Archive for the ‘Shawn’ Category

Glenny – The Fall of Yugoslavia

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia; The Third Balkan War (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1994)


Working as the Central Europe correspondent of the BBC World Service, Misha Glenny was in a prime position to detail the collapse of Yugoslavia and the outbreak of war in Croatia and Bosnia during the early 1990s. Glenny’s style is informative, concise, and witty. He needs all of these attributes to help the reader make sense of such a confusing situation.

Glenny first chronicles the push for independence by Slovenia and Croatia that sparked the beginning of the violence. He then argues that the quick recognition of Slovenia and Croatia as independent countries by the rest of Europe and by the U.S. basically guaranteed that war would break out in Bosnia. Glenny’s point here is that with Slovenia and Croatia gone, the Bosnian government was forced to choose between staying in a rump Yugoslavia totally dominated by Serbia (an option that was unacceptable to the Croatian and Muslim inhabitants of Bosnia) or claiming Bosnian independence (an option that was equally unacceptable to Bosnian Serbs). The result of being forced into this choice was a bloody and brutal civil war.


Link to Ceausescu’s big flop of a speech

Monday, November 19th, 2007

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

The Walls Came Tumbling Down, by Gale Stokes 

Written in 1993, Gale Stokes’s The Walls Came Tumbling Down is an early effort to explain why the collapse of the Soviet bloc nations, which came as such a shock to most of the world in 1989, was actually a long time coming.


Stokes divides the era of Communist Eastern Europe into two halves: pre-1968 and post-1968. The argument is that from the end of World War II until 1968, whatever opposition there was within the bloc countries was almost entirely aimed at reforming and perfecting the socialist system, and that the idea of ending socialism was not even a consideration. But the events of 1968, culminating in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, convinced the oppositionists that reform was not possible. This was the start of “anti-politics”.


The author’s explanation of how anti-politics developed is very interesting. Since there was no chance of reform, and no way to resist the power of the state (backed by the Soviets), then there was no hope in any normal political opposition. Out of this hopelessness came the idea that the only thing to do was to live life “as if”, to go through life making moral choices and be unafraid of the consequences. And since the Communists claimed to be the sole keepers of truth and justice, living by your own rules, even in the tiniest instance and regardless of what ‘your rules’ might be, was in and of itself an act of opposition. By turning the idea of opposition from a political task to a moral one, the oppositionists did not have to agree on what the “correct” political solution might be. They just had to agree that the existing regime was a false one. This allowed people with widely divergent political leanings to be on the same side and to face down the regime together.


1968 – rebellions and questions of objectivity

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Mark Kurlansky, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, (New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 2004)


In this book, Kurlansky takes a wide-ranging look at war, culture, and politics during the year 1968 in an effort to understand not just that year’s events, but the underlying causes that led to them and the year’s lasting impact on the world.

The book follows a more or less chronological path and as such, it jumps back and forth from many different locations; from the eastern bloc to Southeast Asia, from the U.S. to Nigeria, from Cuba to Western Europe. It also jumps topics; from war to poetry to politics to fashion. It is very difficult to encompass all these different locations, different facets of culture, into one lucid and coherent narrative. And I think it is in this area that the author deserves the most credit. It does a good job of providing a slightly chaotic feeling that matches what many people felt at the time, that everything was coming apart at the seams. Yet he also ties in a lot of common threads that made people in various different parts of the world, who had little or no direct contact with each other, feel like they had some sort of communal bond.


Neighbors – facing facts

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Jan T. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.


Jan Gross’s Neighbors is a short book. The copy that I read is only 173 pages, and they are small pages with fairly large print. But the book proves that even a short story can make a major point.

Gross examines the 1941 massacre of Jedwabne, Poland, when the town’s roughly 1600 Christian residents murdered the other half of the town’s population – roughly 1600 Jewish men, women, and children. The details are from the testimony of first hand witnesses and paint a sickening picture of the treatment received by the local Jews. At first they were killed randomly in whatever barbaric manner the executioners could think of: beaten with clubs or pipes, drowned, slashed with knives. Then after a few hours of this the Polish locals decided that it just wasn’t efficient enough. So they herded the Jews into a barn and burned them all alive in one big conflagration. Disgusting in its own right, the Jedwabne massacre is something of a miniature version of the Nazi Final Solution. At first content to work the Jews to death or to have their mobile death squads executing Jews by shooting them, the Nazis continually searched for ways to modernize the killing and make the executions more efficient; eventually resulting in the death camps and gas chambers.


Austria & Poland – Interwar Political Attitudes

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

The Austrian Foreign Service and the Anschluss in 1938 By Oliver R. Rathkolb, German Studies Review, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Feb. 1990) pp. 55-83


The Legacy of Three Crises: Parliament and Ethnic Issues in Prewar Poland, By Alexander J. Groth, Slavic Review, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec. 1968), pp. 564-580


These two articles each provide a glimpse of the interwar period in the respective countries, though they each come at their task in a different manner. Rathkolb’s article examines one specific segment of Austrian society, the diplomatic service, while the Groth article takes a much broader view and looks at trends in Polish national politics.

Rathkolb has examined the personal histories of roughly one hundred Austrian diplomats and attempts to explain why a group that appeared very anti-Nazi was so calmly accepting of the Anschluss in 1938. In this analysis of individual diplomats, a few trends become clear.

First, Rathkolb suggests that by 1938 only roughly 20% of the Austrian population was actively pro Nazi. It seems that this was roughly the same within this group of diplomats. Second, even among the anti-Nazis, there was a strong sense of a broader German nationalism which may have eased some of the rougher edges of Nazism, making it easier to go along. And third, there was the simple fact that in a bureaucracy, the status quo tends to rule. Most of these diplomats had sworn one oath of loyalty to the Hapsburgs, a new oath to the Republic, and then a new oath to the dictatorial Dolfuss regime in 1933. As long as their status was to be maintained after the Anschluss, and if joining the Nazi party might even help advance their careers, what’s one more oath of loyalty?


Staging the Past – Kraus’s Firework

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

In Staging the Past, Maria Bucur and Nancy Wingfield have compiled a series of essays from various authors which, each in their own way, examine the relationship between institutionalized ceremony and national identity. Using the model of the Hapsburg empire, particularly the reign of Franz Joseph, the editors have divided the book into three sections.

Section one examines the attempts by the imperial court to reinvent, or sometimes just invent, traditions as a means of building back up its power base after 1848.

Section two considers how local commemorative traditions compete with those imposed from above.

Section three examines how the symbols and traditions of the Hapsburg monarchy endured and affected the post-monarchy successor states.

Section two has probably the most interesting essay, Jeremy King’s “The Nationalization of East Central Europe”. But since several other people have already posted entries emphasizing this essay, I thought I would comment first on a different essay.


cohen – neither absolutism nor anarchy

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Gary Cohen’s article, Neither Absolutism nor Anarchy: New Narratives on Society and Government in Late Imperial Austria, is an attempt to redirect the historiography of the last decades of the Hapsburg Empire. Citing recent revisions to the political historiography of the Russian and German empires, the author urges a similar reevaluation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Cohen disputes the heretofore consensus view, that the last decades of the empire saw only a strengthening of the bureaucracy and that the entire governmental structure only became more rigid and unable to adapt. But in doing so, he does not focus his argument on the imperial structure of government. Instead Cohen’s emphasis falls on the regional and communal governments.


Nationalism Reframed – Brubaker

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

In “Nationalism Reframed”, Rogers Brubaker attempts to do exactly what the title claims: to redefine the way we conceptualize and understand the phenomenon of nationalism. In doing so, he is attempting to provide a new explanation for the supposed revitalization of nationalism in Europe during the 1990s.

The author points to noted scholars like Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm as having studied nationalism as “something that develops”. Though he is careful to insist that he does not consider this type of analysis as wrong or invalid, Brubaker argues that not enough research has been conducted of nationalism as an event, as “something that happens”.

In the introduction, Brubaker proposes his triad of different types of nationalism that will be the focus of the various essays to follow. This triad is made up of “nationalizing nationalisms”, “external national homelands”, and “national minorities”. These three forms of nationalism, in the author’s analysis, can serve as both cause and effect, feeding off each other and each causing the other to intensify in turn.

In chapters 2 – 6, the author compares, in broad terms, the creation of new nations in interwar Europe to that during post-Soviet
Europe. These chapters are very well researched, and though broad in scope, have plenty of detail to give the reader a solid understanding of the forces at work. Brubaker is able to provide a picture of how these different types of nationalism have played out against and with each other over time.