The Fallacy of National Studies

The studies of national specificity, usually focused on this or that national language originated in the 19th-century central Europe. They grew out from two kinds of pursuits. On the one hand, philologists discovered languages, that is, national languages, or speech communities that were quickly equated with nations. While on the other hand, folklorists (ethnographers) discovered peasantry, seen as the forgotten soul and the true body of the nation. Philologists put themselves to the task of endowing their (usually native) languages with ‘scientific’ dictionaries and grammars, while folklorists were collecting a given peasantry’s songs and customs which they saw as equal in quality or even transcending the ancient Homeric tradition. Both groups of scholars soon propounded that the language of an elite (nobility) was ‘impure,’ due to ‘foreign’ influences, usually from Latin, French or German. But an ethnically correlated peasantry’s speech extolled as an epitome of the ‘pure’ national language posed a problem of easily observed spatial variability. The ‘peasant language’ differed from village to village, from region to region, and not at all was free of ‘foreign impurities,’ either. These problems was ‘explained away’ by nobles’ long-century oppression of peasants through the system of serfdom. As a result, the supposedly pristine culture and language of peasantry were corrupted, and the putative early medieval or even ancient nation was fragmented, as serfs were not allowed to leave their villages or parishes. Simultaneously nobility ‘unjustifiably’ separated themselves from their ethnically kin ‘peasant brethren’ (‘betrayed the people’), by allowing a succession of (nationally) foreign monarchs to assume the throne of the (national) kingdom, and by marrying foreign nobles.

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Basic Competency in Cyrillic – the EU’s Third Official Alphabet

With the 2007 accession of Bulgaria to the European Union (EU), Cyrillic became another official alphabet in the EU, alongside the most widespread Latin (Roman) script and the Greek alphabet, largely limited to Cyprus and Greece themselves.

The EU is increasingly a common space of economy, social relations culture, research and politics. In Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece population at large acquires a high competence in the Latin script in order to be able to read road signs with place names and other basic notices elsewhere in Europe, and also to learn other European languages. In other EU countries, especially the old Fifteen, a basic knowledge of the Greek script, allowing for reading road signs with place names and basic notices is widespread.

The Euro banknote with the name of the currency in the three scripts: Latin, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets
The Cyrillic acronym of the European Central Bank in Bulgarian

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Who is Afraid of Speaking in Tongues?

Several years ago, when I was still new to the institutional culture of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, I proposed to the colleagues that we should consider extending an invitation to Daniel Beauvois to deliver a seminar lecture. Professor Beavouis is the French doyen of Eastern European history. He researched and wrote ground-breaking and minutely documented works on the University of Vilna (today’s Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania) and the educational system, which existed between 1803 and 1832 in the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, then within the borders of the Russian Empire. This university, with the largest number of students out of the empires’ all universities, accounted for roughly a quarter to a third of all Russia’s students at that time.


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The Russian World

In 2009 I published my monograph on the history of nationalisms and language politics in modern central Europe. Four years later, in 2013 Andrea Graziosi invited me to the international conference on ‘States, Peoples, Languages: A Comparative Political History of Ukrainian, 1863‒2013,’ held at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like earlier I had done in my book, we were now to have a synoptic look at the 19th and 20th-century history of central and eastern Europe, which was unprecedentedly tragic mainly due to the imperial-cum-nationalist-cum-totalitarian project of fitting linguistically defined groups of people (‘nations’) to ‘their’ territories (‘nation-states’). The process also entailed constructing, unmaking or re-fashioning ‘languages’ so that they would serve ‘more appropriately’ the national projects at hand. As a result, a person moved between countries without ever leaving one’s village. In the morning after another declaration of independence, a subject of a suddenly defunct empire discovered she lived in a state that was not hers. Even worse, because of some half-remembered religion her husband was declared an ‘alien,’ though his family had lived in their home town for centuries. Another unexpected border change, and a civil servant found out that he was actually illiterate, because now the administration was to be conducted in a language and script of which he had no command. In this new brave modern world all and sundry were compelled to finish elementary school. A peasant daughter came back home crying, because the teacher had derided her that she was speaking her national language incorrectly. At the same time, in the distant capital the government commissioned a team of besuited professors to work out yet another sweeping reform, this time to rid the national language of ‘ugly foreign’ words, phrases, pronunciations, syntactical constructs and spellings that were ‘totally alien’ to the ‘true character’ of ‘our’ national language.

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The Russian World or the history of the influence of the Russian civilization across the globe

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How Many States in the EU and the US?

The University of St Andrews, located in the picturesque old capital of Scotland, thrives on its ‘internationality.’ This bureaucratic term of higher education ranking tables means that the university’s students and staff come from well over a hundred states from all corners of the world. Half of them are from Britain, while the students and scholars from the European Union (EU) (together with those from the United Kingdom) account for two-thirds of the university’s studying and teaching population. The second largest cohort originates from North America. They amount to over a sixth of the university’s scholars and students.


In recognition of these demographic data, for five years I ran a small-scale experiment in my tutorial groups with the first-year students. As part of induction to the tutorial I asked them about how many states are in the United States (US) and in the European Union. The sequence of posing these two questions is crucial. Practically all the students when inquired about the United States, immediately shot back with the correct answer that this federal polity is now composed of 50 states. Their reply was automatic, like a reflex. Such generalized knowledge on the US is a matter of course on both sides of the Atlantic.

The 28 Members States of the European Union Prior to Brexit

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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


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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