Monday, 30 June 2014

Mourning Austria Hungary, another casualty of American liberalism

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A hundred years since Princip murdered the Archduke Francis Ferdinand in the lovely city of Sarajevo and thereby destroyed the Habsburg Empire Princip so hated.

I asked a Serbian historian friend of mine, Dalibor Denda, when I was in Belgrade recently, why the Austrians wanted more Slavs in 1914 when by then they had more than they knew how to handle already. His one-word answer interested me:
Markets.
The tragedy of the Great War is that it led to the dissolution of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, though I do not expect Romanians to agree with that, and to the Communist Revolution in Russia in November 1917. Communism was an immeasurable evil which dominated the next seventy years of world history and is by no means defeated yet (certainly not in the universities) and begat two very illegitimate children, fascism and Nazism. 

I have always blamed Austria Hungary for the 1914 war, not Germany, and on the whole still do but recently I have had second thoughts about Austrian guilt, when I compare her casus belli with that of America and Great Britain for invading Afghanistan in 2001. Why exactly was Austria wrong to invade Serbia 1914 and USA right in Afghanistan?

It was Austria-Hungary which kept the balance of power in Europe, prevented Eastern Europe being dominated by Russia and prevented the achievement of the liberal dream of 1848 of a Greater Germany, a dream which the Nazis made come true. The purpose of the European Union is to take the place of Austria Hungary and thereby keep Germany down and Russia out.

Austria Hungary also prevented Greater Romania coming into existence, of course. Here I shall anger many Romanian friends but I think it would have been better for everyone if the Hapsburg Empire in some form had continued to exist. It might have been, for example, that Transylvania and the Banat formed part of a loose, federal, democratic Austrian-Hungarian-Danubian confederation. This is not an opinion I would share with a crowd of Romanian football supporters. The territory that Romania seized from Hungary is meagre compensation for what Romania and Eastern Europe suffered as a result of the dissolution of the Hapsburg monarchy: involvement in the Second World War and, as a direct result of the war, forty years of Bolshevism.

In case readers think I have it in for Romania perhaps I should add that, as a conservative, I very much regret the unification of Germany (who does not?) and Italy too.

I do not deny that the way in which the Hungarians ruled Transylvania between 1867 and 1918 was disgraceful. It would now be called racist and likened, as so many things are, to apartheid. But a democratic federal Austria-Hungary with universal suffrage, where there was no 'people of state' (Staatsvolk), would have allowed each community to exist side by side, not very happily, because ethnic groups very rarely cohabit happily, but in peace and with respect. Similar remarks apply to the other territories that Hungary lost to Romania, like the Banat and the Maramures, and to the territories that were given to Czechoslovakia and to the Voivodina which was given to the the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

The reason Austria-Hungary did not survive the winter of 1918 was the calamitous legacy of one man, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the academic turned politician who said that Mr. Gladstone was his great hero. Wilson achieved the dream of the men of 1848 and the implementation - in a very crude way, as Hungarians rightly point out  - of the principle of national self-determination. He therefore created an unworkable international system and made a Second World War hard to avoid. Beyond Hitler and the Second World War, Wilson's legacy includes Harry Truman and the Cold War, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Second Iraq War. Wilson is comparable only to George W. Bush in terms of his ineptitude and poor judgement. George W. Bush and the Neocons are his heirs and legatees. Wilson and the younger Bush have very much in common, including a disastrous desire to use war to make the world a better place. 

Interestingly, Wilson's liberalism stopped well short of anti-racism, the current liberal obsession. When he was President of Princeton he ruled that black men were not permitted to attend the university and as as a politician he campaigned against admitting immigrants from Asia. In those days the Democrats were the party of racial segregation, which seemed reasonably progressive, as did eugenics, which Wilson also supported (this cause attracted progressives in both parties, like Calvin Coolidge). Prohibition, about which Wilson was not enthusiastic, though he signed it into law, was another progressive though bi-partisan measure. Nowadays racial segregation and eugenics are no longer progressive, though abortion on demand is. Penalising alcohol consumption is becoming very progressive once again. And so it goes.

46 comments:

  1. "...this is not an opinion I would share with a crowd of Romanian football supporters"

    ...while educated Romanians would welcome Transylvania and the Banat remaining part of a federal Austrian-Hungarian-Danubian confederation and Great (not Greater) Romania not coming into existence

    unserious allegations, as often

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    1. Educated Romanians would not I hope express their opinions with physical violence. I must say though that I love how passionately patriotic and nationalistic Romanians are - so very unlike the British who seem ashamed of their empire and tradition. That is the difference between left-wing history curricula in the two countries.

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    2. Let me substantiate the alleged allegation...

      That beautiful confederation without Staatsvolk sounds allot like the union we've got. It seems to have learned that even murderous state-work gets kudos for letting people have their spirit of the land, so much further true for its milder sins of confused remoteness.

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    3. Romanians are the people of state.

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    4. Romanian is the only official language, the country is called after the Romanian people. I was proposing a loose confederation of largely autonomous regions including Transylvania, Slovakia, the Banat-Voivodina, Croatia, etc

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  2. Don't worry, well educated Romanians are not violent, not even when provoked by others. Besides is not too late for other minorities to leave Transilvania (as the Germans did) if they would be better anywhere else. I wonder what exactly kept them from being better here???? The 3 counties with the largest Hungarian population are some of the poorest in Romania.

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    1. [I wonder what exactly kept them from being better here] The Hungarian welcome... & I don't mean Orban's cheap welcome - the real deal of translating a life.

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  3. Paul, even great universities need their public. I'd say, they know how to be right, if anything. The academic right & wrong falls a few years behind the zeitgeist - each field has its own pace, of course; mine needs five, by reputation. Hystory - no idea... Perhaps longer ?

    [of course, I am referring to norms, not personal wisdom - that wound't be academic]


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    1. Ana, please don't be offended but I do not understand what you mean - no doubt my fault.

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  4. I read this blog, but surely it was for the last time. I've prepared a long response to dismantle his fallacious arguments but ... hey, I should be paid for sharing my knowledge!!!!

    Poor PVE Wood lad, read more history and fantasize less, you're ridiculous!

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    1. It is the fault of Romanian historians that many Romanians consider history to be simply about facts rather than about interpretation.

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  5. My family came to America in 1903 to escape what was going on in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. I am sad to say I do not know the history and am curious to learn. Can you recommend some good reading material as I am working on our family history and I am very curious to explore this side of my family. Thank you.

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    1. I suggest either Barbara Tuchman's "The Proud Tower" (now out of print, I believe, but probably available through a public library), or a much more recent book, Simon Winder's "Danubia" - the last few chapters deal in detail with the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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    2. An old book now but there is A.J.P. Taylor's The Hapsburg Empire but that is about high politics and diplomacy and is probably not what you want. Taylor is always Shavian and a lover of paradox. 'Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and Times of Emperor Francis Joseph' Alan Palmer is the kind of middle-brow history book I can't abide but it covers the narrative and might be your thing if royal families interest you. Why not read the first chapters of a good biography of Hitler, who was an Austrian? What did your family not like about Austria Hungary? Or is that what you want to find out?

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  6. II disagree with your thesis. I believe that the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed mainly because of its inability to satisfy the increasingly aggressive nationalistic demands of the many ethnic groups that it encompassed. Gavril Princip was just one expression of that desire for independent nationhood. And why would anyone mourn the passing of either the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman empires, both of which had survived for centuries only through the cruellest forms of repression of any faint stirrings of nationalism amongst the peoples that they held in thrall? Very good riddance to them both, say I!

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    1. I cannot believe you are pleased Austria Hungary no longer exists - are you in favour of a united Germany too? Unlike so many people I know my enthusiasm for the Habsburgs is limited but better Francis Joseph than Tito or Ceausescu, to say nothing of Hitler. Did you take my point about Austria providing a counterweight to Germany and Russia?

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    2. As for the Austro-Hungarian empire, I am equally surprised that you would wish that oppressive regime to continue to exist. This is far from meaning that I would wish to see a united Germany, which is quite different. We need to meet for lunch one day so that you can explain to me what benefits the A-H empire conferred upon humanity that might have justified its continued evil existence ...

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    3. Evil? I think discusssion sounds like it would not lead anywhere. I know Metternich sometimes had people imprisoned by writing a letter and he is not my English idea of a conservative but Austria prevented a powerful Prussia before Germany was created, the second world war and the cold war filled the vacuum Austria left.

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    5. I can see nothing evil about the Austrian record and regret they dissolved the Holy Roman Empire (from fear Napoleon would make himself Emperor - I wonder if the idea occurred to him). It is usual now I was horrified to learn from Tom Gallagher to consider nationalism wholly malign - but though I do not my sympathies are with the ancien regime - law and order, legitimacy, Church and throne, a big market and a civilised elite. What was very bad indeed was the way the Hungarian nationalists behaved after 1867 in their half of the monarchy.

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    6. Surely any brutally oppressive regime is evil? My view is that Prussia became powerful despite the best efforts of the Austro-Hungarians, who only continued to exist as a diminished force for most of the 19th century because the Prussians allowed them to do so. To me, it seems idle to speculate what might have happened if somehow the A-H empire had managed to rescue some semblance of continued existence from the outcome of WWI: they didn't, and the rest is history!

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    7. There was no suggestion that Austria Hungary should cease to exist till Wilson happened along.

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  7. I am reminded of a nice story. Between the two World Wars, a German newspaper held a competition for the most sensational headline never published. The winner was: "World War Fought by Mistake: Archduke Ferdinand Found Alive!".

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    1. Hee hee. I always loved that joke

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  8. The essay is interesting. You have to understand the world as it existed in 1914 to fully appreciate it. Europe and the world had become divided into two "spheres of influence". There was France, Britain Russia and the US along with Italy as one sphere. Then there was the Austro-Hungarian sphere with Germany and the Ottoman Empire (the Caliphate). Each sphere drew in their branches in the middle east, Africa, South American, Asia, etc. Each "sphere" had its treaty alliances which kicked in to high gear once Princip carried out his assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia which was part of the A-H sphere. Princip was a Serbian which was in the Allied sphere (more of a Russian influence). What is almost unbelieveable is that this piddling Balkan pissing contest set all the dominoes in motion.

    To this day Princip is considered a hero in Belgrade and all of Serbia.

    The reference to "Markets" is simple. Every major industrial power wants markets for its products and sources for raw materials. Markets, or economics, is really at the root of every war in history. Today, who really cares about Sunnis and Shiits? What matters is "who controls the oil".

    WWI did mark the end of functioning monarchies in Europe. The Hapsburgs are gone, the Romanovs are gone, and the English crown is a fugurehead. Gone are the kings and princes of Romania, the Balkan States, and just about everywhere else. Also gone is the Caliphate of the Ottoman empire which was carved up and divided between the French, British and Italians (Libia, Ethiopia and Somalia). The Caliph in Istanbul was the leader of the Moslem faith--a post that no longer exists. Those rascals in Iraq are trying to claim the position.

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  9. Most history students spend a short period of time on WWI--it happened 100 years ago. Its impact on World History demands that people read up on all the details--the guy who wrote 1492 should do the same with 1914.

    Woodrow Wilson was an academic--president of Princeton, then governor of NJ and then president. Although the US did not enter WWI until 1918 we were supplying Britain with war material at the onset. German subs torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania in 1915 bwecause they knew it had a cargo of munitions destined for Britain and the war in Europe. Germany had even warned the US that any ship carrying ammunition, etc. would be fair game on the open sea. Wilson knew this and still allowed the Lusitania to sail.

    Wilson's dream for a League of Nations faded when the Republican/isolationist dominated senate refused to ratify the treat that would get us involved. Hence, the League was formed but the US was never a member. The failure came as a shock to Wilson who suffered a stroke in 1918 and spent the next two years incapacitated. His wife Edith guarded him from the public eye so no one--even the vice president or speaker of the House, know how bad he was. She was the one signing bills--putting a pen in has hand and then guiding it over the paper.

    At the time democrats were the party of the KKK and conservative social doctrine. Remember, Lincoln and the Republicans freed the slaves and passed the 14th ammendment. Republicans kept the southern blacks under control and voting Republican. The various administrations gave most government bureaucratic jobs to faithful blacks. Read a biography of Teddy Roosevelt's administration to get a better understanding.

    The comparison of Wilson the George W Bush is interesting. The big difference I see is that Wilson knew what he was doing, George W was doing what he was told (by Cheney and Rove, etc.).

    Speaking of "spheres of influence"--in the Balkans these spheres date back to the Roman Empire. At its height the empire had two centers--Rome and Constantinople. Each emperor controlled their "sphere" but the spheres overlapped in the Balkans. As the western empire collapsed the part closest to Rome remained Catholic--Croatia. The eastern part became Orthodox Chiristian. As the eastern empire in Constantinople collapsed the seat of orthodoxy shifted to Russia which drew in Serbia. Bosnia became Moslem and part of the Caliphate. In the twentieth century the ethnic groups got moved around and mixed up which led to the recent troubles where Croatian-serbs and Bosnian-serbs surfaced and age old family feuds broke out.

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  10. Why do you regret the unification of Germany and Italy?

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    2. The unification of Germany led to the two world wars. Unification of Italy led to the dominance of the north of Italy over the south, decades of anticlericalism followed by twenty years of fascism, war and then Italy nearly became communist but instead was run by a corrupt cartel. I prefer the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the other monarchies. I concede that the Papal States were ill governed.

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  11. I read you article and I just wanted to share with you (if I haven't shared it already in earlier years) a set of conferences held in 1916 on the preparations of the war.
    The conferences were held by Mr Rudolf Steiner. In those days of end December 1916, the Central Powers asked for negotiations, but the Entente declined such negotiations claiming that they will fight for peace til the end - paving the way for dismantling the Austro-Hungarian empire and for a lot of others events that followed.

    The link to the conference set is here:
    http://www.rsarchive.org/GA/index.php?ga=GA0173

    Please have the patience to read and contemplate those parts that refer to the preparations of war. You may notice that from time to time Mr Steiner invites the audience to look to the situation from various perspectives, including spiritual side of the events (if you mind reading such paragraphs, you may choose to read them on fast forward, but I would feel that you would lose a bit of the whole picture).

    That would be all for now. Hope we will share some new perspectives after you read the conferences.

    All the best,

    George

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  12. Czech, Slovaks, Poles, Romanians, Croats, Slovenians, Italians. All this nations lived in AU and all of them wanted to destroy the Monarchy. Two nations ruled over all others. Those who lived in Hungary were subjected to fierce Magarization. AU occupied Bosnia-Herezegovina where no Austrian or Hungarian lived. They tried to colonize Germans, Poles and Ukrainians into Bosnia to strenghten their rule. They tried (and manage) to provoke conflicts between Balkan states so they couldn`t unite their nations and fight against the Turks.
    So why should we mourn the Monarchy which existed against the will of the majority of its citizens and which was dungeon of the South and Western Slavs? That monarchy was demonstration of master race theory in the hartland of Europe.

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  13. Is the present EU not a modern Austria-Hungary? Too many different peoples, not popular and very difficult to control.

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    1. 'Is the present EU not a modern Austria-Hungary? Too many different peoples, not popular and very difficult to control.' No - Austria Hungary was not difficult to control, except in 1848-9 when the Russians were needed to pacify the Hungarians. It held together well and had an ideology - as Mark Steyn said in another context a king is his own ideology. It also had a religion, Catholicism. I am not one of those who loves Austria Hungary as many people do but it worked. It kept the social peace, gave good government to its subjects, except of course in Hungary where the Habsburgs had succumbed to the national principle and let the Hungarians oppress the non-Hungarians. But even that oppression was ridiculously mild compared to the horrors to which the dissolution of the Empire led.

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    2. Well it seems like that but it isn`t. We should go back to past. Modern day Hungary, or most of it was under Turkish rule from 1526 until 1686 when most of country was liberated. Another part of Crown Lands of St. Stephen was semi-indenpendent under Turkish domination (Erdely, todays Transilvania in modern Romania) and smallest part was never under turkish rule but under rule of Habsburg (modern Western Hungary and Slovakia). Most of that time Hungarians were Calvinists and they were affraid of Habsburg rule because of Habsburgs religous intolerance. So leaders of Erdely and Hungarians of "turkish" Hungary were Turkish allies during siege of Wiena 1683. Because of Habsburg religous intolerance rebellion broke out in 1703 and it last it until 1711. It was very blody war. Several hundreds thousands people died. After collapse of the rebellion Catholic church started huge and wide campaign to convert hungarian calvinists back to Catholic faith. Until "Ausgleich" Hungary was not easy to control. And you forgott Orthodox Serbs, Romanians and Western Orthodox Rusyns. Opression was not harsh compared to horrors after the WWI and WWII, but second half of 19th century was probably most civilized period in European history. For example police torture was forbbiden in most Europe. Eric Hobsbawn wrote about it. That was the time when most countries dissarmed their population, and most people did it voluntarily whitout exceses. That is not something that is comparable. I think that AU and EU are not comparable too. Different time and another questions and problems. But, I don`t think that any power form outside AU destroyed the Monarchy, course of histroy destroyed it. It collapsed. Pushing the national questions under the carpet like it was in the Monarchy led to conflict. Monarchy miss out the chance to solve national question inside its borders which led to disaster after WWI. Hungarian opression of minorities led to opression of the Hungarians in new states after WWI. Hungarian ambition to rule over others was source of friction in 1920-es and 1930-es. They wanted to reestablish their prewar borders no mather the fact that Hungarians were minorty in Hungary. And I don`t think that we should let Slovenians, Poles and Czechs under German rule only to keep Germans silent and peacfull. That is the very wrong message.
      There is some kind of romantic view on Austria-Hungary and its history in modern times. Winston Churcill was one of those who thougt that "Danube monarchy" sholud be saved after WWI.But his ancestor lord Marllborough was the man who fought and gained his glory in the War of the Spanish succession. On Habsburg side, of course.

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  14. You probably realize that your perception of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is at least somewhat idealized. It was not a kind of proto-democratic-EU any more than the Ottoman Empire was a cozy place to be for the captured Christian nations. Also, the Revolutions in Russia in 1917 definitely had their own internally driven logic, like mass poverty and excesses of the powers.
    I am afraid that, if Gavrilo Princip had failed in his famous endeavor, the WW1 could still have been triggered by some other spark.
    Anyway, thank you for the though-provoking article.

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  16. Nothing is inevitable until it happens and nor was the Great War. Plans were hatched for example for Germany and England to divide up Portugal's African empire which might have satisfied Germany's desire for expansion. Had a negotiated peace been signed before America entered the war Austria Hungary would have survived. It was only in the last months of war that dissolution of the Empire came to be seen as a likely outcome.

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  17. While you are implying that both Austria-Hungary and the USA were wrong in their respective responses, could the counter-argument be applied to argue that each nation was right? American casus belli for Afganistan was far more better than Austrian to invade Serbia. You are forgetting that in Sarajevo two people died, and in New York thousands have perished. Is it right to invade foreign country and cause war because one man (and his wife by mistake) was killed? Even the people who try to abolish AU recognizes the fact that Serbian government tried to warn Wiena that one groupe of people will try to kill Franz. Serbia complied with allmost every Austrian demand from July Ultimatum and Serbia asked for foreign mediation. But Ultimatum was written in such manner that no one could accept it. When NIkola Pashic gave Serbian response to AU ambassador in Belgrade, ambassador had declaration of war in his pocket. And whole war have started because the man who was dislaked by the Emperor, by the Hungarians and even by Berlin.Fact is that only Germany was prepared for war in 1914. No one else wasn`t. Especially Serbia. Berlin pushed Wiena to set harsh demands on Belgrade because Kaiser belived that he will run over France in weeks like in 1871. And than he should destroy Russia. Some historians belive that Franz Joseph wasn`t eager to start war but Hungarian nobility was, and he just complied. Hungarians were far more militant than Austrians. After Ausgleich they started to "play" world policy and their influence on the politics of the Empire was crucial. I can`t remeber where I have read about it but it had sense.

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    1. Of course it can be argued both ways - but if Austria was justified in invading Serbia despite Serbia's agreeing to almost all Austrian demands then that would mean Germany and Austria were not to blame for the First World War, though of course Germany can be blamed for invading Belgium, In any case England should not have got involved but Russia had to go to war or resign as a great power and France was Russia's ally.

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  18. Key role of Habsburg Austria was to defend Christian Europe against Turks. When that role was sucessfully acomplished Austria lost the reason of its existence. After that and after rise of Prussia Austria became burden for nations of Central Europe and even Germans because existance of Austria preveneted unification of whole German nation. But Austria (Habsburgs) enyojed Papal support so dissolution of Habsburg lands became longlasting process. Conservative forces tried to stop irreversible process. The ambition to save unsavable was the road to war. Both members of Monarchy were Mideval states in the Modern age. Even Serbia and Greece which were culturaly underdeveloped had more progressive political system than the Monarchy, and more free press.

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    1. The unification of Germany was a tragedy. Countries don't need a reason to exist - they exist because of inertia, which is a very valuable thing. I think the unification of Italy was unfortunate too but that is an opinion many do not share. By the early 20th century Austria had universal manhood suffrage unlike the UK - Hungary was different of course. Austria Hungary could have continued to the present day had it kept out of wars. I regret too that the Ottoman Empire did not survive.

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  19. The underlying causes of the war do not change one central fact. All of the extraneous material aside, the Austrians had a case for military action against Serbia. If a modern day head-of-state were killed by a terrorist group with clear ties to another nation, that would be considered sufficient provocation for military action.

    As to the contention that two people were killed at Sarajevo, while thousands died in NYC on September 11, 2001, that is certainly true. Is there a "magic number" of deaths due to a terrorist act that would allow a nation that has suffered such a deed to retaliate? If so, what is that number?

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    1. Someone was described to Francis Joseph as a patriot. Francis Joseph reasonably replied 'Is he a patriot for me?' The Emperor was the monarchy - by killing his heir Princip did more damage to Austria Hungary than even killing 3,000 people. Assassinating a head of state though cannot justify war - and in any case it was not the Serbian government that killed Francis Ferdinand but one of his father's Bosnian subjects.

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  20. Italian nationalist killed Franz`s wife, but AU never declared war od Italy. Serbian government warned Wiena about assassination. So casus belli doesn`t exist. And Princip was no terorist. Terrorists terrorize civilian population and their goal is to promote chaos in order to weaken their enemies. Or those who are killing military personel or politicians with no regards about civilan casaulties or they consider that kind of casaulties as welcomed. Franz Ferdinand was no civilian and his wife was not the target, she was colateral. Franz was militaru commander. It is not Princip who went to Wiena to kill Franz, Franz came into his yard to onwatch military manouvers on border with Serbia, on the Day which is for the Serbs same as Independence day for Americans. It was provocation. I don`t justify Princip. He didn`t care about consequences of his act. But he is not Osama bin Laden type. He is assassin, he was nationalist but another kind and type. And he was some kind of leftist militant. He was complex personality and history of Bosnia is complex too.
    There is no magic number but there is difference.

    Some states have their reason of existence, because some states have been created in certain circumstances. They collapse when course of history takes another path.
    Unification of Germans was right of German people and their wish. So why should it be tragedy? Tragedy is that unification was not completed. In mine opinion Italians are not single ethnicity. Venetians are much different than rest of Italy and even have separate language, not dialect. Italy will ceed to exist in next decade.
    About universal manhood suffrage in Austria...well it is not true. It was partialy introduced, I think, in 1910 or 1912. But there was "curiae" voting. Everybody voted but they were separated by the income and social position. So richer elected more deputies in Parlaiment. Universal manhood suffrage existed in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Serbia, Greece, and I don`t know where more. Universal but except the woman...

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  21. I think there are quite a few Romanians west of the Carpathians who see the unification as annexation and regret it. I think it's apocryphal, but Slavici is believed to have said "I've travelled to Bucharest, I haven't switched the languages but I've swiched the cultures; I've travelled to Budapest, I have switched the languages but I haven't switched the cultures."

    Every time I watch the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year concert I think "this could have been my capital, my countrymen, I could have moved in this space, I could have been educated in their universities, their schools, I could have learned their way of debating, of arguing."

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    1. A very interesting comment, Anonymous.


      I wish you had given your name or at least a false one :)

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