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Eastward to Tartary
« on: 2006-03-25 06:12:47 »
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Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus. by Robert.D.Kaplan.

Just started reading. Begins in Budapest, Hungary. Done with Chapter One.

Interesting so far:

Author's travel guide explains how Greece actually 'belongs to the East'. This is how...the Carpathians which runs through Romania mark the end of Europe and the beginning of what he calls the 'near east'. To the north and west lies the old Austro-Hungarian empire. To the south and east lies what was then the old Ottaman Turkish Empire.

Basically, the Romans(in 4th century AD) divided their empire into western and eastern halves with Rome and Constantinople being the capitals respectively. Rome became Charlemagne's kingdom and soon housed the Vatican. This is what we now know as Western Europe. The eastern bit, Byzantium, was mainly populated by Greek speaking Orthodox Xians, followed by the Moslems(after the capture of Constantinople in 1493..by the Turks). The line that divided the east and the west became the multiethnic state of Yugoslavia after ww1.

Essentially, it is this massive rocky curtain...the Carpathians...that splits what we now call east and west. Eastward spread of 'europeon culture' was blocked by this notoriously difficult to traverse Carpathian range.(Jared Diamond may have a few thoughts on this..culture is tied to geography afterall). Hence, Greece belongs to the 'East'.

The author's guide goes a step further and says that before ww2, Romania(due to the influence of the Renaissance and the Reformation) was more developed than Greece. Altho, in the 1940s, the 'Truman Doctrine' pumped in almost 10 billion dollars(in 1940s money even) to create what we now know as 'westernised' Greece.

Another startling bit in the first chapter was the massacre of the Hungarian Jews from the village of Sarmas near Translyvania. Jews who spoke Hungarian and thought of themselves as Hungarians fell victim to the *Hungarian* soldiers AFTER escaping the concentration camps for five years. Startling irony. Drives home the point about nationalism.

Memorable quote from the book following the guide's declaration, "[..]Hungarian nationalism, Romanian nationalism - they're all bad. The boundry formed by the Carpathians was benign compared to these modern nationalistic boundries, because the Carpathians divided empires within which peoples and religions mixed. I am a cosmopolitian. That is what every civilised person must now try to be!"

The author, Kaplan, continues:

[begin book quote]
I told him that cosmopolitanism must always be linked to memory. Without memory, there would be no possibility of irony-the very stuff of history. For, as Fischer said, Jews, Gypsies, Kurds and other minorities were generally safe within autocratic regimes such as Habsburg Austria and Ottaman Turkey but were killed or oppressed when the autocracies began giving birth to independent states dominated by ethnic majorities, such as Austria, Hungary, Romania, Greece and Turkey.
[end book quote]

That makes you think.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375705767/102-7308364-3925712?v=glance&n=283155 > amazon link here. I'll try to add entries to this thread as I read the book.

Comments welcome from those who have read it or those who wish to do a combined reading.
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