The Peoples’ Olympics Vs the Nazi Olympics 1936: A Choice of Politics to go with your Sport

International Relations, Politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture, Sport

imageEighty years ago this month the IOC’s most controversial Olympiad was held. 1936 was a momentous year for the Olympic movement – the official Summer Olympic Games were held by the Nazis in August in Berlin. Back in February of that year another part of Germany, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, had hosted the Winter Olympiad[1]. And in July there had been, or should have been, an alternative, anti-Nazi Olympiad in Barcelona … more of that later.

Never before had a modern games been manipulated for propaganda purposes to the extent that the Germans under Hitler did at Berlin. When the Summer Games were awarded in 1931 Germany was still under the governance of the democratic (but ill-fated) Weimar Republic, but with Hitler coming to power two years later Germany swiftly took on a more unsavoury and increasingly sinister complexion. The Third Reich was soon savagely attacking the liberties of Jews, communists and the Roma (gypsies) … and much worse was to come!

As it got closer to the event there were questions asked within the Olympic community about whether the Games should go ahead in Berlin. The Nazi regime’s transparent violations of human rights at home, and it’s failure to behave like a good international citizen (eg, pulling out of the League of Nations in 1933, illegally occupying the Rhineland in March 1936, etc), prompted a number of nations to consider boycotting the event.

Berlin olympischstadion 1936
Berlin olympischstadion 1936
The US Olympic Committee debated the issue at great length. American Olympic association heavyweight, Avery Brundage (later controversial head of the IOC) was “gung-ho” for going ahead with participating, running the (now hackneyed) line that politics had no place in sport. The head of the American Amateur Athletic Union, JT Mahoney, and many others, were in favour of boycotting. The patrician Brundage was widely thought to be anti-Semitic and racist (in 1935 he alleged there was “a Jewish-communist conspiracy” trying to prevent the US team’s participation in Berlin). Ultimately Brundage’s lobby narrowly carried the AAAU vote in favour of going. The American decision to participate in Berlin was pivotal in salvaging the Games for the host city[2].

International opposition to the Nazi Olympics remained very vocal in the lead-up to the event. Spain and Barcelona in particular had a vested interest, having lost the bid to hold the 1936 Games to Berlin (the German city won easily, 43 votes to 16). SASI (the international federation of workers’ sports) decided to hold the next instalment of its Workers’ Olympiads (see my previous post) in Barcelona in 1936. The Catalan Committee in Favour of Popular Sport (CCEP), boosted by the election of the leftist Popular Front in Spain in February 1936, worked with SASI to plan and prepare the Barcelona Olympiad, scheduled to begin just two weeks before the start of the official (Berlin) Games … clearly timed to steal Nazi Germany’s (and the Führer’s) thunder!

In the end, although only two countries, the USSR and Spain, withdrew from the Berlin Games in favour of the Barcelona Olympiade, support for the Barcelona alternative games was widespread. The Olympiad was not state-sponsored in the fashion of the IOC carnival but backing came from progressive bodies and associations within western countries (trade unions, socialists, communists, anarchists, syndicalists, etc.). The Peoples’ Olympiad was also supported by various individuals – eg, dissident Germans with first-hand experience of the Hitler state and Jewish-American athletes opposed to Nazism[3].

SASI preached a cooperative and fraternal spirit to the 6,000 athletes from 22 countries who committed to participate. Whereas the Berlin Games were perceived as an affront to the Olympic ideals, Barcelona was intended to be based on a foundation of international solidarity that would elevate the “brotherhood of men and races” and “show the sport-loving masses (a Olympiad) that is neither chauvinistic or commercialised”, one devoid of the “sensational publicity of stars” that was characteristic of the IOC-run Games[4].

Olimpíada Popular
Olimpíada Popular
The organising committee for the Peoples’ Olympiad employed an emblem which reinforced the SASI themes of solidarity, brotherhood and world peace … three male athletes standing defiantly side-by-side, one white, one coloured and one (to all appearances) of mixed or Asian ethnicity (no females in the poster to be seen however … inclusiveness apparently hadn’t extended that far by then!)[5].

Most of the mainstream IOC sports had been slated for inclusion in Barcelona and one or two former ones like amateur rugby revived. Also tacked on to the Olympiad were a variety of cultural activities such as folk dancing, theatre, music, chess and an “Art Olympiad” (the promoters advertised the event also as a “Folk Olympiad”)[6].

Avery Brundage and the IOC were not alone in condemning the ‘rebel’ Olympiad in Catalonia, the Spanish right-wing press slammed the idea saying, variously: it would be a “second class Olympics” because it was open to all-comers, it was a “Jewish-communist” games, etc.[7]. On the Left the Spanish Marxist Workers’ Party (POUM) opposed the Peoples’ Olympiad on two grounds – the preoccupation with sports was “a waste of time” distracting the working class from its ‘proper’ objectives, and they mistrusted the motives of the democratic socialists (ie, SASI)[8]. Another instance of the lack of unity of the European Left in the face of the threat from the totalitarian Right.

Estadio Montjuïc
Estadio Montjuïc
In July 1936 on the eve of the games opening, the Peoples’ Olympiad was thwarted when the Spanish military led by General Franco staged a coup against the republican government. The outbreak of a full-scale civil war in the country resulted in the Olympiad’s cancellation. Some of the overseas athletes A number of the overseas athletes who had already arrived in Barcelona stayed, joining the Republic side and fighting in the International Brigades against Franco’s Falange forces. The Berlin Olympics kicked off as planned on 1st August with the politics indeed overshadowing the sport[9]. Barcelona and its Montjuïc Stadium had to wait another 56 years before it finally got its chance to hold the Olympic Games in 1992.

유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유
♔ a double blow for Barcelona as it also earlier had lost the 1924 Olympic bid (to Paris)
the infrastructure for the sports tournament was already in place – the main stadium and hotels (to be converted into a state-of-the-art Olympic village) had been constructed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition and upgraded for the city’s bid for the 1936 Games
Chess has a long tradition (since 1924) of staging its own brand of international Olympics, the Chess Olympiads, now held biennially
─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─
[1] such was the furore that surrounded the Berlin Olympics, the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games, comparatively, have been largely overlooked by history … Hitler did take a more low-key approach to the Bavarian event, however it was not entirely without controversy, eg, the “Jews not wanted” signs prominently displayed in the town had to be hastily removed from sight (albeit only temporarily); the German army undertook military manoeuvres in the vicinity during the Games, A Meyhoff & G Pfeil, ‘Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s Uncomfortable Past: German Ski Resort Represses Memory of 1936 Winter Olympics’, Spiegel International Online, 22-Jan 2010, www.spiegel.de
[2] H Gordon, Australia and the Olympics ; ‘The Movement to Boycott the Olympics of 1936’, (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), www.ushmm.org
[3] British support of Barcelona (and opposition to Berlin) was formidable, promising a big representation of UK athletes for the Olimpíada Popular, TUC (Trade Union Congress), ‘Labor Chest – Opposition to the Nazi Games, British Workers’ Sports Associations’ (Press Release), 9-Jun 1936), in Documents on the Popular Olympiad from “Trabajadores: The Spanish Civil War through the eyes of organised labor”, BTU Congress (Modern Research Centre, University of Warwick), www.contentdm.warwick.ac.uk
[4] ibid.
[5] J Freedland, ‘The Anti-Nazi Games that never were’, Evening Standard (Lon.), 16-Jul 2012
[6] ‘The Peoples’ Olympics in Barcelona’, http://iberianature.com/
[7] G Calomé & J Sureda, ‘Sport and Industrial Relations’ (1913-1939): the 1936 Popular Olympiad’, (1995), www.ddd.uab.cat
[8] ibid.
[9] Photos of the Berlin Games at the time of the event capture how completely Nazi propaganda lorded it over the ideals of the Olympics – the massive Nazi swastika symbol is seen to dwarf the Olympic Rings at venues, ‘The Olympics: Playing Political Games’, (Modern Research Centre, University of Warwick), www2.warwick.ac.uk

1936, the Year of the Olympics and the Alternative Olympics: a Cocktail of Sport and Politics

International Relations, Politics, Popular Culture, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture, Sport

1936 was a momentous year for the Olympic movement, the official, IOC-sanctioned Olympic Games was hosted by Nazi Germany’s Berlin. Never before had a modern games been manipulated for propaganda purposes to the extent that the Germans under Hitler did in Berlin 80 years ago this month. When Berlin was awarded the Games in 1931, Germany was still under the governance of the democratic Weimar Republic, but with Hitler coming to power two years later Germany swiftly took on a more unsavoury and increasingly sinister complexion. The Third Reich was soon savagely attacking the liberties of Jews, communists, the Roma (gypsies) and other targeted groups of German society … and much worse was to come!

As it got closer to the event there were questions asked within the Olympic community about whether the Games should go ahead in Berlin. The Nazi regime’s transparent violations of human rights at home, and it’s failure to behave like a good international citizen (eg, pulling out of the League of Nations in 1933, illegally occupying the Rhineland in March 1936, etc), prompted a number of nations to consider boycotting the event.

The US Olympic Committee debated the issue at great length. American Olympic association heavyweight, Avery Brundage (later controversial head of the IOC) was “gung-ho” for going ahead with participating, running the (now hackneyed) line that politics had no place in sport. The head of the American Amateur Athletic Union, JT Mahoney, and many others, were in favour of boycotting. The patrician Brundage was widely thought to be anti-Semitic and racist (in 1935 he alleged there was “a Jewish-communist conspiracy” trying to prevent the US team’s participation in Berlin). Ultimately Brundage’s lobby narrowly carried the AAAU vote in favour of going. The American decision to participate in Berlin was pivotal in salvaging the Games for the host city[1].

Catalonia's Olympiad Stadium
Catalonia’s Olympiad Stadium
International opposition to the Nazi Olympics remained very vocal in the lead-up to the event. Spain and Barcelona in particular had a vested interest, having lost the bid to hold the 1936 Games to Berlin (the German city won easily, 43 votes to 16). SASI (the international federation of workers’ sports) decided to hold the next instalment of its Workers’ Olympiads (see my previous post) in Barcelona in 1936. The Catalan Committee in Favour of Popular Sport (CCEP), boosted by the election of the leftist Popular Front in Spain in February 1936, worked with SASI to plan and prepare the Barcelona Olympiad, scheduled to begin just two weeks before the start of the official (Berlin) Games (clearly timed to steal Nazi Germany’s thunder!).

In the end, although only two countries, the USSR and Spain, withdrew from the Berlin Games in favour of the Barcelona Olympiade, support for the Barcelona alternative games was widespread. The Olympiad was not state-sponsored in the fashion of the IOC carnival but backing came from progressive bodies and associations within western countries (trade unions, socialists, communists, anarchists, syndicalists, etc.). The Peoples’ Olympiad was also supported by various individuals – eg, dissident Germans with first-hand experience of the Hitler state and Jewish-American athletes opposed to Nazism[2].

SASI preached a cooperative and fraternal spirit to the 6,000 athletes from 22 countries who committed to participate. Whereas the Berlin Games were perceived as an affront to the Olympic ideals, Barcelona was intended to be based on a foundation of international solidarity that would elevate the “brotherhood of men and races” and “show the sport-loving masses (a Olympiad) that is neither chauvinistic or commercialised”, one devoid of the “sensational publicity of stars” that was characteristic of the IOC-run Games[3].

Olimpíada Popular poster: International worker-athlete brotherhood
Olimpíada Popular poster: International worker-athlete brotherhood
The organising committee for the Peoples’ Olympiad employed an emblem which reinforced the SASI themes of solidarity, brotherhood and world peace … three male athletes standing defiantly side-by-side, one white, one coloured and one (to all appearances) of mixed or Asian ethnicity (no females in the poster to be seen however … inclusiveness apparently hadn’t extended that far by then!)[4].

Most of the mainstream IOC sports had been slated for inclusion in Barcelona and one or two former ones like amateur rugby revived. Also tacked on to the Olympiad were a variety of cultural activities such as folk dancing, theatre, music, chess and an “Art Olympiad” (the promoters advertised the event also as a “Folk Olympiad”)[5].

Avery Brundage and the IOC were not alone in condemning the ‘rebel’ Olympiad in Catalonia, the Spanish right-wing press slammed the idea saying, variously: it would be a “second class Olympics” because it was open to all-comers, it was a “Jewish-communist” games, etc.[6]. On the Left the Spanish Marxist Workers’ Party (POUM) opposed the Peoples’ Olympiad on two grounds – the preoccupation with sports was “a waste of time” distracting the working class from its ‘proper’ objectives, and they mistrusted the motives of the democratic socialists (ie, SASI)[7]. Another instance of the lack of unity of the European Left in the face of the threat from the totalitarian Right.

Estadio Montjuïc
Estadio Montjuïc
In July 1936 on the eve of the games opening, the Peoples’ Olympiad was thwarted when the Spanish military led by General Franco staged a coup against the republican government. The outbreak of a full-scale civil war in the country resulted in the Olympiad’s cancellation. Some of the overseas athletes A number of the overseas athletes who had already arrived in Barcelona stayed, joining the Republic side and fighting in the International Brigades against Franco’s Falange forces. The Berlin Olympics kicked off as planned on 1st August with the politics indeed overshadowing the sport[8]. Barcelona and its Montjuïc Stadium had to wait another 56 years before it finally got its chance to hold the Olympic Games in 1992.

유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유유
a double blow for Barcelona as it also earlier had lost the 1924 Olympic bid (to Paris)
the infrastructure for the sports tournament was already in place – the main stadium and hotels (to be converted into a state-of-the-art Olympic village) had been constructed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition and upgraded for the city’s bid for the 1936 Games
Chess has a long tradition (since 1924) of staging its own brand of international Olympics, the Chess Olympiads, now held biennially
─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─ ─
[1] H Gordon, Australia and the Olympics ; ‘The Movement to Boycott the Olympics of 1936’, (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), www.ushmm.org
[2] British support of Barcelona (and opposition to Berlin) was formidable, promising a big representation of UK athletes for the Olimpíada Popular, TUC (Trade Union Congress), ‘Labor Chest – Opposition to the Nazi Games, British Workers’ Sports Associations’ (Press Release), 9-Jun 1936), in Documents on the Popular Olympiad from “Trabajadores: The Spanish Civil War through the eyes of organised labor”, BTU Congress (Modern Research Centre, University of Warwick), www.contentdm.warwick.ac.uk
[3] ibid.
[4] J Freedland, ‘The Anti-Nazi Games that never were’, Evening Standard (Lon.), 16-Jul 2012
[5] ‘The Peoples’ Olympics in Barcelona’, http://iberianature.com/
[6] G Calomé & J Sureda, ‘Sport and Industrial Relations’ (1913-1939): the 1936 Popular Olympiad’, (1995), www.ddd.uab.cat
[7] ibid.
[8] Photos of the Berlin Games at the time of the event capture how completely Nazi propaganda lorded it over the ideals of the Olympics – the massive Nazi swastika symbol is seen to dwarf the Olympic Rings at venues, ‘The Olympics: Playing Political Games’, (Modern Research Centre, University of Warwick), www2.warwick.ac.uk

‘Democratised’ Olympics? The International Workers’ Olympiads

International Relations, Politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture, Sport

The second week of the Rio Olympics is now in full swing with the track and field disciplines having taken over from the swimming events. The conspicuous media coverage of the ‘unofficial'(sic) medal tallies in these games and the keen, vicarious interest of patriotic supporters in the performances of their national teams is as high as ever. By way of contrast to today’s highly competitive and commercialised IOC Olympics, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a very different kind of Olympiad, one lacking in individual competitiveness, centring largely round the Second World in the 1920s and 1930s.

During the interwar period (1919-1939) the newly-communist state of the USSR isolated itself from the capitalist world, this also meant opting out of the western system of sport, including the quadrennial Olympic Games♜. The USSR leaders viewed the Olympics as a capitalist and inherently exploitative and chauvinistic sporting event run by and for the West’s elites¹. The Bolsheviks certainly wanted to engage the Soviet citizenry especially its youth in physical activity, but wanted to create a sporting and physical culture that was ‘proletarian’ in nature to match the state’s avowed ideological position². Eschewing the IOC games’ ‘bourgeois’ individualism and record-seeking, the Soviets envisaged a sporting movement that would be class-based, collectivist and mass-oriented³.

Spartakiad 1931
Spartakiad 1931
As an alternative to the Olympics the Soviet Union in the early 1920s introduced the Spartakiad⁴, an ongoing, international multi-sports event sponsored by itself. The state organisation responsible for organising the event was called Red Sport International♔ (RSI or Sportintern), under the aegis of the powerful Comintern (the Communist International). The Spartikiad was the brainchild of RSI’s first president, Nikolai Podvoisky who came to the position from being Vsevobuch (responsible for organising the military training of Soviet youth).

RSI was formed in opposition to the IOC’s First World-dominated Olympics, but also in opposition to the rival Socialist Workers’ Sport International (Ger: Sozialistische Arbeitersport Internationale, SASI) which was founded as the Lucerne Sport International and based in that German-speaking Swiss city in 1920 (see Postscript). SASI organised a series of Workers’ Olympiads over the ensuing two decades.

The early (unofficial) Spartakiads were purely Soviet Republic affairs involving formations of the Red Army and Spartak Youth Physical Culture. Later participants included trade unions, the Dynamo Physical Culture Sports Society, the Patriotic Defence Society (DOSAAF) and other labour-based sports clubs and associations. From 1928 to 1937 athletes from sports clubs and associations outside of the USSR were invited to take part in the Spartakiads.

RSI Vs SASI
Predictably the separate sports tournaments of the USSR-sponsored RSI and the SASI (backed by the German parliamentary socialist Left and a mixture of independent socialists, syndicalists and anarchists) became vehicles to endorse the virtues of each body’s political stance … the Soviets saw the sporting activities of RSI as opportunities for political education of the masses (although they were quite frustrated at the limited success in this objective). There were calls in the 1920s for SASI and RSI to unify their multi-sport movements and some tentative connections made, but these were made against a backdrop of the non-crystallisation of the Left in Europe. Communists and social democrats committed the fatal political mistake: bickering and fighting with each other rather than focusing on the common enemy, a greater threat to them from fascism and the Far Right in Europe (eg, as happened in Weimar Germany). Ultimately the two workers’ sporting organisations couldn’t bring themselves to merge as the ideological divide between moderate (democratic) Left and Far Left widened⁵.

Both sports internationals were large-scale organisations, each with over two million members by 1928. Both professed to be anti-bourgeois but crucial differences surfaced rapidly. SASI took a strongly anti-militarist stance (the Olympiad’s slogan was “No More War”), and insisted that members follow its policy of political party neutrality (on both counts antithetical to RSI). SASI’s political non-alignment drew hostility from RSI who attacked it for a failure to espouse revolutionary goals, labelling its members as ‘Mensheviks’ and ‘reformists’. RSI also pursued a strategy of trying to ‘white-ant’ SASI by forming communist factions within it. SASI for its part earnestly resisted attempts by RSI to radicalise its movement and impose a communist dominance over it⁶.

Frankfurt WO 1925
Frankfurt WO 1925
SASI held its first Workers’ Olympiad in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1925. Around 150,000 spectators attended and a world record was broken in the 4 x 100 metres women’s relay race. SASI fostered the ideals of international solidarity and brotherhood among athletes, this was in stark contrast to the IOC which had compromised its own Olympic principles by allowing Belgium and France to ban the defeated (so-called) “aggressor nations”, Germany and Austria, from the 1920 and 1924 Olympics♕. The display of national flags and anthems at Worker Olympiads were forbidden … all athletes competed under a single red flag and “The Internationale” was sung at ceremonies which comprised displays of free exercises by a mass of gymnasts. The sense of brotherhood engendered by SASI discouraged the quest for records and the idolisation of individual athletes⁷.

Another feature distinguishing the Workers’ Olympiad from the IOC Olympics was that the best performed athletes were awarded diplomas instead of medals. As well, there was no exclusive accommodation for competitors such as Olympic villages, worker-athletes were billeted with local, working class families⁸.

The 1931 SASI Olympiad in Vienna♚ was probably the most successful tournament, introducing innovative sports such as fitness biathlon (run-and-swim) and “military sport”. It attracted 250,000 spectators (more than attended the 1932 Los Angeles Games), with competitors from 26 countries numbering in excess of 75,000 (cf. a mere 1,410 competing at the LA Games). Workers’ Olympiads were not restricted to elite performers, they were in fact overtly non-elitist … open to participants regardless of ability. SASI’s games had a more socially progressive approach … where the IOC had only 107 women competitors in LA in 1932 (about 7% of the total), Vienna had 25,000 female athletes attend in 1931⁹.

The next Workers’ Olympiad was set to take place in Barcelona in 1936, the same year as the Berlin Olympics, and was intended to be a protest against the IOC’s awarding of the Games to Hitler’s Germany. It was however called off at the 11th hour owing to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (see separate post). Hastily rescheduled for 1937 in Antwerp, this Olympiad was considerably reduced in scale (15 participating countries) … no German athletes because the Workers’ Gymnastics and Sports Federation of Germany (ATSB) had been outlawed by the Nazi regime upon coming to power. As a partial reconciliation SASI did permit RSI sporting clubs and bodies to take part. Exotic or novel sports at Antwerp included Basque pelota, Czech handball, table tennis, motor cycling and chess¹⁰.

Antwerp WO 1937
Antwerp WO 1937
The 1937 Workers’ Olympiad was the last of SASI’s sexennial multi-sports labour-centred events, as the outbreak of World War II put paid to plans to hold the 1943 Workers’ Olympiad scheduled to take place in Helsinki. The global war also called a halt to the Moscow-controlled Spartakiads (Red Star International itself was dissolved in the late 1930s).

Emerging from the war as allies of Britain, France and the US, the USSR moved towards a position of greater engagement with the world. Embracing the West, to the extent it did this, was partly a recognition of the need to modernise the Soviet Union, and this was essential if the USSR was going to compete with and overtake the capitalist world in industry, technology and agriculture. A key part of engaging internationally was to integrate into the Western international sports system, starting with the major sports in the USSR, football and weightlifting. The Soviets got themselves onto the world governing federations in these sports and then extended the process to other highly participatory sports¹¹.

As the muscle-flexing of the Cold War was starting up, the USSR recognised the value of using sport to project and enhance great-power status, so a clear aim was re-admission to the Olympic Games fraternity. The Soviets did not try to participate at the 1948 London Games but timed their return for the 1952 Games in Helsinki where they were successful in winning 22 gold medals. At Melbourne in the 1956 Olympics the USSR finished first (above even the mighty USA) in the medal tally. Such a demonstration of communist sporting supremacy over capitalist nations in this world arena brought the Soviet Union a real measure of international recognition¹² (in the same way as Soviet technological breakthroughs in the “Space Race” did).

In the post-war period the Soviet Union continued holding Spartakiads, but they now had new purposes. The Spartikiads and other such massive-scale, multi-sport extravaganzas (kompleksnye sorevnovania) were still PR vehicles to propagate positive values of youth, optimism and world peace. The Spartakiad continued right up to the breakup of the USSR, and its sporting activities bolstered national defence by providing paramilitary training for Soviet youth. But the event was now held one year prior to the Olympics, the Spartakiad became an internal Olympics trial, a mechanism to find and develop new talent for the upcoming Games¹³.

Postscript:
The origins of worker gymnastic and sporting associations and clubs lie in Central Europe in late I9th century and arose out of an increase in workers’ leisure time, eg, Germany led the way with the formation of the Worker-Gymnasts Association (Arbeiter-Turnerbund – ATB) in 1893. Swimming, sailing, athletics and other sports swiftly followed suit. By soon after the turn-of-the century these types of organisations had spread to other European states. In 1913 worker sport associations representing Germany, England, Belgium, France and Austria, met at a congress in Ghent and formed the first International Workers’ Sports Association. The advent of world war the following year however put the IWSA’s activities in abeyance for the duration¹⁴.

₪┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅┅₪
♜ in this formative stage of the Soviet Union, “Socialism in One Country” was the prevailing strategy of the Party (advanced by Stalin) – consolidating the ‘progressive’ and revolutionary conditions within the USSR, which meant postponing its export to the outside world
originally known as the International Red Sports and Gymnastics Associations, underscoring gymnastics’ place in organised recreational pursuits in this period
both worker sports associations (especially SASI) railed against the IOC for its practice of social exclusion, racist attitudes and failure to promote policies of gender equality at the Games
♚ the same year RSI held an All-Unions Spartakiad in Berlin
the 1937 Summer workers’ event was preceded by an Arbeiter Olympiade Winter in Czechoslovakia

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References:
¹ a succession of aristocratic heads of the IOC (de Coubertin, de Baillet-Latour, Brundage) accentuated the elitist nature of the organisation and the event
² more pragmatically, the government also understood that the proletarian sports meets would provide youth with valuable training for later national military service
³ B Keys, ‘Soviet Sport and Transnational Mass Culture in the 1930s’, Journal of Contemporary History, 38(3), 2003, www.blogs.bu.edu
⁴ the Spartakiad took its name from Spartacus, the 1st century Thracian gladiator who led the slave rebellion against Rome, a deliberate contrast with the Modern Olympics movement which took its inspiration from the Ancient Olympics with its aristocratic nod to the mythology of Greek Gods, ‘Spartakiad’, (Wikipedia), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spartakiad
⁵ ‘A Workers’ Olympics?’, Workers’ Liberty, 01-Aug 2012, www.workersliberty.org
⁶ DA Steinberg, ‘The Workers’ Sports Internationals 1920-28′, Journal of Contemporary History, 13(2), Apr 1978
⁷ B Kidd, ‘Radical Immigrants and the Workers’ Sports Federation of Canada, 1924-37′, in G Eisen & DK Wiggins [Eds], Ethnicity and Sport in North American History and Culture
⁸ ‘A Workers’ Olympics?’, op.cit.
⁹ ‘Socialist Workers’ Sport International’, (Wikipedia), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SocialistWorkersSportInternational; ‘Red Sport International’, (Wikipedia), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/RedSportInternational; Kidd, op.cit.
¹⁰’1937 Workers’ Summer Olympiad’, (Wikipedia),https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1937WorkersSummerInternational
¹¹ Keys, op.cit.
¹² ibid ; J Riordan, International Politics of Sport in the Twentieth Century
¹³ R Edelman, Serious Fun: A History of Spectator Sport in the USSR
¹⁴ G Kuhn, Playing as if the World Mattered: An Illustrated History of Activism in Sports

The Hawkesbury – A Not So Close Encounter with Napoleonic France

Local history, Military history

Hawkesbury R. at Windsor
Hawkesbury R. at Windsor
Windsor, 63 kilometres north-west of Sydney and nestling on the southern side of the winding Hawkesbury River, is one of the most historic towns of Australia’s European settlement. The first white settlers moved into Windsor in the early 1790’s giving it the name Green Hills, although it wasn’t until Lachlan Macquarie’s governorship (commencing in early 1810) that the town and environs of Green Hills (by now renamed ‘Windsor’) started to get a kick-along, progress-wise.

The Riverview Shopping Centre in George Street (Windsor’s high street), constructed in 2006, offers up its own acknowledgement of the suburb’s rich historical story. On the centre’s marble effect floor, positioned at regular points, there is a series of banner inscriptions which identify certain events or milestones in the history of the Hawkesbury district.

Among the little snippets of local historical interest is a reference to Windsor’s own notorious colonial bushranger, George Armstrong. Armstrong – labelled “the terror of the Windsor district” – briefly threatened the safety and well-being of the township’s citizens in 1837[1] (an interesting side-note to this is that nearby Wilberforce – just across the river – was the birthplace of a far more celebrated Australian bushranger, Fred Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt).

However it was another historical headline on the centre floor that caught my eye – the banner read “1814 ~ Report given to Governor Macquarie of planned invasion of the Hawkesbury by Napoleon”. I was not previously aware of any reference to a supposed connection between Napoleon and Sydney’s Windsor district, and found the notion an intriguing one.

Gov. Macquarie in Thompson Square
Gov. Macquarie in Thompson Square
At the time the Napoleonic Wars were at their height with Britain and its allies moving towards the ultimate showdown with France at Waterloo in 1815. The official who alerted Macquarie to the French danger was Earl Bathurst, Secretary of War and Colonies (Bathurst to Macquarie: 1813 correspondence). Bathurst’s letter warned of the possibility of French attack on the colony, most likely to originate by sea from Broken Bay, down the Hawkesbury River … the target was thought to be Windsor’s granary (Sydney’s “food bowl”), to cut off its supply to Sydney Town[2]. In response, Macquarie, already preoccupied with the task of making Windsor more secure, stepped up the strengthening of the military garrison and boosted the population of free men (including emancipists) in the district.

British intelligence about a planned invasion of the Sydney colony has its genesis in the period’s French maritime expeditions in the South Pacifc, particularly that of Nicolas Baudin in 1802 and 1803. Baudin’s scientific expedition visited Port Jackson in 1802 and it was the activities (and subsequent written record) of the expedition’s naturalist, François Péron, which provided the blueprint for supposed French intentions in New Holland. Whilst there, Péron, under the guise of his scientific activities, engaged in a “freelance spying” exercise[3], collecting information on the nature and defence capacity of the colony. Péron wrote down his observations in a secret report (entitled Mémoire sur les établissements anglais à la Nouvelle Hollande).

Monsieur F Péron
Monsieur F Péron
Péron claimed to be a government agent and that the expedition’s real purpose was a political mission. The zoologist-cum-spy recommended that France attack the fledgling British colony in New Holland, speculating that the act would incite an Irish rebellion against the colony’s English overlords and elicit resistance from the indigenous population as well. The military strategy advanced by Péron also called for a takeover of the south of Tasmania. The assault on Sydney via the Hawkesbury was one of three invasion routes proposed by Péron[4].

Although Péron’s viewpoint was widely discredited at the time, his memoir has recently been translated into English (from the original) and new research on the subject at Adelaide University (UOA) has thrown up fresh evidence to support the contention of Péron that Napoleon was seriously considering such an attack. Peron’s report (and the reactions to it) demonstrates that Port Jackson/NSW was perceived as a strategic location by both Britain and its enemies. The related UOA research unearthed further evidence that the British South Pacific outpost held a strategic necessity that went beyond the mere penal colony that was stated to be Sydney’s raison d’être[5].

Isle de France
Isle de France
The perspective of the Sydney colony proffered by Péron (and Napoleon’s later acknowledgement of his views) underscore the displeasure with which the French viewed Britain’s decision to unilaterally annex this great, southern land without consulting other European powers. The new British colony was also seen as posing a potential threat to France’s Indian Ocean island possessions, especially to the French naval base in the Isle de France (Mauritius and its dependent territories)[6].

The British colonialists in Australia did recognise and respond to the threat from France at some level. Concern over French incursions into Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) was intensified by the contemporary activity of French explorers (separate ‘scientific’ expeditions by d’Entrecasteaux, Baudin and Freycinet in the south) – and prompted His Majesty’s government to occupy the south of Tasmania and plant the “Union Jack” on King Island (in the Bass Strait) in fear of French designs on this part of the continent[7].

Hawkesbury River
Hawkesbury River
Bathurst’s “hush-hush” letter to Macquarie (based on information supplied by agents friendly to Britain) also raised the prospect of a joint naval attack by both France and the United States[8]. The plan was for the combined fleet to assemble at Two Fold Bay (Eden, NSW) and then proceed up the Pacific Coast and launch an attack on Sydney from the north (Hawkesbury River). Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign and the reverses suffered by the US early in the War of 1812 meant that the plan was never put into practice[9], but the episode served to underline how strategically important the remote, western Pacific colony was for Britain imperial ambitions.

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[1] ‘The Notorious Bushranger George Armstrong’, Hawkesbury Historical Society, (10-Feb 2016), www.hawkesburyhistoricalsocietyblogspot.com.au
[2] ‘Windsor, New South Wales’, (Wiki), www.en.m.wikipedia.org
[3] described by some as an “amateur espionage project”, N Rothwell, ‘Francois Peron’s French lessons in the colonisation of Australia’, The Australian, 05-Apr 2014
[4] M Connor, ‘The secret plan to invade Sydney’, Quadrant Magazine, 01-Nov 2009, www.quadrant.org.au; ‘Napoleon’s Intention to Capture Thompson Square’, (The Battle for Windsor Bridge – Personal Stories), www.rahs.org.au
[5] R Brice, ‘Sacré bleu! French invasion plan for Sydney’, (ABC News, 11-Dec 2012), www.abc.net.au
[6] ibid.
[7] ‘Battle for Windsor Bridge’, op.cit.
[8] At the time (1813), both France and the US were engaged in (distinct but related) wars with Britain, whose navy was blockading the fleets of both countries. Attacking the important colony of Port Jackson made tactical sense to divert the British fleet away from US and French ports, ibid.
[9] ibid.

Spa Town’s Historic Healing Waters

Heritage & Conservation, Regional History, Travel

A significant part of Budapest’s special appeal and charm lies in its plethora of natural hot springs. The “City of Spas” boasts something in the vicinity of 120 therapeutic baths … signifying a rich history of centuries of hydro-treatment and leisure for its citizens. Many of the thermal baths are a legacy of the Ottoman occupation. Király (King), Rudas and Csárzár (Veli Bej) were built as Turkish baths and still operate as such today.

imageThe Széchenyi Medicinal Baths are the largest in Europe and one of the continent’s most famous thermal pool complexes with a history dating back over 100 years. It reminded me of the old Ramsgate Baths 50 years ago, but with a liberal measure of grandeur and style about it✦. This place really brings the punters in, all ages and types. It is open every day of the year and I reckon some locals do come every day! Its function and importance to the average Budapester is more analogous with that of the democratic beach in Summer in an Australian coastal fringe city.

Széchenyi is very large … and crowded. It is hot, a landscape of cement and water littered with people either sunbathing or standing round in small groups in pools. Many pools in fact! Three large outdoor pools plus 15 smaller indoor thermal ones all up. The configuration of the outdoor pools is a conventional rectangular pool in the middle, bookended by two half-circular ones.

imageI liked the Baths’ architecture a lot – grand, very ornate with arched columns with the complex as a whole set in the middle of a pleasant city park which the baths share with a circus and an amusement park. On the left side of the pool, near the Pepsi sign, groups of older men, half-immersed in water, were busying themselves attentively in games of chess.

The water was warm to quite hot in parts, up to 38°! It was very refreshing and relaxing, especially when you perch yourself for a while under one of the water spouts in the shadow of classical sculptures. But I couldn’t stay in the open for long though … too many people, far too hot and the poolside areas lacked for shaded spots.

One avenue of escape from the heat and potential sunburn was to venture inside to one of the smaller (also crowded) thermal pools where the water temperature was a more tolerable 27°. The locker system in place in the Baths seemed haphazard, rows of lockers up and down different alleys and different floors. It was very antiquated, looked like it was designed in 1913, annoyingly cumbersome and detracted a bit from the experience. When you pay to enter they give you a plastic armband to access the locker (and your gear), the object is to try not to lose it during the water-bound activities.

imageIt was good to experience the environment of a typical Budapest thermal spring, even if I found the aesthetics of the baths more rewarding than the actual swimming, or more accurately, wading.

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✦ the Széchenyi building complex has been variously described – from: looking like a Baroque palace to a “wedding cake” building.

From Buda to Pest and Back

Heritage & Conservation, Regional History, Travel

Staying on the Buda side of Budapest (at the Mercure) meant we had only a short walk up the hill to take in the views of Budapest from high up. Prominent on Várhegy (Castle Hill) as it is known is St Matthias Church where the kings of Hungary were crowned … just across the square from here is an imposing viewing terrace complete with towers overlooking the Danube.

Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion
Originally there was a fortification here that was part of the city castle walls manned in the Middle Ages by city fishermen, who following a 13th century raid from a Mongolian army, were responsible for keeping watch on invaders (hence the name “Fisherman’s Bastion”). The present, silver/white coloured structure has a Medieval appearance but is actually Neo-Gothic (dating only from the end of the 19th century). The impression it conveys is that of a fairytale castle, like something improbable you’d find in Disneyland (some visitors have noted the similarity to it of the Walt Disney logo). The staircase has interesting old wall relief-sculptures worthy of examination. Access to the terrace is free of charge but if you want to go up to the turrets for higher views there is a fee. Below the parapet the land drops away sharply into a pleasant park close to the river. The castle viewed by night, when all lit up, is at its spectacular best!

The commercial side
The commercial side
Whilst we were visiting the Bastion we went downstairs into the narrow, damp, aged basement and had a viewing of a doco recounting the history of Hungary. It was very informative, especially the story of “The White Stag”, a Hungarian creation myth about how twins, Hanor and Magor, founded the Hungarian nation by accident whilst out hunting the aforementioned white stag. The stag suddenly disappeared and the two hunters found themselves in a strange land where they met, kidnapped and married two Sarmatian princesses – thus uniting three peoples – the Huns, the Magyars & the Alans. The film was an enjoyable and educational diversion.

On our first full day in Budapest we did the drive-round on the “Big Bus”, giving visitors a concise snapshot of the scope and size of Budapest. One of the things you’ll easily notice from the top deck of the bus is the contrasting physical difference between the hillier Buda side (especially around the Castle District) and its expanse of parklands and the larger Pest side with its mainly flat contours. The commercial hub of the city is concisely encapsulated within Pest.

Parliament
Parliament
We did the combined bus/boat trip with a cruise down the Danube later on. The river cruise was the standout part of the city tour. It was ideal to take in the views on either side, lots of grand architectural sights (eg, the London-influenced Parliament building, the Disneylandish Fisherman’s Bastion, etc). Many of Budapest’s most impressive buildings are clearly visible from the river. The experience of cruising along the Danube here is superior to the equivalent cruise in Vienna (or for that matter to doing a river cruise in Prague).

The free walking tour was at least equally valuable in yielding insights into Budapest. Our 25-y-o guide was very helpful, took us to many of the attractions the Pest district has to offer. Vaci Utia, the main boulevard was basically an invitation for indulgent mega-shopping for gifts and souvenirs – coupled with countless rows of seating for outdoor eating. Of course we sampled the local sweet specialities like the apple strudel (there was a bit of a Viennese feel to the pastry shops and both places seem to be “sweet tooth” zones).

The architecture in Vaci was an interesting mix of old buildings with some ultra-new glass monoliths. We went past the famous (sic) MacDonalds’ fast food place … unremarkable looking but famous, our guide informed us, because it was the first one to open ANYWHERE in the Eastern Bloc. Such was the novelty of Maccas at that time (late 1980s) it was apparently THE place to be seen in Budapest. When it opened diners actually had to make reservations to eat there, and when they did, they turned up in their finest clobber!

Buda Funicular
Buda Funicular
The walking tour ended near the famous Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) and we walked over to the Buda side past the bridge’s ‘protective’ lions. This presented the opportunity to take a swift ride up the steep castle hill in the city’s funicular (Budavári Sikló), which reminded me of my experience ascending and descending Chile’s ascensores in Valparaíso.

Another mega-shopping place is the Grand Markets … old, multi-level hangar or gigantic barn-like structure, with merchandise ranging from fruit and veg, fish to clothing and accessories. Budapest has its own version of Aldi (Hofer) and more surprisingly a branch of the South African supermarket giant, SPAR!

I noticed that the local ‘fuzz’ wear cute if slightly ludicrous little red berets … to be honest though I doubt if the experiences of Syrian asylum seekers in 2016 found them to be at all ‘cute’.

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the guide in recounting this anecdote added that because the opening of the first MacDonalds preceded by a short time the tumultuous fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, locals like to refer to the events thus: “the Golden Arches went up before the Hammer and Sickle was torn down” (a statement with lots of symbolic resonance given the weighty extent to which Budapest and other former Eastern Bloc cities have been westernised and commercialised in the period since).