sojourn in Albania

I am not sure I have posted this, but rather remarkably there is an article in the Albanian Encyclopedia of Art about me and about what we are doing on the Edward lear Project. I think we are now approaching the 10th year of working on this and last year we were filming in Corfu, where Lear was very happy. I am not so sure he was ever truly content, but he made others so. Just check out the story where he reduces the young Bey of Durres to giggles without either understanding a common word. Maybe that is one way to get through life, isn’t it?

Last year at Easter it rained and the procession with the brass band disbanded at the last minute in a scene that was unutterably mediterranean…

albanian encyclopedia

Galata Bridge Galata Köprüsü

Just completing work on Galata Bridge in Istanbul

galata bridge 1

galata bridge 2

This is a bridge over the Golden Horn built in 1994. The market below was opened in 2003.

Here is the latest version:

galata bridge 3

and here is a picture that I began about 3 years ago and have started to work on again: this is a scene also for the “Following Lear” project and shows the Albanian Coastal town of Durres

durres1 a

durres 1a

yallah 2

Farage and Palaiokostas and Lazy Brits

camillo

I had intended to write something about animation today, but Farage presides over a UKIP conference as I write and the BBC ran a frankly scurrilous article in their web-edition about the scoundrel Palaiokostas this week. Both characters call for comment.

FARAGEPOSTER

I think Farage gets a raw deal in the press. The impression is given that he is a racist , a sort of “BNP light”. This seems to be so wide of the mark as to be laughable, but the image somehow has stuck as nasty images tend to: do people not realise his wife is a foreigner?? Nevertheless, the image was not helped by a poster campaign during the last election, which led the Telegraph to say, “UKIP are not the fascist foot soldiers of the BNP. They’re worse.” The poster campaign called on voters to “Take back control” and nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the conservatives have been calling for the same thing- and for far longer! The tag line on the poster, which showed a finger pointing a la Kitchener, reads, “26 Million people in Europe and looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?” The problem is that this is a catchy question that does not really reflect reality. There are no British builders or stock-market analysts on the street, and despite the jokes, precious few european plumbers who have actually stolen british jobs. The miserable fact is that alot of British people don’t want the jobs that are routinely taken on by Romanians and Poles. A case in point would be the seasonal vegetable-picking in Lincolnshire which is now threatened because many of the temporary foreign workers have stopped coming, and the local Brits simply do not have the stamina or the will to pick peas in the frost. (think of Tess of the D’Urbervilles picking potatoes on the hillside after she gets dumped by Angel. No one seems willing to do this any more. It is still a part of our agricultural livelihood) A recent report from the NFU said that unemployed Brits were unwilling to get up at 6am. This is what the leader of the Framers’ union, Meurig Raymond, said, “The whole work ethic and discipline that is required with harvest work needs to be improved a lot in parts of the British workforce. It’s the benefits system and years of inactivity. They will do it for a few days, but they won’t continually stick at it. A lot of farmers are not going to plant next year’s crops if they are concerned they are not going [have the workers to] harvest them. It’s a huge conundrum.” That is quite a threat.

Expulsions and deals

The days of illegal foreign workers are largely over. Films in 2002 like “Dirty Pretty Things” exposed what had been happening in cheap hotels and at about the same time, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett expelled 6000 undocumented migrants. Meanwhile, seasonal agricultural work relied heavily on illegal workers. They may have been illegal, but they were reliable, hard-working, flexible and cheap. More recently, a scheme that helped migrant workers exactly like these to secure legal jobs -and pay tax- working the land has been closed. Instead of singing in the streets because we have closed an immigrant loophole, we should, instead, be worrying about the loss of British jobs and the rise in the cost of home-grown vegetables and produce. Because the sorry reality is that without these workers, we cannot harvest what we have grown and farmers and farm-linked industry will go out of business. This has led to calls from the National Farmers’ Union and threats by local farmers to stop growing vegetables that are difficult to pick. If farmers stop growing stuff, we risk losing all the British jobs that are currently there to support that industry.

So, the 21,250 Romanians and Bulgarians that came to the UK every year under the scheme for a maximum of 6 months will no longer be coming. This scheme provided 1/3 of our current agricultural workforce. Instead, these same people can now look for longer-term employment as fully-fledged members in their own right of the EU. They no longer need this scheme to come here. The NFU had appealed, instead, to the government to extend the scheme to cover Turkey, Russia and the Ukraine, or to target students outside the EU, but insisting their immigration policy was sound, the whole scheme has been scrapped by the current Government.

This is madness. The immigration minister, Mark Harper, said about this, “Our view is that, at a time of unemployment in the UK and European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry.” But he is living in cloud-cuckoo land. 

mark harper MPa

Harper got into trouble for suggesting that many disabled people were shamming, and lazy. Then he was discovered to have employed an unregistered immigrant.

Whoops! We might think of Hamlet!

For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an’t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon. 3.4

So, in a year when there have been bumper harvests in grain and brassica, there is every chance that next year Lincolnshire farmers will be producing less; we may even see the return of fallow land. We have come a long way from the self-sufficiency of the war years. UK prices have tended to rise above those in the EU and abroad, meaning that cheaper foreign food makes it into the supermarkets and on to our tables. The last 10 years, for example, have seen a 20% decrease in consumer demand for British vegetables. At greatest risk are things like cauliflowers, runner beans and pears. A shame, because I like pears, and not the huge imported pears, but the little British ones! A fear of genetically modified crops and the ban on pesticides, without providing a suitable and equivalent way to control and protect our crops has also had a catastrophic effect. Farmers in Brazil and Paraguay are not constrained by these rules and are doing much better. It’s not that we need to follow what the farmers are doing in South America – it’s that we need to stop bashing the people who are trying to do an honest job here in the UK.

I cannot understand how any Conservative government can preside over schemes to limit business by some bureaucratic bluster about immigration, or by some geographical boundary. Business thrives on merit and fair competition. If we need the best, we get it no matter where it might be.

This brings me to Mr Farage and the CAP, or Common Agricultural Policy. In simplistic terms, the UK pours £18bn into the CAP fund and takes rather a small handout while in contrast France contributes relatively little and takes alot. This seems unfair. But is it then appropriate to scrap the CAP and duck out of the EU? Actually, for all our griping, we depend quite a bit on EU funding. Without the EU subsidies, framers would be entirely at the mercy of the supermarket chains, and our farms are simply not up to that challenge. Also, the EU invests in the wider Rural economy.

The UKIP position on the EU is that our links with Europe would continue after we left, for the simple fact that the British market demands it. We buy more from the EU than they buy from us. “We should run our own country and our own agriculture,” says Farage. But our agriculture is in shreds from years of Brussels’ bullying and mismanagement. To add to the misery, we have shot ourselves in our bucolic foot to satisfy the media’s anti-immigration lobby. If we want to pull out of the EU, whether we wave a Conservative flag or a UKIP one, we need to get our farmers working effectively first!

Immigration

But there is more than just preparation. The thorny issue remains immigration, and all the current parties assume the same solution – to close the door, or add a turnstyle. The problem with immigration is that people have become obsessed with numbers and have forgotten that they are really talking about people- and people who for the most part came here to work, bringing skills we no longer have, and need. It is not always easy to determine what you do not have, so blustering about arranging immigration to fill the “gaps” does not work. We have to change our way of looking at this issue completely.

To counter the threat of immigration, we need to think differently. We need to think less of letting people into the Uk and more of making sure that such people use their time here wisely while they are here, pay tax, learn english. Labour, we are told “oversaw the fastest and largest wave of immigration in this country’s history” but the Conservatives have not really changed this and both have focused on number-counting and bureaucracy, attacking those people who are documented rather than seeking those who are not. My great concern is that students, the most well-documented of the lot, face a misery of visa demands when many would happily pay a bond to stay here without the fuss for the duration of their academic career, and most plan to return home to take the skills they have acquired here back to their own country anyway. They face that visa- misery incidentally because they are well-documented and they are an easy target for a lazy inflated bureaucracy. What is needed are immigrants who will work hard and contribute to our society. If we give them a good example too, we will know that when they return home, they will take our values with them. This was the old theory of the Raj when we had a much more open-door approach and far less abuse, as well as far less resentment than we see today. A nice example of how the UKIP approach is distorted was a report in the Huffington post that wanted to see hypocrisy in the employment of East European canvassers who were working for a firm called “Fast leaflet” and who were caught delivering UKIP literature during the European elections. But, the fact is that these three east Europeans were working hard. I have delivered leaflets. I know how hard a job it can be! What is needed is a different perspective on the “problem”. Ideally jobs would be given to people in the UK, but if that is not possible, then it seems absurd that I should be constrained to offer the same job only to people in the EU. Why not offer it to people from Turkey or Russia who might be better qualified, or even to members of the Commonwealth to whom we really owe a great deal more, and with whom we share so much common history, though currently these people are geographically and politically challenged by their exclusion from the EU club. National borders do not make good business sense: instead, we should offer a job to the best person available, whatever background that may involve. Merit and excellence are the only way to ensure success. As for immigration control, what we need are less pen-pushers and more front-line security staff.

Parallels with school policy in the 1970s

crossland and wilson

The calls to throw immigrants out of the UK is a negative knee-jerk response and appeals to the baser elements in our society. Also, be in no doubt that it will lead to racism, if it is not racist in its basic call. It parallels the knee-jerk baying of the labour party in the 70s, that called for the destruction of the English Public school system in the belief that such destruction would bring equality, eradicate the class system and lead to an improvement in standard state education. The destruction of the Grammar school was the beginning of this negative crusade and we are still suffering the effects of this today. Comprehensive education has meant dumbing down in general, whatever social benefits it might offer in terms of integration… and that, only when it works as well as it can! Thankfully wiser minds have prevailed and today we are beginning to see a softening of the boundaries between the private and State sectors and the reintroduction of “selection”. A negative does not automatically usher in a corresponding positive. In all likelihood, destruction brings more destruction as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. What we need now is care and control. Not necessarily a knee jerk response, but considered action. Unfortunately, as we stand at the moment, Brussels does not allow us either care, or control, and this is not a UK problem alone. Most European countries realise we are in a muddle- too many people milking the system and not enough contributing. Back to simple farming imagery. You cannot have milk without a decent herd. A herd of cattle needs proper controls. I hesitate to use the term “cowboy” but if we do away with the fences, we are left with cowboys!

Greece and the BBC

Now, a few days ago, there was a lengthy article on the BBC website about Palaiokostas. This is a man who has been in and out of gaol, notably the infamous Korydallos Prison from which he escaped twice by helicopter and continued to live the life of Riley on the run, with an Albanian sidekick, Alket Rizai, robbing occasional banks, kidnapping industrialists and donating some of the money to the poor. The BBC played up the Robin Hood image but I think it needs to be checked. A man who robs you at gunpoint is still a frightening criminal and certainly to the bank clerk who is threatened. The bottom line to this surely is that “a thug is a thug”, and I have never had much time for Robin Hood.

Escaping the Holocaust in Albania

albanian jews 1112

Francis I

Today Pope Francis is visiting Albania and the news footage shows him saying Mass just down the road from Enver Hoxha’s tomb. Hoxha outlawed religion but this was just one small negative in an otherwise profoundly tolerant society. This is what the Pope has to say about religion in Shqiperia,

“There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions…The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country.Nobody should use God as a ‘shield’ with which to justify ‘acts of violence and oppression’.”

Pope_Francis

Sarajevo

A few days ago, my Macintosh died and was sent to be repaired. During that time, I was given a story about the survival of a wonderful little book, barely measuring 6 inches square, in Sarajevo. This is the Sarajevo Hagaddah which was written and illustrated in the 14th Century. The Haggaddah is a story book deriving its name from the Hebrew word “to tell”. Because of images of a Rose and a wing, it is presumed that the Hagaddah (a prayerbook containing stories, songs and prayers for the Jewish festival of the Passover) was a wedding gift for Shoshan and Elazar. It was subsequently saved from the Spanish Inquisition and made its way to the “European Jerusalem” that is or was Sarajevo, what Rebecca West described as a city cradled by the mountains “like an opening flower”. At the end of the 19th Century, it came up for sale to a Jewish cultural centre, “La Benevolencia” and was eventually bought by the National Museum, Zemaljski muzej, for about $10,000. And here is the interesting little story that caught my eye…

The Germans invaded Sarajevo, annexing it to the puppet state of Croatia and demanded the book as part of their “Indiana Jones” project to collect and exploit the religious power of assorted talismans. Hitler also planned a “Museum of an Extinct Race” organised by Alfred Rosenberg and this would have been a prized exhibit. Jozo Petrović, the director of the Museum and Derviš Korkut, a dapper curator with a waxed moustache and fez had hatched a plot to protect the book from the Gestapo as well as the Croatia secret police, the Ustashe and the Handjar, the Muslim division of the SS. They believed that as “kustos”, they had responsibility for the book’s survival. The head of the Ustashe was an aggressive Anti-semite who goes down in history saying “Not a stone upon a stone will remain of what once belonged to “the Jews. The city’s eight synagogues were destroyed. When the Obersturmbannfuehrer Johann Fortner requested the book, they said “Oh that’s very odd. Another German officer has just taken it away.” The German asked, “What was his name?” and here was the brilliant reply, “I did not think it my place to ask such a question.” The curator then scrambled out of a window and down a drainpipe, taking the book back home to his wife who was interviewed late in her life about the story.

“I knew he had a book from the library, and that it was very important,” she said. “He said, ‘Take care, don’t tell. No one must know or they’ll kill us and destroy the book.’ ”

The book was promptly hidden under the floorboards of a Mosque in Zenica and was put on public view with liberation in 1945. After the Bosnian war when it was again in danger of destruction, it was restored and has been back on public display since 2002.

Derviš and Servet Korkut not only arranged the hiding of the Haggadah, but also hid a Jewish Ladino-speaking girl who could no longer be sure of her safety with the Yugoslav partisans.  This couple was Albanian and the Albanian Muslims have a code of honour called Besa which obliges them to hospitality and the protection of their guests. Mira Papo was kept as a member of the family, right under the noses of the German soldiers in Sarajevo. Later, I understand that the same Mira Papo, now an old lady in Israel, arranged the safety of Korkut’s daughter during the Bosnian war in 92-95.

Derviš died in 1969 after serving 8 years in solitary confinement for falling foul of General Tito. Servet died last year aged 88.

Defiance in Albania

The principle of Besa is seen in Albania itself. Besa is what motivated Derviš and Servet Korkut. In 1934, the American Ambassador to Albania, Herman Bernstein said, “There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians are divided into three faiths.” Maybe, BECAUSE they are divided into three faiths!

Albania has a long history of tolerance which was briefly compromised during the Enver Hoxha period after the war, but now appears to be as solid as ever, with an Orthodox cathedral rubbing up against the old Mosque in the central square of Tirana. Jews first came to Albania in 70 AD after the fall of Jerusalem, mostly washed up on the shore as escaped captives from the Romans. They build the first synagogue near the Greek city of Βουθρωτόν in Sarande, in Greek Άγιοι Σαράντα, the capital of the Albanian Riviera, pretty well directly opposite the northern villages of Corfu, Nissaki up to Kassiopi, where the English have created Kensington on sea. The Jewish community remained secure but small until the Spanish Inquisition when, like Kosovo, Albania began to welcome fleeing Sepphadis. The false messiah and Kabbalist, Shebbetai Zevi,  (שַׁבְּתַאי צְבִי), took refuge in Albania – of course, by that time he had been forced to convert to Islam (one of the “Dönmeh”) when he was brought before the Sultan Mehmed IV on 15th September 1666. There remain groups of Dönmeh incidentally in Turkey who combine practices and beliefs from Islam and Judaism and were very active as “Young Turks” in bringing about the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Attaturk.

Other Jewish communities developed in Berat and Koritsa. The security offered by Albania led a British scholar Leo Elton, to suggest that Albania might be a better refuge than Israel and a national home free from persecution. As the second world war broke out, and Albania fell under Mussolini, the Italians set up a camp for Jews in Kavaje and a number were sent on to Italy and the gas chambers, but most Jews in Albania survived the holocaust because of the principle of Besa. There are numerous stories of personal sacrifice  because of Besa, and many families competed with one another to outdo the demands of hospitality. A good example is Nuro Hoxha. His son records, “My father sheltered four Jewish families. They all were his friends. I remember my father’s words to those he took in, ‘Now we are one family. You won’t suffer any evil. My sons and I will defend you against peril at the cost of our lives.'” The Kadiu family records, “My father said that the Germans would have to kill his family before he would let them kill our Jewish guests.” Impressive stuff.

“Albania was one of the only European countries that had more Jews at the end of the war than at the beginning of the war,” said Michael Berenbaum, former project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

There is a good summary here:

 

To return to the words of Pope Francis,

“What the experience in Albania shows is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.”

Here is a video of Francis arriving in Tirana. Given the fact that there is a serious death threat from ISIL, this is one brave independently minded man – arriving in an open jeep waving to a pretty impressive crowd. This is not something that would have been done by his two predecessors who are drawn here:

pope background

 

 

mother T, John 23rd and Lubavitcher rebbe

 

One of the most instantly recognisable figures from Albania’s recent Religious past is Mother Theresa. Here is a picture of her together with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Pope John XXIII and for some unaccountable irony, Mr Murdoch and his cronies. It is a still from the film “How to be boss” which won an award for Best Animation in 2012!

A link to “How to be Boss” is here:

 

 

Kim Jong-un

korea KIM

This is a caricature that we did for the little animated film, “How to be Boss”.

Today, the little boy in the background is the Supreme leader of the Democratic People’s republic of Korea. The son of Kim Jong-il and grandson of the founder of modern North Korea, Kim il-Sung. He had been designated premier by the Soviet controllers and called “great leader”. One of his first plans as leader was to invade South Korea which the Soviets anyway regarded as his territory. With Chinese acquiescence, Kim went on to seize Seoul capturing most of the peninsular except for the “Pusan Perimeter”. The US landed in Incheon and mounted a vigorous counter-offensive together with troops from South Korea. Within a month, Seoul had been retaken and then Kim was forced into a major retreat and refuge in China. This led to a Chinese offensive in aid of the North Koreans and the retaking of Seoul in January 1951. The UN counter-attacked in March retaking Seoul. The war lingered on until 1953 with the loss of over 1.2 million lives. Kim resented China’s increasing control of the war as indeed he resented anyone with a strong alliance to any number of people with Chinese connections. The most bizarre of these was Enver Hoxha, the leader of Albania who had openly defied Russia and set up his own Sino-Albanian pact.

Enver Hoxha and “Following Edward Lear”

hoxha

I remember seeing Hoxha’s pyramidal tomb in Tirana. We have been to Albania a few times for the Lear project. Edward Lear was there in 1848 at the end of his journey from Istanbul. As part of our Edward Lear film, we have drawn a view of the Albanian town of Elbassan.

one of Lear's views of Elbassan

one of Lear’s views of Elbassan

 

view of Elbassan from the hills

view of Elbassan from the hills

 

the cypress grove, what belongs of it

the cypress grove, what belongs of it

 

Today, the view that Lear sketched is dominated by a huge Chinese-built factory which is really the only physical result of the Sino-Albanian pact, Hoxha’s alliance with Mao Zedong. Hoxha may not have been a nice man, and his secret police, the Sigurimi has a grim reputation, but he is impressive in the way that he stood up to Russia and lived to tell the tale. In truth, he was defending the indefensible- denouncing reforms by Khrushchev and the demolition of the Stalin cult. He was also, incidentally anxious about meetings that had taken place between the Russian president and Greek politicians who had been campaigning for an independent Northern Epirus. Khrushchev is supposed to have said of Hoxha: “He bared his fangs at us even more menacingly than the Chinese themselves.” To this comment went the response from a Spanish delegate at the conference to the effect that Hoxha is a dog that bites the hand that feeds it. Russian economic aid stopped but was replaced by considerable aid from China. In 1979, Hoxha responded to the resentment oozing out of North Korea. He said, “In Pyongyang, I believe that even Tito will be astonished at the proportions of the cult of his host, which has reached a level unheard of anywhere else, either in past or present times, let alone in a country which calls itself socialist.”

There is a rather funny video doing the rounds on Youtube. You can find it here-