Monthly Archives: January 2004

Inner Eurasia in World History

In 1994 historian David Christian published an article in the Journal of World History entitled “Inner Eurasia as a Unit in World History.” The article seems to have generated more attention than the book he later published on the subject.

Inner Eurasia includes the lands dominated by the former Soviet Union, as well as Mongolia and parts of Xinjiang. These make up the heartland of the Eurasian continent. Inner Eurasia is a coherent unit of world history, for its societies faced ecological and military problems different from those of the rest of Eurasia and responded by evolving distinctive lifeways. Five dominant lifeways are described here, which have shaped the history of the entire region from prehistory to the present. Inner Eurasia is losing its distinctive features in the contemporary era.

What makes Inner Eurasia so distinctive? For one, the absence of major barriers to military expansion make it a natural unit of military and political history. Two of the three largest empires ever created, the Mongol empire and the Russian empire, both emerged in Inner Eurasia. Furthermore, the region’s low ecological and demographic productivity sharply distinguishes it from Outer Eurasia: Western and Southeast Europe, and Southwest, South, Southeast, and East Asia.

Christian outlines five dominant adaptations that have shaped the region’s history: (1) hunting during the Paleolithic, (2) the rise of relatively sedentary but increasingly militarized pastoralism during the Neolithic, followed by (3) the emergence of pastoral nomadism and pastoral nomadic states like that of the Mongols, (4) the growth of agrarian autocracies like those of Kievan Rus and Muscovy, and (5) the Soviet command economy.

By the end of the twentieth century, however, Inner Eurasia may have lost its distinctiveness. Changes in industrial techology have begun to erase its ecological disadvantages, as abundant mineral and energy supplies compensate for low agricultural productivity. And changes in military technology have rendered much of the world into the equivalent of the single, vast plain that used to distinguish Inner Asia.

SOURCE: David Christian, “Inner Eurasia as a Unit in World History,” Journal of World History 5:173-211.

UPDATE: In the comments, Randy McDonald notes his review of The Siberian Curse on his LiveJournal blog. It suggests that environmental conditions in Inner Eurasia–at least in the more inhospitable areas–might marginalize the area in a global economy where capital is attracted to more easily exploitable areas. There certainly seems to have been a net population outflow from the less hospitable reaches of Inner Eurasia now that the gulag and deportations aren’t supporting an artificial economy there.

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First Southernization, Then Westernization

The West began to have an impact on the rest of the globe from about the fifteenth century. According to the historian Lynda Shaffer in a seminal article in the Journal of World History in 1994, the South began to have a similar impact a millennium earlier. “The term southernization is meant to be analogous to westernization.”

A process called southernization first began in Southern Asia. By the fifth century C.E. [= A.D.], developments associated with southernization were present in India, whence they spread to China and then to the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin. After 1200 they began to have an impact on southern Europe. These developments included the discovery of bullion sources, the emergence of a new mathematics, the pioneering of trade routes, the trade in tropical spices, the cultivation of southern crops such as sugar and cotton, and the invention of various technologies.

Cotton was first domesticated in the Indus River valley and Indian cotton virtually clothed the world until Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

During the Mauryan Empire (321-185 B.C.E), Siberia had been India’s main source for gold bullion, but when that route was disrupted, Indians began to look for gold in the Malay and Indonesian archipelagos, and then in East Africa. By the fifth century C.E., Indian traders and Malay sailors had established sea routes all the way from the Red Sea to China, and even into the Pacific.

Until 1621 C.E., the Moluccas (Maluku) was the only place on earth able to produce commercial quantities of cloves, nutmeg, and mace. Sugar may have been first domesticated in New Guinea, but the Indians were the first to discover how to turn it into granulated crystals that could be easily stored and transported.

Indians also invented the concept of zero, which the Arabs eventually conveyed to the Europeans. What the West called Arabic numerals, the Arabs called Hindi numerals.

During the period of Southernization in Sui, Tang, and Song China (6th to 13th centuries C.E.), Buddhism and rice agriculture spread from south to north, and the north became less dominant intellectually, socially, and politically.

During the early Muslim Caliphates, sugar, cotton, and citrus fruits spread north. The Arabs were the first to import large numbers of East African (Zanj) slaves to work sugar plantations near Basra at the north end of the Persian Gulf. By 1000, sugar and cotton had become important crops from Iran to Spain. Arabs also pioneered new trade routes and discovered new sources of silver in Tashkent and in Afghanistan that rivaled the later discoveries near Potosi in the New World. After silver became relatively abundant, Arabs sought new sources of gold in East and West Africa.

“By 1200 the process of southernization had created a prosperous south from China to the Muslim Mediterranean.” The Mongol conquests then helped to southernize northern regions across Eurasia. “Southernization was not overtaken by westernization until the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century…. Only after the northwestern Europeans had added to their own repertoire every one of the elements of southernization did the world become divided into a powerful, prestigious, and rich north and an impoverished south perceived to be in need of development.”

SOURCE: Linda Shaffer, “Southernization,” Journal of World History 5:1-21.

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The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographs

Nathan Hamm‘s recent “-Stans Summary” on Winds of Change included a link to an exquisite Library of Congress Exhibition entitled The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated. It includes a biography of Gorskii and a record of the diversity of architecture, ethnicities, transportation, and occupations found throughout the Empire, as well as a section on the techniques of digichromatography that enriched the exhibit.

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Romania’s Unsettled Szeklers

In its compilation of news for the week of 20-26 January 2004, Transitions Online reports that the Szeklers, a minority within the Hungarian minority in Romania (see map), are making another push for autonomy. (Access to TOL archives is by subscription only.)

It may have no chance of success, but the call for a Hungarian autonomous region reveals how deep the rifts now are between Romania’s Hungarians as well as with Romanians….

The document appears not to have the slightest chance of becoming a bill, let alone law, as the majority of even Democratic Alliance of Hungarians from Romania (UDMR) parliamentarians have clearly stated that they do not back the idea. The proposal will be sent to the Romanian parliament in early February….

Territorial autonomy for the Hungarian minority has, in the past year, become one of the most disputed issues in Romanian society. And the demands seem to be becoming more and more radical with each passing day….

Szekler is another name for the East Transylvanian Hungarians. Originally, the Szeklers were a Turkish group, brought in by Hungary’s kings around 1200 to guard Transylvania’s eastern borders.

Over the centuries, they lost their language and almost all their traditions. Even their names are now pure Hungarian. But, to this day, they carry their separate origin as a badge of pride….

According to the 2002 census, there are 1,434,377 ethnic Hungarians in Romania (6.6 percent of the population). This makes them the country’s largest ethnic minority according to official figures. Almost 99% of them live in the western reaches and center of the country, in Transylvania, and the regions of Crisana, Maramures, and Banat.

Other sizeable minorities are the Roma (officially 535,250, although most estimates are at least twice that figure), Ukrainians (61,091), and Germans (60,080).

Hungarians are the majority population in two of Romania’s 41 counties, more than a third of the population in another two, and in another two account for over 20 percent.


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Szekely Armenians, Armeno-Kipchaks, Zipsers, and Other Odd Minorities in Eastern Europe

Language hat has a fact-, factoid-, and fun-filled comment thread in response to a post about a fine poem “A Dish of Peaches in Cluj” by Maria Benet on alembic. Here’s a sample:

“Csangos, the Hungarian minority in Romanian Moldavia, usually have Romanian names for their villages, so you have Saboani for Szabofalva (Tailor Village) or Faroani for “Forrofalva” (Boiling Village), but these are rarely on any map since the mere existence of the Csangos is still a controversial theme in Romania.” …

“You know the Redneck Hillbilly family characters who occasionally appear on the Simpsons? Imagine them speaking Hungarian, eating raw bacon and potatoes, drinking quarts of wood alcohol, and chewing coffee beans. Székelys.” …

“Ah, the Zipsers! I presume they came from Spisz / Spis / Zips / Szepes, one of my favorite multilingual Eastern European place names.” …

“The Armenians entered in the late 1600 via the Ukraine and Volynia. There were already communities of them around the black sea but the Jelali Revolts in eastern Turkey around 1610 caused a flood of Anatolian Armenians to flee to the Ukraine, and thence to Moldavia (There are still some in Iasi and Suceava).” …

“Radio Erevan [call-in] jokes … –Can bedbugs make a revolution? –In principle, yes, for in their veins flows the blood of peasants and workers.”

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Music through the Dark

There must have been many “reluctant elements” in Cambodia at that time because every night the soldiers took someone to kill. At first they did not kill in the light of day. The soldiers always took people at night and killed them in the animal world of the forest.

The soldiers were constantly looking for mistakes, indications of sabotage, enemies. They became more and more irrational. At first just the staff and military officers of the former government were killed. After a while, the definition of enemies expanded to include anyone with an education, anyone wearing glasses, then the families, even small children, of the enemy. People were killed for the smallest imperfection–asking a soldier a question, eating food other than that rationed to them, being late to work, anything at all. We used to say these men had pineapple eyes: hundreds of eyes looking for mistakes and reasons to kill.

One of the men I had been in the forest with made the fatal mistake of missing his family. he had not adjusted to living in the cooperative and became depressed. His depression made him careless, however, and he began to talk about missing his wife and children, missing his home in Phnom Penh, misisng the feeling of being full. So one night the soldiers pulled him from his hammock and took him to the forest. We heard a single shot. They wanted to kill his idea of what society should be. That was how the soldiers were. They believed that in order to kill an idea, you must kill the body.

I came to know all of this not at once but gradually over a number of weeks. When I realized what had happened, I cried to myself, “This is not Cambodia and these are not my people! Where is my Cambodia?” I could not comprehend.

SOURCE: Music through the Dark: A Tale of Survival in Cambodia, by Bree Lafreniere (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2000), pp. 81-82. The speaker is Daran Kravanh, whose love for music endangered his life and whose accordion-playing helped save it.

I cannot tell you how or why I survived; I do not know myself. It is like this: love and music and memory and invisible hands, and something that comes out of a society of the living and the dead, for which there are no words.

UPDATE: By coincidence, the January 29 edition of The Guardian carries a story about a remarkable documentary film, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, by one of the few survivors of Tuol Sleng.

Unlike Belsen or Auschwitz, Tuol Sleng was primarily a political death centre. Leading members of the Khmer Rouge movement, including those who formed an early resistance to Pol Pot, were murdered here, usually after “confessing” that they had worked for the CIA, the KGB, Hanoi: anything that would satisfy the residing paranoia. Whole families were confined in small cells, fettered to a single iron bar. Some slept naked on the stone floor. On a school blackboard was written:

1. Speaking is absolutely forbidden.

2. Before doing something, the authorisation of the warden must be obtained.

“Doing something” might mean only changing position in the cell, and the transgressor would receive 20 to 30 strokes with a whip. Latrines were small ammunition boxes labelled “Made in USA”. For upsetting a box of excrement the punishment was licking the floor with your tongue, torture or death, or all three.

Of course, the reporter is John Pilger, so the chief culprits are Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, whose work “Pol Pot completed” (that notorious capitalist lickspittle!).

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Music through the Dark, cont.

Weeks went by and word reached the cooperative leader that I was able to play music. This leader was a woman named Miss Khon. She replaced Mr. Nhek when he was taken away to be killed because the Khmer Rouge believed he had been disloyal.

One day, Miss Khon came to see me while I was cutting a log. She asked me, “Are you the one who plays the strange instrument?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then I order you to play!”

I was so scared I jumped down and ran to get my accordion and find Mr. Chhoeun. I looked for him everywhere and finally I saw him and exclaimed, “We must play music right away for Angkar!”

We returned to the leader, who stood waiting. Armed bodyguards were on either side of her. She did not have a gun. She did not need one. If she wanted someone to die, she just used her voice. I was nervous, and my arms were shaking from having cut logs all day. I wondered how well I’d be able to play. Miss Khon asked, “What do you call that instrument?”

“It’s called an accordion,” I said.

“Is that a Cambodian word?” she asked.

“No,” was all I said.

“Did you make that instrument yourself?” she asked.

“No,” is all I said again.

I grew more tense. I waited for Mr. Chhoeun to tune his mandolin. Miss Khon grew impatient and yelled at us to hurry. When we were ready to start, I asked the leader what song she wanted. She said she wanted to hear a song called “The Children Love Angkar without Limit.” I played and she listened while staring at the accordion. Then she sat down and asked for another song. I don’t remember what that song was. Then she requested a third song, “The Children Work on the Railroad.”

The last song she asked for was a song about how the capitalists killed the Khmer Rouge by hanging them from trees. The Khmer Rouge loved this song because it filled them with emotion and gave them a taste for revenge. As the leader sang along with the music, it appeared some distant emotions were flooding back to her. I recognized the look because I had seen the same expression on my mother’s face. Tears formed at the edges of her eyes. I pretended not to notice. After we had finished she stood up, put her hand on my shoulder, and said: “I want you to come play for me at my house.” Many times after that she ordered me to play.

Once when I went to the leader’s house, she asked me if I would like a bag of jewelry in exchange for my music. But what good was jewelry to me? I said, “Thank you so much. But may I have some sugar and oranges instead?”

She told me, “Yes, take what you like.”

I took the sugar and oranges and left her house running to share them with the others. Giving another person an orange was not just giving them an orange. It was giving them a day of life.

SOURCE: Music through the Dark: A Tale of Survival in Cambodia, by Bree Lafreniere (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2000), pp. 100-101.

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Could There Be a Sharper Contrast?

As martial Nepal sinks into bloody anarchy, blessed Bhutan begins “operationalizing the concept of Gross National Happiness“!

Nepal (see map):

Outside the capital, a dangerous anarchic vacuum is developing throughout the countryside, the majority of which is under the control of neither the Maoists nor the army. Nepal’s civil structure is disintegrating in the face of conflict, weak central control and the absence of local elected leaders. Thomas Marks, author of Insurgency in Nepal, says that since 1996, Maoists have destroyed 1,321 village administration buildings and 440 post offices, while police have abandoned 895 stations and teachers have abandoned 700 schools. Little has been done to address the endemic poverty that fuels the conflict, with 42% of the population earning less than $1 a day. Adding to the sense of a nation in flames, past weeks have seen students demanding a republic by setting fires, torching effigies of the King and smashing car and shop windows in Kathmandu. The fear of deepening chaos is now on every observer’s lips. “The smell of burning tires on the streets of the capital reeks of democracy in decay,” writes Nepali Times commentator C.K. Lal. Says Kenichi Ohashi, the World Bank’s country director for Nepal: “The student agitation could get out of hand. And outside the capital there is a risk of things slowly falling apart, a sense that the country is at risk of becoming a failed state. The next 12 months seem pretty critical–it’s a race against time.”

Bhutan (see map):

“Gross National Happiness” represents the highest Bhutanese values. The development philosophy of Gross National Happiness was first expressed by His Majesty the King of Bhutan. Rooted in Buddhist philosophy and culture, it provides an alternative to GNP as a measure of, and approach to, development. Gross National Happiness (GNH) is Bhutan’s vision of development beyond material economic development and growth. Bhutan had recognized and accepted happiness as a policy concern and objective. However, there are no substantial or innovative studies done to further this concept. This seminar is the first national initiative to bring cross-fertilization of ideas from various disciplines and cross sectors.

A Gurkha royal salute to The Argus.

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Book ’em Obasanjo! – A Nigerian Scam King Jailed

Abiola of Foreign Dispatches reports the incarceration of one of the more notorious of the Nigerian scam artists.

Ever wondered who the real sources of all those 419 letters you received were? Here’s your chance to learn about just one such individual, who goes by the name Fred Ajudua. It turns out he’s actually been clapped in jail, which goes to show that Obasanjo can get the the odd thing right now and then. How astonishing it is to learn that Fred – the one and only, the man of the 10-car motorcade, the man of the multi-page spreads in Ovation magazine, the “businessman” so renowned for his exploits that he became known only by his first name, like a Nigerian Cher or Madonna – is sitting in a jail cell in Kirikiri, like a common thief!

After quoting much of the longer story on, Abiola concludes:

A lot of nice-sounding fluff, but fluff nonetheless. Still, if there’s one thing this article makes clear, it is that the conmen behind these 419 letters are by no means all as dumb people think they are. Ajudua is a crook, but he’s no dullard, and neither are most of the other 419 experts I’ve encountered in Lagos. If those pleading letters from Mrs. Sese-Seko and Mariam Abacha are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, consider that these errors were put in intentionally, to lull the gullible into a comforting sense of superiority over those dark-skinned dummies who can’t find a way to get $26 million out of the country without the help of clever white men like you, Joe Blow, sitting in your la-z-boy in Peoria, Tx; though this story doesn’t mention it, the reason for Mr. Ajudua’s arrest was his defrauding of one greedy Dutch genteman of the grand sum of $1.7 million dollars.

Of course, Fred is now teaching law in prison. “Giving back to the community,” I’m sure he would say.

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A Polynesian Schindler? Isle Musician Saves Lives in Holocaust

He’d have them impersonate groupies or say they were his stage hands or relatives. Once, he even snuck a few over the border tucked in his trunk and hidden among the colorful folds of his stage costumes.

In all, McKinley High School graduate and Laie resident Tau Moe, who traveled the world playing Hawaiian music with his family for more than 50 years, estimates he helped at least 150 of his Jewish musician friends escape Germany and Austria just before the height of Adolf Hitler’s reign….

The Moe family was a sell-out act during their heyday. They toured Singapore, the Middle East, Germany, Italy and India. They found fans of Hawaiian music in Egypt, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Denmark, England, Sweden and Finland.

Moe was in charge of the steel guitar and tap dancing for the group. Moe’s wife, Rose, took care of the singing while also sprinkling in some dancing and playing of her own.

The Moe children–son Lani, who was born in Japan, and daughter Dorian, born in India–played instruments, danced, sang and were featured in a number of European films.

Lani, who died in 2002 at age 73, was something of a child star and became so popular in Germany that when he raised thousands of dollars for an orphanage charity through his performances, he was selected to ride in Hitler’s car during a parade.

SOURCE: Mary Vorsino, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 26 January 2004

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