Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 6, 2011


Filed under: Fascism,Film — louisproyect @ 9:09 pm

When I got the first press notice for “Protektor”, a Czech film about a Christian husband and his Jewish wife trying to survive under Nazi occupation, my first reaction was to pass it by. Although I didn’t think much about it at the time, my hesitations no doubt reflected my distaste for the typical “inspirational” melodrama like “Schindler’s List” as well as how Zionism has appropriated this narrative to its own sordid aims.

After seeing “Protektor”, I can say that you are in store for some completely groundbreaking cinema at Lincoln Plaza or Brooklyn Heights Cinema where it opened yesterday. Director/Screenwriter Marek Najbrt has not sought out heroic figures but flawed human beings instantly recognizable as the kind who would be seated alongside you in the theater or at the next desk at work. You cannot help but wondering as you watch the drama unfold how you would have behaved in similar circumstances.

Emil Vrbata (Marek Daniel) is a Prague radio station reporter who does those smarmy “local color” stories like the kind you hear on NPR. When he was younger, he had dreams of being a professional rower, a sport that was big in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, but eventually realized—as he told an interviewer—that there was no future for someone as “average” as he was.

His wife Hana is a film actress who is thoroughly assimilated to Czech society and growing increasingly tired of marriage. When we first meet her, she is arranging her next tryst with her co-star, a Jewish actor in his middle ages who has begun to worry about Nazi intentions.

The film begins just after the infamous Chamberlain “peace in our time” treaty with Hitler that ceded Sudetenland to Germany. Even before Germany gains total control over Czechoslovakia, there are signs of growing Nazi influence, including at Emil’s radio station where a boorish German national has just become manager. When they first meet, the manager tells Emil that he was an athlete when young as well—a boxer. A few months later at a drunken office party, he puts on his boxing gloves that he keeps in the office and demands that Emil put on a pair as well. After Emil allows his boss to throw a few jabs, he throws a haymaker and knocks him out. From this moment on, we realize that Emil is willing to put up with Nazi authoritarianism but only so far.

Eventually the Nazis take over and begin turning Czechoslovakia into a clone of Germany with all sorts of laws that seem not much different from Jim Crow in the South around the same time. Restaurants and movie theaters post signs announcing that Jews are not allowed. The film is historically accurate, at least according to the version of European history found in Arno Mayer’s “Why the Heavens Did not Darken”. Mayer’s thesis is that until German reversals on the Russian front, the suffering of Jews—considerable as it was—did not differ drastically from that of Blacks in the Deep South.

Emil’s reaction to the Nazi crackdown is to protect his wife as much as possible, which means at a certain point keeping her a virtual prisoner in their apartment. Given her free spiritedness, it is not surprising that they begin to clash over this. She is willing to risk arrest as long as she can spend time on the streets, especially with her close friend, a projectionist at a nearby movie theater who is an opium addict. Given her despair over a marriage that begins to resemble house arrest and the Nazification of Czech society, it is understandable that she would begin to share the needle with the projectionist even if she declines his offer to have sex.

Emil shows no signs of defying Nazi rule and even accepts a promotion to take the job of a top reporter who has been caught carrying out small acts of resistance. When he meets up later to both apologize to the man as well as defend himself (the Nazis would not allow him to turn down the promotion), we have an epiphany into the character of the men and women who became part of the Nazi machine. As Christopher Browning put it in his study of the working class men who became concentration camp guards, these were “ordinary men”.

My first thoughts about the film’s title were that Emil was his wife’s protector, a title that had some irony since his protection was tantamount to keeping her a prisoner. I eventually learned that the title was a reference to Reinhold Heydrich, the German occupation enforcer who was also called “the protector”. The climax of the film draws the characters into the historical events surrounding Heydrich’s assassination and in keeping with the film’s subtlety there are no heroes, only people seeking to keep a shred of honor about them in a society that has descended into hell.

As a film, “Protektor” is a real breakthrough. Even more significantly, it marks a kind of renaissance of Czech film after a long period of stagnation under the impact of capitalist restoration. One hopes that intelligent directors such as Marek Najbrt will begin to turn their attention to a contemporary society that is showing the same kinds of strains that were dramatically represented in his film.

BBC Monitoring Europe – Political
Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring
April 27, 2009 Monday

Czech weekly sees extremism as threat not only to Roma, but also freedom

Prague, 27 April: Outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was right when he said the spiral of the evil of recent extremists’ actions must be cut because it “threatens not only Czech Romanies, but the whole society and its freedom,” Petr Tresnak writes in weekly Respekt out today.

He reminds that a few past days witnessed neo-Nazis marching through Usti nad Labem, north Bohemia, celebrating the 120th birth anniversary of Adolf Hitler, offending the liberators of Europe and saying they will return soon.

The city gave the green light to their march and sent inhabitants to weekend cottages not to stand in the way of the extremists, Tresnak writes with an exaggeration.

In Vitkov, north Moravia, unknown perpetrators threw Molotov cocktails in the house of a Romany family severely injuring three people, including a two-year-old girl, Tresnak writes.

At the weekend the former leader of the US Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, arrived in Prague to make lectures (but he was expelled). The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights released an analysis according to which Czech Romanies are the most discriminated against minority on the continent, Tresnak writes.

He writes that the saddest news last week brought, however, is that responsible politicians have not yet comprehended how serious the situation is.

Tresnak writes the Workers’ Party (DS), a political branch of neo-Nazi commandos , has succeeded within a few months in attracting unusually great attention and winning over so many supporters that experts say it may gain 1 per cent of the vote in the June European Parliament elections that would make it eligible for state money.

The DS has succeeded in attaining exactly what the state and towns have been failing in for a longtime: to well analyse the problem and to find the most effective strategy of success, Tresnak writes.

He says the neo-Nazis put aside from the range of hatreds that they traditionally espouse all those that do not attract Czech society: anti-Semitism, attacks on Vietnamese, Negros, foreign workers and homosexuals, and they only left the sole one that is very strong in this country – aversion to Romanies.

Tresnak writes that they have found an ideal place to win over supporters – north Bohemian towns with a socially weak Romany minority, as well as stylisation that is in demand.

“We know how to solve the problem with which no one has helped you, we have enough strength to protect your peace and security, Tresnak writes, alluding to the neo-Nazis.

He adds the praise and support by “ordinary” citizens as well as the growing voter preferences show that the strategy works.

The state has not proved a strong opponent of the neo-Nazis. The Interior Ministry has failed to provide conclusive evidence that would lead to the party’s outlawing in spite of that the BIS counter-intelligence presents the government with proofs of the DS’s links to neo-Nazi movements, Tresnak writes.

He adds the DS’s Internet web page is full of openly racist, hatred-instigating texts.

Tresnak writes the view of outgoing Interior Minister Ivan Langer last week was sad. One day after the Romany family was burning in Vitkov, he told Romany activist Ivan Vesely that: “Until the other side deeply realises that it is not normal not to go to work, it is not normal not to send children to schools, then there will always be the breeding ground for these types of people (extremists),” Tresnak writes.

He says this is an outrageous relativisation of guilt and besides, it exposes one very fundamental thing. The Interior Minister does not at all understand the essence, and he is not sole on the political scene.

Tresnak writes the description of the terrible situation in Romany ghettos which NGOs presented a few years ago provoked turmoil at the top level, followed by the birth of various strategies and ideas of solution which have never resulted in the effort to really properly analyse the Romanies’ situation as a whole and to rectify its causes.

The Czech Republic is the sole country in the EU not to have passed an anti-discrimination law. Politicians have failed to define the issue, to explain to people the Romany situation as a problem of inequality and the resulting poverty. Ethnicity has remained the sole criterion.

In 2006, former deputy prime minister Jiri Cunek was the first to take disorientated Romany inhabitants of Vsetin, of which he was mayor then, to container-like houses on the outskirts of the town and shortly afterwards he was elected senator, Tresnak writes.

He says Cunek thus paved the path for the marching skinheads because he showed that a political career can be built up on an aggressive solution. He has also paved the way for other mayors who are right when scenting “a huge populist potential of similar steps”, Tresnak writes.

The neo-Nazis’ mounting force that is but a logical continuation of ghettos threatens all, Tresnak writes.

He says it cannot be overlooked that the young men in black shirts use the hatred of Romanies only as an entry ticket to the better society, a tap to state subsidies, a key to town authorities.

“When they establish themselves there, they will extend the entry agenda and everyone who differs somehow or does not agree with them will be a target,” Tresnak writes, adding that “the main target are not Romanies, but freedom as such”.

Last week should make politicians clearly act, not be hastily putting together further concepts, Tresnak writes.

“The first task will be to persuade Czech neighbours of socially week families that there also exist better solutions than those that fascists offer,” he says.


  1. In Eastern Slovakia, where my father came from, at least one of his relatives joined a band of partizans operating in the forested Tatra foothills, an older couple fled their home and hid in the forests living off the land, mushrooms, berries, etc. and were kept by local hill farmers during winters – at a price, or sometimes the partizans helped them. But I also recognise the christian-jew friendships even marriages, that led to jews being hidden during the war in a cupboard or secret place.

    Comment by Jim Kemeny — August 7, 2011 @ 4:53 am

  2. Did you see Enemies of the People, about the Cambodian journalist who’d lost his family in the killing fields and spent a decade essentially befriending several low-level killers, as well as Brother Number 2, in order to get them to speak on camera about what they’d done? I just watched it a few weeks ago, and found it one of the most affecting things I’ve ever seen, and would be interested in seeing your take on it. You can watch it online here: http://www.pbs.org/pov/enemies/full.php

    Comment by godoggo — August 8, 2011 @ 5:27 am

  3. You’re missing an important piece of the puzzle: the present Czech government is actively working to ban the KSCM, the Czech-Moravian Communist Party. Since the KSCM has been a legal party operating above ground for the past twenty years, this would lead, in effect, to the withdrawal of all electoral funding from the Party, just in time for the next elections. It’s the Weimar Republic all over again…

    From Vienna,

    Hoipolloi Cassidy
    WOID: a journal of visual language

    Comment by Hoipolloi Cassidy — August 8, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

  4. […] in the death of up to 55,000 Czechs in concentration camps or through execution. Last August I reviewed Protektor, a very good film dramatizing the assassination of Reinhold Heydrich and the repression that […]

    Pingback by Vaclak Havel and the struggle for socialism in Czechoslovakia « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — December 20, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

  5. […] As a film, “Protektor” is a real breakthrough. Even more significantly, it marks a kind of renaissance of Czech film after a long period of stagnation under the impact of capitalist restoration. One hopes that intelligent directors such as Marek Najbrt will begin to turn their attention to a contemporary society that is showing the same kinds of strains that were dramatically represented in his film.Read More:https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/protektor/ […]

    Pingback by ordinary protektion | Madame Pickwick Art Blog — December 29, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

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