Category Archives: Europe

Fall of the Dakotas after 1815

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 155-156:

In the summer of 1815, seven months after the Treaty of Ghent, U.S. officials invited the western Indians to a council at Portage des Sioux just north of St. Louis. Two thousand Indians showed up, and Americans made treaties with Lakotas, Mdewakantons, Wahpekutes, Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Yanktons. The pithy compacts pardoned past aggressions and brought the Sioux under the protection of the United States. The Americans understood the last article as a corroboration of U.S. jurisdiction over the Sioux, but the seventy-two Sioux delegates who touched a pen probably understood it as a confirmation of the prewar status quo whereby Americans traded with them without dictating to them. When U.S. soldiers began building an unauthorized fort at Prairie du Chien a year later, Mdewakanton chiefs approached British agents in the upper Great Lakes, pleading for help in preventing their “final extinction.” It was only when the agents refused them that the chiefs realized that they would have to face the United States without British counterweight. Their fall from power was shockingly fast.

Left alone to face the Americans, Dakotas were soon reeling. In 1818 Benjamin O’Fallon, a newly appointed U.S. agent for the Sioux and William Clark’s nephew, led two heavily armed keelboats up the Mississippi and Minnesota to stop Canadian incursions and establish American authority in the region—an enterprise that echoed his uncle’s famous expedition fourteen years earlier. O’Fallon found the Sioux divided and quarrelling over trade. At a Mdewakanton village, chief Shakopee, “ferocious and savage,” complained that his warriors lacked guns and could not contain their Chippewa enemies. O’Fallon urged them to “be always last in war” and place their faith in “the Great Spirit.”

Cut off from the British trade and political support, the Mdewakantons accepted O’Fallon’s gifts—a little whiskey and some goods—and demands. Within a year the U.S. Army started planning a military fort at the Mississippi-Minnesota junction on lands Pike had purchased fourteen years earlier.

O’Fallon had succeeded where Lewis and Clark had failed. While the Corps of Discovery had inadvertently prompted Lakotas to strengthen their hold of the Missouri and its peoples, O’Fallon had extorted from Dakotas a tacit acceptance of a military fort on their lands. Fort Snelling was in operation by 1820 and was soon accompanied by St. Peter’s Indian agency. The complex marked the beginning of a growing American presence in Dakota lives. It became a hub for the growing fur trade, which soon cut into the region’s animal populations, creating food shortages and entangling Dakotas into chronic wars over hunting privileges with Chippewas and Ho-Chunks [aka Winnebago]. Indian agents tried to mediate, but they lacked the know-how to be effective. Things came to head in 1827 when Mdewakantons and Wahpetons killed two Chippewas in a council at Fort Snelling under a U.S. flag. The fort commander, Josiah Snelling, imprisoned several Dakota warriors and demanded the culprits be turned over to him in return for their release. He was given a few men whom he handed over to Chippewas. Chippewas let them run before shooting them down. Then they scalped them in front of the shocked American officials.

A century earlier, less than fifty miles downriver from Fort Snelling, the French had built Fort Beauharnois to serve Dakotas. That trading fort had been the focal point of a deep Dakota-French accommodation that stabilized the upper Mississippi Valley, fueled the expansion of the fur trade west of the Great Lakes, and made the Dakotas the dominant power in the interior. Now the region’s dominant fort was a military establishment that heralded U.S. sovereignty over the Mississippi Valley, monitored the Dakotas, and staged U.S.-sponsored public executions of Dakota people.

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Why the Lakota Migrated West

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 47-49, 83:

The long struggle for allies, trade, and relevance had been spearheaded by the four Dakota [council] fires, the Mdewakantons, Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Wahpekutes. They had played a key role in the birth of the all-important Sauteur [Ojibwe] alliance and in nurturing the relationship with the French, and their lands around Mde Wakan [Mille Lacs Lake] were the place where most foreigners sought access to the Sioux. To the outsiders they seemed “the masters of other Scioux.” But the long struggle involved all seven fires. No oyáte [‘people, tribe’] or thióšpaye [‘local band’] was immune to the seemingly endless blows or denied the rewards when they finally came.

Distance shielded the Lakotas, the westernmost Sioux division, against the hardest blows—the massacres, the repeated border conflicts, the exasperating indifference of French traders. They remained a shadowy, enigmatic people to the French, who caught only glimpses of them. They were “Nations Tintonha,“The Inhabitants of the Meadows,” who lived in the West “certain Seasons of the Year.” Eventually, to facilitate deepening western excursions, growing numbers of Lakotas moved permanently west of the Mississippi. By the late 1690s the French knew the lands around the upper Minnesota Valley as the Lakota domain—“Pays et Nations des Tintons”—and few years later Le Sueur was struck by the geographical and cultural distance that separated Lakotas from their eastern kin: they did not gather wild rice or use canoes, and they kept to “the prairies between the Upper Mississippi and the river of the Missouris” where they had no fixed villages.

What to the French seemed a Lakota detachment from the eastern Sioux was actually a part of a larger strategy of fueling the growing fur trade. When the trade took off, Sioux needed large quantities of castor: one gun cost approximately ten skins of winter beaver, and the thousands of Sioux warriors needed thousands of guns. The greatest castor reserves lay to the west, in lands still beyond the fur trade’s long tentacles but within Lakotas’ reach. Each fall Lakota bands left for the western prairies beyond the forest line, spending months in scouring the rivers and streams for thickly furred beavers and living in light deerskin lodges. While there, they lived off the bison, which seemed to grow more abundant with distance, and clashed with the resident hunter-farming peoples who saw them as invaders. Already in the late 1680s the the Arikara Indians on the Missouri River—more than two hundred miles west of the Lakota domain—seem to have been engaged in grueling wars with the westering Lakotas.

By the turn of the century the Lakotas were a growing and often violent presence on the tall-grass prairies west of the Minnesota River. But they were sojourners, not conquerors. They were in the West, but the West was not theirs. Each spring they returned east to the precious prairie-forest ecotone where they could enjoy one of the best diets on the continent. There, they reconnected with their kin, traded skins for iron, shared the calumet, and reaffirmed their place in the world as one of the Seven Council Fires. Sicangu Lakotas came together with their kin every seven years to make offerings to Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka, Great Spirit, and reaffirm their interconnectedness.

Lakotas were suspended between western promises and eastern realities. Their firsthand experience of the new world of Indians and Europeans was limited, but they knew its challenges and opportunities intimately through their eastern relatives whose sufferings and successes were theirs. They knew what not having allies or guns meant, and they had learned that people were capable of astonishing violence to secure them. They knew that the world had changed irrevocably and that no one could ignore the European newcomers and their wašíčuŋ [superhumans]. And they knew that this new world was an unforgiving place where people often were expiring if they were not expanding.

When Lakotas finally pushed into the West in the early eighteenth century, drawn by its tremendous possibilities, they carried with them a specific set of convictions about the world. They would have to adapt to new western realities, but so too would the West have to adjust to theirs.

By the mid-eighteenth century the Sioux had shifted shape many times over. They had opened their lands and villages for real and potential allies—Sauteurs [Ojibwe], Cheyennes, Mesquakies [Fox], Frenchmen, and many others—while contending with numerous rivals as they struggled to find a place in the rapidly changing world. They had reached out to Onontio [‘Great Mountain’, the French colonial governor] far in the East—Sioux visits to Montreal had become almost commonplace—while expanding aggressively in the West. The boundary of the four Dakota oyátes shifted gradually west and south from Mde Wakan as bands sought safety from violence and trade along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers; Lakotas expanded their domain all the way to the Mníšoše [Missouri R.] in search of beaver, bison, horses, and captives. Along the way they pushed aside the Iowas, Otoes, Omahas, and Poncas, turning the prairies into a shatter belt of displacement and destruction—a western version of the mid-seventeenth-century Iroquois shatter zone in the Great Lakes. As Lakotas gradually took over the vacated lands, they turned the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ [Seven Council Fires] into a territorial giant that commanded nearly one hundred thousand square miles of land—the second largest Indigenous domain in North America after the rising Comanche empire in the southern Great Plains.

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European Islets, Indigenous Sea, 1600s

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle pp. 46-47:

Seventeenth-century North America was a vast Indigenous ocean speckled with tiny European islands. The Spanish, English, and French newcomers claimed vast chunks of the continent through the doctrines of discovery and terra nullius (no one’s land), but such claims mattered little on the ground where the Indians controlled the balance of power. Through shrewd diplomacy, warfare, and sheer force of numbers, the Indians held the line. In 1700 French settlement remained tethered to the St. Lawrence and a small foothold on the mouth of the Mississippi, and the Spanish possessions amounted to two isolated clusters of missions in New Mexico and in Florida. English settlers were more numerous and assertive, but they too huddled on the margins, expanding up and down the coastal lowlands rather than inland. Conquistador fantasies stayed alive, but they were becoming increasingly detached from reality.

Yet, wherever they planted themselves, the colonists were a force to be reckoned with. Their fringe outposts were pockets of dense military-technological power that could shape developments far beyond their borders. The Europeans fought, dispossessed, and enslaved nearby Indians, whose ability to resist was severely compromised by disease epidemics. The more distant Indians in the interior required more subtle measures, for the colonists could not simply rely on pathogens to obliterate them. Numerous and fiercely independent, the interior Indians could be neither killed nor commanded; they needed to be cajoled and co-opted. The key instrument for achieving this was a frontier post. Europeans thought of trading posts and missions—military forts would come later—as means to claim and control faraway lands. Indeed, an inland post brought the frontier into existence and demarcated it by announcing that the lands around and behind it belonged to the people who had built it. Posts made empires.

Such ideas were laughable to the Indians, who thought that land belonged to those who lived on it and whose ancestors lay in it. They almost invariably welcomed trading posts and missions on their lands because they were concrete expressions of the newcomers’ largesse—both material and spiritual—and of their willingness to share their power. A trading post was particularly desired because it signaled a commitment to a particular people and its needs. This is why the Indians competed so fiercely to secure them. A single post could dramatically change their fortunes by opening access to the new technologies that had irrevocably changed the parameters of the possible. Reliable access to guns, powder, and iron was a promise of safety, prosperity, and otherworldly power, while lacking them spelled hurt, retreat, and shame.

At the turn of the century Sioux knew both sides of the equation. Since the 1650s they had seen how French trading posts proliferated in the western Great Lakes among their enemies, rendering them horribly vulnerable. An alliance with Sauteurs [Ojibwe] in the late 1670s punctured the imagined wall that cast them as outsiders. They had their own post from 1685 onward and, at last, a secure access to firearms. Guns gave military teeth to their overwhelming demographic strength, making them the epicenter of interior politics. French officials saw them as the last best hope to contain the Iroquois and save New France, and they worked hard to integrate them into their alliance system. For decades Sioux had grappled on the margins of the bustling Indian-European world of trade and alliance that had emerged in the east; now that world began to converge around them, bestowing them with substance and power. They now had options and, it seemed, time to weigh them.

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Alternate Names for the Sioux and Others

From Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, by Pekka Hämäläinen (The Lamar Series in Western History; Yale U. Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 96ff.

I use the word “Sioux” in this book as a cover term for seven related and allied people or oyátes: the Lakotas, Yanktons, Yanktonais, Mdewakantons [aka Mille Lacs Lake], Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Wahpekutes, who together formed the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, the Seven Council Fires. Sioux is a French corruption of Ojibwe word “Nadouessioux” which means “snake” and thus enemy. Here I use Sioux when describing events or action that involve more than one or all peoples or oyátes; the alternative would have been to list each group in every instance. Although problematic, “Sioux” remains the most common English term used by Lakotas and non-Natives alike, and many modern Lakota oyátes identify themselves as Sioux tribes. “Dakota” is a cover term for the four eastern people, the Mdewakantons, Sissetons, Wahpetons, and Wahpekutes.

The spelling of Lakota words follows New Lakota Dictionary, edited and compiled by Jan Ullrich (2008; 2nd ed., Lakota Language Consortium, 2011). I have used Lakota names for the seven Lakota tribes or oyátes unless a French or English name is dominant in the literature: Hunkpapas (“head of camp circle entrance”), Minneconjous (“plant by water”), Oglalas (“scatter one’s own”), Sans Arcs (“without bows”), Sicangus (“burned thighs,” hence the French term Brulés), Sihasapas (“Blackfeet”), and Two Kettles (“two boilings”). As for other Native nations, I have used their preferred spellings of their names: Odawas rather than Ottawas; Mesquakies rather than Foxes; Wyandots rather than Hurons; and Ho-Chunks rather than Winnebagos.

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America’s Flatboat Era

From Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure, by Rinker Buck (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, 2022), Kindle pp. 28-29:

Historic periods rarely begin at a single, defined moment, and the flatboat era’s antecedents dated back more than forty years. The reason, mostly, was war, and the American passion for cleansing desirable new lands of their indigenous peoples. During the French and Indian War and the Revolution, and then again during Mad Anthony Wayne’s Ohio campaign against the Shawnee and the Miami during the Northwest Indian War in the 1790s, agents dispatched by British and then American army quartermasters had sailed southwest on the Ohio and the Mississippi in flotillas of flat-bottomed barges or keelboats, to trade Monongahela flour and whiskey for imported gunpowder, muskets, and bayonets in New Orleans. The bustling munitions trade between the Americans and the Spanish authorities in Natchez and New Orleans during the Revolution set the tone for the next one hundred years, when wartime needs accelerated transportation improvements on the rivers. During the Revolution, Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana and Cuba, was openly pro-American and even led successful expeditions against British forts at Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola. His sponsorship of arms smuggling along the Mississippi is still regarded as a decisive contribution to the American cause, and after independence Gálvez was awarded honorary American citizenship.

The success of the arms supply routes along the Mississippi midwifed the new commercial era, opening the Ohio and Mississippi corridor to a fresh, ambitious cast of players. By the late 1790s, French trading firms, mostly backed by investors from Philadelphia, had taken over the old military routes and established a reliable network of shipping agents along the Monongahela, the Great Falls at Louisville, and at Natchez and New Orleans. During the same period, according to one historian’s estimate, more than nine hundred “settler” flatboats bearing pioneers for the Kentucky frontier cast off every year from western Pennsylvania. These rakish boats, measuring fifty or sixty feet long, were particularly colorful, loaded bow to stern with everything a family, or several families, needed to carve a homestead out of the Kentucky forests. A fenced area in the stern carried horses, cattle, pigs, and goats, and the settlers’ boats were often called “arks,” after the fabled vessel of Noah in the Book of Genesis. A log cabin for the family to sleep in was built mid-vessel, and planting seed and flintlock powder were stowed in watertight barrels on the deck. Pioneers with less money to spend simply threw up a crude canvas tent on the deck and roped their milk cow and horses to the sides. Children romped in play spaces between the tents. After 1788, when the federal government issued the first land warrants in the West for Revolutionary War veterans, more than five thousand veterans from Virginia alone, including Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather, headed over the mountains with their families on these floating farms, plying the Indiana and Kentucky banks of the Ohio and its tributaries in search of likely homesites to clear.

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Origins of Russia’s Old Believers

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 176ff.

In the not exactly bloodless history of Russia, the 17th century was one of the bloodiest. A bizarre religious controversy divided the country: people argued over the question of whether to make the sign of the cross with two fingers or with three. The Moscow Patriarch, who advocated for the three-finger cross, persecuted the followers of the two-finger cross viciously; he had unruly believers’ hands chopped off, and their priests’ tongues ripped out. Many rendered the mutilations unnecessary by simply chopping off their own thumbs in order not to have to blaspheme God with three fingers. Whole communities barricaded themselves in their churches, set their altars on fire and watched as the flames ate away at their hands, two fingers outstretched to the very end.

The conflict had been sparked by one man who exerted all of his dubious ambition to rectify the course of history. Around the middle of the century Patriarch Nikon, head of the Russian Orthodoxy, introduced a church reform. He invoked the origins of the Orthodox faith: the Russians had adopted Christianity from Byzantium in 988, when the Grand Duke of Kiev baptised his subjects according to the Greek rites. Over the centuries the inevitable happened: little by little, the Russian Orthodoxy developed its own, non-Greek traits, arising partly as a result of incorrect translations of Greek liturgical texts, but more often through the everyday practice of the faith. No Russians considered these characteristics to be a betrayal of their Orthodox roots. Patriarch Nikon alone was embarrassed when he received Greek dignitaries in the Kremlin, whose astonishment at the customs of the Russians did not escape him.

With his reforms, Nikon attempted to rectify the most obvious deviations of the Russian liturgy from the Greek. At first glance, they were trifles: the Trinity was no longer praised with two hallelujahs but with three; one letter was to be added to the name of the Lord, ‘Iisus’ instead of ‘Isus’; there should be not seven loaves but only one on the altar during the Eucharist; finally, the sign of the cross would no longer be made with two fingers but with three, the way the Greeks did it.

These interventions might have been accepted without complaint if at the same time much more drastic changes had not been overtaking Russia. The long isolated country was opening up to the West. Things appeared that had never been in Russia before; tobacco, tea and coffee; trimmed beards; sacred images with saints barely recognisable, so outlandishly were they depicted; foreigners, summoned by the Tsar to modernise the country, brought foreign manners to Russia, foreign languages and foreign gadgets. On the main tower of the Kremlin wall a huge mechanical clock from England appeared, the first in all of Russia. Its message was unmistakable: the times were changing.

All of these upheavals had one thing in common with Nikon’s reforms: they made Russia look bad. Many Russians did not want to admit that the traditions of their fathers should suddenly be worth less than the inventions of foreigners, be it English clocks, Dutch paintings, German books or Greek church rules. The Old Believers, as the opponents of reform were soon called, rejected Nikon’s heresies as vehemently as the ever-advancing West. Their two-fingered cross became a gesture of resistance against a Russia that was betraying its roots in every respect.

The times were changing. And perhaps, as the Old Believers in fact suspected, the world was actually approaching its prophesied end. There was evidence. As the religious controversy reached its bloody climax, people in Russia wrote the year as 7174 – their calendar started with the creation of the world. But in the West, where the years were numbered from the birth of Christ, a different number appeared on the calendar, a terrible one: 1666. There could be no doubt: the foreigners were messengers of the apocalypse.

While Russia drifted towards the west, the Old Believers fled towards the east. Persecuted by the Patriarch’s henchmen, they withdrew to the sparsely populated, peripheral regions of the Russian Empire. They founded communities where time stood still, where nothing diluted the spirit of old Russia, no tobacco and no coffee, no razor and no clockworks, not one hallelujah too many, not one altar loaf too few.

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Fate of Crimean Karaites

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 274-276:

History had taught the Karaites that it was better if the world didn’t find out too much about them. Tiriyaki took my pen and drew a tree in my notebook, its trunk forking into three branches.

‘Those,’ he said, pointing to the roots, ‘are the commandments.’

‘These’ – the three branches – ‘are the New Testament, the Talmud, and the Qur’an.’

‘This’ – the trunk – ‘is the Torah. Our only scripture. Karaites believe in the Jewish faith as it was when Jesus Christ was born and before other things were subsequently added.’

The Karaites had never accepted the Talmud. This had isolated them from all other Jews, who had never really known what to make of the Karaites. This had worked to their advantage in the Russian Empire – unlike other Jews, the Karaites had not been subject to restrictions on the professions they could pursue. A few of them had made large fortunes, especially in the tobacco trade. This wealth was visible in the old kenesa – the Karaite synagogue in whose hall I was sitting with Tiriyaki, a sumptuous religious complex with vine-draped colonnades, marble tombs, carved wooden interiors, and warm stained-glass windows.

When the Nazis invaded Crimea in the war, they didn’t know what to think of the Karaites either. Were they Jews? The Nazis commissioned an assessment by a Polish Jewish historian who, against his better judgement, declared the Karaites to be non-Jews, clearly to spare them the fate he would later suffer himself: he perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. His scheming paid off, however. The Nazis murdered the Crimean Jews but they spared the Karaites, whom they classified as a Turkic people.

Not long afterwards, the Karaites had a second stroke of luck. Their lenient treatment by the Germans could well have been a good reason for Stalin to have them deported alongside the Tatars, especially as the two minorities spoke very similar languages. Yet this cup too passed over them. For Stalin, the Karaites appeared to be Jews.

The kenesa in Yevpatoria had been closed down after the war, just like Crimea’s churches, mosques, and Jewish synagogues. The historic religious complex had been converted into a ‘museum of atheism’, and the outbuildings were used as grain silos. The community hall had become a nursery, which Tiriyaki had gone to as a boy, knowing full well that his grandmother had still been praying in the kenesa only a few years earlier.

There were now only a few hundred Karaites living in Crimea. Many had emigrated to Israel in the 1990s. The devout core of his community, Tiriyaki said, consisted of forty people.

We had been talking for less than half an hour when the old community leader began to give me signals that he’d said everything he was prepared to say. ‘If you have no further questions …’

But I do, I longed to cry, hundreds of them. Yet Tiriyaki’s expression was so forbidding that I confined myself to the central question whose insolubility had saved the Karaites’ lives twice. Where were they from? Were they a Turkic people that had converted to Judaism in the distant past? Or were they Semitic immigrants who had only become Turkicspeaking in Crimea? I knew that this matter was controversial among the Karaites too.

Tiriyaki stared at me impassively. His face was hard to read – not so much as the twitch of a muscle.

‘Origins are a card that politicians love to play. They are of no consequence to the faithful.’

He stood up and offered me his hand. I was already halfway to the door when he uttered a few final words as a send-off.

‘The Karaites lived here under the Tatar khans, under the tsars, the Soviets, the German occupiers, the Ukrainians, and now the Russians again. No one could drive us out. We are still here. That is all that counts.’

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Georgian Immigrants in Italy

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle p. 92:

We ate smoked anchovies. Alik showed me how to gut them. You snap off the head and use the fish’s sharp jaws like a knife, slitting open its belly with its own mouth to remove its innards. You eat the rest, complete with tail and fins. It tasted divine.

A quiet thirteen-year-old girl had dinner with us, a neighbour’s daughter. She was being brought up by her grandmother because her mother was working as a nanny for an Italian family in Bologna. Many Georgians had gone to Italy in recent years to look after children, care for old people, and work as housekeepers. Alik had an interesting theory about the bonds between the Italians and the Georgians. ‘They like us because we cook well, talk a lot, like to sing, and because we are warm-hearted. The Italians say the Georgians are how they used to be when they were still poor.’

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Whither Europe Now?

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 283-284:

Once again, the ground is moving silently under our feet, as city- and region-states grow in importance and a neo-medievalism sets in. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the British historian Mark Greengrass (echoing Denys Hay) explains, the concept of Christendom was gradually replaced by that of Europe. Though Christendom had in the course of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages come to represent a geographical concept, it remained at root a religious identity, whereas Europe was at root all about geography. Europe’s subjugation of Christendom was complete when Christianity stopped being a political identity and became merely a private religion having to do exclusively with the soul. Given that Europe replaced Christendom, are we now in a transition period in which some concept will replace Europe? And if it does, where does identity finally settle—at the national level, at the regional level, the level of the city or town? Or will Europe revert to a religious identity, a neo-Christendom of some sort, to psychologically wall off Muslims from the Middle East? Or might Europe itself simply fade as a concept, as it dissolves into Afro-Eurasia and identities within the continent become, as I’ve speculated, increasingly local? Greengrass traces the destruction of the concept of Christendom over an arc of 131 years. So it is quite likely that the real substantive changes that are occurring now will not be apparent inside the strictures of any news cycle.

The late British-American historian Tony Judt provides a somewhat alternative view; or rather, a view focused on the immediate future rather than on the middle-term and distant one. As he explains, the integration process that culminated eventually in the European Union was in part an accident born of the realpolitik of politicians who each needed a predictable economic framework for their own national aims. To wit, France needed German coal, but at the same time needed to contain German political power; and Germany needed to hide its own national interests within a larger community in order to regain legitimacy in a post-Hitler era. The context for this realpolitik was a just-ended Second World War that was “peculiar,” in that countries were often divided among themselves and “almost every European participant lost.” Thus, everybody wanted to forget about what had just happened, so that defeatism, pacifism, and ahistoricism reigned. At the same time, the Cold War had enforced unity in the western half of the continent. It was defeatism and unity that gave birth to this new Europe. Yet, because the combination of these and other factors (e.g., the Marshall Plan) was specific to a certain moment in history, they could never be repeated in the same way, and so the European Union could not simply go on as it had indefinitely—for other factors must eventually intrude.

What is particularly impressive is that Judt published this analysis in 1996, when few troubles loomed on the horizon and Europe was dull and happy. He then goes on to expose Europe’s “foundation myth”: that it must keep expanding to the east in order to improve not only Europe but the world, or else the current success would merely indicate an amoral utilitarian arrangement. Of course, as we know, Europe’s eastward expansion following the end of the Cold War occurred under different historical circumstances and so the result has been complex and not altogether a triumph. Judt concludes his 1996 essay noting again, presciently, that with postmodern life hollowing out the communal functions of family, church, school, the military, and even political parties and trade unions, all that is left now is the nation. For it is the nation that embodies a common memory and a community within an “appropriately scaled frame”: larger than that of the city, but smaller than that of a nebulous pan-European or global identity.

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Greek Travails, 1949-2009

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 272-274:

The end of World War II brought not peace but a civil war lasting until 1949, between the Communists and the ultimately victorious right-wing loyalists, which resulted in 80,000 dead and 700,000 internal refugees. Because of the brutality on both sides, particularly against civilians, Greek politics would remain polarized for decades, divided between parties of the hard Left and the hard Right, so that a modern liberalism and a modern conservatism would find little room to emerge. Thus did Greece, abetted by its geography—as close to Moscow as to Brussels—become an ideological battleground of the Cold War.

Greece’s Cold War years were marked by weak governments as well as deep, internecine political divisions, which were further aggravated by the independence struggle on Cyprus, with its consequent calls for Enosis (or union) of the island with Greece. (Of course, this itself was an echo of the Great Idea.) In 1967, junior officers staged a coup, toppling the Greek government in Athens. This led to a particularly brutal seven-year military dictatorship in which the Athens “Regime of the Colonels” bore greater similarities to those of the Third World than to any government in Western Europe. The Colonels’ regime dissolved in 1974 after their failed political intervention in Cyprus led to a Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island.

It was only with the reestablishment of democracy in July 1974 under the conservative politician Constantine Karamanlis (who had returned to Greece from exile in France) that Greek politics began slowly—for the first time in history—to stabilize and achieve a modern, Western character. Greece, the birthplace of the West, finally reentered the West. This process was helped by the country’s admission to the European Economic Community (later the EU) in 1981.

Like membership in NATO, membership in the EU and Greece’s subsequent admission to the Eurozone represented purely political decisions on the part of the Western alliance. In fact, neither Greece’s bureaucratic institutions nor its economy was ever up to the standards of core-Europe and the West. Yet, it was felt (if never publicly admitted) that leaving Greece outside European institutions, given the country’s vulnerable geographical position and its long history of instability, would pose a greater threat to the West than bringing Greece inside them. As it turned out, the Greek variant of the Great Depression, in which the country was brought to its knees beginning in 2009 by widespread poverty, a dramatically declining GDP, and mass unemployment—leading to a far-left-wing government initially close to Moscow—was directly related to the country’s abject lack of preparedness for the rigors of the Eurozone. The Byzantine and Ottoman legacies of underdevelopment, while not determinative and always able to be overcome, still counted for something in Greece in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

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