Tag: Eurasia

If You Write It, They Will Read It

Now let’s imagine you are a nobleman, living at the beginning of the 16th century in Middle Europe. You hang around the court of the Emperor and help to administer the Reich.
Your ruler decides to promote you and sent you as ambassador to the Czar.
What do you do ?
Certainly you turn to your database – that is the library – and look for a tome, manuscript or print, that describes what you need to know, like where to go, how to travel, whom to bribe.
Shock Hubbub, Panick & Confusion – no such book : You have to write it yourself !
Enter Sigmund von HERBERSTEIN (1486-1566) (Ger., Eng.).
Sigmund was a third son, so his chances to inherit a lot were pretty small. But his father took care to give his son a good education, and – what is even more important – this education fell on a good soil : Sigmund was interested in nearly everything, and very curious.
From 1514 on he lives at the court of Emperor Maximilian I. (1459-1519) (Ger., Eng.), he stays in service until 1553, for nearly forty years.
At the beginning of the 16th century existed only few permanent representations, usually a ruler choose one person for a special commission, a special envoy. HERBERSTEIN carried out 69 such missions, 30 saw him visiting Hungary, 15 took him to Poland and two into the Moscow State.
The first major journey was not successful. He was sent to Denmark in 1516 : Isabella (1501-1526) von Habsburg was married to king Christian II. of Denmark, who had earlier met an Netherlandish girl, taken her to Copenhagen and lived openly with her. The girl’s mother, an innkeeper called Willems, seemingly run the state. The king not only deeply insulted his wife, but also the house of Habsburg in toto, and there was no successor in sight due to a lack of consummation. Within a few years this remarkably dumb sovereign had insulted all rulers in the neighbourhood, was forced to flee the country and take asylum in The Netherlands where his legal wife died.
HERBERSTEIN should admonish the crowned ass, what he did to no avail, but in such a way that the king was not upset (and not cancelled his connection to the House of Habsburg). Interestingly Sigmund’s last mission in 1553 was to accompany another young Habsburgian princess, Catherine, to Cracow, right into another unhappy marriage.
Also Sigmund’s second mission in 1517 was not successful, when he was sent to Moscow to broker an armistice between Poland and the Moscow State. Nevertheless he showed great diplomatic skill in this mission – and he stayed in business. He reported to the Emperor personally, and old Maximilian seemingly was fascinated by the stories about this strange land & country in the East. So when a second mission to Moscow was necessary in 1526, now under the emperors Charles V. and Ferdinand I., it was only natural to have Sigmund take part in it – even Madrid (Charles V.) proposed his name. HERBERSTEIN was not only sent over in diplomaticis, but Ferdinand told him to collect any information about the country, the society, and put special emphasis on the religious situation. In the end Sigmund von HERBERSTEIN was sent to write the first regional and cultural study about unknown Russia.
He returned back to the Emperor’s court at the 13th of February 1527, and shortly afterwards presented his report. Sadly we know nothing about this report’s fate. In the 1530s Sigmund was looking for a humanist to work on his text, to have it stylistically improved, but we do not know what came out of this. It is not clear if the text that was finally printed 22 years later – in 1549 : Instant success, 20 more imprints until 1600 – is identical or, if not, how close related to the first version.
HERBERSTEIN lived on to see the success of his book, and in his autobiographical writings, which are also very instructive, he mentions that knowing the Slovenian language was very helpful for him. Sigmund was born in Wippach in Slovenia, and he put a lot of effort in learning the language of his peasants as a youth. So knowing a Slavonic language was very helpful for him on his travels in the East, less perhaps in Poland where the nobility was fluid in Latin and Italian, two other languages Sigmund verifiably spoke.
His text * is an interesting read, still after five hundred years.

* I used : HERBERSTEIN, Sigmund von : Das alte Rußland. In Anlehung an die älteste deutsche Ausgabe aus dem Lateinischen übertragen von Wolfram von den STEINEN. Mit einem Nachwort von Walter LEITSCH. Unter herausgeberischer Mitarbeit von Paul KÖNIG. 2. Auflage Zürich 1985 (Manesse Bibliothek der Weltgeschichte) (Rerum Moscoviticarum commentarii).
LEITSCH (1926-2010) was an Austrian professor of history at the university of Vienna, I used his Nachwort / postface.

Sorry, No Title

Egon FRIEDELL, a long forgotten German Kulturhistoriker (1878-1938, born Friedmann, suicide in Vienna), once said sinngemäß – I can not cite it correctly, nor can I give the exact location – that rationalism would be an “Irrlicht”, a “ghost light”. The history of the Early Modern Æra (in Europe), the time of enlightenment / Aufklärung is for him only an intermezzo between two irrationalisms, the medieval and the one to come. And since 1989 we see again the rise of religiously motivated irrationalism that wants to eliminate anything and anyone who is not fitting in the pattern. The rotten bastards of the so-called “islamic state” do remind me a lot of the SS, just with beards. I read their letter, their “claim”, it’s dripping from arrogance & pathos, as sickening as their Mumbay-style attack on Paris.
As I see it there is no basis for negotiation or something else of this peace-keeping methods. NATO should declare the “Bündnisfall”, now the situation for what it was established is here – the attack on a partner of the alliance – and, together with Russia, kill them. I only wish those involved will be clear enough in their heads to avoid the American mistake of Iraq – and have a goddamn plan for the situation after the war !

Damn Books

Rummaging through the shelves may lead to interesting discoveries – ha, you once bought that, really ? I came about a volume in plain brown cloth, could not read the title embossed in gold on the spine – low contrast and dim light, I really should take care for a good bulb ! – and found BODINs (Ger., Eng.) (1529-1596) Dæmonomania in FISCHARTs (Ger., Eng.) (1545-1591) translation, Vom ausgelasnen wütigen Teufelsheer ; of course a reprint (Graz 1973), originally published Straßburg 1591. Superstition, witchcraft, the whole program, was all the rage in 1980s seminars. Wonder whether it is time for a new generation to “discover” the area.
BODIN was a very “modern” man in some respects. He wrote about money and economics, clearly understanding the results of the influx of gold & silver from Southern America ; he – as a protestant – always advocated tolerance between the confessions (remember that the “Bartholomäusnacht” (Ger., Eng.) of 1572 was a pogrom that left some thousand protestants dead in Paris and France) ; and – most important – he was a theorist of the state. His ideas were based on the rule of natural (thus : divine) law that stands over all other laws (id est those that origin from confessions or from other social groups), and hence a “state” is obligated to the law, only following this law gives its reign over individuals reason, justification and foundation : The state is bound by law. He was no advocate of the “absolute” state, but that is what later theorists made out of it and what finally came into existence, notably in France. Some writers go so far to call BODIN a “proto-enlightener” (Frühaufklärer).
And then he publishes a book that could easily be written by a narrow-minded Dominican inquisitor of the worst ilk. Some writers of the 19th and even 20th century wanted to understand this work as a kind of satire or persiflage, but it is not. Its bloody serious, BODIN is bloody serious about it. The whole text is an answer to the ideas of WIERUS (Ger., Eng.) (1515-1588) who came to the conclusion that those witches and magicians are ill, people suffering from a mental disability, and thus may not be condemned to death.
Leaving Mr. BODIN behind I came to think about it. Here we have a “proto-enlightener” of the late 16th century following the darkest superstitions. How did it go on ?
The 17th century saw a war of European dimension fought originally about confessions, superstitions wildly growing, stacks nicely burning, and the development of the modern state. The 18th is called the “age of enlightenment” and on the other side the golden age of alchemy and secret societies of any kind. The 19th sees progress in natural sciences and modernisation, inventions like electricity and photography – and what did they photograph, the modern occultists ? Spirits.
The 20th brought us wars of before unknown dimensions, and finally the engineer’s wet dream, atomic power – and Auschwitz, the culmination of irrationalism. At the beginning of the 21st century we have to watch barbarians beheading people who are unlucky enough not to be of the right faith. And the barbarians use of course most modern technology. As the SS did. Even black uniforms are en vogue again. Pereant !

There is no progress. No development to the “better”, only stupidity, shrewdness and greed. Always and everywhere.

The bottle of greed was found and smashed.


Every Stan has a capital: Astana (Ger., Eng.) (Almatay until 1997), Ashgabat (Ger., Eng.), Bishkek (Ger., Eng.), Dushanbe (Ger., Eng.), Kabul (Ger., Eng.), and Tashkent (Ger., Eng.) (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, overview).
Since the end of the SU and given the richness of natural resources in the area, the Stans are back on the political map of the world. In 2003 the BBC showed  a documentation about traveling in the region, Meet the Stans (scroll down and see all four episodes). About Tashkent an interesting book is published in 2010 by Paul STRONSKI*.
STRONSKI’s book is a pioneer work in the field of urbanisation in Central Asia. Since its conquer 1865 onwards Tashkent became the object of an ongoing Europeanisation, what showed itself in the building of orthodox churches and representational administration buildings under the Czar, factories and power plants under the Bolshewiki. From the Thirties to the Sixties Uzbekistan was transformed from an agricultural country to an industrial one, at least according to the Soviet propaganda. The big earthquake of 1966 put an end to the coexistence of traditional, colonialist and modernist buildings – the planners pragmatically eliminated the last islamic rests and built anew: While in the Western parts of the SU the capitalist residue was to be overcome, in the eastern parts old oriental remains were to be vanquished.
Tashkent from the 1930s onwards was earmarked to become a socialist Musterstadt, a model city, based on the principles of the 1935 general-plan for Moscow : There were other grand plans and layouts for capitals around this time, for Greater London and Groß-Berlin for example. I would like to find a comparison of these projects somewhere in the literature. The second world war brought a mighty boom for Tashkent and the whole region, because people and production were translocated within the SU from the West towards the East, out of the reach of the German invaders. STRONSKI puts the emphasis in his description on this time and on urbanisation as a whole, he wants urbanisation in its entirety be understood as one line of tradition of Soviet history. His book focuses on the local development, based on Russian and Uzbek archive materials, and can be seen as  cultural science based dichte Beschreibung, “thick description” (Ger., Eng.).
It is surely worth a read.

Tashkent. Forging a Soviet City, 1930-1966, Pittsburgh 2010; German recension by Thomas BOHN here, who himself wrote about Minsk (Ger., Eng.), the capital of White Russia in 2008: Minsk – Musterstadt des Sozialismus. Stadtplanung und Urbanisierung in der Sowjetunion nach 1945, Köln 2008. I follow BOHN’s recension of STRONSKI’s book.