Archive for the ‘Becky’ Category

Feminism in Post-Communist Western Balkans

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Gender Politics in the Western Balkans, edited by Sabrina Ramet, is a collection of fifteen essays that provide the reader with an overview of the social and political history of Yugoslav women during the 20th century.  Within the twentieth century, the Balkans underwent an astonishing degree of political and social change.  (more…)

A Carnival of Revolution

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

A Carnival of Revolution is a fascinating book, one of my favorites this semester. What I found most interesting about Kenney’s book were his detailed descriptions of the activities of the youthful opposition groups, known as konkretny, who worked within the individual Eastern European Bloc countries to destabilize communism. (more…)

The Magic Lantern – The Revolution of 1989

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

The Magic Lantern by Timothy Garton Ash is a chronicle of the revolution of 1989 in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany that rid communism from Eastern Europe.  Ash provides a unique perspective.  As a journalist he was in a position to witness the kinds of things that do not get written down for posterity such as comments made spontaneously, and the sense of not-knowing on the part of the participants in the process.  He discusses the unique aspects of the revolution including the use of non-violent mass civil disobedience, the skillful use of the media to enable Western scrutiny of the actions of the communist power-holders, and the willingness on the part of the opposition to negotiate and compromise with the communists.   (more…)

Difficulties of Implementing Stalinism in Poland and Czech lands

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I read two articles for our discussion this week: Remaking the Polish Working Class: Early Stalinist Models of Labor and Leisure by Padraic Kenney and Students, Workers, and Social Change: The Limits of Czech Stalinism by John Connelly. Kenney notes that stalinist regimes sought to transform society through mass social mobilization and integration into political and economic life. He looks at how social mobilization and integration was attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, in two Polish cities, Wroclaw and Lodz, through labor competitions and organized leisure. (more…)

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

In Neighbors by Jan Gross, I was struck by the following statement the author made on page 47: “had Jedwabne not been occupied by the Germans, the Jews of Jedwabne would not have been murdered by their neighbors.”  This statement suggests that despite the Germans indirect participation in the pogrom, their presence made it permissible as part of Hitler’s final solution.  Since the Jews had lived in Jedwabne since at least the late eighteenth century, I was curious about what difference the presence of the Germans made in the Poles decision to carry out the pogrom, and further what variables contributed to direct expression of the hatred that the Poles felt toward the Jews. 

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Jews Support of Communism as Justification of Anti-Semitism in Poland & The Rise of Fascism in Interwar Romania

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

One of the two articles I read for this week is entitled Who Voted Communist?  Reconsidering the Social Bases of Radicalism in Interwar Poland by Jeffrey S. Kopstein and Jason Wittenberg, published in 2003.  Partly in response to the story told by Jan Gross in his book Neighbors, the authors address the problem of the persistent belief amongst Poles that Jews in Poland supported communism, a belief that was used in part to justify Polish anti-Semitism.  The authors statistically analyzed data on the religious affiliation of voters in the Polish elections of 1922 and 1928 to arrive at a conclusion about how ethnic groups in multi-ethnic Poland voted in these two elections.  Poles tended to be Catholic, Jews tended to practice the Jewish faith, Ukrainians were mostly Uniates, and the Belarusans were mostly Orthodox.  In the 1922 election, support for the Communist party was low across the board (in the single digits); rather minority populations tended to vote for minority parties that represented their unique interests within the state.  In 1928, about 14% of the communist vote came from Jews, 18% came from Catholics, 43% came from Orthodox voters, and 46% came from Uniates.  They found that 49% of Jews voted for Pilsudski’s pro-government bloc in 1928 (Pilsudski was a Pole), whereas Catholics gave only 16% of their votes to Pilsudski’s bloc.  The myth that Jews resisted integrating themselves into the Polish political life is refuted by these results. 

 The authors cite three types of reactions that minority groups within a nationalizing state can take: exit, voice or loyalty.  They note that the Belarusans opted largely for revolutionary communism, the ultimate exit strategy, due to their experience of Polish discrimination and the potential for unification with the Soviet Union run mostly by Russians with whom the Belarusans at least shared a religious affiliation (the Belarussians tended to identify themselves by religious affiliation rather than by state affiliation).  The Ukrainians rejected assimilation into Poland, and also rejected the revolutionary internationalism of the Soviet Union.  They increasingly used the “voice” of ethno-nationalist politics within Poland to ensure some say in the political arena. The Jews, who lacked a nearby homeland, opted for political assimilation and thus showed loyalty to the Polish state in return for a modicum of acceptance.              

The second article I read for this week is entitled The Men of the Archangel written in 1966 by Eugen Weber, whose name appears frequently in the notes of articles by authors writing about the rise of fascism in Eastern Europe.  The article is about one of the lesser known fascist movements of the 1930s, that of the Iron Guard in Romania, or the Legion of the Archangel Michael and its founder Corneliu Codreanu.  Weber begins by asking three questions.  Do fascist movements draw their leaders and followers in significantly high proportions from the middle sections of society?  Is the concept of middle classes a meaningful one in this context?  Is there something particularly reactionary about those groups among whom fascism recruits most heavily, and what are the particular characteristics of such groups?             

The article is interesting when approached as a fairly early example of fascist scholarship within fascist historiography.   He answers the first question by stating that the leaders of most political movements come from the middle sections of society, and that their following includes a significant portion of peasants and manual workers.  He found this to be the case in Romania.  The leaders of the Iron Guard were university students from humble backgrounds and the followers were mostly peasants.  Romania was a peasant country, underdeveloped, under-industrialized, with no working-class parties threatening the vested interests of the weak and practically absent bourgeoisie.  Weber’s answers his second question by stating that he believes the concept of middle classes is misleading especially in the Romanian context, because of the demographic makeup of Romania.  Fascism resonated with a large portion of the peasant population who were attracted to the idea of destroying the existing authorities, and creating a “new” Romanian man endowed with virtues that they felt were lacking amongst Romanians: honesty, responsibility, industriousness, and reliability.  The fundamental disagreement that the fascists had with other revolutionary groups was on the issue of class warfare.  The aim of the fascists was not to re-order society, as much as to establish or return to a more idealized version of the present society.  With regard to the third question, Weber believes that Codreanu’s Legion was an especially radical social force, and this was partly due to the fact that the ranks of the Legion were filled with young idealistic men.  He attributes the radicalism of fascists in general, and Codreanu’s Legion in particular, to immaturity.  Weber states that “protests against surrenders and compromises, against the slackness of current morality, are considered evidence of immaturity, a state out of which they will grow to accept the world as it is rather than as it should be according to proclaimed theory but not to current practice.”                        

Staging the Past

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Staging the Past by Maria Bucur and Nancy Wingfield is a collection of essays about the ineffectual efforts on the part of the Hapsburg monarchy to re-establish their legitimacy in the wake of the 1848-49 revolutions through the final dissolution of the Monarchy in 1918. Throughout 1848-49, there were uprisings throughout the empire that threatened the legitimacy and called into questions the sanctity of the monarchy. In an effort to re-legitimize their rule, Bucur and Wingfield note that the monarchy employed “state-organized commemorative rituals to generate stable meaning around specific dates, places, individuals or events.” It was assumed that the person of the emperor and the Roman Catholic Church, representing tradition and security, would serve as the common denominator that would unite the disparate peoples within the empire and inspire loyalty to the crown. However, this strategy ignored and subordinated the array of ethnic and religious identities that were clamoring for recognition and a voice in the political realm. It was provincial commemorative practices, as opposed to the state-organized commemorations, that resonated more with people, and ultimately created a greater sense of belonging within localized communities, based upon a common past.

At the local level, there were marked differences in the way in which citizens interpreted symbols such as historical figures, and anniversaries, based on ethnicity, class, and religious affiliation. The essays illustrate both the disconnect between the monarchy and the people as a whole, as well as the disconnect between people within specific regions based on differences in class, religious affiliation and ethnicity. This raises the question as to how it is possible for disparate groups to unite for the common good. One could cite unequal access to wealth or other public goods such as healthcare or education as being a divisive force. But the monarchy had made considerable efforts to improve access to public services within the empire. The Hapsburg monarchy did not support the freedom of association, however, and I wonder if the underlying reason for the ultimate dissolution of the monarchy had to do with limits on the ability of individuals and groups to freely associate and express their political, ethnic and/or religious views. The monarchy was a neoabsolutist regime that employed strong arm tactics to suppress political expression in the territories. The German language was selected as the official language within the administration, indicating a strong preference for German speaking peoples (although a case can be made for this decision given that the majority of people within the empire spoke German). Roman Catholicism was the religion of the state. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that this reality created an imperative for those on the periphery due to ethnicity, religion or political beliefs, to challenge the monarchy politically in order to move from “subject” to partners in the creation of their own political destiny.

The Jews in Vienna 1867-1914

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

In The Jews of Vienna 1867-1914 Marsha L. Rozenblit argues that some scholars have incorrectly concluded that because the Jews played a substantial role in the avant-garde, that they were almost totally assimilated into Viennese society and that they embraced modern secular society. Most studies that arrive at this conclusion tend to focus on elite Jews only. Rozenblit has written a convincing book, rich in empirical data, including Jewish birth, marriage and conversion records, educational records, and tax records enabling her to study Jews of all classes and ages. By taking a closer look at the Viennese Jews she shows that despite the fact that most Jews did assimilate into Viennese society to some degree, there were limits that Jews put on assimilation as a way to remain Jewish, and therefore separate.

Rozenblit notes that assimilation occurs along a continuum beginning with acculturation, leading to intermarriage then to the total disappearance of Jewish identity. Her research shows that despite the opportunities to interact with non-Jews that the urban environment offered, certain occupations tended to be dominated by Jews including salaried positions in business and industry, and positions as non-governmental clerks, salesmen, and managers. Jews also tended to live in Jewish neighborhoods and to socialize with other Jews. Intermarriage and conversion rates were not particularly high among Jews. Although large numbers of Jews rejected Judaism as a religion, the emotional bonds and pride in Jewish identity continued. Jews created extensive networks within the Jewish community that permitted them to engage in philanthropic and political activity in Zionist or Jewish nationalism groups. In this way, according to Rozenblit, Jews were able to institutionalize their separateness and create forums for publicizing Jewish identity in Vienna. (more…)

The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

In The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Tim Judah states that the Serbs went to war in the early 1990’s with the aim of creating a Greater Serbia out of concern for the condition of Serbs outside of the Serbia, particularly those in Croatia and Kosovo. 
Judah argues that Serbs were lead into war by their leaders who drew upon “the malign threads of their people’s history to bind them and pull them into war.” (
Judah, p xi).  The malign threads of history that Judah refers to are the myths that have been transmitted from generation to generation through epic poetry and their Orthodox religion that has served to sustain the image of themselves as people who, though historically oppressed, have never backed down from the fight, as it is “better to die in battle than live in shame.”  (Judah, p 29) Despite being scattered, myth and religion have helped to bind Serbs together and have distinguished Serbs apart from others. 
Judah’s argument echoes the arguments of other nationalism scholars who posit that myth is one mechanism that facilitates nationalistic behavior.


Judah points out that Yugoslavs (Orthodox Serbs, Muslims and Catholic Croats) and had been living in relative harmony side by side since the end of World War II.  But the Serbs were all too willing to be influenced by mythology, and to allow irresponsible leaders to uncover grievances and injustices suffered in the distant past as the basis for war.  The irony is that what was touted as action that would quickly result in a politically powerful and socially united
Serbia actually ended up being a protracted war.  What resulted was the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Serbs who fled Yugoslavia to escape the war or the draft (thousands of well educated professionals fled to Canada), as well as the corruption of Serb officials who often enriched themselves by taking the possessions of the Muslim and Croats whom they had ethnically cleansed, or who profited from the war by looting and selling arms and petrol knowingly to the enemy.(p 254)  That it was better to die in battle than to live in shame proved to be false rhetoric for most Serbs.

Within the overall historiography,
Judah’s book is a valuable contribution.  As a British journalist who reported directly from the Balkans during the war years, he is uniquely situated to offer objective commentary about the wars.  His approach to the history of the Serbs and the circumstances that resulted in the Balkan Wars places the blame for the wars directly on the Serb politicians and the Serb people. This may on the face of it seem unfair except for the fact that he argues convincingly by linking myths surrounding events of the past to the actions of contemporary Serbian politicians and citizens.  For his analysis of the history of the Balkans and the more recent political conditions that contributed to the war he drew upon a wide variety of scholarly and journalistic sources, including works by John Fine, Barbara Jelavich, and Noel Malcolm.   

Nationalism Reframed and Imagine Communities

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

In Nationalism Reframed, Rogers Brubaker states that at the end of the 20th century it appeared that several forces were working to “undermine the nation-state, and rendering nationalism obsolete.” However, rather than disappearing, the nation-state and the national idea is unfortunately experiencing what he calls a revival and rebirth (in the wake of the fall of Communism). Brubaker notes that the most recent nationalizing reconfiguration of the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia has reframed the national question. Brubaker explores the distinctive forms and dynamics of these new nationalisms.

In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson also makes the point that the era of nationalism that was supposed to come about, because the goal of Marxism was the erasure of divisions and boundaries the separated people, never did. Moreover, he notes that “nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time.”

Brubaker describes the major works on nationhood and nationalism of the last decade as developmentalist literature, that which traces the long-term political, economic, and cultural changes that led, over the centuries, to the gradual emergence of nations. Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities falls into this category. Brubaker’s work focuses on the nationalisms that were produced in the wake of the fall of Communism. Brubaker begins a convincing and compelling new discussion about nationness as an event, as something that suddenly crystalizes rather than gradually develops; as a contingent, fluctuating, and precarious frame of vision and basis for individual and collective action, rather than as a relatively stable product of deep developmental trends in economy, polity or culture. Brubaker’s book is well-sourced. He cites several major scholars in the field of nationalism in his bibliography. (more…)