25 September 2011

Effects of the Papal Visit to Cuba in 1998

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 97-99:
The issue of Granma I acquire from a vendor in front of the cathedral is eight pages thick, tabloid-size. There is such a severe paper shortage in Havana these days that toilet paper is nonexistent, and, for lack of anything to buy in bookstores or anything to buy books with, better-off Cubans, having already sold or bartered their best furniture, their cutlery, their paintings, their picture frames, the statues on their family crypt, their jewelry, and their garden ornaments, have now taken to delivering the contents of their bookshelves to the used-book dealers who operate stalls in front of the former Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. The toilet paper problem and the Granma problem are not unrelated; in poor countries, squares of newsprint are a common substitute for toilet paper, but in Cuba the skinny—and scarce—issues of Granma are not enough to fill the need, and so I wonder if the stacks of Marxist literature that are said to go for a song these days are being put to good use—I dare not ask my friends. In any event, the coverage of the papal visit in the current issue of Granma makes interesting reading, for beyond the live broadcasts, it is the only information about the visit to which most Cubans have access. In today's Granma, for example, they learn that the world media "classifies the meeting between Fidel and Pope John Paul II as 'historic,'" that a congressman in El Salvador "classified the visit as transcendental," and that the Jamaican daily The Observer "writes that the visit ... is an example of rejection towards the U.S. embargo policies." The front page describes at length yesterday's meeting between the pope and representatives of Cuban culture—among them, movie directors whose works have been censored and intellectuals who have learned to keep their opinions about Fidel Castro closely to themselves. Without quoting him directly (or any other Church hierarch by name), Granma tells us that the pope "underlined that in Cuba one can speak of a fertile cultural dialogue, which is the guarantee for more harmonic growth and an increase in the initiatives and creativity among the members of a civil society." A further article describes with some sense of color the enthusiastic reception given to the pope by the youth of Camagüey. If memory serves, there is no significant difference between these stories and those describing earlier state visits by, say, Michael Manley or Pham Van Dong.

At the newly refurbished Hotel Ambos Mundos (the words "where Hemingway used to stay" are invariably attached to its name), we sit at the bar and watch the end of this day's mass. It is being broadcast live from Santiago, the eastern city that prides itself on its militant nationalistic spirit, and where Fidel's 1953 assault on the Moncada barracks kindled the armed rebellion that would bring him to power in 1959. It is easy to forget that the Cuban nation is not yet a century old, but in Santiago the long fight for independence from Spain and freedom from United States dominion, and the central importance of the Sierra Maestra in the Fidelista revolution, are never forgotten. The pope's Cuban advisers have no doubt suggested that Santiago is the perfect place to address the question of patriotism and the nation during his homily.

The crucial words of the day, in fact, are not spoken by John Paul or even by the cardinal of Havana, Jaime Ortega, who as a young priest spent some time in the notorious work camps where in the mid-1960s Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, militant Catholics, and even unruly youths such as the now-hallowed singer Pablo Milanés were sent to have their thinking corrected. The statement that will echo the longest—and that may well be the first statement critical of the Revolution to be distributed by a state-controlled medium in the last thirty years or so—comes in the course of a salutation to the pope by the bishop of Santiago, Pedro Meurice, who now holds the same position as the lifesaving bishop Pérez Serantes of so long ago. The heart of Meurice's impassioned declaration, much quoted since then, comes when he talks of a "growing number of Cubans who have confused the fatherland with a single party, the nation with the historical process we have lived through during the last few decades, and culture with an ideology."

Friends familiar with Catholic policy say that the Vatican probably decided from the first that the pope, in his role as head of state, should not be the one to refer specifically to the problems of the Catholic Church in Cuba, and that Cardinal Ortega should also remain above the fray, leaving Meurice to vent the feelings of the priests and other Catholics during his official salutation to the pope. Foreign journalists read into Meurice s speech the Vatican's statement of defiance, but a complementary interpretation is possible: together with the fact that the pope chose to bring up the issue of political prisoners—there are hundreds of them—only at a meeting he knew would not be televised, it could stand as evidence of the diligence with which the Church is seeking to avoid a counterproductive confrontation with Fidel, his party, or his faithful during this trip. This is not to say that the Church ignored the impact Meurice s words were likely to have. He is known as a firebrand, and Santiago, the fiery town, is said to be the place where anti-Castro sentiment is running strongest. It is here that the first loud chants of' "Libertad! Libertad!" will be heard during the mass.

Friends who were there will tell me later that significant numbers of Fidelista Cubans walked out during Meurice's speech, that significant numbers of Catholics cheered wildly, and that in general in the plaza the feeling was that something enormous and irrevocable had taken place. But in the streets of downtown Havana, Meurice's words have had no immediate impact that I can see. The hotel bar opens out onto the street, and as we sit in front of the TV set, Cubans stroll by and stop to watch the screen. A mass is an unfamiliar event for most of them. Unless it is the pope himself, they have little sense of who is at the microphone (or up at bat, or on stage, as they would probably say, since a public gathering to them would suggest the national sport or a dance concert but not the liturgy). Meurice is unknown beyond Santiago. Cardinal Ortega is not recognized when he walks down the street ...

24 September 2011

Initial Soviet Attitudes toward Israel

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 6369-6392 (pp. 345-346):
After the Second World War, it was much harder for the Soviet leadership to control the mental world of Soviet citizens. Although the apparatus of censorship remained in force, too many people had experienced life beyond the Soviet Union for Soviet norms to seem like the only norms, or Soviet lives necessarily the best sort of lives. The war itself could not be contained within a Fatherland, be it Russian or Soviet; it had touched too many other peoples and its aftermath shaped not just a country but a world. In particular, the establishment of the State of Israel made Soviet political amnesia about the fate of the Jews impossible. Even after the Holocaust, more Jews lived in the Soviet Union than in Palestine, but the latter was to become the national homeland of the Jews. If Jews were to have a national state, would this be a blow to British imperialism in the Middle East, to be supported, or a challenge to the loyalty of Soviet Jews, to be feared?

At first, the Soviet leadership seemed to expect that Israel would be a socialist state friendly to the Soviet Union, and the communist bloc supported Israel in ways that no one else could. In the second half of 1947, about seventy thousand Jews were permitted to leave Poland for Israel; many of them had just been expelled from the Soviet Union to Poland. After the United Nations recognized the State of Israel in May 1948 (with the Soviets voting in favor), the new state was invaded by its neighbors. Its nascent armies defended itself and, in dozens of cases, cleared territories of Arabs. The Poles trained Jewish soldiers on their own territory, then dispatched them to Palestine. The Czechoslovaks sent arms. As Arthur Koestler noted, the weapons shipments “aroused a feeling of gratitude among the Jews towards the Soviet Union.”

Yet by the end of 1948 Stalin had decided that Jews were influencing the Soviet state more than the Soviets were influencing the Jewish state. Spontaneous signs of affection for Israel were apparent in Moscow, and in Stalin’s own court. Muscovites seemed to adore the new Israeli ambassador, Golda Meir (born in Kiev and raised in the United States). The high holidays were observed with enormous fanfare. Rosh Hashanah saw the largest public gathering in Moscow in twenty years. Some ten thousand Jews crowded in and around the Choral Synagogue. When the shofar blew and people promised each other to meet “next year in Jerusalem,” the mood was euphoric. The anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, 7 November 1948, fell during the Days of Awe, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Polina Zhemchuzhina, the wife of the commissar for foreign affairs Viacheslav Molotov, saw Golda Meir that day, and encouraged her to continue to go to synagogue. What was worse, Zhemchuzhina said this in Yiddish, the language of her parents and of Meir's—in that paranoid setting, a suggestion of national unity among Jews across borders. Ekaterina Gorbman, the wife of another poliburo member, Kliment Voroshilov, was heard to exclaim: "Now we too have our own homeland."

22 September 2011

Che's African Farce, 1965

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 81-82:
Che was unable to deal with his disapproval of the course that Fidel was taking and his simultaneous love for the man; with his disillusionment with the Soviet Union and the self-satisfaction of the burgeoning Cuban bureaucracy; with the palace intrigues of the new regime (particularly those of Fidel's brother Raúl); and, probably, with the gnawing awareness of his own failings as a peacetime revolutionary. It seems reasonable to interpret his decision to leave Cuba as Castañeda does—as the result of his need to get away from so much internal conflict. (In the course of explaining this decision, Castañeda provides an extraordinary account of the ins and outs of Cuban state policy, Cuban-Soviet relations, and Castro's dealings with the United States.) Che was leaving behind a second wife, six children, his comrades, his years of happiness, and the revolution he had helped give birth to; none of these were enough to convince him that he belonged.

Guevara's original intention was to return to his homeland and start a guerrilla movement there. A 1965 expedition to the Congo, where various armed factions were still wrestling for power long after the overthrow and murder of Patrice Lumumba, and his last stand in Bolivia, Castañeda writes, followed improbably from Fidel's anxious efforts to keep Che away from Argentina, where he was sure to be detected and murdered by Latin America's most efficient security forces. Castro seems to have felt that the Congo would be a safer place, and the question of whether it was a more intelligent choice doesn't seem to have been addressed either by him or by the man he was trying to protect. (In Cairo, Jon Lee Anderson notes, Gamal Abdel Nasser warned Che not to get militarily involved in Africa, because there he would be "like Tarzan, a white man among blacks, leading and protecting them.")

As things turned out, the Congo episode was a farce, so absurd that Cuban authorities kept secret Che's rueful draft for a book on it—until recently, that is, when one of his new biographers, Taibo, was able to study the original manuscript. Guevara was abandoned from the beginning by Congolese military leaders, such as Laurent Kabila, who had initially welcomed his offer of help. He was plagued by dysentery and was subject to fits of uncontrollable anger, and emerged from seven months in the jungle forty pounds lighter, sick, and severely depressed. If he had ever considered a decision to cut bait and return to Cuba, that option was canceled weeks before the Congo expedition's rout: on October 5, 1965, Fidel Castro, pressed on all sides to explain Che's disappearance from Cuba and unable to recognize that the African adventure was about to collapse, decided to make public Che's farewell letter to him: "I will say once again that the only way that Cuba can be held responsible for my actions is in its example. If my time should come under other skies, my last thought will be for this people, and especially for you."

Guevara was sitting in a miserable campsite on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, bored, frustrated, and in mourning for his mother, when he was told that Fidel had publicized the letter. The news hit him like an explosion. "Shit-eaters!" he said, pacing back and forth in the mud. "They are imbeciles, idiots."

Guevara's final trek began at this moment, because once his farewell to Fidel was made public, as Castañeda writes, "his bridges were effectively burned. Given his temperament, there was now no way he could return to Cuba, even temporarily. The idea of a public deception was unacceptable to him: once he had said he was leaving, he could not go back." He could not bear to lose face.

A few months later, having taken full and bitter stock of his situation, he made the decision to set up a guerrilla base—intended as a training camp, really—in southern Bolivia, near the border with Argentina. From there, he convinced himself, he would ultimately be able to spark the revolutionary flame in Argentina and, from there, throughout the world.

14 September 2011

Competitive Victimology in the Bloodlands

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 7393-7441 (pp. 402-403):
Without history, the memories become private, which today means national; and the numbers become public, which is to say an instrument in the international competition for martyrdom. Memory is mine and I have the right to do with it as I please; numbers are objective and you must accept my counts whether you like them or not. Such reasoning allows a nationalist to hug himself with one arm and strike his neighbor with the other. After the end of the Second World War, and then again after the end of communism, nationalists throughout the bloodlands (and beyond) have indulged in the quantitative exaggeration of victimhood, thereby claiming for themselves the mantle of innocence.

In the twenty-first century, Russian leaders associate their country with the more or less official numbers of Soviet victims of the Second World War: nine million military deaths, and fourteen to seventeen million civilian deaths. These figures are highly contested. Unlike most of the numbers presented in this book, they are demographic projections, rather than counts. But whether they are right or wrong, they are Soviet numbers, not Russian ones. Whatever the correct Soviet figures, Russian figures must be much, much lower. The high Soviet numbers include Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics. Particularly important are the lands that the Soviet Union occupied in 1939: eastern Poland, the Baltic States, northeastern Romania. People died there in horribly high proportions—and many of the victims were killed not by the German but by the Soviet invader. Most important of all for the high numbers are the Jews: not the Jews of Russia, of whom only about sixty thousand died, but the Jews of Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus (nearly a million) and those whose homeland was occupied by the Soviet Union before they were killed by the Germans (a further 1.6 million).

The Germans deliberately killed perhaps 3.2 million civilians and prisoners of war who were native to Soviet Russia: fewer in absolute terms than in Soviet Ukraine or in Poland, much smaller countries, each with about a fifth of Russia’s population. Higher figures for Russian civilian losses, sometimes offered, would (if accurate) permit two plausible interpretations. First, more Soviet soldiers died than Soviet statistics indicate, and these people (presented as civilians in the higher numbers) were in fact soldiers. Alternatively, these people (presented as war losses in the higher numbers) were not killed directly by the Germans but died from famine, deprivation, and Soviet repression during the war. The second alternative suggests the possibility that more Russians died prematurely during the war in the lands controlled by Stalin than in the lands controlled by Hitler. This is very possibly true, although the blame for many of the deaths is shared.

Consider the Gulag. Most of the Soviet concentration camps were located in Soviet Russia, far beyond the zone occupied by the Germans. Some four million Soviet citizens were in the Gulag when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Soviet authorities sentenced more than 2.5 million of their citizens to the Gulag during the war. The NKVD was at work everywhere that the Germans did not reach, including besieged and starving Leningrad. Between 1941 and 1943, the deaths of some 516,841 Gulag inmates were registered, and the figure might have been higher. These hundreds of thousands of additional deaths would presumably not have happened had the Germans not invaded the Soviet Union: but those people would not have been so vulnerable had they not been in the Gulag. People who died in Soviet concentration camps cannot simply be counted as victims of Germany, even if Hitler’s war hastened their deaths.

Other people, such as the inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine, suffered more under both Stalin and Hitler than did inhabitants of Soviet Russia. In the prewar Soviet Union, Russians were far less likely to be touched by Stalin’s Great Terror (though many of them were) than the small national minorities, and far less likely to be threatened by famine (though many were) than Ukrainians or Kazakhs. In Soviet Ukraine, the whole population was under German occupation for much of the war, and death rates were far higher than in Soviet Russia. The lands of today’s Ukraine were at the center of both Stalinist and Nazi killing policies throughout the era of mass killing. Some 3.5 million people fell victim to Stalinist killing policies between 1933 and 1938, and then another 3.5 million to German killing policies between 1941 and 1944. Perhaps three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat or as an indirect consequence of the war.

Even so, the independent Ukrainian state has sometimes displayed the politics of exaggeration. In Ukraine, which was a major site of both Stalin’s famine of 1932-1933 and the Holocaust in 1941-1944, the number of Ukrainians killed in the former has been exaggerated to exceed the total number of Jews killed in the latter. Between 2005 and 2009, Ukrainian historians connected to state institutions repeated the figure of ten million deaths in the famine, without any attempt at demonstration. In early 2010, the official estimation of starvation deaths fell discretely, to 3.94 million deaths. This laudable (and unusual) downward adjustment brought the official position close to the truth. (In a divided country, the succeeding president denied the specificity of the Ukrainian famine.)17 Belarus was the center of the Soviet-Nazi confrontation, and no country endured more hardship under German occupation. Proportionate wartime losses were greater than in Ukraine.

Belarus, even more than Poland, suffered social decapitation: first the Soviet NKVD killed the intelligentsia as spies in 1937-1938, then Soviet partisans killed the schoolteachers as German collaborators in 1942-1943. The capital Minsk was all but depopulated by German bombing, the flight of refugees and the hungry, and the Holocaust; and then rebuilt after the war as an eminently Soviet metropolis. Yet even Belarus follows the general trend. Twenty percent of the prewar population of Belarusian territories was killed during the Second World War. Yet young people are taught, and seem to believe, that the figure was not one in five but one in three. A government that celebrates the Soviet legacy denies the lethality of Stalinism, placing all of the blame on Germans or more generally on the West.

11 September 2011

Rosa's Route to Apostasy

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 33-35:
[Rosa's] family was well off by the standards of the provincial backwater she was brought up in, but her father, a devout Catholic, had strong sympathy for the labor movement. One of her first memories is of learning the songs of the Fifth Regiment of the Spanish Republican Army from activist priests who taught at her school. They told her about Dolores Ibarruri, "La Pasionaria," the Basque miner's daughter who during the Civil War exhorted the Republican troops to fight for liberty and face down death. Rosa was barely a teenager when she took to singing the Civil War hymns herself, to cheer on workers during strikes. At university, swept up in the radical fervor of the times, Rosa and her friends were soon helping campesino organizations coordinate invasions of privately owned ranches, set up roadblocks, and stockpile whatever weapons they could find for the coming revolution.

Although the FARC already existed, it was seen by many as old hat and insufficiently idealistic, and new guerrilla groups, and what used to be called "preparty formations," multiplied. The Ejército de Liberación Nacional, or ELN, as well as the Quintín Lame, an armed Indian rights group; the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores; the M-19—all came into being. By the late seventies Rosa was closely identified with another of the groups to emerge from the university crucible, the Ejército Popular de Liberación, or EPL. The group was strong in the area of Cordoba, where in those days the population was fairly clearly divided between poor campesinos and the people with money who owned cattle ranches and farms where bananas and oil palms were grown.

How Rosa's destiny took her from the EPL to the heart of paramilitary power is, in her telling, a long, breathtaking, and not always reliable story, but she is only one of many defectors from the fanatic left to join the ranks of the murderous right. The autodefensas claim that fully one-third of their troops are former guerrillas, and even if one disputes the figures, there is no doubting the general trend. Rosa's life, however, is unusual even in Colombia, where reality always seems to flow out of someone's dream, or nightmare.

The first thing that bothered Rosa about her leftist associates was what one might describe as their impact on the political ecology of the departamento of Córdoba. At the height of the revolutionary ferment, there were six different guerrilla organizations prowling around the hills in Rosa's region, each one demanding that the campesinos pay "taxes" to finance their coming liberation. "If a campesino had five cows, he had to give up one," Rosa says. "The guerrillas were eating up all the money from the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. They were hijacking mules. They were emptying out the community stores."

None of these organizations, however, was capable of defending the campesinos when the ranchers—including many drug traffickers turned aspiring landed gentry—began organizing assassination squads to deal with guerrilla collaborators. "Those people were terrible masacradores," Rosa says. "The rank and file were ranch guards, ranchers, drug traffickers, and everything you've heard about the [murders committed with] chainsaws, axes, and machetes is true." Although the guerrillas could not defeat the paramilitary squads, they did rather well when it came to turning on each other. One guerrilla group, the ELN, tried to dispute the EPL's local hegemony, Rosa recalls. "The ELN wanted to rule," she says. "And they killed whoever didn't obey."

One day the campesinos decided they'd had enough of multiple taxes and the conflicting, deadly demands on their political loyalties. The first one to rebel was a fisherman who turned on an ELN patrol that had approached him for money. In Rosa's description, the fisherman hacked a young man and a young woman guerrilla to death. "Campesinos don't know how to kill," Rosa observes dryly, having dwelt on the scene in some detail. "And when someone kills who doesn't know how to do it, he kills monstrously."

As for her own apostasy from the revolutionary cause, Rosa says it took place sometime after she was kidnapped in 1991 by one of the leaders of the antiguerrilla squads, the paramilitares. She had already decided by then that her commitment was to the campesinos and not the guerrillas, she says. Then came the kidnapping. She was abducted, she told me, after participating in a land invasion of a ranch owned by a well-known paramilitar. Her captors took her to a camp where "a fat man" was put in charge of torturing her to get information about the guerrillas. He broke off her teeth with pliers. (She paused in her narrative to show me that all her upper teeth had caps.) She was tied down while the fat man jumped on her stomach. She was forced to stand, bleeding, through the rest of the night, wondering when her execution would take place. At dawn, she was told to start walking. The bullet in the back she was expecting never came ("maybe because I never gave them the information they wanted, and they got tired of torturing me"). She kept walking and eventually found her way to her parents' house.

The lesson she appears to have drawn from this episode is not what one would expect. "After that time," Rosa explains, she and her kidnapper respected each other. "Me on this side, you on that one, we both agreed." "It's funny how life is," she said, in conclusion to her narrative. "Because the guy who ordered the fat man to torture me and I are now pretty good friends." Presumably, this is because a few months after her abduction she crossed over to her enemy's side.

By then, Rosa says, a majority of the guerrilla group she was involved with, the EPL, had decided that a revolutionary war could not successfully be fought in Colombia, and had turned their weapons in, changing their organization's name, but not its initials, to Esperanza, Paz y Libertad (Hope, Peace, and Liberty). Peace was not forthcoming, however, because the FARC guerrillas soon appeared with their own guns and tried to establish control in the void they perceived had been created by the despised pacifists. The FARC began executing former EPL guerrillas. The survivors and their campesino supporters felt they had no option except to join forces with the right-wing paramilitary leaders who had tortured Rosa and murdered many other comrades.
This dispatch was dated April 13, 2000.

10 September 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Menbei, Yuzusco, Hakugei

While we were shopping for light, comestible omiyage (souvenirs) to bring back from Japan this summer, we came across three products of linguistic as well as gustatory interest.

mentai + senbei = menbeiMenbei < mentai senbei – Korea is the source of one well-known item of Hakata (Fukuoka) cuisine, 辛子明太子 karashi mentaiko 'spicy cod/pollock roe'. The name mentai apparently derives from Korean 명태 myeongtae 'Alaskan pollock'. Its genus (Theragra) is different from that of the Atlantic pollock (Pollachius), but both fall within the highly prolific family Gadidae (< Gadus 'cod') 'cod, haddock, pollock, whiting'. We bought a few boxes of spicy mentai-flavored rice crackers to share with our colleagues at work. Their pungent aroma caused some comment. As soon as you opened the little plastic wrapper that enclosed each cracker, you could smell it halfway across the room.

Yuzusco & ShogascoYuzusco < yuzu 'citrus' + (taba)sco – The fresh taste of yuzu (柚子) is very popular in Japanese cuisine and is used to flavor many different things: from savory chawanmushi to sweet honey, bitter tea, vinegar, wine, and even bath oil. We brought back some tiny jars of yuzu pepper paste and two hot sauces marketed as under the brand names Yuzusco and Shogasco (< shouga 'ginger' + -sco). I'm not sure if the makers of Tabasco have licensed just the last three letters of their registered trademark, but they apparently encourage co-branding. Nor am I sure where these products rank on the Scoville scale of spicyness.

Sampler of five types of shochu
Hakugei 'White Whale' – At a duty-free shop at Fukuoka Airport, we got a sampler of five small bottles of shochu, a longtime Satsuma (Kagoshima) specialty. (The cashier unboxed them and put them in little transparent baggies so we could take them through security!) They included 麦わら帽子 Mugiwara Boushi 'barley-straw hat', made from barley; two types of Satsuma 白波 Shiranami 'white wave' made from sweet potato (my favorite) with dark and light molds; 白鯨 Hakugei 'white whale', made from white rice; and 蕎麦蔵 Sobagura 'buckwheat granary', made from buckwheat. Shiranami is perhaps the most famous brand name of Satsuma shochu, but the other brand names were well chosen to reflect their ingredients. As one might expect, Hakugei tasted the most like sake. I prefer sweet potato shochu myself.

08 September 2011

The Making of Evita Duarte

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 6-8:
The facts of Evita's early life coincide nicely with those of the poor she came to represent: she was, like so many others, born of a destitute woman who found it expedient, and possibly gratifying, to take a wealthy and powerful lover. (Juan Duarte was a landowner and small-town caudillo, or political boss, in a rural area about ninety miles west of Buenos Aires, and he was properly married. Juana Ibarguren was a woman he spent many nights with and was the mother of five of Duarte's children, of whom Eva Maria, born in 1919, was the youngest.) Like so many children born of these arrangements in a country where upper-class snobbery reaches extremes of refinement and viciousness, Eva was humiliated by her bastard status. (Juana Ibarguren and her children, who lived in a one-room house, were kept away from Juan Duarte's elegant funeral, but were allowed to say a quick farewell to the corpse at the wake.) Eva migrated on her own from the sticks to Buenos Aires at age fifteen, and, like so many of the expanding capital's other new residents, she looked for opportunity and found it lacking. She shared with her class a gnawing, all-encompassing resentment that was the precise counterpart of the seething contempt the ruling class cultivated for the plebes. Most important, neither she nor her fellow poor were inclined to be fatalistic. The Argentina that Eva Duarte grew up in was a nation of recent immigrants—Italian anarchist farmers, Spanish socialist shopkeepers, conservative German merchants—who had brought their politics with them when they migrated, and who firmly believed that they deserved the better life they were willing to work so hard for.

Perón—himself born out of wedlock, and pursuing upward mobility through an army career—was their catalyst. He was a cynical politician who systematically played off his followers against one another, often with tragic results, and his authoritarian approach to government probably grew out of his intense admiration for Franco and Mussolini. It may well be the case that he (and Eva) provided shelter for Nazis fleeing Europe after the Axis collapse, in exchange for a significant part of the Third Reich's treasure—Dujovne works hard to try to prove it in her biography—but generations of Argentines have remained impervious to these accusations, because of what Perón gave them: a political movement that legitimated and ennobled the working poor, and a decisive restructuring of the state which—by nationalizing key resources, establishing generous social-welfare programs, and institutionalizing a crony relationship between organized labor and the government—transformed Argentina from a sugar daddy for the rich into a sugar daddy for the poor. Perón was only one of several upstart colonels when Evita thanked him for existing, and his speeches did not then, or ever, reveal the kind of substantial political thinking that gets translated into lasting programs or gets used to interpret reality in other parts of the world, but he cannot simply be written off as a demagogue. He had a vision of a free Argentina: a nation that under his verticalista guidance would steer clear of both sides in the Cold War, and in which law and order would prevail, government would be responsive to the needs of its citizens, and workers would get the respect their efforts deserved. In that sense, he was revolutionary, and Eva Duarte, like millions of others, responded instantly to his appeal. As for his aloof, diffident personality (he liked to describe himself as "a herbivorous lion"), it, too, was a virtue, for it turned him into an empty vessel that Evita could fill with her faith.

Eva Duarte's role in history was determined within months of her first encounter with the colonel. One day she was a source of hilarity for upper-class women, who made a point of tuning in to her "Famous Women" broadcasts. ("What a daily pleasure, this nasal voice who played [Catherine of Russia] with rural tango accents!" one said.) The next, she had secured her movie role in Circus Cavalcade, because she was already the established mistress of Juan Perón, a man not known for passion, who had nevertheless rented an apartment in Eva's building so that he could be near her without violating the moral code. His new lover was not easy or pleasant to live with—she threw tantrums, demanded in public that he marry her, and soon displayed her contempt for all but his most slavishly devoted political associates—yet despite these defects she was the perfect woman for him, because she pushed him beyond his own apathy.
This book was one of my last two purchases from my local Border's before it went out of business. My favorite history shelves were still much fuller than many of the other shelves in the sad-looking store.

07 September 2011

Soviet Contributions to the Holocaust

From Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (Basic Books, 2010), Kindle Loc. 6313-6365 (pp. 343-345):
During the war, the Soviets and their allies had been in general agreement that the war was not to be understood as a war of the liberation of Jews. From different perspectives, the Soviet, Polish, American, and British leaderships all believed that Jewish suffering was best understood as one aspect of a generally wicked German occupation. Though Allied leaders were quite aware of the course of the Holocaust, none treated it as a reason to make war on Nazi Germany, or to turn much special attention to the suffering of Jews. The Jewish issue was generally avoided in propaganda. When Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt issued a "Declaration Concerning Atrocities" in Moscow in October 1943, they mentioned, among other Nazi crimes, "the wholesale shooting of Polish officers," which was a reference to Katyn, actually a Soviet crime; and "the execution of French, Dutch, Belgian or Norwegian hostages" and "Cretan peasants"—but not Jews. The "peoples" of Poland and the Soviet Union were mentioned, but the Jewish minority in each country was not named. By the time that summary of atrocities was published, over five million Jews had been shot or gassed because they were Jews.

In its more enlightened form, this reticence about racial murder reflected a principled hesitation to endorse Hitler’s racist understanding of the world. The Jews were not citizens of any one country, went the reasoning, and thus to group them together, went the fear, was to acknowledge their unity as a race, and to accept Hitler’s racial view of the world. In its less enlightened form, this view was a concession to popular anti-Semitism—very much present in the Soviet Union, Poland, Britain, and the United States. For London and Washington, this tension was resolved with victory in the war in 1945. The Americans and the British liberated no part of Europe that had a very significant Jewish population before the war, and saw none of the German death facilities. The politics of postwar economic, political, and military cooperation in western Europe had relatively little to do with the Jewish question.

The territory of Stalin’s enlarged state included most of the German killing fields, and that of his postwar empire (including communist Poland) the sites of all of the German death factories. Stalin and his politburo had to confront, after the war, continued resistance to the reimposition of Soviet power, in ways that made the wartime fate of the Jews unavoidable as a matter of ideology and politics. Postwar resistance in the western Soviet Union was a continuation of the war in two senses: these were the lands that the Soviets had won by conquest in the first place, and the lands where people had taken up arms in large numbers to fight them. In the Baltics and Ukraine and Poland, some partisans were openly anti-Semitic, and continued to use the Nazi tactic of associating Soviet power with Jewry.

In this situation, the Soviets had every political incentive to continue to distance themselves and their state from Jewish suffering, and indeed to make special efforts to ensure that anti-Semites did not associate the return of Soviet power with the return of Jews. In Lithuania, once again incorporated into the Soviet Union, the general secretary of the local branch of the Soviet communist party counted the Jews killed in the Holocaust as “sons of the nation,” Lithuanians who died as martyrs for communism. Nikita Khrushchev, politburo member and general secretary of the party in Ukraine, went even further. He was in charge of the struggle to defeat Ukrainian nationalists in what had been southeastern Poland, a place that before the war had been densely settled with Jews and Poles. The Germans had killed the Jews, and the Soviets had deported the Poles. Khrushchev wanted Ukrainians to thank the Soviet Union for the “unification” of their country at the expense of Poland and for the “cleansing” of Polish landlords. Knowing that the nationalists wanted ethnic purity, he did not want Soviet power to stand for anything else.

Sensitive as he was to the mood of the population, Stalin sought a way to present the war that would flatter the Russians while marginalizing the Jews (and, for that matter, every other people of the Soviet Union). The whole Soviet idea of the Great Patriotic War was premised on the view that the war began in 1941, when Germany invaded the USSR, not in 1939, when Germany and the Soviet Union together invaded Poland. In other words, in the official story, the territories absorbed as a result of Soviet aggression in 1939 had to be considered as somehow always having been Soviet, rather than as the booty of a war that Stalin had helped Hitler to begin. Otherwise the Soviet Union would figure as one of the two powers that started the war, as one of the aggressors, which was obviously unacceptable.

No Soviet account of the war could note one of its central facts: German and Soviet occupation together was worse than German occupation alone. The populations east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, subject to one German and two Soviet occupations, suffered more than those of any other region of Europe. From a Soviet perspective, all of the deaths in that zone could simply be lumped together with Soviet losses, even though the people in question had been Soviet citizens for only a matter of months when they died, and even though many of them were killed by the NKVD rather than the SS. In this way, Polish, Romanian, Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian deaths, sometimes caused by the Soviet rather than the German forces, served to make the tragedy of the Soviet Union (or even, to the inattentive, of Russia) seem all the greater.

The vast losses suffered by Soviet Jews were mostly the deaths of Jews in lands just invaded by the Soviet Union. These Jews were citizens of Poland, Romania, and the Baltic States, brought under Soviet control by force only twenty-one months before the German invasion in the case of Poland, and only twelve months before in the case of northeastern Romania and the Baltics. The Soviet citizens who suffered most in the war had been brought by force under Soviet rule right before the Germans came—as a result of a Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany. This was awkward. The history of the war had to begin in 1941, and these people had to be “peaceful Soviet citizens.”

Jews in the lands east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, so recently conquered by the Soviet Union, were the first to be reached by the Einsatzgruppen when Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. They had been shielded by the Soviet press from knowledge of German policies toward Jews of 1939 and 1940. They had virtually no time to evacuate since Stalin had refused to believe in a German invasion. They had been subject to terror and deportation in the enlarged Soviet Union in 1939-1941 during the period when Stalin and Hitler were allied, and then terribly exposed to German forces by the breaking of that alliance. These Jews in this small zone made up more than a quarter of the total victims of the Holocaust.

04 September 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Dorui, Kangou, Funkyuubo, Fujo

The first tourist site we visited on our most recent trip to Japan was Yoshinogari Historical Park in Saga Prefecture, on a stretch of open countryside that turned up lots of artifacts from the Yayoi-period (roughly 300 B.C. to A.D. 300), including many large burial jars, when developers began to prepare the ground for a large shopping center. The site was then turned into an historical park featuring "one of Japan's largest moat-encircled villages and ancient ruins." In fact, another pair of visitors we met there were from Perth, Australia, a mother and her daughter who had won a national essay contest by presenting the case for Yoshinogari to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The signs describing the major features of the park were quadrilingual—in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese (simplified characters)—and one of the guides we met was a young lady from Dalian, China, who spoke some English and Russian in addition to Chinese and Japanese. (She was eager to practice her English, which was full of reading pronunciations.) Thanks to the helpful furigana on those signs, I learned a few new Japanese words and readings that were not even in my old Canon Wordtank G55 electronic dictionary. Here's a sample.

土塁 dorui 'earth fort, earthworks' – The earliest forts in Japan apparently consisted of earthworks, palisades, and moats. The character 塁 'fort, rampart' can be a synonym for 砦 toride 'fort, stronghold, entrenchment', but is now much more common in baseball, where it means 'base', as in 塁審 ruishin 'base umpire' or 塁打 ruida 'base hit'.

環濠 kangou 'ring trench' – The usual word for the 'moat' around Japanese castles is 堀 hori 'ditch, canal', related to the verb horu 'to dig'. By itself, 濠 gou is better translated 'trench' (also 'dugout, foxhole'), another product of digging. The character 環 kan 'ring, circle, loop' also occurs in 環境 kankyou 'environment, circumstances' (lit. 'circle boundary') and 環礁 kanshou 'atoll' (lit. 'fringing sunken-rock').

墳丘墓 funkyuubo 'mound-hill-grave' – The common word for 'grave' is 墓 haka (Sino-Japanese bo) as in 墓石 boseki, hakaishi 'tombstone' or 墓堀 hakahori 'grave digger'. A normal-sized grave mound is 墳墓 funbo 'mound grave, tomb', but a seriously hill-sized grave mound is 墳丘墓 funkyuubo (with 丘 'hill', read oka in many placenames). Grave-mound building was carried to even greater extremes during the next major period of Japanese history, the Kofun 古墳 ('old tomb') period (c. 250–538).

巫女 fujo, miko 'shaman, sorceress, shrine maiden' – After immigration from the Korean peninsula began, but before Buddhism was established (during the 8th century), the chief spiritual practitioner in Japanese villages was a shaman, who was usually female, although the etymology of 神子 miko lit. 'god-child' is gender-neutral.