27 March 2023

Slavonic Substrate in Eastern Europe

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 367-370). Lume Books. Kindle Edition.

Population pressure seems to have been the primary cause of the Slav’s expansion; but, unlike most other barbarian groups who moved in large, warlike, parties, the Slavs seem to have extended their areas of settlement gradually, seeping into more and more territory, moving in little groups along the waterways of Eastern Europe, building small, unfortified villages on river banks, and, when need arose, moving into the forests, slashing, burning and growing grain in the resultant clearings. The idea that the Slavs were peaceful, however, is mythical: they wielded a variety of weapons and were adept at ambush and the use of poisoned arrows. But they mingled with, as well as fought, other peoples, and were sometimes dominated by them. They constituted a significant portion of the subject population of Atilla [sic] the Hun, for example, as they did of the Bulgars.

The Bulgars were Turkic-speaking pastoralists who crossed the lower Danube into Byzantine territory at the end of the fifth century. By the middle of the sixth they had become a menace to Byzantine order in the Balkans and more than once threatened Byzantium itself. To a Byzantine chronicler it seemed that ‘these barbarians, having once tasted the wealth of the Romans, never forgot the road that led to it’.

The Bulgars were soon displaced as the major threat by a people called Avars, who had been driven out of Central Asia to the northern Caucasus. In 557 they proposed an alliance with Byzantium. By 570 they dominated central Europe. The fact that a particular tribal grouping occupied an area, of course, does not imply that its former inhabitants had disappeared. In fact the Avars, like the Bulgars, had, as one scholar expresses it, turned from herding animals to herding men. In doing so they had to ensure that their slaves had sufficient to live on. Such may have been the purpose of the Avars in overrunning Greece together with the Slavs in the 580s. At least, many Slavs remained after the Avars withdrew. It should be noted that the dominant group in any tribal mingling did not necessarily impose its language and customs on those they ruled. It was often the conqueror that was absorbed linguistically by the conquered. The language of the Bulgars, for example, became primarily Slavonic rather than Turkic; and the Slavs in Greece adapted themselves not only to mountains and to an economy dominated by the olive and the vine, but to the Greek language and the Christian religion. On the other hand Greek nationalists who to this day insist that the modern Greeks are the genetic descendents of the ancient Greeks, uncontaminated by Slav blood, conveniently overlook the predominance of Slavonic place names in parts of the Pelepponese [sic].

The spurious association of language, territory and genetic inheritance became a particular curse of the region in the nineteenth century (see Chapter 5), and a study of the early mediaeval period reveals many modern nationalist claims to be romantic invention and embroidery. The nationalities of the modern age were to emerge out of a swirl of dialects and cultures. The ancient Greeks and Romans, like the Thracians and Dacians, left their marks. They are to be found, along with the Illyrian legacy, in modern Albanian.

At the same time Romanian (for all the work of ‘purification’ done on it in the nineteenth century) reveals strong traces of Illyrian, Bulgar, and Slavonic as well as Latin. And Dacians, Romans, Gepids, Goths, Bulgars, and Slavs, among others, contributed to the genetic inheritance of the Romanians, as they did in varying proportions to those of other modern nations of the Balkans. At the same time languages, like peoples, changed and even disappeared. The Russian Primary Chronicle, composed centuries later, was essentially correct in stating that Slavonic was a single language, and that Slavonic and Russian were the same; and this was certainly no less true in the time of the great migrations than it was around 1100 when the Chronicle was composed. In the course of time, however, contacts with different peoples and adaptations to different ways of life in different geographical environments promoted linguistic changes. The West Slavs, including proto-Czechs and proto-Poles, were gradually to draw apart from the East Slavs; and the south Slavs from the others. The arrival in the later ninth century of the Hungarians, who spoke a quite different language, was to accelerate the process because they interposed themselves as a linguistic barrier between the South Slavs and the rest. However, even before this the Slavs did not constitute a homogenous mass geographically. Other linguistic groups, Lithuanians, Prussians and proto-Romanians, constituted barriers of sorts as did the topography of the region: the mountains, the marsh-lands and the forests.

Later still, differentiations were to occur within each major grouping of Slavs so that Ukrainian, under Polish and Romanian influences, drew apart from Russian, and Serbian from Slovene. At the same time the Slavs in Greece were not the only ones to be assimilated, and no doubt distinctive Slavonic dialects, if not languages, disappeared along with them. It was the extinction in the mid-eighteenth century of Polabian, which had been spoken in an area west of the River Elbe in Germany, and the decline of the Sorbian-speaking communities on the banks of the River Spree that was to move Herder so deeply. But for all the differences between them the Slavonic languages which survived remained closely related. Even today Russians do not find great difficulty in understanding Bulgarians or Slovaks, and there are Macedonians and Croats who will admit that speaking to each other is akin to using a different dialect rather than a different language. In the seventh century, as indeed in the ninth, we may be certain that all Slavs could understand each other.

26 March 2023

Losing Your First Language: Cantonese

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 164-165:

Nellie remembers that she really didn't want to come here from Hong Kong when she was 6 years old, and she remembers saying "I don't want to go there; I don't know how to speak the language" (October 6th, 1995, p. 1). At first, she was really quiet in class, and she'd spend time on her own during recess, and eat lunch alone, because she was too afraid to talk to anybody, but she remembers also feeling confident during math class because her math skills were so far advanced. After her first year (Grade 2), which she spent in an ESL class with six other students from different grades and different first languages, she began to feel more confident in English, but she sometimes slipped in Cantonese words when she got excited, and then she became fluent, and then she began using English at home. Her parents even commented to her that "it's good that you learned English, but when you're home, we'd like you to speak Cantonese" (October 6th, 1995, p. 2). But, there was no one in her school or her neighborhood who spoke Cantonese, and she was able to speak to her siblings and her parents in English without being punished, and so that is what she did. From that time forward, she remembers being quiet whenever she was immersed in a Cantonese-language environment.

The pampered baby in her family, Nellie found that language loss did not really affect her relationships with her father or sister, but it did make her relationships with her mother and her brother more distant. As her brother was never able to become comfortable in English, he chose not to respect her language abilities, refusing even to slow his speaking pace, or adjust his vocabulary, in Cantonese. Nellie speaks of him with coldness. Her mother now admits that she really disliked Nellie when Nellie was growing up because her mother was unable to understand her.

As a teenager and young adult, Nellie had a long-term relationship with a Caucasian boyfriend. Her parents, particularly her mother, were extremely upset by the relationship, even moving to Toronto in the hope that she would forget about him. Their plan backfired; Nellie instead refused to leave Vancouver, and moved out on her own. Over time, and with the evolution of her relationship, she decided to move to Toronto, but, by the time she announced her decision to her parents, they had already made arrangements to move back to Vancouver. Nellie was also frustrated by Chinese cultural standards. Whereas she was an above-­average student who didn't drink, smoke, or do drugs, who never got into trouble, who didn't date until she was 16, and who took on responsibility in school, she didn't meet the criteria for a "good" Chinese girl. Only over time, when Nellie was in her mid-20s, and with Canadianization did her parents come to appreciate her in Canadian terms.

25 March 2023

Losing Your First Language: Korean

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 162-163:

Born in Korea, Hana Kim came with her parents on a temporary overseas assignment to Canada when she was 4 years old. Because they were planning to return to Korea in 3 years, her parents did not expect the children to speak Korean, but instead let them "do what came naturally" (June 20th, 1995, p. 1), going to English playschool, watching TV, and speaking English at home. At the end of 3 years when her parents had decided to immigrate, Hana Kim was still able to speak Korean, but she began losing it when she was in Grade 2. By the time she was 11 years old and they returned to Korea for a visit, she was almost unable to communicate. She returned again when she was 17 years old, and was able to understand some basic things, but was unable to say what she wanted to say. Oddly enough, Hana Kim returned to Korea once again when she was in her late 20s, and, at that time, many of her relatives commented that her Korean had improved. She mused that,

"I think as I've gotten older—I think maybe I'm concentrating more, and I understand how the language works more, because you're more mature, and I think that's allowing me to speak it a bit better." (June 20th, 1995, p. 2)

Yet, accustomed to being a very articulate speaker (Hana Kim works as a television broadcaster and anchorwoman), she felt frustrated by her inability to communicate her ideas and comments. She was also frustrated that people in Korea would "see that you've got a Korean face" and then "they kind of expect you to be able to speak Korean too. If you're White it doesn't matter; they don't have those expectations, you know" (June 30th, 1995, p. 7).

Even were she to still speak Korean, Hana Kim would likely have become a broadcaster. As a child in Korea, she used to mimic the broadcasters on the radio from the time she began to talk. On the other hand, she also feels that growing up speaking English to parents who couldn't speak the language also contributed to her choice of profession because she had to learn to speak slowly, deliberately, and carefully, and to constantly evaluate the difficulty of her vocabulary. She therefore didn't have to change her speech habits in order to train as a news reporter.

24 March 2023

Smear Campaign vs. Vlad the Impaler

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 308-310:

The nickname Dracul (‘the Dragon’) probably derives from his father’s membership of the Hungarian chivalric Order of the Dragon, although in Romanian it takes on the meaning of a devil, and Vlad was certainly to earn the name with his draconian behaviour. A member of the ruling house of Basarab, he had, like Skanderbeg, been a hostage of the Turks, then turned against them, serving with John Hunyadi, and he was related by blood to King Matthias. Becoming Hospodar (lord) of Wallachia in 1448, he was promptly ousted by a rival, but in 1456 he regained power and this time took better care to keep it.

He built up a personal army of retainers, executed a number of hostile boiars [nobles] and took harsh measures against anyone else who opposed his will. He also tried to promote commerce, established Bucharest as the country’s capital, and in 1459 responded positively to Pius II’s call for a Crusade against the Turks. He withheld the Sultan’s tribute, killed Ottoman emissaries sent to deal with him, and then, in the winter of 1461–2, carried out a devastating assault into Ottoman territory. In a night attack, he routed an Ottoman force that had driven him back across the Danube – an occasion marked by a great slaughter of Turks.

At this point Vlad’s luck began to change. The Turks supported a bid by his half-brother Radu the Handsome to replace him and the movement gained increasing support within Wallachia, partly because of party interests, not least because it promised peace. Then, late in 1462, when the reluctant crusader King Matthias at last reached the ‘Saxon’ city of Brasov in Transylvania at the head of his troops, Vlad went to meet him, expecting, as did the Pope himself, that they would launch a joint operation against the Turks. Instead, Matthias arrested Vlad, took him back to Buda and kept him imprisoned there for thirteen years.

Vlad’s diminishing support in Wallachia no doubt prompted Matthias to have second thoughts about the crusading action he had promised the Pope, though there was another consideration: in an attempt to enrich Wallachia, Vlad had tried to regain territories that had been lost and wrest control of the profitable oriental trade away from the ‘Saxon’ cities of Transylvania (which supported pretenders to his throne) and even attacked them. A new Turkish-backed regime in Wallachia promised to restore the old pattern of trade and, for his part, Matthias was anxious to reassure them, for Transylvania, and the prosperous Saxon cities in particular, constituted an important source of income to the Hungarian treasury. However, he now had to justify his actions to the Pope. This he did so by mounting a highly effective campaign of disinformation against Vlad, incidentally drawing our attention to a facet of humanist activity that is sometimes overlooked: the manufacture of propaganda. In fact the Dracula legend was largely the creation of humanist officials at Matthias’s court.

The motive was both strong and simple: Pope Pius had to be convinced that, so far from being a doughty Crusader, Vlad was an oppressor, a murderer, a sadist – a disgrace to the Christian cause, from whom he should at all costs distance himself. To this end Janos Vitez, who was to become Primate as well as Chancellor of Hungary, Janus Pannonius, later Bishop of Pecs, and other literary talents at the court of Matthias were set to work. They used the complaints made by the Saxon merchants and stories put about by Vlad’s enemies in Wallachia in their apparently successful attempts to convince Pius; and these stories were essentially true. Vlad had undoubtedly had many people impaled (it was a commonplace form of execution in the region); he had fired many villages (as part of a scorched earth policy in the war against the Turks) and put many Ottoman subjects to death (though Matthias’s own father had once slaughtered a thousand Turkish prisoners).

However, by carefully ignoring the reasons for his actions, and by inventing new tales (for example about his allegedly favourite pastime in prison: slowly picking off the limbs of live insects) they were able to create the impression that Vlad was a traitor, a capricious despot, a sadist and a psychopath. A Latin poem by Pannonius picturing Vlad as a tyrant gained wide currency, and in 1463, as part of a wider propaganda effort, the printing, in German, of the ‘Story of Prince Dracula’ was arranged. It proved highly popular and was subsequently republished many times with embellishments and in several languages. Ultimately it was to provide Bram Stoker with the inspiration to invent a modern, fictional, Dracula. Opinion manipulators of our own times would have had little new to teach a Renaissance humanist.

23 March 2023

Losing Your First Language: Vietnamese

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 159-160:

Kuong immigrated to Canada from Vietnam when he was 3 or 4 years old, and first lived near Windsor, Ontario because his family's sponsor lived in a small town there. He attended school there for Grades 1, 2, and 3, and, because he was instructed in both French and English, believed the two languages were just different dialects until he moved out to British Columbia in Grade 4. He remembers absolutely nothing of his primary school classrooms, although he can remember the walk to school, and the fear that he felt when he heard little children screaming in the principal's office. He thought maybe he didn't remember the classrooms because he never understood anything during his primary schooling; his first recollections of instruction are from Grade 4 when he was finally able to understand some of the things the teacher said.

Kuong has an older sibling attending college who is fluent in both Vietnamese and English, and whom he envies, and an older sibling attending a School for the Deaf who signs and lip-reads only in English. His younger brother is in jail; apparently there was some confusion about his date of birth when the family immigrated, so the Canadian authorities believe his 16-year-old brother to be an adult, and have imprisoned him accordingly.

Kuong's parents don't speak very much English. Because Kuong got mixed up with drugs and crime when he was still in elementary school, he has been in and out of group homes. Because he has therefore been predominantly in English-speaking environments, he doesn't speak Vietnamese, yet he also knows that he has serious difficulties in reading, writing, and expressing himself in English. Kuong feels that he will never be gainfully employed in Canada. He doesn't have the grammatical skill necessary for white-collar work, and he doesn't have the physical strength (because of heroin addiction) for blue-collar work.

His parents have offered to buy him a fishing boat if he finishes Grade 10 (he was 18 years old at the time of the interviews in 1995), but he doesn't speak enough Vietnamese to communicate with other fishermen. He thinks he'll probably only live another 10 years because of his lifestyle and because of how he earns a living; however, he reasons that, if he limited himself to legal employment, he wouldn't even be able to survive for 10 years.

22 March 2023

Losing Your First Language: Portuguese

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 164-165:

After immigrating to Toronto from Portugal at the age of 1 or 2, Michael didn't learn to speak English until he began Grade 1. When he started school, it became obvious to his teacher that Michael couldn't speak English very well, and so she encouraged his parents to speak to him in that language at home. They tried, but by the time Michael was in Grade 3 and able to function well in school, they reverted to Portuguese in the home. The pattern was well-established however, and Michael continued to reply to them in English.

Apart from his language difficulties, Michael doesn't recall much of his early years of school except that he was in trouble a lot. He "spent a lot of time in the corner" (November 17th, 1995, p. 1), which he attributes to "language issues," and to the fact that he didn't get a lot of support at school. Later, his language issues were multiplied when, during puberty, he simultaneously returned to Portugal for a visit, and also began having speech difficulty when his voice started changing. According to his speech therapist, he began using his false vocal chords; he began feeling very self-conscious using the English language. When he visited Portugal during the summer vacation, he began to feel more comfortable around the Portuguese language, and, at the same time, he stopped using his false vocal chords. It is a chicken-and-egg question whether he feels more comfortable with the sounds and rhythm of Portuguese than with English because his language difficulty was solved in Portugal, or if his language difficulty was solved in Portugal because he felt more comfortable with the language. Either way, it is a moot point; he can no longer speak the language, even having difficulty in retrieving single words.

21 March 2023

Losing Your First Language: Polish

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 160-161:

Alex is a borderlander who is also the son of borderlanders. His mother was born to Russian immigrants in Chicago, but moved to Russia when her parents returned there after the Revolution. She moved into a border town that had once been the southwest part of Poland, just north of the Ukraine, but which had become part of White Russia. Living in such a linguistically diverse region, Alex's parents spoke Polish and White Russian (a dialect) and standard Russian, depending on the situation. When Alex was born, they adopted Polish as the home language. They moved to a vibrant Polish-speaking community in the United States when Alex was 3 years and 3 months old. They later moved to northern Canada where several of their relatives lived, and where they were able to communicate in Ukrainian, another language spoken by both of his parents.

Alex remembers beginning school, and he remembers the day when his Polish first name was changed to Alex so that his teachers could more easily pronounce it. Like Kuong, he has no recollection of Grade 1 and 2, though he has clear memories of Grade 3 and following (after he could speak English) and of playschool and kindergarten (when he played and had fun in Polish). While Alex was growing up, his parents relied on him to translate English into Polish for them; his father worked in a foundry and did not require English, while his mother stayed home. When I met him, Alex could speak only a little, broken, Polish, and could follow a very basic conversation in Polish. He remembers being much more fluent, and he feels like he is losing Polish bit-by-bit, day-by-day.

20 March 2023

Losing Your First Language: German

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 158-159:

Alexandra asserted many times that she was unaffected by the loss of the German language which she had spoken until she was about 9 or 10, that in fact, the loss of German had been extremely beneficial to her.* She insisted that the only loss she felt was the loss of opportunity to speak a second language. She told me these things so many times, and so force­fully, that I stopped believing her.

Born on the prairies, Alexandra was the youngest of six children in a German-speaking household. Her mother was her father's second wife; her three oldest siblings were half-brothers. When Alexandra was 10 years old, her own mother died and her father couldn't manage both his family and his farm. Her three oldest brothers, aged 16, 18, and 20, moved out on their own, while the three youngest children became wards of the state and were placed in foster care with families who did not speak or understand German. When her family split up, Alexandra did not maintain contact with her father because she felt betrayed.

Instead, she considered the family that she lived with and grew up with to be her family, and she never even discussed her former family with her foster family. Although she had some desire to maintain contact with her siblings, because she felt no need to see them, and because her foster parents would have found it difficult to accommodate her desire to see her former siblings, she seldom had any contact with them.

She remembers speaking German at her brother's wedding 4 months after her family broke up, but that is the last recollection she has of being in a German-speaking environment. At this time she doesn't remember any German words at all; in fact, she says she can't even count to 10 in German.

*[Author's note:] I have come to be very suspicious of such claims, which are often used to contradict research directed at heritage language maintenance. Through this project, after close questioning of subjects who initially said similar things, I have come to realize that they do not mean they are glad to have lost the first language, but rather that, if they had to be monolingual, then they are glad to be monolingual in English rather than in some other language.

19 March 2023

Losing Your First Language: Ukrainian

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 154-155:

Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thinketh it accordant to resoun
To telle you al the condicioun
Of eech of hem, so as it seemed me,
And whiche they were, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne:
(Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue, lines 36-41)

Nadia was the first person to volunteer for this research project, completing her interviews before the call for subjects was published. A registered nurse, Nadia came to my home to collect urine samples when my husband and I purchased our life insurance. We talked a little bit about our respective professions, and, when I explained the subject of my research, Nadia became excited and said that she would love to parti­cipate, because her first language was Ukrainian. Nadia was, in essence, a pilot study. With her, I discussed not only the subject of language loss, but also the best ways to both ask questions and aid people in their struggles with narrating large sections of their lives.

Nadia was born in a small town in Manitoba into a unique linguistic situation, one which left her alone and often lonely. She and her family were Ukrainian-speaking Catholics in a town that was predominantly German and Mennonite. She therefore had to travel outside the town to go to church, and was isolated from many activities. She remembers some German teaching in her school, even though the linguistic norm was English. Nadia also remembers having several reserve First Nations' schoolmates who spoke English as a second language, but she didn't notice their cultural difference when she was very young, and they had largely dropped out of school by the time she was in high school.

Most of Nadia's memories of speaking Ukrainian in childhood revolve around food and ceremonies. This was understandable, given that holidays and festivals were occasions for her family to travel and to visit with other members of their family and their church. As she also explained, "I jumped around and started talking about my culture and stuff. I see many languages associated to a culture, and so, also, when I did family things, that's where Ukrainian was" (June 13th, 1995, p. 30). At the time of our interviews, Nadia was enrolled in Ukrainian lessons through her church, hoping to recapture enough of the language to participate in family conversations, and to surprise her parents on her next visit home.

Ukrainians in Canada were interned as enemy aliens (from Austria-Hungary) and put to hard labor during World War I.

17 March 2023

Early Ottoman Rule in the Balkans

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 302-305:

There had been a good deal of peaceful interchange as well as fighting between Byzantium and the Ottomans in the decades preceding 1453; and not a little intermarriage. Mehmet’s own ancestors included Byzantine Christians. Besides he entertained considerable respect for some aspects of the Byzantine tradition; he was invited to think of himself as ‘Emperor of the Romans’, like the Byzantine Emperors of old, and came to believe that he could unite all Christendom under his rule. More immediately he used certain Byzantine institutions as models for the system he set up to run his Empire. Thus the Byzantine fief seems to have been the inspiration of the sipahi system; Byzantine offices, taxes and even ceremonials became bases for Ottoman administrative and court practices, and certain posts, particularly those involving foreign affairs, became almost a monopoly of Greeks. This is not to suggest, however, that much about the new regime was not alien and burdensome.

The Ottoman state was run by a system of slavery, even though the Sultan’s slaves constituted an administrative and military elite. Furthermore, the Turks took an irregular levy of children (devshirme) from their subject Christian population and made Muslims of them, even though they also trained them for their service and set them on ladders of opportunity which enabled them to reach the highest offices of state. Furthermore, Christians were made to feel their inferiority. They were forbidden to wear green or to paint their houses in bright colours, forbidden to ride horseback in the presence of Muslims, and restricted in the number and the height of their churches. On the other hand there was freedom of worship; non-Muslims were not obliged to do military service; and they were largely subject to their own justice within their own religious millets, of which by far the largest was the Orthodox, administered by the Patriarchate of Constantinople whose latest incumbent was invested in office by the Sultan himself. The Great Church was largely in captivity, but it retained most of its autonomy. The monasteries of Mount Athos were not disturbed, and the Turks did not distract the monk Gabriel of Rila from his life’s work, a vast compilation of the sayings of St John Chrysostomos.

The Ottoman Turks also breathed new life into decrepit Byzantine cities and above all into Constantinople which they called Istanbul. Christians, Muslims, Armenians and Jews were brought from all over the Empire and settled there. Hence the population which had shrunk to about 10,000 in the immediate aftermath of its fall increased by as much as tenfold within thirty years. Most came voluntarily recognising opportunity or responding to concessions, though some were forcibly resettled; and huge building and rebuilding projects were soon under way. Water supplies, sewage disposal, street-paving and street furniture were soon renewed or supplied for the first time; ruined structures were rebuilt, others restored and new palaces, fountains, public baths and hospitals erected. Also a great bazaar – for the Ottomans had long recognized the importance of commerce.

In the Balkan countryside Ottoman domination replaced uncertainty and periodic anarchy with an orderly system that did not at first always unduly disturb existing social relationships. Local lords who submitted to the sultan were generally left in possession of their estates in fief provided they served the Ottomans as loyal vassals. They were encouraged to convert to Islam and embrace Ottoman culture, of course, but pressures to do so tended to be applied gradually over a period of two or three generations, by which time many had gravitated naturally to the ways of the new elite. Lower down the scale peasants could gain privileges such as certain tax exemptions by serving as military auxiliaries or local police; most monasteries that had not earned the Sultan’s displeasure continued in the possession of most of their estates; and the populations of some regions, notably the heretical Bogomils of Bosnia, positively welcomed the Turks.

In two other respects the Ottoman system can be regarded as superior to some others in the Europe of the time. It was unequivocal about the ultimate ownership of property belonging to the state, eliminating powerful lordships, bases of individual power which could be exercised capriciously; and it did not permit the military class to become too numerous. Christian servicemen surplus to requirements were reduced in status and lost their privileges. This was not the case in Poland and Hungary, where, as we have seen, a swollen nobility and the virtually unrestricted power of lords were to be conducive to great harm. Furthermore the Turks provided security for the great majority of the Balkan population to live in tranquility in accordance with a familiar culture. By uprooting and changing Byzantine institutions, it has been said to have decapitated Byzantine high culture. On the other hand, as we have seen, Byzantine civilization had made some impression on the Turks themselves; and its cultural legacies, to both Eastern and Western Europe, were particularly rich.

15 March 2023

Heyday of Heyduks, c. 1600

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 269-271:

This malaise was associated with the onset of the ‘Little Ice Age’, the resumption of war between the Habsburgs and the Turks (1593–1606), and a severe economic recession. At the same time there was a great welling-up of social discontents and political upheavals. The entire frontier zone from Ukraine to the Adriatic was affected by the troubles as well as Russia and the Ottoman Balkans; and there were reverberations in Poland and for the Habsburgs. The crisis was the confluence of many streams and was expressed in many forms, but one of its most frightening manifestations were the bands of undisciplined and ruthless soldiery who plagued both sides of the frontier in Hungary.

The Turks had long used a variety of paramilitary forces (armartolos, derbentsy, akinji, vojnuki, etc.) as auxiliary troops, frontier raiders, mountain-pass guards and the like; as we have seen, the Hapsburgs had followed suit; and the Cossacks constitute a parallel in Ukraine and southern Russia. Such troops usually received some pay and also rations or plots of land, but by no means always. There was an Ottoman category known as deli, young men noted for their dare-devilry who would take part in campaigns and sieges for no reward whatsoever, except the opportunity to share in any plundering. Another such type of predatory soldiery was known as haramia. These had an equivalent on the other side of the frontier in the unpaid heyduks and uskoks (venturini) attached to the ‘official’ groups of heyduks and uskoks employed by the Habsburgs to garrison frontier forts and stations, and the unregistered Cossacks of the Ukraine who were to play such a prominent role in the Khmelnytsky rising of 1648.

Evidence from a wide variety of sources suggests that the numbers of such freelance warriors increased sharply in the later sixteenth century, despite a general increase in the numbers employed not only by governments but in the private armies of noblemen, like the Wisniowieckis in Lithuania, the Bathorys in Transylvania or the Frankopans in Croatia.

This increase in the soldiery, both freelance and employed, and the tumults they promoted were linked to the endemic warfare of the frontier, which created both a demand for such troops and, by disrupting the economy of entire districts, a supply of them from among the ranks of the homeless and indigent. But the phenomenon was also related to the huge increase in the population of the Balkans and to the imposition of serfdom. The demographic explosion which doubled the population of Balkan cities also fed migration northwards and eastwards across the frontier, mostly, it seems, through the gap of Timisoara.

The subsequent economic difficulties and the onset of disorders no doubt increased the flow. In any case the numbers of heyduks called ‘Racz’ registered in Eastern Hungary (and there were units in which nearly two-thirds of the men bore that name) points to a sizeable migration northwards from the Balkans, for racz in Magyar (rat in Romanian) means ‘Serb’. Their names also indicate that, although most were or became linguistic Hungarians, some heyduks had originated in Slovakia (toth), Romania (vlach, olah) and Ukraine (kozak, rusnak) as well as in Hungary and the Balkans. And there were Hungarian, Romanian and Tatar names among the Zaporozh’e Cossacks, though most had migrated from Belorussia, Ukraine and Russia. Circumstances suggest that a proportion of these were peasants escaping serfdom, and this was also the case with the recently enserfed Szekels whose support for Michael ‘the Brave’ when he invaded Transylvania regained them their freedom as frontier servicemen.

As late as the 1580s heyduks are reported in groups of up to a few hundred, or, occasionally, of a thousand; but by the turn of the century no fewer than 8,000 unpaid heyduks were reported to be serving Michael ‘the Brave’, Prince of Wallachia, alone. The growth of the phenomenon is suggested by the extremity of their behaviour as well as increasing numbers. Compared with them, Elizabethan England’s problem with sturdy beggars pales into insignificance. In some areas heyduks claimed to be Calvinist, yet they would kill Calvinist priests without compunction; and the Transylvanian Saxons have left matter-of-fact, but eloquent testimony in their memoirs and diaries to the heartless bestiality of the heyduks.

14 March 2023

Eastern Europe After Mohacz

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 250-252:

The political consequences of the battle of Mohacz were also considerable. Louis II had died childless; and the Habsburgs of Austria, long-sighted dynastic politicians and shrewd diplomatists, became the leading contenders for the thrones of both Hungary and Bohemia, and soon gained both. But in Hungary there was strong backing for a local candidate, John Zapolyai, and he, too, was crowned king. This political division weakened resistance to the Turks, who by the end of 1541 had occupied the southern and central parts of the country, including the capital Buda; and gained suzerainty over the east, which became a largely autonomous principality, Transylvania.

The death of Louis had ended one Eastern European dynasty. Two others failed to survive the sixteenth century. The last Jagiellonian King of Poland-Lithuania died in 1572; the last of Russia’s ancient Riurikid dynasty in 1591. In both instances political hiatus encouraged tumults, though, as we have seen, the long-term outcomes were quite dissimilar. While Russia returned to dynastic rule, Poland abandoned it. In this respect she came to resemble the smaller polities in the region, the Danubian Principalities, self-governing tributaries to the Turk, which also lacked dynastic rule: The instability of their domestic politics is suggested by the fact that, in the course of one century Wallachia had twenty-four, and Moldavia no fewer than forty, changes of ruling prince, or hospodar.

These religious and political changes were obvious to contemporaries. But there were other shifts, no less profound in their effects, which were much less noticeable at the time, or recognized only in retrospect.

Europe’s centre of economic gravity had been moving from the Mediterranean to the countries bordering on the North Atlantic; from the basin of the River Po to that of the Rhine (where it has remained); and from the emporia of Istanbul and Venice to that of Amsterdam. Furthermore, a surge in the population of Western Europe, and in particular of its cities, was stimulating a sharply increasing demand, and hence higher prices, for imported foodstuffs which Eastern Europe was able to supply. This was to have marked social as well as economic effects, especially on those regions with access to the Baltic, not least in encouraging the rise of serfdom.

At the same time the importation of silver from the Americas was promoting a sharp increase in the money supply and hence serious inflation. This was to throw the finely-tuned mechanisms of the Ottoman state out of kilter and prove a major factor in its subsequent decline. And there was one change perceived by very few, if at all, the indirect effects of which were felt by almost everyone. This was ‘the little ice age’, a slight but insidious drop in the average temperature beginning late in the sixteenth century. By restricting the latitude and height at which agriculture was viable this precipitated famines, population movements and the great disorders which were to overtake most of Eastern Europe at the turn of the century, turning the frontier lands especially into a crucible of violence.

And there was a plethora of other factors which intervened at various points with varying intensity to influence the course things took. Linguistic differences, for example, sometimes fed into religious and political struggles; and social classes sometimes gained or lost constitutional rights according to the religion they embraced at a particular moment. Low population density in Poland-Lithuania contributed to the enserfment of the peasant; yet high population density in the Ottoman Empire contributed to the disruption of that state. Sometimes the effects seem paradoxical. The Turkish presence, so often assumed to be a wholly negative influence, slowed down and even reversed the process of enserfment in Hungary for a time. The Baltic grain boom had helped to promoted serfdom, yet the end of the boom around the turn of the century served not to remove serfdom, but to entrench it. And though Protestantism is often associated with the origins of modern science Copernicus was a priest whom Polish Protestants rejected, while the patron of Tycho Brahe and Kepler was a Habsburg. The interactions of circumstances and catalysts that shaped Eastern Europe in the period from 1526 to 1648 far exceeded in complexity the most complicated transmutation process in any alchemists’ laboratory.

13 March 2023

The Ramshackle Habsburg Empire

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 225-227:

Like the Hohenzollerns of Prussia, the Habsburgs had a variety of rights and powers in many different lands. They were Archdukes of Austria, hereditary Kings of Bohemia, traditional candidates to the elective throne of Hungary (though the Turks occupied much of it and Transylvania was an autonomous principality); and, besides holding a plethora of other titles, were Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire (again as hereditary candidates), a position which gave them little direct power, but a great deal of prestige and not a little patronage. The Habsburgs, then, governed in various ways at once – sometimes exerting direct authority backed up by force; more often abiding by precedents, negotiating, persuading, exerting influence through their powers to grant titles and make appointments.

Theirs was a ramshackle empire, which had expended much of its wealth and sustained much damage during the Thirty Years’ War; and it was still threatened by powerful enemies, notably Ottoman Turkey and France. Furthermore, although the Habsburgs had been the chief protagonist of the Catholic cause in the war, and although the peace sanctioned their imposing it on all their subjects, it was not practicable to do so in Hungary, where there were many Protestants; and the suppression of Protestantism elsewhere, as in Bohemia, tended to promote sullen resentment which might be exploited in the cause of rebellion. How, then, were these obstacles to Habsburg authority to be overcome? What glue could be found to bind these disparate peoples and territories into a cohesive body politic?

According to a leading authority the recipe called for the mutual support of the dynasty, the Counter-Reformation Church and a cosmopolitanized aristocracy, who formed a community of interest; and the use of religious mysteries, the mystique of kingship and the magic of the arts to hold people in thrall. But the military was also important.

The Habsburgs emerged from the war with a permanent standing army and thereafter strove to enlarge it, though as late as 1683 the establishment was only 36,000. Since this was a professional, disciplined, force which did not normally live off the land, it did not arouse the resentment of the population in the localities where it was stationed, as had formerly been the case. Indeed, in time, the army came to promote loyalty to the dynasty not only among those who served in it (the new permanent armies presented welcome new career opportunities to gentlemen and commoners alike), but among a wider public. The sight of neat ranks of men in attractive uniforms marching by to the invigorating sound of flutes and drums tended to arouse popular enthusiasm, and when the army won victories the dynasty gained prestige.

Nonetheless, as in Russia, the practice of religion and the institution of the Church were recognized as being of prime importance in legitimating the dynasty and promoting deference among its subjects. Both Ferdinand III and his successor Leopold I (1657–1705) were personally devout and, like Alexis of Russia, made public show of it. Leopold often made pilgrimages, visited monasteries three or four times a week and dispensed a great deal of charity to the needy. He also believed oaths, including those he himself swore, to be binding. Yet, like Alexis, insofar as he showed himself to be as pious as any prelate, he felt entitled to interfere in church affairs. Not only did he control the more important ecclesiastical appointments, order special prayers to be said and proclaim religious holidays by decree, he imposed taxes on the clergy and milked the church of funds, plate and valuables as the need arose. One can therefore understand the wry comment of the papal nuncio who wished the Emperor were not quite so pious.

10 March 2023

Rough Road to Greek Nationhood

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 206-208:

It was difficult for Bulgarians to think in terms of liberation other than through the church, which was dominated by Greeks, so that Bulgarian national feeling emerged almost as much in reaction to the Greeks as to the Turks.

The Greeks themselves present a different case, for they included important mercantile and administrative classes. These elements formed a cultural community of sorts, but they were distanced from the common people, who had also built up a tradition of self-defence, especially in the mountain areas and some of the islands. The Greek elite was also widely dispersed geographically. Their trading network ramified throughout the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Black Sea littoral, while the Phanariotes staffed much of the Ottoman diplomatic service and bureaucratic machine besides ruling the Romanian principalities (often corruptly, but sometimes in the spirit of enlightened despotism). The Greek elite constituted fertile ground both for conspiracy and manipulation by foreign powers.

The Greek diaspora extended to Paris, and beyond; and French agents had been active in the Greek world since the later 1790s. Revolutionary notions were to grip members of the merchant class (though not the more substantial of them), some Orthodox clergy (though few bishops), and even an occasional potentate in the Ottoman service. But it was on Russian, not French soil, that the Greek revolution got off the ground. In 1814 expatriate Greeks formed a friendly society (Philiki Etairia) in Odessa. Like others founded earlier in Paris and Vienna its aims were cultural; unlike them, however, it aimed to liberate ‘the motherland’.

In 1821 it mounted an attempt to do so, launching an invasion of the Danubian Principalities. But Vladimirescu’s followers provided none of the support they had hoped for, and the Turks soon mopped them up. The conspirators succeeded, however, in sparking an insurgency in the Peleponnese and some of the islands. Though the Russians withdrew their ambassador from Istanbul, and Metternich opined (quite rightly as it happened) that Greece was merely a geographical expression, the Powers supported neither side. Then the Turks executed the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, even though he had roundly denounced the rebellion – and the idealists of Europe rallied to the cause of Greek independence. The volunteers (including Byron), the money, and, not least the publicity which they supplied contributed greatly to the success of the cause. Albeit indirectly, they also helped to ensure that the emergent state of Greece would adopt a Western-type constitution highly unsuitable for a society that was largely traditional and innocent of Western values. Events were to demonstrate that although the seeds of Western democratic ideas were to germinate in Eastern Europe, unlike the rampant bean-stalk of nationalism, the plants that grew out of them would be weak and spindly.

Greece’s first head of state, Capodistrias, understood the problem. He was an authoritarian in the mould of the enlightened despots. He set out to build sound administrative and educational systems, to improve communications and the economy. He also favoured land reform. Anticipating Stolypin, he regarded a free and prosperous peasantry as the foundation of a stable society. Traditional interest groups, whom he held in contempt, and idealists starry-eyed with Western ways, all hated him. In 1831 he was assassinated. When the ensuing anarchy finally subsided, independent Greece found herself (thanks to an agreement between Russia, France, and Britain) with a sizeable Western loan, a Bavarian King [Otto] and a small Bavarian army.

09 March 2023

Literacy and the Rise of Nationalism

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 196-198:

Czechs benefiting from new educational opportunities learned German ... and were thus able to devour the classics of German Romanticism. The University of Buda Press, founded in 1777, not only printed the first good Hungarian grammars but soon began to publish in Serbian, Slovak and Romanian. A grammar was vital to the definition of a single, literary language on which a sense of linguistic nationhood could be based (a collection of contrasting dialects could form no such basis). Furthermore, publication in a variety of emerging literary languages was to help spread a consciousness of a linguistic identity.

The march of the French armies into Eastern Europe also stimulated a rise of national consciousness. Napoleon’s creation of a province of ‘Illyria’ and a Duchy of Warsaw encouraged more people to think in terms of some sort of national independence, though he disappointed the hopes of his Polish followers. Moreover his conquests stimulated patriotic reactions which, in Prussia, began to develop into a German national feeling. The repeated defeats and humiliations suffered by Francis (who not only lost territories, but his ancient title of Holy Roman Emperor, and had to marry one of his daughters to the Corsican upstart) damaged the aura of unassailable majesty that had been carefully created around the House of Habsburg in the seventeenth century. No doubt this encouraged the idea that an alternative republican, and perhaps national, form of state might be feasible. However, the Hungarians spurned Napoleon’s invitation to rebel.

It should be stressed, however, that this stage of budding nationalism also drew on older concepts of group identification. Both Poles and Hungarians were to take pride in the traditions of the ‘noble nation’ (though not the Czechs whose nobility had been effectively Germanized). Recognising the sense of identity (and superiority) that genealogy can give, enthusiasts set out to provide their nationalities with atavistic pedigrees, preferably ones that stretched back to ancient times. Attempts were also made to extend traditional loyalties to village and locality to all the territory inhabited by ‘the folk’; and priests played an important role in the rise of Balkan and especially Polish nationalism. Indeed, in the Polish case, exiled poets were to develop the mystical notions that Poles were God’s chosen people, that Poland was the Christ among nations, the crucified Messiah who would be resurrected; the saviour of mankind.

The nation-makers included philologists, historians and archaeologists as well as poets – for the people had to be persuaded to use a standard language that was, as far as possible, free from ‘foreign’ influences; and taught about the nation’s heroic past. In most cases both the sense of the nation and loyalty to it had to be created. This proved to be a slow process. For decades to come Bohemian villagers were to speak Czech and German dialects which were sometimes unintelligible to sophisticates from Prague who spoke proper Czech and Hochdeutsch. The first volume of the anti-German Palacky’s history was published in German, not Czech; and when Hungarian enthusiasts eventually translated the Marseillaise they rendered it not into Magyar, but into the official language of the Hungarian Diet, Latin.

Literacy, then, was a key factor in the rise of nationalism, and in particular the literacy of the ‘middle class’ of poorer nobles (the magnates still tended to be cosmopolitan), junior civil servants, officers, seminarists and poorer clergy. Jacobinism had attracted elements of the same groups. Indeed Ferenc Kazinczy, one of Martinovics’s co-conspirators, was to assume a pioneering role in the creation of a Hungarian literary language once he was released from gaol. The size of this nascent intelligentsia continued to increase, for the Emperor Francis, determined though he was to keep revolutionary forces at bay, continued to promote education. Following in the tradition of Enlightened Despotism, he extended the educational system and even encouraged teaching in local vernaculars in order to spread ‘useful knowledge’. However, the emphasis was placed firmly on technical subjects. The dissemination of ideas was severely discouraged.

As matters turned out, the policy contained two unforeseen weaknesses. At the elementary level the poorly-paid teachers constituted the sort of intellectual proletariat that was susceptible to radical ideas. Schoolteachers were to be major carriers of the nationalist virus throughout Eastern Europe. The second weakness concerned the exclusion of philosophy in favour of theology (a policy that was to be followed by Soviet regimes, too, of course). This created a hunger for forbidden fruits in people who lacked the capacity to digest them properly.

08 March 2023

Eastern Europe's Urban Growth, 1900s

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 157-158:

Between 1860 and 1900 the population of Eastern Europe almost doubled. Between 1900 and 1914 it increased by at least another 20 per cent to a figure well in excess of 250 million. This was a far higher growth rate than in any Western country, and it has never been adequately explained. In so far as the statistics exclude migration abroad, the situation was worse than it might seem. Mass emigration had gathered pace since 1880. By 1914 nearly 4 million had left Austria-Hungary; the rate of migration from the Russian Empire approached 100,000 a year. But the migration rates from the poorest areas were the lowest (higher for Austria-Hungary than Russia, higher from Russian Poland than the rest of the Russian Empire, and lowest from Romania). However encouraging a development the population explosion might seem to chauvinistic nationalists, it brought rising despair in the countryside (where almost 60 per cent of Austria’s subjects lived, 70 per cent of Hungary’s and over 80 per cent over the remainder of the region). The despair at having to feed more mouths from the same small trough turned to anger in massive peasant disturbances in Russia in 1905–6 and a bloody Romanian uprising of 1907. But the problems of the countryside were also transferred to the cities.

The population growth in most of the major cities exceeded that for the region as a whole because of urban migration. Between 1880 and 1910 the population of Prague rose by almost 40 per cent to nearly a quarter of a million; that of Budapest doubled to reach almost 900,000; those of St Petersburg and Moscow more than doubled (to 2 and 1.5 million respectively), and that of Warsaw more than tripled (to 856,000). But the most alarming increase occurred in Vienna which changed, within the span of a single generation, from a pleasant, orderly, German-speaking city of fewer than 750,000 souls to a polyglot maelstrom of over two million. The city, whose ancient walls had recently been dismantled to make way for the elegant Ringstrasse with its modern palaces and pleasant parks where bands played Strauss waltzes, was suddenly overwhelmed by a new kind of invasion.

It was an irony of this age of nationalism that by 1910 no less than 8 per cent of all Czechs should reside in Vienna (5 per cent of all Slovaks had settled in Budapest by that time). And not only Czechs, but Serbs, Romanians, Slovenes and Ukrainians had flooded in to the new tenements and slums. The city had come to resemble a Tower of Babel, and the indigenous Viennese felt overwhelmed; their culture, their very identity seemed threatened. The popular mood, formerly easy-going, became ugly.

07 March 2023

Eastern Europe's Failures in 1848

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 134-137:

At the beginning of March 1848, as news of a revolution in Paris seeped in about a week after the event, crowds took to the streets of Vienna, and before long the entire Empire, from Bohemia to northern Italy, was in turmoil. In the months that followed there were uprisings in Prague, Lemberg [Lviv] and several other cities besides Vienna; Hungary and Venice declared themselves independent; the imperial army was driven out of Lombardy by local insurgents supported by invading forces from Piedmont, and Vienna itself had to be abandoned to the revolutionaries. Within the imperial administration there were six changes of government; two ministers were lynched; another went mad; and the Emperor abdicated. Yet by the autumn of 1849 the old order had been resurrected and the cause of revolution seemed utterly lost. What had the revolutionaries stood for? Why did they lose? And what influence did the events have both on the Empire itself and on the rest of Eastern Europe?

The Revolutions of 1848 are commonly represented as nationalist, and so to a great extent they were. Yet the call for ‘freedom’ as if it were a single entity embraced a variety of aims. Middle-class liberals wanted the abolition of censorship, freedom of speech and assembly, and a judicial system that dispensed justice openly; radicals demanded the replacement of monarchical government by a democracy based on wide suffrage; peasants, and all progressives, wanted the abolition of serfdom; workers protested against unemployment and for more pay. After the first, heady, stages, even more interests forced themselves to the surface. Tenants struck against high rents; artisans took to the streets because new, cheap, factory-produced goods were already threatening their livelihoods; students saw an opportunity for activism, and in Prague there were anti-Jewish riots. Among the educated strata, some, like the great Hungarian landowner Szechenyi, wanted change on the lines of the British model, with economic development as the motor of social and political change. However, the slogans of the French Revolution and of the Romantic movement tended to predominate, and in particular calls for national self-expression.

The demands for national freedom, however, also took different forms. Some were founded on constitutional precedents, such as the ancient powers of the Hungarian Diet or of the Bohemian Estates, which had been sapped or overborne by imperial power. Others were based on what appeared to their proponents to be the self-evident claims of a common language and the national community which it created. And there were further divisions both within the various nationalist camps and between them. Frantisek Palacky, promoter of the Czech national revival, thought in terms of a union of all the Slav peoples of the Empire, predicated on the view that, for all the myriad differences of dialect, they all spoke the same beautiful language.

This, however, was unacceptable, among others, to the Polish nationalists, who, roused by emigres returning from France, wished to resurrect the ancient Polish Republic which had been wiped off the map only half a century before. Furthermore, the claims of one nationalist group encouraged others to assert themselves. Romanians, Serbs, Croats and Slovaks did not take kindly to the prospect of inclusion in a state dominated by Hungarians. The Ruthenes (Ukrainians) resented the Polish claims to domination in Galicia. German Bohemians feared the Czechs and some Austrians were attracted by the idea of a greater Germany.

The fast-declining sense of equality and fraternity among the revolutionaries themselves, a growing popular reaction to their extremism, and the discipline of the imperial army all helped the government to reassert its authority. The promise made on 25 April 1848 to provide a democratic constitution for Austria, and the subsequent undertaking, in response to public demand, to widen the franchise, assuaged the feelings of many democrats; the emancipation of the peasants of Bohemia and Moravia in March, and those of Galicia and the Bukovina later the same year, bought off much social discontent; and the authorities experienced little difficulty in encouraging the Croats, Serbs and Slovaks to attack the Hungarian rebels who had cavalierly rejected their modest claims to linguistic autonomy. For the rest it was a matter of suppression. On 7 June the insurrectionaries in Prague were crushed; Vienna was recaptured at the end of October, and a rising in Lemberg put down two days later. General Windischgraetz was the imperial hero of the hour. Only the Italians and Hungarians held out. The crushing defeat inflicted by General Radetzky on the invading Piedmontese at Novara in March 1849 spelt doom to the revolution in the Italian provinces, though the resurrected ‘republic’ of Venice survived until August. The Hungarian rebellion lasted only a few days longer.

06 March 2023

Eastern Europe's Peasant Problem

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 112-114:

The root of the problem was the gross overpopulation of the Eastern European countryside. Industry and crafts employed only a third of all workers even in comparatively well-developed Czechoslovakia and Austria; in Hungary they accounted for a fifth, in Poland for a seventh, and in Romania and Yugoslavia for a mere tenth of the working population. The great majority lived in the countryside and depended on an inefficient agriculture. The picture presented a stark contrast to that of Western Europe and North America. Speedy industrialization and emigration suggested themselves as potential solutions to the problem. But industrialization was restricted by the limited funds available for investment and the high cost of borrowing, while the escape valve of emigration had been shut off. Successive Immigration Acts in the United States not only imposed very severe restrictions but discriminated against Eastern Europeans; and Canada and Britain had also imposed much more severe immigration restrictions than before.

Two other factors aggravated the peasant problem. Universal conscription during the war had put most able-bodied peasants into uniform, increased their expectation of land as a reward for their patriotism, and taught them how to fight for it. Secondly, as Bethlen realized, the youthfulness of the population was a force for change. Apart from Austria, where the age structure had been distorted by the influx of retired officials from the successor states which refused to pay their pensions, over half of Eastern Europe’s population was under thirty, and in Poland and the Balkan countries the proportion was even higher. Given these circumstances virtually every government in the region felt impelled to concede the peasants’ demand for land reform.

In Hungary it was no more than a symbolic gesture: about 700,000 peasant families were granted an average of two acres apiece, while three million remained landless. In Czechoslovakia reform was a way of expropriating the alien elite rather than of benefitting the peasants. As a result of the measures enacted immediately after independence, citizens of ‘enemy states’ were dispossessed without compensation, but fewer than three million acres were eventually transferred in small plots to the peasants. In Poland, an inadequate reform was finally passed in 1925, in the teeth of opposition from landed interests, and by 1938 about six and a half million acres had been transferred to landless peasants and others with tiny holdings.

In Yugoslavia 200,000 peasants gained an average of four acres apiece, though many more benefited from the abolition of share-cropping rents which had been common in the south of the country. In Romania, by contrast, the 1921 reform, introduced by the Averescu government, expropriated seventeen million acres and had transferred almost ten million of them to nearly a million and a half peasant families by 1929. Even then over half a million families remained landless in Romania. Austria had no serious peasant problem; nor did Bulgaria. But elsewhere the inadequacy of land reform in the period of democracy helped lay the foundations for the victory of the Communists, who promised radical reform, after 1944.

But even in countries where there were no great estates or a substantial industrial sector a peasant problem remained. By 1937 Bulgaria and Greece were each reckoned to have surplus rural populations of a million or more; Czechoslovakia had a surplus of some two millions; Romania three and Poland between five and seven. The average size of peasant holdings over the region as a whole was about half those in Germany and France. In short they were too small, and too undercapitalized, to be efficient or even viable by international standards. Swiss peasants invested more than twice as much in their farms as their counterparts in Czechoslovakia, more than three times as much as the Polish peasants, and ten times as much as the Romanians.

The consequences were predictable. In Hungary, for example, land under wheat yielded half as much as in Denmark, the Dutch farmer raised three times as many cattle and four times as many pigs as his counterpart in Poland, while the Danish farmer raised four times as many cattle and twenty times as many pigs as the Romanian. Such were the differences between capitalized efficiency and undercapitalized inefficiency. In the United States a farmer produced enough to feed six families; in Western Europe enough for four; while the Eastern European peasant produced only enough for his own family, plus a marketable surplus of about half as much again – barely enough for such taxed necessities as salt, matches and paraffin.

05 March 2023

Eastern Europe After World War I

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 99-101:

The consequences of the war were grievous. The loss of manpower in this overpopulated region was the least of them. A large proportion of the survivors were exhausted, ill-clothed and had forgotten the skills they had possessed before the war. They were also ill-fed. Losses of livestock were to take twenty years to make up. Partly as a result of the dearth of draught animals, cereal production everywhere except Bulgaria had diminished by between a quarter and a half by comparison with 1913. Even if this had not been the case, the earning potential for agricultural exports, which had been very considerable before the war, especially from Romania, Hungary and Ukraine, had fallen sharply, for, thanks to the war, the United States and Canada had become the world’s granary instead of Eastern Europe. And increased production in the West had caused world prices to slump. Czech industry, among the least affected, was producing 30 per cent less than before the war; in most of the other countries production was halved. The war had also dissipated savings, so funds available for investment were scarce. Inflation grew apace, ruining many members of the middle classes; so did interest rates. Business confidence was very low.

Matters were made worse by the Peace Settlement, which allowed other criteria to override the concern to draw frontiers that made economic sense. As a result towns lost their agricultural hinterlands; villagers found their access to mountain pastures, on which they traditionally grazed their cattle, suddenly blocked by frontier posts; the headquarters and branch offices of many a firm found that, overnight, they were in different countries where different laws and taxation systems applied. Railways lines were cut off from their former termini and cities from their railway stations. Romania’s newly-acquired port of Bazias had no communications to link it with the rest of the country. Hungary’s second city, Szeged, once a thriving regional emporium, became a sleepy frontier town. Grass was soon growing on the once busy docks of Trieste, now part of Italy, which had no need of another port.

The new frontiers cut across communication systems in a way that made nation-building the more difficult and expensive. Resurrected Poland found herself with parts of three different railway networks, each with different gauges and signalling systems; and, since they had been built with military purposes rather than international trade in mind, they did not usually meet up with one another. In Czechoslovakia all the main lines ran north-south, radiating from the old centres of Vienna and Budapest, whereas the new country’s axis lay east-west. Her predicament led to a bitter struggle with Poland for possession of Tesin (Polish Cieszyn), whose stretch of line was the only link between the head and the tail of Czechoslovakia, although Tesin’s population was predominately Polish and its mines a hotly disputed prize for both countries.

Such predicaments encouraged the continuation of a ‘war psychosis’. There was not only a desperate concern to protect one’s territory against one’s neighbours (and, if possible, to acquire more from them), but a willingness to wage economic warfare and, when opportunity offered, to loot. When, with the encouragement of the Powers who wanted to see Bela Kun’s Communist regime brought down, Romanian troops occupied Budapest in August 1919, they carried away as much of the telephone equipment and railway rolling stock as they could, even if they could put it to no use. Hungary retaliated later by cutting Romania’s telephone access to the West. When Romania was in dispute with Yugoslavia, she closed the locks controlling the flow of water from the Danube and so brought river traffic on the Yugoslav side to a halt. The Czechs refused to supply Hungary or Austria with coal, or to allow Polish coal to be shipped to them across her territory. The frontiers between Poland and Lithuania and between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were repeatedly closed, and it was to take fifteen years to repair a two-mile gap in the telephone line between Belgrade and Sofia. The beggar-my-neighbour attitude was also reflected in fierce tariff wars.

04 March 2023

Eastern Europe's Stalinist Years

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 86-89:

What does the balance-sheet of the Stalinist years add up to? A collection of Eastern European states had been converted into ‘people’s democracies’ in which, however, elected assemblies had virtually no political importance, and in which high-profile ‘popular councils’ were but appendages to the Party. The Party itself, which had absorbed the Socialists and much of the peasant parties, enjoyed a complete monopoly of political power. Purged of the dissidents, it was an instrument in the hands of a tiny elite, and it operated through a series of bureaucratic structures, most of whose functionaries, whether Party members or not, had been frightened into obedience, terrified of losing the perks and privileges that went with their jobs. The political edifice was supported by a propaganda machine which had monopolized the media and which blared out the party line.

This political system had one major weakness, however: every grievance, every mistake tended to be blamed on the regime. The presentation of scapegoats to the public, the periodic admission of ‘mistakes’ and fierce anti-Western propaganda helped to deflect some of this discontent for a time, but time was to prove these measures to be no more than temporary expedients. The Kremlin kept the leaderships in line formally through the Cominform and other joint bodies, and informally through the debts of gratitude many of the leaders bore the Soviet Union, the operations of the secret police, and the ill-disguised presence of Soviet troops in all but Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Nevertheless they were not quite Soviet clones. Yugoslavia had defected, Poland had not collectivized, and persistent nationalism and the differing conditions in each country demanded variations in both the content and the pace of the economic, social and cultural re-structuring which Stalin’s ‘Road to Socialism’ called for. The achievements of this programme were not negligible, however.

Between 1948 and 1953 industrial production more than doubled in many countries of the Bloc. In the Soviet Union itself it rose by almost 50 per cent, and it is curious that deviant Yugoslavia achieved the least increase, though at a little over 25 per cent it was impressive enough. The East German economy had recovered better than the West German, Bulgaria had outpaced Greece. The successes gave rise to hopes of catching up with the West and eventually overtaking it. But the bare production statistics disguised grievous economic flaws and imbalances. The Stalinist recipe had fended off recession and laid the foundations of industry on the basis of a war economy which neglected the production of consumer goods and the short-term interests of the worker, whether rural or urban. Moreover the planning was too rigid to accommodate new technology or changing management requirements. It was in this period that the imbalances and inefficiencies, so much decried since, were built into the system. The achievements of those years were to hold the future hostage.

In social terms there was a revolution which also turned out to be flawed. Society was levelled, millions gained self-respect and opportunities that had formerly been denied them; and unemployment was eliminated, though at the cost of feather-bedding. Yet despite the deliberate social engineering, a new elite was arising in place of the elite which had been eliminated; new vested interests were created in place of the old; and the proliferation of bureaucracy not only entailed inefficiency but had the effect of nationalising endemic corruption which had formerly operated in dispersed networks. Not least, the crude social propaganda of the Stalinist years succeeded all too well. Many of the region’s subsequent troubles stemmed from an innocent belief in the truth of all those slogans.

The achievements of Stalinist educational policies were also mixed. Systems of universal education were set up and literacy was brought to the masses (though in several countries this had been in train beforehand). Scientific education saw a marked expansion at all levels while the classics and the law, formerly major features of elite education, declined sharply. Technological training received great emphasis, but succeeded in producing too many workers who could not adapt to new methods and technologies. The higher flights of scholarship suffered from their subjection to both Party ideology and bureaucratic control. On the other hand, women were given equal educational opportunities. This however, bore some unexpected fruit. As women came to occupy a high proportion of posts in medicine and the legal profession, these ceased to be premium professions in terms of pay and status.

03 March 2023

Fate of 1968ers in Greece and Poland

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 39-40:

Student unrest, first marked in Italy in 1966, began to spread throughout Europe, including some countries in the Bloc, while in Greece a junta of colonels staged a coup d’etat against everything the students stood for and in support of traditional values. It was ironic that Greece, despite massive injections of American aid and sizeable income from Greeks working abroad, had failed to match even neighbouring Bulgaria’s increase in living standards since the war. What happened in Greece raised the question of how many Soviet Bloc countries, with their still largely traditional cultures, might have resorted to military government in the postwar era had they not been taken into the Soviet orbit. More immediately, however, it raised the question of how their governments would react to the imported Western phenomenon of student protest.

In Poland, one of the two countries most affected, there was a reaction analogous to that of the Colonels. Early in 1968 the production of a play by the nineteenth-century romantic, Mickiewicz (see Chapter 5), was banned because it included some anti-Russian remarks. This provoked fierce student calls for greater freedom and ‘national autonomy’. The students’ zeal found an echo among many intellectuals, not least among economists who had been pressing for reform. There was no echo, however, among the working classes. Nonetheless the Interior Minister, Mieczyslaw Moczar, reacted strongly.

Like the Colonels in Greece, Moczar was cast in the old, heroic mould, and he was motivated by two traditional values in particular: nationalism and antisemitism. By extension he also disliked intellectuals and economists who were threatening the position of so many loyal, bureaucratic place-men. Moczar saw a chance of defusing tension by exploiting long-standing popular prejudices. Accordingly he arranged for students to be beaten up and for many of them to be arrested. He set up a commission to ‘supervise’ the handful of Jews remaining in Poland after the Holocaust, and to coordinate antisemitic propaganda. But the experiment was short-lived. In December 1968 the commission was abolished and Moczar disappeared from the stage.

02 March 2023

Eastern Europe, 1990s: Disappointment

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 9-10:

The rejoicing was widespread, and particularly intense among the young as well as those who had run foul of the pervasive officialdom and the secret police. Yet the euphoria did not last long. The sudden removal of controls and taboos encouraged entrepreneurs and foreign investors, but also crooks and asset-strippers. Attempts at systemic change and reorientation of trade resulted in economic dislocations and both industrial and consumer shortages. Production plummeted; so did real incomes. Inflation rose and hoarding made things worse. As rules and procedures associated with the old order were increasingly ignored, and as uncertainty about the law, the value of things and, not least, the validity of legal titles increased, so did a degree of chaos. At the same time crime rates soared.

Measures to control inflation and reduce subsidies and over-manning produced rising prices and unemployment, industrial discontent and rising pessimism. There had been hopeful talk of another Marshall Plan, but President Bush held out an empty wallet. The world, after all, was in the throes of one of those periodic economic turns which Communists used to refer to scornfully as ‘crises of capitalism’. Help did come but chiefly in the form of loans with harsh conditions attached. The millions who had innocently assumed that revolution would bring them instant betterment were disappointed.

There were unexpected political, as well as economic, consequences. To the ill-disguised dismay of many countries East and West, the two Germanies rushed to reunification. In Poland the ‘Solidarity’ movement soon split asunder; an unknown emigre attracted more votes than the conscientious Premier Mazowiecki in the presidential elections won by Lech Walesa; and Polish cities were disfigured by anti-semitic graffiti. In Romania, as in Bulgaria, reformed Communists were victorious in what were substantially free elections, yet the opposition ‘Democrats’ refused to accept the electorate’s decision. In Hungary parliament became the scene of endless bickering between a multitude of different parties; in Czechoslovakia bitter resentment soon surfaced between Czechs and Slovaks; and at the time of writing (March 1991) unbridled nationalism and strident populism were threatening the break-up of Yugoslavia and the collapse of the USSR itself.

As a new order emerges from the turmoil some features that had previously characterized the region have begun to disappear. But what were these countries like before the changes? What was the stable state before the state of flux?

01 March 2023

Eastern Europe, 1989: Retrospective

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 7-9:

In 1989, the bicentenary year of the French Revolution, another ancien regime began to crumble. One by one, with an exhilarating, even alarming, rapidity, most of the Communist governments in Eastern Europe collapsed.

In June that year, in the first free elections to be held in Poland since before World War Two, Solidarity candidates overwhelmed the Communists. In the same month the hero of the ill-fated Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Imre Nagy, was posthumously rehabilitated, and the frontier with Austria was opened. Soon the revolution gained momentum. Hard-liners were ousted from leadership in the Party and government in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria as well as Hungary and Poland. In all these countries preparations were swiftly made for free, multi-party elections and for economic liberalization. In November the Berlin Wall was breached, and the process was completed on 22 December with the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania.

In some countries the transition was smooth and relatively peaceful; but in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania there were huge demonstrations and blood was shed. It was widely assumed at the time that the people had made the revolution, and that popular dissidents like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa had played the decisive roles. Yet important though their contributions were, it seems at the time of writing (March 1991) that the achievement was not theirs alone. The revolution, it transpired, had required not only crowds and stars, but scene-setters and technicians. President Gorbachev had written at least part of the script, and the KGB, it seems, had directed certain key scenes as consummately as Havel might have done himself.

Erich Honecker attributed his own overthrow to the Kremlin, working through its advisers in the East German security service. It transpired that the spark which ignited the Czech revolution, the death of a student demonstrator at the hands of the police, was faked by KGB agents in conjunction with the Czech secret police. In Romania the impending arrest of a dissident pastor in the town of Timisoara was announced well in advance to guarantee a public reaction; prominent opposition figures, several of whom had recently visited Moscow, were already inside the building from which Ceaucescu delivered his last tedious harangue; and the Securitate’s loyalty to the regime turned out, like some of the casualty reports, to have been somewhat exaggerated. Though it may not have foreseen the anti-Communist stampede which followed, nor welcomed the rush to German re-unification, the Soviet Union had dismantled its own empire in Eastern Europe.

The Soviet Union was itself in the toils of radical and at times uncontrollable change, of course. The process had been in train since 1985 when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and initiated his policies of ‘openness’ (glasnost’) and ‘restructuring’ (perestroika). In October 1989 a further significant step was taken when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided to abandon its political monopoly, its so-called ‘leading role’. Since the Soviet leadership itself was rejecting the ideological rigidities of ‘Marxism-Leninism’, giving scope to democratic opposition and encouraging free enterprise and foreign investment, it was no longer appropriate for its satellites to retain the old, discredited, practices. Besides, the Soviet Empire had become too expensive to maintain.

In particular, the Soviet Union could no longer afford to subsidize the rest of the Bloc with cheap energy, often supplied on credit, rather than selling her precious resources for hard currency at world prices. The huge military establishment had become too costly too, as had the welfare structure and the feather-bedding which characterized the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The infrastructures of these countries had become decrepit, investment was short, and, except in Romania, there were huge foreign debt accumulations. In these circumstances it was recognized that the needs of the people, still less the aspirations of the rising generation, could not continue to be met without fundamental, systemic change. In short, the great edifice that Stalin built had been discovered to be unsound. The crumbling structure had to be condemned and hastily dismantled.