Racism and Courage

Spectacle Archive Project: Youth explore Racism and Courage

In the early 1990s Spectacle’s founder was in East Germany working to document the changing Germany after the Berlin Wall came down and post collapse of the Soviet Union. The purpose of this filming shifted in August 1992 when racially motivated protests and attacks in Rostock-Lichtenhagen became a flashpoint for political action. 

During the attack, 100 Vietnamese asylum seekers were left to their own devices in a large housing complex called the Sunflower House. The Neo-Nazi attackers threw stones and Molotov cocktails. They smashed windows and set fire to the house in which the people were locked. 

The Truth Lies in Rostock poster

The footage collected about this event became a film called The Truth Lies in Rostock. Read more blogs about the film.  

In Germany, every school child learns about the legacy of the Berlin Wall. There is an ongoing effort to keep asking hard questions about what the divisions with German society meant at that time, and what they mean today. One such project is Aus Mut gemacht – 30 Jahre Mauerfall, “Made out of courage – thirty years after the fall of the Berlin wall”, an open call for films made by young people that gave their perspective on this history.

The project asked people to look at the questions: What does courage mean? Are we brave today differently than 30 years ago? Where are the walls still standing today? What courage does it take to brace yourself against walls and change something?

School classes and groups from Berlin dealt with these questions, discussed, researched and expressed their thoughts in short films.

Collage art: WAS GEHT?! Magazin youth media workshops (Berlin)

One of the films was created for this project by WAS GEHT?! Magazine,
a multimedia program for young refugee and immigrant media makers.
Filmmakers Hani Schehel, Noura Ben Belgacem and Hadi Ahmadi chose to
focus on the legacy of the Rostock-Lichtenhagen Pogrom, supported by
workshop facilitators Duc Vu Manh, Ganesha Küppers and Özgür Akgül, as
well as educational team Mohsen Hassani, Katja Heinemann and Jenifa

They chose to focus on the legacy of the Rostock-Lichtenhagen Pogrom. 

Collage art: WAS GEHT?! Magazin youth media workshops (Berlin)

Their film deals artistically with the events in 1991 and refers to the current situation of refugees who are again exposed to racist attacks in accommodation by using images and voices from The Truth Lies in Rostock.  They wondered what happened to the migrants who, like the Germans, experienced the fall of the Wall. In the 80s, thousands of Vietnamese guest workers came to Germany. Instead of just looking for an answer, the young filmmakers dealt artistically with the topic. Their research led them to the attacks carried out on the Vietnamese asylum seekers dormitories in the early 1990s. A dark chapter of the Federal Republic, which has almost been forgotten.

As part of their preparation to delve into this history of violence, the group worked with images from the documentary as part of their film workshops, cutting, pasting and highlighting images they felt were speaking to them.

As they discussed this history, it became clear to them that this chapter has unfortunately not yet come to an end. In recent years there have been more attacks on dormitories of refugees. Their films point to the continuity of violence against immigrants and those seeking protection. 

Collage art: WAS GEHT?! Magazin youth media workshops (Berlin)

The films they created as a result of their workshop process were presented during the festival week for the Aus Mut gemacht project at Alexanderplatz. The films can be viewed here, or here with English subtitles. All the films made as part of the Aus Mut gemacht project can be watched here.

The wall is no longer made of stone, but it is in the soul. 

–Walid Alastah
The WWII Nazis aren't just gone - racism is passed on from generation
to generation.
–Kinda Muhsen

Collage art: WAS GEHT?! Magazin youth media workshops (Berlin)

The Truth Lies in Rostock, and the large archive of footage filmed at the same time has become increasingly important. Ongoing archive based activities are in the works for the 30th anniversary of the Rostock-Lichtenhagen pogrom in August 2021. 

Collage art: WAS GEHT?! Magazin youth media workshops (Berlin)

Collage art by WAS GEHT?! Magazin, using still images from “The Truth lies in Rostock” 

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Remote Participatory Workshop in Rostock, Germany

Does the Truth Still Lie in Rostock?

In August 2020, in collaboration with the Rostock based group Lichtenhagen im Gedächtnis , Spectacle developed and ran an archive-based two-day participatory workshop. This project is part of the run up to the 30th anniversary of the Rostock Pogrom in 1992.

The project’s events, which were held online due to the pandemic, included a public premier of a new fully German version of ‘The Truth Lies in Rostock’. The screening was followed by a Q&A with director Mark Saunders, which focused on the participatory production process through which the film was created. For more about the process or the archive footage, see the bottom of this post.

This screening also launched a unique workshop designed to connect Rostock’s past, present, and future.

The Truth Lies in Rostock

This 1993 film depicts the events which occurred in August 1992, at the Lichtenhagen estate in Rostock, in the former East Germany. Over the course of three nights, a fascist crowd assembled. The police withdrew as the mob petrol bombed a refugee centre and the home of Vietnamese guest workers while 3000 spectators stood by and clapped. 

The film uses material filmed from inside the attacked houses and interviews with anti-fascists, the Vietnamese guest workers, police, bureaucrats, neo-nazis and residents. Through these perspectives, a story of political collusion and fear unfolds. 

Thirty years later the question has become, how can the memory of the ‘Lichtenhagen Pogrom’ help fight new waves of fascism in Germany? 

Participatory Video Workshop

This two-day participatory video workshop offered the chance for young adults from Rostock to dig into the film’s questions about the nature of fascism, racism, and the roles and responsibilities of the city, state, and federal governments. 

By working with archive footage and filming a live commemorative demonstration, the workshop was designed to bridge the past and present issues of racism and anti-racism in Rostock. The workshop’s second aim was to offer new skills in media and filmmaking to these young adults. 

The workshop launched the weekend of August 20th. A group of young Rostockers were split in two groups, one working with archive footage, and one filming the live demonstration.

Before the workshop began, Spectacle digitized a portion of our extensive archive footage from 1992. The material selected was of the anti-nazi demonstration that followed the pogrom. This group worked with Spectacle to edit a new short film from the material. 

You can see their short film here: Demonstration 1992

Meanwhile, the rest of the participants went as a small group to film an event which echoed the archive material – the Lichtenhagen Commemorative Bicycle Demonstration. This group of participants learned about filming techniques and edited footage from the demonstration into a short film which focused on the landmarks which have been built to commemorate the events thirty years before. 

You can view their final short film here: Demonstration 2020

Read more about the project from the German perspective.

The Aims of the Project  

  • Provide a safe space for reflection about the events in Lichtenhagen, specifically for different groupings that were involved in the events at the time. This includes, but is not limited to the Vietnamese community in Rostock, some of whom had to fear for their lives and lost their homes in the events, and Rostock residents, some of whom were appalled at the unfolding events and other who were cheering at, or maybe even participating in the attacks.
  • Provide skills training in workshops, teaching participants how to use video cameras, record sound, and conduct interviews.
  • Potentially encouraging dialogue between diverse groups and contributing to a more sustainable community through a process of reconciliation.
  • Preserving the oral history of the 1992 events by creating Zeitzeugen (witness/bystander) documentation for future generations, through the production of a series of films including original as well as new footage. These footage shot in these workshops will be made available online as well as on DVD and can be used to educate younger generations.

The Archive 

Spectacle has an extensive archive of footage from Rostock between 1991-93. The archive grew out of a programme of participatory video workshops run by Spectacle. After the unification of Germany, all the East German media outlets were taken over or replaced with Western media. Spectacle’s series of open workshops were designed to establish an independent, community-based media group in Rostock and to document the effects of unification on the city.

All participants in the workshops were beginners, with little experience in photography or filmmaking. The practical exercises concentrated on how the unification was changing the physical urban landscape. At the close of the first sessions, each participant was interviewed about their experiences as well as their hopes and fears of “Die Wende” the unification of Germany.

One of the objectives of the workshops was to establish a community media group to that end we formed the Jako Media Co-op. Just six months later Jako E.V. and Spectacle would rejoin to make ‘The Truth Lies in Rostock’.

The production process created over 200 hours of footage that did not appear in the final edit of the film. These scenes of daily life in 1991-1993 have become an historic archive of the city at that volatile time. The aim of the 2020 project was to re-work and revisit this archive together with a new generation of Rostockers who were not even born at the time of the pogrom.

Watch The Films

Demonstration 2020
Demonstration 1992

Read past blogs about Spectacle’s Rostock projects here.

Visit our vimeo channel to see examples of Spectacle’s past PV work.

Sign up to our Newsletter for more information about our ongoing projects.

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Memories of Battersea: Mohamed

Memories of Battersea is a video oral history project run by Spectacle and funded by the Wandsworth Grant Fund. The project gives young adults from Battersea the opportunity to be trained in film-making while producing short films about their neighbourhood, collecting memories from elder Battersea residents, bridging intergenerational gaps and engaging with the history of their borough.

In this video, we meet Mohamed Ali, a local community organisation founder and Battersea resident who immigrated from Somalia with his family in the late 90s to seek a better life away from the on-going Somali civil war.

Mohamed Ali, local Battersea resident and founder of Elays Network.

Mohamed spends his time working in the R & E Centre on St Rule Street in the SW8 area. He started Elays Network to work primarily in youth development and education but as the organisation expanded, they began to involve men and women of all ages in various activities, focusing on building bridges between the migrant communities and the host communities.

Most recently some of the organisation’s women came together to curate an event called Somali Women in the Arts which saw them exhibit their artwork, from paintings to poetry, in the Battersea Power Station.

Somali Women in the Arts exhibition, held at the Battersea Power Station.

He talks about his early experiences adjusting to life in London, the urban development and gentrification in Battersea and its impact on the lower and working class, the establishment of the Somali community within the borough of Wandsworth and how he founded Elays Network. He also relives some key events of how Elays has helped to strengthen and and bring together the Battersea community, as well as suggesting how the migrant and host communities should move forward in becoming a better integrated, accepting and united society.

Watch the full film here on Vimeo.

Visit Spectacle’s Memories of Battersea channel on Vimeo to watch other episodes featuring Battersea residents’ unique stories.

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Sari Squad- the Afia Begum campaign

The Sari Squad were a group of activist women, mostly South Asian, who helped to defend multicultural clubs and gatherings from racist attacks in the early 1980s. Based in East London, they campaigned to raise public awareness for Afia Begum, a young Bangladeshi widow who was deported from London with her child, Asma, in 1984, despite there being no concrete justification for such action. Her treatment was harsh, described by the European Parliament as ‘callous and showing the racist and sexist nature of the United Kingdom immigration laws’. In April 1984, the Sari Squad took their case to the European Commission of Human Rights. However, in the same year, and before the Commission could rule, the UK Government arrested Afia in a dawn raid and deported her.

In a Commons sitting on 11 June 1984, MP Harry Cohen condemned this deportation as a ‘disgraceful action’. He pointed out how the Home Office’s haste to deport Begum, and their total disregard for her situation (recently widowed after her husband died in a slum fire in Brick Lane) reflected how she had become a ‘victim of prejudice of the worst kind and at the highest level.’ Responding to Cohen, David Waddington MP essentially dismissed all the issues raised as missing the point, arguing that ‘the vast majority of people do, however, accept the need for immigration laws and for adequate machinery to enforce the control required by these laws’

Just what he means by ‘adequate machinery’ is unclear, but if this recent interview with Benjamin Zephaniah for The Guardian is anything to go by, it wasn’t so much machinery but bigotry in the form of attacks, especially from the National Front, that operated to control immigration. Retaliation was a means of survival (‘we still had to fight them on the street’), and Zephaniah praises the ‘legendary’ Sari Squad for the way they fought against racism.

In this extract, taken from our video magazine, Despite TV 3, various members of the Sari Squad discuss how they go about fighting for tolerance and justice, and why Afia Begum’s case is so important to them. Although the footage was shot in the 80’s, it remains just as current today, in our increasingly unsettled, multicultural, yet ironically intolerant society. The post-Brexit climate of casual racism and violent racist attacks makes it all the more crucial to raise awareness that this kind of intolerance is just as prevalent and unjustified today as it was then, and we must continue to raise awareness.

This video is available to watch on Vimeo, and is part of a new series of archive material from Despite TV, which will be re-circulated over the coming months.

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Accuser les victimes: La version française de La Vérité Meurt à Rostock ressort en DVD

Rostock, ville portuaire d’ancienne Allemagne de l’Est, un week-end de l’été 1992; face à des conditions économiques rudes et un taux de chômage grimpant, de jeunes néo-fascistes s’amassent en bas de barres d’HLM dans le quartier isolé de Lichtenhagen et tournent leurs frustrations vers un groupes de travailleurs immigrés. La nuit tombée, la tension monte et les perturbateurs empoignent des pavés pour briser les vitres de l’immeuble, visant en particulier le refuge des demandeurs d’asiles (en grande partie originaire du Vietnam).

Les émeutes dureront trois jours, jusqu’à l’incendie du refuge au cocktail Molotov par les émeutiers, provoquant l’évacuation de ses habitants. La réaction de la police est inadaptée, presque conciliante envers les néonazis; sans intervenir franchement, les policiers encadrent les violences pour éviter les débordements, mais aucune arrestation n’a lieu. De la même manière, près de 3000 spectateurs assistent aux événements, certains en tant qu’observateurs passifs, d’autres apportant leur soutien aux casseurs en applaudissant leurs actes. Durant ce long week-end, une manifestation antifasciste est organisée par des habitants de Rostock; les forces de l’ordre préféreront arrêter ces pacifistes plutôt que les insurgés néonazis. Résultat : 60 des 80 individus détenus au cours du dimanche soir sont des manifestants antiracistes.

Juste après les émeutes, le parti Démocrate Chrétien modifie la Constitution et une des lois piliers de l’après seconde guerre mondiale, rendant désormais possible l’exclusion des démendeurs d’asile politiques  hors du sol Allemand. Plutot que de s’en prendre aux causes des événements de Liechtenhagen, les hommes politiques se sont attaqués aux victimes; après avoir eu leurs habitations temporaires pillées et incendiées, les travailleurs immigrés vietnamiens se trouve désormais menacés de déportation.

La Vérité Meurt à Rostock montre les évènements de ce pogrom de manière chronologique, tels qu’ils se sont déroulés. Des images amateurs filmées par les immigrés, barricadés dans leurs appartements, témoignent de l’agressivité ambiante; elles sont accompagnées de séquences au plus proche des violences, tournées de nuit par les réalisateurs du documentaire Marc Saunders et Siobhan Leary. Enfin, des interviews exclusives avec des participants aux émeutes, des réfugiés et des membres de la police présentent un tableau complet de la situation, des mentalités, et permettent au téléspectateur de mesurer la portée du racisme dans une Allemagne à peine réunifiée. Le documentaire, commandé par la chaîne Anglaise Channel 4, est un parfait exemple de journalisme d’investigation basé sur l’expertise d’une communauté.

Problèmes liés à l’immigration, contexte de frustration générale aboutissant à la montée des extrêmes, inefficacité ou indifférences des forces publiques, les questions abordées dans ce film sont autant de thèmes qui resurgissent actuellement dans les débats publics en Europe. Compte tenu des résultats records du Front National au premier tour des élections présidentielles, rééditer  La Vérité Meurt à Rostock en 2012 en France prend tout son sens. Loin d’être comparable d’un point de vue politique, des parallèles peuvent êtres tracés entre les angoisses et les tensions de 1992, et les préoccupations populaires d’aujourd’hui.

À l’occasion du vingtième anniversaire des émeutes de Rostock, Spectacle Productions ressort la version française de La Vérité Meurt à Rostock. Le DVD d’une heure vingt est disponible en vente ici.

Cliquez La Vérité Meurt à Rostock pour plus d’articles sur le blog

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Bread & Roses film festival screens Battle of Trafalgar – free event

Despite TV documentary Battle of Trafalgar will be screened  Monday 30th April at 7pm during Law & Disorder followed by a panel discussion at the new film festival at Bread & Roses in Clapham. The event  pays tribute to the 100th anniversary of the 1912 strike, led by female textile workers in Massachusetts. Marching for better pay and working conditions, the workers chanted the slogan “We want bread, but we want roses, too!”, a line borrowed from the James Oppenheim poem which became an emblematic catchphrase in the history of socialism.

Bread & Roses celebrates the centennial of this key moment with a selection of films questioning capitalism, and tackling workers rights, social activism and immigration. Family Unite, Unpaid Internships, the Arab Spring and Law & Disorder are some of the daily themes that have been chosen to structure the festival.

Channel 4 commissioned Battle of Trafalgar from Despite TV in 1990 during the poll tax riots; the film documents the mass protest held on Saturday 31 March in central London against Margaret Thatcher’s controversial measure. From the unfair aspect of the tax system to the partiality of mainstream media and the violent policing of the demonstration, the film’s topics specifically resonates in today’s socio-political context, and justify its screening to Bread & Roses’s committed programme.

Bread & Roses festival is organized by Natasha Caruana and Afshin Dehkordi, the two artists behind StudioSTRIKE: a creative space launched in 2010 on the top floor of the last union-owned pub in London, the Bread & Roses – the name inspired the idea for the festival.

The free festival, supported by the BFI and Film London, will run in various venues around Lambeth from April 27th to May 10th. Some of the films presented during these two weeks will include the classic The Grapes of Wrath, the Oscar-nominated documentary If a Tree Falls, and a recent project on the August riots titled My Child The Rioter. The festival will also encompass a live music event, Q&A sessions, and art installations.

To order a DVD of Battle of Trafalgar

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Marriage Ban for Olympic Visitors

Photo by © ukhomeoffice


There will be a marriage ban for athletes, coaches and officials who will be attending the London Olympics this summer. The UK Border Agency has announced tight restrictions that include not taking employment during the visit, not enrolling on an education course and not to “marry or form a civil partnership.” The Olympic visitors will also have to prove that they will not overstay their 6 month period. This will apply to approximately 20,000 non EU citizens who will be attending the games this summer.


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