Category Archives: nationalism

Buddhist Survivals in Buryatia

From In Siberia, by Colin Thubron (HarperCollins, 2009), Kindle Loc. 2868-2883, 2923-2939:

Buryatia. Mongols who had settled here a millennium ago, absorbing the local tribes, her people had sometimes allied themselves with czarist Russia against the harsh Mongolian regimes to their south. They were skilled stock-breeders and metallurgists, more numerous and organised than the tribespeople in the far north. Their ancestors had ridden with Genghis Khan. In the ungiving pastures of Transbaikal which we were entering, they had been converted to Buddhism by Mongolian and Tibetan missionaries, and alone among indigenous Siberians they possessed a written language. But even during childhood the woman had sensed in her parents the terror and bewilderment of the thirties: the forced collectivisation, the disappearance of the kulaks and lamas, the destruction of the monasteries.

She sees her Buryat identity fading down the generations. She has not thought of it much before, she says; but now I sense her hunting after half-discarded memories, a definition of her people, her mother, herself.

In a village somewhere east of Ulan Ude, she remembers, her grandparents kept a scroll painted with the Buddha and fringed in blue silk. It seemed very old. But it was the caressing silk border which the small girl remembered, not the sage it enframed. There were three statuettes of the Buddha too, to which the old people burnt incense and offered meat and fruit. Sometimes the girl would watch secretly to catch the Buddhas eating. She remembers the cupboard where they sat, how its doors opened after Stalin’s death, and the sleepy fumes of incense.

‘Every morning they offered the Buddhas tea and milk, then sprinkled it to the corners of the porch. That’s how Buddhism survived–in secret, the old people remembering. In Stalin’s day they rolled up the scroll with their prayer-books in a wooden box, and buried them under the house. But our family’s clan still had an altar on a hill, where they offered sacrifices.’ She frowns with remembered rebellion. ‘I wasn’t allowed to go, because I was a girl. But my brother told me about it.’

I had heard of a whole museum mured up in the cathedral, but it was closed to public view. Was it possible to…? The cat walked between us like a mascot.

Yes, it was possible. As the woman mounted the tower’s stair and unlocked door after armoured door a rich and incoherent maze came to light. Inside had been hoarded not the relics of Christian Orthodoxy but the accumulated treasures of Buddhist monasteries and temples salvaged in the hours before their demolition. Earmarked for display in a museum to promote atheism, then preserved for some future archive of their own, they waited here in glimmering profusion, sometimes stacked pell-mell among Cossack ploughs and harness, more often ranked in half-documented cabinets to themselves.

I examined them in ignorant wonder. In the gloom hundreds of Buddhas lifted their gilded hands in peace or teaching. Gifts from Tibet, Mongolia, China, even Cambodia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a few were very old. They sat or stood in bronze, gold, gypsum, papier maché. Their smiles filled the dark. Three thousand scroll-paintings crowded the shelves with Tibetan manuscripts and Chinese silks and a medley of temple instruments and regalia–ceremonial horns and the masks of lamaist mystery plays, whose actor-monks glowered out through slavering jaws or demon eyes. Sunlight penetrated only in mote-heavy beams, too weak to fade the sacred banners or illumine the fertility deities coupled in Tantric bliss. I began to lose all sense of age or worth. A horse-headed lute curved beside a ninth-century Indian Buddha, the household altar of a Buryat chief among the bric-a-brac of early tea-merchants.

The collective memory of Buryatia, it seemed, had been incarcerated in these once-Christian walls, and left to die. Of the forty-seven monasteries flourishing in the 1920s, all were gone by 1939. But Buddhism was reviving, said the woman, as she locked the last doors behind me. There were many little monasteries and temples she knew of, newly scattered through the region, and the greatest was only twenty miles away. The outer door clanged shut. The white cat was waiting in the grass. You could take a bus anywhere into the country, she said, and hear the lamas praying again.

Leave a comment

Filed under language, migration, nationalism, religion, Russia, USSR

Kyrgyz–Uzbek Tensions in Kyrgyzstan

From Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, by Philip Shishkin (Yale, 2013), Kindle Loc. 4129-4150:

After much huffing and puffing about his popularity, Bakiyev flew into exile, vacating his ceremonial tent on the edge of Jalalabad. He and his associates and relatives now face criminal prosecution in Kyrgyzstan on charges that include murder and corruption. Hours after Bakiyev escaped, a crowd of protesters set his sprawling family home on fire. Though Batyrov says the place was already burning by the time his men arrived, the prevalent view in Kyrgyzstan is that it was Batyrov’s Uzbeks who did it. “I told them, ‘Don’t touch the house, it belonged to Bakiyev’s grandfather, and he’s a veteran of World War II,’” Ashukan Saparova, an elderly Kyrgyz woman who lives across the street, told me when I visited.

As word of the bonfire spread, the Kyrgyz grew infuriated. How dared the Uzbeks burn a Kyrgyz home? “They shouldn’t have done it. I’m a woman, but if someone burned my father’s house, I would also want revenge,” Mavlyanova, the Kyrgyz NGO activist who had a son in Batyrov’s kindergarten, told me. Though ethnic clashes had taken place even before the arson, they intensified in the following weeks. A Kyrgyz crowd rampaged through Batyrov’s Peoples’ Friendship University, burning classrooms, breaking windows, and decapitating the statue of the Uzbek leader’s father. It was late May, right around finals.

“Students started running away,” recalled Anara Samatova, a professor of literature, who is Kyrgyz. Samatova collected exam papers and followed her students out through the back door. In the next few days, Jalalabad descended into hell. Hiding in her apartment, Samatova peeked out the window and saw a group of armed Kyrgyz men interrogating an Uzbek teenager dressed in a black T-shirt. She knew the kid was Uzbek because his captors called him sart, a derogatory term the Kyrgyz use for Uzbeks, the local n-word. Samatova couldn’t hear what the gunmen were grilling him about, but she overheard the kid protesting: “But my house was burned too.” With that, the men shot him, put his body in a car, and drove off.

Next up in the war’s path was Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city and a bustling hub of the south. Tensions had been brewing there for years, as the Uzbek commercial class dominating the city rubbed up against the influx of poorer rural migrants, most of them Kyrgyz. In fact, an element of class had seeped into the conflict. Many rural Kyrgyz resented the Uzbeks for their perceived wealth. It’s a deeply flawed stereotype, but one that proved very resilient.

Leave a comment

Filed under Central Asia, democracy, economics, education, nationalism

Presidential Transitions in Kyrgyzstan

From Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, by Philip Shishkin (Yale, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2635-44:

The reign of President Bakiyev ended the same way it began, with a revolution and an exile. He fled, first to a large ceremonial tent in his home village in southern Kyrgyzstan, and then out of the country. Facing an irate populace, his brothers, sons, and cronies ran for the exits too, not all of them successfully. Bakiyev eventually settled in Belarus, at the personal invitation of the local dictator. The only two presidents Kyrgyzstan had known in its twenty years of independence ended up as outcasts and fugitives: one in Moscow teaching physics, the other in Minsk living in a forced retirement. Bakiyev, the hopeful product of the optimistically named Tulip Revolution, mutated into a villain so quickly that his allies didn’t know what hit them. “We got tricked like little kids,” Roza Otunbayeva, the perennial opposition leader who helped bring Bakiyev to power, told me shortly after she helped overthrow him. “He made all the right speeches back then.” During his five-year reign, nepotism and graft surpassed the excesses of the previous regime, while government opponents began to suffer suspicious deaths. In the words of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the master of the one-liner, Bakiyev “stepped on the same rake” that had whacked his predecessor on the head.

Leave a comment

Filed under Central Asia, democracy, migration, nationalism, USSR

Eastern Troops Defending Normandy, 1944

From The Germans in Normandy, by Richard Hargreaves (Pen and Sword, 2006), Kindle Loc. 388-405:

Germany had suffered casualties nearing four million, three out of four of them on the Eastern Front. 1943 had been a punishing year in Russia. Since July alone, Germany had lost more than 1,200,000 men. The losses could not be made good. Even after stripping Italy and especially France, even after sending more than a quarter of a million men from the training schools, even after sending wounded men back to the front, the German Army in Russia still found itself more than 300,000 short.

Short of men in the east, short of men in the west, Germany turned to desperate measures to fill its thinning ranks. Hitler was convinced the rear areas, supply depots, offices and administrations would prove to be a rich source of untapped manhood. He ordered every division, every naval and Luftwaffe unit to comb out men who could be spared duties behind the lines so they could be sent to the front. But combing out the Wehrmacht could not solve all its ills. The losses had simply been too great. In 1943, the German military machine began calling up seventeen and eighteen year olds and relying more and more heavily on foreign ‘volunteers’: Volksdeutsche – ethnic Germans, born outside the Fatherland; Freiwillige – foreign volunteers sympathetic to the Nazi cause – and Hilfswillige or ‘Hiwis’ – auxiliaries, usually Russians or Poles pressed into military service from the occupied territories or recruited from the millions of prisoners of war wasting away in German camps. With the war turning against the Wehrmacht in the east, it was no longer safe to use anti-Bolshevik Russians on the Eastern Front. From the autumn of 1943 onwards, the High Command steadily began swapping German troops behind the Atlantic Wall for these so-called Osttruppen – eastern troops. By the spring of 1944, one in six infantry battalions along the Atlantic Coast was composed of Osttruppen and foreign volunteers – Russians, Poles, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Ukrainians among them. On the eastern coast of the Cotentin peninsula, 709th Infantry Division was typical of the second-rate divisions defending the west in 1944. One in five in its ranks was a volunteer from the east. Its commander, Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben, was sceptical. ‘We are asking rather a lot if we expect Russians to fight in France for Germany against Americans.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Canada, Eastern Europe, France, Germany, migration, military, nationalism, U.S., USSR, war

Evangelizing Japanese in Hawai‘i, 1915

From “Events in Hawaii,” by F. S. Scudder, in The Christian Movement in the Japanese Empire, including Korea and Formosa, a Year Book for 1915 (Conference of Federated Missions, Japan, 1915), pp. 333-336.

Interchanges – Our geographic situation has furnished us, as usual, special opportunities of brotherly service. In May, 1914, the visit of the training ships Asama and Azuma gave many Americans the privilege of becoming acquainted with Rear-Admiral Kuroi, whose noble character won the admiration of ail who met him. It was a happy coincidence that while a party of prominent citizens of Hawaii were touring Japan and daily receiving the highest courtesies in that Land of the Rising Sun, we of the setting sun should have the opportunity of offering the first welcome to these men of the Japanese navy on their visit to various American ports.

A band of thirty young men, wearing a “Y” on their sleeves, and representing the Japanese Y.M.C.A. tendered their services as guides throughout the city and vicinity of Honolulu. An international welcome service was held both in Honolulu and Hilo, in each of which no less than 1,000 people gathered. At the Honolulu service, the picture of Admiral Kuroi, seated between Governor Pink­ham and Admiral Moore, and in the midst of a group of fifteen other prominent citizens of Honolulu, was one that called out from many the remark, “How could those two Admirals ever be conceived as being ranged on different sides in a conflict.” Such services certainly tend to bind us together in sympathy, respect and mutual interest.

Peace Scholarship Students – Another incident evoking interesting comment was the coming of three more Peace Scholars from Japan to the Mid-Pacific Institute. That the sending these three boys should have been deemed of sufficient importance to draw together at the home of the Prime Minister of Japan a number of the leaders of great movements in that Empire, shows the remarkable way in which the master minds of Japan foster, from its tiniest beginnings, the ideal of world peace.

In the great pageant of Peace given at the Mid-pacific carnival in February of this year, no part called forth more unanimous admiration than that taken by the Japanese. Not alone the exquisite beauty of their costumes, but the dignity and unequalled decorum of the participants were conspicuous.

No account of the year’s activities would be complete, without mention of the definite efforts put forth to bring about mutual understanding between the people of America and Japan. Central Union Church gave its minister, Rev. Doremus Scudder, D.D., leave of absence for three months, to join with Rev. S. L. Gulick, D.D., in a campaign of good-will in the United States. The results of this campaign, though of far-reaching impor­tance, are not yet made public. This was followed by the visit of Doctors Mathews and Gulick on their way to and from Japan, and on his return trip, Dr. Gulick made a tour of these Islands, investigating the condition of the Japanese here and the estimate put upon them by the people of Hawaii. Dr. Gulick’s report of this investigation will prove of intense interest and value.

Rev. S. Kimura made a three months’ evangelistic campaign in the Islands, deeply stirring the Churches of all nationalities, and giving a strong forward impetus to the work among the Japanese.

The Hongwanji Buddhists are planning to erect a temple in Honolulu costing $100,000.

Young Japan in Hawaii – One of the big problems of missions in the ever-changing condition of Hawaii is that presented by the changing language of the people. Looking at this from the Japanese side alone, it is of serious proportions, as will be noticed from the following considerations, but what is here said in reference to the Japanese is likewise applicable to the youth of all other nationalities growing up in our midst.

An On-coming Problem
The Japanese population in the Hawaiian Islands is about 90,000
Of these the number born in the Islands is approximately 23,000
The yearly increase by children born in Hawaii is about 3,000

Here in a nutshell we have a problem which may be outlined as follows: Since the immigration of Japanese, excepting of brides, is practically discontinued, the increase of the Japanese population must henceforth be chiefly of those born in the Islands–who are educated in the public schools and whose knowledge of the Japanese tongue, after they are eight or ten years of age, becomes less and less, while English becomes their favourite language. By the time they are old enough to attend church services we are in danger of losing all influence over them, for on the one hand, their knowledge of Japanese is so limited that they can not understand the sermons preached by Japanese ministers, and on the other hand, even our best qualified Japanese ministers are not equal to preaching in English acceptably to those youths who have attended our public schools, and acquired English through play and study from their childhood days.

What can be done for these on-coming thousands of young men and women who are thus growing up among us? Shall they go to English speaking Churches? The question answers itself; for, outside of Honolulu, the Churches of all denominations in these Islands which have English services can be counted on the fingers of both hands [emphasis added]. That is sufficient evidence of the need for inaugurating English services throughout all the Islands.

Buildings Ready – Church buildings are already available, each nationality being fairly well provided with suitable buildings, but unless these Churches are quick to adapt themselves to the changing order, they will soon be ministering to a small body of old people, while the great body of our young people will be unshepherded.

Who, then, shall be secured to conduct these English services? To place in the field additional missionaries from the mainland [U.S.], even if it were possible, would be inadequate; for the present generation, at least, the ministers to the different nationalities should be related by blood to the people they are to serve.

Need of Dual Ministry – It is evident then, that while utilizing the present church buildings as permanent centres of rel1g1ous life we must have a bi-lingual ministry if we aim to reach both the old and the young, and as the difficulties in the way of securing one man who will speak the two languages are practically insuperable, we must begin as rapidly as possible to provide each of these Churches with an associate minister, of its own national type, who shall take charge of the English work.

This may seem like a staggering financial proposition, but it is not more staggering than the thought of a whole generation of the youth of all natioµalities growing up without religious guidance, and hence setting back the moral development of our people indefinitely. The unique situation calls for unusual outlay. The time has come when we must face the fact and plan to meet it with a definite programme.

Question of Expense – The sooner the problem is faced, however, the less the expense involved. By beginning at once to adapt ourselves to it, placing in the field one new man at a time and locating him at a strategic centre, the initial expense would be moderate, and the help thus given would so strengthen the Churches that they would move more rapidly towards self-support, thus keeping down the annual increase to a reasonable sum.

Our first aim, it would seem, should be to place one English speaking Japanese minister on each of the four Islands where we have Japanese work, who should institute a regular English service in each Church as often as the size of his circuit will permit, and then, from this beginning, to go on increasing the number of our English speaking preachers till every Church has its dual ministry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hawai'i, Japan, language, military, nationalism, religion

Defending “United Europe” on D-Day

From D DAY Through German Eyes – Wehrmacht Soldier Accounts of June 6th 1944, by Holger Eckhertz (DTZ History, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1032-49:

Did you have any personal animosity towards the Anglo-Americans?

My brother and cousin had both been killed in the East, at Kharkov, so my animosity lay more in that direction. Ironically, we had a large contingent of Russian troops with us on the Atlantic wall, who were defectors now serving in the German forces, but I had no real contact with them.

As for the English, my father had been in France in 1917 to 1918, and he confided to me that the English were surprisingly similar to us Germans in personal character, but that as a fighting force they were inconsistent, with many brave men but also a big element of shirkers and black market operators. Regarding the Americans, I think that most of us soldiers made a distinction in our minds between the American government, which we believed was a pawn of international finance, and the Americans as individuals. After all, we had all seen US films and magazines before the war, we had read about cowboys and heard jazz music, and all this was exciting and very attractive to us. But despite all this, we knew that the Americans too were intent on attacking France and destroying the unification of Europe under German protection that our leadership had achieved.

This is interesting. The phrase ‘Fortress Europe’ is still widely remembered today, I think, as part of Reich propaganda at the time, but you have reminded me that the phrase ‘United Europe’ was equally common.

Of course it was. Of course. ‘United Europe’ was a universal slogan. We should remember that both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS had huge recruitment campaigns in all the countries under Reich control, with the emphasis that people from all the countries of Europe should unite under arms and defend European unification. If we look at the Waffen SS, we see these very effective non-German units from all over Europe: the French, the famous Belgian-Walloon people under Leon Degrelle, the Dutch, Norwegians, the Croat Muslims with their ‘SS’ emblems on their fez hats, and so on and so on. There was a definite sense that Europe was united under the Reich, and an attack on France would be an attack on the whole structure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Europe, Germany, nationalism, U.S., USSR, war

Okinawa Under U.S. Occupation, 1945–1972

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 554-556:

The [Okinawa] occupation of 1945–1972 was characteristically American: often generous in personal ways and in response to individual cases of hardship, usually ignorant of and insensitive to native ways and needs. When Commodore Perry forced Okinawans to satisfy his “reasonable” demands almost a century earlier, he was certain they would appreciate the “lenity and humanity” of American laws. Now Americans who paid wages to civilian employees and distributed free rations – the only antidote to mass starvation – were similarly convinced of their traditional magnanimity, especially when billions of dollars were poured into the economy in support of operations for the Korean War and other anti-Communist measures. Some of the medical assistance and scholarship grants to top students were indeed admirable. But the twenty-seven years until the occupation ended brought far more shame than honor to Washington and the men in the field who followed or ignored official intentions.

Japanese-speaking naval officers, some former professors trained in Asian studies and occupation affairs, did good work during the first year or so. But the quality of the occupation plunged when responsibility for it was transferred more fully to the Army, most of whose senior officers knew nothing about their jobs and hardly cared to learn: civil administration was considered a sidetrack from line duty and its promotion. Pentagon officials changed almost as rapidly as occupation personnel. Okinawan duty was considered undesirable enough to be threatened as punishment for “goof-ups” elsewhere in the Pacific. The island became notorious among Americans as a place of exile from the Japanese mainland – a veritable Siberia, as George Kerr called it, known as “the Rock” and “the end of the line” – incompetent colonels and civilian bureaucrats, rather as Tokyo had sent down second-rate administrators for decades before the war.

Soon only a few overseas eccentrics gave a damn about the remote possession. Resuming their civilian lives in the postwar boom, veterans in the States knew nothing about the abysmal conditions on the island. The vacuum of public interest and accountability allowed the generally negligent and incapable performance of the Army’s secondary occupational functions to go unnoticed. The occupation force was composed not of combat troops who had seen at least a portion of the 1945 calamity but of “callow youth,” as one of their officers called them, who were “demanding [their] creature comforts from the armed services.” Or from the Okinawans, just under a hundred of whom they robbed, raped, otherwise assaulted and murdered during the first six months of 1949 alone: predictable distractions of occupation troops banished to the impoverished island.

Those youths felt condescension or scorn for the primitives eking out an existence without commerce or currency. Especially during the first years after the war, when family land was the sole source of self-support and the Army paid no compensation for its appropriations for the military use, scavenging natives lived in miserable poverty, some in areas ravaged by malaria, all in deep shock and bewilderment. The island became a heap of war surplus and smelly junk. A witness described an Assistant Secretary of the Army as “flabbergasted with what he saw” during an unannounced inspection in 1949. Some of the worst outrages were remedied, but native hardship remained severe until the late 1950s.

Destitute Okinawans looked back at the war as confirmation that the island’s salvation lay in pacifism. Not all regretted having fought for Japan, especially some of the young and the elite. But a handful of exceptions proved the rule of enormous regret and corresponding mistrust of everything military. If most Japanese turned fervently antimilitarist after the war, most Okinawans, whose losses made the [Japanese] 32nd Army’s destruction seem almost slight by comparison, did so with stronger feeling.

The proportionally greater damage was followed by slower reconstruction. While Japan was gearing up for economic recovery in the 1950s, Okinawa remained in pathetic poverty, partly owing to the unconcerned, incompetent American generals who conducted a more rigid and repressive occupation than on the mainland, where neon was installed and diplomatic niceties with the Imperial Palace reintroduced. The real business of Okinawa’s governors was to run America’s defense installations, not to care for the natives. Thus traditionally peaceful Okinawa fare worse during the occupation than the historically militarist mainland, which American personnel had no notion of running as one big military base. Those least responsible for the war that hurt them most were also punished afterward.

In 1971, Berlin was the only other major area under occupation as a residue of World War II. When the Ryukyus reverted to Japan the following year, maintenance of America’s bases was central to the deal, which included additional secret arrangements for the two powers to trade Okinawan favors. (Japanese officials assured American generals they could have far greater freedom of action there than on the mainland.) To Americans, those bases have great emotional as well as military significance. Many veterans were understandably angered by the return of Okinawa’s dearly bought 875 square miles to the former enemy. After the loss of so much American blood, the Pentagon’s wish to remain is understandable.

But by this measure, the loss of incomparably more Okinawan blood there makes the Okinawans’ wish for the Pentagon to leave more reasonable. Native anti-Americanism is a political, not a personal, phenomenon: most Okinawans tend to like Yanks in general, and perhaps feel easier with them than with Japanese. But they abhor the beast in their midst, the largest concentration of American military force outside the continental United States.

1 Comment

Filed under economics, Japan, military, nationalism, U.S., war