Archive for the ‘MichaelW’ Category

Heavenly Serbia

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide. By Branimir Anzulovic, New York and London: New York University Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 233. $24.95

“What went wrong?”

It is the obligatory question when it comes to genocide and one that will be heard more often as research and debate surrounding the subject continue their crescendo as genocide becomes more, not less common as human civilization advances into the 21st century. As with revolutions, there is no one cause propelling a wave of genocidal violence. However, it can generally be agreed upon is the propellant role played by national myth. As genocide is a violent manifestation of a drive to assert not only dominance of one group over another but superiority, inevitably collective national myth becomes not only the driving force behind the fervor required to commit acts of mass murder, but to justify them afterward. Heavenly Serbia is Branimir Anzulovic’ effort to explain in a modern context the role played by near ancient Serbian national mythology in fueling the genocidal violence of the 1990’s. (more…)

1989: The Year Eastern Europe “Pulled a Homer”

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

If nothing else, A Carnival of Revolution captures the mercurial essence of revolution as a force for historical change. Few can predict when revolutions will happen, what path they will follow or when and where they will come to an end. When they occur, they are rarely if ever what was intended or desired. Perhaps most importantly, whether they are rich, white smugglers protesting an import tax on tea, an Orthodox priest petitioning the Tsar for a shorter workday, or nationalist pacifists seeking an end to conscription, revolutions rarely flow from once source but rather derive their force from numerous tributaries of social and political discontent that over time, flow into each other, thereby becoming a singular torrent of institutional change .

In the case of Eastern Europe, it was the combined apathy, weakness and corruption of the various authoritarian communist regimes that for various reasons either allowed outright, considered irrelevant or were too impotent in the face of various movements that as social and political barriers to intercommunication vanished, flowed one into the other to become a mandate for a larger change.  It was however a change that was not planned for nor, to the degree that it occurred, universally desired. It would seem that in the grander scheme of things, Gorbachev’s role, particularly in regard to Eastern Europe, was less instrumental than it was circumstantial. What separated him from his predecessors was not his unwillingness to use force to preserve the status quo in Eastern Europe, but in being the first Soviet premier to have been too young to have fought in the Great Patriotic War, Gorbachev was the first of the post-Stalin premiers to recognize that the advent of the ICBM in the late 1950’s effectively rendered Eastern Europe a political Maginot Line as much as it was a military one-with all the inherent expense occurring thereto.

Ultimately, what Kenney has produced is ground breaking only in the sense that it encapsulates the “whatthehelldowedonow” essence of revolutionary movements. That men like Havel and Walesa would assume the reigns of power was far from an inevitability and was due as much to lack of organized alternatives as anything else. If stepped away from and viewed within the greater context of historiography, we see that these various social and political movements sprang not from a wellspring of inherent human desires for representative government but from the various facets of their own individual nationalist spheres of historical experience.

Communist Binging and Post-Communist Purging-Historical issues in “The Haunted Land”

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007



The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts after Communism. By Tina Rosenberg. (New York: Random House, 1996.xxiv, 464 pp. $16.95, ISBN 978-0679744993.)

Tina Rosenberg’s Haunted Land offers a comparative analysis of the processes by which three nation states: the former Czechoslovakia, Poland and the former German Democratic Republic attempted to reconcile democratic futures with communist pasts. The book’s central question, what to do with members of the old regime and what affect the process and outcome of doing so conjures up a critical array of related questions that  play out in the course of the narrative: Should successor regimes struggling for a democratic ideal prevent former members of the old regime from taking an active role in the new government?  If so, how? What are the long-term implications of doing so on the establishment of a democratic process of law? How now are citizens to be categorized in terms of their relationship to the old regime: victim, dissident, collaborator, active participant, who decides the fate of each and what criteria are used? Who decides the criteria? (more…)

Red Eagle

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Red Eagle: The Army in Polish Politics 1944-1988 is essence the story of an army, cloaked in a mystique derived from centuries of tradition and national myth, the officers of which comprise a semi-autonomous caste within the socio-political framework of a nation-state, whose self-interests were inextricably linked to the fate of ruling regime. If this sounds at all familiar, it might be due to staggering parallels readily apparent between Michta’s narrative and István Deák’s history of the Habsburg officer corps. By now however, the sources from which these parallels derive should be readily familiar to students of east European nationalism.

Although largely contradictory of official Marxist-Leninist political doctrine, the perennial presence of the army as an active, influential agent in the internal politics of the Polish communist state was both tolerated and exploited by Moscow and accepted by the Polish people. Permitting this was the unique, and more importantly, insulated position the army occupied within the national heritage, a product of a Polish military ethos derived largely from its centuries of existence as a national institution when no Polish state itself existed. Whether fighting as an element of the Napoleonic, Habsburg or Imperial Russian armies or as an insurrectionist force on behalf of the homeland, accumulated tradition translated into a national ethos the held up the army as a perennial protector of the homeland and thereby claimed “an implicit right to intervene” in internal politics when it deemed political instability threatened the state. This ensured that irregardless the political character assumed by the regime, the army would play a key role in its legitimacy.

What is gathered from Michita’s narrative is a sense of the symbiosis between communism and pre-established nationalist structures. Despite the original intent of communism to surpass nationalism, it would in the case of Poland, as in everywhere else it rose to power, assume a national character rather than obliterate it. While, as Michta points out, there was little in the way of doubt that the Polish general staff were socialists, their actions vis-a-vis their relationship and degree of autonomy sought with regard to the PUWP and Moscow respectively were inherently and historically Polish in character in that they were driven largely out of self-interest. Thus the army’s role under communism and its relationship to the politics of the Polish state would remain largely unaltered from the position it had occupied prior to the Second World War.

From Michta’s narrative, an important questions arises: Are nationalisms inherently immune from the efforts of outside forces to alter their character or is their dynamic nature strictly a function of internal mechanisms? The question is posed here because Michta demonstrates that only after the Polish army stepped outside of its traditional role as state protector and into an active role in Polish politics following the 1981 intervention did it “forfeit its claim to national military tradition.” The result of such an unprecedented action in violation of an historically understood ethos was that for the first time in Polish society, there formed an active, anti-military/pacifist movement.

A note on sources: Michta draws from a hearty cross section of internal Polish documents including public memoranda, memoirs, newspapers and proceedings of the PUWP as well as from Western defense appraisals of the polish military and various secondary sources. The one factor that stands out is that with the exception of Norman Davies and a handful of others there were (in 1988) so relatively few non-Polish scholars working on the Polish question, a pattern that seems to be repeated time and again when it comes to the historiography of Eastern Europe.

It’s the decent thing to do

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Jan Gross’ Neighbors raises a number of compelling questions pertaining not just to scholars of Eastern European history, but rather are questions that pervade numerous sub-fields of the discipline as a whole. Under what set of circumstances can historians afford to take primary source material at face value without substantial independent corroboration? Does war cause the barbarization of humanity or does it simply enable it? Can a population be victim and victimized simultaneously? At what point are societies prepared to dismiss “collective” memory and thus deal with the long-term implications of doing so?


Fascisms are like so many snowflakes…

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Native Fascism in the Successor States is a collection of essays, which found its genesis in a conference of European scholars held in Seattle in the spring of 1966 with the aim of examining the nationality problem in the Habsburg Monarchy. From this conference, a number of essays on the subject fascism were presented. They addressed the central question regarding the development of fascism in inter-war Eastern Europe question from two angles. They sought to define fascism by constructing a framework of by establishing a rudimentary framework wherein would fit the root causes for the development, and in most cases, the failure of fascist movements to gain power in Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia respectively.

This book refutes two long-held axioms pertaining to the rise of fascist movements: That they were aberrations-an exclusive product of the unique conditions associated with the inter-war period, and that they were a response to the economic anxiety of the Great Depression. Eastern European fascism was the product of a gradual movement to the right, exacerbated and subsequently inhibited by varying socio-economic and cultural phenomena and would develop along a continuum consisting of three stages. Beginning as ethereal elements, ideas (first stage) collectivized into the organized framework of an expressed ideology, embodied (ideally) by a political party (second stage) with the ultimate goal (third stage) being the formation of a fascist regime. From these three stages, a basic elemental framework emerges forming the bases for the respective fascist ideologies. In order to ascend to the third stage, these movements required mass appeal rooted in a profound dissatisfaction with the status quo, an institutionalized platform for political indoctrination (the church, universities, the military) and exclusivity (based upon xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-liberalism/communism, economic disaffection etc). How these elements were characterized varied by their respective nation states. Because each stage required a crucial element or elements to ascend to the next, it is from this basis that the failure of these movements to develop into fascist regimes that marks the critical focal point for comparison here.

If fascism is to be understood within the context of an established understanding of Eastern European nationalism (or any nationalism for that matter), it is that those elements that define a nation fit into the context of historical events to influence how fascism developed in the successor states and, on the same token, how they inhibited it. This is key because despite the outward appearance of a relationship, fascist movements in Eastern Europe developed relatively independently of each other. They were not, like so many Bolshevik movements, directly fostered from (though they were sometimes inspired by) external sources like Germany and Italy, but were primarily the product of internal socio-economic and cultural issues left unresolved prior to the outbreak of the Great War, issues that were exacerbated by inherent problems resulting from the post-war formation of the successor states. Fascism in Poland, for example, found its roots in the desire to purge troublesome national minorities (Russians, Ukrainians and Germans), found its ideological basis in former military intelligence officers and university youth groups but would ultimately fail because of a failure to gain momentum among the majority of the population as it conflicted with historically established Polish democratic ideals. Another example, and an ironic twist, provides that embryonic fascism developed in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in part, not as a product of German and Italian collusion but as a direct response to anti-German and Italian ethnic and political sentiments respectively but were unable to gain a mass following due largely to a lack of universal appeal among ethnically and culturally diverse populations. Ultimately, fascism failed in Eastern Europe because while factors existed that were conducive to its development, its emergence triggered from within other elements of the variegated Eastern European socio-political and ethnic web, a counter-movement on the part of the state bureaucracy or from amongst the population that effectively checked it.

Concerning source material, the book points out that much can be learned by examining the contemporary institutional structures associated with the various movements: school curricula, film, newspapers, radio broadcasts etc. Also noteworthy are the frequent references to church documents and contemporary speeches from the various personalities concerned.

Prior to readingNative Fascism in the Successor States, the author of this review engaged in an elementary academic exercise by asking himself to execute the following: Define Fascism. The basis for that task was two-fold. Having read Charles Tilley’s superb work, European Revolutions, 1492-1992 as an undergraduate, I recalled the singular brilliance of the author’s having constructed a template for examining the great social upheavals of the last five centuries of European history in an attempt to analyze, define and differentiate between what constituted a revolution, revolt, coup d’etat, civil war, separatist movement etc. This same exercise proved valuable more recently with respect to Stalinism for which the construction of a basic template or thesis (though an antithesis of Stalinism proved most useful) facilitated definition. Having thus become a believer in “templates,” and anticipating this book would provide one for me; I endeavored to construct one for the equally nebulous concept of Fascism as a basis for subsequent comparison. Despite these erstwhile experiences however, it proved no less difficult and an all too familiar pattern emerged. Unable to readily define the concept itself, I retreated into familiar territory by listing known examples: Nazi Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal etc along with a set of known characteristics: Mass appeal, production of an other, authoritarianism, symbolism, an appeal to an idealized past and so forth but no precise framework materialized. Though having failed at this task, it nonetheless proved beneficial as it underscored the most critical point made by Native Fascism in the Successor States, that while the basic elements of fascism are readily definable, it is, as a product of its root causes, a far more mercurial and thus not as easily confined historically as its Leftist ideological counterpart.

Quick and dirty history of the Finnish use of the Von Rosen Cross (swastika)

Friday, October 5th, 2007

For the sake of clarifying a supplemental point I made the other night…

From the FAQ section on the Finnish Air Force Website…

Why did the Finnish Air Force use the swastika as the national marking between 1918 and 1945? Why is the swastika still part of badges of Air Force units?

The swastika has been used since ancient times both as an ornament and a motif. It is known to appear, among other applications, in the sewing works of the Finno-Ugric peoples until the modern days. The swastika is very often construed as a symbol of good luck.

The first publicly displayed swastika motif in Finland is probably the swastika ornament around Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Aino triptych from 1891. This painting is currently hung in the stateroom of the Bank of Finland in Helsinki. The armed forces of Finland adopted the swastika during the Civil War in 1918. Swedish Count Eric von Rosen donated the White Army a Thulin typ D airplane in Vaasa on March 6, 1918. On the wings he had painted blue swastikas, his personal mofif of good luck, in Umeå on March 2, before the airplane took off for the crossing of Gulf of Bothnia. After landing in Vaasa the airplane was incorporated as Aircraft Number 1 in the parc d’avions of Finland, later to be renamed the Aviation Force. It was therefore decided to adopt the blue swastika on a white circular background as the national marking, and this was retained until 1945 when it was superseded by the current roundel due to a directive issued by the Allied Control Commission. The directive, however, did not require that the symbol be replaced in other Air Force symbols and flags where it remains in use.

Collective Memory-Cement or Salve?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

The collection of essays in Staging the Past revolve around the ways in which the generation, reinforcement and institutionalization of collective memory is transubstantiated into nationalist ideology or more accurately, a community-building identity. With the Habsburg Empire and the successor states serving as focal points for analysis, the authors illustrate this process as both a top-down, politically and institutionally generated phenomenon fostered by a cadre of elites and nationalism as a popular manifestation, a precipitate of commemorative practices at a local level. In doing so, we gain a clear picture of the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of this facet nation building in these two contexts. (more…)

Beyond Nationalism: A social and political history of the Habsburg officer corps, 1848-1918

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

It is both refreshing and welcome when a scholar refrains from haranguing their intended audience with a crude amalgam of their findings and literary skills but rather from the outset declares: “My argument is thus, this is the evidence I used, the limitations of the evidence and ultimately, how successful I was.” Such is the case with István Deák’s Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps 1848-1918. Deák states:

“The armies of the great European dynastic states traditionally served a dual purpose, to preserve the empire by preventing or suppressing domnestic revolts and to enhance the glory of the ruling house in foreign wars . It is the thesis of this study that between 1848 and 1914, the army of the Habsburg dynasty accomplished the first task admirably, maintaining the empire merely by its presence and having to combat a major domestic revolt only in the first year of the period in question. But the army failed in its second task, decisively losing two major wars that it fought.“ (p.7)


Imagined Communities to Nationalism Reframed

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

by Mike W.Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. By Benedict Anderson. (London: Verso, 2006 ed. xv, 256 pp. $22.50, ISBN 1844670864.)

Nationalism Reframed. By Rogers Brubaker. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xi, 202 pp. $22.50, ISBN 0521576490.)

In Nationalism Reframed, Rogers Brubaker seizes and expands upon Benedict Anderson’s definition of nationalism as a concept brought into being by the conflux of cultural, economic and political forces, in particular, the influence of local elites on and the disintegration of empires on nationalist politics. However, rather instead of re-treading ground already covered by Anderson in defining exactly what nationalism is, Brubaker seeks to define the various driving forces behind nationalist politics in a more focused way. Rather than spreading his research over the bevy of nationalist political history as with Anderson, Brubaker confines his focus to a strictly modern context, conducting a comparative examination of central and eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the inter-war and post-1992 collapse permitting a more nuanced understanding the how these processes develop in their differing political and cultural contexts. In other words, what Brubaker provides here is a basic blueprint for interpreting and potentially predicting the various problems nationalist politics can present to newly formed states. (more…)