History: The Durnovo Memorandum

I just discovered this amazing document recently. (h/t to Mr. David Tenner — thanks, David.)

Durnovo was Russian, and he was the Minister of the Interior for a while under Nicholas II. (His successor was the much more famous Stolypin.) He was a conservative who disliked democracy and was none too fond of capitalism either; his lodestars were Russia’s national interest and the monarchical principle. In early 1914, he was out of office, but still influential… and he was alarmed at the visible drift towards war all around him. So he wrote a 5,000 word memorandum, intended for the Czar’s inner circle, detailing just why this was a Really Bad Idea for Russia. (The text of the memorandum can be found on Google Books here, or as a .pdf over here.)

What’s striking about the memo is how, six months before World War One started, Durnovo absolutely nails it. Nature, conduct, likely outcomes — he’s eerily, astonishingly correct about all of them.

Check it out: Continue reading

Totally random historical post: Things to like about Marshal Antonescu

I was going to do a rather obnoxious post about the Macedonian name issue, but decided not to. You can see a draft of it in the comments section over here.

Meanwhile, here’s an idea I’ve sometimes toyed with: a series of posts on the leaders of small European countries during the Second World War. There were some fascinating characters running around then: Admiral Horthy of Hungary, Salazar of Portugal, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Ante Pavelic of Croatia. (Pavelic not so much fascinating as disgusting, but that’s a story for another time.)

Anyway, I don’t want to commit myself to this — I still have the series on frozen conflicts half-finished — but here’s a random post on one wartime leader: Marshal Antonescu of Romania. Continue reading

Chris Walker is Ignorant

If you want to lecture the French on “economic reform”, it pays to have some knowledge of French economic history. If you insist on doing so despite knowing nothing, “Big Mouth Strikes Again” is not a good headline. Of course, it could be some downtrodden sub-editor’s revenge.

Anyway, Chris Walker writes in today’s Independent that Nicolas Sarkozy is “committed to privatisation, and many of the Mitterand legacy stakes are to be addressed, such as Renault, Safran, EDF, and Air France”. Renault was nationalised by Charles de Gaulle in 1945, as punishment for allegedly collaborating with the German occupier. This is not a legacy of François Mitterand, at least not one he’d admit to. EDF is also a creation of De Gaulle, or more importantly the technocrats who ran it and the Communist minister Marcel Paul. It is hard to find an argument that cheap power is a net loss for French industry. Air France has been semi-nationalised as long as it has existed.

Walker also repeats the content-free mantra that “a Thatcherite-style purge and return to free markets has not happened in France in the 25 years since” Mitterand – well, something. Mitterand came to power in 1981, 26 years ago, swung around to the franc fort in 1983, 24 years ago, went into cohabitation in 1986 with the Right, who forced him to privatise many of his nationalisations, won the Presidency again in 1988, won back the National Assembly…but on the way, French heavy industry went through a pretty grinding restructuring process, with tens of thousands of jobs lost. The whole coal industry was shut down. The French also invested heavily in the remaining big industries, which is why they can build trains and space rockets and mobile phone networks and we can’t.

Walker demonstrably knows nothing about France. However, he is an expert.

Web applications and geopolitics

I was recently fiddling with the German Federal Railways’ on-line European timetables, when I noticed something very strange. They have the best cross-European timetable, no doubt about it, but some odd things happen if you’re heading too far east. For example, when I asked it for a route from Paris to Tallinn, everything went a little bit weird..

To kick off, it suggested Nachtzug number 237 to Hamburg, which seemed fair enough. And, I was informed, I could take a limited number of bicycles with me on prior reservation. Things went wrong, though, at the next step. In Hamburg, there was a connection on EuroCity 31 to Copenhagen. You can see where this is going, can’t you – due north, essentially. There, I was to catch an X-2000 Swedish high-speed train to Stockholm and transfer to the docks by bus, before hopping a Silja Line ship to Turku in Finland. Presumably rested after the overnight crossing, I’d catch fast train no. R130 to Pasila/Böle, to meet a night train, D 31 (for some historical reason all the long-distance trains are numbered as German D-Züge) to St. Petersburg.

Arriving in the northern capital at 1.40 am, I’d cross it to the Vitebski station and spend three hours on the platform waiting for the express 649-KH to Tallinn. Riiight. In all, some 63 hours. The only alternative differed in that I’d have to change in Brussels as well.

Somehow, the great clockwork was set up to try and avoid leaving EU territory – it’s the only explanation I could come up with. If, after all, I forced it to route via Minsk it produced a far better result, down to 33 hours and four trains – and no ships! But left to its own devices, though, it did go to Russia. I am fascinated by this application pathology – it’s quite routine for timetable servers to produce absurdly complicated routes in order to save a few minutes somewhere, and in fact it’s an important problem in Internet engineering that the system’s basic rules can easily create inefficiently large numbers of hops unless something is done to enforce a less specific route.

Or is there some sort of assumption that nobody wants to go via Belarus baked into the code?

Bloggers for Bronislaw

It is simply intolerable that a EU member state’s government should try to dismiss an MEP elected by the people. I think everyone can agree on that, right? It’s for the public to decide who should represent them. It’s for the member states as a whole to decide on the overall organisation of the EU. It’s for the European Parliament to decide on its own rules of procedure.

Not if you’re Poland’s comedy prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczyinski, who wants everybody to sign a statement that they are not, have never been, and never will be a Communist. Never mind that Poland already did this in 1998. Never mind that this includes everyone who had a position of responsibility up to 1989. Never mind that the Polish president until a couple of years ago was a former commie, and the hens didn’t stop laying.

As Major Major in Catch 22 says, the thing is to catch them before they know what allegiance is and keep’em pledging. Bronislaw Geremek and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, veterans of Solidarity’s intellectual side and the first post-communist government both, have refused to sign the pledge on principle, and now the Kaczyinskis are trying to end their mandates.

I wasn’t aware that an MEP was responsible to his or her home government – in fact I’m pretty sure they aren’t, and I’m meant to be an EU specialist. Even Maggie Thatcher was unable to browbeat the British commissioner, or for that matter the MEPs. This is profoundly anti-democratic, and worse, anti-constitutional – it’s an exercise in rule by whim, and if the EU is anything, it’s a community committed to constitutionalism.

Depressingly, looking up Tim Garton-Ash’s 1990s essays, I find reams of stuff on “lustration”, aka sacking people you don’t like, which all seems to come to the conclusion that it was risky, but fortunately it’s all over and Poland is a normal country. News: it’s not anywhere near as normal as we hoped. Sadly, the opinion-current behind the current government is the same that was calling the ex-communists and most of the dissidents by the same horrible name in 1991 – “zydokommuna” or “Jewishcommunists”. Nice friends you got there.

I’d like to see a blog storm about this.

Une certaine idée de la France ?

It’s interesting that Emmanuel’s remarks about biased statistics about the French economy in Anglophone publications led to some comments trying to asses the extent to which France is perceived as “the other”, at least as far as “the West” is concerned. There have always been claims about a natural rivalry of the two main “universalist” western polities, France and the US, but there was, in my opinion, never too much hard evidence for such a claim. Still, intellectual traditions as well as institutionalised myths are often a very powerful element of public discourse, and sometimes even assume a certain life of their own if there are enough believers. In this case, there certainly are.

Since France will begin the process of electing a new President this Sunday, and since “Europe” wasn’t exactly a prominent subject on any candidate’s campaign agenda, I thought I share thoughts I once compiled with respect to the Europeanization of the French “other”, some parts of which have already been included in my guest post (in French) at publius.fr a couple of days before the now notorious French referendum on the European Constitution in 2005.
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The Jewish-European heritage

On the day following Israel’s national holocaust memorial day, writing in Haaretz, Fania Oz-Salzberger reminds both Israelis and Europeans that, for centuries, Jewish history has been an enriching element of European history. Concerned about the effect of class trips of “roudy groups” of Israeli teenagers to Auschwitz, she recommends trips to Spain instead –

Take the money, enlist more supportive foundations, and take select groups of Israeli pupils to Andalusia, in the south of Spain. Because there, in many ways, begins the story that ends in Auschwitz: the story of Jewish Europe, which is both an Ashkenazi and Sephardi tale.

Somewhere in Andalusia there was a small paper mill at the end of the Middle Ages. It was at that time that the ancient Chinese technology arrived, after a long journey across Asia and North Africa, and entered Europe via Spain. Without it Gutenberg would not have been able to print. And lo, that mill was operated by two partners, a Jew and a Muslim. Their clients from the north were Christians. This story, symbolic rather than historic, should be told to 17-year-old Jewish and Arab Israelis. You have to be a great pessimist not to tell it. It is a story of life and rejuvenation. It would not overshadow the story of the persecuted and the murdered, but empower it greatly.

Woe to a Jewish-Israeli identity that relies only on the ashes of the crematoria. Our European past also includes a thousand years of life, art and the spreading of knowledge.

I don’t think trips to Andalusia should replace trips to Auschwitz, but they certainly seem like a valuable addition. They represent what I like so much about the the Jewish Museum in Berlin – it’s not just a holocaust memorial but also offers a glimpse onto Jewish European’s life before the Shoah – as well as thereafter. Because, as opposed to Ms Oz-Salzbergers claim above, I don’t believe the story of Jewish Europe ended in Auschwitz, not even in Germany.

The statistics of recent Jewish immigration, particularly from Russia, are unequivocal. But it’s the anecdotal evidence that, I think, matters more in this case. The Jewish community in my home town, Mainz, is one of the oldest in Germany, dating back to the 10th century, possibly even to Roman times. In the 1970s, there were only about hundred community members. Today, there are about a thousand, and a new Synagoge – architecturally slightly reminiscent of the Jewish Museum in Berlin – is currently being planned.

Tramp the Dirt Down

Somebody is worried that Slobodan Milosevic might escape from death. And so, they dug up his corpse and drove a stake through his heart.

Seriously. They really did it.

One might also want to read this.

The Orientalist by Tom Reiss

Ali and Nino, the closest thing that modern Azerbaijan has to a national novel, was first published in German in 1937, sold in various translations, hit US bestseller lists in the early 1970s and bears the name Kurban Said as its author.

But the question of the author’s identity had never been resolved. All anyone agreed on was that Kurban Said was the pen name of a writer who had probably come from Baku, an oil city in the Caucasus, and that he was either a nationalist poet who was killed in the Gulags, or the dilettante son of an oil millionaire, or a Viennese cafe-society writer who died in Italy after stabbing himself in the foot.

The answer, which Reiss gets to quickly, is essentially, “All of the above.” And therein, of course, lies a tale. Or twelve.
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