Monday, 30 December 2013

Men, Massacres & Monuments

Image of James Keogh by Clifford Harper on N.V.13

AROUND 2008, Tameside Trade Union Council applied for a blue plaque for James Keogh, an Ashton-under-Lyne lad who was killed in action fighting with the International Brigade for freedom and democracy in the Spanish Civil War 1936-39. This initial nomination was rejected by the Arts & Events committee of Tameside MBC on the grounds that Mr. Keogh's contribution may not have been unique, and that there may have been other local people who fought in Spain. It turned out that there had been a number of others but that James Keogh was the only one, so far as we know, who was actually killed in action. The research involved in finding out about Mr. Keogh, who died in March 1938 near Calaceite in the northern Spanish province of Aragón, and investigating the other residents of Ashton who went to Spain, was onerous and it was not until 25th November 2011 that a Blue Plaque was unveiled to James at Ashton-under-Lyne library. This followed a long campaign by Tameside TUC, and his family for recognition; this despite the fact that Mr. Keogh fitted all the criteria.                                                                                                
In contrast, Rochdale Council wasted no time in awarding a blue plaque to Sir Cyril Smith, the former Rochdale MP 1972-92, after he died in 2010: his blue plaque was erected outside Rochdale Town Hall in October 2011, even though it turned out that he didn't fit the criteria set down by English Heritage having been dead for just over a year. The person responsible at that time in the Rochdale Tourist Bureau, when asked, told Northern Voices that the town didn't need to meet the criteria suggested by English Heritage. Of course, it was revealed in November 2012 that Cyril Smith was very unique by any standards of human conduct, and that he had molested young lads in the 20th century on a significanr scale. Now four empty screw holes is all that remains in the grey stone wall of Rochdale Town Hall, where the commemorate blue plaque to Sir Cyril was once affixed. Fear of vandalism was the reason given by the Council Leader, Colin Lambert, for the removal of the plaque, and yet, I understand that a picture of Cyril still adorns' the inner walls of the Town Hall and that there is still a 'Sir Cyril Smith Room' within to remember the great man.

This business of commemorating significant figures, men or women, is tricky.   Last Saturday's Spanish paper El Pais had an acticle reporting on a meeting this month at 26, Kutuzuvski Avenue in Moscow, at which an event took place with the motive of remounting a plaque to commemorate Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev (Russian: Леони́д Ильи́ч Бре́жнев, IPA: [lʲɪɐˈnʲid ɪlʲˈjitɕ ˈbrʲeʐnʲɪf] who led the Soviet Union for 18 years till his death in 1982.  The original plaque had been taken down in 1991.  The ceremony, according to El Pais, was 'solemn' and took place 'thanks to the inniative of one of the most polemical deputies in the State Duma (Russian Parliament) Alexandr Jinshtein'.  There is also talk of reinstalling a statute of Felix Dzherzhinski, founder of the Checa, the organisation that preceeded the KGB (Soviet Secret Police outfit):  this statue of huge dimensions, was originally pulled down, El Pais reports, 'by a furious mulitude  in 1991 when it adorned the Lubianka Square in front of the headquarters of the secret police' - today it can be viewed in an exhibion at a museum of sculptures.  El Pais further reports that the Russian President Putin at a press conference recently said that he didn't see much difference 'between Stalin and Cromwell'

Meanwhile, it seems that before the edifice of the KGB in a nearby garden there now stands a simple monument, which El Pais says is 'much more simple:  a stone commemorative of the Solovki concentration camp, in the north of Russia, in rememberance of the 11 million people who died during the years of the Soviet Terror'

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