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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Drawing lines on maps

One aspect of Europe's 20th century history that doesn't often make it to mainstream popular history output is our own record of ethnic and linguistic 'adjustment', behind which lay stories of cruelty, heartbreak and unbearable grief. It is perhaps because such history still has the power to motivate strife that we as Europeans choose to bury it - and why no Simon Scharma, Antony Beevor or BBC producer has sought to revive it. Sometimes a cine camera was accidentally present to capture a hint of it - the column of wounded and cowering ethnic German DPs who had just been machine-gunned by ethnic Czechs who then drove a 4 ton lorry over their legs. Most frequently the horrors are buried and hidden, and parents and grandparents  who witnessed such things are taking them to the grave. 

I have maps of Europe that span pre-1914 to post-1945 and that document how the lines moved in 1919 and in in 1946. Each tiny movement a million people, a thousand years of family rootedness, an ocean of tears. The Slovenes left in Austria after the 1920 plebiscite, the Tiroleans left in Italy, the German mini state in the Balkans, Poles, Ruthenians, Silesians, Alsations, German, French, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Slavone. And such adjustments, if not accelerated by a little local genocide, continue still today. The smaller the remnant of a minority gets, the more zealous to preserve its language and local place names, and such concessions are made these days, until the last unassimilated people disappear to leave just a few badly remembered words and some interesting recipes. 

All of this is why the mainland Europeans are so much keener on the EU than we are. It is not to preserve peace between sovereign nations, not to prevent the rise of dictators but to save us from our neighbours who wear a different patterned headscarf. To prevent the midnight banging on the door, with the boys being dragged off to a ditch to be shot. Here in the UK we have no folk history of it - except perhaps in Ulster, far removed from 97% of us. 

As anyone has ever undergone a corporate restructuring will know, the changes are frequently not at all scientific and with little rationale. Once the main pieces on the board have been traded and the big knobs want to go home, the little pieces are swiftly repositioned so as not to disturb the main deal. So Health and Safety finds itself reporting to the Marketing director. Versailles and Yalta were the same. The bell had gone for dinner, so a ruler or a river and a blue pencil solved the final boundaries.  

For anyone looking at the following two maps of the middle east, remember that the lines of 20th century Europe were simple and the numbers in the millions not the hundreds of millions. 

No polemic today, just quiet despair.


Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Not a lot changed in 1000 years then eh?

The Turks presume to rule it as do the Persians :-/

Mike Spilligan said...

I suspect that a huge amount of "history" has been covered up within families whose policy was "Least said; soonest mended". I had an aunt who married a handsome, well-mannered, young German junior diplomat in 1936 ............
There are cogent, believable books about the tensions and outcomes in central and eastern Europe from Versailles to the 1950s; but no end in sight yet - "Bloodlands" and "Savage Continent" come to mind.

Mr Ecks said...

The only thing this illustrates Radders is the evil of politics.

Had there been no war do you really think that ordinary Czechs would have been shooting and running over Germans or vice versa?. The only lesson this teaches is : Don't listen to political scum and don't obey their orders.


Robin Melville said...

Good post. The thing we (since the failure of the hopeless Plantagenets) have never had to worry about was our borders. This sceptered isle, etc. Since nation-statehood is such a recent phenomenon in most of Europe, people in individual villages and towns did not bother themselves too much as to whether they were ruled by this or that Palatinate, or this or that Emperor. They were simply concerned whether the tax or other duty burdens increased or decreased.

Some years ago I nursed and elderly lady whose village had been, within her own living memory, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, part of Czechoslovakia, and part of Germany. Not that any of this mattered to her, since her immediate landlord remained unchanged.

I suspect that much of Europe has shallower national roots than we do. To be a citizen of Alsace is to have living memory of both French and German rule. The nation state was invented here (by the Tudors). We have had hundreds of years to internalise that.

anon 2 said...

Thank you, Robin Melville. I agree that the Tudors deserve considerable credit for resuscitation and survival of our nation state - but thay had a good thousand years of national root-development to build on (and that's not even counting their Celtic element, which held the Romans off most of British land). No, those Tudors didn't just suddenly see by a flash lightning.

It's that pesky English language and (yes, multicultural) educational heritage you see. It kept on going right through the frogulastic nonsense: the monks managed to preserve their beloved and brilliant Anglo-Saxon literature; frog government built on existent laws, customs, and institutions which, from the times of Aelfric and Edward the Confessor, had continued sufficiently in English to communicate with the natives. Yes, the bastard-boys tried to do it all in froggish and Latin - but they eventually had to revert to English if they wanted us to understand them. Then they needed us to fight at Agincourt and such, which made communication with us even more urgent. So, sometime around Henry V, they reintstated English the official language again.

We've functioned as a state for a very long time.

I just can't stand that, with hardly a murmur of protest, we now let all these backward types work at our destruction. You're so right about the 'scepter'd isle':
- Richard II; II.1.
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war, 45
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands, 50
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England . . .
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it, 60
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
. . . is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds: 65
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself. (Shakespeare/John of Gaunt).

PS: a good start would be to deal with that tunnel affair... .

G. Tingey said...


Many years ago, I worked in a research lab that had a fair sprinkling of refugees.
A German with WWI medals who fought at the Somme against us, a Sudenten German/Cezech ( who had a tattoo on his wrist & who'd also survived the Gulag, A Hungarian who was the last member of his family, an Austrian with a "jewish" mother (she survived- just) & others ....

And that exact same evil is crawling out again, because I regard Da'esh as functionally identical to the Waffen-SS.