Five mass graves in Badajoz reinforce antifascist historical memory

GUILLERMO MARTÍNEZ @ GUILLE8MARTINEZ

(Changed headline and translated from article in Publico.es by D.Breatnach)

(Reading time main text: 7 mins.)

Franco’s repression in Fregenal de la Sierra executed more than 80. Now, a second excavation seeks to recover the bodies of those who did not come to light in 2012, when the skeletons of 43 victims were recovered. The remains found indicate cruelty towards women, disrespecting them even after they were shot.

Central plaza Badajoz, probably influenced by its Moorish heritage — what the tourists are advised to see of Badajoz. (Photo credit: Stephen Colebourne via Wikipedia)

When they gave her the jacket of her son, who had just been shot, she lost her speech. She was like this for two and a half years, in silence, until she died. The father, a lifelong labourer, said on his deathbed that he bequeathed his little house to his five children. “You only have four,” one of the witnesses told him. “Until they give me the body of my son, I still have five,” replied the man. They were the mother and father of Juan Serrano García, shot in September 1936 in Fregenal de la Sierra (Badajoz1), when the rebels tricked him into returning: “They said that all those who had not committed crimes of blood, would be free of reprisals,” adds Andrés Serrano, representative of the Association of relatives of the executed from the town and Juan’s nephew.

His body was found in 2012 in a mass grave in the town’s cemetery along with 42 other bodies, although many more are still waiting in the ground. At that time, there were seven graves opened. Now, five more are uncovered to try to account for the more than 80 murdered by Franco’s troops of which there is a record. Among the bodies there is an unusually high percentage of women for the situation, points out Laura Muñoz-Encinar, archaeologist and forensic anthropologist at the Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit), attached to the Higher Centre for Scientific Research (CSIC), and who is participating in the exhumation.

The forced and almost physical silence of Juan’s mother testifies to the decades and decades of internal repression of the thousands of victims of the Franco regime. So much so, that Serrano learned about the story of his uncle obliquely from his mother, the political one of the family. She did not tell him directly: “An anthropologist friend wanted to interview her for a job, so I took the opportunity and told him to ask her about what happened in the Civil War. I hid in a room next to the terrace, where they were and thus I was able to hear first-hand and for the first time in my life about the execution of my uncle, the hardships my grandparents went through and the stigmatization my family suffered for being, for everyone else, ‘reds’ “, related the historical memorialist at 68 years of age.

Massacre by the fascist-military in the Bullring in Badajoz 1936, artist unknown (image sourced on Internet)

They were in a hurry to kill them

The case of Juan, a militant in the UGT2 and of socialist sympathies, assassinated at the age of 21, is just one more. In Fregenal, more than eight dozen people who were related to politics and social struggle during the Republican period were executed. Located in Badajoz, many townspeople joined “The Column of 8,000”, coming from the north of Huelva, to flee from the fascist barbarism between the air raids. The troops took Fregenal on September 18 and three days later Juan returned to the town together with another comrade. They thought that nothing would happen to them, because they had not committed any blood-crime.

“They arrived at 10:30 in the morning and at 11:15 they were both arrested. They were taken to jail, and no matter how hard my grandparents tried to intervene with some powerful people from the town to save him from being shot, on September 22 he was murdered”, relates Serrano. The same thing happened a few meters away, in those days, in the town square: “They shot about four people in the center of town; it was an exemplary shooting. They wanted to increase the fear that there was already,” he says.

That same September 22nd, Juan’s parents had already guessed the worst. They knew that their son had been detained and that the Francoists had no mercy. Their suspicions were confirmed when, a few hours later and for greater confirmation, they were given the jacket that their son had been wearing. According to Serrano, the rebel soldiers also told them that they should stop searching, that they already knew where he was, and not to bother people, referring to the people to which they had gone to ask for compassion for their young son.

The first exhumation: 43 bodies

More than 70 years later, the team to which Laura Muñoz-Encinar, the archaeologist belongs, arrived. It was 2010 and they couldn’t start the excavation for two years. After the surveys and a research project approved by the Ministry of the Presidency, they excavated seven mass graves. “There were men and women. They were from young to very advanced ages. Among the seven women we found, one of them had a full-term fetus of between 7 and 9 months,” explains the Incipit scientist.

A bullet found in the mass graves excavation in Fregenal de la Sierra this year.
(Photo credit: Laura Muñoz-Encinar)

The change of central government in 20113 meant the cancellation of the funding allocation related to the investigation of what happened during the Civil War and the Dictatorship, so they had to wait nine long years until they were able to return to the town. Muñoz-Encinar explains that “During this time almost all the children of the victims, of which there were many, have died. There is only one daughter living, María Lobo Villa. The Francoists executed her mother, three uncles and a grandfather. Now, mainly, grandchildren and great-nephews and great-nieces remain. “

In that excavation they found the body of a woman buried between two men, something recurring according to the expert. Once again, and as always, they got the worst of it. This is demonstrated by what happened to Antonia Regalado Carballar, known as “La chata carrera” (“the flat racer”?-DB). A 22-year-old political activist, this woman transgressed the traditional roles of the patriarchal culture of the time. “They detained her and took her to the cemetery. There they physically and psychologically abused her, and several of them raped her. After killing her, said the undertaker, they put her in the ditch between the bodies of two men,” Muñoz-Encinar explains further. Serrano adds what the rebels who were there said, as the gravedigger recalled, “As men tempt you, there you have men for your whole life.” They haven’t found her body yet.

This type of symbolism, highly contemptuous for all victims and sexualized in the case of women, is not an isolated event. “In the current excavation we have already found a body face down. In a Judeo-Christian culture like ours, the placement of the bodies responds to a ritual of elevating the soul to heaven, that is why the bodies are placed face up and with the limbs stretched , and not doing it like that is a post-mortem humiliation”, the archaeologist explained.

Killed without trial years after the War

She herself points out that all the remains already found and those they are still looking for were civilian victims of extrajudicial repression, executed on the basis of the war party in force from 1936 to 1948. That is that, almost ten years after the end of the war, it was still possible to execute civilians without the need to bring them through a judicial procedure. That is what happened in Fregenal de la Sierra in 1946 to a party of guerrillas4. This is how Muñoz-Encinar relates it: “We know that they were fighting in the mountains, that they were pursued, until one night they entered a brothel. There they were betrayed and, after a scuffle, they were arrested. They were murdered, their bodies were exhibited in the street entrance to the cemetery and then put in a grave.” Also victims of extrajudicial repression years after the Civil War ended, the team of experts does not know if their bodies will be in the five graves they are currently studying and in which they have already found three bodies.

Human remains uncovered in 2012 excavations in Fregenal de la Sierra, Badajoz. (Photo credit: Laura Muñoz-Encinar)

End report.

COMMENT:

By Diarmuid Breatnach

The Spanish state territory holds more mass graves than any country in the world with the exception of Cambodia. Most of their occupants were killed during the Spanish Antifascist struggle with or without a military court hearing outside of conflict zones, that is to say, either in the rear areas of the fascist-military forces, i.e areas already safely conquered. In some of the areas, there had been little or no military resistance whatsoever but that did not halt the arrests and executions. And after the conclusive defeat of the Republic, the executions continued. Many victims, perhaps even the majority, had never even fired a gun in defence of the Republic but were considered enemies of the fascist State through their support for the Republic, their political ideology, social attitude or sexual orientation.

Photograph taken of massacred bodies in Badajoz before they were burned and buried (Photo sourced: Internet)

The punishment was not always a death sentence but people died also in prison due to massive overcrowding, disease, inadequate food or clean drinking water, water for washing or inadequate medical care.

Despite the frequent assertion that the 1936 military-fascist uprising against the elected Republican Government was to “restore Christian values” and was supported by most of the Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy, rape of women and girls was frequent, whether they were afterwards shot or not. This was widely attested in evidence by victims, witnesses and even some war reporters.

Those who survived or did not go to jail faced constant harassment, confiscation and theft of land, animals and produce; fines and public humiliation, in particular the women who were force-fed laxatives and then paraded in nightclothes or underclothes through the neighbourhood, sometimes to the doors of the Catholic church, unable to control their bowels as they walked.

Babies were also taken from murdered supporters of the Republic and later from working class women (who were told their baby had been stillborn) and given to childless fascist couples. Children of the “Reds5” were taunted at school and insulted by teachers.

After its sharpest form abated the repression nevertheless continued throughout the nearly four decades of the Dictatorship and it was extremely dangerous to even speak of disinterring the mass graves and reburying the victims in dignity, not to speak of honouring them as antifascist martyrs. Even after the death of Franco and the Transition to an alleged democracy, many kept silent to protect their families. Schools suppressed the history6. Murderers and torturers were not prosecuted. Thieves kept what they had taken. The ruling class consisted for the most part of supporters of the fascist-military uprising and their descendants and they thronged the civil service, military, police, judiciary, church hierarchy, media (State and private), the education system – along with many businesses and a number of political parties.

More recently, the work of generations of those keeping the historical memory alive, investigating, speaking, marking areas, even disinterring on their own initiatives, is bearing fruit. The Law of Historical Memory, passed through the Spanish Parliament under a social-democratic Government in 2007 helped for a little while but then fell into disuse under the PP Government, though it was not abolished.

Its renovation in 2020 by the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition has spurred more excavation bu the Law and its renovation had been preceded by the work over decades by volunteers of historical memory associations in many different parts of the State, such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, Asturias, Galicia, Andalucia and Madrid. The associations have been assisted by forensic experts working voluntarily. This work has helped create the political-social-cultural atmosphere in which in October 2019 the long-promised removal of the remains of the Dictator General Franco and the leader of the fascist Falange, Primo Rivera, took place from their fascist mausoleum in the Valle de Los Caidos7 (“Valley of the Fallen”, a fascist monument constructed with prisoner labour and a shrine for Spanish fascists).

Nevertheless the renovated Historical Memory Law, or its program posted by the Government, has been criticised by relatives and other historical memory activists, because it rules out any reparations. They are bitter that most of the known torturers, murderers and rapists died natural deaths without having faced even a trial and their accusers8 and that not only do their families hang on to their ill-gotten gains but that the State does not acknowledge its duty to the victims. The State itself, or one of its departments, is also engaged in a judicial-political struggle to recover from organisations and families some properties, including national monuments and one of them of UNESCO World Heritage status. Some local authorities face prosecution and reductions in allocation of central funds because they are holding on to commemorative signs exalting Franco or someone of his supporters.

Of course, the fascists and most varieties of the Right in the Spanish polity are angry at these events and link them to the struggle for Catalan independence as fatal to the Spanish State; they demonstrate and threaten a coup or some kind of repercussion, retired Army senior officers sign declarations and some rattle their sabres in public, the spokesperson of the Franco Foundation reminds the current King Felipe that it is entirely due to Franco that his father became monarch (which is true and Juan Carlos also swore allegiance to that regime, an oath which he never recanted).

Even some liberals are uneasy, feeling that “it’s reopening old wounds”, to which the relatives of the victims and others reply: “the wounds have never closed.”

end item.

SOURCES:

https://www.publico.es/politica/dictadura-franquista-memoria-revive-pueblo-badajoz-exhumacion-cinco-nuevas-fosas-comunes.html

https://alchetron.com/Battle-of-Badajoz-(1936)#Massacre-of-civilians

https://www.hoy.es/opinion/peldanos-historia-20210110005509-ntvo.html

FOOTNOTES:

1City in Extremadura, SW Spain.

2Unión General de Trabajadores, a general workers’ union allied to the social-democratic PSOE party. The union was outlawed by Franco and many of its supporters suffered imprisonment or even execution or murder without trial. It is one of the largest unions in the Spanish state today and the PSOE is one of the traditional parties of government.

3In that year’s General Election the right-wing Partido Popular won a landslide victory against the PSOE and the political climate changed considerably. Both the PP and the PSOE support the unionist and monarchist Spanish Constitution but the PP contains a harder Right, including supporters of the Franco regime and memory and outright fascists, some of which have split off at times to form the right-wing Ciudadanos and fascist Vox parties.

4Guerrilla struggle persisted in parts of the Spanish state after the defeat of the Republic, in some cases for decades.

5To sustain the fiction that they were fighting against “Communism”, (no doubt believed by many), those leading the fascist-military uprising constantly referred to their enemies as “Reds”. Some of course were but the Republic was also supported by Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists, democrats, social-democrats, revolutionary socialists, anarchists, libertarians and anarcho-syndicalists. The foreign press mostly referred to them as Republicans (sometimes as “Government supporters”) and the fascist-military side as Nationalists (sometimes as “rebels”). Communists, revolutionary socialists and anarchists predominated among the foreign volunteers who joined the Republican forces through the International Brigades and other routes (for example, Orwell, a member of the Independent Labour Party, fought with the mostly Trotskyist POUM) but they also included socialist Republicans from Ireland for example along with simply dedicated antifascists.

6Indeed, writing a review of the city history this very year, the author skips from 1921 to the 1970s, missing out the entire Antifascist War and the Massare of Badajoz, in an article featuring photos of the bullring where much of the massacre took place! https://www.hoy.es/opinion/peldanos-historia-20210110005509-ntvo.html

7An event covered in detail on Spanish TV in the style of a state funeral.

8Notable exceptions were Melitón Manzanas, Commander of the Political-Social Brigade of the Guardia Civil, a notorious torturer and Nazi collaborator, assassinated by the Basque armed group ETA in San Sebastian/ Donosti in 1968 and Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s nominated successor, also assassinated by ETA in Madrid in 1973. Manzanas was awarded posthumously the Medal of Civic Merit by the Aznar Government in 1998 as “a victim of terrorism”.

WELCOME TO REFUGEES ON SANDYMOUNT STRAND

WELCOME TO REFUGEES” EVENT SANDYMOUNT 3 SEPTEMBER 2015

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

On 13 September 2015, six years ago a remarkable event took place on the strand in Sandymount (Dumhach Trá) in Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath), of which I have been reminded by the Facebook anniversaries function. I wrote a short report with photos for a FB album at the time but it deserves a more easily accessible record on Rebel Breeze. Text from the album follows:

WELL OVER A THOUSAND PEOPLE (that will be just “several people” for RTÉ1), gathered at Sandymount strand today to spell out the message “Refugees Welcome” on the sand.

The day looked bad earlier with rain and, at the original time set, was still raining. But due to tide conditions, the start time had been set back an hour and the rain had stopped and there was even some intermittent sunshine as the crowds assembled.

I had to strip off rainproof clothes under which I was already sweating. Starting was slow and some singers tried to keep us entertained as we waited. We were also led in shouting some slogans — all in English (would using the word “Fáilte” have hurt?). We were each assigned to a column behind the letter we were going to spell out.

Section of the crowd standing on the wet beach, formed up in their letters. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Eventually we were led off by our letter-leader to a spot marked out in the shape of the letters by string tied to pegs stuck in the sand. We shuffled into shape obediently.

A drone flew over us filming (I had unpleasant associations with the word, especially in a US-Syria context) and then we all had to be reformed, as according to the drone operator, the letters didn’t look right. So yes, we all became reformists .

Drone in the sky — refugee-friendly one for a change (top right). (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Then it was finally right, the “heart” had to be reformed too — it was bleeding people out at the edges. Finally, we were judged to be right, waved to the drone, film was taken.

Then the organisers thought it would be good for us to “scatter” for the film effect. We did, kind of, a half-hearted scatter …. nothing like we would have done from incoming ordinance. And then we went home.

After standing in the wet sand I discovered that dubbin did not keep the water out of my boots and, no matter how much knocking of boots together, I still had some sand on them when I got home. Remember how you always managed to bring some sand home from the beach, no matter how hard you tried not to?

The event followed on the more than two thousand (“hundred” according to RTÉ) who gathered at the Spire yesterday to extend the hand of welcome to refugees fleeing murder and even sexual slavery (by ISIS); a counter to the xenophobia and especially Islamophobia which had awoken echoes of the anti-Irish Catholic rantings of Cromwell and his kind in the 15th Century. Well done to the organisers and those who turned up to support the event.

Wide view of Sandymount beach as the “letters” break up (Photo credit: uncertain)

POSTCRIPT:

A lot of organisations had put their name to the event but effectively it had been organised by a coalition of ENAR Ireland (now Ireland Network Against Racism), Migrant Resource Centre Ireland and Irish Refugee Council — maith iad in conception, planning and execution.

Section of crowd forming up on their letter-group prior to going out to form up on the wet sand for the aerial photos. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

As though their traumal from the cause of leaving and its own pain were not enough, many die in the attempt. Thousands of refugees have died trying to reach Europe, most of them in the Mediterranean. Those who survive face racism and ghettoisation.

“From January to June 2021, it was estimated that 827 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In 2020, the number of deaths amounted to 1.4 thousand. However, the accurate number of deaths recorded in the Mediterranean Sea cannot ascertained. Between 2014 and 2018, for instance, about 12,000 people who drowned were never found”.2

Casualties and missing people

“Worldwide, it was estimated that eight thousand people died in the attempt of fleeing their country. According to estimations, over five thousand refugees lost their lives in the attempt to reach the European shores in 2016. Therefore, the Mediterranean Sea was the deadliest migration route. Indeed, over the last couple of years, the Mediterranean Sea held the largest number of casualties and missing people”.3

Western, Central, and Eastern route

“According to migration studies, the Mediterranean Sea is crossed by a Western, a Central, and an Eastern route. Out of these routes, the Central Mediterranean route was the deadliest. In 2016, roughly 4,6 thousand people lost their lives while pursuing this route. Sadly, the identification of bodies is challenging due to the sea. In 2019 for instance, the vast majority of refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean were not identified and their country of origin was untraceable.”4

Aerial view of the letter-volunteers on the sand photographed from the drone (Photo credit: Stephen Kingston)

REMEMBER

Remember? Remember when we were migrants?

Remember when we fled murder and rapine

and many another terrible scene

When death and torture were at hand

and we sought succour in other lands?

Remember?

Remember when our little nation

was devastated by starvation.

disease and desolation,

our hope in emigration ….

Remember?

Remember when we died by

mountain, valley and sea

or we braved

the rolling waves

to go where we might be free?

Remember, oh do you remember?

Escape, the vote,

in leaky boats

in anything to float,

fear in throat,

today they launch

for our shores.

Remember?

We must remember!

Diarmuid Breatnach

End.

Side view of the crowd that formed the “heart” on the sand (Photo: D.Breatnach)

FOOTNOTES

1Radió Teilifís Éireann, the state broadcasting service.

2https://www.statista.com/statistics/1082077/deaths-of-migrants-in-the-mediterranean-sea/

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

LINKS

Migrants Rights Centre Ireland: https://www.mrci.ie/

Ireland Network Against Racism: https://inar.ie/

Irish Refugee Council: https://www.irishrefugeecouncil.ie/

A FUNDRAISER IN HENRY STREET AND A CONNECTION TO MY FAMILY

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 1 min.)

In Henry Street on Saturday I stopped to contribute to a fund-raising event for a child to have an operation in the United States. I was partly motivated by remembering when a granddaughter of mine, Caitlin Rose, needed to go to the US also for a special operation. I remembered too how generous people had been to my fund-raising for that objective. I had no idea when I stopped in Henry Street that the girl, Sienna, was heading for the same surgeon who had operated on my granddaughter Caitlin Rose some years ago.

Dublin Fire Brigade truck parked at Henry Street/ Liffey Street junction for the fund-raising event. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Sienna in June (Source photo: Sienna’s family)

Men from Dublin Fire Brigade were doing the fund-raising, their fire truck carrying big posters advertising the campaign. One of them told me that he does a number of charity fund-raisers a year, always in Henry Street, where he finds the response of the people supportive. They don’t get time off from work for this activity and he would be heading into his Blanchardstown Fire Station that evening for a 12-hour shift.

One of the Dublin Fire Brigade firefighters fund-raising in Dublin’s Henry Street for Sienna’s operation on Saturday 11th (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Another of the firefighters taking part in the fund-raising for Sienna on Saturday in Henry Street. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

As I stopped to take some photos, I noticed a woman wearing a fire-fighter jacket and went to talk to her, asking how many women were now in the Dublin Fire Brigade. But she wasn’t a firefighter — she was the girl’s mother and only wearing the jacket on loan for the occasion. Chatting to her I discovered that her daughter Sienna is heading to Louisville, USA, to be operated on by Dr. Park, just as was my granddaughter some years ago. When Dr. Park first pioneered it, the operation was a startling new one and, though it is now available through the NHS (Caitlin Rose lives in London) and the HSE, for some reason the recovery time is much slower than under Dr. Park’s treatment.

In the most crude and simplified explanation, in SDR operation the surgeon opens the patient’s back to test which of the sensory nerves are pulling limbs taught and — cuts them! It sounds scary and crazy even but when one sees the results ….!

Dr. Park, a US-based surgeon from Korea, perfected this operation which he carries out in Louisville, Kentucky. Of course, lots of other work is required, including physiotherapy, exercising and often, orthopaedic surgery to correct bone deformity, etc. On 15th November 2018, Dr. Park performed his 4,000th SDR operation.

Lesley Ann, Sienna’s mother, taking part in the fund-raising in Henry Street on Saturday (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The cost of the operation, for the flights and the accommodation for the parents while the child is in treatment, time off work – all this is piles up frighteningly high. My daughter, my son-in-law and my son all organised fund-raising events and I was lucky that singers and musicians here supported two fund-raising events I organised, with support from Club na Múinteoirí here in Dublin — and that so many bought tickets. Before the operation, Caitlin Rose could barely walk; now she can even run and dance a bit, ride a bike, etc, and go to school on her own.

I hope at least as much for Sienna.

And that the same operation at the same level of effectiveness be available to all people in Ireland without having to fundraise or leave the country to access it.

End.

The firefighter team fund-raising for Sienna on Saturday. (Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/siennassteps)

Further reading:

https://www.stlouischildrens.org/conditions-treatments/center-for-cerebral-palsy-spasticity/about-selective-dorsal-rhizotomy

https://www.facebook.com/siennassteps

LANGUAGE IS …..

Language is a Treasure Chest V

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

Language is many things and only part-things too and languageS are only part of languaGE. All humans have it to some extent and some animals also. It communicates but it is not in itself communication. That might sound weird until you realise that when you say Ouch! or Oh! you have usually communicated pain or surprise to anyone within hearing but without any intention of doing so. So language must be intentional communication and that means it can be used to communicate information we believe to be true — but also that which we do not. I think it was Umberto Eco who commented to the effect that if you can’t lie in it, it is not language.

Of course, we do other things with it apart from just communicating our sense or reality or being deliberately false – we can add overtones of emotion, playfulness, disdain, love, respect, hate and many other things besides. If we could not, poetry, acting and novels would not exist in our cultures.

NON-VERBAL

It is strange to think that language is only the minor partner in a human communication system. We are told non-verbal communication is 73-91% of our communication1 and that that words are only part of even the verbal – which contains – apart from non-verbal sounds — also articulation, volume, tone, pitch, speed, rhythm and the pauses in between words or phrases. If we understood only words themselves we would stumble through interactions with other humans as through a mist. There are people who suffer something approaching that condition, in fact.

Despite its comparatively minor role in communication, we relate language to the spoken and intentional communication by the very name we give it: language, from langue, French for “tongue” and indeed in slightly archaic English, we use the word “tongue” also, as in “speaking in tongues” or “in a foreign tongue” for example. Not just in English – for example in Castillian (“Spanish”), lengua and Irish, teanga.

But there are other words too, even in those languages, for example idioma in Castillian and béarla in Irish. Wait a minute, doesn’t béarla mean the “English language”? With a capital letter it does, as we use it now but originally it was Sacs-bhéarla, i.e Saxon language2. I would hazard a guess (but avoiding doing the research) that the word “béarla” is related to béal, i.e “mouth”3. So, still something spoken and the German has that too, with its word for language: sprache (from “speaking”).

Not all languages are spoken and there are systems of codes and also sign languages, of which there are an estimated 300 in use around the world4, divided into deaf sign languages, auxiliary sign languages and signed modes of spoken languages.5 We all use auxiliary sign language, for example in traffic signaling to turn left or right, in pointing “over there”, in indicating “come” and “go” and to insult (various in different cultures) along with “maybe” or “sort of” (hand outstretched palm down, level, then wobbled a little one side to the other). We use a surprising number of those if we stop to count them and those are only hand-signals, without taking into account soundless movements of head, lips, eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, shoulders ….

One of a number of alphabet sign languages, this one two-handed. (Image accessed: Internet)

Some work-trades or specific operations have their own signal-systems too and, for example, in sub-aqua in Europe at least, the “thumbs up” doesn’t mean what it does on land but rather the need to swim to the surface.

My brother Oisín expressed the interesting speculation that the Irish pre-Roman letters system of Ogham could have been used as a sign language also, using the position of fingers across the face. As the European invasion into parts of America pushed tribes out of their traditional areas, many met on the Great Plains and, lacking a common spoken language, developed a common sign language. Early European traders, hunters and explorers learned parts of that sign language too.

Many animals use sign communication and some of it, in animals of higher intelligence, is intentional,6 which means it is language. However we run into problems with that qualification in some cases: bees are not animals of higher intelligence and yet a worker bee acts out a “dance” to indicate to the hive where much nectar and pollen may be found, direction and distance included and clearly the communication of information is intended. However, one supposes that while the bee could not lie, those animals of higher intelligence have the ability to do so, for example pretending nothing is wrong (when it is) or that they have not just transgressed some prohibition (when they have) or that they do not intend to do so (when they do).7

A cleaner wrasse enters the mouth of a cod to remove its parasites; the cold holds its mouth open until the cleaner finishes. But the cod also comes to the ‘cleaner station’ and indicates its wish to be cleaned by remaining stationery and wobbling slightly from side to side. (Photo accessed: Internet)

There are, as we are all aware, many different spoken languages in the world but we may still be surprised by just how many: 6,500 according to one on-line source and 6,700 to another8. One state or country alone may be host to many; ask for a phrase translated to Nigerian language and you may be asked to specify which of over 500 languages you mean.9

And then there are dialects, distinct forms of the same language. People learning Irish sometimes complain that Irish has four (or five, by some calculations) main dialects: different words for the same things, distinct pronunciations of the same words ….. They rarely reflect on the different dialects in the language to which they are accustomed: for example, English may have the most dialects in the world, across English-speaking countries and even in Britain (anyone who doubts this should listen to typical examples of Newcastle, Glaswegian and South London speech). The English imposed a southern dialect as their standard but although a standard has been created in Irish too (an chaighdeán) it has official versions in the main dialects, in addition to non-standard Irish forms being recognised as valid in writing. This may make learning Irish seem more difficult to a learner but, apart from the respect this shows to different regional cultures, one might ask how well learning standard English equips one to exchange communication effectively at certain societal levels in many of the English-speaking cultures of the world.

Map of language groups in Nigeria (Photo accessed: Internet)

ONE WORLD LANGUAGE?

The Christian Old Testament (also containing a number of Hebraic texts) gives us the fable of how those who in their arrogance tried to build a tower to reach God were inflicted with so many languages that they could no longer understand one another, thereby causing the failure of the project. The fable is usually called the Tower of Babel (the words “babble” and “babbling” are supposedly not derived from it but I wonder). The fable seems a harsh judgement on the value of different languages in the world but even some atheists have expressed a wish to have only one language so that we could all instantly understand one another – and some socialists are not free of this notion and consequently disdain national cultures and languages.

As different cultures met one another across the world some types of languages in common have evolved, generally categorised as either pidgins or creoles. Both kinds are composites of two or more languages but a pidgin remains a second language while a creole becomes a mother tongue10. “Pidgins have been particularly associated with areas settled by European traders; examples have been Chinook Jargon, a lingua franca based on an American Indian language and English that was formerly used in Washington and Oregon, and Beach-la-mar, an English-based pidgin of parts of the South Seas. Some pidgins have come to be extensively used, such as Tok Pisin in Papua, New Guinea and the pidgins of the West African coast11.”

Traffic sign in Tok Pisin, one of the world’s pidgin languages (Photo accessed: Internet)

We know also of the past existence of a north-sea maritime pidgin that included words in Euskera (Basque) and Nordic and no doubt others have existed, probably at different times Phoenician or Greek or Chinese-based. Certainly there was a Norse-English-Irish one in existence which became a creole. Perhaps for a short while there was an Irish-Norman one too, before most of the settled Norman conquerors became Irish-speaking12. The Jewish community languages of Yiddish and Ladino probably started off as pidgins but became creoles, based in the first case on German and the second on archaic Spanish.13

Kouri-vini is a French-based creole spoken by less than 10,000 people mostly in the USA state of Louisiana.14 Patois, Patwah or Patwa) is a Jamaican Creole spoken in Jamaica and among parts of its diaspora15. “Notable among creoles is Haitan Creole, which grew primarily from the interactions between French colonists and enslaved Africans on Haiti’s plantations.”16 The Irish Traveller language, Shelta, Cant or De Gammon is also a creole, containing words from Irish, Latin and Romany as well as English.

ONE WORLD LANGUAGE?

To have a world language in addition to others would be no bad thing of course and there have been some attempts at that but never one that succeeded in encompassing the whole world; English has probably come closest, so far. That language had the earlier backing of the largest colonial empire the world has ever seen, the British but now primarily has the backing of the world’s strongest super-power, the United States of America17. In the past, English competed for world cultural dominance with French and both were agreed as official languages for shipping and air transport based sorely on the colonial power of both states rather than the number of speakers, in which case Chinese and Spanish would have been chosen. In earlier times, German was spoken over most of central Europe from Poland to Germany and in the Tyrol. Still further back in the past, Latin, because of the power of Rome and Greek, partly through its earlier colonisation but also through its science and culture, were widely spoken across large parts of the world. Still, even in the Roman Empire, many spoke only a few words of Latin, even in Rome itself at the height of its dominance, where Greek and Hebrew might be more common.

States where English is the official language (Image accessed: Internet)

Before its conquest by Roman legions and the destruction of its culture, a Celtic language or group of languages known as “Gaulish” was spoken from what is today the Italian side of the Alps to what is now northern France and possibly variants of it also in Iberia. Today, Gaulish is gone and of the Celtic languages, only Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx (the Q-Celtic group) and Welsh, Breton and Cornish (the P-Celtic group) remain. Latin is no longer a spoken language.

Esperanto was conceived of as a world language, though largely euro-centric in origin and for a time was popular as a project with many socialists18. It is still in use but estimates give us a figure of only 100,000 speakers at present19. However that number may grow, through the Internet for example and as a project to internationalise ease of communication while at the same time resisting the current linguistic dominance of the US empire.

Even within one state, the need for a common language may struggle with the claims of different languages or even varieties of the same language. For example many different languages and varieties of language were spoken across what is now Italy and the unification of all that variety into a one-State Italy was assisted by the imposition of standard Italian20.

Huge states with many languages on the African and South Asian continents have adopted the languages of their colonisers as languages of state, which is why so many people from those parts of the world can speak English in addition to their native tongues (or French, especially in parts of Africa).

The adoption of a common language for use across different cultures and languages has its advantages but also its dangers, in particular for those languages that find themselves at a power disadvantage. Those languages may suffer a lowering of respect among speakers of the dominant language and, in time, even among their own native speakers. They can struggle with reduced resources in education, publishing or physical resources in their heartlands. They can even by forbidden and their speakers punished.

REPRESSION OF LANGUAGES

In fairly recent times child-speakers of Welsh and Irish were punished in school for speaking their maternal tongues, one example being the count of physical blows to be inflicted by a teacher for the number of words spoken in the forbidden language. That was an expression of the cultural domination of British colonialism through the English language21 in the respective conquered nations and it has a history dating back at least to the 14th Century in Ireland when a number of attempts were made to prevent its settlers from speaking Irish.22

Euskera (Basque), Asturian, Gallician and Catalan were all banned or restricted at different times in the Spanish kingdom and most definitely banned under three decades of the Franco dictatorship. Breton, Catalan, Corsican and Euskera are not forbidden in France but they do suffer from under-resourcing in education and infrastructure.

Irish suffers similarly in the British colony of the Six Counties and also in the Irish state despite being officially the latter’s first language.

Kurdish was forbidden in any official domain in Turkey and its speakers still suffer discrimination. Esperanto was banned by the Nazis and the Franco regime and though never officially banned in the Soviet Union, Esperantists did suffer severe persecution there for a period under Stalin23. Native Peoples’ languages were banned in the state (and many Christian) schools in the USA and in Canada.

As a result of past repression, cultural domination, starving of resources and other factors, 40% of languages in the world are in danger of extinction24, according to UNESCO, a great number of those being of colonised peoples.

LANGUAGE IS MUCH MORE THAN COMMUNICATION

Earlier on, we noted that as well as variations of tongue and speaking, there is another word for language which we find in Castillian (Spanish) as idioma. There is a reflection of that word in English too, in idiom25, which a dictionary explains as

  1. a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light).
  2. a characteristic mode of expression in music or art. (e.g. “they were both working in a neo-impressionist idiom”)

Digging deeper into the origins of the word, through etymology, we find: late 16th century: from French idiome, or via late Latin from Greek idiōma ‘private property, peculiar phraseology’, from idiousthai ‘make one’s own’, from idios ‘own, private’.

Clearly it cannot be private, by very definition of language, but language is ‘owned’, it does ‘belong’. It belongs to the culture from which it comes. It can be shared, of course but some at least of it always remains an expression of the culture that gave birth to it, that moulded it over centuries. And even of its adoption of other words, expressions or concepts in the course of its development.

The language of a culture expresses its way of seeing, its understanding of aspects of the world around it and how it sees itself. That also finds its expression in song, poetry, instrumental music, yes and even visual art.

When a language is lost, so is all that. And so too is the future of that language and its mother culture. It may be replaced of course. And the dead language may carry much of its furniture, baggage and knick-knacks into its replacement home26. But not all – much is lost and lost forever. Especially that language’s future – where it might have gone, could have become.

Bilingualism is good and multilingualism better but the better bilingual or multilinguist is aware, as is a good translator, of the many different ways of speaking and seeing and also the less than satisfactory experience of translating some expressions from one language into another. In the latter case, we search for approximations.

According to UNESCO, 40% of languages in the world are in danger of extinction27. According to the same organisation, Irish is one of 12 languages in the EU area that are in danger28. The loss of such a language would be a pity anywhere but perhaps particularly damaging for a small nation struggling to develop to serve the people it encompasses. Irish predates English by centuries and has a wide body of literature and artistic expression form and was the earliest expression in Europe of literature in the vernacular, i.e in the language of the common people. The harp is our oldest recorded musical instrument and also our national state symbol …. but its playing was often accompanied by spoken, chanted or sung words. In Irish. Most our place-names even in their English forms retain their Irish origin, including 29 of our 32 Counties.

Languages of Europe and their respective groups (note that Basque is an “isolate”, i.e not recognised as belonging to any other group; note also the current position of two languages of formerly great European reach: Greek is much reduced and Latin non-existent). Kurdish, of the Iranian family, does not appear appear because its area is out of view on the Turkish part of the map. (Image accessed: Internet)

A world containing one, two or three languages only may seem useful but it would kill so much history, so much variety in the world around us. Ultimately perhaps, even with globalisation and internet, speciation of language might take place, as areas developed dialects that might possibly develop into new languages. We don’t know that would happen, however and it makes sense to hang on the variety in the world at the moment. To spend some time, effort and yes, even physical resources to protect languages that are in danger. To speak more than one language ourselves and to protect our own if it is threatened. The strategies to carry out that protection are subjects for another day’s discussion. But first we have to understand the value of doing so or at the very least, some idea of what its loss will cost us.

We might begin by learning some Irish and speaking what we know of it – in Ireland, most everywhere. Beatha teanga í a labhairt29.

End.

FOOTNOTES

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-languagedefinitely-endangered-as-linguists-predict-it-will-vanish-in-the-next-century-40427361.html

1https://www.lifesize.com/en/blog/speaking-without-words/

2In all the surviving Celtic languages, the English are still referred to as “Saxons” (e.g in Irish Sacsannach/ aigh, which became Sasanach/ aigh), which testifies to an enduring memory (and not a good one) of the people who overran the Celts in much of Britain many centuries ago.

3and that word can be found in many place-names around Ireland, usually denoting a river-mouth and corrupted in English to “bel”, as in Belmullet in Mayo and Belfast.

4https://www.signsolutions.uk.com/what-are-the-different-types-of-sign-language/

5https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sign_languages

6Most of it, however (like our own), is unintentional: the startled cry and flight, the erection of ears to hear better or to focus, the turning of the head to look in the direction of movement, sound or scent, etc. All of those actions communicate information to neighbouring animals (even of different species) but they are not intentional.

7Most will have seen this behaviour perhaps in dogs, cats or pigs.

8https://blog.busuu.com/most-spoken-languages-in-the-world/ and https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

9https://translatorswithoutborders.org/language-data-nigeria#:~:text=Nigeria

10https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195384253.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195384253-e-26

11https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles

12The Yola of Wexford was more an ancient English sprinkled with Irish words.

13Of course, Hebrew is a Jewish language and many of its words are to be found in both Ladino and Yiddish but for centuries there were many more speakers of those creoles than there were of Hebrew.

14https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles

15I heard it often enough in my decades in London.

16https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles (and perhaps its survival is partly due to the fact that 1) the African slaves were from different language groups and 2) that Haiti was the first slave colony to achieve liberation in a successful uprising (1791-1804))

17Yet even there Hispanic has made great penetration from some US states, from Latin America and from the Caribbean.

18I use the word here to include reformist social democrats and revolutionary communists and anarchists.

19https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

20All of current Italy was not united into one state until 1861 https://history.state.gov/countries/issues/italian-unification

21The irony here is that English is historically a fairly new language, a fusion of in the main of Anglo-Saxon with French, in which the latter is the origin of around 60% of its words.

22The Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366 castigated the Anglo-Normans who had conquered parts of Ireland and settled in them as “the degenerate English” who had “become more Irish than the Irish themselves” through their adoption of Irish customs and culture. The Statutes forbade the now Irish-Normans from adopting those cultures and from speaking Irish (without success except in the heart of the colonial administration in Dublin).

23https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

24https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

25In fact, reading a discussion on this word alone can teach us so much about language, expressions we use without thinking and how language works.

26Generations that have not spoken Irish still retain not only some words from the language but even forms of construction and of pronunciation. Take for example the reply to “Will you go?” as “I will” or “I won’t”, because in Irish there are no words for “yes” or “no”. Or to say “I have a thirst on me” instead of “I am thirsty” (very close in fact to the “I have thirst” Romance languages – e.g tengo sed or j’ai soif). Hear also the pronunciation of a hidden vowel between L and M (or R and N) in pronouncing the Irish name Colm and words like “film” (fil-um).

27https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

28https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-languagedefinitely-endangered-as-linguists-predict-it-will-vanish-in-the-next-century-40427361.html

29“The life of a language is to speak her” (“One keeps a language alive by speaking it” would be an approximate but single-layered translation).

SOURCE & FURTHER READING

Sign languages: https://www.signsolutions.uk.com/what-are-the-different-types-of-sign-language/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sign_languages

Place names in Ireland: https://www.libraryireland.com/IrishPlaceNames/Bel-Root-Word.php

https://blog.busuu.com/most-spoken-languages-in-the-world/

Pidgins and Creoles: https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195384253.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195384253-e-26

https://www.britannica.com/topic/language/Pidgins-and-creoles

Esperanto: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

Endangered languages: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/Indigenouslanguages.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiom

IN DUBLIN, WORKING ON THE SOUP RUN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

Go to Dublin city centre any evening and you will see people queuing up for food and water, being dispensed by teams of volunteers. There are at least 16 different organisations carrying out this work in the city centre, mostly outside the General Post Office, an imposing building and historical icon, the location of the HQ of the 1916 Rising from Easter Monday to Friday1. These are mostly community initiatives or if not, religious organisations (Christian, Muslim, Sikh), their staff volunteers, their efforts supported by donations. I arranged to speak to one of those volunteers.

DB: Orla, thank you for talking to me. You help with one of the soup-run-type initiatives? In Dublin City Centre?

Orla: That’s ok. Yes. Ours is one of the ones that sets up in front of the GPO, under the arch. We take over after another group has already been there.

And there are still people to feed? Even though a group has been feeding people before you?

Oh, yes. Sometimes the queue is already stretching to the corner of the GPO when I get there.

How long have you been doing it?

Since September last year with this group and a few stints with another group before that.

What made you take it up?

Over the years, like I suppose lots of other people, I’ve been seeing the rich get richer, the poor poorer. It’s made me more sympathetic to people in difficult situations. I don’t think people get where they are just by entitlement. It’s given me different perspectives. One Christmas Night … it was 2016 …. I got to go with a homeless outreach team, supporting people sleeping on the street …. It really opened my eyes. So I got to know a few of the volunteers, started off donating to their teams. Then one day I joined the volunteers.

What is it like to do that?

It can be challenging. We need to wear masks and gloves. Some of the people have mental health issues. You might get someone trying to take more than their share – well, if you see they have kids, that’s OK, or you really know they are taking one for someone else …. but you have to explain that the food is being shared, it’s for all and has to last. The queue has to form up at one end and has to keep moving …. Most are grateful and cooperate.

So, what do you and the other organisations provide?

Mostly food and bottled water.

You spoke earlier about donations. I have heard some volunteers say they don’t want money, also claims that some organisations asking for money have been scams. Would you like to talk a little about all that?

It is an issue. Most of the organisations are not registered charities that have audited accounts ….

Some registered charities have been found to be crooked too …

Yes, some certainly have. There was concern about a particular organisation that was collecting in front of the GPO. A reliable person who knew the score challenged them and warned others about them and we haven’t seen them since.

But getting back to donations to the teams feeding people …. are they in money or in food and water?

Mostly they are in water food and – bread, cakes, chocolates. There’s some shops, including convenience stores, that donate us bottled water and also food. Some of the food is prepared elsewhere and then brought down to the teams, already packed into single containers – because of the danger of infection. And we provide plastic forks and spoons. And there’s hot water containers for hot drinks. There’s one group of people who make sandwiches to bring down – they’re very popular. Some people help in preparing stuff but don’t work on the table handing it out.

But money?

Occasionally, but we usually ask people to buy food with the money and donate it. Occasionally a money donation might be accepted and a receipt would be given. But what can you do when someone just walks up to us when we’re busy, hands over a ten-euro note and walks away? Oh by the way, we don’t do a clothes service but if we know someone in particular needs clothes or shoes, we might bring them in. Or pass them on to the Lighthouse or Inner City Homeless.2 Sometimes outreach teams from registered services will come along to us too, so they can get someone into a hostel.

I have heard of some groups of far-Right or fascist orientation saying we should only be looking after the Irish. What would you say about that?

Well, I don’t agree. We feed people of whatever nationality, so long as they’re not scamming. Sometimes we get some Irish people in the queue making remarks like that and we have to be careful not to rise to it, to get in big arguments with them — but we don’t agree. They shouldn’t be judging. We don’t get people from Direct Provision but I’ve heard those are certainly not holiday camps. Racists say foreigners get things for free but any accommodation they get, they pay rent for. People might be here from abroad, working, paying rent, then they lose their job, things go wrong for them …. could happen to anyone.

Then, you might be from one county and be refused help in another. I remember a program on TV early in the year about a young person left on the street because he was from another county …. shocked a lot of people.

Has there been any trouble from racist organisations?

I remember that just before Christmas there were some threats made on social media from some far-Right people to some of the volunteers.

I heard about those threats too. Did anything happen?

No …. supporters turned up to defend them and stayed near for the whole shift.

So, is it tiring, after a day’s work, helping on the soup run line for two hours,?

Yes, after work I get something to eat, then head over there.

Well, thank you Orla for taking the time for the interview and for your work.

Thank you.

List of groups organising and serving the soup-runs (may not be complete)

  • Ocras Éire
  • Éire Nua Food Initiative
  • Grubs Up Homeless Services
  • Caring Is Sharing
  • Muslim Sisters of Éire
  • Gurdwara Nanak Darbar
  • Snowball Church
  • Church of God
  • Hope In The Darkness
  • Lámh Fáilte
  • Lending Hand
  • Streetlink Homeless Services
  • Liberty Soup Run
  • Ballymun Soup Run
  • Everyone Matters
  • Kilkenny group on Grafton Street

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir and to those who supply them with donations of food and bottled water.

Queuing for food from one of the voluntary services outside the GPO, Dublin 2020. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Comment

Thankfully these organisations are providing services but it is a sad comment on any society that they are needed, let alone in a State that claims it won independence a century ago. The GPO is a central location in the city centre and is obviously convenient for the operation of the services. Nevertheless the fact the building housed the headquarters of the 1916 Rising for nearly five days is a poignant counterpoint to the aspirations of those who fought for independence and a better life for the people.

That some far-Right and outright fascist organisations such as the National Party are using the issue of poverty and homelessmess to point the finger not at the system but at migrants, is disgusting. Preying on the vulnerable, poisoning their minds and using them as a front to pretend that they are actually doing charitable work, filming their occasional propaganda forays into the city.

Meanwhile, there are real people of many different ethnic backgrounds actually out there week after week, doing the real work, whether by religious or communal solidarity. Some of the latter are also, at other times, political activists and to learn that they have been threatened by fascists makes one’s blood boil.

Fair play to those who are doing the real work. But it shouldn’t be necessary. The system is sick. It needs a fundamental change or at least a sharp shock.

…. charging ….. step back ….. JOLT!

…. charging ….. step back ….. JOLT!

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1On that afternoon some of the garrison left to take wounded to Jervis Street Hospital and the major part, to head for the north-east of the city to continue the resistance but having to stop in Moore Street.

2Registered NGO services working with the homeless in Dublin.

WHO ARE “WE”?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: one minute)

When I read or hear someone say something like: “We should stop supporting Israel” or even “We need to stop ignoring Israel’s crimes”, my hackles rise somewhat and I ask myself “Who are this ‘we'”?

Are you turning a blind eye? No, you are not. Amy I? Are those who post the crimes of the Zionist state and all the others who have “liked” those posts, or the thousands who have demonstrated in Ireland in solidarity with Palestine? Or those who go on solidarity visits every year, braving Zionist surveillance and traveling under cover? Or the unknown thousands who don’t buy goods produced in Israel, so much so that when supermarkets display avocados from Israel they leave off the country of origin and one no longer sees herbs for Israel on sale in their shops (not in Dublin anyway). No matter the limited effect these actions have, clearly “they” are not supporting Israel and are in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Part of Palestine solidarity march in Baggot Street, Dublin, June 2021 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

This is more than personal protest at being lumped in with the imperialists and their collaborators or even the apathetic in the “we”. More importantly, I am making what I consider to be an essential political point.

I and “we” are not part of the oppressors (nor of the apathetic sections, those who have not yet awoken). To speak in that way is liberalism. It implies that you and I and so many others are part of a society that we order and run and that its rulers represent us. We are not and they do not.

Our society’s managers are representatives of capitalists and worse, monopoly capitalists, whose governing ethos is profit, maximisation of profit and continuation of profit, amen. In pursuit of that they compete with other monopoly capitalists and other monopoly capitalist-run states but also cooperate and collude with them when their interests coincide. Clearly for some substantial time now the interests of the rulers of the EU and other Western capitalist states coincide with those of the USA. And clearly, Israel serves US interests in the Middle East, the only state in that region which is safe from a) socialist revolution and b) take over by anti-imperialist Islamicism.

People in Grafton Street, Dublin (Photo credit: Stephen Collins)

So if WE are in solidarity with Palestine and WE want to see it free, WE must be against Israel. And if WE are against Israel, WE have to be against the USA. And if WE are for that people and against those powers, then WE are on the other side of a line from the Zionists and their local supporters. The greatest help WE can give the Palestinians in addition to expressions of solidarity is to overthrow the imperial powers and their monopoly capitalist allies wherever WE are.

If we think of those rulers as being part of us, as part of “We”, we are ideologically disarmed and unfit to go into battle against them. In that case, the assistance WE can give the Palestinians will be even more limited than that for which we have the potential at the moment.

end.

DUBLIN ANTI-INTERNMENT AND PRISONER SOLIDARITY PICKET SENDS SOLIDARITY MESSAGE TO MUMIA ABU JAMAL CONFERENCE

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: One minute)

A group of mixed political background held a picket this afternoon in Henry Street, one of the main shopping streets in Dublin’s city centre. The picket was protesting the continuing internment in Ireland of political activists and also expressing solidarity with political prisoners in different parts of the world – a Palestinian flag and a couple of Basque ones flew alongside the Irish ones. There are over 60 political prisoners in Irish jails both sides of the British Border.

Many people were out shopping or just enjoying the sun on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far. Up to 200 leaflets were distributed and passers-by occasionally stopped to discuss with the picket supporters.

Section of the picket displaying the banner of the organising group held by supporters. Also in the photo from left to right: Basque national Ikurrina; Basque Amnistia organisation; Irish Starry Plough; Palestinian flag. (Photo: C. Sulish)

MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY TO CAMPAIGNERS FOR MUMIA ABU JAMAL

Near the end of the picket, a representative of the Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland was recorded voicing a message of solidarity for Mumia Abu Jamal, to send to an upcoming conference on Mumia and other political prisoners.

Mumia Abu Jamal in 2019 (Photo sourced: Liberation New)

Mumia is a political prisoner, a black United States activist and author who was awaiting execution but is now in his 40th year in jail. He was a popular broadcaster in 1981 when he went to the assistance of his brother, who was being harassed by a white police officer. As the incident came to an end the cop was dead of gunshot wounds and Mumia was shot in the stomach.

There are so many questions about the scenario the Prosecution laid out and which got Mumia convicted of murder and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to imprisonment for life. His gun had five bullets missing but Mumia was never tested to see whether he had fired the gun nor were the tests on the bullets in the police officer conclusively proven to come from there. The crime scene was not preserved and the police were in and out of it, with Mumia’s gun while Mumia was in hospital, undergoing an emergency operation. Photos taken of the scene by an independent press photographer did not show the presence of the taxi of a witness against Mumia, who claimed he was parked there. Not to mention the later confession of a man who claimed to have killed the police officer on behalf of other police as a contract kill (the decision not to use him as a witness divided Mumia’s legal team and two lawyers resigned as a result).

As the spokesperson of the Anti-Internment Committee said, even if people believe that he fired the shots that killed the police officer, after 40 years Mumia should be freed on humanitarian grounds. The USA is allegedly the country leading the world in democracy, as the spokesperson commented, but holds a great many political prisoners, some of them for many, many years in jail.

MORE EVENTS TO COME

Eastward view of picketers in Henry Street, Dublin, facing Liffey Street (Photo: C. Sulish)

Pandemic permitting, the AIGI intends to hold pickets on approximately a monthly basis to protest continuing internment and in solidarity with political prisoners, such events being advertised on our social media. The organisation is independent of any political party or organisation and all who oppose the jailing of activists without trial or wish to support political prisoners are welcome.

Two of the picketers with placards (Photo: C. Sulish)
Westward view of picketers in Henry Street, Dublin, facing Liffey Street (Photo: C. Sulish)

UNREMITTING SLAUGHTER OF WORKERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 4 mins.)

A fire in a Bangladesh factory last Thursday killed at least 52, some of them children as young as 11 years of age, according to relatives and neighbours. “Emergency services told Al Jazeera they had recovered 49 of the bodies at the Hashem Food and Beverage factory in Rupganj, an industrial town 25km (15 miles) east of the capital, Dhaka. Three people also died after jumping out of the building.” The police chief of Narayanganj district in which the factory was located, Jayedul Alam, was quoted saying that multiple fire and safety regulations had been breached and that, at the time of the fire, the entrance/ exit had been padlocked, the latter also confirmed by firefighters.

Those who died were workers, part of the world-wide slaughter of workers to satisfy the greed of a few. Every second, every minute of every day, all over the world, workers are killed or mutilated by the capitalist system in accidents at work. They are “accidents” only in the sense that the employers in most cases did not deliberately set out to kill the workers – they merely required them to work in conditions and without precautions that risked – no, ensured — accidents would happen. In fact, as a safety blog writer recommended (see Sources), we should stop calling them accidents – let’s call them mishaps instead, incidents that could have been avoided. And a proportion of those mishaps that were bound to occur would be fatal.

Those left behind to mourn a sibling, parent, partner, friend or – heavens above – a child, are of the workers also. Gone too, an income, a precarious investment in survival. The ripples of the “accident” spread outward through family and worker neighbourhood, ripples that very rarely, if ever, reach the rich neighbourhoods, the place where live those who profit from those workplaces.

From time to time here in the “western world” or the “North” as this sector, more in economic terms than political is variously described, we hear of such disasters in the “other” world, such as that at Rana Plaza in 2013. These are the places around the world where smaller-to-medium local capitalism is at work alongside foreign mega-capitalism. Many of the brand-name products we consume, wear or use are manufactured or processed in those countries. For the capitalists to make the profits their system requires and to compete with one another, consumption needs to be high and therefore the prices to be relatively low. And the wages – much, much lower. And safety conditions? Negligible.

The Tazreen Fashions factory fire in Dhaka, 2012 killed 112 workers (Photo source: Al Jazeera)

In November 2012 a blaze at Tazreen Fashions in Dhaka, which makes clothes for foreign clients including C&A, Walmart, Sears, Disney and others, killed 112 workers. Commenting on the background to the disaster, in a Guardian article in 2012, journalist Scott Nova, (see Sources) stated:

“In the last two years, fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan have taken the lives of nearly 500 apparel workers, at plants producing for Gap, H&M, JC Penney, Target, Abercrombie & Fitch, the German retailer KiK and many others”. Nova went on to comment (in 2012): Bangladesh is now the world’s second-largest apparel producer. It did not attain that status by achieving high levels of productivity, or a strong transportation infrastructure; it got there by being the rock-bottom cheapest place to make clothing.

“This derives from three factors: the industry’s lowest wages (a minimum apparel wage of 18 cents an hour), ruthless suppression of unions and a breathtaking disregard for worker safety. The industry in Bangladesh has been handsomely rewarded for its cost-cutting achievements, with an ever-rising flood of business from western brands …… And local factory owners understand that if they do not continue to offer the lowest possible prices, those brands will be quick to leave.”

Some of the western world’s high street brands that are produced by super-exploited workers in firetrap factories abroad. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Added to that is the apparel industry’s indulgence in “fast fashion”, in order to boost consumption still further. No longer is the year divided into four seasons but “52 micro-seasons”. “Fast fashion giants H&M and Forever 21 receive new garment shipments every day. Topshop features 400 new styles every week, while Zara releases 20,000 designs annually” (see Green America link in Sources). To keep up with that demand requires a frenetic level of production, albeit at lower quality, layoffs when each ‘micro-seasonal” demand is filled and of course, even less concern with safety conditions. The factory fire last Thursday is only the latest in a long list and there will be many more.

But lest we think industrial mishaps are a problem only somewhere else, it would be useful to remind ourselves that even in our relatively under-industrialised economy in Ireland, workplace accidents continue to maim and kill. According to the Irish state’s Health & Safety Authority: “Regrettably, 47 fatal work-related accidents were reported to the Authority in 2019, representing a substantial increase from 2018, which was the lowest year on record with 39 fatal accidents. … The number of work-related non-fatal injuries also increased in 2019, with 9,335 reported to the Authority.” And: “the 39 fatalities recorded in 2018 was one of the lowest numbers of workplace fatalities on records. However, despite the current pandemic circumstances, it would appear that 2020 is heading for number in the mid to late 40s.”

As we may imagine, construction comes high on the mishap list but so also do factories, agricultural work, transport and fishing and mishaps occur also in hospitals and care homes, shops, restaurants and even offices. The Covid19 pandemic revealed that many areas of occupation are necessary for our daily lives but are also vulnerable. And revealed also how slowly and inefficiently protective measures for those workers were taken by their management levels or sadly, enforced or even monitored by trade unions.

Firefighters work at the scene of the burning Bangladesh factory last Thursday (Photo credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

IMPUNITY OR CRIMINAL PENALTY?

It is reported that the owner of the burned Bangladeshi factory and a number of his sons have been arrested. This is to be welcomed and hopefully the prosecution of those responsible will be followed through. Prosecution of employers responsible for mishaps is one measure that can be taken to extend the protection of workers but the process is rarely in the hands of the workers and in addition deals with structures that are more aligned with the interests of employers than they are with those of their workers.

Such procedures that have been tried have usually been under civil1 law and involved claims for financial compensation alleging negligence; however increasingly criminal law is being invoked, as is presumably the case with the Bangladeshi factory.

Years ago I was associated with a militant organisation by the name of The Construction Safety Campaign.2 If I recall correctly, at the time, one worker was being killed every week on a construction site in Britain, with injuries on a daily basis.

The CSC maintained that every time a fatality occurred on a construction site, work should cease for the whole day. It is indicative of the attitude of the big construction companies and indeed of many subcontractors that such a demand actually required voicing.

Among their other demands was that whenever there was such a fatality, that the main contractor be charged with manslaughter, i.e the crime of being responsible for an unintended fatality through action or inaction. Such a demand was very reasonable but was seen as almost revolutionary at the time. But a few years later a construction company boss did indeed stand trial for manslaughter and, although he was acquitted, a precedent had been set. However it remained a difficult process to even have the employer charged, to say nothing of convicted.

It was not until 2008 that legislation was specifically enacted to facilitate the charging of companies when individual company directors proved difficult to charge with manslaughter in the event of fatalities in their workplaces. The first case under the new legislation took place in 2009 and the sole company director in this case was also charged separately under common law with manslaughter. Seeing alleged culpability of the employer in this case, that he had required a geologist to work in an unshored trench deeper than his own height which, when collapsed, suffocated the geologist, reminded me of the claim of the defendants in the Shrewsbury 24 trials arising out of the 1972 construction strike.3

(Sourced at IDCOMMUNISM.ORG)

CONTINUING SLAUGHTER? 6,000 DEATHS A DAY.

“The ILO (International Labour Organisation) estimates that some 2.3 million women and men around the world succumb to work-related accidents or diseases every year; this corresponds to over 6000 deaths every single day. Worldwide, there are around 340 million occupational accidents and 160 million victims of work-related illnesses annually.” (see Sources)

Capitalism kills. It kills and maims millions of workers by workplace mishaps, overwork, diseases, psychological stresses, environmental disasters – and let’s not forget wars.

Revolution, we are often cautioned, is chaotic and entails death and injury to many – most of which will be workers, whether in the revolutionary forces, or enlisted by the system, or in one way or another swept into the casualty figures. This is all true. But Revolution killing as many as capitalism? Hardly. And after successful Revolution, production can be organised to eliminate mishaps and unhealthy working conditions. At least, with the mechanisms in the hands of the workers, they have the possibility of removing workplaces from danger or, where danger might be inevitable, to reduce it greatly. Industrial mishaps, let’s not forget, are avoidable.

MEANWHILE

While we work for revolution and a society under the control of the workers, we have a duty to ourselves and to our dependents to work to reduce the occurrence of mishaps. We can do this by improving conditions and prevention in our own workplaces, by reporting health and safety violations elsewhere to the relevant authorities and by demanding reparations and improvements from the companies whose products we consume through their use of production facilities abroad – such as firetrap sweatshops4.

Under legislation in Ireland and the UK, workers are entitled to elect health and safety representatives, with which management are obliged to consult. These may be coincidentally representatives of a trade union but they need not be even union members – the legal right to health and safety representation is separate from the question of trade union representation. Of course, raising issues of concern that would cost the management time and money to address may necessitate the H&S representatives to ensure they have trade union protection, legislation notwithstanding.

In a workplace years ago, wishing for a period of relative calm, I declined nomination as trade union shop steward and instead accepted that of staff health and safety representative. Quite quickly I found myself in more arguments with local management than the union representative needed to be and across the organisation too, as I pushed for Risk Assessments to be carried out, as we had done in my workplace, examining every operation. The organisation’s Health & Safety Committee agreed the need for the assessments but failed to push for them and unfortunately so did the trade union itself. Health and Safety representatives may find themselves struggling not only with Management but also with their own trade union structures (and at times with their own co-workers). Nevertheless, comprehensive workplace risk assessments are the only reasonable way to avoid or limit mishaps.

Practice fire procedures or drills are necessary too. In another workplace, this time as a manager myself, we made recorded fire checks on every shift and stepped up fire drills from every six months to monthly, from always announced to some unannounced. Who would remember was required after six months? Had there been changes in the building, procedures or staff since the lat exercise? On one of our early drills, the observer we had detailed to follow with checklist and notepad found problems that had never been recorded previously and which required our team to take remedial measures. On the occasion of another drill, I learned that the front entrance had been used instead of the emergency exit. Investigation revealed that in the passage way towards that emergency exit, one of the staff had placed his bicycle for safe-keeping – and he was the staff health and safety representative!

The election of workers’ representatives and the monitoring of their performance in those roles is the responsibility of the workers, not management. All I could do was to instruct the person to remove the bicycle and to make all staff aware that the placing of any obstruction in the emergency exit passage way was a serious disciplinary offence.

SOLIDARITY

As most of us around the world are workers, it is necessary for us to express internationalist solidarity towards one another. Note I said “necessary”, not just desirable. When our labour power is at the mercy of employers who move factories around the world, or contract factories anywhere they find sufficiently profitable, our gains in separate countries can be undermined, we can be undercut and made unemployed. The effective response to these threats lies in internationalist solidarity, so that we assist workers in other lands in their organisation and we target their exploiters when we find them nearby.

In 2015 I joined a picket of major French clothing company Benetton’s shop in the Stephens Green Shopping Centre, Dublin. We also did a sit-in inside the shop, defying threatening behaviour of the Centre’s security staff and likewise the threat to call the police. A subsequent picket and sit-in also took place (see Sources). Benetton was one of the many foreign companies exploiting the workers of Rana Plaza and, after the disaster there, had promised to pay financial compensation to the relatives of the workers killed there. Such offers are often made in similar situations for public relation reasons, usually without admitting culpability. At the time their store in Dublin was picketed, Benetton had still not paid the compensation promised two years earlier.

In contrast to fascists and other racists who advocate protecting our own native workforce above all else, we should extend solidarity to all other workers who are being exploited. When all workers are achieving protection from the worst working conditions and lowest wages, it will be that much harder for our employers to use one section against another. In the past, our employers in every business, industry, city or country tried to treat with us as individual workers but we found that banding together was the only way to improve our conditions and remuneration for all. Internationalist solidarity is the application of that lesson on an international level — the same level as that on which our exploiters operate.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1 Civil law deals with matters like company law, family law, personal injury cases, libel and slander. A number of penalties including financial damages can be imposed and awarded by the judiciary in such cases but not prison terms (however failure to comply with penalties imposed can result in imprisonment for “contempt of court”).

2 I got a bit of a scare when attending one of the CSC’s pickets which was of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, prior to a meeting inside booked by an MP and which we were going to attend. As we went through the security sensors, the construction worker I had been talking to set off the sensor alarms. As we were both political activists and I was Irish in Britain at a time of IRA bombings there, this made me very nervous. The construction worker began pulling nails and screws out of his pockets and piling them into a tray while I grinned nonchalantly at the security police. His pockets emptied, he went through again – and set the alarms off once more. I was sure we were going to be taken into a room and strip-searched. However, once they ascertained that it was the steel toecaps in his construction boots that were setting off the alarms, we were allowed through, me wanting to punch my comrade a number of times.

3 During their trial for alleged intimidation in flying pickets from construction site to site during the 1972 construction strike in Britain, some of the Shrewsbury 24 gave evidence that among the violation of health and safety regulations they had witnessed at sites they had picketed was workers being obliged to work in unshored trenches deeper than their own height. Twenty-four construction trade unionists were charged with serious crimes as a result of their activism during the strike and twenty-two were convicted across three trials in 1973 and 1974 with six, including the later actor Ricky Tomlinson, being sentenced to years in prison. The convictions of all 22 were overturned on appeal earlier this year but a number had died in the intervening years.

4. In view of the reality, it is shocking that a fashion clothing company should call itself, even in some attempt at irony, “Firetrap”. This company is now part of the Fraser Group, with factories in much of the world producing clothing, in particular sports wear. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firetrap

SOURCES:

Recent Bangladesh factory fire: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/10/murder-bangladesh-factory-owner-held-after-deadly-fire

Rana Plaza disaster 2013: https://www.corpwatch.org/article/benetton-others-tied-bangladesh-factory-disaster-400-killed

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/17/rana-plaza-disaster-benetton-donates-victims-fund-bangladesh

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/19/rana-plaza-bangladesh-one-year-on

https://www.thejournal.ie/rana-plaza-benetton-2065943-Apr2015/

Number of other factory fire disasters: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/13/apparel-industry-outsourcing-garment-workers-bangladesh

Dublin Benetton picket and sit-in:

https://www.thejournal.ie/rana-plaza-benetton-2065943-Apr2015/

Fast fashion: https://traidcraftexchange.org/fast-fashion-crisis-2020-campaign

https://www.greenamerica.org/blog/factory-exploitation-and-fast-fashion-machine

Ireland, industrial mishaps: https://www.hsa.ie/eng/publications_and_forms/publications/corporate/annual_review_of_workplace_injury_illness_and_fatality_statistics_2018-2019.pdf

First case under (2008) UK law on corporate manslaughter: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/jun/17/mudslide-corporate-manslaughter-charge

Shrewsbury Twenty-Four: https://www.thejournal.ie/shrewsbury-24-ruling-ricky-tomlinson-5389409-Mar2021/

General: https://www.memic.com/workplace-safety/safety-net-blog/2019/march/are-all-accidents-preventable

https://www.ilo.org/moscow/areas-of-work/occupational-safety-and-health/WCMS_249278/lang–en/index.htm

Health & Safety worker representation: Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act (2005): https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Topics/Safety_Representatives_and_Consultation_/

BELARUS: SURE TO HEAR “UNDEMOCRATIC POLITICALLY-MOTIVATED CHARGES” FROM THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 2 mins)

Viktor Babariko, leading political opposition leader until he was arrested on corruption charges just before the Presidential election last August, has been sentenced in Belarus to 14 years in jail and a fine equivalent to a little over €47,990. Viktor Babariko was the head of a bank owned by the gas company Gazprom.

Viktor Babariko in Minsk courtroom cage July 2021 (Photo credit Rami Nasibulin BelTA Pool/ AP)

The news has already drawn condemnation of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus from the USA’s Embassy and howls of protest are sure to be heard across the EU also. The hypocrisy there on this kind of treatment of political opponents is stark – the Spanish state jailed nine political leaders for their involvement in an independence referendum in 2017, sentencing them to up to 13 years in prison (the State Prosecution asked for around 50 years), while leaders of most EU states and main political parties remained silent.

To be sure, European regimes, even the Spanish one, are more liberal than the one in Belarus. After four years in jail, the Spanish regime recently released those Catalan political activists on conditional pardons, a move unlikely to be equalled in Belarus. But those Catalans are barred from standing in elections and face a return to jail for “any repetition of their crimes” – i.e organising politically for Catalan independence. And some others are in jail for activities during the protest general strikes and over 3,000 are threatened with judicial process for involvement in the 2017 Referendum. Other Catalan political leaders are in exile, including the former President of Catalonia’s autonomous region, who is a Member of the European Parliament.

And European regimes wouldn’t use financial wrongdoing charges against political opponents, would they? Or try to cripple them financially? Actually, right at this moment, the Spanish State, through its audit court, is pursuing former Catalan Government ministers and officials on charges of misusing their Government’s funds, demanding a total of €50.4 million from them (sums of over €2m each). Furthermore, they must put those amounts up as bonds — without being convicted of financial wrongdoing in any criminal court — and have only weeks to do so.

Oriol Junqueras, former Deputy Leader of Catalonia (also elected an MEP while in jail), has been ordered to “repay” €1.9m. Carles Puigdemont, former Catalan President now in exile in Belgium, has also been ordered to pay €1.9m. On Tuesday Puigdemont commented on Twitter that his lawyer had been given only three hours to read 500 pages of court documents and 10 minutes to put his case.

What if those being targeted refuse to pay or simply can’t pay? Their property, including house and car can be seized along with a portion of their income, quite possibly deducted for the rest of their lives.

Andreu Mas-Colell, 76, a former Catalan finance minister, also faces a court demand for a large repayment. A former Harvard economics professor, he has received the support of 53 economists, including 33 Nobel laureates, who last week wrote a letter urging the Spanish state not to impose a large fine on him. His son, Gabriel Mas, told the Financial Times: “In the next 15 days, Andreu will have to deposit a guarantee of €670,000-€2.8m as the result of an administrative decision in which not a single judge has participated.”

With regard to the Babariko sentence, the stink of hypocrisy rising from the Spanish State is appalling — but it covers most of the EU too.

End.

REFERENCES

Belarus court convicts and jails Viktor Babariko: https://www.breakingnews.ie/world/belarus-sentences-former-presidential-contender-to-14-years-1152525.html

Conditional pardons of jailed Catalan activists: https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/spanish-government-pardons-jailed-catalan-separatist-leaders/

Financial penalties on Catalan political activists:

https://www.ft.com/content/85555e23-a7fa-43f1-b5f2-40fa63d64a69

https://euobserver.com/opinion/152346

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/28/catalonia-threat-impose-massive-fines-ex-minister-prompt-outcry

ANTI-RACIST IRISH-AMERICAN WAS “THE QUINTESSENTIAL PRIEST”

By Geoffrey Cobb (Reprint from The Irish Echo 23 June 2021)

(Reading time: 2 mins.)

The Rev. Bernard Quinn faced opposition from the Ku Klux Klan on Long Island.

In 1983, African-American priest Fr. Paul Jervis was assigned to the parish of St. Peter Claver in Brooklyn, which had been founded in 1921 by Fr. Bernard Quinn, as Brooklyn’s first black Catholic parish. Speaking with his parishioners, Jervis was amazed to hear the stories of so many older people who still spoke of Quinn with profound reverence, even though he had died 43 years earlier.

Intrigued, Jervis began to research his predecessor and was so taken with Quinn’s life that he decided to write a biography of Quinn calling it: “Quintessential Priest, The Life of Father Bernard J. Quinn.” Jervis’s biography is an inspirational tale of a man whose love for his black congregation defined him and forged a unique community of faith.

Quinn was born in 1888 in Newark, N.J., into a large Irish Catholic family. His father, who was from County Cavan, and his County Offaly mother sent him to parochial school and young Bernard felt such a strong vocation that he entered the seminary in 1906, where he developed a lifelong deep sympathy for the poor and the downtrodden. Ordained in 1912 in Brooklyn, Quinn was assigned to diocesan parishes such as St. Patrick’s in Bay Ridge and St. Gregory the Great in Crown Heights.

SHOCKED BY RACISM IN US ARMY DURING WW1

When World War I erupted, Quinn volunteered to serve as a chaplain for front line troops. Commissioned as a First Lieutenant, Quinn served as chaplain of the 333rd infantry. Serving at the front, he became a victim of mustard gas. Though he recovered, Quinn suffered from the gassing for the rest of his life. In France, Quinn was shocked by the racism in the American army. When a white American Protestant chaplain refused to pray with a dying Black soldier, Quinn intervened and prayed with the dying soldier, but the troubling incident lingered with Quinn.

Fr. Bernard J. Quinn, c.1930 (Photo sourced: Wikipedia)

The war ended, but Fr. Quinn remained in France to minister to the wounded soldiers. After a chance reading of “The Story of a Soul, the life of St. Therese of Lisieux,” in the barracks library, Fr. Quinn discovered a spiritual hero. Learning that he was stationed in the vicinity of Alencon, not far from St. Therese childhood home, Quinn obtained permission to visit it and became the first priest to celebrate Mass there before it became a popular shrine. Intense devotion to St. Therese would define Fr. Quinn’s faith for the rest of his life.

BACK TO BROOKLYN FROM THE WAR

Quinn returned to Brooklyn in 1919. While preparing two black women for baptism, he was inspired to create an apostolate to African Americans, but his concern for Blacks was not shared by all Brooklyn’s Catholics, some of whom did not want African Americans praying in their churches. After repeated appeals, Quinn finally received permission from Bishop McDonnell to begin his mission to the Black people of Brooklyn, but finding Black Catholics proved difficult. Quinn went to the streets, asking every African American he met where he could find Catholics.

Finally, Quinn found Mr. Jules de Weever, the leader of the dissolved Colored Catholic Club, which had met from 1915-1916, seeking in vain to establish a church for Black Catholics in Brooklyn. Frustrated by the church’s indifference to their quest, the group disbanded. Quinn revived the CCC and inspired them to persevere in founding Brooklyn’s first Catholic church.

The Holy Name Band and Fr. Quinn (to far right). (Photo sourced: Internet)
The Rev. Bernard Quinn with young parishioners of St. Peter Claver during a religious festival. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Quinn incessantly petitioned the bishops for permission to establish an African-American parish, reminding them that Black Catholics were being excluded from worship at Italian, Irish and German churches, but instead of agreeing, the bishops ignored Quinn’s pleas. Finally, thanks to his perseverance, they authorized the founding of Brooklyn’s first African American Catholic Church, St. Peter Claver Church, in 1921, naming Quinn pastor.

The Irish-American priest now needed a church building and the parish soon found a warehouse for trunks and baggage that had once been a Congregationalist church on the corner of Ormond Street, now Peter Claver Place, and Jefferson Avenue, in the expanding black community of Bedford Stuyvesant. Quinn and the congregation enthusiastically set to work on the herculean task of transforming the warehouse back into a house of worship. The church’s decoration celebrated black faith with murals of early Black saints, and of St. Peter Claver’s work with enslaved Africans in Cartagena, Colombia.

On Christmas Day, 1921, the cornerstone for St. Peter Claver, named for the patron saint of African peoples, was laid. By 1922, the church was ready and blessed by Bishop Thomas Edmund Molloy. Quinn soon proved to be a model pastor and quickly the kindhearted priest endeared himself to his rapidly growing flock. Brooklyn’s Black Catholics were attracted to a church that didn’t just tolerate them, but even welcomed them with open arms. The parish became more than a place to pray, helping the parish’s poor, while also setting up a clinic, a credit union, a parish school, and adult education classes. St. Peter Claver soon became famous for its large children’s choir and its band. Legendary entertainers Lena Horne and Pearl Bailey both started their singing in the church’s choir. Reputedly, it was the first African-American choir ever to sing at the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music.

THE LITTLE FLOWER NOVENA BUSTOP

Fr. Quinn began a temporary daily novena, a series of prayers, to his inspiration, St. Thérèse, called the Little Flower Novena, but he never could have imagined the massive reaction the novena received. People begged for the novena to continue and an estimated that 10,000 of all races a week poured into St. Peter Claver’s. Within five years an amazing 2.2 million people had attended the novena, stirring the envy of nearby white Catholic pastors who complained that it drew away their parishioners. The novena was such a hit that the drivers on the bus line near the church would call out “Little Flower Novena stop.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle soon did a feature article on the amazing success of the novena.

The novena proved to be a huge money maker for the parish, allowing Fr. Quinn to fund some of the parish projects he envisioned including a $300,000 school building, a convent, a recreation center and a Long Island orphanage that would ignite the bitter flames of racism. In 1929, Msgr. Quinn founded the Brooklyn Diocese’s first orphanage for Black children in a farmhouse in Wading River, Long Island, which at the time was still part of the diocese. A cross was burned in front of the Quinn family home in Mineola, but the priest defied the threat. Outraged racist locals contacted the Ku Klux Klan, which was very active on Long Island in the 20s and 30s, and the orphanage burned in an act of arson. The orphanage was rebuilt but burned again in the same year.

THE KLAN AND RACISM IN THE CHURCH

Undeterred, Father Quinn rebuilt the orphanage yet again, this time in stone and brick. The Brooklyn Eagle announced this with a headline, “New Fireproof Orphanage Will Defy Incendiary.” The KKK gave up, and the orphanage, called the Little Flower Orphanage, in honor of St. Thérèse, was dedicated as the Little Flower House of Providence Oct. 26, 1930. Today that organization survives as the Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York, offering adoptions and other social services in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.

Quinn became an outspoken defender of Brooklyn’s Blacks against the pervasive racism of his day. He denounced institutionalized racism and invited the Urban League, an African American advocacy group, to speak at his church. Some Brooklyn Catholic clergy spoke out against Quinn’s embrace of Black Catholics. In 1929, Msgr. John L. Bedford wrote in his Brooklyn parish newsletter that “Negroes should be excluded from this Roman Catholic Church if they become numerous.” Quinn vehemently defended his flock writing in the Brooklyn Tablet, “It seems to me that no church can exclude anyone and still keep its Christian ideals. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and this, plus the fact that church property is tax exempt, ought to mean that anyone can go anyplace to worship.”

St. Peter Claver Church, Brooklyn, New York. (Photo sourced: Internet)

The strain of his herculean labors took a physical toll on Quinn. In the spring of 1940, Msgr. Quinn went into nearby St. Mary’s Hospital for surgery for an abdominal problem. He never came back to St. Peter Claver’s, dying on April 7. Brooklyn’s Black Catholics were in shock. They had lost a dear friend and their most vocal advocate. Eight thousand grieving mourners attended his funeral at St. Peter Claver, which was reported in all the New York papers including the New York Times.

In 1992, a movement to canonize Msgr. Quinn received the blessing of the Catholic Church and the long and difficult path to Quinn’s canonization has started. Decades before the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement, Fr. Quinn dedicated his life to serving Brooklyn’s Black Catholics and his life remains a shining example of the power of love to defeat hatred and bigotry.

End.

Author and teacher Geoffrey Cobb will lead a walking tour on Saturday, Aug. 7, of sites associated with the Tipperary-born Paddy “Battle Axe” Gleason, who was the last mayor of Long Island City before its 1898 incorporation into New York City. The event is sponsored by the New York Irish Center, 10-40 Jackson Ave. “Rebel Breeze” will shortly publish an article about the same Gleason by Geoffrey Cobb.