Monday 30 April 2018

Sibiu or Hermannstadt

They just drew back the ceiling at the Hotel Imperatul Romanilor in Sibiu to let in a sunny April morning. It's one of my favourite hotels, old, a bit down at heel, a faded grand dame. Its real name is the Romische Kaiser and it was founded in 1555, which is not old by English standards but is by Transylvanian standards and unheard of in where I live, in Wallachia, on the other side of the Carpathians.

Sibiu in 1999 when I first came was stunningly beautiful and as decayed and broken as Havana or Rangoon. Now it is rather depressingly well painted and tidy, but this is good, I remind myself. And there is still a fair amount of peeling paint if you leave the Big Square. It draws many tourists who are having breakfast beside me but it is not an over painted tourist gem like Brasov.

Sibiu is full of lovely Catholic, Protestant and Unitarian churches and lovely town palaces built for German noblemen. It was built by Germans and the majority of the people here were German until most were expelled after the war for the sins of their countrymen far away. The rest mostly went to West Germany in return for large subventions for Ceausescu or left after the revolution. About two thousand remain, one of whom left for Bucharest where he is the current President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis.

Ethnic displacement happened in cities throughout Eastern Europe that were once occupied by Germans and Jews. It happened to the Ascendancy towns of Southern Ireland. It will presumably happen in London and Paris, where the imperial monuments built by conquering peoples are increasingly inhabited by the descendants of the conquered.

Friday 27 April 2018

Prince Louis

Lewis is the English spelling. Macaulay wrote about King Lewis XIV.

Thursday 26 April 2018

95% of Romanians believe in God, as opposed to 28% in Great Britain

72% of Americans believe in a divinity, according to a Pew survey this week.

According to a Pew survey last year 88% of Eastern Europeans (including the population of the former Soviet Union in Europe and the Greeks) do so.

95% of Romanians believe in God.

The one country in the former Soviet bloc where belief in God is unusual is Czechia, where 66% of people do not believe in God. I think this is because Catholicism was forced on the Czechs by military might, as it was on Hungary and France, but the figure for believers in Hungary, which does not seem a religious country, is 59%. The full figures from the survey last year are here.

In France it was 27% in 2010 but, by contrast, a couple of years ago 25% of French children of 15 told a survey that they were Muslim.

28% of people in the UK believe in God according to a survey in December 2016, of whom many are Muslim, Hindu or belong to other exotic faiths. Of the Christians, many are of Eastern European, African, Caribbean, Filipino or Cypriot stock. The figures for Northern Ireland also skew the figures. 

Monday 23 April 2018

Robert Tombs: universities now teach civilisations, not western civilisation

In an article in The Times today historian Robert Tombs says that Cambridge now avoids the history of Western civilisation.
'In my own university, Cambridge, once-popular courses called “The Expansion of Europe” and “The West and the Third World” have long been replaced by a decentred “World History”. Simon Schama and Mary Beard now celebrate not “Civilisation” in their BBC TV series but “Civilisations”.'

God save the new prince

This blog greets with delight the prince who was born today.

How Prince William's birth seems to me. I have good reason to remember that evening well.

Quite unbelievably BBC Radio 4 news put the new prince in 3rd place! After, first, free citizenship for the Empire (why is that word always omitted?) Windrush immigrants and, second, the creation of Stephen Lawrence Day! 

(That's unbelievable in itself. Why not Drummer Rigby Day?)

Barbara Bush subverts careerism

The third choice that must not be missed is to cherish your human connections: your relationships with family and friends. For several years, you’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work, and, of course, that’s true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer, or business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections—with spouses, with children, with friends—are the most important investments you will ever make. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent. . . .
Whatever the era, whatever the times, one thing will never change: Fathers and mothers, if you have children—they must come first.

The late Barbara Bush, who died on Tuesday, in her commencement address to the 1990 class of Wellesley College, the leading U.S. women's college.

The FBI men who guarded her for decades guarded her coffin at her funeral.

Sunday 22 April 2018

Quotations from Sir Roger Scruton

"Conservatives should study the ideas and arguments that prevail on the left. There is always something to learn from these, if only which way the wind of resentment is now blowing. And lifting your eyes from this joyless stuff, you will thank God that you are a conservative."

Saturday 21 April 2018

Enoch Powell: "In the Middle East our great enemies are the Americans."

"Ah, Enoch, dear Enoch! He once said something to me I never understood. He said, "You know, I've told you all I know about housing, and you can make your speech accordingly. Can I talk to you about something that you know all about and I know nothing? I want to tell you that in the Middle East our great enemies are the Americans." You know, I had no idea what he meant. I do now."

Sir Anthony Eden to Andrew Freeth after the Suez Crisis

The global village

Manuel Castells: “Elites are cosmopolitan, people are local”.

Samuel Huntington: “A major gap is growing in America between its increasingly denationalised elites and its ‘thank God for America' public.”

Thomas Friedman: "When I was growing up, my parents told me, 'Finish your dinner. People in China and India are starving.' I tell my daughters, 'Finish your homework. People in India and China are starving for your job."

Friday 20 April 2018


To the man-in-the-street who,
I'm sorry to say,
Is a keen observer of life,
The word intellectual suggests right away
A man who's untrue to his wife.

W H Auden

The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence: Hate the man who is better off than you are.

Henry Hazlitt


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The Lost Heart of Asia

I am just rereading Colin Thubron's The Lost Heart of Asia which I first read in the mid-90s, about his journey to Central Asia just after the USSR split up. 

It is quite marvellous and the perfect introduction to Uzbekistan. I wish I had reread it before my recent visit, though I did read his Shadow of the Silk Road about his return in 2006.

Uzbekistan is a place whose heart has been ripped out by communism. Lovely people but half destroyed by atheism, materialism, socialist internationalism and deracination. 

Had the khanates of Samarkand, Bokhara, Kokand and Khiva been British not Russian protectorates they might be something like the UAE now, with gold and plutonium instead of oil. Though thinking about Dubai that does not seem such an attractive idea.

For decades I only travelled in post-Communist Europe and I still find it rather depressing to go to Western Europe. All that shininess and affluence make my heart sink. Now I travel around Western Europe because it has the best monuments and to exotic places like Iraq and Mozambique, because I wanted to see the world, but I realise it is only Eastern Europe and the especially the former USSR that I really love - where people are human and normal. 

I loved Uzbekistan, as I expected to. Colin Thubron says he is in love with the whole of Asia but for some reason I am not.

China, Vietnam and Laos which still are Communist and Cambodia, which was Communist, do not greatly interest me. I wonder why not.

Is it because Uzbekistan was ruled by Russians and is therefore less Asian? No, because Indochina was ruled by the French. 

A lot of it is to do with the attraction of the Muslim world. I am a proud orientalist who thought Edward Said's critique of orientalism vapid and uninteresting. I found Pakistan more appealing than India.

The attraction of the Mohametan world and the former Soviet bloc. Former Soviet Central Asia is where the two circles overlap and it has the poetry of inaccessibility and obscurity.

"At the moment you see we have no feeling about ourselves as a nation. History is the key and the Soviets took ours away. We were sold a mass of Bolshevik stories and nothing of our own." An Uzbek talking to Colin Thubron in 1992. 

I detect faint echoes of this in present day Western Europe.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

That was the news

Some people prefer just not to follow the news. I think it's a duty. Perhaps in a macabre way it's even a dark pleasure. But no not a pleasure.

Winnie Mandela who said 
"Together, hand in hand, with our matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country"
died and was praised in the Western press. Necklaces meant burning people alive by putting tyres around their necks filled with petrol.

When F.W. Klerk, who dismantled apartheid and freed Nelson Mandela dies, his obituary will be unflattering.

Emmanuel Macron talked about the threat to democracy from populists, by which he meant the threat to democracy from politicians who offer to do what the public wants. He won widespread praise for this.

In England a male voice choir was ordered to admit women.

Canada announced she will no longer discriminate on the grounds of physical disability when deciding which immigrants to accept.


Tara Ann Thieke‏ @TaraAnnThieke
Basically I don't want to hear a single supporter of the Iraq War offer their foreign policy advice without long, sustained mea culpas and explanations of why they should now be heeded. The burden of proof is on them, not on war skeptics.

Scott Greer (@ScottMGreer):
Principled conservatism: the president can drop bombs wherever he feels like but we can't deport criminal aliens

Censorship and fake tweets

Something very strange happened to me yesterday. Can anyone give me advice?

I was told my Twitter account was being temporarily limited for 8 hours because of a tweet I sent.

This was very annoying but the tweet in question (below) is not one I sent or retweeted though it has my 'avatar'. 

@BourneWolf @AlfDubs @paullewismoney @stellacreasy @YvetteCooperMP @guardian @ThangamMP @safepassageuk @HelpRefugees @refugeecouncil @KateGreenSU Syrian refugees have already been involved in terrorist murders in Europe.

The people it was sent to are not people I know.

Sunday 15 April 2018

“Like the Roman, I see the River Tiber foaming with blood”

"All quotations are out of context." (Enoch Powell)

Two weeks ago an extraordinary thing happened. The BBC World Service made the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King its first item on the world news. 

Was the fiftieth anniversary of anyone’s death ever before, since the world began, first item on the news around the world? Lenin’s perhaps, in the Soviet bloc in 1984, but not worldwide.

Two weeks after the murder of King and fifty years ago today, Enoch Powell, a member of the British Conservative Shadow Cabinet, gave his famous and misnamed 'Rivers of Blood' speech, in which he warned in very highly coloured terms of the consequences of continued immigration from the former colonies into Great Britain. 

Saturday 14 April 2018

Syria: the morning after the night before

It looks like America, England and France bombed locations in Syria at the cost of $240 million but no lives. Russia and Syria seem willing to take this without retaliation. This is what the ill-named Mad Dog Mattis counselled. A relief. Things can go on as before.

Donald Trump has shown he has more moral courage than President Obama - or is it immoral? His habit of threatening war with Russia in tweets certainly adds to an unpredictability factor that has a deterrent effect, on Russia and on North Korea, but he should not be acquitted of blame. 

He has intervened in a country where America has no genuine interest and this could be a precedent for further intervention. 

He was elected to keep out of foreign adventures. His supporters want him to protect America from invasion by illegal immigrants, not to protect Syrians from chlorine bombs.

Friday 13 April 2018

Godless communism

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This Godless Communism, 1961, a story in volume 17, issue number 2 of Treasure Chest, a monthly comic book published by the Catholic Guild in the USA from 1946 to 1972. Each issue featured several different stories intended to inspire citizenship, morality, and patriotism. 

Thursday 12 April 2018

2 former British Ambassadors are sure that Assad is not responsible for chemical attacks

I was opposed to a strike on Syria in 2013 but have been thinking through the arguments this time. 

The 2017 strike by the Americans seemed worryingly like the start of a US intervention but in fact had no consequences apart from showing that Trump was not a Russian stooge, repairing the damage to US prestige caused when Mr. Obama did nothing after his red line was crossed and killing some innocent people. 

If Assad is responsible for using chemical weapons this time the 2016 strike did not deter him.

But is he?

I am very reluctant to think this is a trick by Western governments but is it a false flag operation by others unknown? The Saudis? 

How can we know?

But we do know this.

A former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, thinks that the Syrian government did not use chemical weapons this time. The former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, is certain that Assad is not guilty. I think two former Ambassadors saying this means the case against Assad is not proven. 

I have thought about it - we should keep our hands off Syria

[Published in Taki's Magazine.]

The BBC 5 o'clock news started with the most extraordinary and chilling words I have heard in fifty years of watching or listening to the BBC News. 
Russia and America edge closer to war over Syria.
Previously the most chilling words I had heard were 
Russian troops have entered Czechoslovakia.
I should say that I see virtually no possibility of fighting between America and Russia, but virtually is not absolutely.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Monday 9 April 2018

Frank Furedi: for anti-populist ideologues democracy is an afterthought

Polling booths in Hungary were kept open as voters still queued at 7pm when they were due to close

Frank Furedi says very truly:
For anti-populist ideologues democracy is an afterthought - especially in places like Hungary. Why because the people are unreliable and then to vote the wrong way. And yet they dishonestly go on about threat of dictatorships.
He has written a very good article which says everything you need to know about the election result. It includes this insight.
The emergence of Hungary as the bad boy of Europe has little to do with its supposed plunge into authoritarianism. As I argued in my book, Populism and the European Culture Wars, the pathologisation of the Orban regime is largely due to its promotion of national sovereignty and its willingness to uphold traditions and values, including those of Christianity. It is hostile to those who would dismiss the legacy of Europe’s past as the ‘bad old days’. Hungary is hated by the Western political oligarchy for the simple reason that it dares to challenge post-traditionalism, identity politics and anti-humanism.

Easter in Bucharest - acknowledgements, Octav Dragan

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What did I think of Uzbekistan?

Tashkent is a very eery, quiet place with wide roads, few cars and few pedestrians. The Bradt Guide said Samarkand was bustling but it was nothing of the sort. It too was almost deserted. Neither city had a centre or much life.

The mosques were beautiful, over-restored for the benefit of tourists but empty of worshippers. Islam I felt was repressed by the Communists much more than was Christianity in other parts of the Soviet Union and this repression continues now, though

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Tamburlane's tomb

I saw the tomb today of Tamburlane in Samarkand and must now read the play by Marlowe, which I can download on my kindle. 

I found the Samarkand Necropolis much more beautiful. Here among many others are buried Tamburlane's favourite two wives. He had 90 legal wives and very many concubines.  

He is responsible for the death of perhaps 17 million people, perhaps 4% of the world's population. He is naturally regarded as a very great man and a national hero of the Uzbeks, despite being no more Uzbek than Boadicea was English. Coach parties swarm converge on his tomb. 

How will Hitler be regarded in 700 years?

Nobody knows.

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Tuesday 3 April 2018

From beyond the far distant Oxus

Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara, delighted to watch his enemies boiled in oil. I am enough of a Tory to think he was slightly better than the Bolsheviks who deposed him.

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The Registan in Samarkand. Lord Curzon, as he then wasn't, thought it the noblest public square in the world. Now I can agree with him. 

Sandy Arbuthnot in Greenmantle knew some interesting places in Samarkand and Sir Fitzroy Maclean, as he then wasn't, walked here through semi desert from Bokhara, followed by an NKVD man in an ill-fitting dark suit.

I read once that Tennyson's poems are like objects that you hold in your hand and are one moment astonishing diamonds and the next pieces of coloured glass.

Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand are like that.

Each of them in turn has impressed me at first sight as the most impressive place I ever saw in my life, but each, like some famous beauty, on closer inspection proves to have had a lot of work done to make her stunning. 

I am never sure what is centuries old, what Brezhnev era and what created under the unlamented dictator who died last year.

A German designer who comes here because Bukharan patterns are alive and German ones lifeless (at first I thought she meant patterns of life but she meant patterns) told me that if the Acropolis were in Uzbekistan it would be completed and roofed. This is exactly right. 

The Soviets were not romantics: romanticism was bourgeois and decadent.  They saw no poetry in ruins. Nor did President Karimov after he sloughed off Lenin.

It could be much much worse. They are building a huge tourist centre close to the Ark in Bukhara, the fortress from which the Emir watched his enemies killed with cruel and unusual punishments.

Already Bukhara has 150 mostly small hotels but still the number of tourists is relatively few. Samarkand and Bukhara feel remote despite the occasional coach party, often of Indians.  

Marrakech is perhaps equally beautiful but it is a tourist trap and now almost as familiar as Bournemouth or Southend. Though these things change fast.

Gertrude Bell was the first white woman to enter Samarkand but when she left she noticed advertisements for charabanc excursions.

Enoch Powell said the life of nations like the life of men is lived in the imagination. Travel is lived entirely in the imagination and being somwhere distant and little visited fires the imagination. 

Lord Byron proudly said 'I have seen the ruins of Ephesus' but so can anyone for the price of a budget flight to Ismir. Lord Curzon boasting about Samarkand still moves us to envy.

I arrived in time to see the fairly deserted Registan at Samarkand tonight at dusk, the birds making a deafening noise and the tourists gone. I envy myself.

Part of it is the name. Samarkand like Madagascar, Persia and Mozambique captivates by the sound of its very name. We visited Lalish the Yazzidi holy village because Noemi loved the name. Names contain magic.

We are not far from the Oxus here.