31 August 2008

Wordcatcher Tales: girmitya, kala pani

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), p. 1:
India is a state encompassing a civilization. It includes a multitude of ethnic and linguistic groups which share a common cultural background. Its historical continuity is amazing.... In the recent past India has also become a territorial nation state with defined borders and institutions guarding its territorial integrity. The idea of a clearly delineated territoriality was not prevalent in India in earlier times. The Himalayas in the north and the ocean encircling the country appeared to those living inside it as 'natural' boundaries. In fact the mountain people never conceived of the Himalayas as a boundary and they 'transgressed' it in many ways. Many of the coastal people, on the other hand, participated throughout the ages in maritime trade. The orthodox prejudice against crossing the kala pani (black water) was not shared by them. This aversion to seafaring was a relatively late phenomenon in an era when people in India became more introverted and defensive.

The awareness of the 'natural' boundaries of India did not imply a feeling of national identity in territorial terms. Nationalism first found expression among educated people and did not affect the common people for along time. The poor people from northern India who were transported to Fiji as indentured servants to work on the sugar plantations did not refer to themselves as 'Indians' but as girmityas. The word girmit was a Hindi neologism derived from 'agreement', the document which bound them to their servitude. Their identity was derived from this common fate. It was only later when emissaries of Mahatma Gandhi reached Fiji that these girmityas became Indians.

25 August 2008

End of the Americo-Liberian Aristocracy, 1980

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 545-548:
In his book Journey Without Maps, an account of his travels in Liberia in the 1930s, the English writer Graham Greene recorded that 'Liberian politics were like a crap game played with loaded dice'. It was a game that Liberia's ruling elite – the descendants of some 300 black settler families from the United States who set up an independent republic in 1847 – played among themselves with considerable relish. For more than 100 years – from 1877 to 1980 – Liberia was governed under a one-party system in which the same party, the True Whig Party, controlled by the same elite group, held office continuously, dispensing patronage, deciding on public appointments and retaining a monopoly on power – a record equalled by no other political party anywhere in the world. Elections were nevertheless taken seriously, if only to determine which family – the Barclays, the Kings, the Tubmans – emerged on top. 'The curious thing about a Liberian election campaign,' wrote Greene, 'is that, although the result is always a foregone conclusion, everyone behaves as if the votes and the speeches and the pamphlets matter.' However, he added, the system was more complicated than it seemed. 'It may be all a question of cash and printing presses and armed police, but things have to be done with an air. Crudity as far as possible is avoided.'

As members of a ruling aristocracy, the Americo-Liberians, as they called themselves, were immensely proud of their American heritage. They developed a lifestyle reminiscent of the antebellum South, complete with top hats and morning coats and masonic lodges. They built houses with pillared porches, gabled roofs and dormer windows resembling the nineteenth-century architectural styles of Georgia, Maryland and the Carolinas. They chose as a national flag a replica of the American Stars and Stripes, with a single star, and used the American dollar as legal tender.

Just like white settlers in Africa, the Americo-Liberians constructed a colonial system subjugating the indigenous population to rigid control and concentrating wealth and privilege in their own hands. Despite their origins as descendants of slaves from the Deep South, they regarded black Liberians as an inferior race, fit only for exploitation. The nadir of Americo-Liberian rule came in 1931 when an international commission found senior government officials guilty of involvement in organised slavery.

When other West African states shed colonial rule in the 1960s, the Liberian system stayed much the same. Liberian law stipulated that only property owners were entitled to the vote, so the vast majority of indigenous Africans were effectively left without one. Small numbers were assimilated into the ranks of the ruling elite: 'country boys' adopted by coastal families; girls selected as wives or concubines; ambitious 'hinterlanders' climbing the ladder. During the 1970s a few were co-opted into government. Local administration in the 'hinterland' was largely run by indigenous officials. But essentially Liberia remained an oligarchy where 1 per cent of the population controlled the rest – some 2 million people.

The last of the line of Americo-Liberian presidents was William Tolbert, the grandson of freed South Carolina slaves who had served as vice-president for twenty years. A Baptist minister, he attempted a series of cautious reforms, abandoning the top hat and tail-coat traditions favoured by his predecessor, William Tubman, selling the presidential yacht and abolishing a compulsory 'tithe' of 10 per cent of every government employee's salary that went to the True Whig Party. But much of Tolbert's efforts were also devoted to amassing a personal fortune and promoting the interests of family members in the traditional manner. One brother was appointed minister of finance; another was chosen as president of the senate; a son-in-law served as minister of defence; other relatives filled posts as ministers, ambassadors and presidential aides. The crap game of Liberian politics was as highly profitable in the 1970s as in the 1930s.

Economic development in the 1960s and 1970s helped underpin the system, as well as provide new opportunities for the elite's self-enrichment. The mainstay of the economy had initially been rubber. In 1926 the Firestone Tyre and Rubber Company leased a million acres for ninety-nine years at six cents an acre to meet the American demand for car tyres. But iron ore exports from massive, high-grade deposits in the Bomi hills then overtook rubber as the major source of foreign investment and government income. By 1970 Firestone and the Liberian Iron Mining Company were providing the government with 50 per cent of greatly increased revenues. A third source of income came from registration fees from the world's largest ghost fleet of ships: Liberia possessed only two ships of its own, but allowed more than 2,500 vessels plying the seas to fly Liberia's flag of convenience without the bother of inspection, for a suitable fee.

Liberia 's economic advances, however, served only to highlight the growing disparity between the ostentatious lifestyle of the rich elite and the overwhelming majority of impoverished tribal Africans. In 1979 – the same year that Tolbert spent an amount equivalent to half the national budget while acting as host to an OAU heads of state conference – demonstrators took to the streets in protest against a 50 per cent increase in the price of rice, the staple food of most Liberians. The price increase had been authorised by Tolbert in the hope of encouraging local production. But since one of the chief beneficiaries was the president's cousin, Daniel Tolbert, who owned the country's largest rice-importing firm, it was seen as another move to enrich the elite. On Tolbert's orders armed police and troops opened fire on the demonstrators, killing dozens of them.

In the following months Tolbert struggled to contain a rising tide of discontent, colliding not just with the poor but with a new generation of the educated elite. He allowed the formation of an opposition party, but when opposition politicians called for a general strike, he had them arrested on charges of treason and sedition and banned the party.

On the night of 12 April 1980 a group of seventeen dissident soldiers led by a 28-year-old master sergeant named Samuel Doe, scaled the iron gate of the president's seven-storey Executive Mansion, overpowered the guards and found Tolbert in his pyjamas in an upstairs bedroom. They fired three bullets into his head, gouged out his right eye and disembowelled him. His body was dumped in a mass grave along with twenty-seven others who died defending the palace. Ministers and officials were rounded up, taken before a military tribunal and sentenced to death.

Amid much jubilation, watched by a crowd of thousands laughing and jeering and filmed by camera crews, thirteen high-ranking officials were tied to telephone poles on a beach in Monrovia and executed by a squad of drunken soldiers, firing volley after volley at them. A great shout arose from the mob. 'Freedom! We got our freedom at last!' The soldiers rushed forward to kick and pummel the corpses.

Thus the old order ended.
Thus begins the chapter entitled "Blood Diamonds," in which the barbarism only gets worse and worse. Few societies have solved the problem of how to overthrow recalcitrant aristocrats without descending into a period of barbarism that only serves to unduly enhance nostalgia for prerevolutionary times, as Theodore Dalrymple observes in his retrospective on Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
The Russian satirical writer Vladimir Voinovich satirized Solzhenitsyn’s Russian nationalism by depicting someone resembling him having his employees flogged in Vermont. This satirical scene, in fact, made a profound criticism of Solzhenitsyn’s political thought. Voinovich was alluding to the fact that, were it not for the horrors of Bolshevism, the pre-revolutionary Russian political tradition would be regarded as so brutal that no sensitive person of good will could be a Russian nationalist. As it was, the Bolsheviks regularly killed in a few minutes more people than the Romanovs managed in a century, giving pre-revolutionary Russian history the retrospective luster of decency, wisdom, and compassion that it did not in the least deserve. For Voinovich—and the distinguished historian of Russia Richard Pipes—Leninism had its roots in the Russian tradition as well as the Marxist one. This meant that Solzhenitsyn, while absolutely right in his uncompromising attitude to Marxist-Leninism and all its works, belonged in the category of Dostoevsky: a brilliant seer who would nevertheless have made a very bad guide.

Religion and Romania's Iron Guard

From Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 270-271:
Few European Fascist movements went so far as to proclaim that 'God is a Fascist!' or that 'the ultimate goal of the Nation must be resurrection in Christ!' Romania was the exception. Romanian Fascists wanted 'a Romania in delirium' and they largely got one. The Legion of the Archangel Michael was founded in 1927 in honour of the archangel, who had allegedly visited Corneliu Codreanu, its chief ideologist, while he was in prison. It was the only European Fascist movement with religion (in this case Romanian Orthodoxy) at its core. In 1930 the Legion was renamed the Iron Guard. While rivalling only the Nazis in the ferocity of their hatred of Jews, these Romanian Fascists were sui generis in their fusion of political militancy with Orthodox mysticism into a truly lethal whole. One of the Legion's intellectual luminaries, the world-renowned anthropologist Mircea Eliade, described the legionary ideal as 'a harsh Christian spirituality'. Its four commandments were 'belief in God; faith in our mission; love for one another; son'. The goal of a 'new moral man' may have been a totalitarian commonplace, but the 'resurrection of the [Romanian] people in front of God's throne' was not routine in such circles. But then few European Fascists were inducted into an elite called the Brotherhood of Christ by sipping from a communal cup of blood filled from slashes in their own arms, or went around with little bags of soil tied around their necks. Nor did they do frenzied dances after chopping opponents into hundreds of pieces. Not for nothing was the prison massacre of Iron Guard leaders – including the captain Codreanu himself – by supporters of King Carol II known to local wits as 'the Night of the Vampires'. Although the Romanian elites emasculated the Guard's leadership, much of their furious potential was at that elite's disposal.

Hitler's conquests in western Europe in 1940 led Carol II to abandon his country's alignment with Britain and to seek a role for Romania within the all-conquering German 'new order'. That June, the Soviet Union took Bessarabia and Bukovina under the terms of the deal it had struck with Hitler. Three million Romanian Orthodox Christians languished under an alien and atheist regime, a state of affairs that outraged opinion in the Old Kingdom. In September 1940 Carol invited the military strongman, General Ion Antonescu, to form a government, which within a month deposed the king in favour of his son prince Michael, who is still the claimant to the throne of Romania. Because, like Franco, Antonescu lacked a political base, he revived the Legion so as to provide a basis for what became the 'National Legionnaire State'. The Iron Guard leader, Horia Sima, became vice-premier, and the Guard gained five ministerial portfolios. For the ensuing five months the Guard attempted a stealthy coup from within, even as their corruption and violence created chaos. Since sections of the Nazi leadership favoured the Guard, the wily Antonescu knew where to turn.

In January 1941, Antonescu flew to Germany for a meeting with Hitler , whose troops were massing in Romania for the projected invasion of the Soviet Union. The strong personal rapport between these two implacable haters of the Jews enabled Antonescu to provoke and crush a revolt by the Guard after he returned home; nine thousand were detained and eighteen hundred sentenced to imprisonment. The Guard was proscribed and the Legionnaire State abandoned. Antonescu assumed the title of 'conducator' used by the murdered Codreanu, while his son Mihai became vice-premier of a government largely consisting of antisemites of the National Christian Party, for in this respect the old elites were no different from the Fascists. Acting reflexively in its search for someone to blame, the Guard carried out a pogrom in Bucharest, killing 630 Jews, some of whose corpses hung in the capital's slaughterhouse as 'kosher meat'.
In 1983-84, we lived in an apartment at the north end of Parcul Tineretului within easy walking distance of both the main slaughterhouse and the main crematorium, the latter surrounded by huge cemeteries, including Cimitirul Israelit. (The crematorium features in Saul Bellow's novel The Dean's December, which we read that year.) Here's my translation of the paragraph on the history of the crematorium at the link above:
The crematorium "Cenusa" ['Ash'] is one of the few monuments in Bucharest that is closely tied to the recent history of Romania. The first person incinerated here after its inauguration in 1928 was Profira Fieraru, a woman who died at the age of 40. The opening of the crematorium was the subject of controversy between church and state, leading to discussion of the legitimacy of the burning of cadavers from the point of view of religious doctrine. Among those said to have been cremated in "Cenusa" are General Antonescu, several legionnaires from the interwar period, and Ana Pauker from the communist period. At the Revolution of 1989, those 43 people killed at Timisoara were brought to the crematorium and incinerated, but their ashes were thrown away.

23 August 2008

India's Rise: Sick Mills vs. Powerlooms

From India: The Rise of an Asian Giant, by Dietmar Rothermund (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 88-89:
In the years of the Great Depression, the Indian textile industry was partially protected under the regime of imperial preference, Production for the home market expanded, but there was hardly any investment in new machinery. Moreover, India had no textile machine industry of its own. During the Second World War, no machinery could be imported, but the mills worked around the clock under the regime of government procurement. By the end of the war, spindles and looms were worn out and mill-owners would have liked to have invested in new machinery. However, foreign exchange was scarce as India had no immediate access to its reserves accumulated in the Bank of England. At this stage something happened which had terrible consequences for the future of the Indian textile industry. Mahatma Gandhi had compelled the Indian government to abolish the food-grain controls introduced during the war. Prices fell after the controls had been abolished – as Gandhi had predicted. His followers then tried to apply the same rule to cotton texiles, which had also been subjected to controls. The mill-owners warned the government that they would not be able to cope with the rising demand with their decrepit looms. Nevertheless, the controls were abolished and prices rose. Controls were then re-imposed in August 1948. At the same time positive discrimination in favour of the products of handloom weavers was introduced. These weavers were dear to Gandhi as he regarded them as the paragon of the type of cottage industry which he preferred to the mills. The well-meaning protectors of the handloom weavers did not notice that these weavers had to a large extent been replaced by powerloom weavers, whose rise will be described below. The mills were now prevented from modernizing their equipment and expanding their production. They were turned into living fossils. The mill-owners continued production half-heartedly. There seemed no longer to be any future for this industry. Some mills were closed down as early as the 1950s and 1960s. To make matters worse, a prolonged strike of textile labour in Mumbai in the 1980s sounded the death knell for the industry in this metropolis.

It was quite natural that textile labour should be frustrated under these conditions, but resorting to a strike in an industry which was already doomed proved to be counterproductive. The workers turned to Dr Datta Samant, an independent labour leader who had organized a very succesful strike for the workers of the Premier automobile factory in Mumbai. This strike ended with a substantial increase in wages, which were tied to a productivity index. Samant was a medical doctor who knew nothing about economics and thought that his recipe would work in the textile industry just as it had done in the automobile industry. He was a charismatic leader and inspired the workers to continue their strike, which started in 1982, for eighteen months. (His life ended tragically when he was openly gunned down by gangsters in 1997.) The result of the strike which he had led was perverse: the workers shifted to the powerlooms in order to earn a living and the mill-owners procured cloth from these power looms and marketed it. By the time the strike ended the powerlooms had taken over most of the production and the mills were 'sick'.

The phenomenon of a 'sick mill' can only be understood in the Indian context. Elsewhere a sick mill would go bankrupt and close down. In India, however, where there are no unemployment benefits, laid-off workers are politically dangerous and therefore the government will nurse sick mills to keep them alive even if they cease to produce anything. The mill-owners soon learned to make a profit out of being sick. The Reserve Bank of India sanctioned favourable loans for such sick mills. Clever manipulators could siphon off enough money from such loans and use it for other purposes. The production of mill-made cloth declined steeply under such conditions, from about 3.4 to 2 billion metres in the decade of the 1980s. In the same period the production of powerlooms increased from 5 to 11.4 billion metres.

21 August 2008

African-Soviet Parallels before and after 1989

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 378-379, 385-387:
By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office. Of some 150 heads of state who had trodden the African stage, only six had voluntarily relinquished power. They included Senegal's Léopold Senghor, after twenty years in office; Cameroon's Ahmadu Ahidjo, after twenty-two years in office; and Tanzania's Julius Nyerere, after twenty-three years in office....

Out of a list of fifty African countries in 1989, almost all were one-party states or military dictatorships. Opposition parties were illegal in thirty-two states. Elections, when held, served mainly to confirm the incumbent president and his party in power. In twenty-nine countries, over the course of 150 elections held between 1960 and 1989, opposition parties were never allowed to win a single seat. Only three countries – Senegal, the tiny state of Gambia and Botswana – sustained multi-party politics, holding elections on a regular basis that were considered reasonably free and fair. Botswana, in particular, stood out as an example of a liberal democracy, tolerant of opposition activity, where the rule of law was held in respect and where economic development proceeded apace.

Yet a new wind of change was stirring across Africa. It was driven in part by widespread discontent with the corruption, incompetence and stifling oppression of Big Man rule, in part by resentment over rising unemployment, falling living standards and austerity measures that African governments were forced to implement in return for international assistance. Students were at the forefront of a wave of protests that erupted in one country after another, but other urban groups – businessmen, professionals, churchmen, labour unions and civil servants – soon joined in, demanding not just redress of economic grievances but political reform.

Events abroad, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, affected the clamour for change. From the mid-1980s, as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev's 'new thinking', the Soviet Union began to retreat from Africa, no longer willing or able to sustain client states that had relied upon Soviet largesse for survival. With the demise of Marxism-Leninism in Europe came its demise in Africa. When Ethiopia's Mengistu went to Moscow in 1988 to ask for more military hardware, Gorbachev turned him down, telling him he needed to reach a negotiated settlement to the wars in Eritrea and Tigray. Having lost Soviet sponsorship and confronted by rebel advances, Mengistu renounced Marxism-Leninism and embraced the idea of a multi-party system in the hope of avoiding defeat at the hands of the rebels. The outbreak of mass street demonstrations in Eastern Europe starting in the spring of 1989 and culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the departure of European dictators like Ceausescu in Romania and Honecker in East Germany provided potent examples of what 'people's power' could achieve. One-party regimes now looked outmoded, in Africa as much as in Europe. Even Julius Nyerere, the most articulate spokesman for one-party systems in Africa, felt obliged to modify his support. 'To view a one-party system in almost religious terms is wrong; he said in February 1990 after visiting Leipzig in East Germany. 'We Tanzanians have one party as a historical necessity. But this is not a kind of divine decree. It is not proper to treat a person who floats the idea of a multi-party system as someone who has committed treason.'

The end of the Cold War, moreover, changed the West's attitudes towards Africa. Western governments no longer had strategic interests in propping up repressive regimes merely because they were friendly to the West. Along with the World Bank, they concluded that one-party regimes lacking popular participation constituted a serious hindrance to economic development and placed new emphasis on the need for democratic reform.

In June 1990 Britain declared that the distribution of its aid programme would henceforth favour countries 'tending towards pluralism, public accountability, respect for the rule of law, human rights and market principles'. At a Franco-African summit at La Baule in June 1990, attended by thirty-three African delegations, twenty-two of which were led by heads of state, President Mitterrand stated that French aid would be dependent on efforts towards liberalisation. He warned: 'French eagerness to offer development aid is bound to cool off in the case of authoritarian regimes which fail to heed the need for democratisation while regimes prepared to embark on the courageous path of democracy will continue to have our enthusiastic support.'

Previously, Franco-African summits had been known as lavish, back-slapping family gatherings, full of empty talk.
It seems clear in retrospect that Soviet models of governance and Soviet models of "development" were just as effective in strangling civil society and hollowing out the private sector in postcolonial Africa as they were in the ostensibly postimperial Soviet Union, leaving failed states awash in Kalashnikovs and ruled by gangsters to deal with the new expectations, dilapidated infrastructure, and diminished foreign subsidies of the 1990s, during which Africa experienced more than its share of Bosnias and Chechnyas (though with less artillery and more machetes than in their northern counterparts).

17 August 2008

Tanzania's Economic Breakdown, 1970s

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 256-259:
The disruption caused by the 'villagisation' programme nearly led to catastrophe. Food production fell drastically, raising the spectre of widespread famine. Between 1974 and 1977 the deficit recorded in cereals was more than 1 million tons. Drought compounded the problem. The shortfall was made up with imports of food, but the country's foreign exchange reserves were soon exhausted. In 1975 the government had to be rescued by grants, loans and special facilities arranged with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and by more than 200,000 tons of food aid. Far from helping Tanzania to become more self-reliant and to reduce its dependence on the international market economy, Nyerere's ujamaa programme made it dependent for survival on foreign handouts. Nor did the idea of communal farming take root. Although by 1979 some 90 per cent of the peasantry had been moved into ujamaa villages, a mere 5 per cent of agricultural output came from communal plots.

Other aspects of Nyerere's socialist strategy were no more successful. His programme of state control spawned a multitude of state corporations that were inefficient, incompetently managed, overstaffed and mired in debt. By 1979 some three hundred parastatal organisations had been set up – state industries, state banks, state farms, state marketing boards, state shops. They were controlled by managers who acted more like bureaucrats than businessmen and ran their domains as civil service bureaucracies, exercising considerable patronage. Workers came to regard their jobs as guaranteed by the socialist state. In a candid speech in 1977 entitled 'The Arusha Declaration Ten Years After', Nyerere complained bitterly of the inefficiency, indifference and laziness of managers and workers in state-run enterprises. 'It is essential that we should tighten up on industrial discipline. Slackness at work, and failure to give a hard day's effort in return for wages paid, is a form of exploitation; it is an exploitation of the other members of society. And slackness has undoubtedly increased since the Arusha Declaration was passed.'

But state enterprises continued to operate in the same manner, incurring huge losses. Among the most notorious were ten state-owned crop authorities. The pyrethrum board, for example, spent more on its administrative costs in 1980 than the total value of the crop it purchased; the sisal board's overheads in 1980 were higher than the amount Tanzania earned from exporting sisal. Farmers meanwhile were offered inadequate prices and faced long delays in payment, sometimes lasting up to one year, and eventually they resorted to using the black market or growing subsistence food. The production of export crops like sisal, cashew nuts and pyrethrum fell drastically in the 1970s.

By the end of the 1970s Tanzania was in dire straits. Its trade deficit was widening all the time: in 1980 exports covered only 40 per cent of the value of imports; its foreign debt had soared. With sharp increases in world oil prices, its terms of trade were constantly deteriorating. Oil imports, which used only 10 per cent of the value of exports in 1972, took 60 per cent in 1980; a ton of exported tea in 1970 bought 60 barrels of oil, but in 1980 only 4.5 barrels. The shortage of foreign currency hampered the running of factories and farms. For want of spare parts and materials, machinery and trucks were idle. Inflation and drought added to the toll. A shortage of basic commodities like soap, sugar and cooking oil and other consumer goods produced black markets, petty corruption and smuggling – magendo, as it was called. Manufacturing output in 1980 was reduced to less than one-third of capacity. Agriculture declined by 10 per cent between 1979 and 1982. National output between 1977 and 1982 declined by about one-third. The average standard of living between 1975 and 1983 fell by nearly 50 per cent. In a broadcast in December 1981 to mark the twentieth anniversary of Tanzania's independence, Nyerere admitted: 'We are poorer now than we were in 1972.'

Whatever difficulties Tanzania encountered, however, Nyerere held fast to his socialist strategy, dismissing all suggestions that the strategy itself might be at fault. He acknowledged that the country was neither socialist nor self-reliant, but he argued that government policy had prevented the worst excesses of capitalism, in particular the emergence of a rich and powerful elite. Comparing socialism to a vaccine, he said in 1977: 'We are like a man who does not get smallpox because he has got himself vaccinated. His arm is sore and he feels sick for a while; if he has never seen what smallpox does to people, he may feel very unhappy during that period, and wish that he had never agreed to the vaccination.' At a ruling party conference in 1982, Nyerere admitted that Tanzania had many 'very serious' and 'very real' problems, but socialism, he said, was not one of them. 'We have good policies. We have good plans. We have good leadership.'

Throughout Nyerere's tenure as president, few in Tanzania questioned the course on which he had embarked. It was held to be a matter of ideological faith. Indeed, no serious political discussion of any kind occurred. Under Tanzania's one-party system, parliament remained impotent; the press muzzled. Real power lay in State House in Dar es Salaam, in party committees and with a ruling class of bureaucrats, all of them intolerant of opposition. Nyerere himself was by no means averse to using Tanzania's Preventive Detention Act to silence political critics, and Tanzania for many years remained high on the list of African countries with political prisoners.

Much was achieved as a result of Nyerere's efforts, notably in the fields of education, health and social services. Primary school enrolment increased from one-quarter of the school-age population to 95 per cent; adult literacy from 10 to 75 per cent; four in ten villages were provided with clean tap water, three in ten had clinics; life expectancy increased from forty-one years to fifty-one years.

Yet what progress was made was financed largely by foreign aid. During the 1970s Tanzania received no less than $3 billion, mostly from the West. In 1982 the annual level reached $600 million. Without such funds, Tanzania would have plunged into penury. Nyerere's achievement, therefore, was related not to the success of his strategy, but to his ability to persuade foreign sponsors that his objectives were sincere.

Wordcatcher Tales: Gorin = Orimpikku

Japanese video reports about the Olympics often show the screen label 北京五輪 'Beijing Olympics'. I had assumed that the Japanese news media were simply following Chinese usage, with 五輪 gorin ('5 rings/wheels') being a clever and concise sound-symbol translation of the word Olympic, which is otherwise rendered more lengthily in Japanese katakana オリンピック. A Google search on 五輪 returns 18,600,000 possible results, while a search on オリンピック returns 27,000,000 results.

Well, it turns out that this usage of 五輪 for 'Olympics' is restricted to Japanese. The official Chinese homepage for the Beijing Olympics uses four characters strictly for their sound values, 奥林匹克 (ao-lin-pi-ke), a string that Google finds on 17,500,000 pages. Korean usage also relies on a phonetic transcription, 올림픽 (ol-lim-pik), with 23,300,000 Google results.

Beijing Olympics logoSo it looks as if the Japanese may have coined the term 五輪 for 'Olympics', probably on the occasion of its 1964 Olympics. That headword shows up in my father's battered old New Pocket Japanese-English Dictionary (Kenkyusha), which was revised in 1964 after first appearing in 1958. (Does anyone have an earlier edition?) It's a clever coinage, with several positive allusions, but first I'd like to note that the Beijing Olympics logo also incorporates a bit of clever usage of Chinese characters. The stylized image of a runner strongly evokes the character 京 jing ('capital') of Beijing ('north capital'), and the logos for the various event types also evoke the old Chinese seal scripts widely used in decorative engraving from as early as the Han dynasty.

I emailed Matt of No-sword about this, and he suggested that one positive association of 五輪 is Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings (五輪書), which involves competitive strategy and tactics and is sometimes translated as The Art of War. Indeed, many of the Chinese-language search results for 五輪 referred to that book. Other Chinese results referred to "5-wheel" (off-road 4WD) vehicles, the 5th round of 6-party talks, and the popular Japanese singer Itsuwa ('5-rings') Mayumi (also known as Wulun Zhengong in Chinese). Just about the only Chinese-language usage I could find of 五輪 for Olympics was by a Chinese blogger in Japan.

A more spiritual association of 五輪 occurs in 五輪塔 (gorintō), the 5-element pagoda. And 五輪 is also homophonous with 五倫 (Jp. gorin, Ch. wǔlún), the essential 5 relationships of Confucianism.

POSTSCRIPT: I've been watching far more of the Olympics than I had planned, and I must say that I am most impressed by the good sportsmanship of the athletes from both the host country and the largest guest country. It's a big improvement over the behavior of both such parties during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. (And congratulations to Constantina Tomescu-Dita! Her gutsy move paid off.)

15 August 2008

Stalin Reinstates the Church, 1942-43

From Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 233-236:
Unlike Stalin, who suffered a mental collapse when the reality of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union penetrated his state of denial, on the very day of the attack metropolitan Sergei sent a message to every Orthodox parish. It reminded the Russian faithful of the heroic deeds of their ancestors, and of the saints Alexander Nevsky and Dimitri Donskoi, who had rescued Holy Russia in past crises: 'Our Orthodox Church has always shared the fate of the people. It has always borne their trials and cherished their successes. It will not desert the people now ... The Church of Christ blesses all the Orthodox defending the sacred frontiers of our Motherland. The Lord will grant us victory.' ... When Stalin did finally address the nation on 3 July, he spoke in the uncharacteristic tones of 'Brothers and sisters! My dear friends!' whose religious accents were unmistakable. He may have mentioned Lenin, but the radio address was much more like a simple priest sounding the village tocsin. In October, patriarch Sergei wrote a further address, as the Germans came within sixty miles of the capital. He condemned clergy who had defected to the enemy, notably metropolitan Voskresensky who had been despatched to the Baltic States before the war as part of a wider attempt to exploit Orthodoxy to integrate the newly acquired states into the Red Empire. On 11 November, Stalin harangued troops on Red Square as German troops battled their way towards suburban Moscow, invoking Nevsky, Donskoi, Suvarov and Kutusov, realising that common or garden patriotism and religion had greater mobilising potential than Marxist-Leninism. Typically, patriarch Sergei had been dragged from his sickbed a few days before and deported to Ulyanovsk.

Of the other two remaining Orthodox hierarchs, metropolitan Nikolai was brought back from the Ukraine to Moscow, where he became the regime's main clerical foreign policy propagandist, while metropolitan Alexei rallied the faithful during the terrible siege of Leningrad. The regime made a few cautious and parsimonious concessions to a Church that played a major role in maintaining wartime morale. It tolerated rather than encouraged religion. Overt anti-religious propaganda may have ceased for the duration, perhaps in rueful recognition of Pius XII's leading role in persuading sceptical US Catholic bishops of the legitimacy of their government's Lend-Lease aid to the Russian people despite his predecessor's comprehensive damnation of Communism, a stance that militates against the notion that anti-Communism was the overriding obsession of his pontificate. Sunday was restored as a day of rest, and artists were allowed to repair damaged icons. In 1942 the presses of the almost defunct League of the Militant Godless were used to produce a tome called The Truth about Religion in Russia, in which the weary remnants of a Church the Soviets had tried to destroy were displayed for foreign consumption. Beyond this there were no concessions. At Easter 1942 churches in Moscow were allowed to hold candlelit processions as the curfew was raised for a night. This was a meagre gesture given the enormous role that the Churches had played in the war effort. Starting with Alexei in Leningrad, sermons became appeals to donate money to the war effort. By January 1943, over three million rubles had been raised in Leningrad alone. Another five hundred thousand rubles funded a tank column named after Dimitri Donskoi. By the end of the war, the Church had contributed 150 million rubles.

In November 1942 metropolitan Nikolai became the first cleric since 1917 to have an official function, when he joined a government commission to investigate Nazi war crimes on Soviet territory. That included putting his name to accusations that the Germans had carried out massacres at Katyn for which the NKVD had been responsible. In January 1943, patriarch Sergei sent a telegram to Stalin requesting permission to open a central bank account where the Church could deposit such monies. When Stalin assented, relaying the gratitude of the Red Army, the Church effectively received corporate legal recognition for the first time. It was a sign of the times that in the same month a senior party official in distant Krasnoyarsk formally received a bishop, who was also a brilliant surgeon, the man still being a prisoner at the time. In September, the exiled Sergei was surprised to find himself brought back to Moscow and installed in the former residence of the German ambassador. At 9 p.m. the following night, he and metropolitans Alexei and Nikolai, were driven to the Kremlin for a session with Molotov and Stalin. The former improbably asked what the Church might need. Recovering from the shock of this request, Sergei said the reopening of churches and seminaries, a Church council and the election of a patriarch. As if it had nothing to do with him, Stalin gently inquired: 'And why don't you have cadres? Where have they disappeared to?' Rather than pointing out that most of these 'cadres' had died in camps, Sergei quickly joked: 'One of the reasons is that we train a person for the priesthood, and he becomes the Marshal of the Soviet Union.' This set Stalin off on a monologue about his days as a seminarian which went on until 3 a.m. Stalin helped the elderly Sergei down the stairs, saying, 'Your Grace, this is all I can do for you at the present time,' although he also appointed Georgi Karpov as the regime's liaison with the Orthodox Church. Karpov was the NKVD official who had arrested and shot most of the clergy, though Stalin added, 'I know Karpov, he is an obliging subordinate.' At some point in the course of that night there was oral agreement regarding the future status of the Orthodox Church. Within four days nineteen bishops were found who elected Sergei patriarch, successor to patriarch Tikhon who had died in 1925. They issued a joint exhortation to Christians around the world to unite against Hitler.

Vichy, 1940: 'Heaven-sent Defeat"

From Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 239-240:
Vichy used much of the moralising rhetoric that had been favoured by the French Catholic Church in the century since the Revolution. The regime denounced the 'esprit de jouissance' (pleasure-seeking) that was allegedly responsible for the defeat, promising 'moral recovery'. This resonated with a Catholic tradition of moralising major events, as in 1789, 1870, and 1914....

The Catholic hierarchy converted a complex national disaster into a moralising myth, which suited what the Jesuit Henri de Lubac called the 'masochistic' spirit of those times. Victory, some senior ecclesiastics argued, would have led to further moral degradation; defeat afforded a 'heaven-sent' opportunity for regeneration. Victory in 1918 had proved a wasted opportunity; perhaps 1940 could be different? The Catholic writer Claudel regarded defeat as a form of deliverance, confiding in his diary: 'France has been delivered after sixty years from the yoke of the anti-Catholic Radical party (teachers, lawyers, Jews, Freemasons). The new government invokes God ... There is hope of being delivered from universal suffrage and parliamentarism.'
Similar attitudes seem quite prevalent in the West these days, especially among our hordes of jet-setting Jeremiahs, but one wonders how many Japanese citizens felt the same way on this day 63 years ago. How many members of the ruling elite of Imperial Japan felt let down by their masses and determined to teach them a lesson? Certainly a good many ordinary citizens were ready to sacrifice their elites in return for peace.

10 August 2008

Wordcatcher Tales: Kabure, Hamanasu

Daimaru English manor house facing the Imperial Palace, KyotoSometime during my high school years in Kobe, Japan, I heard the term 西洋かぶれ seiyō kabure used to describe Japanese people who were ardent Westernizers. I never learned the real etymology of kabure, which I thought came from the verb kaburu (被る) 'to wear (on one's head), cover one's head', so that seiyō kabure suggested to me people who donned their Western thinking caps rather than their Eastern (東洋 tōyō) ones.

It wasn't until I decided to blog about an extremely seiyō kabure establishment at the top of Mt. Hiei, one of Japan's leading early centers of tōyō kabure (when it was importing Buddhism from China 1200 years ago), that I discovered a more direct source for kabure. It's from kabureru 'to break out in a rash; be (noxiously) influenced by (lacquer, poison ivy, communism, Western goods/values, etc.)'. However, I suspect that kaburu 'to cover one's head' and kabureru 'to be covered (with rash)' might ultimately be related etymologically, even though one can obscure the connection by writing kabureru with an unrelated kanji combination, 気触 lit. 'feeling+touch'. Perhaps the native Japanese root kabu in both forms even relates to the now various kabu that mean 'head' (頭), 'stump, stock' (株), or 'root, turnip' (蕪).

The place that set me off on this etymological goose-chase was the Garden Museum Hiei, which I visited because I wanted a view of Lake Biwa and because I enjoy botanical gardens. It was well worth the serendipitous visit. (I attended 2nd grade at Camp Botanical Garden in Kyoto in 1956-57, the last year before the U.S. Army closed the base and the land reverted to its earlier use, at which point several missionary families ordered Calvert School materials and started up Kyoto Christian Day School, the predecessor of what is now Kyoto International School.)

Wisteria-covered Japanese bridge over Franco-Japanese lily pond, Mt. Hiei, Kyoto

The Garden's Rose Gate faces the Kyoto side of the mountain and the Eizan Ropeway station. The Provence Gate at the other end faces the Lake Biwa side and the parking lot and bus station. I entered through the rose garden, but never made it as far as the herb garden and the Provence Gate. I was especially entranced by the water lily pond with bridges and arbors designed to replicate scenes painted by Claude Monet, one of the most Japonisme-kabure of French Impressionists. It was a Japanese tribute to French Japonisme. Carefully placed throughout the garden are large replicas on easels of famous paintings by Monet and Renoir (above all), but also Manet, Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh, and other masters of Impressionism.

It was nearly noon and I was hot and hungry, so I soon repaired to the Café de Paris for a leisurely lunch, where I ordered a bowl of Renoir's favorite cold turnip (kabu!) soup, a plate of surprisingly familiar "European-style" curry rice, and a half bottle of imported chardonnay. I was the only seiyōjin 'Westerner' in the place, but perhaps not the most seiyō kabure. A nice selection of bread rolls and a spaghetti ratatouille were the only other foods on the menu.

Rosa rugosa (Japanese rose, hamanasu), Museum Garden, Mt. Hiei, KyotoOn my way back out, I dawdled in the rose garden, where I noticed a sign for Rosa rugosa, the Japanese rose with the incongruous name hamanasu (浜茄子) lit. 'seashore eggplant'. Not only was the plant itself awfully far from the nearest seashore, but the kanji for the 'eggplant' part of its name is another case where the kanji has no relation to the native Japanese reading (nasu or nasubi), only to the Chinese (Mandarin) reading qiezi (茄子), which shows up on so many Chinese restaurant menus in 魚香茄子 yuxiang qiezi lit. 'fish-flavor eggplant', usually translated as 'garlic eggplant' (one of my regular favorites).

UPDATE: I queried Matt of No-sword about the likely etymologies of the various kabu-. He confirmed that the various nouns kabu that mean 'head; stump, stock; root, turnip' are generally thought to come from the same etymon, but that the verbs are not likely related.
Ono Susumu says that /kabureru/ is related to /kabi/ as in mould, which kind of makes sense, but I can't find anyone who backs him up. (The Nihongogendaijiten does list a couple of unreliable sources claiming it's from 蚊触, 'mosquito-touch', which is pretty amusing.) 香触 ['fragrance-touch'] is also common.

/kaburu/ is originally from /kagafuru/ -> /kaufuru/ -> /kaburu/ ... but that was Nara-Heian times, and I don't think /kabureru/ is attested pre-Edo, so I suppose there could be a connection ... although, I can't really see how 'come out in a rash' could come out of 'cover one's head'.

09 August 2008

Wordcatcher Tales: Miharashi, Okurina

As soon as I arrived at Kyoto Station, I got maps from the tourist information office, called the Palace Side Hotel to book a room for the night, and found a post office ATM to withdraw cash from my U.S. bank account. Then I headed straight for the top of Hieizan (比叡山), not for the famous Enryakuji (延暦寺) temple complex so much as for the panoramic views and the cooler air.
View of Otsu and Lake Biwa from Mt. Hiei, Kyoto, Japan
To get there I took a bus to the Demachiyanagi (出町柳) Station, where I bought a round-trip (往復 ōfuku lit. 'go-again') combined ticket (for about ¥2000) on the Eizan (叡山) Railway to Hiei Sanchō (比叡山頂 'Hiei Mountaintop'). The first leg to Yase-Hieizanguchi was by one-car train. (Yase 八瀬 'Eight Rapids' is about where the upper eastern fork of the Kamo River, the Takano River, ceases to be navigable.) The next leg was by cable car to Keiburu Hiei, and the final leg was by ropeway to the "summit"—not actually the highest point, but close enough. The Eizan Railway opened in Taishō 14 (1925), the year my father was born.

(I can recall how much older it suddenly seemed to make my father when I first saw Taishō 14 on his Japanese driver's license—he was a man from another era! He also happened to be the first foreign driver picked up for speeding down Shirakawa-dōri by the Sakyō-ku police with their newfangled radar gun in the late 1950s, when we still had an American car (a 1956 Chevy) and Shirakawa-dōri was still unpaved north of Kitashirakawa, where the road east went up through the mountains to Otsu City.)

From the top of the ropeway, you could look back down toward Kyoto, but the view of Lake Biwa was obstructed by the walls of Garden Museum Hiei (about which more later). So I paid the ¥1000 fee and walked along a path through a rose garden that offered beautiful views of Lake Biwa to my right. At the highest point on the path was a lookout point labeled 見晴らし on the guide map. Although I discerned the basic meaning from the kanji ('see-clear'), I wasn't sure how to pronounce the combination. The trailing kana (okurigana) indicated a native Japanese reading, and I had learned from listening to weather reports as a kid the verb 'to be clear, to clear up' (晴れる hareru), usually in the ubiquitous phrase 晴時々曇 hare, tokidoki kumori 'clear, occasionally cloudy'. But I had not encountered the agentive transitive form, harasu, and I wasn't sure if the combination of two verbs together was pronounced miharashi or mibarashi.

According to the New Nelson kanji dictionary, transitive harasu means to 'dispel, clear away (gloom); refresh (oneself)', and my Canon Wordtank electronic dictionary adds to 'chase away the blues' and 'dispel doubts, clear oneself of a charge'. The nominalized verb combination miharashi means 'view' in the sense of 'the viewer's ability to see', as in 'observation platform' or 'lookout point', and not 'view' in the sense of 'that which is seen' (景色 keshiki 'scenery, landscape').

Dengyō Daishi (Saichō) shrine at summit of Mt. Hiei, KyotoI was enjoying the lovely sights from the 見晴らし and the genuine sounds of real uguisu (Japanese bush warblers)—not the recordings they play in the massive urbanity of Kyoto Station—when I caught a glimpse of a Japanese red maple (momiji) and a Buddhist memorial in a sheltered nook off to the left. When I went down to investigate, I found a stele with the name Dengyō Daishi on it. I didn't take the time to decipher the explanatory plaque, so I'm not sure about the exact significance of that spot, which was certainly out of place in a Garden Museum that otherwise celebrated French Impressionism.

Dengyō Daishi (傳教大師) was the posthumous name of Saichō (最澄, 767-822), the monk who brought back Tendai Buddhism from China, founded Enryakuji (still the headquarters of Tendai), and convinced the court to recognize Tendai as Japan's first autonomous Buddhist sect (in 822). He was also the first Japanese monk to be awarded the posthumous title of Daishi 'Great Master' (in 866). The native Japanese word for posthumous title is okurina, clearly a compound etymologically, meaning something like 'bestowal-name' (贈り名), but it's written with a single kanji, 諡, which otherwise seems to occur only in the Sino-Japanese compounds 諡号 shigō 'posthumous name' or 贈諡 zōshi 'posthumous title' (both synonyms of 贈号 zōgō lit. 'bestowal-number/item/title/name').

Dengyō (傳教, now usually written 伝教) means 'transmit-teaching', but 伝 has a lot of different shades of meaning. It occurs in 伝承 denshō 'legend, tradition, folklore', 伝言 dengon 'verbal message', 伝馬 tenma 'post horse', and 伝声器 denseiki 'speaking tube'. But one of its most interesting compounds is 伝法 denbō lit. 'spreading Buddhism', but also 'bullying, ostentatious bravado', perhaps reflecting the behavior over many centuries of too many militant monks from Mt. Hiei.

07 August 2008

Armenian Merchant Information Networks, 1600s-1800s

The latest issue of the Journal of World History (vol. 19, no. 2) leads off with an article that somehow caught my fancy. Whitman College professor Sebouh Aslanian writes on “The Salt in a Merchant’s Letter”: The Culture of Julfan Correspondence in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean (Project MUSE subscription required). Here's a bit of the introduction (omitting footnotes and page numbers).
The crucial role of information flows was particularly important for Armenian merchants from New Julfa, a suburb of the Safavid capital of Isfahan founded in 1605 by Armenian silk merchants forcibly displaced by Shah Abbas I from the town of Old Julfa on the Ottoman-Persian frontier [in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan]. These merchants managed a remarkable achievement by coming to preside, within a short time of their forced displacement, over one of the greatest trade networks of the early modern era. By the eighteenth century, the Armenian merchants of New Julfa had branched out from their small mercantile suburb to form a global trading network stretching from Amsterdam in the west to Canton (China) and Manila (Philippines) on the rim of the Pacific Ocean in the east. Their mercantile settlements in the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, and northwest Europe and Russia spanned several empires, including the three most significant Islamic empires of Eurasia—that is, the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals—as well as several European seaborne empires, including the British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

In the case of Julfan society, information sharing was important not only for merchants for their daily commercial affairs, but also for maintaining the integrity of the Julfan network as a whole. Letter writing connected far away commenda agents to their masters in New Julfa and also unified the trade settlements in the periphery to the nodal center of the entire network in New Julfa....

The sources for this study derive from a remarkable archive of eighteenth-century documents I discovered while doing research at the Public Records Office (PRO) in London. This archive consists of approximately 1,700 Julfan mercantile letters seized in the Indian Ocean in 1748 on board an Armenian-freighted ship called the Santa Catharina. The majority of these letters were carried by Armenian overland couriers across the Mediterranean littoral and Asia Minor to the Persian Gulf port city of Basra, where they were relayed to other merchant-couriers traveling by ship to Bengal with the purpose of being delivered to recipients there and farther east in China. What makes these letters valuable for the present investigation is that their journey was unexpectedly cut short when the ship on which they were traveling was captured as a war time “prize” by a British naval squadron patrolling the waters off the southern coast of India. The letters were confiscated along with the Santa Catharina’s other cargo and shipped to England to be presented as “exhibits” in a high-stakes trial in London. Luckily for us, this event not only ensured their survival, but also transformed them into a kind of Julfan geniza. In addition to relying on this vast trove of documents, I shall also use two other collections of business and family correspondence stored in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia (henceforth ASV) and the All Savior’s Monastery Archive (ASMA) in Julfa/Isfahan. Both collections are valuable because they contain thousands of commercial letters sent from Europe and India, many of which are examined here for the first time....
This is the kind of bottom-up, data-rich spadework that I really respect in historians, and many of the observations give one a vivid sense of what life was like as a farflung member of the Armenian (silk) trade network, such as how long it took to get a letter from Isfahan to Venice (often 6 months or so, if it got there at all). Even some of the footnotes are interesting, although the sources cited in Armenian orthography are completely opaque to me. I'll cite just one example that relates to the language used in the letters.
In general, most correspondents maintained high levels of penmanship, a skill most likely taught to them in a commercial school operating in Julfa in the 1680s. In addition to a solid reputation and competence in the arts of mathematics and commercial accounting, literacy and good penmanship were also attributes merchants sought in a factor. Nonetheless, there are occasional letters that exhibit rather poor levels of penmanship, but, fortunately for the historian, these are rare exceptions. The language of Julfan correspondence is the defunct peculiar dialect of Julfan Armenian that flourished between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries throughout the commercial settlements where Julfans resided, especially in India and the Far East. This dialect is so distinct from other dialects of Armenian and from modern standard Armenian that it was and still is nearly incomprehensible to most Armenians. It was, therefore, an ideal medium for confidential communication in an age when information sharing was regarded as the lifeline of merchant communities and when a merchant could never be certain that his letters would not be intercepted and read by rivals in commerce or politics. Julfan letters, like most writing before the nineteenth century, do not have standard punctuation or spelling and no paragraph breaks except those indicated by the word dardzeal (again). Some letters also had important bills of exchange or notarized powers of attorney enclosed in them.

06 August 2008

Mayor vs. Journalist: Evading the Presumption

NYT reporter Matt Bai has a thumbsucker-with-interviews in this coming Sunday's Times Magazine entitled Is Obama the End of Black Politics? I thought the following passage was the most amusing, and perhaps the most insightful.
I asked [Philadelphia Mayor Michael] Nutter if, during his private conversations with Obama early in the campaign, the subject of race and the historic nature of his candidacy came up. He stared at me for a moment. “Um, I knew he was black,” he said finally. “I’d really kind of picked up on that.”

Later, when I mentioned that it could be hard for a white journalist to understand all of the nuances of race, he looked over at his press secretary, who is black, and interrupted me. “He’s not black?” Nutter deadpanned, motioning back at me. “You guys told me it was a skin condition. I thought I was talking to a brother.” Nutter is known to have a dry sense of humor, but I also had the sense that he was tweaking me in these moments, watching with some amusement as I tried to navigate subjects that white and black Americans rarely discuss together. He seemed to think I was oddly preoccupied with race.

In fact, Nutter seemed puzzled by the very notion that he should be expected to support a candidate just because they both had dark skin. “Look, I never asked anybody to be for me because I was black,” he said. “I asked people to be for me because I thought I was the best candidate when I ran for City Council and when I ran for mayor. I’m proud of the votes I received. I’m proud I received the votes of the majority of the African-American community and the majority of the vote from the white community. But I never asked anybody to give me anything because I was black. I asked people to give me a chance because I thought I was the best.”

For most black Americans, Obama’s candidacy represented a kind of racial milestone, the natural next phase of a 50-year movement. But for Michael Nutter, the reverse was also true: not supporting Obama’s candidacy marked a kind of progress, too. The movement, after all, was about the freedom to choose your own candidate, white or black. In a sense, you could argue that it was Nutter — and not those black politicians who embraced Obama because they so closely identified with his racial experience — who represented the truest embodiment of Obama-ism. Here, perhaps, was a genuine postracial politician, even if that meant being, as John Lewis put it, on the wrong side of history.

I asked Nutter if he found it insulting to have me come barging into his office, demanding to know why he didn’t pick the black guy.

“It’s not insulting,” he answered. “It’s presumptuous. It demonstrates a continuation of this notion that the African-American community, unlike any other, is completely monolithic, that everyone in the African-American community does the same thing in lockstep, in contrast to any other group. I mean, I don’t remember seeing John Kerry on TV and anybody saying to him, ‘I can’t believe you’re not for Hillary Clinton.’ Why?”

The Vatican as UN/NGO in World War Two

From: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 218, 220-221:
As an international institution, the Catholic Church had to negotiate every political context, protecting the rights of Catholics in all belligerent countries through the mechanism of concordats; rendering assistance to a much wider range of humanity; and balancing its diplomatic cum spiritual objectives with the role of moral prophecy. Perhaps no one could have performed the multiple roles of pope to universal satisfaction in such circumstances, and the legacy of Pius XII, who faced these challenges, is still disputed, as was that of Benedict XV during and after the First World War.

Nazi racial exterminism has become so dominant in the historiography of the last two decades that it has eclipsed every other aspect of the war, including attempts to prevent, contain or mitigate it. That downgrades most of the activities that were of paramount concern to all Europe's Churches in the two years before the 'Final Solution' started under cover of a war that had raged since September 1939. One of the chief activities of the papacy was to prevent war at all, an activity that sometimes had the support of Mussolini, as well as the European democracies and the US. This papal diplomatic activity is relatively straightforward to understand, while in its sheer unassuming scale the relief and rescue work is difficult to get a purchase on despite the abundance of documentation....

The pope, informed of the invasion of Poland, retreated to his chapel to pray. The war immediately raised urgent humanitarian problems.... He established the Pontifical Relief Commission, whose remit was to provide war refugees with food, clothing and shelter. To take one example, the US Catholic dioceses collected US$750,000 which the bishop of Detroit sent to the pope for distribution among Poles in Poland and scattered throughout Europe. He also revived the Vatican Information Bureau, its aim being to reunite people separated by warfare, including prisoners of war – about whom the families everywhere were desperately anxious. The Bureau received a thousand items of correspondence per day, requiring a staff of six hundred to process it and conduct the ensuing inquiries. Its card index contains the names of over two million prisoners of war whom it helped locate and support. Like the parallel work of the International Red Cross, such labour involved a certain suspension of open moral judgement if it was to be at all effective. Vatican Radio also broadcast nearly thirty thousand messages a month in the search for missing persons.

Vatican documents are quietly eloquent on the papacy's variegated interventions on behalf of so many victims of the Second World War, whether the despatch of food to Greeks starving because the Italians had made off with all the available food and the British were blocking ships bringing grain; exchanges of sick or wounded British prisoners in Italian captivity in North Africa; or, when the war had reached the Pacific theatre, having nuncio Morella in Tokyo organise medical supplies from Hong Kong for British prisoners of the Japanese. The Greek famine, in which one hundred thousand people starved to death, is instructive. The Germans handed over control of Greece to the Italians in the summer of 1941. Bulgaria had occupied some of the main grain-producing areas, while the Italians had commandeered much of the food stored. The 1941 harvest was poor. The British blockaded Greece, stopping grain shipments from Australia and preventing the arrival of 320,000 tons of grain that the Greeks had bought. Into this extremely complicated set of circumstances, where enemy nations were passing the buck on to their opponents while Greeks died, came monsignor Roncalli, the apostolic delegate to Greece and Turkey who was based in Istanbul. He visited senior German commanders, celebrating a mass for wounded German troops and visiting British POWs, so as to win the confidence of his interlocutors. Simultaneously he urged the Holy See to intervene with the US and British to bring about a temporary lift of the blockade. This persuaded the Germans to allow food to go to Greece via neutral Turkey; they also promised that any future food shipments would go exclusively to the civilian population. The British finally allowed a one-off shipment of eight thousand tons of wheat and flour. Meanwhile, in Athens, Roncalli organised soup kitchens that served twelve thousand meals a day, with supplies purchased by the Holy See in Hungary. Because of these measures fewer people died. It was complicated, undramatic work, in which each side blamed the other for the plight of the Greeks, and it resulted in an agreement between the belligerent powers to put in place mechanisms to ensure that the famine was not repeated.
It seems to me that today's UN and NGOs, whether secular or religious, are caught in the same moral bind as the Vatican and the Red Cross during World War Two, sanctioning moral ambiguity and complicity in return for whatever good they think they can salvage from absolutely horrific local circumstances over which they have little or no control. After a while, absolutely everything becomes subject to terms of trade.

04 August 2008

Baciu's Early Exile Network

From Mira, by Ştefan Baciu (Honolulu: Editura Mele, 1979 [also București: Editura Albatros, 1998], p. iii (my translation):
I dedicate this "Double Autobiography" to our Brazilian friends, departed but always present:and to those in Hispanic America, just as present:and to the memory of our friends:
    Grigore Cugler/“Apunake” (d. in Lima)
    Mircea Popescu (d. in Rome)
    Horia Tănăsescu (d. in San Francisco)
    Ion Oană-Potecaşu (d. in São Paulo)
    N. I. Herescu (d. in Zurich)
    Alexandru Busuioceanu (d. in Madrid)
    Aron Cotruş (d. in California)
It is perhaps not too surprising that the Romanian exiles are not well represented in Wikipedia. Baciu himself has a longer biography in Spanish Wikipedia than in either Romanian or English. Exiles tend to fall between the cracks. Who feels responsible for documenting their lives, people in their countries of exile or the ones they left behind? In the case of literary exiles, it depends who reads their work. I believe that Baciu devoted half of his own separate volume of memoirs (Praful de pe toba) to sketches of his old mentors and colleagues precisely in order to ensure that they would not be entirely forgotten.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who just passed away, spent time in both domestic internal and foreign exile. The English translations of his early classics like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle, Cancer Ward, and August 1914 had a major influence on my understanding of what the Soviet system was all about, an understanding that was reinforced and enriched by my year in Romania in 1983-84. (I did not read The Gulag Archipelago, but have blogged passages of several books about Gulags more recently.) Solzhenitsyn is not regarded quite the same way in his country of exile as in his country of origin, and his obsessions also evolved differently at home and abroad. He lived more than two lives, perhaps even as many as nine.

03 August 2008

South Africa at Its Rebirth, 1994

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 438-440:
It took two years of preliminary skirmishing before multi-party negotiations on the future of South Africa started and another two years of tortuous negotiations before agreement was reached on a new interim constitution, paving the way for national elections. There were many times along the way when it seemed that the whole exercise was doomed. As rival groups competed for ascendancy, South Africa was engulfed in prolonged bouts of violence. A mini civil war broke out between Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha party, a Zulu nationalist movement, and Mandela's ANC, erupting first in the KwaZulu homeland and Natal, then spreading to black townships on the Witwatersrand, South Africa's industrial heartland. Elements of the security forces still wedded to the idea of 'total strategy' aided and abetted Inkatha, determined to thwart any prospect of the ANC coming to power. Massacres by one side or the other became commonplace. All sides used death squads. Armed groups belonging to the Azanian People's Liberation Army, an Africanist faction opposed to negotiations, singled out white civilian targets for attack. White right-wing paramilitary organisations, seeking an Afrikaner volkstaat, embarked on their own vigilante action and threatened to wreck the whole negotiation process.

Time and again Mandela and de Klerk clashed over who was to blame for the violence. In public and private their exchanges became increasingly acrimonious. Even on the occasion when the two men were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1993, the friction was still evident. In choosing them as 'Men of the Year' for 1993, Time magazine noted that 'the mutual bitterness and resentments between de Klerk and Mandela are palpable', and it asked rhetorically, 'How could these two have agreed on anything – lunch, for instance, much less the remaking of a nation?' At a political level, however, Mandela recognised how important de Klerk was to the whole settlement. 'My worst nightmare is that I wake up and de Klerk isn't there,' Mandela told guests at a private dinner party. 'I need him. Whether I like him or not is irrelevant. I need him.'

As the sun rose over the rolling green hills of Natal on 26 April 1994, Nelson Mandela walked up the steps of the Ohlange High School in Inanda near Durban to cast his vote. He emerged from the polling station, his face wreathed in smiles, and spoke of a bright future. 'This is for all South Africans an unforgettable occasion; he said. 'We are moving from an era of resistance, division, oppression, turmoil and conflict and starting a new era of hope, reconciliation and nation-building.'

In their millions, South Africans made their way to the polls, black and white citizens alike sharing a common determination to make the election a success. Many walked miles to reach a polling station. Some arrived on crutches and some in wheelchairs; some dressed in their Sunday-best clothes and some wore outfits they had made specially for the occasion. Long queues formed outside polling stations, circling around city blocks and winding back along dirt roads and across fields. Many arriving in the early morning were still waiting to vote late in the afternoon, tired and hungry; some in rural areas had to vote by candlelight. Yet, hour after hour, they remained patient. And when they returned home, having voted, it was with a profound sense of fulfilment, not just from participating in the election of a new government, but from exercising a right which had been denied to most South Africans for so long. Time and again, voters leaving polling stations spoke of how their dignity had been restored.

On each of the four polling days, South Africa was more peaceful than it had been for many years. The fever of violence that had affiicted the country for more than a decade abated. Even the killing fields of KwaZulu-Natal, where political warfare had caused more than 10,000 deaths, fell silent. On the Witwatersrand, members of rival factions found themselves joining the same queues in townships, swapping complaints about the long delays.

For many whites the experience of the election was as moving as it was for blacks. Standing side by side with blacks, waiting to vote, they felt a sense of their own liberation. The feelings of relief that the curse of apartheid had finally been lifted were as strong among the white community which had imposed it as among the blacks who suffered under it. The importance of the occasion was all the greater since for so many years it had seemed that a peaceful end to the apartheid system was beyond reach and that a more likely outcome would be revolutionary war.

The victory of the ANC at the polls in 1994 was as much a personal tribute to Mandela as it was to the movement he led. His ordeal of imprisonment had never been forgotten by the people for whom he spoke and was duly acknowledged when the time came for them to vote. Time and again it was said, 'He went to prison for us.' For blacks the election was, above all, about liberation – a celebration of their freedom from white rule – and it was to Mandela 's leadership that many attributed that liberation.

The transfer of power was accomplished in an atmosphere of much goodwill. Closing the book on three centuries of white rule, de Klerk chose words of encouragement fitting for such a historic moment. 'Mr Mandela has walked a long road and now stands at the top of a hill. A man of destiny knows that beyond this hill lies another and another. The journey is never complete. As he contemplates the next hill, I hold out my hand to Mr Mandela in friendship and cooperation.'

The day of Mandela's inauguration as president, 19 May 1994, was marked by the greatest celebrations ever seen in South Africa. From all over the world, visiting dignitaries – heads of state, royalty and government leaders representing some 170 countries – gathered in Pretoria to mark South Africa's rite of passage. Taking the oath of office, Mandela promised South Africans a new covenant: 'We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.'
Mandela seems to be all too rare among political leaders in understanding that even those on the right side of history do well to compromise in order to show respect for and facilitate reconciliation with their defeated foes. And he seems equally rare among heads of state—in many parts of the world, but especially in Africa—in having been willing to step down when his term of office expired.

01 August 2008

The Need for More Black Narratives

In the latest American Scholar, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society (I am not a member), Charles Johnson, the author of The Middle Passage, talks about the need for more diversity in narratives of what it means to be black in America.
When compared with black lives at the dawn of the 21st century, and 40 years after the watershed events of the Civil Rights Movement, many of Du Bois’ remarks now sound ironic, for all the impossible things he spoke of in 1926 are realities today. We are “full-fledged Americans, with the rights of American citizens.” We do have “plenty of good hard work” and live in a society where “men create, where they realize themselves and where they enjoy life.” Even more ironic is the fact that some of our famous rappers and athletes who like “living large,” as they say, seem obsessed with what Du Bois derisively called “the tawdry and flamboyant” (they call it “bling”). Furthermore, some of us do use the freedom paid for with the blood of our ancestors to pursue conspicuous consumption in the form of “powerful motor cars,” “elaborate estates,” “striking clothes,” and “the richest dinners.”

To put this another way, we can say that 40 years after the epic battles for specific civil rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, after two monumental and historic legislative triumphs—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—and after three decades of affirmative action that led to the creation of a true black middle class (and not the false one E. Franklin Frazier described in his classic 1957 study, Black Bourgeoisie), a people oppressed for so long have finally become, as writer Reginald McKnight once put it, “as polymorphous as the dance of Shiva.” Black Americans have been CEOs at AOL Time Warner, American Express, and Merrill Lynch; we have served as secretary of state and White House national security adviser. Well over 10,000 black Americans have been elected to offices around the country, and at this moment Senator Barack Obama holds us in suspense with the possibility that he may be selected as the Democratic Party’s first biracial, black American candidate for president. We have been mayors, police chiefs, best-selling authors, MacArthur fellows, Nobel laureates, Ivy League professors, billionaires, scientists, stockbrokers, engineers, theoretical physicists, toy makers, inventors, astronauts, chess grandmasters, dot-com millionaires, actors, Hollywood film directors, and talk show hosts (the most prominent among them being Oprah Winfrey, who recently signed a deal to acquire her own network); we are Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists (as I am). And we are not culturally homogeneous. When I last looked, West Indians constituted 48 percent of the “black” population in Miami. In America’s major cities, 15 percent of the black American population is foreign born—Haitian, Jamaican, Senegalese, Nigerian, Cape Verdean, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somalian—a rich tapestry of brown-skinned people as culturally complex in their differences, backgrounds, and outlooks as those people lumped together under the all too convenient labels of “Asian” or “European.” Many of them are doing better—in school and business—than native-born black Americans. I think often of something said by Mary Andom, an Eritrean student at Western Washington University, and quoted in an article published in 2003 in The Seattle Times: “I don’t know about ‘chitlings’ or ‘grits.’ I don’t listen to soul music artists such as Marvin Gaye or Aretha Franklin.... I grew up eating injera and listening to Tigrinya music.... After school, I cook the traditional coffee, called boun, by hand for my mother. It is a tradition shared amongst mother and daughter.”

No matter which angle we use to view black people in America today, we find them to be a complex and multifaceted people who defy easy categorization. We challenge, culturally and politically, an old group narrative that fails at the beginning of this new century to capture even a fraction of our rich diversity and heterogeneity.
via A&L Daily