Category Archives: History

Jews and the Pogroms in the “Bloodlands” After World War I

(A review here of Timothy Snyder’s superb history, “The Bloodlands”; image at top of the post: “Abraham Manievich: Destruction of the Ghetto, Kiev, 1919, The Jewish Museum, New York City”.)

The chaotic, brutal and often murderous aftermath of World War I in Eastern Europe and the Balkans is largely unknown, indeed unwritten about, in the English-speaking world. Here are extracts from an article at the NY Review of Books on three books that point out precursors to the Holocaust in Poland and Ukraine:

Rehearsal for Genocide

Magda Teter

Three recent books conclude that the anti-Jewish pogroms following World War I help to explain what would take place a generation later.


Legacy of Blood: Jews, Pogroms, and Ritual Murder in the Lands of the Soviets

by Elissa Bemporad

Oxford University Press, 238 pp., $78.00

International Jewish Humanitarianism in the Age of the Great War

by Jaclyn Granick

Cambridge University Press, 404 pp., $39.99

In the Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918–1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust

by Jeffrey Veidlinger

Metropolitan, 466 pp., $35.00

The war in Ukraine has simultaneously forced to the surface and upended the memory of a history that had fallen into oblivion. The past, we see once more, can be reinvented and reinterpreted. In 2014 Slava Ukraini became the slogan of an independent, westward-looking Ukraine, when the Euromaidan protests resulted in the ousting of its president, Viktor Yanukovych, and his flight to Russia. In 2018 it became the official greeting of the Ukrainian army. Since February 24 of this year it has become a worldwide cry of solidarity.

Yet its roots lie in post–World War I violence. Ukrainian nationalists hollered “Glory to Ukraine” not only in their fight for independence but also during horrific massacres of Jews in 1918–1921 that killed over 100,000 people, possibly even as many as 200,000, sometimes wiping out entire Jewish populations in towns and villages. The shout was then taken up in the 1930s and 1940s by far-right Ukrainian nationalists, who were implicated in anti-Jewish and anti-Polish attacks and in collaborating with the occupying Nazi forces. Although banned by the Soviet authorities, it survived among émigrés in the West…

Three recent books excavate this century-old story and shine light on its lasting importance. Elissa Bemporad’s Legacy of Blood: Jews, Pogroms, and Ritual Murder in the Lands of the Soviets looks at the memory and consequences of this violence in the Soviet Union. Jaclyn Granick’s International Jewish Humanitarianism in the Age of the Great War examines the rise of nongovernmental humanitarian mobilization in response to World War I and its savage aftermath—a mobilization aided by the ascendancy of the United States and its Jewish community. Jeffrey Veidlinger’s In The Midst of Civilized Europe: The Pogroms of 1918–1921 and the Onset of the Holocaust offers an account of the brutality in the years that followed World War I in Eastern Europe and argues that it created conditions for the mass murder of Jews a generation later during World War II.

What all three books show is that the Great War did not end in November 1918. In the east, in the territories that are now in Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus, bloodshed not only continued but intensified, as multiple factions sought to establish new countries on the ruins of empires that “in a stunning development,” Veidlinger says, “had crumbled in just a few days.” Ukrainian nationalist groups fought for an independent Ukraine while clashing over their visions of what it would be, having to face both Bolshevik and White Russian forces from the east and, from the west, Polish troops seeking to reestablish an independent Poland. As each group embraced different ideas of loyalty, belonging, and citizenship, Jews were caught in between—trapped as permanent outsiders, unable to fit into the newly fashioned nation-states [emphasis added].

Just days after the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Polish soldiers arrived in Lviv, a multiethnic city with significant Polish and Jewish populations, and a Ukrainian minority amounting to just under 20 percent, to claim it for Poland. The city, whose name changed according to the political powers that controlled it—Lwów, Lemberg, Lvov, and Lviv—was, as Veidlinger puts it, “the linchpin of the multinational state” envisioned by Marshal Józef Piłsudski. He dreamed about reinstating Poland to “the historic borders of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth,” a vast multicultural polity that had been wiped off the maps of Europe in 1795, after its final dismemberment by the Habsburg Empire, Prussia, and Russia. But on November 1, a few weeks before the Polish troops’ arrival, one of the Ukrainian national groups had already announced in Lviv “the establishment of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic,” raising the blue-and-yellow flag over the city hall, to the ire of the Polish population.

Faced with a conflict between Poles and Ukrainians, the Jewish community in Lviv sought to remain neutral, a move that rendered it vulnerable to attacks from both sides. On November 22, soon after the Polish troops had taken control of the city, Jewish self-defense groups were disarmed, shops were looted, and, according to a 1919 report, “all who resisted were brutally assaulted or shot, and many women and girls were outraged,” an early-twentieth-century euphemism for rape [emphasis added]. The violence lasted three days, leaving at least seventy-three and perhaps as many as 108 Jews murdered and 443 wounded.

The Lviv/Lwów pogrom was a turning point. It targeted a specific group that had been uninvolved in the struggle; it was organized and destructive, and, Veidlinger shows, militarily sanctioned—“instigated by armed soldiers in the line of duty rather than by roaming gangs of ruffians or local discontents.” Most importantly, the massacre took place “not during the three-week conflict between Polish and Ukrainian forces over control of Lviv but rather after Polish soldiers had secured the city.” Jews thus were not “collateral damage” of a military operation but rather “were deliberately slaughtered [emphasis added].”..

The pogroms of 1918–1921 differed significantly from previous pogroms: these massacres were approved and largely perpetrated by troops and people in positions of authority. Moreover, since the Ukrainian People’s Republic had proclaimed support for minority rights (a model later adopted by the Allied powers in the treaties with Poland and other newly emerging countries), including the recognition of Yiddish as one of the country’s official languages, the attacks were especially alarming. They demonstrated “to the Jews of Ukraine and to the world that even a government established on the principle of minority rights and national autonomy could not protect Jews from violence.” Finally, pogroms in towns like Dubovo (near Cherkasy), Fastiv, and Proskuriv, where whole communities were wiped out in a matter of hours or days, made it possible to imagine genocidal murder.

In Proskuriv, the forces of the Directory, headed by a twenty-five-year-old former agronomist named Ivan Semosenko, were told to protect the Ukrainian army’s reputation so it would not be “sullied by looting and theft” and take an oath, promising that “they would kill ‘from the old to the young’ but not steal.” They were good to their word. When Jews offered money to save their lives, they were reportedly told that, having “received an order not to rob, but to kill,” as one witness recalled later, “they didn’t need money, just Jewish souls.” Within four hours, between nine hundred and 1,200 Jews were killed. The events in Proskuriv were so shocking at the time that they were compared to the Armenian genocide of 1915–1916 [emphasis added].

In Fastiv, over a few days in September 1919, nearly two thousand Jews were said to have been murdered—some burned alive, trapped in locked homes and synagogues that were then doused in kerosene and torched. Others fled the town, and still thousands of others were wounded or died of disease. Later estimates put the death toll at eight thousand.

…“At the end of World War I and in the midst of the Polish-Soviet war,” Ukrainian nationalists, Poles, the White Army, and the German armies “equated the Bolsheviks and the Jews,” Bemporad writes, “labeling Bolshevism as a quintessentially Jewish doctrine”—that is, “‘foreign,’ ‘other,’ and ‘evil.’” In Pinsk, which was, as Granick writes, “in the combat zone between Poland and Russia, Polish soldiers stormed a gathering of Jews who were organizing the distribution of Passover food provided by [the] JDC [Joint Distribution Committee],” a Jewish American relief agency formed in 1914. The soldiers, assuming it was “a meeting for subversive, Bolshevist purposes,” shot thirty-five Jews and arrested many others.

The belief in Judeo-Bolshevism held by all these anti-Bolshevik forces, each fighting to realize its distinct and clashing political goals and ideologies, was galvanizing and deadly [emphasis added]. The fact that the Bolsheviks did indeed stop anti-Jewish massacres only deepened this pernicious conviction and, Bemporad shows, was what “ultimately enticed so many Jews to fight on the side of the world Revolution, to wage a war against counter-revolution, and to forge an alliance with the Soviet state. The pogroms made Jews Soviet.”..

Thousands of Jews moved to major cities across Eastern Europe, making small-town, traditional Jews more visible and alien. Many cities could not sustain the influx. Jews and their status became an issue in the negotiations in Paris. According to Granick, “The refugee problem became a Jewish problem”—one that was exploited, in the interwar period, by xenophobic nationalists and demagogues like Hitler.

So although the anti-Jewish atrocities of 1918–1921 may be a forgotten genocide, absent “from history textbooks, museums, and public memory,” they were widely known at the time, both in the region and in the West. The Soviet authorities designed their commissions to research and prosecute the perpetrators, and on September 8, 1919, The New York Times said an American commission would go to Ukraine to report to President Woodrow Wilson on the pogroms; the ominous lede stated that “127,000 Jews have been killed and 6,000,000 are in peril.”..

Approaching the history of World War I and its aftermath from three different vantage points, Bemporad, Granick, and Veidlinger each conclude that the shocking anti-Jewish assaults of 1918–1921 help to explain what would take place a generation later. The “unprecedented” scale of destruction and “the performativity of violence against Jews” can now be seen, Granick argues, as a “bridge” to the Holocaust. According to Veidlinger, the pogroms and what they stood for became “an acceptable response to the excesses of Bolshevism,” leaving a heritage of social tolerance for killing Jews. In 1941, therefore, when the Nazis invaded the territories of what is today Ukraine, they were able to mobilize the local population to do their dirty work, since it “had become inured,” he says, “to bloodshed and primed to target Jews in ethnic violence [see this post: “Hitler’s Ukrainian Executioners“] .” Furthermore, the connection between Bolshevism and Jews, as well as the nexus of anti-Semitism and opposition to Soviet rule discussed by Bemporad, made the atrocities of World War II less shocking…

The stories Bemporad, Granick, and Veidlinger tell in their very different books remind us how much our world is an heir to the violent legacy of World War I. Yet they also show, as the war in Ukraine underscores, that perhaps we do not have to be trapped in this past. Slava Ukraini is no longer a slogan of the perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence; it is a slogan of a country defending liberal democratic values, whose president is a descendant of Holocaust survivors.

Magda Teter

Magda Teter is a Professor of History and the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies at Fordham. She is the author, most recently, of Blood Libel: On the Trail of an Antisemitic Myth. (June 2022)

UPDATE: From a very acute observer of the Canadian and international scene:

Related posts on the Holocaust itself:


Jedwabne: A Murderous July 1941 Polish Pogrom–and God?

A Great Book From a Romanian Jew, Mihail Sebastian: “Journal 1935–1944: The Fascist Years”

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

A Certain Lack of Historical Sensitivity: 2022, Migrants from UK to Rwanda; 1940, Jews from Europe to Madagascar

Not to suggest any real equivalence but still…and the underlying assumptions about Africa and Africans…

1) Reuters story (how much did BoJo’s government pay Rwandan officials, one way or another?):

UK migrant flight to Rwanda grounded as European Court steps in

Britain’s first flight to take asylum seekers to Rwanda did not take off as scheduled on Tuesday [June 14] after the European human rights court issued last-minute injunctions to stop the deportation of the handful of migrants on board.

The British government’s plan to send some migrants to the East African country has been criticized by opponents, charities, and religious leaders who say it is inhumane. It has been forced to fight a series of legal challenges in London courts aiming to stop it going ahead…

2) At the Jewish Virtual Library:

The Nazis & the Jews: The Madagascar Plan (July 3, 1940)

The Madagascar Plan was a proposal for Jewish settlement devised by the Nazi regime in the late 1930’s.

On December 9, 1938, French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet informed German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop that in order to rid France of 10,000 Jewish refugees it would be necessary to ship them elsewhere. At that time, the Nazi regime considered mass emigration to be the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem.”

On March 5, 1938, the SS officer in charge of forced Jewish emigration, Adolf Eichmann, was commissioned to assemble material to provide the chief of the Security Police (SIPO) Reinhard Heydrich with “a foreign policy solution as it had been negotiated between Poland and France,” i.e., the Madagascar Plan. Temporarily shelved in the wake of the war, the project was taken up again after the fall of France in the summer of 1940.

Eichmann prepared a detailed official report on the island of Madagascar and its “colonization” possibilities based on information gathered from the French Colonial Office. He added an evacuation plan calling for 4 million Jews to be shipped to Madagascar over a period of four years and also advocated the creation of a “police reserve” as a giant ghetto. The plan was to be financed by a special bank managing confiscated Jewish property and by contributions exacted from world Jewry.

The plan leaked out and was published in Italy in July 1940. In August 1940, the Third Reich officially endorsed the Madagascar Plan. Alarmed by the plan, the American Jewish Committee commissioned a special report, published in May 1941, that sought to demonstrate that Jews could not survive the conditions on the island. By that time, however, the Nazis were already well underway with a different “Final Solution” – the extermination program.

On February 10, 1942, only a few weeks after the Wannsee Conference, the Madagascar Plan was officially shelved and replaced in public policy statements with the lexicon of “evacuation to the East.”

Text of the Madagascar Proposal

Words fail. In both cases.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

The Bookish Butcher Vozhd, or, Stalin the Literary Man

(Image at top of the post is from a cover of the excellent novel by Josef Škvorecký, the Czech writer who came to Canada after the 1968 Soviet invasion of his country.)

The many-faceted monster. The first part of a review at the New Criterion–pity about the book under review (see final para of quote):

Stalin: his own avatar

by Gary Saul Morson

On Stalin’s Library: A Dictator and His Books by Geoffrey Roberts [website here].

When the novelist Mikhail Sholokhov, who later won the Nobel Prize for literature, had trouble getting the third part of The Quiet Don approved for publication, he appealed to Maxim Gorky, then the supreme authority in Soviet literary affairs. Gorky invited him to his mansion, which had been a gift from Stalin to lure Gorky home from self-imposed exile. When Sholokhov arrived, he discovered that Gorky had company: Stalin himself.

Stalin interrogated Sholokhov about ideologically problematic passages but agreed to the book’s publication on condition that Sholokhov also write a novel glorifying the Soviet collectivization of agriculture. Still more important, he gave Sholokhov a piece of paper explaining how to contact Stalin’s personal secretary, Aleksandr Poskrebyshev, and providing the number of his direct phone line.

Sholokhov’s collectivization novel also ran into trouble with officials too scared of its descriptions of Soviet ruthlessness. Dialing the sacred phone number, the novelist reached Poskrebyshev, who summoned him to a meeting with the vozhd’ (meaning “leader,” a term reserved for Stalin alone). Stalin spent three nights reading the manuscript. When Sholokhov arrived, he found, in addition to Stalin, Lev Mekhilis, the editor of the Communist Party newspaper Pravda; Sergo Ordzhonokidze, who was in charge of the economy; and Kliment Voroshilov, People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs. Stalin approved the novel’s publication but “suggested” a new title.

Could one imagine a president of the United States deeming a novel so important that he would spend three days reading it and give his verdict in the presence of officials in charge of the economy and the army [emphasis added]? But in Russia literature is more important than anywhere else. The poet Osip Mandelstam famously remarked that only in Russia are poems important enough for people to be shot for them.

Even if an American president should deem a novel to be that significant, would he trust his own unaided literary judgment, as Stalin evidently trusted his? Americans usually presume that Stalin, as a mass murderer, must have been a semi-literate thug, as if intellectuals are somehow less capable of brutality. At best, they figure that Stalin, as his enemy Trotsky asserted, was a consummate intellectual mediocrity. In fact, Stalin was not only highly intelligent but also supremely well-read [emphasis added]. When the Soviet archives were opened after the fall of the USSR, it turned out that Stalin had accumulated a personal library of twenty-five thousand volumes. He had selected the books himself and even devised his own classification system for his personal librarian to follow. In over four hundred volumes he left extensive pometki, marginal notes. What was in that library? What did those notes say?

After the Party leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his 1956 “Secret Speech,” most of Stalin’s books were dispersed to various libraries—over the strenuous objections, it should be added, of his daughter, Svetlana, who claimed her father’s collection as her own. But the four hundred annotated books found their way into the Stalin lichnyi fond, or personal archive.

At the end of his riveting book Inside the Stalin Archives (2008) [2009 review here before peak Putin], Jonathan Brent describes the thrill of discovering these volumes. As the editorial director of Yale University Press, Brent was editing sixteen volumes of important documents from the (briefly open) Soviet archives. Having inquired about Stalin’s library on an earlier visit, he had no idea what he would find in Fond (“file”) 588, Opus 3, the designation for books and manuscripts discovered in Stalin’s personal library after his death. “I had not realized what an avid and comprehensive reader Stalin was,” Brent recalled, but the archive soon revealed to him something even more interesting: Stalin “saw the nation as a set of ideas as much as a set of economic or material facts. As I looked at page after page of Stalin’s corrections, annotations, and commentary,” Brent explained,

I realized that while he professed a worldview set radically against metaphysics and Kantian idealism, Stalin was an idealist in the sense that he believed completely in the primacy of ideas. This represents a radical . . . reorientation and revision of Marx’s philosophy and is the key to understanding Stalin’s threat to “mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts—yes, by his thoughts—threatens the unity of the socialist state.”

Brent was right: Stalin was a man of ideas, to the point where he thought that by changing the ideas to which people are exposed he could redesign human nature itself [emphasis added]. The Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin, his onetime ally and later victim, put the point memorably:

“If we examine each individual in his development, we shall find that at bottom he is filled with [nothing but] the influences of his environment, as the skin of a sausage is filled with sausage-meat. . . . The individual himself is a collection of concentrated social influences, united in a small unit,”

and, for unwavering Bolsheviks, nothing more.

At a famous meeting with writers held in Gorky’s apartment in 1932, Stalin explained how they should view their efforts:

“There are different products: artillery, automobiles, machines. You also produce “commodities,” “works,” ”products.” Very important things. Interesting things. . . . You [writers] are engineers of human souls. . . . Production of souls is more important than the production of tanks. . . . That is why I propose a toast to writers, to the engineers of human souls [emphasis added]”

No wonder that Stalin took such a keen interest in literature and ideas. Svetlana pointed out that in her father’s Kremlin apartment “there was no room for pictures on the walls—they were lined with books.” Stalin’s adopted son Artem Sergeev recalled that at every encounter his father asked him what he had been reading and what he thought about it. The son of the secret police chief Lavrenty Beria claimed that when Stalin visited someone from his inner circle, “he went to the man’s library and even opened the books to check whether they had been read.” Although he was always ordering books, Stalin borrowed from others as well. The poet Demyan Bedny was foolish enough to complain that he hated to lend his books to Stalin because they were returned covered with greasy fingermarks. That was the last Bedny saw of his luxurious apartment.

It is hardly surprising that Stalin read and reread Machiavelli’s The Prince. Neither is it strange that he knew well the works of his Bolshevik rivals Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, or that he underlined key passages in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. But he also read a lot of Russian and world literature, apparently cherishing Pushkin as well as satirists and social critics including Gogol, Saltykov-Shchedrin, and Zola.

I expected to learn a great deal from the first comprehensive account of Stalin’s annotations, Stalin’s Library, by Geoffrey Roberts.1 A professor emeritus at University College Cork…

Alas, this book offers no significant discoveries, intimate or otherwise. It meanders pointlessly from topic to topic unrelated…

As I said, pity. And from a review at the Guardian:

Roberts is startlingly forgiving towards Stalin, noting: “Given the scale of his misdeeds as Soviet ruler, it is natural to imagine him as a monster, to see him in the mind’s eye furiously denouncing opponents.” Instead he concludes that Stalin was “a dedicated idealist”, “no psychopath but an emotionally intelligent and feeling intellectual”…


Related tweets:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Russia vs Ukraine, or, the Perils of Overdoing Historical Analogies

A hard-nosed piece by Edward Lucas at the Center for European Policy Analysis, Washington, D.C.:

History Matters

But not as much as you think

Are we living in 1914 or 1939? Or 1918? These seemingly abstruse questions are at the heart of European countries’ policy (or lack of it) towards Ukraine. For some German thinkers, the danger is of “sleepwalking” into a big war, just as European leaders did, supposedly, in 1914. Nobody actually wanted a conflagration that would destroy prosperity, order, and security. But the decisions made in Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, and Paris made it inevitable.

This thesis is advanced in a thought-provoking book called “The Sleepwalkers”, published in 2012, by the Australian historian Christopher Clark [excellent book, he’s a professor at Cambridge–an earlier post: “The Start of the Great War, or, Sh.. Happens“]. Angela Merkel was a big fan. As my friend from the New Statesman, Jeremy Cliffe, notes in his latest column, so are many of her successors. Chancellor Olaf Scholz exclaimed in a recent meeting “I am not Kaiser Wilhelm”. What he meant was that he was not going to lead Germany into war by accident. He also fears the disruptive consequences of a protracted conflict.

Another common historical frame of reference is 1918, and the specter of the Versailles peace treaty. Its punitive treatment of defeated Germany sowed the seeds of the next conflict. Some people, such as the Moscow-based foreign-policy pundit Sergei Karaganov, believe that Russia already experienced a Versailles-style humiliation in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Others, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, believe that it is vital to avoid such an outcome when the Russia-Ukraine war ends. Either way, the lesson is clear: treat Russia better if you want good behavior in the future [emphasis added].

Another school of thought sees 1939 as the reference point. The West’s failure to stand up to Mussolini over Abyssinia in 1935, and to Hitler when he marched into the Rhineland in 1936, and took over Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938, paved the way for the attack on Poland in 1939. This is, seemingly, mirrored by more recent appeasement of Kremlin aggression against Estonia, Georgia, and other countries.

History is a useful stimulus to thought. But it is a poor guide to the present. The “Sleepwalker” thesis is flawed: it lets off bellicose Prussian militarism too lightly [see “PREDATE” tweet at bottom of the post; on the other hand see this post using a review by Prof. Clark: “Wilhelm the Jerk, Part 2: How Truly Determinative?“], and blames Serbian nationalism excessively [I disagree, see this post: “Serbia, Sarajevo and the Start of World War I“]. Its relevance to the Ukraine war is absurd, as pointed out by none other than Clark himself. Nobody wanted war then. But Putin clearly wants one now. The question is how we react to it.

The Versailles references are flimsy. The West did not humiliate Russia in the 1990s. It pampered and pandered to the Yeltsin Kremlin. If the war with Ukraine ends in disaster, the blame lies with Vladimir Putin, not those who resist his aggression [emphasis added]. The Russian leader can stop whenever he wants, and the sooner he does, the better for everybody.

Nor do the 1930s provide a template. The landscape was quite different then. Nazi Germany was an economic superpower. Russia is not. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 has no modern counterpart (thank goodness [see this post: “Bad Vlad: 1939, or, Just Screw the Poles and Balts“]). We do not need historical analogies to know that we have left it perilously late to wake up to Russian neo-colonialism [emphasis added].

Germans are also far too ready to imbibe other mistaken historical lessons, such as Kremlin myths about the Second World War, which supposedly creates an eternal debt from Germany to modern Russia. Just for the record, the biggest losses as a share of population were in what is now Ukraine and Belarus [emphasis added–see this review of Timothy Snyder’s superb history, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin]. Any feelings of guilt or historical responsibility should be directed there, not used to justify greed and cowardice.

Rather than searching fruitlessly for analogies, our modern sleepwalkers should wake up to the pressing injustices of the present, and consider how future historians may judge their response.

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.


Earlier tweet–Count Harry Kessler was a member of the German elite, scroll up thread for more:

Recent relevant post:

Russia vs Ukraine: A Realist View–and Don’t Forget The Tsar’s Southwestern Front in 1914

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Russia vs Ukraine: A Realist View–and Don’t Forget The Tsar’s Southwestern Front in 1914

1) Further to this post, (part 2 of it is also based on a piece by Mr Douthat),

Ukraine vs Russia: How Much Success is Too Much Success? Or…

the house conservative at the NY Times “Sunday Review” again sounds precautionary notes–and keep in mind that the main enemy is well to the east. The second part of his article today:

We Can’t Be Ukraine Hawks Forever

…when I read the broader theories of hawkish commentators, their ideas about America’s strategic vision and what kind of endgame we should be seeking in the war, I still find myself baffled by their confidence and absolutism.

For instance, for all their defensive successes, we have not yet established that Ukraine’s military can regain significant amounts of territory in the country’s south and east. Yet we have Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic insisting that only Putin’s defeat and indeed “humiliation” can restore European stability, while elsewhere in the same magazine Casey Michel calls for dismantling the Russian Federation, framed as the “decolonization” of Russia’s remaining empire, as the only policy for lasting peace.

Or again, the United States has currently committed an extraordinary sum to back Ukraine — far more than we spent in foreign aid to Afghanistan in any recent year, for instance — and our support roughly trebles the support offered by the European Union. Yet when this newspaper’s editorial board raised questions about the sustainability of such support, the response from many Ukraine hawks was a furious how dare you — with an emphasis, to quote Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, on Ukraine’s absolute right to fight “until every inch of their territory is free”; America’s strictly “modest” and “advisory” role in Ukrainian decision-making; and the importance of offering Kyiv, if not a blank check, at least a “very very big check with more checks to follow.”

These theories all seem to confuse what is desirable with what is likely, and what is morally ideal with what is strategically achievable [emphasis added]. I have written previously about the risks of nuclear escalation in the event of a Russian military collapse, risks that hawkish theories understate. But given the state of the war right now, the more likely near-future scenario is one where Russian collapse remains a pleasant fancy, the conflict becomes stalemated and frozen, and we have to put our Ukrainian policy on a sustainable footing without removing Putin’s regime or dismantling the Russian empire.

In that scenario, our plan cannot be to keep writing countless checks while tiptoeing modestly around the Ukrainians and letting them dictate the ends to which our guns and weaponry are used. The United States is an embattled global hegemon facing threats more significant than Russia. We are also an internally divided country led by an unpopular president whose majorities may be poised for political collapse. So if Kyiv and Moscow are headed for a multiyear or even multi-decade frozen conflict, we will need to push Ukraine toward its most realistic rather than its most ambitious military strategy. And just as urgently, we will need to shift some of the burden of supporting Kyiv from our own budget to our European allies [emphasis added].

Righteous (and properly felt) disgust over the brutal Russian conduct of the war nonetheless should not lead to emotional rejection–unless the Russians simply collapse–of all efforts to find ways to end the fighting that result in less than a complete defeat for Bad Vlad Putin. Horrid though he be the Russian vozhd is still not Hitler. Nor Stalin. Nor Mao.

Moreover, should Russia somehow end up “humiliated”, it is absurd to think that any new government would be truly conciliatory or democratic. Rather think of Germans lusting for revenge after World War I.

A tweet by the noted strategist and historian, Edward Luttwak:

Plebiscites were held in several contested border regions after World War I.

2) Plus excerpts from the newsletter, TOP SECRET UMBRA, of John Schindler (tweets here), a serious historian of the Italian and Russian/Austrian fronts in World War, as well as an expert on intelligence matters; do read it all:

Military History Repeats in Ukraine

The current Russian advance in Ukraine, driven by artillery, should surprise nobody who’s acquainted with history – in fact, it’s happened before

After initial bloody setbacks, the Russian military is advancing deep in Ukraine. Defenders have acquitted themselves with unexpected grit, blunting initial Russian blows. But eventually weight of shell begins to turn the tide as the attacker’s artillery outnumbers and outguns the defenders. Soon, a debacle looms as retreat threatens to turn into a rout. The high hopes of just weeks before, the victory euphoria seeing Russian forces reeling from heavy blows, slowly turn to doubt, even despair.

It’s the summer of 1914.

Watching battlefield events unfold in Ukraine’s Southeast in recent days, as Russia’s aggression against its neighbor is in its fourth month, it’s difficult for anybody acquainted with that country’s military history not to feel an unsettling sense of déjà vu.

…the Ukraine war has shifted to the country’s Southeast, where Russia made landgrabs in the Donbas in 2014. Here, Moscow is making its move, with the obvious objective of recreating Novorossiya with a land-bridge to Crimea through the devastated city of Mariupol, now in Russian hands after an almost three-month siege that claimed thousands of lives. Such an imperial-throwback concept like rebirthing some facsimile of Novorossiya across southern Ukraine – if extended to Moldova it would economically cripple what’s left of Ukraine by taking away its Black Sea access – makes some strategic and geographic sense and was always the Kremlin’s achievable objective in this war. Now, Putin is doing that.

What happens next cannot be predicted with certainty but Ukraine’s looming defeat in the Southeast paradoxically offers a way to cease the fighting, at least temporarily. Given the economic pain caused by sanctions, which is only getting worse, Putin would be wise to pause his offensives after achieving modest success in the Southeast: at this point, the Kremlin is looking for a win, any win, to sell to the Russian public as justification for the enormous cost in blood and treasure of Putin’s war-of-choice.

Militarily, Russia’s offensive in the Southeast, though plodding, seems to be finally going Moscow’s way. At last, the Russian military is playing to its strengths in firepower. The Kremlin has decided to crush Ukrainian resistance, one punishing artillery barrage at a time…

…Current events in Ukraine eerily resemble summertime military operations in that country, 108 years ago. That was the Battle for Galicia, in today’s Western Ukraine, which was a grave defeat for Austria-Hungary, indeed a setback from which that country’s military never really recovered…

Some of the similarities…are troubling. In 1914, as today, the Russians dealt harshly with civilians in Galicia whom they considered disloyal or dangerous: some were shot outright while many thousands of others, Ukrainian, Poles, and especially Jews, were abducted and dispatched deep into Russia as hostages.

…the continuities between the fight for Ukraine in 1914 and the fight today appear more significant than the differences. Again, a Russian army backed by vast amounts of gunnery is grinding defenders down…

The outcome of the battle for the Donbas may well determine Ukraine’s fate for years to come. Local defeat looms but that need not become strategic defeat: that depends on Kyiv’s military moves right now. Time is the most undervalued aspect of warfighting but also the most difficult to grasp. War invariably develops its own logic. In that sense, war never changes, particularly when it involves Russians.

P.S. For readers seeking more on the Galician campaign of summer 1914 and its decisive impact on European history, I modestly recommend my book on the subject.

And a very good book it is:

This recent post is also relevant:

Why the Russian Army’s Poor Performance in Ukraine (so far)…and Western Armies?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

The Great Game, Lord Curzon and a Bucket List Book of Mine Read

(Image at top of the post is here.)

The book:

Russia in Central Asia in 1889 & the Anglo-Russian Question

At pp. 296-97 of the book:

…the power of menace, which the ability to take Herat [far western Afghanistan near Iranian border] involves, has passed from English [in India] to Russian hands; that the Russian seizure of Herat in now not so much of war as of time [never happened]; and that the Russians will thus, without an effort, win the first hand in the great game that is destined to be played for the empire of the East.

The British feared that the vast 19th century Russian advances in Central Asia threatened Afghanistan and, through it, an invasion of the British Indian Empire (paranoid though that may seem today given the distances and logistics involved–and then came the railway…).

From 1864-68 Tsarist Russia captured Tashkent and Samarkand in Central Asia; from 1873 to 1885 territory north of Persia from the Caspian Sea east coast towards Afghanistan was taken and called “Turkestan“. The Russian Transcaspian Railway, from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea through Turkestan and the (nominally independent until 1920) Emirate of Bukhara to Samarkand, was completed in 1888. From November 1888 until January 1889 Curzon, with the assistance of Tsarist authorities, took the line to its then-terminus at Samarkand and went on to Tashkent by road (the line finally reached Tashkent in 1898). A succinct 1889 account of the railway is contained in this pamphlet by Lord Curzon.

When he made his rather remarkable trip for a man of his station (“eldest son of the 4th Baron Scarsdale”), Curzon (b. 1859) was a recently elected Tory MP.

Earlier, when at Oxford, he was the subject of a piece of poetic doggerel that lives on:

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,

I am a most superior person,

My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek,

I dine at Blenheim once a week.

He went on to become notably involved with his great game as the youngest-ever viceroy of India (1899-1905) and as foreign secretary (1919-24).

Quite a great gamer, what?

Plus great gaming in action in 1918, a wonderful memoir by a British Indian Army colonel (and political officer) sent overland by the government of India, via Kashmir and Kashgar in Xinjiang, to spy on the Bolsheviks in Central Asia in 1918: “Mission to Tashkent“:

We’ll not see his like, nor Lord Curzon’s, again. Sadly, as far as I can determine, there is no longer a direct passenger rail service to Tashkent from the Caspian along the old route of the Transcaspian.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

When Flying Boats Ruled the Air and the Waves

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “The Yankee Clipper, circa 1939.”)

The Globe and Mail’s “Moment in Time” for May 20, the year 1939:

Yankee Clipper offers first regular transatlantic postal service [scroll down at link]

Twelve years to the day after Charles Lindbergh took off on the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight, and seven years after Amelia Earhart embarked on her historic solo jaunt, the Yankee Clipper made history of its own. The plane, a Boeing 314 owned by Pan Am, was a behemoth weighing 38 tonnes and featured a dining room and three lounges for passengers. U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had christened it in March, 1939, with a champagne bottle filled with water from the seven seas. On this day the same year, the plane was loaded with more than 100,000 pieces of mail and inaugurated the U.S. Postal Service’s transatlantic airmail service. The Clipper took off from Manhasset Bay, Long Island, N.Y., and flew over the heads of crowds at the New York World’s Fair on its way to Marseille, France, with stops in the Azores and Lisbon. The trip took 26½ hours. It was far faster than the only other option – the record for an ocean liner crossing at the time was four days. It’s a long way from the Clipper to how we send messages by e-mail at lightning speed today, but the driving impulse is the same: faster, faster, faster. Dave McGinn

More details on transatlantic air mail service here:

Item #MA1804 – First Trans-Atlantic Airmail Service First Flight Cover.

The start of passenger service soon followed:

Pan American’s Dixie Clipper Makes First Regular Trans-Atlantic Passenger Service to Europe

June 28th marks the 81st anniversary of the first regular trans-Atlantic passenger service via Pan Am’s Boeing 314 ‘Dixie Clipper’. The aircraft left Port Washington, New York with 22 passengers on the southern route to Horta, Lisbon, and Marseilles…

This flight began the era of the heavier-than-air trans-Atlantic passenger service. Later, on July 8, the Yankee Clipper would launch Pan Am service across the Atlantic on the northern route, carrying 17 passengers to England.

The aircraft flew the southern route across the Atlantic, landing in Lisbon the next afternoon after a flight of approximately 27 hours (which included a stop at Horta in the Azores), and then flew to its final destination in Marseilles, France the next day…

And here’s an excellent website on the Boeing 314, “The Airborne Palace”:

That is one airplane I dearly wish I could have travelled on. Some tweets:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Solzhenitsyn on Russian History: Feckless Good Guys Let Bad Guy Bolsheviks Win (and, one notes, Putin)

How Lenin et al. triumphed in 1917 and much more on Russian history. Extracts from an article at the NY Review of Books:

What Solzhenitsyn Understood

Gary Saul Morson

Detecting the same incompetence and self-satisfaction among the liberals of the Provisional Government in 1917 and the reformers of the post-Soviet era in the 1990s, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn feared another descent into authoritarian rule.


March 1917: The Red Wheel/Node III (8 March–31 March): Book 3

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz

Between Two Millstones: Book 2, Exile in America, 1978–1994

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, translated from the Russian by Clare Kitson and Melanie Moore, and with a foreword by Daniel J. Mahoney

For Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, no literary form was ever sufficiently capacious. Three gargantuan works dominated his creative life. The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, on which his reputation mainly rests, chronicles in three volumes the history of Soviet forced labor camps. It earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 and forced exile from the Soviet Union in 1974, the first official expulsion since Leon Trotsky had been deported to Turkey in 1929. Solzhenitsyn himself regarded The Red Wheel, a series of novels about the Russian Revolution, as his major contribution to literature. These novels posed a question: Why and how did the unprecedented horror described in The Gulag Archipelago occur? The answers Solzhenitsyn arrived at shaped his third great project, four volumes of memoirs.

The Red Wheel is divided into four “nodes,” some of which contain more than one volume; each node focuses on a specific short period encapsulating important events that led to the catastrophe of Bolshevik rule. The first two nodes, August 1914 and November 1916, superb works that overflow the conventional form of historical novels, are followed by four long volumes devoted to the third node, March 1917, which recounts events from March 8 to March 31, 1917. The final node, April 1917, still untranslated, encompasses two more volumes. The third volume of March 1917, now available in an exceptionally fine rendition by Marian Schwartz, is especially riveting. It makes a splendid companion to the last volume of Solzhenitsyn’s memoirs, the recently translated second part of Between Two Millstones, which casts the Gorbachev years as an eerie repeat of 1917.

…The title Between Two Millstones refers primarily to the surprising hostility to, and absurd mischaracterization of, his views that the author faced in the West. The same intellectual and press circles that had celebrated his courage when he was in the USSR now often became relentless critics because, Solzhenitsyn explains, he did not share conventional American left-leaning ideas but instead held positions that did not fit existing Western categories. He therefore found himself caught between Soviet and Western “millstones,” both vilifying him and attributing to him intolerant opinions he did not hold.

Solzhenitsyn identified in Western intellectual circles the same smug narrow-mindedness that he had discovered in liberal Russian intellectuals before the revolution [emphasis added]. The core moment in these volumes occurs when, as Solzhenitsyn writes,

“a leading [Canadian] television commentator lectured me that I presumed to judge the experience of the world from the viewpoint of my own limited Soviet and prison-camp experience. Indeed, how true! Life and death, imprisonment and hunger, the cultivation of the soul despite the captivity of the body: how very limited that is compared to the bright world of political parties, yesterday’s numbers on the stock exchange, amusements without end, and exotic foreign travel!

Solzhenitsyn had himself once celebrated the Russian liberals and socialists who ran the Provisional Government overthrown by the Bolsheviks, but Western archives—and perhaps his encounters with Westerners—led him to an entirely different view. The members of the Provisional Government and their supporters were so incompetent, self-satisfied, and willing to suppress any insufficiently progressive opinion that tyranny was bound to triumph [emphasis added]. Solzhenitsyn detected the same mindset among liberal Russian reformers in the 1990s and feared another descent into authoritarian rule…

Not all intellectuals allowed the excitement of revolution to blind them. In the recently translated volume of the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s interviews with the critic Victor Duvakin in 1973, Bakhtin recalled his reaction to the February revolution. Since it was still dangerous to express such views, he asked Duvakin not to record them, but Duvakin published Bakhtin’s comments anyway:

BAKHTIN: I’ll tell you this, but there’s no need to record it…

DUVAKIN: We can erase it later…. Or we don’t have to transcribe it, if you prefer.

BAKHTIN: I did not welcome the February Revolution. I thought, or I should say in my circle we believed that it’ll all certainly end very badly. We knew well, by the way, the leaders…of the February Revolution…. We were of the opinion that all those intellectuals were utterly incompetent to govern, they were incompetent to defend the February Revolution…. So, inevitably, the extreme left, the Bolsheviks would take over.”

Anarchy, starvation, and invasion loom, but the word “revolution” blinds most intellectuals. “Revolution! There was, after all, something attractive and inviting in that sound,” they think. “Revolution! The music of the moment!” “Universal brotherhood was now coming!” Instead of seeing reality, these intellectuals imagine themselves strutting on the stage of History. “How could you not light up at the thought that you were taking part in Russia’s moments of greatness!” the third volume of March 1917 begins. “This moment—dreamed of, longed for, by so many generations of the Russian intelligentsia…here it had come.”..

Almost without exception, the members of the Provisional Government could do no more than assume revolutionary poses and make speeches inspiring to intellectuals but beyond the comprehension of workers and soldiers. The “paramount principle” to which Prince Lvov, the first head of the Provisional Government, adheres “was belief and trust. Belief in people, all people, our holy people.” To the suggestion that police should put a limit to anarchy and murder, he replies, “Why does a free state need police at all?” Lvov recoils at the very idea of resolute action. “Ah, ‘decisive measures,’ that’s not our language,” he thinks, “it is unworthy of a free alliance of free people. My dear fellows, why so ominous?”

The radical Aleksandr Kerensky, intoxicated by his own voice, supposes he can defeat anarchy and Bolshevism by sheer charisma. Only Vladimir Nabokov, the progressive politician (and father of the novelist) who was murdered by monarchists in 1922 in Berlin, acts competently. He wonders that his colleagues “had no idea how to operate, how to translate thoughts and votes into legislation…. A decision was approved before it had any text, unaccompanied by any figures or budget,” and orders were given that made no sense or could not be implemented. Politicians neglected “the most fundamental act,” establishing their authority in the provinces.

Solzhenitsyn writes so harshly about the liberal Kadets (Constitutional Democrats) and non-Bolshevik socialists of the Provisional Government because he himself had adhered to the common assumption—still predominant in the West—that the February revolution represented Russia’s great hope instead of a stage leading directly to Bolshevism [emphasis added]. He began writing The Red Wheel, he explains in Between Two Millstones, under the spell of such ideas, “and they were scattered throughout [his novel] First Circle, for example, and the first edition of Archipelago.” It was only in the mid-1970s, when he consulted archives preserved in the West, that he recognized his mistake. The slide from February to October was a continuous process and Bolshevism its natural outcome. The Red Wheel, he decided, would narrate “the inglorious, six-month-long story of how the ‘victorious’ democracy (fabricated, in Russia, by the educated types) foundered, helpless, of its own accord.”

Solzhenitsyn wanted to leave readers with little alternative to accepting his conclusions. He wanted “to provide proof, rather than impressionistic daubs, which convince no one. A historical epic is not some diversion for the pen—it only has substance if it is truthful all the way through.” He therefore included revealing documents in the text. Several chapters consist entirely of actual newspaper extracts. The result was a work of immense length and formal idiosyncrasy unprecedented even in the Russian tradition of formally idiosyncratic works. Solzhenitsyn employed structural anomaly not as an end in itself, as the Russian Formalists had advocated, but to convey the direct sense of what was really happening.

Most historians trace a coherent narrative of past events, but Solzhenitsyn renders the confusing impressions of participants who had no idea where events were leading and pieced together scraps of shifting evidence and unreliable information. To portray the historical process, Solzhenitsyn explains in Between Two Millstones, one must render “the color of the successive, changeable, momentary opinions” and perceptions…

…Solzhenitsyn, for his part, rejects both deterministic and “great man” views of history. Time and again, he shows us characters who recognize that if only generals had deployed military units early enough, the slide toward Bolshevism could have been arrested. Far from inevitable, the outcome of the revolution resulted from the cowardice and indecisiveness of crucial leaders [emphasis added]. That is why so much of March 1917 is devoted to tracing how people in authority think and react (or fail to react) to events.

Indeed, Solzhenitsyn argues, the tsar’s most able minister, Pyotr Stolypin, had almost reversed the trend to revolution with a series of far-reaching reforms, which included making peasants into proprietors who could own land individually, not just as members of a traditional peasant commune (obshchina). His assassination in 1911 by the terrorist (and possible double agent) Dmitri Bogrov diverted Russia from peace, prosperity, and the gradual extension of individual rights and respect for the rule of law…

The prudent but decisive Stolypin represented the Russia that might have been [emphasis added..

A patriot opposed to Russian imperialism and glorification of war, Solzhenitsyn eluded the usual categories of Russian or Western thought. His enemies therefore found it easy to assign him to one or another disreputable outlook that was more familiar…

In his foreword to the second volume of Between Two Millstones, which focuses on the book’s most controversial arguments, Daniel J. Mahoney—generally regarded as the world’s greatest Solzhenitsyn scholar—observes that absurd and contradictory charges were leveled at Solzhenitsyn. On the one hand, a Russian émigré journal accused him of “selling out to the Jews,” and a Russian publisher based in London insinuated he was really the Jew “Solzhenitsker.” On the other, the Jewish magazine Midstream called August 1914 a new Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Despite his exposure of Soviet forced labor camps in Gulag Archipelago, he was pronounced “an ally of the Kremlin,” perhaps even a secret agent. Solzhenitsyn recalled that the émigré Lev Kopelev called him “the leader of a ruthless party” devoted to

“extreme Russian nationalism…more terrifying than Bolshevism. Kopelev went on to conflate me even with Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini, while “member of the [ultranationalist and violently anti-Semitic] Black Hundreds, monarchist, theocrat” were some of his mildest monikers.”

Few Westerners regarded Solzhenitsyn as a Bolshevik agent, but many believed that his nationalism entailed imperialist and anti-Semitic views. After all, Solzhenitsyn considered himself a patriot. He objected that Westerners used the terms “Russian” and “Soviet” as synonymous when, in fact, “Russia and Communism had the same relationship as a sick man and his disease.” Solzhenitsyn’s thinking eluded received categories. Unlike others who wanted to see Bolshevism end, he rejected revolutionary violence and insisted on gradual change. And what sort of nationalist or imperialist insists that his country should give up its empire?

In Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals (1991), for instance, he implored Mikhail Gorbachev to grant the non-Slavic Soviet republics their independence. Indeed, if they didn’t want it, he insisted, Russia should secede from them. While Russia should try to persuade other Slavic republics to remain with Russia, he argued, they, too, should be allowed to leave without hindrance [emphasis added]. Foreseeing the conflicts likely to arise eventually if Ukraine, with its large Russian-speaking population and its close cultural ties to Russia, chose to secede, Solzhenitsyn, who considered himself both Russian and Ukrainian, hoped to preclude the devastating conflict we see today. Far from wanting Russia to hold on to territory, this patriot—uniquely, so far as I know—even recommended returning the disputed Kuril Islands to Japan.

Nationalism, as we usually envisage it, appalled him. “I note with alarm that the awakening Russian self-awareness has to a large extent been unable to free itself of great-power thinking and of imperial delusions,” he warned his countrymen. “What a pernicious perversion of consciousness it is to argue that we are a huge country ‘for all that, and we are taken seriously everywhere.’” As Japan renounced imperial ambitions and flourished, so should Russia: “We must strive not for the expansion of the state, but for a clarity of what remains of our spirit. By separating off twelve republics…Russia will in fact free itself for a precious inner development [emphasis added].”

Solzhenitsyn believed that during the preceding hundred years the Russian national character had been corrupted, and therefore the country’s most important task must be spiritual restoration. To Westerners unfamiliar with the language of spirituality so important in Russian culture, all this talk of renewing the soul seemed at best woolly, at worst mere cover for theocracy. The charge of anti-Semitism particularly offended Solzhenitsyn, who, as some critics conceded, defended Jewish dissidents and the right of Jews to emigrate in order to avoid religious and other persecution in the USSR. Accusers relied primarily on passages in August 1914 devoted to the assassination of Stolypin by Bogrov, who was Jewish. Since Stolypin had been Russia’s best hope, some thought, Solzhenitsyn must be blaming the Jews for its terrible fate [emphasis added].

Having written about the scourge of Russian anti-Semitism, I was puzzled to hear that the Bogrov passages were taken as proof by some Western critics of Solzhenitsyn’s hatred of Jews. I knew this novel well and had discerned no anti-Semitism. After these accusations were first made following the 1983 publication in Russian of the expanded version of August 1914, Solzhenitsyn demanded:

“And what kind of reasoning is this?—if Bogrov was a Jew, and the death of Stolypin was a disaster for Russia and made it easier to start a revolution, then that means Solzhenitsyn blames the Jews for the 1917 revolution? In effect, they are demanding the censorship of history.”

[A related post, nothing to do with Solzhenitsyn himself]: “The Anti-Semitism of Russian Zeks (prisoners) in the Gulag“.]

Despite its relentless focus on political events, The Red Wheel paradoxically instructs that politics is not the most important thing in life. To the contrary, the main cause of political horror is the overvaluing of politics itself. It is supremely dangerous to presume that if only the right social system could be established, life’s fundamental problems would be resolved. Like the great realist novelists of the nineteenth century, Solzhenitsyn believed that, as he stated in Rebuilding Russia,

“political activity is by no means the principal mode of human life…. The more energetic the political activity in a country, the greater is the loss to spiritual life. Politics must not swallow up all of a people’s spiritual and creative energies. Beyond upholding its rights, mankind must defend its soul.”

In Between Two Millstones he repeated: “Political life is not life’s most important aspect…a pure atmosphere in society cannot be created by any juridical legislation, but by moral cleansing.” Commenting on The Red Wheel, Solzhenitsyn explains that “no matter what depths of evil the narrative has plumbed, this must not be allowed to warp the soul of either author or reader—you must arrive at a harmonious contemplation.”..

“moral cleansing”? Hmm these days.

A post with some historical relevance:

History Counter-Factual: No 1917 Lenin Train Ride, No WW II

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Germany, Ukraine and Russia: What Is To Be Done? The Habermas Factor

Extracts from an article, by a favourite historian and (to use a horrid term) public intellectual, with some complex argumentation and moral considerations–at the New Statesman:

After the Zeitenwende: Jürgen Habermas and Germany’s new identity crisis

The 92-year-old philosopher has warned Germans not to allow anger at Russia and admiration for Ukraine to displace their country’s hard-won focus on dialogue and peace.

By Adam Tooze [his webpage here]

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has upended world politics and nowhere more so than in Germany. Addressing an emergency session of the Bundestag on 27 February, German chancellor Olaf Scholz declared a Zeitenwende, a turning point in history. Russia’s attack on Ukraine meant Europe and Germany had entered a new age…

More than anywhere else in the West, the entire German intellectual class, and every TV talk show and newspaper has been mobilised to debate and criticise Germany’s performance. The situation has been aggravated after Volodymyr Zelensky’s attack on Germany’s long-running détente with Russia in a speech to the Bundestag in March and a stream of remarkably forthright comments from Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin. You can tell matters are becoming really serious because Jürgen Habermas, the 92-year old doyen of German philosophy and political commentary, has entered the ring, for once on the side of the government.

Russia’s aggression poses such fundamental questions for Germany because the nation in its current form owes its existence to the peaceful end of the Cold War that enabled reunification. The success of 1989-90 was prepared by almost two decades of Ostpolitik, in which trade and détente with the Soviet Union worked to draw back the Iron Curtain. Maintaining good relations with Moscow has always meant making a pact with the devil, first with the repressive Soviet regime in the 1970s and 1980s and then with Vladimir Putin since the 2000s. After Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and after the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020, Berlin has repeatedly shrugged and carried on. But Putin’s assault on Ukraine and Ukraine’s remarkable resistance have made that approach impossible.

The question is particularly explosive because in the late 1960s it was Chancellor Scholz’s party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), then led by the charismatic Willy Brandt, that launched Ostpolitik. Détente runs deep in the SPD, as personified by Gerhard Schröder, ex-chancellor and unrepentant chairman of the board at Russian state oil firm Rosneft [a recent post: “Gorgeous Gerhard’s Embrace of Bad Vlad“]. But the attachment is not confined to the social democrats. Voices on the German right have long favoured a modus vivendi with Russia, whether under the Tsar, the Soviets or now under Putin. For them, Bismarck is the model in balancing between East and West…And, as has become embarrassingly clear in recent months, there is a general disregard on many sides in Berlin for the national rights of “smaller” east European states – notably Poland and Ukraine – that have the misfortune to find themselves wedged between Germany and Russia [emphasis added]. Meanwhile, German industrial firms such as Siemens look back on 150 years of doing profitable business in Russia, relations which they are unwilling to have disrupted by a bagatelle like the annexation of Crimea.

…In 2022, Habermas…again fears a recrudescence of the right under the mantle of enthusiasm for Ukraine’s resistance. And once again his long and thoughtful article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 28 April has been met with a storm of disapproval. As has often been the case, this outrage has been given a platform in the pages of the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This time Habermas stands accused of defending a battered and discredited tradition of West German politics, conniving with Putin, and clinging to old nostrums about nuclear war while patronising the Ukrainians and their supporters among younger generations of Germans.

…Every right-thinking person can clearly agree that Putin’s aggression must not be allowed to succeed. But we should also agree that a war with Russia is unthinkable. Russia is a nuclear power and escalation is an appalling risk. Any good-faith political intervention, Habermas insists, must squarely face this dilemma.

For the West, Habermas wrote, “having made the decision to not intervene in this conflict as a belligerent, there is a risk threshold that precludes an unrestrained commitment to the armament of Ukraine… Those who ignore this threshold and continue aggressively and self-assuredly to push the German chancellor towards it have either overlooked or not understood the dilemma into which this war has plunged the West… because the West, with its morally well-grounded decision to not become a party in this war, has tied its own hands.”

In light of this dilemma, the impatience of Scholz’s critics, who include not just Ukrainian spokespeople and right-wing hawks, but many former pacifists in the ranks of the Green party, is not innocent. What is being called into question, Habermas fears, is “the broad pro-dialogue, peace-keeping focus of German policy”, which should never be taken for granted. It was hard won and, as Habermas notes, has “repeatedly been denounced from the right”…

Ukraine is at the stage of making a nation state, Germany is well beyond that. In checking their spontaneous reactions of enthusiasm and solidarity with Ukraine, Germans and the rest of us in the West would be well advised to consider this gap and what it implies. We thrill to the heroism of the Ukrainians, which puts into stark relief the deflated state of our own politics. But our post-heroic culture cannot simply be cast off in disgust. It is a logical historical effect of the Nato umbrella that we continue to live under. Ukraine’s desperate courage, on the other hand, is a reflection of the fact that it does not. Under those circumstances, Habermas asks, “is it not a form of pious self-deception to bank on a Ukrainian victory against Russia’s murderous form of warfare without taking up arms yourself? The bellicose rhetoric is inconsistent with the bleachers from which it is delivered.”

…One might say that Habermas is urging us to figure out the politics of allyship on the international stage and under the shadow of the nuclear threat.

What is clear is that we must find a constructive way out of the dilemma posed by the war, a way out that must, as Habermas says in his final line, be defined by one basic aspiration: “Ukraine ‘must not lose’ this war.” Its project of building a nation state must continue.

For Europe itself the task is different. What the contrast with Ukraine ought to reveal is not so much the lack of a properly heroic national identity, but the lack of post-national capacities at the EU level. As Habermas remarks, there is a reason why those who have declared a historic turning point are those who have for a long time argued that Europe must be able to stand on its own feet militarily if it wants to ensure that its “social and political way of life” is not destabilised from without or hollowed out from within. That would not answer Ukraine’s heroism in kind but it would at least allow Europe to decide on its policy independently both of the US and Russia. Right now, American politicians are falling over themselves to provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine in its fight with Russia. That they can agree on that and not on healthcare or climate change policy is a sign of America’s own dysfunction. But what US politics will bring in the near future is anyone’s guess. Soon Europe may be facing a disorientating clash of historical temporalities and political time not in eastern Europe but across the Atlantic. As Habermas reminds us, Macron’s re-election opens another window of opportunity. Will Europe seize it?

Has Putin unintentionally but effectively ended a particular German Sonderweg (the article at the link, by a German, is a very good companion to Adam Tooze’s piece)? Meanwhile, can the EU ever really get its defence/foreign policy act together?

UPDATE: Very relevant tweet:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Chicoms Razing a Uyghur Treasure on the Silk Road

(Kashgar is in dark lettering just to right of middle at map above from 2020 NY Times photo feature.)

That’s the Grand Bazaar of Kashgar–Xinjiang’s major southwestern city, near Kashmir and on the road to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. From Radio Free Asia:

China razes Kashgar’s iconic Grand Bazaar

The vibrant marketplace’s destruction is seen is part of China’s plan to force Uyghurs to assimilate.

The travel guide Lonely Planet advises visitors to Kashgar, China, to fight the crowds that gather at its Sunday Grand Bazaar and let their senses loose to the smells of spices, the softness of silks and the beauty of carpets carefully woven by locals. The marketplace contains “everything of interest to foreign visitors,” the short blurb states.

Not anymore. Lonely Planet and other guidebooks that promote the bazaar will need to be revised. Chinese authorities are in the process of destroying the famous marketplace.

An RFA analysis of satellite images of the Grand Bazaar provided by PlanetLabs Inc. shows dramatic changes in the market, including the removal of buildings and the roofs of stalls, between photos taken on April 4 and May 4 [emphasis added, see first tweet after this quote].

According to one local official, a new tourist attraction will arise in its place.

Authorities are well known for taking the wrecking ball to historic streetscapes and buildings across China and replacing them with retro facsimiles to draw tourists. But Uyghur activists and foreign scholars say the destruction of the Grand Bazaar is really about the ongoing campaign by Chinese authorities to erase Uyghur traditions and customs in the region in a brutal campaign of forced assimilation [emphasis added].

The Kashgar Grand Bazaar was the largest international trade market in China’s Xinjiang region, with 4,000 shops that sell more than 9,000 products on 250-acres of land. Goods from the region sold there include spices, teas, silk, dried fruit, carpets, Uyghur musical instruments, Central Asia clothing and skullcaps called doppas.

Now the shops are being destroyed and their owners forced to move to a new location away from the city, according to local officials and videos posted by shop owners on social media.

Authorities are cracking down on the criticism too, detaining and interrogating vendors who voiced their displeasure with the government’s decision to tear down the marketplace, local sources said.

Kashgar has a 2,000-year history as a trading center on the famed historical caravan route known as the Silk Road [emphasis added]. The Venetian merchant, explorer and writer Marco Polo visited the city as he traveled through Asia along the trade route in the late 13th century.

Modern times

In modern times, the oasis city’s bazaar served as a wholesale hub for traders and businesspeople from neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and the former Soviet states in Central Asia, said Kasimjan Abdurehim, a Uyghur exile based in the U.S. who ran a shop at the bazaar from 1992 to 1998…

Through interviews with local police and other officials, RFA learned that the market demolition was developed and implemented by the Politics and Law Commission of Xinjiang.

The approximate boundaries of the Kashgar Bazaar are highlighted in this Google Earth image taken July 14, 2021. (CNES/Airbus, Maxar Technologies)
The approximate boundaries of the Kashgar Bazaar are highlighted in this Google Earth image taken July 14, 2021. (CNES/Airbus, Maxar Technologies)

Demolition completed

Officials at the Market Supervision Bureau in Kashgar told RFA in March that the Grand Bazaar was being torn down but declined to answer questions about why and how much of it had already been bulldozed.

Police — not officials at the Market Supervision Bureau — issued a notice of demolition to shop owners two or three months ago, and they stepped up their control of the market afterwards, local sources said.

“The Politics and Law Commission is working on dealing with the shop owners and the demolition,” said a police officer in Kashgar. “They are not fully done with it yet.

There’s been dissatisfaction, for sure,” the officer added. “We have already [demolished] two-thirds of the market. We are still working on the rest right now [emphasis added].”

An official from the Urumqi [capital of Xinjiang] Tourism Bureau told RFA that social media reports about the bazaar’s demolition were false and that foreign visitors were not being taken there because of the COVID-19 pandemic [emphasis added].

“This is not correct,” he said. “You cannot trust information on social media.”

But an employee at the Kashgar Hua’an International Travel Agency told RFA in April that the Grand Bazaar had been destroyed and that the vendors were going to be relocated.

“The Kashgar Grand Bazaar has already been demolished,” he said. “It has been moved to the east side of the city. It has been already a month since it was demolished. The whole market was demolished. Everything there had been moved to the east side of the city.”

A Chinese police officer in Kashgar said the marketplace had been partially torn down when he saw it a month or two earlier.

“Half of the Kashgar Grand Bazaar has already been demolished, and half is still there,” he said.

An official from the Kashgar Chamber of Commerce and Industry also said the Grand Bazaar had been demolished and that business there had stopped [emphasis added].

“We have demolished most of the market,” he said. “There are some shop owners who came from Hotan [Hetian] who are resisting. That’s why we have still not fully demolished all of it.”

The Kashgar market management bureau official also confirmed the same information.

“It has already been relocated,” he said. “It doesn’t exist now. Some are moving to the new location. Some have refused to move.”..

An officer at the Kashgar branch of national security police told RFA that news of the bazaar’s razing sparked outrage among shop owners, although they apparently received at least some compensation from the city government…

The demolition of the Grand Bazaar is part of the Chinese government’s process of dispossessing Uyghurs and destroying their culture, Uyghur activists and academics who have studied Uyghur culture say…

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

And two tweets:

Earlier posts:

Chicoms say: “Uyghurs? What Uyghurs?”

PRC’s Ethnic Cleansing of Uyghurs and other Muslims, Cont’d

The PRC’s Vanishing Uyghurs

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds