Saturday, 30 January 2021

Eduardo Vivancos RIP

In December life long CNT member, Spanish civil war fighter, member of the exile resistance and worker Esperantist Eduardo VIvancos passed away at the age of 100.

There's not much about him in English as he mostly wrote and spoke in Spanish, Esperanto and Catalan, the only thing I know of is an article in the Fifth Estate

so I'll sketch out a brief biography using the wikis and my memory as a guide.

Born in Catalunya in 19th September 1920, Eduardo managed to complete elementary school before having to continue his studies in the evenings after work in the Barcelona Ateneos (workers schools). In 1935 at the age of 15 he joined the CNT and would remain a member until his death. During the early days of the Spanish civil war he continued to study in the cultural centres and workers schools and learnt among other things Esperanto which was very popular amongst many Spanish socialists and Anarchists at the time. In 1938 the war deteriorated for the Republic and so he and some fellow young students volunteered to serve in a battalion of the 26th division of the Durruti Column, while at the front Vivancos ended up in a circle of Esperantists including the battalion commander Ginés Martínez and would teach the language to other combatants.

In 1939 with the defeat of the Republic Vivancos went into exile in France, he would be transferred from multiple concentration camps for Spanish refugees and in the process would lose contact with his family. He would not meet his mother and sister again until 1947 after World War II. He would meet his future wife Ramona amongst the fellow Spanish exiles and would marry in 1945 and have two children together, Floreal and Talia.

Also in the aftermath of WWII the Spanish Libertarian movement began to reorganise in France and worked to reconnect with members and friends and family still in Fascist Spain. As part of that work Eduardo and other exiled Esperantists established the Esperanto newspaper Senŝtatano (Anti-statist). Initially the paper and its correspondence service was used to reconnect the exile community with other Anarchists and Libertarian socialists around the world to complement similar outreach initiatives in Spanish and French. It was quite successful, while corresponding and collaborating with other Esperanto speaking Libertarians in particular the Japanese Anarchist Taiji Yamaga the network was able to share news and build links. In particular Eduardo was able to translate the Dao De Qing by Lao Tsu into Spanish.

After a short time Senŝtatano would exploit the ambiguous status of Esperanto in Franco's Spain and the lack of interest in it from the authorities. Spanish exiles would use its correspondence service to send messages to family and friends still inside Spain, getting past the censors.

In 1954 he and his family emigrated to Canada and remained active in the Libertarian and Esperanto movements, in particular SAT. He would return to Spain in 1976 with the crumbling of the fascist regime, and reunite with many old friends and comrades. He remained in Canada but continued to regularly visit Spain and Catalunya and was still active in both the libertarian cultural and educational circles and Esperanto teaching.

He past away on the 30th December 2020 leaving behind his family, many essays and letters, his translation of the Dao De Qing and the Esperanto book Unu lingvo por ĉiuj: Esperanto One Language for Everyone, Esperanto,

Friday, 29 January 2021

The Documentary the Queen tried to bury resurfaces - The Royal Family


Back in 1969 the BBC and the Royal Family got together and decided on collaborating on a behind the scenes style documentary on the lives of the Royals and there work in the Palace and duties as representatives of the British state. It was a major success attracting 30 million views, however it also caused the Queen to panic and use her powers and connections at the BBC to have the film suppressed and stored in the royal archives, it was taken off the air in 1972 and the only way to see the film was to get permission from the royal family (well their staff in reality) effectively consigning the film to obscurity. Until this month when it was leaked onto the web.

Its worth quoting from the wiki page

"Royal Family (also known as The Royal Family[1]) is a British television documentary about the family of Queen Elizabeth II. It originally aired on BBC One and ITV in June 1969.[2][3] The film attracted over 30 million viewers in the United Kingdom. The Queen later had the documentary banned, and it has not been shown again on TV since 1972, and access to the remaining copy was severely restricted. Despite this, in early 2021 it was leaked, and published online.[4]"

Royal Family has been accused of revealing too much about the royals. David Attenborough – at the time, controller of BBC Two – warned Cawston that his film was in danger of "killing the monarchy".[8] The film critic Milton Shulman wrote "every institution that has so far attempted to use TV to popularise or aggrandise itself has been trivialised by it".[15]

A review in The Times concluded that Cawston's film had given the nation "an intimate understanding of what members of the Royal Family are like as individual people without jeopardising their dignity or losing the sense of distance".[19] The journalist and broadcaster Peregrine Worsthorne remarked "Initially the public will love seeing the Royal Family as not essentially different from anyone else … but in the not-so-long run familiarity will breed, if not contempt, familiarity".[12]

In later years, some blamed the film for a growing lack of deference towards the monarchy. However, William Heseltine had no regrets, calling it "a fantastic success".

Seems really exciting and damming, "killing the monarchy" and its not even my birthday. Unfortunately the BBC is still actively trying to shutdown the spread of the film, uploading it to youtube quickly results in a takedown and the more well known alternative streaming platforms are also not particularly safe. Fortunately they haven't got to them all, its up on the Eye

And can be downloaded, I strongly recommend you do so if you're interested in seeing it, in case of further action. This film has been the victim of over 40 years of grudges from some of the most powerful people in the British establishment after all. 

Anyway with all that said it may be a surprise to read that having watched the film in its entirety there isn't really anything that on first glance would explain the hostile attitude by the authorities to the film. There is no smoking gun scene where the Royals and the Queen in particular being openly evil or transparently corrupt. There are scenes of luxury and opulence that to me make them look bad, but nothing special, and most of it like the jewels from India are openly flaunted to create a sense of splendour and majesty. There's also footage of a Royal visit to Brazil which means the royal family were hobnobbing with a military dictatorship. That could potentially have been damaging and controversial but the royals hosting or visiting brutal despots isn't exactly rare and the doc fails to even mention the political situation in Brazil, its just another opportunity for photos and crowd cheering. Large sections of it seem indistinguishable from the mountains of pro royal guff that gets recorded and broadcast on a nearly daily basis here.

But I do get why they tried to bury the film. While it doesn't demonise them it does possible the next worst thing and normalises them. Instead of being depicted as sober and wise benevolent stewards of the nation and their subjects, which is what the royal family want everyone to see them as, they come across as bureaucrats dedicated to their jobs, and do to the circumstances of their surroundings a bit pompous and at times whiny and very, very out of their depth, to the point they struggle to understand how the world works in the 1960s. God knows how much hand holding they need nowadays. 

There's a section very early on that introduces Prince Phillip to the film and he struggles to understand how to proceed with a royal visit to a school (in Cambridge naturally) even though he's reading the typed out instructions that are walking him through it stage by stage. He has to contact a servant on a special intercom system and have him talk him through it and he still doesn't sound sure of what they want him to do.

And the Queen isn't much better, she sounds lost and confused in most interactions even with her long time staff and some visitors of high rank. Nearly every conversation even between themselves comes across as awkward and stiff. There is also a strong focus on many of the ceremonies that surround the palace and the other royal estates, again there isn't much out of the ordinary from the countless other fawning films that the royal's approve of in terms of content, its trooping of colours, garden parties, royal visits and royal audiences etc. Would is different and actually caught me by surprise when I first watched it was how matter of fact and dry it was about the whole thing. There's no attempt to romanticise any of it, its happening the narrator explains in detail how it happens and an explanation from why it happens and why its done the way it is, which most of the time is just "Queen Victoria did it this way so we're still doing it like this".

What stood out to me was an early example of a royal audience with the poet Robert Graves, the whole thing is given a sort conveyor belt feel, then after that its on to a garden party that's planned and operated just like hundreds of other garden parties like it every year. Another highlight is a montage of royal visits that cuts quite aggressively between Prince Phillip, the Queen and Prince Charles, all of them essentially just looking at things (cows in Ulster, military Jets, oil rigs, etc) and occasionally making inane conversation. Its clear they either have no understanding of most of these things or just don't care, which to me struck me with strong sense of pointless going through the motions. 

And then there's the servants. If this film had a thesis statement it would be the Royal Family an archaic institution adapting to life in the 20th century. There is plenty of evidence that most of the Royals are struggling with that but the biggest sign that the adaptation is working well is the servants. We see a lot of how the serving staff perform their duties and its extremely incongruous. Most of them work in ways hard to distinguish from modern office staff, manning phones, preparing reports, arranging appointments etc, but on top of that they're still burdened with protocols and customs that date back many decades because they were decided by Monarchs long dead. Like the Page of the Backstairs (yes really, that is a job and its official title) his job is to deliver to the Queen state papers, while on a Royal Yacht he and other crew on deck must wear soft shoes and use hand signals to preserve their masters quiet. How are these state papers delivered to a yacht at sea? By helicopter, a big noisy Navy helicopter.

Its largely this pattern from start to finish, there's no real major moment of damage its just little moments cutting into the royal propaganda, like the segment where a secretary as part of his duties presents the Queen with a certificate for a state honour (gallantry I think) and while she signs it the secretary gives her a quick summary of the achievements of the recipient and she makes vague noises of admiration. Its clear she has no idea who these people are, but these are the people we are officially supposed to celebrate and admire for their great deeds. I imagine that stung a few people who were proud of holding various medals and honours.

So alas its no bomb at the foundations of the crown, but it could chip away at it quite a bit. And if both the BBC and the royals are still dedicated to suppressing it, watching and sharing it can't hurt. 

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