socio-political content.  As I have little time and don’t want to spend too much time looking at screens, this won’t be much of an exegesis, i.e.  purely drawing meaning from the films, rather I shall use them for inspiration for my assorted ramblings.

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Once upon a time in the West

You can’t go wrong with a western, especially by Sergio Leone.  Charles Bronson’s in it.  I enjoyed it.  Two themes leap out at me: Colonialisation and the role of women.  With regards to the former, an implicit point in the film is that there is an area of the US that was becoming settled largely by white people.  Of course, these were areas belonging to Native (or First) Americans, who can be seen, but not as part of the content.  George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and their like of course saw freedom to mean freedom to push west, which meant riding the area of Native Americans.  That isn’t mentioned in the film, but with the white settlers comes shootings.

The other issue is the main female character as regards how she relates to the murderer of her husband and children.  I mean, she has sex with him and enjoys it, even when he speaks during it of killing her husband and her.  That she used to be a sex-worker is irrelevant, though perhaps that’s the point in the film.  Anyway, one of the “goodies” considers it to be OK if male workers pat her on her arse.  Strange.  Good film though.

Zabriskie Point

I watched this as I thought Pink Floyd did an entire album for this film.  No, that was “More”.  This film seems to have a gnostic approach to capitalism: Capitalism means bastard cops and exploitative men in suits, while the alternative is the purity of nature.  Within left-wing and liberal movements can have an anti-materialistic sense about them.  Marx himself saw things to admire in capitalism.  Of course, those who criticise capitalism benefit from it, just as those who had homes built due to feudalism criticised the system.  Capitalism is our context and we are shaped by it.  Any running away (with a plane or otherwise) won’t escape that.  The explosive end reminded me of the bombing of Vietnam; like a revenge film.  Still, we need real alternatives, not just rage or depression.

The Fits

I watched the wrong fucking film as I went to the wrong hall.  This was about dancing girls who start having seizures, and no-one can work out why.  I guess some kind of message about the pressure of growing into a woman is here.  I don’t know.  The boys training for boxing didn’t get seizures.  They did get hurt though.

The Family Fang

The middle class parents in their detached house pranked other middle class people, exploiting their children who grew up to resent their roles in this, though not for class reasons.  It’s me who’s talking about class.  Pranking appears to be popular now, with loads of videos on the internet.  In olden days it was powerful people who were made fun of/satired.  Now it’s open season on anyone.  How very neo-liberal.  Richard Seymour described neo-liberalism’s offshoot, austerity, to comprise of a “casual sadism towards the weak”.  Look at Japan, where part of its culture is self-denial and public humiliation.  Pranks could be used for hitting up, but no, reality shows show the public hitting down.  Now, good humour can involve bad things happening to other people; it releases tension.  I’m not against pranks per se, but they need a point other than the lulz.  There’s less trust in society and that doesn’t help progressive values.  I’ve done seminars where once or twice participants have wanted to do things to fool strangers on the streets.  The same people are stressed and insecure young people who demand perfection.  Nah, pranks could work for solidarity and love, but no, like in the film, they have a sadistic function.  The film shows that the children’s needs were not met by their parents.  Twats.

More reviews later/tomorrow.

Hey, Polish RC Bishops – Christ is not authoritarian

Right, so, before I start, here’s a disclaimer.  Writing against the activities of the RC church in Poland may make me look like one of those New Atheists, a social movement (not an intellectual one) featuring the likes of Richard Dawkins which has an analysis of religion that would be thrown out of any decent academic science (for example, the belief that “all Christians believe that the Bible is to be understood literally”, we don’t.  They haven’t heard of criticism of sola scriptura) with tendencies towards racism, neo-colonialism and sexism against women.  I mean, note how all New Atheists are white*.

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Tomorrow is going to see a letter by the Polish RC episcopate railing against abortion, calling for the imprisonment of all who assist with them, something which follows the comments of the Polish-migrants-in-GB-selling-out and xenophobic PM Beata Szydło where she said that her personal opinion that abortion should be totally banned, including in cases where the health of the woman in question may be in danger or when she has been raped.  PiS are now talking of putting forward legislation that would ban pre-natal checks, the checks that can see whether the foetus is showing signs that it could develop disability, as well as forced investigations into women who have miscarriages,  to see whether they had somehow aborted the foetus.

There are different reasons to be against this, including the right of women to decide what happens with their bodies.  There is also the other issue that even if one is against abortion, surely mothers and parents have the right to know as to the state of their child before it was born?  This fits in with, and I use this term with caution, the Stalinist nature of this PiS government.

In any case, this possible increase in authoritarianism (white and RC establishment members are more of a danger to Poles than any Muslim) is being supported by the RC episcopate, an episcopate who embarrassed themselves in 2013 when their letter about “the ideology of gender” could have fitted into a Public Enemy song if it went “I got a letter from the bishops the other day.  I opened and read it.  It said they were idiots” (I mean, they said that “gender is about saying that sexual orientation can be changed”.  Idiots).

The RC church in Poland isn’t all bad.  There are good priests, including those that stand up to nationalism and racism.  The problem is the hierachy, an elderly generation of people who at best don’t understand democracy and believe in belittling women.  I mean, when I attend an RC Mass in other countries I see altar girls and altar boys.  I see women being Eucharistic Ministers.

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Not in Poland.  It’s a scandal.

During the Easter Triduum I wasn’t in Wrocław, rather was in a small town, where I attended the local RC church.  During the “Watch of the passion” and “Adoration of the grave of Christ” I went to different churches in order to do some silent prayer.  This was unsuccessful as each one featured people praying/singing into microphones.  As a senior person told me, she had tried to go to church to pray but couldn’t as it was too noisy.  Leaving aside a traditional fear of silence, it is fitting that this more conservative town (my experience in Wrocław is that silence is a feature of these occasions) shows less space for people to do their own thing with God in silence.

Now, there is a call tomorrow for Mass attenders to walk out of church when the letter from the RC bishops are read out.  This is a boss idea and I recommend you to let your church-going friends and family members about this.  It would be boss if people were to show the hierarchy via the priests of the churches that they are against what they say, for indeed, some church-goers are against the hierarchy.  The laity need to act against the abuses of power that is being done by the hierarchy.

I know this will mean missing out of part of Mass, including of important bits.  When that “gender letter” was read one in a Mass I attended, it happened in the middle of the service; walking out would have meant missing communion.  Another time a pair of anti-gender people spoke towards the end of Mass before the blessing; I stayed to wait for the blessing.  Now, sacrifice is needed.  That is part of the Christian mesage after all.

What Poland needs is a good dose of Christian Anarchism, one that sees that Christ himself complained most of all about religious authorities and not at all about gays.  One can remain totally committed to the Christian faith while distrusting its officials.

In any case, tomorrow will be two events, one a protest “against the torture of women” i.e. about abortion rights, the other a KOD march which should see more than 10,000.  Spread the word!

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*Note that I am not criticism all modern-day atheists.  A lot of the strongest condemnations of New Atheism I have seen have come from atheists.  To add to that, the older atheism was purported by people not interested in missionising a small-minded white creed, but working for the good of society, people like Bernhard Russell and Karl Marx.

The so-called “cursed soldiers” (“żołnierzy wyklętych”)

You may have noticed in the past few years more awarness of the so-called “cursed (or damned) soliders”.  It’s now a National Day of Commoration, whereby some people put flags out.

A look at this wikipedia article shows who these people were exactly: Militia who combatted communist militia towards and after the end of World War Two.  These included at least nine different militia, including the “National Armed Forces” (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne, henceforth NSZ), who fought both Germans and communists.  Thousands of those who combatted communist rule were arrested and many were murdered.  They were defamed, sometimes as fascists, and it was only after 1989 that that, like with the victims of the Katyń massacres they could be openly spoken about in Poland without facing governmental censure (a similar subject is those who protested against the government of the German Democratic Government in June 1953).  Wrocław itself has a mass grave in the graveyard in Osobowice, which only recently was excavated and now has an exhibition.

The commemoration of any kind of act of violence and repression is needed in a healthy society.  A degree of rehabilitation of them was needed.  The thing is, as a friend has told me, the term “cursed soldiers” is an artificial one that emcompasses a wide group of people, including those who were doing some pretty dodgy things, and it precisely those people who are being rehabilitated.

This excellent site shows the crimes of the different militia.  Talking about the NSZ, it points out that they were not just killing communist militia, but also civilians, including Jews.  The historian Alina Cała points out that the NSZ killed more Jews than they did Germans.  All in all, about 5,000 civilians were killed by the so-called “cursed soldiers”, of which 187 were children under the age of 14.

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Such information is not given on the wikipedia article and it not mentioned when the state commemorates these people.  Why is that?

A clue can be gained when one looks at who it was who started raising the issue of these people: Neo-fascists and their nationalist football fan friends.

Where neo-fascists go, the state follows, supported by patriotic historians in Poland, providing them with research and literature with one-sided accounts about what happened, where the crimes of what some of those who resisted communist rule did.  Due to this approach of putting all of them into one “cursed soldiers” basket, all of those, included neo-fascists are put on the same level, commemorated together.  The average person who wears T-shirts commemorating them will probably not know this.

thThere are exceptions, historians who work at Polin (the Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw) and those at other assocations do good research about the “cursed soldiers”, hence the information given on the sites I have quoted to.  However, right-wingers dominate the way in which historical narratives are formed in Poland, something that I believe will get worse due to the PiS’ government’s plans of supporting culture that praises Poland and Poles.

It would be interesting to reflect on what this does for average people.  I don’t know of any research into this (should you know any please let me know) but I shall speculate that people at some level identify with national myths.  A national myth of Poland only being either victims of plucky uprisers results in reactions to the Smoleńsk disaster of people saying “poor Poles”.  If people see their nation as only being victims (not being perpetrators nor bystanders) it stands to reason that they see themselves at some level as being victims.  I am sure that you know people who consciously or unconsciously identify themselves wholly as victims; they are really tiring people, ready to get offended, looking masochistically towards situations that replay trauma, to relive it.  They do this in order to have security; even when one feels bad or gets abuses it offers one a clear world where one knows what is to happen.  This explains in Poland the reactions of many to the Smoleńsk disaster.

Psychological growth happens when there is more than one narrative, or as the novelist Chimamanda Adichie put it, the danger of a single story.  People won’t gain peace by searching for the “red under the bed“.  As we know though, neo-fascists profit from the maintainance of fear and trauma.

It is the job of people working with history to offer counter-narratives, involving literature, talks with historical witnesses, tours, seminars and conferences.

Anti-fascism in the European City of Culture

As you know, tomorrow will see a protest organised by Pegida, a group started by Neo-Nazis whose previous protests have seen acts of violence against journalists, and since their start, have seen acts of violence against refugees double.

Pegida in Vienna, last February

Vratislavian anti-fascists, in view of a combination of a standard liberal campaign against anti-fascists following the violence of Neo-Nazis and their supporters in Warsaw in 2011 as well as due to small numbers in Wrocław that year, decided since then to support anti-fascists in Warsaw.  At the same time, “Wrocław for everyone without hate” started, whereby demos took place with a positive message, not like the confrontative counter-demos of the past.

In the context of living in Poland where nationalism and authoritarianism are key elements of hegemony, these decisions are understandable.  Those who made them are people with experience of combatting fascism in Poland.  At the same time as respecting this decision, I believe that this was a mistake in Wrocław, with the result that neo-fascists and their sympathisers have had free access to our streets.  I am glad therefore that a protest is to take place tomorow at 2:30pm, organised by the left-wing party Razem.

ESK – Wrocław the European City of Culture

As I started saying here, I have the vision of a People’s ESK, whereby the people of Wrocław use this year in order to say, “This is our city, not the state hierarchy’s” and start to work together in order to develop civic society, whereby the issue of mutual trust is paramount.

The issue here is power.  There are different issues related to this, one of which, as demonstrated in this excellent article is what one is to do with the power, or how it is to be shared among people.  That is coming from the point of what to do with the power when one has it, and (righfully) bemoans the fact that what is happening is not that which was in the ESK application.

The thing is, in order to have the power in the first place (and by here I mean the power for citizens to do their own activities, that liberate them and work for all Vratislavians), one has to reflect on how to get it.  Here we come to the issue of hegemony, whereby (to borrow from Richard Seymour’s “Against austerity” (using the work of Gramsci), there are those who have a “considerable advantage over opponents, because of its existing power.  It’s control over the dominant institutions, its loyal cadre of supporters”.  The Vratislavian state authorities are not going to share their power.  They have it and want to keep it.  Of course a state-run ESK is not going to wish to invigorate civic society.

A good way to do something counter to the state is to have a strong structure that can take place of the state.  This is how Tahrir Square became sucessful; people organised their own security, their own food and toilets.  That empowered them.  I am all for anti-state solutions.  The thing in Wrocław though is that we don’t have a strong civic structure, and in any case, competition and distrust is rife in our civic society.

Which brings us back to the state.  Now, a state is not a monolithic being comprised of suited men and women sitting behind desks.  It’s a lot bigger than that.  It’s in our schools, kindergartens, rubbish collections, public transport, roads, lights, grants….there is no clear line where the state ends.  We are effectively part of it.  Another thing about states is that they do not pursue one aim.  As with any group of people, they are based upon compromises.  This is why in in neo-liberal Poland that miners still face state support.  That’s why states give grants to the civic sector.

That we are part of the state means that ESK can be used by civic society to make this the People’s ESK, when people work together.  We can wait as long as we want for shots to be fired across the Odra*, but until that day, we should use this ESK year to (a) support ESK initiatives that build local patriotism in a manner that isn’t competitive (i.e. not like with Euro 2012) but are about us celebrating and reflecting upon living with each other, and (b) when we increase tension within the state by supporting this ESK while making it clear that this is our ESK.

This means attending tomorrow’s protest.  This means not being dogmatic about whether we like Razem or not, or whether we want to reach out to people who are not university educated don’t know what IPA means, moving out of our cosy networks of like-minded people.

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*- for the benefit for the sort of people who believe that Gazeta Wyborcza is left-wing and that Zionists are behind the influx of refugees into the EU, I have to point out that this is a joke.

Don’t be arsey. Get behind ESK.

Arsey: (slang) unpleasant, especially in a sarcastic, grumpy or haughty manner. (source wiktionary).  Also, moody.

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ESK: Europejska Stolica Kultury, i.e. Wrocław 2016 – a European City of Culture.

When I heard that Wrocław was competing with Katowice for getting the title of ESK, I hoped that Katowice would win.  I was irritated by the marketing of Wrocław (including by many of its inhabitants) as being a (multi) cultural city.  To add to this, when that video came out a few months ago by some unknown group of people portraying Wrocław as being the “European City of Racism”, I liked it, and shared it on the Czarny kapturek page.  As someone who’s been a bit involved with anti-fascism in Wrocław and scathing of the state’s response to NOP and ONR, my lack of desire that Wrocław gets Persil-washed (to use a specific historical term).

I then thought, I’m being arsey.

On being arsey – a brief political analysis

Little snide comments with regards to the Wrocław state, such as some I’ve done on this blog and on my Facebook page, have their function.  They provide the person doing them with a sense of superiority, a sense of being more reflected, more intelligent than others.  Jokes can be made, nobody finds them funny.   The telling of the jokes is not a demonstration of wit, rather of ones one impotence in a neo-liberal society.  Such jokes are simply demonstrations of impotence in the face of a society where the neo-liberal values dominate, the state is strong and where trust is massively lacking as a social function; the discrepency between that which the arsey person wants and what is actually in existence produces aggression against convenient figures in a manner that elevates ones own abilities/opinions.  The non-fulfulliment to ourselves of our values produces an anger directed towards ourselves, partly resulting from fantasies of being all-powerful, an anger which then gets projected outwards towards those who attempt to do something.

This arseyness is not limited to Wrocław or Poland.  I see and experience this in different countries, in a variety of languages, among different left-wing and anarchist groups, for the aforementioned reasons.  I have seen arsey comments by many different people from different people in Wrocław about ESK.

A dissatisfaction with ones achievements is not limitted to the left, however.  In the book “The happiness industry” by William Davies, it is pointed out that alone in the US, 500bn dollars per year are lost via unhappiness via lost productivity (including sick leave caused by bad mental health), lost tax receipts and health-care costs.  He goes on to purport that capitalism will not fall due to alternatives, rather through people losing faith in it and its claims; the huge rise in medication taken for stimulation or against depression is testimony to this.  In this case, I claim that this, tied to the growth in precarity, that lies behind the other forms of being arsey: anti-migrant prejudice and the putting down of people who try to do achieve things in life; a strong desire to find mistakes in the work of others, especially competitors.

We therefore need to be creative in finding answers to how people can find fulfillment and sustenance in life.  There is a great amount of creativity in Wrocław in the different fields of culture, be that in contemporary art, music, theatre or literature, fields that can lend themselves towards elitism.  I note however that talks I go to about social themes (say, about racism or refugees) are predominately attended by university-educated people, people who share opinions and feel nurtured by such events, something necessary in the strengthening of intellectualism.

The thing is, giving the massive problems that Poland faces at the moment (e.g. different forms of prejudice, the PiS attack on demoncracy, the growth in Neo-Nazi activity) and in the rest of Europe, it’s a mistake to stay in our own groups, making in-jokes, using our own jargon, making arsey jokes about things that are not perfect or don’t correspond to how we want them to be.  For all the strengths of Wrocław’s intellectual scene, cliques and an inflexible dogmatism are present.  Hence the arsey comments about ESK.

Listen, I’ve slagged off Dutkiewicz as much as anyone, and am no fan of the Wrocław state.  It is however prudent to remember that those who attend ESK events will be attended by a lot of people, not the elitist evenings attended by less than twenty people.  No, the creation of a better society requires the understanding of masses.  A real alternative to neo-liberalism, authoritarianism and prejudices against minorities requires of us the ability to talk a different language, to move outside our cosy cliques.

As I wrote here, the Wrocław as ESK year can be used positively to learn from what attracts people, to participate in events that strengthen the collective; to promote culture that is for everyone, not just small groups.  ESK will be more successful than other initiatives because the state is wholly behind it, but not just that, it’ll acheive things that others don’t, and we need to learn from that.  Certainly, part of ESK will be high art.  Nothing wrong in that.  It’s just that I believe that we should use ESK as a chance to ask questions about the connection between culture and society, and challenge ourselves to open ourselves to our neighbours and others we don’t usually associate with.  I believe that the events of ESK will lead to a greater feeling of togetherness among Vratislavians; we need to exploit this, steering discussions, not just standing on the sidelines in our ideological purity.

Let’s make 2016 as being the start of something a lot better and bigger for those who work for a better society.  Let’s start being open and pragmatic.

Starting on Sunday.  I’ll see you there.