This book encompasses one thousand years of history, a shifting roster of nations, dependencies, suzerainties and colonial outposts. The population waThis book encompasses one thousand years of history, a shifting roster of nations, dependencies, suzerainties and colonial outposts. The population was divided and subdivided into dozens of nationalities often fractured along ethnic lines, linguistic enclaves and religious havens. There were wars, peasant uprising, nationalist revolutions and rebellions against the Ottoman overlords, bookended by marauding Crusaders and mass slaughter as Yugoslavia collapsed.
Suleiman the Magnificent was stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1529 after a century of conquest by the Ottomans; Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 after being sacked by the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The peninsula was ruled by the four empires, each replacing the last: Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Hapsburg. World War I was kicked off by an assassination in Sarajevo. The Wehrmacht and Gestapo waged a protracted and appallingly brutal anti-partisan war in the southern Balkans, Tito wrenched Yugoslavia out of the Cominform and Stalin's orbit in 1948. In 1993 there were so many credible accusations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was created to sort through them and try to bring justice to victims. A lot to cover and Mazower does a great job of it.
Mazower begins with a discussion of the geography, noting while the Balkan mountain range didn’t offer protection against invasion (as the Pyrenees did for Spain and the Alps for Italy) their irregular formation hindered movement between one valley and the next—communication and trade was often easier with areas outside the peninsula than with those within it. He points out that Dubrovnik had closer ties with Venice than with Belgrade. Rivers were essential to the growth and prosperity of the rest of Europe but there is nothing within the Balkans that compares with the Rhine and Rhone in the west or the Vistula-Dnieper route in eastern Europe. Balkan rivers dried up, were full of cataracts and rapids, or flow in elegant curves away from the nearest seacoast. The mountains that diverted rivers from the sea also made it impossible to build the networks of canals that allowed commerce to flourish in eighteenth-century England and France. Topographical factors were at least as important as political or strategic ones in keeping the peninsula underdeveloped and areas in the interior isolated from each other.
While Mazower isn’t a proponent of the Anneles School of Ferdinand Braudel he is clearly influenced by its adherence to lengthy rhythms of material life relating to the geographical environment and the structures that shape societies such as technology, trading, sailing routes and how they affected the thoughts and actions of generations of people across centuries. He placed a quote from Braudel’s “The Mediterranean” before the first chapter: “Mountains come first”.
Large scale often disastrous and even genocidal movements of populations have characterized much of the history of the area during this century. Mazower lists many of the mass executions, concentration camps and deportations used by Habsburg emperor Franz Josef during the first world war, the mandatory migration of thousands of Greeks from the seaboard of Asia Minor to the interior and the most egregious forced evacuation, that of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks. Mazower uses terms defined as genocide without going with the actual “g-word”, writing that it was “an organized campaign of systematic massacre, executing some, leaving others to starve to death on forced marches.
Less drastic but still wretched and unsettling what experts at the time called “population transfer”. The most dramatic instance was the compulsory exchange of populations agreed between Greece and Turkey: more than one million Greek Orthodox former Ottoman citizens left Turkey for Greece while 380,000 Muslims left Greece for Asia Minor—fully one-fifth of the population of Greece in 1923 had experienced exile, flight and privation while a smaller percentage but still a huge number of Turks were subject to the same forces. Population transfer to deal with problem of ethnic and religious minorities appealed to the new nationalist leaders of the area and seemed a rational way of improving peace to the representatives of the great powers. There was a precedent when in the early and middle 1990s the use of forced migration, concentration camps and large scale slaughter were used again in Kosovo and Bosnia, now called ethnic cleansing.
Mazower shows (or at least contends) that the wars that ravaged the Balkans over the last century not including the world wide conflagrations of 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945began as products of European powers deliberately encouraging nationalist movements to use as both swords and shields against Ottoman rule. Intervention by the Great Powers then, imposition of neo-liberal policies by the IMF now has much the same result.
“The Balkans: A Short History” is an excellent book for those who have some knowledge of the political, military and religious history of the area. It seems to this non-specialist academically objective and informed of historic and social nuance. Highly recommended ...more
That was a surprise. Earlier in the week I recently saw a reference to “Orientalism” on Goodreads and realized that I hadn’t read the entire book throThat was a surprise. Earlier in the week I recently saw a reference to “Orientalism” on Goodreads and realized that I hadn’t read the entire book through. So I did.
Said’s book is a founding text for the academic fields of postcolonial theory and subaltern studies and has greatly influenced how art history, literary theory and culture studies are produced. His central idea (or at least one of them and the one that resonates most with me) is that Western knowledge about the East is not generated from facts or reality, but from preconceived archetypes that envision all “Eastern” societies as fundamentally similar to one another, and fundamentally dissimilar to “Western” societies. The Orient—in Said’s case the Arab Middle East--was constructed as a negative inversion of Western culture. Said argued that a long tradition of romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for European and the American colonial and imperial ambitions.
The publication of “Orientalism” had a very significant effect on the academy—not unlike rolling a hand grenade into a henhouse. Said was and continues to be roundly attacked by many of the heavyweights in Middle Eastern studies. Historians, anthropologists and political scientists lined up to express their outrage, not only for the content of the book but for the sheer presumption and plain bad manners for a literary critic to take on a subject that they had staked out for themselves. Said had a lot of supporters and he seemed to revel in the cut and thrust of academic viewing with alarm, taking umbrage and pearl clutching. He attacked and was attacked by Daniel Pipes, Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington and Paul Johnson--a rogues’ gallery of neo-liberal apologists, part of the intellectual cover for a diplomatic and military policy that leads to armed intervention and mass slaughter in the Middle East and South Asia, supporting both tyrannical despots and phony "people's struggles" armed, paid for and legitimatized by the intelligence agencies of the United States, France and the United Kingdom.
Said was greatly influenced by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who posited the dominance of elite culture. Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony meant that an elite could dominate a non-elite population through “common sense” and everyday rituals and practices. He had stressed the role of intellectuals in shaping the consensus through education, the media, and the arts. For Said intellectuals were “experts in legitimation.” And in “Orientalism “he presented the intellectuals and artists of the West as possessing a cultural hegemony which determined what could and could not be discussed about the Orient.
Coming soon: Academic angst over Said’s “Jane Austen and Empire” from “Culture and Imperialism” on how Austen’s heroines, explicitly Fanny in Mansfield Park benefited from the Caribbean slave trade. ...more
Seems to be a decent start to a look at angst ridden undergrads at a British university. Hard to tell how it will develop but I may not find out. JustSeems to be a decent start to a look at angst ridden undergrads at a British university. Hard to tell how it will develop but I may not find out. Just about impossible to read on my Kindle Fire--I can get the top or bottom half of a panel with text large enough to read or the entire panel with unreadable small text. Better on the "Kindle Cloud Reader" on PC but I want to read it on my portable device. ...more
In “Greek and Roman Historians” Michael Grant sets a difficult task for himself, to accept that classical histories are full of misinformation and delIn “Greek and Roman Historians” Michael Grant sets a difficult task for himself, to accept that classical histories are full of misinformation and deliberate distortions, try and identify what they are and why they occur and still find a method for reading them that allows them to be used as source material. In a way it is not unlike the approach one takes to any history; we realize that the material the author used, what was emphasized, what left out and what interpreted in light of the his political, economic and social interests doesn’t invalidate the work. Often we discover something about the subject matter of the history even if it isn’t what the author intended and just as often are able to learn what contemporaries of the historian felt about their world as illustrated by how they see events described by the historian.
One challenge is point of view of the writer and his attempt to show how important, resourceful or intelligent he was. The memoirs of Ulysses Grant and William Sherman from the American Civil War are different from each other in emphasis, detail and tone—and they were on the same side. Contemporaneous books from the South, “Memoirs of Robert E. Lee: His Military and Personal History” written in 1888 or ” From Manassas to Appomattox” by General James Longstreet will be even more divergent.
But these are challenges faced by all analysts of written history. Missing from the ancient historians is the essential element of the historian—written sources so that we can consult the same material used by (for example) Herodotus or Thucydides. They weren’t there for the Greeks, they weren’t there for the Romans and the certainly aren’t available to 21st century critics. Grant addresses this conundrum by going back to the time when the histories were written, when history was a literary art in the same category as epic poetry and tragedy. Herodotus saw himself as a creative heir of Homer and the Persian wars he chronicled as directly descended from the Trojan War. Thucydides claimed to reject the Homeric traditions but mainly cut out the most outlandish of the myths and obvious exaggerations but he named Minos and Agamemnon as real persons, creating the early history of Greece out of mythology. The Roman historians had their own foundation myth. Livy, Tacitus and Plutarch considered Theseus and Romulus as historical figures and used much of Homer (later Virgil) to frame the early history of Rome. And all of them were more interested in truth than accuracy.
Which is not to say that they can be ignored as sources for studying the ancient world since much of what these historians wrote is buttressed by evidence from non-literary sources such as temple inscriptions, coins and grave goods. Archeology in the Mediterranean and ancient history of Greece and Rome are often complementary.
People of my age, gender and religion were required to take two years, if not more, of Latin in high school and were encouraged to study Greek. One of the second year texts was “Commentaries on the Gallic Wars” by Julius Caesar, which we translated into English and then attempted to translate back to Latin. Even given the drudgery of brute force memorization of noun declensions and verb conjugations the power and (occasionally) beauty of Caesar’s prose came through. It is their artistic merit as much as their historical accuracy that keeps these works alive. ...more
I first read "Free Food for Millionaires" over 10 years ago and picked it up again recently. I very rarely re-read novels and Min Jin Lee joins John LI first read "Free Food for Millionaires" over 10 years ago and picked it up again recently. I very rarely re-read novels and Min Jin Lee joins John Le Carre, Natsuo Kirino, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and maybe a couple of others. It is not surprising that the protagonist, Casey Han, is a fan of Anthony Trollope, George Elliot and the Bronte sisters--like the big novels of the 19th century, "FFfM" is a sprawling narrative that follows the loves and careers of many characters, some described so well and so extensively that they could be inhabiting their own book.
Casey is a first generation American, daughter of Korean parents who immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City, in Elmhurst, Queens, a telling environment for them, a neighborhood that is over almost half Asian. East Asian immigrants to the U.S. are tagged with the label "model minority" an ethnic generality as accurate as any--i.e. not at all. Casey fits part of the stereotype--smart, studious, hard working and able to compete with rich white kids "who went to Exeter and Hotchkiss, their parents belonging to country clubs." But instead of following her assumed path--Princeton, Columbia Law School--she decides that she needs to take a break before law school, something her parents, who work six days a week, 12 hours a day at their dry cleaning business in lower Manhattan, an hour's commute each way on the subway, simply don't understand.
One of the real strengths of this book is the dense, detailed and astute depiction of the lives of Casey's parents and the Korean/American universe they live in--you may not agree with Casey or her parents but you can empathize with both sides. It is the story of a close knit community fraying at the edges as it is changes, however unwillingly, with (or a decade late) the times. Min Jin Lee is not only interested in Casey and her friends, lovers and colleagues at work--Casey gets a low level job at an investment bank, sews hats at one of the few milliners in the city, has overnight and longer lived romances and gets along with her brilliant sister except when she doesn't--but also in her parents and their friends. It is how the children of immigrants live in New York City and how their challenges, problems and joys are not different from other seemingly different groups. ...more
No one with even a touch of humanity could gainsay the courage, creativity or tenacity of the author and those allied with him in opposing Milosevic'sNo one with even a touch of humanity could gainsay the courage, creativity or tenacity of the author and those allied with him in opposing Milosevic's murderous regime in Serbia. Milosevic was accused of 66 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo between 1991 and 1999 but died before he could be tried in the Hague. His colleague Radovan Karadžić was convicted of genocide over the 1995 massacre of over 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica, a place name that has become shorthand for unspeakable atrocities inflicted in wartime against civilians. Few would oppose such bloodthirsty opponents and give up the relatively safe anonymity of doing nothing. I doubt if I would.
Unfortunately the author shortchanges himself and his cohorts when he describes their resistance as a successful re-branding of both the government and the organized resistance to it. To one extent this makes sense--Popovic may not want to frighten other potential advocates of non-violent struggle against monolithic rulers--but he makes it seem too clean, too foreordained and inevitable. There is a lot of room for this kind of approach--but his laconic account wastes much of the edge that should be inevitable here. ...more
Come for the communism, stay for the manifesto. Along the way thrill to Marx and Engels panegyrics to capitalism--capitalist accumulation, capitalistCome for the communism, stay for the manifesto. Along the way thrill to Marx and Engels panegyrics to capitalism--capitalist accumulation, capitalist division of labor, capitalist everything. The idea being, of course, that through organizing production the capitalist created the basis for the proletariat to see itself as a class with interests that cut across national boundaries, ethnicity and language. A quick read, especially if you glide over the polemics against economists who were writing in the middle of the 19th century. ...more
Reviews by Darwin8u and Hadrian prompted me to re-read Orwell's classic description of life in the coal towns of the the north of England during the dReviews by Darwin8u and Hadrian prompted me to re-read Orwell's classic description of life in the coal towns of the the north of England during the depression. It is one of the most powerful anti-capitalist statements that I have read (and I have read a lot of them) and its power stays with you long after you finish. The primary reason for this is Orwell's straightforward, almost laconic discussion of the cold, dirt and hunger that are part of the everyday lives of unemployed or casually employed workers and their families can be difficult--it rings so true that one is amazed at how human beings can be so used to simply surviving that much of what we think makes a person human is ground out of them. The second is Orwell's brief for socialism, why people oppose ownership of the means of production by workers and their allies even though it is in their social and economic interests, including poorly thought out approach by socialist organizers.
Orwell, of course, is one of the great masters of English prose--The Road to Wigan Pier is one of many examples of this. I suggest reading the reviews I mention in the first line above for more full and complete analysis. ...more
This book looks at Jewish revolutionary working-class youth who encountered both class and ethnic discrimination during the 1905 Russian Revolution anThis book looks at Jewish revolutionary working-class youth who encountered both class and ethnic discrimination during the 1905 Russian Revolution and how their self-organized resistance set the basis for fundamental changes in their identity both as Jews and as workers and students. Not a history of the uprising and its aftermath, ”Making of Jewish Revolutionaries in the Pale of Settlement” concentrates on how revolutionary ideology and activity created emotional changes. Inna Shtakser sees emotional change as more important than political change and she does a wonderful job in analyzing her sources and proving her point.
Whether it is successful as an academic text will be an issue for her peers—professional historians in her field, one of which I definitely am not. As a depiction of how working-class Jews changed the 1905 revolution and how it changed them, though, it is accessible to the interested layman and rewards close attention. While the passages that investigate and comment on the work of other historians can be daunting—the chances of a person who isn’t an academic having read most of them is slim. However these can be skimmed by the general reader who is interested in the substance of Shtakser’s research.
I know very little about the 1905 Revolution. There was Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin”, Trostsky’s book “1905”, Lenin’s statement that “without the “dress rehearsal” of 1905, the victory of the October Revolution in 1917 would have been impossible”, the disastrous defeat of the Russian Navy by the Japanese in 1904, soldiers firing into masses of unarmed workers and their families—essentially bits and pieces that showed 1905 was important but no real sense of it. Additionally I have long been interested in the development of revolutionary cadre, mainly seen through the prism of the mobilization of North Vietnam’s population from 1946 to 1975 in war against the French, Americans and South Vietnam.
Russia in 1905 was as different as different could be from Vietnam. It was a chaotic, poorly organized and unsuccessful revolt with little leadership or coherent demands—a situation that Shtakser describes very well. Added to all this uncertainty was all but officially sanctioned anti-Semitism in Russia with terrifying riots and pogroms and state sponsored segregation. The Pale of Settlement was the territory within the borders of czarist Russia Jews could legally live, although with severe restrictions on travel, occupation and association. So young Jewish workers and students had to overcome the adversity of their economic conditions which were wretched and the discrimination against them by the state, local government, school administrators and employers along with the always present fear of being targeted in deadly ethnic riots.
These Jewish activists also wanted to assert themselves against their elders in the Jewish community as well as the state. Through a combination of education which was risky even to attempt and often accomplished in self-education circles, organized by workers, apprentices and even students. The feeling of community, collective effort and a common goal was as important to the participants as the knowledge they received—and imparted. Shtakser makes it clear that they weren’t just passive recipients—to get an education a person needed to reach out to others, often not knowing who might be a police agent or who a paid informer. This is one of the most powerful and, to me, interesting parts of the book, the drive to assert one’s individual courage and commitment while ultimate success depended on the support of the group.
“Jewish Revolutionaries in the Pale of Settlement” is a book dense with ideas and beautifully written. While it has all the scholarly apparatus of an academic text (including an excellent bibliography, the first place I look in a book like this) Shtakser’s passion for her subject and the struggle she depicts really comes through. Highly recommended for those interested in how an unorganized and oppressed group of people became an effective part of a larger social movement.
A quick thank you to the always beleaguered and short on funds Michigan library system: this is an expensive book, typical of academic texts with the publishers subsidized in some part by the budgets of university libraries, the main customers. The Michigan eLibrary gives the ordinary reader access to libraries statewide, including several university libraries which is how I was able to borrow a copy. ...more