European studies blog

20 posts categorized "Modern history"

28 May 2021

The Fiery End of the Paris Commune

This is the third in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871. Discover the first two posts (A Burglarious Attempt to Declaw the Lion and The Toppling of the Vendôme Column) on our blog. 

On the evening of 21 May, Versaillais troops climbed over the tattered south-western fortifications of Paris, and the week which would define the Commune began. Known as la semaine sanglante, or Bloody Week, Paris would suffer a ferocious bloodletting.

By the next morning, the Arc de Triomphe flew a tricolour rather than the Commune’s red flag. While the communards had hastily built hundreds of poorly-constructed barricades in the boulevards, some 110,000 troops marched through the city, amongst which were thousands of prisoners of war released by Prussia.

The communards grew disillusioned with the situation. Attempts to trade prisoners with Thiers had been repeatedly denied. The Parisians sought Auguste Blanqui, a legendary figure of French radicalism through the nineteenth century, in exchange for all 74 prisoners held by the Commune, including the liberal archbishop of Paris, Georges Darboy. The repeated rejections, as well as continuous reports on the brutality of the Versaillais troops, saw Darboy and five fellow clerics killed on the night of 24 May. These executions provoked outrage.

The death of Darboy is a key point of anti-Commune propaganda, but it was far from the only one. A slew of reports and images followed the Versaillais march through Paris, as myth-making began to efface the thousands who were killed by the encroaching troops.

Fires which could be seen for miles around engulfed Paris and accompanied the march. Historians generally believe the initial fires to have been started by the missiles launched into Paris by the Versaillais, as well as some being set by Parisians to cover their retreats further into the north-western arrondissements as the army slowly took the city back. They left the city in ruins, with several of the city’s key cultural sites including the Tuileries Palace, the Hotel de Ville and Louvre, partially or completely destroyed.

Anti-Communard print depicting a Petroleuse

‘A Pétroleuse: Ah! If her man saw it’, Paris: Imprimerie J. Moronval, (1871)

The denigration of the Commune rose from the ashes of la semaine sanglante. After the final conflicts around Belleville in the north-west of the city, a wave of conservative imagery made clear who they thought were responsible for the fires. Laying the blame of the destruction of Paris on the so-called ‘pétroleuses’, the image above captures the essence of this discourse. We see a woman with almost pig-like features, almost certainly an artistic device to dehumanise her. She carries a torch and a can of petrol, presumably looking for some cultural asset to destroy or some aspect of natural order to subvert.

The caption further indicates the double crime these women were accused of committing – first, the crime against the state and the status quo, and secondly, the crime against her family, her husband and the natural order. The pétroleuse is amongst the most prominent devices of anti-Communard prints, and she is repeatedly invoked to remind viewers of the supposed horrors of women who did not conform to gendered expectations.

Anti-Communard print

‘After the Prussians… My sons with the stranger’ By Emile Gogny, Paris: Imprimerie Lemercier et Cie (1871)

The crimes of the Commune are made clear in this wonderfully macabre print. An aghast female warrior grasping her broken sword looks down at the ground in front of her, to see a range of incendiary devices. Around her, a deluge of destruction emphasises the various aspects of the Commune’s sins.

To the left, we see a communard about to use a holy relic to smash Jesus on the crucifix. Above this morbid scene are soldiers in combat on the boulevards of Paris. To the right we see the corpses of clergymen, punctured by bayonets. In the top right, we see the infamous pétroleuses, setting fire to the buildings of Paris. At the top, we see Death, looking down upon all that is his, scythe in hand. This is a powerful image that reminds us of the forcefulness of anti-Commune propaganda, and that the caricature and print collection at the British Library (14001.g.41, Cup.1001.i.1, Cup.648.b.2 and Cup. 648.b.8) does not just contain humorous lampoons of political figures, the public, and their idiosyncrasies.

Absurd bloodshed marked the end of the Commune. The remaining embers of resistance were routed on 28 May, and thousands of prisoners were executed in public sites which today remain, often without a trace of this barbarity. One of the few memorials is at Père Lachaise cemetery, resting place of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde, where a simple plaque commemorates 174 National Guard members shot against the wall, and the rest of the deaths through la semaine sanglante. The four thousand who survived were transported across globe to live in France’s penal colony, New Caledonia, before a general amnesty in 1880.

The Commune did not die on 28 May, 1871. The myth of the female fire starters fuelled fears of social revolution across the globe for decades after the fires of Paris, and the pétroleuse is still synonymous with 1871. The Commune itself has a complex role in the French memory. Through this year, Paris’s municipal government has controversially staged events to commemorate the Commune. It remains prescient that people will die for a cause they believe in while others prioritise of cultural and social losses over the losses of human life. Far beyond dying, 150 years later the Commune still leaves no one neutral.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, 

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

John Milner, Art, War and Revolution in France, 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality, (New Haven, 2000). Document Supply m00/44939

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

 

22 April 2021

The Toppling of the Vendôme Column

This is the second in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871.

Following Adolphe Thiers’s botched attempt to neutralize Paris as detailed in our first blog, by the middle of April, 1871, the Paris Commune was in full swing. The municipal government, elected on 26 March, almost immediately cancelled rent arrears accumulated during the Prussian siege, proclaimed the separation of church and state, and imposed a maximum salary of 6,000 francs for public employees.

However, the communards were not satisfied with attempts to redress only economic and social inequalities. Seeing itself as a vehicle to remold the space of the city in its own image, on 12 April, the Commune decreed that the Vendôme Column, raised in 1810 as a celebration of Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz five years earlier, was to be pulled down. Living with the destructive legacies of Haussmann’s glittering metropolis, the Commune’s decree was to be one of its most emotionally resonant for both those it infuriated and those it amazed.

Topped by a statue of Napoleon dressed in the robes of Caesar, for the communards, the column represented an intolerable history of imperialism, false glory and a perpetual threat to international fraternity. In short, the Commune’s decision to remove the statue is reflective of its attempts to restart history, a history not born in blood and brutality.

Photograph of the statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column

Statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column, Picture by Bruno Braquehais, from Wikipedia Commons

The column was taken down on 16 May. It was a day of spectacle for the communards, who organised music and speeches following the toppling of the monument. For those who were infuriated by the destruction of the monument, the event was repeatedly used as a reference point of loss, considering it an attack on the heart and soul of their France. On the eve of leading his troops into Paris the following month, General MacMahon made clear that not even the Prussians, who had spent the winter bombarding the city with shells, had dared to take the column down.

The toppling constituted one of the most symbolic moments of the Commune, and artists from various disciplines used it as a touchstone for their work. This is particularly true for caricaturists, who employed their skills as polemicists to great effect in a moment that emphasised the great divide.

Gustave Courbet, realist artist and member of the Commune government, was neither the first to suggest that the column should be pulled down, nor was he the most strident supporter of the decree. Nevertheless, this did not save him from the pencils of the anti-Communard caricaturists who savaged him repeatedly.

Anti-Communard caricature of Gustave Courbet

Signs of the Zodiac, by Nerác, from Morna Daniel’s eBLJ article

This piece drawn by Nerác is located in Volume 5 in the largest set of the British Library’s collection of caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (14001.g.41). It is part of a set which depicts famous communards as various signs of the Zodiac, with others including the Commune and Prussia as the twin evils of Gemini.

Courbet, le Taureau (the bull, Taurus), is dressed in garb reminiscent of a circus performer, while balancing the inverted Vendôme Column on his thumb. On his other arm, he balances an expensive-looking home equipped with a fountain, entitled Place St. Georges. This is most likely a reference to the home of Adolphe Thiers, ceremonially destroyed a day before the toppling of the monument as a reprisal for the shelling of the city by the Versaillais army.

The bottom text similarly reads like an enticing advertisement for the circus, willing us into paying attention to the very dangerous acts being performed in front of us. The caricature warns us to beware of not only Courbet, but also of the courbatures (body aches) involved in such balancing acts.

These caricatures are ironically juxtaposed to acts of wanton destruction the Versaillais committed to both property and, more importantly, on the thousands of people they massacred when taking back the city. The communards did not have a monopoly on destruction of public space for their own ends. A new column on Place Vendôme was raised in 1874, for which Courbet was charged the fee of 323,000 francs – a fee he obviously could not pay, and thus he fled to Switzerland, dying in alone and in poverty in 1877.

Another permanent reminder came when the founding stone of the Sacré-Cœur was laid on Montmartre in the summer of 1875. The basilica, still overlooking the city almost 150 years later, was intended as a constant reminder of the so-called ‘crimes of the Commune’. In a time where people are once again rightfully questioning aspects of the public space they exist within, we are reminded that there are brutal remnants of the past everywhere we look.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

John Milner, Art, War and Revolution in France, 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality, (New Haven, 2000). Document Supply m00/44939

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

18 March 2021

A Burglarious Attempt to Declaw the Lion

This is the first in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871.

Parisians woke up on 18 March 1871 to a military operation well underway. Incited by fear of insurrection after a desolate winter of siege, starvation and eventual capitulation to the Prussians, Adolphe Thiers sought to render Paris impotent by removing the cannons littered around the working-class districts of the city.

The sortie to prise away the arms of Belleville and Montmartre would be an utter failure. Arriving at Montmartre at 5:30am, a 6,000-strong force under the direction of General Claude Lecomte overran the National Guardsmen watching over the cannons. However, the troops had not brought a sufficient number of horses to help haul the arms away, and rather comically, were rendered impotent themselves.

By the more reasonable hours of the morning, Parisians had gathered in large numbers. They implored the inert soldiers to ignore their superiors’ orders to fire upon the crowd. Some handed over their rifles and sang ‘arm in arm’ with civilians. When what was happening became apparent, Thiers departed from the Invalides and headed to Versailles, but not before decreeing the army’s complete withdrawal from the capital.

A mass exodus followed, but not everyone got out of Paris. General Lecomte had been seized, as had General Jacques Léon Clément-Thomas. The latter, a prominent figure though the government’s repressions in 1848, had been recognised near one of the newly-erected barricades thrown together across the city. Both men were summarily executed by a crowd which included Lecomte’s former soldiers, National Guardsmen, and local civilians, though not in the solemn manner depicted in the staged photo below by Ernest Eugène Appert, which was not taken until June, 1871.

Staged photo depicting the assassination of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte

Staged photo depicting the assassination of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte. Picture by Ernest Eugène Appert. Source: Wikipedia Commons

This tumultuous period inspired a boom in the production, distribution and consumption of visual imagery and art of all forms. The British Library holds a rich collection of caricatures and images (14001.g.41, Cup.1001.i.1, Cup.648.b.2 and Cup. 648.b.8) produced during l’année terrible. Most are of French provenance, but the collections include prints from other European locales, most significantly Germany. The illustrations are impressive in terms of their artistic quality but also their sharp critique of a wide range of topics, as no social mœurs, political moment or figure escapes their remit.

The volumes are especially marked by the existence of similar collections across different libraries, including digitised collections at Cambridge and Heidelberg. The bindings and title pages of these collections imply they were each collected and curated by German-born Frederick Justen, who moved to London in 1851 and worked as a bookseller for Dulau & Co, one of the British Museum Library’s suppliers of foreign books at the time.

Though the production of satirical prints had been dominated by journals such as Le Charivari through the 19th century, the fall of Napoleon III and the subsequent winter of despair in the city meant that feuilles volantes, or single sheets, became the premier mode of printing illustrations. Despite this, prints were often produced in sets, and collected together in the years following. Here we see a lithograph, published as the first of a set a three in March 1871, from a printing house on rue du Croissant in the second arrondissement.

Caricature depicting Thiers and Paris as a lion

'Theirs le Dompteur!!!!', Heidelberg University Library: Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l'histoire de la guerre et de la révolution de 1870-1871, [s.l.], [ca. 1872], Bd. 4, S. 133.

Approaching Paris, here depicted as a majestic lion, resting amongst its weaponry on Montmartre, Thiers looks down at the ground in a deferential manner. He tells Paris that ‘he’s not like the other trainers’ (“je ne suis pas Dompteur comme les autres”). However, behind his back he holds a decree, perhaps a reference to the document of surrender to the Prussians, but more likely to the laws passed by the National Assembly which harshly affected Parisians. For instance, a law passed earlier in March mandated the end of moratoriums on rent and overdue bills accrued in the city during the four months of the Prussian siege. The eagle-eyed amongst you will see that in his right hand, as well as poorly-hidden chains, his trainer’s whip is detailed with the word ‘armée’. No translation necessary.

Paris sees through this vain attempt at nullification. In the final two images of the set, the lion savages Thiers, forcing him to flee to Versailles bloodied and screaming for allies to come to his aid. The whip and decree stay firmly underneath the lion’s paws, and in the final image, a red flag flies next to the victorious Paris, who warns Thiers that next time he will not escape the lion’s claws.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

The Toppling of the Vendôme Column - European studies blog

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)

Irene Fabry-Tehranchi, ‘Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871), European Collections, (2019), Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-71) | (wordpress.com)

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

Bettina Muller, ‘The Collections of French caricatures in Heidelberg: The English connection’, French Studies Library Group: Annual Review issue 8 (2011-2012), pp. 39-42, annual-review-issue-8-2011-12-current.pdf (wordpress.com)

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Bertrand Tillier, La Commune de Paris: Révolution sans images? (Paris, 2004). YF.2004.a.14526

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

 

22 January 2021

Antonio Gramsci: translator, storyteller and educator

Between 1926 and 1937 Antonio Gramsci was rotting away in Italian prisons, having been sentenced to 20 years by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, in spite of his parliamentary immunity. Mussolini had got rid of the most revolutionary and influential opponent to Fascism in Italy and, in so doing, hoped to silence the rest of his opposition. Despite his precarious state of health, Gramsci would never ask for pardon and realised that he was condemned to a lengthy period of isolation.

Photograph of Antonio Gramsci in 1915

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) in 1915. Source: Wikipedia Commons 

How to survive annihilation and despair in prison? He turned to his singular willpower and fortitude, as he was used to doing since childhood, and plunged himself into an extensive programme of studies and critical writing. His antidote to death is collected in two major works entitled Lettere dal carcere (Letters from prison), and Quaderni del carcere (Prison notebooks).

The 33 notebooks (four of them dedicated to translations) are a compilation of all the intellectual activities undertaken by the prisoner Gramsci in order to keep his cool. Between 1929 and 1931, Gramsci perfected his knowledge of European languages through translating, starting with German and Russian, and continuing with French and English. Notebooks XV and XIX contain his exercises from the German, namely 24 fables translated from the classic Brothers Grimm collection. In 1932, thinking of a gift for his favourite sister’s young children (whom he would never meet), the author had the idea of copying his translations and posting them to his sister, Teresa Paulesu, as “my contribution to developing the little ones’ imagination” (from a letter dated 18 January 1932 [my translation]). A sketchbook, Album disegno, catalogued as notebook D (XXXI), remains as evidence of Gramsci’s intention.

Covers of Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks

Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks (1929-1935). Source: Wikipedia Commons

Unfortunately, the sketchbook never reached the children, due to the prison rules that prevented prisoners from sending anything outside. That is why the Album contains only the first half of fable number one, Rapunzel, in Gramsci’s final handwritten draft.

First page of the Album disegno from Favole di libertà

First page of the Album disegno from Favole di libertà (Florence, 1980) YL.1988.a.772

Gramsci’s translations, as well as his children’s stories, were neglected until 1980, when, finally, they were published for the first time in Favole di libertà. A second and more complete collection entitled Fiabe appeared in 2010, including letters to his two young sons, Delio and Giuliano.

Cover of Favole di liberta

Cover of Fiabe

Covers of Favole di libertà and Fiabe (Florence, 2010) YF.2011.a.21857

What these translations and the children’s stories show is Gramsci’s natural vocation as an educator. Whilst in prison, he never lost his ability to listen, to empathise and to be sensitive to the needs of his family, just as the intellectual had put his prodigious mind at the service of the ‘subaltern classes’ when he was a free man. Prison writings often reveal the man behind the author. Gramsci’s Fiabe reveals how he lived according to his theories and teachings, and what ‘organic intellectual’ meant in reality.

On the one hand, the philosopher deeply believed in the educational role of folklore, popular literature, and popular arts in the building of a national popular culture for the progressive society he dreamt of. Gramsci’s stress on literature and critical theory in the Prison notebooks is not accidental at all. On the contrary, his classic concepts and definitions in politics and philosophy originate from his approach and methodology as a historical linguist. He was fully aware of how language and literature are pivotal in shaping societies. As a result, his ‘pedagogy of praxis’ is a proactive call for the working class to be the protagonist of its own education and to produce its own culture. No wonder several Italian authors and educators in the 1950s-1960s followed in Gramsci’s footsteps, and one in particular, Gianni Rodari, established modern Italian children’s literature.

On the other hand, writing, translating and storytelling enabled Gramsci to shape a new relationship with his loved ones. The kindness and support that emerge from his letters and comic short stories to children and relatives testify to how much he was willing to be part of the life and education of his family beyond the bars. Writing and study became, at the same time, a way of caring for others and a way of human and intellectual resistance for the prisoner, a lifeline that lasted eleven years.

To be continued.

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team

References / Further reading:

Antonio Gramsci, Lettere dal carcere (last Italian version Palermo, 1996) YA.1998.a.1937. English translation by Raymond Rosenthal, Letters from prison (New York, 2011) 3v., YC.2012.a.2007 and YC.2012.a.1189

Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere (Turin, 1975) X.978/118. English translation by Joseph A. Buttigieg and Antonio Callari. Prison notebooks (New York, 2011) 2 v., YC.2011.a.8399-8401.

Ferial Ghazoul, “La prospettiva gramsciana sulla lingua e la letteratura” in Studi gramsciani nel mondo arabo: Gramsci nel mondo arabo, a cura di Patrizia Manduchi, Alessandra Marchi e Giuseppe Vacca (Bologna, 2017, pp. 157-84). YF.2018.a.9753

Chronology of Gramsci’s life and work 

Derek Boothman, Traducibilità e processi traduttivi: un caso: A. Gramsci linguista (Perugia, 2004). YF.2005.a.5162

Alessandro Carlucci, Gramsci and languages: unification, diversity, hegemony (Leiden, 2013). YD.2013.a.3106

Antonio Gramsci: a pedagogy to change the world, Nicola Pizzolato and John D. Holst (editors) (Cham, Switzerland, 2017) ELD.DS.331125

Antonio Gramsci, Arte e folklore, a cura di Giuseppe Prestipino (Rome, 1976). X:972/303

Gramsci and educational thought, edited by Peter Mayo (Chichester, 2010). YC.2013.a.13402 and m10/.17512

Gramsci, language, and translation, edited by Peter Ives and Rocco Lacorte (Lanham, 2010). m10/.20216

Gramsci y la educación: pedagogía de la praxis y políticas culturales en América Latina, Flora Hillert ... [et al.] (Buenos Aires, 2011). YF.2013.a.18303

Deb J. Hill, Hegemony and education: Gramsci, post-Marxism, and radical democracy revisited (Lanham, 2007). m07/.35617

Peter Ives, Language and hegemony in Gramsci (London, 2004). ELD.DS.66257

Riccardo Pagano, Il pensiero pedagogico di Antonio Gramsci (Milan, 2013). YF.2013.a.21073

15 October 2020

Solidarity in satire

This is the last post in a series of blogs on the Solidarity movement published to commemorate its 40th anniversary. You can read about the 21 Gdánsk demands here, the poet Jadwiga Piątkowska here, and 'Mały Konspirator', a manual to anti-government activity in 1980s Poland, here

The British Library collection of Polish underground ephemeral publications [BL shelf mark Sol. 764] includes a significant number of posters, photographs, cartoons and humorous ephemera created by artists involved in various opposition groups. The ephemeral publications best reflected a rapidly changing reality in 1980s Poland. They were particularly effective in conveying Solidarity ideas, documenting its activities and informing about crucial social and cultural events of the time. Both simple in form and laconic, these visual materials carried powerful and indirect commentaries on the political situation as well as delivering witty, amusing and comforting messages. Most of them were produced anonymously and only some had features that later allowed for identifying their designers.

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti (1987) designed by Dariusz Paczkowski, a street art and graffiti artist. It was created to mock the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, whose image was widely used in communist propaganda.

A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Arrest warrant – the society hunts a national enemy (ca. 1982). A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski, responsible for proclaiming martial law in Poland in December 1981, with a description and an offer of a reward for his capture.

An image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star

I love PZPR (the Polish United Workers’ Party) – an image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; I love the USSR – an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star; I love ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) – para-military formations particularly brutal during the period of martial law in 1981-1983.  At the right bottom corner – Solidarity wins!

The next two images are examples of ephemera discouraging Polish citizens from voting in elections and must have been created either in October 1985 for the parliamentary elections, or in June 1988 for the election to the National Councils.

A sticker styled after a telegram

A sticker styled after a telegram: “Stay at home / stop / Gorbachev votes in your place anyway / stop”.

A mock election list with drawings of pigs as candidates

Election List. Candidate no. 1 the Polish United Workers’ Party, Candidate no. 2 the Alliance of Democrats, Candidate no. 3 the United People's Party, Candidate no. 4 the Christian Social Association. *Fill in missing data.”

Drawing of a person sitting on a TV and reading the journal «Solidarność»

A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. Created in 1981.

Drawing of Lech Wałęsa with his hand coming through a TV

New Year’s wishes with the image of Lech Wałęsa, the future first democratically elected president of Poland and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Created in the 1980s.

Poster with the logo of A Cappella

The Military Song Festival in Kołobrzeg 88. The festival began in 1969. Part of the official propaganda, it was organised by the Main Political Directorate of the Polish Army and its aim was to instill patriotism and promote the image of a heroic soldier. In 1988 a group of activists from Ruch Wolność i Pokój (Freedom and Peace Movement) planned to disrupt the festival carrying with them 30 posters. Stopped and searched by secret service agents they managed to leave behind this poster which features the logo of A Cappella, a periodical published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój.

Poster with a dove/peace sign

A poster by Ruch Wolność i Pokój advertising an International Seminar on Peace taking place in Warsaw on 7-9 May 1987. Ruch Wolność i Pokój was a peaceful anti-government movement and advocated non-violent resistance. Its programme included support for conscientious objectors, protection of the environment, international cooperation, protection of the rights of minorities, abolition of capital punishment, and withdrawal of the Soviet army from Poland. It carried out numerous protests including hunger strikes, occupational strikes, marches, happenings and public burning of draft cards.

A poster with the logo of A Cappella
 

“A teddy bear is better than a machine gun”. A poster with the logo of A Cappella published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój

Zuzanna Krzemień, Ela Kucharska-Beard and Magda Szkuta, Curators of East European Collections

15 September 2020

Mały konspirator

This post is a part of a series of blogs written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Solidarity movement. You can read about the 21 Gdánsk demands here and the poet Jadwiga Piątkowska here.

Seeing the British Library’s collection of independent Polish publications from the 1970s-1980s, one cannot fail to be impressed by the range and complexity of the material. Thousands of items – books, periodicals, posters, photographs, leaflets, stamps, etc. – form a very rich, dynamic collection. There is a sense of urgency about it. Almost all of this material was produced illegally and quickly, using various, sometimes unusual, duplicating methods, in response to the changing situation in the country. The aim was to inform and to educate.

Engaging in any anti-government activity involved taking huge risks: the threat of physical violence, loss of job, being expelled from university, imprisonment. It meant crossing a significant psychological threshold. But what do you do once you have made your decision? How do you conspire effectively, and, crucially, safely? With her history of partitions, uprisings and anti-Nazi movements during World War II, Poland had a long tradition of conspiring. Books like Bibuła by Józef Piłsudski offered some advice, but they reflected very different times. There was clearly a need for an updated manual, and it appeared in the form of Mały konspirator, issued by the Agencja Informacyjna Solidarności Walczącej (Information Agency of Fighting Solidarity). This unassuming little book with densely-printed pages went through 10 editions in 1983-1984. For me it is an embodiment of the spirit of the collection.

Cover of Mały konspirator drawn in cartoon style. One figure is painting the title on a wall while four others stand watch

Cover of Mały konspirator (Wrocław, 1983) Sol. 255s

A short introductory note explains that “Mały konspirator is a collection of texts written by people who were temporarily free. If you read the first chapter you may not have to follow the advice given in the next two chapters. Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the second chapter you will know the legal reason why you cannot be prosecuted for reading the third chapter. While reading the third chapter you will realise why it would be better not to mention that you have had this book in your hands”.

Mały konspirator is full of practical advice on plotting. It tells you how to run a cell within an illegal network (links with the centre as loose as possible to avoid detection, meetings in person infrequent for the same reason but frequent enough to sustain a sense of purpose and solidarity between its members. Distributors should be paid well, otherwise they will not do their job properly – don’t trust anyone who offers to do it for free, for ideological reasons – their enthusiasm will wane and you will be left with piles of undistributed material. One should only keep minimal notes, if any at all, e.g. no full addresses, just numbers of houses/ flats; everything should be encrypted, if possible. It tells you how to behave when you suspect that you are being followed, and how to dispose of incriminating material if you think you are just about to be arrested. Crucially, Mały konspirator tells you what your rights are. Let’s say you have received an official-looking letter asking you to come to the militia station / court. Do you turn up? Ignore it if there is no case number on it, the book advises. There is nothing to be gained from appearing so eager to face the authorities.

Page from Mały konspirator. The heading translates as "Interrogation game"

Page from Mały konspirator. The heading translates as "Interrogation game"

Mały konspirator invites you to play a game: imagine a situation when you are arrested and interrogated. The prize is information. What kind of questions will you be asked? What sort of pressure will you be put under? What are your reactions likely to be? Do you know what your weak points are? You’d better find out fast because they will be exposed and mercilessly exploited.

Mały konspirator is a document of its times. Is there anything one can learn from it in the age of WhatsApp, Telegram and Nexta? I think that the main message remains very clear: don’t take democracy for granted. And always know your rights.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections 

 

04 September 2020

Jadwiga Piątkowska, the forgotten poet of Solidarity

This post is a part of a series of blogs written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Solidarity movement. You can read the first here

Cover of a book on Jadwiga Piątkowska with her photograph

A cover of a book on Jadwiga Piątkowska published by her daughter. Ewa Korczyńska, Jagoda sierpniowa, Jagoda grudniowa (Kraków: 2014), YF.2017.a.5431

Jadwiga Piątkowska (1949-1990), also known as Jagoda, was a member of the opposition movement and a poet writing about Solidarity and events related to the political struggle in Poland in the 1980s. A single mother, Jagoda was on holiday in Czechoslovakia when she heard about the onset of the strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk on 14 August 1980. She immediately returned to Poland and convinced Lech Wałęsa, the future leader of Solidarity, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the first democratically elected president of Poland, that she might be of help to the protesters. She began working as a typist and, after Solidarity was established on 31 August, as an editor and journalist for its periodical Rozwaga i Solidarność (‘Prudence and Solidarity’; Gdańsk, 1982-1989; Sol.90), in which she published many of her poems. The shipyard workers' journal was established in April 1981. During the duration of the martial law in Poland (13 December 1981 - 22 July 1983), it became an underground publication of the movement, which circulated documents related to Solidarity and described repressions suffered by the political opposition.

Photograph of Jadwiga Piątkowska during her visit to a coal mine in Silesia

Jadwiga Piątkowska during her visit to a coal mine in Silesia as a reporter for Rozwaga i Solidarność. Photograph taken from Ewa Korczyńska, Jagoda sierpniowa, Jagoda grudniowa (Kraków, 2014), YF.2017.a.5431

Piątkowska’s work describes the struggle of the opposition against the Polish communist government. In one of her best-known poems, ‘Ewie-mojej 12 letniej córce’ (‘For Eve, My Daughter of 12’), Piątkowska tries to comfort her child, who hasn’t seen her in a long time, but who gave her the energy to persist in the strike along with other protesters. The poem was written on August 29, 1980, at 23.45 — two days before the Solidarity movement was officially established.

A copy of the poem ‘For Eve, My Daughter of 12’

A copy of the poem ‘For Eve, My Daughter of 12’, from a Collection of Polish underground ephemeral publications. Sol.764

Hold out a while longer, my little daughter.
Our destiny is at stake.
Never mind that so many days
I’ve been away from you.
Never mind the sleepless nights,
the tired eyes and hands.
Faith heals people,
and people are with us (…).

(Translation from the album Solidarity! — Postulat 22: Songs from the New Polish Labour Movement (Nowe Polskie Piesni Robotnicze) (Folkways Records, 1981). You can listen to this poem set to music from the album here).

Jagoda’s letter to Maciej Pietrzyk

Jagoda’s letter to Maciej Pietrzyk, an actor, singer and voice of the Solidarity movement. Sol.764

After martial law had been declared in Poland, Piątkowska stayed with other members of Solidarity until the Lenin Shipyard was pacified by the militia. She witnessed a female colleague being crushed to death by a tank and got arrested. Once released from prison, she returned to her work in the opposition, this time underground. After a few months, she was re-arrested, subjected to torture and threatened with deprivation of parental rights. Her poem ‘Behind the walls’ reflects the despair many political prisoners felt at that time:

(…) I znowu nic.
Pustka. Oczekiwanie.
Zgrzyt klucza
W grubych drzwiach.
Moje serce otoczyły
Chwasty.
Wiem, że nie przyjdziesz
Chryste.

(…) And again nothing.
Void. Anticipation.
A creak of a key
In the thick door.
My heart is surrounded
By weeds.
I know you will not come,
Christ.

As a result of her imprisonment, Piątkowska suffered damage to her health, which resulted in her premature death at the age of 41.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

References and further reading:

http://jagodapiatkowska.blogspot.com/ 

‘Rozwaga i Solidarność’ in: Encyklopedia Solidarności (2010-), available at: http://www.encysol.pl/wiki/Strona_g%C5%82%C3%B3wna  

09 November 2019

The Revolutionary Year of 1989

Thirty years ago today the crossing-points between two German states opened, marking the end of the Berlin Wall, demolished in the following months. The concrete barrier, separating East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989, has been a symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe. It was also a stage of dramatic escapes and a topic frequently explored by artists and writers. 

The demolition of the Berlin Wall generated high hopes about the new order emerging in 1989, after the collapse of authoritarian regimes across Central and Eastern Europe and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union. Timothy Garton Ash gave one of the most compelling accounts of these events and the spirit of the period. He went to Berlin to study the archival sources on the German resistance to Hitler, but found himself in the middle of a political upheaval in the region and embarked upon writing what he himself described as “history of the present”. He witnessed, among others, the first partly free election in Poland, the celebratory reburial of Imre Nagy (the executed prime minister of the revolutionary government in 1956) in Hungary, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Blog on 1989 - Timothy Garton Ash - We The People
Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, We the People: the Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge, 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: the Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London, 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (a revised and updated fourth edition of We the People)

As a major turning point in European history, the events of 1989 have been repeatedly revisited by historians and social scientists. What exactly happened? Did the transition to democracy and free-market economy bring the expected results? Did the end of communism live up to the expectations of the people? Answers to these pertinent questions can be found in two volumes (co-)edited by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian-American political scientist, who invited leading scholars in the field to rethink the meaning and impact of what is often called an annus mirabilis, a miraculous year.

The issue of bringing to justice people involved in authoritarian regimes has been hotly debated long after the transition to democracy. These debates are particularly vivid around the anniversaries of the revolution. In a large comparative study, edited by Michael Bernhard and Jan Kubik, the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the changes are analysed in 17 post-communist countries. The authors looked into how the memory of the historical events was shaped by various parties in order to serve their political agenda and concluded that the fractured memory of 1989 undermines democracy in the region.

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

The most recent attempt to rethink the changes of 1989 is a freshly-published book, The light that failed: a reckoning by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. They critically assess the belief prevalent after 1989 that the liberal democracy was destined to expand worldwide. The book begins with the sarcastic assertion that “the future was better yesterday”.

Andrzej Sadecki, British Library PhD placement student working on the topic ‘Politicisation of commemorative practices in Eastern Europe’ 

References

Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, The light that failed: a reckoning (London 2019), DRT ELD.DS.455162 (EPUB)

Timothy Garton Ash, We the People. The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Timothy Garton Ash, The magic lantern: the revolution of '89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (EPUB)

Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), The Revolutions of 1989 (London 1999), YC.1999.b.2118

Vladimir Tismaneanu, Sorin Antohi (eds.), Between past and future: the revolutions of 1989 and their aftermath (Budapest, New York 2012), YC.2002.a.8579

Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

 

29 June 2018

Gӧrz, Gorizia, Gorica: digital scholarship brings a city’s history to life again

How to turn 47,000 pages of old newspapers into meaningful information?

For a research group at the University of Bristol, the answer is: big computers and historical context.

Led by Nello Cristianini,  Professor of Artificial Intelligence, the group digitised 47,000 pages of two Italian-speaking local newspapers from the city of Gorizia, using the facilities of FindMyPast, based at British Library in Boston Spa. Then they used optical character recognition (OCR) software to extract digital text, and finally compared it with the digital text of three Slovenian newspapers from the same place and time, to provide context.

Gorizia Corriere Corriere de Gorizia, an Italian newspaper from the city.

Gorizia lies at the crossroads of the Latin, Germanic and Slavic-speaking worlds, and its population reflects this. Until 1918, it was known as Görz, and was part of the Habsburg Empire, though latterly coveted by the young Kingdom of Italy. These last years before World War One were particularly notable, as the political and ethnic tensions within the empire and over its borders played out in the city itself. The two main linguistic communities, Italian and Slovenian, published their own newspapers, and the latter have been digitised by the Slovenian Digital Library. But until the Bristol University group started work, the Italian ones were preserved on microform alone in the Biblioteca Statale Isontina,  which first collected the paper versions.

Gorizia postcard YF.2007.a.13615The Corso Giuseppe Verdi in Gorizia, early 20th-century postcard, reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice: začetki motornega letenja med Slovenci (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2007.a.13615

The team, including computer scientists and a historian, carried out statistical analysis on the newspapers, looking at the frequency of different words or phrases. This process revealed the individual stories of thousands of people, but also the collective trends of a population in the years leading up to the War and the final days of Empire. As the city lies in a quiet corner of central Europe, now divided between Italy and Slovenia, many of these stories and trends had been forgotten until now.

Gorizia Cathedral (JA) Gorizia cathedral today (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Professor Cristianini says: “In the space of a few decades, the town embraced new ways to communicate, such as the cinema and the telephone, along with new modes of transportation, like the car, the airplane, the bicycle and the train. Far from being a backwater in a decaying empire, this was a city with an eye on the future and an interest in new ideas – including political ones. It was, however, also a time in which new tensions emerged along ethnic lines and a time of rapid change, with problems and anxieties that sound very familiar to the modern ear. It is incredibly fortunate that the collection of newspapers in the Biblioteca Isontina library survived so many threats. We get a glimpse of the last years of a world heading towards a new chapter in its history during a period that transformed it beyond recognition. We see new technologies, new ideas, new economic opportunities, new cultural challenges and problems.”

Among the patterns the team extracted are timelines that pinpoint such significant events as the arrival of Halley’s Comet, the visits of the Emperor Franz Joseph, or the devastating 1895 earthquake in Ljubljana (then Laibach, capital of the Habsburg county of Carniola). Fascinatingly, they found that the earthquake was more noted in the Slovenian-speaking community than the Italian, since Ljubljana was already predominantly Slovenian-speaking itself and had less significance to the Empire’s Italians as a regional centre.

Gorizia bridge The Solkan Bridge, carrying the railway over the Soča river at Gorizia – revolutionary in its day as the largest stone arch ever used for a railway bridge (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Other ground-breaking events in the city at the time included the construction of the new Transalpina/Bohinj railway, which carried tourists from Vienna to Lake Bled and further, but was also to be used for more prosaic reasons. Then, most glamorous of all, two local brothers named Edvard and Josip Rusjan  were among the first aviators in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  Gorizia Rusjans
Edvard and Josip Rusjan adjusting the propeller on their aeroplane. Reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice.

The team’s findings also highlight how the war transformed the city and its surrounding county into something entirely different. During the war the front lines crossed through Gorizia itself and the urban population was largely relocated. In 1918, Italy annexed it, and twenty years of fascism and then another war followed. After 1947, the border between Italy and Yugoslavia ran right through the former county, partly separating the city centre from some of its neighbourhoods. Until Slovenia joined Schengen in 2007, this border had real impact, leading to the growth of a “replacement” city, Nova Gorica, on the Yugoslav/Slovenian side, while historic Gorizia became something of a backwater, isolated from its hinterland and feeling neglected by Rome.

Gorizia 1917 9084.aaa.10

Above: View of the Castle in Gorizia in 1917, showing First World War bomb damage, from Enrico Galante, Gorizia e i campi di battaglia dell'Isonzo et del Carso (Gorizia, [1929]) 9084.aaa.10. Below: Gorizia Castle today (Photograph Janet Ashton)

Gorizia Castle (JA)

The project, from scanning and indexing to in-depth analysis, combined methodologies from both library science and historical research, as well as employing mathematical expertise, and illustrates how digital humanities is bridging the traditional boundaries between disciplines. A full study of the project’s methods and its findings, “Large scale content analysis of historical newspapers in the town of Gorizia, 1873-1914”, by N. Cristianini et al., has recently been published in the journal Historical Methods.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

08 November 2017

Heroes and victims of the Revolution

 In November 1918, the first anniversary of the Bolshevik military insurrection (as the October Revolution was then known) was ‘celebrated in style’ in Soviet Russia. Around 3,500 metres of red fabric was allocated for decorating the Kremlin in Moscow. Over 400 metres of ropes were supposed to hold posters and panels during the celebration. On 7 November 1918 Lenin, who had made a remarkably prompt recovery after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt some two months earlier, managed to give several speeches in different parts of Moscow. A large memorial plaque in commemoration of those who lost their lives “in the struggle for peace and the brotherhood of nations” was unveiled on Red Square and a temporary monument to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was also erected in the centre of the capital. A mass show “The Pantomime of the Great Revolution” was staged in the streets. Such mass festivals and reenactments of “revolutionary events” would soon become a usual feature of each commemoration and celebration in the early years of Soviet Russia. You can see photographs of those first anniversary celebrations here.

Those Russian artists who embraced the Bolshevik Revolution were happy to glorify it in arts. Vladimir Mayakovski was quite active in promoting the celebrations. For the first anniversary he wrote a ‘comic opera’ – Misteriia-buff (Mystery-Bouffe) – which was accepted to be part of the festivities. Staged by the famous theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold with designs by Kazimir Malevich the play was premiered on 7 November 1918 and then shown two more times. The author also appeared on stage as a ‘common man’, but then had to play a couple more roles as some actors did not turn up.

Image 1 - Misteriia Buff-Mayakovski-Ac.4635.ca.6

Above: Designs by Kazimir Malevich, from Istoriia sovetskogo teatra ed ited by V.E.Rafalobich, Vol.1 (Leningrad, 1933). Ac.4635.ca.6; Below: Vladimir Mayakovski, poster for Misteriia-buff, 1918. From The Soviet theatrical poster (Leningrad, 1977). HS.74/2256

Image 2 - Misteriia-Buff poster

Seven pairs of ‘clean’ (‘bloodsuckers’) and seven pairs of ‘unclean’ (‘workers’), as well as The Hysterical Lady, The Common Man (The Man of the Future), Devils, Saints (including Leo Tolstoy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) performed a ‘satirical drama’ in The Entire universe, The Ark, Hell, Paradise, Land of Chaos and finally – in The Promised Land. By the end of the year the play was published as a separate edition.

Image 3 - 1st edition

Cover by Mayakovski for the 1st edition of Misteriia-buff. (Petrograd, 1918). C.135.g.23

The Revolution affected everyone in the country, but it was also important for avant-garde artists and the Bolsheviks as well to stress the final divide between the past and the present, the rich and poor, the victors and losers, the heroes and victims and leave no space in between so that each and every one should clearly take sides. This irreversible split was also presented in another work by Mayakovski created for the anniversary – the album of drawings and short verses Geroi i zhertvy revoliutsii (Heroes and Victims of the Revolution’; Cup.410.c.81). Heroes (Worker, Red Army Soldier, Farm Labourer, Sailor, Seamstress, Laundress, Motorist, Telegraph Operator and Railway Worker) and Victims (Factory Owner, Banker, Landlord, Kulak, Lady, Priest, Bureaucrat, General and Merchant) are presented by four artists: Kseniia Boguslavskaia , Vladimir Kozlinskii, Sergei Makletsov and Ivan Puny.

Below are four of the album’s Heroes’: the Red Army soldier, Laundress,  Motorist and Railway worker:

Image 4 (3)


  Image 4 (7)

Image 4 (8)


Image 4 (10)

And here are some of the Victims’: Merchant, Kulak, Lady and Priest

  Image 4 (1)

Image 4 (14)

    Image 4 (15)

Image 4 (16)

It was proven before and happened this time again – Revolution devours its children. In 1919, Boguslavskaia and Puny left Russia for good; in 1930 Mayakovski committed suicide; in 1935, Malevich died of cancer having been banned from exhibiting ‘bourgeois’ abstract art; and in 1940, Meyerhold was shot dead in Stalin’s purges as an ‘enemy of the people’.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

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