Decembrists as European Celebrities

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1667-1683:

Nicholas and his ministers had sought, if not the physical, then the political annihilation of the Decembrists as representatives of constitutional reform within the Russian elite. But in these terms they failed, for the story of the Decembrists’ exile to Siberia is the story of a victory snatched from defeat. Lionized by their supporters, their moral authority only grew over the course of Nicholas I’s reign and would inspire a subsequent generation of radicals after his death. In exile in London, Herzen became the leading draughtsman of the inspiring legend of the Decembrists and their wives. His journal, The Polar Star, took its name from an almanac published by the executed Decembrist poet Ryleyev, and boasted a masthead adorned with the faces of the five hanged ringleaders of the rebellion. Herzen established himself as the most influential radical intellectual of the first half of the nineteenth century and was one of the leading architects of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 1860s and 1870s. The tale he crafted of the revolutionary martyrs of 1825 went on to inspire a later generation of the autocracy’s enemies.

The Decembrists’ uprising and their exile also resonated far beyond Russia itself. In the Italian peninsula, Giuseppe Mazzini and his republican movement, Young Italy, saluted the memory of the men “who gave their lives for the liberation of the Slavic peoples, thus becoming citizens and brothers of all who struggle for the cause of Justice and Truth on earth.” The Decembrists had also blazed a trail for Polish patriots. By the end of the 1820s, republicanism in Poland, buoyed by developments elsewhere in Europe, was very much in the ascendancy. Polish rebels would look to the Decembrists’ attempt to restore “ancient Russian freedom” as a source of inspiration. The next armed challenge to Nicholas I would come not in the streets of the imperial capital, but on the westernmost periphery of his empire, in Warsaw. Siberia would beckon for the Polish rebels as it had for the Decembrists.

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Russian Elites Ride into Exile, 1820s

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1518-1547:

The Decembrists’ spirits began … to lift after they left the Urals behind. They discovered not the frozen wasteland of the Russian imagination but a beautiful and varied landscape, one in which the peasants were not oppressed by the slavery of serfdom. Basargin noted that “the further we travelled into Siberia, the more fetching it seemed in my eyes. The common people seemed freer, more lively and more educated than our Russian peasants, especially the serfs.” Such observations would feed into a growing Romantic perception among reform-minded Russians of Siberia as a democratic alternative to the rigid and suffocating hierarchies of European Russia.

Nevertheless, for all their moral torments and physical discomfort, the manner in which most Decembrists were deported to Siberia marked them out as men of exceptional status. First, they rode in wagons, rather than walked, something quite unimaginable for the thousands of exiles who made the arduous journey over the Urals every year in the 1820s. Officials and convoy soldiers were also unsure of how to treat their eminent charges. Even if they had been “deprived of all rights and privileges,” the Decembrists were still identical in language, bearing and manners to their superiors. As Zavalishin observed, “everywhere we went, we were called princes and generals … many, wishing to satisfy both the rules of our current status and their desire to show us respect, addressed themselves to us as ‘Your former Highness, Your former Excellency.’” The guards’ hesitant enforcement of the strict rules meticulously laid out by government ministers was rendered all the more confused by favours the Decembrists themselves purchased through bribes. Alexander Benckendorff, the head of Nicholas I’s Third Section, which had been established to combat sedition in the wake of the Decembrist Revolt, learned that the initial two groups of exiles “were wining and dining” en route and plying their convoy soldiers and gendarmes with food and drink. Obolensky was permitted to write to his wife and Davydov was allowed to shave. The Decembrists were expressly forbidden from riding in their own carriages but, armed with 1,000 roubles from his wife, Fonvizin did just that and managed to obtain warm blankets for himself and his travelling companions into the bargain. During the course of their journey, he and his comrades were “waited on” by their gendarmes.

As they rode into exile, the Decembrists encountered not the baying mob of which Rozen, the Baltic German, had been warned, but curiosity, sympathy and generosity from both officials and the wider Siberian population. Fonvizin wrote to his wife from the route that the governor of Tobolsk, Dmitry Bantysh-Kamensky, and his family “received me warmly and generously—I am obliged to them that our convoy officer treated us very well and even agreed to forward you this letter.” Basargin recalled how the elderly governor of the small town of Kainsk, a certain Stepanov, approached them “accompanied by two men dragging an enormous basket with wine and foods of every kind. He made us eat as much as we could and then take the leftovers with us. He also offered us money with words that surprised us: ‘I acquired this money’—he said pulling out a large packet of notes—‘not entirely cleanly, in bribes. Take it with you; my conscience will rest easier.’” In Krasnoyarsk, the inhabitants argued over who should have the honour of accommodating the exiles as they took a day’s rest in the town. Merchants entertained the Decembrists in the best rooms of their houses, sparing no expense on the food and drink they lavished upon their guests.

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Origins of Elite Russian Patriotism

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1165-1188:

The uprising on Senate Square had intellectual roots that stretched back into the European Enlightenment and Romanticism, but the Decembrist movement had taken shape a decade earlier in the Imperial Army. The future Decembrists had discovered the Russian nation while fighting Napoleon and the invading French in 1812. The conflict had forged new bonds of fraternity and loyalty between the officers and their men. Russian peasants, many of whom were serfs, had shown themselves capable of loyalty, dependability and devotion to the motherland. Upon their return to Russia at the end of the conflict, the young noblemen struggled to reconcile their inspiring experiences of fighting alongside men who remained their legal property as serfs. The institution of serfdom became for them a shameful reminder of the empire’s backwardness and of the yawning gulf between the educated and wealthy elite and the desperately impoverished peasantry. Forged in the crucible of 1812, the officers’ patriotic loyalties to the Russian people began to eclipse their dynastic loyalty to the tsar.

Many Russian officers also returned from the Napoleonic Wars with their heads full of new political ideas. One officer observed that “if we took France by force of arms, she conquered us with her customs.” Many leaders of the Decembrist movement, such as Sergei Volkonsky, Ivan Yakushkin and Mikhail Fonvizin, had returned triumphantly in 1815 only to chafe at the strict hierarchies and stifling parade-ground discipline of military life. Having fought against “Napoleonic despotism” in Europe, they struggled to reconcile themselves to a Russia that was essentially the personal fiefdom of the tsar. Nikolai Bestuzhev attempted to explain his participation in the rebellion in a letter to Nicholas after his arrest:

We delivered our homeland from tyranny but we are tyrannised once again by our own sovereign…Why did we free Europe, only to be placed in chains ourselves? Did we grant a constitution to France only to not dare to speak of one for ourselves? Did we pay with our blood for primacy among nations only to be oppressed at home?

Others, such as Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin and Dmitry Zavalishin, too young to have fought Napoleon, were nevertheless driven by the ideas of Voltaire, Adam Smith, Concordet [sic] and Rousseau. In the wake of Russia’s victory over Napoleon, they found inspiration in the rebellions led by liberal officers in other countries demanding constitutionalism and independence.

From 1816 onwards, these young patriotic idealists began to gather in informal groups and “secret societies” to discuss reform.

But they spoke mostly French among themselves, and Russian with their servants.

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Okinawan language souvenir

The following bits and pieces of Okinawan language are on a souvenir banner my brother picked up there in 1975. I’ve romanized the katakana used to write the Okinawan pronunciations and included the Japanese glosses on the banner in parentheses, while adding Japanese pronunciations for the numbers in square brackets.

Numerals
1 teichi [= hitotsu]
2 taachi [= futatsu]
3 miichi [= mitsu]
4 yuuchi [= yotsu]
5 ichichi [= itsutsu]
6 muuchi [= mutsu]
7 nanachi [= nanatsu]
8 yaachi [= yatsu]
9 kukunuchi [= kokonotsu]
10 tou [= tou]

Polite expressions
chuuganabira (= konnichi wa) ‘good day’
chiyaabira (= gomen kudasai) ‘sorry to bother’
imisoore (= ohairi kudasai) ‘please come in’
niheedeebiru(= arigatou gozaimasu) ‘thank you’
usagaimisoore (= omeshi agarinasai) ‘please eat’
ii tenchi (= ii otenki) ‘nice weather’
yukuimisoore (= oyasuminasai) ‘good night’
uyuee (= oiwai) ‘congratulations’

Qualities
ichuunasan (= isogashii) ‘busy’
achisan (= atsui) ‘hot’
hiisan (= samui) ‘cold’
inchiyasan (= mijikai) ‘short’
magii (= ookii) ‘big’
gumaa (= chiisai) ‘little’
funtou (= honto) ‘true, truth’
yugushi (= uso) ‘false, lie’

Verbs
warain (= warau) ‘laugh’
nachiyun (= naku) ‘cry’
kamuin (= taberu) ‘eat’
kachiyun (= katsu) ‘win’
kooyun (= kau) ‘buy’
chichiyun (= kiku) ‘hear’

People
taarii (= otousan) ‘father’
anmaa (= okaasan) ‘mother’
utuu (= otto) ‘husband’
tuji (= tsuma) ‘wife’
chiurakagii (= bijin) ‘beauty’
sato (= kare) ‘him’
nzo (= kanojo) ‘her’
ikiganguwa (= otokonoko) ‘son’
inagunguwa (= onnanoko) ‘daughter’
mooya (= maiko, buki) ‘apprentice geisha’
miiyumi (= hanayome) ‘bride’
umuyaaguwa (= koibito) ‘lover’

Joys
niibichi (= kekkon) ‘wedding’
ashibi (= omatsuri) ‘festival’
saki (= sake) ‘liquor’

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Kaiwo Maru

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Ken doesn’t even bother to roll back the sleeves on his brown woolen sweater, or to unband his waterweak wristwatch before doing the dishes. I sauntered into the kitchen to stir my noodles a swirl or two and saw him plunging his paws into the washpool and then pulling them out again, never wet past the hightide line but an inch from his Timex timepiece. What’s more, he had passed the pots and pans and was dredging the dregs for silverware which, by now were coated in grime & grease.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you that there is a certain order in which you do the dishes?” I began my attack. “And don’t you have any inclination to bare your forearms for action?” I continued to needle him. “I just would not start washing without pulling up my sleeves and taking off my watch. It just wouldn’t feel right. But you just stand there and drop your hands time and time again into the murky mess and never get your wrists wet. It’s disgusting.”

Ken continued complacently. Then he explained, “In the first place, I have utterly no intention of committing my hands in there deep enough to get my arms wet. All sorts of danger await them. When Paul washes dishes, he likes to find the broken glasses, ’cause then he doesn’t have to wash them. Notice we only have three small and two large glasses left.”

He was right. I was just pulling a bottle of Golden Cream Sherry out of the frig where I had left it as a surprise to myself next time I came home, and after an inspection of the glass cabinet, I mixed this ambrosia with ice in a cream pitcher.

“And yes, I do them in an order,” he continued emphatically, “from top to bottom.”

By now I was halfway into the living room, grumbling back over my shoulder something about how Ken had certainly found his station in life. Sitting down to consult the Japanese dictionary on the word chabouzu [茶坊主], I was disappointed with the definition, ‘tea server, palace attendant, flatterer’. Earlier today when I had dropped by the imushitsu [医務室] ‘medical treatment room’, which is next to our Pavilion, the doctor there was telling me how his father and grandfather before him were doctors, but that his hiojiisan [曽おじいさん] ‘great-grandfather’ was a chabouzu, many of whom became men of medical affairs when Edo jidai [江戸時代] ended and Meiji jidai [明治時代] began with the first official recognition of Western medicine. He went on to explain that many of these chabouzu (< cha ‘tea’, and bouzu ‘priest’, but here it means the shaved head of/like a priest) were skilled druggists, some having dealt with the legendary ninja [忍者], or espionage-skilled samurai. I vowed to find out more about this later. The doc gave me a ride home and while he was chatting with the nurse who had introduced him to me, I picked up the words gengochuusuu [言語中枢] ‘speech center (of the brain)’, nenza [捻挫] ‘sprain or wrench’, zensoku [喘息] ‘asthma’, and bettara-zuke [べったら漬け] ‘fresh radish pickles’.

Now it just so happened that in Expo Port today was a very nice daihansen [大帆船] ‘large sailing ship’, by the name of T.S. Kaiwo Maru [海王丸], and that the imu ‘medical officer’ had come to the Expo imushitsu, where my friend was nurse, to check out his appendix. This resulted in us getting a very good tour of the T(raining) S(hip) that is the world’s second largest, the largest sailing ship being in Europe.

This vessel was built in Showa 5 (1930) by Kawasaki Zousensho [川崎造船所] ‘shipbuilding yard’ for about hyakuman [百万] ‘one million’ yen. The same boat as it is today would cost nearly rokujuu oku en [六十億] ‘sixty hundred million’ or ‘six billion’ ¥. The mainmast is 45 meters high, and the deck is made of chiiku-zai [チイク材] ‘teakwood’. A box near the bow had houki [箒] ‘brooms made of bamboo’, and coconut husks for scrubbing the deck. Houki [蜂起] also means ‘revolt’ or ‘uprising’, which made me think of Mutiny on the Bounty, and a houki-boshi [箒星] is a ‘broom/sweep star’ (= ‘comet’).

The name T.S. Kaiwo Maru itself includes some elements of both English and Japanese, and this was also the case on board, with the deck chief’s cabin having “boatswain” written plainly above the door, and the hundreds of ropes going every which-a-way were called by English names having undergone Japanification, but still ending recognizably in the specialized seaman’ brace, block, sheet, halyard, garnet, yard, shroud, stay, and sometimes lead and tack. I’m going to try and visit once more on Thanksgiving Day to find out what these terms mean a bit more. [See Wordcatcher Tales: Japanese nautical terms.]

This imu ‘medical officer’ had enough equipment on board to perform surgery on quintuplets simultaneously, but most of the paraphernalia was packed unused in king-sized silverware cases of a sort that I had never seen the likes of. The medicine cabinet was comparable to the Expo inventory, this ship having 102 cadets and 40-some odd crew (norikumi [乗組]) members, while Expo had 58,000 visitors today, which was a holiday. When I asked about the doc’s license to prescribe drugs and do certain kinds of surgery, he passed it off lightly by saying that the law recognized “special” circumstances on shipboard out at sea. The nurse later told me, when the doc went to borrow a book, not to pursue that topic any further. I obliged her, and not too willingly, because I had seen equipment for “women’s medicine” which I wanted to ask him about, altho with no intention to play the reporter, or investigator.

There was even a rentogen-shitsu [レントゲン室], which did not make sense to me until I had seen the old-time Roentgen, or X-ray apparatus. Leaving that room, we went past an ofuro [お風呂], of which there were seven altogether on board I was told.

After deboarding I dropped by the Korean restaurant to catch a meal before coming home to Kadena airbase tonight. I know the headwaiter there, and he was putting on the old Korean favorite Arirang (instrumental) at the request of a customer. But before long the music reverted back to the tunes of yesteryear in U.S. of A., and Kingston Town was on. I jotted down the name and the line “won’t be back for many a day” to remind myself to play it on harmonica when I got back to the privacy of my room. Meanwhile a very cute girl was smiling openly at me, and after a while she came over and surprised me by initiating what turned out to be a very abrupt conversation. She: “Are you from American pavilion?” Me: “Yes, but I love Korean food.” She: “Do you have an Am. Pavilion badge?” Me: “No, we don’t have any. I know everyone wants one, but us guides were given only five apiece, and they were already promised out long before we got them.” She: “Oh. None at all?” Me, breaking down: “I don’t have any but I’ll see if anyone else has one.” She: “Thank-you,” and Exit Right. That’s all she had to say. Talk about abrupt.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Atrocities

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Mr. Higa got the job as U.S. pavilion bartender, or “lounge captain” thru an employment agency and a friend he had in it who thought this might be a possible part-time job until the organic chemistry prof. began teaching at RYUUKYUU University next year. Mixology was more than likely the foundation stone of the chemical sciences anyway, and goes back a long, long way in history. Having studied abroad at Ohio State and the University of Hawaii for some eight dedicated years, he is now in his mid-thirties, and so has rather vivid childhood memories of the dreadful, bloody, blitzkrieg invasion of Okinawa that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, a majority of which were Okinawan civilians, over a few short months.

When his house was burned by the U.S. troops in their clean-up operation of Japanese troop hideouts, his family went in afterwards and ate all of the cooked, garlic that had been stored on the shelves for seeding the next crop. The mountains were a refuge in those days, and most of the people of his village, KATSUYAMA [勝山], spent the daylight hours hidden in their cover, slipping down to their homes at nights to dig out SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes from the fields. Sometimes they would find rice and hard crackers in the quickly deserted camps of Japanese troops who had long since fled those posts. Everyone was desperate for grub, and he can remember dirty army deserters who came to their house fully armed and demanded food at the point of a gun. Not every Japanese soldier committed suicide in the face of defeat.

One day, before the clean-up burnings, a few U.S soldiers came to the HIGA home and sat on the front porch. The family was home and they all raised their hands in surrender and waited. The soldiers offered the children candy, but the parents told the youngsters in their tongue that they were not to eat it. Seeing the fear, the squad took the candy and bit off bits of it to show the locals that it was safe. Mr. Higa and his brothers then ate the goods quickly, altho Higa-san claims that he can’t remember if “it was good or not.” The youngest brother, still quite unaware of the whole situation, tried to play with the rifle of one soldier. The man took out the ammunition cartridge and gave the child the weapon to fiddle with.

Since Mr. Higa’s father was the KUCHOU [区長] ‘village head’, their house had been chosen as the temporary living quarters of WATANABE, the commander of a camp of Japanese soldiers who were setting up tents and settling in caves in the area before the invasion. This was an honor of a sort for the HIGA family, and when the commander’s private servant didn’t cook for him, the HIGA family included him in their humble meals. The village was expected to give provisions to the small Japanese post there in the foothills, most of whose men were from the Japanese mainland.

Altho the Okinawan people had been under Japanese gov’t for long enough to feel part of “the nation,” the mainlanders treated them like inferiors at times, even in the midst of a “united” war effort.

When Mr. Higa saw the negative press coverage that Japanese news media gave the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, he said that the big headlines seem to indicate they had “forgotten their own” atrocities. He mentioned the “massacres” at KUMEJIMA [久米島], and KERAMA [慶良間] of Okinawan civilians who were shot because they tried to surrender, or were given hand grenades to carry into the enemy lines and to blow up their families with. One supposedly responsible Japanese commander by the name of AKAMATSU is reputed to be living in Kobe, Japan, today and is a businessman. Some years ago, he came back to Okinawa and the papers got wind of it and the whole devilish drama was unburied though he denied guilt or responsibility.

One thing that surprised many of the mountain refugees was how little they came in contact with the poisonous HABU [波布] viper which loves the rocky mountains. Only two cases are recalled by Mr. Higa, one being a lovely young girl who was bitten in the arm, the other being a boy a few years younger than young HIGA, who was bitten in the face. The girl’s arm festered and swole up, and was later amputated by the American medical team who treated her area. She is now living in Brazil, one of the many Japanese immigrants. The boy still has an ugly scar on his face, but survived.

When the war finally finished, and families came out of the hills, the U.S. troops relocated them in camps, the villagers of KATSUYAMA [勝山] being assigned to HANEJI [羽地] in the flatlands south of there. Some food was supplied by the Occupation forces but many of the families dug up all the SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes that they could find in their fields, and carried them on their backs to the shoreline shacks. It was there that young HIGA started school, in April, one year after the invasion began.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Telephones

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Okinawa suffers a form of communications schizophrenia which it is only recently recovering from. The two worlds of this small island, on-base and off-base, each have their own ding-a-ling system, and if one of us who resides on-base were to call our home from off-base, we would have to dial a 10-digit number just to get the base commercial operator, to whom we must then give another 5-digit number to get our party on the line: 098 (area code)-938 (exchange number)-1111 (base operator), then ask for 35332, for instance. But even the local off-base population has to dial a 10-digit number including the Okinawan area code, just to call their neighbor. Worst of all, I can’t call an off-base number from on-base, or at least not officially. This is frustrating.

However, I had not been here a week when I was told by a very friendly local that not only dialing off-base is possible, but dialing anywhere in Japan for free was common practice from base phones. One only has to have plenty of patience and a little “know how.” The speed and rhythm of dialing is important, but only consists of an initial 9 for off-base, then any area code and number in the country. An operator never interrupts to ask, “what the hell you think you’re doing?” And the worst that happens is that you sometimes get cut off by a busy signal. Unbelievably risk-free.

I suppose that people everywhere know and pursue ways to “beat” the telephone establishment, just as IT&T has gotten fat “beating” the public. Still on many telephones today one can click the receiver button down rapidly for as many times as the number, say 6, that he is dialing, then pause, then click it down again however many times for the next number and so on until you have gotten the other party by simply using the sound that the phone makes when it is hung up in place of the signal that the dial sends out when it is correctly turned. The simple computer that “understands” your dial of 6, let’s say, by the six emitted sound pulses that the fingerhole sets off while returning to its original position next to 6 after you’ve dialed it, also “understands” 6 timely pulses from the click of your receiver button in the same undifferentiating way. Knowing this gimmick was especially handy when you didn’t have a dime for a telephone booth call, and had to make do with the receiver button instead of the dial, which took a dime to get going.

As I mentioned, timing is important, because there are gross differences between phones. Some, when you’ve dialed them, fly back around to their position before you’re ready to stick the ol’ finger in the next choice hole. Others are so slow in setting up for the next number that many a user has forgotten the whole number sequence in the menacing pause. Tokyo’s phones are fast and your party is on the line in no time. Osaka’s dials crawl back like the prodigal son. U.S. phones are usually between these two. When you cheat by using the receiver button tapping method, you must know the dialing interval of the phone you are tampering with. Especially hard are dials of 9 on Tokyo-like blitz phones, where you have to click the button down 9 separate and distinct evenly-spaced times in an interval that doesn’t seem divisible by even two. Osaka phones, on the contrary, aren’t much of a challenge to the phoney phoner (practiced). But alas, the phones being installed now are more finely fangled, so this is a dying art.

I hadn’t been at Expo long when I got a call one dreamy morning from a girl near Tokyo who was an operator for her company. and who took advantage of this calling to talk long and distant whenever she had the notion, which came to be everyday. She claimed that the phone bills were never questioned.

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