Colston versus Lenin – Using the Right Channels

Protesters taking down Colston statue. Bristol, UK / 7 Jun 2020

A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down during an anti-racism protest in Bristol. The incident opened an ideological war in my household. We go over the pros and the cons of public disorder acts, we discuss the moral arguments which might justify or condemn these acts, while the Home Secretary, Priti Patel stands in Parliament reproving the thuggery committed by the Bristolian mob. Mayor Marvin Rees takes to national media to disapprove the protesters’ acts of violence during the past weekend. Social media is blasting. Opinion is split. Some ask for prosecution of violent mobsters, others express a sense of connection with the symbolic point made by protesters.

In Bristol, Colston’s statue went down in a matter of minutes, with the authorities’ disapproval. I remember that it took Ukraine 27 years to decide the removal of the infamous statues of Lenin from all its towns and villages. In 2017, all 1,307 statues went down, quietly and slowly, as a sign that Ukraine was finally ready to condemn its pro-soviet past, and to move on. The Ukrainian government went further and renamed streets, urban areas, parks, schools, in a national attempt to heal past injustice and loss of lives during the Soviet Era.

Ukrainians witnessing Lenin’s statue being taken down by local authorities. Aug. 2017

At my dinner table, the conversation is about the role of a peaceful protest in well-established democracies, as the Home Secretary carries on with her speech about the peaceful dialogue which needs to happen in our society. I’m reminded that we have structures in place to make peaceful changes under the common law, and following policies and procedures that safeguard equality in this country. There is a well-known corporate jargon about ‘using the right channels’ which is invoked on occasions when discrimination and inequality are at the centre of disputes between people, groups, societies, organisations.

Each private, public, voluntary, religious organisation, each workplace, each adult, teenager and child knows at least one principle of equality.  And yet, the more we know, the wider the social divide feels to those who have been, at least once, at the receiving end of inequality, of discrimination or injustice.

If we were equal, we should not need to be taught equality by the Home Secretary, as it would be an inherent quality of our social actions. Yet, Power teaches equality lessons using the boot of law against ‘thugs’, ‘criminals’, ‘mobsters’. A sign that we are not ready to recognise the injustice and its roots, nor to break free from past mistakes.

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020

Gallery

Black Talks

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020


Photography: © John Stadnicki

Fruit Season

Gloucestershire, Midlands, UK / May 2020

I figure out that if you live by water and feel hungry, it takes an afternoon of chewing yesterday’s leftovers to feel mud on your tongue. And if a passer-by gives you a bad apple, you ought to be thankful, appreciate what you’ve got, watching others dying of starvation. But when you hear that the well-wisher was God, which happened to be running late for a meeting in the nearby mansion, you wish you had spat the rotting fruit back at Him. God could have done better. By then it is too late. The meeting He was rushing to would be running on and on for years. For as long as your lifetime.

© Maria Stadnicka, May 2020

Grandfather Talks Modernity

© JStadnicki 1995

During the 80s, grandfather had the habit of listening to Radio Free Europe on a crackling wireless which worked only if bashed about a few times. I understood very little of what was said in news bulletins and documentaries, but some words kept coming up in conversations he’d have with friends at the village pub. Over a couple of beers, it felt as if their banter about freedom, dictatorship, justice was a disguised form of perversity which made no sense to me at that time.

Even now, recollecting those Friday catch-ups, their invectives sound pointless, though I’ve tried numerous times to find out what they were actually upset about. It must have been in the mid 90s, after grandfather died, when searching through a pile of his old stuff I found this:

Modern dictatorships come about gradually through policies which limit the access to information, books, art, and support an education system reliant on overheads, statistical outcomes and hierarchical leagues. They emerge in communities that support equality and diversity while slowly reducing the means which offer disadvantaged people and their families the benefit of services with real impact to their lives.

Modern dictatorships embed themselves in services which monitor and limit freedom of speech, and flag out people who disagree (or have the potential to disagree) with official discourses; they also produce political directives to serve partisan interests, while dominating the public discourse with narratives designed to create fear and panic.

Modern dictatorships ask citizens to report friends, colleagues, neighbours, and scrutinise differences between people instead of promoting inclusion and common purpose; they also make people obsess over how bad things can be, when they should stimulate creativity and learning. If people are born equal, they should develop equally. This cannot happen when they are scared. There is no progress after punishment, just pain and bitterness.

 

© Maria Stadnicka 2020


Published in International Times on 1st February 2020.

Man versus Institution – the Narrative of Despair

Photograph: ©John Stadnicki 2018

In recent months, I have been visiting my local surgery on a weekly basis and it has become a matter of routine to book visits and then wait my turn to be seen and checked. A matter of luck to have so many appointments, but not so lucky to have to report the effects all this prescribed medication have on me and then to find out that everything has been recorded, that the doctor has noticed if I washed my hair or not, or if I wear black, too much of it, or if I smiled or not. But then who cares anyway. I am the number written in all my medical history and my number defines my apprehension to allergies and infections.

It is the flu season, therefore busy. This morning a woman takes her nail file from her handbag and finishes her manicure just before she is called in. A man in his thirties, in a dark grey suit, with muddy brogues, on the phone with someone called Helen organises his daily appointments. The person sitting next to me finishes a BLT and wipes his hands on my chair then keeps on texting.  The waiting room, packed. At 11 o’clock, twenty-two people in waiting, talking, texting, arguing, having coffee. Busier here than the bus station just across the road. And these people, most of them, look lonely. And for this, we now have a new solution and a new scope.

This week the Cabinet announced a new appointment. A minister for loneliness in response to a documented increase in mental health cases, to a reported sense of disconnection and social isolation. According to figures published by The Guardian, we are talking here about nine million people, which is a significant slice of loneliness in the British society. Furthermore, NHS Digital shows that prescriptions for antidepressants reached an all-time high with over 64 million items dispensed in 2016. And this represents a massive 108.5% increase in a period of ten years.

This is a clear indication that we now institutionalise loneliness spending billions on pharmaceutical companies when very few alternative solutions are available to the local communities. We witness a serious lack of professional support for people suffering from mental health issues, although it is statistically recognised that one person in five is affected, at some point in their life, by mental health issues. Yes, about the time to do something about it. But what the government is choosing to do is to add to the amount of bureaucratic garbage the ministerial departments produce on a weekly basis, without concrete results or impact at the deeper levels of our society. Let’s talk further numbers.

A minister cashes in over £141,000 a year, without bonuses, travel and communication expenses, without the support staff and other technological aids. You could double or triple the sum and easily get over the half a million threshold. A mental health nurse’s annual income, at the beginning of their career, barely touches £22,000. My local surgery, or others across the UK, could easily benefit from employing further ten newly qualified nurses or a few therapists. I live in a small community where resources are stretched and stretched further and where, at times, waiting for hours to be seen by a practitioner has become an acceptable rule.

Who benefits from a new ministerial portfolio when it is historically demonstrated that no institution has ever protected the individual, when, actually, the institution is there to protect itself through complicity to a policy of silence against corruption, error and monetary gains?

I want a Ministry of Despair!

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018