Sunday, October 25, 2009

No Pasaran

Remembrance is one of those human actions that we do in quiet moments. Remembering friends and family who are no longer with us. Remembering those who sacrificed themselves to a cause that hoped to change the world. Remembrance for what may have been if they had not volunteered.

Memorials should be there as a motivation to remember. Sometimes remembrance is provoked by seeing something you see everyday in a fresh light. Last year some friends and I parked at County Hall Nottingham to watch a cricket match at nearby Trent Bridge.

On the way back we noticed a memorial to International Brigade volunteers from Nottinghamshire:

In honour of the volunteers who left Nottinghamshire to fight in the International Brigade Spain 1936 - 1939.

They fought alongside the Spanish people to stop Fascism and save Liberty and Peace for all

They went because their open eyes could see no other way.

International Brigade
Volunteers from Nottinghamshire
Five Rest in the soil of Spain

R Goodman, Nottingham
Killed Jarama February 1937

R Grant, Nottingham
Killed Calaceitte March 1938

F Turnhill, Worksop
Killed Teruel January 1938

Eric Whalley, Mansfield
Killed Fuentes de Ebro October 1937

Bernard Whinfield, Nottingham
Killed Teruel January 1937
Thirteen Returned TO Continue The Struggle

G Alcock Nottingham
Robert Brown, Bircotes
Frank Ellis, Linby
James Feeney, Nottingham
Walter Gregory, Nottingham
J Hardy, Sutton Bonnington
Lionel Jacobs, Nottingham
Anthony McClean, Nottingham
G Richards, Nottingham
William Rowe, Nottingham
AS Sheppard, Hucknall
RA Soar, Nottingham
SR Stevenson, Nottingham

Memorial plaques at Notts County Hall to Nottinghamshire International Brigade Volunteers

To the right of these three plaques is a sculpture by the artist Michael Johnson, unveiled by the Spanish Ambassador on the 4th of September 1993 in front of nearly fifty surviving International Brigade volunteers.

The sculpture "depicts bombarded buildings similar to the ones that still remain in the Spanish town of Belchite".

The artist Michael Johnson describes the installation as "1992 International Brigade Memorial, County Hall Nottingham. A 3m x 1.5m bronze panel With two cast brass balconies to either side".

Sculpted relief of village of Belchite - International Brigade Memorial at Notts County Hall

The International Brigades Memorial trust describes the Nottingham, County Hall memorial as "Nottingham. Sculpted relief and 3 plaques in County Hall, West Bridgeford (sic), Nottingham. Erected by Nottinghamshire County Hall, 24 September 1993".

The UK National Inventory of War Memorials also lists the County Hall memorial to the Nottinghamshire International Brigade volunteers.

This monument is now under threat from ideological vandalism. Spoiling the view of the International Brigade memorial is a new brass plaque proclaiming "In proud and grateful memory of the men and women of this county who have sacrificed their lives for others and for freedom. We will remember them."

Brass Plaque at Nottinghamshire Couny Hall

On first reading that's fine. On second reading the use of "freedom" seems to be there as a deliberate counterpoint to the "liberty and peace" of the International Brigade volunteer memorial. "Freedom" is a term laden with meaning. Everyone "knows" what it means. Few people are prepared to unpack what it stands for.

We could discuss the Isaiah Berlin positive and negative freedoms, or the anarchist concept of freedom but that's for another post. Here on the brass plaque it is being used as a Tory would use it: to stand for the freedom to exploit; to stand for the freedom to abuse; to stand for the freedom to kill in the call of capitalism.

Today's local rag has a feature on the Memorial and the brass plaque
A spokesman for Notts County Council said: "We're not removing the Spanish Civil War Memorial. It's a beautiful piece of artwork at the front of County Hall.

"We are replacing the information board, which replicates the text on one of the plaques, with a brass memorial plaque which will remember all of the people from Notts who lost their lives in service of their country.
Just a couple of points. The "information board" gave background information on the Spanish Civil War and I find it helpful when I see a sculpture memorializing an event to have some historical information. By providing historical context the information board prevents the memorial becoming just another piece of street furniture.

And there is nothing on the brass plaque about "in service of their country". As the text stands it could be in honour of anyone from Nottinghamshire who believed they sacrificed their life in the cause of "freedom". It could honour anyone from Nottinghamshire who died for a cause, whatever the cause. Because it is such a generic, broad and bland statement that covers everyone who has died for a cause it detracts from the specific anti-Fascist sacrifice of the Nottinghamshire International Brigade volunteers.

No Pasaran.