Archive for the ‘Gary’ Category

Balkans Are Pawns Of the Great Powers

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Misha Glenny’s The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999, addresses the issue of Balkanization from two perspectives: the persistent negative characterization and stereotyping of the Balkan peoples and cultures; and, the Balkans have been nothing more than pawns and victims of the Great Powers, thereby resulting in their economic oppression. Glenny suggests that due to the Great Powers political, economic and military goals, their actions have forced the Balkans into situations and wars that they did not want or had no choice but to participate, if for nothing else, for survival. Glenny’s arguments are reminiscient of the argument Robert J. Donia and John V.A. Fine’s Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed and Dusan Bjelic and Obrad Savic’s Balkan as Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation, where they suggest that the West has promoted through the media and history an image of the constant warring among a swirling cauldron of conflicting ideologies due to multiple ethnicities, religions, and competing nationalities that make peace an impossibility for the region and a place that has been a primary source for two World Wars. Similar to the other authors, Glenny challenges the negative stereotyping of the Balkans by the West. From the early nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century, he traces the actions of both the individual Balkan nations or states, the Great Powers of Europe, and two non-European nations, the United States and the Ottomans, in an attempt to demonstrate that the Balkans consistently fought to develop their own nations and create and expand their own political space. Meanwhile the Great Powers played their own games among each other, always focusing on maximizing their self-interests while sacrificing the interests and political space of the Balkan countries.


Gorby and Artisans Needed Each Other

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Padraic Kenney’s A Carnival of Revolution purports to offer an alternative explanation for the series of revolutions in Eastern Europe and fall of communism in 1989 in lieu of the Gorbachev effect. Kenney suggests that movements were afoot well before, during, and after Gorbachev’s arrival on the scene. He argues that these movements, especially from the artisans and intelligentsia, should be credited as much if not more than the influence of Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika initiatives, ultimately resulting in the widespread revolutions against communism in the eastern European USSR satellite countries. Kenney seems to imply that not only were the movements within the satellite countries the primary catalysts, but also the central figure for leading the revolutions was Poland. In Kenney’s Poland-centric argument, they are the model and the inspirational faith for the other revolutionary movements.


Balkan As A Metaphor

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Balkan As A Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation (2005)

Eedited by Dusan Bjelic and Obrad Savic

Balkan as a Metaphor, a collection of fourteen chapters written by different authors and edited by Dusan Bjelic and Obrad Savic, addresses the various uses of the term Balkan. Many of the authors are personally familiar with the area, having lived in the area for different lengths of time. The primary purpose of the authors is to address the negative stereotypes to phrases or terms such as “being Balkan,” “Balkanization,” or just generally referring to conflict ridden areas by saying “the Balkans”, such as warlike, aggressive, sexist, rapist, racist, center of ethnic, racial and religious conflict, that have been constructed by the West. The authors explore the various stereotypes, how they have evolved, using an interesting and creative array of analogies and analysis to produce an provocative discourse on “Balkan identity and representation, its pleasures and its violence.” (page 2)


For the most part, the authors lay most of the blame for the negative stereotyping of the Balkans on the West. While allowing that the concepts of Said’s Orientalism  has influenced the Balkan authors and can be used to help interpret and understand how the West applied negative stereotypes to the Balkan metaphor, Bjelic suggests that Balkanism is related but different to Orientalism, with specific reference to the creation to Other. Consequently, how the West has tended to construct the Other versus the Balkan approach to Other is considered in his introductory chapter and is a consistent issue of discourse throughout the various chapters. (more…)

Communism Out, Diversity In

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Rothschild, Joseph, and Nancy Wingfield, Return to Diversity: A Political History of East Central Europe Since World War II, 3rd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Joseph Rothschild’s Return to Diversity, initially published just before the fall of Communism in East Central Europe, while eerily prophetic and to some to degree unintentionally so, traces the changes in eight countries of this region from post-World War II to 1989 in the first edition. The third edition, with updates provided by Nancy Wingfield, adds a final chapter to address the changes in the 1990s. Rothschild’s Return to Diversity argues that the collective failures of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and the Soviet Union to understand the nationalistic forces at work, as well as the failure of Titoism Communism and the Soviet Union’s failure to create a monolithic Communist bloc in the eight countries considered by Rothschild, are primary reasons that East Central European countries have retained their national histories and have reestablished the political diversity present before World War II.

Rothschild creates the setting by briefly summarizing the interwar developments which led to the emergence of the corridor of countries precariously situated between the Great Powers of Germany and the Soviet Union. Based upon this setting, Rothschild suggests that the failure of nerves on the Allies’ part meant abandoning the wedge of countries, leaving most of the region at the mercy of Germany. However, Germany’s inability to grasp the value of national sovereignty pushed some, if not many of the East Central European countries into the hands of Communism. Ironically, Stalin and the Soviet monolithic model of relegating the countries to satellite, colonial-like status, repeated the same mistake that Germany committed, ultimately leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, break up of the Soviet Union, thus bringing about the return to diversity that gives Rothschild’s analysis a prescient quality, albeit somewhat inadvertent with respect to the breakup of the Soviet Union.


A Brave New Path?

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Instead of joining the ranks of historians and scholars of holocaust events during World War II, Jan Gross dares to break from the traditional explanation of the perpetrators and victims. Gross does not seek to answer the question of why the holocaust happened, or why Jews were the target in Neighbors, a short depiction of the massacre of the Jews in Jedwabne, Poland in July 1941. Indeed, he leaves us with questions, quite possibly a significantly higher number of questions than before one reads the book.  

Of the many interesting points Gross makes or raises for discussion, two points were of special note for the originality and courage. First, Gross must have realized that he was challenging the traditional historical account by suggesting that the Germans were not the primary perpetrators in this obliteration of the Jews in Jedwabne. Second, he suggests through his own scholarly work that historians must have the courage to see the real story, to understand the forces at work, to muster the courage to tell the real story, not necessarily the accepted story. (more…)

WE Are Polish

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

In Exile and Identity: Polish Women in the Soviet Union During World War II, Katherine Jolluck argues that gender and nationalism were inseparable issues that combined to allow the Polish women exiles sent deep into the USRR to find a way to give meaning to their existence and ultimately provided the means for their survival both mentally and physically. Jolluck’s monograph fills not only addresses an area in World War II Polish experience that has  not received much attention, but she also address a virtual void in the historiography or this area regarding gender issues.


Jolluck’s numerous gruesome accounts of the experiences of the Poles during their exile illustrated the horrors the Poles endured and ultimately overcame while making keen observations of the differences between the perceptions, meanings and reactions of the Polish man and woman. Although the Polish men and women reacted distinctively different based upon their perceptions, Jolluck points out that in the end they both acted in total unison for one purpose, Polish nationality. (more…)

All Politics Are Local – State vs Local Identities

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Bucur and Wingfield’s Staging the Past explores the issues and challenges that the Hapsburg dynasty faced after 1848 in re-establishing their authority while assessing the reasons behind their recurring failures to create a national identity, culminating in the break up of the dual dynasty in 1918. Through ten essays, the authors implement an interpretative framework based on cultural history to address the attempts in Hapsburg Central European to create national histories using commemoration and trying to establish collective memories. The actors used various methods, sometimes promoting myths, presenting liberal interpretations, or just plain rewriting history based on desired story versus facts, all in an effort to create nationalism in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious environment.

The battle to create a common culture, an shared identity, was not only contested between the national level and the local level, but also between competing local groups or ethnicities. I found myself asking the question whether a common process or formula for creating nationalism existed, or was believed to have existed, or were the state and local entities merely mimicking tactics of the “other?” The tactics typically included the following ingredients: establishing commonality in culture, usually with a predominant language; using history and myth, or some combination thereof; creating for the community a set of collective memories through public communication mediums, such as festivals, parades, art, symbols, and holidays, as described in Unowksy and Beller’s articles, with the ultimate goal of defining characteristics of the “self” and “other.” Most of the articles either directly or indirectly illuminated the conflict between national and local interests. Many times, the local or regional entities within the Hapsburg empire would invoke their versions of history, myths, and public events to further ideologies at their level which inhibited or extinguished the state’s ability create a national identity, hence, the local identity could overcome the nation-state identity.

Although Bucur and Wingfield’s collection of essays seeks to address the lacunae of research on the development of national identity in the Hapsburg Monarchy (3), one can see the linkage between the intentional and unintentional actions taken by European nation-states and the inter- and intra-nation conflicts that became the catalyst for both World Wars. The problems Francis Joseph faced were a microcosm of the problems faced by most if not all of Europe, but are these problems with national identity and nation building specific to
Europe? Finally, are differences in language, ethnicity and local customs the common obstruction factors for the state? Can a multi-ethnic nation with religious pluralism exist and survive for more than a brief time or beyond one influential leader?

Languages of Community: The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Focusing on the nascent decades of modern nationalism in Europe, Hillel Kieval’s Languages of Community: The Jewish Experience in the Czech Lands, examines the nationalist movement within the two primary Czech Republic provinces, Moravia and Bohemia. Kieval analyzes the role of language and the experiences of Jews in both urban and rural settings in the two Czech provinces in an effort to demonstrate that the Jews efforts for emancipation and nationalism were, in effect, a microcosm of the struggles the fledging European nationalism movements, yet their experiences as individuals and collectively are indeed unique. (more…)

Nationalism Reframed – Gary

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

In the midst of a swirling debate on the current and future status of nationalism, Rogers Brubaker’s Nationalism Reframed both intrigued me and challenged my conclusions on the fate of nationalism. I must admit I had not considered the issue Central and East European relations from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century, especially in the triad model posited by Brubaker. He suggests leaving the discussion of “nation” out of his collection of essays, instead focusing his argument on how nationalism is “induced by political fields” in the essays that deal with post-Communist Europe and Eurasia by considering nationalizing states, national minorities in successor states, and the external national homeland.

Brubaker successfully argues how nationalism has been reframed through the lens of his model by providing a wide array of examples over the past hundred years. He provides concrete examples based on historical events with the Germans and Czechs, Germans and Polish, and really hitting home with two prime events – Yugoslavia with the Croats and Serbs, and the Soviet Union with Russia and the successor states. Brubaker’s use of the term “political space” and the conceptual framework of the Soviet institutionalized system strongly aided his argument. (more…)