All posts filed under: History

Applebaum vs. Fitzpatrick: Is History Political?

The 1932-3 famine in Ukraine claimed the lives of 3 to 5 million people (by conservative estimates). The tragedy was proven to be the result of Stalin’s “collectivization” agricultural policies. However, it is still debated whether the deaths were a result of mismanagement and the failure of collectivization, or of a conscious plan to exterminate the Ukrainians in an act of deliberate genocide. Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (Penguin, 2017) offers a new contribution to this discussion, drawing upon archival sources as well as first-hand accounts of the famine, or Holodomor, as it is known in Russian and Ukrainian historiography. Applebaum is known for her extensive writings on Soviet history, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag: A History (Doubleday, 2003) and Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 (Allen Lane, 2014). Red Famine, a new addition to her works on the USSR, claims that Holodomor was engineered in order to destroy Ukrainian identity and the Ukrainian peasantry, which posed a threat to Stalin’s power. Red Famine naturally appeared on the radar of Sheila Fitzpatrick, …

Yes, the Romans Were Diverse—but Not in the Way We Understand It

“Neither sea nor intervening continent are bars to citizenship, nor are Asia and Europe divided in their treatment here. In your empire all paths are open to all.” – Aelius Aristides, ‘Roman Oration’. trans. Oliver. The above words, so apparently congenial to the ‘open border’ mentality of the modern Western mind, were in fact written in the third century AD by a Greek orator who was also a Roman citizen. In the speech from which this extract was taken, thought to have been given in Rome in AD 143 or 144 during the reign of emperor Antoninus Pius, the Greek Aristides illustrates a remarkably beneficent portrait of Roman power, the same power which had after all made his home the subject, ultimately, of a non-democratic Roman governor. The speech is a paradox to modern temperaments. Far from extolling the spread of an altruistic globalisation, Aristides extols the virtues, as he sees them, of a violent imperial power which had not only ingested his homeland but in doing so had implicitly repudiated traditional Greek notions of …

What to do with Confederate Statues?

Could Russia teach us something about how to deal with difficult aspects of our national history? Many places in the South – from New Orleans to Louisville – are in the process of bringing down statues that glorify the Confederacy. That process raises questions about what to do with these remnants of the past. Do we just toss them into the ash bin of history, purging them as if they never existed? As a student of southern politics who recently traveled to Moscow, I wondered if we can look to the Russians and how they have treated their Soviet past. The situations are not perfectly analogous. Many Russian people lived through the Soviet experience. Not so for the Confederacy. That said, in both cases, there is the question of whether – and how – to purge the past. From propaganda to kitsch In Moscow, and in the former Soviet Union in general, there is Soviet detritus all over the place. Hammers and sickles are chiseled into buildings, bridges and other infrastructure. Sculptures of happy, heroic …

America’s Real Pivot

Trump’s Warsaw speech marks an era defining the rebalancing of Euro-American relations Donald Trump’s speech in Poland, for lack of better words, marks the beginning of a new era in global politics. Speeches change history. Speeches mark the direction a great power is going, a pivot, if you will. That word has become a catchphrase in the last decade, but it can be used for Trump’s Warsaw speech, which marked the solidifying ideological lines of our times. Trump is no great orator. He isn’t linguistically gifted, either due to age, or due to his New York-ish snappy rhetorical style. Notwithstanding those limitations, this speech will possibly go down in history as one of the most important speeches of his presidency. Here’s the full speech in text, for the more academically minded. Everything about the speech was planned pitch perfect. The choice of the venue is Poland, a central European civilizational powerhouse, with immense historical importance. Poland has made cultural contributions and has a scientific legacy that can put any other European country to shame. In …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part II: A review of The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century by Jeffrey Duban. Clairview Books (30th June 2016). The classical tradition in literature is essentially dead. The English poet Alice Oswald may be the only prominent contemporary writer who has read deeply in Latin and Greek poetry. A few other poets (Ruth Padel, Anne Carson, Alice Stallings) have made names for themselves as classicist-poets; though their contributions to literature and scholarship have been uninspiring; their work is more often praised than read. Most of the praise comes only from Classics teachers, or others easily impressed by a thin veneer of learning. It is impossible to name a novelist, short-story writer or playwright active today who engages seriously with classical history, myth or literary form. Jeffrey Duban tries valiantly to revive the tradition in his ambitious, pugnacious, eccentric, sprawling new book The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the Twenty-First Century. This is not all Duban tries to do: he also provides a learned introduction to ancient Greek lyric poetry, offers translations of …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part I: A review of Classics, The Culture Wars and Beyond by Eric Adler. University of Michigan Press (1st November 2016). Classics, the study of Greek and Latin literature, involves philosophical and historical texts as well as literary works. Classicists may also be interested in the systematic study of language and expression, and (to a lesser extent) art history and archaeology. In fact, Classics encompasses virtually every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman culture between the first Olympic Games in 776 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Still, classicists have traditionally focussed their attention on Athens between 508 and 323 BC, and Rome between the mid-first century BC and the late second century AD: most of the important classical texts, monuments and works of art were created in those places during those periods. Classics requires a long training: there are two ancient languages which take years to master, and a large body of impressive but often difficult literature in Greek and Latin that cannot be avoided. If you have not …

A Hundred Years of Communism

We must give the Bolsheviks their due. Their success in gaining power was astonishing. A ragtag gang of activists and intellectuals, they seized control of Russia in October, 1917, and defended their rule in a vicious, bloody civil war. No one can deny the force of their conviction, or the scale of their courage, or the keenness of their talents. But wielding power was a different matter. Revolutionaries dream that crops will grow out of their fire but in most cases it leaves scarred and arid earth instead. Collectivisation, with its monstrous violence and inefficiency, left millions dead in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus. Paranoia and persecution, all too evident in Lenin’s “cleansing” of “harmful insects” — landowners, dissidents and priests the Bolsheviks interned, starved, tortured and killed — reached its absurd apotheosis in Stalin’s purges. Stalin killed so many people in the Great Purge that it is remarkable that anyone was left to do the killing. Former comrades, artists and intellectuals, military officers, clergymen, dissidents, outcasts and normal Russian men and women were slaughtered in a …