Six years to the day after the 1500 v 200 EDL counter demo and the fine welcoming city of Norwich has another small demo, Norwich Against Fascists! Counter demonstration! “There are many many more of us than you” was being chanted by 750 anti-racists and Remainers (mostly) and 50 Unity UK pro-Leave Brexiteers shouting back the same and “More of us voted Leave than you” and “you lost”!
The atmosphere was mostly good-natured, carnival-like with drums, whistles, chanting, occasional discussion and the odd rant. One masked protester was led away, possibly anarchist/anti-Fa, certainly a scarf covering their face but there was no violence.
The police, some 30-40 or so, created a thin blue, well hi-vis yellow line, to keep the sides apart, sadly also blocking the dialogue, the lack of which has left us in Brexit impasse land. Initially, kept to opposing pavements, and allowing the traffic to pass, the police eventually surrendered to the sheer size of the counter-protest and even re-drew the line in the centre of St Peter’s Street.
After an hour, they also mostly gave-in to allowing people to cross the street and engage with each other. At times, it was clear some of the police were struggling to keep their serious and professional faces on given the number of humorous moments.
Even the police giggled when Lab Cllr Jess Barnard started playing Benny Hill over the megaphone! Rather ironically, similar chants were echoed on each side of the street:
“Whose streets, our streets”, “No to racism, No to Nazis, no to fascism” “You’re the racists”, “No, you’re the racists!”
Towards the end, it was almost comical as the Remainers remained and the Leavers left, leaving perhaps a dozen Brexiteers facing still hundreds of anti-racists. The larger crowd refusing to depart until their counter-demo had fully seen off the other side. Police remained on site waiting for one side to completely depart but were frustrated when the larger crowd decided to cross the street and swamp the “drain the swamp” protesters. A few of the latter repaid the gesture and also switched sides leading to hilarity and confusion.
At the close, some 2-3 hours later, several protesters shook hands after dialogue, others persisted in their polarised positions.
The Unity UK Leave contingent tried to convince me that their side of the street was more diverse than the Remainers/anti-racists, but that was hard to accept seeing as how they were 99.9% white, and 75% older people, some dressed in 1950s fashion, a time they perhaps wanted to send Britain back to.
I had conversations with perhaps half-a-dozen of the pro-Brexiteers including a passionate but polite chap called Joe, an older woman whom we both agreed were opposed to Theresa May, and several others willing to dialogue. Nothing will change without conversation, communication and, probably, compromise about our beliefs.
Both sides were a bit confused by the use of the word fascist, both calling each other it. The word really defines those who are totalitarian, anti-democratic and ultranationalist. Along with Nazis – despite the odd mocking salute, it’s a word that didn’t really describe anyone there. One of the Leavers complained about being called a “Nazi” saying “I have an Indian wife”.
Poignant, as it was, across from the city’s War Memorial, the day before armistice day, when we remember standing up to aggression, conquest, fascism, hate, imperialistic ultranationalism, and ultimately, cultural xenophobia in two world wars.
We need to stop fighting and start uniting, build better and common futures, that was why the EU was born, for peace and prosperity, and to end wars.
German Artist, Franz Marc, 1880-1916
Bavarian artist Franz Marc died 100 years ago on 4 March 1916 at the Battle of Verdun, despite an order to withdraw him as a prominent artist. With his love of horses, he appropriately signed-up as a cavalryman and also developed artist-inspired Pointillist painted camouflage for German artillery.
It was a First World War that he oddly believed in despite his art being proscribed as an entarteter Künstler, or “degenerate artist“, during the Nazi era, a quarter of a century after his death. That led to the removal of some 130 paintings from German museums in the late 1930s, some of which were only rediscovered in 2011 in the Cornelius Gurlitt art horde.
“Serious art has been the work of individual artists whose art has had nothing to do with style because they were not in the least connected with the style or the needs of the masses. Their work arose rather in defiance of their times.” – Franz Marc
Marc painted and drew well over 500 oil paintings, drawings and watercolours, as well as being a woodcut and lithographic printmaker, and whose works now appear on postcards everywhere. Whilst his father Wilhelm Marc was a professional landscape painter he was influenced by studies in Munich and Paris, and inspired by Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism.
Friendship with Wassily Kandinsky
He counted Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky as a friend and co-founder of the art collective Der Blaue Reiter, 1911-14.
“The Blue Rider” comprised artists formed out of tensions with NKVM, also founded by Kandinsky in 1909, and the rejection of Kandinsky’s “Last Judgement” painting. Although “The Blue Rider” was a 1903 painting by Kandinsky he later suggested the movement’s name was derived from his love of riders and Marc’s enthusiasm for horses, and their shared love of the colour blue. The group folded with the deaths of Marc and fellow artist August Macke in World War I and the return of Russian-born members to their home country.
The First Abstract Art Painting
Although Kandinsky is often credited with creating the first abstract artwork in 1910, Tate‘s 2013 retrospective and The Serpentine Gallery‘s current exhibition (3 March-15 May) of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) would suggest otherwise.
She, yes – a female artist for Sweden was ahead of other nations in allowing women to study art and paint alongside men, was producing abstract paintings from 1906. Curator, Iris Müller-Westermann, describes Af Klint as an “outsider”, a “disturbing artist” who could “rewrite art history”.
Art, Nature, Spirituality & Cats!
Hilma Af Klint’s love of animals, plants, and their science, forged a bond between her art and the the natural world, and an evolution from traditional landscape to abstract art. Her non-traditional ‘occult’ spirituality also inspired her work.
“Today we are searching for things in nature that are hidden behind the veil of appearance… We look for and paint this inner, spiritual side of nature.” – Franz Marc
Franz Marc was also engaged by animals and wild colours that reflected inner emotion and spirituality not the natural world as seen on the surface. Thus his trademark blue horses, a red horse, yellow cow or even a purple hare, might be represented, though many of his earlier painted cats bore more naturalistic colours:
Whilst not as obsessed and pursued by colour as perhaps Monet, nonetheless he imbued his use of colour with meaning and metaphor:
“Blue is the male principle, stern and spiritual. Yellow the female principle, gentle, cheerful and sensual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the colour which must be fought and vanquished by the other two.” – Franz Marc
He was looking for the “inner truth of things” and it was a quest that took him back to nature:
“Marc found this nature-oriented quest for spiritual redemption inspiring. His vision of nature was pantheistic; he believed that animals possessed a certain godliness that men had long since lost. “People with their lack of piety, especially men, never touched my true feelings,” he wrote in 1915. “But animals with their virginal sense of life awakened all that was good in me.” By 1907 he devoted himself almost exclusively to the representation of animals in nature.” – Guggenheim
Marc had planned to train as a theologian but instead went into art and married artists, twice. His artistic depictions of the beauty and innocence of animals were painted against a contrasting backdrop of the years leading up to the First World War, a war that cut short his life and art career at just 36 years old.
70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen
It’s 70 years today since the liberation of Bergen-Belsen (#Belsen70), another example of man’s inhumanity to man and what happens when you scapegoat an entire – or rather several – people groups, dehumanise, persecute, incarcerate and attempt to wipe them out. It is also 33 years since I visited Belsen as a 15 year-old, the same age as the famous diarist, Anne Frank, who died there just months before its liberation. It left indelible memories on me and a life-long belief in human rights for all people.
The concentration camp had various purposes during the Second World War, from Soviet and Italian POWs, Jewish internment, as well as housing other people groups including Czechs, Poles, homosexuals, Christians who opposed Nazism, Romani and Sinti ‘gypsies’.
The Dutch Jewish teenager Anne Frank is remembered through her diary “The Diary of a Young Girl”. The UK based Anne Frank Trust, whose motto is “Challenge Prejudice, Reduce Hatred” ran a social media campaign on 14 April under the hashtag #NotSilent in which people recorded themselves reading one-minute extracts from her diary about life in hiding in Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
“We’re much too young to deal with these problems, but they keep thrusting themselves on us until, finally, we’re forced to think up a solution, though most of the time our solutions crumble when faced with the facts. It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!” – 15th July, 1944, Diary of A Young Girl, Anne Frank
Her hopefulness echoes the words of Nelson Mandela:
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite” – Nelson Mandela
Another internee was Josef Čapek, from what is now the Czech Republic, a Cubist painter, cartoonist, writer and playwright. He wrote the utopian play “Land of Many Names” and is credited by his brother as being the first to invent and use the word “robot”. He was critical of Hitler and Nazism and was arrested in 1939 upon the invasion of Czechoslovakia, though he managed to write “Poems from a Concentration Camp” at Bergen-Belsen, though died in 1945 shortly before liberation.
British Liberation of Bergen-Belsen
Some 50-70,000 are though to have died, some 30,000 of them Jewish, among the 120,000 held there, escalating to 20,000 a month before liberation put a stop to it. It was far from the worst of camps, and yet it was enough to shock those that discovered it, almost by accident.
The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945, by the British 11th Armoured Division who discovered approximately 60,000 prisoners inside and at satellite camps, mostly emaciated and/or seriously ill with typhus or similar. Lying, unburied, around the camp lay 13,000 corpses and even some still living among them. Another 14,000 died of infection and starvation in the 10 weeks following liberation.
The BBC’s Richard Dimbleby was there and reported:
“Over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live…This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”
The BBC also recently interviewed one of the few remaining survivors, Gena Turgel.
Memorials to Bergen-Belsen
The SS destroyed most of the inmate records and the British, after making the SS build mass graves for the unburied, then destroyed the camp by fire because of the disease there.
Whilst nature was allowed to take over the remains, in the way that only nature does, the mass mounds of graves containing up to 5,000 people each remained obvious. Over the following months wooden monuments were erected by varying groups and a year later a stone monument was erected by the Central Jewish Committee of the British Sector.
— Ollie Cornock (@OllieArabia) April 15, 2015
Never forget Human Rights!
In 1952 Germany’s president, Theodor Heuss, called on the German nation to never forget what had happened at Bergen-Belsen. Nor should we, whether Jew, Christian and other faiths, gypsy, mentally ill or disabled, political enemy or prisoner of war, all deserve human rights and not inhuman treatment or attempted genocide.