Saturday, June 02, 2007

In defence of Froggy

I am republishing this post with some additions, as follows:
  • the first section is the original post unamended;
  • the second section is my own follow up comment posted after the transmission of the programme; and
  • the third section contains some new comments on subsequent material relating to the programme appearing in the periodical History Ireland

The Original Post posted 12 January 2007, before the broadcast There is a report in the Irish Times (12/1/2007) which says that Albert Folens's widow secured a temporary (ex parte) High Court injunction preventing RTÉ from using a 1987 interview with her husband in a TV programme titled Ireland's Nazis, scheduled to be aired next week as part of the Hidden Ireland series.

Mr. Senan Moloney, who was then working for the Sunday Tribune had taped the interview with Mr. Folens. Mr Rogers, counsel for Mrs. Folens, said that a representative of the newspaper, Mr Moloney and Mr Folens had signed an agreement allowing Mr Folens to see any article before it was published and also giving him the right of reply.

His client was seeking the injunction restraining the defendants from using, broadcasting and publishing the subject matter of that interview, otherwise than in accordance with the terms of the agreement in 1987. Report was also carried in Irish Independent.





Albert was my French teacher in school. He was a very good teacher. He taught French through French. He was supposed to be teaching it through Irish but he didn't have the Irish.

He published a series of textbooks for learning French through Irish which we used in class. Donncha Ó Céileachair did the Irish end of these. Folens also started publishing cog notes for exams which were first class, even if they were totally subversive of the supposed aims of the education system. This activity progressed to publishing actual text books, particularly on new subjects like civics, and the business eventually expanded into a high class, and very worthy, publishing empire.

We called him Froggy, which must have been the ultimate irony for a militant Fleming. We didn't know his background then but it was fairly wide knowledge in Dublin that he had fled Belgium because of support for the Germans during WWII. It would have been understood here, though, that any such support was bound up with the struggle for Flemish independence. The Germans had promised both the Flemish and Bretons greater independence under Germany than they then enjoyed under Belgium and France respectively. A number of Bretons also got sanctuary in Ireland after WWII and some became actively involved in the Irish language movement.

Albert wrote a book which set out his position quite clearly. He published it himself in 1958. It is called "Aiséirí Flóndrais" (Flanders Rising). It was published in Irish, translated from the English by Donncha Ó Céileachair. It shows that he was a true Flemish nationalist and abhorred the extremes perpetrated by the Nazis, some of which extremes, he says, were also mirrored by the then Belgian authorities. Along with tens of thousands of Flemings he supported the Germans as a means of achieving some measure of rights and ultimate independence for Flanders. Most of these were ultimately disillusioned by the later stages of the war by which time they were faced with Hobson's choice.

It would be strange indeed for the Irish, of all people, to be critical of his good faith in this venture when Ireland herself sought the help of the French (na Francaigh ag teacht thar sáile!) and the Germans (Banna Strand!) in her own fight against national, cultural, economic, linguistic and religious oppression. Our Head of Government even signed the book of condolences for Hitler after his atrocities were known. The Flemings were a long oppressed race, none the less so by their own cobbled-together and vindictive Belgian state.

I spent time in Flanders in 1967/68 at the height of the "linguistic wars" and I must say my sympathy was entirely with the Flemish. They had been derided, exploited, used for cannon fodder, denied office and forced to bend the knee to a francophile coterie which, thankfully by then, was beginning to resemble the fading remnants of a post colonial ascendancy.

I don't know if RTÉ made any effort to consult with his widow regarding the content of the programme or to give the family a chance to put Albert's view across. It doesn't look like it from the tone of the report in today's Irish Times and Mrs. Folens's statement.

There is a class of supposed exposé journalism, and it is not new, which seems very reluctant to afford the subject of criticism the right of simultaneous reply.

This, after all, is only natural justice and to be all the more expected in a flourishing democracy like ours. It is, unfortunately, usually safe enough to take the lazy way out when the subject is dead! Fortunately there may be a prospect of some legal redress in this particular case. We'll see.

I don't know if Albert's book was ever re-published after 1958 or if the original manuscript in English ever saw the light of day. But, in this age of universal access to the internet, it would be worth publishing both, if only online.

There are even lessons to be learned from it on the linguistic front which might still be relevant to both the Welsh and Irish efforts at language development.

If RTÉ want to exhume Albert let them resurrect the whole man and pay some attention to what he actually has to say rather than setting him up as an easy aunt sally.
My comment posted following the broadcast

I wondered why the original taped interview had not been used at the time (1987) as the basis for a story, or flogged to RTE as was done recently. It is interesting to see the reasons given at the time by the then editor of the Sunday Tribune, Vincent Browne, for not using the material: " ... we have decided not to publish anything concerning your involvement in the Second World War, at present. This decision was taken on the following basis: that, given the absence of harder information concerning any impropriety it would be wrong to expose you to the turmoil that would inevitably ensue if we published the information which we presently have in our possession." Source The only additional information available since then is the entry in the US/UK Crowcass manual listing Folens as an "interpreter" rather than a "translator" at the Sicherheitspolizei premises in Brussels. However Folens himself said that the part he worked in was "lectorale" which involved translation rather than interpretation. The dropping of a "reconstruction"/fabrication of an interrogation sequence from the transmitted programme speaks volumes in this regard.




Further Comments posted 2 June 2007

The programme was reviewed in the March/April issue of History Ireland by Eamon O'Flaherty who lectures in history in UCD. He mentions Cathal O'Shannon's annoyance at Irish neutrality and at not being allowed to wear his British uniform when home on leave in Dublin from the RAF during the war.

I can understand why O'Shannon might have resented the welcome given to collaborators after the war when, at the same time, the contribution of Irish people who enlisted in the Allied cause was swept under the carpet. Some of my own family experienced this after WWI.

Regarding the actual programme, O'Flaherty does suggest, however, that in O'Shannon's case "perhaps the journalist's desire to tell a good story won out over the maintenance of proportion in the latter stages of the film". I certainly think that was the case. O'Flaherty himself, however, also asserts that "the controversial nature of the revelations even at this remove was shown by the efforts of the widow of Albert Folens, one of the subjects of the film, to prevent it from being broadcast". I understood that Mrs. Folens's action was an attempt to ensure a right of reply and fairness of treatment in the case of her husband. Her counsel was seeking to have the broadcast of the tape stopped except in accordance with the existing agreement which guaranteed advance knowledge and a right of reply - hardly new concepts in the area of justice.

A further piece in the May/June issue of History Ireland, by Daniel Leach, a scholar and PhD candidate at the School of Historical Studies in the University of Melbourne, takes a broader look at the factors influencing the behaviour of the Irish State during WWII, and, in particular, our covert pro-Allied neutrality. Leach underlines the importance of symbols of sovereignty to a small newly emerging state, particularly where the former colonial master and its major ally do not appear to take such sovereignty seriously.

The piece also refers to the practice of some of the victorious Allies of tarring all collaborators with the war-criminal label as a tactic for suppressing separatist movements. Obvious examples here were France and Belgium.

There are many lessons to be learned from this unfortunate episode, and they need to be learned sooner rather than later in a world that is increasingly making light of the very human rights for which people fought and died in two "World Wars" and many other struggles between and since.


Some more recent posts

Turkish Delight 17/1/2012

Do you remember Froggy 23//2013

Pro Patria 8/2/2016

Was Roger Casement a Nazi 2/4/2016

Bloomsday 2016 12/6/2016

4 comments:

Póló said...

I wondered why the original taped interview had not been used at the time (1987) as the basis for a story, or flogged to RTE as was done recently. It is interesting to see the reasons given at the time by the then editor of the Sunday Tribune, Vincent Browne, for not using the material:

" ... we have decided not to publish anything concerning your involvement in the Second World War, at present. This decision was taken on the following basis: that, given the absence of harder information concerning any impropriety it would be wrong to expose you to the turmoil that would inevitably ensue if we published the information which we presently have in our possession." Source

The only additional information available since then is the entry in the US/UK Crowcass manual listing Folens as an "interpreter" rather than a "translator" at the Sicherheitspolizei premises in Brussels. However Folens himself said that the part he worked in was "lectorale" which involved translation rather than interpretation. The dropping of a "reconstruction"/fabrication of an interrogation sequence from the transmitted programme speaks volumes in this regard.

lex Colen said...

I am reading here and there articles about the documentary - Hidden Ireland shown on Irish TV.
I must say that I am shocked by what I read. It becomes a real scandal involving the reputation of Ireland but more so the integrity of Mr. de Valera.
If he had any Irish pride That Cathal O’Shanon would’nt have done what he has done now.
Van Velthoven should have been stopped.
The case Folens is ludicrous. If both Van Velthoven and Folens had come at the time, 40 years ago, over to Belgium they would have been free men to go where they liked.
They could have lived quietly without being disturbed by there past.
Thousands of people all over Europe had run into trouble. England received the Estonians and Latvians who had done compulsory services in de Waffen SS, and English intelligence was well aware of that. Had they come to Ireland de Valera would have been forced to let them enter because they were fleeing from the Russians. Has Cathal that sleuth found that out yet? He hadn’t far to go, he could have interviewed hundred such persons in Britain.
I left Ireland for Belgium in 1967 because I had there been several times before, starting up a procedure to obtain a reprieve and knowing that I could do so as free man. Today I enjoy full civil rights and have a clean record. I mean, no criminal record whatsoever.
I think that it is improper that Irishmen should be soiling Irish soil and drag upright politicians such as de Valera down with themselves in the mud.

Cases like Menten had nothing to do with Ireland and the war. The case of the Croatian is understandable according to the circumstances. But building up a case against your own people by gathering dirt and insinuations that is incredible.

I do not know yet the full impact upon the public. I haven't read what Van Velthoven boasted about what Cathal 0’Shanon discovered,but both are a pain in the neck and irresponsible men.
To day all kinds of people without papers or identity are being received with open arms in Europe. How could you accuse now that de Valera and Berry merely applied international law in an neutral and semi independent Freestate?
Do you know that Flemings and Bretons openly living in Ireland did so as POLITICAL REFUGEES under the protection of the League of Nations, Geneva and the international red cross?
That we carried Nissen passes issued by the League of nations to prove that and that we travelled to England and the continent as such?
That the embassy knew we were here and why and what we had done?
That we from time to time contacted he embassy to settle things for wife and children?
That a meeting took place in Dublin of all Flemish refugees and the first secretary of the Belgian Embassy was there to discuss what we could done to ensure the education of our children,
But no. Grind axes. Read the news, my God how is it possible?

The whole affair is typical Irish joke but damaging for Ireland and the Irish people.
Was ever one of them evicted from the country? Yes there was one.
He was a freshly Frenchman ( maybe, worse, a Briton or a Breton, I never knew the difference, I fear..)
He was roaming the streets of Dublin in search of a lucrative occupation so he could keep his pants up.
He found the right job at a dimly lit photographers shop where he lowered his pants posing for French pictures.
You may remember the character in The Plough in the Stars where Sean O’Casey ( Casman was his name and not Irish) makes her say –‘I assure you, young fellow, there is not a single whore to be seen in the whole of Ireland’
Well, in such a country any French picture would catch immediately the eye of any policeman, especially when it is on sale and prudently half hidden by the cabbages and carrots.
Our French model friend was called to the castle and told:’ Leave the country. You are not an asset to the country.(present tense)
His residence permit was withdrawn and the gardai told also other people:’ That man was no asset to the country!
That man got (pat tense) very upset by that and decided to improve his behaves.
Later it was rumoured that our man had gone to Belfast to observe the Sabbath there as was the custom in that strange country.
God save Ireland!

lex colen said...

Info
Re: Hidden IRELAND
Tilefims



Without PREJUDICE
Information only




Dear Mr Collin.

When I learned that Tilefilms did not play fair, I contacted a well known Weekly in Flanders.
I spoke also on the telephone with Mrs Julliet Folens Dublin.
Here in Belgium the reporter investigated the judicial position of the Folens family.
Legally it is as follows.
Folens had been tried by a court on the full evidence of his collaboration. He received then years. In spite of the fact that some say he appeared on a list of war criminals. That list must have been consulted at the day of his trail when, we must accept, he got a fair judgement. Why has he not be condemned to be executed?

He escaped from prison and in his absence, his layers obtained a reprieve and his sentence was reduced to 3 years.
(They could not let him entirely be innocent, he had served then already three years.)
He recovered his full civil rights and his Belgian pass and could travel unhindered to Belgium.

In essence he has been found innocent of all charges.


Seemingly there is a law, enacted in1964, in force that if one recovers all civil rights his name is eliminated from the judicial criminal register, cleared in fact, and that his past should NOT be held against him.

In fact Mrs Folens is in a position to claim damages from the Tilefilm company on these grounds in Belgium.

I am not a layer and have this only from the investigating party ( it will probably be mentioned in the papers)

I must add that I am very much disappointed; I expected a fair documentary. Instead they used the confessions of Staf van Velthoven as a means to slander the former President of Ireland. Obviously Tilefilms are not Irish people.
How could a true Irish person allow his Irish soil to be soiled by the Irish themselves.
Yours true fully
Alexander Colen
After all, I am still an Irish national.

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