|Variant issue 8
Sociological Theory of Culture
Tales from the Great
20th Century Prison
Blues: An essay informed by four novels
History of the LMC
'tun yuh and meck
fashion' -- The Container Project
Mervin Jarman and Matthew Fuller
Comic & Zine
The Abudction and Trial of Abdullah Ocalan
The Wilson plots
Dragsters and Drag
Queens, Beatification and Beating Off
A Cut and Paste
Renée Turner and Jason E.
Art Activism and
Oppositionality: Essays from AfterImage
The First European
Seminar on Artist Run Spaces
Return to the Far
When you care enough
to be the very best
sociological theory of culture
Pierre Bourdieu is currently the
Professor of Sociology at the Collège de France, Paris. He is someone
who has experienced in his own life a double transition from a pre-capitalist
world to a capitalist one: initially, in his move from Denguin, in the
peasant Béarn area of the Pyrenees, to metropolitan Paris, and once
again, after his return from the rural South of Algeria, where after being
drafted with the Army he became a self-taught anthropologist.
Thus Bourdieu is well-placed to
argue that the fundamental element of modernity is the historical shift
towards the greater significance of the economy within the whole society.
From being a "thing in itself" the economy becomes a "thing for itself".
In particular, the gift exchange of goods and labour, which had once been
totally organised around reciprocity, is largely replaced. What is substituted
for it, of course, is the production and circulation of commodities, but
also the enclosure of a sacred island of Art, where an inversion of commodity
values emerge, in such a way that high sales no longer count as an acceptable
measure of aesthetic value:
The denial of economic interest
...finds its favourite refuge in the domain of art and culture, the site
of [a] pure [form of] consumption, of money, of course, but also of time
convertible into money. The world of art, a sacred island systematically
and ostentatiously opposed to the profane world of production, a sanctuary
for gratuitous, disinterested activity in a universe given over to money
and self-interest, offers, like theology in a past epoch, an imaginary
anthropology obtained by the denial of all the negations really brought
about by the economy (1977).
Bourdieu himself is particularly
concerned with the fate of art in late capitalist society, arguing that
the sociological study of culture is the sociology of religion of our time.
Adorno and the theorists of the Frankfurt School saw painters such as Kandinsky
as adopting a language of form which was out of reach of the commercial
"culture industry", not least because of the epiphanies offered within
their works and their two-dimensional grasp of social realities. But Bourdieu
forcefully proposes a disturbing, new, demystifying stance. He asks whether
the avant-garde might not have become set in an entirely different context
once the structures of the modern art market had been established. Thus
when the leading exponents of the various modernisms became highly-valued
in the art market and their works came to be used to prove that their owners
had "a spiritual soul", a fundamental "misrecognition" occurred.
Increasingly, a hagiographic approach
to "the artist as saint" has emerged. With it, any attempt to introduce
a scientific study of art and its social relations are denounced as reductionist.
But such an approach, taken seriously, means looking once again at the
evolution of artistic autonomy within capitalist modernity and especially
at the split phenomena of "the appearance of cultural production specially
designed for the market and, partly in reaction against that, a production
of pure works destined for symbolic appropriation" (1996:140). The underlying
principle of difference between the two has become the opposition of "pure
art" to popular taste, where the popular has become negatively associated
with the "commercial". In fact "pure art" is less other-worldly, that is,
disinterested and non-market-oriented than it appears, and the routine
organisation of art operates to ensure that there are actually two "modes
of ageing" and two economic logics functioning, one based on a long-run
time perspective with risky undertakings, organised around objects that
have a long life ("art"), and the other, with the aid of multiple reproduction,
organised around low-risk undertakings with a short-run life (the "commercial"
portrait or Boots landscape) (1996:142-6).
Bourdieu's relentlessly empirical
investigations into the taste for modernist works as symbolic goods show
that its public are not just drawn from other artists, but principally
from those patrician families who have "old money", often bankers, liberal
professionals and higher education teachers (1984). Thus, once aesthetically
certified by a leading critic and authenticated by the artists' signature,
the works of the contemporary avant-garde have moved into the arms of power.
"Legitimate taste" ("good" taste) is far from randomly scattered: it is
the possession of an "aristocracy of culture". Moreover, artistic reputations
no longer have to wait for posthumous recognition (as with Manet) or middle
age (as with Degas, Monet and other members of the impressionist Batignolles
Group). Certainly, the reverse world of bohemia, established by the first
"heroic modernists", was premised on the ascetic disavowal of the market
and a self-denying pursuit of artistic values alone (1996). Thus Flaubert,
for example, could be recognised as truly epoch-making in his refusal to
make a "pyramid structure" --to present a cumulative narrative order --and
in his insistence on a perspectivist treatment in his novels (e.g. Madame
Bovary). Equally, Manet and Redon refused to use a painting to "say something"
and aimed to "liberate themselves from the writer", that is, from any "gloss
or exegesis" (1996:136-7).
Such ascetic withdrawal is now no
longer an adequate description of contemporary artists. Instead, the longer-term
investment of their experimental effort is increasingly a guarantee of
the art-market's eventual recognition, a recognition which often now comes
to the young and which ensures rewards considerably greater than those
the commercial market hands out to the mass of illustrators and designers
"selling their souls" in standardised activities1.
The self-presentation of the artist as devoid of monetary interests is
meanwhile preserved by the convenient alchemy of the art-dealer. For the
gallery-owner (or dealer), by concerning him/herself uniquely with the
vulgar world of money, frees the creative figure from its grips and thus
arranges the transmutation of the artistic philosopher's stone into gold.
In this respect, the artist is aided by the School, in the role of the
critic. The critic provides explanations of the nature of his/her art to
a whole professional field which thus consecrates and authorises her (1996:169).
There is also another reason for
the changed role of the arts in contemporary society. This concerns their
emergence within the field of education, both as the mechanisms for selecting
the "best brains" and more indirectly as the means by which the dominant
social classes arranges their social inheritance. Bourdieu (1968, with
Passeron) saw the post-war bourgeoisie as distinguished from other classes
by its acquisition of state credentials in the form of educational success
("meritocracy"). The notion of meritocracy was and is one of the most brilliant
rationales of good fortune for the successful few, just as the kharma doctrine
served to create a perfect theological justification for the hierarchical
pre-eminence of the Brahmin few. Moreover, the canon of great artists and
writers could be incorporated into such a state-certified education by
means of the mechanisms of critical discrimination (via representation
in the National Gallery, Oxford anthologies, etc.). Yet the secret of such
disproportionate success in school for the sons and daughters of the dominant
class was that they alone possessed, via family visits to museums and libraries,
a domestic culture that trained them to penetrate the academic mysteries
of the school curriculum. Thus Bourdieu's The State Nobility showed that
only 32 % students of the great grandes écoles (the topmost rung
of French higher education) came from the subordinate classes, while earlier
research on the universities revealed that in 1964 only 6% of the children
of workers (or peasants) were enrolled.
Bourdieu's Theory of Practice
Bourdieu is becoming synonymous
with a "holy trinity" of concepts: habitus, capital and field. There are
dangers in stripping these from their conceptual moorings in his other,
wider, theories, but I will risk these to show how these "trademark" ideas
operate. I will then apply them especially to the art-world, and show how
a Bourdieusian perspective refuses a charismatic theory of the isolated
artist and resists the interpretation of pure disinterestedness on the
part of both public and artists. I shall suggest that Bourdieu represents
a powerful analysis of the high culture of modernism but that his social
theory also contains certain problematic omissions.
Bourdieu aims to avoid the oppositions
based on privilege and prejudice that resonate through the linked dualism
of the "individual genius" and the "masses", noting how the deskilling
of the subordinate classes has been accompanied by the "hyperskilling"
of the genius, how the subordinate classes' incomprehension of high culture
has been similar to that of colonised natives awed by colonial power, and
how the dominant classes' racist fears of the masses has echoed the irrationality
and childishness which was once attributed to "primitives" by the colonising
In contrast, for Bourdieu, all action,
including artistic work, is modelled on craft action. To put it another
way: practice is strategic action. Within this strategic action or agency,
everyone is capable of improvisation, just as the clarinettist's jazz solo
both obeys certain rules but also --as the fruition of long experience --may
go beyond even the virtuoso performances of other great improvisers. Such
rules, which guide improvisation, are implicit in your habitus --or loosely,
your "world-view" --that is your way of perceiving, emotionally responding
to and evaluating the world. Your class habitus (sometimes referred to
as "habitus" as such) is the product of your family's experience over generations.
For example, a gradually-declining aristocracy is on a social journey or
trajectory over decades that produces a certain kind of habitus, made up
by a strange mixture of pessimism and condescension. Bourdieu writes of
the resentments endemic in many habituses, as in the scrimping and saving
of the upwardly socially-mobile, petit-bourgeois parents who have literally
"made themselves small" and "done everything" for their children (1984).
The mistake in reading Bourdieu
is to assume that he is concerned with habitus as a product of class experience
alone. Certainly, for him, each agent's habitus is formed by their class,
but also by their gender and their own occupational field. We can reasonably
talk of a working-class habitus but also of a farming habitus, a military,
scientific or an artistic habitus.
The habitus itself has to be thought
of as like an old house --its own order or logic has an aesthetic resemblance
to a well lived-in, much-adapted interior. In the case of both class and
gender, the marks that these create are the consequence of centuries, or
even millennia, of naturalising social differentiation. The differences
feed into each other, so that the working-class feed off their sense of
being the last bastion of masculinity against the effeminate bourgeoisie,
and the bourgeoisie pride themselves on abandoning a dehumanising patriarchy.
What is more the "structuring structures" of the habitus discipline both
mind and body: for Bourdieu, there is no cause for a split. So the military
body grows ramrod stiff, the painter learns an "automatic" way of handling
his paint and the sound of the gears tell the driver "without thinking
about it" when to change. The artistic habitus, in other word, is bred
into the bone.
Capital and doxa
For Bourdieu, artists and other
agents possess certain capitals, of which there are four basic types: first,
economic capital --stocks and shares but also the surplus present in very
high salaries --second, social capital --the network or influential patrons
that you can use to support your actions; third, cultural capital --including
the knowledge of the artistic field and its history, which in turn serves
to distinguish the naïve painter from the professional, and including
also scholarly capital of a formal type (a postgraduate degree, the award
of a Rome visiting scholarship etc.); finally, symbolic capital: your reputation
or honour, as an artist who is loyal to fellow-artists and so on.
These capitals can be (and often
are) distributed around a kin-group, their specific structure and volume
distinguishing the "great family" of the dominants from the others: One
of the properties of the dominants is to have families particularly extended
(the great have great families) and strongly integrated. They are united
not just through the effects of the habitus, but also by the solidarity
of their interests. They are united at once by capital and for capital:
economic capital certainly, symbolic capital (the name) and above all,
perhaps, social capital (which one knows is both the condition for and
the consequence of the successful direction of capital on the part of the
members of this domestic unit).
Bourdieu calls "doxa" the taken-for-granted
assumptions or orthodoxies of an epoch which are deeper in the level of
consciousness than mere ideologies, but are also productive of conscious
struggles and new forms. "Heresiarchs", as Bourdieu calls them, include
painters like Courbet and Manet, as well as political figures and philosophers
like Pascal and Spinoza. They rupture the doxa (or break with conventions).
Bourdieu writes particularly powerfully of Flaubert and of his decision
to write well and flout mediocrity while choosing, as his subject for tragic
love, characters coming from the middle class provincial obscurity of Yvetot.
Heterodoxy distills in its most consecrated forms the lived experience
of groups who are not of the subordinate classes, but nor are they of the
dominant fraction of the dominant class. Instead they derive from that
part of the ruling class which has cultural capital but not much economic
Bourdieu has himself let loose some
debunking arguments which have deeply upset art historians and philosophers
of aesthetics. First, he claims that art critics have a model of a "fresh
eye" which is opposed to the academic "eye", but is still itself thought
of as a naturalised essence (that is, they presume that those competencies
in colour, line etc which are actually the result of early upbringing or
training are instead an innate gift of nature) (1996: 284-312). Critics
suffer from what we might call a poverty of ahistoricism: in particular,
they are unprepared to understand the artist in terms of his/her positions
and position-takings within the art field. What is more, when the rhetoric
of art-criticism is analysed closely, the terms chosen are all those that
loosely link in to aristocratic discourse --the paintings are noble, distinctive,
refined, subtle, etc. Such terms are convenient. They are at once sufficiently
autonomous to continue to have some currency in creating an ethos of rarity
but sufficiently loose to be compatible with any aesthetics (see 1984,
Secondly, Bourdieu argues --like
Foucault on the invention of the homosexual --that the West saw the invention
of the artist in the mid-nineteenth century. This figure was characteristically
bohemian, emphasising with a Christ-like devotion the sacrifices necessary
for art. The artist provoked a sense of awe and respect for disinterestedness,
initially within the progressive intelligentsia of the Left bank, and then
more generally among the bourgeoisie. Bourdieu's work undercuts this, although
his latest work does concede that certain artists --like Manet --can be regarded
as "heroic" in their inauguration of a new world of art based on "symbolic
revolution". He insists, on the other hand, that, unlike the academic world
where the artist is a civil servant of art, the world of the bohemian artist
is a world of anomic (unregulated) competing cults. The artist, however
is not entirely given up to the other-worldliness of the artistic life.
In fact artists who are productive are those whose hours and ethic of work
resembles that of other professionals.
Artists, thus argues Bourdieu, are
usually distant from the models of disinterested devotion that the bohemian
ideal suggests: "One soon learns in conversation with [gallery-owners]
that with a few illustrious exceptions ..., painters ...are deeply self-interested,
calculating, obsessed with money and ready to do anything to succeed" (1980:266).
In terms of their action in their own field, the saint-like hero of bohemia
possesses unexpected reserves of anger and even physical violence in defending
their stake in the game. His example is of the French surrealists' circle
where force --even broken arms --was the outcome of struggles over competing
Second, Bourdieu argues that becoming
"recognised" requires a certain artistic career. Geographically, it has
been virtually impossible for provincial artists or even those who have
come from the country to the city to make their mark. Provincial artists
have been doomed instead to abandon their projects, and to become merely
regional painters or writers. Moreover, only those painters or writers
who had families ready to give them allowances in the difficult periods
before getting established were likely to be successful. Here Bourdieu
is at his most challenging. He is arguing in effect that the whole history
of modernism has been one in which only those avant-garde artists who were
centrally located and who had the time to spend on their experiments were
the ones who won out.
The Rules of Art (1996) bring out
the tragic contradictions of art in our period. For Bourdieu shows us that
the only effective field of struggle is within the "restricted" field of
art, cut off from the "expanded" field where specialised knowledge is not
required to decode the relevant imagery. Within the restricted field, collective
movements help to consecrate the reputation of individual artists, whose
positions, in turn, are that much more defensible the better-secured are
their own artistic habitus. Bourdieu suggests that Manet, for example,
had an extensive knowledge of art history on which his own works fed; Duchamp
had a superb feel for the game, partly because several generations of his
family were painters. And, lest he be seen to be simplistically anti-artist,
he notes that the symbolic revolutions established by Baudelaire or Manet
are in some respects as fundamental as a political revolution. They change
permanently the way that we see and classify the world.
Yet the dangers inherent in historical
revolutions also apply to such symbolic revolutions. The achievement of
mass recognition by an artist is a double-sided victory for it sets in
motion a process of routine co-optation --by means of cheap reproductions,
profitable "bio-pics", personality cults and hyperbolic "criticism". The
most transgressive figures can thus be tailored ultimately to the needs
of the museum, gallery/ market system and the curriculum. Here the lowest
common denominator that draw them together is the artists' mutual concern
for aesthetic form, whatever differences exist in terms of meaning or the
political ends their works serve. Through a form of reception that forces
them to submit to the aesthetic attitude --the supremacy of style --they
inadvertently come to underline the dominant class's hold on power2.
Bourdieu's writings in fact disclose a skeletal theory of art which does
not always need to serve the purposes of such hegemonic domination, allowing
us to go beyond a vulgar critique of pure art. His theory is an attempt
to create a sociological aesthetic which might give back to art its concern
with ethical and political interests, which wishes to flee the museum and
restructure the role of the art-world within everyday life.
We begin to see, too, why there
is no such thing as popular art in Bourdieu's theory. First because the
modern artist, bereft of the orthodoxy of the Academic artist, needs the
defence of his/her critic, not to speak of a reputable dealer. Second,
because the institution of permanent revolution requires the crucial ingredient
of the right place (especially presence in the great metropolises of modernity)
and also the time when young to experiment. The conditions for these are
self-assurance and the financial support that historically has been available
only to the sons and daughters of the dominant class (not least the minor
aristocracy) by means of an allowance.
We also note that for Bourdieu some
arts might be legitimisable (eg cinema or photography or jazz). However,
compared with other more securely-consecrated forms they don't bring their
potential haute bourgeois public enough returns (in terms of "cultural
capital") to reward them for their investment of time and effort. Such
art-forms are doomed to be taken seriously only by a tiny "deviant" minority
like the junior executives or technicians who make up the members of camera
clubs. Photography, therefore, is consigned for ever to the outer circle
of hell in the form of the mere middlebrow.
I think that Bourdieu overlooked
the potential for "consecration" within photography --it might be said that
the popular character of photography did delay its legitimation but that
it has now acquired its own canon of great photographers, its own critics
and historians and its own educational base in art-schools. However, there
is considerable backing to many of Bourdieu's theories, not least in the
various British reports of the Arts Council. For example, Moulin's empirical
work on the contemporary French art-market (1967), in the Centre de Sociologie
Européene, has shown very acutely, by means of interviews with painters,
collectors and curators, the precise ways in which critics' aesthetic values
are used to bolster exchange values and the paradoxes for the painters
of having clients buy their works who are out of sympathy with their views.
She indicates the widespread painters' concern for alternative ways of
putting their work in the public domain. Gamboni (1989) has shown how being
taken up by a wealthy and aristocratic group of clients, as Odilon Redon
was, can coincide with a fundamental change of style. This included, in
his case, a total change from monochrome symbolist or metaphysical etchings
to oil-paintings, suffused with light, and from sombre greys to intense,
bright colours. Sapiro's study (1996) of French writing in the period of
the Nazi occupation has revealed that many of the organisations of the
so-called autonomous literary field, such as the Académie Francaise
, the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Goncourt,
pandered unheroically to the Vichy regime or its German masters, thus displaying
in the event the weakness of their humanist rhetoric.
But Bourdieu's theory does have certain
problematic elements, following on the poor predictive quality of his research
on photography. Let me isolate these briefly. First the concepts of "doxa"
or "illusio" tend to suggest that there are no possibilities of moving
outside the "game" and beyond the forms of knowledge that prevail within
it, knowledge which depends crucially on your location in relation to power.
However, unlike Foucault, Bourdieu does suggest that there is a possibility
of lived experience which may clash with ideology: moreover, in the case
of (social) science, this takes the form of procedures for testing reality
which are non discourse-dependent. It is true that despite this there are
still certain types of doxa or taken-for granted assumptions which are
ineradicable in a given period because they are opaque, even to social
scientists. However, every historian would agree that this is the case
to some degree.
Secondly, Bourdieu writes very disparagingly
of the "fragile" nature of the alliance between artists and workers, and
expects it to dissolve when the artists themselves gain recognition. But
in some circumstances, this "fragile" alliance does hold, at least temporarily
(eg the Russian and Cuban Revolutions). Artists do suffer exile or even
die for their beliefs --I think of Neruda confronted by the Chilean junta,
of Lorca in the Spanish Civil War, or Mandelstam, Solzhenitsyn, and others
who could have sometimes taken easier ways out. The question here, it seems
to me, is to deepen and make more precise our historical sociology of such
testing-points. Under what conditions do groups of artists --like Quakers
and some early trade-union groups --offer resistance or seriously undertake
the risks of "martyrdom" ? (Fowler, 1997)
Further, I should refer to Bourdieu's
disturbing views about artists' "interest in disinterestedness", which
has led one critic to accuse him of having a narrow and unacceptably determinist
position, which lacks any room for altruism (Alexander, 1995). My inclination
is to follow Bourdieu here: he points even to medieval monks having occasionally
come to blows, such was the intensity of their belief in their religion
(1998c: 78). Yet he is also aware that monastic communities could reveal
considerable levels of disinterestedness. The brothers scourged themselves
with consciences more subtle and vigilant than most. The same should be
noted of artists, who, after all, deliberately avoid economic capital at
the outset of their adult careers. They might quite reasonably want the
degree of material comforts which are necessary for work, without being
held to pursue economic interests single-mindedly. The problem here is
not Bourdieu's theory but rather an "invention" of "the artist" which projects
on them idealised human qualities, transforming them into figures devoid
of practical needs (Bourdieu 1998 c: 85-8).
My view would also be that Bourdieu
does incur some costs in broadening out the idea of "capital" to include
social and cultural capital. Economic capital is necessarily zero sum --the
more surplus value the employer has, the less the worker has. But it is
not clear to me that "cultural" (or "informational") "capital" are necessarily
either zero-sum or hierarchical in all societies. These could, without
internal contradiction, be more democratised. Equally, artists' symbolic
"capital" in the form of reputations does not necessarily have to be exploitative
of others, although it may be competitively-based.
It is often said that Bourdieu might
be accurate in writing of the centrality of high culture or the aesthetic
in France, but in France alone. However I disagree with this view: many
of the same phenomena appear in Scotland. I cannot agree with Halle's criticism
(taken to be implied by his American study) that Bourdieu has overstressed
the significance of the drive for symbolic power in such areas as the possession
of abstract art. Nor is it sufficient to show, against Bourdieu, that popular
artistic works exist (Shusterman cites the case of rap, 1992), for there
have to be sponsors to champion new genres/ groups/ independent cultural
producers, and, as Raymond Williams has argued, such sponsors are often
unprepared to defend works that the general public likes because they have
themselves developed "mandarin" tastes. Yet the modern period has also
had a small minority of critics who have sometimes canonised popularly-successful
producers, as did Williams himself with Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Thomas Hardy
and Tressell. In some contexts, works have been unshackled or recycled
from a purely formalist optic and the artist has become the visionary of
his/ her time, expressing ethical/ political issues in the form of images
--as Blake managed to criticise slavery, and even in the era of modernism,
Manet achieved in his lithographs of dead Communards or Grosz pulled off
in his satirical cartoons of post World War I inequality.
Distinction and The Rules of Art
sum up the deliberate disenchantment of art by Bourdieu. By this more scientific
exploration of the art-world and its links with the school and the field
of power, we can all become more aware of the ways in which educational
outcomes are linked to class experience and of the complex nature of the
interests which drive agents. But there is nothing biological, akin to
genes, that leads to such interests invariably being preserved and passed
on, despite the impressive dignity of the dominants which is imparted by
their knowledge of poetry and art. A reflexive sociology shows also the
possibility for resistance and transformation. Bourdieu in fact has high
standards for artists, as emerges unambiguously in his work with the installation
artist, Hans Haacke3.
At the end of The Rules of Art Bourdieu
argues for an Internationale of Artists and Intellectuals (344-5), who
will aim to advance the project of the Enlightenment and who will need
to own their means of cultural production to do so. Recently, he has restated
I would like writers, artists, philosophers
and scientists to be able to make their voices heard directly in all the
areas of public life in which they are competent. I think that everyone
would have a lot to gain if the logic of intellectual life, that of argument
and refutation, were extended to public life.
And, in his acceptance speech for
the Bloch Prize, he argues for a "reasoned utopia" and against the "bankers'
fatalism" which is the ideology of our time. Rational utopianism is defined
as being both against "pure wishful thinking (which) has always brought
discredit on utopia" and against "philistine platitudes concerned essentially
with facts ...intellectuals and all others who really care about the good
of humanity, should re-establish a utopian thought with scientific backing
..." (Bourdieu,1998b: 128).
1 Bourdieu's theories neglect the
crossovers between the fine and applied arts. Subsequent to the period
of his research, these have certainly become more frequent with artists
plundering the "expanded field" of comics, cartoons, graffiti etc. and
vice versa. Some recuperation of the popular was always an element of the
restricted field (see Varnedoe and Gopnick, 1990).
2 Acts of Resistance notes in its
critique of the Bundesbank's President, Mr. Tietmayer, that while he is
anxious to bury the expensive welfare state and remove labour movement
"rigidities", he, like M. Trichet, the Governor of the Banque de France,
no doubt reads poetry and sponsors the arts (Bourdieu 1998b: 46).
3 Free Exchange, Polity, 1995. Haacke
has also revealed the anomalies in the changed location of the most celebrated
modernists' works, both through showing the changing ownership of their
paintings as they come into possession of the more conservative professions
and corporate heads and through revealing the discrepancies between the
directors' view of how art museums should be run and those of the general
Selected Works by Pierre Bourdieu:
Outline of a Theory of Practice,
Cambridge University Press, 1977.
The Production of Belief, Media,
Culture and Society, 1980, 2, 261-93
Distinction, Routledge, 1984.
The Rules of Art, Polity, 1996.
The State Nobility, Polity, 1997.
Acts of Resistance, Polity, 1998a.
A Reasoned Utopia and Economic Fatalism
New Left Review, 227, Jan Feb,1998b, 125-130
Practical Reason, 1998c.
Works by other writers:
Jeffrey Alexander: Fin de Siècle
Social Theory, Verso, 1995.
Bridget Fowler, Pierre Bourdieu
and Cultural Theory, Sage, 1997.
Raymonde Moulin, La Marché
de la Peinture en France, Minuit, 1967.
G isèle Sapiro, La Raison
Littéraire: Le Champs Littéraire dans l'Occupation (1940-4),
Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, nos. 111-2, Mars 1996, Seuil.
Richard Shusterman, Pragmatist Aesthetics,
K.Varnedoe and A. Gopnik, High and
Low, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1990.
Raymond Williams, The Politics of
Modernism, Verso, 1989
back to top
Tales from the
Had a wee flurry just after lunchtime
there with a crowd of folk over for a christening up the road, but I don't
think they'll be back. I heard one of them moaning about the dust on the
top shelves of the gantry, and another on about there being no soap in
the ladies. Makes you wonder what sort of crowd the baby's let hisself
This morning, about half-eleven
I suppose, the doors wasn't long open and I'm standing here looking at
the sun on the pavement and wondering if I should get Diane in early and
head off down the coast for a few hours, a walk along the beach, a wee
bit fresh air for the brainbox. I'm just standing there staring at the
pavement, at the shadow of the lamp post across the road, the exhaust fumes
blue in the light, and I'm sort of half-dreaming about whether or not to
take the binoculars and the wellies and that when a movement sort of snaps
me awake and this wee dog, some kind of mongrel terrier I suppose, this
wee black and white patched fella goes walking backwards across the doorway.
Very strange that, so I pour a coffee from the pot and stand there and
drink that and try to remember if Da ever mentioned anything about dogs
doing such a thing, but I don't recall it ever being a hot topic. Cats,
black, aye, crossing paths and all that. Dogs, no. Cats walking backwards?
No. And then I get this picture of a dog and a cat walking side by side
backwards under a stepladder, so I stop drinking the coffee and call Diane.
She can make it a couple of hours early, so I'll be off right enough, and
with luck there might be a decent sunset.
See what it is? It's over having
words with Mary again. That's about a dozen times since her sixteenth I've
had to talk to her about them so-called friends. Last night she's got them
in again up the stairs, that Shona one with her sister Jools. That Shona's
too old for a start. Eighteen. That's too old for my Mary. And there's
something about that wee Jools one I don't like. She looks at me a bit
weird, them big eyes staring at you, but you wouldn't trust her at the
baby-sitting I can tell you. So anyway, I go up there, tell them that's
their car, 'cos their Da owns Starnight Cars, and he always gets one of
his lads to drop by if they're here late. So it's half-nine and the car's
there. And when I knock the door I hear Mary shouting come-in, so in I
go, and they're about the computer, shoulder to shoulder the three of them,
and it's some game they're at.
Have a look Da, says Mary, and she
sort of leans back so I can see the screen, and it's like some video effects
thing they're about, and Mary's working the controls there, and she's a
young man, maybe about ages with herself, and he's stuck in some sort of
a dungeon, pure blackness all about him. Watch now, says Mary, and the
music's right creepy too, not the likes of your old black-and-whites with
the church organs and that, but these mad screams and laughs and scrapes
and cutting sounds all mixed in, and I'm getting a bit of the shivers with
this, and the girls all sort of scream at the same time as this thing appears
on the screen, and Mary jiggles at he keyboard and makes her man pick up
this baseball bat type of thing. This creature gets closer, and you can
see now it's a terrible thing altogether, with the body of a big baldy
dog hopping about on its back legs, and the face on it is like Lester Piggot,
only if you imagine your man with a great long jaw like a donkey and the
teeth on him is like the shards of glass along the wall-top, and the whole
thing is the colour of dead skin and covered with these big wet warts about
an inch broad and high, and the music goes mental and the thing hops right
up to the screen, covering about the same distance that I go lepping back
over the carpet. Mary jerks back in the seat and makes the fella bring
down the baseball bat and she catches old Lester-face right on the side
of the head, behind his ear it is, and you hear this crack like a melon
hitting the pavement, and the creature lets out a howl and staggers back,
but not fast enough 'cos Mary belts it another one with this bat, and this
time the whole side of it's head caves in and this like snake of blood
and brains comes leaping out its skull and lands on the deck like a shot
jellyfish, and all the noises is like things popping and farting liquids.
Are you wanting a shot? asks that Shona one then, but I'm halfways out
of the room already and not feeling too good either.
I wash the face and give myself
a wee talking to in the bog and work it out before I go back in. I'm not
good at this type of thing, and thank God Mary's been as good as she has
'cos I couldn't have been doing with it all the time.
You girls better get yourselfs downstairs.
Your car should be here by now. And take that game with you and make sure
you never bring anything like that into my house again. Do you understand?
I say, and it's like I must be putting on my sternest voice 'cos they're
looking well wary and hurt, but they both look up at Mary, and Mary looks
at me like I'm daft and says, it's mine Dad, this is the one I got with
the birthday money you gave me. I told you about it, remember?
So that was that. They got packed
off home and we had an argument. In the end, I lost, and I know she knows
it. If I would have been more interested I would have known, but she's
still got the receipt so I'll be taking it back to the shop and having
a wee word with Peter, 'cos he's the fella with his name on the slip. Makes
me wonder if Peter's got any my Mary's age. Better for him if he doesn't.
The drive down is slow and frustrating,
and a right shouting match I end up having with a fella behind me who won't
make his mind up to overtake or sit halfway up me pipe. The coastline is
dirty. The secret bay as we called it isn't as secret as it used to be,
and it's not with folk being there, but the stuff along the tide-lines.
Old johnnies, womens' towels and weathered parts of children's toys, a
baby's arm sticking out of the sand, and gloves everywhere --ladies' pink
gloves, a navvy's heavy-duty crimson rubber like an udder, and wellie boots
and wheelie bins and all manner of shite in great long lines along the
sea-wall as far as I can make-out.
But I walk along anyway, and glad
of the binoculars too. A sailing-boat far away is getting tossed about
grand-style by the waves, and even the seagulls manage to find out what
hovering's like, stuttering up and down in the wind. I reach the dunes
where we used to meet when we were over on the holidays. We even managed
to build a sort of hut for when the rain was on. I poke around a bit beside
a couple of the sandy banks, checking close to see if there might be any
trace of the door frame and timbers we used, but of course there's nothing.
The dunes I remember have probably long since joined the sea.
There's a sunset happening over
behind the islands, but heavy black clouds from the sea obscure it, and
grey bands connecting to the sea on the horizon tell me that I've walked
enough and should return before the rain hits land.
Back down past the dunes, then the
great slope of the sea-wall where there's still the barbed wire and the
bunkers for the guns, and right battered it all is too, with slabs of concrete
as big as the pub shifted and cracked by the winter waves. I have to sit
down. My legs are tired, and that's maybe only six, seven miles at most.
I don't want to go home with Mary and me not talking. I can't handle it.
And that game still has to go back. It's in the car, back in its box. The
picture on the front is of a big veiny red blob, and the only thing that
tells you it's a head is these two mad red eyes like glass. I wonder what
Mary has inside her head, what she dreams about when she's not well, or
when she's scared. The worst I ever got was a witch under the bed. I shiver
and have to check behind me, along the cracked ridge of the wall, feeling
that something is watching me. But there's nothing there. The furthest
of the islands is now behind the wall of grey rain, and it'll be here before
long. I'm too weary to start walking again, so I make a smoke before heading
off, and sure enough I've the smoke only half-done when the wind turns
right powerful and the rain comes in sidey-ways like pebbles, and it's
maybe thinking about the likes of that animal in the game, and that thing
staring at me out of the box in the back seat, but it's like eyes are all
round me, all watching, all chasing me along the beach, and the cloud is
over and above and low, blanketing the whole sky, and I don't remember
being so scared for a very long time.
I want to get straight upstairs and
dry off, and the shivers haven't stopped, even with the heating up full
in the car, but Diane calls me across as soon as I'm in the door and says
there's a man been waiting to see me since an hour after I left. He looks
angry about something, and he's quite drunk, but he hasn't caused any bother
so she hasn't warned him yet, but she doesn't want to serve him any more.
I follow her backward nod to where this tall, thin-faced fella is leaning
against the bar, hand cupped about his pint, and craning up he is to look
at the screen of the telly above him. I don't recognise him at all. Not
a regular. It's possible I've seen him passing or in another pub, but there's
nothing clear, and that's with a good study at him in his reflection behind
I get upstairs and change. I don't
even shower, just have a quick rub with the towel and on with a fresh shirt
and breeks. I look smart enough, but I know I'm in no fit state to be scrapping.
The shivers have got worse, and a bit of temple pain there, and that's
always unusual for me, means I might be in for a wee bout. I summon Frank
from the end of the bar, careful not to open it too far in case your man
should see. Frank is only just in, so he's sober enough. I tell him what's
what and he goes back to his seat.
The guy gives a wee bit of a start
when I say my name. He's been watching the cricket on the telly, and looks
like he was enjoying it too until I turns up.
So you're Mary's father, says he,
and I nod and extend my hand. He takes it slowly, and his hand is big,
but the shake isn't a showy, dramatic one. It's solid and brief. He's got
a good drink in him, that's clear by his eyes, but he keeps his voice clear
enough, and straight to the point he is.
My daughters were here last night,
he says, they like Mary a lot, and so do I. She's been in our house now
three, four times, and every time not a bit of bother. Your Mary's a good
lass Mr Doohihan. She's bright and well-liked. I'm glad she gets on with
mine. She's a good influence on them. But this stuff they're getting into.
You'll forgive me speaking my mind, but it's not right.
So that's it then. Their Dad. Jamie
Kelly. Starnight Cars. A lot of stories about this man. A lot. I point
at the pint, he looks and nods, hands it over and I top it up from the
tap in between us. He sniffs, looks down at the bar. He's not pushing for
an answer, and there was no aggression in the voice. He deserves an explanation.
I put the pint before him, and he slides two coins across. I leave them
I'm sorry, I say, and he doesn't
look up from examining the head on the pint.
So am I, he says then, and raises
the glass and drinks, and continues the slow swallow until half of the
liquid has been drained.
I know that Frank and Joe and Bobby
will be halfway along the bar behind me, pretending to watch the telly
--there's no sense that the man will do anything, but that's as dangerous
a time as any.
He sniffs again and wipes some froth
from his lips.
It's a hard job right enough, looking
after them, he says, but we can look after each other's a bit, you know,
keep an eye out and that. Know what I mean?
He extends his hand again as he
stands up. He's really very tall indeed. I take his hand, and it's the
same shake as before, short and firm, but this time I notice a lump and
see the wart on his middle finger as his hand goes to zip up his jacket.
Nice pint you serve in here by the
way, he says, and off he goes. Frank and Joe and Bobby come buzzing over
with questions, but I don't hear them. I go to the toilet.
So it's ten minutes I'm at it there
with the nail brush and the green pan scourer, and the flesh is raw but
I keep scraping and pour another dash of disinfectant into the basin.
Better safe, that's what Dad always
said, 'cos you never knew what some of them have at and about their gobs
over a day. Glass carries the fingerprints and a lot more you can't see.
People with scabs and ulcers on their lips. People who let their nose run
all over their mouth when they've had too much. Stag night? You wouldn't
believe it. People who swill their drink rather than drink it, so that
by they've got to the bottom of a pint there's as much spit as there is
beer. I smooth on more soap, and wonder where she is, my Mary. She should
be back any minute.
She'll be with her friends, doing
whatever they do when their Da's aren't about. There's anger deep in my
belly, just the same as you get before a fight, and I close my eyes and
I can remember it all like switching on a light, me and her Mum on the
shore that night, and it's a warm, clear memory, how sweet and soft and
young she was, the lights of the town in the distance and the coolness
of the sand below, and I open my eyes and the anger's away and Christ I
wish she was with me, right now.
back to top
An essay informed by four Novels
Writers and thinkers in this culture
and beyond, have long been fascinated with ideas of crime and punishment,
freedom and social control. Religion is much concerned with such ideas
as are politics, philosophy, and the majority of present day social sciences.
These areas of interest form a core of social thought which, in a pure
sense, is rivalled only in recent times by the great rise of rationalism
and empirical science with its concomitant technological advances. In the
words of Herbert Marcuse, "A good deal of the history of bourgeois society
is reflected in the bourgeois theory of authority." 1
In Plato's Republic (c.375 B.C.)
and Thomas More's Utopia (1516) there is lengthy discussion of justice
and how criminals ought to be treated. The punishments advocated generally
involve some loss of liberty and More has much to say about slavery being
a suitable punishment for most crime.
"...they likewise make chains and
fetters for their slaves, to some of which, as a badge of infamy, they
hang an earring of gold..." 2
Doubtless More was influenced by
his reading of Plato; both are at pains to describe highly mechanistic
and prescriptive social arrangements, showing them to be for the overall
good of the community wherein the individual is subsumed.
It is not my intention here to dwell
on the historical development of such ideas but accept that the history
exists (and can be argued over) whilst looking at some aspects of prison
and punishment in relation to 4 twentieth century texts:
The Star Rover, Jack London, Novel
Men In Prison, Victor Serge, Novel
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler
Borstal Boy, Brendan Behan, Autobiographical
These Western/North European texts
are, in a sense, part of that literary tradition. A tradition which encapsulates
a specific set of values and social assumptions about how people live,
what governments are and, indeed, what a novel or any other piece of literature
actually (or supposedly) is. However, they illuminate much of the ideological
landscape of the twentieth century as well as the detail of individual
experiences in the process and circumstances of imprisonment. At the same
time, almost by necessity of the subject matter, they are in opposition
to both the literary tradition they come from and the institutionalisation
The main characters in these books
believe that, on some level, their treatment embodies injustice; that the
injustice has its roots in larger political questions and/or social arrangements
but is manifest in the institutions of the prison and justice systems.
Each author presents state authority as the perpetrator of unjust punishment
and indicts these state institutions simply by detailed description of
an individual life, by exposing what happens on the inside. In making these
detailed descriptions of prison life the writers are appealing to a higher
sense of moral justice in the consciousness of the reader: that is part
of the way the novels work. Another way in which they work is by making
concrete the details of an experience which is to the majority of people
extremely unfamiliar. The more extreme and removed from everyday life the
actions described, the more the minute details render them as true. "The
mind projects into the concrete its spiritual tragedy." 3
During the 1970s Alexander Solzhenitsyn's
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was on the syllabus in Scottish
secondary schools. This does credit to our internationalist outlook and
was my first encounter with a "fictional" work about incarceration. I didn't
much like the book and have never gone back to read it afresh with adult
eyes. What strikes me now though is the fact that there was no other text
in the syllabus about prison experience. None of the four books above were
ever mentioned, nor were any of many possible alternatives. Why not Oscar
Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol, Tolstoy's The Resurrection, Kafka's somewhat
more abstract, In the Penal Settlement; or even in the Scottish context,
Jimmy Boyle's A sense of Freedom? Not one of these books, as far as I know,
got anywhere near the syllabus and the school library wasn't much use either.
It is difficult not to say that,
as part of its contribution to the Cold War, the Scottish education system
was happy enough to throw copies of Solzhenitsyin at children in the hope
they assimilated something about the evil Soviets who imprisoned dissenters
in barbaric conditions. It was sufficient to get across that message with
little in the way of contextual comparisons. Koestler's novel might have
given too confused a message about the Soviet Union with its implication
that the Revolution of 1917 had degenerated and transformed itself in ways
that were not intended by those Commissars unlucky enough to find themselves
at "divergence" with Stalin or "No.1."
Jack London (1876-1916) wrote The
Star Rover to highlight, among other things, the inhuman treatment of prisoners
in the USA. Darrel Standing, the first person narrator, is stubborn to
the point of daring the authorities to kill him by their use of straight-jacketing
as punishment for his part in a fictitious conspiracy to blow up the gaol.
What Standing recognises is the absolute necessity of adopting an anti-authoritarian
stance in order to retain his dignity.
London, thought to be the first
millionaire author, born into a poor family in San Francisco, was brought
up in Oakland and on surrounding farms. He was a tough, rugged, kind of
frontier American who believed in living life to the full.
"A sailor labourer, oyster pirate,
fish and game warden, tramp, gold prospector, soap-box orator, war correspondent,
rancher, bohemian --all these hats he wore and more --yet still he wrote
a thousand words a day for sixteen years, his entire professional life."
4 London achieved all
this in spite of alcohol and drug problems, as well as the difficulties
caused by several bad business deals in which he lost large sums of money.
He claimed to be prone to boredom
and when something bored him he felt a great sense of disgust with it,
due to this disgust he was driven forward. He did not revise any of his
work after publication. When asked to do so for later editions he categorically
refused. Yet he thought this feeling of disgust which welled up within
was a character defect that he would have liked put right but somehow couldn't.
Still, for sixteen years he did not tire of writing and produced around
Victor Serge (1890-1947), journalist,
anarchist and political activist, states in his dedication at the beginning
of Men in Prison, "Everything in this book is fictional and everything
is true. I have attempted, through literary creation, to bring out the
general meaning and human content of a personal experience." 5
Like Jack London, his concern was to communicate through a novel something
of the experience of imprisonment and to connect to as wide a readership
as possible. "It is not about 'me,' about a few men, but about men, all
men crushed in that dark corner of society. It seems to me that the time
has finally come for literature to discover the masses." 6
Serge was born into a political
family of impoverished Russian emigres in Brussels. One of his brothers
died of hunger. He was highly motivated politically and much taken with
the work of Marx, Nietzsche and Stirner. The last seven years of his life
were spent in exile in Mexico, where like Trotsky he was subject to harassment
by the NKVD. However, he continued to write regardless of the fact that
he found it all but impossible to get his work published.
In Darkness at Noon Arthur Koestler
(1905-1983), describes the incarceration, interrogation and execution of
Comrade N. S. Rubashov, taking what can be described in today's terms as
a classical anti-Stalinist line. Nevertheless, the novel is not greatly
diminished by the ideological axe-grinding. For Koestler the anti-Stalinism
was central yet today (January 1999) the form of the political system which
devours Rubashov is not central; it is the mechanics of interrogation,
humiliation and punishment that come into the foreground through the swamp
of ideological information and argument. The arguments are put brilliantly,
with lucid cold logic, but essentially it is the delineation of systematic
oppression (of Rubahsov and others by the prison and justice systems) that
now gives the novel its strength. Another reason for the diminution of
ideological impact is because from an official, inter-governmental view
the Cold War is over.
Without the anti-Stalinism Koestler'
s project in Darkness at Noon is rendered meaningless in strict historical
terms; this is perhaps a truism, though as a "novel" the work still succeeds
on literary terms: it becomes however, more like Kafka than Koestler. That
is, more universally metaphysical and less driven by ideology.
Born in Hungary and highly motivated
politically, Koestler was both fascinated and haunted by the Russian revolution.
Rubashov is modelled partly on Nikolai Bhukarin. Koestler was imprisoned
during the Spanish Civil War and drew on this experience to write Darkness
at Noon among other things.
Brendan Behan (1923-1964), a self-styled
IRA man, was arrested shortly after his arrival at Liverpool in 1939. He
was aged only sixteen years but such was his background that he had a thorough
knowledge of the history of British oppression in Ireland. After initial
incarceration in Walton Prison he was sentenced at Liverpool Assizes to
three years at a Borstal in Suffolk. Borstal Boy is based on these experiences.
Behan, however, was not so concerned
with the facts where the embroidering of them made for a better story.
Immediately after his arrest Behan was taken to CID headquarters in Lime
Street. When asked for a statement he declared: "My name is Brendan Behan.
I came over here to fight for the Irish Workers' and Small Farmers' Republic,
for a full and free life, for my countrymen, North and South, and for the
removal of the baneful influence of British Imperialism from Irish affairs.
God save Ireland." 7
He also writes: "In accordance with
instructions, I refused to answer questions." 8
Yet exactly what instructions he
arrived in Liverpool with is open to question. Certainly, Ulick O'Connor
has raised this issue and cites several examples where the version of events
given in Borstal Boy is at odds with other witnesses. 9
This is why I consider Borstal Boy an autobiographical novel.
On his return to Ireland, Behan
was gaoled a second time for his part in the shooting of a policeman. The
details of this are described by Behan in Confessions of an Irish Rebel.
His understanding of prison and the life there was born of hard experience.
"Two warders grabbed him [Behan]
and took him out kicking and screaming, leaving the priest purple with
rage. They dragged him up some iron steps outside, pulling him so that
he fell and split his head. In his cell they gave him a beating on the
chest and kidneys and hit him with keys in the face. He was to keep the
mark of the steel stairs on his forehead for the rest of his life." 10
Victor Serge had similar harsh experiences.
Behan, like Jack London, developed an alcohol addiction which eventually
would kill him.
Of the four books only Koestler does
not use a consistent first person narrative voice. Rubashov and the omniscient
narrator are so similar in tone and thought process as to somehow gel in
the mind of the reader producing the same closeness as is evoked by straight
use of the first person.11
Also, Koestler uses extracts from the diary of Comrade Rubashov to move
directly into the first person. During the interrogation sequences we hear
Rubashov clearly, the logic of his thinking is expressed in his own words.
One hears the absurd arguments of the interrogation, where those with power
are in complete control.
The others (London, Behan, Serge)
use a first person narrative which functions to emphasise the truth of
the experience described; the bearing of individual testimony to acts systematically
designed to undermine the human spirit.
Singularity of viewpoint enhances
the sense of enforced aloneness in prison as well as the triumph of communication.
Prisoners find ways of communicating with each other. Jack London calls
tapped messages between cells "knuckle-rap". There are whispered messages
in the exercise yard or at work. Each system of imprisonment is different
yet there are huge similarities between what the characters experience
in France, the Soviet Union, the USA and England. Behan possibly has a
better time of it than the others, being mostly in a borstal rather than
an prison for adults.
The first person narration brings
the reader closer to the situation of the prisoner; it offers a technical
solution to the problems of both voyeurism and authorial distance. Koestler
uses different technical solutions to achieve the same effect. This is
interesting given the concern with ends and means underpinning, to a greater
or lesser extent, all four narratives.
The prisoners in three of the books
(not London's) are "Political Prisoners". Only in that one particular are
they extraordinary. Yet all prisoners are political as in political with
a small p. All societies make decisions as to what activities are taboo
or unacceptable and therefore made criminal, thus the necessity for systems
to deal with individuals or groups who indulge in such proscribed activities.
In accepting imprisonment as a suitable way for dealing with offenders
it then follows that within such institutions there must be rules of behaviour
and regulation of the activities of offenders. We logically arrive at what
is sometimes termed the institutional regime.
The prison regimes in the so-called
"developed world" have much to thank the city of Glasgow for and more specifically
one William Brebner (1783-l845) who hailed originally from Huntly in Aberdeenshire.
Brebner put into practice a system at the Bridewell, on Glasgow's Duke
Street, which was to spread quickly through Europe and North America. The
Bridewell, governed by Brebner from 1808 until his death, was regarded
as a model institution, indeed a House of Commons Select Committee on Scottish
Prisons reported in 1826 that "The prisoners are kept silent, and at constant
work from six o'clock morning till eight at night." 12
Thus in the early 19th century, the governance of prisons was not left
to chance but organised along somewhat industrialised lines.
"Much has been written about the
respective merits of the so-called separate and silent systems of imprisonment
which were introduced into prisons in the first half of the nineteenth
century" 13 These types
of prison regime, carried on the winds of imperialism and industrial efficiency,
spread around the globe. The main mode of punishment, whether intentional
or not, was the enforced aloneness prisoners had to endure. It has been
argued that such systems were likely to have health and character building
benefits and that while prisoners were isolated they had contact with the
prison chaplain and governor at regular intervals. It is hard to imagine
that those incarcerated had much in common with such officials and seems
absurd to suggest that such meetings would mitigate the punishment of being
removed from one's normal state of sociability. This amount of time spent
alone is part of what gives rise to a heightened awareness of the thoughts
and voice within one's own mind.
"Introspection opens up the endless
vistas of the inner life, shines a penetrating light into the most secret
recesses of our being. ...But the invisible companion remains." 14
What Serge calls the "invisible
companion," Koestler calls the "silent partner" and London calls the "little
death" are all aspects of that same introspection and result from enforced
aloneness and the attempt to survive it.
Jack London takes this introspection
furthest; when Darrel Standing is in the straight jacket he projects himself
through time and space by psychological effort. The other three writers
do not get so close to the mystical. Standing has some difficulty in reaching
this state of mind but from the very start he has an inner-psychology.
Koestler tries to deny Rubashov this inner voice but it comes through almost
in spite of the author.
What Comrade Rubashov discovers
as the "grammatical fiction" or "silent partner" (that which has been previously
buried by logic of political expediency in his ordinary life) is immediately
present in the characters in the other books. London, Serge and Behan do
not deny the inner voice and the workings of the conscience. In fact, this
inner voice is to a large extent no different from the narrative voice
throughout. There is for them no possibility of the inner voice differentiating
between the individual and the great flow of historical events. Ironically,
at their most isolated physically the characters appear to become less
reified and more fully human psychologically.
Behan does not hold all the population
of Britain responsible for oppression in Ireland. Yet Koestler's attempt
to foist the denial of the individual inner voice onto Rubashov results
in what seems a very deliberate statement of social and political psychosis.
However the dichotomy for Koestler is that the humanity of the inner voice
asserts itself, no matter how psychotic or corrupt the political life Rubashov
Koestler holds almost everyone who
supported the 1917 revolution responsible for Stalinism. This is the logic
of this position. Koestler says "having placed the interests of mankind
above the interests of man, having sacrificed morality to expediency ...Now
they must die, because death is expedient to the Cause, by the hands of
men who subscribe to the same principles." 15
It is the historical determinism which says that all revolutionary change
must end in a blood bath. He is in effect meeting one death penalty with
another. Yet paradoxically, what remains interesting is the concrete detail
in the novel: the size of the cells, the window, the grey light.
One has to assume Koestler read
Serge, appreciated the detail but disagreed with the outlook. It seems
crazy now to think that almost everything about an individual could be
determined by whether or not they supported the Soviet Union and its policies.
Prisons can usefully be thought
of as punishment factories, how long is such an industry to flourish?
There is a commonsensical notion
that criminals must be punished but how are we properly to ascribe guilt?
How can all be equal before the
law when there is inequality everywhere else?
One certain sane aspiration is to
happiness with dignity but how in the vast horror of human imperfection
and frailty of judgement?
Whether we are or are not in a post-industrial
age, the relentless growth of capitalist consumption and the underlying
"free-market" politics continues at pace. Whilst many influential thinkers,
politicians and media persons thought the threat to freedom came from Communism
it would make more sense to suggest that the threat comes from the free-market
system itself. (Its judicial system is designed to protect and strengthen
free-market principles and practices.) This system is encompassing the
globe. From Moscow to Sydney to Glasgow the signs are everywhere. The same
multi-national chains are operating. The attacks on indigenous, local cultures
continue almost as footnotes to the success of global capital: local populations
who inconveniently get in the way of this development suffer terribly.
The oil exploitation in Nigeria or the Persian Gulf are illustrative of
this, as are the practices of tobacco companies, shipping companies and
clothing manufacturers. This is where the question of applying justice
to these people comes into play. They wouldn't want the standards applied
to a shoplifter in Scotland applied to them. For theirs is barefaced robbery
legally sanctioned by world trade and global free-market practices. To
apply such standards to even one multi-national would call for the indictment
of the whole system. In the same way Serge, Koestler and others indicted
systems which undermined the dignity and happiness of human beings, so
the present people in power would have to be once more indicted (and not
just in works of fiction.)
In these books about prison there
is a meeting of social and private anguish. They are very concerned with
the experience of one person, in one situation, yet they have an allegorical
power which is transcendent. These are super-allegorical texts, there is
much to be learned from them and more to be argued over. They touch on
major political questions, from the role of the state to the meaning of
freedom, to the right of nations to self-determination; major moral questions
from political ethics and ends and means to individual responsibility for
one' s actions; as well as questions of psychological and physical endurance.
Above all, they are contributions to human knowledge concerning how to
create a culture and civilisation in which we attain our natural dignity.
"Culture cannot live where dignity
is killed ...A civilisation cannot prosper under laws which crush it."
The irony is that the greatest dignity
appears to lie in the resistance to all and any oppression. Perhaps it
is in the process of the struggle for freedom we find both dignity and
civilisation --and so to happiness where and whatever it might be.
The language of the judicial system
is designed to depoliticise its function. In fact much of the ritualised
processing of offenders is designed to dehumanise and depoliticise what
is actually happening to people. Yet there is a need for something, one
wouldn't like to have a member of the family killed and nothing to happen
to the killer. Human nature cries out for vengeance and if not vengeance
then justice. As with most things, prevention is better than cure, but
what do we do if the remedy appears worse than the disease --if prisons
are teaming with petty offenders, non payers of fines and other such people
who have no business being in prison at all?
The secretive and conservative nature
of prisons, the attempted depoliticisation of language and process cannot
keep these questions off the agenda for ever. Eventually everyone will
know someone who is or has been in prison for something trivial and changes
will have to be made. Democracy, however, may not be so responsive. The
mechanisms for controlling public thought might not allow such free reform.
Still, it feels better to live in a country where the death penalty is
not dealt out in a courtroom. Yet, even at that, one does not feel one
is living altogether freely; somehow the competitive clouds of smoke and
scorching flames of control that rise out from within the anonymous free-market
envelop and imprison, driving one back from that real freedom to which
civilisation and dignity would direct our aspirations.
1 Herbert Marcuse, From Luther to
Popper, Verso, London, 1983, Pg. 144.
2 Thomas More, Utopia, Cassell &
Co., London, 1890, Pg. 103.
3 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus,
Penguin, London, 1975, Pg. 113.
4 In Introduction, The Collected
Jack London, Ed. Steven J Kasdin, Dorset Press, New York, 1991.
5 Victor Serge, Men In Prison, Writers
& Readers, London, 1977.
6 Ibid., Greeman's introduction,
7 Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy, Arrow
Books, London, 1990, Pg. 4.
9 See Ulick O'Connor, Brendan Behan,
Abacus, London, 1993.
11 The narrative technique employed
by Koestler in Darkness at Noon might usefully be compared with that of
James Kelman in How late it was, how late, Secker & Warburg, London,
12 In Andrew Coyle, Inside: Rethinking
Scotland's Prisons, Scottish Child, Edinburgh, 1991, Pg.31.
14 Victor Serge, Men In Prison,
Writers & Readers, London, 1977, Pg. 36.
15 Arthur Koestler, The Invisible
Writing, London, 1954, Pg. 479.
16 Albert Camus, Bulletin of the
Algerian Cultural Centre, Algiers, May 1937
back to top
History of the
"It's funny, we do all these interviews
with Melody Maker and NME and the fanzines, and we try to talk about this
real underground of London, improvisers like Evan and Derek, Lol, Moholo,
the whole African contingent --and of course none of them have ever heard
this music. It's kind of a bummer. It's such an underground music. It's
very serious but it's also very humorous. It's very alive."
Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth
in The Wire 108, Feb 1993.
At the end of the 90s, the free
music world can still seem a wonderfully well-kept secret, a genuinely
underground art activity. For 25 or 30 years there's been a scene there,
all those club concerts listed monthly on the London Musician's Collective
(LMC) Calendar, the LMC Annual Festivals --but is it a musical genre? Sometimes
it feels like you can pin it down. At Derek Bailey's annual Company series,
even though the musicians ranged from classical French horn player to thrash
guitarist, you could see a simple listen-and-get-on-with-it approach. But
even here the low key presentation, the strange theatre of encounters between
musicians who had never met, and the outbursts of completely unplanned
musical brilliance all combined to bewilder and undercut neat theory. The
qualities of Company were often down to Bailey's personality and style.
As in the world of jazz, strong individuals stamped their character on
musical encounters. And the LMC was born because individuals wanted to
band together for everyone's benefit.
"The group of people that were working
around the SME (Spontaneous Music Ensemble) at that time --John Stevens,
Derek Bailey, Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherford --were working on a method that
I could call 'atomistic'? breaking the music down into small component
parts and piecing them together again in a collective way, so as to de-emphasize
the soloistic nature of improvisation and replace it by a collective process.
But at the same time AMM had what I would call a "laminar" way of working,
where although the solo had been lost and the emphasis was on a collective
sound, an orchestral sound if you like, it was not done by breaking the
music into small components but by contributing layers which would fit
together and make a new whole."
Evan Parker, talk at Actual Music
Festival, ICA, August 1980.
"An obstinate clot of innovation",
was how the Wire magazine described the LMC in 1997. The LMC has shown
remarkable powers of survival, but it was not the first grouping of its
kind. Richard Leigh: "The Musicians? Cooperative was set up as a pressure
group for a clearly defined set of musicians, usually referred to as the
'first generation'? of improvisers. These included Evan Parker, Derek Bailey,
Paul Lytton, John Stevens, Tony Oxley, Howard Riley, Paul Rutherford, Barry
Guy and Trevor Watts" (Quote from Resonance Vol 2, No 2). This was around
1971, and concerts were held at the Little Theatre Club in Garrick Yard
and the Unity Theatre in Camden Town.
Then, in April 1975, came Musics
magazine, which Martin Davidson remembers as resulting from a phone conversation
between himself, his wife Mandy and Evan Parker. The editorial board in
summer 1975 was Bailey, Parker, Steve Beresford, Max Boucher, Paul Burwell,
Jack Cooke, Peter Cusack, Hugh Davies, Mandy and Martin Davidson, Richard
Leigh, John Russell, David Toop, Philipp Wachsmann and Colin Wood. I remember
Colin Wood remarking that Musics was the first thing this crowd had found
that they could all agree about. And I'm sorry about these lists, but if
you want to make enemies with a history like this, all you have to do is
leave out someone's name.
"STOP PRESS REVIEW SECTION: Three
years ago ten music students from Cologne sat in horseshoe, one end of
fine Wren church in Smith Square, sang ninth chord all evening, sound mixed
and rarefied by man in nave. Last Saturday ten religious men from Tibet
sat in horseshoe on same spot, sang tenth chord all evening, no sound mixer."
Colin Wood in Musics No 4, October
Musics came out six times a year
and ran for 23 issues. In its coverage of improvised and non-western music
alongside performance art, it reflected the broad interests of a so-called
'second generation' of improvisers, and provided a convivial focus point.
Interested outsiders were welcome to share in the work of pasting the magazine
together. In those pre-wordprocessing days pasting meant paste, as well
as glue, scalpel and unwashed mugs. These days the unwashed mugs are the
only survivors of the era.
"The LMC was formed by the slightly
newer lot of musicians simply because everyone was fed up with playing
in bad rooms above pubs or nowhere at all. Whereas Musicians' Co-op members
had briefly enjoyed (?) the hospitality of Ronnie Scott and his club, due
to Mr Scott's justifiably high regard for Evan Parker, Tony Oxley, Howard
Riley, Barry Guy et al, musicians such as Nigel Coombes, Tony Wren, Paul
Burwell or Colin Wood might just as well have come from Mars (or stayed
there). There was nothing happening, other than the music."
David Toop, Resonance Vol 2,
No 1, winter 1993.
A source of continuing inspiration
to the younger musicians was John Stevens' work in concerts and workshops.
Maggie Nicols was another improviser who excelled at leading workshops.
Within one hour, a roomful of assorted and embarrassed individuals could
be led to build a communal musical experience of enormous power. Suddenly
the mysteries of group improvisation and experimental music were opened
up--veils fell from eyes, and the sheer joy of music-making seemed accessible
to all. I recall one musician warning me that after a John Stevens workshop
he had observed that most of the male participants had erections. I couldn't
really see what was so wrong with this--maybe this music wasn't so cerebral
and abstract as some people made out?
In 1975/76 the London Musicians
Collective emerged from a series of meetings, and mailed out its first
newsletter in August 1976. The Collective was separate from Musics magazine,
but involved many of the same people. It was hoped that an organisation
would carry more weight in dealings with other organisations, institutions
and the press. And these musicians had a lot in common: nowhere to play,
and no wider recognition of their music.
A major difference from the Musicians'
Co-op was the LMC's openness to anyone who wanted to join. Richard Leigh
again: "It was always seen as a network drawing more and more people from
varied backgrounds into the scene". Improvisers were dipping their fingers
into the many pies of mixed media, dance, film and performance art. And
in fact at this time, just before punk and its DIY ethic erupted, there
was a remarkable burst of energy in the underground arts scene. Dancers
founded the X6 Dance Collective and New Dance magazine at Butlers Wharf,
while film makers started the London Film Makers Co-op. These too have
survived and are with us today, in the form of the Chisenhale Dance Space
and the Lux Cinema in Hoxton Square. For musicians, the venue crisis was
becoming acute. The Little Theatre Club had folded and the Unity Theatre
burned down. The usual expedient of hiring a room in a pub, college or
community hall was dependent on the whim of the landlord, and would not
allow performances to be run on the musicians' terms. A space with maximum
flexibility was needed if the work was to develop freely.
"We had been looking for premises
(I remember surreal dealings with the Diocesan Committee for Redundant
Churches)..Actually a lot of the connections between the LMC and LFMC happened
through informal contacts, for instance I had fallen in love with Annabel
Nicolson when she and the Film Co-op were still in the Dairy in Prince
of Wales Crescent, and I hung about while she was programming films there,
doing odd jobs like selling tea and biscuits, sweeping the floor, and designing
a membership card that was also a Thaumatrope... The LFMC wanted to take
the space at 42 Gloucester Avenue (Camden Town), but it was too large for
them, and I think Guy Sherwin approached the LMC with a view to subletting.
I think Annabel might have had something to do with the idea, as the LMC
'office'? and meetings were located in her one room flat."
Paul Burwell, Performance magazine.
Even before finding a venue, "LMC
events" had been happening all over London, ever since the organisation
was founded. Now many of these moved into the Camden building, and a calendar
and newsletter were started up (1977/78). The level of activity, and its
breadth, were both remarkable, and for the next ten years an average of
200 public performances a year were organised, almost entirely by unpaid
administration. Nearly every day of the year the space was in use for rehearsal.
This was a musicians' initiative, run on musicians' terms, so the chaos
was often high, but there was plenty going on. The National Jazz Centre
in the 1980s, by contrast, spent half a decade and untold sums of money
not organising a single gig.
By anyone's standards the LMC building
was a flexible performance space, little more than a shell packed with
potential. Members spent hours clambering all over it, trying to render
it habitable. Sylvia Hallett installed electricity and wiring, and Annabel
Nicolson contributed a wooden floor from her flat to build a wall. The
floor was as hard as you like: you could flood it, light a bonfire on it,
bounce rocks off it. And after the show no staff would grumble, because
there were no staff, and you would be cleaning it up yourself. Many saw
the space as not especially to do with improvised music, but simply "astonishing...a
place where you can do things you can't do elsewhere". (David Cunningham,
quoted in Time Out, 1980)
"Was the real Britain very different
from how you had imagined it?
On my second day here I went to
an Environmental Music Festival, where I met some musicians who played
on canal boats, and others who played the piano with their feet, and I
thought: what a different attitude towards art, so playful and free.
What inspired you to set up the
I became involved with the London
Musicians Collective after the festival I mentioned, and started performing
straight away. I had had this idea that I was an artist since childhood."
Kazuko Hohki interviewed in Japan
Embassy newsletter, March 1998.
David Toop's 1978 Festival of Environmental
Music & Performance was a nine day event, in some ways a massive celebration
of the LMC's new found home, and a major influence on subsequent work.
Warming up with a talk from Trevor Wishart and an instrument building workshop,
Toop, Burwell, Parker, Paul Lytton and several others flung themselves
into a continuous 24 hour concert called Circadian Rhythms. Visiting performers
included Alvin Curran (USA), Luc Houtkamp (Holland), Carlos Trinidade (Portugal),
and Christian d'Aiwée (France). F.I.G. (the eight piece Feminist
Improvising Group, whose performances were renowned for their hilarity)
alternated with seminars ("Music/Eventstructure/Context"). Stuart Marshall,
Annabel Nicolson and Whirled Music played on nearby Primrose Hill, and
guerrilla activities by Lol Coxhill and Michael Parsons could be encountered
along the towpath of the Regents Canal.
The festival came at the end of
a month (July 1978) which had already witnessed 13 performances, several
open workshop sessions, and two meetings: one devoted to the LMC Records
label, the other the usual monthly meeting open to all Collective members.
Improvisers Mike Hames, Roger Turner, Hugh Metcalfe, Sinan Savaskan and
Roger Smith had played. The Alterations quartet (Toop, Beresford, Peter
Cusack and Terry Day) had brought over Fred Frith and Peter Brotzmann to
perform alongside their own brand of dub'n'din improv. Dislocation Dance
(Manchester) and Reptile Ranch (Cardiff) linked up with local alt-punk
duo The Door & The Window. Andrew Brenner's 49 Americans had explored
left-field pop "in a relaxed atmosphere of concerned patriotism", sharing
their Tuesday night slot with The Majorca Orchestra ("original marches,
waltzes, descriptive fantasies, Edwardian disco and Scottish reggae").
The LMC was bursting at the seams.
"BARRY LEIGH'S REPORT:
1. The wall blocking the railway
bridge at the rear of the building has been demolished.
2. Jumble leftovers are to be cleared
from the loft.
3. Health inspector and surveyors
will be contacted about the toilet (to be installed). It was noted that
relations with the Film Co-op are deteriorating.
TOILET: The Gulbenkian Foundation
say nothing doing? about our application for financial assistance.
DOORS: Stuart Boardman will put
handles on the doors to the performing space."
LMC Newsletter, December 1979.
But behind all the glamour and the
razzmatazz, what was the LMC really like? Personally I always found it
a rich source of friendly and healthily eccentric people. Joining was like
running away to join the circus. The place was a model of self-help and
an opportunity to experiment in ways impossible elsewhere. As an organisation,
it was most riven by factional strife when the membership was most active,
of course. And as a building it was a bottomless pit into which you could
pour your unpaid time. There was always some administrative headache to
do with the ghastly business of running a London experimental venue in
a bare loft. Noise: the laundry downstairs and the Kings Cross main line
out back ensured there was noise coming in. As for noise going out, there
were flats across the road, our soundproofing consisted of closing the
windows, and some of the concerts were a little, er, exuberant. I remember
watching the Dead Kennedies building an immense PA one sunny afternoon,
in preparation for an unpublicised gig which had people queuing around
the block. I cycled away before the mayhem was unleashed. Then there were
fire regulations ("You can't do that in here"), charitable status ("We
can't give you subsidy to do that"), and a lack of toilets. There were
toilets in the Film Co-op next door, there was a British Rail toilet under
the building, there was a toilet in the pub opposite... OK, let's admit
there were no toilets. This became a conundrum, a problematic fortress
against which successive waves of voluntary admin would charge uphill,
only to reel back down in stunned defeat. Benefit concerts, grant applications,
sympathetic builders--nothing seemed to work. Let's just hope it added to
our beatnik loft-dwelling cred.
"When we joined the LMC two years
ago we did so in the belief that it was a collective--built on the political
tenet of collectivism. We find in actuality a club set up to celebrate
individualism. We feel that the newsletter must call for collective involvement
from its 'collective' membership, yet in doing so we are accused of being
sectarian. However, under the constant cringing criticism that we receive,
we shall continue to co-ordinate the newsletter and until removed by the
LMC shall continue to attempt to build toward 'Collectivity.''"
Dick Beard and Tim Dennis, LMC
Newsletter, August 1980.
If we accept the liberal idea of
art as an autonomous space, where other values can be considered and explored,
then the LMC building was like a concrete expression of this. Established
by free improvisers, one of its most distinctive features as an organisation
was its openness and inclusiveness. Other musical pressure groups were
more closely tied to one genre or style of music making, while the LMC
forever had a hankering for the genuine experiment, whatever the idiom.
This has contributed to its resilience, and also generated a constant debate
about what on earth the LMC stands for.
For many years the LMC was a large
collective (200 members), supposedly running itself in an authentically
collective manner. Open monthly meetings enabled the entire membership
to participate in a lively criticism of any member who had actually done
any work. The problems of collectivity are well known. These days we shake
our heads and think we know better, but the LMC's factional struggles were
a simple result of a large number of musicians all being passionately involved
and trying to get a hand on the steering wheel. In this piece I am deliberately
giving my personal view of what the LMC was all about--in the early days
there were many different agendas. Many British improvisers were, and still
are, highly politicised, in all the different Marxist and anarchist hues.
For many others, the collective spirit still expresses important truths
about the co-operative and non-hierarchical nature of improvised music,
and the importance of musicians taking creative control of their own music.
A glance at life inside an orchestra, with its composer-driven hierarchy,
is usually enough to remind us of the alternative.
"The dynamics of the current magazine
meetings depend more on pointed silences, emotional blackmail, mumbled
asides and semi-sneers than on direct statements. The Musics collective
is frightened of growth, frightened of taking and using power. There is
no sense of history, of where the music is from and why people play it.
The collective is a morass of impersonality. We trivialise each other's
Steve Beresford, letter to Musics
collective meeting, titled "Why we need a new publication", October 1980.
In 1980 factional struggle and good
old-fashioned personal rowing resulted in several resignations from the
LMC and the demise of Musics magazine. The December 1980 newsletter contains
scary outpourings of vitriol and the squealing of bruised egos. Frustration
is clearly audible. Almost completely unrecognised by the outside world,
these musicians were consistently ignored or sneered at by the music press,
and regarded as suspicious charlatans by the contemporary music establishment.
Arts Council support was indeed forthcoming for larger scale events and
it paid the rent, but long hours of unpaid admin and building work were
leading to burnout at a tender age. Meanwhile our richer and better equipped
neighbour, the Film Co-op, was trying to evict us.
"There is a clear polarisation between
'collectivists' and 'musicians'. Many of the Cs are interested in music,
and many of the Ms are concerned to maintain collectivism, but it looks
as though the basic differences are insuperable. The Cs resent any suggestion
that there are useful musical criteria which give certain examples of music
greater value than others. In my view if you can't, or won't, distinguish
between a 'good'? piece of improvisation and one which isn't, there's nothing
to aim for and you might as well watch the telly."
Tony Wren, open letter to LMC,
in December 1980 Newsletter.
After patching up the spat with
the Film Co-op, the LMC kept up a high level of activity during the 1980s.
Some of the founders had resigned, and political strife seemed a thing
of the past. Members came forward to do the dirty work, whether it was
taking glasses back to the pub or phoning the Goethe Institute. Peter Cusack,
Paul Burwell, Sylvia Hallett, Susanna Ferrar, Tom Sheehan and Dean Brodrick
all showed astonishing reluctance to pack it in and get a proper job. Those
who sat in the little office space overlooking the railway tracks were
sometimes accused of being power-crazed careerists, but the truth was that
your own music would probably suffer if you spent too much time there.
On the other hand, if you leaned on a broom in a corner of the space for
long enough, you would see an extraordinary carnival pass through. For
example, Dean Brodrick's "Great Little Inuit Eskimo Show" in February 1985:
an Inuit drum battle, shadow puppets, igloo building for beginners, a contest
where pairs of singers chanted into each other's mouths, the film Nanook
Of The North accompanied by improvising string quartet, and a discussion
led by anthropologist and film maker Hugh Brody. For several months Max
Eastley's Aeolian harps were fixed to the roof above the entrance, singing
eerily to the street whenever the wind got up. Inside, one of the many
"floor percussionists" might be setting up: Barry Leigh with his revolving
glass coffeetables, played with chunks of polystyrene, or Roger Turner's
junk kits, heavyweight detritus of the Industrial Revolution.
In 1982 Alan McGee, later to be
mogul of Creation Records, was running the weekly Beet-Bop Club in the
LMC. Possibly the most spectacular and downright life-threatening event
was the debut performance by the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, climax of Sylvia
Hallett's 1983 "Evening Of Self-Made Instruments". This was also a prime
example of how the Collective regularly gave birth to highly original and
influential work, which barely fitted within any definition of new music.
The place was packed for this riot of pyrotechnics and barely controlled
arc-welding equipment abuse, but it was noticeable that Burwell's friends
were hovering nervously around the exit.
"Memories... the Musicians Du Nil
changing the Collective into an Eastern Bazaar after their concert, when
they attempted to sell the audience their instruments, trinkets, and, I
think, items of their clothing... Annabel Nicolson flooding the place in
a representation of the Mississippi river (actually quite convincing, but
I'd drunk a whole bottle of Southern Comfort and thought I was Huckleberry
Paul Burwell reminiscing in Performance
New, younger members arrived to
gaze with respectful awe at a room where Evan Parker had played a trio
with Kazuko Hohki and a seven foot inflatable Godzilla. Or to dismiss the
past as "a bunch of saxophonists tooting away for hours to an average audience
of six or seven" (The Door & The Window, quoted in Time Out). Not everyone
was happy with the LMC's name; I recall someone suggesting that the building
be renamed "Risks", and neon letters should be fixed to the roof. For a
while we affectionately subtitled it The Palace Of Living Culture, as we
struggled to mend smashed windows and doors.
By 1987 it was clear that professional
administration was required, whether we could afford it or not. A hiring
out for a private party had resulted in equipment being stolen from our
neighbours, the Film Co-op. Recriminations flew. After ten years of concerts,
we were informed we had no license for "music and dancing", so were liable
to be closed any day by Camden Council. And the condition of the building
was not compatible with our status as pioneering arts animateurs, let alone
its original function as a British Rail social club canteen.
"A last minute ironic twist to LMC
development plans: Today is the launch of the LMC's 'Home Additions' appeal,
our plans to carry out major improvements to these premises, starting with
the foyer area you are standing in! In total part one will cost £9,000...
As long ago as last September we discussed the possibility of a long lease
with British Rail. There doesn't seem to be a problem, they replied. Last
week they sent us a notice to quit. By March 24th 1988."
LMC Press Release, September
The Film Co-op, also given notice
to quit, hung on for many years before decamping to Hoxton Square. But
a rumour went round that the LMC had already closed up shop, so members
stopped hiring the space, income dried up, and moving out came to seem
a positive option. The words "albatross" and "neck" were used in discussions
about the dear old building. Both brake cables on my bicycle were severed
one evening during an LMC concert, something I noticed only after tumbling
off at the bottom of a hill in Chalk Farm. This stoked my paranoia, but
it had no bearing on the LMC's decision to leave. In spring 1999, 42 Gloucester
Avenue still stands, derelict and empty, sadly gazing at railway and canal.
In spite of the end-of-an-era gloom,
the final Gloucester Road newsletter in June 1988 publicised some dozen
events happening there, including a Musicians Against Nuclear Arms benefit
involving 40 players. The LMC's longest surviving inhabitant, Member Number
1 Paul Burwell, having played the premises? first ever concert, also performed
at the last. Administrator Dave Matzdorf was now followed by Simon Woodhead
and Philippa Gibson. The organisation camped out in Simon's office in the
Diorama, Regents Park, and contemplated its venue-less future. Events were
organised at the Diorama, Red Rose, Air Gallery and Tom Allen Centre in
Stratford, but a proper home proved hard to find.
From September 1989 Richard Scott,
a big Ornette Coleman fan, brought a certain jazzy flair to the admin.
His "Three Cities" festival in March 1990 featured the first performance
by Manchester's Stock, Hausen & Walkman, "the industrial cartoon soundtrack
tape manipulation ensemble". SH&W went on to became one of the internationally
most successful young improv groups of the 90s.
However, the period 1989 to 1991
feels with hindsight like the LMC's darkest hour. A series of woefully
underpaid workers wrestled with a dozen types of administrative chaos.
In February 1990 the AGM heard they had been struck off the register at
Companies House (not Richard Scott's fault, I hasten to add). Elder members
wrung their hands. Susanna Ferrar and Eddie Prevost administered the kiss
of life to the accounts. Nick Couldry performed legal emergency surgery.
But even Paul Burwell's new computer seemed powerless to arrest the slide.
"In the past year or so, organisations
have sprung up (for instance in Manchester and Colchester) which have shown
that wider audiences can be achieved with positive presentation which makes
no apologies for what improvisation is, but equally does not assume that
everyone out there somehow knows about it. I believe that with a lot of
hard work and clear thinking the LMC could do the same, in fact the LMC
should aim to lead the field, not drag behind it. The LMC's ambition should
be to be the principal organisation representing improvised music in Britain.
If however the LMC does not have such ambitions, those involved should
seriously ask themselves whether it deserves the funding it is claiming."
Nick Couldry, document titled
"Does The LMC Have A Future?", September 1991.
"Ambition" is the key word here.
The LMC had been lively, angry, wild at heart and wonderfully deaf to common
sense, but maybe it had never been ambitious enough. The first sign that
this might be about to change was a small glossy leaflet splashed in orange
and white, advertising the LMC "Autumn Collection", a series of ten concerts
from September to December 1991. Someone had invented word processing and
graphic design, and the LMC had noticed. Then came the December 1991 newsletter--in
place of the one-sheet catalogue of despair, castigating the membership
for its lethargy, this was a 16 page magazine bulging with record reviews,
advertising and a substantial interview with Alabama guitarist Davey Williams.
There was even a trailer for an interview with 84 year old calypso singer
The Roaring Lion, to be published in Variant magazine. Phil England and
Ed Baxter had arrived.
"The venue was unconventional--a
swimming pool, complete with water and hot, chlorinated atmosphere. The
number of acts was uncommon--nine, and to describe their repertoire as diverse
would be a highly misleading understatement. Judged in brutally logistic
terms, the event was a resounding success. The auditorium was packed; the
concert started almost on time; the proceedings managed to accommodate
the activities of a BBC TV crew without serious disruption. I for one enjoyed
the evening, although the overall impression was more reminiscent of a
night at the music hall than a concert of leading-edge state of the art
experimentation. But that's no bad thing in my opinion."
Forestry Commission employee
Robert Matthews reviewing "Fiume" in LMC Newsletter, March 1992.
LMC funding had been devolved from
the Arts Council to the London Arts Board. By 1991 I suspect that LAB saw
an opportunity to offload a flaky client, and more or less threatened to
withdraw funding unless the LMC proved itself to be more than an ageing
crew of indignant but impotent improvisers. Nick Couldry assembled a new
board of directors, including newcomer Ed Baxter, who had been looking
into Camberwell Bus Garage or Butlers Wharf as new LMC bases. Baxter picked
up the LAB gauntlet and set about promoting events much more ambitious
in scale. "Fiume" was intended to create a splash, as it were, about the
potential still within the LMC. United in the swimming pool were new arrivals
like Sianed Jones and John Grieve alongside old favourites Charles Hayward,
David Toop and Max Eastley, and Frank Chickens. For many the eerie beauty
of Lol Coxhill's bald and bespectacled figure playing an almost submerged
soprano saxophone remains an abiding memory. This was the kind of crazy
avant garde extravaganza the media loves, and the coverage was enormous.
The next step was the First Annual
Festival Of Experimental Music, five days in the Conway Hall, Holborn,
in May 1992. Fresh-faced youths shared the stage with names from the Jurassic
early seventies. Visitors from abroad notably included Ikue Mori (New York
drum machinist, formerly of Arto Lindsay's DNA) and Sainkho Namtchalak
(Mongolian throat singer wearing vinyl LP headdress). Baxter had the vision
to see that if the event was big enough it would not only be visible on
an international scale, but also more attractive to funding bodies. A hectic
plethora of offstage performances, discussions, workshops and video screenings
complemented the main concerts. At times the heated debates in the bar
seemed as compelling as the music simultaneously bursting out of the hall.
Suddenly journalists and promoters from Europe and the States were hanging
out. Older improvisers were fiercely condemning the antics of younger ones,
and anyone concerned about the LMC's health could heave sighs of relief.
"Cardew was wise to stake out and
defend his ground by spelling out the social dimension to his music. His
purpose was not, of course, to defend "his" property rights, but to fight
a corner and to express something human, faced with what Phil Ochs called
the 'terrible heartless men' who still run our lives. Cardew's music is
not concerned with entertainment or self-gratification, and I suppose in
the wake of the collapse of communism and the triumph of capital (don't
you just hate it when that happens?) few will take an interest in these
recordings. Listening to them now, I am overwhelmed, rendered inarticulate
and revitalised. Great stuff. The newspaper is full of details of how long
'Starlight Express' has been running. It's all quite clear. There is only
one lie, there is only one truth. Whey hey hey!"
Ed Baxter reviewing Cornelius
Cardew's Piano Music in the pilot issue of Resonance, September 1992.
Later that year (September 1992)
the burgeoning newsletter finally exploded, supernova-like, into the pilot
edition of Resonance magazine, under the editorship of Keith Cross and
Mick Ritchie. Picking up the threads 12 years after the demise of Musics,
Resonance has proved more durable. Seven years later its thought-provoking
mix of interviews, reviews and theoretical articles now comes with the
tempting bonus of a cover CD. Unlike the promotional fluff of most cover
CDs, however, Resonance features recordings unavailable elsewhere, usually
culled from LMC live events. The magazine has been creatively steered through
the hands of a series of guest editors by Phil England. By keeping the
editorial team small it has avoided the factional gang warfare that crippled
Musics. And the sightlines have always been aimed wider than the confines
of experimental music, trying rather to locate that music within a wider
debate about culture.
Phil England became part time administrator
in the summer of 1992, as the LMC stopped squatting in members? flats and
took office space in Kings Cross. The office moved to Community Music in
Farringdon for several years, and has now settled, south of the Thames
for the first time, in the Leathermarket complex near London Bridge. Ed
Baxter tried to give up his programming post in autumn 1992, and has been
trying unsuccessfully to give it up ever since, as the LMC's activities
have grown ever larger in ambition.
Meetings open to the whole membership
were finally abandoned as hopelessly inefficient--if project coordinators
failed to turn up the meeting could be effortlessly hijacked by anyone
who fancied a debate on the purpose of the organisation, while practical
work would be shelved. A team of directors with particular responsibilities
was tried instead. Any member could still put themselves forward as a possible
director. Slightly modified, this system continues today, with about eight
directors having skills in marketing, law, website management and so on.
The AGM remains a chance for all members to kick up a fuss.
There are only four or so musicians
currently among the directors, and this is a direct result of the Charities
Commission ruling that they cannot be remunerated for LMC activities; in
other words, no paid gigs for directors. I suspect this is actually strengthening
and professionalising the organisation, as directors bring in a wide range
of skill and experience from the outside world. At recent meetings directors
have virtually been queuing up to make professional-style presentations
involving laminated boards and highlighter pens. No laptop animations or
corporate sweeteners yet, but it can only be a matter of time. Discussion
has been tightly focused, pragmatic and good humoured--as a veteran of Collective
meetings it all feels odd, but strangely sane.
Backed up by a team of gluttons
for punishment and hard work (Rob Storey, Dave Ross, Mick Ritchie, Steve
Noble, Caroline Kraabel et al), England and Baxter have been administering
and steering the LMC since 1992, which is considerably longer than any
comparable team. Having observed them at work in the office, I have nothing
but praise for their ability to combine mind-numbing paperwork with the
seizing of initiatives. These are ferociously creative people who would
have a major impact on whichever organisation they found themselves in,
and the LMC is lucky to have felt their boots on its backside. Of course
this tiresomely positive view is my own--feathers have been ruffled and
resignations have been handed in from time to time, but the LMC in 1999
has no shortage of vision or ambition.
"Running throughout Resonance 107.3
FM was Peter Cusack's London Soundscape. Listeners were asked to send in
or tell of their favourite London sounds. Surprisingly some of these included
arcade machines and even traffic. From the vast response Big Ben was the
favourite, but it was often the case that a collection of sounds was chosen.
Who ever hears a sound on its own anyway? The recording of Deptford Creek
was particularly memorable with the power station hum and the Thames brought
Tom Wallace writing about Resonance
107.3 FM radio, in Resonance magazine Vol 7, No 1, autumn 1998.
In spring 1999 it feels like the
LMC is pausing to catch its breath after a year of extraordinary activity.
It was hard to believe there was not a secret back room packed with full
time workers somewhere, rather than the slender part time employment of
two people. The Annual Festival, increasing steadily in international stature
every year since 1992, finally moved out of Conway Hall to the South Bank
Centre. Charlemagne Palestine and Pauline Oliveros visited from the States
to great acclaim--their first appearances here in 25 and 17 years respectively.
Vainio, Fennesz and Rehberg divided the audience with their fierce brand
of Powerbook-driven electronica. Canny fundraising ensured that for the
first time the Festival actually came in on budget.
Resonance 107.3 FM was the Collective's
very own radio station, broadcasting for four weeks in June 1998 as part
of John Peel's Meltdown Festival. This colossal and unique project, instigated
by Phil England, was London's first station dedicated to Radio Art. Over
300 people took part in creating 600 hours of material, including live
broadcasts, children's shows, drama and historical works of radio art from
station archives around the world. Described by New York's Village Voice
as "the best radio station in the world", Resonance FM was nominated for
the Sony Station Of The Year Award. Provocative and often wild, this was
the LMC at its most reckless and visionary.
Fifty programmes were specially
made for Resonance FM at LMC Sound, the LMC's new studio in Brixton, which
opened formally in November 1998. A carefully nurtured Lottery funding
application has resulted in a fully equipped digital studio, which now
bids in the market for commercial work and enables Collective members to
devise recording projects there, or simply master their CDs. A small team
of enthusiastic engineers is kept under control by project manager Mick
Ritchie. As I write, the studio is in the midst of recording 30 hour-long
shows dealing with London's alternative music scene, to be broadcast weekly
in the New York area by WFMU station. A sharp learning curve for all involved,
hopefully these shows will be taken up elsewhere. Also launched in November
1998 was the website <www.l-m-c.org.uk>. This is not only a source of
information about concerts and current activities, but also a potential
arena for creative work. The first live webcast by LMC musicians took place
in February 1999, and the appointment of a website Artist In Residence
"But again you see, John Edwards
has a repertoire of sounds--a language which tries to subvert the instrument
(double bass) in a way in which most classical players don't ever engage.
If I am working with improvisers I don't want them to sound as if they
improvising. This is the frustration about being a control freak. For instance,
when John produces these fantastic sounds, I would rather place them exactly
where I want them as opposed to where John might place them at the time.
This is in no way a criticism of John's playing, his playing is wonderful.
But it is the idea of placing a particular phrase and perhaps repeating
it or putting it in a different area."
Sampling composer John Wall interviewed
in Resonance Vol 6, No 2, July 1998.
While writing this piece I arranged
to meet LMC administrator Phil England to find out what was currently on
his mind. Not so much an interview, more a rumination over bowls of yogurt
soup in a 24 hour Turkish café. England stressed the strategic thinking
behind much LMC activity in the last seven years. Fighting against any
tendency to parochialism, the strategy has been to raise the profile of
the music to the highest visibility possible, as a way of benefiting the
alternative musical community and its individual constituents. Rather than
talking always to its own audience, the emphasis is on reaching out and
placing LMC activities in a wider context of cultural debate. The way that
improvisers work and collaborate locks in to many other cultural subgenres
and tiny currents in society, and music must be part of that wider picture.
This strategy becomes all the more
crucial given the chronic undervaluing and underfunding of this musical
area. Inviting saxophonist Evan Parker onto a TV arts programme to react
to a Jackson Pollock painting? It makes perfect sense to me, but it's unthinkable
because Parker's entire musical genre is virtually invisible. Phil England
points out how the Arts Council's own reports recommend exactly the type
of musical activity promoted by the LMC, and how these reports are then
ignored by Arts Council panels. This music, so distinctively British in
some ways, is supported by a fraction of the funding offered to contemporary
composition or electronic music. Is it because it's a little more working
class? Because it doesn't use as much sexy technology? Or simply that it
deals too much in the provocative, the unexpected, the damn weird?
At a grassroots level the music
carries on all year round in a gaggle of club spaces run by persistent
promoters. A new LMC initiative aims to help out with publicity or PA equipment
for these small but established clubs. Established, but not necessarily
cosy--the last time I played one was at Hugh Metcalfe's long running Klinker,
in an Islington pub. After some initial confusion (Hugh was convinced his
van and PA had been stolen, having forgotten where he had parked it), the
evening's mix of performance, poetry and music ran smoothly enough. I played
a delicately coloured duet with violinist Susanna Ferrar, enjoyable chamber
music if I say so myself. Then the final act was so ear-bleedingly loud
I had to flee the room, and immediately a fight broke out: broken glass,
a wet floor, a half-strangled promoter. As I stepped out into the cool
night air half a dozen police rushed past me into the performing space.
At least no one accuses the Klinker of opting for the easy life.
Thanks to Peter Cusack, Richard
Sanderson, Sylvia Hallett, Paul Burwell, Ed Baxter, Phil England.
back to top
'tun yuh hand
and meck fashion'
The Container Project
Mervin Jarman is co-ordinator
of the Container project, an operation to take a mobile media centre to
the streets of Jamaica. The Container is represented at:
Jarman is also part of the London
based Mongrel collective. He was interviewed by Matthew Fuller.
Matthew Fuller: Can you let us know
what the Container project is? In simple, straightforward terms --what is
the actual physical make-up of the project? The technology?
Mervin Jarman: The Container is
an effort to take creative computer technology to ghetto people and deep
rural communities in the Caribbean. The physical thing is made up of a
shipping container on wheels converted into a mobile workstation/access
unit. Transportable by truck, it'll be equipped with some 14 workstations
and a server networked with local area network access and remote Internet
connection. The Container will make its maiden voyage into the Caribbean
where its first port of entry will be Jamaica. We are then hoping to move
into Trinidad, St. Lucia, Monserrat, St. Vincent and a number of other
Islands over a 5-year period. This of course is subject to negotiations...
As far as the people goes... We
are aiming to engage people effected by various divides --be that political
or social. It is true to say that a vast majority of the Island's underprivileged
won't deliberately stay in that scenario if given a choice, and this is
absolutely what this is about. It's about giving people incentives to feel
good about themselves without being patronised.
Most of the people that will gain
access to the Container are no different to you and I except that they
have no significant reasons to interact with computers, as it is not presented
to them in a meaningful way. This is to say in a way that it becomes relevant
to their every day activities as determined by them.
Our main target group is therefore
going to be some hardcore bad boys/girls. People from a non-digital low-educational
background who have not been working with other types of artforms. Thus
never had the time or incentive to investigate what computer technology
can or can't do for them in a constructive and creative manner.
MF: What is going to happen in the
Container? What might be going on on a typical day? What is its relationship
to say the different music scenes in Jamaica? At the same time you're going
to be pulling in digital art stuff from all over? It sounds like a crazy
MJ: Crazy and mix-up it will be
indeed --thing is as a youth growing up in Jamaica we had a kind of figure
head in folklorist Mrs. Louise Bennet-Cobally affectionately Miss Lou --now
Miss Lou always say fe her Auntie Rochi used to say 'tun yuh hand and meck
fashion' which is the mentality responsible for Jamaica's creativity and
dynamic energies. So yes indeed the Container shall see a very interesting
explosion of creative flair, I can't give you any specifics but I can guarantee
a dynamo of exciting activities.
The technology will emphasise interactive
digital media plus some basic life skills thus the technology is about
resourcing humans with communicative skills and tools.
My hope is to get more ghetto people
to develop an appetite for using computers productively and if I can pass
on the little that I have come to know to at least one person then I would
MF: Why is it important for you
personally to do this?
MJ: This is as significant to me
now as football was in my early development. As a socially recreational
activity football kept me out of many mischief and strife. It also expanded
my social group taking me into places that would otherwise be inaccessible
to the likes of me. The same is true for computer technology --especially
interactive media where now I am celebrating in circles that's usually
the domain of the reserved. Whilst there most people see me as unique,
exotic, all kind of shit. Not to say I don't appreciate all the attention,
but there is something inside that keeps reminding me that this is only
happening because I got a chance and this chance was the privilege to work
with some brilliant computer artists and technicians at a time when I had
no knowledge or experience with computers. This also came about because,
before that, Artec's programme at the time allowed me to investigate my
own resolves based around topics that mattered to me.
So in a sense this is what I would
like to achieve through the Container project: a lot more "socially acceptable"
outcasts or outsiders. People who have a hell of a lot more to contribute
to society than the misery that gets strapped to us.
MF: So, what kind of effect do you
see the project having for other people?
MJ: Hopefully, in terms of the non-computer-educated
participants, it will stimulate them into using computers as a tool to
enhance their craft. For the learned digital artists and others that will
participate in the project that this experience helps to rejuvenate their
creative genes and influence them in a more communal outreaching approach
to their work if this is not already the case.
MF: How is the Container being put
together in terms of sourcing finances, material, computers, satellite
time and all the many other things that you need to get the thing done?
MJ: This again is another milestone
in the dynamism of the media that I now have the privilege to work in and
the kind of people that I get to work with or meet as a result of my work.
It is largely based on their good sense and generosity, where people have
given time to help to administrate, donate equipment, and just to share
ideas or contact details of people who they think might be able to help
So most of the efforts so far have
been from donations of some sort or another. However, we are still hopeful
that we will be able to attract some kind of sponsorship from business
or anyone else. The container and the shipping costs have been donated
by JP Fruit Distributors, and various amount of time and effort by a group
of people already too numerous to mention in this interview.
For all the other things, we are
still seeking sponsorship commitments from companies or other kinds of
organisation that will be offered advertising profile as a result of their
MF: What kind of kit do you need?
MJ: Along with the kit for use in
the actual container we are asking people, companies, organisations etc.
to donate material. A basic unit should be a PC with 166 Mhz Pentium processor,
32 MB memory and 15" monitor capable of 800 x 600 pixels --16 bit colour.
Or a Performa Mac/ Power Mac with similar capabilities with a baseline
modem speed of 28.8kbps connectability. These computers along with peripherals
like printers and scanners will be given to community groups that have
participated in the Container project on its tours. These will provide
connection to the Container project team and the World Wide Web and allow
the community to continue to push things after the Container has left a
site. If anyone has anything like this, or access to resources we'd love
to hear from them!
We are also advocating for sponsored
connection for public access and are focussing on both local and international
telecommunications companies to assist us in this quest. Satellite time,
or other ways of connecting to the net, is going to be important.
MF: What should people do if they
can support the Container with resources?
MJ: Get in contact with me immediately
any one you know that is affiliated with the project.
MF: What is the situation with regard
to the net in Jamaica? Any good initiatives worth checking out? Are there
any organisations or groups of people that you will specifically be collaborating
MJ: In Jamaica there is a number
of interesting developments taking place around the media however many
of these take a kind of corporate approach to their initiative and that
is primarily because these users/ developers are from uptown so that's
what is accepted by their peers. But by all means --type Jamaica into any
search engine and you will be bombarded with a catalyst of interesting
MF: This is a very informal model
of going about getting it done. It's a different way of going about things
than most people would try in say, the UK and the rest of Europe where
you'd get jumped on by x-amount of bureaucracy before things could get
moving. On first hearing, the idea of just getting on and doing something
this major, sounds almost unfeasible. Is Jamaica any different?
MJ: When we start talking bureaucracy,
in Jamaica it's no different from anywhere in the world. The thing is what
would seem normal time span for as huge a land as Europe or even the US
seems like eternity to the average man in the street and we are not known
for our patience. My old lady used to say 'always take the bull by the
horn' --so when you see the need to do certain things you just have to go
out and do it.
back to top
Comic and Zine
Pick of the bunch this time around
is the long awaited new issue of Detroit's Motorbooty modestly subtitled
'The Better Magazine'. Imagine a cross between Weirdo Comic and Grand Royal
magazine with articles like a 'What to do when good guys join bad bands'
advice column and the something to offend everyone '100 Worst Albums of
the 20th Century Chart'. The Beastie Boys were, shall we say, very heavily
influenced by Motorbooty when assembling their own magazine... Highlight
of Motorbooty #9--the Graphic Violence Issue is editor Mark Dancey's comic
strip about the Insane Clown Posse (a band). These fellow Detroit residents
revealed themselves to be even stupider than their name implies when they
took exception to a mildly satirical Dancey comic strip about them that
appeared in SPIN magazine, and instigated a hate campaign against him,
and the publisher, thus generously providing Dancey with material for a
much more critical follow-up comic. Both are reproduced here, and you'll
learn much more than anyone, anywhere needs or wants to know about the
Insane Clown Posse...
Other Dancey highlights this issue
are a merciless set of 'Unoriginal Gangsta Trading Cards'--efficiently demolishing
every White Rapper you've ever heard of and a few more besides. The story
of the 'Louvin Brothers'--genuine mandolin-smashing hellraisers, in the
'Illustrated History of Pants' centrespread is an inspired mix of ridiculous
trousers and social history, which deserves to be printed as a full-size
poster. Almost-believable is the piece on the punkrock gig re-enactment
scene, organised along the lines of Civil War re-enactment Societies, authenticly
complete with police confiscating compact discs and mobile phones!--now
all 5,000 people who claim to have attended seminal gigs that took place
in 200-capacity rock'n'roll toilets can be there!
Somehow Motorbooty and its hometown
of Detroit have escaped the grip of Spice Girl Fever, which on the evidence
of Spice Capades seems to have affected the rest of America! In
this totally unauthorised 48-pager, a plethora of comic artists and zinesters
explore their hideous fascinations with the all-conquering Fab Four (or
Five) and provide their own reinterpretations of the Girl Power message.
The rather obvious monster/sci-fi stories are as unnecessary as Spice World--the
Movie. With such strong material to start with, the best comics are the
true-life ones, grown men desperately trailing round branches of Toys'R'Us
trying in vain to find a Scary Spice to complete their sets of Spice Girls
Dolls, and New York Punk scene vet Peter Bagge taking his daughter and
a car-load of screaming prepubescant spice-a-likes to a Spice Girls stadium
concert, and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it!
For a glimpse of Comics' History
check out a few EC Comics titles. The complete reprint series of
seminal 1950's EC (Entertaining Comics) Comics have been coming out steadily
over the last few years, and are still as fresh and exciting as they must
have been when they were originally published. I would have loved to have
my mind warped by these when I was a kid! Full of time-machines, spaceships
and gooey slime-oozing tentacled alien invaders, Weird Science seems
to contain the plot-line of every Sci-Fi film ever made. The magnificently
grisly EC horror titles, Tales From the Crypt and The Vault of
Horror were cited as inducing moral panic, leading directly to the
introduction of an over censorious Comics Code in the USA. Undaunted, EC
sprang back with a whole library of 'New Direction' titles; Aces High,
Valor, Piracy and Tales designed to carry an Impact. Particularly worth
looking out for currently are Psychoanalysis and M.D. (Medical
Drama)--two totally inspired original series which, surprisingly, only
survived for a few months. Nowadays the EC formula of obligatory surprise
twists and shock endings feels dated and gets predictable after a couple
of issues, but I'm sure I would have been a total EC fan if I'd ever seen
these comics as a kid. Maybe I should buy extra copies to hand out to schoolkids.
Pwease Wuv Me--More 'Art' of Mitch
O'Connell, is the second collection of Mitch O'Connell's hyper-kitsch
Paintings, Illustrations, Comics and Tattoo designs. M O'C is quite obviously
an Image Junkie in the advanced stages of addiction with an insatiable
appetite for images of Betty Page, Tiki God Statues, Big-eyed Waif Kid
paintings, Cheesecake Pin-ups, 60s and 70s Baby Boomer toys, Mad Magazine,
Wacky Packages bubblegum cards, Hippie memorabilia, Beatnik Poodles and
just about every other manifestation of kitschy, cheesy pop culture forgotten
by the rest of society. Taking this over-sugared array of source material
M O'C lusciously redraws it into a multi-layered fruit-cocktail, trifle-like
designs crammed full of bright rich goodies, and best served up in small
portions, its all just so darn pretty to look at! Self published, I can't
help thinking that this exhausting to look at visual feast could just as
well have been published by Dover Books as one of their clipart collections.
In James Kochalka's Quit Your
Job, Magic Boy, his goofy elf-slacker alter-ego character trips up
in the snow and misses his bus to work. Whilst fretting that he'll be in
trouble for missing work he finds a magic ring in the snow. His head reeling
with thoughts of what he can use the ring for, Magic Boy enjoys a day of
unexpected freedom from work and fun in the snow, never actually getting
round to using the ring's powers. This whimsical story is drawn in Kochalka's
loose relaxed style, using large panels mostly taken up with giant snowflakes.
Everything's back to normal by teatime, Magic Boy realises he's happy enough
without needing a magic ring, and returns home to find an answerphone message
from his boss telling him to take the day off work anyway!
Also currently available from the
prolific J Kochalka are Monica's Story (yes that Monica) and various issues
of James Kochalka Superstar Comics.
Japanize is a good old fashioned
A5 photocopied comic, put out by Toko whilst she's been living in the UK,
containing her impressions in a distinctive kiddie-manga style of such
quaint British activities as chanting along whilst watching the Jerry Springer
show, taking worthless pieces of junk along to the Antiques Roadshow and
eating bread and (baked) beans! 'The Hayashi Corporation' is a loopy meandering
tale of a multi-tentacled dutch-husband supplying business and there's
some traditional manga-style sex and violence thrown in as well, plus a
cookery page. Japanize issues 1-4 seemed to come out at weekly intervals,
but Toko's visa has run out and she'll have to return to Japan, so passport-sized
Japanize #4 may be the last.
Dishwasher ...one guy...fifty
states...lots of dishes...plenty of time...
Dishwasher Pete's chosen job allows
him the freedom to roam around the USA in the knowledge that wherever he
fancies staying for a couple of weeks he can easily find a job. In Dishwasher
issues 14 & 15 Pete's long term quest to wash dishes in each of the
50 American States takes him to Louisiana and New York City together with
a detour working on an Oilrig. We also get his account of 'appearing' on
the Late Show with David Letterman, 'appearing' because media-shy Pete
wasn't in the slightest bit interested in being on television so he obligingly
let a friend go along instead, as a Warhol-style stand-in! Dishwasher also
has plenty of dishwasher related press clippings, cartoons, book extracts
and movie reviews, with a particular focus on dishwashing in literature
and Labour Activism among Dishwashers, past and present.
Can't find a decent cravat anywhere
these days? Want to catch up on all the latest styles in cable-knit sleeveless
pullovers and keep abreast of what's what in the world of nose hair trimmers?
Then my dear fellow you need to equip yourself with a copy of The Chap,
a sophisticated pamphlet designed to fit perfectly in your smoking-jacket
pocket. With forthright advice on hairstyles, golfing attire and modern
etiquette tips, The Chap is an essential requisite for today's Gentleman
of Leisure feeling slightly out of place in a world full of blue-jean trousers
and garishly-coloured plimsols.
Motorbooty , £4.50 Available
from Tower Records /Disinfotainment www.motorbooty.com
Spice Capades, Fantagraphics, £3.75
Available from Comic shops
EC Comics, various titles Available
from Comic shops
Pwease Wuv Me , £12.95 Available
Quit Your Job , $6.95 Alternative
Japanize , £1.50 Probably
available from GOSH comics, Gt Russell St, London, WC1 or c/o 37 Stephendale
Rd, Fulham, London SW6 2LT
Dishwasher Available from Disinfotainment
or $2.50 inc p/p from
P.O. Box 8213
The Chap , £2.00 inc p/p
p.o. Box 21135, London N16 0WW
Disinfotainment mailorder catalogue
P.O.Box 664, London, E3 4QR
back to top
The abduction and trial of Abdullah
"In another extension of the war
against the rebel Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), the [Susurluk] report
says, Turkish agents co-operated with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad
in an unsuccessful attempt on the life of PKK leader Abullah Ocalan in
(Wall Street Journal 26/1/98)
Whatever the reality of the events
leading up to Abdullah Ocalan's capture and eventual death sentence were,
we should see it as part of wider US plans for the region.
In the UK the first mention of the
CIA's involvement came in the Scotsman newspaper, which on the same day
that the Guardian stated there was "no evidence" of Mossad involvement
(18 Feb. 99) led with a front page "CIA behind mission to capture Ocalan".
This followed on from German Kurdish newspaper's assertions. The Scotsman
had been told that:
"The operation, code-named 'Watchful',
was planned by the CIA and executed with the blessing of...Albright." It
went on to say the actual snatch team were from Mossad. It also stated
that surveillance had been underway for three months taking us back to
November when Ocalan was in Rome. It would seem an attempt was made there
too, but aborted. The Scotsman article provides further inference that
Turkish operations in the North Iraq "no-fly zone" against the PKK were
co-ordinated with the US, contrary to official statements:
"The operation was well co-ordinated,
with US forces in Kuwait yesterday beginning manoeuvres on the border with
Iraq..." Turkish forces were also aided by the KDP: a Kurdish group which
I will discuss later.
The attacks on the 19th of February
were also co-ordinated with attacks on political, human rights and religious
organisations (any group beyond the control of the military) within Turkey.
These continued in the lead up to the elections: the pro-Kurdish group
HADEP were intimidated, arrested and banned outright together with Islamic
parties. We can reasonably assume with US help.
The Scotsman's coverage followed
up the next day with information that: "Sources say that the US State Department
created a secret think tank six months ago to co-ordinate policy in the
region." To my mind this would have been prompted to act as a counter to
Ocalan's attempts to put the Kurdish issue on the World stage. The Scotsman
maintain that the think tank is CIA led and co-ordinates with Mossad and
Turkish special forces. Through treaties and shared military operations,
Turkey and Israel are coming closer to police the region for the US. The
report suggests that the State Department line is that: "With Ocalan out
of the equation, the US believes that Kurdish nationalism will become more
tolerant and tolerable." This will be enforced by the post Saddam break
up of Iraq into three regions which they describe as "a northern Kurdish
State [run by the PUK and KDP who are financed by the CIA] an Arab central
democratic republic and a Shia-dominated state to the south" This also
includes attempts to secure the borders of Turkey and Israel. It is a plan
that has been around for some time.
"My failure to stop the destruction
of the Armenians had made Turkey for me a place of horror, and I found
intolerable my further daily association with men who, however gracious
and accommodating and good-natured they might have been to the American
Ambassador, were still reeking with the blood of nearly a million human
(Henry Morgenthau, US Arnbassador
to Turkey , 1913-1916)
How times have changed.
The US government has not exactly
exhibited constancy in its press statements on the Ocalan capture, due
obviously to its complicity in the matter.
"WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (IPS)
The administration of US President Bill Clinton has been quick to insist
it played no part in the capture and removal of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah
Ocalan from Kenya to Turkey Monday."
''The United States did not apprehend
or transfer Ocalan, or transport him to Turkey,'' said State Department
spokesman James Foley, reading from a prepared statement. ''In other words,
US personnel did not participate in any of those actions that I just described.''
As an aside it could be pointed
out that the same report also stated that: "During the war, western warplanes
used Incirlik Air Base to launch intelligence flights and bombing raids.
That base is still used by US and British warplanes who enforce the ''no-fly
zone'' established after the war to protect the mainly Kurdish population
of northern Iraq." Here it failed to include the fact that the same air
base is used to attack Kurds by Turkish forces, other missions were soon
to bomb Serbian forces in support of the KLA whom the State Department
considered terrorists, until they were of use to them. In three days the
US line changed slightly and we had this from Reuters:
"Officials confirmed the gist of
reports appearing in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times saying
US diplomatic pressure helped put Ocalan in flight from a safe haven in
Syria and eventually into the arms of Turkish commandos.
We've been engaged diplomatically
for months to bring him to justice," said one US official, speaking on
condition of anonymity.
Members of a US team of intelligence
and law enforcement officers, in Nairobi investigating the bombing of the
US Embassy there last August, quickly discovered that Ocalan had arrived
there, reports said.
They placed the Greek Embassy under
surveillance and monitored his phone conversations while he placed calls
to political contacts, they said."
And then ten days later a CIA friendly
report from CNN boasts of a new technique being used by the CIA called
"The key to disruption is that it
takes place before terrorists strike, amounting to a pre-emptive, offensive
form of counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, President Clinton's counterterrorism
coordinator, said. After violent acts, arrests are difficult...U.S. counterterrorism
officials increasingly use disruption because other options are so few."
Casting the constitution and international
law to one side the report goes on:
"There are no headlines when a disruptive
job is done and no fingerprints. ..The CIA keeps its role secret,
and the countries that actually crack down on the suspects carefully hide
the U.S. role, lest they stir up political trouble for themselves.
Moreover, the CIA sends no formal
notice to Congress once a foreign law-enforcement agency, acting on CIA
information, swoops in and breaks up a suspected terrorist cell.
Disruption has the advantage of
utmost secrecy, hiding the hand of the United States and avoiding the cumbersome
congressional reporting requirements that go with CIA-directed covert operations.
If international law enforcers get
rough in smashing a suspected terrorist cell, the CIA would have no direct
control, and human rights organisations would have no way of identifying
a CIA role.
The recent arrest by Turkish forces
in Kenya of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan is one of the rare examples
where the disruption tactic gained public notice. The CIA and other intelligence
agencies refuse to comment on whether they played a role in assisting Turkey.
But other U.S. officials say the United States provided Turkey with critical
information about Ocalan's whereabouts. The idea is early intervention."
The Ankara accord
"Writing in the New York Times on
September 7, Tim Weiner reported that the recent Iraqi offensive in the
northern safe haven established by the Gulf War allies delivered a fatal
blow to an opposition group financed by the CIA. As the members of the
agency's force were imprisoned and executed, additional U.S. press reports
detailed for the first time five years of covert action targeting Saddam.
The Washington Post reports that since 1991, the CIA has spent some $100
million dollars on the effort."
(The CIA's Failed Plot Against Saddam
Hussein, Jon Elliston)
The most recent meeting of the US
and the PUK and KDP was on the 17/6/99 while Ocalan was on trial. According
to a press release entitled Kurdistan Regional Government KRG European
Union Representation (which suggests EU involvement) the main topics of
the agenda included:
"...an end to media to media attacks.
the elimination of PKK terrorist presence in Iraqi Kurdistan.
exchange of party representative offices in each other respective areas.
the resettlement of internally displaced persons IDPs. the
issue of revenue. to activate the role of parliament and formation
of joint interim government. the normalization of situation in the
region including the formation of a commission for voters registration".
So there are indications that the
media will be tightly controlled as regards comment on whatever entity
the US concocts. Despite the significance of the arrangements which
will plunge the middle east into further chaos and despair I have
come across no mention of the process in the UK media. There will be other
measures taken towards controlling any monitoring of the process as indicated
from an earlier statement by James Rubin (Spokesman of the Dept. of State)
on the Joint Statement by the KDP and PUK 10/11/98, which stated:
"We recognize the possible role
of humanitarian, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in supporting the
goals of the Ankara Statements. In the past, the activities of some NGOs
in northern Iraq may not have conformed with their status. The Government
of Turkey has established principles to regulate the passage of NGO workers
to the region."
In other words we will preserve
and monitor human rights by handing the process over to a state with the
worst human rights record of the decade. The Turkish state is highly suspicious
of the arrangements: immediately following the agreement in Washington
Ankara elevated diplomatic relations with Baghdad to an ambassadorial level.
On one level they are afraid that if there is a separate entity in the
north of Iraq the same example would be copied in south eastern Turkey
It could also be that their strategic use to the US will be lessened. Over
and above this the Turkish state has been running a race war and the idea
of a Kurdish state alongside it is anathema.
When asked about the Turkish Kurds,
David Welch the Deputy Assistant Secretary of state who has been running
the deal responded in an interview on Worldnet Dialogue 15/10/98:
"Q: You've repeatedly expressed
your concern for the rights of the Kurds in Iraq, and their right to choose
the form of government they want to live under in Iraq. Can we anticipate
you showing the same concern of the Kurds of Turkey?
MR. WELCH: Turkey is a democratic
country. I think people there should enjoy democratic rights. That's an
issue for Turkey. My concern right now is the lack of any such rights for
the people of Iraq. And you will recall that whenever I was asked the question
about what we support for Kurds, I made clear that we support similar rights
for any Iraqi. I wish that other Iraqis were in a position to exercise
such rights. I wish that other Iraqis had at least the minimum thing that
the people in northern Iraq do, is some freedom from the authority and
control of Saddam Hussein."
Curiously the agreement calls for
the reestablishment (the CIA tried this before) of a parliament in three
northern Iraqi provinces on the basis of a "unified, pluralistic, and democratic
Iraq." With the usual twisting of reality the American State Department
line is that this is the will of the Iraqi people (who they have been murdering)
and will contribute towards Iraqi unity. The agreement also has to go along
with the clearly ludicrous proposition that Turkey a terrorist state
is a peacemaker in the Kurdish conflict.
The process will also have to deal
with for the Turkomen, Assyrian and Chaldean communities it will
supposedly conduct a census to find out what everybody is. The area contains
a rich ethnic mix the precise nature of which is argued by various ethnologists;
suffice to say that Assyrian Americans are considering aggressively pushing
for a boycott of the census and subsequent elections.
Assyrian groups met with the leaders
of the KDP and PUK in Washington and told them that there are three million
Kurds and two million Assyrians in all of Iraq and that any Iraqi proportionate
representation ought to be based on that ratio. They perceive the plan
as a crude political scheme to split and trivialise the Assyrian community
in the previous attempts at establishing a 'parliament' the guns
did the talking: Francis Shabo, a member of the Chaldean Church won a seat
in the parliament while running as a member of the Assyrian Democratic
Movement and was subsequently assassinated by gunmen who Amnesty International
suggested were affiliated with the KDP.
Not that the US really gives a damn:
"Our national interests are not
tied to which party prevails in this conflict in Northern Iraq. But we
do have vital national security interests in maintaining security and stability
in the region. These vital interests include maintenance of stability;
protection of friendly nations including Israel, Jordan, Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states; and protection of the flow of oil.
(Department of Defence News Briefing
Tuesday, September 3, 1996 8:55 a.m.)
As Ardalan Hardi pointed out in an
essay 'The Slaughter of the Kurds with White House Blessing':
"Recently, a human rights conference
was held in Washington, DC. Mr. Andrew Morrison attended, representing
the State Department. He was questioned regarding the "no-fly zones" established
in Iraq. The concern was that the Turkish government violates the Northern
"no-fly zone" almost weekly and with no retort from the U.S. If Iran violates
the Southern "no-fly zone", the administration is clear and decisive in
their response. Mr. Morrison replied that "the no-fly zone was established
to protect the Kurds from Saddam and not from anyone else. At the same
time, we are aware of the planes that take off from Turkey and know the
schedule. We are not sure of Iran's intentions or plans." This statement
indicates that the administration is taking a position of non-involvement
and hands-off. This would indicate that the political decisions regarding
Kurdistan of Iraq and the Kurds' issue, in general, has been handed over
to the Turkish government, a longtime enemy of the Kurds. This, it would
seem, is accepted with White House blessing."
Writing in the small magazine Beneen
Ardalan Hardi believes that the recent conflict in northern Iraq reveals:
"that KDP, by joining forces with
Iraq's dictator Saddam, and then with the terrorist Turkish state, a long-time
Kurdish enemy, in an effort to kill their own brothers, no longer can be
representing Kurdish interests and the dream of a Kurdish state. Secondly,
the Clinton administration's foreign policy in Kurdistan, just like the
administration before it, is nothing but an empty drum--big in noise but
empty in substance. It is also very apparent that the Turkish government
has the White House's blessing to do whatever it pleases to the Kurds in
and out of Turkey. Hence, as long as the Turkish terrorist state is involved
in pretending to be a peacemaker to Kurdish conflict, the situation will
never be solved and the slaughter of one of the oldest and the largest
nation without a country will go on."
Like many commentators outwith the
mainstream media (where one can find much better analysis) this echoes
the belief that the sooner the US government acknowledges that Turkey is
the biggest part of the problem, and not part of the solution, the better
the chance of peace. This presupposes that the US desire peace in the region.
It is almost as if the US are trying to goad Saddam into occupying the
region so that they can strike.
"Current US policy in Iraq appears
to be focused on containing Iraq with brute force, forgoing an emphasis
on covert action. President Clinton is poised to order additional air attacks,
and whatever CIA plotting is presently underway probably faces dim prospects,
now that Saddam's security forces have destroyed the agency's underground
networks in northern Iraq."
(The CIA's Failed Plot Against Saddam
Hussein Jon Elliston)
Hardi's comments give too much credence
to EU opposition to Turkey. The EU has turned down Turkey's moves to join
the EU, but this is largely the result of the work of a network activists
and human rights groups, few of whom will be present in northern Iraq.
Further moves to eliminate the PKK will carry with them a propaganda campaign
and operations to attack and discredit these groups this is well
underway in the British press, particularly the Observer which has been
running all manner of pro-Turkish propaganda from front organisations (see
Private Eye no. 979) and disinformation seemingly directly at the behest
of the Turkish foreign ministry.
While the EU can make statements
such as that of EU Secretary of State, Georges Wohlfart July 1, 1997: "Turkey
must improve its human rights and solve its conflict with the separatist
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) peacefully, if it wants to join the European
Union...the Kurdish issue can only be resolved by political not military
means." There are just too many multi national business interests in Turkey
for this to last and there are bigger moves which show a callous
complicity by particularly the UK government, in the GAP project, arms
sales and Oil development, which I will go into later.
Turkey has been under martial law
since 1984, while this is relaxed slightly in the north, in the south east
it is still in place. Martial law is not democratic rule, it is rule by
the military. The political parties who could exert change in Turkey have
been banned as have human rights groups; yet the pretence exists by the
British government and sections of the press that Turkey is a democracy.
This is motivated by financial gain. They have had to turn a blind eye
to some astonishing events.
The Susurluk Affair
"I am sure that Turkish academics
and writers will confirm this. Yesterday's Prime Minister, today's deputy
Prime Minister is well known as the leader of the criminal gangs. Court
records have now registered how many criminals have been organised by former
Interior Minister Mehmet Agar's signature and involved in drug trafficking
to Europe. These crimes were previously blamed maliciously on the PKK."
(Abdullah Ocalan, Kurdistan Report
No. 25 1997)
"...evidence suggests that at some
time in the last five years, the criminal gangs began to work as enforcers
for private interests tied to members of the political elite."
(Stephen Kinzer, NY Times 31/12/96)
Turkey's recent political history
has revealed that the government interpenetrates to an enormous extent
with very wild criminal factions. A car crash on 3/11/96 in the Susurluk
district 90 miles south of Istanbul provided the starting point to proving
what human rights groups and activists had argued for decades. What is
now undeniable (and well-known to the governments and diplomats of the
USA and UK) is that the Turkish Security apparatus developed a relationship
with criminal gangs to perform killings and other 'counter-terrorist' activities
including drug trafficking, and that this took place with official sanction
at the highest level of government.
The driver of the car was Huseyin
Kocadag ex-deputy police chief of Istanbul who died. He was known
for taking part in organising the first special counter-insurgency police
teams in south east Turkey. Also in the car was Gonca Uz an ex-beauty Queen
with links to organised crime who also died. Sedat Bucak MP (of the right-wing
DYP party) a tribal warlord/para-military village guard, survived
badly injured. He was reportedly in charge of 2,000 Kurdish mercenaries,
armed and paid by the government to fight the PKK. The car contained four
people: the fourth, Abdullah Cati, riding along with top police and government
officials was a Turkish Mafia Godfather wanted since 1978 by Interpol for
the killings of left-wing activists. Catli was head of the fascist 'Grey
Wolves' and a convicted international drug smuggler.
Interior minister Mehmet Agar (head
of the police force) was forced to resign admitting that he had overseen
"at least 1,000 secret operations." Found in the wreckage (together with
a cache of automatic weapons and cocaine) were genuine special Interior
ministry passports bearing Agar's signature and made out for Catli. Similar
documents have also been found for other drug Traffickers.
In Covert Action No. 61, (<http://www.caq.com/
CAQ/caq61/CAQ61turkey.html>) Ertugrul Kurkeu, in an article about the affair,
quotes other investigative journalists and the parliamentary commission
into the Susurlik affair who found an explanation for the government-extremist-criminal
alliance other than a shared affection for fascism. They concurred that:
"Ciller, Agar, and other affiliates
of the "gang"...are only a few of the many corrupt links in a long chain
of "counterinsurgency strategies" overseen by Turkey's high command"
The strategy the Turkish Armed Forces
developed and the national Security Council endorsed in 93
tried to bring the war to the PKK and has all the hall marks of the "low-intensity
conflict" practised and developed by the US in Central America. The strategic
shift targeted civilian support for the PKK. Documents were leaked concerning
tactical military schemes which included lists of prospective members of
death-squads including Abdullah Catali, the Grey Wolves and special police
"During the three fatal years that
followed, 1993-95 with Tansu Ciller as prime minister and Suleyman Demirel
as president, Kurdish civil society was shattered. Kurdish political, cultural
and press organisations faced violent attacks. Their headquarters were
bombed, scores of local Kurdish politicians, including pro-Kurdish DEP
(democracy Party) deputy Mehmet Sincar were killed by mysterious assassins,
other Kurdish DEP deputies were expelled from parliament and jailed or
forced into exile; and hundreds of Kurdish activists were disappeared."
(Covert Action No. 61)
In February 1995 Hanefi Avci, deputy
intelligence department chief of Turkish Security, testified before a parliamentary
"Some officials believed that the
Turkish security remained incapable of eliminating the PKK supporters as
long as [the security forces] functioned within legal means. Thus, they
arrived at the conclusion that the PKK could have been fought only through
According to Avci one gang was headed
by Interior minister Mehmet Agar.
When Tansu Ciller was Turkey's ex-foreign
minister several countries (including the US) made pronouncements on her
similar to that of 22/1/97 by Judge Rudolph Schwalbe in the Frankfurt State
Court, which accused her of having personal contacts with narcotic smugglers
and protecting them. The Turkish Daily News of 12/12/96 made allegations
that a meeting took place in 93 between the highest representatives of
the Turkish state, top security officials and a group of twelve people:
"At the meeting was Tansu Ciller,
along with president Suleyman Demirel, the then speaker of parliament,
Husamettin Cindoruk, the then Commandant general of the Gendarmerie, Aydin
Ilter, the Interior Minister of the time, Nahit Mentese, and the then general
Chief of Police, Mehmet Agar. The 12 people they met included some who
were allegedly outlaws responsible for killing soldiers and police officers
who were secretly brought in from the South east on a private plane.
Tansu Ciller allegedly addressed
these men, who have long criminal record, declaring: "We are going to overcome
terrorism together." reports suggest that she then went on to guarantee
that all their needs would be met. the said "needs" were heavy machine
guns, such as MG-3s and BCXs, RPG rocket launchers and flame throwers..."
(Kurdistan Report No. 25)
As the counter-insurgency campaign
escalated the government terror gangs indulged in the luxury of utter recklessness.
They made a grab for the enormous revenues from drug trafficking and money
laundering and began fighting amongst themselves.
The government organised right-wing
gangs linked into a network of secret security organisations known as "Gladio":
"A secret clause in the initial
NATO agreement in 1949 required that before a nation could join, it must
have already established a national security authority to fight communism
through clandestine citizen cadres. This Stay Behind clause grew out of
a secret committee set up at US insistence in the Atlantic Pact the forerunner
(Covert Action 61)
The Turkish army's Special Warfare
Department was part of Gladio and ran the Counter-guerrilla Organisation.
"The department was headquartered
in the US Military Aid Mission building in Ankara and received funds and
training from US advisers to create the Stay Behind squads. The Gray Wolves,
headed by Catli, enjoyed official encouragement and protection.
In the late '70s, former military
prosecutor and Turkish Military Supreme Court Justice Emin Deger documented
collaboration between the Gray Wolves and the government's counterguerrilla
forces, as well as the close ties of the latter to the CIA. The Counterguerrilla
Organisation provided weapons to terrorist groups such as the Gray Wolves,
who instigated much of the political violence that culminated in a 1980
coup by the Turkish military that deposed Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel.
State security forces justified the coup in the name of restoring order
and stability. Cold War realpolitik compelled the Gray Wolves and their
institutional sponsor, the ultra-right National Action Party, to favour
a discreet alliance with NATO and U.S. intelligence. Led by Col. Alpaslan
Turkes, the National Action Party espoused a fanatical pan-Turkish ideology
that called for repatriating whole sections of the Soviet Union under the
flag of a reborn Turkish empire.
The Gray Wolves forged ties with
the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, a CIA-backed coalition led by erstwhile
fascist collaborators from Eastern Europe. Colleagues of Turkes controlled
a Turkish chapter of the World Anti-Communist League, an umbrella group
that functioned as a cat's paw for US intelligence in Latin America, Southwest
Asia and other Cold War battlegrounds."
(Covert Action 61)
Or as our own Daily Telegraph stated
on the 12 April 97: "The Turkish Republic is up to its neck in killings,
drug trafficking, robbery and blackmail." And so are people who provide
them with arms and military help --the UK government for instance.
When the report was published
in part of course it was used by Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz as an
attack on Tansu Ciller, his main rival for the leadership of Turkey's "centre
right." The report blamed Ciller and exonerated the armed forces despite
the fact that the killings of Kurds began in 1991, about the time Yilmaz
began his first stint as Prime Minister.
The safe haven
"Nothing was written exposing the
deal between President Ozal and Iraqi Kurdish leaders Masoud Barzani and
Jalal Talabani. Ozal proposed a federated Iraq in the Fall of 1990, the
north for the Kurds, the mid-section for the Turkmen of Iraq and leftovers
for the Arabs. In return Iraqi Kurds were to "secure" their border against
Kurdish guerrillas from Turkey. Less than two years later, this rapprochement
culminated in Kurds killing Kurds when on October 4, 1992, in collaboration
with the Turkish military, Iraqi Kurds attacked their kinsmen."
(Vera Beaudin Saeedpour, Center
for Research, the Kurdish Library, No. 6, Spring 1993)
"Even in the land whose political
structures gave rise to the term "Byzantine," untangling these ties is
proving a very daunting challenge."
(Stephen Kinzer, New York Times
While pressure was put on Syria to
hand over Ocalan at one point Turkey threatened to invade the
US continued in their post-Gulf war efforts to manipulate the PUK and KDP.
They developed their moves to turn the 'no fly zone' or 'safe haven' in
northern Iraq into a puppet state run by both groups. The moves are officially
supported by Turkey although it routinely bombs the region
and the UK, which also lends its military support to the bombings.
Fighting between the PUK and KDP
has been going on for some time and the internecine struggle between both
are complex too complex it would seem for most western commentators.
The US has been manipulating ethnic rivalries in the area to attack Saddam
Hussein, attack the PKK and make moves on Syria and Iran. In late 98 while
arranging Ocalan's kidnapping Madeline Albright and the US State Department
met for talks with the two groups. While Ocalan was hunted down and put
on trial the US and UK kept up the talks and eventually invited PUK and
KDP representatives to Washington together with British and Turkish diplomats.
Since the Gulf war US policy in
the region has been to establish a 'protectorate' (for US interests) which
uses the Kurds of Iraq as a buffer to keep 25 million Kurds divided. The
documents outlining the 'government' of the 'country' were set out in 95
but in-fighting between the US' favoured clients has impeded any progress.
The legality of the move is somewhat dubious, but that has never stopped
the US in the past. For the US some Iraqi Kurds have an inalienable right
to a slice of Iraq while others who seek to determine their own future
have no right to exist.
"Operation Provide Comfort" was
a cover for destabilising operations against Iraq and the use of what could
accurately be described as CIA-backed Kurdish gangster formations against
more politically responsible and determined Kurdish elements waging their
struggle for freedom and liberty against Turkey. The situation again has
parallels with American adventures in Central America. The use of contra
guerrillas as 'death squads' is a common feature of colonial struggles
as is the fomenting of ethnic divides. Traditionally these activities are
conducted covertly, as long as possible: the USA and British governments
have done a great job in silencing any media analysis of the KDP and PUK
factions they have such faith in.
The Promise of America
Given what we now know about US involvement
in Central America the Turkish use of death squads, heroin trafficking
by government officials and so on would hardly have shocked the US government.
The American Government has been up to similar activities in the region.
According to Jon Elliston (The CIA's
Failed Plot Against Saddam Hussein firstname.lastname@example.org) in 1992 the CIA helped
establish the Iraqi National Congress, a coalition of Iraqi and Kurdish
groups who had little in common except their disdain for Saddam. Since
then, the CIA has supported the INC's activities including radio propaganda
broadcasts, anti-Saddam publishing, intelligence gathering and efforts
to entice Iraqi military personnel to defect. The results have been disastrous
with most groups who worked with the CIA ending up dead and/or betrayed
In May 1994, the friction between
competing Kurdish groups in the INC erupted into armed skirmishes. In late
August the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) which had emerged as a major
INC faction, solicited help from the Iraqi government to combat their main
rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The PUK, which receives
some support from Iran, was effectively driven out of Iraq by KDP forces
assisted by Saddam.
The CIA has backed and funded both
factions: one would think that working with the US' arch enemy Saddam would
be some kind of stumbling block but it is these close ties which the CIA
wanted to exploit so they were forgiven. The KDP is led by Massoud
Barzani, and the PUK led by Jalal Talabani, the PUK branched off from the
KDP in the early 1960s and both have been waging warfare against each other
in their respective bids to control the proceeds of smuggling and other
economic activities, while ferociously repressing the Kurdish population
in the process.
"These two parties have taken turns
selling their services to a variety of regimes while selling out the freedom
and rights of the Kurds in the process. Besides killing over 2,000 of each
other's supporters over the last two years, they have attacked a variety
of Kurdish critics and people of differing persuasions, also victimising
the Kurdish population in the "safe haven" area through extortion and intimidation.
They have collaborated with Turkish forces in attacking the Kurdish liberation
movement directed against Turkey and led by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers
Party). PUK leader Talabani has openly courted Israel, the United States,
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Saddam Hussein and Turkey,, entering in a variety of
"understandings" with all of these states in recent times. Such machinations
have earned him the sobriquet "Everybody's Agent."
(Husayn Al-Kurdi, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
The PUK has facilitated the entry
of Iranian armed forces into (for what it's worth) internationally recognised
Iraqi territory, at first to attack and disperse a Kurdish organisation
resisting the Iranian occupation of one part of Kurdistan. The Iranian
incursion penetrated up to 150 miles over the internationally-recognised
Iran-Iraq border. It was only after the PUK was joined by Iran in attacking
the KDP, and after the KDP leader pleaded unsuccessfully with the US government
to intervene to halt the PUK/Iran onslaught, that Massoud Barzani turned
to Saddam Hussein to send forces in to assist the KDP in gaining the upper
hand. The US responded by letting matters take their course in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Al-Kurdi's article also quotes Council
of Foreign Relations author Gidon Gottlieb providing the world banker line
when he said that "The Kurds can at best hope for an internationally protected,
internationally guaranteed, and internationally recognised autonomy within
nominal Iraqi sovereignty," necessitating the repudiation "of any claim
to the territory and provinces of Turkey, Iran, and Syria." Of course,
Gottlieb adds the proviso that the Kurds "will have to demonstrate their
effective control of Iraqi Kurdistan" by aiding Turkey in its drive to
"restrain the violence of the Kurdish PKK rebels in Turkey."
US policy could be described as
handing over the matter of the Kurds (PKK) to Turkey. The CIA has been
meddling in Iraq with disastrous consequences for over four decades, part
of which brought Saddam to power:
"After propping up the corrupt Nuri
Said, the USA went after Abdul-Karim Kassem, whose popularly-supported
coup eliminated the old British agent Nuri in 1958. Among those whom the
CIA recruited to do its dirty work were the Iraqi Baath Party, including
a brash power-hungry adventurer named Saddam Hussein. Saddam actually engaged
in an attempt on Kassem's life, one of many engineered by CIA "assets."
The Baath did finally succeed in overthrowing and killing Kassem in 1963.
The CIA gave the emergent Baath a long list of Communists and others to
liquidate, which they undertook to accomplish with their usual thoroughness."
(The CIA in Kurdistan, Husayn Al-Kurdi
Al-Kurdi also provides evidence that
the CIA has ran operations out of a building in Ankara since 1952. It proceeded
to set up a fearsome intelligence-gathering/ death squad apparatus to deal
with the Turkish Left:
"A part of this apparatus of repression
spawned was the MHP (National Action Party), an ultra right Turkish organization
which is still regarded as a paramilitary wing of the "Special Warfare
Department". Military coups in Turkey in 1971 and 1980 were supported by
the CIA- the Turkish commander of the air force returned from Washington
just days before both events. After the second of these coups succeeded,
President Jimmy Carter called CIA agent Paul Henze, who was then involved
in Turkey and congratulated him, saying "Your people have just made a coup."
The KDP, whose leader was Massoud
Barzani's father Mulla Mustafa Barzani, were hooked into doing the CIA's
bidding as early as the early 1960s. By the early 1970s. the KDP was fighting
the Iraqi government at the behest of Iran, Israel, and the USA. Agents
of all three countries were seen moving about the KDP base camps. Iran
was going after a boundary settlement with Iraq, using the Kurds to pressure
Baghdad. Israel is forever scheming to destabilise all Arab and Muslim
countries which do not come to an understanding with it on its own terms,
i.e. recognition of its conquest of the Palestinians. The USA wants economic
(oil and the incredible sums of money that oil-rich client states such
as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait pour into U.S. financial markets) and political
power in the region. Their interests usually dovetail. Israel and Turkey
have signed at least two military cooperation treaties in recent years.
Israel is suspected of bombing PKK camps in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley."
(The CIA In Kurdistan, Husayn Al-Kurdi
The US perceive the KDP as amenable
to their interests because of these long standing arrangements:
"According to an article by ex-U.
S. consul in Kirkuk (Iraqi Kurdistan), a secret agreement was reached between
the CIA and Mulla Mustafa Barzani in August 1969. Barzani got an alleged
$14 million at the time. After the Iran-Iraq Agreement spelled the end
of the KDP rebellion, the KDP and the Kurds were left in the lurch. Barzani
had promised to turn oil fields over to the U.S., repeatedly saying that
he wanted Kurdistan to be the 51st state. He wound up living in exile in
the United States, where he died in 1979. He wrote a letter to then-President
Carter in early 1977 in which he complained that "I could have prevented
the calamity which befell my people had I not fully believed the promise
of America. This could have been done by merely supporting Baath policy
and joining forces with them, thereby taking a position contrary to American
interests and principles and causing trouble for Iraq's neighbours. The
assurances of the highest American officials made me disregard this alternative."
Henry Kissinger put "American interests and principles" in proper perspective
when he proclaimed that "Covert action should not be confused with missionary
(The CIA In Kurdistan, Husayn Al-Kurdi
The recent elections in Turkey
This is what the US State Department
know and put out themselves concerning Turkey's elections this year and
the banning of any opposition:
"A campaign against "reactionaries"
(Islamists) and "separatists" (pro-Kurdish activists) groups that
the military publicly identified as the principal threats to Turkey's national
security continued throughout the year and broadened to include mainstream
secular journalists, non-violent leaders of human rights groups, some devout
politicians in mainline conservative parties, and religiously observant
Muslim businessmen. Members of the legal pro-Kurdish People's Democracy
Party (HADEP) were sometimes the object of arbitrary arrests and often
were harassed in the Southeast for their legal political activities. The
campaign against pro-Kurdish activists intensified after the November arrest
in Italy of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, when some HADEP members expressed
support for Ocalan. Authorities detained a large number of HADEP members,
and party leaders allege that many were tortured or beaten. An 18-year-old
party member died in police custody, allegedly from beatings during interrogation.
At year's end the party faced closure by the authorities for alleged anticonstitutional
activities. (Two of HADEP's predecessors, HEP and DEP, were closed on similar
(State Department, Released by the
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, February 26, 1999.)
And this (note the broad support
line) from the same source:
"In January as part of the intense
private and public campaign of pressure led by the military and the judiciary,
with broad support from several segments of society that view "fundamentalism"
to be a threat to the secular republic, the Constitutional Court ordered
the Islamist Refah Party closed and banned several of its leaders, including
former Prime Minister Erbakan, from political activity for 5 years. The
National Security Council continued to warn against Islamist activities.
Istanbul mayor and prominent Islamist political leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan's
10-month sentence in April on charges of promoting separatism and threatening
the unity of the state was upheld in September. The sentence carries a
lifetime ban from politics."
The State Department also concede
"The Government and the law impose
limits on freedom of assembly and association. Starting in May police with
increasing frequency and force broke up public gatherings of the Saturday
Mothers, a group that has held weekly vigils in Istanbul for more than
3 years to protest the disappearances of their relatives.
Government officials continued to
harass, intimidate, indict, and imprison human rights monitors, journalists,
and lawyers for ideas that they expressed in public forums."
They have also read the Susurluk
report and are aware that:
"A Government report that came to
light in January and a 1997 parliamentary report revealed ties between
the authorities and illegal gangs ultranationalists and members of
organized crime in the wake of the 1996 Susurluk incident, a car
accident that provided evidence of such associations. These links raised
serious concerns about corruption and the abuse of power in the security
forces. The Government publicly committed to investigate corruption but
was criticized for its slow progress. In April trials began of former Interior
Minister Mehmet Agar, who was linked to the Susurluk victims, and Member
of Parliament (M.P.) Sedat Bucak. Separately, in September State Minister
Eyup Asik resigned amidst allegations of links to organized crime leader
Alaattin Cakici, who was apprehended abroad with a diplomatic passport.
These same allegations of corruption led to a November vote of no-confidence
in Parliament for the Government of Prime Minister Yilmaz."
Yet they call it a democracy. As
does Christopher Morris the Guardian's man in Ankara covering the "elections."
The Turkish parliament is even more
dominated by the extreme right. The second largest party is now the National
Action Party (MHP), a fascist-like extreme chauvinist, anti-Kurdish organisation.
It now holds 129 seats, 22 of which are occupied by notorious members of
the Gray Wolves, a paramilitary organisation. The MHP is in alliance with
the DSP of the premier Bulent Ecevit, sometimes regarded in Europe as a
Social Democrat. This "Nationalist Bloc" totals 265 deputies, 48 percent
of the assembly.
"Taking recent developments into
consideration...we do not want to leave room for future discussions or
ill-intentioned debates stemming from terms that have been used."
(Turkish Interior Ministry, The
New York Times June 6, 1999)
During Ocalan's trial the Interior
Ministry issued a directive listing terms that must be used in all press
statements concerning the trial; together with terms that must not be used
when discussing Ocalan the PKK or Kurds in general. It is binding on reporters
and commentators for the Anatolia news agency, the state-run radio and
television network, and public affairs officers at all government agencies.
These terms are reproduced or at the very least form the underpinning
of most UK reports on the trial. Journalists were indoctrinated into the
warped mind set of the Turkish state. They reflect the long-standing censorship
of any language which concedes the existence of anything concerning the
These are the unacceptable terms,
followed by what the government says are correct ones that should be used
in their place:
Urban guerrilla Terrorist
Rural guerrilla/Rebel Bandit.
Refugee Shelter seekers.
rebellion/Kurdish national independence war/Kurds' independence struggle/revolution/armed
revolt Terrorist actions.
groups Terrorist organization PKK/ Bloody terrorist organization/murder
operation -- Search for terrorists and criminals/pursuit of criminals.
Kurdish/of Kurdish background
Turkish citizen/our citizens who are identified as
People of the Kurdish race
People from separatist environments.
Temporary cease-fire Break
in terrorist actions/temporary halt of terror.
Calling for peace Stopping
terror actions temporarily.
Guerrilla commander Person
in charge of regional terrorists.
Apo The terrorist Ocalan.
Kurdish militia Those who
help and conceal terrorists/terrorist collaborators.
Leader of the organization
Those accountable for terrorist actions.
Separatist organization Terrorist
PKK Terror organization/Terror organization PKK (NOTE: The fact that
the organization is Marxist-Leninist may be used in personal contacts abroad.)
Crime against humanity Terror
Resident of the Southeast/People
of Southeast Anatolia/Eastern and Southeastern Anatolians Our citizens
in the east of Turkey.
Kurdish Parliament in Exile
Meeting under the terror organization PKK's control.
Member of Kurdish Parliament
Member of the terror organization.
Kurdish flag/so-called Kurdish flag
Symbol of the terror organization.
(The New York Times June 6, 1999)
The Ilusu Dam
"While Israel benefits from Iraq's
destruction as an Arab power, its relations with Turkey may very well be
detrimental to Israel's future. Beyond peace and security, arid Israel
needs water. Shimon Peres and Turgut Ozal already discussed a plan to get
water to Israel by creating a pipeline from Turkey traversing Syria, Jordan
and Saudi Arabia. Peres was right when he argued that "the next war in
the Middle East could well be over water, not land, and Turkey is the only
land in the region with excess water. (Jerusalem Post 4.28.91)"
(Vera Beaudin Saeedpour, publication
of the Center for Research, the Kurdish Library No. 6, Spring 1993)
The nonsense of the UK government's
"ethical foreign policy" is evident in their dealings with Turkey. Here
they are colluding in the displacement and erasure of Kurdish culture.
The Guardian reported a DTI scheme on the border of Iran and Iraq:
"The £1bn Ilusu hydro-electric
dam project could be underwritten by the British taxpayer to the tune of
£200 million because Balfour Beatty, a British construction company,
is leading the consortium hoping to build the dam."
The project was even refused money
by the World Bank since it does not meet their conditions for dam projects
and further contradicts UN conventions which try to prevent border disputes
over shared water supplies.
Nevertheless the UN have been made
complicit in the project if indications on high level moves are correct.
The company which has the contract for the dam, ABB, is a Swiss-Swedish
company that has faced sustained campaigns by environmentalists and human
rights advocates against its involvement in various hydro projects, including
the Three Gorges Project in China and the now indefinitely postponed Bakun
Dam in Malaysia.
An investigation by Corporate Watch
(www.corpwatch.org) revealed it as part of a group of companies who are
manipulating the independence of the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), one of the most important UN agencies. This is threatened by a
plan not yet made public for the UN to launch and promote collaboration
with a group of global corporations in June, 1999.
Called the Global Sustainable Development
Facility (GSDF) or 2B2M (2 Billion People to the Market by 2020) the plan
is outlined in a series of internal documents obtained by Corporate Watch
and other organisations. ABB, the Ilusu dam company is a GSDF steering
committee member. The plan has made the UN the stooge of some of the most
disreputable companies in the world. It promotes that which it should investigate.
"The documents and independent interviews
show that the UNDP appears to be selling a group of global corporations-
many of which are well known for their negative development, human rights
and environmental records unprecedented access to its country offices,
high level governmental contacts and its reputation."
The documents list 11 corporations
as sponsors of the proposed facility. UNDP has reportedly recruited 7 more.
UNDP is selling these sponsorships for $50,000 each. The companies include:
"Rio Tinto Plc, a British mining
corporation which has created so many environmental, human rights, and
development problems that a global network of trade unions, indigenous
peoples, church groups, and community activists has emerged to fight its
abuses. The company stands accused of complicity in, or direct violations
of environmental, labor and human rights in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea,
Philippines, Namibia, Madagascar, the United States and Australia, and
ABB Asea Brown Boveri (GSDF steering
committee member) is a Swiss-Swedish company that has faced sustained campaigns
by environmentalists and human rights advocates against its involvement
in various hydro projects, including the Three Gorges Project in China
and the now indefinitely postponed Bakun Dam in Malaysia.
Dow Chemical (GSDF steering committee
member) is one of the biggest polluters in the United States, the world's
largest producer of chlorine--the root source of the carcinogen and endocrine
disrupter dioxin--and one of the world's largest pesticide companies.
Citibank played an important role
in the Asian financial crisis that threw millions out of work in 1997.
As a major lender to developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s, Citicorp's
lending patterns fuelled the Third World debt crisis. It has recently made
headlines for allegedly serving as a conduit for millions of dollars of
drug money moved by Raul Salinas (brother of the former Mexican president)
from Mexico to Switzerland.
Stat Oil, Norway's state-owned oil
company is involved in several environmental and development conflicts
at home, as well as in Venezuela, Russia, Malaysia and Nigeria."
To return to the Ilusu dam: the DTI
is responsible for the notorious Export Credit Guarantee Department and
there are other export credit agencies to help along big business in difficult
areas. If Balfour Beaty (the lead contractor in the notorious Pergau Dam
project in Malaysia) get ripped off, the government will bail them out
back up their costs. Normally this service is extended to arms dealers,
they being the biggest industry whose services tend to be called for in
'trouble spots.' Countries like Britain and American are in the forefront
of the business of exporting war. In the case of the Ilusu dam, water (or
rather the refusal to share it) will be used as a weapon, much in the way
it is presently used by the Israeli state in the region.
The Guardian followed up their reporting
on the Illusu dam on the 26/6/99. Labour Trade minister, Brian Wilson:
"...is to be accused in the high
court next week of breaching existing freedom of information legislation
by keeping secret documents showing the impact of a controversial mega-dam
project in Turkey.
The move comes after he refused
to comply within two months to a legal request that he release an environmental
impact assessment of the dam project which will take waters from the Tigris
and cut off part of the flow to Syria and Iraq. [Who] have objected to
the damage the dam will do to drinking water supplies and the livelihoods
of local farmers. The Kurds, whose homelands will be flooded, fear they
will be left landless and without compensation."
Which is of course precisely the
point of the scheme and the intentions of the Turkish State, which Wilson
knows and is dedicated to support to the point of trawling trough
the courts. Friends of the Earth report that:
"The proposed dam is on the Tigris
River, forty miles from the Turkish/Iraqi/Syrian border. It will flood
15 towns and 52 villages and displace up to 20,000 Kurdish people. The
Ilusu project is part of the South East Anatolia Project (GAP), which has
already displaced hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people, many without
compensation. Because of the war between the Turkish army and Kurdish guerrillas,
local opposition to such schemes cannot be voiced for fear of state reprisals."
The water-resource development plan
consists of 13 massive projects in the Euphrates/Tigris Basin including
Ilusu. Coming into South East Turkey one is impressed by the sheer amount
of construction projects carving through the arid countryside and mountains.
The entire area, the very land and mountains are in upheaval in the state's
attempts to destroy the Kurds.
Generous facilities such as the ECGD
do not extend to projects which aim to help the victims of the war exports
the government promotes; such as that of two government backed scientists
working in Halabja the place where Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds.
"This is the first time anyone has
tried to establish a medical assessment programme for a civilian population
that has been gassed. Most studies before now have been of military men
aged 18 to 25."
Chemical weapons are used to kill
people who are hiding in bunkers or bomb shelters or are otherwise hard
to get at. The government (and the military) want the research hence the
"Although supported by the British
Government, the two doctors have been frustrated by lack of equipment...Dr
Kerim works by candlelight every night."
The report touches on the abject
horror of Halabja, which, more than ten years on includes a population
suffering from: malignant carcinomas, leukaemia, infertility in women,
miscarrages, congenital abnormalities, cancers of the head and Larynx,
blindness, spinal deformities...
"At the time Iraq was gassing the
Kurds in Halabja, David Mellor (UK Foreign Office Minister) was an honoured
guest of Saddam Hussein. Within a month of the gas attack Iraq was offered
£340 million of export credit. Later in the year sales to Iraq had
risen from £2.9 million a year ago to £31.5 million."
(Campaign Against the Arms Trade
Some time ago a Channel 4 documentary
on Halabja tried to find out where the chemical weapons had come from
their empty shells still litter the area or are gathered into heaps where
their serial numbers are clear to see. The people with the register of
the weapons are the UN and they refused to tell Channel 4 the information
was 'too sensitive'.
"in the 1980s [Saddam Hussien] was
quietly supported and supplied with arms by the West, and his shipping
in the Gulf was protected against attack, while he was committing aggression
against Iran. Western support didn't flag when evidence surfaced that Hussein
was using chemical weapons against the Kurds at home and in the war against
Iran. The New York Times even commended the United States and Soviet Union
for having jointly supported Hussien in his war against Iran, apparently
regarding this evidence of collective action as more important than the
fact that it contributed to a major blood bath."
(Beyond Hypocrisy, Edward Herman)
Chemicals weapons proliferate in
the region whose mountainous terrain makes a hard battlefield for conventional
weapons and troops. Their trade is covert. Although initially covered up
the El Al plane which crashed in Amsterdam in 92 was carrying 42
gallons of sarin nerve gas components. Evidence is now emerging that Israel
had made many similar flights of chemical weapons using civilian and military
aircraft in Holland.
Özgur Politika reported in
May 22 that the Turkish army has been using poison gas against the PKK.
It quoted a Turkish colonel:
"Turkish pharmaceutical factories
have been producing poison gas and the Turkish armed forces have been using
it at various times against the Kurdish people and are continuing to do
so....German poison gas is slaughtering the Kurdish people."
The paper claimed that 23 Kurdish
people had died from a poison gas attack in Bingol on 24/9/98, among other
The Italian daily Il Manifesto of
the same date reported:
"Legal experts have confirmed ...
the use of chemical weapons, which [recently] have killed at least 20 members
of the PKK. Their bodies were subsequently disfigured to make them unrecognizable."
The colonel cited in Özgur
Politika called on the European Union to establish a committee to look
into the production of poison gas for the Turkish forces by joint Turkish-Swiss
and Turkish-German companies. Among others, he accused the following companies
in Istanbul: Henkel Kimya Sanayi (Turkish-German), the Hochst Ilaç
Fabrikasi (Turkish-German), and Roche Ilaç Sanayi (Turkish-Swiss).
Turkey was showered with praise
for its "humanitarian" act in admitting the fleeing Iraqi Kurds after the
Halabja gas attack. Obscured in brief phrases beneath headlines that misled
readers was US complicity with Turkey which effectively stymied the admission
of legitimate humanitarian aid organisations. But this fact never did become
an issue in the press. Ankara denied symptoms of the use of poison gas
by Iraq, refused to designate the refugees as such, and deliberately denied
the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commission
for Refugees access to carry out tests on Kurds to establish the use of
chemical weapons. The actual Kurds didn't recieve so much as a blanket.
Nearly three years later the issue
could be used to press the common agenda of the West in the Gulf crisis.
The US as we know is busy tracking
down terrorists who threaten to use chemical weapons, or so they say. The
20/8/98 bombing of the El Shifa factory in Khartoum (Sudan) was in retaliation
for the bombings of US Embassies in Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) and Niarobi
(Kenya), purportedly by Osama bin Laden an old CIA agent. For the US a
bombing of an Embassy means retaliation anywhere is justified. What embassy
wasn't bombed in Serbia?
El Shifa produced 50% of Sudan's
medicine, including 90% of the most critically needed drugs: the bombings
will cause the suffering and death of tens of thousand of people all over
Africa by depriving them of basic medicines for easily curable diseases,
it also provided vetinary medicine. This follows years of sanctions and
bans on loans and trade, which have curtailed the development of basic
infrastructure and the purchase of medicines. The US has also funded a
contra army to destabilise the Sudanese government.
El Shifa was called an "imminent
threat...to our national security," by President Clinton, National Security
advisor, Sandy Barger said : "This was a plant...producing chemical warfare
related weapons, and we have physical evidence of the fact." Joint Chief
of Staff, General Henry Shelton said that the : "Intelligence community
is confident that this factory is involved in the production of chemical
weapons." Hours after the missile launch El Shifa was described by senior
security advisors as "a secret chemical weapons factory financed by bin
Laden." The same officials a month later conceded they had no evidence
linking bin Laden.
No real discussion or debate on
the implications of destroying more than half of the medicine in a poor
country has taken place and there is scant coverage of the admission by
US officials that they had no solid evidence at all. A six-member team
organised by the International Centre and led by former Attorney General
Ramsay Clark flew out to the wreckage and went through official US documents
and reports together with meeting Sudanese officials and representatives.
The delegation concluded that "the plant was a medicine factory whose bombing
falls under the definition of a war crime."
"What seems most incredible are
the claims by US. officials that they knew nothing about the plant. It
was, in fact, promoted and treasured by the Sudanese government as the
pride of "Africa." The plant opened, in June 1997, with a fanfare, in the
presence of heads of state, foreign ministers and ambassadors. It was visited
by international guests including the president of the Republic of Niger,
the World health Organisation's director for the Mediterranean region...[and]
the British and German ambassadors to Khartoum..."
(Covert Action 66)
Given the US involvement with the
Sudan, the plant's official UN authorisation, all the high tech surveillance,
the fact that the plant was designed by an American (Henry R Jobe) and
a British technical manager (Tom Carnaffin) it is hard to believe that
top US officials were so ignorant. They continue to block a UN investigation.
The Observer journalist in a report
of 23/8/98 stated a familiar refrain: "There is no sign amidst the wreckage
of anything sinister...there is no sign of anyone trying to hide anything
either." Except for the US. The International Action Centre (IAC) report
outlines the real reasons behind the attack:
"Ever since Sudan opposed the 1991
US led war against Iraq, US policy has aimed at destabilising the Sudan
government. Washington has helped finance a secessionist civil war against
the Khartoum government and imposed economic sanctions on Sudan. The missile
attack came soon after Sudan took steps to access a 300-million-barrel
reservoir of crude oil in the country's South. There is a clear relationship
between US oil policy and US government hostility toward Sudan."
The Sudan government has offered
that the FBI inspect the country to deal with terrorism but they refused.
The US funds its pet rebels through funding channels to Uganda, Eritrea
and Ethiopia who funnel arms and other equipment to the rebels, Madeline
Albright has even met rebel leader John Garang.
The IAC delegation was shown a letter
which informed the Sudanese Central Medical supplies company that the United
States Treasury department refused to allow it to sell insulin to Sudan.
Similar denials exist all, enforced by the US what was the bomb attack
if not a violently enforced sanction? Collaboration between the CIA and
Israeli intelligence to support a secession movement in the Sudan dates
back to at least 1968.
Madeline Albright a short
"'A very hard choice,' Madeleine
Albright commented on national TV in 1996 when asked for her reaction to
the killing of half a million Iraqi children in 5 years, but 'we think
the price is worth it.' Current estimates remain about 5000 children killed
a month, and the price is still 'worth it.' These and other examples might
also be kept in mind when we read awed rhetoric about how the "moral compass"
of the Clinton Administration is at last functioning properly...'"
(The Current Bombings: Behind the
Rhetoric, Noam Chomsky ZNET)
The Baku Pipeline
"The [Susurluk] report also says
Mr. Catli and senior Turkish officials played a key role in a 1995 coup
attempt in Azerbaijan, where previously published Turkish reports say the
Susurluk gang hoped to install a leader who would allow them to take advantage
of a new drug-smuggling route through Baku to the West. Azerbaijani President
Haidar Aliyev has said the coup was foiled when Turkish President Suleyman
Demirel heard of the plot and tipped him off."
(The Wall Street Journal, 26 January
Turkey figures large in the US strategy
for the oil-rich Central Asia region. The US has been putting strong pressure
on the new states of the region and on multinational oil companies to build
a pipeline that would transport oil and gas from the Caspian area to the
Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, thus avoiding routes through Russia
Investment and military involvement
have an increasing tendency to take place side by side in this and other
'war-torn' regions. They can also lead government attitudes towards whitewashing
the reputations of states hitherto considered pariahs on the basis of sound
evidence. US oil companies interested in the Caspian for profit now argue
for some form of alliance between Azerbaijan and the United States as their
interests become entrenched.
Ambassador Richard Morningstar,
special advisor to the president and secretary of state for Caspian basin
energy diplomacy (whose job it is to promote the project) spins it like
"The fundamental objective of U.S.
policy in the Caspian ... is not simply to build oil and gas pipelines.
Rather it is to use those pipelines ... as tools for advancing the sovereignty
and independence of the new independent states and for establishing a political
and economic framework that will strengthen regional cooperation and stability
and encourage reform for the next several decades."
Morningstar argues that the Baku-Ceyhan
oil pipeline and the trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline (which would run
parallel to the oil pipeline for most of its length) make sense for both
national security and commercial reasons:
"Both pipelines will enhance the
sovereignty and independence of the Caspian Newly Independent States (NIS)
by allowing them to export their hydrocarbon resources without tying them
into the pipeline systems of their primary competitors for energy markets...In
addition, both pipelines will increase energy security by avoiding the
concentration of a vast new source of oil and gas in the Persian Gulf region.
Finally, both pipelines enjoy great potential to become lucrative investment
opportunities for U.S. companies."
(Morningstar, remarks to the 17th
Congress of the World Energy Council in Houston, Texas, September 15 1998)
To push through the plan Morningstar
aims to strengthen ties with Azerbaijan (now defined as an 'oil-rich state
on the western shore of the Caspian'). In order to successfully pursue
his 'diplomatic' goals Morningstar also requested that the American Congress
lift restrictions on non-military assistance to Azerbaijan and repeal section
907 of the Freedom Support Act, which was passed to punish Azerbaijan for
human rights abuses. So the pipeline will create a channel for some big
arms deals. The pipeline has the backing of US-based General Electric and
the Bechtel Corporation who are also major arms manufacturers.
Speaking of the project as a whole
in a remark which seems diplomatically oblivious of US imperial history,
"The United States views its proper
role as that of an honest broker...Our job is to encourage the relevant
companies and countries of the region to negotiate in good faith on the
commercial and political factors that must be satisfied in order to make
any of these pipelines viable."
(Ambassador Richard Morningstar,
On Caspian Basin Energy Policy at a forum organised by Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace)
Alternative pipelines to the Baku-Ceyhan
route would run through Russia and Iran, which are competitors with the
Caspian Sea oil-producing countries. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is intended
to provide an independent route to markets in Turkey and Europe and is
predicated on a belief that global demand for oil will rise. Very few of
these big construction companies actually meet the needs of the inhabitants
of the area; denying as they do the link between production and consumption.
Despite Turkey's claims to the contrary, analysts doubt that the country
will need gas from both the trans-Caspian and Black Sea lines.
The United States has encouraged
a growing alliance between Turkey and Israel part of which includes business
deals as well as military help such as the abduction of Ocalan. Israel
has a role in the trans-Caspian pipeline through the Israeli Merhav Group.
Israel's growing military alliance with Turkey is becoming increasingly
important as a factor in regional policy. Commercial projects such as Baku-Ceyhan
will receive military protection against rebel groups who are expected
to target them as military ventures rather than business deals. Thus states
achieve common enemies.
"Like the Kurdish issue, the Caspian
pipelines through Turkey are an international problem. It seems inevitable
that some elements will see sabotage as a way to raise both international
awareness and the costs of continued neglect. Conversely, Turkey could
use pipeline security to gain international support for tight controls
on the Kurds."
(Michael Lelyveld 22/2/99 Radio
The preferred pipeline route is supposed
to carefully skirt Kurdish strongholds where Turkey has fought to exert
its control. Turkey has already conveniently blamed the PKK for blowing
up an oil line from Iraq near Diyarbakir, a Kurdish centre 400 kilometres
east of Ceyhan. Lelyved (who writes for the Journal of Commerce) asks questions
on the stability the project will bring to the area.
"The danger is that all of the interests
involved will take sides, turning Caspian competition into a conflict that
cannot be stopped. Some alliances have already formed, in part because
of arguments about national security and Caspian oil. The United States,
Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel are aligned in promoting the Baku-Ceyhan
and trans-Caspian routes. How long will it take before countries that are
left out of the pipeline schemes find reasons to support rebel Kurds if
they cause disruptions?"
There exists Russian plans to construct
a gas pipeline to Turkey under the Black Sea with help from Italy's ENI.
Such is the difficulty of the region that an undersea pipeline is seen
as a viable method rather than the land route. The competition between
the U.S. and Russian projects may ultimately depend on which encounters
more difficulty. Kurdish resistance, could reduce the feasibility of both
the US-sponsored oil and gas projects but draw the PKK into the big game.
"So, for the moment, Med-TV is unable
to broadcast, unable to inform its viewers of the results of bombing raids
in Iraq, of the elections in Turkey and the forthcoming trial of the PKK
leader there (who faces a death sentence), of the actions of NATO countries,
many with significant Kurdish refugee communities, in the Balkans
denying Kurds, effectively, a voice."
(Gill Newsham, Index On Censorship
21 May 1999)
"After a hearing on April 9 this
year, Sir Robin Biggam announced that the ITC was revoking the licence
of the Kurdish satellite television station MED-TV for "repeatedly flouting
the regulations on incitement to violence and impartiality by sympathising
with Turkey's Kurdish separatists."
Another company of which Sir Robin
is a director British Aerospace (BAe) is about to start up
licensed production in Turkey of assault rifles and grenade launchers for
the security forces, who are far from impartial or non-violent themselves.
MED had already been fined £90,000 by the ITC. The Turkish 'government'
have been leaning on the UK government for some time to ban the station
the bargaining chips are all those lucrative defence contracts. The
Turkish prime minister took credit for the decision as soon as it was announced.
Sir Robin is maintaining that he was perfectly impartial in the matter.
Other pathetic lies (and also the
government's position) came from the Defence Secretary, George Robinson
who told a BBC News 24 interviewer that Turkey does not use the weapons
that the UK arms companies sell it "on anyone inside or outside the country".
It is wrong now to even talk of UK arms companies a planned merger
between BAe and GEC Marconi reported in Statewatch Vol. 9 no. 2 means that
"for all practical purposes 90 to 95% of all British production is by one
In Turkey the standard charge for
anyone be they Kurdish, Turkish, a writer, journalist or politician
who supports any form of Kurdish expression, is to label them a 'PKK
terrorist'. Our own government are following in their footsteps if indications
with Med are correct.
"We knew, from diplomatic sources,
that Turkey had given a dossier on Med-TV to the then PM, John Major, asking
for it to be closed down. Reports were that America had been approached
in the same way, urged to do whatever was in its power...We knew our opponents
would stop at nothing the experience of working at the station involved
being followed, threatened, beaten up, homes raided, working undercover
(for our newsgathering teams in the Middle East), being excluded from press
conferences, arrested, questioned, detained, and for one of our reporters
in Iraq, murdered."
(Gill Newsham, Index On Censorship
Newsham, who has worked with Med,
states that the station knew that the Foreign Office had expressed 'concerns'
about Med-TV. She couples this with the current climate of the 'information
war' backing up the UK's war with Serbia:
"...when television stations are
bombed without embarrassment, journalists killed and declared as 'legitimate
targets'. Of course, the bombardments are largely controlled by the emperor
of NATO, America, but our own government insists we are fighting a 'moral'
war and have to be seen to be primary motivators behind any actions."
She hopefully points to the future
when the ITC may have its own battle if the Human Rights Act comes into
force, this will give important rights to companies and individuals, including
a right to free expression. It supposedly comes into force in 2001 but,
on the pretext of Home Office 'concerns' that Whitehall and the courts
are not ready to cope with the legislative changes, it will surely be delayed.
The assassination attempt
It is not hard to see why Med was
banned. A report of 12/1/98 outlined an assassination bid against Ocalan.
High ranking Turkish officials principally the then police Chief,
Mehmet Agar were ordered to prepare plans in 1994 by the then Prime
Minister, Tansu Ciller. The plot was part of her attempts to win
the elections of that year.
The Turkish officials are said to
have enlisted the help of the Israeli secret service to train undercover
contra-guerrillas that would be given the task of assassination. Israel
is said to have charged the Turkish government some $10m for the training
program. The report states that camps near Ankara were used which accommodated
some 20 contra-guerrillas. The training program lasted 35 days. The plans
to assassinate Ocalan included the use of seaborne troops along with Israeli
assisted Turkish land troops; however, the plan was cancelled on the orders
of its instigators for reasons not outlined in the report.
Mossad collaboration in the abduction
is not such a hard thing to believe if knowledge and analysis of recent
Turkish history is available.
Recent Attacks in the UK
There has been a concerted effort
to destroy any pro-Kurdish activity in the UK.
Private Eye no. 954 reported on
a Kurdish community centre in North London which was raided by Special
Branch on 20/11 97. They were investigating "alleged terrorism" and took
lists of members, files computers, discs and so on:
"No one has been arrested or even
interviewed. The Kurdish Community Centre is a highly respected charity.
Its main activity is giving advice and teaching English to Kurdish asylum-seekers..."
Private Eye also state that Special
Branch informed the charities board about the raid with a view to poisoning
the centre's funding relationship. The board responded by freezing the
centre's grant of £120,000, effectively disrupting their activities.
A follow up story in Private Eye
No. 962 revealed that after leaving the centre without funds for 11 months,
Special Branch contacted them on 21/10/98 stating that: "Police will not
be bringing any criminal proceedings in connection with this matter." Special
Branch also sent a letter to the charities commissioners questioning the
right of the centre to register as a charity, thus further preventing the
re-instatement of the grant.
A more direct approach was used
on another Kurdish community centre in London. It was fire-bombed.
Human Rights Watch
New York based Human Rights Watch
in a press release of 21/11/98, urged Italy to prosecute Ocalan; a day
after the Court of Appeals in Rome ruled that he was free to stay in Rome.
The day before, for some peculiar reason, Madeleine Albright backed away
from her earlier statements that Ocalan should be extradited to Turkey:
"We don't want extradition...There
are other countries that are concerned in terms of extradition Germany
These were possibly attempts to
distance the US from what was about to happen or to make sure Ocalan stayed
in one place. The villa near Rome where he was living was under heavy police
protection. Albright made those remarks knowing full well that the CIA
had for the moment aborted a plan to abduct Ocalan in Italy. furthermore
she knew that the State Department had and would proceed to harass and
threaten any country who would provide him with any form of shelter or
Human Rights Watch (HRW), a privately
funded operation, has been seriously criticised by independent journalists
and its material laundered uncritically by those connected to government
agencies and/or private business. It is becoming all too useful to US State
Department's foreign policy so much so that it is beginning to look
like either a "bunch of useful idiots" to use a CIA term, or a front.
HRW has also been criticised for
its role in the Kosovo crisis:
"At least in the case of Yugoslavia,
the Helsinki and Human Rights Watch approach differs fundamentally from
that of Amnesty International in that it clearly aims not at calling attention
to specific abuses that might be corrected, not at reforming but at discrediting
the targeted State. By the excessive nature of its accusations, it does
not ally with reformist forces in the targeted country so much as it undermines
them. Its lack of balance, its rejection of any effort at remaining neutral
between conflicting parties, contributes to a disintegrative polarization
rather than to reconciliation and mutual understanding. It therefore contributes,
deliberately or inadvertently, to a deepening cycle of repression and chaos
that eventually may justify, or require, outside intervention.
This is an approach which, like
its partner, economic globalization, breaks down the defences and authority
of weaker States. Rather than helping to enforce democratic institutions
at the national level, it carries the notion of democracy to the largely
abstract level of the "international community", whose sporadic and partial
interest in the region is dictated by Great Power interests, lobbies, media
attention and the institutional ambitions of "non-governmental organizations"
often linked to powerful governments whose competition with
each other for donations provides motivation for exaggeration of the abuses
they specialize in denouncing."
(Diana Johnstone, Seeing Yugoslavia
Through a Dark Glass, Covert Action No. 66)
Kurdish groups have also noticed
the deficiencies and prejudice in HRW pronouncements.
"Mr. Ocalan was taken into custody
on November 12, 1998, in Rome, Italy. Why didn't the HRW issue a press
release urging Italy not to extradite Mr. Ocalan to Turkey in the intervening
nine days? If the Court of Appeals in Rome had ruled to extradite Mr. Ocalan
to Turkey, would the HRW have now "expressed" its regrets for the decision?
Why does the HRW feel the need to
express, "...under International law, the government [Turkey's] abuses
cannot under any circumstances be seen to justify or excuse [killings]
committed by Ocalan's PKK"? Why doesn't it feel the need to note the United
Nation Resolution 3103 which expresses the rights of subject peoples to
fight for self-determination?"
(The American Kurdish Information
Network Press Release #38, 21/11/98)
There is surely something imbalanced
in HRW's methods if the group manages to accuse Ocalan of 786 extra-judicial
killings while, missing in its press releases, are figures for thousands
of murdered Kurdish civilians, the destruction of more than 3 thousand
Kurdish villages, and the refugees whose number now exceeds 3 million generated
by the policies of war undertaken by the Turkish government.
One can see how HRW information
once put into circulation is used by certain journalists. Take Sean Boyne
described as "a freelance author...who specialises in security affairs"
who wrote this for weapons advertiser Jane's Intelligence Review:
"In November 1998 there was a considerable
blow to his reputation when Human Rights Watch, which has been at the forefront
in exposing Turkey's human-rights abuses, urged Italy not to grant him
asylum. The group stated that those believed responsible for crimes against
humanity were ineligible for asylum under international law. The group
called for the prosecution of Ocalan, but backed the decision not to extradite
him to Turkey where there was a 'substantial risk' he would face torture
and possibly the death penalty."
Obeying the Law, Kani Yilmaz and
not obeying the law
Very few publications have devoted
much space to the Kurdish struggle. Generally speaking the majority of
people still know very little about the history or the realities of the
situation. Although their struggle is as significant as that of the African
National Congress in many ways the treatment of Kurds is worse than
that of non-whites in apartheid South Africa in that Turkey seeks the annihilation
of Kurdish existence there has been no support for boycotts against
Turkey in and around parliament. Instead the UK has encouraged all manner
of trade from the Spice Girls to betting shops and of course all those
lucrative arms deals. The UK government is happy with the Turkish state,
and has supported the war against the Kurds, even though they know it is
run by gangsters and is one of the most corrupt regimes in the world. But,
occasionally they do play out little farces.
In mid-August 97 a Kurdish spokesman
was finally extradited to Germany to face charges of organising attacks
on Turkish businesses and properties. Home secretary Jack Straw ignored
campaigners' pleas and upheld the court order for his extradition:
"Yilmaz had spent almost three years
in detention in Belmarsh prison. The decision, following the House of Lords'
rejection of his petition against the extradition, was a slap in the face
to supporters who believed that Straw would carry his opposition convictions
into government; Straw was one of several Labour MPs who protested strongly
when Yilmaz was arrested and detained for deportation on "national security"
grounds on his way to a meeting at Westminster in October 1994. The arrest
caused embarrassment to the Tory government because Yilmaz had been allowed
into the country freely days beforehand; the German government's action
in seeking his extradition was widely seen as too convenient, particularly
since Yilmaz, a refugee from Turkey, had spent much time in Germany, where
he had stayed quite openly, and there was never any attempt to charge him
with criminal offences."
(Statewatch bulletin, July-October
The Home Secretary's record on Kurdish
issues is appalling because the UK's record on Kurdish issues proves
it has contributed to and supported the genocidal war against them by Turkey.
Let us assume that Jack Straw did have convictions and did seek justice
in this area: the treatment of Yilmaz reveals that the Kurdish issue is
beyond the predilections of a single politician, beyond the powers of the
Home Secretary of the UK. As for the law it is applied and ignored when
it suits each state.
This can be clearly seen with the
incidents surrounding Ocalan's non-extradition to Germany legality
was simply overridden by the German State. In November of 98, Ocalan was
detained in Italy because of an outstanding German warrant for his arrest
issued in 1990. The warrant accused Ocalan of involvement in a murder in
The chairman of the Bundestag's
Foreign Affairs Committee, Hans-Ulrich Klose, said on German radio that
Bonn must consider what he called "the possible negative consequences of
an extradition request" as it is permitted to do under Paragraph
153 of the German criminal code. The clause allows Germany not to implement
an extradition request if it considers that doing so could create problems.
So much for the rule of law.
Klose said Bonn feared that bringing
Ocalan to Germany could lead to violence and street fighting between Turks
and Kurds resident in the country. This could have what he described as
further negative consequences. Klose said Germany did not want to import
"the Turkish war." It is happy enough exporting war materials to promote
the Turkish war without inheriting the actual consequences. Bring on the
"Klose emphasized that the decision
is now a political one. German law makes a clear distinction between the
operations of the federal prosecutors department and political necessity.
Article 32 of the Constitution says the foreign ministry alone is responsible
for relations with foreign states. As a number of German commentators have
pointed out this week, this means the Government is not entirely bound
by the law but can also take political considerations into account...According
to this view, the prosecutors acted correctly and without regard to political
issues by issuing the original warrant for Ocalan's arrest in 1990 and
by renewing it recently."
(Roland Eggleston Prague 26/11/98
The final decision on whether to
implement the warrant and ask for Ocalan's extradition to Germany rested
with German politicians. To implement it would have kept Ocalan out of
the clutches of Turkey and that is why the German state did not implement
their warrant. It is also possible that they were told by the US that other
plans were being arranged for Ocalan which would have been more to their
liking. The CIA disruption operation, codenamed Watchful, had been well
underway when Ocalan was in Rome.
Germany is more than happy to deport
any Kurds it has a problem with straight to Turkey. It has turned
a blind eye to their persecution and murder by far-right groups in Germany
since the attacks started. Kurds are granted a sub-human status in the
country with no real legal rights. When protests against Ocalan's abduction
broke out 200 Kurds were arrested in Berlin with a further 1,000 across
Germany. Eberhard Diepgen, the mayor of Berlin, said "the full force of
the law" (Guardian 19/2/99) would be brought to bear on the Kurdish protesters.
The German Chancellor threatened Kurds with deportation if they protested.
No mention of a trial to establish what crimes, if any, have been committed,
just summary deportation. Perhaps they will set up camps...
Italy and beyond
Ocalan stated that he had come to
Italy to open the way to a political settlement. He had travelled to Italy
to help create the political conditions for this. He bound himself to abide
by the laws of the Italy. His statement also read:
"It is inevitable that a civilised
method, politics, should be used to find a solution to the real causes
of war in the region. There can be no humane explanation for genocidal
attacks on cultures and the freedoms of peoples. We must stop this. I am
opposed to all terror, even if it originates from us. I am ready to do
whatever I can so that it will be stopped immediately. In order for this
to happen I wish only that the international community, first and foremost
the UN and EU and human rights and democratic organisations and individuals
move into action."
(Statement by the PKK President
Abdullah Ocalan 16/11/98. Translation from Turkish original By Jim Lobe,
He emphasised that the PKK was seeking
mediators to start a dialogue with Turkey that would resolve the conflict.
Pressure by the US (aided by organisations like HRW) was directed towards
stopping these efforts stopping any peace process.
Ocalan had moved to Russia in October.
He had been in Syria, which because of his presence was under a direct
threat of war from Turkey and an implicit one from Israel. The US made
no real comment on Turkey's attempts to throw the middle east into conflict
over one man. Some reports reveal that the Syrian government received a
strongly worded letter (which should be seen as backing up Turkish military
pressure) from President Bill Clinton:
"...warning Syrian President Hafez
al Assad 'that he is playing with fire in the Ocalan case and asking him
to deport him'. The American effort to corner Ocalan and bar him from finding
asylum or even safe refuge in any country resurfaced at another critical
juncture...as he awaited political asylum in Italy. That is when US Deputy
Secretary of State Strobe Talbott 'called the Italians and pressured them
to boot Ocalan', according to the same [US] National Security Council source.
Such personal diplomacy was combined
with a broader effort of American intelligence services to block Ocalan
from settling or being granted asylum in any country. 'As soon as we had
indications that Ocalan would go to a certain city we immediately activated
our [intelligence] services to avert his settling down there, ' an unnamed
White House official is quoted as saying.
...Both the CIA and Mossad were
responsible for tracking down Ocalan in Russia, after he left Syria. At
that point, Talbott interceded with the Russian government to banish Ocalan
while other 'American officials' pressured Moscow to deport him in return
for 'high-tech military equipment that Turkey gave the Russian armed forces'."
(Socialist Action June 99)
The report (by Alexis Papahelas)
also reveals that Madeleine Albright instructed that Turkey receives a
'continuous flow of information' from US satellites as well as other 'technical
means' and the assistance of US agents on the ground. Top level US NSC
sources have also indicated that:
"The US exercised catalytic pressures
on Kenyan security authorities to turn Ocalan over to the Turks. We knew
all the key people on a personal basis and asked them to help."
The US pressure (coupled with bribery)
put on Russia to ensure that it did not provide a refuge completely bypassed
the democracy that the US makes great show of telling us they are keen
to promote in the former Soviet Union. Prime minister Primakov would not
allow Ocalan to find refuge in Russia despite an overwhelming show of support
from the Duma, which voted 298 to 1 in favour of granting Ocalan asylum.
Ocalan had been based in a suburb of Moscow and had travelled to other
former Soviet Republics.
Travelling to Italy where
there is tremendous popular support for the Kurdish struggle Ocalan
had been hoping that his presence would act as a focus for an international
debate on the conflict in Turkey, that would somehow bring Ankara to the
negotiating table. The PKK has received support from some political parties
and politicians in Western countries in recent years. In the wake of his
enforced move to Europe, Ocalan had clearly been hoping to build on this
support and to translate it into backing from states at a governmental
level. For this he risked his life, but all the world was against him.
Even establishment opinion criticised
both Italian and German behaviour in the Ocalan affair as they tossed back
and forth their pieces of paper:
"Both Italy and Germany have been
strikingly transparent in their desire to off-load the Ocalan problem.
Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
have called for, in the vaguest possible terms, an "international court"
to try the PKK, while creating a diversion with a European initiative aimed
at solving the 'Kurdish question...By throwing the case to an international
court, Italy and Germany have cleverly made Ocalan everybody's problem
and nobody's problem. It is a neat solution that allows both countries
to parry an irritating EU neighbour (Turkey) and maintain the appearance
of seeking 'justice' without alienating those volatile Kurds...Notwithstanding
its undeniable political appeal for German and Italian leaders, [their]
Ocalan solution is deplorable...If it is a new court they wish to create,
by what authority will it derive its jurisdiction and which laws will serve
as a basis for adjudicating? Even using an existing international court,
the danger is obvious: When governments refuse recourse to the domestic
laws of democratic societies....they undermine the rule of law itself."
(The Wall Street Journal 30/11/98)
The US put diplomatic pressure on
Syria, Russia, and the West European states to deny the Kurdish leader
the right of political asylum despite the fact that the right of political
asylum is included in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to which the
United States was an original signatory. The US officials quoted in the
New York Times above, also admitted that Israel had monitored Ocalan's
departure from Damascus, after the Syrians were forced to expel him. In
Greece US pressures were to be ultimately decisive
Eventually the US would finally
admit that it had engineered Ocalan's kidnapping they just couldn't
help boasting with the New York Times (20/2/99) quoting an unnamed
"senior" US official as saying: "We spent a good deal of time working with
Italy and Germany and Turkey to find a creative way to bring him to justice."
"Kenya and the Ivory Coast are two
African countries in which the Mossad has a very large and active presence.
Its officers work there under various covers such as businessmen, academics,
journalists, and advisers and instructors to the local intelligence and
other security agencies, including the airport security and immigration."
(B. Raman Director, Institute for
Topical Studies, Chennai, 19/2/99 SAPRA)
Such is US and Israeli involvement
in Kenya intelligence and security agencies have had close ties at
least since the days of the Entebbe operation in 1977 that Bin Laden's
International Islamic Front For Jihad against the US And Israel seemed
to have chosen Nairobi for its first operation in order to convey a simultaneous
message to the US as well as Israel. In any case after the bombing, a large
contingent of Israeli rescue and salvage experts, including reportedly
many Israeli security experts, had flown to Nairobi to help in the rescue
and salvage work and assist the FBI in its investigation.
Ocalan was a very well-known figure
and his descriptive particulars were known to all counter-terrorism experts.
Even if the Greek intelligence service had not actually phoned them and
told them Ocalan was coming, Israeli experts would have had no difficulty
in detecting the arrival of Ocalan in Nairobi, alerting the Turkish agencies,
keeping a watch on Ocalan till the arrival of the Turkish Special Forces
team and helping them in smuggling a drugged and gagged Ocalan into the
aircraft without going through the airport security and immigration formalities.
Co-operation between the intelligence
and security agencies of Israel and Turkey date back to the visit Tansu
Ciller (then Turkish Prime Minister) to Jerusalem in 1995. She and the
late Yitzhak Rabin (then Israeli Prime Minister) signed an agreement on
co-operation between their respective security agencies in dealing with
terrorism and other threats to their respective national security.
The agreement reportedly provided
for not only exchange of intelligence, but Israeli training for Turkish
counter-terrorism experts and Special Forces and a joint monitoring of
the movements and activities of Islamic extremist and Kurdish elements
in Malta, Cyprus and West Europe. Part of this seems to have included an
assassination attempt on Ocalan. (Med TV 12/1/98)
In a report datelined Jerusalem,
February 18/2/99, the New York Times said:
"In recent years, Israel and Turkey
have forged a high profile strategic alliance that has served as a counter-weight
to mutual perceived threats from Syria and Iran. Israeli pilots have trained
in Turkish air space, the two countries have carried out a joint naval
exercise and Israel has upgraded Turkish fighter planes....There have been
mutual visits by defence and military chiefs from both countries, meetings
between intelligence officials and a military co-operation agreement signed
in 1996. Along with intelligence-sharing, Israel has advised Turkey on
anti-terrorism methods, which the Turks have used in their long war with
Ocalan's separatist Kurdish movement."
Yet, Israeli Governments have avoided
taking a direct and active role in Turkey's war with the Kurds. Probably
because the extermination is so reminiscent of the Nazi experience and
would be difficult to sell at home.
For what it's worth the New York
Times also quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as telling a news conference:
"Israel's activity does not include any role in the struggle against Ocalan
and we did not co-operate with any element in apprehending Ocalan. We always
fight terrorism and we will always fight terrorism, but we certainly had
no part in the capture of Ocalan."
In April 20 this year the editors
and publishers of La Tea, the largest daily newspaper in Greece, faced
criminal charges for printing an essay by George Kostoulas, the Greek ambassador
to Kenya. Kostoulas was with Ocalan before his capture on February 16.
His account of Ocalan's last moments of freedom is, according to the indictment:
"information which the interest of the state required to be kept secret
from foreign governments."
The article conveys the gradual
process of betrayal and bartering over Ocalan by the Greek government,
diplomatic officials and secret service at one point they ask him
for $15 million to fly him to the Seychelles. Those travelling with Ocalan
did everything to protect him in the ambassador's residence where he was
kept, supposedly under Greek protection. Eventually Greek Embassy officials
began to receiving phone calls asking if Ocalan was there as agents pretended
to be Greek then foreign journalists.
Time Magazine has a (somewhat contradictory)
account that attention was drawn to the ambassador's residence by the activities
of Ocalan's followers:
"Holed up at the ambassador's villa,
Ocalan was soon joined by three female followers and a team of lawyers.
The activity raised suspicions and, according to Greek sources, attracted
the attention of FBI agents in Nairobi investigating last year's U.S. embassy
bombing. On Feb. 12 four Greek intelligence agents told Ocalan to "move
out as soon as possible because his whereabouts had been spotted." They
offered to hide him at a local Greek Orthodox church or fly him to another
state. "Ocalan turned down all the options," recounts Kranidiotis, who
was with him in Nairobi, "but the officers tried to physically evict and
drug him. That's when an Ocalan aide flashed a revolver under her throat
and threatened to commit suicide if they dared to move him."
(Thomas Sanction, Time 1/3/99)
It also makes no mention of US attempts
to stop Ocalan obtaining political sanction. Many reports convey a sense
that Ocalan was hidden in Niarobi, then supposedly discovered by Turkish
special forces, then captured.
Every government involved seems
to have a differing account of events. Kenya's foreign minister, said his
government didn't know Ocalan was even in the country and ordered his removal
as soon as it found out. Insisting that Kenyan security personnel would
not have violated the diplomatic immunity of the compound. Other reports
have it that they threatened to raid the residence:
"Mr Ocalan is said to have finally
agreed to leave the compound after Mr Pangalos rang to tell him, the embassy
was about to be stormed by Kenyan security forces."
(Helena Smith, Guardian 19/2/99)
The discrepancy between those two
accounts leaves ample room for a covert operation. Eyewitness accounts
cited by Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper, the Associated Press and Ocalan's
German attorneys suggest that Ocalan was lured or dragged out of the embassy
compound by men who were or were at least believed to be Kenyan
The Guardian report also stated
that a leading officer in Greece's Intelligence Service (EYP), Colonel
Savvas Kalenterides, who had been dispatched to Nairobi, said "Athens had
openly co-operated with the CIA to deliver Mr Ocalan to Turkey." When the
Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos decided to extend "humanitarian
assistance" this was in fact the beginning of the operation. According
to the Guardian when Ocalan was taken to a villa outside Athens subsequent
to transportation to Kenya the head of EYP told him of Mr Simitis'
decision and leaked the news of his whereabouts to the CIA.
"At first Washington wanted Athens
to hand Ocalan straight over to the Turks. When it said it couldn't do
that, the bargaining began and Kenya was chosen as a face-saving solution...They
were so keen to get him out of the mission that it was even suggested that
he be drugged and delivered to the Turks."
Reading between the lines the Guardian
perhaps reveals the bargaining chip:
"Embarrassed as much abroad as he
is at home, the Greek leader is concerned that the affair should not harm
his government's main goal: securing the country's entry into the European
single currency by 2001."
The official statements also fell
back on the over-used excuse when the machinations of government are revealed:
the Greek ministers said the government had "little control over the Greek
In an interview on MED-TV, however,
Ocalan's aide, Semsi Kilinc, said that the
"Kurdish leader was handed over
to the Kenyan police-supposedly at the behest of Greek Foreign Minister
Theodoros Pangalos despite their pleas that he be transported to
the Nairobi airport in a Greek embassy car.
It was a whole police force that
was involved, according to Kilinc, not just the driver of the car transporting
Ocalan. A number of policemen and police cars forcibly separated Ocalan
from his companions.
Ocalan's companions have accused
Pangalos of deliberately shipping him to Nairobi because the Greek minister
knew that the Kenyan government was subservient to the United States and
Israel and because, in the wake of the recent bombing of the U.S. embassy
there, the city was flooded with American intelligence forces.
Pangalos's decision to ship Ocalan
there must have been part of a some kind of deal with Washington."
(Gerry Foley, Socialist Action,
In 1994 the PKK undertook to abide
by the Geneva Convention. The exhibition and humiliation of a prisoner
is against the Geneva Convention which Turkey openly flouted after the
capture of Ocalan. A blindfolded and drugged Ocalan was displayed as a
trophy of war under a giant Turkish flag. They were assisted in this by
most of the British press who published the photographs supplied by Turkey's
secret service. ITN news' graphics department actually put together a montage
of him beside the Turkish flag.
UK Press coverage of the trial
"The Ocalan case especially concerns
the future of Turkey. It is a chance for Turkey that we have to evaluate
properly for the sake of putting an end to the violence resulting from
the Kurdish issue that has caused so much pain to many, and to establish
the superiority of democracy with all its institutions and rules in our
country. It must be noted that Abdullah Ocalan spends an effort to contribute
to a solution to the issue even under conditions of complete solitary confinement
The trial should rather be transformed
into a platform for a democratic and peaceful solution than to be reduced
to an ordinary criminal case determined by an understanding of revenge
and hatred. To analyse the real causes of the conflict and refrain from
the methods applied in it will be only to the benefit of Turkey."
(Press Conference of Ocalan's Lawyers
29 May 99)
British press coverage of the Ocalan
trial perversely dedicated itself to enforcing the Turkish state line as
if paid by them. They seemed keen to hasten his death and portray him as
a cowardly but psychopathic mass murderer.
The Independent of 1/6/99 stated
"turned craven yesterday, begging
for his life before a Turkish Court."
Adding that with
'apparent cowardice...he quickly
shed what dignity the state had allowed him with his statement, "I share
the pain of these families of martyrs."'
The Daily Telegraph of the same
date gratuitously provided an unattributed quote from an "anonymous PKK
sympathiser" speaking by telephone:
"he is a coward and a traitor."
The Financial Times under the banner
headline of "New-look Ocalan pleads for his life" noted that he "did not
fit the image "of the ferocious "baby killer" for whom the Turks have been
prepared for decades."
None of the papers really convey
any interest in thereality of the case. Any discussion of how he got there
is non-existent. Chris Morris a long time Ocalan hater and the Guardian's
man in Ankara had as his headline of 31/5/99 "Unfairness in court
would wreck strong case against Kurd leader." Alongside the article is
the humiliation photograph supplied by the security services the
words are presumably his own:
"The wall poster in this old Anatolian
city speaks louder than a thousand words. It pictures Abdullah Ocalan as
a devil, dripping blood on to a small, defenceless child."
He then tells us what people he
has just bumped into who are from a familiar sounding New York based
Human rights organisation (which happens to be called Human Rights Watch)
wanted him to say, which are the mildest references to the trial imaginable.
Skirting over the fact that one of the judges happens to be a military
one and that the European Court of Human rights has already ruled that
the presence of a military judge prevents a civilian from having a fair
trial, he tells us:
"The authorities are particularly
concerned for the court to be seen as legitimate in the world's eyes because
the case against Mr. Ocalan is so strong."
Yes If only the South Africans
had made a better job of Mandela everything would have been all right.
Having been there I can understand that, based in Ankara, he has to watch
what he says otherwise there may be a knock on his door in the middle of
the night or who knows broad daylight.
The lawyers acknowledge the background
of defamatory news by some parts of the media, attorney Ercan Kanar explained
the motives why the group of lawyers have taken on defending Ocalan:
"The result of the trial would deeply
affect the future destiny of the Turkish and the Kurdish people and the
chances for a social peace in Turkey. The motive of the lawyers was to
promote the basis for a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue, even
if the conditions under which the trial will presumably be held contravene
every legal provision one can think of."
The Financial Times did actually
note that the court trying Ocalan is made up of two civilians and a military
officer "the presence of whom the European Court of Human Rights has ruled
unacceptable." Yet it ignores that one of the Prosecutors of the State
Security Court Ankara has publicly stated that the decisions of the European
Human Rights Court would not bind Turkey. As the lawyers state:
"As long as the detention conditions
of the client, the conditions of the Defence and the conditions of the
trial are being determined by the Crisis Management Center of the Prime
Minister, apparently a military authority, even an amendment to the Regulations
on the State Security Courts to withdraw the military judge from the Court
can not provide the conditions of a fair trial"
The British press ignored the sane
rational statements of the lawyers that:
"The trial should rather be transformed
into a platform for a democratic and peaceful solution than to be reduced
to an ordinary criminal case determined by an understanding of revenge
and hatred. To analyse the real causes of the conflict and refrain from
the methods applied in it will be only to the benefit of Turkey."
The number of press members admitted
was limited and the right to visually follow the hearings was reserved
to the notoriously biased "state monopoly media TRT and Anadolu Agency",
so UK journalists are re-hashing biased material, probably in a bar somewhere
or lounging in their hotels. Does that sound like craven cowardice to you?
In court immediately after the establishment
of his identity, Ocalan declared that the trial against him did not rest
on legal grounds but was a purely political trial. Accordingly, he would
also defend himself only politically. He reiterated that he still meant
what he said on the day he was apprehended by Turkey: "I want to live for
the sake of peace. And for the sake of peace it is important that I stay
alive." Ocalan protested against the breaches of international safeguards
on part of Russia, Greece, Kenya and partially Italy who played a role
in his illegal abduction.
Alone on these grounds the lawfulness
of the trial was not given, he said. Thus, also his defence was of no legal
value. But his urge to contribute to a solution to the conflict on the
basis of a democratic republic was the reason why he had to stay alive.
Addressing the relatives of Turkish soldiers who lost their lives in the
war, Ocalan said that he deeply shared the pains they felt in their hearts.
He apologised to them for that part of their grievances that he was responsible
for and repeated that he on his part was ready to get together and stop
This is his statement which was
TO THE ATTENTION OF THE TURKISH
AND WORLD PUBLIC:
THIS IS MY STATEMENT ON CURRENT
1. The unilateral cease-fire declared
[by the PKK] on September 1, 1998 should be continued unabated in all arenas,
with full responsibility.
2. On the basis of any [Turkish]
State initiative, primarily in the form of a general amnesty and other
measures that might bring peace, [the PKK will] suspend the armed conflict
3. Despite some deviations that
set in with the 1990's, if it creates some trust, gives some guaranty,
the democratic republican system which has also opened up to freedom of
expression for the Kurds, should be considered the framework within which
peaceful solutions to all problems sought.
4. If this materialises, the PKK
should prepare itself to become a legal, political party.
5. At the minimum, until the attitude
of the state and the new parliament and government becomes clear, adopt
a vigorous and decisive line of political action under the motto of social
peace, general amnesty and brotherhood of people.
6. All international peace and human
rights organisations, governments and parliaments should support the initiative
based on these principles.
7. If an initiative of this sort
is undertaken [by Turkey], the UN, the European Union, and European Council
and the OSCE should also participate in the process as observers.
8. I would like to inform all concerned
circles in Turkey, such as the public and the private institutions, political
parties, the media, and all of the non-governmental organisations that,
this is how I basically see the question. And, I would like to remind all
that it is vitally important for our country and the democratic system
to fully participate in this process.
Greetings to all and I wish success
in your work for peace with freedom.
April 4 1999, Abdullah Ocalan, Imrali
The Mockery of Justice
"The accused, after nearly 90 days
imprisonment in conditions which themselves constitute an infringement
of Turkish law was still denied confidential access to counsel. Of
the eighty or so Turkish lawyers who had put themselves forward to defend
him, the key protagonists had become so public a focus of nationalist wrath
that they were virtually in the same boat as their client hapless
scapegoats of a well-oiled political agenda. Lynch mobs greeted their every
arrival and departure to and from the prison island of Imrali with attacks,
insults and threats of death. The police stood back and allowed them to
be beaten. The death threats continued in their homes and workplaces. Vicious
phone-calls, abusive and violent letters."
(Mockery Of Justice, Sheri Laizer
It was after the monumental abuses
of national and international law; after bribery and corruption at the
highest levels that Ocalan was put in solitary confinement and then put
on show-trial. Articles such as Laizer's who worked for the Kurdish
Centre shut down by UK Special branch would have been circulated
to the British press. They more or less ignored them. They also seem to
have ignored any potential British involvement in any aspect of the capture
There seems no curiosity that a
British citizen was part of Ocalan's group despite the source of
"The Government has established
that the Mr. Ocalan arrived in the Country from Milan, Italy. According
to the Greek Ambassador Nationals from the following Countries accompanied
Mr. Ocalan: Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Greece."
(Press Statement Of Kenyan Government
On The Entry Into The Country By Abdullah Ocalan, provided by Republic
of Turkey Ministry of Foreign affairs)
The UK government are heavily involved
in the PUK/KDP cut up of northern Iraq. Two British diplomats attended
the Washington meeting of both factions of 17/6/99. Despite the fact that
Ocalan's abduction ran concurrent with these moves they have also been
ignored, yet they can be seen as facilitating or at least being linked
to them. It may exist, but I know of no official UK government statement
on the trial either for or against.
The European Court in the Hauge
can whip up charges that Milosovich is a war criminal seemingly to order
but they don't seem to notice kangaroo courts in Turkey when speed
is of the essence.
"In answers made to lawyer's questions
about aspects of his health, Ocalan replied that he was losing his memory,
that he could no longer control his feelings, and that he was suffering
from weakness, dizziness and palpitations of the heart previously unknown
to him. In fact, he had not even been able to get out of bed to see them
the day before. He said he felt as if he might fall over at any moment.
The interrogation by highly-trained intelligence operatives, the strange
monitoring by special doctors and psychiatrists who make no public disclosures
about his situation seem to carry on behind closed doors unabated."
(Mockery Of Justice, Sheri Laizer)
The trial was as much a parade of
depravity as if we had returned to the days of the Soviet show trials or
the Volksgericht of Nazi Germany. Every conceivable obstacle was put in
the path of the defence, the prosecution flaunted procedure at every step
of the way. In addition dubious statements attributed to Ocalan were placed
in the media that his lawyers had no prior knowledge of. Ocalan's lawyers
confirmed with Lazier that:
" ...not a single written request
sent by Ocalan's lawyers to the prosecution requesting their cooperation,
inviting a response to questions, or asking for copies of documents etc.
had even been answered. Rather, developments had become known to them afterwards
through the media."
Ocalan had recognised that just
as prior to his capture, the sole hope of justice being done for the Kurdish
cause as much as for himself, lay in initiatives to internationalise debate
on the political basis of the case. As we have seen, perversely, international
forces were arrayed against him to prevent this very basis. The Turkish
state was trying him as a common criminal with the process of criminalisation
extending to the lawyers. This was broadly supported in the western press.
Propaganda always follows in 'low-intensity conflicts' and can be seen
as part of the tactics used to attack the Kurdish struggle by the US and
The US Information Agency pumps
out pre-digested summaries of 'world opinion' as part of its propaganda
operations in the hope that these will be reproduced a helping hand
for journalists. In their, obviously highly selective, survey based on
61 reports from 28 countries (February 18 23), analysis critical
of the US is rendered meagre:
"Papers in Italy, Croatia, Malta,
Egypt, Jordan, China, South Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and
Argentina found common cause with Rome's centrist Il Messaggero, which
stressed, "Ocalan's head was provided in order to guarantee Turkey's loyalty
toward Clinton's policy...against Saddam.""
(US Information Agency Office of
Public Liaison 23/2/99)
The vast majority of mainstream reporting
I have seen downplayed or omitted CIA/Mossad involvement in the lead up
or aftermath of the 'judicial process.' As regards the trial one could
hardly paint a blacker picture of the easily led, biddable, cynical apathy
and ignorance of our news media. As Sheri Laizer has it:
"For so long as Turkey and its Allies
managed to criminalize the figure of Ocalan, the underlying political facts
were conveniently obscured. Since the Kosovo Crisis had diverted world
attention from the headlines the Kurds had seized after suffering the shock
of Ocalan's capture resulting in the occupation of Greek Embassies, self-immolations,
hungerstrikes to the death in Turkish prisons and the spectacle of ordinary
people being lynched in the streets of western Turkey, not even the daily
bombings ensuing in Turkey had grabbed a headline. No reporting of substance
appeared concerning the atrocious conditions to which Abdullah Ocalan has
been subjected, nor of the jeopardy in which his lawyers lived as they
struggled to win a "fair hearing". In fact, the Western media had apparently
been struck dumb at the very moment when their response was read by the
Turkish state as a blessing to continue the psychological torture of Abdullah
Ocalan and the brutal suppression of the Kurdish people."
The lawyers produced press releases
concerning what they believed to be "Obstacles Facing a Fair Trial" which
"1. The investigation is not being
conducted by any legal mechanisms. The investigation is conducted by the
so called Crisis Desk, which is attached to General Secretariat of the
Chief of Staff.
2. It is impossible to have any
connection with Imrali, where Ocalan is held, other than through Mudanya.
I t is almost impossible both for the family members and lawyers to make
any contact with Abdullah Ocalan during his imprisonment [ in Imrali].
3. Under the [Turkish] law, Imrali
island should be attached to the Justice Ministry and Prosecution Offices
of the SSC. However at the moment the island is run under the control of
the Crisis Desk which is attached to the Chief of Staff.
4. The duration of the interrogation
must be 7 days. However Ocalan is still being interrogated and his life
is in danger. He could be killed at any time and/or they could claim that
he had committed suicide.
5. The lawyers' lives are in danger.
The lawyers are made targets. Under these circumstances it is impossible
to talk about the right to defence.
6. The [Turkish] media, government,
President all speak in a manner as if Ocalan was already convicted and
views such as [that] he should receive capital punishment and executed,
are being publicly expressed. All these create pressure mechanisms both
on the court and public opinion."
And, when they could proceed no
further and survive, the lawyers put out this:
"The defence lawyers of Abdullah
Ocalan and his relatives have decided to leave for Istanbul after having
been confronted with repeated harassment and attacks. Due to the sustained
pressure by the police that originally was meant to protect the lawyers,
the hotel owner of the Omur Hotel in Bursa has cancelled the contract with
the defence team and the family of Mr. Ocalan.
Due to the hostile atmosphere and
the pressure of the security forces, no other hotel was available for the
lawyers in the area. Facing attacks from a nationalist inspired crowd outside
their hotels under the eyes of the police, the attorneys and the family
members of Mr. Ocalan were forced to leave Bursa in a hurry.
They said that they would not participate
in tomorrow's sessions and demanded that the state ensures their security
so that they could participate again in later sessions."
Old cold warriors
While the Ocalan drama was unfolding
the Guardian (2/3/99) published an article by "Cold War Veteran" John le
Carre. In part just the rantings of an old flake:
"I do believe that from 1945 until
the death of Stalin, Communism was unappeasable, and you couldn't educate
It is also an indication of the
ideology of the intelligence services and the Foreign Office.
Le Carre wanted to oppose communism
(which he confuses with the Soviet Union) and writes: "that might be through
dividing it against itself by trying to find cracks in the monolith
and so on." Only five paragraphs before he had stated: "As long as the
former Soviet Union was a monolith it was much easier to spy upon than
when it is fragmented. We now face 30, 000 nuclear warheads in the Ukraine.
Chechnia is screaming for independence and it is a potential terror problem."
It is as hard to prove the contradictions in his argument as it is to compare
paragraphs sitting opposite each other.
In his wanderings at the end we
glimpse the moral vagueness of his class:
"It seems to me that we didn't have
any contingency plan for peace in propagating what we thought was
democracy we refined and developed spin and the lie to the point where
we live with it like a curse. There is no example, no longer any standard
The old gods are no use anymore:
"The Reagan Thatcher alliance
and Thatcherite politics and economics licensed greed and reduced the nobility
of man in the Western democratic world as a concept."
As one look at Tony Blair will tell
us. Although his analysis is useless we can read some into it in retrospect:
"We always had an excuse for not
stopping beside the casualties, not caring for the losers."
The big point of the article was
to promote the intelligence services, and for that you need threats. 'terrorists'
being the easiest type of threat to generate:
"In the future I think the great
burden of intelligence work will be counter-terrorist, from wherever the
terrorist threat comes. It will be concerned with international crime on
a grand scale. Many threats will come from landless people potentially
the Kurds, fromerly the Palestinians."
While its front page condemned racism
as part of its reporting on the Steven Lawrence murder, the le Carre article
seemed to celebrate it.
The US state and the Brittish perceive
the PKK in this decrepit cold war perspective i.e. it is categorised as
a Marxist Leninist organisation with an anti-US orientation whose existence
is contrary to the interests of the US state and its clients in the region.
This is not the case. Ocalan has
gone on the record in several occasions describing it thus:
"The international press and media
have been manufacturing unfair and grossly distorted views about our party.
The USA plays a significant role in promoting these negative views. The
chief of the CIA has referred to our party as a foremost international
terrorist organization. Such a portrayal of the PKK obviously does not
rely on facts but on deliberate distortions. The PKK has no other role
but to promote the demands of the Kurds for their own national identity
and national rights, as they today face genocide. How can our resistance
against this genocide be mistaken for terrorism? The chief of the CIA should
understand that we are the victims of terrorism. The Republic of Turkey
is a well known perpetrator of genocide and of the destruction of cultures."
As for the question of separatism,
we do not insist on a separate state, on the contrary, we defend a form
of government that respects our people's distinct cultural, social, political,
and economic rights. These rights can be realized under one state just
as they would be under two states. It is inappropriate in today's political
reality to conceive of forms of government as either unitary or separatist.
We live in an age within which distinct political and social groups come
together to form federal states. Belgium is a federal state composed of
two distinct national groups. Spain is also an example, and I should also
mention the Russian Federation.
...Evidently under the influence
of socialism of Stalin and the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler, Mustafa
Kemal developed the Turkish style unitary state. You certainly know that
the Turkish state is not democratic. There is no cultural freedom for non-Turkish
groups. Turkish democracy is a sham, and it is in reality under the control
of the military junta. The Turkish government not only disregards the human
rights of the Kurdish people but it also oppresses its own Turkish people.
The PKK struggles for democracy against such an anti-democratic government.
To refer to our struggle as separatist is to ignore reality. The Kemalist
regime has reached a point where either it will survive by reforming itself
or it will destroy itself by becoming trapped in the narrow structure of
a unitary state.
We have often stated that we are
ready to participate in any political process that the Turkish government
will undertake to make democratic reforms. We hereby explicitly state that
we do not insist on a separate state of our own. Should the Turkish side
be open for dialogue, we can reach solutions based on the equality and
liberty of both peoples within the existing borders. It is nonsense to
see our demands as separatist in intention. We want a Spanish or American
style of federalism.
Question: What response have you
received from the Turkish government to your calls for negotiation?
Ocalan: Unfortunately, our opponents
pretend not to hear our calls. It seems as if we were talking to a wall.
I think that there is no other regime in the world which is so inflexible.
The Turkish state has never recognized the existence of other peoples or
distinct ethnic groups within its territory. It waged wars on those ethnic
groups who demanded the same rights as the Turks themselves and, as in
the case of the Armenian extermination, served the Turkish goal of maintaining
a unitary state. Now the Turkish regime seems to be deaf to any proposals
made by us for civilized and democratic solutions to the conflict between
us. Indeed, the Turkish government is more resolved than ever to solve
the Kurdish question by bloodshed. The Turkish government has no tolerance
for the Kurdish question. It has brutally repressed all Kurdish uprisings
in the past. Turkish President Demirel has boasted of crushing the twenty-ninth
uprising. During his visit to Chile, Demirel vehemently denied the existence
of a Kurdish question in Turkey.
The Turkish authorities continue
to ignore any just solution to this conflict due to the mixed signals and
encouragements they receive from NATO countries. All our reform proposals
have been turned down by the Turkish government. It rejects formal or informal
dialogue even with non-armed Kurdish political organizations.
(David Korn, translated by AKIN
The cold warriors in the CIA and
MI6 have read what Ocalan has to say and have looked at the pitiful record
of the PUK and KDP and asked themselves 'who will make the most stable
power in the region'. They have come to the conclusion that the PKK must
be removed from the equation. The answer would be the PKK if the small
faction at the head of the Turkish state were out of the equation. The
alliances being forged between the US and the UK and the PUK and KDP will
not stand up to any analysis in the light of day this is why they
The Turkish state, the NSC, also
maintains a cold war mentality. At best the government (the NSC) has offered
the country a society dominated by Big Brother as some defence against
imaginary enemies and although the war against the Kurds could be
seen as a race war it is also a political war. The Turkish state persecutes
the Kurds for political and financial reasons, and all of Turkey suffers.
The situation in south east Turkey
is similar to the worst atrocities of the American war in Vietnam
the 'counter-insurgency' tactics are the same. Troops in the field in Vietnam
(Turkey has relied on a conscript army) could not distinguish between 'villagers'
and 'guerrillas' so it became policy not to do so. The US tried ruthless
moves such as Operation Phoenix a major program for the murder of
civilians "possibly linked to or supporting the enemy" in Vietnam between
1967-1971. It was headed by William Colby, it resulted in the deaths of
between 25 to 40, 000 people and Colby subsequently was promoted to head
of the CIA.
The military tactic established
for dealing with 'counter-insurgency' by the British and American military
can be summed up by the phrase "if you cannot catch the fish in the water
you take away the water." Meaning you destroy the population. This extends
into destroying those who aid the enemy journalists, academics, politicians
and so forth, this has the added bonus that the group you oppose can never
build a successful social infrastructure.
"In country after country over the
past half-century, the United States has organised governments run by scoundrels
who would do the necessary dirty work. The list is impressive: the old
Chiang-Kai-Shek clique, the rapacious and former collaborationist military
leaders of Thailand, Argentine and Chilean Generals, the Shah of Iran,
the Indonesian generals, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Stroessner
in Paraguay, the Guatemalan generals, Mobutu in Zaire. Our favourite collaborationists
tend to be crooks as well as murderers, and because of the corruption endemic
in these US sponsored governments that have been called "shakedown
(Edward Herman, Beyond Hypocrisy)
We can add another one to that list:
back to top
The Wilson plots
The 'Wilson plots' is a portmanteau
term for a collection of fragments of knowledge about intelligence operations
against the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and a great many other
people and organisations. 'The Wilson plots' are about a good deal more
than Harold Wilson and his governments.
The British state --and the secret
state --had never trusted the British left and had always worked to undermine
it. The Attlee government came out of the war-time coalition and was considered
mostly safe and reliable by the state: and by safe and reliable I mean
it did not seek to challenge either the power of the state nor the assumptions
about the importance of finance capital, the British empire and Britain's
role as world power which underpinned it.
Harold Wilson, a most conservative
man, made one large mistake while a young man as far as the state was concerned:
he was not sufficiently anti-Soviet. During the 1940s and 50s, while many
of his Labour colleagues were accepting freebies from the Americans and
going to the United States for nice holidays, Wilson was travelling east
fixing trade deals with the Soviet Union. He was perceived by the secret
state --by some sections of the secret state, notably but not exclusively,
sections of MI5 --to be someone who, in the words of the General Sir Walter
Walker, 'digs with the wrong foot'.
In short,Wilson was perceived by
some to be a dangerous lefty and his arrival as leader of the Labour Party
was thought by some of the professionally paranoid Cold Warriors in the
British and American secret states to be deeply suspicious. Wilson had
been to the Soviet Union many times: was he a KGB agent, they wondered?
Had he been entrapped and blackmailed?
Asking that question was enough
for MI5 to begin obsessively investigating Wilson and his colleagues and
friends. Nothing was found. But to the professional paranoids, nothing
found simply suggested it was better hidden than they first thought. And
so they carried on. Meanwhile, the left in Britain was on the rise: trade
unions got more powerful. The professional paranoids, noting the influence
of the Communist Party of Great Britain in some trade unions, began to
see the shift left-wards in the UK in the sixties and early 1970s as somehow
under Soviet control. In 1974 Conservative Prime Minister Heath had his
fateful show-down with the miners union --and lost --and the Tory right and
their friends in the secret state began a series of operations to prevent
what they believed --or pretended to believe --was an imminent left revolution
in Britain. Some of these operations were done by the secret state; some
by people close to but not in the secret state. Bits of the CIA also shared
this view and got involved. The South African intelligence service (BOSS)
was running parallel operations against Labour and Liberal politicians
it perceived as South Africa's enemies, notably the Liberal leader Jeremy
Thorpe and the then leader of the Young Liberals, now the Labour MP, Peter
Hain. It is worth noting here that similar operations were being run in
this period against mild, reformist, leftish parties in New Zealand, Australia,
Germany, in Canada against the Quebec separatists, and, most famously,
This extraordinarily complex period
of British history saw covert operations of one sort or another involving
serving or former personnel from MI5, MI6, the CIA, Ministry of Defence
and the Information Research Department, plus assets in the media and the
trade unions, plus allies in the Conservative Party and the City. That
it tends to get summarised as 'MI5 plots against Wilson' is due to the
way the information about these areas emerged in 1986-88, through former
Army Information Officer, Colin Wallace, and the former MI5 officer, Peter
Wright. They both talked about MI5 as the source of plotting against Wilson
(though Wallace's allegations were much wider than that) and for much of
the left-liberal media and politicians in this country this fitted straight
into their vague understanding of the intelligence services and British
domestic history which told them that the bad guys were MI5. By the time
we had educated ourselves sufficiently to understand what Wallace and Wright
were saying, the perception --the false perception --that the story was just
MI5 plotting against the Labour government had been established.
The Pencourt Investigation
It is largely now forgotten that
the first attempt to get 'the Wilson plots' story going was made by Wilson
Wilson was aware of the various
attempts to get the media to run smear stories about him and his circle,
and aware of the stream of burglaries afflicting himself, his personal
staff and other Labour Party figures in the 1974-76 period. But he chose
to do nothing in public while he was in office. In private he tried to
get the Cabinet Secretary, Sir John Hunt, to do something, though quite
what Hunt did is still unknown.
It seems clear now that Wilson did
nothing publicly for four reasons. The first was that he didn't have anything
substantial to goon --merely suspicions and a lot of little whispy bits
and pieces of rumours and tip-offs. The second reason for his inaction
was his distrust of MI5. Had Wilson instructed Whitehall to do an inquiry,
it would have turned to MI5; and it was MI5 that Wilson and his personal
secretary, Marcia Williams, suspected of being at the root of their troubles.
The third reason Wilson did nothing while in office was his knowledge in
1974 when he won the election, that he would only serve two more years
and quit. Wilson, we now know, was afraid of Alzheimers' disease: it had
afflicted his father and he told his inner circle in 1974 that he was going
to resign in 1976 when he was 60. In 1975/6 ensuring a smooth hand-over
of power to his successor --and Labour was a minority government, don't
forget --was a much greater priority than finding out who was behind the
burglaries of his offices and the rumours about him. Wilson was a loyal
member of the Labour Party to whom he owed everything. He didn't want to
make bad publicity for the party --and his successor. And the fourth reason
Wilson did nothing was his memory of the previous time he had tried. In
his first term in office, encouraged by George Wigg MP, he had tried taking
on the Whitehall security establishment in the so-called D-notice Affair
--and had got his fingers badly burned.
As far as we know Wilson had very
little real, concrete information about what was going on in 1976 when
he retired. He knew that he and his circle were being repeatedly burgled.
He had watched the campaign being run against Jeremy Thorpe, the leader
of the Liberal Party, by BOSS, and that is why he made his first public
remarks not about MI5, the objects of his real suspicions, but about BOSS.
But those comments produced all the negative reactions he feared --not surprisingly,
since he had almost no evidence --and he let it drop until he resigned.
He then waited a couple of months
and contacted two journalists, Barry Penrose and Roger Courtiour (who became
mockingly titled 'Pencourt') gave them the little he had and hoped for
the best. But without any decent leads into the MI5 material, Pencourt
stumbled --or were led: it isn't clear which --into the story being run by
BOSS of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and his brief affair with Norman Scott
--not the story of MI5's campaign against Wilson. There was a brief flurry
of interest by the media, notably by the Observer which had paid a lot
of money for the serialisation rights to the Pencourt book, but nothing
happened and the story disappeared. Wilson tried to get his successor James
Callaghan to do something but Callaghan declined.
The story disappeared for two reasons.
The only journalists or politicians in the late 1970s who knew anything
about the secret state were currently or formerly employed by the secret
state or were mouthpieces for it. There was no investigative journalism
in 1978 in the UK worth mentioning; there were no former British intelligence
officers to show journalists the way; there were no whistle-blowers, no
renegades. There were no courses being taught in universities. There were
almost no books to read. In 1978 the British secret state was, really was,
After the failure of the Pencourt
investigation nothing happened for five years. Harold Wilson became a Lord,
presided over a long inquiry into the City of London which was consigned
to the recycle bin as soon as it was published, and duly developed Alzheimers'
as he suspected he would. His personal assistant for 30 years, Marcia Williams,
became Lady Faulkender and has said nothing of consequence since. Barry
Penrose and Roger Courtiour made a lot of money. Penrose was last seen
working for the Express, telling lies for the British state about Northern
Ireland. Courtiour is in the BBC somewhere.
Colin Wallace & Peter Wright
By 1979 the extraordinary events
of the 1974-76 period --events which included The Times seriously discussing
the right conditions for a military coup in the UK, and a considerable
chunk of the British establishment wondering if the Prime Minister was
a KGB agent --had just slipped by, unexamined. In came Mrs Thatcher with
her GCSE understanding of economics and proceeded to wreck the British
economy, creating 2 million unemployed in 18 months, and the entire story
--or group of stories we know as the Wilson plots --simply ceased to be of
interest to all but a handful of people.
One of that handful was Colin Wallace,
who in 1980 began a ten year sentence for a manslaughter he didn't commit.
Wallace was interested in the Wilson plots story because he had not only
been a minor participant in the plots, and had knowledge of other areas
of secret activities, he knew he was in prison to stop him talking about
them. The other interested party was the former MI5 officer, Peter Wright.
He had also been a participant in the plots and had also been maltreated
by his erstwhile employers in the secret state. Not framed and imprisoned
like Wallace, but denied a decent pension on a technicality after a lifetime's
service to the state.
Here is one of the outstanding lessons
of this episode. The British secret state is an astonishingly inept employer
of people. None of those who became well known whistle blowers in the 1980s
and 90s, Wright and Wallace, John Stalker, Captain Fred Holroyd, Cathy
Massiter, David Shayler and Richard Tomlinson wanted to be whistle-blowers.
They were converted into whistle-blowers by the stupidity of their employers
in the state. Wallace, Holroyd and Wright, for example, were loyal Queen
and Country men to a fault, right-wingers through and through. Unfortunately,
our secret state has only one response to internal dissent or the possibility
of public revelation of its own errors: smash, crush, smear, destroy, frame,
cover-up and lie. The secret state perceives itself to be defending the
national interest and in the national interest anything is permitted.
In prison in the 1980s Colin Wallace
began writing letters about his wrongful conviction and accounts of his
experiences working for the British Army's psychological warfare operation
in Northern Ireland. In that capacity he had witnessed some of MI5's attempts
to smear Wilson and other politicians as communists, drug-takers, homosexuals
etc. The major media took no notice. Duncan Campbell at the New Statesman,
did take notice but had an enormous amount on his agenda and did nothing.
So Wallace ended up working with me instead.
Despite Wallace's allegations made
while in prison and published by me in Lobster and distributed all over
the British media in the months preceding his release from prison, the
media took almost no notice. They only sat up and paid attention when the
first rumours about a book being published in Australia by a former MI5
officer called Peter Wright began circulating in the UK. One nut-case talking
about the Wilson plots could be ignored; two, apparently, could not.
We now know, from a senior civil
servant called Clive Ponting --another whistle-blower in the 1980s --that
in the months before Wallace's release from prison, the Ministry of Defence
set up a committee, with MI5, to deal with him. It is worth noting here
that this committee did not simply order his murder. Outside Northern Ireland
our secret state seems to kill people very rarely. But it is also worth
noting that the committee was was set up to pervert the course of justice.
Precisely what this committee did is not known, but its general remit was
to discredit Wallace and so discredit his allegations. Two of its operations
were detected and they show what can be done with unaccountable power.
By mid 1987 despite the huge amount
of space devoted to the allegations filtered back from Australia from the
Peter Wright book, Spycatcher, there were only three groups of journalists
actually trying to research the complex tales Wallace told: Channel Four
News, where I was briefly; David Leigh and Paul Lashmar at the Observer;and,
a bit later, Paul Foot at the Mirror. Other journalists dropped in and
out, did odd stories, but only those three groups were seriously at it.
We all had the same basic problem: Wallace had been described as a 'Walter
Mitty' by Ministry of Defence briefings during his trial in 1980 and the
Ministry of Defence was simply denying that Wallace had the job he said
he did in Northern Ireland. Wallace claimed to have had access to secret
intelligence material in his capacity as a psy-ops officer for the British
Army. Since the psyops/ war unit was officially deniable, i.e. officially
didn't exist, the MOD line was that Wallace was simply a press officer
--his official, public role --and the rest was fantasies. We were trying
to establish the veracity not only of his claims about events but also
his claims about his own CV.
The jumping log book
Wallace was a sky-diving enthusiast
and eventually the Army in Northern Ireland began including sky-diving
in its psychological operations. Wallace formed a free-fall team which
did displays all over Northern Ireland and was used to try to create positive
feelings about the Army --basic hearts and minds stuff. Wallace's speciality
was descending dressed as Santa Claus and giving out presents to kids.
Sky-diving in this country is very tightly controlled: every jump is recorded
by the British Parachuting Association. As you do more jumps you get differing
kinds of licenses: beginners, intermediate, advanced. Wallace had an advanced,
'D' license --or so he said.
In the summer of 1987 rumours began
spreading through this little group of journalists that Wallace's claims
to have been a sky-diver were a fake. He was a fantasist, a Walter Mitty.
These rumours arrived at Channel Four News via an old colleague of Wallace's
who knew an ITN journalist. The rumours seemed inexplicable at first: we
had lots of pictures of Wallace sky-diving with and without his Santa Claus
outfit. But when I finally rang the British Parachuting Association to
check their file on Wallace I found they had no record of him. Eventually
Paul Foot, also working on the story, discovered that a duplicate set of
records were held by the international parachuting body and Wallace's records
were there, confirming that he was what he said he was --as far as sky-diving
went, anyway. Undaunted by this, a journalist now with the BBC called John
Ware, still ran the 'Wallace-is-a-fake' parachuting story some months later
in a double page spread in the Independent smearing Wallace and Fred Holroyd.
The point here is, we can now work
out some of what this MOD-MI5 operation against Wallace consisted of. First,
they picked one area of Wallace's CV, his parachuting, and set out to discredit
him with it. If they could show he was lying here, they believed, journalists
would not believe his other claims. They burgled his house and stole his
jumping log book; they burgled the British Parachuting Association and
removed his file, substituting a fake file for the one with his number
on it. Then they began spreading the word through their press contacts
that Wallace was a fraud, knowing that Wallace didn't have his jumping
log and knowing that --eventually --some journalist would ring the British
Parachuting Association and ask about his record. Finding nothing, because
his file had been removed, such a journalist would consider the allegation
that he was a fantasist proven and would thus dismiss him as the 'Walter
Mitty' figure described at his trial. This operation was certainly run
at Channel Four News and John Ware, then working for the BBC. In effect,
the MOD tried to convert Wallace into the 'Walter Mitty' they said he was.
Unfortunately for the MOD, Paul Foot was a better journalist than that
and found the duplicate set. Without Foot we would have been struggling
to rebut the Wallace-is-a fantasist line. Another disinformation project
about Wallace was fed through Professor Paul Wilkinson, then at Aberdeen
University. A former RAF officer, Wilkinson was ITN's official consultant
on terrorism. Somebody in the MOD or MI5 fed him some material about Wallace
which accused him of trying to get a man in Northern Ireland killed so
he --Wallace --could have the man's wife. This smear story had been created
just before Wallace left Northern Ireland --presumably in case they ever
needed to get at Wallace. Wilkinson wrote a letter, passing this derogatory
material on to ITN. Fortunately, by this point,Channel Four News' management
were pretty sure Wallace was telling the truth and showed us journalists
Wilkinson's letter. The allegations it contained were refutable, and Wallace
wrote to the University authorities. Wilkinson was reprimanded and apologised
and lost his job as ITN's consultant on terrorism.
The point here is this: Wallace
had already been framed for manslaughter and convicted in a rigged trial.
Having failed to shut Wallace up with six years of imprisonment, the secret
state then set about discrediting him. If you could get to the people on
the MOD/MI5 committee which planned this and asked them why they were doing
it, they would simply say, it was in the national interest to prevent Wallace
talking. In the minds of the secret state the national interest --as defined
by them --overrides the competing claims of justice and democracy.
Politicians and the Secret State
I offer these anecdotes by way of
introduction to some comments on the relationship between the media, politicians
and what we might call historical truth. Many people vaguely assume, as
I did at the beginning of the Wallace affair, that politicians and journalists
are concerned with 'the truth'. This simply isn't the case.
Most journalists --at least 99% of
those I have met --are interested first in their careers, and aims subsidiary
to that, such as getting a story or doing better than their rivals, or
having a good time or padding their expenses. Journalist are just people
doing a job. They have mortgages and families to support; and theirs is
now a very insecure business. All the unions in the media were smashed
in the past 15 years. Contracts are short. You can be fired on the spot.
Politicians, most of them, are simply
interested in power or aims subsidiary to that, such as getting reselected,
getting re-elected; pleasing the whips to get promotion; or simply getting
press coverage. The pursuit of the truth is not on the agenda of most politicians;
the pursuit of the truth, when it means going against prevailing media
opinion, or the wishes of their party's leaders, or the wishes of the state,
is on the agenda of a handful. This is particularly true of stories in
the field of intelligence and security policy. Nothing makes MPs more nervous
than security and intelligence issues.
In the first place, if they've got
half a brain, MPs simply won't go near subjects about which they are ignorant
--which is sensible enough. And to my knowledge other than those who have
worked for, or have been close to, the security and intelligence services,
there are no MPs who have a decent knowledge of this field. Not even Tam
Dalyell. In the second place, MPs all have a healthy respect for the damage
to careers tangling with the spooks can inflict. You might think that MPs
then have a massive vested interested in bringing the security and intelligence
services under their control. But this hasn't happened yet and, in my view,
short of some massive,earth-shaking scandal, never will.
In the House of Commons in 1987
we got some help from Ken Livingstone, Tam Dalyell and Dale Campbell-Savours.
These days Dalyell is still at it, as is Norman Baker a Lib-Dem MP, a new
member of the so-called awkward squad. Livingstone has moved onto other
areas and Campbell-Savours has become a Blair loyalist.
The British political and media
systems are not equipped to deal with major issues concerning the behaviour
of the secret state.
In the political arena the Intelligence
and Security Committee setup under the Tories is a joke, without investigative
powers. But it is a joke useful to the secret state. When the House of
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee was conducting hearings into the Sierra
Leone affair last year it asked for an interview with the head of MI6.
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook denied them access on the grounds that that
the security and Intelligence Committee was the appropriate forum for such
questions. MPs are still unable to ask questions about the Security and
Intelligence services: the House of Commons Clerks simply will not accept
them. The secret state is still, officially, not accountable to Parliament.
At its heart, the Wilson plots story
was the attempt by a handful of people to persuade the major print and
broadcast media and parliament that their view of the British political
universe was false. I was writing articles which implied: you --the media,
the politicians --do not know what you are talking about: the world isn't
the way you say it is. At the beginning, before the major media took any
real interest in the Wallace story, this was a peculiarly difficult message
to sell. Who was I to tell experienced journalists they didn't know what
was what? I was on the dole, living in the sticks, in Hull, producing a
magazine with a tiny circulation. In the weeks before Wallace came out
of prison I had circulated a great deal of material to the major media
about Wallace, his case and his explosive allegations. I got only one response,
from a journalist at Newsnight. As big-time journalists are prone to do,
he said, don't tell me over the phone, come down to London. So down I went
to Newsnight's office. It was my first exposure to the major media. I delivered
the spiel and the journalist was interested and said he would take a camera
crew down to the prison to interview Wallace when he got out.
I had been told by Wallace that
among the visitors to his secret psy-ops unit, Information Policy, in Northern
Ireland, had been Alan Protheroe, who at the time of my Newsnight visit,
was Assistant Director General of the BBC. Nicknamed 'the Colonel' in the
BBC, Protheroe was, and may still be, a part-time soldier-cum-intelligence
officer, specialising in military-media relations.
But unlike the journalists I had
been talking to up to that point, Protheroe knew who Wallace was and what
the Information Policy unit had been doing in Northern Ireland. To Newsnight
I therefore said something like this: 'Protheroe's a spook; you'll have
to watch him. He'll try and block anything you do with Wallace in it.'
'Really, old boy,' said the BBC people I was talking to, 'it isn't like
that in the BBC'.
Their response was comical, really.
It was then only just over a year since there had been several weeks of
intense media interest in the revelation that the BBC actually had its
own in-house MI5 office vetting BBC employees (still there, as far as I
know) --prima facie evidence that, au contraire, the BBC was exactly 'like
The Newsnight journalist, Julian
O'Hallorhan, interviewed Wallace the day he came out of prison and then
had his piece yanked out of a programme at the very last minute. I was
actually watching Newsnight at the time and saw the confusion in the studio
as the running order was rejigged while they were on air. We subsequently
heard that Protheroe had indeed blocked the Wallace interview, and when
asked, the BBC denied that they had ever interviewed Wallace. (Paul Foot
has seen a bootleg of the film-which-didn't-exist.) Protheroe's action
in blocking the Wallace interview was reported four months later in the
Sunday Times and has been confirmed since by a senior Newsnight staffer
who has now left the BBC.
Thirteen years later, have things
improved? Yes and no. The media is potentially more difficult to manage
for the state than it used to be. The Ministry of Defence employs 150 press
officers to spin-doctor the media and even MI6 has a media department whose
job it is to wine and dine journalists and editors to get the departmental
line across. The days when a quiet word in the ear of a handful of editors
would ensure a media black-out are gone. And there is a good deal more
information available than there was in 1986 --if journalists could be bothered
to read it --which, mostly, they can't. But the fundamental attitudes of
the media towards the state and secret state remain the same as far as
I am aware. British journalists --and, more importantly --British editors,
do not see themselves in an adversarial relationship with the state and
secret state. If the secret state says 'national security' to them, most
journalists and virtually all editors will still back away. And in some
ways the situation today is even worse than it was then. Investigative
journalism is expensive, offers no guarantee of publishable articles, or
broadcastable TV programmes, and there is less of it now than there was
then. There has been a visible dumbing-down of the few TV documentary series,
such as World inAction, into consumerism programmes. Not counting the journalists
who are simply mouthpieces for state, who go under the titles of diplomatic
or defence correspondents, there is currently only one journalist in the
whole of Britain who is seriously interested in the intelligence and security
field, and that's Paul Lashmar at the Independent.
In 1990, I think it was, a resolution
of mine, became the North Hull Labour Party's conference resolution. It
called for a full-scale public inquiry into Northern Ireland, the dirty
war there, the Wallace affair and the Wilson plots; it called for the introduction
of a system of real parliamentary accountability for the secret state.
The resolution went to the Labour Party conference where it was passed
without opposition. As such, according to the rules of the Party, it became
party policy. Of course nothing happened, the whole thing has been forgotten
and we are where we were in 1986 before the Wilson plots story got going.
Short of a bug being found in Tony and Cherie Blair's bedroom with 'please
return to MI5' stamped on it, New Labour is not likely to challenge the
secret state --and maybe not even then.
Although Britain is a democracy
in some senses, the 'will of the people' has never been extended to cover
the key areas of interest to a state which was developed to run and service
an empire. Defence, foreign policy, security and intelligence policy --in
none of these areas can MPs or their constituents have access to official
information or have any input into policy. During both World Wars the state
co-opted the mass media of the day for its propaganda; and this continued
to some extent after the war in the Cold War with the Soviet bloc when
large chunks of the media were co-opted again to run anti-Soviet propaganda
--this is what is described in the new Paul Lashmar book about the Information
Research Department; and is presumably the reason it has been so widely
At the end of the day, as the cliche
has it, its down to the politicians. As long as the politicians remain
content not to have any influence over foreign and defence affairs --and
the intelligence agencies which service them --the media will remain relatively
impotent and the subject will remain off the agenda. And, unfortunately,
this present intake of Labour MPs shows every sign of being at least as
supine before the state as those who came before it.
back to top
drag queens, beatification and beating off
There was a brief period at the beginning
of the Nineties in the United States, partially fuelled by a presidential
election contest desperately looking for defining issues, when the matter
of whether taxpayers monies should be used to support public artworks that
offended (some) mainstream sensibilities was whipped up into a coast to
coast media circus by a number of high profile conservatives, including
Senator Jesse Helms and Reverend Don Wildmon of the American Family Association.
As George Bush discovered to his chagrin, it was the economy, stupid, that
was foremost in voter's minds, and not whether photographers displaying
self-portraits of rectally challenged whips or performance artists covering
themselves in chocolate and alfalfa constituted a capital offense. Nevertheless,
for a short period the marginal and the mainstream found themselves in
a strange and frantic arm lock, a magnified coalescence of all the mutual
distrusts and loathings that continue to bubble through the two polarised
camps. Performance artists took to the streets and pleaded their case,
stigmata arrayed against stigma, preaching words of compassion, whilst
crazed southern gentlemen strode marbled floors, theatrically ripping up
'obscene' photographs and casting them to the four corners of the senate.
It was the Sixties Lite; protestors encamped outside the gates of power,
bloated incumbents sending out the attack dogs, both parties fighting for
the spiritual futures and bodily fluids of the people.
Steven Durland, then editor of High
Performance (based on the West Coast of the United States), neatly summed
up both the passion and the farce of the period in his observation that
"the performance artists had become the evangelists, and the evangelists
had become the performance artists." It was a typical observation, characteristic
of a consistent editorial style during the twenty year run of High Performance
(from the late Seventies to the late Nineties) that usually cut to the
heart of serious issues whilst retaining a sly objective distance; an analysis
of the theatre of the absurd with a concomitant sense of absurdity. High
Performance was a revolutionary magazine in a number of ways. It embodied
founder Linda Frye Burnham's commitment to the political and philosophical
underpinnings of the counter-culture, a mapping of guerrilla activity that
erupted from, and then fed back into, the cultural fractures of the Sixties
onwards. Each issue covered as wide a range of activities as could fall
under the rubric of experimental art, mixing review and information sections
with extended essays on thematic or social concerns of the time. It was
utterly unique as a magazine; as an organ of analysis and advocacy for
the kind of marginal art that was not normally covered, its priorities
shifted over the years, both as a matter of editorial imperative and as
a nod to the chameleon nature of its core constituency.
In the introduction to "The Citizen
Artist --An Anthology from High Performance Magazine 1978-1998" Durland
sums up the magazine's mission statement as follows:
"Throughout its twenty year history
High Performance magazine has been a journalistic home for new, unrecognized
and innovative work in the arts. From its beginnings in performance art
to its last few years covering community-based art, the magazine maintained
a steady focus on art that was serious in its personal artistic intent
and underappreciated in public perception... We considered our editorial
approach to be a useful foundation for, and precursor to, the development
of critical discussion around the art we covered. And when the form such
as performance art became validated to the point of being part of the critical
discourse, it was time for us to look in new directions."
His conclusion that "Our editorial
journey took us down some roads that later became freeways, and some roads
that are now overgrown with weeds", and that the cover of the first issue
featured artist Suzanne Lacey sitting on a dragster, sums up the metaphorical
tone of this anthology. The majority of artists included demonstrate the
kind of hope that lies at the heart of that most American of myths: the
road movie. Most have worked, or are working, in a US context --whether
this be within the diaspora of race or the advocacy of health issues --and,
although the individual contexts may be radically different, they share
the commonality of a personal artistic quest.
The title "The Citizen Artist",
with its suggestions of responsibility and a causality between personal
and communal activity, is both provocative and contentious. After all,
much art activity that has come from the live art and multi-disciplinary
arena has not exactly been fuelled by notions of benign participation or
the democratisation of creative processes. The destructive urge --or at
the very least a kind of interrogative nihilism --has been referenced in
critical analyses of the field almost as a matter of course. The controversial
live works of Chris Burden, which interrogated aspects of obligation by
the creation of direct risk, or the grotesque debasements of Paul McCarthy,
which were both regularly covered at length in the pages of High Performance,
are significantly absent from this collection. However, any fears that
"The Citizen Artist" is a form of selective cultural neutering are allayed
by a number of factors. Firstly, as Durland points out "...we realised
that there was no one anthology that could both reflect the history of
the magazine and at the same time exist as a coherent book. So we settled
for the fact that this is an anthology... not the anthology from High Performance".
Secondly, there is already a profusion of reference books on the viscerally
subversive aspects of live art (such as the excellent series of Re/Search
publications which also emanates from the West Coast).
Frye Burnham and Durland's criteria
for reprinting essays seems to have been motivated by a desire to address
questions of artistic production that are far more interesting than retreading
the familiar paths that chart ad nauseum the schism between the provocative
art guerrilla and a reactionary mainstream. The real issue, whether voiced
explicitly or hinted at, is how, through one's practice, to self-determine
and, by extension, assist in the self-determination of others. In effect,
what constitutes radical practice now, and how has this been effected by
what was previously considered radical practice?
"The Citizen Artist" attempts to
broadly depict the changing definitions of the margins over the last twenty
years by structuring the anthology in three distinct sections: "The Art/Life
Experiment", "The Artist as Activist", and "The Artist as Citizen". Each
section is generally chronological (although Durland is quick to point
out that such a linear approach is overly simplistic, and certain motifs
recur throughout): "The Art/Life Experiment" covers the early pioneering
work of artists who for the first time attempted to break down distinctions
between Art and Life, resulting in projects such as the body art of artists
Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh (who spent a year tied together by an
eight foot length of rope), the rise of eco-art, and most significantly
the initial development of feminist art practice: "The Artist as Activist",
charts the following phase, when artists began to engage with the development
and maintenance of ideologies specific to both a variety of identities
--multi-cultural, gender, sexual --and objectives --empowerment, protest,
education, advocacy, etc: "The Artist as Citizen", the final and most expansive
section, contains what one imagines is Frye Burnham's paradigm --an artist
or artists located in a specific community and working in tandem with its
members in a microcosmic sense in which relationships are finite and local.
As such, interviews are featured with artists working at a grass roots
level; in the contexts of prisons and community centres, or organising
workshops for doctors and nurses ("Caring for the Carers").
The arc of the three sections is
one which reinforces the editor's prejudices in suggesting a gradual sea
change of artistic consciousness over two decades, from the establishment
of artistic communities and the process of self-realisation, to the use
of interventionist practice to either represent or involve communities
traditionally perceived as distinct from --or ignored by --historical Eurocentricity,
through to surrendering at least some measure of artistic autonomy in preference
to initiating more organic forms of collaborative practice. As a scenario
it has its attractions, but it remains a wistful blueprint, full of inherent
stresses. Whilst "The Citizen Artist" does not attempt to disguise that
a kinder gentler artist is the preferred role model du jour, it also allows
individual contradictions or disagreements to become apparent (thereby
maintaining the flavour of the original High Performance magazine).
The central irony of the concept
of the Citizen as Artist is that even those artists who are committed to
leaving their ivory tower often have to contend with a certain amount of
initial mistrust or hostility in the bigger badder world. The label of
citizen may be adopted autonomously by any old artist, but it only becomes
resonant when conferred, in part, by the external benediction of non-art
communities. What is fascinating is how the terms and conditions of these
negotiations have changed over the last two decades, and why this anthology
very nearly ends up confirming popular prejudices about crazy artists as
much as it demolishes them. The general urge of artists who wish to be
'contemporary' has been to hitch their wagons to the nearest zeitgeist,
and as new zeitgeists come along the older ones tend to become a little
creaky. Inevitably, the passing of time has been less charitable to some
artistic pronouncements than others. This is most evident in the first
section of the book, the grand Art/Life Experiment, in which quotes such
as: "Thus we have passed into a new worldview where we have gone beyond
our anchor in the solar system to an even more integrated connection in
the galactic core" in Barbara T. Smith's investigation of shamanic practice;
or Rachel Rosenthal's description of her weekend workshops, in which: "For
a weekend, two days and a half, I am a saint. My aim for that one weekend
is to really take the spirit of the people who are there and give a bath
to the spirit." --tend to (at least to a thirtysomething like myself) reinforce
the cliché of the barking mad performance artist, complete with
West Coast Dawns, Harmonic Convergences, Beautiful Natives, Earth Goddesses,
Cheesecloth, Group Hugs and Candles.
It is easy to take these quotes
out of context, and paint a picture of desperately earnest artists struggling
in the tar pits of history (damned if this West Coast/American stuff doesn't
come with a helpful metaphor every other sentence!), but whilst it is difficult
to avoid observing that other similar examples form a wish list of crackpot
aspirations that would sound cheesy in a Miss World contest, a steelier
picture also begins to emerge as a flipside to the epiphets. Earlier in
her interview Rosenthal paints a vivid and prescient picture of eco-rape
that is both concise and articulate, describing a world that is at least
as crazy as her own artistic universe. Cheri Gaulke's history of "The Women's
Building" may put an inordinate amount of faith in the metaphorical power
of an eight foot papier-maché woman, erected on the building's roof
as "a beacon of women's power to the community", but then maybe that was
the kind of morale-booster that women artists needed when attempting to
establish self-sustaining women's groups at a time when there were no precedents
(let alone state funding).
Certainly, the editors seem confident
enough to surrender their charges and let them take their own chances with
the forces of history, and seem to think that the reader is big enough
and stupid enough to draw his or her own informed conclusions.
The cumulative realisation that
gradually dawns whilst reading through all these documents, testimonials
and anecdotes is that what "The Citizen Artist" achieves most effectively
is the way in which it illustrates just exactly how much artists position
themselves in relation to the realities of their respective time. Priorities
shift and rhetoric changes. Cause and effect is a familiar notion to artists,
because they generally have so many causes and fear in the early hours
of the morning that they may have so little effect.
"The Artist As Activist" section
deals with artists whose moral compass had not significantly shifted --all
the same ethical concerns are evident --but was certainly being pulled by
a different gravitas. This was the era when the issue of identity --who
had it, who didn't have it, who had an inalienable right to proclaim it,
who had better keep his mouth shut --became a key issue for artistic analysis.
Identity could be problematic as well as being positive. How did the identity
of an artist relate to the identity of a non-art community? Could the former
represent the latter? With or without that community's sanction? Lucy Lippard's
coverage of the AIDS awareness projects of David Nash includes a quote
from critic Douglas Crimp which pretty much sums up the feelings of the
"Art does have the power to save
lives... But if we are to do this, we will have to abandon the idealistic
concept of art. We don't need a cultural renaissance; we need cultural
practices actively participating in the struggle against AIDS."
Artists of colour were also working
to achieve a level of visibility, creating broader awareness of the politics
of ethnicity and colonialism. Artists such as Native American James Luna
purposefully sought to avoid the tag of the "exotic", a stubborn refusal
to be co-opted easily by institutional sentimentality:
"That's why I dislike the movie
Dances With Wolves. It did nothing but glorify all the good. It didn't
show any Indians mad, or upset... any Indians fucking up. We're still beautiful,
stoic and pretty. You see the movie and you go out and see a fat, overweight,
acne-covered, poor uneducated person --is that the real Indian you want
This was a time when the artwork
of artists tended to reject the metaphorical optimism of its predecessors
and became more specific, more pragmatic, more willing to cause offence
to some if the process of alienation made a potent point --all necessary
approaches when faced with the disintegration a singular authentic voice
or homogeneous creative creed. As celebrated performance artist Karen Finley
"Reality is always more shocking
than art. I think that shock in art is followed by some kind of transformation
that happens because of the artist. I mean, you could say that [experiencing
the poverty of] Second Street between Avenues A and B is an artwork, and
that's not so. It's not enough just to have the shocking thing, disassociated
from everything. The artist frames it or mirrors it with brilliance or
timeliness. I don't know that there's a clear line between what is an atrocity
and what's art. I do know that when Chris Burden shot himself in the arm
it was art, but when my father shot himself it wasn't."
The activist urge sometimes necessitated
the identity of the artist to be almost completely subsumed, as in the
work of Mexican artist Fehlipe Ehrenberg. When the Tepito district of Mexico
City was devastated by earthquake, Ehrenberg undertook a project of reconstruction,
organising a volunteer brigade (Tepitos) to comfort survivors, distributing
food and clothing, opening a bank account administered by the Committee
for the Reconstruction of Tepito. Emily Hicks observes that:
"For him, the goal is not to be
a pop star, but a responsible citizen/activist."
Such a goal is at the heart of the
final section, "The Artist as Citizen". It is not necessarily a popular
one (savaged by critics such as Robert Hughes in his critique "Culture
of Complaint") or a desirable one for many artists, not least because it
calls for different modes of critical evaluation to be formulated. The
essays in this final section tend to avoid manifestos in favour of specific
detail, and are far too complex to summarise here (this section alone contains
17 case studies). Suffice to say that projects such as Marty Pottinger's
multimedia record of the lives of the people involved in making New York's
City Water Tunnel #3 (the largest non-defense public-works project in the
Western hemisphere), intergenerational arts co-ordination projects such
as New York's Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), or Grady Hillman's "arts-in-corrections"
residency schemes, undertaken in over 50 correctional facilities since
1981 (containing the best damn hard nosed economic riposte to those who
believe that prisoners shouldn't benefit from the arts as school programmes
are simultaneously closed down), are, whilst not quite enough to convince
a congenital loner like myself to enter into the dreaded ambiguity of collaboration,
certainly testament to the diversity of committed and --in its own terms
of reference --clear-sighted public art methodologies.
If I have a specific caveat against
this anthology it is that the issues it raises are so huge that it cries
out for a little external contextualisation. The editors have purposefully
focused on interviews with artists, often by other artists, or first person
essays by artists; consequently, as Durland admits "...sometimes the analysis
one expects in an anthology is left up to the reader." This might be a
minor point (although I would have liked to have seen a few more devil's
advocates prodding their forks into these angels...), given that this is
made clear from the start, but it does impact on certain sections that
need clearer contextual and explanatory text, or even images (maybe not
a problem in the original magazine format). Also, there is a missed opportunity
to re-examine the efficacy of artistic methodologies in retrospect, and
test the claims of artists. For instance, there is mention off the hugely
influential cross-country San Diego/ Tijuana artists' collective Taller
de Arte Fronterizo, but no postscript explaining the circumstances behind
the group's break-up and how this impacted on subsequent post-colonial
strategies. Similarly, I was curious as to how artists working as activists
in the field of AIDS-related health care will have modified their approach
in the late Nineties, in respect of factors such as more efficient medicinal
filter blocks, or increased public apathy towards an epidemic that is now
over a decade old.
Sadly, such questions would still
be raised if journalists from High Performance were still darting around
asking the right questions of the right practitioners, but the magazine
ended its run in 1998. This is a shame for too many reasons to list here,
so I will mention just one. Whether one agrees with some or all of these
artistic voices, what is evident is an intention to create relevant public
art that is created from the bottom up. This anthology is timely given
the current UK context of lottery money for the arts, which is creating
definitions of "socially useful" artists from the top down by attaching
conditions of audience development and youth participation.
The Citizen Artist -- An Anthology
from High Performance Magazine 1978--1998
Edited by Linda Frye Burnham and
ISBN: 1883831105 Published
by Critical Press
Available through Distributed Art
Publishers, New York
Tel (212) 627 1999 Tel (212) 627
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A Cut and Paste
Renée Turner, the De Geuzen
Foundation, and Jason E. Bowman
De Geuzen is a foundation for multi-visual
research which was established in Amsterdam in 1996 out of the necessity
to create a forum in the Netherlands for critical inquiry, reflection and
production with regards to visual culture. De Geuzen has three core initiators,
Riek Sijbring, Femke Snelting and Renée Turner who operate as a
collaborative art and design team which creates context specific projects.
Its intention is to promote an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural dialogue
that opens up new positions and perspectives with regards to visual culture.
De Geuzen's practice includes curation, art, design and programming in
the form of symposia, exhibitions and educational workshops. Its goal is
to initiate situations where visual practices are viewed and understood
as an integrated social process.
Jason Bowman: Now that I've seen
your mission statement I want to ask a blatant question: I know what that
means but how does it function on an organisational level?
Renée Turner: Our structure
is hybrid to say the least. De Geuzen as an entity has three different
capacities. It houses studios and a place for public events and we also
operate as an agency.
De Geuzen came about through a mixture
of events and interests. There is a thin line between hybridity, flexibility
and confusion and when we began, we were closer to the latter. Riek, Femke
and I studied together and during our post-graduate studies we worked in
various configurations, curating exhibitions, creating installations and
visual interventions. Although our affiliation with each other was not
formalised, the roots of our current collaboration began there. Things
became more solidified when I started renovating a space in Amsterdam with
two other artists, Marco Cops and Cesare Davolio. As I was reaching the
end of my studies, I thought perhaps different agendas could be combined
and accommodated by the space. So the building's interior has been constructed
with flexible usage in mind.
De Geuzen has separate yet interdependent
functions and I guess it would suffice to say that the culmination of all
these functions constitutes the foundation as a whole. The overall rent
of the complex is covered entirely by renting out four individual studios.
Not all occupants share the public face of De Geuzen but we see them as
integral nevertheless. It's a mix of both public and private. When the
agency is hosting a public event, two of the studios are emptied out and
a dividing wall opens to create a larger public space.
JB: So what are the immediate benefits
offered by the structure of having a foundation which incorporates an agency
and a studio complex?
RT: There are many benefits, but
most important is the fact that we, as an agency, do not have to depend
on government funding for the use of our space therefore we have a guaranteed
forum. Our programming can shrink or expand depending on our financial
situation. Although the Netherlands has more funding for the arts than
most other countries, we felt this flexibility was an indispensable safety
JB: The agency practices both at
its own location and in other contexts. Is the space also responsible for
generating the necessary income to fund your projects?
RT: No, we don't generate a profit
from renting the space, and our entry fees tend to be pretty low. For programming
and projects, we have to fund raise for operational costs.
JB: I know that you have recently
started to receive funding from the Mondriaan Foundation but that previously
you were self financing. How has the receipt of state funding altered the
RT: In the past we really relied
heavily on donations of time, energy and money from our friends. And I
have to stress that there was not that much money circulating among us.
After a while however there were limits to the amount of begging, borrowing
and stealing that we could do. Plus all of these negotiations took time
and much was left up to chance or luck. Because we had a desire to push
our projects further and find ways of bringing in broader audiences, soliciting
funding from the Mondriaan was one way of preserving a degree of continuity
in our programming.
JB: Has the receipt of Mondriaan
funding changed the way you operate in terms of pace?
RT: Yes, to a degree because when
you receive state funding, you're held accountable to an external body.
Before our only accountability was to ourselves and our audiences. There
was a sort of an intimate and immediate response in terms of programme
planning. Now with subsidies we have to plan and apply in advance. I would
be lying if I said that does not affect our practice. However it has also
opened up other possibilities which were not previously available to us.
JB: Beyond these structural elements,
De Geuzen represents itself as a foundation for multi-visual research.
Can you expand on how you understand your practice as being researched
RT: Well, first of all let's incorporate
the term 'multi-visual research' into the equation. It plays with the very
tenuous relation between art and theory, there is a degree of contradiction.
But at the same time it sets a tone for our activities. The three of us
are visually trained. Femke is a designer and Riek and I are artists. Our
individual practices have always included a visual means of acquiring and
disseminating information. Admittedly, our definition of what that means
is amorphously broad and manifests itself differently within each of our
projects. And from the beginning we wanted our projects to be investigative,
similar to laboratory or field work.
JB: Do you mean in terms of art
RT: Not really, experimentation
seems like a bankrupt term in relation to art now. It is a word that is
often used and seldom actualised. Basically through the matrix of research
we wanted to allow for rehearsals. It has been our aim to create a space
where the unfinished or speculative could be tested with audiences. Outside
of academic structures, there are very few venues, if any, where this can
happen. And although playing with this notion of research, I think we have
always understood our work within the frame of art and therefore we don't
necessarily look towards achieving the sense of conclusion which other
forms of research may be held accountable to. Despite this, it is very
important to develop methods of analysis within our practice, a kind of
internal and external check. We have to continually scrutinise our own
work and process with an eye on how our projects resonate beyond our own
JB: Can we move on to talk about
De Geuzen in practice? The first work of yours I saw was 'The Walk-in Reader'.2
While many of the other works in this exhibition were centred on architecture,
your work seemed much more expansive and escaped the limitations in representing
urbanism solely via architectural or design vocabularies.
RT: Yes, thematically the exhibition
looked at the processes of urban transformation taking place in the Netherlands.
And I think Hou Hanru was struck by the post-Koolhaas generation and their
almost utopian drive to address social problems through design. For us
however, it was crucial to shift or contextualise the debate on buildings
and urban planning in order to look at the social forces and networks that
have and continue to shape the city of Amsterdam.
JB: So how did you assume this position
within the context of an exhibition?
RT: We set up a kind of temporary
resource. It included an archive where books, videos and internet URLs
were collected around related themes ranging from the ways in which people
make themselves feel at home in the city, to how so-called illegal or black
economies function within the structure of mainstream economies, to how
people map out their living environments, circumscribing the communities
they belong to. Everything we gathered was made available to the public
and there was a photocopier where people could copy books for free. Besides
the more librarian ethic, we programmed weekly events based on our selected
themes. The events took on different forms from round table discussions
to tours through the city. We involved a variety of people from diverse
backgrounds and specialisations, ranging from Joke van Kampen, the chief
editor of the homeless newspaper in Amsterdam, to a social geographer,
Dr. Rob van Engelsdorp Gastelaars. And with every event, more information
was amassed and added to the archive. For us, it was an act of gradual
social contamination. The space soon operated as a point of convergence
where people returned or became regulars.
JB: One of the things which really
struck me was the way that 'The Walk-in Reader' did not attempt to become
responsible for accuracy of representation.
RT: It was never our ambition to
be accurate, in fact we tend to do a lot of dancing around issues. Our
approach rarely aims for a direct hit so to speak. 'The Walk-in Reader'
was a forum, a resource and a podium that not only addressed various social
networks but became one, a nucleus of activity within the exhibition.
JB: This notion of being or activating
a nucleus of critical activity seems to punctuate the identity of De Geuzen
RT: Yes, I think it has always been
our aim to create sites where various social texts intersect or even collide.
JB: In terms of the exhibition at
De Appel, De Geuzen's work seemed to be simultaneously servicing the context
of the exhibition and, for me, also problematising how social contexts
were represented by many of the other works.
RT: It was never our intention to
provide a discursive bridge between the other works and the public, but
there was an element of wanting to contextualise the larger debate which
Hou Hanru was raising. So in that regard we did occupy the very ambiguous
position of facilitation.
JB: I wanted to ask you more about
your relationship to facilitation. In Britain facilitation by attaching
interpretative or pedagogical methodologies to art works within the extant
ideologies of the museum, gallery or theatre is developing into a burgeoning
service industry. To me, many of the British forms of facilitation seem
to be opaque --in that there is frequently a loss of critique or a tendency
towards homogenising audiences. You appear to be traversing this by assuming
a position as a research based foundation which also practices agency and
is consequently able to develop and promote a less conclusive and less
RT: I think it's important to look
critically at the trend of using discourse as an interpretative or translative
device. My suspicion is that institutions want to become "user friendly",
levelling the productive tension between art practice and discourse. Undoubtedly
this desire comes out of a very real pressure to attract broader audiences
with the hopes of securing funding. However, I am not sure if eliminating
complexity, or using discourse as a process of distillation for art is
the way to attract broader audiences. In fact, the complexity and controversy
raised through the friction between art and theoretical debate has the
potential to enliven interest. Ultimately there is something disturbing
about using discourse to legitimise or explain art, and reductive is the
right word, in that neither art nor theory benefit from such a model.
JB: But at the same time much of
your practice does appear to be looking at the relationship between art
and theory and consciously advocating discourse and debate.
RT: The relation is there but not
the same as the standard institutional use. Here I want to go back to the
idea of multi-visual research and what that could mean. Between the visual
and the verbal we try to establish a series of relays, a kind of dynamic
exchange between the two.
JB: De Geuzen also produce 'visual
objects' as part of these internal relays such as the pop corn funnels,
made from the script, which you distributed when you screened Guy Debord's
'Society of the Spectacle' at De Geuzen or the series of take home quotes.
Are they used in some sense to orientate the more conceptual or theoretical
elements of your practice?
RT: In a strange way your question
reiterates the perceived divide between these practices and I think that
they are more mutually bound through the relays we establish. We use visual
elements which are playful and others which are instrumental and on some
occasions they also surf beyond the rational, therefore traversing between
what is conventionally referred to as theory and practice.
JB: So is there any common aim in
your uses of such 'visuals'. To me they seemed to be centralising around
notions of distribution. This seemed particularly apparent when you mailed
out 'the inventory' after 'The Walk-in Reader' closed.3
RT: Distribution is an undeniable
aspect and so is accessibility or creating multiple points of entry.
JB: Do you mean in a directional
RT: In a way yes, but rather than
a sign it operates as an evocation. For instance, the modular glossy red
table at De Appel was designed for multiple uses; it gave the space an
area of concentration and continuity.4
The design sets the tone, acclimatising audiences. Depending on the arrangement
of the table in the room, people were enticed to either sit and privately
read and view, or it was clearly arranged for discussion and direct encounter.
On other occasions the visuals took on a performative role, activating
audiences. At the opening of 'The Walk-in Reader' we served a cake with
the map of Amsterdam printed on it. The result was an almost carnivalesque
atmosphere with people scrambling to cannibalise their own street.
JB: This role of evocation seemed
to change with your more recent work 'Our Image is Our Own'?
RT: In the context of 'Midnight
Walkers and City Sleepers', an exhibition which commissioned artists to
work in the Redlight district in Amsterdam, we were initially invited under
very specific conditions to be a part of the debates surrounding the show5.
However, we were conscious that it may be more appropriate to employ and
deploy other strategies and skills within this context. One of the things
which is problematic with that area is that most of the time it is defined
by its tourist industry, the sex industry, which is of course the most
visible. We didn't want to reiterate that very clichéd or surface
perception of the area and yet we didn't want to evade the omnipresence
of that industry. For this reason we decided to initiate a collaboration
with The Red Thread (De Rode Draad), the prostitute union which occupies
a significant position both physically and socially in the area. As three
women, we were also intrigued by their operation as a prostitutes' rights
organisation and what that entails.
JB. When you're working in socially
engaged practice many of the invitations to work are placed into the context
of a thematic exhibition for a limited period of time and within the auspices
of the curator's selected themes and sites. This format may appear to also
relocate the artist as tourist.
RT: I completely agree on both accounts.
It seems that if you take on social issues there is a perception that there
is an easy transferability from issue to issue, one week a critique of
the museum the next queer theory. For clarity of argument let's separate,
however crudely for the moment, two bodies of reception. First there is
the commission by the curator or curators. Then there is the second context
which is the concrete social or physical environment about which the commissioner
has asked you to work. By second here I don't mean to distinguish these
realms hierarchically. And I guess our attention is often directed towards
that second context, the one that reaches far beyond the premise of the
JB: So, it seems that you're suggesting
a reconceptualisation of how exhibitions are used and received...
RT: Well, I can't really address
this as a general modus operandi but through the format of 'Midnight Walkers
and City Sleepers' we were able to seize the opportunity to work with The
Red Thread. The exhibition offered a means of entry and we were able to
reroute both intention and attention. And no doubt, the inevitable question
of longevity arises. Certainly it would be ridiculous to hop from theme
to theme according to the curator's choice. If social engagement is a part
of an artist's agenda, it is important to ask: How and should we sustain
that connection after the exhibition, or temporary highlight, has taken
place? In terms of this particular collaboration, it was very clear after
our initial meeting with The Red Thread that our involvement would have
to be long term in order to come to grips with the complex social and economic
dilemmas these women face. More importantly we would need time to examine
how those issues reflect upon the position of women in general.
JB: I frequently view exhibitions
or commissions of socially engaged practices as 'host contexts'...
RT: Host is really the appropriate
word, but rather than being a guest, I consider our relation to be somewhat
JB: So did you find a way of successfully
limiting the overall objectives for the context of this exhibition whilst
recognising the more long term process orientated objectives. Also how
did this initial engagement manifest itself in a particular product?
RT: After our first discussion with
The Red Thread a very practical need emerged. On the windows of the rooms
in which the prostitutes stand there is usually a sticker reading "No Pictures".
The Red Thread has become the distributor of these stickers and quite simply
they had run out. We discussed the possibility of a kind of message of
solidarity among women from The Red Thread and De Geuzen. But that is not
an easy task because the union is not actually looked favourably upon by
the proprietors of the brothels. Our solution was to come up with a sticker
with the no pictures icon, a simple image with the camera with a red slash
through it and the words NO PICTURES. But on the back we had silk-screened
in florescent pink the text: OUR IMAGE IS OUR OWN. The slogan, normally
the focus in politically oriented work, in this case is disposable. In
order to use the sticker the slogan must be split apart and pealed off.
The slogan becomes a moment in use, a temporary comment or thought, a way
of incorporating a degree of fragility into a political situation. There
is another element which we haven't discussed with regards to the exhibition
which is the hijacking of funding which went on. We were able to redirect
attention and money.
JB: One of the issues which seems
to continue to confront socio-specific art practice is that it needs to
traverse a degree of suspicion from certain partners with whom it wishes
to consult or collaborate. How did De Geuzen strategize in relation to
RT: It was made very clear that
although we are all women, there is an element of exoticism or tourism
which cannot be eradicated. And I think it was important to acknowledge
that dynamic from the beginning. At the same time, although none of us
have been prostitutes, there was a connection in terms of being women concerned
with the ability of women in general to have control over their bodies
and representation. Most importantly, women should have the right to set
the perimeters of the use of their own bodies. It is fair to say that prostitution
is at the edge of female representation, but it is nonetheless a condensed
or concentrated formulation of those issues relevant to all women. Their
position raises the very fundamental question of where the border of "NO"
is drawn. Also, I think it is important to say that the relation with The
Red Thread is not one way. We were interviewed in their magazine "Blacklight"
which then recontextualises our own practice and connects us with a very
different audience from that of the exhibition.
JB: I see how this element of detour
or rerouting operates outside of the De Geuzen space, but how does that
element function in relation to events held at your building?
RT: In our own space we set the
perimeters of our projects so detour is not the word I would use because
we establish the route. Our building provides the space for things to move
or be processed at a slower pace, there is more of a laboratory feeling
where controlled research, or reflection can take place.
JB: But in some sense the space also
advocates a facilitatory role. Recently I saw four presentations here on
the theme of 'the real' which were all inconclusive and constituted presentations
of research in progress by artists, essayists or cultural critics6.
How do such events influence the direction of De Geuzen?
RT: Through events held in our space
we are able to broaden the base from which we work. By this I mean, we
use our events to expand and push our own research plus we extend our collaborative
capacities. Our space is relatively intimate and our programme format is
closer to symposia which allows us to establish an active and interactive
dialogue between speakers and audience. The question which has now arisen
is how to extend that research further, beyond the immediacy of an event,
and towards extended invitations to participate, confront and inform.
JB: I know your organisation like
many in the Netherlands at the moment are developing their funding applications
for new projects and organisational restructuring. Can you say something
about how De Geuzen plans to capitalise on its existing research base and
how this will influence its parallel activities?
RT: Our aim is to make follow-up
publications to our events, not in the sense of a catalogue or documentation,
but as a continuing forum, an extension of our enquiry. Through generating
printed matter and creating a web space our goal would be to tap into other
audiences who might challenge the limits of our thinking. In fact, these
forms of distribution and access might well be the accountability check
that I spoke of earlier.
1. The Mondriaan Foundation is one
of the largest funding agencies in the Netherlands offering both structural
and project support for Dutch cultural organisations and initiatives.
2. 'The Walk-in Reader' is the title
of an installation made by De Geuzen for 'Unlimited.nl-2' an exhibition
at De Appel which was curated by Hou Hanru.
3. Following the exhibition, De
Geuzen mailed and distributed a booklet listing the entire contents of
'The Walk-in Reader'.
4. De Geuzen collaborated with Apolonija
Sustersic in designing the space of 'The Walk-in Reader'.
5. 'Midnight Walkers and City Sleepers':
on location in the Red Light District, was a multi-site art event in Amsterdam
which was curated by Hedwig Fijen, Maria Hlavajova and Theo Tegelaers.
6. 'The Mediated Image: Testing
the Surface of the Simulated, the Virtual and the Real', was De Geuzen's
most recent in-house project.
Renée Turner is a Texas
born artist, based in Amsterdam and is one of three core members of De
Geuzen. Jason E. Bowman is an artist who is currently undertaking the Scottish
Arts Council's Amsterdam Studio Residency and conducting a series of interviews
on organisational frameworks of contemporary arts practices. These extracts
are from conversations which took place in June 1999.
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The First European Seminar on
Artist Run Spaces
The Stockholm based artist-run-space
Konstakuten invited similar initiatives from across Europe (and beyond)
to gather for The First European Seminar on Artist Run Spaces (FESARS).
Over thirty initiatives participated, in addition various speakers were
invited to further the discussion on the history, reality and future of
artist-run-spaces. Per Hüttner, one of the organisers, explained that
the initiatives present had come out of the informal artists' networks
in place across Europe, the old snow ball principle. The main interest
of this seminar therefore was to explore a shared and/ or synchronised
future of artist-run-spaces across the continent, but at no point was this
seminar meant to be representative of the entire European scene.
From the organisational point
of view: structure, culture and charisma in bureaucracy
The long and extensive weekend might
well have been more generally concerned with artists' initiatives, instead
a strong focus on 'the spaces within which activity happens' emerged. While
not explicitly formulated or made part of the proceedings this issue certainly
underlined most of the presentations made by the initiatives. It is precisely
this concentration that structurally and content-wise made FESARS something
very different, even so, sitting through over thirty presentations the
seminar attendant did encounter moments of suppressed hyperactivity.
Everyone is an individual, for sure,
nevertheless there did seem to be inherent stages and processes which most
of the spaces present had gone through. Being more than just a collaborative
project -- in fact becoming a bureaucratic body seems to follow inherent
rules which are shared across many forms of business, not only the arts.
When combining efforts and taking on the task of establishing their own
institutionalised form of presentation and representation, artists are
clearly shifting from the stage of being one-person enterprises. In doing
so they accept a level of bureaucratisation which is inherently counter-productive
to the bare process of practice. It is important that this should not be
mistaken with collaborative projects, which have proven to be advantageous
to artists who are pooling resources and knowledge as a means to achieving
goals --making work. Instead we are dealing with artists taking on the management
and restraints which come with the task of running an institution --an artist-run-space.
The artist-run-space in its minimal
form will only be in existence for the one and only group of artists who
set up the organisation. Their charismatic leadership and curatorial as
well as artistic vision not only determine the place, but also the driving
force behind it. At this level things 'just tend to happen'. In managing
to establish the space within the local and sometimes international art
scene, however, it tends to fall into a routine. The organisation will
undergo the process of setting up more or less flexible structures within
which the individuals running the joint can place themselves and a 'written
constitution' most often follows simply because funding applications demand
it. Once all this has been laid out, the doors can open for the generations
of artists to follow the initial momentum of spontaneous self-determination.
As new members enter the institution
they carry their expectations and hopes with them, nevertheless, the individual
will very soon be in the process of defining their space so as to manoeuvre
within the institution. To some extent this process is self-determined,
to some extent it is brought towards the newcomer in terms of the structural
realities laid out by the organisation. An example of this is the necessity
of book keeping, which while it may be done in a looser way than the business
world might expect, the bare necessities are the same, and seemingly acceptable
to funding bodies.
In becoming part of a bureaucratic
body, the individual in this environment additionally faces another quality
of the bureaucratic structure: by default the individual needs to be replaceable.
It is no good to have somebody keeping the books for two years, just to
leave an inaccessible pile of paperwork for the next generation of ambitious
artists that comes through --though this seems to be one of the main problems
across artist-run-spaces that continue for more than one generational cycle,
in other words spaces which really do enter the logic of bureaucracy.
But it would be limiting to restrict
the effects of artist-run-spaces to the structural problems of maintenance
and continuity. One of the main excitements of artist-run-spaces lies on
the side of curatorial practice, assuming that artists will do the art
thing yet differently from the commercially biased gallery or the museology
biased institution. At this point, the structural reality of the institution
is secondary, and the cultural, or even charismatic quality comes into
play. It is obvious that this is the point at which bureaucratic structures
and demands, such as replaceability, are being turned upside down. In fact,
I believe that the individual qualities of the artist entering an organisation,
at some point will leave their individual and irreplaceable stamp. And
From a funding point of view:
policy-making in the cultural industries
Running a space of any kind lifts
the term artistic practice onto a different level. Many artists involved
in artist-run-spaces express their resentment at the amount of logistic
and managerial tasks which need to be taken care of, in some cases those
structural forms of labour substitute their individual artistic practice
altogether. Nevertheless, the initiatives present in Stockholm were all
doing it. So it can't be all that bad...
Those collective efforts to become
more than the sum of individuals are extremely important in the climate
where the 'flexible workforce' has become the euphemism for potential unemployment
at any given moment in one's average rocky biography. Concurrent to the
attention of the 'cultural industries' as an economic sector, a broad range
of arts activity has received an incredible amount of interest from the
business world over the past years. In part this is due to an attraction
to the very flexible structures in place within the arts that enable artists
to operate as they do. Despite the reality that few artists really have
steady and regular forms of employment the mortality rate is comparably
low. Good enough a reason to put this system of self-maintenance under
the economist's microscope --along with the funding bodies for the arts.
Tim Eastop and Eileen Daly from
The Arts Council of England (ACE) put a strong emphasis on the development
of appropriate policies in the field of public arts funding. In their presentation
"Strategies for Funding Artists in England" they pointed out that over
the past few years an effort has been made by the Arts Councils and associated
agencies to research the field of artistic practice throughout the UK and
develop funding policies accordingly. Moreover, a participative environment
for policy development where artists are involved in the process of policy
making was said to have been established. Such initiatives are even more
interesting when put into the context of the restructuring of the funding
body itself, namely The Arts Council of England. The most recent history
of ACE seems to indicate that a restructuring of the process of policy
development was not to be detached from the bureaucratic body itself. ACE
has undergone a severe restructuring process, cutting management and departmental
specification with various sections of responsibility being handed on to
the Regional Arts Boards across England.
Further devolving to the regions
the realising of funding policies within a framework set by central government
seems an inevitable process in the present political climate. More interestingly,
coupled to this regionalisation of fund distributing bodies we are also
experiencing a shift to different parameters by which the 'quality' of
artistic practice is being measured: social inclusion, audience development,
cultural diversity, legacy and skill development to name but a few. Such
funding policies being attempts to generate a check-list of acceptable
artistic practice, a yardstick for qualifying art as 'good art'. This task
seems ridiculous, but there seems little else funding bodies can do, or
--come to that --have to do. Apart from the facade of regional autonomy,
another restriction on such reallocation of money is the actual small amount
of revenue available. The resulting situation is where funding policies
and priorities come in handy, in the form of gatekeeping.
In this situation it seems to be
vital that artists have the right to participate in the process of policy
making. Who else should know about where to put the money than those involved
at the sharp end of grass-roots activity? But in the framework of FESARS
the issue of funding policies is being taken much further. Whereas the
participative models of policy-making for artists has gained a justified
currency in funding bodies across Europe with a pronouncement of dedication
to supporting individuals, artists, there is still no mechanism in place
which would be remotely comparable when it comes to actual artist-run-spaces.
At present funding for an artist-run-space might be reasonably consistent
as long as the space manages to maintain itself through project oriented
funding (gaining dedicated support from project to project). Support for
the costs which come with simply running a space are being neglected by
governmental agencies or incredibly hard to access. Capital funding might
be a starting point, providing substantial coverage of buying/ renting/
renovating a space and supplying initial material and equipment, but receiving
funding to keep going in providing such a resource is increasingly difficult.
This might be one of the most promising
futures of the FESARS initiative, developing a lobbying group across Europe
which will be in the position to establish a policy-making environment
for artist-run-spaces. Outside of unshared government structure and policy,
the main obstacle of such a lobbying group would of course be the fact
that the individuals in such spaces tend to change comparatively quickly.
This was expressed at the seminar when the issue of a possible second event
arose. Not only was it unsure what artist-run-spaces could be present,
but additionally it became obvious that some of the spaces might not be
in existence, or alternatively a new set of individuals would meet with
the same label attached to their presence.
The future is bright, the future
is orange? Sponsoring
"If you take 'no' for an answer,
then you are in the wrong business." Which business would that be? Yours
or the one you rang up in order to receive equipment or money from for
the next project? Bill Rubino, fund-raiser at The Life Foundation from
Stockholm was talking straight, and rightly so. Sponsorship from private
industries seems to be gaining in importance for artistic practice as 'match
funding' --a requirement to generate income from other sources to match
with public funding --is the term on everybody's lips. New funding policies
of the European Union as well as the SOROS Foundation for the remaining
part of Europe that include match funding criteria means that money coming
from the private sector has become a necessary source of income. Despite
the ethical issues at stake, there is an immense interest amongst artists
to understand what makes industry tick, and then pull the right levers.
Rubino, addressing the nature of the presentations at FESARS, stated: "all
of you were given five minutes for your presentations. Most of you went
over time and most of you failed to provide a clear outline of what it
is you are doing, why you are doing it, and --in relation to receiving money
--what it is you could do for them." Apart from the fact that FESARS was
not a sponsorship drive, it would seem artists working in artist-run-spaces
not only need to adjust themselves according to the bureaucratic necessities
within their organisation, they now apparently also need to develop additional
skills in order to sell their products, this is after going through the
process of 'understanding' -- that is aligning --their work as product oriented.
There has always been an ongoing
debate about accepting private money. The ethical issues at stake for the
integrity of politically motivated art are just too sensible to be messed
around with, one could think. On a more pragmatic level it has been argued
that public funding is just easier to deal with. With private funding you
are just complicating the issues as they want to get something more material
out of the deal.
Both arguments could be justified
to an extent. Within the political framework that comprises of the most
recent 'Europe at War' spectacle, governmental money could be perceived
as ethically questionable by default. In addition, the money for governmental
art funding is not being printed inside the funding institutions themselves,
there being a direct economic link between art subsidies and industrial
development. As it is, 'culture' is formulated as a luxury commodity within
economically developed countries and as restricted public funding for the
arts has reached a point of saturation --beyond the simple question of re-allocation
of resources through further governmental intervention --in place of governmental
support there is now a calculated drive to support through private sources.
In this environment the concept of 'attention economy' has truly reached
private industry. If you take a closer look at the activities of companies
such as Glaxo Welcome you quickly arrive at the depressing conclusion that
they tend to buy or support anything that will carry their name, however
controversial it might be, simply for the sake of attention. And for them
that makes sense. When dealing with dodgy ways of making money, the company
can easily use art to associate itself with a critical platform of debate,
so connecting their own product line to the process of discourse while
maintaining a safe distance from any self questioning, as such having little
to lose. Critical work bought by the person you intend to throw a brick
at says more about the art system than the company. Keep on moving...
At the end of the weekend there
were clear plans to continue the tradition born through the event. What
form such a continuation should take is unclear at this present moment.
There were thoughts to carry the initiative towards East Europe, but it
might be just as interesting to carry it South. At this meeting the constellation
of spaces present did represent the wider network of where it was held,
Stockholm in Scandinavia. In doing so FESARS managed to stay realistic.
Any attempt to plan such a European wide event and keep the question of
equal representation in mind would be bound to fail. So the further development
of this loose network will mainly need to deal with issues of inclusion
on an organisational level. Given the reality that most of the participants
will have changed their commitment by the time the Second ESARS takes place,
and most likely that some of the organisations will have ceased to exist
as well, the continuation of this seminar will depend on the outline which
it intends to give itself. This year in Stockholm a grand gesture was made.
The next step would possibly require what had been stated earlier about
the reality of artist-run-spaces: Institutionalisation. With the bureaucratic
burden which would come out of such a European network, the most essential
objective would be the definition of a clear purpose, and the development
of a pragmatic way of how to achieve this.
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Essays From Afterimage
In Art Activism and Oppositionality,
Grant H. Kester presents an anthology of texts from the American magazine
AfterImage roughly spanning the years between 1980 and 1994. AfterImage
is a product of the Visual Studies Workshop Rochester, set up in the late
'60s by Nathan and Joan Lyons as an "open-ended" space, a challenge to
existing centres of practice and education. Since its inaugural issue in
the early '70s, AfterImage has aimed to pose the same challenge to institutional
hierarchies, widening the remit of art criticism and theoretical debate
and engaging directly with context, community and issues of accountability.
Not much criticism or theory can (or is even willing to) account for its
stance or reveal its ideological bias, preferring to cloak itself with
a detached, moralistic rhetoric. The "bias" that emerges in the pages of
AfterImage is one that works against the grain of convention, focusing
on structures and discourses of power and control embedded in the realms
of culture and politics.
A key aim of the magazine was to
present "informed criticism" on the media of photography and independent
film and video. Providing coverage of these media in the '70s was one means
of supporting the work of artists excluded from the apparatus of the mainstream
art world. As these media expanded, so too did the cultural diversity of
artists and groups who employed them and the interests of the magazine's
diverse pool of writers converged around these new forms of practice.
The essays are sectioned under two
headings, The Politics of Patronage and Activism and Oppositionality. This
thematic division serves no more than a formal purpose since there are
very distinct crossovers and references between the sections. Indeed, Kester
concedes in his introduction, that having set up this division it was necessary
to challenge it. It would have been more helpful if the essays were tagged
with dates and issue numbers in which they first appeared.
In the opening essay Enlightened
Self-Interest: The Avant-Garde in the 80s, Richard Bolton embarks on a
critique of conservatism and the effect the economic and political environment
of the time had on art practice. "Inevitably, those with power in a society
will strive to create a culture that reflects their interests and aims."
Power often goes hand in hand with wealth and Bolton alarmingly demonstrates
how art and the fluctuations of the market confirm this equation. He makes
apparent the stark contrasts in sales value between works produced by artists
at different stages of their career. What emerges is a disturbing system
of control where collectors can effect and change the status of the work
(the value invested by audience and critic) by deliberately manipulating
the market; and artists posing against dominant culture as the new Post-Modernist
Avant-Garde come under attack. Bolton reveals how some artists, motivated
by self-interest, collude with advertising corporations in a process which
impedes the development of alternative readings and new audiences for art.
Art is detached from daily life and its transgressive power is harnessed
in the play between commodity culture and the leisure and lifestyle industries.
He warns that "artists interested in social critique and change must consider
and respond to the entire system that produces them and their work."
A number of texts in this anthology
tackle the discourse of multiculturalism and the conflicting effects it
had on cultural/political theory and practice. Arising in the early '80s
in a climate of reactionary conservatism and fragmentation of the Left,
"multiculturalism" became an adopted buzzword of artists, cultural institutions
and arts organisations. Cross-referencing different perspectives and criticisms,
the reader can easily deduce how this discourse functioned to camouflage
both Left and Right wing reactionary agendas.
In White Men Can't Programme: The
Contradictions of Multiculturalism, Darrell Moore asks "who benefits from
multiculturalism?" and while asserting some of the positive results, concludes
that it is all too easy for arts funders and government organisations to
obscure their control over minority interests by adopting the liberal ethic
of multiculturalism. Coco Fusco, in her review of two conferences, Celebration
of Black Cinema (Boston '88) and Sexism, Colonialism, Misrepresentation:
A Corrective Film Series (New York '88), takes a highly critical stance
against the avant-garde's fascination and misconception of the Other. From
her own perspective, she attacks the hierarchy of Eurocentric thought:
psychoanalysis, feminism, post-colonial doctrine and western aesthetics
in an attempt to expose the over-simplified terms of multiculturalism.
"Western cultural institutions, such as the avant-garde have a history
of rejuvenating themselves through the exploitation of disempowered peoples
Identity politics has become another
marker of '80s cultural practice and political activism. A simplistic bracketing
of identities and subjectivities is disputed by Lorraine O'Grady in Olympia's
Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity. As an artist, she remains "wary
"Nature: culture, body: mind, sexuality:
intellect, these binaries don't begin to cover what we sense about ourselves".
Some artists and media activists
joined forces around these issues of identity, collaborating with community
groups and educationalists. They produced works which challenged repressive
legislation (e.g. Proposition 6 in US, Section 28 in UK) and stereotyping
of gays, non-white peoples and the working class. Charles A. Wright's review
of the 1993 Whitney Biennial looks at the controversy caused by the inclusion
of new "issue-based" work. He is critical of the museum's curatorial strategy
and claims that the exhibition "projects a mercenary gloss on issues of
difference as its thematic impetus, incorporating 'others' in an effort
to idealize an alleged egalitarianism".
The need to celebrate cultural diversity
and to bond as minorities was diffused by specific demands from individual
groupings to maintain autonomy, self-determination and political cogency.
The dangers of overlooking the historic specificities of oppressions are
starkly laid out in Ioannis Mookas' review of the video Gay Rights, Special
Rights. Produced by a christian fundamentalist company principally for
use by the Traditional Values Coalition, Gay Rights, Special Rights exploits
the African-American fundamentalist voice in its attack on the gay and
lesbian movement as a "fraudulent trespasser upon the hallowed ground of
civil rights struggle." In this case, Mookas illustrates how effectively
video operates as a propagandist tool for anyone in a position to access
In the mid '80s the proliferation
of camcorder technologies multiplied the sites of cultural struggle and
gave rise to a new video activism. Brian Goldfarb discusses the censorship
of curricular video produced by artists and progressive educationalists
dealing with AIDS and safe-sex issues. Patricia Zimmerman explores reproductive
rights, focusing both on alternative and mainstream media; commercials,
news stories, pro-choice activist video, right-to-life and experimental
video. She praises groups like Paper Tiger TV and Deep Dish Satellite for
their use of low-tech technologies in their struggle to de-centralize broadcast
media: "The amateur camcorder could be retrieved from the private confines
of the bourgeois nuclear family --the gulag where all amateur media technologies
have been deposited to stunt their democratic potential." With her assertions
concerning the representation of the female body and the imaging of the
foetus, she raises important questions, echoed elsewhere in this anthology,
about the formal qualities of an activist art. In this case, she criticizes
political documentary theory and practice for its redemptive pose against
the spectator, characterized as ignorant and passive.
In his introduction, Grant H. Kester
elaborates a sound argument for the re-evaluation of the aesthetic in the
context of an activist art practice. Moving away from the rigidity of aesthetic
liberalism which confines the authenticity of art within the parameters
of social disengagement, he re-instates the viewing subject, "not as an
anonymously transcendent subject, but as the product of particular social,
economic and geographic conditions", with the power to generate new meanings
and definitions for art. Ann Cvetkovich's Video, AIDS, and Activism highlights
the difficulties audiences confront in deciphering codes of aesthetic "quality"
and related meaning in works which fuse different modes of cultural practice
with political activism. She reviews Video Data Bank's compilation package
Video Against AIDS, Act Up's Diva-TV and a number of other works produced
in the late '80s/ early '90s, considering the impact on a diverse range
of viewers. What transpires is how information is mediated by form. In
general, audiences viewed the experimental works as appealing to a more
personal, non-activist sensibility. Recognizing the conventional, representational
codes of documentary, viewers conflated these works with the "real" politics
of direct action.
These dilemmas of spectatorship
and representation are historically sited in Michael Renov's study of Newsreel
and its involvement in the construction of a political imaginary for the
Left. Newsreel, born in the '60s, was a production and distribution collective
whose mostly "un-authored" output included weekly news shorts, longer political
documentary works and informational reels. Any re-conceptualization of
standard film and TV practices was sacrificed to serve radical aims. A
blurring "romanticism of the Barricades" prevailed across the spectrum
of '60s cultural struggle. It fuelled audience solidarity and the revolutionary
imagination in the spirit of the times but, in the long run, hindered the
progression towards a broader understanding of the varied languages of
oppression and how they interweave to form what we often blindly accept
Audiences unaccustomed to film/
video works intent on exposing the stylistic conventions of Hollywood and
the mainstream media have little chance of fully digesting that which appears,
on first viewing, obscure, self-indulgent or superficial. As Patricia Thomson
points out in Video and Electoral Appeal, artists too, in their choice
of subject matter, succumb to the lure of mass media iconography. Hardly
surprising, she concedes, given the ever-increasing sophistication of the
tools and techniques of new politics. "In the process of critiquing the
media campaign ...(video artists) watch politics on television like the
rest of us". She laments the demise of the artist to "artist-as-spectator"
as opposed to "producer-as-participant". This demise can perhaps be linked
to the general erosion of the counterculture by the machinery of the Right
throughout this period.
One manifestation of the Right's
reactionary powers was the assault on the National Endowment for the Arts.
The origins of the NEA are laid out in Kester's Rhetorical Questions: The
Alternative Arts Sector and the Imaginary Public.
"At it's inception, arguments in
support of the Endowment, particularly those designed to persuade and cajole
skeptical congresspeople, were founded not on a definition of art as a
public good in and of itself, but on it's potential usefulness within the
matrix of state policy and ideology."
Focusing on the creative and political
stagnation of the alternative/ artist-run space, he points to the striking
similarities between what came to be known as the Professional Managerial
Class and the artist/ administrator of this alternative sector. A strategic
alignment with the disenfranchised (which saw artists posing as victims
of the system) led this new hybrid being to adopt the mantle of the "cultural
worker" and the moral rhetoric of the artist as transcendent subject.
"The experience of an artist whose
work is rejected by the gallery system is simply not interchangeable with
that of the poor or working class, whose relationship with the market economy
has far more profound consequences".
At this point, the reader may shudder
with recognition. The closed cycle of artist arts administrator/
organiser arts funder, clouded with indistinct and ever-changing
definitions of 'professionalism' is all too familiar. With this new discourse
fully embedded in the fabric of cultural exchange, Kester shows how alternative
spaces sited more often in poorly developed areas, flourished with the
onslaught of gentrification and posed a very real threat to the survival
of communities falsely constructed as their 'public'. The needs of this
"imaginary public" are renounced while the identity of the alternative
artist remains cushioned by privilege and material wealth.
Echoing these sentiments, David
Trend in Cultural Struggle and Educational Activism calls for a popularizing
of the forms of cultural practice and the need for artists to "engage the
institutions that utilize and reproduce state power". This essay and that
by Mable Haddock and Chiquita Mullins, examining the Public Broadcasting
System in the States are good examples of the 'rallying call' feature of
much AfterImage writing. Not merely bemoaning systems of oppression, they
advance concrete strategies for change.
Almost twenty years on, the ideas
and contentions manifest in this book are still lingering beneath the surface
of the latest 'post-isms'. Problems of race, class and sexuality are not
resolved because politicians purport to be addressing them, if anything,
they fester under this deception and erupt to no ones surprise but those
duped by the language of the state reproduced in the media. (Witness the
recent report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the attacks on the
multicultural communities of Brixton and Brick Lane and the gay and lesbian
community in Soho.) Neither are issues of context, audience or accountability
resolved because artist-run-spaces or the 'alternative sector' have bigger
international profiles or bigger budgets to develop programmes. Adrian
Piper, interviewed in this anthology bluntly states: "If art isn't allowed
to address and transform the conditions of real life, I don't see the point
The discussion Alternative, Mainstream,
Mainstream Alternatives in Variant 7 (Vol 2) touches on many points covered
in this anthology and concern is expressed over the spectre of "historical
amnesia" and the danger of repeating outdated arguments. To read Art, Activism
and Oppositionality as both a historical document and a contemporary analysis
may help redress these "crises" in understanding, forging a model for the
development of art practice and critical thought that acknowledges the
past as it looks forward to new challenges in the future.
Art Activism and Oppositionality:
Essays From Afterimage
Edited by Grant H. Kester
Duke University Press 1998
ISBN 0-8223-2095-9 (paperback)
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Return to the
Something is always missing in a
translation. However perspicacious the translator, some nuance will always
be neglected, some particularity left unconveyed. The verb 'to traduce',
originally meaning to transport, convey or translate (and related to the
modern French verb traduire, to translate) now means to slander or calumniate
--to misrepresent. The desire to render all knowledge into a commonly-accessible
code leads, conversely, to a canon of decontextualised signs, which float
or drift, reverberating dully in new contexts. The modernists' utopia,
enabled and epitomised by perfect communication, never arrives, because
they failed to account for the fragmentary character of language itself.
Does all this sound like a lesson
in things we already know, that we hardly need to be reminded of? Then
consider the rationale and ambitions of the 48th Venice Biennale (which
has the catchy title "dAPERTutto / APERTO overALL / APERTO partTOUT / APERTO
überALL"). This year's event, the biggest so far, attempts to represent
everything in late twentieth-century art, before the Three Zeros finally
arrive, and to fabricate from it (and for it) a uniform narrative of 'international
art now'. It is one which, predictably, privileges the slight and the banal.
New terminologies have been found to articulate and perpetuate the old
yearning for a True Story of Art: the dual rhetoric of 'globalism', both
as a nostalgic recollection of the ideal of Socialist Internationalism
and as a metonym for the 'real' internationalism of global capital, is
invoked repeatedly, often almost mystically, by the various organisers
and national commissioners of the Biennale. Overall curator Harald Szeemann
writes in his press release that in this year's Biennale the "national
ghettos will be abolished"; yet the idiosyncratic logic of the Biennale
depends on those ghettos, on the seemingly random cluster of pavilions
gathered in the Giardini, empty for eighteen months until the circus once
again rolls into town.
As the dismantling and re-organisation
of Modern sciences of classification continues, institutions are attempting
to align with the spirit of the supposed 'new democracy' under spurious
banners like 'respecting difference' or 'celebrating diversity'. It's easy
to 'celebrate diversity' when that simply means devising a few new sub-divisions
of the existing categories: the 2001 census in the UK, for example, will
attempt to include definitive categories for all people of mixed race.
Similarly, the supposedly benign rhetoric of 'multiculturalism' is now
widely denounced as a ruse, a barely-disguised reiteration of the status
quo. Rather than seeking tangible shifts in power, such strategies attempt
to assimilate 'difference' into the existing structure, even when that
structure has no place for difference, or rather can only offer subordinate
places, as fragmentary traductions of the monolithic centre.
The number of national pavilions
establishing themselves outside the main Giardini site has certainly grown,
but if you try to find any of them you'll have trouble; the Biennale organisers,
somewhat churlishly, refuse to print full addresses for them on publicity
material. Wander the labyrinthine alleyways of Venice looking for one of
them and you'll quickly see through the rhetoric of openness and equality
clinging to this year's event. The Irish pavilion has been in the Nuova
Icona gallery for several years, down one of those inauspicious-looking
alleyways on the island of Giudecca. This year's representative, Anne Tallentire,
presents a body of work that resists traduction into the globalist miasma
of Szeemann's überBiennale by insisting on its own specific contexts.
The show, Instances, pulls together three curiously jarring elements (a
series of short performance videos, a backlit transparency and a half-hour
video projection) and with them addresses the concerns that have occupied
Tallentire for several years: translation, communication and authorship.
In the first room a small colour monitor rests on a flight case and shows
a series of hand-held single-edit sequences that fade up from black. In
them, the artist is engaged in various activities, pulling up a floorboard,
arranging small pieces of wood, spreading broken glass on the floor until
it fills the monitor screen. The way the camera frames the performances,
concentrating solely on the act and cutting off even the performer's body,
prevents any external contexts from becoming visible, except that it's
clearly the same room in all the shots. Every so often, the normally-silent
video breaks into sound, just for a second or two: the sound of glass scraped
across wood, of a floorboard banged back into place. In the back room of
the gallery a wall is taken up with a video projection. Walking into the
space at the beginning of the loop one finds it almost completely black,
save for one pinpoint of light. Gradually the space gets lighter, but it's
not just your eyes that are getting used to the darkness; the half-hour
video shows dawn breaking somewhere over the nondescript inner city. The
process of elucidation (literally) that the video records is ultimately
pointless: there is no landscape for us to survey, since all that can be
discerned of this 'grand vista' is a steel fence that occupies the whole
of the foreground, and an unremarkable tower block. Taking the shedding
of light as a metaphor for the explanation of intrinsic meaning, both these
video pieces are about narrative, about our desire to make stories of ostensibly
unconnected events, and yet each refuses to be narrativised. The third
element of the piece, which sits between the two video rooms, is a large
colour transparency of a woman's ear pressed up against concrete, listening
where there is no hearing to be done. Writing in his catalogue essay, Brian
Hand suggests that a translation is not simply a corruption of an original
text, but that the original is itself always infected with omission, that
the communicative act is always partial, approximate. Tallentire's deftness
lies in drawing this out, making out of it a body of work that is insistent,
but which clings to its own partiality. Leaving the gallery and the contemplative
space that has been constructed in it (in contrast to the rest of the Biennale),
I was put in mind of the right to silence and its gradual removal from
British law. Silence itself, the absence of information, can now be an
implication of guilt.
Tallentire's work draws out considerations
of space as well, by figuring the construction of narrative in four dimensions.
Several artists in the Biennale explored our contemporary relationship
with urban space and built landscapes, most notably Doug Aitken. His video
installation Electric Earth is divided into three consecutive 'rooms',
with images and sounds overflowing from one chamber into the next. In the
first room a young black man lies on a bed in a motel room or apartment,
endlessly changing the channels on his TV, which we then see is showing
only noise. His glazed expression contrasts with the voice-over: "A lot
of times I dance so fast I will come... It's like food for me". In the
second room two mirror-image projections are shown at right angles to one
another; in the third another three screens form three sides of a square.
In these two spaces the same young man dances in the deserted streets at
night. The familiar signs of the city --barbed wire fences, abandoned shopping
trolleys, empty parking lots --litter Aitken's beautifully filmed environment,
while the soundtrack mixes shadowy hip-hop beats with the character's narration:
"It's the only now I get". His peculiar autism, his alienation from the
city which surrounds him, recall Frantz Fanon's disturbed subject of European
colonialism, fragmented and re-inscribed by intangible processes of power
located far away.
In the Italian pavilion, three artists
collaborate to explore the spatialisation of narrative, with an elaborately-constructed
series of three interwoven films. In the first, Jump-Cut, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster,
Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno present us with a clip from a French
film of the early 1970s. A moustachioed character mutters urgently down
the phone, agreeing to come over straight away. He leaves his apartment
block, and emerges from the building 25 years older, the same actor in
the Paris streets of today. He salutes the camera and begins to walk across
town... The piece concentrates on a single break in continuity in the original
film, in which the character was shown standing in a building in one part
of town and emerging, miraculously, in a completely separate area as he
leaves that building. In this 'remake', the same actor has been engaged
to walk the distance between the two shots, re-uniting a space that had
been fragmented, but at the expense of the 'linearity' of time, of narrative.
As he reaches his destination, the film reverts to the original, the break
'sutured'. Watching the video, one gradually becomes aware of another layer:
the projection is itself a re-presentation of another projection, the film
having been projected in the same room some time previously and re-filmed
with a hand-held camera. The people walking in front of the projector are
themselves part of the film. As the loop comes to an end, the camera leaves
the room, walking out into the night-time desertion of the off-season Giardini;
just as we think that we've returned to a simple projection, that the re-filming
has stopped, the camera pulls back once more to reveal the picture framed,
re-filmed, on the wall that we are watching now...
More literal approaches to space
are found in the large-scale black and white aerial photographs of Balthasar
Burckhard and in Frank Thiel's colour photos of the enormous reconstructions
underway in Berlin. Both concentrate on the 'given-ness' of the urban realm,
on its seemingly random (but actually tightly controlled) development and
The Biennale features a large number
of Asian artists, particularly young Chinese artists. Speaking at a discussion
organised by Audio Arts magazine in the British pavilion, Charles Esche
suggested that it may be more than coincidence that at a time when China
is the only Other superpower in the world, when its international relations
are continuously headline news, European and American curators have decided
to discover Chinese 'culture'. Many works concentrate on re-articulating
the myths of Socialist Realism, most notably Cai Guo-Qiang's Venice Rent-Collecting
Courtyard. The piece is a slightly-altered replica of a series of sculptures
originally commissioned by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. However
bad things are now, the sculptures tell us, look how bad they were before:
peasants toil, their backs bent under their loads, while the landlords
extort their rent and the bosses stand by ready to beat anyone found shirking.
The lifesize sculptures were toured around China in the '70s and copies
made for various eastern European cities. Harald Szeemann wanted to exhibit
them in Documenta in 1976. Figures were added whenever politically expedient:
heroic soldiers when the army were needed to maintain 'order', virtous
workers when there were shortages. The piece re-emerges now as Guo-Qiang's
personal remembrance of recent history. A straw panama is added to one
landlord, a wooden sword placed in the hand of another, in an attempt to
re-locate (or dislocate) the figures. However, the piece sits uneasily
between irony and poignancy in the surroundings of the Biennale. Nearly
all the Chinese political art shown (there are several exponents here)
suffers from its translocation, from a situation where contexts (history
and politics) are immediately available, to the glib neo-Orientalism of
the international art show.
Some of the work seems to comment
wryly on precisely this condition, particularly Zhou Tiehai's painting
The relations in the art world are the same as the relations between states
in the post Cold War era. Or as Szeemann puts it, "The large number of
Asian artists this year will facilitate an encounter with a history that
is very different from that of Europe or North America".
To return finally to that claim
of non-territoriality, let's end with an anecdote, one which, obviously,
proves nothing. A friend from Dublin, another freelance writer, asks for
a copy of the Gary Hume catalogue at the British pavilion, showing her
press accreditation. She's told she needs a union card to get any press
information. When she says that she's a freelance, that art writers in
Dublin don't need press cards, the new internationalism is explained to
her immediately: "You're not in Dublin now. You're in Great Britain." Roll
on the abolition of national ghettos.
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When you care
enough to be the very best
Littering the living room floor is
the residue, some truly detritus, of the processes of ongoing 'service
reviews', 'consultations' and 'research' of the Arts Councils, Local government
and associated arts agencies in what has become an endless game of central
government 'Cultural Policy' deployment, validation and marketing.
While ingratiating programmes of
'Cultural Policy' advocacy escalated as part of the build up to the Scottish
Parliament, given its new custodial mantle of cultural overseer, the phenomenon
has to be seen as an effect of a broader intensification of an imposing
of market philosophy across the public sector as a whole. Within this the
specific focus on the arts is becoming increasingly technocratic, that
is the arts are being seen exclusively in terms of their 'use value', having
a 'cultural purpose' in regard to 'social inclusion', 'education' and 'regional
development' criteria as defined by government.
To synopsise a few recent documents:
The Scottish Arts Council's Scottish
Arts in the 21st Century is an attempt at a promotional/lobbying life belt
for the SAC in the face of calls in Scottish parliamentary manifestoes
for a euphemistic overhaul of the SAC. Hiring the 'out-of-house' 'celebrity'
services of Ruth Wishart (see Variant, vol. 2, issue 7 editorial) it attempts
to position the SAC as both a free-market advocate as well as an integral
part of the public-service-sector accountable to 'the people'. Defending
itself as committed to the demands of 'consumer access' is undoubtably
also an offensive against ceremonial accusations of elitism and media inspired
controversy, real or otherwise, of where and how the public purse is being
The Creative Scotland: The Case
for a National Cultural Strategy circular, produced by an amalgam of agencies
including COSLA, SAC, Scottish Screen, Scottish Museums Council, and the
Scottish Library Association, is designed to buoy their position regarding
the focus already on the 'Cultural Sector' as a driving force for a talent
driven society and the much vaunted entrepreneurial spirit, calling for
a dedicated Ministry of Culture within the new parliament and a National
Strategy for the arts. Once again a restrictive view of "cultural action",
experimentation and innovation assures the arts are resigned to stimulating
Similarly there is the Towards the
New Enlightenment: A Cultural Policy for the City of Edinburgh 1999, an
Edinburgh City Council coffee-table brochure couched in the rhetoric of
relieving the vulnerable whilst soliciting industrial partners. This is
a sepia toned cheerleader for the instrumentalisation of the arts as an
acceptable face of commerce within the city.
Best Value Service review: Museums,
Heritage and Visual Arts, is Glasgow City Council's first stage report
in an obligatory exercise for all Local Authorities as stipulated by government.
Far from exploratory the document in verbiage of efficiency succeeds in
drowning the scope of activity blanketed by the construct 'Culture and
Leisure Services' within the cadre of market enterprise and regional (business)
development. 'The arts' are to be sequestered to play promotional fiddle
to the city's business community and 'Band-Aid' to an ailing social services
--to be technocraticaly utilised for deterministic social, educational and
economic purposes, confining funding to the ends of 'strategic planning'.
The SAC Lottery's Summary or Responses
to New Directions Consultations [sic] is a marvel of efficiency. Its lack
of substance as to how the priorities for the Lottery's New Directions
were arrived at is simply awe inspiring given their repeated bulwark of
an extensive consultation procedure. This has to be contrasted with the
roving, full technicolor press launches of its funds*: funds and schemes
available from SAC in 1998/99 pack. Of course, it is stressed that the
numerous suggestions within the guidelines of the kinds of projects that
might be eligible for funding are merely illustrative. What this does underscore
however is that 'cultural activity' is to be 'on message', that the agenda
for funding is not 'discursive' but 'prescriptive'. As such, 'equal opportunities'
and 'equality of access' are enunciated in terms of consumer development,
the arts rather than a catalyst for social change appropriated as a constituent
of job 'training'.
Open Access Provision and Facilities
for Artists in Scotland: The Review is a SAC commissioned "investigation"
into artists' workshop provision within Scotland by Peter Davies of the
Arts Council of Wales. His responsibility was to assess current needs and
provisions and recommend possible change, however these changes were principled
as having to be done within the euphemistic "present financial climate".
While the report acknowledges the necessity of workshop provision and the
work done to date, it also concedes a lack of international standards and
substantial gaps within areas of provision. The fetter of the "present
financial climate" instructs the scope and thrust of the document and the
resulting suggestions are predictably for an extension of market principles
professed as a cure-all.
Such documents claim to make the
process of discourse central to either their construction, as in the transparent
and benign representation of the results of consultation, or as documents
whose function it is to stimulate comment and feed-back, asserting consultation
as an integral agent to policy outcomes. It could be stated that since
bodies such as the SAC are courted for funding, the relationship between
them and those they establish to consult is often illusory, i.e. by the
nature of consultancy those consulted ultimately have a vested interest
and as such may be reluctant to openly criticise. These can then become
ritualised performances, purely formal exercises, leaving the real processes
of decision making as being open and transparent questionable. Such knowledge
produced for official use and funded accordingly rarely questions the fundamental
aims and objectives of the client organisation and any such research is
by definition subject to pre-existing agenda of policy and policy implementing
bodies. A synchronous action in this process is the exposing of the public
sector to marketing rhetoric where manipulation of 'market imperatives'
as 'cultural imperatives' is a pedestrian constituent.
An initial argument for public subsidy
of 'the arts' with the creation of the Arts Council of Great Britain in
1946 was to protect 'the arts' from the ravages and tarnishes of the commercial
market --"not to teach or to censor, but to give courage, confidence and
opportunity"1. The understanding
that 'the arts' (initially consisting of the arts of drama, music and painting,
broadened out in 1967 to encompass a wider remit of activity) could not
exist without subsidy was of course never a sole reason for such support,
other prime elements being the 'cultivation of the masses' --the political
objective of social control through cultural discourse --and the use of
public money to build institutions of national and international prestige
--a cultural player on a world stage. The Arts Council's position was thus
intended as an 'intermediary' body between the state and civil society,
avoiding the view of direct government control over day-to-day practice
as well as the perceived insidious pressures of an otherwise exclusive
In this sense 'Culture' was determined
as consisting of a particular field of government, a broader sense of government
than just governing the state, encompassing the mechanisms of social management
--'Culture' here referring specifically to the practices and institutions
that make meaning. The very operation of policing 'Culture' through 'Cultural
policy', aside from the etymology, raises questions of regulation, control
and censorship, the tendency being to treat culture as though it were either
a dangerous law breaker or a lost child.
In Culture and the Public Sphere
(1996) Jim McGuigan traces the move from 'state' to 'market' within the
public sector as a 'discursive shift' to "an administrative philosophy
as a set of ideas for managing all institutions in the public sector, involving
devices such as internal markets, contracting out, tendering and financial
incentives... [which] coincided with the incessant promotion of a loud
yet diffuse rhetoric of 'enterprise culture' which was not only about organisational
change in both the private and public sectors but also about the cultivation
of an 'enterprising self', a personal way of being contrasted with bureaucratic
time-serving and vested professional interests in maintaining the status
quo of public service."
He describes the fostering of 'market
strategies' as a 'discursive shift' within bodies such as the Arts Councils
as 'the arts' have not actually been abandoned to the ravages of the commercial
sector, instead there is still a persistence of state intervention in the
cultural field and public subsidy of 'the arts'. However he sees it not
by chance that the total abolition of state-sponsored culture has not yet
occurred, instead he sees a "continuing use of the public sector in the
construction of a new common sense, the 'social-welfare-state' swept aside
and replaced by a pervasive 'market reasoning'." Whereby "[t]he effect
of certain discourses is to make it virtually impossible to think outside
of them. In a society of discourse there are control procedures for what
can be legitimately thought and enunciated: exclusion procedures that mark
the boundaries of a discourse, defining that which is permissible and impermissible
to say; internal procedures that regulate the distinctive operations of
a discourse; and access procedures that regulate entry to a discursive
field. Where once was 'the state' there is now 'the market' in discussion
of cultural policy." It is then no small matter that such attempts to dictate
the parameters of discourse through a pervasive managerialization of 'culture'
threatens the outright commodification and privatisation of information
through the total commercialisation of the public sphere.
The traditional discourse of 'quality'
as a determinant of public subsidy was primarily the consummation of class
'taste' by naturalised arbitrators of cultural competence and aesthetic
on not unfounded aspersions of elitism, these capricious 'qualitative values'
have now been re-inscribed within a seemingly objective 'common sense'
discourse of 'value'. That value and worth, as well as having monetary
implications in the sense of 'value for money' have been equated as 'the
right of access to cultural consumption', and that consumption has itself
become evidence of 'cultural action'. The language of the market is deployed
as the residually good intention of a 'constructive advance' towards a
more 'cultured' nation, that being a nation with equitable consumer access
to cultural goods -- so much for cultural critique as an instrument for
changing consciousness. Ultimately concepts of 'quality' and 'value' are
utilised to function as qualification for encouraging and (willingly or
unconsciously) suppressing cultural activity. Within the states' feigning
of indifference, these are employed as mechanisms in the veiling of an
imposition of a distinct market ideology.
The arts are currently 'marketised'
to such an extent that their circulation now resembles that of the non-state
sector, the 'private' market of cultural commodities. However, McGuigan
makes clear that 'marketisation', as he uses it, "is not strictly to be
subsumed under the concept of commodification since the important point
is to do with the resemblance to the market rather than a direct identity
with it... insofar as the state continues to hold some responsibility for
cultural provision through the collection and disbursement of tax revenue."
There is of course a contradiction between the promotional ideology of
individualism and choice, and the evidence of actual conditions. that this
endless propaganda vastly exaggerates the power the 'consumer' has over
their daily lives. As McGuigan asks regarding Pierre Bourdieu's writings
on the field of cultural production: "How far is the real problem for Bourdieu
the unequal social distribution of cultural dispositions and competencies
or how far is it the power of those with cultural capital to impose a system
of cultural value which fits in with their own tastes?"
"The most profound accomplishment
of the New Right in Britain may be not that it literally rolled back the
state in order to release the full blast of market forces but, rather that
it inserted the 'new managerialism and market reasoning' into the state-related
agencies of the public sector, in effect calling upon organisations that
are not themselves private businesses to think and function as though they
were.... The public sector has been required to function pseudo-capitalistically,
which is not only an organisational phenomenon but a deeply imbibed ideological
phenomenon and one which has enormous impact on cultural agencies and the
network of arts-subsidising bodies."3
The Left and Right have coalesced
in imbuing 'the arts' with the rhetoric of the market. However, in spite
of this deployment oligopoly, the rule by a few, rather than 'free-market
competition' is ultimately the driving force in order to operate a governmental
pedagogy organised by the technology of moral supervision underscoring
the promotion of 'market values'. In so doing the dissemination of critical
ideas is suppressed. The implications for democratic debate and diverse
cultural experimentation in the face of the censorial criterion of pan-promotionalism
hardly needs spelling out...
1. John Maynard Keynes, The Listener,
12 July 1945; Raymond Williams, The Arts Council: Politics and Policies,
An Arts Council Lecture, 1981.
2. Described as "timeservers in
the turgid little canister of Scottish arts" --Norman Lebrecht, Daily Telegraph
3. Jim McGuigan, Culture and the
Public Sphere, (1996), Routledge
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