Behind the Iron Curtain part 24 – LGBTQ rights

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


I do not actually remember how much I was informed about these issues as a child before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, but what I do remember is that my first encounter was not with an actual (known) homosexual person, but with a homophobic slur. The sad reality is, that Czechs were and to great extent still are very homophobic, or at least “I am not a homophobe, but…”, which is a distinction without difference.

However from legal standpoint Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was actually relatively progressive, or at least not less progressive than many western countries. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1962, 5 years before the United Kingdom. And gender reassignment therapy and surgery, although with more than a few bureaucratic hurdles to jump through, were (and are) available and paid for from state health insurance.

Nevertheless, despite gay rights being on the left side of the political spectrum in current USA and most of western world, it was not so behind the Iron Curtain. As avid reader and a very curious child, I have read behind my parents’ back magazines for adults (as opposed to magazines for children), which even in the puritanical culture did contain some information about sex and sexuality. And on one such occasion I came across an article that mentioned a peculiar fact – whilst homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalized in ČSSR, this was not the case everywhere in the Eastern Bloc. In USSR, male homosexuality was still illegal and punishable by imprisonment. The rationale mentioned in the article was homophobic, patriarchal and misogynistic all at once, and I remember recognizing it as such even at the time, although of course I did not know those fancy words back then: “A woman’s weakness can be forgiven, but a soldier must control his urges.”

After the fall of the iron curtain this discrepancy between the two countries sadly progressed. Whilst Czech Republic slowly but steadily progresses towards more and more legal rights for LGBTQ people along with public opinion progressing as well, in Russian Federation the trend actually reversed after a brief period of attempted progress.

So to me this, together with before mentioned environmentalism, is another one of the issues that actually is not left or right and it is just a coincidence that it is considered so in current political climate in the west. But lets not forget that political left can be just as adept at finding rationalizations for the homophobia of their power base as political right currently is. Hate of the other can, unfortunately, be quite the unifying issue in all kinds of political context.

Teacher’s Corner: Burn the whole fucking system to the ground

Some days you just can’t even. You realise that the so called “free world” is so utterly cruel that you want to cry. Instead, you try to mitigate the harm it is causing.

One of the most marginalised groups in Europe are probably the Roma people. Even though they were just as prosecuted by the Nazis as the Jews were, this is apparently no reason to protect them today. The are still prosecuted, suffer pogroms and basically nobody cares. They have no future in their “home countries” and when they migrate, they suffer even more discrimination. For example, they cannot seek asylum in Germany, because, well, reasons I guess, and since they are often from non European Union countries, they cannot simply settle either, or get any welfare payments, except for the basic child subsidy.

We have a couple of Roma kids, and many of them live in absolute poverty. They live in homeless shelters, they live in run down houses. It is often difficult to talk to the parents, because we need an interpreter (thankfully there is a charity that works with us). therefore we often don’t even know what the problem is. One kid only came to school sporadically. She’s 11 years old, has lived in at least three different countries, can hardly read or write and is often sick.

Well, it’s not that the family didn’t want to send her to school, they send her whenever they have money for the bus. Oh, and they don’t have health insurance, so they cannot send her to the doctor, but if she feels ill it’s probably, because they have no food left. But if she fails in school, leaves without any qualification, marries young and has many children, it will of course be blamed on their culture. You know, because “those people” are like that.

Now that we know we can try to mitigate the effects. Get her a bus ticket, ask her if she’s had breakfast. The bus ticket is paid by a charity, the breakfast is something we just do among us teachers. Even if we can help her, what a poverty of humanism does this reveal in one of the richest countries on earth?

Slavic Saturday

Slavic people are today mostly seen as “white” to the point that a Polish game developer was in USA criticised for making the computer game Witcher 3 without any people of color that could be recognized as such in modern world. Similarly a few years later a Czech developer was criticised for the same thing in a game Kingdom Come: Deliverance, deliberately set in medieval Bohemia and made as historically accurate as possible.

Whilst I understand all the arguments for the importance of diversity in representation, I think all these critiques were misguided, because they were targeted at the wrong target – they criticised products of one culture from the perspective of another culture with entirely different roots.

Slavs are indeed white when you look at the color of their skin, and by Gob do we have an awful lot of white supremacists and neo-nazis today. However a white nationalist or even a neo-nazi Slav makes about as much sense as white nationalist or neo-nazi (or Trump loving) Jew.  After all, Jews have white skin too. And after all, how many Jew-hating Arabs and Arab-hating Jews know that both Jews and Arabs are in fact semitic tribes? I would venture a guess that many do not, or they do but don’t care. People are perfectly capable of being misguided, misinformed, bigoted and downright willfully ignorant and hold contradictory ideas in one head, so there is that.

Historically Slavs migrated in the Europe from east and north, displacing come celtic and germanic populations. As a result they lived mostly in the woodlands and mountains of north, central and East Europe and they were comparatively poor. They had no written language that we know of, so very little is in fact known about their culture or religion. Some knowledge can be derived from linguistics, some from written reports by neighbouring nations, some from archeology, but Slavs established themselves in Europe during the dark ages and knowledge is therefore scarce.

However it is sometimes alleged that their own name for themselves – Slovan (originating from the word sloviť=to speak) might have been the origin of the word sclavus (Lat), and later on Sklave (Ger) and  slave (En) . Because these poor people were popular sources of cheap slave labor for neighbouring Germanic and Italic tribes through the early history of Europe way over to the Ottoman Empire in Middle East later on.

And even apart from slavery, a lot of the time right from Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages until very recently most Slavic nations were second-class citizens in countries led by people of other nationalities. Only Russians have managed to be oppressors and not oppressed in this period, and ironically they mostly oppressed and sometimes even tried to exterminate other Slavs. Both Czechs and Poles did not have any independency right until the end of WW1, after which they had few short decades to get the taste of self-determination before being swept into the bloody cauldron of WW2.

Under the Third Reich the Slavs were seen as barely people. They were not targeted for outright extermination like Jews and Roma, but the intent was to put them back into their proper place – slavery (that is why I think that a neo-nazi Slav is an ignoramus and a completely daft person – if nazis got their way, he would think scrubbing floors with his own toothbrush is a posh job).

After the WW2 all slavic nations ended up being wrapped behind the Iron Curtain under the not-so subtle hegemony of USSR. This time at least it was not overtly attempted to obliterate local cultures and languages (not here anyway). But whilst the Russian rule did try and manage to instill some sense of Pan-Slavic belonging, they also managed to instill some anti russian sentiments along the way (in Poland on top of the hundreds of years long grudge Poles held against Russians from the time of the Russian Empire). And the sense of always being second class, not being allowed anything truly ours, pervaded.

In this sense, sprouting of some nationalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain was perhaps inevitable, what with the nations trying to finally re-assert themselves for good. I do think white nationalists are going about the business the wrong way, proclaiming your superiority over others is not the right thing to do and it is also demonstrably false. But I also think that Polish game developers who make a PC game packed with people who bear the typical facial features of contemporary Poles, with architecture and ornaments of medieval Slavic kingdoms and based on Slavic mythology, or Czech game developers making a game set in a very distinct and specific area of medieval Kingdom of Bohemia with focus on historical accuracy are doing nothing wrong and are indeed going about it the right way. And even though these works of art have managed to succeed on an international stage, their creators were in no way obliged to fall in step with USA culture and reflect USA racial make-up.

Those who criticised these two games for a lack of representation of POC have failed to realize that they were essentially trying to bully others into giving their own culture away and let the USA to appropriate said culture the way USA likes it. In fact, they should take these games as an opportunity to learn that “white people” are not a monolith and that outside of USA there is a lot more that defines your ancestry and your culture than the color of your skin. This way said critics were – probably unwittingly – perpetuating the USA collonialism ad absurdum, by requiring everyone everywhere to reflect contemporary social ills of USA.

We do not need nor want to do that, thank you very much. We have our own social ills to deal with.

Teacher’s Corner: Toxic Masculinity

Well, this Wednesday there was a particularly rough fight at my school, and while this one escalated rather a lot, fights between the boys are in no way rare at my school. Quite often, I’m puzzled about what they actually want from me when they come complaining, and you never actually get to the bottom of the matter. You get different versions, depending on whom you ask, and usually they cannot even agree what started that particular fight. You get stories that sound like the clans in Asterix in Corsica going back weeks and months (with different versions for each chapter in the saga!), but the patterns of the fights are usually pretty much the same.

They start with some trivial matter like brushing past each other, somebody calling somebody else’s friend fat, or somebody looking at a girl that somebody else is interested in. This will often already start on the bus to school. Insults are traded, challenges are made. People push each other. Friends get involved. Until, at some point, one of them utters some magical words like “son of a whore” or “I fuck your mother”. Then the one insulted feels justified in starting a real fight, seeing himself as the victim*, and the other one feels like the victim because he’s the one being attacked.

Being the innocent victim who only reacted is very important because then you cannot get into trouble. Or at least in their mind you should not get into trouble. Because it’s not their fault, right? The fact that they all regularly get into trouble is totally unfair. Because in their mind, they did not have another choice. Because in their world, a world of adolescent boys trying hard to be a particular kind of man, losing your face or being seen as weak is the worst. Much worse than fucking up your education.

When trying to get to the bottom of the fight on Wednesday I asked the kid what the fight was actually about. He didn’t really have an answer. Many stories from last year and some minor stuff and somebody insulting his friend. I asked the kid why he didn’t just ignore that shit and either walk away or call a teacher. His answer was true and the actual problem: “If I do that they will say I’m a pussy!”

Our problem is not the two kids who had a fight on Wednesday. Or the ones from Monday. Nor the ones who’ll get into a fight next week. Our problem is a micro cosmos steaming in toxic masculinity. And so far i don’t have a solution because sadly, my solutions are worthless. Most of my colleagues are female, we cannot solve the boy problem, because we cannot enter their world. We’ll need to find some men, men of a similar social background, who can teach them how to be cool, and that being a man doesn’t mean getting into fights every day. I worry about our boys. They’re still kids, and so far the consequences are small, but if they keep growing up like this they’ll get into trouble. They’ll hurt their own chances, and they’ll hurt others. they’ll hurt the women and girls in their lives, directly and indirectly. they aren’s Donald Trumps or Kavanaughs, with enough money and connections to get them out of trouble and up the social ladder. They are already on the bottom rung, fighting many social disadvantages.

As a feminist I’m often accused of “hating men and boys”, but I swear that nobody hurts them as much as the people who go “boys will be boys”.

*This is regardless of whether the boys are native Germans, kids of immigrants or recent arrivals from the Arab world. I once had a boy trying to beat up another kid for “insulting his mother and his family”. When I asked that second boy what he had said, it turned out that the first kid had hurled those insults hoping to provoke the second kid to start a fight. That second boy was rather cool and just said “same”.

Whom Will They Blame Next, Unicorns?

I have never watched Fox News when I was in USA, and of course I have no incentive to watch it now. However the stories that I read about it on the interwebs are truly bizarre.

This one trumps them all: Fox News host: ‘Anti-Semitism from the left’ is the real cause of hateful attacks on Jews

Where exactly does this “virulent anti-Semitism from the left” happen? Where do roam these elusive creatures, these leftist antisemites? Where exactly is the land of “fringe of the progressive side.”?

How come that someone spews such a weapon’s grade bullshit on air and is not immediately challenged for providing evidence for it? Any person who says such inane claptrap should be discredited and mercilessly mocked.

#Unteilbar

People at a demonstratiopn at night

Source: Tagesschau

Unteilbar, adjective, German: inseparable.

Sometimes, there are good news, things that give you hope. Yesterday such a thing happened. In Berlin (and other cities), people protested against racism, xenophobia and attenpts to split society along ethnic, national and religious lines, against Nazis and in favour of rescuing refugees. It was a broad alliance of parties, churches, organisations, unions prominent people*. The organisers had hoped for and registered the demonstration for 40.000 people. Those 40.000 people came and brought 200.000 more along with them.

But today there’s a general election happening in Bavaria, the Texas of Germany. Let’s see what happens there.

 

*The conservative party explicitly did not support it because of “radical left wing organisations”, which they’ll keep complaining about until the moment they themselves will be prohibited as such.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 12 – Police

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Police did not exist. It was recognized to be a tool of oppression of common people by those in power and therefore something that an enlightened socialist regime does not need.

Did you believe that? I think not. But it is true. Police did not exist.

That is, the word “police” was not used in any official settings. During Habsburg rule in the Austrian Empire the police was mostly concerned with nabbing political dissidents and whilst during the First Republic it was actually really an organization for dealing with crime, that did not take long and during the WW2 it again morphed into an arm of oppression. The name “Geheime Staatspolizei” (secret state police) got stuck in people’s minds and the word police was irredeemably tainted in the minds of Czech people.

I do not know whether this was the actual reason for abandoning the word police by the regime, but I think it has played a role from what we were taught at school about history.

So the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic did not have any organization with the word “police” anywhere in it, but of course crime had to be investigated, traffic must have been regulated and miscreants had to be dealt with.

For this we had an organization “Veřejná Bezpečnost” short “VB”. Their yellow and white cars were very distinguishable and their uniforms made them easily recognized. Whilst they had the power to require “papers please”, they were members of community and at least where I live nobody minded them much. The derogatory term “policajt” applied to them, but without much rancor above what it usually has anywhere around the world.

And of course any totalitarian regime needs its secret police, even when not named as such, and ours was no exception.

The actual arm of oppression was the “Státní Bezpečnost“, short “StB”. These were plain clothes agents and everybody feared them. Nobody knew who belongs to this organization and who does not – a lot of the agents did have other primary jobs, infiltrating communities and spying on people, even their own family members. Everybody had to be extra careful about what they tell to whom and there was a huge culture of distrust. Critique of regime’s officials was one of the things that was frowned upon and one of the biggest challenges people raising kids had been to teach the kids tell truth at home, but to lie in public.

My father was a member of the Communist Party, he joined in his twenties and was an idealist. However he was also an honest man who spoke his mind, and one of his brothers was a political dissident living in USA – and they were in contact.

One evening my father came back from local gathering of the Communist Party and he informed my mother curtly “I might end up in jail, we’ll see”. These gatherings were officially places to discuss problems and solutions to them etc. but of course that was not particularly encouraged, what was expected was sycophancy. But in this one instance my father, when he had his turn to speak, did not reign in his honesty enough and said aloud words to the effect that a lot of the problems could be solved if only the grumpy fat old men in lead of the party actually cared about the people and not themselves. He got lucky.

Of course not everybody who opened their mouth and said something unfavorable about the Communist Party or the regime got nabbed and incarcerated. The way people function that would mean everybody would wound up in jail. But the possibility was always at the back of people’s’ minds. The way the regime worked, nobody knew if some innocent remark might be the point after which one gets into the regime’s focus, and once in focus, the StB could always find something. The maxim was that everybody is guilty and there is nothing you can do about it – only hope that you will not be the one who gets nabbed.

So people tried not to even think honest thoughts. This is how you control a populace – by building fences in their heads.

I’d Prefer Abe Simpson…

The 72 year old Tiny Tyrant finally went there: “Get offa my lawn!” Just for the record, if there were desperate, frightened people standing on my lawn, I would do whatever I could to help them.

Source. You can see other choice responses at RawStory.

Oh, That “Dumbest” Law, My, My.

Ted Lieu (@tedlieu): Dear @realDonaldTrump: The “dumbest” law you refer to is called the United States Constitution. Specifically the 14th Amendment which provides due process to all persons, not just citizens.

You took an oath to the Constitution at your relatively small inauguration, remember?

In response to:

@realDonaldTrump

When people come into our Country illegally, we must IMMEDIATELY escort them back out without going through years of legal maneuvering. Our laws are the dumbest anywhere in the world. Republicans want Strong Borders and no Crime. Dems want Open Borders and are weak on Crime!

What in the fuckety fuck can one say anymore? I’m surprised people aren’t dropping dead from fatal eyerolls.

Source.

The Chains of Intolerance.

Andrew Ellis Johnson, “The ICEman Cometh” (2018, detail), ink, charcoal, wax, graphite.

Andrew Ellis Johnson, “The ICEman Cometh” (2018, detail), ink, charcoal, wax, graphite.

Art and artists most definitely have a place in answering wrongs, great or small, and everything in between. Andrew Ellis Johnson has a searing piece up at Hyperallergic. It’s well worth seeing and reading.

Tea for Trump.

Women adorning fancy hats celebrate President Trump's birthday over tea at an event hosted by Virginia Women For Trump at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on June 24, 2018. (Photo: Jared Holt).

Women adorning fancy hats celebrate President Trump’s birthday over tea at an event hosted by Virginia Women For Trump at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on June 24, 2018. (Photo: Jared Holt).

Tea for Trump. Uh huh. I’m just going to include choice quotes here, because reading the whole article made me feel rather ill.

The Trump International Hotel’s largest ballroom was packed wall-to-wall with Republican women donning ornate hats and fascinators made of mesh, lace, ribbon, and feathers, at the Virginia Women For Trump’s “Tea for Trump” event yesterday, which celebrated the belated birthday of President Donald Trump. Organizers repeatedly insisted that the idea that women do not like Trump was “fake news.”

[…]

Prior event descriptions claimed that a member of the Trump family was expected to attend, although none appeared to be on-site for the tea celebration. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was also rumored to be attending in order to receive an award, but did not make an appearance.

Rather, those in the crowd who had traveled from as far as California and paid at least $100 per person had a chance to gaze upon pro-Trump fashion designer Andre Soriano’s 45 gowns meant to commemorate Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States. One dress was dedicated to Trump’s meeting with North Korean officials in Singapore and a young girl wearing one of Soriano’s dresses earned widespread applause.

A model adorns a dress premiered at “Tea for Trump” that designer Andre Soriano fashioned as a tribute to Trump’s meeting with North Korean officials in Singapore. (Screenshot / YouTube).

A model adorns a dress premiered at “Tea for Trump” that designer Andre Soriano fashioned as a tribute to Trump’s meeting with North Korean officials in Singapore. (Screenshot / YouTube).

YouTube duo Diamond & Silk (Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson), who testified before Congress earlier this year after Facebook mistakenly flagged their fan page, were perhaps the biggest draw of the event and stepped on stage to a standing ovation. At the podium, the duo showered praise on Trump, at one point asking, “When I look at how our president has built this particular hotel. If he can do this and that, then why can’t he make America great again?”

The Tiny Tyrant did not build the hotel. He scammed a lot of cash to have it built, then turned around and refused to pay a lot of those people who did the actual work. When it comes to this country, he hasn’t changed tactics much.

The Deplorable Choir performs a brief song at Virginia Women For Trump’s “Tea for Trump” event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on June 24, 2018. (Screenshot / YouTube).

The Deplorable Choir performs a brief song at Virginia Women For Trump’s “Tea for Trump” event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on June 24, 2018. (Screenshot / YouTube).

The “Deplorable Choir” vocal trio made a surprise appearance while bearing a guitar that was not strummed once during their brief song. The lyrics were as follows:

Well, we love God and family,

We support our troops through everything,

We got Trump 2020 on the back of our pickup trucks,

We back the blue and the NRA,

We’re for pro-life and American-made,

Raise your hand if you’re proud to be damn deplorable.

Um…well, ladies, I wouldn’t be terribly proud of those songwritin’ skills you’re flaunting about. Perhaps if you learn how to play that guitar…no, wouldn’t help.

You can read the whole nasty mess at Right Wing Watch, although I don’t recommend reading with a full stomach.