May 05 2016 Posted: 09:51 IST

The screening of Hubert Butler Witness To The Future will take place on Thursday, 12 May at 8pm in the Town Hall Theatre. The event is being organised in cooperation with the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway, and will be followed by post-screening discussion with Irish producer Lelia Doolan.

Hubert Butler Witness To The Future is a new documentary on the writer, essayist and human rights champion Hubert Butler. The film premiered at a sell-out Dublin Film Festival screening in February, followed by a packed out home-coming in Kilkenny’s Set Theatre to launch this tour.

Hubert Butler (1900-91) is, in the words of John Banville and Roy Foster who both featuring in the film as “one of the great Irish writers”, our greatest exponent of the essay form since Jonathan Swift; “fifty years ahead of his time” according to writer and broadcaster Olivia O'Leary.

Professor Ray Murphy of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, said:Butler was amongst Ireland's great human rights voices of the 20th century. He was unafraid to challenge Church and State in Ireland. He was also an ardent defender of free speech and advocate for a pluralist independent Ireland. Efforts to silence and discredit him almost succeeded. This film is testimony to his enduring legacy.”

Film-maker Johnny Gogan's extensive documentary tells the largely untold story of Hubert Butler. Inspired by the events of 1916, the young Hubert turned his back on the Empire and the prospect of a role in the British diplomatic service, and declared himself a republican “in the mould of Wolfe Tone and Henry Flood”. However, being a public intellectual from the Protestant tradition in the new Ireland would prove to be a bruising experience, bringing Butler into conflict with the unholy alliance of Catholic Church and State.

In Dalmatia (modern-day Croatia) in the mid 30s, Butler witnessed Jewish people fleeing the German-speaking lands. In response, he travelled to Vienna in 1938 to work with the Quakers who assisted persecuted Jews and so-called “non-Aryan Christians” to escape the city.

In 1946, Butler returned to Zagreb where he uncovered evidence of a mass genocide of Orthodox Serbs by the Croatian Nazi puppet (Ustashe) state under the auspices of a “Compulsory Conversion To Catholicism” policy.  Butler found support among liberal intellectuals from the Catholic tradition such as Seán O'Faoláin, Owen “The Pope” O'Mahony and Myles Dillon.

What has also come to light in recently de-classified documents is the detail of how the Irish State provided sanctuary to one of the key players in the Croatian genocide, former Croatian Minister of the Interior Andrija Artukovic.  Artukovic had been spirited into the country by Franciscans in 1947, and lived in Dublin under an alias before being given an exit visa to the USA by the Irish authorities in 1948.

Butler's insights into the “on the ground” dynamics of religion and nationalism in Europe – a sensibility he gained first in Ireland - ring true today as a lack of internal coherence in the “European Project” and the external pressure of the refugee/migrant crisis bring old tensions and prejudices to the fore.  Butler's description of the war-time Croatian Nazi puppet state as being “the personification, the epitome of the extraordinary alliance of religion and crime” could so easily describe the contemporary Daesh/Islamic State project. 

Hubert Butler Witness To The Future is a production of Bandit Films and is being distributed by Studio North West.tv. It was filmed, produced and directed by Johnny Gogan.

-Ends-

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