Circling a Fox, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Presenter Matthew Zajac, Director Brian Ross.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000s083/circling-a-fox

Matthew Zajac is an actor. Acting is a precarious profession. The same old faces crop up with regularity. Trying to make a living from acting is akin to trying to make a living from writing. I’ve did a few shifts as an extra. I’ve no interest in being the next what-ever-you-call him/her. Writing, well, that’s a different story.

Writing is my game. I don’t expect to make a living from it. And with over one million self-published books appearing on Amazon every year if you’ve been paying attention, as I have, then you’ll know why.

Matthew Zajac in his downturn between acting and being invisible wrote his own play, The Taylor of Inverness. He took it to the Edinburgh Festival, and with the help of a fiddler, and some projections acted out the part of his dad. It received plaudits. Plaudits don’t pay the rent.

Next his—let’s call it an award winning play, because if it didn’t win something Edinburgh’s culture elite have fell asleep at the wheel—is taken up by BBC Scotland. The peasants up North, us, receive a fraction of the BBC budget to produce content for the fraction of the British population that are interested in that type of thing.

Matthew Zajac gets to play his dad again, for the cameras, in his award-winning play. But he also gets to travel to the Ukraine where his da was born, to put on the same performance for the natives of his father’s home town. But the programme also becomes one of those finding about your past kind of road trips where the viewer see nice scenery and meets quaint folk that don’t speak our lingo.  Money for old rope.

One of Zajac’s Ukrainian relatives tells him (and us) how a fox is hunted. Cornered in a field in every decreasing circles until its captors can bludgeon it to death. Money for old rope is a cliché. What it refers to is the rope hangman such as Albert Pierrepoint in Britain used to sell to members of the public per inch, as a trophy, after they have used it to hang convicted criminals.

Ukraine used to be thought of the bread-basket of Russia. Soil so rich that to plant a stick was to grow a tree. I’m going off at a tangent here as Zajac did with his da’s story. His dad was buried in Inverness. Whisper it, as a head mason. He’d given up his Roman Catholicism to join the order and risen through the ranks. (My understanding is you can be both a Roman Catholic and a Mason, as my da’s pal, Jimmy Mac, was). Zajac’s dad, despite coming from the Ukraine, fought with the Polish army for Britain in the second world war against their common enemy, Nazi Germany.

It all kind of adds up. Before the first world war Glasgow was booming and growing at a rate faster than London. In the interwar years this growth declined, but it was still enough of a metropolis to take a refugee from the Ukraine and for him to find a job as a tailor in Glasgow. And then head to the back of beyond to Inverness to find a shop of his own, a life of his own, a new life and kids. It’s the refugee made good narrative.

The Ukraine of the interwar and postwar years was one of bloodshed. Let me fling some figures at you. 20 million dead. Stalin brought the Ukrainians to heel by mass starvation. Most children under ten would die first. Millions more sent to gulags such as those in Siberia. Ukrainian nationalists fighting the Soviets who had ‘liberated’ them shot and their families deported. Acts of savagery, mass murder and rape. Teenagers, in particular, in the vanguard.

Let’s remember the death camps in the East and the Jews. Jewish tailors that had trained Zajac’s dad. We know around six million Jews were exterminated. But around half, as they were here, were taken into forests and fields and shot.

Zajac finds in the old reels of his father’s tape something unnerving. His story of being swept up by the Soviet machine and being deported to Uzbekistan has a facsimilia of truth. His escape along the Soviet railway, with its own gauge system for train that took three months, seems possible. Syria and up into India an incredible journey in which the good guy prevails. He joins the British Army.

An alternative story and shadow self emerges that is completely compelling as narrative, as history, or as drama, and a combination of all these.   This is much-watch TV. It shouldn’t be given a graveyard slot on BBC Scotland, but a Sunday night slot at 9pm. The kind of slot Small Axe: Mangrove demands and gets because Steve McQueen is a somebody. Zajac is a Scottish yokel, he’s give what he’s got and likes or lumps it territory. Listen up, I watched both and Zajac is better.  Watch and learn what a thing man is.

Storyville, Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director David France.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000kjnt/storyville-welcome-to-chechnya-the-gay-purge

Here we have Claud Cockburn’s maxim as a rule of thumb, ‘Never believe anything until it has been officially denied’.

Director David France’s documentary shows clearly that gay lives don’t matter in Chechnya, or in Russia, generally. Imagine George Michael had went missing at the height of his pomp and Margaret Thatcher (Section 28 legislation) came on the telly and told you, he wasn’t missing. And there was no such thing as gay people in Britain, and if there was ‘They are devils, subhuman.’ They should be taken to their families to be killed.

This is the rhetoric not of Thatcher, but of Ramzan Kadyrov, a Vladamir Putin appointed strongman, leader of the Chechnya Republic telling the public how it is in relation to Chechan’s George Michael and gay community. Imagine, instead of George Floyd being choked to death by policeman while other cops watched him die, you had police trophy footage of men and women beaten to death at the side of the road and raped to show they are dealing with the gay plague, the lesbian problem. Transsexual doesn’t register. Kadyrov labelled men that love men and women that love women, subhuman, not human and that’s the way they are treated, a problem that needs to be solved or eradicated.

Anna Politkovskya,  Chechnya: A Dirty War  1999-2002  gives us context. Vladimir Putin’s ‘anti-terrorist campaign’ destroyed the Chechnya capital, Grozny in a way we’ve become familiar with television pictures and reports of the indiscriminate Russian bombing of Syria and Ukraine and the targeting of, for example, hospitals. Terrorists are those on the ground. Chechnyans were labelled by Putin a ‘nation of criminals’.   In February 2001, Politkovskya was detained and threatened with rape by senior Russian officers when investigating a Russian torture centre. Perhaps she was naïve to think there was just one. Refugees talked of the indiscriminate murder of children, pregnant women, old men.  Putin won the war in Chechnya as he’s winning the war in Syria and the Ukraine. Anna Politkovskya had made enemies in high places. On 7th October 2006 she was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in central Moscow. Three Chechens were arrested, but acquitted and re-arrested.

  Truth does not need to be subversive, but it does need to be true.  France shows how it works in Chechnya. After a police raid around 2017, a gay man’s phone was taken from him and examined. We usually use words like forensic her—forensically examined—for links to other crimes to do with drugs or other offences so the authorities can label them criminal. Terrorist is a popular word choice. What the officers found was gay messages and images. Gay men, or women, were taken to Argun Prison in Grozny and tortured, with many beaten to death, reminiscent of Lubyanka and Stalin’s reign of fear. Victims were forced to give names of other gay men or women that the police could roll up, torture and kill, to get other names. This reign of fear France labels a Gay Purge, which is denied by authorities in Grozny and Moscow, using the logic that such people don’t exist and even if they did, there’s no official notification of it or them.    While at the same time, Ramzan Kadyrov promises to ‘cleanse the blood’ of Muslims and eliminate those people that don’t exist.

France’s film follows Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual (LGBT) activists in Moscow, such as Olga Baravov, who have helped Chechnyan LGBT victims escape. We follow, for example, Akmad aged 30, (not his real name). Identities are protected by digital remastering because of a risk of reprisals at home in Chechnya. The rescue of ‘Anya’, aged 21, takes the viewer from Moscow to Grozny and had elements of a thriller. ‘Anya’s’ uncle told her he’d out her as a lesbian unless she slept with him and she had to be smuggled out. LGBT activists helped provide an underground ‘railway’ and safe houses. They try and relocate victims of torture and state violence. Asylum seekers of whatever sexuality are not popular (America, as you’d expect, is not on their list). Canada figures strongly. 151 victims processed by LGBT activists in Moscow, 44 men in women seeking asylum when filming took place.

‘Anya’ disappeared from her safe house. Olga Baranov and her child had herself to seek asylum in Canada after been outed by the Russian authorities. Moscow was not safe with its anti-gay rhetoric and threat of reprisals.    

Maxim Lapunov, his real name, returned from asylum and challenged the authorities in Chechnya and accused them of state torture, placing a deposition in the Russian Municipal Courthouse. His digital mask protecting his identity was dissolved. The case was, of course, flung out. For Putin acolytes, gays don’t exist in Russia or Chechnya, and even if they did, they law does not exist to protect the likes of them. Lapunov claimed he’d take his case to the European Courts of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  Watch this space, if he’s not disappeared or dies mysteriously, he might just do that, but I doubt it.

George Orwell recognised ‘to be corrupted by totalitarianism’— for example, the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse—you ‘do not have to live in a totalitarian country’, the un-United States of America. We’re all corrupted now.  Putin the strong man goes from strength to strength. Ramzan Kadyrov does not have the final word. He does what he’s told. The gay purge hurts no one—that counts—and nobody is counting.

First they came for the gays

and I did not speak out-

because I was not gay

[adapted from Pastor Martin Nemoller (1892-1984).

Svetlana Alexievich (1985, 2017) The Unwomanly Face of War, translated by Richard Pewar and Larissa Volokhonsky.

svetalna.jpg

Books are holy relics and none more so than this love letter to the lost. The Great Patriotic War as it is sold to the Russian people by the capitalist oligarchs is something to which they can hold on to. Something to which they can be proud. Forget the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and Stalin’s deal with Hitler and the division of Eastern European countries such as Poland. Forget the millions killed in countries such as the Ukraine by Stalin’s policy of mass- starvation ‘Death-by-hunger’ when parents ate their children. The Second World War started in earnest for the USSR with Operation Barbarossa on Sunday, 22 June 1941 with the Nazis attacked their former allies looking for a swift victory. Stalin and the USSR held on at Leningrad.  Twenty million Russians died. Think of that for a second. Millions more mutilated.

These are the fragmented memories of a forgotten race. Women who fought in the war. Women who survived and had to remain silent, because it was a man’s war. And women who fought were not real women, but front-line whores. There is a heart for love and a heart for hate. Many remember a sign by the side of the road when entering German territory for the first time, crosses. ‘Here she is accursed Germany.’

Fragments.

SUDDENLY WE WANTED DESPARATELY TO LIVE

Tamara Stepanovna Umnyagina

Junior Sergeant in The Guards, Medical Assistant.

I already went barefoot. What did I see? The train station near Mogilev was being bombarded. And there was a train carrying children. They started throwing them through the window, little children – three or four years old. There was a forest nearby, so they ran towards the forest. The German tanks drove out and the tanks drove over the children. There was nothing left of those children.

Bella Isakovna Epstein,

Sergeant, Sniper

I came back different…For a long time I had an abnormal relation with death. Strange I would say…

They were inaugurating the first streetcar in Minsk, and I rode on the streetcar. Suddenly the streetcar stopped, everybody shouted, women cried. ‘A man’s been killed!’ And I sat alone in the car. I couldn’t understand why everybody was crying.

Albina Alexandrovna Gantimurova

Sergeant Major, Scout

Berlin…a boy came running towards me with a submachine gun—a Volksssturm. The war was already over. The last days. My hand was on my submachine gun. Ready. He looked at me, blinked and burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it—I was in tears, too. I felt sorry for him; there was this kid standing with his stupid submachine gun. And I shoved him towards a wrecked building, under the gateway: ‘Hide,’ I said…He took my hand. He cried! I patted his head.

Fragments of the past make our present. Read on.