23 August 2012

An 'A' for Effort

Old Vienna

 Some nonsense that I ran into recently:
"Some researchers believe "Hitler" is a Czech name, and, if that is the case, Hitler was a genetic member of the vast Slavic linguistic family in Europe. Hitler's friend from his hometown of Linz, August Kubizek (a Czech name), also came to Vienna and they roomed together."
It's an amusing claim that immediately reminded me of a similar one that it compliments perfectly, made by Robert Kaplan in his 1990s smash hit Balkan Ghosts:
"Twentieth-century history came from the Balkans. Here men have been isolated by poverty and ethnic rivalry, dooming them to hate. Here politics has been reduced to a level of near anarchy that from time to time in history has flowed up the Danube into Central Europe. Nazism, for instance, can claim Balkan origins. Among the flophouses of Vienna, a breeding ground of ethnic resentments close to the southern Slavic world, Hitler learned to hate."
It is really interesting how a few people will try so hard to pin even Adolf Hitler on East Europe, or the Slavic world and into how dubious territory they they are willing to go for the purpose. If you believe both of the claims above, then Hitler was a "genetic member" of Slavdom in the first place, and he became a nasty guy and the founder of Nazism after he internalized an aspect of culture of the uber-nasty Balkan Slavs of Vienna.

Such labor in trying to make the connection between the two, Hitler and East Europe, or alternatively Hitler and the Balkans, or the Slav world, goes to show how strongly the two must be connected in the mind of the person making the claim. For some people, their understanding of the character of their own part of the world simply requires East Europe and/or the Balkans be another word for a hate crime. And if squaring that with some inconvenient historical facts means having to enter some incredibly bizarre territory to make the German and the Westerner Adolf Hitler into a potential Slav or an Eastern/Balkan European, then so be it.

21 August 2012

An Own Goal

An excerpt from the preface to the second edition (2000) of Borderlands of Western Civilization (Oskar Halecki, 1952), by one Andrew Simon, professor emeritus of University of Akron:
"Nations of Orthodox Christianity never experienced the great intellectual movements that define Western civilization. Peoples who were subjected to the oppressive Ottoman rule for 500 years learned to accept corruption, intolerance and despotism and appeared to be quite willing to live under Communism to its end, without a trace of resistance. These countries needed no occupying Soviet armies to keep them in line."

"Ethnic or religious intolerance and despotism led to systematic rampages of genocide: the slaying of 8,000 Jews in Jassy on June 29 of 1941 by the Romanian authorities, the murder of 7,000 Bosnian Moslems in Srebrenica by the Serbs in July of 1995 were driven by the same hyper-nationalistic and xenophobic mentality characteristic of the east."
I'm highlighting this because of how dumb it is. So a retired professor from the United States will write, without a hint of self-consciousness, that a massacre in Romania in 1941 in which 8,000 Jews were killed defines the mentality of the east. But wait a minute, wasn't the Iaşi pogrom only one incident in a much larger event known as the Jewish Holocaust? And isn't it the case that as Romania authorities murdered up to 400,000 Jews in the Holocaust (just over one half of the Jewish population under their control), the German authorities murdered the other 5.6 million (virtually the entire Jewish population under their control)?

So if the Iaşi massacre tells us something very important about that east which lies beyond the "borderlands of Western civilization", then why would it not be the case that Auschwitz-Birkenau should tell us something very important about the Western civilization itself? Why wouldn't it be the case the (greater) German role in the Holocaust would be equally revealing of mentality that is characteristic of the west, just as the (smaller) Romanian role can supposedly define the east?

It's stupid. If one wishes to highlight the East Europeans' comparative moral inferiority it's probably a good idea to, at the very least, leave aside such crimes in which the greater part of the killing was actually carried out by Westerners.

The actual value of the passage is in succeeding to showcase perfectly the characteristic xenophobia and the dimwitednes of academics who wish to make Western civilization into a moral category and assign it moral mastery over the lands to its east.

19 August 2012

The Magic of Laissez-faire

Occupied Ukraine — Romanian zone in yellow

An excerpt from Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe (Mazower, 2008) regarding life in the Romanian occupation zone in the Ukraine:
"The Romanian administration's unrivaled venality did have some benefits. It allowed people to buy their way out of requisitioning, death sentences and forced labour duties. It also let people buy their way into business: abolishing price controls and distributing licenses to anyone who paid, the Romanians simply took their cut and stood back as individual enterprise galvanized the local economy. Looted property — especially Jewish — injected capital. In Odessa itself, new hairdressers, cafés, shops, taverns and movie theatres flourished. German visitors were astonished at the availability of food, the well-stocked restaurants, snack-bars and stands selling home-made jams, sweets and bread rolls, which stood in such sharp contrast with the misery in those parts of the Ukraine under their control. Here, for a brief moment between the early 1920s and the collapse of communism in 1989, the inhabitants of Odessa — in the midst of of total war and genocide — embraced capitalism.

In a way, it worked. After the spring of 1942 there was no food scarcity, and following that year's harvest there was, by the standards of the region, something approaching plenty: peasants and others with the access to the market prospered. Even German journalists were impressed. 'It was known everywhere that life in Transnistria was incomparably better than anywhere else in the occupied territories in Europe,' noted a young Russian black marketeer. Wading through the mud of a dirty northern Transnistrian town, he found

something which distinguished it from all the other towns of Russia and the Ukraine under German occupation: an abundance of food in the market... There was fat, so rare in the Ukraine. There was bacon, butter, vegetable oil, meat  — which we had almost forgotten existed: pork, chicken goose — and many other things that made our eyes pop. Moreover it was inexpensive. We bought a lot more than we needed, enough for a week."
Once again, it would seem the only thing needed for there to be abundance, is to leave people the hell alone, which is what Romanians in Ukraine did, provided they paid their bribes. In Pridnestrovie in 1942-44 it even worked to create a condition of plenty in the context of a ruthless occupation and disturbances associated with large-scale war.

Also another thing that is worth nothing, the episode is another example of the rule that anything positive that fuses with the state becomes negative and vice versa. Generally speaking you would value administrators with integrity more so than those without it, but when talk turns to state administrators that is not necessarily the case at all. Ukrainians under Romanian occupation would have fared far worse if Romanian officials took their duties more seriously and refused to lessen the harshness of the occupation regime in exchange for bribes ordinary Ukrainians could afford.

15 August 2012

Slavs – The Devil's Instrument of Intolerance on Earth

Check out the excellent commentary on the campaign of the British media against Ukraine, and Poland, the hosts of Euro 2012 football championship over at Brendan O'Neill's blog and Spiked Online: The fear of 'racist' Ukraine, Where are these stadiums of hate?, England’s football fans more racially enlightened than the BBC.

The story is thus; in the run up to the Euro 2012 sections of the media in Britain became fascinated with Poland and Ukraine and spent a great deal of time talking about them. The aspect of the two Euro host countries which so captivated them was their alleged racism. Supposedly the two Eastern European countries were drowning in dangerous racists who would make visiting them to enjoy the Euros a risky proposition for any black or Asian football tourists, and an ugly experience for anyone else.

In reality, despite the fear mongering of the British press, this year's Euro hosted by the Polish-Ukranian Asiatic hordes passed exactly like those before it. Clearly the British fear-mongers then had not been talking about the societies in Ukraine and Poland as they actually exist, but about the unpredictable and retrograde Slav-Tartars that inhabit them in their imaginations.

This is understandable. Analysis of Poland and Ukraine as they actually are would take work, but have uncertain appeal. The comic-book like characterization that was conjured up in its place, however, is sure to be exciting, believable and gratifying, all at the same time.

It is exciting because it tells of the exotic, in this case of hordes of fascist-salute-giving Eastern racists. It is believable because it builds upon the long tradition in the West to understand Eastern Europe as a nasty and primitive counterpart to itself. It is gratifying because it tells the Brits the fact their land is not being overrun with violent, racists thugs is actually something of an accomplishment, seeing the Poles and the Ukrainians are allegedly not capable of reproducing it.

That a number of people in Britain took twisted pleasure in convincing themselves there lurks in Poland and Ukraine an exotic and primitive menace should be rather inconsequential to an Eastern European. At most one can feel a measure of compassion for the individuals who having fell for the hack's hysteria missed out on a pleasant enough tournament they were otherwise going to attend.

Nonetheless the anti-Polish/Ukrainian campaign of the buildup to the Euro 2012 should not escape without comment seeing it is merely the most recent manifestation of long-held Western European ideas about the East. Ideas which periodically — though they did not this time — end up serving as the rationale for the attempted exercise of power by Western against Eastern Europeans.

Since the Enlightenment it has been a kind of a hobby horse of much of the Western European intelligentsia to define their lands by contrasting them with those of Eastern Europe. The Westerners are permanently eager to find in the eastern half of the continent defects to which they could compare their own alleged overcoming of such imperfections and therefore showcase their supposed greater immersion with civilization. In other words their understanding of their place in the world rests on the idea of Eastern Europe as the nearest other, as the former, or the mirror forms of themselves. It is conceded that in a very primordial sense the two, Western and Eastern Europe may be alike, but always with the understanding that the West has since developed and civilized while the East has remained under-civilized, or worse, counter-civilized by developing in a rogue, illegitimate direction.