Tag: Russia

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.

Sunday Music

What a few very nice days. I did nearly nothing, and found it really relaxing. Ready towards the end of the vacation rain & storm is back, but without cold ‘n freeze, all’ n right with me.
What is not all right is the gibberish of the orange Actor-in-Chief. I am fed up with this imbecile, why can’t we just ignore this vile windbag for a week or so, with a little luck he’ll implode. The nonsense about his predecessor wiretapping his phones is really “a new low”. And that a leading German newspaper writes that the predecessor’s statement would not be enough, shows how poisoned it all has become. Now there seem to be first altercations between pros & cons, while Jewish cemeteries get ravaged, Indians and Sikhs get shot – of course of course all isolated cases, shame upon who thinks evil upon. These are not daily incidents, just weekly.
And while Amerga slowly but steadily descends into paranoia, Germany develops a nice problem with Turkey and its süper-macho-over-ruler, who brags that he can do anything here as he likes, as if Germany would be his farm or other property. Of course Germany uses “Nazi Methods” against him and members of his gouvernement. Says a man who consequently kills democracy in his own state and leads the society of his country back into the middle ages, while the jails flow over from “dissenting elements”.
I am not a nationalist, I believe in a united Europe based on a canon of basic values, and it is disgusting to watch how some members of the union do betray these values. We have no real instrumentarium for this, simply because those who laid the foundations for “Europe” did not believe that there could arise a problem, that something like a gouvernement killing the independence of its own judicature would actually happen, like e.g. in Poland. But all this is kindergarten compared to Turkey. And the there dictator-in-chief and his cool gang want to bring their electoral campaigning here, so that the expats get in line. They still need this charade. We should make it impossible, to hell with consequences.
Some countries of the world seem to be led by brainless dickheads who think they can do what they want. Sadly Russia, and now Amerga, belong in this group, some European countries too.
Anyway, we do not solve the problems of the world here, it would be nice and good enough when we, each & everyone, would solve his or her own problems.
To ease this task one could listen to a little bit feel-good-music by Herr TELEMANN (Ger., Eng.), Das Frauenzimmer verstimmt sich immer (TWV 25:37) in a version performed by Georg GRUNTZ on harpsichord (Ger., Eng.), Peter TRUNK (Ger.) (bass), Klaus WEISS (Ger.) (drums), Emil MANGELSDORFF (Ger., Eng.) (flute, Albert’s older brother), and Klaus DOLDINGER (Ger., Eng.) (clarinet & sax), recorded (West-)Berlin 1964 – it does not get more “old BRD” than this.
I hope you like the music. May the coming week be good to all of us.




Some years before his death GOLDBACH had his testament written. He appointed as his principal heir the librarian Gottfried BOCK. This, and the fact that BOCK was a regular visitor at his house had some eyebrows raised, simply because of the large social distance between the humble “consiliarius et bibliothecae praefectus” BOCK and Geheimrat GOLDBACH. Some years earlier he had made dispositions for his burial – he had planned a very modest and sober ceremony without the usual pomp funèbre. When he finally died on 20th of November (or 1st of December, depends on what calendar is used) his last will was presented to the czarina (the great Catherina, Ger., Eng.) – she wrote her “placet” on it with her own hand only two days later. Finally he was buried with all the usual effort and extravagance owed to his status, his position at the court. All his papers – diaries, notes, letters – were sealed by the ministry of foreign affairs and carefully archived.
GOLDBACH was a very discreet man, we know not much about his personal life. In his diaries he carefully noted whom he met where and when (with the notable exception of Gottfried, who is not mentioned), but he rarely ever gives the topic of the conversation – he is often described as a very charming conversational partner, he is clearly a man of the spoken word. But he also uses the medium of the time extensively, letters.
Christian GOLDBACH (Ger., Eng.) is born in Königsberg on the 18th of March 1690. We know that he has one brother, Heinrich, with whom he studies in Leipzig in 1711. In this year he meets Christian WOLFF & G.W. LEIBNIZ – and what is more important, he keeps the contact with these scholars for the next years to come. And not only with these two – in fact GOLDBACH establishes a network of communication all over Europe that mirrors his wide range of interests from modern natural sciences to philology, from architecture via music to mathematics. He takes care to come into contact with the leading men of the day. From spring 1712 until December 1714 GOLDBACH is traveling Europe, crisscrossing the European Gelehrtenrepublik. Seemingly by the way he defends a dissertation at the university of Groningen (August 1712) and gets a licentia docendi juris ; when he gets back to Berlin in winter 1714 he becomes a Prussian Hofrat, before he retreats to Königsberg.
Some years later he comes back to Berlin (August 1718) and then travels to the North (Stockholm, Kopenhagen) before he is in Vienna – all in all he is on the road until April 1724, for more than five years. The suspicion is allowed that he somehow is involved in Prussian foreign politics, now not scholars are his main conversational partners, but diplomats. He stays not for long in Berlin 1724/25 – there is a new project on the horizon, the foundation of a Russian academy of sciences in St. Petersburg (Ger., Eng.). He arrives in St.Petersburg in August 1725 & starts his work as secretary of this institution in September. As I understand he will not leave Russia any more. Two years later, 1727, he becomes the head teacher of the heir to the throne Petr Alekseevic (Ger., Eng.), who sadly dies only fourteen years of age in January 1730. GOLDBACH holds different ranks in the court hierarchy, and in 1744 becomes officially a member of the council for foreign affairs. He dies 1764 in St.Petersburg.
Through the last 22 years of his life, which he spent in the service of the council of foreign affairs, he traveled between Moskau and St.Petersburg, but he clearly favoured the latter city. GOLDBACH was responsible for the cipher-service, and he was successful. In June 1744 the Russians deciphered a letter of the French envoy that contained some not very nice remarks about the czarina – that is Elisabeth (Ger., Eng.). In this year GOLDBACH received as a special gift not only one, but two golden tobacco “tins”, next year the personal nobility, and in 1746 the czarina gave him a manor – he never visited it, the rent brought him 1400 Rubel a year, as he wrote in a letter to EULER. His regular annual income was 1500 roubles.
He tries to keep out of the intrigues at court as good as he can, always keeps contact with the academy he helped to found, and stays discreet. His successful work in the cipher departement is continued by his successor Franz ÆPINUS (Ger., Eng.) (1724-1802), who in some respects repeats GOLDBACHs journey through life : He is also a member of the academy, he teaches the heir to the throne, and he stays unmarried.

I used for this scribble the following book :
Juskevic, Adolf P. ; Kopelevic, Judith Kh. : Christian Goldbach. 1690-1764. Aus dem Russischen übersetzt von Annerose und Walter Purkert, Basel Boston Berlin 1994 (Vita mathematica 8). First Moskva 1983. Strangely enough this title is not mentioned among the literature in the German wikipedia-article.

Still alive

The wind is thundering, for the third day now. And it is a remarkably cold wind from the East. Clear air, no wetness yet, but it is to come in the next days. Finished driving this early afternoon, Monday will start a bit later than usual, a quiet weekend ahead.
I looked into the news and found a remarkably stupid statement by a certain Mr. McCain, an American senator. The French President Hollande and the German chancellor Merkel are actually on a diplomatic mission in the Ukraine and in Moscow trying to defuse the ongoing conflict that has the potential to escalate into something nasty. McCain compared this to the appeasement-policy (Ger., Eng.) of the 1930s, and told the world that he did not expect something else from these people who have no idea of politics and don’t care, yadayadayada. Can’t see that Mr. McCain does something constructive about this conflict, except screaming for more weapons, thus applying caveman’s logic : Bigger hammer is better hammer, yoh !
If he really compares this diplomatic effort with what historians call 1930s’ appeasement-policy he also insinuates that Putin would equal Hitler – plainly unacceptable and deplorable. He is either really stupid, and thus his comments can be ignored and filed as the waffle of an old man, or he makes his remarks at exactly this point for a purpose, aiming at hindering or hampering anything that has a chance to de-escalate the situation. Then he’s an arsonist & war monger. I wonder whether he comes to Munich, perhaps some people would shut him up there, but I doubt.
McCain’s remarks are echoing Rumsfeld’s moquant jabber about “old Europe”. What these old sods do not understand is that after 1989 all the old problems returned that were suppressed by the East-West-conflict, the Cold War. And with the demise of the SU something started that is connected to the political situation of pre-1933, in some respect even pre-1914. And the answer is surely not cold-war-logic ( = more weapons, more escalation, until “we” “win”), the answer is politics, diplomacy and in the end : keeping peace. Exactly what this European initiative aims to. The results of American foreign policy of the last twenty years can be inspected in the middle East, really great.
GOd help us when the next American president is elected.