Saturday, October 29, 2016


"[This] article offers an historical anthropological study of a little-known, mostly Turkish-Sephardi population that settled in Barcelona at the beginning of the twentieth century, attracted by the commercial dynamism of the area around the San Antonio Market. 

The complete disappearance of the community in the early 1940s has made it more difficult to reconstruct its history than is the case with some other Jewish communities in Spain. 

Through oral history testimonies and the location of several dispersed sources, this article provides new ethnographic and historical information that contributes to recovering the memory of this Jewish community. 

The study is also an attempt to explain the reasons behind the departure of most of the community's members in the early 1940s, after more than 20 years of settlement and integration in the city of Barcelona. 

It shows how the new conditions introduced by the Francoist authorities had a direct impact on the ability of community members to make a living. 

The restrictions forced them first to ask for help from the international organizations which were helping European refugees and ultimately to leave the country."

Read more from source article here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Corbyn is right. Migrants don’t drive down wages"

"In his recent speech to Labour Party conference Jeremy Corbyn said, “It isn’t migrants that drive down wages, it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.” 

This is...entirely correct. It is probably the best statement ever made by a Labour leader on this issue.
It used to be regularly argued, and not just by far right or fascist groups, that immigrant workers take British workers' jobs. This has more recently been supplanted with the notion that migrant labour has driven down wages. Both are equally wrong.

The claims that immigrants take jobs became harder to sustain as the level of the overseas migrant population reached record highs in Britain at the same time as a record high level of employment overall and a record high for employment of UK-born workers. 

Even so, the most recent Tory party conference tried to revive the racist claims, with lists of foreign workers, removing overseas doctors from the NHS and prioritising immigration controls over economic prosperity. Some of these have already fallen apart while they would all be deeply damaging to the UK economy, as well as fanning the flames of racism.
In fact, as shown in Chart 1 [above] the record number of migrant workers now coincides with a record employment rate for workers in the UK. 

Since the beginning of 1997 the number of migrant (non-UK born) workers in the UK has risen from just under 2 million to nearly 5.5 million in mid-2016. At the same time the employment rate of workers in the UK has risen from 70.8% to 74.5%, a new all-time high (the unemployment rate is also close to its all-time low at 4.9%). No-one is having their job taken by a migrant worker."

Read more from source here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Video: Latest appearance on a panel program

Last night I was once again a guest on Matthew Tree's TV round table discussion show, Our Finest Hour

Along with the authors Simon Harris and Carmen Amorós we talked about (in reverse order) Russia and the bombing of Aleppo, Donald Trump (of course,) far-right and anti-Fascist groups demonstrating on the Spanish National Day, the Catalan towns that defied central government orders to close council offices on this same holiday and [a pet subject of mine]...Albania!

Friday, October 7, 2016

"Cohencentric" - My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

Finishing a long biography of the long, long life of the singer/songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, something occurred to me the other day. 

Here was a man who had toiled away on his work year after year, suffering from regular periods of depression, only to become commercially successful across the globe after the age of sixty.

Cohen had been a well-known figure in his native Canada and much of Europe since the 1970s but that massive market of the USA had largely ignored the richly dark and sombre images that filled his music and writing; this despite the fact that he has lived in California on and off for most of his now eighty one years on the planet.

What I admire, just as much as the penetrating insight of his wordcraft, is Cohen’s resilience against the storms of our existence (his father died when he was only eight years old) and his resolute persistence in being the artist that he wanted to be. He was, and most probably still is, an extremely generous man who rarely took on the egotistical trappings of the standard popstar.

After being born into a wealthy family, he always lived in small houses and in fact spent many years of disciplined silence and contemplation in a Buddhist monastery. Over time, he learned to embrace his own imperfections and saw that this was how the universe is constructed too. 

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” he wrote: a phrase now used by a number of psychologists to counsel their patients.

For much of his free time though, Cohen had been a womaniser and used drugs such as speed and alcohol to keep him going but in his later years the love of a wonderful woman collaborator helped him find a satisfaction and contentment that eludes so many of us in middle-age. 

More than almost any other contemporary singer, he was intent on bringing female singers from the background into sharing centre stage in his recordings and his songs benefit greatly from this.

Around the same time he had every dollar of his earnings stolen by a former lover (whom he had trusted) and an accountant who exploited her. After years of gruelling court cases he was able to get back some of his money but reluctantly, he went back on the road to tour again after a decade and a half of avoiding playing to live audiences. 

To his surprise, this time he loved it in a way he never had before. The wider public loved it too, as shown by his sell-out world tours since 2007 (that included Zaragoza-born band member Javier Mas.)

Always a spiritual man and often superstitious (his outlook combined his family’s Judaism with aspects of Hinduism and a taste for bible myths) today, he remains an inspiration to writers and musicians as diverse as Judy Collins and Jeff Buckley. 

There are over three thousand versions of his songs recorded by other artists. One of the most beautiful songs of the twentieth century was at least partly written about Leonard Cohen. I must have listened hundreds of times to the soaring vocals of Joni Mitchell in “A Case of You”:

“On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
And I sketched your face on it twice.”

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, October 2016.]

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"Polish Pro-Choice Protest Movement Prepares Nationwide Strike [today] 'Black Monday' "

"Poland is readying for a massive general strike on October 3, as part of the next stage of a protest movement against legislation strengthening the national ban on abortion. Activists in Germany are also preparing solidarity actions.

Polish women's rights activists announced a nationwide strike of female workers intended to bring Polish society and the economy to a standstill on October 3.

The strike is a continuation of the “Black Protest”, a massive reaction to the government's latest plan to increase the severity of the anti-abortion law by including stipulations such as five-year prison terms for both women abortion patients — including rape victims — and doctors.

The first phase of the protests involved digital activism, with people expressing their disagreement with the proposed law by posting photos of themselves dressed in black, using the hashtags #czarnyprotest (“#BlackProtest,” found here on Facebook and Twitter) and #blackprotest (Facebook, Twitter).

After the Polish Parliament proceeded with consideration of the controversial legislative proposal on September 23, activists responded with massive demonstrations in tens of Polish cities as well as in several other cities around the world the following weekend.

Right-wing national-conservative party PiS (“Law and Justice”) holds a majority in the parliament and has the backing of the Catholic Church. 

Its lawmakers also voted to dismiss another piece of legislation that would have liberalized existing laws. Proposed by the “Save Women” pro-choice coalition, and supported by a petition with 150,000 signatures, it would have allowed for legal abortions up until the 12th week of pregnancy."

Read more from source at Global Voices here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Hungarian anti-Semitic leader moves to Israel after discovering he is a Jew"

[Photo: Reuters]
"A leader of a Hungarian far-right party is planning to move to Israel after discovering his Jewish heritage. 

Csanad Szegedi, 34, former leader of the Jobbik party who have been previously accused of Neo-Nazism, is preparing to make aliya and move to Israel four years after leaving the nationalist party when he discovered his Jewish roots and that his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor.

Szegedi who was known for his extremist positions and anti-Semitic statements, helped found the Hungarian Guard, who wore black uniforms reminiscent of the notorious pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party that ruled Hungary briefly in the Second World War and rounded-up hundreds of thousands of Jews to be sent to the gas chambers.
In 2012, he described how "shocked" he was at the news of his grandmother and his Jewish heritage, adding: "First of all because I realised the Holocaust really happened."
Quickly, Szegedi rejected his far-right past and embraced Judaism, including taking a Hebrew name Dovid, regularly attending synagogue, eating kosher food and getting circumcised, and is now planning on moving to Israel with his family."

Read more from source here.