Tag Archives: ethnicity-based nation-state

Catalonia, what a weighty moral cross you already have to bear — now tourist slack

26 Oct

But just yesterday you were worried about over-tourism (see: How tourism is killing Barcelona – a photo essay).

From Guardian:

Tourist trade counts the cost as separatist riots blight Barcelona

3500 A fire is reflected in a restaurant window after riots break out in Barcelona. Photograph: Rafael Marchante/Reuters

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Me and the Stromfront bros, V. A reader, C. from Italy, says:

22 Oct

Dear Niko, yesterday I found Jadde-ye-kabir and your email, and here I am. I was so happy to read what you think of Hellenism!!!!! It’s exactly what I think. In my latest book I quoted Ion Dragumis when he wrote that Hellenism is a far larger place than Greece.

I studied ancient Greek at school ages ago, and I’ve been going to Greece as often as I can. It’s the mother-country of my choice! I have also studied modern Greek which I can read and write, which doesn’t make a tourist of me, but a traveller. I wrote a book about the (Losanna) population exchange, which implied travelling in the North of Greece and in Anatolia: a wonderful  journey. But I’ve found Greece, or better Hellenism, in Alexandria (looking for Penelope Delta among other things), and in Crimea, and I’m looking forward to going to Pakistan in the footsteps of Alexander. I’m in a hurry now, but I’d like to talk with you longer. Where do you live?

I do like what you write and I completely agree with you! Let’s keep in touch! Have a nice day, Claudia from Verona (I’m going to Bari in a few days to present my book on Greece and I’ll use some ideas in your blog. Thanks!!). Ciao, as we say

Thanks Claudì!  Keep reading!  And yes, stay in touch.

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See alsoStormfront​ I​: Just so we know what we’re dealing with in Giannis and — probably — Kristos,​Me and the Stormfront bros, post II: Yavrum, ηρέμησε…, Me and the Stormfront bros, III: Gianni calls me by my Albanian name, Me and the Stromfront bros, IV. A reader, my podruzhka M, from Novi Sad, says:, Me and the Stormfront bros, post VI — A reader writes: nonsense born of fearMe and the Stormfront bros, VII: Kristos, how I’m wrong and Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you…”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Me and the Stromfront bros, IV. A reader, my podruzhka M, from Novi Sad, says:

22 Oct

Novi Sad 1.jpg

It’s so terribly sad, how pervasive white nationalism is becoming in Eastern Europe (and now the Balkans). It’s just another example of these nations trying to be “good Europeans” by adopting the worst of Europe. (Hungary and Poland at even seem to be doing it better than the west itself.)

Although I guess Greece is an exception within Eastern Europe and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course Greece is western-looking; of course it had a democracy instead of a communist regime. It was engineered that way by Churchill, who traded the Czech Republic to Stalin for Greece, because Greece’s “immortal glories” or whatever were too valuable to fall into Stalin’s hands. So it’s cyclical: the west sees ancient Greco-Roman history as its own history, it forces the modern Greek nation-state to side with it in the Cold War, and then in today’s world it seems to everyone that Greece is just so much more Western than it’s neighbors. Self-fulfilling prophecy…

And like you mentioned it’s also terrifying how educated these people are. It reminds me of talking to an old family friend (Vojvodina Hungarian who now lives in Budapest…). We had these lovely conversations on linguistics and Persian and Arabic grammar, and then he would suddenly turn these conversation into tirades about how “the migrants” were taking over Europe, how they would outbreed the Europeans and impose sharia law.

I hope you manage to deal with these loonies without too many problems. Also please let us all know if you have any pointers about how one should deal with white supremacists/racists/etc without loosing one’s mind lol

[my emphases]

Yes, “or whatever…”

Thanks, M!

See alsoStormfront​ I​: Just so we know what we’re dealing with in Giannis and — probably — Kristos,​Me and the Stormfront bros, post II: Yavrum, ηρέμησε…, Me and the Stormfront bros, III: Gianni calls me by my Albanian name, Me and the Stromfront bros, V. A reader, C. from Italy, says:,   Me and the Stormfront bros, post VI — A reader writes: nonsense born of fearMe and the Stormfront bros, VII: Kristos, how I’m wrong and Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you…”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Me and the Stormfront bros, III: Gianni calls me by my Albanian name

22 Oct

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Gianni calls me an Albanian:

what exactly “obstructed” you from approving my answer, Nikollë Bako?

I approved your answer and posted it in its entirety.

Thanks, though.  I didn’t know that the Albanian for Nikolaos was Nikollë.  I like the Russian Nikolay or Kolya, or the Serbian Nikola better, but Nikollë is fine.  As is Bako, which as you correctly point out is an Albanian family name, except without the male nominative “s” that Greeks would add to it.

And what exactly obstructed me?

Well, dude, you’re a Nazi and a Ku Klux Klan member, once removed — if even that.  As polite and educated as you might be, most of humanity finds you repulsive.  I don’t know what else to say.

But I’ll keep giving you the benefit of the doubt until we’ve both said what we have to say.

Για χαρά!

See alsoStormfront​ I​: Just so we know what we’re dealing with in Giannis and — probably — Kristos,​Me and the Stormfront bros, post II: Yavrum, ηρέμησε…, Me and the Stromfront bros, IV. A reader, my podruzhka M, from Novi Sad, says:, Me and the Stromfront bros, V. A reader, C. from Italy, says:,   Me and the Stormfront bros, post VI — A reader writes: nonsense born of fearMe and the Stormfront bros, VII: Kristos, how I’m wrong and Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you…”

 

 

 

Me and the Stormfront bros, post II: Yavrum, ηρέμησε…

22 Oct

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Gianni is bothered by the fact that I didn’t approve his first comment.  Here, he expresses his dismay:

“I got a sudden spike in hits on my homepage: Jadde — Starting off — the Mission, and was wondering why, when I received the longest comment that I’ve gotten on this blog since I started it in 2012”, and, let me add in this part, an answer with no single insult against the owner of the blog or any country/group in the world, no insult against anything at all, which anyone who will visit your blog can easily distinguish, yet an answer that never got approval, no matters if no term was violated.. what exactly “obstructed” you from approving my answer, Nikollë Bako?

Was it the content which definitely is oppose to your views? That shouldn’t be a problem to you, you have already dealt with the fact reality is equally oppose to your views.. Don’t worry, as long as you are not going to approve my comments i am not going to comment in your page again, enjoy the 85 people worldwide who in the last 7-8 years read your articles and took them seriously enough to like your page

Yavrum, Ηρέμησε…  I didn’t approve of your first comment because I just brushed it off initially and then later couldn’t find it.  Instead, when I did find it, I posted the whole comment, in its entirety, where many more readers will see it, here:

A Greek (sorry, Hellenic?) White Pride reader says: “you’re wrong, NB” — post I

And just to prove that I’m dealing with you guys in good faith, I’ll post your first comment again, in its entirety:

A Greek (sorry, Hellenic?) White Pride reader says: “you’re wrong, NB” — post I

21 Oct

I got a sudden spike in hits on my homepage: Jadde — Starting off — the Mission, and was wondering why, when I received the longest comment that I’ve gotten on this blog since I started it in 2012 (I think….).  In three successive missives.

It’s from a certain “Giannis” (whom I applaud on the transliteration but who should consider making the second “i” an “e”) who had an extended and not unintelligent critique of the Jadde’s and mine (NikoBako’s) general assumptions and ideological direction.  I looked up a website that was attached to his comments and found this:

Stormfront.org and some screenshots of their homepage:

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The truth is “hate” to those who hate the truth!

We are a community of racial realists and idealists. Black, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish Nationalists openly support their racial interests, with American taxpayers even required to support the Jewish ethnostate of Israel. We are White Nationalists who support true diversity and a homeland for all peoples, including ours. We are the voice of the new, embattled White minority!

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(For those who don’t know who David Duke is, here’s the Wiki-page opening description:

David Ernest Duke (born July 1, 1950) is an American neo-Nazi, anti-semitic conspiracy theorist, far-right politician, convicted felon, and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke is a Holocaust denier, and espouses conspiracy theories about Jewish control of academia, the press, and the financial system.[3][4] Duke has been described by the Anti-Defamation League as “perhaps America’s most well-known racist and anti-Semite”.[5]  )

Now, what do you do to a commentary like this?  Because it’s extensive, well-educated, literate and completely wacked.  No joke.  I remember Adam Gopnik’s article in the New Yorker back in the 90s where he wrote a piece about reading the Ken Starr report on Clinton and his major constitutional crime of getting a blow job in the Oval Office, that it was like (a total paraphrase):

“…reading an extended passage from an early Gothic, eighteenth-century novel, where a most articulate writer goes on and on in a treatise about an egregious evil that needs to be vanquished, until you slowly realize that it’s the writer himself who is insane.”

Gianni himself is clearly not insane.  Which makes him all the more unsettling to have to deal with.  I mean, he goes as Brennus Dux Gallorum on-line, but that might just be a cool fantasy of his like my Rome-Gladiator-Russell Crowe obsession (“Rome is the Light.”)  I’m posting his three comments to me today, so that readers all have a chance to go through them if they’re interested.

I can’t possibly take them on as a whole, so over the next few weeks I’ll be posting responses to separate passages of his.  In any event, it’s gratifying to know that the right kind of people disagree with you.

Ready?  Here we go!

**************************************************************************************

One:

I think that “Heretic” views like this one of this blogger, usually come from the combination of generalizations (for example, “my father’s experience in a specific region in a specific period (epirus of early 20th century) is generalized to all of modern Greece etc) as well as misconceptions, distortions and misinterpretations of historical entities, facts etc. The greatest distortion (which is not a “lie”, i mean the author of the blog is not
aware of his “mistake”) is where and with whom he associates Byzantine empire: Byzantine empire, is technically perceived by him as an Asian/West Asian entity like ottoman empire or Arabic states are, for a combination of two reasons: Its geographical location into the same area that Ottomans built their empire later, and the fact that it was not Roman-Catholic.

Geography is just geography, USA is built on the same lands that native Americans once used to live, but it hardly has anything to do with native Americans. Europe, as it is perceived technically after 7th century, is a combination of the three criteria
that Paul Vallery mentioned: Christianity, Roman law and Greko-Roman heritage. From this aspect yes, there were great differences between Charlemagne’s empire/its succesors and Byzantines, but in the end, what was Byzantine empire if not the Christian Roman empire, and what was Charlemagne’s Europe if not another Christian Roman succesor?
The basic criteria of Paul Valery that i talked about before. Yes Orthodox differ from Catholics, and Catholics differ from Lutherans. But in the end, all of them are equally Christian, and distant from muslims.

Were the Ottomans and Arabs “Christian Roman succesors”? The answer is JUST NO, and no further details are needed about that. As for the rest that he says, it has to do with personal experiences of the author, which sometimes are regional rather than “panhellenic”, and it’s no coincidence that 9 our of 10 examples here on how Greeks are supposed to belong to a supposed zone from Balkans to south Asia, are examples of Greeks who either lived in Northern regions near Balkans and Turkey and wasted time under ottomans until late 1913 and from early 15th century or Anatolian Greeks or even Romani Greek people. The majority of Greeks, who come from regions with deep and long contacts with Southwest and sometimes central Europe, like Southern Greeks or Greek islanders are almost ignored.

I have met Greek-Americans who according to themselves “partied better” with Irish, or with African Americans. The only sure is that both my personal experience, and if i am not mistaken according to what polls have shown, Americans of South Italian and
Portuguese ancestry are those who interact with Greek Americans more than anyone else. Not Turks (who aren’t even numerous in America, to start with, so the way the author had so many experiences with Balkan and Turkish people is a mystery) not Balkan-Americans. In my family i have not even one (Greek) American person married or related to any Turkish or Balkan American, I rather have relatives married to Italians,Irish and in one case ulster Scot American, and interactions are not limited to marriage of course.

Add to this the fact that Americans of Arabic and Turkish descent were far closer to Americans of any ancestry (from Black to Scandinavian and of course Greeks included) than their original countrymen are to people from other countries
in the world (because of Americanization of middle easterners in America, it’s obvious), and you can see how distortions are created. In Fact, Greeks in Smyrna and even in Istanbul who are stereotyped as more “oriental influenced” than other Greeks, had more reactions and intermarriages with other European communities of these cities than with Turks.

As a conclusion, if people today, and to a lower degree back then, do not consider Greece as “less European” than they consider Sweden, instead of considering it anything like Arabic nations, this has to do with what people see, that Greeks live
like Europeans, act behave like Europeans, have European attitudes, that Greeks in the end are Europeans. The fact that Greeks were oppressed by Ottomans 200 years ago (it’s not me saying that, it was Greeks themselves, who revolted for almost
150 cases before the 1821’s revolution) will not make Greeks “non-European”, let alone modern Greeks. 200 years ago, we didn’t belong to a world “from Bosnia to Bengal”, we were OPPRESSED to join this world, and we revolted 150 times to join the world to which we felt closer to, the world to which you put Croatia, the “damned” Western world. Today, 200 years later, we clearly belong to this world, there is no common consiousness
with people from “parts of the world in question”. In the case of Greeks from South and the islands there was no common consciousness back then,
you can’t expect from people even from multi-ethnic Istanbul (greek community) or Salonica or Ioannina to have common consciousness with these countries today

not to mention that your thinking isn’t even Huntingtonian: Huntington never even thought of such a “zone” and putting Orthodox Christians among muslims, he rather separated Orthodox countries from Catholic and Protestant, (in constrast to most of Authors who consider orthodox Europeans as part of modern west)

As for Greece being Balkans or not, that’s something more complicated, and many authors give different answers and for different aspects

In my opinion, the answer which is closer to reality is that of encyclopedia Britanica: ” Greece, because its northern regions of Epirus and Macedonia are often considered parts of the Balkans, also appears on many lists of Balkan states, but it is arguably better characterized as primarily a Mediterranean country.” https://www.britannica.com/place/Balkans

We can not ignore Slavic invasions, neither the Ottoman rule in Greece, or the influences that these events left. But Equally we can’t ignore communism in Balkans vs capitalism in Greece most of 20th century, the medieval Frankish, Venetian etc influence in Greece, when most of Balkans (and northern Greece) were ruled by Balkan principalities, like Serbian and Bulgarian empire, the Bavarian and later Danish rule since early 1800’s at the same time that most of neighboring Balkan countries didn’t gain independence before 1912 etc and the influences that these events brought to Greece

Greece is not a pure balkan country, neither a pure “southwestern” European country, it’s a country intermediate to Christian countries of Balkan Europe and Southwest European countries. Some regions, especially northern regions, are closer to Balkans,
other regions closer to SouthWest. We can’t ignore Metsovo in Epirus and its architecture which is Ottoman and very similar to the equally Ottoman architecture of Berat, but we can’t also ignore Anapli (Nafplio) or Corfu and their Italian looking architecture. We can’t
ignore Dolmas, but we can’t ignore Pasticcio, or Strapatsada (from italian uovo strapatsate) or Makarounes. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that today Christian countries of Balkans belong to the Western world, meanwhile muslim countries of Balkans or muslim minorities or even Romani minorities do not. This is something that I experience every day (in terms of Romani, as in my birthplace there’s no muslim minority, but only muslim immigrants)

Now let me make a guess: As you said, you are not a nationalist, i respect that, but tell us honestly, are you a non-nationalist because of being a “humanist” or because nationalism is an anti-imperial product of European enlightenment, which (enlightenment)
fully affected Greek society through education and arts, gave an end to Greek-Ottoman “co-existence”, an end to the ottoman empire itself and many other west asian entities and made Greece European?

In any case, enlightenment is part of Greek civilization, and we are not going to give up our heritage, as much as Spain has no reason to return to any “moorish” status

Sincerely yours
Giannis

Two:

And one more thing, this time about “And Greece, even more inextricably, means Turkey, the two being, as they are, ‘veined with one another,’ to paraphrase the beautiful words of Patricia Storace.”. You can’t accuse “nationalism” and enlightenment, as this is where the “interconnection” between these two countries come from, and let me explain what i mean:

I guess the “link” between Greece and Turkey, which makes the two countries “veined with one another” are the “Orthodox Greek speakers” of Turkey who, without enlightnement and the idea of “nation” which is a product of enlightenment, wouldn’t considered themselves the same nation as Greeks from, let’s say Peloponnese or Cyclades, they didn’t have so many things in common with them to do. In case that I wrongly guessed and the link between Greeks and Turks in your opinion is mainland Greeks themselves then i am sorry, but not only you are wrong, but, with all Turkish influences in mainland Greeks, mainland Greeks are less Ottoman influenced than people from other Southern Balkan countries, due to a smaller period of Ottoman rule in Greece (northern regions excluded) than Southern Balkans.

There is no other link between Greece and Turkey, than people who lived as east as Cappadokia and started thinking that they are the same nation with Orthodox Greek speakers of Greece only after enlightenment’s influence and the idea of nation this influence brought.

Three:

I can’t speak about rural life in 1912’s ottoman empire, including some of its parts which nowadays belong to Greece.

But in the kingdom of Greece, my great-grandparents got married at 28.

See alsoStormfront​ I​: Just so we know what we’re dealing with in Giannis and — probably — Kristos, Me and the Stormfront bros, III: Gianni calls me by my Albanian name, Me and the Stromfront bros, IV. A reader, my podruzhka M, from Novi Sad, says:, Me and the Stromfront bros, V. A reader, C. from Italy, says:,   Me and the Stormfront bros, post VI — A reader writes: nonsense born of fearMe and the Stormfront bros, VII: Kristos, how I’m wrong and Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you…”

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The Valley of Dropoli, the pass up to the Pogoni plateau near Libochovo, and in the distance, the snowcapped peaks of Nemerčka, from the Monastery of the Taxiarches in Derviçani, Easter 2014

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

 

Catalonia: “…the little boxes of diversity…”

21 Oct

I couldn’t think of a better catch-all phrase for the cocoons identity politics create.  See whole article on the bubble created by all-Catalan media in Guardian.

Catalan pro unionDemonstration supporting Spanish unity in Barcelona. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Repost: Catalonia: “Nationalism effaces the individual…”

1 Oct

…fuels imaginary grievances and rejects solidarity. It divides and discriminates. And it defies the essence of democracy: respect for diversity. Complex identities are a key feature of modern society. [my emphasis] Spain is no exception.”

A brilliant op-ed piece from the Times today by Mario Vargas LLosa, among others, that exposes all the petty narcissism and destructiveness of the orgy of separatist movements that Europe has seen come to the fore in the past few decades: A Threat to Spanish Democracy .”

Catalunya+Prov+EnglishOther money quotes:

“In their attempt to undermine the workings of the constitutional government, Catalan separatists have displayed a remarkable indifference to historical truth. Catalonia was never an independent state. It was never subjected to conquest. And it is not the victim of an authoritarian regime. As a part of the crown of Aragon and later in its own right, Catalonia contributed decisively to making Spain what it has been for over three centuries: an impressive attempt to reconcile unity and diversity — a pioneering effort to integrate different cultures, languages and traditions into a single viable political community.

“Compared with the crises occasioned by the collapse of dictatorships in many European states, Spain’s transition to democracy, following the 1975 death of Francisco Franco, was exemplary, resulting in a democratic constitution granting broad powers to Spain’s autonomous regions. Yet Catalan separatists have glossed over the positive aspects of the transition.”

and:

“But the advent of democracy brought official recognition to Spain’s distinctive cultures, and set the foundations for the autonomy the Catalans enjoy today. Catalonia has its own official language, its own government, its own police force. Catalans endorsed the Constitution overwhelmingly: 90 percent of them voted yes in the referendum of Dec. 6, 1978. The millions of tourists who flock to Barcelona every year, drawn by the beguiling blend of Gothic and Gaudí, attest to the vigor of Catalonia’s culture. The claim that Catalonia’s personality is being stifled and its freedoms oppressed is simply untrue.”

The piece pretty much says it all: the bogus democraticness of separatist rights and the supposed right to self-determination completely debunked as nothing more than “little” nationalisms, which as Vassily Grossman points out in this post …the nationalism of little nations,” can be just as dangerous and certainly as small-minded as that of “bigger” nationalisms.  Ditto this op-ed for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ukraine (both sides), for Belgium, Scotland and, of course, for the most nightmarish manifestation of these tendencies in our time, the tragic break-up of Yugoslavia.  And that’s without even going as far back as the Partition of India, or the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange of the 1920s.

“Complex identities are a key feature of modern society.”  No, no and no…  Complex identities are not just a key feature of modern society, but humanity period, a feature of pre-modern society since the beginning of time.  The roughly two centuries of modernity or “the modern,” which we can probably date from the French Revolution on, is the only period in history when the ethnicity-based nation-state and its brutal, levelling, anti-humanist attempt to “de-complicate” human identity held sway as the predominant form of sociopolitical organization.  It’s just a blip on the screen of history and will soon come to be seen as such.  Multiple cultural identities and stable state political organization can co-exist easily.  Thinking otherwise is an idea whose burial is long overdue.

So, what irritates me most about separatist movements like that of the Catalans is that they’re really retrograde ideologies disguised as liberation movements.  Since the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, when the autonomous Catalan government had the impudence, I remember, to plaster New York City subway cars with ads that read “Catalonia is a country in Spain,” (???) Catalans have been engaged in a massive public relations campaign to project an image of sophistication, liberalism, bogus hipness, and artistic innovation (including culinary — if you can actually call the molecular nonsense Ferran Adrià put out food…) all meant to be juxtaposed against a clichéd, “Black Legend” stereotype of Spain — under whose repression Catalonia suffers — that’s just plain racist. Catalan nationalism rests mostly on the laurels of its Republican-ness and struggle against the forces of Spanish reaction in the 1930s — Hemmingway and Orwell’s “Homage.”  But the attitude of today’s average Catalan nationalist more resembles that of the average member of Italy’s Northern League, a far-right if not quite fascist but certainly racist bunch of jerks: the same smug sense of superiority towards their co-citizens and the same petit bourgeois self-righteousness about how their wealth and resources get sucked up by the parasitic rest of the country.

There is no convincing evidence that Catalan society is any more liberal or open or sophisticated than the rest of Spain.  See González Iñárritus film “Biutiful” (if you can bear to watch it; I couldn’t make it though a second viewing…but it’s the perfect antidote to Woody Allen’s nauseating “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona”), for how much better Catalonia treats its immigrants, for example, including those from poorer parts of Spain, than any other part of Europe, or do some reading up on the discrimination Castillian-speakers in Catalonia suffer.  Catalan independence is not a liberal or liberatory idea; it’s exclusionary and elitist to the core.  The problem is that most of the world falls for the discourses of these movements –the way the West did with Croatia in the 90s — because they’re so good at playing victim.

The finger-flipping at the impressive democratic achievements of Spanish society since 1975 is particularly galling.

See also my Leader of Catalonia Calls for Independence Vote (September 27th).  And  More on Alevis and Alawites…or Alevis and Kurds…or Iraqi Kurds…or…Christian Kurds…or Assyrians…or… (September 27th)

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

My ‘hood: “Finding the American Ideal in Queens” — ‘In Jackson Heights’ from the New Yorker, Richard Brody

4 Nov

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Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary film, “In Jackson Heights,” is about the very stuff of life—the ability to make a living, to live in safety, to live without fear, to plan for the future. Credit Photograph courtesy Zipporah Films

(Though this photo shows the 7 train passing through Woodside already and not Jackson Heights — J.H. is Queens’ largest historic district; Woodside is not nearly as attractive.)

Frederick Wiseman’s approach to documentaries is so radically interventionist, his personal imprint is so strong in his choice of subject and his approach to it, that he has no need to show himself in the mirror, or put his voice on the soundtrack, or allow the films’ participants to address him and make viewers aware that he’s there. Though Wiseman is never seen or heard, he’s present in virtually every frame by the force of his analytical conception of the events onscreen. In his new film, “In Jackson Heights,” his powerful and far-reaching ideas come through with the emphatic clarity of a manifesto.

All three words of the title are important: the movie isn’t about Jackson Heights, and it certainly isn’t about the essence or definition of Jackson Heights. It’s a record of some people, places, and events that Wiseman found in Jackson Heights—but what he found there is what he was looking for. “In Jackson Heights” is, for the most part, a non-spontaneous documentary, a documentary by design. Wiseman did some filming in the street, in unplanned and uncontrolled circumstances, of things that took place when he happened to be there. But he didn’t put much of that in the film. Rather, most of the film takes place at meetings that were planned in advance. What Wiseman found in Jackson Heights is people talking, mainly in organized, formalized settings that have their pretext and their agenda defined. He finds civic life taking place in public and quasi-public places—houses of worship, stores, storefront offices of non-profit community organizations, and local governmental offices, including the storefront office of the neighborhood’s City Council representative, Daniel Dromm.

The movie runs more than three hours, and Wiseman lets the talk unfold gradually, with respect for the underlying logic of the matters at hand as well as for the passions that they inspire. The discussions that he films involve such matters as fair labor practices, gentrification, the legal ramifications of urban gardening, the push for change in traffic-safety regulations, school redistricting, police harassment of gay and transgender bar patrons, fear of deportation, citizenship-test study, and the laws and norms to pass a taxi-driver test. In other words, the movie is about the very stuff of life—the ability to make a living, to live in safety, to live without fear, to plan for the future.

The problems that Wiseman finds are local, practical, intimate, but the emotions that he films are grand and tragic. One woman’s account, delivered in a storefront meeting, of her daughter’s harrowing trip through the desert after crossing the border from Mexico has the desperate dramatic coherence of a feature film in itself. A discussion in a barbershop, about the suspected role of a planned Business Improvement District in the displacement of local businesses and the takeover of property by major real-estate investors, has the analytical scope of an investigative opera.

Here, as he has been doing throughout his career, Wiseman films people in walks of life that rarely get them in front of a camera, walks of life that don’t often involve public speaking, and he films them talking. It should be no surprise that they have a lot to say and that they say it engagingly. (As I wrote here recently, it’s a pet peeve of mine that educated filmmakers write working-class characters as stolid, silent types.) Most people do; Wiseman cares enough to look and to listen, to take an interest in what they have to say—and to find the wider societal implications in what they say and to put the ideas along with the people at the center of his film.

That’s why, if the end-of-year lists were to be made today, “In Jackson Heights” would be a contender for Best Screenplay. The fact that its dialogue wasn’t written by Wiseman is irrelevant. He didn’t author the words but he authored their cinematic form, the images and the rhythms, the selection and the context, that rescues them from the stream of time and seemingly sculpts them, in high relief, onscreen. Wiseman (who recorded the sound himself) and the cinematographer John Davey find a splendidly simple visual trope to lend the speech of individuals a public and collective identity: filming discussions for the most part without closeups or speakers isolated in the frame, but, rather, with the speakers set in a composition featuring many people together, as if creating a real-life theatre of political discourse taking place on the wing.

Wiseman highlights the distinctions between neighborhood and community. What he finds in Jackson Heights are communities that seem to have little connection. Latino immigrants meet and speak with each other, as do members of gay-pride organizations; an imam preaches to Muslims in a mosque, a priest preaches to Catholics in a church, Jewish congregants speak to congregants during a service in a synagogue. The only significant public gathering that features a diverse group of attendees is a public meeting regarding traffic safety—and there, Wiseman shows only one speaker, the representative of a nonprofit organization devoted to that purpose. The neighborhood of Jackson Heights appears to be inhabited by members of communities who live side by side but, identifying with their groups, seem to have little contact with those who identify with other groups.

But the crucial connections that spark most of the movie’s discussions are provided by nonprofit organizations and by community organizers who work for them. These organizations that play a central role in the film—whether as the very sites of discussions in their storefront offices or during the visits of organizers to the stores and offices of local merchants—come off as crucial gears in the social and political process. For recent immigrants, these organizations are key points of entry into civic life, the engagement with public institutions as well as the insulation that eases contact with organized forms of public power.

These residents and their organizers aren’t solely protesting or venting grievances—though they’re doing that, too, as well they should. They’re beginning to take part in what comes through, in Wiseman’s view, as the essence of American life, which is its political structures and systems. If there’s a theatre of public life that Wiseman finds, these nonprofit groups are the impresarios who provide the stage for residents who, for the most part, are unconnected from and unrepresented in political life—not least because many aren’t citizens and therefore can’t vote.

The absences in “In Jackson Heights” are as conspicuous as the presences—the absence of relations between communities; the absence of the voices of children and teens (I wonder whether filming in schools might have revealed closer inter-community friendships); the absence of the resented gentrifiers themselves; the absence of resentment overall, including from multigenerational residents against relative newcomers there only for a decade or two.

But the biggest and most conspicuous absence is homes. Wiseman’s subject is political life in the most classical sense—the polis, the life of the city—and his emphasis on urban dwellers’ struggle for a part in the political process, his vision of what surpasses the boundaries of the self-defined community and reaches far beyond local neighborhood, is the idea of equality under the law, fair treatment by the law—in short, the political ideal of the United States. Wiseman’s humanism isn’t narrow in scope; it’s based on the inextricable connection between personal intentions and desires and the societal circumstances that foster or thwart them, the near-constant impingement of the workings of the law on the conduct of daily life, of the inseparability of personal fulfillment and the quest for justice.

“In Jackson Heights” is about America, about the American Dream; it’s a loving depiction of people who pursue it despite mighty obstacles—and of the dream itself, to live without fear of the authorities, to believe that the government will protect one’s interests fairly, to believe in the prospect of a better life through one’s own labors. But, as Wiseman also makes clear, the system that makes personal progress possible is a legal system of fair and just conditions, not utterly unconstrained ones; it depends not on the rhetoric of boundless possibilities but on the definition of legitimate ones,.

The underlying subject of “In Jackson Heights” is the meaning of the “unum” in “E pluribus unum.” It isn’t, as this year’s Presidential-campaign xenophobes would have it, conformity to some preëxisting national culture that, given the nation’s immigrant origins, it would be absurd to call nativist. The plural is culture; the unifier is the political system itself: devotion to the Constitution, to the rule of law, to the exercise of the rights that it guarantees, and to the responsibilities and protections that it affirms. What Wiseman saw in Jackson Heights could perhaps have been found elsewhere, and what he filmed there may not even be the most salient aspects of Jackson Heights. Rather, what he found in Jackson Heights is, as the film meticulously, intellectually, allusively, yet ardently shows, a crucial aspect of American experience, a working-out on film of the American democratic ideal.

(And here’s what Jackson Heights really looks like, or at least my street and Roosevelt Avenue under the El.  (click on all)

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Catalonia: “Nationalism effaces the individual…”

7 Nov

…fuels imaginary grievances and rejects solidarity. It divides and discriminates. And it defies the essence of democracy: respect for diversity. Complex identities are a key feature of modern society. [my emphasis] Spain is no exception.”

A brilliant op-ed piece from the Times today by Mario Vargas LLosa, among others, that exposes all the petty narcissism and destructiveness of the orgy of separatist movements that Europe has seen come to the fore in the past few decades: A Threat to Spanish Democracy .”

Catalunya+Prov+EnglishOther money quotes:

“In their attempt to undermine the workings of the constitutional government, Catalan separatists have displayed a remarkable indifference to historical truth. Catalonia was never an independent state. It was never subjected to conquest. And it is not the victim of an authoritarian regime. As a part of the crown of Aragon and later in its own right, Catalonia contributed decisively to making Spain what it has been for over three centuries: an impressive attempt to reconcile unity and diversity — a pioneering effort to integrate different cultures, languages and traditions into a single viable political community.

“Compared with the crises occasioned by the collapse of dictatorships in many European states, Spain’s transition to democracy, following the 1975 death of Francisco Franco, was exemplary, resulting in a democratic constitution granting broad powers to Spain’s autonomous regions. Yet Catalan separatists have glossed over the positive aspects of the transition.”

and:

“But the advent of democracy brought official recognition to Spain’s distinctive cultures, and set the foundations for the autonomy the Catalans enjoy today. Catalonia has its own official language, its own government, its own police force. Catalans endorsed the Constitution overwhelmingly: 90 percent of them voted yes in the referendum of Dec. 6, 1978. The millions of tourists who flock to Barcelona every year, drawn by the beguiling blend of Gothic and Gaudí, attest to the vigor of Catalonia’s culture. The claim that Catalonia’s personality is being stifled and its freedoms oppressed is simply untrue.”

The piece pretty much says it all: the bogus democraticness of separatist rights and the supposed right to self-determination completely debunked as nothing more than “little” nationalisms, which as Vassily Grossman points out in this post …the nationalism of little nations,” can be just as dangerous and certainly as small-minded as that of “bigger” nationalisms.  Ditto this op-ed for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ukraine (both sides), for Belgium, Scotland and, of course, for the most nightmarish manifestation of these tendencies in our time, the tragic break-up of Yugoslavia.  And that’s without even going as far back as the Partition of India, or the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange of the 1920s.

“Complex identities are a key feature of modern society.”  No, no and no…  Complex identities are not just a key feature of modern society, but humanity period, a feature of pre-modern society since the beginning of time.  The roughly two centuries of modernity or “the modern,” which we can probably date from the French Revolution on, is the only period in history when the ethnicity-based nation-state and its brutal, levelling, anti-humanist attempt to “de-complicate” human identity held sway as the predominant form of sociopolitical organization.  It’s just a blip on the screen of history and will soon come to be seen as such.  Multiple cultural identities and stable state political organization can co-exist easily.  Thinking otherwise is an idea whose burial is long overdue.

So, what irritates me most about separatist movements like that of the Catalans is that they’re really retrograde ideologies disguised as liberation movements.  Since the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, when the autonomous Catalan government had the impudence, I remember, to plaster New York City subway cars with ads that read “Catalonia is a country in Spain,” (???) Catalans have been engaged in a massive public relations campaign to project an image of sophistication, liberalism, bogus hipness, and artistic innovation (including culinary — if you can actually call the molecular nonsense Ferran Adrià put out food…) all meant to be juxtaposed against a clichéd, “Black Legend” stereotype of Spain — under whose repression Catalonia suffers — that’s just plain racist. Catalan nationalism rests mostly on the laurels of its Republican-ness and struggle against the forces of Spanish reaction in the 1930s — Hemmingway and Orwell’s “Homage.”  But the attitude of today’s average Catalan nationalist more resembles that of the average member of Italy’s Northern League, a far-right if not quite fascist but certainly racist bunch of jerks: the same smug sense of superiority towards their co-citizens and the same petit bourgeois self-righteousness about how their wealth and resources get sucked up by the parasitic rest of the country.

There is no convincing evidence that Catalan society is any more liberal or open or sophisticated than the rest of Spain.  See González Iñárritus film “Biutiful” (if you can bear to watch it; I couldn’t make it though a second viewing…but it’s the perfect antidote to Woody Allen’s nauseating “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona”), for how much better Catalonia treats its immigrants, for example, including those from poorer parts of Spain, than any other part of Europe, or do some reading up on the discrimination Castillian-speakers in Catalonia suffer.  Catalan independence is not a liberal or liberatory idea; it’s exclusionary and elitist to the core.  The problem is that most of the world falls for the discourses of these movements –the way the West did with Croatia in the 90s — because they’re so good at playing victim.

The finger-flipping at the impressive democratic achievements of Spanish society since 1975 is particularly galling.

See also my Leader of Catalonia Calls for Independence Vote (September 27th).  And  More on Alevis and Alawites…or Alevis and Kurds…or Iraqi Kurds…or…Christian Kurds…or Assyrians…or… (September 27th)


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