|Bosnia: picture Europe 1|
Where was I? Oh yes, media. I was sent a couple of cuttings from the Reading Post and the Reading Chronicle this week, at the the of writing they are not on the websites so you will have to take my word for it, or buy the paper if you are in Reading. They both refer to the Holocaust Day event in Reading at the end of January. These events happen in a lot of places, I went to one outside my workplace, at which a lone violinist played the anthem of the Warsaw Ghetto, making us all cry, and subsequently murdered the European anthem. We had a few words from the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, some from the President of Finland, the country which currently holds the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers (do try and keep up), and some from the head of the Israeli delegation to the Council of Europe. And that was it. Fifteen minutes and a wreath-laying. I would not have wanted to miss it. The rabbi of Strasbourg was there of course.
But in Reading they do these things differently. The Holocaust memorial event has been happening for a number of years now, and is organised by the Reading Council for Racial Equality. It's a much bigger event than the Strasbourg one. I am told that last year, when the council was under a Tory-LibDem administration, the event was highly political and the RCRE took the opportunity to criticise the coalition administration. Well, I wasn't there, but that is what I was told by more than one person who was. There was fairly widespread disgust. This year one Tory councillor, Richard Willis, decided not to attend because of what happened last year, and wrote in that vein on his blog. There were some fairly principled comments, and some racist ones too, but that is what happens when you put your opinions out there. I should know.
The Reading media did the following: the disgraced Reading Evening Post read the blog, read the comments, and copied out a grudge diatribe from the former head of RCRE, Rajinder Sohpal (btw someone I have counted as a friend over the years, and this is not about him). The Chronicle, by contrast, read all this, spoke not only to Rajinder Sohpal but to Richard Willis, whose remarks had sparked the exchange in the first place, and to the rabbi, Zvi Solomons, whose point of view counts for something on these matters, producing a much more nuanced story. The Chronicle piece may have contributed to a wider debate on the commemoration of genocide. I hope so. The disgraced Reading Evening Post is just a mouthpiece for bile. As always. Not journalism.
I was asked once on this blog why I criticise the disgraced Reading Evening Post for writing spiteful stories about people when briefed by their friends without speaking to the people, when I do not ring up people I am about to write about on this blog to get their point of view. My answer is clear: this blog is an expression of my personal views, what I think, and that is all it is. It does not purport to be news, though it may at times contribute to it. And if I refer to anyone here and they would like to reply, they may do so, so long as what they wish to say is couched in language I am willing to have published on my blog. This is not something the disgraced Reading Evening Post allows. There's the difference, hein?
Holocaust: the survivors of the Nazi terror are mostly gone now. Those who were children at the time are old people now. There are not that many of them left. And there have been other real and attempted genocides since. In Bosnia, in Rwanda, in Iraq. Oh yes, Iraq. Cue foam-flecked spittle. And there have been many over the centuries. In Armenia. In Carthage. It's worth thinking about how to remember this and how to work against it happening again. The other day I was chatting to a Rwandan bishop of my acquaintance (as you do) who can't go back there. He is living in poverty in France. To him, and to other Rwandans I have met, the words Hutu and Tutsi don't mean very much at all. He thinks of those identities as a construct that came from outside Rwanda.
I ask those who work on remembrance, and I salute them for doing so, to examine their hearts, and their attitudes to what is happening in the world around us now. I couldn't personally have stopped the slaughter in Bosnia in the 1990s, in my home continent of Europe, of course, but I will go to my grave guilty that I said nothing, and did not campaign or demonstrate or try to do anything. We are all Sarajevans now.