Category Archives: Yurp

The incontinent of Europe

The ‘Great Communist Bank Robbery’ of 1959, the ‘Ioanid Gang’ and Jewishness in Soviet-era Romania…

Reconstruction of the 1959 'Great Communist Bank Robbery' in Bucharest

I recently caught a documentary film called Marele Jaf Comunist AKA Great Communist Bank Robbery. It was about a 1959 payroll heist in Soviet era Romania.

The gist is, a small group of armed robbers held up a van carrying wages to the Romanian National Bank – an unthinkable crime in a ‘Socialist’ state.

After a major police dragnet which saw scores of suspects arrested, interrogated and in many cases tortured, the cops drew a blank. Then eventually a lead turned them onto what became known as the ‘Ioanid Gang’ (named after two of its members) – five men and a woman. All were Jewish-Romanians, and either state functionaries or officers of the Securitate.

They were made to ‘confess’, and compelled to play themselves in a docu-drama film made to illustrate how they carried out their dastardly crime. This film, Reconstruction, was later shown to high ranking Party officials and trusted journalists. Subsequently all were found guilty at trial (their Party careers conveniently forgotten – now they were simply a ‘corrupt and rotten element’, a ‘swindler’, a ‘fake intellectual’, an ‘adventurer’, a ‘gangster’, and a ‘marginal element’…) and all but one sentenced to death.

A 2001 documentary film, also called Reconstruction (which I haven’t yet managed to watch), later covered the topic. Finally, in 2004 the aforementioned Marele Jaf Comunist was made, looking at the robbery, the police investigation, the making of the original documentary Reconstruction, and efforts by the son of one of the gang members to review the Securitate files.

One strand which could have been covered more in depth was the specific details of the suspects’ prior involvement in the Party and the apparatus of the state, and in particular the wartime resistance activities of some of them. One suggestion made during the film was that the execution of the five condemned men was a ruse so that they could be ‘disappeared’ and used as agents of espionage elsewhere. Again, this was not pursued with any real vigour.

So can anyone point me in the direction of any (English language) books which cover the story in depth? It seems entwined with the issue of Jewish emigration from Romania, anti-semitism, and purges within the Partidul Muncitoresc Român/Partidul Comunist Român as Gheorghiu-Dej steered towards an undestalinised ‘national communism’, so any suggestions on that front would also be welcome, as would pointers to good works on the Securitate.

Many thanks :)

Wikipediaphile: EUROGENDFOR

A timely wiki for you, given it’s all kicking off in Greece at the moment. Only spotted this via a mention on twitter linking to a cranky-sounding website which suggested that a “non-Greek militarized riot force may have arrived to enforce austerity” in the Hellenic Republic.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about EUROGENDFOR:

The European Gendarmerie Force (EUROGENDFOR or EGF) was launched by an agreement in 2006 between five members of the European Union (EU): France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Romania subsequently joined in 2009. Its purpose is the creation of a European intervention force, designed after the French Gendarmerie and the Italian Unità Specializzate Multinazionali (M.S.U.) of the Carabinieri; that force will have militarised police functions and specialise in crisis management. Its status is enshrined in the Treaty of Velsen of 18 October 2007.

The EGF is based in Vicenza, in northeastern Italy, and has a core of 800-900 members ready to deploy within 30 days. This includes elements from the;

An additional 2,300 reinforcements will be available on standby. The Polish Military Gendarmerie are also a partner force, and on 10 October 2006, Poland indicated it would like to join the EGF.[1] More countries will be allowed to join in the future.

“What’s that, then – ‘happy birthday’?

Telegrams?

I want to send a telegram to-

Can I have your number please?

Uh, 7-6-2-4-3-4-1-X

The name of the person you’re sending it to?

Wednicki: W-E-D-N-I-C-K-I.

And the address?

MS Warszawa: W-A-R-S-Z-A-W-A. Is a ship due in shortly. Port of London, Millwall Dock.

Thank you. At what rate, please?

Greetings.

And the message?

Two words. ‘Ty zginesz’. T-Y Z-G-I-N-E-S-Z.

No signature?

No.

Insert forty pence in the box, please.

<4 x 10p inserted>

Your greetings telegram to Wednicki, MS Warszawa, Millwall Dock, Port of London. The message reads, ‘T-Y, Z-G-I-N-E-S-Z’.

Correct.

What’s that, then – ‘happy birthday’?

No. It means, ‘you will die’.

From Special Branch S3E5, ‘Polonaise‘.

PS Google Translate has ‘ty zginesz’ down as ‘you bend’.

Paris, Bristol, Warsaw: Street art and the art of the cinema poster (Polskim stylu)

I took these pictures a while back, but I lost them on my pootie and only just found them again. They’re of some paint-ups by Paris (I think), one over the old Target Electronics shop on Cherry Lane near St James’ Barton, the other on the back gate of the Full Moon/Eclipse (AKA Attic) over the other side of Stokes Croft/North Street.

Whilst the second one clearly features Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, for me both bring to mind the marvellous creativity of Polish film posters.

If you don’t know what I’m on about, have a read through this fascinating article on the subject from Smashing Magazine. It’s long, detailed, and thoroughly illustrated, so it may take a while to load.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Fifties and the early Sixties mark the Golden Age of the Polish poster. Like everything else, the film industry was controlled by the state. There were two main institutions responsible for commissioning poster designs: Film Polski (Polish Film) and Centrala Wynajmu Filmow – CWF (Movie Rentals Central). They commissioned not graphic designers but artists and as such each one of them brought an individual voice to the designs.

The School of the Polish Poster is therefore not unified but rather diverse in terms of style. It wasn’t until the Mid-Fifities, though, that the school flourished. The fierce Stalinist rule had been lifted, once again leaving room for artistic expression. The classic works were created in the next ten years. Three important remarks must be made. First, at the time the poster was basically the only allowed form of individual artistic expression.

Second, the state wasn’t concerned much with how the posters looked. Third, the fact that the industry was state-controlled turned out to be a blessing in disguise: working outside the commercial constraints of a capitalist economy, the artists could fully express their potential. They had no other choice but to become professional poster designers and that’s why they devoted themselves so thoroughly to this art.

The Polish film poster is artist-driven, not studio-driven. It is more akin to fine art than commercial art. It is painterly rather than graphic. What sets the Polish poster apart from what we’re used to see in the West is a general disregard for the demands of the big studios. The artists requested and received complete artistic freedom and created powerful imagery inspired by the movies without actually showing them: no star headshots, no movie stills, no necessary direct connection to the title.

They are in this regard similar to the work of Saul Bass, a rare example of a Hollywood artist who enjoyed total freedom from the studios. Next to a typical Hollywood film poster with the giant headshots of the latest movie star and the title set in, you guessed it, Trajan Pro, the Polish film poster still looks fresh and inspiring today.

I think my interest in this sort of stuff was first piqued on a visit to Central Europe in the early 1990s. Then I had picked up a few local comics, and was thrilled to discover that, impenetrable language aside, they used exactly the same design grammar that any child who grew up with British comics was familiar with; yet at the same time, the draughtsmanship was almost completely alien to someone raised on DC Thomson and IPC fare – sloppy curves, weird spot colour, disdain for straight lines intermixed with bizarrely angular scratchiness… And I noticed this type of design extended beyond the pages of children’s comics – it was on walls, posters, street corners, even on chocolate bar wrappers (Ama, I seem to remember, was a particularly good example of this odd new visual language).

Through the years I started to gradually pick up more and more of this sort of stuff – completely un-British, un-‘Western’, and yet at the same time thoroughly British and thoroughly ‘Western’ (it’s just difficult sometimes to recognise that your own foundations have been built into the earthworks created by someone else…) Public information signage and propaganda posters and commercial art (qv Mucha) were the areas where I found it easiest to see the parallels, the common ground; but it was in the Soviet-era Polish posters for Western movies I found the most pleasing pictures, slick airbrush art discarded in favour of strong, stylised designs focusing on concepts. I mean, if they can make crappy Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Fatal Beauty look worth a watch, anything’s possible…

These days it seems I’m not the only one with a fondness for Polish posters – there are whole websites devoted to them, and articles in UK newspapers like The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph on them too.

My favourite? Michal Ksiazek’s take on Blade Runner, known in Poland as Łowca Androidów (AKA Robot Hunter).

Balkans Scrapbook – remembering the Yugoslav Civil War through news cuttings, photographs and documentaries (plus Bolivian adventurers, Hungarian fascists, Irish bouncers, British spy cops…)

See http://davecinzano.wordpress.com for more info

I’ve long been interested in the Balkans and the break up of the former Yugoslavia, so it’s good to see Balkan Scrapbook, a blog pulling together newspaper clippings, pictures and documentary film on what went down in the early 1990s.

It’s not been up long, but there’s already some interesting content, with new stuff being uploaded all the time. The focus at the moment seems to be on foreign fighters taking part in the conflict, and the death of journalist Paul Jenks near Osijek in east Slavonia, Croatia. Jenks was investigating the earlier death of Swiss reporter Chritian Würtenberg, who himself had joined the International Platoon (PIV) fighting with the Croatian HOS militia whilst looking into links between it and a pan-European fascist network. John Sweeney (he of shouting-at-Scientologists fame) was a colleague and a friend, and he returned to Osijek nearly three years after Jenks’ death to try and uncover what had happened – which made for a riveting documentary film, Dying For The Truth, which opened the Travels With My Camera strand on Channel 4.

The whole torrid tale brought together damaged ex-servicemen in search of excitement, wannabe warriors, and some seriously scary political soldiers – not least Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, a Bolivian-born Hungarian-Spanish Catholic fascist (try saying that in a hurry) who came to lead the PIV. Flores had turned up in Croatia ostensibly to work as a journalist, but soon set up the PIV under the patronage of Branimir Glavaš, a regional powerbroker subsequently convicted of war crimes.

After the deaths of Würtenberg and Jenks, and a third PIV volunteer, Anthony Mann Grant – all blamed on Serbs, but with many unanswered questions hanging in the air – Flores did a runner to Zagreb, before melting away from the Balkans. Ultimately he was involved in a right-wing secessionist movement in Bolivia, and he was shot dead by security forces there in 2009, alongside fellow mercenaries Mario Tadic, a Croatian, and Előd Tóásó, variously described as a Romanian and a Hungarian, plus Irishman Michael Dwyer.

Dwyer had been a security thug working at Shell’s Corrib gas pipeline project in County Mayo, where Integrated Risk Management Services had accrued a reputation for violence against environmental protesters, before he was apparently recruited for the Bolivian adventure by other IRMS goons with a background in Magyar autonomist politics. As if to demonstrate how the world is getting smaller, the Metropolitan Police’s “vancop” agent provocateur PC Mark Kennedy, AKA Mark ‘Flash’ Stone, had previously infiltrated the anti-Corrib activist groups, which were of great interest to Irish and British police as well as business interests and private security groups.

But I digress – if you’re interested in the former Yugoslavia and all that happened there in recent history, then keep an eye on Balkan Scrapbook.

Edited 9 September 2012 to reflect move of blog.

FAIL #001: The Gallic Wars

If there’s one thing that the Asterix books teach us, it’s that no one remembers Alesia. If there’s one thing that cheap ‘documentary’ television teaches us, it’s DON’T LEAVE THE ONSCREEN TITLES TO THE UNPAID INTERNS.

‘Left-wing’ Greek journalist and blogger assassinated on doorstep

For anyone who tries to keep abreast of what was happening in Greece, the independent news blog Troktiko (juggled with Google Translate, for us ignorant monolinguists) is a useful resource.

But today a shadow has been cast over Troktiko. Early in the morning Sokratis Giolias, a journalist who wrote for the site, was gunned down by unknown assailants on the doorstep of the home he shared with his wife and young child.

Reports say that twenty or more bullets were fired. New Europe says an anonymous communication to it claimed that three men dressed in police uniforms carried out the killing. A stolen car apparently used in the attack was found burned out not far from the murder scene.

Meanwhile, the trial of the two cops who shot and killed fifteen-year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in December 2008, a killing which precipitated massive social unrest across Greece and led many (both Greeks and non-Greeks) to Troktiko in search of news, is drawing to a close.

ETA:

Greece-based British blogger Teacher Dude has posted up a brief piece about Socratis Giolias’ murder, and will no doubt be a good place to find English-language material relating to this as more details emerge.

ETA:

There’s even a report on the BBC News website now.

ETA:

According to Teacher Dude police have linked the guns used to previous shootings by the Sect of Revolutionaries.

Meanwhile, Occupied London/On The Greek Riots has characterised Giolias as “a tabloid journalist”, and Troktiko as “a popular news blog with ties to the police and far-right groups”.

ETA:

The Guardian is going with “prominent investigative reporter” and “popular online newsblog Troktiko”; sixteen bullets, in front of pregnant wife; and again reference to police linking it to “domestic terror gang…the Sect of Revolutionaries”.

In contrast to the comments on the On The Greek Riots post, eg:

Giolias was not an “investigative journalist”. In fact, he was not even a journalist (he was not part of the Athens journalists’ union, he did not have a press pass).

Confirmed: Golias was not a member of ESIEA, the Athens Union of Journalists.

…the Guardian story features this:

“His cowardly murder is the work of people who wanted to silence a very good investigative reporter,” said Panos Sobolos, head of the Athens journalists’ union.

ETA:

The Independent is running with a Reuters-sourced clippings-and-press-release story that refers to “the Rebel Sect”, which makes them sound like a punk revival revue. It recycles the police statement and the Panos Sobolos quotation above.