Wednesday 22 June 2016

Commentary: Russian Neo-Nazism and Racism

Black Sun Swastika on a Russian Neo-Nazi Poster. A variation of a pro-Franco poster produced by the Phalange Party during the Spanish Civil War

Seventy five years after the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, many will recall the valour of those who eventually resisted the the brutal occupation of Hitler's Wehrmacht. Yet, as the recent violence caused by a hard core of hooligan Russian football supporters at the ongoing European Championships shows, there exists in contemporary Russia elements who have embraced the ideology and culture of Nazism.
It is extremely  disappointing and somewhat perplexing, given the courage and resilience shown by the Russian people in the face of the onslaught by Nazi Germany, to see naked racism and the embrace of neo-Nazi culture among some of Russia's younger population.

The Far Right nationalist football hooligans known as 'Ultras' who wreaked havoc at the European Championships in France are but a symptom of the ugly reputation Russian football has garnered for the racist behaviour of the fans of many football clubs who subject Black players to vicious abuse including monkey chants. The signing in 2012 by Zenit Saint Petersburg of the Brazilian Hulk -the first Black player ever bought by the club- led to denunciations and protests by fans who described the absence of Black players as an "important tradition" and an "issue of identity." Last year, a Miss Russia Premier League Beauty queen representing CSKA Moscow was exposed as reveling Nazi paraphernalia on her social media account.

There are dozens of ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi movements and organisations in Russia today including Pamyat and the Russian National Socialist Party. They are the descendants of the imperial era Black Hundreds which was xenophobic and prone to anti-Jewish agitation. The contemporary organisations fixate much of their venom on those they refer to as 'Khachi', a derogatory term for those who originate from the Caucasus.

The adoption of neo-Nazi symbols, strategies and ideology is ironic given the Nazi designation of all Slavic people as untermensch, that is, sub-human. Such irony is compounded by the non-European influences on the Russian DNA. Can anyone fail to notice more than a hint of the 'East' in the physical features of many Russians including Vladimir Putin?

Long before Pyotr Tchaikovski's 'Marche Slav', the famous orchestral tone poem that was created during a period of pan-Salvic fervour, the Russian Empire had already become a multi-ethnic and a multi-faith entity. It would be remiss to fail to remind that Aleksandr Pushkin, the father of Russian Literature, was of African descent.

Russia's rejection of the United States-impose regime in Kiev is officially based on a principled disavowal of the presence of a Stepan Bandera-worshipping cadre of neo-Nazis among those who seized power and who govern the Ukraine today. Yet, some in Russia choose to subscribe to a hyper-nationalist and racist creed.

The aspiration to create a new Russia in the aftermath first of an oppressive Communist dictatorship and then of a disastrous experiment with a crude laissez-faire economic system has as with other post-communist Central European countries created the conditions that have bred racism. Under communism, the doctrine that racism was incompatible with the values espoused by international socialism was a mantra spoken down to the masses but never the subject of public debate and examination. It took the unrealistic position that racism did not exist in countries with socialist regimes.

The fall of communism, it is argued, created a vacuum in which populations found the old traditions of nationalism and ethnic solidarity more more valid than the newer, weaker institutions of liberalism and the democratic ideas they espoused.

It is with this background and the Islamophobia bred by the wars in Chechnya that Russia has had to contend with. It is worth noting however that the brand of nationalism espoused by Vladimir Putin, although tied in with the state-aided resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church, is one which is inclusive. This begins in religious education studies at elementary school level and continues to middle and high levels. Both Putin and his prime minister Medvedev visit mosques and engage in Muslim festivals.

So far as football is concerned, the Russian Football authorities and the government have moved from inaction to a position where fines and bans are imposed for racist behaviour. It is along way yet, but at least there appears to be an awareness for the need to make substantive headway in this area in the build up to the Football World Cup which is to be hosted by Russia in 2018.

There will hopefully be an increasing realisation that pride in Russia need not conjure the beast of 'Russian Chauvinism,' and needless to say, it should not tolerate neo-Nazi culture in the field of politics and civil society.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Seventy-Five Years Ago: Operation Barbarossa

The 75th anniversary today of the unleashing of the Nazi war machine on the Soviet Union was the beginning of a conflict unparalleled in the annals of human of warfare. It was marked by large tank battles, sweeping encirclements and lengthy sieges. It is remembered for the unrelenting cruelty visited on combatants and non-combatants that came by way of human design as well as through hardships imposed by nature. On the German Eastern Front, genocidal SS-Einsatzgruppen units hunted down Jews, partisans and members of the Soviet Communist Party. Hundreds of thousands died in the siege of Leningrad and an unknown amount well over a million died in the Battle of Stalingrad. But the people of the Soviet Union, composed of various ethnic groups, held out until the tide turned and Hitler's armies were vanquished. This came at the cost of a loss of over 25 million of the total population.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Thursday 9 June 2016

A Funeral in Berlin - The Life and Legacy of SS-Obergruppenf├╝hrer Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich’s Death Mask on a Commemorative Postal Stamp

Reinhard Heydrich's funeral was one of the most elaborate send-offs staged during the short tenure of the German Third Reich. It was attended by a collection of high-powered dignitaries and functionaries of state including Adolf Hitler himself. Heinrich Himmler, the SS Reichsfuhrer, gave a eulogy and Reichsmarschal Herman Goering, at the time Hitler's presumptive successor, was present.

Held at the Mosaic Hall of the new Reich Chancellery on June 9th 1942, it had been preceded by ceremonies in Prague started three days earlier when a torchlight procession of SS officers and other personnel of the German military accompanied his coffin to Prague Castle.

The following morning, the coffin was exhibited in the courtyard of Matthais Gate where crowds of German and Czech citizens streamed past until the late afternoon. After this, Heydrich's coffin, which was mounted on a gun carriage, made a final journey through the streets of Prague along which tens of thousands stood to salute. The cortege crossed the Charles Bridge and made its way to the Central Railway Station from where it was transported to Berlin.

The prelude to the funeral was marked by a performance of Wagner's Gotterdamerung by the State Orchestra. Himmler praised Heydrich as a "character of rare purity." And when he rose to speak at the podium, Hitler was no less appreciative in his remarks:

He was one of the best National Socialists, one of the strongest defenders of the concept of the German Reich, one of the greatest opponents of all enemies of the Reich

He concluded by awarding Heydrich the highest award that he could bestow: the highest stage of the German Order. The solemnity of the occasion continued after Hitler's short words by the martial drumming that heralded the lament to fallen German soldiers Ich Hatt Einen Kameraden. His coffin was then borne from the hall to the strains of Beethoven's Eroica and taken to Berlin's Invalidenfriedhof for burial.

The events attending his passing including flaming torches, primeval drumming and Himmler's eulogy bore the heavy imprint of paganism. It was the way Heydrich, like Hitler a lapsed Catholic, would have wanted it.

Not all, however, were impressed by its grandeur. The British press referred to it as "a gangster funeral in the pompous Chicago style".

It is as a criminal that Reinhard Heydrich is largely portrayed.

First in his lifetime as the Acting Reichsprotektor appointed by Hitler to rule over German occupied Bohemia and Moravia, he became known as 'The Blond Beast',  'The Butcher of Prague' and 'Hitler's Hangman'. Over the course of time, he has been earmarked as nothing less than than a psychopath and a 'god of death.'

Far from the fallen viking princeling portrayed by the Nazi propaganda machinery in the aftermath of his death, allied propaganda depicted Heydrich as a cold-blooded killer. His deeds including his organising of the Einsatzgruppen, his orders to torture and execute recalcitrant Czech workers and partisans as well as his presiding over the infamous Wansee Conference marked him as a homicidal maniac.

The views expressed by pillars of the Nazi establishment did not betray any sentiment for the man. "Is the swine dead at last?", asked SS-General Sepp Dietrich after news confirmed his passing. Hitler praised him as "the man with the iron heart."

Yet this paragon of the brutal virtues of what was held out to be the perfect SS man was born into a comfortable upper middle class environment in the city of Halle an der Saale in 1904. Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich was a child of music. A talented violinist whose father Bruno, a composer and opera singer ran a conservatory, Heydrich's love of music continued for the rest of his life. How then did a man from such a background metamorphose into a such a figure of villainy and infamy?

Here the interpretations given by biographers of Heydrich's ascent to the higher echelons of the Nazi hierarchy are reflective of the evolving currents of analysis given by historians trying to make sense of the triumph of fascist brutality in the civilisation which had produced Goethe and Beethoven.

This has come in arguably three phases. The first school of thought often described the typically successful SS functionary in almost Lombrosian terms; that is, as essentially born criminals or, at least, latent criminals whose natural instincts were unleashed with the coming of the SS state. And so it was that Heydrich's physical features were often deconstructed in terms which his criminal tendencies could be discerned from the sinister construct of his face which looked to some as though an aggregation of two different ones. His eyes, narrow and piercing, bore the stamp of consummate evil and malevolence while his hands, long and slender, resembled those of a strangler. Charles Wighton's 1962 biography, Heydrich: Hitler's Most Evil Henchman conveyed a narrative slanted in favour of a creature that was diabolical in nature.

The second strand in this evolution of thought reflected the thinking of Hannah Arendt's thesis of the 'banality of evil', that of the technocrat whose use and manipulation of the modern apparatus of administration led to the implementation of objectively evil policies due to the human predisposition to willingly obey orders and the need to conform to mass opinion in an uncritical manner. A biography written by German journalist Gunther Deschner which was published in 1977 considered Heydrich to be a technocrat par excellence who was powered by "an indomitable and amoral ambition" which succeeded in submerging all human feeling. Deschner's book Heydrich: The Pursuit of Total Power, conveyed the belief that careerism and the pursuit of excellence was at the heart of Heydrich's deeds.

The latest major biography by German-born scholar Robert Gerwarth an extensively researched work entitled Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich bases the germination of Heydrich's activities on events in his life which created the basis of his radicalisation and eventual indoctrination as a fervent National Socialist. The path to this was started when he married Lina Von Osten, a young woman whose sympathies for the burgeoning National Socialist movement steered Heydrich to applying for a job with the early SS organisation after his dismissal from the German navy.

Gerwarth as did Deschner before him provides documented evidence disproving one facet early biographers, and unfortunately a few contemporary writers, have latched upon as having a great bearing on his diabolical role in the history of the Third Reich. This relates to the alleged Jewish origins of Heydrich. The thesis was propounded as evidence that Heydrich's ruthlessness particularly in regard to the Jewish question was based on a form of self-loathing and that fear of exposure of his 'Jewish blood' and blackmail by Himmler and others in the Nazi hierarchy had guaranteed his loyalty to the party and had spurred him on be an architect of the destruction of European Jewry.

It is clear that at the time of his death from the effects of blood poisoning following the attack by British trained Czechoslovak paratroopers on May 27th 1942, that Heydrich had adroitly accumulated power and was likely to be eventually considered as a candidate for succession to Adolf Hitler.

He was the head of the intelligence service of the SS, known as the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Heydrich had ambitions of supplanting the Abwehr, the premier German military intelligence organisation that was run by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, an opponent of the Hitler regime.

His effectiveness as an administrator was demonstrated by his 'carrot and stick' approach to tackling Czech resistance to German rule. War production in Bohemia and Moravia improved and the population was largely pacified. It was this success which played a major part in the Czech government in exile in London, under severe pressure to act by the British, to send in a squad of paratroopers to effect his assassination.

The life and fate of Heydrich continues to fascinate. A mixture of myth and legend surrounds him. For instance, while the researched and documented history of the motivations behind the attack on him point to the aforementioned pressure on the exiled leader Edvard Benes to act, there are those who believe that a hidden motive was to protect the position of Admiral Canaris and the Abwehr. Canaris, as historians later discovered, acted in ways to undermine the Hitler government and the German war effort. At his trial in Nuremberg, General Alfred Jodl, the chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, claimed that the Abwehr under Canaris had been a "nest of traitors (and) had served the enemy for years." The belief by some is that Canaris was a British intelligence asset who may even have met with Sir Stewart Menzies, the war time head of the Secret Intelligence Service, on several occasions in Spain.

Another legend surrounding Heydrich's demise relates to the Bohemian Crown Jewels among which is the crown of Saint Wenceslas. Native lore states that any usurper who places the crown on his head is doomed to die violently within one year. Heydrich is rumoured to have placed the the crown on his head during a visit to St.Vitus Cathedral in Prague castle. A corollary of the Wenceslas Curse is that the first born of such a transgressor will also die.

Heydrich's first born son, Klaus died in a bicycling misadventure in October of 1943.

But even without recourse to myth and legend or to conspiracy theories and conjecture, the life of Heydrich remains a compelling study of how circumstances served to mould him from an essentially apolitical person into an unsparingly ruthless character who felt duty bound to aid a system which glorified a racial state seeking to extend its borders and its influence even at the cost of genocide.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Book Review of JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula

In boxing's long and glorious history certain fighters, who in their day lit up the faces of fans and were on the lips of every boxing-minded person, inevitably become forgotten, just a fleeting name in the rich tapestry of of boxing's past.

Frankie DePaula is one of these 'names'. In his day, he was the darling of Jersey City and thought by many to have enough talent to be a top fighter, but, he never reached the heights of the deep 1960s light heavyweight division.

Adeyinka Makinde has shed light on this forgotten contender and rejuvenated interest in him with Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. Bringing the vibrant DePaula to life with testimony's from friends, boxing experts and people from the era. The friends bring to life the reckless and fun-loving nature of Frankie by the people who knew him best. The boxing experts bring his thunderous power-punching style to the imagination of the reader with the testimonies of old fight hands Tommy Gallagher and Ron Lipton being particularly insightful. The bustling Jersey City is created with testimonies of citizens and the tireless research of the local papers.

The book covers every aspect of DePaula's life. From his tough up-bringing on the streets of Jersey City, to his beginning in boxing, his partying lifestyle, his involvement with the mob, his boxing career and ultimately his untimely demise.

As a boxing book this is very good. DePaula's early fights are researched in detail and his training habits (or lack of) are well documented in the book. His sparring sessions with the famed 'Hurricane Carter are covered in particular detail with many eye-witnesses offering their perspective on the sessions.

The jewel of the book is the chapter on DePaula's fight with Dick Tiger, titled simply 'The Tiger'. The effort that Makinde has gone to recreate the 1968 Fight of the Year is very admirable as he brings to life every aspect of the great fight.

However, this book is not solely about boxing. It brings to life the social context of Jersey City in the 1960s exposing the corruption and mob influence to an extent which most crime books do not even cover! Makinde, a native of London, has excellently captured the essence of Jersey City with painstaking research. The fact that an 'outsider' is able to portray Jersey City makes it the more impressive.

Bringing Frankie DePaula and Jersey City in the 1960s to life in a way that has never been seen before, Makinde has delivered a superb read akin to DePaula's left hook - Blistering!

Written by Greg Paterson, August 2010.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Monday 6 June 2016

Ali - A Succinct Eulogy

Muhammad Ali

Ali is truly a universal figure; a man who authentically transcends cultural and geographical boundaries. 

One may choose to focus on his extraordinary boxing skills or his strident social activism or his larger-than-life and media-friendly personality, but you cannot ultimately claim the man because you are from Louisville or are Black or an American or a Muslim.

Those who reviled him in his lifetime cannot dismantle or diminish him whatever were his faults, mistakes and limitations.

The man had long carved himself a place in humanity's consciousness. Ali's influence in so many ways will endure so long as humanity endures. 

He belongs to the ages...

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)