Thursday, 18 July 2019
The Economist reports (2 May 2019) that “Well-heeled types worried about the prospect of a Corbyn-led government have been buying property on Guernsey with a view to moving to the island, attracted by its lack of capital-gains or inheritance taxes.”
According to The Sunday Times (12 May 2019), the super-rich could take up to £1 trillion out of Britain amid fears over what the newspaper calls 'Corbygeddon'. They reported that the head of Coutts, the Queen's bank, said that tax experts had helped a number of their clients with a net wealth of more than £500 million leave Britain over the past year.
Meanwhile, the Civil Service is not going anywhere. An anonymous civil servant writing in Tribune (23 March 2019) says that, “I’ve been in meetings where officials have laughed at the prospect of a Corbyn government and muttered something like ‘his policies won’t work in this country anyway' ”. He adds, “I have seen how Whitehall is run by pro-business, fiscal conservatives ... Permanent secretaries usually only get the top job if they have done a stint in the private sector. The social profile of the senior civil service has largely been the same for centuries: white, male and Oxbridge. This social strata owns the wealth Corbyn wants to tax, and profits from shares in companies Corbyn wants to nationalise. When a survey was sent around the office to gather diversity data, they had to clarify that 'Free School Meals' were not the kind of meals served at boarding school … I wish I was joking.”
What does this mean for the rest of us? Laura Pidcock MP for NW Durham spoke at the Durham Miners' Gala on 14 July 2019. “Neo-liberal free market dogma reveals fresh wounds every single day and with the blink of an eye through clever legislation and the propaganda of the papers and the greed of the powerful they have sucked the colour out of our communities … So many of our schools have been sold off from under our noses, huge chunks of the NHS have been gifted to vultures who could not care less about the health of our mothers, our fathers, our children. People are being paid less and less to work more and more. Exploitation is so commonplace it is invisible.”
One response to all this is that membership of the Corbyn-led Labour Party has tripled in size in the past three years, making it the largest left wing mass party in Europe. The chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”, heard at football matches, music festivals and even at Scout Conventions are an indication of Corbyn’s wide appeal. Of course, the mainstream media and political establishment attack Corbyn supporters as 'hard left entryists', 'anti-semites' or, at best, 'naïve dreamers'.
It is clear that a radical redistribution of ownership to the many, and away from the few, and accompanied by a foreign policy emphasising peace and not war, won't be achieved without challenge. Faced with a socialist government, capital flight, investment strikes, foreign exchange crises and opposition from our NATO 'allies', are not only possible, but likely.
Winning the next election will be the easy part. A Corbyn-led government will have to break up the power relations built up after years of neo-liberalism while developing a strong base that is able able to defend the government.
Across the world in recent years, a new politics - from the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement to the Indignados, the Gilets Jaunes, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—have been struggling for an outlet. In the UK, it is taking place in the Labour Party. “It’s been like being in a dark tunnel for a long period of time, and people are staggering into the light,” says Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. “There’s been a constraint on hope and optimism, and what Jeremy Corbyn has brought is an optimism and a confidence that these policies can transform the world.”
I started my political life on the receiving end of a fascist fist. Sixty years later I have not forgotten that and nor will I forgot that, after two major operations, I am alive today because of the NHS – introduced by the last radical Labour government.
In the teeth of powerful vested interests the task of transforming the UK in what the historian R. H. Tawney once called “the oldest and toughest plutocracy in the world”, has only just begun.
Those of us who wish to help with this transformation need to prepare to do much more than place an X on a ballot paper. The system we seek to replace is tough. We must be tougher.
Friday, 12 July 2019
'This is an excellent and inspiring book.'
‘Left Field' has been on sale for three years. You can now buy a signed hardback copy for £10 (includes delivery) or receive on Kindle or audio book for £2.99 . To order hardback book contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 9 July 2019
“The transparent motive behind this cynical campaign is to demonize Corbyn, not because he's a 'fucking anti-semite' (Margaret Hodge), but because he's a principled champion of Palestinian rights. PROF NORMAN G FINKELSTEINThis demonisation has centred around charges that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite, who in the words of the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate”, adding, “Now, within living memory of the Holocaust, and while Jews are being murdered elsewhere in Europe for being Jews, we have an anti-Semite as the leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition.”
One of those countries where anti-semitism is growing is Victor Orban's Hungary. Wait a minute. Orban was recently an honoured guest of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government.
In our own country The Middle East Forum, a pro-Israel conservative think tank were funding Nazi Tommy Robinson when he was in prison. In the words of their Director, Gregg Roman, who has worked in Israel's Defence and Foreign Ministries, “We are helping Robinson in his moment of danger ... to fund his legal defence … and bringing foreign pressure on the UK government to ensure Mr. Robinson’s safety and eventual release ...”
MEF previously funded far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ legal defence, against Dutch charges of inciting racial hatred.
Despite knowing all this, we must prove that we are not anti-semitic before we criticise Zionism or Israel. Let’s do it.
My father was one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The photos he made there, and later showed me of the skeletal prisoners, scarred my young mind. It was those haunting pictures that led me to a lifetime of anti-fascism. As a teenager I took part in street fights with the British Movement, forerunners of the British National Party, the National Front and today's Israeli-backed Nazi, Tommy Robinson.
But my opposition to Zionism now makes me 'anti-semitic.”
I am in good company. Albert Einstein said, “The (Israeli) state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed … I believe it is bad.”
Primo Levi, a survivor of Auschwitz, said, “Everyone has their Jews and for the Israelis they are the Palestinians”.
Then there is Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In a letter in support of the Palestine resistance, he compared them to ZOB, the Jewish fighters in Warsaw and greeted them thus, “Commanders of the Palestine military, paramilitary and partisan operations.”
If alive today Einstein, Levi and Edelman would stand accused of anti-semitism.
So who are the Zionists? Founder of Zionism at the end of the 19th century and a proponent of a Jewish homeland was Theodor Herzl. He was an admirer of the British Empire and wrote to Cecil Rhodes, he of the white settler colony named after him, Rhodesia, “You are being invited to help make history … it does not involve Africa but a piece of Asia Minor, not Englishmen but Jews … I turn to you … because it is something colonial ..”
Chaim Weizmann, who suceeded Herzl, wrote to the Manchester Guardian: “Should Palestine fall within the British sphere of influence and should they encourage Jewish settlement … we could develop the country, bring back civilisation and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal.”
Of the contemporary Zionists we should not forget the Evangelical Christian Right. Prayers at the US Embassy, on the day Trump moved it to Jerusalem, were delivered by Robert Jeffries, a Dallas megachurch pastor who said Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral land.
Amongst the first Jews who opposed Zionism were those who set up the Jewish Bund in Poland and Russia. They stressed the four principles of, socialism, secularism, Yiddish and doyikayt or “localness.” Doyikayt was encapsulated in the Bund slogan: “There, where we live, that is our country.”
The way charges of anti-semitism are being
used in Britain to undermine the Corbyn-led
Labour Party is not only a disgrace, but also an
insult to the memory of the victims of the
Holocaust. NOAM CHOMSKY
“We Bundists”, wrote one of their early leaders, Viktor Alter, “wish to shatter the existing economic frameworks and show the Jewish masses how a new society can be built not by escape, but by struggle. We link the essence of the Jewish masses’ life to that of humankind.”
My support for the Palestinian cause is fiercer
because I am Jewish. MIRIAM MARGOLYES
Their contemporaries can be found in Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Voice for Peace and in the words of Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Miriam Margolyes and Alexei Sayle.
If opposition to Israel is a definition of anti-semitism then add me to this list along with Corbyn’s mum and my dad. She was blocking Mosley’s fascists at Cable Street in the 1930s, while the Daily Mail, who are today leading the demands for Corbyn to resign as Labour leader, was lauding Mussolini and Hitler.
It's long past time to call out these people for who they are.
The propaganda that's thrown against Jeremy
Corbyn is digraceful. Until he appeared you
had to vote for one kind of Oxbridge twat or
another, people who all go to the same dinner
parties. ALEXEI SAYLE
Friday, 28 June 2019
Chris Williamson (re-suspended from the Labour Party) joins Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth in their suspension from the party. All three are left-wing, Corbyn-supporting actvists. The former London mayor, Ken Livingstone remains suspended along with others such as Jewish activist, Tony Greenstein.
Chris Williamson MP was suspended after telling a Momentum meeting that Labour’s reaction to anti-semitism allegations had led to the party being ‘demonised’. He was also filmed saying he had celebrated the resignation of MP Joan Ryan, former Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and who has since quit Labour because she claimed she was a victim of anti-semitism'.
Jackie Walker, of mixed Black/Jewish ancestry and former Momentum Vice Chair, was suspended after she criticised Holocaust Memorial Day for commemorating only Jewish victims. “In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?” she said.
Marc Wadsworth, Labour Party activist and founder member of the Anti-Racist Alliance, set up after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, was filmed accusing MP, Ruth Smeeth of working, ‘hand in hand’ with the Telegraph in smearing the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. She claimed that, as a Jew, his remarks were 'anti-semitic'.
The target is of course Jeremy Corbyn, who has become the enemy of the Establishment media, right-wing labour MPs and the Israeli Embassy. His anti-austerity platform, support for the Stop the War Coalition, and for Palestine and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement ensures his demonisation.
When former Israeli lobby intern Alex Chalmers claimed “a large proportion” of the student Labour club “and the student left in Oxford more generally” had a “problem” with Jews, his claims were highlighted by the press. No one mentioned that Chalmers was a member of the far-right Progress faction in the Labour Party and soon after he defected to the Liberal Democrats.
When, a few months ago, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews organised a demonstration against Corbyn outside Parliament, they were happy to use anti-Semitic abuse against left-wing Jews who were holding a counter-protest in support of Corbyn.
Ben Southern-Thomas, from Jewish Voice for Labour, said “I came away crying” after anti-Semitic abuse from two demonstrators. He was told he was “not a real Jew” and was just “pretending to be a Jew.” He added that “being Jewish is a really important part of my identity,”
And so it goes. Recently Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council claimed on BBC Newsnight that Jeremy Corbyn is “the figurehead of an anti-Semitic political culture.”
We are involved in a struggle which is way beyond waiting for the next election polls to open. If we want any possibility of radical change ( no more wars, no more austerity, defence of the dwindling NHS, action on climate change … the list is long) we have to realise what is going on and act now. This means supporting the three W's - Williamson, Walker, and Wadsworth
Monday, 20 May 2019
What Isn't Reported about Julian Assange, The London Economic, 16 April 2019
Corbyn must stand strong against attacks on Israel, The People's News, 28 August 2018
Palestinians have Right to Return and Live, The People's News, 20 May 2018
Israel's Act of Terror, The People's News, 14 May 2018
Giving the Finger to the DWP, The Canary, 11 May 2018
Disabled Tribunal Victory, The London Economic, 10 May 2018
Disabled victory in courts: The People's News 9 May 2018
Labour Party Remains on the Up, The People's News, 4 May 2018
Theresa May + husband + war = profit, The People's News, 26 April 2018
Criticising Israel is not anti-semitic, The People's News, 23 April 2018
The Pornography of War, The People's News, 12 April 2018
The Overton Window, The People's News, 6 April 2018
The Overton Window, The Internattional Times, 19 April 2018
Corbyn is no Anti-Semite, The People's News, 26 March 2018
Corbyn Wise not to Spoil for Fight , The People's News, 15 March 2018
Disabled Man Taken off Disability Allowance, The People's News, 14 March 2018
The Calabash Tree, having a heart operation, 17 Feb 2018
NHS Privateers, The London Economic, 2 Feb 2018
Why Boris Johnson, a Face to be Punched, Public Reading Rooms review
My Disabled Son Stripped of Benefits, The London Economic, 24 Aug 2017
The Fool is for the Many, Jaroslav Hašek's novel The Good Soldier Schwejk, 14 July 2017
Music of the Spheres, Heathcote Williams play, 18 June 2017
Them or Us in the Election, The London Economic, 7 June 2017
Exposing Corruption in Charities, Guardian article about charity corruption, 16 April 2017,
Abandoning Refugee Children, The London Economic, 11 Feb 2017
In The Living Years, for Stand Alone under pseudonym, 16 Sep 2016
Who Speaks for the Refugee Children, Counterpunch after visit to Calais, 20 May 2016
Planet Zembar, Subdural Haematoma article in Huffington Post, 17 March 2015
Famous anti-Zionist Jews, Stop the War Coalition, 12 Aug 2014
What a Strange Way to Protect Civilians, article for US antiwar website about depleted uranium weapons, 16 April 2011
Bush in London, Counterpunch, 18 June 2008
The Collapse of Iraq's Health Services, Counterpunch article about collapse of Iraq's health services, 14 Oct 2006
Depleted Uranium Weapons, Future Trust, 2006
Gloucester Weapons Inspectors, Counterpunch, 30 Jan 2003
Music and War, as published by the European Journal of Intercultural Studies, Vol 10, issue 3, 1999 and in The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, University of Kansas, Fall 2000, Vol. XV, No. 8 & re-written for a chapter in Left Field
Left Field, The memoir of a lifelong actvist
+44 (0)7951 579 064
Sunday, 19 May 2019
I first met Robin at the Stop the War Coalition. Like me, he had completed his working years and was happy to spend many hours as a political activist.
Outside office hours, I liked my pints and curries, music and a good film. Robin only had interest in the last two. He seemed to regard eating as a necessity and drank nothing stronger than tap water.
When I watched him open his lunch box of biscuits and cheese, waving his hand to reject the offer of coffee the rest of us tanked up on, I wondered if he'd always lived such a spartan existence. It did cross my mind that he might have left behind a once-dissolute life filled with drunken evenings and ribald songs, leaving him like those medieval hermit-monks who retreated to their caves to do penance.
Robin never spoke much about his life before arriving in London as a teacher, but when he did, he dropped the odd clue. When I told him I had been a devotee of The Pretty Things and found The Rolling Stones too tame, he said The Pretty Things had played at the club he once ran. When I said I had seen Muddy Waters on his London visits, it turned out that Robin, too, had been there. 'Chuck Berry in 1964 at the 100 Club?' Yes that too.
When I told him I was unable, post-stroke, to play my guitar he recommended I get myself a harmonica. There then followed a detailed email with suggestions of where to buy my Hohner Marine Band in C and suggestions for the best online tutorials with links.
Despite our shared love of Blues and Rock 'n Roll, we disagreed about Scott Walker. Robin said that he was a fan of his “in all his incarnations, including his later avant-garde albums”.
Robin was always the 'go to' person for me on what films to watch. He was a devotee of American film noir and would send me emails with lists of 'not to be missed' films. I did watch Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep, but confess that I still have a long list of films to be ticked off his recommendations. I promise him, posthumously, to track them down and view.
At his prodding I occasionally wrote for Public Reading Rooms. Among my contributions was A Face to be Punched about Boris Johnson. Recently he tried to get me to review The Deceit Syndrome written by Paul Hobday. Google Books says, “Becoming more and more alarmed about the extra misery and sickness he sees on a daily basis, his concern turns to anger when he realises this is a direct result of Government policy.” Robin said about it, “Even as a graduate with a degree in English literature, I'm obviously not the person to do this review.” At 600+ pages and on a subject I am over qualified to comment on I agreed. I turned the job down. This was not a task for me either.
Despite my occasional refusals, Robin and PRR would promote articles I had written for other online publications and generously offered me a sales platform for my memoir, Left Field.
When I was in hospital after my heart operation and again after my stroke, Robin would visit me. I was to find out later that he too had a heart 'condition' but he rarely spoke about himself and was more eager to bring his politics to my bedside for discussion.
Our political 'platforms' had taken the same route as our music; ex-SWPers but never anti those we recognised as involved in the same fight. With Jewish ancestry he was incensed by the Zionist attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and helped me with my article for The London Economic on the plight of Julian Assange. I will miss him badly from these ongoing struggles.
A few weeks after Mick Jagger had a heart operation, Robin wrote to me, “Being rich, the procedure was by trans-catheter aortic valve replacement. The technique was used to cure Tony Blair of the condition. I have atrial fibrillation. Not being rich, I was refused the procedure under the NHS.”
That was the first I knew he shared heart problems with me. We were in that fight together as well. I am so sad that he lost that one so tragically.
RecentIy I have lost a few friends to that ‘dark night’, but Robin's parting has been exceptional. When I look at his photo I not only see the man, I hear him speaking. And I cry. Something else exceptional. Manuela tells me that one minute after his last child, his son Sam, joined Manuela and his sisters at Robin's bedside, he died. They say he had been unconscious for several days with no electrical activity in his brain. Really?
I used to ring him two or three times a week. Although our conversations started with the political struggle they soon moved on to music. I enjoyed interacting with his caustic sense of humour which made him seem curmudgeonly to some people. But once your metaphoric eyes adjusted to his emotional headlights you became aware of a wonderful soul who was trying to take those around him out of a very dark tunnel. He was, in fact, lighting and enlightening the way. I will miss his headlights.
Robin is survived by his wife Manuela, daughters Dany and Alice and son Sam. Unlike Robin and me, Sam doesn't just talk music. He was a keyboard player for Amy Winehouse and today performs with his own group, Hejira.
Anne and I send our love, our condolences and our tears to them all.
I never asked Robin if he liked Lennon's'Imagine' – but I know he would have agreed with the lyrics. After all, he lived them. I can see him walking beside these two down that path, but he would have turned back at the door and refused the offer of a drink. Watch this, listen and think of this dear friend of mine.
ROBIN BESTE FUNERAL
Tuesday 11th June 2019, 11:00 - 13:00
The West Chapel, Golders Green Crematorium 62 Hoop Lane Golders Green LONDON NW1 1 7NL
No flowers. Donations to Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP) - a cause dear to Robin’s heart.
If attending please email - email@example.com
Sunday, 28 April 2019
Julian Assange - The truth has been raped. This is my article published in The London Economic
50 K + views to date and 1600 + shares
Friday, 22 March 2019
This is an updated version of yesterday's blog with thanks to David Rosenberg ..
Ex BBC and Channel 4 reporter Paul Mason says this, “I'm sickened by the total lack of proportionality in the reporting. We are living through a constitutional crisis and most of the political reporters are treating it like a joke … If Corbyn wears the wrong hat it's a ten minute diatribe … He's fucked it up. He ought to go … And why? For the political class their world is one step from destruction … If May falls it is the end of the right-wing project in Britain for a generation. With Corbyn in power, it is goodbye to the world they thought was permanent.”
In the middle of all this Brexit is evaporating before our eyes and that means we need a vote. A second referendum takes months. And that referendum campaign would see the far right mobilising its money and influence. In the process the country would become even more divided. On the other hand a general election takes four weeks to organise.
So I agree with David Rosenberg who tweets, "I'd like a People's Vote on Grenfell, Homelessness, NHS privatisation, Yarls Wood, Austerity, Universal Credit, Zero Hours contracts... it's called a General Election. And maybe one more vote on whether Tom Watson is a shmendrik (idiot) or a mamzer (bastard)"
For both those who voted Brexit and for the Remainers a general election would allow the stay or leave debate to take place in a political atmosphere offering real political choice. We would be offered a government pledged to end 40 years of free-market capitalism, the rule of the bankers and property speculators, the hedge fund guys and yacht owners. If you want names on this, then there is Rees-Mogg who has made £7 million from Brexit and David Cameron who has pocketed £800,000 from speaking fees alone since leaving Downing Street. And let's not forget Labour's Tom Watson who takes his money from Old and New-Guard fascists. These people would be replaced in importance by the unemployed and under-employed, the nurses and domestic care workers, the disabled, students and the elderly who would be offered a government that represents them.
For these reasons I did not attend the Peoples Vote demonstration on 23 March. I could not walk side-by-side with Anna Soubry MP, who voted for the bedroom tax, which was condemned by the United Nations. With the people who abstained on the Welfare Bill that would have abolished child poverty, who have voted to cut child tax credits, cut employment support allowance and cut housing benefits for young people. With Tom Watson and Jess Phillips who head those in the Parliamentary Labour Party terrified at the prospect of a Cobyn-led government which would challenge a status quo that feeds their privileges and bank accounts.
Despite all this a Labour victory at a general election would be the easy part of the struggle. Establishment opposition to government policy would follow and this is why there is the need for a massive social and political movement outside Parliament. If you doubt me read this account of the workings of the civil service.
I conclude with another quote from David Rosenberg: “Good luck to Labour activists campaigning today for local elections. Good luck too to left comrades marching in London for the best motives. We disagree on strategy, but see you on the next protests against racism, austerity, etc minus Blair, Cable and Soubry.
and this from Owen Jones: "Best of luck to the #PeoplesVoteMarch. Whatever the differences over how to get out of this terrible mess, let’s unite against the Tories who plunged us into this crisis, and let’s unite to tackle the injustices that caused so many to vote for Brexit in the first place... It's important to separate the thousands marching who believe in social justice and defending migrants; and the Establishment politicians attending who waged illegal wars, scapegoated migrants, and whose austerity policies made Brexit happen in the first place."
Thursday, 21 March 2019
My close friend, Orhan (Oha) Maslo has been interviewed for the Bosnian magazine, Start, about his life and work with the Mostar Rock School. For those who don't speak or read Bosnian here is my chapter about him and Teo Krilic, from my memoir, Left Field. In the intervening years, the Rock School, under Oha's direction, has gone from strength to strength.
When I arrived in Mostar as Director of the Pavarotti Music Centre, I rented a small two-bedroom house and offered the spare room to Teo and Oha, two musicians working at the Centre. Oha’s mother still lived on the west side of town which he could not visit safely and Teo’s widowed mother had no space for him in her tiny flat.
Close friends, they had both been soldiers and had both realised, in Oha’s words, ‘that the “enemy” was bullshit. They feed you enemies.’ While the war was still going on, they helped set up Apeiron, a group of young people who got together to play music.
The three of us spent most of our time outside since the house itself was damp and dark. The plumbing had given up in the kitchen and dirty dishes would pile up at the only other source of water – the bathroom. If you wanted to take a shower, you first had to do the washing-up.
The toilet was not fixed to the floor and, when you sat on the pan, there was more than one movement. There was always a puddle at the base and you could never be sure what it was. Common to all toilets in south-east Europe, the S-bend had yet to be adopted so to the smell of damp was added that of excrement. It was a mystery where it all went, if it did at all. The road bridge at the end of the street had been blown up at the start of the war and the sewerage pipes with it.
Despite the smell and discomfort, we had happy times there. We’d sit on the terrace while Teo played his guitar and sang his sad songs.
When Teo returned home from teaching in local schools, he would smile at me and pace the living room, distractedly clicking his fingers to some inner rhythm. He would then turn and give me a second smile as he opened the fridge door to take out a beer. If there weren’t any, he would tease me and offer to do me a favour: take my money and fill the fridge again. By the end of the evening we’d be out of booze, but he would consider that he’d repaid me by beating me at endless games of backgammon. The game is called tavla there and arrived with the Ottomans. It is as much a part of the culture in Bosnia as the ritual of serving coffee. There is always time for coffee and tavla. In Teo’s case, most of the night.
After multiple victories, he would open the last beers and insist on a final game. ‘Come on, David. You can beat me now. I’m drunk.’
Hearing him slur his words, I thought my time to win had come. It never did.
One morning, not long after he’d moved in, I woke at 4am and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Teo was sitting at the table, staring at the wall. I asked him what was wrong and why he wasn’t sleeping.
‘Sleep?’ he said. ‘I haven’t slept for four years.’
I looked at him in shock. ‘Four years? Why?’
‘Let’s drink some of that English tea of yours and I’ll tell you.’
I knew he’d seen terrible things on the front line, but had known nothing of what he was about to tell me. How, at midnight on August 10th, 1993, Croat militia arrived at his house. ‘They asked me where my father was. I was scared and so I told them he was upstairs. Then we were all ordered into the street. Me, my mother, my father, my younger brother and grandfather. They pushed us into the back of a van, but a guy was shouting at my dad, “You’re staying with us.” That’s the last I saw of him. We were driven to the front line and told to cross over to the Bosniak side. All this time, I was thinking how I had given my dad away. We later heard he’d been shot. They said that some of the soldiers who came to our house were shocked that he’d been killed. He was a well-known singer. He wasn’t a soldier.’
I thought how terrifying it must have been for Teo, who’d been 15 at the time. How the guilt must be unbearable.
‘How old was he?’ I asked.
Nine years younger than I was when we sat in that kitchen. That night, over the Typhoo, was the only time Teo ever spoke about the war and about his father. Despite his personal tragedies, Teo was typical of many young Bosnians, wanting nothing more than to return to pre-war days when no one took any notice of religious or ethnic differences. Knowing his history makes it more extraordinary that he was one of the first to take his guitar into the communities of his former enemies.
Many journalists who ran stories on the Centre were fascinated by Teo, but only the US writer Nancy Shalala managed to coax something out of him for the Japan Times when they travelled together to a schools’ project in Ljubinje, a name that translates as ‘place of love’.
She wrote that the presence of Teo, a former Bosnian soldier, in this Serbian village, represented a small but significant challenge to the formidable social and political lines that carved up post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina:
‘... trading his Kalashnikov for an acoustic guitar, Teo now plays for an agitated mob of 60 three-year-olds in the kindergarten of his former enemy. “Three years ago I would have said that another 20 would need to pass before I would even consider entering [a Serbian village],” says the blond, burly Teo, who himself is barely 20, but already ancient in life experience.’
After I left Mostar, Teo spent much of his time looking for his father and, four years after returning to London, I got a call from him. He was laughing and I thought he was ringing from a bar or a party. He would often call me when he was drunk just to say hello and ask when I was next coming to Mostar.
‘They’ve found my dad.’
After completing DNA tests, Teo had been told by the International Commission on Missing Persons that his father’s remains had been located. His body had been part of an exchange of the dead which had taken place between the Bosniaks and the Croats. He’d been buried in a cemetery Teo had walked past every day on his way to the Centre.
Oha is a two-metre giant. You couldn’t meet a gentler man. Aged 14, he had been the youngest fighter in Mostar. I once told him that, as a former soldier, he was entitled to a war pension. ‘I know that, but I won’t take it. I feel guilty for what I did. The money should go to the widows and the wounded.’
He would never speak about the war: what he had done and what had happened on the front line, but he carried the scars of it inside him. I would sometimes see him sitting alone, rocking back and forwards in a chair, in time to some inner anguish, yet always in time. Twenty-five years later, he still does this. I hope it’s now just a habit.
Oha became a talented djembe player and, within weeks of the opening of the Centre, was assisting Eugene with the drumming workshops. I think he had found a way to release his distress with percussion as he pushed away his ghosts.
One of the PMC’s outreach programmes was to a mental hospital in Pazaric , ten kilometres west of Sarajevo. The hospital had been caught between two front lines, the patients left unattended and starving. They were forced to bury their own dead.
The road from Mostar was mountainous and still pockmarked with war damage. In winter, snow chains were essential. Nevertheless, Oha would go there every Thursday and never missed a week.
When I first visited the place immediately after the war, it was a Bosch vision of hell. It smelled of urine and vomit because they’d had to operate with a skeleton staff. When I went there later with Eugene and Oha, I was pleased to see that it was very different.
As the two percussionists climbed out of their car, they were treated like pop stars, mobbed and hugged. One patient, who claimed he had been President Tito’s ambassador in Morocco, was pointing at Eugene’s dreadlocks and shouting, ‘Marley, Bobby Marley.’
It was scary to watch these deranged people getting so excited, but Oha stood there, towering above the tallest of them, beaming.
The percussion session opened with a cacophony of thuds as Oha handed each patient an instrument taken out of his old army bag. Then Eugene worked his magic and came in over it all with his djembe. Oha answered him with a call and response on his drum. Then a sudden stop. Eugene stood up, smiled at everyone, sat down and said, ‘Follow.’ They did. The room was immediately in rhythm with them.
The only person who didn’t join in was the ‘Ambassador’, who stood by the door picking his nose, then placing the thumbs of each hand against his ears and making a waving sign at the group.
But madness doesn’t mean stupid. Oha told me that one day a UNICEF Land Cruiser broke down outside the hospital. One of the wheels had fallen off and spun down a steep slope. The driver didn’t know what to do. He jacked up the vehicle and fitted the spare tyre, but he needed four nuts. He sat down, lit a cigarette and started to call HQ for help on his satellite telephone.
Above him, a Pazaric patient was sitting on the hospital wall and shouted to the driver. ‘Hey, you.’ The driver was scared to respond to this crazy man. ‘Take one nut from the three other tyres,’ shouted the patient, ‘Use your brain.’
Oha’s enthusiasm for people was marked by equal enthusiasm for music. When he heard a performance he liked, his face would break into a smile as he grabbed the nearest person to him to hug. I have even watched while he hugged a JBL loudspeaker in appreciation.
One image of Oha remains indelibly in my memory. Michael de Toro of the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Mostar, arranged for Oha to take a couple of DJs from the Centre to perform one Saturday evening at a gig in Trebinje. Like Ljubinje, this was in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia, enemy territory for Oha. The town is in the hills behind Dubrovnik, from where the Serb bombardment of the old walled city had been organised.
The musicians travelled to Trebinje, escorted by OSCE. I was staying in Dubrovnik that weekend and met Michael in a café. He asked if I’d like to go and see this first music collaboration between Bosniaks from Mostar and Bosnian Serbs. I told him I’d left my UN card, which I needed to cross the old war borders, in Mostar.
‘No worries,’ he answered with a wink. ‘I’ll put you in the trunk.’
We set off from Dubrovnik. Halfway up the hill and a few kilometres from the border, he stopped the car. I climbed into the boot and we crossed to the Serb side without any problems. I was back in the front seat by the time we reached Trebinje.
When we arrived at the venue where the gig was supposed to be taking place, we were told it had been moved out of town to an old mill in the countryside. By the time we got there, it was 2am.
As Michael parked his car, the sounds of drum and bass could be heard in the distance. We walked along a river and, in the middle of the night, the music was in competition with thousands of croaking frogs and birds singing in the trees.
We arrived at the mill and there were hundreds of young people dancing. Oha was striding towards us, one arm around a young man and his other around a young woman. ‘Hey, David,’ he shouted, ‘these two were at school with me.’ He bent down from his tallness and planted a kiss on each of their heads. He then picked me off the ground. ‘How the fuck did you get here?’
When I left the PMC in 2000, I expected Oha to leave Mostar and the country. He was too dynamic for this broken, segregated city. But Oha is no quitter. He set up a club, Growing from Music, and was the first person to bring bands together from both sides of the city. ‘Every time a project of mine collapsed,’ Oha said, ‘things became lighter and lighter. Nothing was going to be a catastrophe for me. The war had been that. So each project was better than the one before. I hadn’t been defeated in the war and wasn’t going to be defeated by a good idea involving music. And fuck them. I don’t have much money, but enough to invest. I have time for everyone. The rich, the poor, the good, the naughty. War taught me not to screw up.’
Today, he manages the rock school and the recording studio at the Centre and is producer of the annual Mostar Blues and Rock Festival.
The rock school employs five teachers and an administrator. Students come there from all over the region and it is recognised as a place where division and bitter memories are parked outside.
The Blues and Rock festival is in its thirteenth year and performers have included Dr Feelgood, Snowy White, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Sugar Blue and many local groups.
When I asked Oha about his hopes for the rock school he told me, ‘Mostar people lost hope. The internationals came and went. Always with a beginning and end. Too much starting and shutting down. The rock school is like a kitchen. They can learn not just music, but video making and music administration. Most important of all is, fuck it, they don’t even have to be musicians. If they go home with new friendships and new hopes, they can take this into their families and communities. They will have made links which will make renewed divisions and conflicts more difficult for those bastards to organise. I have a long-term view. Fast success is not good success. It’s better to be slow. Maybe in ten years I will be mayor of Mostar and finally fuck up their plans of dividing people.’
He laughed as he told me of two recent initiatives organised in Mostar. Using Facebook, emails and word of mouth, a 16-year-old created an event called Chocolate Mess. Young people were asked to come to Spanish Square on the old front line and bring chocolate to give away to strangers. Over 300 turned up with their chocolate. On another day, 200 high- school children stood outside the old Mostar music school with signs, WILL YOU UNITE US? IF NOT, FUCK OFF.
Oha has, of course, been at the forefront of the recent protests that broke out across the country against corruption and the political establishment. He is a powerful representative of what could be a better future for his country.
Oha and Teo now have families and both have made a success of their lives in different ways. Oha as a musician and impresario; Teo as a musician who now performs in Ljubljana cafés, but whose main task is to be a full-time father to his two sons.
Oha laughs when he tells me the story about taking Teo to the bus station in Mostar to join his Slovenian wife, Sanja, in Ljubljana. ‘He was wearing an old T-shirt and was carrying two plastic bags, one with socks and pants, the other with more T-shirts. His only other possession had been his guitar which he’d left with his mother. Four months later, I was performing in Ljubljana and was told that Teo was waiting for me at the front of the hall. He was standing there in a smart black coat and behind him, a brand new Toyota.’
Oha and his wife, Maša, have two daughters named Luna and Zoe. Luna, the Roman goddess of the moon. Zoe, meaning ‘life’ in Greek. Teo and Sanja have named their oldest son Anej, a shortened version of Anemoi, Greek gods of the winds. Given that Teo’s family name, Krilic , translates as ‘wing’, this name is doubly appropriate. Their second son has the name Elis, also of Greek origin. All four names make it impossible for any future nationalists to decide their children’s religion and ethnicity.
Teo told me that Anej’s aunt gave him a toy gun and he had no idea what to do with it. The aunt pointed it at a cartoon cat on TV and said, ‘Look, I am killing the cat.’ The Bosnian word for kill is ubi. The word for love is ljubi. Teo laughed when he told me that Anej went up to the TV set and kissed the cat.
When Anne and I married in April 2008, Teo and Oha couldn’t be there. Teo had recently moved to Slovenia and Oha was busy preparing for that year’s Blues’ festival. Oha asked that their message be read to our wedding guests:
'First, we want to say hallo to everyone there and we are really sorry to be unable to come and share this special moment with all of you great people. In the case that someone don’t know who we are, we are David’s two sons called Teo and Oha. We would like to ask all of you good people to give Anne and David big hug and make them feel good. We want to say few words about David so you know what is the man that you are dealing with, haha, but we are sure that you already know, right? We met David in 1996 for the first time. I was 18 and homeless. And Teo was all the time with me. David invited us to his place and offer us food. He gave us jobs and introduced me to Eugene Skeef who healed me my war hurt soul and he teached me to play music. This combination of this two people in my life was sat by nature. If there is God, he sat them, or it was their assistent, I can’t remember now, haha. I was feeling so close to David and I asked him one day if is ok if I take him as my father. After while I felt that David is very proud of Teo and me and he speaks of us as his sons. I cryed 100 times in front of David and I never did in front anyone else, even as a soldier with my 14 and a half. I got out all my unsolved rage from the war and all bad feelings went out. Father, thank you for being so patient listening my stories and my harmed soul. Teo and I will never forget where we come from and we come from you. We know that this is very special day for Anne and you and it is for all of us too. We wont bother you guys anymore. We want to tell you that we love you very much. And please, one more time we want to ask each of you, tonight, when you think the time is good for it, just give Anne and David a hug or at least touch them. It feels warm and we all need that. Have a good time and don’t drink more then seven beers if drive ;-) Big Love, Teo and Oha.’
Here is a 2018 article about Oha that appeared in The Guardian
Monday, 11 March 2019
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination” Plato
Yesterday I went to my first yoga session at the local Stroke Association. It was great and I'll go back next week. I have also started to get to my local gym, encouraged to join after the sessions organised by my local hospital and the British Heart Foundation. After four years of illness and operations involving head, heart and stroke I am happy to still be around and grateful, not only to my NHS medical life-savers, but to the support charities such as BHF and Stroke Association. But it's not just these therapies that are helping. I am lucky to be able to play guitar and was initially depressed because my stroke left my left hand damaged and unable to fret the chords. So I am re-learning the songs from my collection, one by one. And enjoying doing so. If you are recovering from illness play music, however badly, and / or listen to music and give “wings to your mind”. Oh and fight to maintain the NHS and JC4PM. Here is the first song I relearned and the photo is a doctor at St Barts hospital playing my guitar.
I read a Tweet today that said, “I have not been this optimistic since 1917'. Although I doubt the truth of this person's longevity I understand the sentiment. I can say in truth I haven't been this optimistic since I was 17! That year I joined the Easter 1962, annual 'Ban the Bomb' march from Aldermaston to London. It was the largest to date, with over 100,000 arriving in central London from the atomic weapons research establishment and with contingents from India and Pakistan, Italy, Canada, Spain and Algeria. That country won its independence from France that year and in Spain the Asturias miners were leading the first successful strike against the Franco regime since the Civil War. With the double dose of youth and rebellion it seemed to me the world was changing for the better. But perhaps Zhou Enlai was right when asked about the impact of the French Revolution, “Too early to say.” I think we are in a similar situation today. In the USA, and for the first time since the Industrial Workers of the World ('The Wobblies') in the 1920s, socialists such as Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are working with increasingly large support. Here we have in place the first openly socialist leader for 70 years. I have never been a joiner of political parties, believing with Ralph Milliband, that the Labour Party has historically played a 'major role in the management of discontent.' But the Corbyn-led Party with its slogan of “For The Many Not the Few” is game-changing and gives us the possibility of a 1917 optimism. That is why I am now a member. JC4PM
Left Field: my memoir on special offer
Left Field: my memoir on special offer
Monday, 4 March 2019
My first experience of fascism was as a 15-year old in south London. Outside Bromley Library I was beaten up by two thugs from the British Movement while selling Peace News. Their violence could be measured by some temporary bruises, but a permanent conversion to a lifetime of anti-racism and anti-fascism.
I arrived at the library with foreknowledge of what I was up against. My father had been one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at its liberation.
With sixty years of anti-racist activism I have come across racism and anti-semitism from the British Movement, the National Front and many who can be termed 'right-wing.' Most recently from Corbyn-hating members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who consider any criticism of Israel to be anti-semitic. This has reached a new level of absurdity with Labour MP, Siobhain McDonagh, claiming that anyone arguing against capitalism is anti-semitic.
Never have I witnessed anti-semitism from socialist comrades. I believe Jeremy Corbyn, with his Cable Street fighting mother, shares this experience, and his leadership is one of the reasons why I have joined the Labour Party. How sad it is to witness the witch-hunt against him and the hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members. It is frightening too because behind the hunt is the attempt to stop Corbyn taking power. Success in doing that will only open the way for real and dangerous anti-semites: the ones who wear swastikas and wield clubs.
Here are the words of Jews, alive and dead, who have spoken out against Zionism and the state of Israel. Jewish anti-Zionism has a long and proud history which goes back to the Bund which was set up in the late 19th century in Russia and Poland. Bundists considered themselves foremost as socialists, then as Jewish. Many of those I quote from lived and struggled within this tradition. Are, or were, they all anti-semites? Of course I could add to this list those Jews who have recently been hounded out of the Labour Party for their 'anti-semitism'.
Hannah Arendt, political scientist:
“The trouble is that Zionism has often thought and said that the evil of antisemitism was necessary for the good of the Jewish people.”
Isaac Asimov, novelist:
“I find myself in the odd position of not being a Zionist ... I think it is wrong for anyone to feel that there is anything special about any one heritage of whatever kind.”
Uri Avnery, ex-Israeli army officer. writing after an Israeli military victory:
“What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints.”
Daniel Barenboim, Israeli pianist and conductor:
“I don’t think the Jewish people survived for 20 centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, in order to now become the oppressors, inflicting cruelty on others. That is why I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.”
Lenni Brenner, writer and 1960s civil rights activist:
“Italy's Zionists never resisted Fascism; they ended up praising it and undertook diplomatic negotiations on its behalf. The bulk of the Revisionists and a few other right-wingers became its enthusiastic adherents. The moderate bourgeois Zionist leaders were uninterested in Fascism itself. As Jewish separatists they only asked one question, the cynical classic: 'So? Is it good for the Jews?'”
Martin Buber, Israeli philosopher:
“How great was our responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled Jews who were brought here from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we now sow and harvest; the fruits of whose gardens, orchards and vineyards we gather; and in whose cities that we put up houses of education, charity and prayer. . ”
“In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by "apartheid" you mean South African-style apartheid. What’s happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse.”
Richard Cohen, US columnist:
“The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake … the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare.”
Marek Edelman, a leader of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising: "Commanders of the Palestine military, paramilitary and partisan operations - to all the soldiers of the Palestine fighting organisations.” letter in addressed to the Palestine resistance.
“The (Israeli) state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with many difficulties and a narrow-mindedness. I believe it is bad.”
Ben Ehrenreich, author of the novel The Suitors:
“The characterization of anti-Zionism as an “epidemic” more dangerous than anti-Semitism reveals only the unsustainability of the position into which Israel’s apologists have been forced. Faced with international condemnation, they seek to limit the discourse, to erect walls that delineate what can and can’t be said."
Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on human rights:
Called Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories “a crime against humanity.” Falk also has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.
“I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives.”
Erich Fromm, social psychologist:
“The claim of the Jews to the Land of Israel cannot be a realistic political claim. If all nations would suddenly claim territories in which their forefathers lived two thousand years ago, this world would be a madhouse.”
Bruce Jackson, US Jewish academic, included on the Self-Hating, Israel Threatening (S.H.I.T.) List, with over 8,000 other Jewish academics, writers and activists deemed to be critics who threatened Israel:
'The most vicious anti-Semites in America aren’t the few surviving retro fruitcakes with swastikas in their closets, but rather those self-righteous Jews who attack and try to silence — without conscience, doubt or scruple — any Jew who attempts to discuss seriously the ethics or morality or decency or utility of any action taken by the State of Israel or the illegal squatters in the Occupied Territories."Judith Kahn, US Congressman who in 1919 signed a petition to addressed to President Woodrow Wilson and siged by 30 others, including Henry Morgenthau, Sr., former ambassador to Turkey; Simon W. Rosendale, fomer attorney general of New York; Mayor L. H. Kampner of Galveston, Texas; E. M. Baker of Cleveland, president of the Stock Exchange; Jesse I. Straus, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs; and Judge M. C. Sloss of San Francisco. It read:
“[We] protest against the political segregation of the Jews and the re-establishment in Palestine of a distinctively Jewish State as utterly opposed to the principles of democracy which it is the avowed purpose of the World’s Peace Conference to establish. Whether the Jews be regarded as a “race” or as a “religion,” it is contrary to democratic principles … to found a nation on either or both of these bases."Gabriel Kolko, a leading historian on modern warfare:
“The large majority of Israelis are not in the least Jewish in the cultural sense, are scarcely socialist in any sense, and daily life and the way people live is no different in Israel than it is in Chicago or Amsterdam. There is simply no rational reason that justifies the state’s creation.”
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine:
“If a Jew today goes into any synagogue in the U.S. or around the world and says, 'I don’t believe in God or Torah and I don’t follow the commandments,' most will still welcome you in and urge you to become involved. But say, 'I don’t support the State of Israel,' and you are likely to be labeled a 'self-hating Jew' or anti-Semite, scorned and dismissed."
Primo Levi, writer and Auschwitz survivor:
"Everyone has their Jews. For the Israelis they are the Palestinians."
Miriam Margolyes, actor:
“The black South Africans asked for our support and now it's the Palestinians who are asking for our support. I hate what Israel is doing over there to the Palestinians. I think that boycotting is a very active and non-violent way of protesting."
Harold Pinter. In 2008 he joined 105 prominent Jews who said,
“We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations. We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.”Henry Siegman, Rabbi and director of the U.S./Middle East Project:
“Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.”
I.F. Stone, US journalist:
“Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which the ideal is racial and exclusionist.”
Prof Avi Schlaim, Professor of International Relations:
“Israeli propagandists deliberately, yes deliberately, conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in order to discredit, bully, and muzzle critics of Israel.”