Category Archives: Romania

Crimea: The 19th Century’s ‘Great War’

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 47-82:

Two world wars have obscured the huge scale and enormous human cost of the Crimean War. Today it seems to us a relatively minor war …. Even in the countries that took part in it (Russia, Britain, France, Piedmont-Sardinia in Italy and the Ottoman Empire, including those territories that would later make up Romania and Bulgaria) there are not many people today who could say what the Crimean War was all about. But for our ancestors before the First World War the Crimea was the major conflict of the nineteenth century, the most important war of their lifetimes, just as the world wars of the twentieth century are the dominant historical landmarks of our lives. The losses were immense – at least three-quarters of a million soldiers killed in battle or lost through illness and disease, two-thirds of them Russian. The French lost around 100,000 men, the British a small fraction of that number, about 20,000, because they sent far fewer troops (98,000 British soldiers and sailors were involved in the Crimea compared to 310,000 French).

Nobody has counted the civilian casualties: victims of the shelling; people starved to death in besieged towns; populations devastated by disease spread by the armies; entire communities wiped out in the massacres and organized campaigns of ethnic cleansing that accompanied the fighting in the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Crimea. This was the first ‘total war’, a nineteenth-century version of the wars of our own age, involving civilians and humanitarian crises.

It was also the earliest example of a truly modern war – fought with new industrial technologies, modern rifles, steamships and railways, novel forms of logistics and communication like the telegraph, important innovations in military medicine, and war reporters and photographers directly on the scene. Yet at the same time it was the last war to be conducted by the old codes of chivalry, with ‘parliamentaries’ and truces in the fighting to clear the dead and wounded from the killing fields. The early battles in the Crimea, on the River Alma and at Balaklava, where the famous Charge of the Light Brigade took place, were not so very different from the sort of fighting that went on during the Napoleonic Wars. Yet the siege of Sevastopol, the longest and most crucial phase of the Crimean War, was a precursor of the industrialized trench warfare of 1914–18. During the eleven and a half months of the siege, 120 kilometres of trenches were dug by the Russians, the British and the French; 150 million gunshots and 5 million bombs and shells of various calibre were exchanged between the two sides.

The name of the Crimean War does not reflect its global scale and huge significance for Europe, Russia and that area of the world – stretching from the Balkans to Jerusalem, from Constantinople to the Caucasus – that came to be defined by the Eastern Question, the great international problem posed by the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps it would be better to adopt the Russian name for the Crimean War, the ‘Eastern War’ (Vostochnaia voina), which at least has the merit of connecting it to the Eastern Question, or even the ‘Turco-Russian War’, the name for it in many Turkish sources, which places it in the longer-term historical context of centuries of warfare between the Russians and the Ottomans, although this omits the crucial factor of Western intervention in the war.

The war began in 1853 between Ottoman and Russian forces in the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, the territory of today’s Romania, and spread to the Caucasus, where the Turks and the British encouraged and supported the struggle of the Muslim tribes against Russia, and from there to other areas of the Black Sea. By 1854, with the intervention of the British and the French on Turkey’s side and the Austrians threatening to join this anti-Russian alliance, the Tsar withdrew his forces from the principalities, and the fighting shifted to the Crimea. But there were several other theatres of the war in 1854–5: in the Baltic Sea, where the Royal Navy planned to attack St Petersburg, the Russian capital; on the White Sea, where it bombarded the Solovetsky Monastery in July 1854; and even on the Pacific coastline of Siberia.

The global scale of the fighting was matched by the diversity of people it involved.

1 Comment

Filed under Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Caucasus, disease, France, Italy, military, nationalism, religion, Romania, Turkey, war

South Slavic Nationalism before 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 838-871:

The south Slavs lived in four different states – the Hapsburg Empire, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria – under eight different systems of government. Their impassioned nationalism imposed a dreadful blood forfeit: about 16 per cent of the entire population, almost two million men, women and children, perished violently in the six years of struggle that preceded Armistice Day 1918. Serbia fought two Balkan wars, in 1912 and 1913, to increase its size and power by seizing loose fragments of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912 the Russian foreign minister declared that a Serb–Bulgarian triumph over the Turks would be the worst outcome of the First Balkan War, because it would empower the local states to turn their aggressive instincts from Islamism, against Germanism: ‘In this event one … must prepare for a great and decisive general European war.’ Yet the Serbs and Bulgarians indeed triumphed in that conflict; a subsequent Serb–Romanian victory in the Second Balkan War – a squabble over the spoils of the First – made matters worse. Serbia doubled its territory by incorporating Macedonia and Kosovo. Serbians burst with pride, ambition and over-confidence. Wars seemed to work well for them.

In June 1914 the Russian minister in Belgrade, the dedicated pan-Slavist Nikolai Hartwig, was believed actively to desire an armed clash between Serbia and Austria, though St Petersburg almost certainly did not. The Russian ambassador in Constantinople complained that Hartwig, a former newspaper columnist, ‘shows the activity of an irresponsible journalist’. Serbia was a young country wrested from the Ottoman Empire only in 1878, which now clung to the south-eastern frontier of the Hapsburg Empire like some malevolent growth. Western statesmen regarded the place with impatience and suspicion. Its self-assertiveness, its popular catchphrase ‘Where a Serb dwells, there is Serbia,’ estabilised the Balkans. Europe’s chancelleries were irritated by its ‘little Serbia’, proud-victim culture. Serbs treated their own minority subjects, especially Muslims, with conspicuous and often murderous brutality. Every continental power recognised that the Serbs could achieve their ambition to enfold in their own polity two million brethren still under Hapsburg rule only at the cost of bringing down Franz Joseph’s empire.

Just four and a half million Serbs occupied 87,300 square kilometres of rich rural regions and barren mountains, a smaller country than Romania or Greece. Four-fifths of them lived off the land, and the country retained an exotic oriental legacy from its long subjection to the Ottomans. Such industries as it had were agriculturally based – flour and sawmills, sugar refineries, tobacco. ‘Within little more than two days’ rail from [London],’ wrote an enthusiastic pre-war British traveller, ‘there lies an undeveloped country of extraordinary fertility and potential wealth, possessing a history more wonderful than any fairy tale, and a race of heroes and patriots who may one day set Europe by the ears … I know no country which can offer so general an impression of beauty, so decided an aroma of the Middle Ages. The whole atmosphere is that of a thrilling romance. Conversation is larded with accounts of hairbreadth ’scapes and deeds of chivalry … Every stranger is welcome, and an Englishman more than any.’

Others saw Serbia in much less roseate hues: the country exemplified the Balkan tradition of domestic violence, regime change by murder. On the night of 11 June 1903, a group of young Serb officers fell upon the tyrannical King Alexander and his hated Queen Draga by candlelight in the private apartments of their palace: the bodies were later found in the garden, riddled with bullets and mutilated. Among the assassins was Dragutin Dimitrijević, who became the ‘Apis’ of the Sarajevo conspiracy: he was wounded in a clash with the royal guards, which earned him the status of a national hero. When King Peter returned from a long exile in Switzerland to take the throne of a notional constitutional monarchy, Serbia continued to seethe with factionalism. Peter had two sons: the elder, Djordje, educated in Russia, was a violent playboy who was forced to relinquish his claim to the throne after a 1908 scandal in which he kicked his butler to death. His brother Alexander, who became the royal heir, was suspected of attempting to poison Djordje. The Serb royal family provided no template for peaceful co-existence, and the army wielded as much power as that of a modern African statelet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Austria, Balkans, Bulgaria, nationalism, Romania, Russia, Turkey, war, Yugoslavia

The Turkish Defeat at Plevna, 1877

From The Sultans, by Noel Barber (Simon & Schuster, 1973), pp. 189-191:

The breakout was, of course, doomed from the start. And yet Osman Pasha all but brought off another miracle. Security in Plevna had been so strict that the Russians were quite unaware of the plans until a Polish spy woke up Skobeleff at 4 a.m. on the day. The Russian troops had hardly assembled before masses of Turkish troops started streaming across the snowy plain west of the town. At their head rode Osman Pasha on a chestnut stallion. Behind them rumbled thousands of wagons. Without wavering 2000 picked Turkish troops, with bands blazing and banners unfurled, charged the Russian trenches. By 8.30 a.m. they had annihilated one Russian regiment and broken the first links in the iron ring.

Without hesitation Osman charged into the attack on the inner Russian defence line, but here the opposition was stiffer as nearly 50,000 Turks and Russians fought hand to hand. Yet the Turks were holding their own against heavy odds and might well have succeeded, but for a catastrophe. A stray bullet wounded Osman Pasha. Those around him saw him lurch, then fall from his horse. In fact he was only wounded in the leg, but in a matter of moments the rumour galloped through the Turkish ranks that he had been killed. It was more than the half-starved, half-sick men could bear, and in a panic they streamed away from the Russian defences. By the time they had been regrouped, it was too late, and the Russians had occupied the Turkish redoubts, cutting off any hope of reaching a temporary sanctuary there. By one o’clock, the last shot was fired in a siege that had lasted 143 days, and from a house near the bridge, where the wounded Osman had taken refuge, a white flag fluttered.

Osman Pasha was treated as a hero by the Russians. When the Grand Duke Nicholas finally came face to face with him, he shook his hand and cried, ‘I compliment you on your defence of Plevna. It is one of the most splendid exploits in history.’ The immaculately booted Russian officers echoed, ‘Bravo!’ And when Osman Pasha first met the general in white uniform and realised it was Skobeleff, he took his hand and said to him, ‘One day you will be commander-in-chief of the Russian Army.’

The Czar invited Osman Pasha to luncheon, and when Osman removed his sword the Czar returned it to him. As Osman prepared to leave for internment in Kharkov, a member of the Czar’s staff offered him a sprig of myrtle – a traditional Russian sign that he was no longer their enemy.

A very different fate was reserved for the soldiers of the line. Despite repeated Russian promises that prisoners would be well treated, nearly 45,000 Turks were kept in the bitterly cold open air of Plevna for two weeks. They received virtually no food, drugs, medical aid; nor could then even drink the water of the River Vid which was contaminated by hundreds of corpses. Three thousand men died before the rest set off in the snow to various interment camps. Of the 42,000 men who started, often barefoot, on the long march to prison, barely 15,000 reached Russia. A fate as terrible awaited the seriously wounded left behind by Osman. The Bulgarians, conveniently ignoring their promises, dragged them from the hospitals and massacred every man.

One last and gruesome echo of the heroic siege of Plevna appeared in, of all places, a Bristol newspaper. It consisted of one paragraph that escaped general notice in England. In an article dealing with fertilizers, it read simply: ‘Thirty tons of human bones, comprising thirty thousand skeletons, have just been landed at Bristol from Plevna.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey, war

First Romanian Orthodox Church in Africa

Orthodox priest and blogger Khanya recently filed a firsthand report (with photos) on the founding of the First Romanian Orthodox Church in Africa. In the distant background of the first photo you can see the recently built Midrand Nizamiye Mosque, the first Turkish mosque in South Africa and “the largest religious complex in the southern hemisphere.”

Here’s a bit of the text of his report (with a few typos corrected).

Archbishop Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria and Bishop Petronius of Zalău in the Sălaj County of Romania laid the foundation stone of St Andrew’s Romanian Orthodox Church in Midrand, Gauteng. It is the first Romanian Orthodox Church in Africa.

In 2001 Father Mihai (Mircea) Corpodean came to be a priest for the Romanian community, but since they had no church of their own, and the Churchy of St Nicholas in Brixton had just lost its priest, the bishop at that time, Metropolitan Seraphim, asked Fr Mihai to become parish priest at St Nicholas. St Nicholas was started as a multiethic parish, and welcomed the Romanian community, and we still use some Romanian in services there.

It took the Romanian community quite a long time to find a suitable piece of land, and in 2008 Fr Mihai moved to New Zealand, and Fr Razvan Tatu came to replace him, and began holding Romanian service at St George’s Hotel near Oilfantsfontein.

Leave a comment

Filed under migration, religion, Romania, South Africa

Salonica, 1800s: Religion vs. Nation

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 242-243:

TO THE OTTOMAN AUTHORITIES what had always mattered were religious rather than national or linguistic differences: Balkan Christians were either under the authority of the Patriarch in Constantinople or they were—more rarely—Catholic or Protestant. The Patriarchate shared the same outlook; it was indifferent to whether its flock spoke Greek, Vlach, Bulgarian or any other language or dialect. As for the illiterate Slav-speaking peasants tilling the fields, they rarely felt strongly about either Greece or Bulgaria and when asked which they were, many insisted on being known simply, as they had been for centuries, as “Christians.”

In Salonica itself, the growth of the Christian population had come from continual immigration over centuries from outlying villages, often as distant as the far side of the Pindos mountains, where many of the inhabitants spoke not Greek but Vlach (a Romance language akin to Romanian), Albanian or indeed various forms of Slavic. The city’s life, schools and priests gave these villagers, or their children, a new tongue, and turned them into Greeks. In fact many famous Greek figures of the past were really Vlachs by origin, including the savant Mosiodax, the revolutionary Rhigas Velestinlis, as well as the city’s first “Greek” printers, the Garbolas family, and the Manakis brothers, pioneers of Balkan cinema. “Twenty years ago there was nothing in Balkan politics so inevitable, so nearly axiomatic, as the connection of the Vlachs with the Greek cause,” wrote Brailsford in 1905. “They had no national consciousness and no national ambition … With some of them Hellenism was a passion and an enthusiasm. They believed themselves to be Greek. They baptized their children ‘Themistocles’ and ‘Penelope.’ They studied in Athens and they left their fortunes to Greek schools and Greek hospitals.” So many Vlachs settled in Salonica that in 1880 a Romanian paper claimed, to the fury of the Greek community, that there were no genuine Greeks there at all. Changing—or rather, acquiring—nationality was often simply a matter of upward mobility and a French consul once notoriously boasted that with a million pounds he could make Macedonians into Frenchmen.

Money affected nationality in other ways as well. In the Ottoman system, the Orthodox Church was not merely a focus of spiritual life; it was also a gatherer of taxes. Peasants in the countryside, just like wealthy magnates in Salonica itself, chafed at the power and corruption that accompanied these privileges. But while most bishops and the higher ecclesiastical hierarchy spoke Greek—the traditional language of the church and religious learning—and looked down on the use of Slavic, most Christian peasants around Salonica spoke Bulgarian—or if not Bulgarian then a Slavic tongue close to it. This started to matter to the peasants themselves once they identified Greek with the language not merely of holy scripture but of excessive taxation and corruption. In 1860, the Bishop of Cassandra’s extortions actually drove some villagers under his jurisdiction to threaten to convert to Catholicism—French priests from Salonica contacted the families concerned, promising them complete freedom of worship and a “Bishop of your own creed who will not take a single piastre from you.” Other villagers from near Kilkis demanded a bishop who would provide the liturgy in Old Church Slavonic and got one after they too started to declare themselves for Rome.

Yet what these peasants were talking was about shifting their religious not their national allegiance and it took decades for the discontent of the village tax-payer to be further transformed into nationalism. Greek continued to be the language of upward mobility through the nineteenth century. As for Bulgarian self-consciousness, this was slow to develop. Sir Henry Layard visited Salonica in 1842 to enquire into the movement which was alleged to be in progress amongst the Bulgarians but he did not find very much. “The Bulgarians, being of the Greek faith” he wrote later, “were then included by the Porte in classifying the Christian subjects of the Sultan, among the Greeks. It was not until many years afterwards that the Christians to the south of the Balkans speaking the Bulgarian language, were recognized as a distinct nation. At the time of my visit to Salonica no part of its Christian population, which was considerable, was known as Bulgarian.”

What led Slavic speakers to see their mother tongue in a new light was the influence of political ideologies coming from central and eastern Europe. German-inspired romantic nationalism glorified and ennobled the language of the peasantry and insisted it was as worthy of study and propagation as any other. Pan-Slavism—helped along perhaps by Russian agents—gave them pride in their unwritten family tongue and identified the enemy, for the first time, as Greek cultural arrogance. “I feel a great sorrow,” wrote Kiryak/Kyriakos Durzhiovich/Darlovitsi, the printer, “that although I am a Bulgarian I do not know how to write in the Bulgarian language.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Balkans, Bulgaria, education, Greece, language, nationalism, religion, Romania, Turkey

Herta Müller on Securitate Spies and Friends

On 31 August 2008, before the announcement of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, signandsight.com published an excerpt from Herta Müller‘s latest novel, “Everything I Own I Carry With Me” (“Atemschaukel”). Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt that captures the ambiguities of close friendships in police states, at least judging from our own experience in Romania in 1983-84.

The three years at the tractor factory Tehnometal where I was a translator are missing [from my Securitate file]. I translated the manuals for machines imported from the GDR, Austria and Switzerland. For two years I sat with four bookkeepers in the office. They worked out the wages of the workers, I turned the pages of my fat technical dictionaries. I didn’t understand the first thing about hydraulic or non-hydraulic presses, levers or gauges. When the dictionary offered three, four, or even seven terms, I went out onto the factory floor and asked the workers. They told me the correct Romanian word without any knowledge of German – they knew their machines. In the third year a “protocol office” was established. The company director moved me there to work alongside two newly employed translators, one from French, the other from English. One was the wife of a university professor who, even in my student days, was said to be a Securitate informant. The other was the daughter-in-law of the second most senior secret service officer in town. Only those two had the key to the file cupboard. When foreign professionals visited, I had to leave the office. Then, apparently, I was to be put through two recruitment tests with the secret police officer Stana, to be made suitable for the office. After my second refusal, his goodbye was: “You’ll be sorry, we’ll drown you in the river.”

One morning when I turned up for work, my dictionaries were lying on the floor outside the office door. My place had been taken by an engineer, and I was no longer allowed into the office. I couldn’t go home, they would have sacked me there and then. Now I had no table, no chair. For two days, I defiantly sat my eight hours with the dictionaries on a concrete staircase that joined the ground and first floors, trying to translate so that no one could say I wasn’t working. The office staff walked past me in silence. My friend Jenny, an engineer, knew about what was happening to me. Every day on our way home I explained it to her in detail. She came to me in the lunch break and sat down on the stairs. We ate together as we had done before in my office. Over the loudspeaker in the yard we could always hear the workers’ choruses about the happiness of the people. She ate and cried for me, I didn’t. I had to be strong.

On the third day I installed myself at Jenny’s desk, she cleared a corner for me. On the fourth day too. It was a large office. On the fifth morning she was waiting for me outside the door. “I am no longer allowed to let you in the office. Just think, my colleagues say you are a spy. ” “How’s that possible,” I asked. “But you know where we’re living,” she reasoned. I took my dictionaries and sat down on the stairs again. This time I cried too. When I went out onto the factory floor to ask about a word, the workers whistled after me and shouted: “Informer”. It was a witches’ cauldron. How many spies were there in Jenny’s office and on the shop floor. They were acting on instructions. There were orders from above to attack me, the slander was meant to force me to resign. At the beginning of these turbulent times my father died. I no longer had a grip on things, I had to reassure myself that I really existed in the world, and began to write down the story of my – these writings formed the basis of the short stories in “Nadirs”.

The fact that I was now considered a spy because I had refused to become one was worse than the attempt to recruit me and the death threat. I was being slandered by precisely the people that I was protecting by refusing to spy on them. Jenny and a handful of colleagues could see the games that were being played with me. But those who knew me less well could not. How could I have explained to them what was going on, how could I have proved the opposite. It was completely impossible, as the Securitate knew only too well, and that is exactly why they did it to me. They knew, too, that such perfidy would be far more destructive than any blackmail. You can even get used to death threats. They are part and parcel of this one life we have. You can defy anxiety to the depths of your soul. But slander steals your soul. You just feel surrounded by horror.

How long this situation lasted, I no longer know. It seemed endless to me. It was probably just weeks. Finally, I was sacked….

My file at least answered one painful question. A year after my departure from Romania, Jenny came to visit in Berlin. Since the time of the harassment in the factory she had been my closest friend. Even after I was sacked we saw each other almost daily. But when I saw her passport in our Berlin kitchen, and the additional visas for France and Greece, I confronted her directly: “You don’t get a passport like that for nothing, what did you do to get it?” Her answer: “The secret service has sent me, and I was desperate to see you again.” Jenny had cancer – she is long dead now. She told me that her task was to investigate our flat and our daily habits. When we get up and go to bed, where we do our shopping and what we buy. On her return, she promised, she would only pass on what had been agreed between us. She lived with us, wanted to stay for a month. With each day my distrust grew. After just a couple of days I rummaged through her suitcase and found the telephone number of the Romanian consulate and a copy of our door key. After that I lived with the suspicion that in all probability she had been spying on me from the outset, her friendship just part of the job. After her return, I see from the file, she delivered a detailed description of the flat and of our habits, as “SURSA (source) SANDA”.

But in a bugging protocol from 21 December, 1984, a note in the margin, next to Jenny’s name, reads: “We must identify JENI, apparently there is great trust between them.” This friendship, which meant so much to me, was ruined by her visit to Berlin, a terminally ill cancer patient lured into betrayal after chemotherapy. The copied key made it clear that Jenny had fulfilled her task behind our backs. I had to ask her to leave our Berlin flat at once. I had to chase my closest friend out in order to protect myself and Richard Wagner from her assignment. This tangle of love and betrayal was unavoidable. A thousand times I have turned her visit over in my mind, mourned our friendship, discovering to my disbelief that after my emigration, Jenny had a relationship with a Securitate officer. Today I am glad, for the file shows that our intimacy had grown naturally and had not been arranged by the secret service, and that Jenny didn’t spy on me until after my emigration. You become grateful for small mercies, trawling through all the poison for a part that isn’t contaminated, however small. That my file proves that the feelings between us were real, almost makes me happy now.

via Arts & Letters Daily

Leave a comment

Filed under Germany, language, literature, Romania

Kim Jong Un: Apollo of the Amnok, Titan of the Tumen, …

Whenever I wonder what Romania might be like now if Nicolae Ceauşescu had somehow managed to survive long enough to pass his kingdom on to his son, Nicu (alas, poor Nicu!), I just turn my gaze to the royal succession in the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea, which fits Tony Judt‘s characterization of Ceauşescu’s Romania only too well.

Romanian Communism in its last years sat uneasily athwart the intersection of brutality and parody. Portraits of the Party leader and his wife were everywhere; his praise was sung in dithyrambic terms that might have embarrassed even Stalin himself (though not perhaps North Korea’s Kim Il Sung, with whom the Romanian leader was sometimes compared). A short list of the epithets officially-approved by Ceauşescu for use in accounts of his achievements would include: The Architect; The Creed-shaper; The Wise Helmsman; The Tallest Mast; The Nimbus of Victory; The Visionary; The Titan; The Son of the Sun; A Danube of Thought; and The Genius of the Carpathians.

But now it looks as if the heralds of the Kim dynasty are preparing for another royal succession by echoing the epithets of the Genius of the Carpathians in describing a Brilliant Comrade, the Grandson of the Sun, the Dauphin of Dokdo, the Titan of the Tumen (or Dionysus of the Duman), the Apollo of the Amnok, the Priapus of Paektusan, the East Sea of Ecstasy, the Yorik of the Yalu, the Need-shaper, the Wisen Heimer, the Un, etc.

1 Comment

Filed under Korea, Romania

Ferguson on the Appeal of Fascism vs. Nazism

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 230-231, 239-240:

Considering the emphasis the new dictatorships laid on their supposedly distinctive nationalistic traditions, they all looked remarkably alike: the coloured shirts [German Brownshirts, Italian Blackshirts, Irish Blueshirts, Romanian Greenshirts], the shiny boots, the martial music, the strutting leaders, the gangster violence. At first sight, then, there was little to distinguish the German version of dictatorship from all the rest – except perhaps that Hitler was marginally more absurd than his counterparts. As late as 1939, Adolf Hitler could still be portrayed by Charlie Chaplin in his film The Great Dictator as an essentially comic figure, bawling incomprehensible speeches, striking preposterous poses and frolicking with a large inflatable globe. Yet there were in reality profound differences between National Socialism and fascism. Nearly all the dictatorships of the inter-war period were at root conservative, if not downright reactionary. The social foundations of their power were what remained of the pre-industrial ancien régime: the monarchy, the aristocracy, the officer corps and the Church, supported to varying degrees by industrialists fearful of socialism and by frivolous intellectuals who were bored of democracy’s messy compromises.* The main function the dictators performed was to crush the Left: to break their strikes, prohibit their parties, deny voice to their voters, arrest and, if it was deemed necessary, kill their leaders. One of the few measures they took that went beyond simple social restoration was to introduce new ‘corporate’ institutions supposed to regiment economic life and protect loyal supporters from the vagaries of the market. In 1924 the French historian Elie Halevy nicely characterized fascist Italy as ‘the land of tyranny … a regime extremely agreeable for travellers, where trains arrive and leave on time, where there is no strike in ports or public transport’. ‘The bourgeois’, he added, ‘are beaming.’ It was, as Renzo De Felice said in his vast and apologetic biography of the Duce, ‘the old regime in a black shirt’….

Contrary to the old claims that it was the party of the countryside, or of the north, or of the middle class, the NSDAP attracted votes right across Germany and right across the social spectrum…. It is true that places with relatively high Nazi votes were more likely to be in central northern and eastern parts, and those with relatively low Nazi votes were more likely to be in the south and west. But the more important point is that the Nazis were able to achieve some electoral success in nearly any kind of local political milieu, covering the German electoral spectrum in a way not seen before or since. The Nazi vote did not vary proportionately with the unemployment rate or the share of workers in the population. As many as two-fifths of the Nazi voters in some districts were working class, to the consternation of the Communist leadership. In response, some local Communists openly made common cause with the Nazis. ‘Oh yes, we admit that we’re in league with the National Socialists,’ said one Communist leader in Saxony. ‘Bolshevism and Fascism share a common goal: the destruction of capitalism and of the Social Democratic Party. To achieve this aim we are justified in using every means.’ It was a mark of Goebbels’ skill in making the party seem all things to all men that, simultaneously, dyed-in-the-wool Prussian Conservatives could regard the Nazis as potential partners in an anti-Marxist coalition. Thus were political rivals lured into what proved to be fatal forms of cooperation. The only significant constraint on the growth of the Nazi vote was the comparatively greater resilience of the Catholic Centre party compared with parties hitherto supported by German Protestants.

Other fascist movements, as we have seen, depended heavily on elite sponsorship to gain power. The Nazis did not need to. For all the attention that has been paid to them, the machinations of the coterie around Hindenburg were not the decisive factor, as those of the Italian elites had been in 1922. If anything, they delayed Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, an office that was rightfully his after the July 1932 election. It was not the traditional elite of landed property that was drawn to Hitler; the real Junker types found him horribly coarse. (When Hitler shook hands with Hindenburg, one conservative was reminded ‘of a headwaiter closing his hand around the tip’.) Nor was it the business elite, who not unreasonably feared that National Socialism would prove a Trojan horse for socialism proper; nor the military elite, who had every reason to dread subordination to an opinionated Austrian corporal. The key to the strength and dynamism of the Third Reich was Hitler’s appeal to the much more numerous intellectual elite; the men with university degrees who are so vital to the smooth running of a modern state and civil society.

For reasons that may be traced back to the foundation of the Bismarckian Reich or perhaps even further into Prussian history, academically educated Germans were unusually ready to prostrate themselves before a charismatic leader.

(*A list of all the treasonous clerics who flirted or did more than flirt with fascism would be a book in its own right. If only to give an illustration of how widespread the phenomenon was, dishonourable mention may be made of the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, who established his own tinpot tyranny in post-war Fiume; the poet T. S. Eliot, who wrote that ‘totalitarianism can retain the terms “freedom” and “democracy” and give them its own meaning'; the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who, as Rector of Freiburg University, lent his enthusiastic support to the Nazi regime; the political theorist Carl Schmitt, who devised pseudo-legal justifications for the illegalities of the Third Reich; the novelist Ignazio Silone, who shopped former Communist comrades to the fascists; and the poet W. B. Yeats, who wrote songs for the Irish Blueshirts. Thomas Mann, who had made his fair share of mistakes during the First World War and only with difficulty broke publicly with the Nazi regime, was not wrong when he spoke of ‘the thoroughly guilty stratum of intellectuals’.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Austria, democracy, economics, education, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, nationalism, Portugal, Romania, Spain

No Plebiscites for Germans, 1919

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 160-161:

Applying the principle of self-determination proved far from easy, however, for two reasons. First, … there were more than thirteen million Germans already living east of the borders of the pre-war Reich – perhaps as much as a fifth of the total German-speaking population of Europe. If self-determination were applied rigorously Germany might well end up bigger, which was certainly not the intention of Wilson’s fellow peacemakers. From the outset, then, there had to be inconsistency, if not hypocrisy, in the way Germany was treated: no Anschluss of the rump Austria to the Reich – despite the fact that the post-revolutionary governments in both Berlin and Vienna voted for it – and no vote at all for the 250,000 South Tyroleans, 90 per cent of whom were Germans, on whether they wanted to become Italian, but plebiscites to determine the fate of northern Schleswig (which went to Denmark), eastern Upper Silesia (to Poland) and Eupen-Malmédy (to Belgium). France reclaimed Alsace and Lorraine, lost in 1871, despite the fact that barely one in ten of the population were French-speakers. In all, around 3.5 million German-speakers ceased to be German citizens under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Equally important, under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, more than 3.2 million Germans in Bohemia, southern Moravia and the hastily constituted Austrian province of Sudetenland found themselves reluctant citizens of a new state, Czechoslovakia. There were just under three-quarters of a million Germans in the new Poland, the same number again in the mightily enlarged Romania, half a million in the new South Slav kingdom later known as Yugoslavia and another half million in the rump Hungary left over after the Treaty of Trianon.

The second problem for self-determination was that none of the peacemakers saw it as applying to their own empires – only to the empires they had defeated.

1 Comment

Filed under Austria, Belgium, democracy, Germany, Hungary, Italy, nationalism, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, U.S., war, Yugoslavia

The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944

From Red Storm over the Balkans: The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944, by David M. Glantz (U. Press of Kansas, 2007), pp. 372-378 (reviewed here and here):

Strategic Implications

Every officially sanctioned Soviet and, more recently, Russian history of the Soviet-German War published since war’s end categorically asserts that, immediately after the Red Army completed its successful winter campaign in the Ukraine during mid-April 1944, Stalin ordered his Stavka and General Staff to begin preparations to conduct a series of successive strategic offensives through Belorussia and Poland during the summer of 1944, which, from a military and political perspective, were designed to hasten the destruction of the Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Third Reich in the shortest possible time by exploiting the most direct route into the heart of Germany. Only after completing these more important offensives, these sources argue, did Stalin finally unleash the Red Army on an invasion of Romania and the Balkan region. According to this strategic paradigm, when the Red Army actually implemented the Stavka’s plan, it began its offensive into Belorussia in late June, its offensive into southern Poland in mid-July, and its offensive into Romania in late August.

Furthermore, these same histories argue that, just as the Balkan region was a secondary strategic objective for Stalin during the Red Army’s summer-fall campaign of 1944, it remained of secondary importance when the Red Army conducted its offensives during the winter campaign of 1945. Therefore, just as the Red Army invaded Romania in late August 1944, but only after its offensives in Belorussia and eastern Poland succeeded, likewise, during its winter campaign of 1945, the Red Army captured Budapest and western Hungary and invaded Austria in February and March 1945, but only after its offensive through Poland to the Oder River succeeded.

However, the “discovery” of the Red Army’s attempt to invade Romania in mid-April and May 1944 casts serious doubts on this prevailing strategic paradigm. In short, the precise timing, immense scale, complex nature, and obvious objectives of the Red Army’s offensive into Romania during April and May 1944 now clearly indicate that Stalin and his Stavka were paying considerable attention to strategic imperatives other than those described in this prevailing strategic paradigm. Simply stated, vital military, economic, and political factors prompted Stalin to order his Red Army to mount a major offensive of immense potential strategic significance into Romania between mid-April and late May 1944….

In addition to these purely military considerations, there were also strategically vital economic and political motives for Stalin and his Stavka to mount an invasion of Romania during April and May 1944. Economically, for example, as von Senger pointed out, if successful, a full-fledged Red Army invasion of Romania could deprive the Axis of its vital oilfields in Romania, thereby seriously degrading Germany’s ability to continue the war. More important still from a political standpoint, a successful invasion of Romania would likely topple the pro-German Romanian government and drive Romania from the war, and perhaps even force Bulgaria to abandon its looser ties with Hitler’s Germany. In fact, the loss of a significant portion of Romania to the Red Army would shake if not shatter the Axis’ defenses throughout the entire Balkans, inject a sizeable Red Army presence in the region, and end all hopes by Stalin’s “Big Three” counterparts, Roosevelt and Churchill, that they could halt the spread of Soviet influence into the Balkan region.

In short, since Stalin’s Western Allies were already planning Operation Overlord to land their forces on the coast of France, the Red Army’s entry into Romania would end, once and for all, Stalin’s anxiety over his Allies establishing a “second front” in the Balkans. Ever the realist, Stalin judged that the potential political gains associated with the Red Army’s advance into Romania during April and May 1944 more than outweighed any associated military risks. Nor was it coincidental that, after his spring 1944 venture failed and the Red Army’s summer offensives to the north succeeded, Stalin unleashed the Red Army forces on a new invasion deeper into Romania and the Balkans during August 1944.

Furthermore, although it will be the subject of a future book, it is now quite clear that Stalin continued to pursue a similar “Balkan strategy” during the winter of 1945 after his Allies assured him at the Yalta Conference in early February that Berlin would be his for the taking. As a result, within hours after receiving these assurances, Stalin abruptly halted the Red Army’s advance on Berlin along the Oder River, only 30 miles from Berlin, and instead shifted its main axis of advance—first, into western Hungary and, later, into the depths of Austria—for essentially the same political reasons that had motivated him to invade Romania during April, May, and August 1944. Just as Stalin had altered his strategy for a drive on Berlin by attempting to invade Romania in April and May 1944 only to resume his advance along the Berlin axis in June, a year later the Red Army began its final drive on Berlin on 16 April 1945, the day after Vienna fell. Therefore, the Red Anny’s failed offensive into Romania during April and May 1944 is remarkably consistent with Stalin’s strategic behavior during 1945.

Lesson Learned

Regardless of Stalin’s motives for authorizing the offensive into Romania, for a variety of reasons, the Red Army’s first Iasi-Kishinev offensive ended as a spectacular failure. After failing to overcome Axis defenses from the march during mid-April, Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front was equally unsuccessful in its better-prepared offensive aginst Axis forces defending in the Tirgu-Frumos and Iasi regions in May. During the same period, although Malinovsky’s 3rd Ukrainian Front was able to seize some bridgeheads across the Dnestr River in early April, its twin efforts to expand those bridgeheads later in the month achieved little more. Complicating the Stavka’s strategic plans, while Konev and Malinovsky were organizing a third effort to capture Iasi and Kishinev during mid-May, for the first time since late 1942, counterattacking German forces actually managed to inflict serious defeats on major Red Army forces defending bridgeheads across a major river….

The defending German forces had also been fighting for as prolonged a period as their Red Army counterparts and had suffered many serious and costly defeats and heavy losses in men and equipment. Furthermore, when Konev’s and Malinovsky’s forces invaded Romania, in many sectors they faced green and poorly motivated and equipped Romanian troops. Despite this fact, fighting with a determination born of desperation, the Axis forces were able to hold firmly to most of their defenses in April and early May and, thereafter, mount successful counterstrokes of their own during early May and early June.

Difficult spring weather conditions and the adverse effect of the heavy rains and flooding on the terrain also certainly exacerbated the already significant logistical problems the two fronts were experiencing as they operated at the end of their overextended lines of communications characterized by a rickety patchwork logistical network that was just being constructed. First, the two Ukrainian fronts were conducting offensive operations in a region whose hilly, broken, and often lightly wooded terrain differed substantially from the rolling grass-covered flatlands of the Ukraine to which their troops were long accustomed.

Second, for the first time in the war, the two fronts were attempting to conduct offensive operations after warmer weather melted the icy surface they had exploited to conduct mobile military operations in previous winters. Predictably, the rasputitsa proved as formidable an obstacle to the two fronts’ advancing forces as the Germans’ resistance and, in some cases, even more formidable.

Third, compounding the problems cited above, pursuant to orders, as they conducted their fighting withdrawal, the Germans systematically destroyed everything of value both for destruction’s sake and to create obstacles to the Red Army’s forward movement. They blew up railroads, beds, tracks, and culverts alike; they cratered roads and demolished dams; and they destroyed every building or installation regardless of military value. In short, they left a vast wasteland for the Red Army to traverse in their wake.

As a result, whether attacking or defending, in addition to experiencing customary shortages of food, which made soldierly foraging an essential art, and the normal effects of prolonged combat attrition, virtually every formation and unit within the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts suffered significant losses in weaponry and heavy equipment and experienced severe ammunition and fuel shortages. For example, archival documents indicate that, prior to its offensive along the Tirgu Frumos axis on 2 May, the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s 2nd Tank Army was supplied with between two and five combat loads of ammunition and two to two and one-half refills of gasoline and diesel fuel, which was not excessively low to conduct such an operation. However, it would be disingenuous to offer these realities as excuses for Konev’s and Malinovsky’ offensive failures, since, as was always the case, the two front commanders, as well as their subordinate officers and soldiers alike, frequently relied on sheer ingenuity or “native wit” to resolve their logistical dilemmas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Germany, Romania, USSR, war