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Celtic Europe, Battling Bigotry From Left And Right

Oi Polloi
Oi Polloi

There is an influential theory held by an extremist minority on the Far Left of European politics which opposes a plurality of languages and cultures in Europe because it impedes (as they would claim) the development of a common group identity amongst the working classes on the continent, an identity that that would transcend historic national boundaries and borders. In this view anything that smacks of “ethnicity“, however benign or open, is a barrier to the establishment of a unified and cosmopolitan proletariat. In times past the German language was seen as the natural mechanism by which this could be achieved, the logical outgrowth of the nation’s industrial dominance and growing left-wing radicalism in the 19th century. After WWI and the establishment of the USSR the Russian language came to dominate, albeit with a degree of chauvinism perhaps not so readily apparent in its Teutonic predecessor. Now the English language is regarded as the new lexicon of the desired socialist utopia (though ironically anglophone supremacism finds just as welcome a home amongst ideologues on the Far Right in Britain, the United States and elsewhere).

One bizarre aspect of this dogmatic myopia in the heart of Mittleeuropa is the so-called Antideutsch or anti-German movement, a myriad outgrowth of the labyrinthine Marxist-Leninist politics of Germany and Austria. It shares the tenets of some on the Far Left in its suspicion of minority languages and cultures, particularly those that are believed to run counter to majority languages and their homogenising role in world society. This perhaps explains the decision by the organisers of a politically-orientated music festival in eastern Germany to ban the attendance of Oi Polloi, a well-known anarchist-punk group from Scotland that produces songs in the Scottish Gaelic and English languages. It was the former tongue that apparently spurred the decision to prevent their performance. Now we have an update from Oi Polloi on the controversy:

“”Banned for singing in Gaelic” UPDATE: Today we heard that the German “Kulturzentrum” that “banned” our March 1st concert there because we sing in Gaelic is standing by its refusal to let us play but still without a public explanation for this frankly sickening discrimination against minority language speakers. As an internationalist band who campaign in support of diversity, multiculturalism and the linguistic human rights of minority language speakers, we are determined not to let such bigotry and discrimination go unchallenged. As such we repeat our call for a boycott of the so-called “Kulturzentrum” Horte in Strausberg and would encourage others who disagree with the banning of artists on cultural/linguistic grounds to contact the venue via the e-mail address on the link below to let them know your views. There can be no place for racism or discrimination in the alternative/punk scene and we and other speakers of threatened minority indigenous languages will NOT be silenced.

We also hope to have good news very soon about an alternative concert for March 1st in a venue where speakers of all languages are welcome in an atmosphere free of prejudice or bigotry. GEGEN ALLE DISKRIMINIERUNG! “KULTURZENTRUM” HORTE BOYKOTTIEREN!”

Incredibly such prejudices can also be found amongst Far Left activists here in Ireland some of whom regard the Irish language, the indigenous language of this island nation, as an impediment to the development of a “pan-European class consciousness”. Indeed in the past I have heard a member of the Socialist Party argue vociferously that Irish-speakers through their “wilful rejection” of the English language are “reactionaries” and “tribalists”. Similar arcane views are to be found amongst some in the SWP-PBP grouping, as reflected in the complete indifference of elected TD Richard Boyd Barrett to Irish language rights when quizzed on RTÉ some years ago. Even in Scotland that migratory demagogue of the wayward left, George Galloway, has taken in recent times to attacking Scottish-speakers with the charge of “Obscurantism”.

George Chittick displaying the best of British and anglophone culture in Ireland. Lord be praised!
George Chittick displaying the best of British and anglophone culture in Ireland. Lord be praised!

However, as I pointed out above, such poisonous views are just as virulent on Europe’s Far Right and that is reflected in this story from the Irish Independent newspaper:

“A senior member of the Orange Order who claimed the Irish language was used by republicans for political purposes has been criticised.

An Irish language development officer in east Belfast said many people were upset by the remarks of George Chittick, the order’s Belfast County Grand Master.

Linda Ervine said: “I know a lot of people who have been angered and offended.”

Mr Chittick told a loyalist rally in north Belfast yesterday: “A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish… it’s part of the republican agenda.”

He later said his remarks were aimed at those seeking funding for Irish language projects rather than financial aid for projects which would generate jobs.

Ms Ervine, a development officer at an Irish language centre in east Belfast and who is married to Brian Ervine, a former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, said she was surprised by what Mr Chittick said.”

Ironically as a member of a fundamentalist Protestant and British nationalist organisation that promotes anti-Catholicism in the north-east of Ireland George Chittick might find some common ground with religiously-minded folk elsewhere in the country, albeit from a Roman Catholic background. Some lines from an article in the local Limerick Leader:

“Now if I may be allowed to make an even more irreligious proposal to that propounded by the Minister, let me suggest that if primary schoolteachers find that they haven’t enough hours in the day for extra classes in numeracy and literacy, maybe they should consider taking a few minutes from the four hours a week spent teaching the Irish language, which does little for our literacy or numeracy problems, and, as far as I’m concerned, nothing at all to enhance our chances of getting into Heaven. You won’t find Ruairi Quinn making a suggestion like that for fear he’d really be burned at the stake of nationalistic fervour.

On the other hand, if the Department of Education really wants to improve the literacy and literary skills of primary schoolchildren, I can’t think of a better way of doing it than by encouraging them to read the Bible.”

Even those who claim to be the greatest advocates of equality and pluralism in Western society cannot but help reveal themselves to be Anglophone illiberals in faux liberal dress once the issue of Ireland’s indigenous language is raised. For how else would you describe the views expressed in the otherwise oh-so correct publication “Other People’s Diasporas: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Cultureas highlighted in it’s Irish Times review:

“…Moynihan questions in another chapter why Des Bishop’s embrace of the Irish language does not highlight the “historical baggage – of nationalism and separatism some would say borders on xenophobia – it brings with it”, but there is no reason why Irish speakers should be any more xenophobic than speakers of other languages.”

Unless of course the observer is a partisan for English. For only in Ireland (or Scotland and Wales) could a colonised people attempting to undue centuries of linguistic and cultural damage to their identity be presented as xenophobes for not wishing to speak the language of their former colonial masters. Obviously the free marketeer and neo-liberal view of multiculturalism only extends to the “right kinds” of culture. In that the New Left and the New Right find a common voice.

[With thanks to An Lorcánach, Daithí Mac Lochlainn, Club Leabhar NYC, Méabh and others]

27 comments on “Celtic Europe, Battling Bigotry From Left And Right

  1. Tá cuid acu cosúil leis An Borg #StarTrek.
    Nó cosúil leis na Stepford Wives.
    Iad a iarraidh bheith ‘assimilated.’
    Nó cosúil leis na mná a bhíonn ag iarraidh bheith cosúil le Barbie

    Ach nuair a fhéachann gach duine mar an gcéanna níl duine ar bith dathúil níos mó.
    Ní sheasann aon duine amach agus chaith siad an t-airgead sin go léir ag iarraidh bheith dathúil le bheith leadránach agus seafóideach sa deireadh.
    Tá ár dteanga i gcontúirt agus tá cúnamh uaithi.
    Súil agam go spreagfaidh na ionsaithe seo suim sa teanga arís agus Gaeilge le cloisteáil sa Dáil agus ar na sráideanna.
    Resistance is NOT Futile. It is essential.
    Níl ciall ag na daoine seo atá ag caitheamh anuas orainn. Caithfear iad a stopadh.
    Ná tabhair leithscéal ná spás dóibh agus glaoigh amach an dochar a dhéanann siad go poiblí.
    Maith thú. Buíoch.


    • Someone active in a well-known Irish language organisation recently asked me what I thought would be the most effective way of highlighting to the general public the ongoing dilution of legal and civic rights for Irish-speaking communities and citizens. A PR exercise that would “actually work”, that would have a “real impact” and make “a difference”. My reply was this:

      Take one hundred young men and women, all Irish-speaking volunteers, and on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day have them chain themselves in a line across O’Connell Street while dressed in bright orange boiler suits, mouths sealed with gags, with placards reading “Second-Class Irish, Second-Class Rights” around their necks. And then get the cameras of the world’s media to record and report it all with half the Irish government sitting on a platform twenty metres away.

      Needless to say he was horrified at the prospect. Apparently the Irish language movement isn’t ready for “Greenpeace tactics”. Until it is too late that is.


      • an lorcánach

        maith thú, a shionnaigh: the st patrick’s day organising group in dublin (publicly funded in the main) already have “political” advocacy groups barred from participating – your idea is outstanding and senior cycle gaelscoileanna and third level Irish language groups should plan for it somehow – where’s there a will…!


        • Lorcánach, he asked for something “different” and he got it. Unfortunately I think it scared the hell out of him (which is fair enough). The idea itself is so blindingly obvious, staging peaceful if visible demonstrations on St. Patrick’s Day with the world’s media camped in Dublin, that I’m surprised that no one thought of it before. It is a PR spectacular that writes itself.


          • And what do you think it will achieve?
            Will people start to learn Irish en masse?

            Btw the government has some ambitious plans:
            Is that actually working in practice?
            They have 16 years left to get to 2 million Irish speakers somehow.


            • an lorcánach

              i’ll let sionnach tackle that as i’m too old to give a monkey’s – let alone believe – any dublin government’s initiative on the language: if you don’t believe me, jānis, have a read in english of what the Irish Language Commissioner had to say —


              referenced by Eoin Ó Riain via Sionnach

              and irish times editorial (9/12/13)


              • Why didn’t he mention the private sector anywhere?


              • Hi Jānis, the 20 Year Strategy is actually a diluted version of an earlier and far more comprehensive report. It was reduced to a sketched-out plan, minimal commitment and resources, to satisfy anti-Irish views in the civil service and government parties. However since it was announced the Fine Gael-Labour government has reduced all the targets in it once again, has withdrawn or lessened funding for the project, and it is now effectively “parked” for all the ambitious stuff. The only parts being implemented are those related to cost reductions, amalgamations and the withdrawal of services from certain Irish-speaking communities judged as no longer viable or left to support themselves (somehow).

                A young Gaeltacht resident told me last year that the Strategy was “ethnic cleansing” through neglect. Despite the hyperbole I find it hard to disagree with him.


      • Reminds me of a slogan from ’68 that’s maybe worth reviving : Don’t Talk, Occupy! 😉


  2. I’d like to see confirmation of the reason Oi Polloi were banned from the venue organisers themselves. So far only assertion from the band I believe. I have seen suggestions the real reason was their burning of Israeli flags. They also have a lot of anti-Nazi references. Seems there could be many reasons for the ban?


    • Yes, I agree. There is some confusion over the reasons for the blocking of the Oi Polloi gig and I expressed caution in my initial post on the controversy. However the band are adamant that the ban is attributable to their use of Gaelic lyrics and that no other matters were raised with them. Scottish blogger Tocasaid who is better plugged into the European punk scene than me seems convinced of the extremist Far Left anti-minority angle. I have seen similar reported on other forums. I shall certainly update if I hear anything different.


    • Gaelic is the only reason so far given. My German is basic to say the least but Ruairidh, Oi Polloi’s singer, is fluent in it and uses it as a medium when playing there. I understand that more than one representative of the Horte youth centre have stated that Oi Polloi’s Gaelic songs were the main sticking point in the view of the plenum that rubberstamps events in Horte. There seems to be another update on Polloi’s Facebook page so it may be worth checking that.

      Certainly, I’ve contacted them to query their decision and have yet to hear back from them.

      If the Horte people do turn out be ‘weird’ anti-Deutch leftists then they can add the likes of the Orange Order to their other ‘progressive’ soulmates such as Blair and Bush – who apparently fought the Iraq war to destroy anti-Semitism(!).



      • The politics of Germany’s ultra-left never fail to surprise. Its like stepping back to the 1960s or ’70s. But then the ultra-right are not that different either. Both are trapped in ideological time warps. But the Antideutsch thing took me by surprise. And I’ve dealt with the Italian Left! 😉


  3. an lorcánach

    too bleedin’ right, sionnach: the guy’s deluded – and a wuss! Look West! – no one expects 19thc dynamiteers to reck up the place but sure think about all those Yanks coming over: sunkissed ding-dongs parading and speaking Irish to Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh – sweet! B-)


  4. A reblogué ceci sur jfjoubertet a ajouté:
    Excellent texte!


  5. Jorge Miguel

    Great entry. This is an issue that has pushed me away from much of the left.


    • I have had the same experience.

      The view that “nationalism” and left-wing politics are incompatible is more often than not the argument of people who are themselves left-wing “majority nationalists” in opposition to “minority nationalists”. The most obvious example is members of the British Labour Party condemning “tribal” nationalism in Scotland and Wales while themselves espousing the virtues of British “civic” nationalism. The whole debate is shrouded in cant and hypocrisy.

      Personally I have always regarded myself as a social-democrat, a left-of-centre pluralist and liberal. That is what informs my progressive republicanism along with my determination to restore my nation’s indigenous language and culture after centuries of colonial and post-colonial damage. Hence I am a Gaelic Republican.

      It is also why I sympathise with and support many other nationalities and indigenous peoples around Europe and the world. Their struggle is my struggle.


  6. “For only in Ireland (or Scotland and Wales) could a colonised people attempting to undue centuries of linguistic and cultural damage to their identity be presented as xenophobes for not wishing to speak the language of their former colonial masters”.

    Not only. It is the same in Cornwall. Our language is the other Celtic language on the charter that you haven’t mentioned, and nowhere else has the colonial bigotry and linguistic prejudiced been felt harder than here, and is still felt. Kernewek is beginning to re-emerge slowly after more than 500 years of persecution, but even despite being added to the charter in 2002 it never recieved funding until 2005, and despite much hope and expectation has still not entered schools as part of a multi-cultural curriculum. With the mechanisms of devolution and sovereignty available in the other Celtic nations, at least there is some ability to steer the fate of the indigenous languages, however for the Cornsh, there is not yet this ability, and therefore all this hard work coud be undone very easily if funding were to be cut off entirely.


    • @Gour Kernow,

      I absolutely agree and apologies for not including Cornwall. There is an obvious need for a Cornish Language Act (and devolved Assembly). Good to see that MK seems to be gaining some traction amongst young Cornish people. What of course is needed is money to fund the organisation and its campaigns if it is to exploit growing unease with Westminster and the Lib-Dems. There is the hope of a gap opening up in the Cornish electoral market with Clegg and co. being so unpopular (not to mention the Tories). But it needs a BIG push to stop everything defaulting to Labour or the Greens/Independents. I wonder has MK thought of reaching out to the Cornish diaspora, as small and disperse as that is?


    • an lorcánach

      well said gour: always imagined cornwall was deliberately ignored (and absorbed into the ‘west country’) in the debate on regional devolutions of ‘new labour’, perhaps especially as it was under the long shadow of the prince of wales’ landholdings’…..


    • John Mitchel

      ‘Proper job! It’s England that’s cut off from that’s cut off from Cornwall, not the other way round way round’


    • A Gowedh. Don’t even get me started on how the authorities subverted the Cornish language and used it’s Charter recognition as a way of setting faction against faction, creating problems where none existed or where they were relatively minor, playing divide and rule, undermining a previously successful voluntary movement, wasting most of the cash, and all on a vague promise of “co-operate and you’ll have the language in the schools”. Well it was already in the schools in a small way and afaik nothing very much has changed. Cornish on the signposts? There was already, and again there is very little change. All tokenism and bureaucratic hogwash. Officialdom takes over previously voluntary rôles and then quietly shuts them down. The worst part was watching many people of good will being led up the garden path. Yn gwiryonedh nyns eus genen ni Maga mes Taga. The worst part is that there is no militancy in Cornwall, either for the language or for devolution. Sowedh, mes ny welav meur a dermyn-a-dheu rag Kernow. Y tal dhymm mos arta bys y’n Alban 😦


  7. French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, darling of the alternative Engli…I mean British left is also well known for his hostility towards Frances minority languages. One to keep an eye on. He is a populist who wants to appeal to the mass of monoligual working class French, tempted to vote for Le Pen, who perhaps are just a little resentful of those who can speak other languages. He is appealing to French nationlism by picking on a minorities but he has chosen minorities that are invisible and therefore open game. Clever really.


    • Indeed, Mélenchon has rightly been castigated for his double-speak on the Breton and other minority languages in France. In many ways France is far worse than Britain in terms of the rights of minority peoples. One must recognise London’s acceptance of Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, whatever the motives or however hesitantly (though the Cornish are still waiting). It is something deserving of praise. However it is just the first step. France looks incapable of even doing that much 😦


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