Uncle

Life wasn’t good for us.

 

When the sun shone bright in the blue skies, and winter was all but forgotten in May, we didn’t care to remember that after summer, with its luscious meadows of juicy grass and forests of pleasantly cool shadows, the fall would come. Intermittent rains changed top soil into mud that flowed in rivulets down the broad hill slope along which our village extended. The external walls of the better houses built of concrete and brick got soiled. Dirt permanently streaked the clean white or radiant blue of the whitewash that had been painstakingly applied in the spring. It squeezed its way through cracks into the wooden houses that the gadjos called ‘sheds.’ Those who lived at the foot of the hill were the worst off. Their houses stood inundated for weeks on end. To prevent liquid mud from flooding the interior, they cut the bottoms off their entrance doors and put in an additional layer of bricks. With time, several steps led up to the doors that were too low for an average adult to walk through without bending deeply. ‘Bow, bow lower to your rahy, lord,’ cheeky kids screamed and laughed at the helpless exasperation of the chorikanes, poor people.

 

Sadness gathered and it was magnified by the cold. Few people had enough money for even the cheapest kind of coal or for a gas cylinder to heat their homes properly. Women and children who didn’t go to school roamed the vicinity collecting dry twigs, scrap wood and paper. Each year they had to venture farther away, as the area around the village had already turned into a barren steppe. Kako, or Uncle, kept telling us that when he had been a chkhavo, a boy, there had been many trees around here. Families had kept one or two cows for milk and used dried cowpats for fuel.

Roma settlement Svinia, eastern Slovakia
Roma settlement Svinia, eastern Slovakia

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Last Prussians, or Translatio Borussiae

 

Andrzyjowi Rocznikowi

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Darkowi Jerczyńskiymu

 

 

My old home, the Monarchy, alone, was a great mansion with many doors and many chambers, for every condition of men. This mansion has been divided, split up, splintered. I have nothing more to seek for, there. I am used to living in a home, not in cabins.

 

Joseph Roth ‘The Bust of the Emperor’

 

 

‘Prussia is no longer with us,’ I hear. ‘Dead,’ they say, a half-forgotten Kingdom of Iron, erased from the map by the victorious Allies with the stroke of pen in 1947, the same year British India was divided one midnight. In the case of Prussia it was Law Forty-Six that did the job. On February the Twenty-Seventh, at the seat of the Allied Control Council in occupied Berlin, Generals Lucius D Clay, Sir Brian Robinson and Joseph Pierre Koening, and Marshal Vassily Sokolovski signed the document. It opened with the chilling statement: ‘The Prussian State, which from early days had been the bearer of militarism and reaction in Germany, has de facto ceased to exist.’ The end. Irrevocably, the end with no reprieve in sight. No thought spared for the fact that in the ‘early days’, Prussia was not a Germany or even part thereof.[1]

[1] I thank Michael O Gorman for his loving care, which he extended over this text. A word of thanks also goes to Catherine Gibbson and Iemima Ploscariu for their patient advice and useful hints.

Prajzsko ('Prussia') in the Prussian language, or the Hlučínsko in Czech, and the Hultschiner Ländchen in German. Nowadays the region is located in the Czech Republic
Prajzsko (‘Prussia’) in the Prussian language, or the Hlučínsko in Czech, and the Hultschiner Ländchen in German. Nowadays the region is located in the Czech Republic

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The Anti-Soros Campaign, or New Anti-Semitism

From Communism to Open Society

In April 2017 the Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán adopted a legislation tailored with an eye to closing down the English-medium Central European University (CEU). This liberal institution – established in 1991, in the year of the breakup of the Soviet Union and two years after the demise of the Soviet bloc – has been a thorn in the side of Orbán’s program of ‘illiberal democracy.’ The CEU’s founder, the US financier George Soros, comes from Hungary, where he was born to an assimilated family of non-observant Hungarian Jews who, apart from Hungarian and German, after the Great War, chose to speak Esperanto as neutral language of potentially universal communication for a future more peaceful world. This was not to be. The two totalitarianisms of national socialism and Soviet communism steamrolled over Hungary and most of central Europe. Tens of millions died in the Holocaust of Jews and Roma, in the course of World War II, in the wake of the establishment of Moscow’s communist regimes across the region, and in both nazi and communist concentration camps. Furthermore, between 1933 and 1950, about 60 million people were expelled from their homes in central Europe, or a third of region’s entire population. In the 1930s Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin also made sure to incarcerate and kill most of Esperantists both in Germany and the Soviet Union. In the former case they were seen as ‘traitors of the nation’ led by a ‘cabala of international Jewry,’ while in the Soviet Union Esperantists were denounced as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ that was a code phrase for ‘insufficiently Soviet’ Jews.

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The Day After

Piotr slept well. He turned around under the blanket, yawned and stretched out his arms with a loud cry of contentment. Sunny morning after a successful action, what could be better in life? Yesterday had been busy. He had gone to the march. Bleeding-hearts had been demonstrating. Lame. That’s what liberalismo is about. ‘Liberals, keras, meras, fucki-beras’ he played with the word under his breath. An angry vein swelled across his forehead from the hairline to the base of his nose. He snorted with contempt and energetically jumped out of the bed.

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Limits

‘It was ridiculous, totally ridiculous’ Ozymandias thought.

He liked the absence of Maria, the nice cleaning lady. From Belarus, he presumed. She was hired by him personally, without alerting the human resources department to this informal arrangement. A nice little perk, courtesy of his contract with the bank. She did not provide any references, nor did he need to commit his signature to paper. An honest working agreement. Ozymandias met her only once, when she was being interviewed and briefed on her tasks by his personal assistant. The main point was that Maria was expected to take good care of the office when he vacated it, regardless of his highly irregular hours. She observed this point religiously, always alerted by the security system which bleeped her on her mobile whenever he left for the night. Maria then had the space of an hour or so to vacuum, dust, spruce things up and to do whatever necessary, as instructed.

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Integration

In October 2016 I visited the Serbian capital, Belgrade, picturesquely located at the confluence of the River Drava and the Danube. The city developed in line with the 18th-century Austro-Habsburg and Russian imperial model of bulldozing Ottoman buildings and mosques, which were either adapted or built over in ‘European style of progress and enlightenment.’ The four monuments of distinctly Ottoman architecture that survive to this day are all within the walking distance of each other in Belgrade’s, Stari Grad, or Old Town. Two are religious, namely the capital’s sole mosque, together with the turbe (tomb) of dervish Mustafa Bagdađanin. The two other monuments are konaks, or Ottoman-style residences. One built in the 1730s escaped being razed because it used to house Serbia’s first Serbian-language secular secondary school founded in 1808. The other konak, was actually constructed a century later, in 1830, already in autonomous Serbia. This was the official residence for Princess Ljubica, consort of the first Prince of modern Serbia, Miloš Obrenović.

 

Belgrade looks like any other Russian, Romanian or Bulgarian city, memories of the Ottoman past consigned to dusty tomes. The broad alleys are ill adapted to the Balkans’ snowy winters and hot summers. Unlike Ottoman narrow winding alleys and overhanging roofs, the modern architecture does not offer the coziness of self-contained neighborhoods (mahallas) or protection from elements. The point is to be imposing, hesitatingly imperial, decisively Orthodox and undecided whether to follow the direction leading to St Petersburg or Paris.

New Greater Serbia, or Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia's Republika Srpska
New Greater Serbia, or Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia’s Republika Srpska

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The Social and Political History of the Polish Language in the Long 19th Century

The Polish language originated as the sociolect of the Polish-Lithuanian nobility, which meant that its standardization was not steeped in a regional dialect, like that of French in the Romance dialect of Paris, or German in the language of Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible (in other words, the Germanic dialect of the Electorate of Saxony). In the pre-written period of this language, prior to the 16th century, highly mobile nobles of various ethnic origins from all corners of the Commonwealth of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania either contributed to this sociolect from various Slavic dialects or just adopted this coalescing social koine when they happened to be non-Slavophone. Polish continued as the sociolect of the Polish-Lithuanian nobility well into the 19th century, after the erasure of Poland-Lithuania from the political map of Europe in the late 18th century. In the early 16th century, Polish achieved the status of co-official language in the Commonwealth’s Kingdom of Poland, alongside Latin. At that time, Polish was modelled on the pre-Hussite (Catholic, ‘non-heretic’) Bohemian (Czech), both in terms of spelling and vocabulary. The Commonwealth’s political and economic might caused aspiring Orthodox boyars (nobles) from Moldavia and Wallachia (or today’s Romania and Moldova) to adopt it as a language of wider communication. In 1697 the Cyrillic-based Ruthenian (Ruski, seen today as the source of Belarusian and Ukrainian) was banned in the Commonwealth’s Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and replaced with Polish, which became the polity’s main official language, and thus consolidated the cultural Polonization of its nobility (who nevertheless persisted to identify themselves as ‘Lithuanians,’ or the Grand Duchy’s ruling elite). Specifically, the ban applied to the use of ‘Cyrillic letters’, which were ideologically associated with Orthodox Christianity (by the same token, in Muscovy – as Russia was known prior to 1721 – the Latin alphabet and language were disparaged as ‘Catholic’). Hence, Ruthenian written in ‘Polish’ or ‘Catholic’ Latin letters, with an addition of numerous Latin phrases, was perceived as Polish in Poland-Lithuania. As a result, the Polish language at that time straddled, what since the early 19th century has been imagined as, an ‘impassable’ classificatory divide between the ‘West Slavic’ and ‘East Slavic’ languages. (In observed sociolinguistic reality on the ground, both groups of languages actually belong to the North Slavic dialect continuum.)

Samuel Linde. 1807. Słownik Języka Polskiego [Dictionary of the Polish Language] (Vol 1)
Samuel Linde. 1807. Słownik Języka Polskiego [Dictionary of the Polish Language] (Vol 1)
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