Category Archives: language

Losing Your First Language: Polish

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 160-161:

Alex is a borderlander who is also the son of borderlanders. His mother was born to Russian immigrants in Chicago, but moved to Russia when her parents returned there after the Revolution. She moved into a border town that had once been the southwest part of Poland, just north of the Ukraine, but which had become part of White Russia. Living in such a linguistically diverse region, Alex’s parents spoke Polish and White Russian (a dialect) and standard Russian, depending on the situation. When Alex was born, they adopted Polish as the home language. They moved to a vibrant Polish-speaking community in the United States when Alex was 3 years and 3 months old. They later moved to northern Canada where several of their relatives lived, and where they were able to communicate in Ukrainian, another language spoken by both of his parents.

Alex remembers beginning school, and he remembers the day when his Polish first name was changed to Alex so that his teachers could more easily pronounce it. Like Kuong, he has no recollection of Grade 1 and 2, though he has clear memories of Grade 3 and following (after he could speak English) and of playschool and kindergarten (when he played and had fun in Polish). While Alex was growing up, his parents relied on him to translate English into Polish for them; his father worked in a foundry and did not require English, while his mother stayed home. When I met him, Alex could speak only a little, broken, Polish, and could follow a very basic conversation in Polish. He remembers being much more fluent, and he feels like he is losing Polish bit-by-bit, day-by-day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, education, language, migration, Poland, Russia, Ukraine

Losing Your First Language: German

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 158-159:

Alexandra asserted many times that she was unaffected by the loss of the German language which she had spoken until she was about 9 or 10, that in fact, the loss of German had been extremely beneficial to her.* She insisted that the only loss she felt was the loss of opportunity to speak a second language. She told me these things so many times, and so force­fully, that I stopped believing her.

Born on the prairies, Alexandra was the youngest of six children in a German-speaking household. Her mother was her father’s second wife; her three oldest siblings were half-brothers. When Alexandra was 10 years old, her own mother died and her father couldn’t manage both his family and his farm. Her three oldest brothers, aged 16, 18, and 20, moved out on their own, while the three youngest children became wards of the state and were placed in foster care with families who did not speak or understand German. When her family split up, Alexandra did not maintain contact with her father because she felt betrayed.

Instead, she considered the family that she lived with and grew up with to be her family, and she never even discussed her former family with her foster family. Although she had some desire to maintain contact with her siblings, because she felt no need to see them, and because her foster parents would have found it difficult to accommodate her desire to see her former siblings, she seldom had any contact with them.

She remembers speaking German at her brother’s wedding 4 months after her family broke up, but that is the last recollection she has of being in a German-speaking environment. At this time she doesn’t remember any German words at all; in fact, she says she can’t even count to 10 in German.

*[Author’s note:] I have come to be very suspicious of such claims, which are often used to contradict research directed at heritage language maintenance. Through this project, after close questioning of subjects who initially said similar things, I have come to realize that they do not mean they are glad to have lost the first language, but rather that, if they had to be monolingual, then they are glad to be monolingual in English rather than in some other language.

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, education, Germany, language, migration

Losing Your First Language: Ukrainian

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 154-155:

Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thinketh it accordant to resoun
To telle you al the condicioun
Of eech of hem, so as it seemed me,
And whiche they were, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne:
(Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue, lines 36-41)

Nadia was the first person to volunteer for this research project, completing her interviews before the call for subjects was published. A registered nurse, Nadia came to my home to collect urine samples when my husband and I purchased our life insurance. We talked a little bit about our respective professions, and, when I explained the subject of my research, Nadia became excited and said that she would love to parti­cipate, because her first language was Ukrainian. Nadia was, in essence, a pilot study. With her, I discussed not only the subject of language loss, but also the best ways to both ask questions and aid people in their struggles with narrating large sections of their lives.

Nadia was born in a small town in Manitoba into a unique linguistic situation, one which left her alone and often lonely. She and her family were Ukrainian-speaking Catholics in a town that was predominantly German and Mennonite. She therefore had to travel outside the town to go to church, and was isolated from many activities. She remembers some German teaching in her school, even though the linguistic norm was English. Nadia also remembers having several reserve First Nations’ schoolmates who spoke English as a second language, but she didn’t notice their cultural difference when she was very young, and they had largely dropped out of school by the time she was in high school.

Most of Nadia’s memories of speaking Ukrainian in childhood revolve around food and ceremonies. This was understandable, given that holidays and festivals were occasions for her family to travel and to visit with other members of their family and their church. As she also explained, “I jumped around and started talking about my culture and stuff. I see many languages associated to a culture, and so, also, when I did family things, that’s where Ukrainian was” (June 13th, 1995, p. 30). At the time of our interviews, Nadia was enrolled in Ukrainian lessons through her church, hoping to recapture enough of the language to participate in family conversations, and to surprise her parents on her next visit home.

Ukrainians in Canada were interned as enemy aliens (from Austria-Hungary) and put to hard labor during World War I.

Leave a comment

Filed under Canada, education, language, migration, religion, Ukraine

Heyday of Heyduks, c. 1600

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 269-271:

This malaise was associated with the onset of the ‘Little Ice Age’, the resumption of war between the Habsburgs and the Turks (1593–1606), and a severe economic recession. At the same time there was a great welling-up of social discontents and political upheavals. The entire frontier zone from Ukraine to the Adriatic was affected by the troubles as well as Russia and the Ottoman Balkans; and there were reverberations in Poland and for the Habsburgs. The crisis was the confluence of many streams and was expressed in many forms, but one of its most frightening manifestations were the bands of undisciplined and ruthless soldiery who plagued both sides of the frontier in Hungary.

The Turks had long used a variety of paramilitary forces (armartolos, derbentsy, akinji, vojnuki, etc.) as auxiliary troops, frontier raiders, mountain-pass guards and the like; as we have seen, the Hapsburgs had followed suit; and the Cossacks constitute a parallel in Ukraine and southern Russia. Such troops usually received some pay and also rations or plots of land, but by no means always. There was an Ottoman category known as deli, young men noted for their dare-devilry who would take part in campaigns and sieges for no reward whatsoever, except the opportunity to share in any plundering. Another such type of predatory soldiery was known as haramia. These had an equivalent on the other side of the frontier in the unpaid heyduks and uskoks (venturini) attached to the ‘official’ groups of heyduks and uskoks employed by the Habsburgs to garrison frontier forts and stations, and the unregistered Cossacks of the Ukraine who were to play such a prominent role in the Khmelnytsky rising of 1648.

Evidence from a wide variety of sources suggests that the numbers of such freelance warriors increased sharply in the later sixteenth century, despite a general increase in the numbers employed not only by governments but in the private armies of noblemen, like the Wisniowieckis in Lithuania, the Bathorys in Transylvania or the Frankopans in Croatia.

This increase in the soldiery, both freelance and employed, and the tumults they promoted were linked to the endemic warfare of the frontier, which created both a demand for such troops and, by disrupting the economy of entire districts, a supply of them from among the ranks of the homeless and indigent. But the phenomenon was also related to the huge increase in the population of the Balkans and to the imposition of serfdom. The demographic explosion which doubled the population of Balkan cities also fed migration northwards and eastwards across the frontier, mostly, it seems, through the gap of Timisoara.

The subsequent economic difficulties and the onset of disorders no doubt increased the flow. In any case the numbers of heyduks called ‘Racz’ registered in Eastern Hungary (and there were units in which nearly two-thirds of the men bore that name) points to a sizeable migration northwards from the Balkans, for racz in Magyar (rat in Romanian) means ‘Serb’. Their names also indicate that, although most were or became linguistic Hungarians, some heyduks had originated in Slovakia (toth), Romania (vlach, olah) and Ukraine (kozak, rusnak) as well as in Hungary and the Balkans. And there were Hungarian, Romanian and Tatar names among the Zaporozh’e Cossacks, though most had migrated from Belorussia, Ukraine and Russia. Circumstances suggest that a proportion of these were peasants escaping serfdom, and this was also the case with the recently enserfed Szekels whose support for Michael ‘the Brave’ when he invaded Transylvania regained them their freedom as frontier servicemen.

As late as the 1580s heyduks are reported in groups of up to a few hundred, or, occasionally, of a thousand; but by the turn of the century no fewer than 8,000 unpaid heyduks were reported to be serving Michael ‘the Brave’, Prince of Wallachia, alone. The growth of the phenomenon is suggested by the extremity of their behaviour as well as increasing numbers. Compared with them, Elizabethan England’s problem with sturdy beggars pales into insignificance. In some areas heyduks claimed to be Calvinist, yet they would kill Calvinist priests without compunction; and the Transylvanian Saxons have left matter-of-fact, but eloquent testimony in their memoirs and diaries to the heartless bestiality of the heyduks.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, Eastern Europe, economics, language, migration, military, religion, war

Rough Road to Greek Nationhood

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 206-208:

It was difficult for Bulgarians to think in terms of liberation other than through the church, which was dominated by Greeks, so that Bulgarian national feeling emerged almost as much in reaction to the Greeks as to the Turks.

The Greeks themselves present a different case, for they included important mercantile and administrative classes. These elements formed a cultural community of sorts, but they were distanced from the common people, who had also built up a tradition of self-defence, especially in the mountain areas and some of the islands. The Greek elite was also widely dispersed geographically. Their trading network ramified throughout the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Black Sea littoral, while the Phanariotes staffed much of the Ottoman diplomatic service and bureaucratic machine besides ruling the Romanian principalities (often corruptly, but sometimes in the spirit of enlightened despotism). The Greek elite constituted fertile ground both for conspiracy and manipulation by foreign powers.

The Greek diaspora extended to Paris, and beyond; and French agents had been active in the Greek world since the later 1790s. Revolutionary notions were to grip members of the merchant class (though not the more substantial of them), some Orthodox clergy (though few bishops), and even an occasional potentate in the Ottoman service. But it was on Russian, not French soil, that the Greek revolution got off the ground. In 1814 expatriate Greeks formed a friendly society (Philiki Etairia) in Odessa. Like others founded earlier in Paris and Vienna its aims were cultural; unlike them, however, it aimed to liberate ‘the motherland’.

In 1821 it mounted an attempt to do so, launching an invasion of the Danubian Principalities. But Vladimirescu’s followers provided none of the support they had hoped for, and the Turks soon mopped them up. The conspirators succeeded, however, in sparking an insurgency in the Peleponnese and some of the islands. Though the Russians withdrew their ambassador from Istanbul, and Metternich opined (quite rightly as it happened) that Greece was merely a geographical expression, the Powers supported neither side. Then the Turks executed the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, even though he had roundly denounced the rebellion – and the idealists of Europe rallied to the cause of Greek independence. The volunteers (including Byron), the money, and, not least the publicity which they supplied contributed greatly to the success of the cause. Albeit indirectly, they also helped to ensure that the emergent state of Greece would adopt a Western-type constitution highly unsuitable for a society that was largely traditional and innocent of Western values. Events were to demonstrate that although the seeds of Western democratic ideas were to germinate in Eastern Europe, unlike the rampant bean-stalk of nationalism, the plants that grew out of them would be weak and spindly.

Greece’s first head of state, Capodistrias, understood the problem. He was an authoritarian in the mould of the enlightened despots. He set out to build sound administrative and educational systems, to improve communications and the economy. He also favoured land reform. Anticipating Stolypin, he regarded a free and prosperous peasantry as the foundation of a stable society. Traditional interest groups, whom he held in contempt, and idealists starry-eyed with Western ways, all hated him. In 1831 he was assassinated. When the ensuing anarchy finally subsided, independent Greece found herself (thanks to an agreement between Russia, France, and Britain) with a sizeable Western loan, a Bavarian King [Otto] and a small Bavarian army.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Bulgaria, economics, France, Greece, language, nationalism, religion, Russia, Turkey, war

Literacy and the Rise of Nationalism

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 196-198:

Czechs benefiting from new educational opportunities learned German … and were thus able to devour the classics of German Romanticism. The University of Buda Press, founded in 1777, not only printed the first good Hungarian grammars but soon began to publish in Serbian, Slovak and Romanian. A grammar was vital to the definition of a single, literary language on which a sense of linguistic nationhood could be based (a collection of contrasting dialects could form no such basis). Furthermore, publication in a variety of emerging literary languages was to help spread a consciousness of a linguistic identity.

The march of the French armies into Eastern Europe also stimulated a rise of national consciousness. Napoleon’s creation of a province of ‘Illyria’ and a Duchy of Warsaw encouraged more people to think in terms of some sort of national independence, though he disappointed the hopes of his Polish followers. Moreover his conquests stimulated patriotic reactions which, in Prussia, began to develop into a German national feeling. The repeated defeats and humiliations suffered by Francis (who not only lost territories, but his ancient title of Holy Roman Emperor, and had to marry one of his daughters to the Corsican upstart) damaged the aura of unassailable majesty that had been carefully created around the House of Habsburg in the seventeenth century. No doubt this encouraged the idea that an alternative republican, and perhaps national, form of state might be feasible. However, the Hungarians spurned Napoleon’s invitation to rebel.

It should be stressed, however, that this stage of budding nationalism also drew on older concepts of group identification. Both Poles and Hungarians were to take pride in the traditions of the ‘noble nation’ (though not the Czechs whose nobility had been effectively Germanized). Recognising the sense of identity (and superiority) that genealogy can give, enthusiasts set out to provide their nationalities with atavistic pedigrees, preferably ones that stretched back to ancient times. Attempts were also made to extend traditional loyalties to village and locality to all the territory inhabited by ‘the folk’; and priests played an important role in the rise of Balkan and especially Polish nationalism. Indeed, in the Polish case, exiled poets were to develop the mystical notions that Poles were God’s chosen people, that Poland was the Christ among nations, the crucified Messiah who would be resurrected; the saviour of mankind.

The nation-makers included philologists, historians and archaeologists as well as poets – for the people had to be persuaded to use a standard language that was, as far as possible, free from ‘foreign’ influences; and taught about the nation’s heroic past. In most cases both the sense of the nation and loyalty to it had to be created. This proved to be a slow process. For decades to come Bohemian villagers were to speak Czech and German dialects which were sometimes unintelligible to sophisticates from Prague who spoke proper Czech and Hochdeutsch. The first volume of the anti-German Palacky’s history was published in German, not Czech; and when Hungarian enthusiasts eventually translated the Marseillaise they rendered it not into Magyar, but into the official language of the Hungarian Diet, Latin.

Literacy, then, was a key factor in the rise of nationalism, and in particular the literacy of the ‘middle class’ of poorer nobles (the magnates still tended to be cosmopolitan), junior civil servants, officers, seminarists and poorer clergy. Jacobinism had attracted elements of the same groups. Indeed Ferenc Kazinczy, one of Martinovics’s co-conspirators, was to assume a pioneering role in the creation of a Hungarian literary language once he was released from gaol. The size of this nascent intelligentsia continued to increase, for the Emperor Francis, determined though he was to keep revolutionary forces at bay, continued to promote education. Following in the tradition of Enlightened Despotism, he extended the educational system and even encouraged teaching in local vernaculars in order to spread ‘useful knowledge’. However, the emphasis was placed firmly on technical subjects. The dissemination of ideas was severely discouraged.

As matters turned out, the policy contained two unforeseen weaknesses. At the elementary level the poorly-paid teachers constituted the sort of intellectual proletariat that was susceptible to radical ideas. Schoolteachers were to be major carriers of the nationalist virus throughout Eastern Europe. The second weakness concerned the exclusion of philosophy in favour of theology (a policy that was to be followed by Soviet regimes, too, of course). This created a hunger for forbidden fruits in people who lacked the capacity to digest them properly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Eastern Europe, education, language, nationalism, philosophy, religion

Eastern Europe’s Urban Growth, 1900s

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 157-158:

Between 1860 and 1900 the population of Eastern Europe almost doubled. Between 1900 and 1914 it increased by at least another 20 per cent to a figure well in excess of 250 million. This was a far higher growth rate than in any Western country, and it has never been adequately explained. In so far as the statistics exclude migration abroad, the situation was worse than it might seem. Mass emigration had gathered pace since 1880. By 1914 nearly 4 million had left Austria-Hungary; the rate of migration from the Russian Empire approached 100,000 a year. But the migration rates from the poorest areas were the lowest (higher for Austria-Hungary than Russia, higher from Russian Poland than the rest of the Russian Empire, and lowest from Romania). However encouraging a development the population explosion might seem to chauvinistic nationalists, it brought rising despair in the countryside (where almost 60 per cent of Austria’s subjects lived, 70 per cent of Hungary’s and over 80 per cent over the remainder of the region). The despair at having to feed more mouths from the same small trough turned to anger in massive peasant disturbances in Russia in 1905–6 and a bloody Romanian uprising of 1907. But the problems of the countryside were also transferred to the cities.

The population growth in most of the major cities exceeded that for the region as a whole because of urban migration. Between 1880 and 1910 the population of Prague rose by almost 40 per cent to nearly a quarter of a million; that of Budapest doubled to reach almost 900,000; those of St Petersburg and Moscow more than doubled (to 2 and 1.5 million respectively), and that of Warsaw more than tripled (to 856,000). But the most alarming increase occurred in Vienna which changed, within the span of a single generation, from a pleasant, orderly, German-speaking city of fewer than 750,000 souls to a polyglot maelstrom of over two million. The city, whose ancient walls had recently been dismantled to make way for the elegant Ringstrasse with its modern palaces and pleasant parks where bands played Strauss waltzes, was suddenly overwhelmed by a new kind of invasion.

It was an irony of this age of nationalism that by 1910 no less than 8 per cent of all Czechs should reside in Vienna (5 per cent of all Slovaks had settled in Budapest by that time). And not only Czechs, but Serbs, Romanians, Slovenes and Ukrainians had flooded in to the new tenements and slums. The city had come to resemble a Tower of Babel, and the indigenous Viennese felt overwhelmed; their culture, their very identity seemed threatened. The popular mood, formerly easy-going, became ugly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Eastern Europe, economics, education, industry, labor, language, migration, nationalism

Eastern Europe’s Failures in 1848

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 134-137:

At the beginning of March 1848, as news of a revolution in Paris seeped in about a week after the event, crowds took to the streets of Vienna, and before long the entire Empire, from Bohemia to northern Italy, was in turmoil. In the months that followed there were uprisings in Prague, Lemberg [Lviv] and several other cities besides Vienna; Hungary and Venice declared themselves independent; the imperial army was driven out of Lombardy by local insurgents supported by invading forces from Piedmont, and Vienna itself had to be abandoned to the revolutionaries. Within the imperial administration there were six changes of government; two ministers were lynched; another went mad; and the Emperor abdicated. Yet by the autumn of 1849 the old order had been resurrected and the cause of revolution seemed utterly lost. What had the revolutionaries stood for? Why did they lose? And what influence did the events have both on the Empire itself and on the rest of Eastern Europe?

The Revolutions of 1848 are commonly represented as nationalist, and so to a great extent they were. Yet the call for ‘freedom’ as if it were a single entity embraced a variety of aims. Middle-class liberals wanted the abolition of censorship, freedom of speech and assembly, and a judicial system that dispensed justice openly; radicals demanded the replacement of monarchical government by a democracy based on wide suffrage; peasants, and all progressives, wanted the abolition of serfdom; workers protested against unemployment and for more pay. After the first, heady, stages, even more interests forced themselves to the surface. Tenants struck against high rents; artisans took to the streets because new, cheap, factory-produced goods were already threatening their livelihoods; students saw an opportunity for activism, and in Prague there were anti-Jewish riots. Among the educated strata, some, like the great Hungarian landowner Szechenyi, wanted change on the lines of the British model, with economic development as the motor of social and political change. However, the slogans of the French Revolution and of the Romantic movement tended to predominate, and in particular calls for national self-expression.

The demands for national freedom, however, also took different forms. Some were founded on constitutional precedents, such as the ancient powers of the Hungarian Diet or of the Bohemian Estates, which had been sapped or overborne by imperial power. Others were based on what appeared to their proponents to be the self-evident claims of a common language and the national community which it created. And there were further divisions both within the various nationalist camps and between them. Frantisek Palacky, promoter of the Czech national revival, thought in terms of a union of all the Slav peoples of the Empire, predicated on the view that, for all the myriad differences of dialect, they all spoke the same beautiful language.

This, however, was unacceptable, among others, to the Polish nationalists, who, roused by emigres returning from France, wished to resurrect the ancient Polish Republic which had been wiped off the map only half a century before. Furthermore, the claims of one nationalist group encouraged others to assert themselves. Romanians, Serbs, Croats and Slovaks did not take kindly to the prospect of inclusion in a state dominated by Hungarians. The Ruthenes (Ukrainians) resented the Polish claims to domination in Galicia. German Bohemians feared the Czechs and some Austrians were attracted by the idea of a greater Germany.

The fast-declining sense of equality and fraternity among the revolutionaries themselves, a growing popular reaction to their extremism, and the discipline of the imperial army all helped the government to reassert its authority. The promise made on 25 April 1848 to provide a democratic constitution for Austria, and the subsequent undertaking, in response to public demand, to widen the franchise, assuaged the feelings of many democrats; the emancipation of the peasants of Bohemia and Moravia in March, and those of Galicia and the Bukovina later the same year, bought off much social discontent; and the authorities experienced little difficulty in encouraging the Croats, Serbs and Slovaks to attack the Hungarian rebels who had cavalierly rejected their modest claims to linguistic autonomy. For the rest it was a matter of suppression. On 7 June the insurrectionaries in Prague were crushed; Vienna was recaptured at the end of October, and a rising in Lemberg put down two days later. General Windischgraetz was the imperial hero of the hour. Only the Italians and Hungarians held out. The crushing defeat inflicted by General Radetzky on the invading Piedmontese at Novara in March 1849 spelt doom to the revolution in the Italian provinces, though the resurrected ‘republic’ of Venice survived until August. The Hungarian rebellion lasted only a few days longer.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, Eastern Europe, economics, education, industry, labor, language, nationalism, war

Eastern Europe After World War I

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 99-101:

The consequences of the war were grievous. The loss of manpower in this overpopulated region was the least of them. A large proportion of the survivors were exhausted, ill-clothed and had forgotten the skills they had possessed before the war. They were also ill-fed. Losses of livestock were to take twenty years to make up. Partly as a result of the dearth of draught animals, cereal production everywhere except Bulgaria had diminished by between a quarter and a half by comparison with 1913. Even if this had not been the case, the earning potential for agricultural exports, which had been very considerable before the war, especially from Romania, Hungary and Ukraine, had fallen sharply, for, thanks to the war, the United States and Canada had become the world’s granary instead of Eastern Europe. And increased production in the West had caused world prices to slump. Czech industry, among the least affected, was producing 30 per cent less than before the war; in most of the other countries production was halved. The war had also dissipated savings, so funds available for investment were scarce. Inflation grew apace, ruining many members of the middle classes; so did interest rates. Business confidence was very low.

Matters were made worse by the Peace Settlement, which allowed other criteria to override the concern to draw frontiers that made economic sense. As a result towns lost their agricultural hinterlands; villagers found their access to mountain pastures, on which they traditionally grazed their cattle, suddenly blocked by frontier posts; the headquarters and branch offices of many a firm found that, overnight, they were in different countries where different laws and taxation systems applied. Railways lines were cut off from their former termini and cities from their railway stations. Romania’s newly-acquired port of Bazias had no communications to link it with the rest of the country. Hungary’s second city, Szeged, once a thriving regional emporium, became a sleepy frontier town. Grass was soon growing on the once busy docks of Trieste, now part of Italy, which had no need of another port.

The new frontiers cut across communication systems in a way that made nation-building the more difficult and expensive. Resurrected Poland found herself with parts of three different railway networks, each with different gauges and signalling systems; and, since they had been built with military purposes rather than international trade in mind, they did not usually meet up with one another. In Czechoslovakia all the main lines ran north-south, radiating from the old centres of Vienna and Budapest, whereas the new country’s axis lay east-west. Her predicament led to a bitter struggle with Poland for possession of Tesin (Polish Cieszyn), whose stretch of line was the only link between the head and the tail of Czechoslovakia, although Tesin’s population was predominately Polish and its mines a hotly disputed prize for both countries.

Such predicaments encouraged the continuation of a ‘war psychosis’. There was not only a desperate concern to protect one’s territory against one’s neighbours (and, if possible, to acquire more from them), but a willingness to wage economic warfare and, when opportunity offered, to loot. When, with the encouragement of the Powers who wanted to see Bela Kun’s Communist regime brought down, Romanian troops occupied Budapest in August 1919, they carried away as much of the telephone equipment and railway rolling stock as they could, even if they could put it to no use. Hungary retaliated later by cutting Romania’s telephone access to the West. When Romania was in dispute with Yugoslavia, she closed the locks controlling the flow of water from the Danube and so brought river traffic on the Yugoslav side to a halt. The Czechs refused to supply Hungary or Austria with coal, or to allow Polish coal to be shipped to them across her territory. The frontiers between Poland and Lithuania and between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were repeatedly closed, and it was to take fifteen years to repair a two-mile gap in the telephone line between Belgrade and Sofia. The beggar-my-neighbour attitude was also reflected in fierce tariff wars.

1 Comment

Filed under democracy, Eastern Europe, economics, industry, labor, language, migration, military, nationalism, war

Eastern Europe, 1990s: Disappointment

From The Making of Eastern Europe: From Prehistory to Postcommunism, by Philip Longworth (Lume Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 9-10:

The rejoicing was widespread, and particularly intense among the young as well as those who had run foul of the pervasive officialdom and the secret police. Yet the euphoria did not last long. The sudden removal of controls and taboos encouraged entrepreneurs and foreign investors, but also crooks and asset-strippers. Attempts at systemic change and reorientation of trade resulted in economic dislocations and both industrial and consumer shortages. Production plummeted; so did real incomes. Inflation rose and hoarding made things worse. As rules and procedures associated with the old order were increasingly ignored, and as uncertainty about the law, the value of things and, not least, the validity of legal titles increased, so did a degree of chaos. At the same time crime rates soared.

Measures to control inflation and reduce subsidies and over-manning produced rising prices and unemployment, industrial discontent and rising pessimism. There had been hopeful talk of another Marshall Plan, but President Bush held out an empty wallet. The world, after all, was in the throes of one of those periodic economic turns which Communists used to refer to scornfully as ‘crises of capitalism’. Help did come but chiefly in the form of loans with harsh conditions attached. The millions who had innocently assumed that revolution would bring them instant betterment were disappointed.

There were unexpected political, as well as economic, consequences. To the ill-disguised dismay of many countries East and West, the two Germanies rushed to reunification. In Poland the ‘Solidarity’ movement soon split asunder; an unknown emigre attracted more votes than the conscientious Premier Mazowiecki in the presidential elections won by Lech Walesa; and Polish cities were disfigured by anti-semitic graffiti. In Romania, as in Bulgaria, reformed Communists were victorious in what were substantially free elections, yet the opposition ‘Democrats’ refused to accept the electorate’s decision. In Hungary parliament became the scene of endless bickering between a multitude of different parties; in Czechoslovakia bitter resentment soon surfaced between Czechs and Slovaks; and at the time of writing (March 1991) unbridled nationalism and strident populism were threatening the break-up of Yugoslavia and the collapse of the USSR itself.

As a new order emerges from the turmoil some features that had previously characterized the region have begun to disappear. But what were these countries like before the changes? What was the stable state before the state of flux?

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, Eastern Europe, economics, language, migration, military, nationalism, philosophy, religion