The blog of Laszlo Bokor

The blog of Laszlo Bokor

Thursday, 18 May 2017

I will never vote for the Tories - A local fairy tale

Hi again,

About two weeks after the local council elections, I have finally managed to find some time and to shed my thoughts on the thing, but projecting light only onto my local, Shrewsbury (Quarry and Coton Hill) area.

Sadly, afterwards the elections, we can see a massive increase in support for the Tories across the UK which is, on the one hand, is due to the decline of UKIP whose supporters migrated and then merged into the Conservative party; while, on the other hand, apart from a couple of small alternative parties, there is almost no large opposition. Labour has shredded itself to bits by its constant fight for its internal power, and although Greens and LibDems are not strong enough yet, they are slowly making their way up and, hopefully soon, will be able to provide reliable alternatives.

As a Hungarian-born and not-a-British-citizen, I do not always have the chance to take part in elections in this country. This is such a selective thing, sometimes I am allowed, sometimes I am not allowed to vote. When the opportunity arises, I am pleased to go to the polling station and cast my vote. I am, however, hard nuts when I have to choose among the candidates as I have all sorts of political beliefs and values, thus I cannot fully say that I support a certain party wholeheartedly. If I, however, have to put myself in a group, I belong to the ‘left’ and I would never vote a right-winged, especially a nationalist, party!

At the moment, almost a year after the Brexit referendum and just before a rapidly called general election, there is a funny political atmosphere in this country and, like it or not, the Tories are literally the only ones who can stand up as a cohesive whole who has supporters from all walks of life and from all around the country. No matter what and how they say, people will still support them. Do not ask me how and why people do that though, but I bet there is something to do with fish and chips!

So I went to vote on the 4th May and I was very much pleased on the next day when I found out that in my local ward, the Tory candidate, Arlinda Ballcaj, burned down to ashes - and there will be no Phoenix resurrection.

On the Unitary election, I voted Huw Peach, because I know him personally and he would have been a great choice for the area, plus he was running for Greens, which is literally the only British political group whose politics is the most appealing to me. I am not saying I agree with everything they say or do, I find them ‘too left’, but come on, there is no political party that could fulfill all your wishes. On the Town and Parish election sheet, I ticked the LibDems (I find them way too left too), voted for Nat Green. But what’s funny that there was no other choice! Nobody could pay me enough to vote for Arlinda Ballcaj (who was stood there smiling and posing with a blue-white conservative ribbon on her chest when I walked into the polling station), never, and not necessarily because she was representing the Conservative colours. I think she is literally just the one who wanted to get a nice, juicy position in the council.

I am a progressive mind, with progressive values who believes that the planet is in a constant change; thus we, the society, should be in a constant change too to adapt ourselves to the new challenges. Locking ourselves into the ‘room’ or following old habits does not mean we are safe and secure against global forces. This does not mean that I do not support some traditions and that I would not have traditional values. I have my own traditions and values. This just means that I am very aware that many of the human traditions are obsolete enough to hate them and they are not serving our life values in the 21st century (like the whale killing in the Faroe Islands - just because it is a tradition). But yes, some things, especially good, environmentally sound practices should be conserved. For me, however, conservatism in this country means conserving neo-liberal, capitalists values which mean produce more, sell more, buy more, do more, get more credits, own more, and more and more and more whatever… and, in the end, be more dependent. This is what traditional means in this country. And for me, this is what the Conservative party wants to preserve, hence to ‘conserve’.

I was born in Hungary and if there are citizens in this country who want to remain in the past and carry on doing what their forebears did, that is fine for me, but that will not give them refuge against the global flow of ‘anything’. What, however, I do not understand at all is why foreign-born politicians - just look at, for example, the local MP Daniel Kawczynski (born in Poland), a pro-Bexit knowledge knight, or here is again Arlinda Ballcaj (born in Albania) - join the conservative party in the UK and campaign for values that is not their very own? I think I can explain this though…

I am lying if I say I do not understand this at all, but every time I think of it, I conclude that these people are just pure opportunists which I personally find irritatingly hypocritical. Of course, when majorly conservative values rule Shropshire, a posh English countryside, where else on Earth you, as a foreign-born, would have better opportunities to get near power? It is really worth having a look at Arlinda’s campaign letter, as well. She randomly stops beside an ambulance car, saying “Fighting to retain hospital services in Shrewsbury” - what? The Tories fight for the NHS? Or stop by a random police van and “tackling antisocial behaviour” - really? Guys, I think you should open some more coffee shops in Shrewsbury town centre (that you are also fighting for) as the over 150 places where you can purchase coffee and other hot drinks do not seem reasonable for me.

In this country, especially in places like the countryside, you can achieve a great political career with repeating anti-EU rhetorics and what the countrymen want - especially if you are a foreign-born. But good to see that people in Shrewsbury are actually seeing through nonsense, as taking photos in front of things will not make you a responsible, credible politician, Arlinda, and, I think, your campaign leaflet and manifesto is one of the reasons that you failed on the 4th May (not to mention the horrendous image quality and graphic design). I personally have high hopes that David will also lose on the 8th June.

Rant over for today. I am glad that I had the opportunity to fight against the Tories in Shrewsbury.

~ Laszlo

Saturday, 4 March 2017

My 5 favourite Laibach music videos

Hi there,

Many of you may be aware that, between 2005 and 2011, I spent a lot of time in Slovenia. During those years, I had the chance to travel all across the country; in 2009 and 2011, I was granted CEEPUS scholarships to the universities of Maribor (2009) and Ljubljana (2011) respectively, so I even had the chance to carry out some studies and research there. Six years are quite sufficient to get to know a certain place well and discover its geographical, cultural, national and, maybe even, internationally known treasures. When it comes to music, I have a quite competitive knowledge of local bands and could, during any conversation, bring up a chat about, among many others, Alfi Nipič, Boris Kopitar, the Turbo Angels, or Vlado Kreslin and Siddharta. (I have in fact seen Alfi and Siddharta live, twice, both. And Vlado, once. Oh yes, look...)

Alfi (2007), Tomi of Siddharta, and Vlado (2008); Photos by me

I cannot remember the time I first came across the band called Laibach, which bears the name of the Slovenian capital city, Ljubljana's, historic German name. But it was most definitely in connection with Rammstein - you know the notorious band actually from Germany - as they were highly influenced by Laibach's musical and artistic characters. You can identify lots of similarities between these two bands, but maybe Rammstein is more metal-based, use explicit lyrics, and their shows are known to be visually overwhelming with fireworks which made them significantly more popular and famous. I, however, believe, that today we would not have the possibility to praise and celebrate Rammstein without Laibach and the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), so let the band introduce themselves to us (this section is taken off their website, I have only sorted out some punctuation): From the start, Laibach has developed a “Gesamtkunstwerk” – multi-disciplinary art practice in all fields ranging from popular culture to art (collages, photocopies, posters, graphics, paintings, videos, installations, concerts and performances). Since their beginnings, the group was associated and surrounded with controversy, provoking strong reactions from political authorities of former Yugoslavia and, in particular, in the Socialist Republic of Slovenia. Their militaristic self-stylisation, propagandist manifestos and totalitarian statements have raised many debates on their actual artistic and political positioning. Many important theorists, among them Boris Groys and Slavoj Žižek, have discussed the Laibach phenomenon both from an analytical as well as critical cultural point of view. The main elements of Laibach’s varied practices are: strong references to avant-garde art history, nazi-kunst and socialist realism for their production of visual art, de-individualisation in their public performances as an anonymous quartet dressed in uniforms, conceptual proclamations, and forceful sonic stage performances – mainly labelled as industrial (pop) music. Laibach is practising collective work, dismantling individual authorship and establishing the principle of hyper-identification. In 1983, they invented and defined the historic term ‘retro-avant-garde’. They creatively questioned artistic ‘quotation’, appropriation, re-contextualisation, copyright and copy-left. Although starting out as both an art and music collective, Laibach became internationally renowned foremost on the music scene, particularly with their unique cover-versions and interpretations of hits by Queen, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, etc. You can read more about them on their website, click here.

In the recent years, Laibach has become part of my life, it has developed to be one of those favourite bands of mine that I find the most influential on my daily life, and can shape my opinion on the world. The provocative and sarcastic, often deliberately offensive and controversial, but still creative and intelligent art certainly makes Laibach one of the most interesting performers of our times.

It has been on my mind for a while to pull together this blog post on (for me) the most influential Laibach music videos. The band has its official YouTube channel which contains all of their genuine videos, so when I made this Top 5, I only relied on their own playlist and chose five tracks from this selection. Maybe one day, I will also rank the album songs and make an actual Top 10, but most likely I would always go for these five tracks. Enjoy!

5. Final Countdown (NATO - 1994)
The original version of this song performed by the Swedish group, Europe, is known by the great majority of us. As a kid, I loved it; and this admiration about Final Countdown (or many other Europe songs) has not faded much over these decades; but hey, it was originally released in 1986! One of Laibach's specialities has been to turn international hits into their own, elaborated style. They not only re-record a song like many of the 'tribute' bands do who strive to sound like the original band; Laibach does not try to sound the same, and since they employ lots of topics (like Nazism or Stalinism), the outcomes are both fascinating and controversial. This song in a particularly nice way represents the sound of the early 1990s as well, but the video's visuals also bring you closer to George Orwell's 1984 atmosphere - like many of the other Laibach videos actually do in the same way, as you will see it. All in all, what else could I possibly say about this one?   

4. Opus Dei (English version of Leben heißt Leben) (Opus Dei - 1987)
Compared to Final Countdown, the original song is called Live is Life played by the Austrian band, Opus (click here for the original), and it is a proper 1980s cheesy shite anthem. That song must be known by literally everyone: Live, la la la la la; Live is life; La la la la la; Let us all talk about life. In Hungary, this last line has even gained a special fame as it sounds like "levelet kaptam, life" (I received a letter, life), a home-cooked, proletarian-style translation. Anyway, this was the first Laibach song I heard for the first time many many years ago; it is well-known for its glorious, military marching sound, so the original melodies of Opus were completely turned inside out, fortunately. I must not have engaged with the band too much at that time as since I left Slovenia in 2011, up until the end of 2014, I had not been aware of their performances at all. In fact, I completely forgot about them. Fortunately, I rediscovered them, like I said, about two years ago shortly after the Spectre album came out and the band got into the news as they had a tour in the last remaining Stalinist state, North Korea. Well, one of the best musical accidents for me was to bump into Laibach once again, but this time I got engaged for real. We can give a massive thank you to both Opus and Laibach for this masterpiece as this song remains the track that introduced Laibach to me (or me to Laibach?).

3. Rossiya (Volk - 2006) 
This is a special song for me. It is partly because the original here once upon a time was the national anthem of the Soviet Union. (It is now, after a few years of absence and text modification, Russia's.) As a geographer, I have always had a weird fascination with national anthems. I love national anthems. And for some reasons, I like the ones that associate with some controversy. If anybody asked me which were my favourites, I would say: Hungary's (of course! - a bit of healthy patriotism), the Soviet Union's, and Israel's. As for a fourth, I could also add the German Democratic Republic's, and as a fifth the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy's anthems, as they are beautiful musical pieces. On Volk, Laibach presents us with many national anthems, in their own style of course, including two of my favourites of which this video is one. And if you really want to understand the basis of the NSK art movement, you better start listening to these anthems including the one that used to be the Nazi Germany's.

2. The Whistleblowers (Spectre - 2014)
We rise, we grow
We walk and we stand tall
We never fall
As big as the sky
As far as the dawn
We walk
And we do not fall
We sleep, we dream
With no time in between
We never stop
Whistling our chant
In the heat of the night
We sing
The spirit is clean
From north and south
We come from east and west
Breathing as one
Living in fame
Or dying in flame
We laugh
Our mission is blessed
We fight for you
For freedom unforeseen
Thinking as one
Rolling along
To the beat of the drum
We march
The black cross machine
We stand alone
But soon the day will come
When freedom rings
We'll meet again
Now eternally
And walk
Once more as one! 

(c) Laibach

1. Geburt Einer Nation (Opus Dei - 1987)
The previous song, The Whistleblowers, is truly one of the best and most beautifully flowing songs ever composed by Laibach. If I did not know the band's repertoire well, I would probably choose that as the Number 1 here, and my decision would be purely based on music and the visuals only. But, fortunately, I know their art just as well as their music. Whilst The Whistleblowers still brings us some Soviet (some would argue Hitler Jugend) charm with lots of reflections on socialism (furniture, pictures of the great dictator, uniform, training methods, etc.), and especially on spies, wrapped in a 2014 quality, Geburt Einer Nation (Birth of a Nation) shows us what Laibach really represented in the mid-1980s (although, not much have changed around them). The strong association with absolute totalitarian regimes and their artworks reflect in this video well whilst you know it was something extraordinary to do during the time of the state-controlled Yugoslavia. This music video for me perfectly shows the strength of art's individualism and maybe its privilege, no matter how provoking it is, to peacefully raise our voices or our awareness to certain, especially political things, and project our thoughts on, for example, fascism, nationalism, communism or fundamentalist religion, but we could even bring PC (political correctness) into this club. Do not take Laibach the wrong way, however, they are not praising any of those ideologies; but their associating arts are symbolical, poignant and reflective as well as educative. This song for me is an anthem of rebellion against suppressing our rights to freely discuss and share our opinions on radicalism and one-sidedness, whilst you get the best Queen "One Vision" cover ever.

Jawoll, ja, jawoll. Hvala lepa for reading.
~ Laszlo

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Warszawa, Kraków and Wrocław in 40 photographs

Hi again,

Last week we celebrated the first half-term week off of the year, and since last year we had gradually become brain wrecked with work and other obligations (including our wedding) whilst being absolutely fed-up with the 'great' British weather and Brexit-related atmosphere, we thought a holiday in Poland would be a great idea for us. This time, however, we really just wanted to be away and get some well-deserved time off; therefore, nothing hardcore was planned. This is briefly why it so happened to be that we spent a colloquial week in Warszawa, Kraków and Wrocław - and we also went to see and stayed with our beautiful friends in Wysoka near Wadowice.

Regarding some general information about Poland, well, the internet is truly able to answer all of your questions in maximum details. If no luck in finding them, you can always come back to me and I will try to help you out with any issues. But now, I am only going to share pictures, my own photos, because an image can tell a lot more than those words that I would never be able to phrase in any spoken language. Here you are, enjoy, get engaged and see a tiny bit of Poland through my eyes.




Monday, 13 February 2017

Mogersdorf and a forgotten outdoor exhibition


I have started a little project in which I am going through my photo archive and aiming at selecting nice ones for some arty utilisation. It is a hardcore project as I have got over a hundred thousand of digital images on my hard drives, because I, apart from a couple of topics, take pictures of everything without an actual conception. This is why it is worth having a look at photographs in these old folders where I often find treasures. Last night I had a spare hour, so I thought I would look at a folder that has thousands of photos from 2009 and I found one that was labelled 'Mogersdorf' and dated the 5th September 2009.

Mogersdorf, or also known as Nagyfalva in Hungarian or Modinci in Slovenian, is a small village near Jennersdorf in Eastern Austria (Burgenland). (Click here for a map.) It is a famous place as it was here that Raimondo Montecuccoli fought the Battle of Szentgotthárd (or Battle of Mogersdorf) against the Ottoman Empire in 1664. The place is literally situated on the other side of the Hungarian-Austrian border, and if you drive westerly from the Hungarian town of Szentgotthárd, you will see a massive cross on a hill-top which is the monument of this historic battle (Picture 1).

Picture 1: Stonecross of Schösslberg (click to enlarge)
Photo by Bokor, L. (2009)

The pictures that I found in this folder are, however, not of Mogersdorf which is great; because, apart from a couple of things, it is a boring little place. But on that day I was there, I found a mini exhibition of artwork posters on the top of the hill, just by the cross. 14 to be exact and these artworks were themed: globalisation and peace (Picture 2)

Picture 2: Mini exhibition on Schlößlberg (click to enlarge)
Photo by Bokor, L. (2009)

They are reflective, poignant, and provocative, so they are amazing! As a researcher, I find these images important as I deal with issues in a local and global context; therefore, they have a lot to tell us about the world and the society we live in. 

I took pictures of all 14 images, but for some reason, I did not take one of the description panel itself. What a shame! Because now I have no idea who exactly did these artworks (though some could be identified as they are signed and dated) and where they are from, and why these were displayed in Mogersdorf. I tried to do a little research on it, but I have not been able to sink into the subject and find any details of this exhibition. Fortunately, I have the pictures of the artworks and I am going to share them with you. Hopefully, this post may reach someone who knows more about these artists and their artworks and perhaps we will get some more information on the display itself.  

Please enjoy. Don't rush through the images (click to enlarge).

~ Laszlo







Photos by Bokor, L. (2009)