Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Labour Olympics

For it is true. While Boris, Nick and Dave from the Condems may be taking the limelight and pressing the flesh in their red, white and blue Bedouin Tent in East London, it was Labour who did the spadework for the Great Satan Olympics 2012.

Little wonder that the sniggering anti-immigrant lizard boy that is Ed Miliband has not exactly been vocal in his condemnation of G4S - the latest in a long line of private enterprises to take the public shilling and fuck up big time.

Do ya feel secure?
Labour have long been loathed in some parts of Scotland for their Stalinist, corrupt and 'jobs for the boys' ethos when in power - be it at local or national level. Funny that, but when I first heard of G4S and their failure to provide much needed 'security' for the corporate Olympics, the first name that came to mind was John Reid.

JR, you'll remember, is the former communist and Irish-republican supporter who became an enthusiastic member of right-wing New Labour and was rewarded by being appointed Defence Secretary and Commander of the British Army in their illegal adventure in Iraq. Indeed, he developed a close and friendly working relationship with dead-eyed neo-con Donald Rumsfeld, not a man known for his efforts on behalf of the downtrodden, poor and oppressed. Whatever, it seems ironic that a Labour government would first appoint G4S to man the Olympic check-points before John Reid waltzes into a cushy 'consultant' job in same company. Illegal? Probably not. Does it stink? Aye, big time.

Whatever the noble aims of the first Olympics of the modern era, the London games are becoming known by a different set of values - security, corporate interests, tax breaks, incompetence, lists of proscribed words. The likes of Coca-Cola and McDonalds are being rewarded for their massive contribution to the wellbeing of humankind with tax breaks and the chance to operate free of competition within the Olympic zone with rivals being removed or threatened. This includes wee corner shops and schools.

For more on this, read Ian Bell's excellent piece in the Sunday Herald.

Artist impression of Olympic Hampden
On a lighter note but staying with Labour, we have Gordon Matheson of Glasgow Labour. This numptie may be top of the dungheap in Stab City but can only dream of the heights reached by  'lads o pairts' like John Reid or even Derry Irvine. One has to marvel at his religious-like zeal on behalf of the Olympics - 

Yes, Hampden Park - home for some minor Olympic fitba games - will be full. Glaswegians are very excited about it. 

This despite two-thirds of the tickets being unsold.

The answer? Lower the capacity and give away tens of thousands of free tickets to bairns.

Not like London Labour to shift the goalposts. Never mind, at least Hampden's owners Queens Park can look forward to sell out crowds this season.

Stop the Tax-Dodgers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tomlinson's killer... excessive farce

London has been a cesspit of corruption in many ways from crooked bankers to fraudulent politicians. Add to the cauldron, a liberal sprinkling of violent cops, a few 'unlawful killings' and a legal system that sees rioters banged up in days but killer cops set free.

cunt Harwood, new job in Syria
Last year saw a verdict of unlawful killing on the death of Ian Tomlinson. The cop who unlawfully killed him was understandably put on trial of his death. However, two plus two does not make four here.

Apparently, Tomlinson had a history of alcoholism and had been homeless. PC Simon Harwood on the other hand had a history of violence and a litany of complaints made against him regarding his use of 'excessive force'.

Of course, London's cops are not the only ones to use violence. Just as the politicians in Westminster are not the only ones in the world to lie and cheat. Bankers are by nature greedy wherever they are but London - under both Labour and Tory rule - gave them free reign. Some though, say in Scotland, wish to run their own affairs and do things a bit differently. Who could blame them?

Hey! Can I join the Met?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Basque punk rock

Have you ever heard of the Basque cringe? No. Doesn't exist. As mentioned earlier, on a recent trip to Euskadi I was struck by the self-confidence that the Basques seem to exude in whatever way they choose to express themselves.

Though it may not seem like it, the Basque language - Euskera - is still a minority tongue within the boundaries of their nation. However, concerted efforts by everyone from youth groups to teachers to politicians and punks have seen the oldest language in Europe take the momentum. Like Faroese or Hebrew that went from moribund to first state language, I have no doubt that it will become the first tongue of most Basques in the very near future.

I also note that many of the young bands incorporate aspects of traditional culture into what they do. It could be elements of tradtional Basque dress, instruments or iconography but it's there as a badge of pride and identity. Too many Scots see these icons as 'kitsch' and cringe from them or think they're best reserved for weddings or Hogmonay.

One reflection of the independent attitude was the channel Hamaika - one of at least three Basque language channels. It seemed to broadcast a daily gallery of music videos showcasing the breadth of Euskal musika. It was much to my taste with a lot of punk rock on show. Attitude and political awareness was there in spadefuls. Here's a taste...

Siroka are a current hit in the Tocasaid bothie of sound. This song which features a number of other Basque musicians deals with the shameful treatment of Basque political prisoners - from anarchists and pacifists to suspected ETA members - by the Spanish and French authorities.

Xarma are in a similar vein. This time with their female member doing vocal duties on a song against the persistent problem of violence against women.

Negu Gorriak are perhaps best known outside Euskadi. I picked up one of their CDs a few years ago on which they covered international punk, rock and hip-hop songs in their own language. Their Basque version of Minor Threat's 'Small man, big mouth' was particularly memorable. This was a band with a hard political edge and the balls to match. They formed in the 80s and were active at a time when the post-Franco 'democracy' of Spain was continuing the Madrid-centred repression of Basque people, and not just hardline ETA members. Remember the assassination squads of the 'Socialist' Madrid government? This quote from Wiki illustrates matters:
They were completely committed to the political movement, starting with their choice to sing only in Euskera and continuing through their way of work and the message in their songs. They decided to manage themselves and created the record label Esan Ozenki. They performed their first concert in front of Herrera de la Mancha maximum security prison, leading to problems with the government. They were renounced by the Guardia Civil general, Enrique Rodríguez Galindo for the lyrics of the song «Ustelkeria», which accuses the general and the Guardia Civil of being involved in drug trafficking. This was the first time since the end of Franco's regime that the government denounced a form of expression. These charges were dropped in 2001, five years after the group stopped performing together. In honour of their legal victory, the group performed three celebratory concerts to more than 30,000 people.
Here's another article on Negu Gorriak by a Canadian author. I like the reference to 'decolonization movements'.  Here they are taunting the Spanish authorities outside the Herrrera de la Mancha prison.

Onto more modern stuff but still with Euskera and politics at the heart of it, singalong punk in the vein of Rancid or Dropkick Murphys with heavy doses of ska is well represented - Itziarren Semeak:

Hesian are similar:

More fusion stuff and an interesting crossover of punk, metal and electro. Whatever, the medium is the message. Zein da Zein? are Primal Scream meeting Leatherface.

Lastly, when I was at school the Abrasive Wheels classic 'Burn the Schools' was popular with some of us. Here though is a pro-school singalong from Banda Batxoki. The schools though are the successful and multicultural Basque language Eskola.

Here's hoping someone can get Na Gathan or Oi Polloi in to entertain and inspire our kids in our own Gaelic medium schools. Gaelic punk rock could be the soundtrack of our independence...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Euskadi - colour and culture against the big nations

Having been in the Basque Country for the past few days, I've noticed much in comparison with the situation at home in Scotland from both the Spanish and French 'occupied' territories. As my visit has coincided with the final stages of Euro 2012 and the progress of Spain, the rather lacklustre support for the Spanish 'national' team has been palpable. Walking the streets of Bilbo and Donostia, you could be forgiven for forgetting that the tournament was even taking place.

In Bilbo, flags and banners celebrating the rise in fortunes of the local AC Bilbao - defacto Basque national team - are still everywhere, in shops, in cars and hanging from balconies. While there was cheering from local tabernas upon the Spanish victory, the flags and shirts of Spain have remained nowhere to be seen.

Posters on the walls remind you that 'this isn't Spain, this is Euskal Herria'. Though to be honest the indigenous culture screams at you. In Basque.

Language is and isn't a political issue. In Scotland, it just isn't. Scottish is far too often ignored by Scots and a glaring example of this is the 'Yes' campaign for independence. I'm not arguing for Scottish Gaelic to be 'promoted' by the Yes campaign. I'm arguing that it should be used. Scottish has shared a certain parity with English in as much as it's supported from different parts of the political spectrum. A language is a medium and the Yes campaign needs to harness any and every medium available particularly a language that is the anchor of the nation's culture and iconography.

The Basques on the other hand live their language across all domains within the Basque Autonomous Community - it's not just an adornment or prop for the tourists. The BAC apparently enjoys more power than any other non-nation-state on earth. It has huge industrial value and is wealthy by anyone's reckoning. It's easy to see why the monster of the Spanish state doesn't want to let it go.

In Scotland, I've noticed a new and predictable stooshie over the Scottish Government's plans to signpost all major routes in both English and Scottish. This wouldn't happen in Euskadi though it would seem as if the Basques are bold in most things they do once they are freed from the chains of Spain or France.

Even the new architecture is bold, individual and very much a statement of confidence. The Guggenheim in Bilbo is just one example. Basque nationalists in power at 'devolved' and local level pulled out all the stops to ensure that the city's revitalisation started here. Under centralist rule from Madrid, Bilbo would probably have remained a rusting industrial backwater in a 'region' of Spain. It's not only the Guggenheim though. Another example is the office of the health department in Bilbo newtown with its angular, idiosyncratic and mirrored facade. A behemoth of an old wine warehouse has been turned into a state of the art centre for culture and recreation which incorporates galleries, cinema and a glass bottomed swimming pool. Bilbo even has relatively new tram and metro systems - themselves works of art. Sure, all this costs money but what doesn't?

Which brings me back to language.

Most detractors of Scottish in Scotland are monoglots to whom bilingualism is a mystery. Occasionally though, some will embrace the benefits of bilingualism but insist that additional languages be 'useful' so that the outlay can be seen to be 'prudent'. Linguists  however declare that there is no such thing as a 'useless' language though tinpot bigots argue that only big boys of English, Spanish or Chinese - the Walmarts, IKEAs and McDonalds - of the language world are worth acquiring.

This leads me to ask, 'why Dutch?'. Almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks excellent English. Why then do the Dutch insist on speaking... Dutch?

The Basques, despite being 'fiercly nationalistic' as some might put it, also embrace multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism. I would contend that the territory under Basque control is one of most colourful, welcoming and outward looking areas in Europe. The European Union's advice on language in education is that each member state should teach 'mother tongue plus two'. The Basques insist on 'two mother tongues' plus two.

Hence some 80% of Basque primary children in the majority Basque-medium system are immersed in three languages from age zero and enter secondary school with complete or near fluency in three languages. Once in secondary, they acquire a fourth tongue which could be French, Arabic, Polish or German. Local demographics such as a significant number of immigrants often dictates the lingo learned. It's difficult to imagine white English kids in Bradford learning Urdu or Arabic or native Scottish bairns in Leith picking up Polish or Spanish.

However, the 'big nation' philosophy becomes more apparent once you cross the bridge from Irun into French Basque Hendaia. Here, some progress has been made in displaying the Basque tongue on some public roadsigns though it's obvious that the wrathful and jealous French god in Paris sees too much indulgence in languages other than French as sinful. Here, the use of Basque sadly reminds one of Scottish in Scotland - it is used sparingly but comes across as a 'prop' to paraphrase the linguist Joshua Fishman.

The shortcomings of the insular big nation with its siege mentality are also evident at the local SCNF station where the young lass on the ticket desk was unable to communicate in any other language than French. This despite the Spanish Basque country being only yards from her seat. Our pooled family tongues of Engerlish, Spanish and German fell on stony ground. Even an appeal to the auld alliance by using pigeon French-Gaelic failed.

Back in our Donostia-San Sebastian base, we watch one of the Basque language telly channels - Hamaika - which has an afternoon slot showcasing the varied Basque language music scene. It was pleasing to note many bands of the tuneful punk variety though metal, rock, pop and world music/ ska fusion was also present. Sadly, a similar program on BBC Alba which didn't feature fiddlers, songs written by dead poets, Gaelic choirs or religious music would be ten minutes long. Basque language punk is for another blog though.

The Basque Country, or most of it, is but a bawhair from complete independence. Even without the full complement of powers, it a shining example of the need to vote 'Yes' to Scottish independence in 2014. We could vote 'no' and remain a region with no voice or independent contribution of our own to the world community. We would remain tied to an inward looking and fearful big nation that remains in thrall to banks and big business, however corrupt. Or maybe we could use independence as a springboard for an open, progressive and internationalist nation that embraces our own languages as well as the cultures of others?

An elderly woman on a bus engaged us in conversation. I spoke in mistake-riddled Spanish. She replied that 'we have two idiomas'. 'So do we' said I. 'I know' she continued, 'and we're both at the same place'.

I was a bit puzzled and thought something had gone missing in translation. 'What place?'

'Independence', she replied.

Gora Euskadi. Saor Alba.