Wikipediaphile: Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic

Crest of the Volga German ASSRA bit of a call-back to an earlier Wikipediaphile entry, this – ten years ago my interest was piqued by mention of the ‘Jewish Autonomous Oblast’; this time round it’s the ‘Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic’.

The Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (RussianАвтономная Советская Социалистическая Республика Немцев ПоволжьяGermanAutonome Sozialistische Sowjetrepublik der Wolgadeutschen), abbreviated as Volga German ASSR (RussianАССР Немцев ПоволжьяGermanASSR der Wolgadeutschen) or VGASSR (RussianАССРНПGermanASSRWD), was an autonomous republic established in Soviet Russia. Its capital was the Volga River port of Engels (known as “Pokrovsk” or “Kosakenstadt” before 1931).

Apparently it all harks bark to Catherine the Great and an eighteenth century Windrush-style plea for immigrants: she “published manifestos in 1762 and 1763 inviting Europeans (except Jews)[3] [plus ça change] to immigrate and become Russian citizens and farm Russian lands while maintaining their language and culture…The settlers came mainly from BavariaBadenHesse, the Palatinate, and the Rhineland, over the years 1763 to 1767. They indeed helped modernize the backward agricultural sector by introducing numerous innovations regarding wheat production and flour milling, tobacco culture, sheep raising, and small-scale manufacturing [and] helped to populate Russia’s South adding a buffer against possible incursions by the Ottoman Empire.”

By the time of the Russian Revolution the Volga German minority was substantial and concentrated around the Volga river; and so it was that they secured in October 1918 first a ‘Volga German Workers’ Commune’, which subsequently earned an upgrade to an ASSR. Fast forward a couple of decades and yer man Jughashvili is in the saddle, Europe is once more ablaze, and before you know it the Schicklgruber fella is giving it large with the Napoleon complex, haring across the steppe Barborossa-style.

Not good news for the Volga Germans, whom His Steelness considered definitely suspect; and so orders were given, the ASSR was dissolved in September 1941 and practically the entire population of more than half a million was sent into ‘internal exile’, with 438,000 sent to Siberia and Kazakhstan.

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Half Bakered at The Shard…

Occupy The Shard posterSo, the other day the owners (that would be various members of the Qatari royal family) of the Shard, a boutique towerblock in Central London notable for its numerous empty luxury apartments, initiated pre-emptive legal action against erstwhile anarchist Ian Bone (and that ever-popular beat combo ‘persons unknown’).

Why? Because the in-his-seventies-but-still-fuckin’-angry Class War founder called for protests against the Shard. He sees it as an example of the gilded skyscrapers increasingly dominating the London skyline, often empty of any actual residents, like enormous rich men’s follies, spunking steel-and-crystal tumescences contemptuously drawing shade over the capital’s poorer denizens. Turns out them vastly wealthy Qatari royal dudes do not have a sense of humour when it comes to shouty anarchists threatening to picket their valuable, shiny metropolitan real estate. Turns out they take it really fucking seriously, in fact.

Apart from the ridiculousness of them thinking even for a minute that they were going to win a propaganda war against Bone (IAN. FUCKING. BONE.), there were some interesting titbits which emerged from news stories about the injunction. Interesting titbits which, one might say, prove somewhat instructive at a time when elsewhere, for example, the judge running the supposedly independent Undercover Policing Inquiry has suggested giving ex-spycops anonymity on the frankly bizarre grounds that married men don’t tell lies; the Scottish Justice Minister has decided not to have a Scottish spycops inquiry because the HMICS police investigation of undercover policing has found no evidence of malfeasance (despite self-limiting its scope to after the Mark Kennedy shitstorm which blew the whole thing wide open); and top Scots cop Phil Gormley (himself sporran-deep in shady spycops shenanigans thanks to his time RUNNING SPECIAL BRANCH) deciding to take the I’m-leaving-before-you-sack-me-oh-is-that-my-pension-thank-you-very-much route to retirement, conveniently sidestepping the numerous investigations into his behaviour.

So anyway, those titbits. First off, the whole harassment-of-Bone shebang was organised by the Shard’s security manager, one André Frank Baker. He contracted a private security company, VSG, to compile a dossier on The Most Dangerous Man In Britain in order to put it before the court as evidence of the threat he and his unruly kind present to innocent empty multi-million pound flats. Currently Team Shard is looking to sting Bone for £525 for the privilege of being injuncted, with that figure only likely to rise.

In case you were wondering why that security manager’s name is familiar, it’s because he’s an ex-Met cop who over the years has popped up everywhere, a contemporary of such luminaries as John Yates (latterly an advisor to the democracy demonstration-crushing Bahraini police) and Bob ‘No Plainclothes Cops Here Honest Guv’ Broadhurst. After not doing very well in the Daniel Morgan or Milly Dowler murder inquiries, ‘Andy’ shifted over to the second-raters of SOCA, and then onto the anti-kiddie porn unit CEOP.

After retirement his attempts at becoming a self-employed security consultant didn’t go so well. How he landed the cushy job of security chief at the Shard isn’t exactly clear, but it wouldn’t be any stranger than career mediocrity Sid Nicholson bagging the post of Head of Security for McDonald’s UK back in the 80s after an unillustrious time spent in the boroughs.

André Baker: a man without dignity?

It helps that despite being turned over by Sun and NOTW hacks during the Dowler investigation *coff* *phonehacking* Baker later demonstrated his absolute lack of dignity by praising the Currant Bun, despite him being at (and, indeed, requesting) that awkward meeting between Morgan inquiry detective Dave Cook and Murdoch’s representative on Earth, Rebekah Wade, brokered by Slippery Dick Fedorcio, when Wade tried to deny that News Corp had Cook and his wife Jacqui Hames under surveillance by Southern Investigations-aligned journalists. Zing!

As for the private security company he commissioned the risk assessment of Bone from, VSG, that was a penny-ante little firm of shopping centre woodentops before it teamed up with – wait for it – a catering company. Always more geared towards static guarding than sophisticated investigative work, in 2016 it was boasting how it had secured a contract to operate the national business-facing counter terrorism information campaign Project Griffin… Which is convenient, seeing as how VSG’s head of counter terrorism Ian Mansfield was, err, in charge of Project Griffin whilst at the City of London Police right up until he left for a cushy private sector job!

So what sort of high grade intel did the failed detective-hired mall cop company serve up on Bone?

The VSG report described Class War as “a small but passionate group of leftwing, pro-anarchy activists with a long and proven history of campaigning against ‘the elite’ and other entities associated with wealth or perceived social injustice”.

The report advised the Shard’s owners that if Bone’s protest was allowed to take place it could endure for months and “attract widespread media coverage”. It also warned that activists could use “pyrotechnics and large, offensive banners of a derogatory nature”…

“Class War is a far-left, pro-anarchy, UK-based pseudo-political party, originally borne out of a newspaper established in 1982. The group opposes the ‘ruling elite’ for their exploitation of the poor and the disadvantaged and have recently been involved in campaigns against the demolition of social housing in London to make way for the construction of luxury housing, as well as campaigns against inequality and austerity. Class War vocally supports, and engages in, civil disobedience, violence and anarchy as acceptable methods of pursuing their objectives.”

Wow. Mind blowing – truly exceptional levels of wiki fu going on there.

Still, at least the obscenely rich Shard barons are being cost money. But perhaps VSG should bring on some fresh new talent to reenergise the company.

I hear Phil Gormley is available.

 

Shellshock & Awe – kiddie edition

How did I miss this at the time? A mind-blowing piece of agitprop/art put together by Darren Cullen with director Price James and others for Veterans For Peace UK back in 2015.

As a childhood fan of Action Man, a would-be boy soldier (but for OfC cutbacks and downsizing), and yet also of a certain political persuasion, I find it utterly chilling. I hope that it helped VfP get its message across.

Plenty of other great stuff on Cullen’s website too, and he has a short exhibition of new sculptures up in That There Lunnon at the beginning of October.

H/T: John Freeman at Down The Tubes

My tenth Twitter birthday

That first tweet is, in its own modest sub-140 characters way, rather mid-noughties 😀

I was an enthusiastic early adopter of microblogging, and whilst Twitter was not – certainly in the early days – the best of its kind,* it reached user critical mass fastest, making it the most useful, and helping achieve both stickiness and longevity.

To my mind its ‘real world’ usefulness first properly emerged in 2009 (though it had proved useful in quickly gathering and disseminating information in the aftermath of the murder by Greek police of fifteen year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in December 2008). In February I went to the BrisTwestival, a meatspace meet-up building on local tweetups. In April and May various media organisations, including The Guardian, the BBC and The Times, equipped its journalists with Twitter accounts and sent them forth onto the streets of London to report on the various G20-related protests; among them was Paul Lewis, who would end up securing the eyewitness account and video that blew apart the Metropolitan Police’s fabricated narrative surrounding the death of Ian Tomlinson. In October Twitter users were instrumental weakening the impact of the Trafigura superinjunction.

Since then it has, of course, become the platform of choice for narcissists, stalkers, PR flacks, online bullies and spambots, as well as otherwise perfectly reasonable people driven by the insatiable desire to share pictures of their dinner. So in a way, exactly the same as the printing press.

Anyway, thanks for having me, it’s a handy tool (which is handy because – ironically – it’s full of tools) which I have been able to use to meet new people, learn new things and reach new places.

PS Big up all the brick-wielding old school text-to-Twitter users, 86444 FTW!

*Insert obligatory comment about how I always preferred Jaiku, and Pownce looked nicer, etc here*

Umbrellas out

No particular reason, just love this GIF of Michael Ironside using his weaponised mind powers in David Cronenberg’s Scanners.

Oh, that and today was the day That Letter was hand-delivered to the European Council in Brussels, which has had a similar effect on much of Twitter as the above.

Really good documentary films online for free

Recently I had a Twitter exchange with Dorian Cope on the topic of documentaries on YouTube.

She recommended some really good ones (listed below), including The Leonard Peltier Story, which I knew as Incident At Oglala.

By Michael Apted (he of The World Is Not Enough Bond fame, as well as the Up series of documentaries), Incident At Oglala is a righteous retelling of the story of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the fight for indigenous people’s rights in the United States, the siege at Pine Ridge and the case of Leonard Peltier – still banged up in Federal chokey today. Apted subsequently made a thinly-veiled fictional version of the attempts by the FBI and others to quash AIM, Thunderheart, which was in part based on an earlier standoff at Wounded Knee.

I first came across the story of AIM and Pine Ridge through the writings of Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall – Agents Of Repression, and The COINTELPRO Papers. Together the two books utilise the then-relatively novel application of Freedom of Information Act rights, and cover in depth the FBI’s decades-long (though the Bureau clings to the orthodoxy that COINTELPROs only existed from 1956-1971) ‘counter intelligence programs’ directed at civil society, involving agents provocateurs, informers, fabricated documents, planted evidence, smears and even what could be considered assassination. AIM was just one of a long list of targeted groups and individuals, the vast majority from the left of the political spectrum – others included the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, Students for a Democratic Society, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Socialist Workers’ Party USA.

The formal COINTELPRO project was brought to an abrupt end in 1971, when a small group of activists, the Citizens’ Committee to Investigate the FBI, broke into a Bureau field office in Pennsylvania and stole reams of documents which exposed the existence of a massive, nationwide conspiracy to defame, disrupt and destroy political campaigners. However, empirical evidence supports the assertion that COINTELPRO in spirit if not in name continued for many years to come. Certainly there were COINTELPRO fingerprints all over the bombing of Earth First! activists Judy Bari and Darryl Cherney in 1990 (see, for example, ‘The Judi Bari Bombing: How the FBI targeted Earth First!’ by Ward Churchill in Open Eye #3, 1995).

The more recent use of agents provocateurs, informants and undercover officers in cases including but not limited to the supposed Nimbus Dam sabotage plot (with FBI plant Zoe Elizabeth Voss, AKA ‘Anna’ – see here, here and here), Brandon Darby’s entrapment of protesters at the 2008 RNC (see here, here and here), and the various stings by Saeed Torres AKA ‘Shariff’ on behalf of the FBI (see here, here and here) suggest that the principles of COINTELPRO linger long in the Bureau’s institutional memory.

Anyhow, here’s some of my free-to-view documentary selections – and I have put Dorian Cope’s at the bottom.

80 Blocks From Tiffany’s
Superb stuff from 1979, with Gary Weis interviewing members of two gangs – the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads – in the South Bronx.

NY77: The Coolest Year In Hell
A nearly bankrupted city, disco, punk rock, hip hop, brown outs and black outs, arson and riots, music and love.

Planet Rock The Story Of Hip Hop And The Crack Generation
Exploring the interconnectedness of two eighties phenomena.

Style Wars
Classic hip hop ‘five elements’ documentary, whose influence via its focus on grafitti and breakdancing was global – inspiring the likes of Goldie and 3D in Britain.

Bombin’
The UK Style Wars

Proper Bristol Hip Hop (part one)
Superb cultural artefact from Matt ‘Mr Monk’ Orren, with many of the original Bristol hip hop heads simply telling how it all started for them, how it developed, and how it got to here.

The Way Of The Crowd
Looking back on Northern Soul at the Wigan Casino, with stacks of people who were there, including Paul Sadot (Tuff in Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes).

The Jeffrey Johns Story
If you’ve ever been to a gig in Bristol, you’ve been stood behind Big Jeff. HERE IS HIS STORY!

1971
Story of the activists who exposed COINTELPRO by burgling the FBI’s Media, PA office.

Reclaim The Streets – The Film (1999) (as broadcast on Channel 4, January 2000)
A from-the-movement documentary on RTS by Agustín de Quijano, from the beginning through to J18 – lots of great footage.

Reclaim The Streets – Reloaded (2012 re-edit)
As above, expanded to include references to Andrew James Boyling, the undercover Special Branch officer who posed as RTS activist ‘Jim Sutton’ for half a decade.

McLibel
Franny Armstrong’s on-a-shoestring classic about Helen Steel and Dave Morris, the two London Greenpeace anarchists who refused to be bullied by a corporation, defended themselves in court, and to all intents and purposes defeated McDonald’s after it accused them of making untrue statements in a campaign leaflet (which, lest we forget, was co-authored by a long-term police infiltrator).

Big Rattle In Seattle /Capital’s Ill Crowd Bites Wolf (all three by Si Mitchell)
Not just three of the best but also the funniest summit-hopping gonzo activist-journalist documentaries of the dawn of the 21st century, capturing not just the excitement and action on the streets, but also breaking down the issues into easily understandable chunks – which with dull stuff like the IMF is not easy.

The Coconut Revolution
Behind the lines with the low-tech independence fighters of Bougainville Island, who face the might of the Papua New Guinea army, backed by multinational corporations like RTZ, in a fight to protect their homeland and its resources. First saw this at a screening in Bristol’s fine microplex the Cube.

If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front
A very human telling of how the ELF came to become America’s Public Enemy No.1 (until Al Qaeda came to be a little more prominent), with the focus on ELF activist Daniel McGowan, one of a number who went to prison after the FBI’s major Operation Backfire dragnet.

The Panama Deception
I first saw this Oscar-winning doc by Barbara Trent about the post-Cold War, what-the-hell-do-we-do-now? US invasion of Panama at – no honestly – a Revolutionary Communist Party conference. It was the most interesting thing there.

BBS: The Documentary (in 8 parts)
Thoroughly absorbing, detailed look at the early communities which grew up around the original bulletin board systems, and how they developed as the forums themselves developed. Made in 2005, it is interesting to consider how we got from there to here, with #anonymous and /pol/ and GamerGate and manosphere idiots and whatnot.


Touching The Void
Best fell-off-a-mountain documentary ever; best use of Boney M in hallucination scene ever.

Room 237
Dissection of the meaning – hidden or otherwise – of Stanley Kubrick’s fast-and-loose adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. Beautiful (though unfortunately picture and sound quality here are deliberately degraded, presumably to get round copyright detection tools) and thought provoking.

Staircases To Nowhere: Making Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
Folk history of how The Shining got made, by the crew who made it.

Hells Angels
Hilarious early 1970s BBC documentary following the hapless London chapter of the global outlaw motorcycle club as they mooch about doing very little. The decision to go on holiday is one of history’s most fateful. Played absolutely straight in both script and voiceover.

American Movie (trailer only)
One of the loveliest docs in the world, I can’t find it free online anywhere, but this trailer gives a flavour of it.

Dorian Cope’s documentary selection:

Taiga, taiga, burning bright: the Lykovs of Siberia

After reading about the Know Nothings on the Smithsonian Magazine website (note: it seems that the bare existence of history offends some Trump supporters), I then saw one about the Lykov family.

The Lykovs were a family of Old Believers – proper old skool Orthodox types – who in the late 1930s fled east into the Siberian wilderness or ‘taiga’ in fear of Soviet purges and suppression of their religion. They forged a life for themselves, just about, living off the bounty of the land (which sometimes isn’t that bountiful, especially when it’s minus forty degrees; the mother, Akulina, died of starvation in 1961).

They completely avoided contact with the outside world, with any strangers from outside their small family group, for forty years, until 1978 when a party of passing geologists spotted them and dropped by to totally freak them out with tales of men on the moon and television and flared trousers. It was enough to kill off the three oldest offspring in 1981, leaving just the ageing patriarch Karp and his youngest daughter Agafia (born 1944). Then old Karp popped his clogs in 1988, on the anniversary of Akulina’s own passing.

Since then Agafia’s been the last Lykov remaining. In 1997 a retired geologist (what is it with these rock-botherers?!) decided to come and live nearby to help her out, but seeing as he was older than her, hadn’t lived his entire life in the taiga, and was, uh, a one-legged amputee, it seems she was doing most of the helping. He died in 2015. In early 2016 Agafia herself was airlifted out for medical treatment. Not sure if she’s returned.

Anyway, there’s some great documentaries about Agafia and her family out there; even the Russian language ones are worth catching for the footage.

(It reminds me a little of the story of Lieutenant Hiroo Shinoda, the ‘last of the holdouts’ (though he wasn’t), who hid out in the countryside of the Philippines for nearly twenty years after the close of the Second World War until rooted out by young hippie explorer Norio Suzuki.)