Category Archives: Europe

Hoping for D-Day in Sarajevo, 1994

From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1930-75:

Enough was enough. The shelling of Sarajevo had to stop. Led by the United States and France, NATO issued an ultimatum: The Serbs were to withdraw their heavy-caliber weapons twelve miles away from Sarajevo or place them under the control of United Nations forces. Any weapons left within striking distance of Sarajevo would be subject to air strikes. The Serbs were given ten days to comply. The deadline was set for one o’clock on the morning of February 21—D-day as the Sarajevans were calling it, giddy with anticipation.

The planes were invisible, obscured by the persistent cloud cover of a Bosnian winter, but they made an impressive roar, drowning out normal conversation and rippling the plastic sheeting taped across the broken windowpanes. Sarajevo shuddered, but nobody complained about the noise. They looked up to the fog-shrouded skies with anticipation that the roar was a message from above and redemption was on its way.

“I’m so happy. I’m trembling when I hear the airplanes,” said Delila, her eyes glittering with excitement.

NATO forces had been patrolling the skies over Bosnia since 1992 as part of a limited mandate to enforce the no-fly zone, and to provide air cover for the UN troops on the ground. The United States had the largest number of planes in the NATO fleet, and Sarajevans had cherished the belief that these Americans would eventually come to their rescue. It was a hope nurtured by a steady diet of American films, television, and recollections of World War II.

Alija Žiga, the seventy-two-year-old head of the mosque behind the courtyard, had just finished leading services for the start of Ramadan when he came out to talk to some neighbors. He had fought with Tito’s partisans. “I was behind the front lines. The Germans had us surrounded and they were trying to starve us to death. Then, all of a sudden, these American planes flew overhead and they dropped—you are not going to believe this—hot goulash.”

Some had darker recollections. In 1943, when the Allies tried to bomb a Nazi headquarters housed in the Razija Omanović school, they mistakenly hit the Hajrić house two doors down. Suad Hajrić’s father was killed in the accident.

Almost all anybody could talk about was how the Americans were about to liberate Sarajevo. They imagined it would be a cross between the Normandy invasion and the Desert Storm bombing of Iraq in 1991. Nermin Džino declared, “The Americans missed a few targets in Iraq. I want the air strikes, even if they end up bombing my backyard by mistake.”

Delila agreed. “If I get killed by an American bomb, I won’t mind so much as if it’s a Chetnik bomb.”

As the deadline grew closer, and the Serbs continued to balk, the NATO planes flew lower and more frequently, buzzing the Serb artillery positions in warning. Everybody was convinced the Serbs would be bombed into submission. Delila was out of control. Four nights before the deadline, she ran out of the bomb shelter in the orphanage at midnight to cheer at the NATO planes flying low through the clouds.

“Come on! Come on! Do it!” she yelled, until a policeman walked by and urged her to go back inside.

Tarik Kaljanac woke up one morning, stumbled into the kitchen as his parents were watching the television news, and asked Minka, “Mom, is this the end of the war? Are the Americans really going to help us?”

The weekend before Monday, February 21—D-day—police knocked on doors up and down Logavina Street, advising people to take precautions in case the air strikes missed their targets, or, more likely, the Serbs sought retribution. A rumor swept Sarajevo that the Serbs had a new weapon, a poison gas they planned to unleash on the city. The police showed residents how to fashion a gas mask out of dishwashing liquid and a cotton rag.

After one police visit, Minka confessed she was more afraid than ever. “I worry that the Chetniks will be so angry they have to withdraw that they’ll shell us with all they’ve got. They are sore losers.”

As darkness descended on Sunday evening, Minka hung a heavy blue wool blanket over her living room window, which faced Mount Trebević. You never wanted any light glinting out to make a target for the gunners in the hills. She packed sleeping bags for the family, bread, and a canister of water in case they needed to take cover in the basement of the school. The dishwashing liquid was on the kitchen table, just in case.

The anticlimax should have been predictable. First, the Serbs balked at the conditions set by NATO and Sarajevo filled up with television crews from around the world who were expecting a rerun of the Persian Gulf War. Then Russian president Boris Yeltsin offered to send Russian troops to secure areas from which the Serbs had withdrawn. The Serbs viewed Russia as their political ally and accepted a deal under which most of their heavy weapons were delivered to UN-monitored collection sites.

Ekrem and Minka had stayed up until 1 A.M., playing cards and listening to the radio. “You always expect something to happen, and then the next morning, it is just the same old crap,” Ekrem complained the following day as he wolfed down a lunch of rice and canned meat.

Kira was also annoyed, having stayed up all night not to await the NATO bombardment, but because the baby was fussing. “Let me tell you about the world,” she said wearily. “I’ve heard all of it before. They always make promises they don’t keep. They said they would attack—they didn’t do it—and now, whatever they do or say really doesn’t interest me.”

Yet it couldn’t be denied: The shelling had stopped. Sarajevo was quiet again. You could even hear the birds. Sure, there was an occasional burst of gunfire around the Holiday Inn, or an odd boom from the direction of the front lines, but Sarajevo was, for the most part, safe.

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Born and Bred in the NK Gulag

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 119-134:

In stories of concentration camp survival, there is a conventional narrative arc. Security forces steal the protagonist away from a loving family and a comfortable home. To survive, he abandons moral principles, suppresses feelings for others, and ceases to be a civilized human being.

In perhaps the most celebrated of these stories, Night, by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, the thirteen-year-old narrator explains his torment with an account of the normal life that existed before he and his family were packed aboard trains bound for Nazi death camps. Wiesel studied the Talmud daily. His father owned a store and watched over their village in Romania. His grandfather was always present to celebrate the Jewish holidays. But after the boy’s entire family perished in the camps, Wiesel was left “alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.”

Shin’s story of survival is different.

His mother beat him, and he viewed her as a competitor for food. His father, who was allowed by guards to sleep with his mother just five nights a year, ignored him. His brother was a stranger. Children in the camp were untrustworthy and abusive. Before he learned anything else, Shin learned to survive by snitching on all of them.

Love and mercy and family were words without meaning. God did not disappear or die. Shin had never heard of him. In a preface to Night, Wiesel wrote that an adolescent’s knowledge of death and evil “should be limited to what one discovers in literature.”

In Camp 14, Shin did not know literature existed. He saw only one book in the camp, a Korean grammar, in the hands of a teacher who wore a guard’s uniform, carried a revolver on his hip, and beat one of his primary school classmates to death with a chalkboard pointer.

Unlike those who have survived a concentration camp, Shin had not been torn away from a civilized existence and forced to descend into hell. He was born and raised there. He accepted its values. He called it home.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Protocronism (First-in-time-ism)

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 4790-4807:

Marxism-Leninism was largely abandoned in favor of an interpretation of Romanian history that assigned to the Communist Party the role of leader of the nation. For the party and Ceauşescu, then, history was not the bearer of grand truths about the evolution of Romania; it was, rather, a tool for achieving practical goals of the moment.

Literature, from such a perspective, was supposed to perform a similar service. The convergence of the cult of personality and nationalism found extraordinary expression in the doctrine of protocronism (protochronism; first in time) in the 1970s and 1980s. Its immediate origins may be traced to an article published by the literary critic Edgar Papu (1908–93) in the popular literary and cultural monthly Secolul 20 (The 20th century) in 1974. In moderate tones he suggested that it was time to measure the originality and merits of Romanian writers of the past against the background of their contributions to European cultural values. Some of his comments fitted in with the new nationalism and self-glorification Ceauşescu was indulging in. Numerous supporters of the regime, who became known as protochronists, took over Papu’s ideas for their own purposes, thereby intensifying the nationalist rhetoric. They were convinced that the Romanians had erred in emulating Western culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, since it had imposed upon them a deep sense of cultural inferiority. Papu, too, expanded upon the theme, and in Din clasicii noştri (From our classics; 1977) he proposed to transform the Romanians’ supposed feelings of cultural inadequacy into a sense of dignity and self-worth. The protochronists now took matters to absurd lengths. They compared Neagoe Basarab to Dante and Machiavelli, and they pronounced Mihai Eminescu the precursor of modern European poetry and I. L. Caragiale the indispensable innovator of modern drama. On the other hand, the protochronists were highly critical of Eugen Lovinescu. His doctrine of synchronism was anathema to them because, in their view, he recognized the superiority of the West and accorded it the decisive role in modern Romania’s evolution, thereby belittling the contributions of Romanian writers and thinkers.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Paşoptism (48ism)

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1511-1517:

Two generations of intellectuals, those who adhered to the traditions of the Enlightenment and the classical style of the previous century and the Romantics and revolutionaries, who looked to the future, placed their stamp on cultural life and political thought between the Treaty of Adrianople of 1829 and the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848. The boundaries between them were hardly rigid, as both were energetic and ready to confront any challenge. Their often naive enthusiasm and strong sense of patriotism, their grandiose projects and encyclopedic ambitions were beholden to the spirit of the time, a kind of liberalism, which after the revolution came to be known as Forty-Eightism (paşoptism). They were inspired by a single, all-encompassing goal: to raise the Romanian nation out of its backwardness and to bring it into communion with the modern world, which, to them, meant Western Europe.

Paşoptism is short for patruzeci-şi-opt (40-and-8) + -ism.

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Hapsburg–Romanian Act of Union, 1701

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1037-1075:

Circumstances created an unlikely community of interests between the Habsburgs and the leading element of Romanian society – the upper clergy. In search of allies for their campaign to overturn the dominance of the three nations the Habsburgs looked to the Romanians, who could hardly be defenders of a political and social order that disdained them as outsiders. They recognized the inconvenience of the Romanians’ Orthodoxy, but they had at hand a stratagem that had proved effective among the Ruthenians in the seventeenth century – the Church Union with Rome based on the principles enunciated at the synod of Ferrara-Florence in 1439, which had temporarily ended the schism between the Byzantine and Western churches. The Church Union with the Romanians would serve perfectly the purposes of the Habsburgs, who were intent on using the Roman Catholic Church as one of the instruments for holding together the empire’s diverse territories. Thus, under the supervision of the Roman Catholic Primate of Hungary, Cardinal Leopold Kollonich, negotiations with the Romanian Orthodox bishop and his archpriests, which were conducted by the Jesuits, who returned to Transylvania with Habsburg armies, resulted in the Act of Union of 1701. Under its terms the Orthodox clergy and faithful acknowledged the Pope of Rome as the visible head of the Christian Church and accepted the use of unleavened bread in the Communion, the existence of Purgatory, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. But all other matters, including canon law, ritual, and practices such as a married parish clergy, remained untouched. In return the Romanian clergy were to enjoy the same rights and privileges as the members of the three nations among whom they lived. In this way the Habsburgs gained the good will of an influential elite, who could, if they chose, foster imperial aims among the large rural population. In time, so the Habsburgs and Kollonich reasoned, the Romanian clergy would come to see the Church Union as a step toward conversion to Roman Catholicism. The now Greek Catholic, or Uniate, clergy acquired, or at least were promised, social and political benefits befitting their station. The Court of Vienna chose to believe that the actions of the clergy also signified the acceptance of the Union by the mass of Romanian peasants, and thus it regarded the Orthodox Church as having ceased to exist.

The Church Union with Rome marked a turning point in the history of the Romanians of Transylvania. It opened to them Western cultural and intellectual influences of the most diverse sorts by providing the new Greek Catholic clergy with unprecedented opportunities for higher education in Roman Catholic lyceums in Transylvania and universities in Rome, Vienna, and Trnava (Nagyszombat). The aim of the Habsburgs and Kollonich was to form a well-educated and devoted Greek Catholic clergy that would be inspired to gain adherents for the Union among the mass of the rural population. But events were to take a different course. In time, rare (for Romanians) educational opportunities and the experience of Central Europe enabled the Greek Catholic clergy to assume political as well as spiritual leadership of the Romanians as they organized the struggle to end discrimination against Romanians and raise themselves to the rank of a fourth nation.

No less important a consequence of the Union was the sense of identity which it fostered and which by mid-century the clerical elite had transformed into a new idea of nation. Inspired by their bishop Ion Inochentie Micu-Klein (bishop, 1729–44), who was conscious of Roman origins and regarded his church as a bridge between East and West, they conceived of nation in ways that differed fundamentally from the privileged communities represented by the three nations. The nation the clergy served was ethnic, and it encompassed all Romanians, even if social distinctions remained strong. They accepted without debate their descent from the Roman conquerors of Dacia and the Latin origins of their language, but they were not modern nationalists, as they did not go so far as to make either history or language, that is, ethnicity, the justification for equality with the three nations. Rather, they still depended on the diplomas of emperors and kings and other authoritative juridical documents for that purpose. Yet, they conceived of the Church Union as significant beyond the bounds of religion. It was for them a return to Rome, to the ethnic origins that ultimately defined them. At the same time, they expressed devotion to their Eastern cultural and religious heritage and were utterly opposed to making their Greek Catholic Church more Latin.

The mass of the peasants reacted to the Church Union very differently from the clerical elite. They resisted it with all their being, an obstinacy that reveals a mental climate in the villages beholden to tradition and a sense of community defined by religion. The Greek Catholic clergy, who were trained to be missionaries of the Union in the countryside, in fact did little. They were deeply aware of how devoted the peasants were to Orthodox rituals and practices, and even though the Union made no changes in either, they were anxious to avoid the upheaval they knew even the mention of Rome and the Pope would cause. The great majority of peasants, therefore, did not know that the clergy had accepted the Union and that they, too, were considered Uniates.

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Hapsburg Transylvania’s Union of Three Nations, 1438

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1018-1031:

The Habsburgs in Transylvania were confronted by institutions and mentalities that slowed the absorption of the principality into the general structures of the empire. To succeed, then, they would have to undermine those autonomies that had arisen since the era of settlement by the Hungarians, Saxons, and Szeklers and had taken form in the so-called Union of the Three Nations in 1438. The Union evolved into a monopoly of power and privilege imposed by the Hungarian nobility, the Saxon urban patriciate, and the upper classes among the Szeklers. They were the three nations. Social class, not ethnicity, determined membership, and, thus, the masses of Hungarian, Saxon, and Szekler peasants and others were excluded. The three nations in the fifteenth century were, naturally, Roman Catholic, but in the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation made many converts among the Hungarians (Calvinist and Unitarian), Saxons (Lutheran), and Szeklers (Calvinist). The new Protestants and the remaining Roman Catholics eventually reached an understanding, and adherence to one of their churches became a condition of political privilege, that is, of membership in one of the nations. The three nations and four churches formed the backbone of Transylvania’s autonomy when the Habsburgs arrived. The Romanians, who composed perhaps half the population of Transylvania in the early eighteenth century, were not a part of this system. They were excluded because they were Orthodox and overwhelmingly peasant.

During these centuries the Romanian Orthodox Church had led a precarious existence as merely tolerated by the three nations, but had, nonetheless, been able to maintain an administrative organization and a hierarchy presided over by a Metropolitan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the seventeenth century the church was subject to heavy pressure from the Calvinist princes who were determined to convert the Orthodox clergy and faithful to Calvinism.

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Pirogov’s Surgery Innovations in Crimea, 1855

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 5191-5224:

Born in Moscow in 1810, Pirogov began his medical studies at Moscow University at the age of just 14, and became a professor at the German University of Dorpat at the age of 25, before taking up the appointment of Professor of Surgery at the Academy of Military Medicine in St Petersburg. In 1847 he was with the Russian army in the Caucasus, where he pioneered the use of ether, becoming the first surgeon to employ anaesthesia in a field operation. Pirogov reported on the benefits of ether in several Russian-language publications between 1847 and 1852, though few doctors outside Russia were aware of his articles. Apart from the relief of pain and shock through anaesthesia, Pirogov emphasized that giving ether to the wounded on arrival at the hospital kept them calm and stopped them from collapsing so that the surgeon could make a better choice in selecting between those cases requiring urgent operation and those that could wait. It was this system of triage pioneered by Pirogov during the Crimean War that marked his greatest achievement.

Pirogov arrived in the Crimea in December 1854. He was outraged by the chaos and inhuman treatment of the sick and wounded. Thousands of injured soldiers had been evacuated to Perekop on open carts in freezing temperatures, many of them arriving frozen to death or with limbs so frostbitten that they had to be cut off. Others were abandoned in dirty barns or left by the roadside for lack of transport. There were chronic shortages of medical supplies, not least because of corruption. Doctors sold off medicines and gave their patients cheaper surrogates, exacting bribes for proper treatment. The hospitals struggled to cope with the enormous numbers of wounded. At the time of the allied landings, the Russians had hospital places for 2,000 soldiers in the Crimea, but after Alma they were overwhelmed by 6,000 wounded men, and twice that number after Inkerman.

Conditions in the Sevastopol hospitals were truly appalling. Two weeks after the battle of the Alma, the surgeon from Chodasiewicz’s regiment visited the naval hospital:

He found the place full of wounded men who had never had their wounds dressed from the day of the Alma, except such dressings as they could make themselves by tearing up their own shirts. The moment he entered the room he was surrounded by a crowd of these miserable creatures, who had recognized him as a doctor, some of whom held out mutilated stumps of arms wrapped up in dirty rags, and crying out to him for assistance. The stench of the place was dreadful.

Most of the surgeons in these hospitals were poorly trained, more like ‘village craftsmen’ than doctors, in the estimation of one Russian officer. Practising a rough-and-ready surgery with dirty butcher’s knives, they had little understanding of the need for hygiene or the perils of infection. Pirogov discovered amputees who had been lying in their blood for weeks.

As soon as he arrived in Sevastopol, Pirogov began to impose order on the hospitals, gradually implementing his system of triage. In his memoirs he recounts how he came to it. When he took charge of the main hospital in the Assembly of Nobles, the situation was chaotic. After a heavy bombardment, the wounded were brought in without any order, those who were dying mixed with those who needed urgent treatment and those with light wounds. At first, Pirogov dealt with the most seriously wounded as they came in, telling the nurses to transport them to the operating table directly; but even as he concentrated on one case, more and more seriously wounded men would arrive; he could not keep up. Too many people were dying needlessly before they could be treated, while he was operating on those patients too seriously wounded to be saved. ‘I came to see that this was senseless and decided to be more decisive and rational,’ he recalled. ‘Simple organization at the dressing station was far more important than medical activity in saving lives.’ His solution was a simple form of triage which he first put into practice during the bombardment of Sevastopol on 20 January. Brought into the Great Hall of the Assembly, the wounded were first sorted into groups to determine the order and priority of emergency treatment. There were three main groups: the seriously wounded who needed help and could be saved were operated on in a separate room as soon as possible; the lightly wounded were given a number and told to wait in the nearby barracks until the surgeons could treat them; and those who could not be saved were taken to a resting home, where they were cared for by medical attendants, nurses and priests until they died.

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