Cynhadledd Ysgolion Cymru dros Heddwch | Wales for Peace Schools Conference

By  Mushfik Khan

The 4th Wales for Peace annual school conference was held this year on the 20th of September at the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay.

Wales for Peace itself is a 4-year heritage lottery funded project located in the Temple of Peace at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs in Cardiff. The main aim of this project is to learn about Wales’ peace heritage over the last century and to inspire the youth of Wales to research and discover the ‘hidden histories’ on how Wales as a nation over the decades has worked towards securing peace. This year’s event named ‘Young People Voicing Peace’, was primarily focused on young people from a total of nine schools located in Cardiff and surrounding areas who shared digital stories they had produced with Ffotgallery on different themes relating to peace. The conference therefore began by asking the question,

“In the 100 years since World War 1, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace?”

 Elin Jones, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales opened the conference with a welcoming speech.

David Hughes the European Commissioner for Wales then gave a short speech in which peacehe spoke of Wales’ voice in Europe. Mr Hughes emphasised how not only are we living in uncertain and “dangerous times” globally due to ongoing conflicts but in the United Kingdom, young people face an uncertain future due to Brexit. He explained how important cooperation and openness were in maintaining peace not only now but in the future as he stated, “those who forget history, are condemned to repeat it”.

The next stage of the conference involved the students sharing their digital stories in front of the audience of volunteers, teachers and fellow students. The stories touched upon a number of topics such as refugees and asylum seekers, women, war and peace and the voice of young people. One of the digital stories involved the students asking younger students what the word peace meant to them and one student responded with, “when everyone is happy and gets along” whereas another took a completely different approach to interpreting the word peace and stated, “I think when you be quiet, like in a library”, which received some chuckles around the room.

Before the break for lunch, the students had a chance to aytend various workshops and to explore themes such as, Wales as a nation of sanctuary, Wales and international cooperation, women’s role in peace making and the voice of young people in creating a peaceful Wales. The workshop which I attended was the voice of young people in creating a peaceful Wales and this workshop contained a series of activities which were designed to educate the students on the governmental process within Wales and it also encouraged them to be vocal and share their opinions. The students were asked questions like, “are politicians doing enough for peace” to which the majority responded no, stating that there are “still wars going on” and that the politicians could “always do better”. After the workshops, the groups regathered and shared what they did in their workshops and what they have learnt from them.

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The lunch break took place in the Senedd where there was an opportunity for the students to view the Poppies Weeping Willow exhibition and the Wales for Peace exhibition on Women, War and Peace which featured photos taken by photojournalist Lee Karen Stow.

The exhibition featured stories from women who had been affected by war or from those who had campaigned for peace.

To finish off the conference, there was a panel event which also included a member for the National Assembly for Wales, Ann Jones. The students were able to ask any questions displayregarding what they had learnt or heard throughout the day. This was a great way to end a great conference which allowed the students to  learn about Wales’ peace heritage and got them to think about what they as the future generation can do to ensure that Wales continues to strive for peace.

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Eisteddfod | Ynys Mon | 2017

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Gan Mared Jones

Mi roeddwn yn gwirfoddoli yn yr Eisteddfod ym Môn 2017 am dri diwrnod o fewn y Babell Heddwch. Yn fy amser yno, roeddwn yn ffocysu yn bennaf ar hanes cudd/hanes pobl arferol, a chysylltu hynny gyda’r rhyfel byd cyntaf oherwydd bod yr Eisteddfod yma yn dathlu 100 mlynedd ers cadeirio Hedd Wyn. Er hynny, gwnaethom ni gymryd ongl wahanol ohono, sef ffocysu ar hanes merched yn ystod y rhyfel, a gofyn y cwestiwn os oedd y rhyfel wedi cyfrannu at gydraddoldeb rhwng marched a dynion. I wneud hyn, gefais y dasg i grwydro o gwmpas y maes i chwilota am bobl a bysa yn fodlon rhoi ei barn bersonol nhw am y mater. Gwnes I ymweld rhai o’r pabelli a bysa efalle yn cynnwys pobl gyda barn ddiddorol am y mater, e.e.. pabell ffeministiaeth, LGBT, pabelli brifysgolion a.y.b.. Cefais ymateb llwyddiannus iawn, a gwnes i lwyddo i gael cyfweliad gyda thua saith person, pob un ohonyn nhw gydag atebion a barn ddiddorol i’w rhoi ymlaen.

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Gwnes i ddysgu llawer am yr hanes wrth wneud y dasg yma, ond yn bennaf gwnes i ddysgu llawer o sgiliau cymdeithasol, ac roedd hynny yn rhywbeth roeddwn angen yn rheolaidd yn ystod fy amser yn yr Eisteddfod.Roedd llawer o adegau ble roedd oedolion neu blant yn dod i mewn i’r babell, ac yn gofyn cwestiynau am y sefydliad, yn ogystal â chwestiynau’r am yr hanes roeddwn yn ffocysu arno, yn ogystal a holi am y wahanol gyfleoedd oedd ar gael gyda Chymry Dros Heddwch, e.e.. trawsgrifio enwau o’r cofnodion o’r milwyr o’r gorffennol. Gwnes I hefyd wneud ambell i dasg fwy syml, e.e.. helpu gyda gweithgareddau plant, helpu gwneud y stondin edrych yn daclus ac apelgar, gwasgaru pamffledi a.y.b.. Gwnes I ffeindio amser i wneud ychydig o drawsgrifio fy hun hefyd. Roedd hyn yn dasg ddiddorol, a hefyd yn helpu fi i ddod i arfer gyda’r wefan, felly os bysa unrhyw un o’r ymwelwyr yn cymryd diddordeb ynddo, baswn i yn medru dangos iddynt sut i wneud y trawsgrifio, a bysa hynny wedyn yn hwb iddyn nhw barhau gyda’r dasg yn amser ei hunain.

At the National Eisteddfod, Mared discovered some interesting peace stories involving the role of women in the war. As a Wales for Peace volunteer, Mared also introduced people to the project and the website as well as helping to run the stall in the Peace tent.   

 

 

 

 

The Refugee Miner with ‘Nine Lives’: in honour of Joe Lisak (1926-1999)

Volunteer Jacquie Lisak tells the story of how her father-in-law came from Poland to Wales and cheated death more than once along the way…

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Joe and Lorna’s Wedding Day in Lllanbradach on 7th August 1950

 

In 1939, Poland faced the twin horrors of invasion from the west by Nazi Germany, and invasion from the east by the Soviet Union, culminating in one of the darkest, bloodiest and most devastating periods of the 2nd World War. Hitler ordered his commanders to kill, ‘without pity or mercy, all men, women and children of Polish descent or language’ [1] while Heinrich Himmler expressed this, perhaps, more chillingly, in 1940, when he stated ‘all poles will disappear from this world,’ describing the ‘elimination’ of the Polish people as Germany’s ‘chief task’ [2]. Subsequently, the Poles witnessed the horrors of the concentration camp and forced labour camps. Overall, almost 18 per cent of the Polish population or 6 million, half of whom were non-Jewish, were killed in a reign of terror that saw forced evictions, enslavement and mass executions. The Soviet terror unleashed in the east brought yet more horror and cruelty, for both the Nazis and the Soviets were equally intent on destroying Poland’s culture and subjugating its people. A ‘Reign of Terror’ was unleashed under Soviet Union rule in which mass executions, imprisonments and deportations thrived. Anyone, deemed guilty, of ‘crimes against the revolution’ or ‘counter revolutionary activity’, defined as, any pre-war service to the Polish State, could face arrest. Indeed, for the Poles, the end of the war brought no return to justice or prosperity. Instead, new forms of oppression, trauma and injustice flourished under continued Soviet rule [3].

It was against this background that Ignacy ‘Joe’ Lisak from Krzeczow, East Poland fled his homeland and found refuge in the UK. His links with the Polish resistance and his close alliance with activist, Wladyslaw Galka, led to a warning by the local Chief of Police that he faced joining Galka in prison with the inevitable threats of execution, which that might entail. Galka was imprisoned twice, facing execution on two occasions and spent many years in solitary confinement. It seems fairly certain that a similar fate would have awaited Joe, had he not fled. Yet, this was not the first occasion where Joe escaped possible death.

As a young boy Joe was among a group of children playing by the river. They found a box containing a number of small objects, which to their delight, when thrown in to the water, erupted, creating spectacular watery displays. They played happily with these objects, seemingly unaware of the dangers posed by the lethal explosives they had found. Joe left his companions early that day, as by some stroke of good fortune, he had promised to run an errand for his mother. Sadly, his playmates were never to return home and were reported deceased the following day.

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 Joe pictured as a teenager, back right, with family

 

Joe’s escape from Poland was a dangerous and difficult one. Like many refugees, much of his journey was made on foot and under cover of great forests. Joe mentioned one detail about his journey, which was quite funny, saying, that after crossing the border in to Czechoslovakia, by foot, he took a wrong turn and ended up back in Poland! On another occasion, he and a companion were confronted by soldiers who questioned their whereabouts. It was important to think quickly and to stifle any outer expressions of fear, to avoid suspicion, so they explained that they had lost their way after attending a house party and asked for directions. Luckily, they were left to continue their journey, without raising further doubt. Joe was never one to discuss this period of his past, often, with his family, whether this was because there were many memories that he would prefer to avoid, or whether he did not wish to burden his family with such memories is unclear. One particular story from his past emerged a number of times when relaxing on weekends, with a glass of beer or his favourite, vodka, he, sometimes, alluded to an incident in the forest where he and his companion faced capture by two Soviet Soldiers. He would mime, with his hand, the pulling of a trigger and speak of burying one of the soldiers, saying that the other soldier escaped. Joe and his companion continued to travel onward, but remained ever fearful of discovery.

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Joe’s Certificate of Registration issued to refugees under the Aliens Order 1920

Joe’s Certificate of Registration issued under the Aliens Order 1920 confirms that he arrived in the U.K on the 5th of March 1948 and gained employment on the 7th of May with the National Coal Board in South Wales, where after the second world War, demand for coal was high and there was an urgent need for coal miners. The vast influx of refugees from Europe provided an ideal source of recruitment. However, refugees were not always welcomed, facing opposition from locals, ‘partly from ignorance and partly from fear of unemployment’ [4]. Indeed, the National Union of Miners (NUM) stated that they opposed, ‘the employment of Poles and displaced persons in British mines’ [5]. However, Joe and his Polish friends encountered little hostility in their local communities and settled in well. In fact, the only person who was ever heard to tell Joe to, ‘get back to Poland, you bloody foreigner’, was his wife Lorna, during the occasional argument, something which his children would laugh about, as it was clear that she loved him very much and didn’t really mean it. On arriving in Wales, Joe obtained lodgings at various addresses locally, including at the Miners Hostel in Ystrad Mynach which housed a large number of European Refugees, many of whom would forge strong bonds, becoming life-long friends. Later when they had settled or married, they would often gather at each others’ homes to eat, drink – vodka being a popular choice, play cards, talk and laugh. It was while lodged at Ystrad Mynach Hostel that Joe met Lorna, from the nearby village of Llanbradach where they would eventually set up home. They were married on the 7th August 1950 and later had six children and 12 grandchildren, including one step grandchild.

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Joe, pictured with other refugee miners at Ystrad Mynach Miners Hostel, – lying down at the front, posing with a pipe borrowed from a friend.

In October 1952, four years after his arrival in the U.K, Joe faced another brush with death while working at Bedwas Colliery when there was an explosion. Ambulance man, Evan Williams, described how he found Joe as follows:

‘One man lay back in the manhole. He was a big Pole named Lisak. He must have been working stripped to the waist. The skin was stripped off his body in sheets. His arms, hands and face had been burned. What could I do for him? I didn’t have half enough stuff. I covered him over with coats as he was, and encouraged him to keep still, as I would send him out first’ [6].

One person was killed, and 20 others were injured that day. Joe had severe burns from the waist upwards, including his face and his ears. Although, he retained his hearing after the accident, little remained of his actual ears. Joe spent many months in hospital, enduring operations and skin grafts. Yet, I never noticed his injuries, until I forced myself years later to take a closer look; I believe my failure to notice these things was because his personality and sheer character eclipsed them. After a long period in hospital, Joe returned to work in the mines but did not settle. He became a painter and decorator, his family continued to grow and he eventually travelled to Poland with them for many happy holidays. His children, have many fond memories of him, among them, his, sometimes, very poetic turn of phrase. He once likened his blonde blue-eyed grandson, Daniel, to an ‘angel’ who had come to visit him. On another occasion, his daughter Cheryl was standing by the half open back door that led to the garden. She was smoking a cigarette under the fading evening sunshine. The combination of smoke, reflected light and shadow, falling on her long blonde hair, led him to comment, ‘You look like an angel in a golden cage.’

In his later years, Joe became a school Caretaker at the local primary school. Indeed, he is still remembered by ex-students as ‘kind’ and ‘funny’. Joe survived a stroke but eventually died after contracting a hospital bug at the age of 72. My overriding memory of Joe, is of a man of great character and charm, of smiles and laughter, of a mop of curly white hair and a deep Polish accent, of someone who is remembered with great affection by his family, and all those who knew him.

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Joe as I remember him, pictured outside his home in Llanbradach

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Many thanks to the Lisak family for sharing their memories of Joe.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Holocaust Forgotten website http://www.holocaustforgotten.com/poland.htm

[2] ibid.,

[3] Anne Applebaum in New Republic, December 20, 2012 http://www.newrepublic.com/article/111235/evil-after-evil

[4] Ceri Thompson in Glo/Coal, https://museum.wales/media/4619/glo-allpoles.pdf

[5] ibid.,

[6] Durham Mining Museum website http://www.dmm.org.uk/ukreport/9019-03.htm

 

From Budapest to Pontypridd: A Hungarian refugee’s story after the ’56 Revolution

By Anna Rátkai

In October 1956 a group of university students in Budapest decided to hold a demonstration in the heart of the capital condemning the cruel crushing of the Polish revolution by the Soviet regime. However, the word spread quickly all across the city and the protest evolved into something much more significant than a sympathy march. By a quick turn, the demonstration shifted from a focus on the Poles to the economic hardships and tensions that the communist rule afflicted on Hungary.

In a couple days the students’ march transformed into a full-scale uprising against the Soviet regime. As enthusiastic and resilient the protesters were in the first two weeks, it took only twelve days for the Soviet tanks to fill the city. Budapest endured long days of heavy and bloody fighting. The uprising was cruelly repressed, and some participants had no other choice, but to leave their home country – and many would think that this is the end of their story. However, for many, this was just the beginning.

After the uprising, approximately 200,000 Hungarians decided to flee their home country. It is estimated that 20,000 Hungarians choose the United Kingdom as their second home. After the Second World War the demand for coal was rising, and the Western blockade was extremely willing to accept Eastern Europeans running away from their Soviet enemy. According to Campbell, Hungarians were welcomed as heroes in the UK, and people competed to share their homes with them on the nights of Christmas. As Péter Faragó, a Hungarian refugee recalls, not only the locals were incredibly friendly, but the media was enthusiastic and positive about migrants.

Many Hungarians settled in Wales and started to build a new life here, to which the country gave an immense amount of help. This Hidden History is telling the story of Fülöp Tihamér, a 78 years old Hungarian man who settled in Pontypridd, and his friend Ceri Thompson, a native Welsh who grew up next to him.

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Hungarian refugees lay a wreath at the War Memorial in Cathays Park, Cardiff in 1958

 

During the Hungarian Revolution Tihamér was only 17 years old, but he was still an active participant in the uprising – he and his brother drove back and forth between Budapest and Vienna to bring back medicine from the well-supplied Austrian hospitals for the injured Hungarians. After the revolution was cruelly repressed by the Soviet government, Tihamér had no other choice but to leave Hungary – and his unpredictable travels led him to Wales. Although at his arrival he was warmly welcomed, getting there wasn’t exactly easy:

Tihamér: ‘They forced us to get off from the trains in Győr, at the border. They knew we wanted to leave the country. Once they even turned the train back, and took us back to Budapest. But then we just took the train again. We didn’t give up. And then they told us ‘You can go wherever, but don’t use the train! Trains are controlled!’ So we had no other choice but to walk. We walked from Győr to Eisenstaedt, that’s how we crossed the border.

Interviewer: ‘You walked with all your luggage?’

Tihamér: ‘Luggage?’ – asked laughing – I had a sandwich with me. That’s all I had when I left the country!’

After arriving to Wales, Tihamér, along with another 96 Hungarians started to work in the mines of Hawthorn and Hirwaun. According to him, it was a great help that the Welsh welcomed the Eastern-European refugees with open arms:

Tihamér: ‘They taught us how to live here, but I don’t mean teaching the language. They taught us where to go to dance, where to find the girls, where to have fun. We were very young after all.’

Tihamér also made long-lasting friendships with the other Hungarians and other Polish people who worked together, as well as with the Welsh. His friend, Ceri Thompson also remembers the Eastern European refugees warmly. When asked, how did Ceri become friends with the Hungarian refugees he simply answered:

Ceri: ‘I was working with them, and to me they were just like anybody else. Just because they don’t speak exactly like you do… It didn’t really matter, I mean, even if someone in the beginning thought something along the lines of ‘Oh, these immigrants are taking our jobs’, that thought didn’t seem to last very long. After a while everyone got along. If you are working alongside someone, you know, you are just bound to become friends.’

When asked whether or not Ceri thinks accepting the refugees benefited his tiny town Churchvillage, he said:

Ceri: ‘There is a world-wide trend of becoming a right-wing supporter. It is the fear of what is foreign or unknown to you. And in a way you can understand why, I mean if someone who was blue walked down the streets, everyone would look at them twice. But in places like Churchvillage we are quite used to different nationalities. And every time I meet people from other countries living in Wales, I feel like it enriches the culture, it does! It’d be bloody boring if everyone were from here!’

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Tihamér and his wife

 

Although the opportunity to work laid down the foundation for a safe life for refugees in Wales, and it also led to the creation of many long-lasting friendships, it was not the only factor that helped the Hungarians in settling. Tihamér, during his interview referred to football as a cornerstone of his integration in his new home country:

Tihamér: ‘Right after I arrived I met the Welsh boys from a local football team. They had shoes my size, so they told me to put them on and show them what I can do. That was it. I was in the team. And when we played, everyone played with everyone. We didn’t care about nationalities. Now that we talk about it, I just remembered that I have gotten a mail like a year ago from one of those guys that I played with in the team. He organized a team catch-up in the sports centre here in Churchvillage. We still keep in touch.’

Interviewer: ‘So as soon as you arrived, you could start working, doing sports, making friends, …

Tihamér: ‘And dance! I also started dancing as soon as I was here. It helped a lot to feel at home. That’s how I got to know my wife! One night me and my friends went on a dancing event and I got to know this Welsh girl and you know… in 4 years’ time we were married.

When asked whether Tihamér thinks he would have travelled back to Hungary if he weren’t taken so good care of he answered:

Tihamér: ‘Well, I can’t be sure of that. But what I know is that only 2 of us went back to Hungary. Only 2 of the 96 Hungarians I arrived with. We were welcomed very warmly, and that helped a lot to settle. Not many people needed to go back.’ – remembers Tihamér smiling.

Wales contributed a great deal to the peaceful settlement of those fleeing Eastern Europe in the second half of the twentieth century, and highly benefited from accepting the workforce without which many mines would have had to be shut down. The response to the Hungarian crisis, and the happy memories of a 78 year old man who managed to build a peaceful life around himself with the help of the Welsh locals reminds us all, that a tiny bit of altruism and selflessness might have a life-changing power for the ones in need.

Climate Change: Humanity’s ticking time bomb

By Mushfik Khan

Climate change. I’m sure that most people reading this have heard those words before, but are we as aware or concerned of the causes and impacts of climate change as we should be?  I mean… when was the last time you saw it trending on Twitter?

Firstly, it is important to understand what ‘climate change’ actually means as a concept.

Earth’s climate has been changing for thousands of years and has remained relatively stable whilst doing so- as can be seen from the graph below. Therefore, it is of no surprise that it will continue to change. The thing which concerns scientists around the world is the rapid rate at which the earth’s climate has been changing in recent years.

Climate Change graph

For centuries, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere did not surpass the mark labelled with an arrow on the graph. However since the Industrial Revolution, human activity through the burning of fossil fuels has been increasing the level of greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at an  unstable rate.

Studies by NASA have shown that the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere are ramping up the natural greenhouse effect, causing more heat to become trapped and therefore raising the planet’s surface temperature. It is stated that the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by about 1.1 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, this may not seem significant but if it continues to increase any further, it will have devastating consequences for all life forms on earth.

We are already witnessing the impacts of climate change around the globe. In recent days the southern states of the USA have been hit with 3 category 5 hurricanes which have become more destructive as a result of climate change. Furthermore, large parts of East Africa are suffering extreme droughts, many areas around the world have experienced record breaking heatwaves and extremes in precipitation patterns.

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Those are only a few of the effects of climate change. It is clear to see that we can no longer ignore the realness of climate change, it is time for nations to come together and figure out solutions and ways to prevent the impacts of climate change from growing worse. This was what the ‘Paris Climate Agreement’ aimed to do, to bring all of the world’s nations into a single agreement to tackle climate change and one of the key elements of the agreement was to keep global temperatures well below 2.0 degrees Celsius. However, despite the agreement being dubbed as ‘historic’, the President of the United States has refused to partake in the agreement, he has already voiced his controversial opinions on Twitter, claiming that climate change does not exist and that it is all a hoax. Without the United States as party to the agreement there is no chance of it succeeding. As the world’s wealthiest nation, it’s funds are vital to support developing nations to leap straight from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and to set an example to other nations about the seriousness of the issue.

Despite the international stage looking murky on the topic of climate change, I can safely say from the research I have done that Wales as a nation has certainly been trying.

So far, the Welsh Government has passed two acts which both recognise the central importance of climate change. The first one is the ‘Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015’. This act requires public bodies across Wales to think in a more long term and sustainable way by setting seven ‘well-being goals’ which the public bodies must take into consideration when making decisions. Furthermore, ‘The Environment (Wales) Act 2016’ emphasises sustainable management of natural resources and requires public authorities to maintain and enhance biodiversity, it also puts an obligation on welsh ministers to meet targets for greenhouse gas emissions from Wales by calling for a reduction of at least 80% of emissions by 2050.

Clearly there is a lot more work that needs to be done globally regarding climate change but time is running out and we as the future generation need to try our best to do as much as we can to ensure that the planet that we call home now is not an apocalyptic scene in the future.

For more information on what you can do to save our planet, check out the links below:

https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/

https://www.wwf.org.uk/

 

 

Temple Tales #3 “The Whole Package”: from Pembroke Dock to Mandela thanks

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By Kathryn Evans

Bert Pearce is the true definition of a hidden history.  Why did I start researching Bert Pearce?  Here at the Temple of Peace we have a tree and plaque dedicated to him in our Garden of Peace so naturally, intrigue followed.  This commemoration is here because not only did Bert visit the Temple of Peace, it was believed he would respect and appreciate many of the campaigns we support here.  Another reason I wanted to delve further into the life of Bert Pearce is because he was personally thanked by Nelson Mandela in his 1998 speech at Cardiff Castle; a magnificent recognition and indication that he was a key individual in Wales’ fight for peace.

Bert Pearce gave a lifetime devotion to active politics. He was born in Pembroke Dock, Wales, to a Christian minister and an enthusiastic Co-operator.  What influenced Bert considerably  was the closure of Pembrokeshire Dockyard in 1926.  In the documentary A Welsh Life by Patrick Hannan, Bert explains there was, “like an eerie silence, unemployed workers and people being sent away and friends disappearing,” concluding that there must be something wrong with the system for this kind of devastation to be brought among them.  His parents were both members of the Labour party, and in 1936 Bert became a clerk at the Labour Exchange.  In 1938 he moved to Birmingham where he became fully integrated with political activism, the Communist party and fighting for the people’s democracy.  He was employed by the Communist party where he eventually became the party’s full time organiser.  Bert was also Birmingham’s City Secretary and was actively involved in a number of projects for Birmingham that were extremely productive.

Bert returned to Wales in 1960 when he became the secretary of the Welsh Communist Party. He was also heavily involved in National Union of Miners (NUM), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the fight for a Welsh parliament alongside the Communist Party.  Noticeably from his mention in Nelson Mandela’s speech, Bert  was also an active participant in the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (WAAM). He was a proud Marxist and on the editorial board of Marxism Today where writings consisted mostly about the Nationalisation of Wales, where he argued we needed to devolve government and unify Britain and Europe.

Bert lived through the times of the Communist party when it was very much following the line of the Soviet Union.  When Czechoslovakia reformed Bert was one of the people in the party who was in the forefront of questioning the Socialism that they seemed to be following.  Bert believed that politics developed and you have to question to take things forward, and this is where he stood politically.

In A Welsh Life he proudly talks about how he lived to see the exposure of his mistakes and strategies that were wrong in the Soviet Union, and a new development of a Marxism which is green, humane and feminist.  Patrick Hannan asked Bert if he thought fighting for Socialism and Communism had been a waste of his life given its failures. Bert replied beautifully, laughing:

“I don’t see how I could have wasted my life better. I took part in all the key struggles of my time. Fighting for real causes: the creation of a real popular people’s democracy. Those of us who have learnt through the struggles, like the Welsh miners, clung to fact they were strong enough to stand up to anybody and fight for cause, many brilliant analysts and politics.”

 

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Picture caption: office of a communist party branch in Wales in the 1970s.

In the documentary Bert also made the perfect statement portraying his motivation towards politics: “a communist is there because you believe in the people.”

 I also discovered that the founder of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (WAAM), Hanef Bhamjee, was put in contact with Bert to help lift off the WAAM campaign.  I got in touch with Hanef who very kindly wrote an emotive statement describing his relationship with Bert:

“I met Bert Pearce in early 1973. He was a very committed Socialist and anti-racist and supported Revolutionary Causes. I discussed the idea of the formation of a Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement with him. When I spoke at meetings on South and Southern Africa in various parts of Wales the level of support was very high compared to other Parts of the UK. I was surprised that there was not an all Wales movement.

 He was very helpful and provided various peoples across Wales who would be supportive to the idea of WAAM. He knew people across the political spectrum, and in different forums. This was very useful. He ‘opened’ many minds and doors for WAAM. In the beginning I needed contacts that I could rely on to help in various cities in Churches, Trade Unions, Trade Councils etc. and in the cultural fraternity.

 Our friendship was a very close political one and lasted ‘til he died.  When Mandela visited Wales to receive the ‘freedom of the city’ in Cardiff, he asked me to single one Welsh person as a key activist. Without hesitation I provided the name of Bert, whom he then mentioned at the award speech. Bert was involved with anti-apartheid and anti-racism all his life as a dedicated Communist. He is and was well remembered in CND, Working class politics, and Solidarity movements associated with areas on the 5 continents. He was instrumental in assisting third world politics that I was involved with in Africa, Asia and South America. When we finally launched the WAAM in April 1981 after painstaking work in Wales, we already had 22 branches in towns and cities, all church groups and religious groups supported us. We had branches in nearly every college. WAAM was regarded as the most powerful pressure group in Wales – Bert’s involvement was well recognised.”

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Anti-apartheid demo in Wales; you can see the communist party’s banner in the background

As I mentioned before I found it an enjoyable challenge searching for information of Bert’s life, and I was lucky enough to have Bert’s daughter Marian get in touch with me. A life-saving moment as my conversations with Marian opened up a whole new side to Bert that I wouldn’t find in any library which has led me into this more personal article about Bert Pearce and why he is relevant to Wales’ fight for peace. In one question I asked Marian what she believed would be Bert’s proudest moment:

“It’s a difficult thing to say, because I think he wouldn’t be proud in that sense, he would just look at the broad brush of how he got on with the people that he worked with. I think one of the things he would be most proud of, that I ended up as the Chair of the Communist Party, you know as that was like carrying the mantle. The Nelson Mandela moment would have to be a proud moment. Mandela had obviously asked, who shall I pay tribute to? And all these people in the anti-apartheid movement said my dad! And that just has to be the most stunning tribute. Mandela had said in the speech, ‘there’s somebody here in the audience who is even older than I am..’ and when Mandela came over to meet Dad to be introduced to him all dad could say was ‘um I actually don’t think I am quite as old as you.’ Even in a moment like that, he was very sort of genuine and rounded.”

It’s very easy to understand how Bert Pearce was an ordinary, jolly man who was naturally charismatic, and had the capability to apply his passion to politics and make a difference.

Bert was a very influential and well respected man and I was extremely keen to delve further into this side of Bert. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with Marian that it came to light exactly how much of a people person he was, and how it was this personality trait that sprung him forward into a politically active life and made campaigns such as WAAM a success. Marian went into teaching along a similar career path to her mother, and also became Chair of the Communist Party as her life had always been involved with the Communist movement. I asked Marian how she thought Bert had influenced her:

“In a very real sense, what my dad influenced me in was an interest in people – he was very much a people person. His politics were very people orientated rather than dogma orientated and I learnt a lot from that. So that was kind of my approach to my parents politics – it was all about people so I took that with (me) and all those good principles.”

Marian spoke about how much of an ordinary man Bert was, he was never unwilling to engage with somebody because of differing perspectives.  He was always very intrigued to hear about people’s views and was incredibly open-minded about religion and politics and believed everyone was entitled to make their own mind up.

It’s easy to understand then why Bert was so well respected by a wide range of movements. Marian told me he was never the ‘cog’ but he was always there – at every speech, every demonstration and every activity he was one of the key individuals behind it. Marian proudly states how Bert was an incredible organiser, always there helping to support organise and publicise actions. That was essentially what he did for his career, his life – he was an extremely good organiser and strategist. I enjoyed listening to Marian as she described her father:

“He was a brilliant man.  His range of interests were phenomenal.  He knew such a lot about classical music, literature, poetry.  His mind was just stunningly broad, a fantastic person from that point of view. He was just so proud of his kids and his grandkids.  A lovely people person, his funeral was just stunningly wonderful.”      

In a very pleasant chat with Marian I also enjoyed learning about Bert’s past that didn’t involve politics, the fun loving side to him. On his plaque at the Temple of Peace it says, “a lover of music and mountains of Wales,” which Marian talks fondly about.  Describing one of her memories walking up Cadair Idris Mountain with her father:

“He packed our rucksacks and we were all climbing up Cadair Idris and I was very tired and thought ‘this bag’s heavy.’ He says, ‘come on come on we’re nearly there!’ Then I discovered that I’d carried a bottle of his Drambuie all the way to the top, so he could have some Drambuie at the top.”

Another enlightening anecdote from Marian was about the unique Community Camping Club that she is now secretary of that began in 1952 and is still active today. It was formed by a group of people with similar interests, all Communists which the Pearce family joined and enjoyed many holidays with.

Marian’s words conclude this article perfectly so I will end with one last comment from his daughter, whom I thank enormously for the insight into Bert Pearce’s life:

“I wouldn’t say he had a career, he devoted his life to the cause that he believed in and he just happened to work for the Communist Party. For him it wasn’t a career it was how he could best contribute to what he passionately believed in. What makes his life extraordinary was ‘the whole package’. How he managed to be so important in so many people’s lives. I think he would struggle to say one thing that he did because there was so many bits of things that he did.”

Further reading:

If you are interested in watching Nelson Mandela’s speech at Cardiff Castle accepting the Freedom of the City, and finding out more information of the day please follow the link below. It is at 41 minutes in that Nelson Mandela begins his speech, and at 44:40 he begins his acknowledgement to Bert:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYBcIHTBDxs

Telephone interview with Bert Pearce’s daughter Marian Darke 30.08.2017

A Welsh Life, documentary by Patrick Hannan (with thanks to Marian for this reference).

Bert Pearce has a collection of Communist papers, minutes, and newspaper clippings on various actions he took in his life and his efforts toward WAAM held at the National Library of Wales.

Obituary in the Guardian, September 16, 2002: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/sep/16/guardianobituaries

Wikipedia, Bert Pearce:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Pearce

Graham Stevenson:

http://www.grahamstevenson.me.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=454:bert-pearce-&catid=16:p&Itemid=119

National Library of Wales:

http://anws.llgc.org.uk/cgi-bin/anw/fulldesc_nofr?inst_id=1&coll_id=20102&expand=

UNZ.Org for Marxism Today articles:

https://www.unz.org/Pub/MarxismToday-1977dec-00358?Author=Bert+Pearce&Action=Search

Key issues for the UN Climate Change Conference 2017

Flood.jpg

The UN Climate Change Conference takes place on 6-17th November in Bonn, Germany and will be presided over by the Government of Fiji.

The location of the conference, the Fiji Islands, are among a number of nations around the world that are at risk of flooding as a result of higher sea levels, due to climate change. But what are the some of the issues that will be discussed at COP23 Fiji?

Flooding of low-lying islands

A rise in global temperatures results in the melting of glaciers, which contribute to sea level rise. This means low lying islands around the world are at high risk of flooding, with many inhabitants of these islands being required to migrate to higher ground, for good.

One report, written by the Environmental Research Letters journal studied the impacts of sea level rise on the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The report found that:

‘at least eleven islands across the northern Solomon Islands have either totally disappeared over recent decades or are currently experiencing severe erosion.’

This has a profound impact on the welfare of local inhabitants. According to an IPCC report, the risk of flooding has brought ‘social problems of economic insecurity, inadequate water supplies, and lower health standards.’ As a result, local inhabitants have had to relocate either to higher ground, or leave the islands completely. The impacts of forced migration are wide ranging: it can cause psychological stress and trauma, cause the separation of families, and can result in migrants losing their traditional culture in favour of adopting their host country’s culture. This can leave them feeling marginalised and alone.

The inequality of climate change

According to a study by Oxfam, findings indicate that “the poorest half of the global population is responsible for only 10 percent of total global emissions while nearly 50 percent can be attributed to the wealthiest 10 percent.”

This inequality is mostly out of a difference in lifestyles: the wealthier a person gets, the more the quality of their lifestyles improve. Moreover, the presence of large scale industrial centres in richer countries enhances their part in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

It is important that the UN COP23 address the rising inequalities of climate change, which can have generational impacts.

The United States’ Position on Climate Change

Following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the United States’ position on climate change has changed, with many questioning the nation’s commitment to fighting the issue.

This issue was further intensified following the US’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which sets targets for nations to lower their carbon dioxide emissions. As the United States is the second biggest global contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, the issue of addressing its role in fighting climate change is imperative.

In the journal Nature, Thomas Stocker, former co-chair of climate science for the IPCC, stated that “Trump’s decision to ignore scientific facts of climate disruption and the high risks of climate-change impacts is irresponsible not only towards his own people but to all people and life on this planet.”

Overall, as climate change continues to bring varying impacts to regions all around the world, it is hoped that this year’s Climate Change Conference will shed light on some of the issues faced, and allow the space for different countries to devise strategies on how best to respond to them.