28 February 2008

False Memories of the Occupation

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 373-376:
Just as the constraints of the occupation were often mediated through the social structures of family and community, so they were also mediated through the cultural structures of people's understanding. In some ways, historians who 'demythologize' the period actually move us further away from understanding it because people's perceptions and actions were so heavily influenced by false information. False information affected political views. Historians may know, to take the most obvious example, that Laval did not force Pétain into collaboration with the Germans, but the fact that many people saw Pétain as somehow distinct from his own government goes a long way to explaining why loyalty to the Marshal was sometimes so durable. False information also explains many more small-scale decisions taken by people with regard to their daily lives. Prisoners did not make the most of the chance to escape before being taken to Germany in the summer of 1940 because they believed, wrongly, that they would soon be released. Similarly, many young men agreed to go to Germany when called up for Service du Travail Obligatoire in 1943 because they believed, again wrongly, that sanctions would be taken against their families if they did not do so.

Diaries and memoirs of the occupation are full of beliefs that we know, in retrospect, to be false, but diaries and memoirs are usually written by people who are relatively well informed and educated. Imagine how a thirty-nine-year-old illiterate woman from Chartres, who had taken two German lovers and then volunteered to work in Germany, can have understood her experience. Assuming that, like nine-tenths of women who worked for the Germans, she spoke no German, she can only have communicated with her lovers and employers in simple pidgin French. When her first lover was posted to the Russian front, she can have had no means of staying in touch with him. Did his comrades explain where he had gone? Did she try to get other people to write letters on her behalf? Did she hope to resume contact with one or other of her lovers by going to Germany? She would, presumably, have been unable to read the documents that she signed when she went to Germany, and she can have had few means of staying in touch with anyone she knew in France when she went there. By the time that she returned, she seems to have abandoned all attempt to explain or justify herself. She insisted to her interrogators that she had never denounced anyone, but beyond that her responses were autistically uncommunicative....

The memory of the First World War was a unifying one. A very substantial proportion of the French adult male population had undergone similar experiences and those experiences were increasingly seen as sources of pride. By contrast, there was no single unifying experience of the Second World War. Experience in the Loire, where food was relatively plentiful, was different from that in Marseilles, where food was very scarce. Experience in the Pas-de-Calais, where Germans were present in large numbers from 1940 until 1944, was very different from experience in a hill village in the Auvergne where the Germans barely appeared until the summer of 1944. Experience of liberation in Normandy (the scene of heavy fighting between Allied and German troops) was different from that of the south-west, which was largely liberated by the Maquis and which, consequently, often saw the violent settling of scores between French people.

Memories were divisive as well as divided. This was not simply because of explicit political divisions that pitted collaborators, Pétainists and Resistance fighters against each other. It was also because of more small-scale and local animosities that involved communities and even families....

Memory of day-to-day life under the occupation was influenced by something else. During the thirty years after the Second World War, the years that the French know as the 'trente glorieuses', the French economy grew fast. The division between countryside and city diminished. Distinctions of locality that had mattered so much during the occupation were blurred by transport, television and social mobility. People writing autobiographical accounts of their lives during the occupation, the kind that many men wrote for the benefit of their grandchildren during the 1980s, were aware that they were trying to evoke a world that would seem distant and inexplicable to many of their readers. This was not simply because the prospect of foreign invasion or highly repressive government became remote. The social conditions that had governed many people's lives during the occupation had completely disappeared.

France after Liberation: Revenge

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 343-345:
The trials, executions and imprisonments that followed the liberation came to play a large part in the mythology of the right. The very fact that many victims of the legal purge were men from bourgeois backgrounds made their punishment seem all the more striking: the chaplain of Fresnes prison talked of the time when 'le tout Paris' was in the cells. Pétainists made much of their status as victims. Pierre-Antoine Cousteau, a collaborationist and brother of the undersea explorer, began one of his books with the memorable words: 'On 23 November, a large, smooth man, wearing a splendid red robe, trimmed with white rabbit fur, told me rather coldly, that I was condemned to death.' Cousteau's sentence was subsequently commuted....

Many defendants were acquitted, many death sentences were commuted and most of those convicted were released within a few years (there were two large-scale amnesties in 1951 and 1953). Some men who had come very close to the firing squad served little time in prison. A thirty-nine-year-old member of the Milice, who had sat on an illegal court martial that condemned Resistance activists on 2 August 1944, was then himself sentenced to death. However, the sentence was overturned on a technicality (he had been prosecuted in both the civilian court and a court martial). A retrial in March 1945 reduced his sentence to twenty years. In 1951 he was released and in 1966 he was officially 'rehabilitated'. Those who could afford good lawyers were particularly likely to survive. Defence lawyers became the new heroes of the right, which had often in the past been rather disdainful of the pays légal....

The relations between the various forms of formal and informal purges varied with time and place. Generally, the épuration sauvage was most extensive in the south of France. The south was, to a great extent, liberated by French forces, and sometimes by the Resistance, rather than by the Allies. It was also the area where the Maquis had been most extensive and where the Franco-French struggles that pitted Milice against Resistance had been most severe. More generally, the purge was most restrained in areas where conflict during the occupation had been lightest; it was most violent in areas with a history of massacre and reprisal. However, legal and extra-legal punishment did not function independently of each other. Often popular violence pressured the authorities into taking more vigorous action. Sometimes victims were dragged from prison by lynch mobs. Popular violence sometimes increased as it seemed that central government was becoming too lenient. Public anger flared in 1945, at the end of the war, when three different processes coincided. First, de Gaulle seemed ever more inclined to pardon collaborators or to commute death sentences. Secondly, internment camps were closed so that suspected collaborators who had been put in protective custody were released. Thirdly, concentration camp victims, including some Resistance activists who owed their imprisonment to denunciation by their compatriots, began to return to France. Attacks on suspected collaborators, often involving the placing of explosives near their houses, continued into at least 1946 and such illegal and clandestine attacks seem to have increased as the state was seen as less effective in punishing collaboration.

26 February 2008

Some Unusual Interrogatives

The December 2007 issue of Oceanic Linguistics (on Project Muse) contains a squib by Frank Lichtenberk about a typologically unusual interrogative word in Toqabaqita (wherein q = glottal stop), a language in the southeast Solomon Islands.

In that language, the Proto-Oceanic question word *sapa 'what?, which?' has two reflexes: the independent word taa (with one long vowel) 'what?, which?' and the suffixed noun tafa- 'which part of person's or animal's body?' According to Bernard Comrie, the latter type of interrogative is very rare among the world's languages. However, Lichtenberk shows that it follows quite naturally from the way alienable vs. inalienable possession is grammatically distinguished in many Oceanic languages.

Toqabaqita is typical. Alienable possession is indicated by a separate possessive word, as in waqi qoe 'basket thy(sg)', while inalienable possession is indicated by a suffix on the noun denoting the possession, as in gwau-mu 'head-your(sg)'. (I've simplified the glosses here and below.) The types of possession considered to be alienable or inalienable vary a bit from language to language, but whole-part and kinship relations are typically marked as inalienable.

Toqabaqita is a little more unusual in marking the same distinction in questions of 'what' and 'which'.
  • Taa no thathami-a? 'What you want-it' = 'What do you want?'

  • Tafa-mu ne fii? 'What-your(sg) it hurt' = 'Which part of your body hurts?'
However, similar patterns turn up in a few other Oceanic languages, like Nadrogā Fijian (in which c = voiced th):
  • Mu-cā e raci-a? 'Your(sg)-what it hurt-it' = 'Which part of you hurts?'
When the question asks for a kinship term, it often translates into a question like 'What relation is X to Y', as in Pohnpeian (where h marks vowel length) and Kiribati (where /t/ is pronounced [s] before /i/).
  • Depehne-i? 'What.relation.its-my' = 'Where/What is it/he in relation to me?'

  • Ra-m Te Mautake 'What-your ART Mautake' = 'What relation is Mautake to you?'
This got me thinking about interrogative verbs, ones that translate into 'do-what' or 'what-happen'. I know of several languages that have such verbs, mostly in the New Guinea region, but when I googled 'question verbs', I found (Te taetae ni Kiribati), a Peace Corps textbook for Kiribati, which seems to have the most elaborate set of question verbs I've ever encountered. Here's a quick summary.
  • Ngaa 'be where' - E ngaa to kai-ni-b'ati? 'It be.where the stop-of-bus?'

  • Aera 'do what' - Kam na aera? 'You(pl) will do.what?'

  • Uara 'be how' - Ko uara? 'You be.how?'

  • Nakea 'go where' - Ko na nakea? 'You will go.where?'

  • Kangaa 'do/be how' - E kangaa ana taeka? 'It be.how his words?' (= said what)

  • Rikea 'pass where' - Ko na rikea? 'You will pass.where?' (= take which route)

  • Iraanna 'do how' - Ko iraanna ni kateia? 'You do.how of build.it?'

25 February 2008

Néojaponisme on Katakana Typography Reform

Matt of No-sword has posted on Néojaponisme an interesting profile of Yamashita Yoshitarō and the efforts of the Kanamojikai (カナモジカイ, “Kana Character Society”) in the 1920s to abandon kanji and convert entirely to katakana to write Japanese. Yamashita designed a katakana typewriter keyboard (similar to the current computer keyboard) and proposed typographical innovations such as word-spacing and ascenders and descenders to improve legibility over the old block-spaced typography.
In practice, this meant:

* Horizontal writing from left to right
* Spaces between words
* Careful word choice to avoid homonym problems
* New letterforms

The first three ideas are nothing special and are actually working out quite well in modern Korean. To propose new letterforms, however, takes chutzpah.

23 February 2008

What If China Takes Over North Korea?

In a long analytical piece in the Asia Times, Andrei Lankov concludes that a Chinese puppet regime (on the former Soviet model in Eastern Europe) might be the least worst option for all concerned in case North Korea finally falls apart. Here is some of his reasoning.
Americans might worry about proliferation threats and feel sorry about sufferings of North Koreans. Yet they are not very likely to dispatch troops to a chaotic and violent country whose population has been taught for three generations that Americans are evil incarnate, natural born torturers and killers, to be resisted at all costs. Chaos in North Korea, if it happens, cannot be stopped by the use of hi-tech weapons, and Americans are not eager to mire themselves in local intrigues, fights and hatreds. This is not what they like nor what they know how to handle well.

South Koreans are not necessarily different. State-sponsored nationalism is an important feature of the South Korean ideological landscape and lip service to unification as the nation’s supreme goal is made by all political forces in Seoul. However, South Koreans have demonstrated throughout the last decade that they are not too eager to risk their hard-won affluence for the sake of unification. South Korea is a democracy, and parents will not be too happy to send their only sons to the dangerous North, to get involved in necessarily dirty and immoral work there - and probably get killed in the process.

So, if everything else fails, the Chinese move across the Yalu will be tacitly (or openly) welcomed. Beijing is not overwhelmed with worries about excessive losses, has good local knowledge and intelligence and, like any authoritarian government, does not care too much about losses of the opposite force. So, it can do this work with brutal efficiency.

And then what? It would be naive to expect China just to leave after it sorts out the problems in its neighbor. It is probable it will maintain a presence for long time while supporting a friendly (or, better to say, semi-puppet) government. Such a government will not continue with the old policies of the Kim family's regime, since these are remarkably inefficient and China, while willing to provide some aid, will not pump large amounts of aid into the North indefinitely. The new dependency will have to be made self-sustainable, and the only way to do this is to encourage reforms in accordance with the tested Chinese-Vietnamese model.

However, for a cold-minded (or cynical, if you prefer) observer it means that the Chinese and their puppets will assume a heavy responsibility. Post-communist reforms are always difficult and dirty to bring about. They solve many old problems - and create a lot of new ones. That is why the South now sees a German-style instant unification as a nightmare: it would mean that Seoul assume the total responsibility for transforming the North, and everybody understands that this will be a costly and unthankful task.

The economic gap between North and South is so large that it cannot be bridged in less than two or three decades, and its existence alone is bound to produce mutual resentment and tensions. The transformation means that nearly all adult North Koreans will find themselves at the bottom of the new social ladder and remain there for the rest of their lives, even though their absolute living standards will improve considerably.

The resulting discontent will be strong and lasting, as experience of former Soviet states testifies. The hagiographic biographies of Generalissimo Stalin constitute a large part of the best-sellers in the Russian book market these days. Most people who admire these stories and feel nostalgic about the grandeur of the Soviet era actually live remarkably better-off lives than they had under the communist regime, and far better then their grandparents, the subjects of Stalin, could even dream about living.

Nonetheless, they take the current material benefits (and right to read uncensored books) for granted while feeling sorry about the loss of established order, collapse of their beliefs and deep wounds inflicted on Russia’s national pride. It is not incidental that in the past decade the word "democracy" has become a popular term of abuse in Russian parlance: it is associated with real or perceived national humiliation, social disruption, corruption and instability.

There are few doubts that reforms in a Chinese-controlled North Korea will produce a fast and remarkable improvement in the living standards - much as has happened in Vietnam and China itself. However, if those reforms are undertaken without unification with the South, the North Koreans will not compare their state and their consumption level with those of rich South, but rather with their own sorry past, and as a result they will have less psychological reason for discontent.

As an added benefit, the discontent when it arises will be channeled not against a democratically elected national government but against a regime that will be clearly a dictatorship, forcefully imposed by a foreign power, and largely consisting of Kim Jong Il’s ex-officials - that is, people responsible for earlier abuses and economic disasters. These opportunistic puppets will make convenient scapegoats, and this will mean that ideas of liberal democracy will not become seriously discredited. Meanwhile, the South will be seen as a land of prosperity, beacon of democracy and a truly national polity.

Beside, under such a regime there will be many more opportunities for starting a genuine pro-democracy movement inside North Korea. China might be an authoritarian state, but it is far cry from present-day North Korea, arguably still the least free society on the face of Earth.

A measure of political liberalization is unavoidable if one wants to reform a Stalinist system: a functioning market economy cannot exist in a society where for a trip outside the country one has first to apply for police permission and then wait for days (or even weeks) until such permission is issued, as is still technically the case in North Korea.

Greater freedoms means that dissenters will be at least able to gather information, publish or read some hitherto underground material, or even stage occasional strikes and pickets - like the situation in the USSR and East Europe in the Brezhnev era of the 1970s. Nowadays in North Korea every potential dissenter just goes to prison, sometimes accompanied by his or her entire family, well before he or she undertakes any kind of meaningful action. Chinese dissenters gather press conferences in their kitchens - North Koreans disappear without trace.
via The Marmot's Hole

No Clean Hands in Kosovo

In an op-ed in the University of Pittsburgh Law School's Jurist, a former UN human rights legal advisor in Kosovo examines some of the complexities.
From the moment the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began in 1999, the independence of Kosovo seemed a highly likely eventuality. Since that time, developments on the ground have effectively precluded virtually any other possibility. As such, an independent Kosovo does seem inevitable. However, a number of commentators have recently opined that although the purported secession of Kosovo may well be unlawful, it is nonetheless just. Both of these propositions – that it was not in conformity with international law and that it was "justified" – are open to question....

I have to admit that, upon my arrival in Kosovo in the summer of 1999, I had very much shared this simplistic view of the situation. Indeed, my work there on war crimes documentation was largely driven by a desire to secure accountability for the seemingly steady stream of international crimes being broadcast by the international media.

I was initially stationed in western Kosovo, where I, along with throngs of other international aid workers, was welcomed as a benefactor and friend of the Albanians; that is, until I questioned the acceptability of blowing up the town’s Serbian Orthodox Church. Any suggestion that Kosovo Serbs should benefit from the protection of human rights law was met with open hostility.

I later moved north to Mitrovica, the ethnically divided city bisected by the River Ibar, with Kosovo Serbs living to the north and Kosovo Albanians living to the south. Working regularly with individuals from all ethnic groups, I was one of very few people who crossed the Ibar on a daily basis. The few Kosovo Albanians who remained in the north lived in a state of continuous insecurity. Kosovo Serbs fared less well in the south. Shortly before I arrived in Mitrovica, a Kosovo Serb was discovered south of the Ibar, and was consequently beaten to death by an angry mob.

The work of documenting past abuses was quickly supplemented by the need to respond to the spike in crimes against ethnic minorities, including Kosovo Serbs. Over the course of the following 18 months, the killing and displacement of Kosovo Serbs, and other ethnic minorities, continued unabated, notwithstanding the presence of tens of thousands of NATO soldiers.

Further reflection was prompted once the percentage of the Kosovo Serb population that had been murdered or displaced surpassed the percentage of the Kosovo Albanian population that had been killed or displaced in the years leading up to the NATO intervention.
via Laurence Jarvik

Abkhazia: Landmined, Leftover Resort

Not many people these days—except Russians—visit the Black Sea resort enclave of Abkhazia. Travel writer Graeme Wood shares his recent impressions of the place in an article in The Smart Set. Here are a few tidbits to nibble on.
The Republic of Abkhazia is one of the few countries, if you can call it that, where every tourist who shows up gets a handshake and a friendly chat with the deputy foreign minister. Or rather, it would be such a country, if it were a country at all. A wee seaside strip in the Republic of Georgia, Abkhazia hasn't yet persuaded anyone to recognize its independence, even though it boasts many of the trappings of nationhood — a president, a parliament, and an army that guards the border in case the government in Tbilisi wants to invade again....

Before the war began in 1991, Gorbachev, like Khrushchev before him, kept a dacha here. Stalin kept five, one of which the Abkhazian government rents out to tourists for $50 a night. Still today, all Russians know Abkhazia as the balmiest coast in the otherwise frigid ex-Soviet empire -- "a corner of Spain or Sicily," wrote one 19th-century explorer, "dropped at the foot of Old Man Caucasus."...

In the mouths of the troupe of Abkhazian pensioners who shared my bus, the Abkhaz language sounded dissonant and buzzy, as if they all kept wasps and crickets in their mouths. (It has 64 consonants and only two vowels, so typical Abkhazian villages are cursed with names like "Adzjwybzha.") Abkhaz signs appeared on the roadside, written in a Cyrillic script modified by a mad array of curlicues.

Clouds followed for a couple hours' drive through Gal, a heavily mined zone from which the Abkhazians expelled thousands of Georgians at gunpoint during the civil war. The buildings looked derelict and rotten, like the abandoned houses of Chernobyl after 20 years' vacancy. Abkhazian soldiers along the road waved us past rusty demining agency placards toward the holiday resorts of the capital....

A decade of war has left Sukhumi shabby, run down badly since its Brezhnevian heyday. Windows are smashed and ceilings have collapsed. The old Intourist, an impressive Colosseum of a hotel on the waterfront, is as derelict as Roman ruins, but inhabited by weeds instead of cats. Palms line the esplanade, but the balustrades are crumbling and the waterfront is disfigured with concrete blocks and chunks of corroded metal. If Tbilisi’s tanks do try to come back to Abkhazia’s capital, Sukhumi, they can expect bitter resistance, and this beautiful seaside promenade will be spattered with blood, just as it was when Abkhazia originally fought for its independence in the early 1990s....

Russians crowded the waterfront cafés, and their presence felt oppressive. The bewitching beaches have beguiled them from noticing the bitter irony, that to escape the misery of Mother Russia they make a lavish holiday in a war zone. I minded this irony more than they did. After days in Sukhumi, I had seen aspects of Abkhazia that reminded me of Moscow, of Miami Beach, of the Italian Alps, and of Plum Island Animal Disease Center, but little that was distinctively Abkhazian.

22 February 2008

Mengele's Nueva Alemania in Paraguay

In Drexel University's online publication, The Smart Set, Graeme Wood portrays Joseph Mengele's Germany in exile in Paraguay. Here's a taste of it.
Eugene, a Belgian computer programmer, has retired to a cottage in southern Paraguay, and the pride of his golden years is his view. From his stone patio, he sees forested hills, the fringes of yerba mate plantations, and, in the distance, the crumbling ruins of a Jesuit settlement two centuries old. “Like a picture,” he says, and I nod to agree, even though my mind is not on the beautiful vista, but on the dark figure who once shared it.

The Nazi doctor Josef Mengele cheated justice for decades by hiding out in South America, sometimes in these very hills. Had he stayed in Germany he would almost certainly have died by the noose. Jews and Gypsies at Auschwitz called him “the Angel of Death”: He killed men and women for the dubious medical value of dissecting them, and for pleasure. He injected dyes into children’s eyes to see if he could change their color. When he ran out of Jews, he sent memos asking for more, and he got them.

Here in southern Paraguay, he found a life not of fear and seclusion but of relaxation and, like Eugene, retirement. After the war, an organization called die Spinne operated a shadowy network of safe houses and travel agents around South America, a sort of Hosteling International for Nazis on the lam. In Argentina and Brazil, they buried Mengele’s tracks well. But in 1960 and then again from 1963 to 1964, he lived openly in a lovely German town on the outskirts of Encarnacion, and even took a Paraguayan passport as “José Mengele.”

This community, called Hohenau, gave Mengele a life in some ways superior to the one he left behind in his native Swabia. Today, rich from the profits of cultivating yerba mate tea (consumed at a rate of gallons a day by all Paraguayans), Hohenau looks like northern California, with sunny drags and boutiques upscale enough to take plastic. The climate is hot but not miserable, and well-suited to exiles from northern European winters. Old Germans remember the doctor kindly, and a friend of Eugene’s says Mengele frequently hitched scooter rides into town, to see a dentist about a recurrent toothache.

The property next to Eugene’s, a lovely and secluded holiday resort, hosted Mengele at least twice. Nowadays it bears no sign of its former guest, except perhaps in its proudly Teutonic name: Hotel Tyrol. The hotel still hints at a European past. Unlike most buildings in this stiflingly hot land, its roof slants sharply, as if to shake off the Tyrolean snow that never falls. Narrow passageways among its rooms feel like those of an old German monastery, repurposed as a spa.
via Megan McArdle

19 February 2008

Japanese Internment in Canada and the U.S.

A recent article by Stephanie Bangarth in Japan Focus examines Nikkei Loyalty and Resistance in Canada and the United States, 1942-1947. Here is an excerpt.
A basic accounting of the similarities and differences in the situation of American and Canadian Nikkei sets forth something like this: In North [and South] America in general, the Japanese were subjected to discriminatory treatment upon arrival, including the denial of citizenship rights in the US and franchise rights in Canada; they negotiated this impediment by clustering in “ethnic enclaves” primarily on the west coast and increasingly became objects of suspicion, fear, and envy over the course of the early twentieth century. Following the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, both countries “evacuated” Japanese aliens, Japanese nationals, and their North American–born children from their west coasts and “relocated” them to inland camps on the basis of “military necessity,” a politically expedient term legitimating an historic racist animus. This movement involved about 112,000 people in the US and nearly 22,000 in Canada.

In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, both the US and Canada also developed policies that were used to defraud the Nikkei of their property and to encourage a more even “dispersal” of the population throughout the country. The policies diverged in the mid-1940s when the Canadian government expatriated Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry and deported some Japanese aliens (those who signed repatriation forms requesting to be sent to Japan). The Americans also deported some, but only those who renounced American citizenship. Japanese Canadians were disfranchised by provincial and federal legislation; by virtue of the Bill of Rights, those Japanese Americans who had been born in the US were not. In addition, they were permitted to enlist and many did so proudly in the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It is also worth noting that many Nisei who joined the armed forces did so while their families remained in the camps; still others resisted pressures to join, particularly after 20 January 1944 when the draft was reinstated for Japanese Americans.

Throughout much of the war, by contrast, their Canadian counterparts were prohibited from serving in the armed forces and thereby demonstrating their loyalty. Canadian government officials feared that in return for serving their country, Japanese Canadians might agitate for the franchise. It was only toward the end of the war that about 150 Nisei were permitted to work as translators for the Canadian military. Another important difference is that the US government allowed persons of Japanese ancestry to return to the Pacific coast in 1945 as a result of the Endo decision, whereas Japanese Canadians had to wait until 1949 when wartime government legislation finally lapsed.
via K. M. Lawson's Asian History Carnival #19 at Frog in a Well

Bosnia, 1998: A Colony Once Again

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), pp. 337-339:
My Sarajevan friends are delighted with the ten thousand foreigners living there, and the nine billion dollars being spent on the country every year. They tell me that Sarajevo has actually never in its history been so genuinely cosmopolitan. The new cafés are pulsating. Increasingly, the Office of the High Representative, headed by the Spanish diplomat Carlos Westendorp, rules like a colonial administration. It's tempting to say that Bosnia-Herzegovina has again become an Austro-Hungarian protectorate, as it was after the Congress of Berlin, with the Americans as the Austrian Habsburgs and we Western Europeans as the Hungarian junior partner (although picking up most of the bill). But it's not a real protectorate. Rather, it's a bizarre novelty in international relations. We have had protectorates before. We have had partitions before. This is half protectorate, half partition.

The official ideology of all Western agencies in Bosnia is that the unitary state is being pulled together again. It's just taking rather a long time. Alas, I don't think this is true. I fear all the king's horses and all the king's men will not put Humpty-Dumpty together again. But final partition would be an even less acceptable option. For the Bosniaks to have a serious, viable state, you would need to give them at least part of the western half of the "Serb Republic." That would almost certainly mean more bloodshed and tens of thousands more people driven from their homes. If, on the other hand, you allowed the Serb- and Croat-run parts to secede as they are, you would be left with a landlocked rump Bosniak state. Bosniaks warn that this could turn their people into muslim-fundamentalist nationalists. The result would be a "Gaza strip in the middle of Europe."

In fact, the Bosniaks hold the conscience of the West in a powerful moral half nelson. In effect, they say, "We are the Jews of the Balkans and the Palestinians of the Balkans!" The Jews, because no people in Europe has suffered something as close to genocide since the Jews in the Holocaust. So how could we abandon them? The Palestinians, for the reasons already given. I very much doubt that a rump Bosnia would actually become a muslim-fundamentalist state. But in a sense this doesn't matter. Earlier this autumn, the former German defense minister Volker Rühe told me that the deepest issue in Bosnia and Kosovo was "whether the West sees a place for Islam in Europe." Powerful Islamic countries agree. Faced with these complementary perceptions of the powerful, the local truth is largely irrelevant.

So, in some parts of former Yugoslavia, violent separation has already happened. In Kosovo, there remains a difficult but still Humvee-navigable dirt road to peaceful separation. That road we should take. Elsewhere, in Bosnia, but in a different way also in Macedonia, I see no morally acceptable alternative to a direct Western involvement lasting many years, probably decades. Even if, intellectually, we will the end of separation, we cannot will the means.

But why on earth should Americans be the new Habsburgs ? Why should American diplomats enter the twenty-first century trying to solve problems left over from the dissolution of the Ottoman empire at the end of the nineteenth? Why should sons of Kansas and daughters of Ohio risk their lives in these perilous, snow-covered mountains ("What do you need? Plastic?") to stop Europeans fighting over obscure patches of territory? After all, the great-grandparents of some of these Americans probably fled these very mountains to escape just these insoluble squabbles.

The vital national interest is indeed hard to see. The new catchall bogey of "regional instability" hardly compares with the old fear of the Soviet Union getting the upper hand in the cold war. But empires—especially informal, liberal empires—are like that. You muddle in; then somehow you can't quite muddle out. Somalia could never apply the moral half nelson that Bosnia has. For the Balkans, this has been a decade of Western bluster. First, we had the Western bluster of intervention. Now we have the Western bluster of withdrawal. I don't believe this bluster either. I think the sons of Kansas and the daughters of Ohio will be here for a good long time.

"Take up the White Man's burden," Rudyard Kipling wrote a hundred years ago, welcoming the United States's willingness, in the Philippines, "To wait in heavy harness / On fluttered folk and wild." There, and elsewhere, he prophesied, Americans would reap only "The blame of those ye better, / The hate of those ye guard." Today, some of the finest white men are, of course, black. And the local savages are Europeans.

The Muddled Liberation of France, 1942–46

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 364-365:
Between the arrival of American troops in North Africa in November 1942 and the return of the last French prisoners and deportees from Germany via the Soviet Union (in 1946 or later), French people experienced many different kinds of liberation. Some Resistance veterans looked back on the liberation as a time of disappointment, a time when France ought to have undergone a social and political revolution but failed to do so. Many saw 'their' liberation as having been usurped by someone else. People who saw themselves as the 'real' Resistance were particularly hostile to the Communists and Gaullists who proved so adept at manipulating memories of Resistance and liberation—though the Communists and Gaullists were both soon marginalized in the political system of the Fourth Republic.

The liberation was not a time of unqualified rejoicing. The arrival of Allied troops in mainland France often marked the beginning of the most violent period of the war for French people. Nazi persecution continued (the last train taking Jews from Paris left on 18 August 1944) but this was now mixed with the less systematic violence of massacres carried out by German troops operating in areas they did not know and with the damage inflicted in some areas by Allied bombardment. In all sorts of ways, the liberation could be a period of horrible suffering....

Perhaps the most curious absence at the liberation was Vichy. Pétainism was not displaced by the first liberation (that of North Africa) because the Americans and their French allies had no particular interest in overthrowing it. De Gaulle and his associates subsequently drove most Pétainists out of the French administration in North Africa, but they did so mainly for reasons of realpolitik rather than principle. Events in the town of Vichy were an odd little sideshow in the summer of 1944. Pétain did not want to be seen to abandon his post voluntarily and the Germans did not want to leave him behind in France. A discreet deal was struck. On 20 August German soldiers broke down the doors of the Marshal's apartment at the Hôtel du Parc. Pétain's entourage protested but his bodyguards did not open fire. A crowd of around two hundred gathered outside in the Rue des États-Unis and sang the 'Marseillaise' as the Vichy government left its capital. Allied troops did not, however, arrive in Vichy, a place of no strategic importance. Once the Germans had gone, the town was liberated by a mixture of maquisards who had come down from the surrounding hills and policemen who were only too happy to find themselves once again on the right side.

The Muddled Liberation of French Algeria, 1942

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 318-319:
The significance of American landings in North Africa, and particularly in Algeria, was complicated. Parts of the French Empire had rallied to de Gaulle or been conquered by Free French forces ever since 1940. However, these were mostly distant places with small French populations. Algeria was close to the mainland. It contained more than a million French citizens, including a large number of soldiers. Furthermore, Algeria was not a colony, unlike Indochina, nor a League of Nations mandate, unlike Syria where Free French and Vichy forces had fought in 1941, nor a protectorate, unlike Morocco. Algeria was part of France. It returned deputies to the French parliament, and its European population had resented Vichy moves that seemed to blur the distinction between it and the colonies or protectorates.

Operation Torch was, however, a funny kind of liberation. Landings in North Africa did not involve even the token Free French force that went to Normandy with the Allies in 1944. Furthermore, there were no Germans in French North Africa in 1942 and resistance to the American landings came from French forces loyal to the Vichy government. France was being liberated from the French.

Giraud, the Americans' candidate for the leadership of the French in 'liberated' Algeria, missed his rendezvous with an American submarine that was meant to pick him up from southern France, and was still on Gibraltar when the Americans landed in North Africa. If Giraud was unexpectedly absent, another conservative French military leader was unexpectedly present. Admiral Darlan was in Algiers visiting his son, who was seriously ill with polio. Darlan had no advance knowledge of the landings. Even as American warships approached North Africa, he insisted that the Americans would not break their promise not to enter French North Africa uninvited. When American troops landed, Darlan ordered the French to resist—1,368 Frenchmen and 453 Allied soldiers died in the few days before Darlan changed his mind. Eventually, however, a ceasefire was arranged and the Americans suggested that Darlan himself might lead the French in Algeria. This was an attractive suggestion to an ambitious man who had recently been squeezed out of power in Vichy by Laval's return, and Darlan signed an accord with Clark, the commander of American forces in North Africa. The British were unhappy with Darlan's rule in Algeria as were American liberals: the journalist Ed Murrow suggested that letting Darlan rule Algeria was like letting Quisling rule a 'liberated' Norway.

Pétain was furious at the Clark-Darlan accords and denounced them six times in the week after they were concluded. Darlan did not denounce Pétain. On the contrary, he argued that he was acting in the Marshal's name and carrying out the policy that the Marshal was unable to announce openly. Darlan's suggestion that Pétain was not a free agent was made more convincing by the fact that the Germans invaded the free zone of France in response to the American invasion of Algeria.

Darlan's reign in Algeria ended on Christmas Eve 1942 when he was shot by a young royalist. The assassin was himself executed on Boxing Day, giving conspiracy theorists much food for thought. Now the Americans installed their original candidate, Giraud, in power in Algeria. Unlike Darlan, Giraud had never held office under the Vichy government and, unlike Darlan, he had always been anti-German. However, he had also expressed loyalty to Pétain and shared many of Pétain's beliefs. Giraud presented himself as a military figure who did not wish to play politics, a classic conservative stance that meant, in practice, that he would not overthrow much of what Vichy had established in Algeria. He had particularly strong views about one piece of Vichy legislation. He had spent his early life serving with North African units of the French army and had developed a deep admiration for Islam. This made him keen not to restore the Cremieux decree, which had given French citizenship to Jews in Algeria and which had been abolished by Vichy. Giraud believed that the Cremieux decree antagonized Muslims in Algeria, and, in fact, Jews in Algeria did not regain French citizenship until May 1943, six months after the Americans arrived.

18 February 2008

Yugoslavia, 1998: A Dismembered Corpse

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), pp. 318-320, 332:
ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS A COUNTRY CALLED YUGOSLAVIA. It was a medium-sized country in the southeast of Europe, and more than twenty-three million people lived there. It was not democratic, but it had a fair name in the world. Its king was called Tito. Being both largely rural and socialist, this country was not rich. But it was getting a little richer. Most of its children grew up thinking they were Yugoslavs. They had other identities, too, and strong ones. Slovenes already talked of the "narrower homeland," meaning Slovenia, and the "wider homeland," meaning Yugoslavia. Its Albanians were always Albanians. Still, it was a country.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, this European country has been torn apart. At least 150,000 and perhaps as many as 250,000 men, women, and children have died in the process. And how they have died: with their eyes gouged out or their throats cut with rusty knives, women after deliberate ethnic rape, men with their own severed genitalia stuffed into their mouths. More than two million former Yugoslavs have been driven out of their homes by other former Yugoslavs, and many deprived of everything but what they could carry in precipitous flight.

In this former country, the grotesque spectacle of a whole village burned, looted, and trashed has become an entirely normal sight. "Yeah, the usual story," says the journalist, and drives on. A few have grown rich: mainly war profiteers, gangsters, and politicians—the three being sometimes hard to distinguish. The rest, save in Slovenia, have been impoverished, degraded, and corrupted too. Real wages in Serbia are estimated to be at the level of 1959—in the rare event of you actually being paid a wage. In Kosovo, the killing, burning, plundering, and expelling went on throughout the summer of 1998, even as West Europeans took their holidays just a few miles away. It went on though the leaders of the West had all repeatedly declared it would never, ever be allowed to happen again. Not after Bosnia.

If you look at a current political map of Europe, you may conclude that the former country is now five states: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (known to diplomats as the FRY, pronounced as in "French fries"). But the reality on the ground is at least nine parts. Bosnia is still divided between a "Serb Republic" (Republika Srpska) and a Croat-Bosniak Federation, which itself is effectively divided between Croat-controlled and Bosniak- (or "Muslim"- ) controlled areas. The FRY is divided between what may loosely be called "Serbia proper," Kosovo, and the increasingly independent-minded republic of Montenegro. But even "Serbia proper" should be disaggregated to notice the northern province of the Vojvodina, with its large Hungarian minority, and—Oh, delight to the diplomatic historian!—the still partly muslim-settled Sandjak of Novi Pazar. Perhaps one should also distinguish the Albanian-settled areas from the rest of Macedonia. That makes twelve ethnically defined parts to be going on with.

It's not just we in the West who are largely indifferent. Most inhabitants of most of these dismembered parts themselves live in growing indifference or active antipathy to each other. In Ljubljana, a cultured Slovene woman tells me sadly that her children cannot enjoy the wonderful work of Serbian writers because they no longer read the Cyrillic alphabet. Why, she exclaims, they don't even understand Croatian! In Sarajevo, a local veteran of the siege says, "You know, if I'm honest, we watched the television pictures from Kosovo this summer much as I suppose Westerners watched the pictures from Sarajevo." But the feeling is reciprocated. In Priština, the capital of Kosovo, a leading representative of the mainly muslim Albanians tells me, "We don't feel any fellowship with muslims in Bosnia, because they are Slavs." In fact, the two groups have diametrically opposed goals: Bosnian "muslims" want to keep together a multiethnic state, Kosovar Albanian "muslims" want ethnic separation.

Across this landscape of extraordinary ethno-linguistic-religious-historical-political complexity crawl the white-and-orange vehicles of an international presence that, in its different, political-bureaucratic way, is just as complicated. SFOR, OHR, UNHCR, MSF, CARE, OSCE, USKDOM, EUKDOM, RUSKDOM: international alphabet soup poured over Balkan goulash. Americans may be the new Habsburg governors here, but French deputies tussle with British ones for priority at court, while earnest Scandinavians get on with laying the phone lines. At Sarajevo Airport, I sit next to a man whose shoulder badge proclaims "Icelandic Police." Perhaps that Icelandic policeman will now be sent to Kosovo, to keep peace among the dervishes of Orahovac.

Faced with such complexity, it's no wonder newspaper and television reports have largely stuck to a few simple, well-tried stories: bang-bang-bang, mutilated corpse, old woman weeps into dirty handkerchief, ruined mosque/church/town, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke meets Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, NATO bombers at Italian airbase, preparing not to bomb. Yawn. In truth, it needs a whole book to do justice to each single part....

What have we learned from this terrible decade in former Yugoslavia? And what is to be done? We have learned that human nature has not changed. That Europe at the end of the twentieth century is quite as capable of barbarism as it was in the Holocaust of mid-century. That, during the last decades of the cold war, many in Europe succumbed to fairy-tale illusions about the obsolescence of the nation-state and war being banished forever from our continent. That Western Europe has gone on living quite happily while war returned almost every summer to the Balkans. And we have learned that, even after the end of the cold war, we can't manage the affairs of our own continent without calling in the United States. Wherever you go in former Yugoslavia, people say, "the international community—I mean, the Americans ..."
UPDATE: In today's Washington Post, Anne Applebaum reminds us that the destruction of autonomy in Kosovo is where the dismemberment of Yugoslavia got underway.

Kosovo, 1998: Origins of the KLA

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), pp. 320-324:
The fresh red blood on the fresh white snow looks unreal, like a new avant-garde exhibit at the Tate Gallery in London. But it is entirely real. This is the blood of two dead Serb policemen, shot at dawn, almost certainly by the soldiers of a tough local commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), violating the October cease-fire....

Our knowledge of the KLA is still fragmentary, partly because this guerrilla army is itself quite fragmentary. It has, as one Western military observer politely puts it, a "rather horizontal" command structure. Each region is different, and regional commanders behave like local bandit chiefs. Nonetheless, we can establish a few significant things about its history, leaders, and support.

First and foremost, Its emergence is the result of Kosovar Albanians despairing of the nonviolent path that they adopted after the province was robbed of its autonomy by Milošević in 1989 and Yugoslavia began to fall apart in 1990-1991. Under their unofficially elected "President of the Republic of Kosova," Ibrahim Rugova, they organized an extraordinary alternative state, with its own taxes, parliamentary committees, private health service, and, most impressive, unofficial education system, from primary school to university. To the frustration of Western policy makers, Rugova was unbending in his commitment to the goal of independence. To their relief, he was equally unbending in his attachment to nonviolent means. How did he propose to square the circle? By the "internationalization" of the Kosovo problem.

Even in the early 1990s, there were those who thought change would come only with the help of more traditional methods. Many Albanians from this region go to Western Europe for training and to earn money to send home. So did they. Ramush Haradinaj, the local commander almost certainly responsible for that blood in the snow, went off to get his military training in the French Foreign Legion. In Priština, people recall first hearing of a KLA in 1993. But then it was something like one of the terrorist splinter groups from the Western European student movement of 1968. One of the KLA's more important current political leaders, Hashim Thaci, code name "Snake," was a student activist in Priština who then went to study in Albania and to raise funds in the West. But most of the political activists who came from three generations of formative student political protest—in 1968, 1981, and 1990-1991—were still for nonviolence.

What changed the balance? The startling answer I am given is: "Dayton." I'm told this by the veteran political prisoner Adem Demaci, who is now the KLA's political representative. He dates the true emergence of the KLA to spring 1996, just a few months after the November 1995 Dayton agreement on Bosnia. I'm also told this by Veton Surroi, a favorite source for visitors from the West, whose influential daily newspaper nonetheless supported (some even say inflamed) the armed struggle. And by several others.

They say they drew two lessons from Dayton. After more than five years of their Gandhiesque struggle for independence, the United States made a deal with Milošević over Bosnia without securing even a restoration of mere autonomy for Kosovo. So, lesson one: Nonviolence wasn't working. Meanwhile, in Bosnia itself, the Dayton agreement went a long way toward recognizing ethnic realities created by force. Lesson two: Force pays.

There's an element of retrospective rationalization in this account. This is not what these same people were telling me in Priština in March 1997. But there is also an uncomfortable element of truth. So long as Rugova kept the lid on his own people, and so long as we felt we had to deal with Milošević over Bosnia, we weren't going to push him on Kosovo.

The armed rising then grew from two further developments: the looting of arsenals during the violent implosion of Albania in spring 1997, which gave the KLA access to Kalashnikovs galore, and the brutality of Serbian "reprisals" against whole extended families and villages, starting in February 1998. As always, an oppressive army and police were the best recruiting sergeants for the guerrillas.

17 February 2008

Bucharest, 1984/2008: Back to Tineretului

Tineretului metro entranceOne of our goals during our very brief visit to Bucharest in January was to see how much things had changed in the neighborhood we used to live in during 1983–84. The first change we noticed was that we could get there on the M2 north–south metro line, getting on at Aviatorilor and getting off five stops later at Tineretului. In 1984, the metro line (now M1) only ran in a broad northeast-to-west arc from (I think) Republica to Semănătoarea (lit. ‘the inseminator’), apparently designed to serve the huge housing blocs in the most populous new suburbs. So the Bucharest Metro has improved a lot since 1984.

Tineretului apartment blocWe lived at Bulevardul Pionierilor 25, Blocul Z7. Note that Romanian place names look a lot like those in other Romance languages, except that the definite articles are suffixed, as in the masculine singular bloc, blocul 'bloc, the bloc', and feminine singular semănătoare, semănătoarea 'planting machine, the planting machine'. (The masculine semănător, semănătorul indicates a human planter.) There are a few wrinkles. On masculine nouns that end in -e, like câine 'dog', the singular article is -le, as in câinele 'the dog'. On feminine nouns that end in stressed -a, like the Turkish borrowing cafea 'coffee', the singular definite article is -ua, as in cafeaua [kafjáwa]. And on the huge majority of feminine nouns that end in unstressed (schwa), like casă 'house', the singular article -a replaces the schwa, as in casa 'the house'.

Parcul Tineretului looking north

Like quite a few other streets in Romania, Bulevardul Pionierilor changed its name after the "Revolution" (or lovitură de stat 'coup d'état') in 1989. The Young Pioneers were so discredited under Communist rule that the boulevard is now named after the neighboring Parcul Tineretului 'the Park of the Young' (in the sense of tinerime 'collective offspring'). Compare the adjective 'young', tânăr/tineri for masc. sg./pl., and tânără/tinere for fem. sg./pl., each stressed on the first syllable; and the noun 'youth', tinereţe/tinereţi fem. sg./pl., stressed on the penultimate syllable. Compare also the masc. sg. vs. pl. genitive forms, tineretului 'of the young' vs. pionierilor 'of the pioneers'; and the fem. sg. vs. pl. genitive forms in fântâna tinereţii 'the fountain of youth' vs. poluarea apelor 'the pollution of the waters (= bodies of water)'.

Billboards at Parcul TineretuluiThese genitive nouns are used as place names in their own right, as in other Bucharest Metro stops like Eroilor 'of the Heroes' or Industriilor 'of the Industries'. The first things that caught our eyes when we came out of the metro at Tineretelui were the large video panel and billboard advertisements at the corner of the park. Big, ugly commercial billboards hide a lot of distinctive architecture and scenery in Bucharest these days. There's a lot more traffic, too, than there was in 1984.

Xmas tree in manholeSome things were still the same, though: treacherous winter sidewalks with layers of uncleared snow and ice, litter discarded in public spaces, and the odd open manhole cover. One dark night in 1984, we almost stepped in an open manhole while walking down a street with no lights except those of a passing tram. This year, we noticed that someone had thoughtfully stuffed a Christmas tree into an open manhole on Strada Trestiana, right in our path. We were lucky it was daytime.

Palatul de Sport, Parcul Tineretului

Our bloc at Pionierilor 25 contained several other flats housing Fulbright and IREX scholars from the U.S. (and apparently still did in 1995). We were a long way from the nicer northern neighborhoods cluttered with foreign embassies. I remember that, as Halloween approached in 1983, someone in the American, British, or Canadian embassy arranged for the diplomats to borrow costumes from the National Opera for an embassy costume party. We were a little worried that some embassy kids might come trick-or-treating at our doors. We had nothing that would pass muster for treats, but I prepared to shock the kids by offering them the boiled heads and feet of four whole chickens we had managed to find at the local market (rationed at two per customer). The chicken with lots of fresh garlic made a tasty broth, but no one came trick-or-treating that Halloween, so we discarded the heads and feet.

Egg and dairy shelvesWe did not eat too well that winter. Fresh food was hard to find. You had to supply your own containers, but eggs and (unpasteurized) milk, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, stale bread, wheat flour, and corn meal were usually available at local shops. Oil and sugar were rationed. However, in order to find fresh meat, hard cheeses, fresh fruit, or toilet paper, we had to keep an eye out for people queueing up at storefronts on our way to and from the city center, then get in line to find out what they were waiting for. At one point, we managed to obtain a big chunk of fresh pork through one of my Chinese classmates in Romanian language class.

Knorr & Maggi soup mixesOn our open balcony, we stored apples, onions, and potatoes in cardboard boxes insulated with newspaper. They were usually available throughout the winter in the central open markets, along with sour cabbage and its broth (used to make ciorbă). The common wisdom for canned goods was not to buy anything that had been produced toward the end of each month, when factories were rushing to fill their quotas. (Each label carried the production date.) We ate a lot of bean soups and stewed apples that winter.

Mega image supermarket, TineretuluiWell, a lot has changed on the food front. Now there is a small but convenient Mega Image supermarket (with signs on the doors saying, "Now hiring") across from the entrance to the park. We walked in to have a look around and, after a little hesitation, I couldn't resist photographing the shelves of goods, none of which would have been remarkable had we not longed for such a local market when we lived there 24 years ago. The bread, meat and deli shelves were not in danger of going bare. They even had Romanian-made vegetarian products like tofu in natural, cumin, dill, and pimiento flavors.

However, the prices did not seem very cheap. The average Romanian monthly wage is about 1400 RON (new lei), which works out to about US$600 at current exchange rates, or about $1000 in purchasing power parity. Nevertheless, the Romanian economy has been growing at a feverish pace since 2000. Bucharest, in particular, seems in 2008 to be a bit of a boomtown, much less dreary and downbeat than it was in 1984. But the countryside seems to be lagging behind.

13 February 2008

Bosnia, 1995: Western TV's Dream Victim

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), p. 173:
In a coffee break, I talk to a girl called Dijana, from Sarajevo. She is in her early twenties and beautiful, with high cheekbones and large, liquid, oval eyes; stylishly dressed in black, carefully made up in white. At first, she is unforthcoming, almost hostile, until I mention the name of a good friend who has been coming regularly to Sarajevo in the worst times of the siege. I add, "You must be totally fed up with all these well-intentioned foreigners always asking the same questions." "Yes," she says, and smiles for the first time. "A lot of people come just for themselves, to say they've been here, to show off."

Now she'd like to ask me something. Why did the West do nothing to help Sarajevo? Sarajevo was a very special place before the war. They lived well, better than many in the West. Now their life is utterly destroyed and degraded. Her brother was just starting to study. But he's been four years a soldier, and she doesn't think he can ever return to normal life. And the West has done nothing—nothing—just watched them being killed. She wants to say to UNPROFOR, "just clear out and give me a weapon to fight with, and I'll see if I can avoid being raped or whatever." Anger polishes her English.

What is she to do? Perhaps she could emigrate, but she doesn't want to be a dishwasher somewhere. "My children might become Canadian or whatever, but I wouldn't be—I'd always be Sarajevan." At the independent Radio Zid, she and her friends try to pretend they live in a normal country. They do reports on films, play pop music, and give their listeners beauty tips. For example, water after rice has been boiled in it is very good for the skin. She smiles, an angry smile.

Like it or not (and she doesn't), Dijana is a Western television producer's dream victim. Beautiful in black and white, eloquent, bitter. Victim, the new fragrance from Calvin Klein.

Serbia, 1997: What Nationalism Achieved

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), pp. 234-235:
Consider what Milošević has done for them. Ten years ago [= 1987] there was a country called Yugoslavia, "and I thought it was in Europe," says my friend Ognjen Pribičević, one of Belgrade's brightest political analysts. Economically, they were quite well off compared to the Czechs or Poles. Belgrade looked smarter than Warsaw. Schools and courts functioned more or less normally. They could travel freely. Yugoslavia had a good name in the world.

Now they live in a country known as Serbia, and it is—everyone agrees—not in Europe but in the Balkans. (Before I came out I looked in five popular tourist guidebooks to Europe. Serbia featured in none of them.) Serbia is an international pariah. To be a Serb abroad is like being a German after 1945. Provided, that is, you can even get abroad. You need a visa for almost everywhere. Distinguished professors stand in line for five hours in the cold and are then refused.

Physically, the whole place is battered and run-down. Belgrade reminds me of Warsaw in the late 1970s. If you look at the cars, the clothes, the shop windows, you feel that Poland and Yugoslavia have changed places. According to the (unreliable) statistics, average per-capita income has shrunk from around $3,000 to less than $1,000. The official unemployment figure is close to 50 percent. I visit Kragujevac, a town once made prosperous by the large Zastava car, truck, and arms factory. The war decimated the production of cars (since parts came from all over the former Yugoslavia) but was good for the arms factory. Now the peace has cut the production of arms. Most of the Zastava factory workers are paid some $20 to $25 a month for doing nothing. They line the streets selling blackmarket goods: trinkets, Nescafé, chocolate bars, cigarettes smuggled in via Montenegro.

Back in Belgrade, I am taken to a vast black-market bazaar, full of new Western consumer goods, all imported without paying taxes. There is a great double line of people hawking Western cigarettes, but watch out for the "Marlboros": They are made in Montenegro. Fake Calvin Klein, Versace, and Nike clothes adorn the stalls—mainly produced, I am told, in the Sandjak of Novi Pazar.

Crime, corruption, and lawlessness are endemic. A notice in the hotel foyer asks you to hand over your personal firearms to the hotel security department. A security man hovers watchfully with a metal detector: Does my tweed jacket suggest a local criminal or a Western businessman? I have never seen so many obvious gangsters, not even in Russia. I note that the phrase used about the election fraud is "when Milošević stole the elections." Elections are just one of so many things being stolen here.

People don't trust the banks, so they keep their money in cash. Here, as throughout former Yugoslavia, the deutsche mark is the real currency. "I don't take dollars," says one small businessman—"they are too easily forged." When your money is stolen, you have no redress. Insurance? You're joking. And the courts? A friend is meant, according to the law, to inherit a flat. But to get it he needs to pay DM 10,000—as a bribe to the judge.

Politics and corruption are deeply intertwined, as in all the post-communist demokraturas. The ruling parties run much of the state as a private business; private businesses protect themselyes by supporting the ruling parties. But one would not like to inquire too closely into the finances of opposition parties, either. The moral environment is as degraded as the physical one.

And what of the Serbs for whom the nationalist standard was supposedly raised: the Serbs in Kosovo, the Serbs "across the Drina" in Bosnia, the Serbs in Croatia? The Serbs in the Krajina, in Croatia, have been completely expelled. The remaining Serbs in Bosnia, impoverished and brutalized, wander around the remnants of their tinpot para-state. There are at least five hundred thousand Serb refugees in Serbia, most of them still without citizenship, let alone economic assistance from the state.

11 February 2008

Changing Color Values in World History

Anthropologists and cognitive linguists have done a lot of work on the acquisition, psycholinguistic status, typology, and relation to neurophysiology of basic color terms. Now a world history professor has published a fascinating article on the evolution, elaboration, social status, and trickle-down economics of colors in human societies: Robert Finlay, Weaving the Rainbow: Visions of Color in World History (on Project Muse), Journal of World History 18:383-431. Here are a few excerpts (footnotes omitted).
Dyed garments were the most visible, widespread, and extensively used signs of social status and conspicuous consumption. Rural laborers and common townsfolk everywhere dressed in homespun fabrics of lackluster tones, mainly washed-out browns, blues, and grays. In northern Europe during the late medieval period, wool in natural shades of tan or gray provided most of the clothing. Clerics were supposed to wear linen liturgical vestments of pure white but had to settle for shades of light gray and yellowish-white since the various whitening agents, such as ash, chalk, and magnesium, yielded muddy results. In sixteenth-century England, some common hues for clothing were known as "horseflesh," "gooseturd," "rat's color," "pease porridge," and "puke." In eighteenth-century France, "flea's belly," "Paris mud," and "goose-droppings" identified a dark brown cloth. In China at the same time, "camel lung," "rat skin," "nose mucus," and "dribbling spittle" numbered among the disagreeable colors.

Only the elite could afford or legally wear clothing of certain colors. Sumptuary legislation almost everywhere prohibited low-status persons from dressing in the sort of colors and costumes worn by those in privileged circles. Japanese samurai, Chinese mandarins, Javanese chiefs, Indian Brahmans, Swahili oligarchs, Byzantine ecclesiastics, Venetian patricians, French aristocrats, Spanish hildagos, Aztec and Maya warriors—all dressed in costly dyed garments that set them proudly apart from color-deprived commoners....

Japanese color values were established by the Heian era (794–1185), a couple of centuries after sophisticated Chinese dyeing technology came to the islands. Since Japan entered a lengthy era of national isolation in 794, the prolonged cultural supremacy of the Heian court meant that its color values dominated the elite and remained a reference point on the subject for many centuries. In fact, the Heian preference for "cold and withered" (hiekareru) metaphorical colors of the mind paradoxically resulted in an exquisitely subtle perception of color, one that remains unparalleled in cultural history....

The word for "color" in ancient Japan was iro, which originally denoted a beautiful woman as well as desire for sex with one—the ideogram signifies intercourse, with one person lying on top of another. Iro evolved to evoke the idea of passing time and transient hues. In like fashion, the verb shimiru (to penetrate) came to mean "to dip in dye" and "to absorb color," while also taking on the nuance of inconstant feelings and fading beauty. The Japanese looked down upon peaches and plums, the most admired flowering plants in China, as vulgar and voluptuous because of their deep-pink blooms. Instead, they esteemed the delicate pinkish-white tint of cherry blossoms, whose petals flowered so briefly. In general, contemporary Western taste highlights the climactic moment of the full-blooming rose and resplendent tulip, but traditional Japan favored the beginning and ending of things, transitional moments epitomized in barely opened buds, faded flowers, and withered autumn leaves.

09 February 2008

Resistance, Collaboration, Passivity, Pétainism

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 277-279:
What does [Service du Travail Obligatoire (the wartime labor draft)] tell us about the broader nature of the Vichy regime? Most obviously, it shows how resistance, collaboration, passivity and Pétainism always overlapped. Not everyone who evaded STO, or who helped others to do so, was a resistant. Some réfractaires specifically refused to recall their experience in terms of the Resistance or, like Yves Laurent, they distinguished between Resistance and resistance. Some people avoided STO in ways that involved serving the German war economy or even in ways, such as joining the Milice, that involved outright collaborationism. The very confusion of labour policy in France in 1943 and 1944 makes it hard to classify actions in simple categories. Vichy was divided, as some officials sabotaged policies that were pursued by others. The Germans, too, were divided. Different leaders in Berlin had different views about how best to exploit French labour and, especially in 1944, German agencies in France were desperate to secure their own labour supplies even if they did so at the expense of other German employers. The result of this was that many people 'resisted' STO by 'collaborating' with some German agency.

Response to STO was not, however, simply a matter of institutions and political structures. Such responses were also rooted in French society. In important respects, the orders of Vichy and the Germans were mediated through French society. The direct use of physical force was rarely effective. Such force could frighten the whole community but it could not track down particular individuals, and violence by outsiders broke down the subtle networks of cohabitation on which the occupation rested. Vichy and the Germans could only make STO work by securing the cooperation of powerful individuals—not just, perhaps particularly not, people who held formal positions. This inevitably meant that the social hierarchies counted for much in the implementation of STO. Some of these hierarchies dated back before 1940. A young man who entered a grande école in 1940 stood a good chance of avoiding STO; a young man who entered Santé prison in 1940 stood almost no chance of avoiding it: it was highly likely that such a person would have 'volunteered' in order to escape the high mortality rates of Vichy prisons before 1943 and, if not, he would have been taken in handcuffs to the Gare du Nord.

Pre-war hierarchies were, however, modified by the special circumstances of the occupation. Members of the grande bourgeoisie were protected from being sent to Germany but often had to endure considerable discomfort in order to achieve this. Members of the urban lower middle class were probably less privileged in the context of STO than almost any other social group, including those who would have stood below them before 1940. Agriculture, sometimes a poor relation before 1940, did well and young peasants were probably the only social group who sometimes managed to avoid STO without enduring any other serious inconvenience.

Rooting STO in its social context means recognizing the degree of complicity in its execution. This complicity did not just involve institutions and elites. The very people that requis de travail [labor draftees] trusted—local notables and, most of all, their own fathers—often encouraged them to go to Germany. Men in authority (and it was mainly men who encouraged departures to Germany) felt that STO was a lesser evil. The departure of a particular cohort of young men, who had thus far avoided military service, was seen as a price worth paying to protect their communities and families from reprisals. As time went on, this calculation changed. The Germans and their French allies had more and more difficulty in tracing particular réfractaires or those who helped them and were increasingly prone to respond with random acts of violence. STO's legitimacy diminished as it became clear how harsh would be the fate of those who had gone to Germany, and the chances of avoiding it increased as the liberation approached and the Maquis expanded. By the summer of 1944, the circumstances that had made many feel that young men should obey orders to go to Germany in the summer of 1943 seemed remote. By the time the surviving requis de travail returned home in the summer of 1945, the logic that had seemed to require their departure no longer fitted into France's vision of herself. Some requis now found that they were blamed for going by the very men who had refused them help when they had tried to find escape routes, or that they were encouraged to keep quiet about their experiences by their own families.

07 February 2008

Croatia, 1995: In Cleansed Krajina

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), pp. 167-169:
Two more days in the "ethnically cleansed" Krajina, this time heading south with my friend Konstanty Gebert, a Polish writer, and Ana Uzelac, his Serbo-Polish colleague from Belgrade. On the roads, there is no traffic except the Croat military police at the roadblocks, a few white-painted UN vehicles, and, incongruously, the occasional smart BMW or Mercedes with German number plates racing past. Presumably Croat Gastarbeiter revisiting family homes or just on safari.

For hour after hour, we drive through the most spectacularly beautiful countryside, along the wooded valleys of the Plitvicka National Park, across the karst uplands, and down to the fortress of Knin. For hour after hour we see nothing but devastated, burned, plundered houses. Roofs burned out; windows smashed; clothes, bedclothes, furniture, papers strewn across the floor. Everything of value removed. Orchards, vineyards, fields, all with their crops gone to waste. No cars left, no tractors, no farm equipment, no cattle, no dogs. Only a few cats survive.

And, for mile upon mile upon mile, we see no single human being. Nobody. Ana has brought from Belgrade the addresses of Serb families that fled, but their houses are very difficult to find, because the villages no longer have the landmarks the inhabitants remember. Could this have been a grocer's shop? Was that once a white wall? But there is no one to ask for directions.

Cleansing is in an awful way the right word for what has been done here. The Krajina, an area the size of several English counties, has literally been picked clean. This was not random looting. The plundering and burning has been done quite systematically—for the most part, it seems, by Croats in one uniform or another. The object, apart from booty, is simple: to ensure that the Serbs don't come back. Croatia is to be, so far as possible, Serb-free. Serbenrein.

According to the local UN office, some one hundred elderly Serbs who stayed in their homes have been murdered since Croat forces retook the area. At Gračac, we find fresh graves in the cemetery, numbered neatly on the identical wooden crosses. However, here, as elsewhere, the Orthodox church has been left standing, to show that the Croats are western, civilized people, unlike those barbaric Orthodox Serbs, who raze Catholic churches to the ground. But the vicarage has been torn apart. A children's Bible and a church calendar for 1996 lie among the litter on the floor.

At Kistanje, once a pretty, small town, we find three family photo albums laid out on stone tables in the marketplace. The wedding. A son's christening. The ceremony to celebrate his joining the Yugoslav army. As we turn the pages, a white armored personnel carrier of UNPROFOR, the so-called United Nations Protection Force, roars through the deserted town. Ludicrous protectors of nothing. The UN self-protection force.

In places like this, journalists say, "the story writes itself." Wherever we look, journalistic "color" and clichés offer themselves wantonly, like the whores in Amsterdam. Outside a plundered home, a doll is sprawled across the road, one foot torn off. In the ruins of the family home of Milorad Pupovac, leader of a small would-be liberal Serb party in Croatia, I find a book of children's verse, Robber Katja and Princess Nadja, published in Sarajevo in 1989. Ana can recite some of the verses from memory. The last poem is entitled "How Our Yugoslavia Grows." In the rubble of another house I see what looks like a white scroll. Unrolling it, I discover a black-and-white photograph of Tito—the kind that once hung in every public place and in many private houses too. It has a bootmark pointing toward the face.

Knin was the capital of the self-styled Serb Republic of Krajina. Now "liberated," its imposing hilltop fortress, with the checkerboard flag flying from the top, forms the background to the main election poster for President Tudjman's nationalist HDZ movement. In the foreground you see Tudjman himself, waving both fists above his head like a victorious football manager. Before the war, some 37,000 people lived in Knin; now even the local government claims only 2,000. Croat soldiers and military police, baseball caps reversed, speed along the deserted streets in their stolen—sorry, "liberated"—cars: a smart Mercedes, a Renault, a Mitsubishi Jeep with the name of the German dealer still advertised on the back. We climb to the top of the fortress and discover the largest flag I have ever seen in my life. It must be at least thirty feet long. Young girls in black jeans and T-shirts are photographing each other literally wrapped in the flag. The cliché made flesh.

As the sun sets over the mountains like a holiday advertisement, we drive down to the Adriatic, across the invisible line to the part of Croatia the Serbs never occupied, and suddenly there is ordinary life: houses with roofs, electric light, curtains, cars, a young couple canoodling on a scooter. In Šibenik, one of the beautiful resort towns on the Dalmatian coast, we gape at the cheerful, well-dressed crowds, the nice hotels and the Café Europa.

Ah, Europe—but we've been there all the time.

06 February 2008

Poland's Abnormal Normality

From History of the Present: Essays, Sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s, by Timothy Garton Ash (Vintage, 1999), pp. 206-207:
It is now commonplace to observe that Poland has become a "normal country." But what does this mean? Certainly, to arrive in Warsaw these days is more like arriving in Lisbon or Naples than it is like arriving in Warsaw before 1989. A smart modern airport. No need for a visa. When the passport officers call Polish passport-holders to a separate gate, you simply can't tell the difference—in dress, accoutrements, hairstyles, and so on—between the two lines, Polish and Western. A relatively clean taxi, and you are actually charged the local-currency price on the taxi meter. Familiar shops, goods, cars. The same TV commercials. Smart offices. Mobile phones. Professional friends who are now overworked and defend themselves with answering machines. More and real money, but also more money worries: "Half our income goes in tax, the other half on school fees!" Great contrasts between rich and poor.

Of course, if you dig just a little deeper you find extraordinary things. The man in the Mercedes is a former politburo member. Your mobile-phone salesman is a former secret policeman. In the countryside, you still see peasant houses out of Brueghel. Priests chunter on about "neopaganism." But Europe—our "normal," "Western," Europe—is also full of extraordinary things. Between observing the Polish elections and writing this essay I had to drop in to Naples for the Premio Napoli awards. The Grand Hotel Vesuvio was even better than the Hotel Bristol in Warsaw, but driving through the city I could see the dreadful slums—far worse than anything in Warsaw—where people still go in fear of the Camorra. Among the Premio Napoli prizewinners was a Jesuit priest, who was being honored for his fight against usury. (“Why don't you in Britain have a law against usury?” he quizzed me.) The popular postcommunist mayor was asked at the televised prize-giving ceremony what he thought of his rival, the postfascist Signora Alessandra Mussolini (daughter of you-know-who). And, incidentally, was it true that they have been romantically involved? While denying romance, the mayor said that Signora Mussolini had made a very positive contribution to solving some problems in the city. All normal?

So the spectrum of contemporary European "normality" is very wide, and Poland is now definitely within it. But there is another measure of "normality": diachronic rather than synchronic. What has been normal for a country historically over, say, the last two hundred years? By this criterion, Poland today is quite spectacularly abnormal. This country is free, sovereign, prospering? Germany is its best ally in the West? It is not immediately threatened even by Russia? Surely we've got our countries mixed up. I asked the Polish historian Jerzy Jedlicki when before in its history Poland had been so well placed. Scarcely hesitating, he replied, "Probably the second half of the sixteenth century."

Poland's transition from normal abnormality to abnormal normality is already a fantastic achievement. The challenge for the next five years is to secure it, internally and externally—which means in the EU and in NATO. Only then will we, and the Poles themselves, begin to see what the Polish version of European "normality" really looks like. This Polish normality may well not be as interesting as the old abnormality. Indeed, it may at first look like a cheap copy of the West. But, if that is freedom's price, it is surely worth paying. And, anyway, who knows? As the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once wryly observed: History is full of surprises, and no one is more surprised by them than historians.

04 February 2008

Vun Hochditsch nooch Elsässisch

Lang StrossMy first introduction to Elsässisch (Alsatian German) came in the form of bilingual street signs in Strasbourg, where the main street through Grand Île in the heart of the old city is named both Grand'Rue and Lang Stross. (A street of the same name in Pfalzgrafenweiler on the German side of the border was labeled only in High German, Lange Strasse, even though the locals speak an Alemannic dialect similar to Alsatian.)

Later I found a useful little Werterbüechel Elsässisch–Hochditsch / Wörterbüchlein Hochdeutsch–Elsässisch, by Serge Kornmann (Yoran Embanner, 2005). So I thought I'd share a few gleanings from that tiny source, focusing on how to get from High German to Alsatian, since the former is likely to be more familiar to most readers. For people who want to go in the other direction, there is already a very comprehensive online dictionary of Alsatian in High German, based on the 2-volume Wörterbuch der elsässischen Mundarten by Ernst Martin und Hans Lienhart (Straßburg, 1899-1907).

Hoorgaessel street nameThe little dictionary spelling of Alsatian is based on that of High German, but uses a grave à, as in Nàme 'name' or Wàsser 'water', to mark the very back Alsatian a, which Kornmann renders phonetically as [ɔ] and Martin and Lienhart render as [ɒ]. (In Strasbourg, the unmarked a is apparently fronted to [æ].) The Alsatian spelling of Strasbourg's Grand'Rue would be Làng Stroos. French street signs do not use the same spellings.

French vocabulary

Since Alsatians live in France and are bilingual in French, they also use French equivalents of many German expressions. Here is a sample:

  • Auf Wiedersehen = Àdje, Orwoar

  • Badeanzug = Maillo [majo] ('swimsuit')

  • Brieftasche = Portföj ('billfold')

  • Computer = Ordi

  • entschuldigen = entschuldige, exküsiere ('excuse')

  • Fahrrad = Velo ('bicycle')

  • Flieger = Aviatör

  • Frau = Frau, Màdàm

  • Fräulein = Màmsel

  • Gute Nacht = Güetnààcht, Busuar

  • Guten Tag = Buschur, Güdedàà

  • Herr = Herr, Mussje

  • Konditorei = Patisserie

  • Nachspeise = Dessär ('dessert')

  • Rathaus = Mairie ('city hall')

  • Reisegepäck = Bagaasch ('luggage')

  • Strassenbahn = Tram

  • Vielen Dank = Merci vielmools

Some vowel correspondences

  • Haar = Hoor 'hair', Nase = Nààs 'nose', Paar = Pààr 'pair'

  • Haus = Hüüs 'house', Maus~Mäuse = Müs~Miis 'mouse~mice', Sauerkraut = Sürkrüt

  • Eule = Ill 'owl', heute = hitt 'today', Leute = Litt 'people', neun = nin 'nine'

  • Eis = Is 'ice', Rhein = Rhin 'Rhine', Seite = Sitt 'side', Wein = Win 'wine', Zweifel = Zwiefel 'doubt'

  • Höhe = Heh 'height', Hölle = Hell 'hell', hören = heere 'hear', schön = scheen 'beautiful'

  • Glück = Glick 'luck', Lügner = Liejer 'liar', Mühle = Mihl 'mill', Übel = Iwwel [ivl] 'evil'


Some consonant correspondences

  • Arbeit = Àrweit 'work', Knoblauch = Gnowli 'garlic', Grab~Graben = Grààb~Grààwe 'grave(s), Nabel = Nàwwel 'navel', Weib~Weiber = Wieb~Wiewer 'wife~wives'

  • Leder = Ledder 'leather', Nadel = Noodl 'needle', Ruder = Rüeder 'rudder'

  • Auge(n) = Au(e) 'eye', Regenbogen = Räjeböje 'rainbow', Straßburg = Stroosburi 'Strasbourg', Tag = Dàà 'day', Vogel = Vöjel 'bird'

  • ängstlich = ängschtlisch 'anxious', künstlerisch = kinschtlerisch 'artistic', lustig = luschtisch 'merry', richtig = rischtisch 'right'

  • essen = esse 'eat', leben = läwe 'live', lieben = liewe 'love', schlafen = schloofe 'sleep', raten = roode 'advise'

As a bonus, here are two final Hochditsch = Elsässisch terms for musical instruments: Mundharmonika = Schnuffelrutsch (lit. 'sniff-slide') 'mouth organ', Schifferklavier ('sailor-piano') = Knetsch 'concertina, accordion'. These two are especially for Dumneazu.

For much more on Elsässisch, see Nathanael's language resource page on Europe Endless.

Calculating the Cigarette Value of Books

From The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation, by Richard Vinen (Yale U. Press, 2006), pp. 224-225:
The black market epitomized everything that Vichy disapproved of. It went with selfishness, materialism and indifference to the authority of the state. Denunciations under Vichy often concerned black-market matters, and were couched in interesting terms. Someone describing himself as 'an average Frenchman who suffers from restrictions' blamed the black market on Jews. In the south-east, black markets were often blamed on the Italians.

In practice, most Petainists used the black market. Sometimes Petainist officials were blatant practitioners: the Graeve family in Chinon trafficked wine at a time when both the son and daughter of the family held positions in the Vichy administration. Vichy bodies and local authorities often used unofficial channels in order to get food for their own employees. The Vichy government itself came to recognize that suppressing the black market entirely was not possible or desirable. A law of March 1942 regulating the black market specifically excluded transactions to cover personal needs, and a circular to prefects in the summer of 1942 talked of ‘struggle against all traffickers of the black market but complete freedom left for family supply’. Policemen turned a blind eye to small quantities of illicit goods. Even the Church, normally marked by intense moralism and asceticism, did not wholly condemn the black market. In December 1941 Cardinal Suhard stressed the need to obey the law but then distinguished disobedience from 'the modest extra-legal transactions by which the extras judged necessary are procured and which are justified both by their small scale and the necessities of life'.

Black markets were not, in any case, wholly black. Transactions did not always involve strangers selling goods in a completely free market for cash, and they did not always involve people who thought of themselves as criminals. Money did not necessarily mean much during the occupation. At a time of rapid inflation, everyone preferred goods with a more tangible value. The coupons that gave particular companies the right to buy certain raw materials were traded, illegally. The barter that might normally have operated at village level became institutionalized. One firm advertised a swap of typewriters for bicycles. Cigarettes acquired particular importance, both because nicotine-starved smokers wanted them and because they provided a convenient unit of exchange. Both Micheline Bood, the Parisian schoolgirl, and Charles Rist took a touching interest in the cigarette value of books. A peasant boy in the Corrèze bought an hour of violin lessons for a pound of butter.
Sounds a bit like Romania during the 1980s, where the black market Cigarette Standard was Kents, for some reason I have never discovered. An unopened package of Kents was a serious offer, although some medical procedures might require a whole carton—or a bottle of imported Scotch.

UPDATE: During our year in Romania in 1983-84, I always kept a carton or two on hand in case the need arose. I only dispensed a full package on four occasions: two to the embassy driver who dealt with the customs officials when we first arrived (with lots of luggage); one to help friends book a room in a big, empty hotel in Brasov, where we attended a wedding; and one to a band of gypsies who serenaded my wife and me with naughty lyrics that I made an effort to translate in an otherwise empty venison restaurant in snowbound Poiana Brasov.

My wife also gave a carton of Kents to a neighbor lady who needed a medical procedure. (It may have been an illegal tubal ligation, or even an abortion, but we didn't dare to ask. In a totalitarian society, it's best not to.) Her obsessive homeopathic health-nut of a husband later brought the carton back and scolded us for encouraging the evil habit of smoking. So my wife later gave his wife a bottle of Scotch instead. I assume it went to a doctor without the husband finding out about it.

I kept one carton in reserve in case we had any trouble crossing the Bulgarian border by train on our final departure. After we had crossed without incident, I shocked a team of Romanian boys and their coaches who were on their way to a football match in Sofia by donating my carton of Kents to them. After they recovered, the coaches came back to our compartment to tell me they had never been so surprised in their lives. I told them that Romania had given me a surprise or two as well, and wished them luck in their match. They just nodded knowingly, said thanks again, and returned to their team.