Search results for 'The Graves Are Walking'

“The Graves Are Walking”: Was the Great Potato Famine a genocide?” (And, let’s rethink “genocide” in general)

20 Aug

“A new book argues that free-market ideology, not murderous intent, killed Ireland’s millions.”  See Salon‘s entire review of the book here.

Some quotes:

“Citing an Irish nationalist author who accused Britain’s Assistant Treasury Secretary Charles Trevelyan of infecting Irish children with a special “typhus poison” in a government laboratory, he writes that the man “should have stuck to the truth. It was incriminating enough.” The story Kelly tells in “The Graves are Walking” is indeed damning, a shameful, bloody blot — and far from the only one — on the history of the British Empire. But calling it a genocide, however satisfying that pitch of moral condemnation may be, only acts to obscure the chilling contemporary relevance of Ireland’s 19th-century agony.”  [my emphasis]

Exactly.  Even if there was “no murderous intent,” it was still criminal.

“Kelly, like most historians, places the brunt of the responsibility for this fiasco on the shoulders of Trevelyan. As the policy leader of the famine response program, Trevelyan was not a Mengele-style mad scientist but a civil servant known for his “unbending moral rectitude and personal intensity.” Unfortunately for the Irish, the faith he embraced was a fusion of Moralism, “an evangelical sect that preached a passionate gospel of self-help” and the laissez-faire economics of Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. At several key points in the evolution of the catastrophe, when strategic intervention might have fended off thousands of deaths, Trevelyan refused, maintaining that there was no greater evil than interfering with market forces. When a subordinate protested, he would send him a copy of Burke’s “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity.”” [my emphases]

See my older post Maybe Germans ARE Scary, my commentary on a borderline Nazi opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times“German Austerity’s Lutheran Core”, in which I argue that Protestantism-s (except for Anglicanism, which grew out of very different historical circumstances and forms of “protest”) aren’t really religions at all but moralist codes, on which capitalism depended for its growth, and for which, whatever transcendent entity their adherents may believe in, serves only as divine confirmation of their righteousness.  It was the aggressive evangelical fervor that swept Methodist, Presbyterian and “low church” Britain in the mid-Victorian age that was perhaps the primary cause of the Indian Rebellion only a decade after the Irish catastrophe (see William Dalrymple’s brilliant The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857).

“These strategies amount to the 19th-century version of what Naomi Klein has dubbed the “Shock Doctrine”: an attempt to force economic reforms on a population reeling in the aftermath of a disaster.”

Like Germany and southern Europe today?  (Read Klein’s great book: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism)

“Both sides were ignorant and shortsighted, confident in their stereotypical notion of the irresponsible, fanciful and lazy “Irish character” but oblivious to all the ways that rural subsistence economies cannot be expected to start functioning like England’s more developed agricultural one overnight.”

The classic accusation of laziness in these situations (like against Greeks, who, it turns out — when they had employment — worked more hours than the population of any EU country) is just infuriating.  People don’t work when they don’t have an incentive to, when the technological and political and class restrictions imposed on them limit them to anything more than subsistence or, in the Irish case, even rob them of the means of subsistence.  That the Irish are lazy, man…  To know what work-horses, and I mean that only with great respect and admiration, these Irish kids are, who are coming to New York again in the wake of the Euro-crisis and to even think “lazy”…

Yes, well, not England’s finest hour — though it’s a nation and a people I respect and feel a curiously personal pride in.  And yes, Ireland is outside the borders of the “Jadde” world.  But I love the Irish so much that they’ll keep appearing from time to time and, actually, they’re as much objects of Western imperialism as we are.

But really I’m posting this piece because I think it’s past time that we, in the “Jadde” world, begin some serious discussion on the use of the term “genocide.”  I think it’s getting thrown around much too loosely lately, and that not only disrespects the victims of true genocides, it pariah-fies and unfairly singles out certain groups for vilification (Turks, Serbs) and creates simplistic analyses of complex historical events that then become conventional wisdom, all in ways that makes deeper dialogue between our peoples impossible.  So, we need to talk about it and what “it” really is.

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

GREEK ELECTIONS: “Greek voters may be about to plunge the European Union into a full-fledged economic and political crisis.” For real?

21 Jan

Greek parliament

Don’t look to me for economic analyses. I think I had had my first credit card in college for a while, before I realized that the amount you paid back to them was more than what you bought with them. That means credit and debt – the foundations of Western Civilization – were things I didn’t understand until like my mid-twenties. So as far as economics are concerned, I generally listen as carefully as I can to those who seem remotely intelligent to me and weigh what I can gather.

Greece is shaking up the Eurozone again, because parliament couldn’t vote for a President, I believe, and parliament was dissolved and now we’re having elections on January 25th. And everyone, or many people, are trembling at the thought of a SYRIZA, the left-of-center party, victory. I don’t know why they chose to call themselves by an acronym that means “The Coalition of the Radical Left.” Paranoiacs who talk about them as if they were Bolsheviks are already crazed enough in their attacks on the party, and SYRIZA really is, just that, a left-of-center-party. They only seem radical because the “center” – in Greece and everywhere – has moved so far to the right in every sense for the past few decades.

People in Greece whose intellects I respect think that a SYRIZA government – since they are in the lead in polls – would be a disaster: they think the best route for getting Greece out of its economic stagnation is to continue to follow the austerity dictates of the so-called “Troika” — the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB) – though Greece has followed them pretty much to the letter and steadily for the past two years, and there are more rounds of austerity coming, and little has improved. And if I ask them the more theoretical question of why Greeks should keep voting for the PASOK/ND two-party clique whose politicians have run the show since 1974 and are a bunch of almost Putinesque cronies in their brazen, shameless corruption and who got the country in the mess it’s in in the first place, they really don’t have an answer for me. One says he just doesn’t vote at all. But how fast a way is that for turning Greece into an American kind of politics-less civil society – which should be an oxymoron.

But I have reason to think that some of the people I listen to in Greece are listening to their class interests – worse, their class instincts, in the most knee-jerk sense – so I also try to listen to Americans I respect: like and especially Paul Krugman. I’ve cited him on this blog often, especially in reference to France – a country which I care about deeply – and he’s a vociferous critic of the EU’s austerity policies towards its prodigal southern and Celtic brothers. He points out that the economy of France, to speak about the center for a moment and not the perhaps hopeless periphery, and how much better it’s doing on every indicator than even Britain itself, precisely for sticking to some of its old-fashioned, socialized (not “socialist”) ideology. And to how much better the United States is doing, because, fairly or not, it sent a fresh flush of cash into its finance industry (instead of setting up a guillotine on Wall and Broad, which would’ve been my instinct) and now is probably the first major economy to have more or less dragged itself out of the hole. He’s written e-n-d-l-e-s-s-l-y about how the Great American Depression was on the verge of ending in 1936, when the government decided to “tighten belts” again and plunged the country back into the deepest economic slump ever in 1937, until it changed policies and then WWII spending ultimately saved it. And he sees the lag in Europe’s recovery, include the euro’s precipitous plunge to near one-to-one parity with the dollar, as the result — and purely — of moralizing and moralist, German-guided, insistence on austerity.

But as far as Greece goes, all the fear-mongers have brought out their heavy artillery. Maybe because I am such an economic illiterate, I recognize the psychological poker game involved in economics so much more clearly than others may. It’s amazing how the “Masters of the Universe” – these Alpha-Male studs that run our world in ways we’re too stupid to understand, because as it turns out, they don’t really understand them either – suddenly become menacing thugs or henny-penny pussies, alternating between the two, as soon as the width of their profit margins is even slightly threatened. This may be more an American problem than a European one, but I think it is what’s going on with Greece, the prospects of a SYRIZA victory and the discourse it’s generated. “Disaster” will follow. “Germans are ready to let Greece leave the Eurozone.” Frau Merkel dusts off her Lutheran-Communist pastor daddy’s sermons, and like the Biskop in Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander,” threatens fire and brimstone if Greece does not “koopereit.” “You must pay us,” say the lenders, “or it will be a disaster for all of us.” “We can’t…and won’t” say the borrowers, “and actually it will only be a disaster for you. You’ve already pushed us into a corner where we don’t have anything to lose, so…what are you going to do about that? Send us to debtors prison?” Hmmm…? Then what?

I’ve called the European Union “a neo-colonialist body disguised as the Highest Form of Western Humanism Project” before. And I can’t speak for Spain or Portugal or Ireland. But what I see the Union doing in Greece is engaging in the systematic destruction of a small economy.* By “small economy” I don’t mean a small territory of ten million with limited resources and a small-scale GDP. It’s a given that that’s what Greece always was. What I mean is a society of small-scale, personal, economic units. Some may balk at this idea, but I’m talking about something that’s one of the most positive aspects of our Ottoman inheritance. Late Byzantium was moving toward a system of large-scale landowners with an increasingly enserfed population – whether it was an organic development or the influence of Frankish feudalism is a big question. The fact, though, is that this process was arrested by Ottoman systems of land tenure and the block those systems put on the development of a landed, inherited aristocracy. And then in the twentieth century, Greece was the only former Ottoman country lucky enough to not have that small-scale type economy disrupted and perverted by the experiments of communism or even the economically statist policies that came to dominate Republican Turkey itself.

Why am I going so far back in history to talk about Greek elections in 2015? Because you might have to look that far back to see why we were spared the experiences of a large landless peasantry that could then be turned into a disenfranchised industrial proletariat – to a great extent at least; yes, there was Thessaly and there was Laurio, but nothing like what Western Europe or Russia experienced. The Greek entered modernity armed with few advantages, but one was a widespread public education system of fairly high standard for a country of its resources, the roots of which were already well-established in Ottoman times and put into systematic place almost immediately after independence. And the other was that, generally, he did so as an economically independent entity. A small-scale free peasant. A middle-class owner of some property. A “nation of shopkeepers,” as Napoleon condescendingly (and inaccurately) said of Britain. And all the better for it. Not even the sweeping flood of refugees from the Population Exchange of the 1920s with Turkey, which involved the absorption of an almost 30% increase in our population in less than five years; not even the tragic depopulation of rural Greece in the 1950s — for all its economic and military reasons — and the hideous Athens it created; neither of those massive sociological transformations changed the average Greek citizen from what he was: a free and reasonably independent economic agent of his own destiny.

THIS is what the “memoranda” are trying, and will succeed if allowed — if they already haven’t actually — in destroying. The tax on home-ownership and personal real estate is what I consider the most heinous and symbolic, even if it’s not the issue most Greeks are likely to get rabid about. Don’t ask me how: maybe the beauty of Athens had to be sacrificed to the πολυκατοικία, the apartment houses that I’ve called “cement-caves” where most Athenians and other Greek city-dwellers live, to create the domestic structure of Neo-Greek society. But what did emerge from the process of post-war Greek urbanization was a country where most people owned their own homes, and where – to a certain extent – a vertical version of traditional society was maintained. Relatives lived near each other, often in the same building, and though during the heady credit-backed lifestyle of the nineties it was common among Neo-Greeks to mock themselves for such domestic arrangements – grandma, or worse, your in-laws, living upstairs, and thirty-something-year-old kids living with their parents – I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen having come to rely on precisely those networks to survive the present crisis…and actually did back then even, before things got bad, as well: a mother-in-law that will take care of the children while mom’s working and have lunch ready by mid-afternoon for the family to share together; a sister-in-law with whom you can move in for an indeterminate amount of time till you’ve found a job again; networks that extend back to one’s ancestral village, where some lone, remnant relative has some olive trees for oil or some animals for cheese or just a bostani that can provide you with some tomatoes or cucumbers or some apricots that provide you with some jam. I remarked to others on how more civil and warm people in the public sphere seemed to be towards each other the last time I was in Greece, on what a, perhaps silent, but palpable, sense of greater solidarity people seemed to feel for one another and I got a dose of that almost instinctive Greek cynicism from most: “You’re romanticizing”… “Yeah, try going downtown during the midday rush…” But I also was witness, in a very memorable conversation, to one of those cynics getting dressed down by someone else: “Μη το λες…μερικοί έχουν βρει το φιλότιμό τους…” “Don’t say that so easily. A lot of people have found their sense of honor again.”

“Honor” is a bad translation for “φιλότιμo,” which means honor and amour propre and sense of dignity and reciprocity, all in one complex structure of emotions and social acts. Basically, “philotimo” is the sense of self-respect that’s intimately tied up with the upholding of your obligations to others that held Greeks together for centuries. All readers here know I’m a fanatic opponent of reading Classicizing virtues – or Classical anything — into Neo-Greek society, but the importance of “philotimo,” I feel, even if just discursive, even if only in its lapses, is a millennia-long constant.

The reader may be excused in thinking I’ve strayed from a basic issue of economics to an excavation of Greek cultural morals. And the truth is that I’m feeling kind of challenged right now in tying together the threads of where I’ve ended up with those I started with.

Well, here then: it’s those patterns of economic independence and the traditional bonds of morality that supported them that the Troika is determined to destroy. The Greek civil sector was not particularly bloated, not even compared with France, for example, which is my prime model for a life well-lived. And if it employed more people than it actually needed, let’s stop talking, like some are, as if it were a civil sector along Soviet lines: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” The Greek worker actually worked more hours than anyone in any industrialized country but South Korea – South Korea. Not efficient? Efficient for what and to what purpose? For the surpluses the Greek or other governments should enjoy? Since when is the state a business that has to pull in big profit margins and not primarily a structure for meeting the needs of its citizens? The same for the cutting of pensions that allowed older people to live in dignity and even help younger members of the family and have now been slashed by the Troika dictates? Really? Why? For whom?

And then on top of it all to tax people’s homes… We’re used to it in the United States, but I can’t convey what a sense of shock, and rightly so, this caused among Greeks – and even me. You’re going to tax me on the one roof I have over my head, the one thing I’m sure of, the one thing that I can grab at for some form of security, even if it’s Karagözi’s corrugated tin çandiri?

alexis-tsipras-neo-cvg-cvfvAlexis Tsipras

But let better minds than mine explain. This is an interview that Costas Lapavitsas recently gave a rather lame and argument-less Stephen John Sackur on the BBC’s Hardtalk. Lapavitsas is an economist, a graduate of the London School of Economics, a professor at the University of London and a columnist for The Guardian. He has the kind of intellectual confidence, articulateness and steel-trap mind that is — not just super-sexy — but is the gift of a certain kind of Greek who makes me immensely proud.  He’s an advisor for SYRIZA and I’m sure he’s detested by the party’s opponents because they can’t dismiss him as a childish, bratty demagogue the way they can dismiss Alexis Tsipras (above), the party’s actual leader, about whom I, too, have mixed feelings. There’s the BBC interview and then if you have the patience there are another interview and two longer lectures of his that get into stuff much more deeply.

 

He’s compelling…and smart…and not afraid of the truth. He makes the argument for what was always the small-scale of Greek economics: that it was never a country that lived off of large-scale foreign investment, that like I stated above, it never had a large “alienated proletariat” waiting for foreign industries to come and employ – exploit — which is precisely what the European Union wants to do to all of its southern periphery. He’s realistic; he was for exiting the Eurozone back in 2011-12, but admits it’s unfeasible now. He calmly listens to interviewer Sackur pose the smuggest kind of conventional wisdom, “but, surely…” questions, and without skipping a beat, says: “No..” and proceeds to demolish him. (His response to Sackur’s attempt to use Ireland as an example in his argument is not only point-on, but historically poignant, personally moving to me as a Queens boy, and a really satisfying little slap in the Brit’s face.**) He sees his Greece as the humanitarian disaster it has become, with a GDP that has fallen 25%, 50% youth unemployment and 25% overall unemployment, skyrocketing suicide rates and other rates of psychological diseases such as acute depression.  He says that it has moved beyond melt-down into what he calls “permafrost” and a stone from which no more blood can be drawn.*** He sees high, macroeconomic finance for the poker game it is: like I said – again – a game in which those who hold the reins of power alternately disseminate panic or fear in an intentionally self-fulfilling prophecy; and that those people are bullies, who will probably back down from their demands if a critical mass refuses to be bullied by them.

The point is building that critical mass.  And I thought I could vote in Greek elections for the first time this Sunday, but there are no consular elections for ex-pats possible with Greece as there is for a multitude of other countries — typical…  But if I could vote, I know who I’d be voting for.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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* Tangentially but, I think, not in the least irrelevant to this post…  One of the starkest lessons in geopolitics and political economy I was ever taught was when I started teaching English as a Second Language in New York’s CUNY system and realized that my Latin American students weren’t destitute, landless peasants from the Guatemalan highlands or Caracas slum-dwellers.  They were well-educated teachers, accountants, civil servants, small business owners…  They were part of a sizeable but fragile urban middle-class that the Neo-Liberalism applied to many South American economies in the ’80s trapped in a vice, and forced out into emigration.  And that’s what’s happening in countries like Greece and Spain and Ireland today.

** Meaning, that given the history of the British in Ireland, it’s a bit rich for an Englishman to be using that country as an example of “recovery.”  Yeah, Ireland is doing better.  Better because the tragic full-scale emigration of its youth has started again — something you can’t miss all around you in New York and especially in Queens — the continuation of a demographic catastrophe which first started when Great Britain practically depopulated the island by ripping apart the fabric of the Irish economy, its people and its civilization in the nineteenth century, with policies based on a moralizing, racist, Protestant set of arguments that are remarkably similar to those that Frau Merkel likes to spout about the European South today. And Lapavitsas makes that abundantly clear to him.  Plus Sackur’s whole fussy, donnish demeanor and Oxbridge accent make him so the perfect dude to cast if you need a target Englishman that you almost feel sorry for him; if I were him I’d need a drink after that interview.  See my: “The Graves Are Walking”: Was the Great Potato Famine a genocide?”  

And when I say “Protestant” in contexts like this, you can be sure — as per Weber — that I mean capitalist, for which most mainstream White Protestantism and its moral codes  — again, as per Weber (maybe a bit exaggerated) — is simply a front.

*** Or the homier example of Nasreddin Hoca and his donkey might make things clearer: Merkel, Spain, Greece and Nasreddin’s donkey

karikat__r_tan_oral

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ireland told-you-so: “I don’t think there’s any real support for violence, but you can see how quickly things can unravel…It’s very bleak, and it is something to worry about.”

21 Nov

New York Times piece about things coming to a head in Ireland: “Northern Ireland Is Sinking Into a ‘Profound Crisis’” :

As the standoff drags on, and polarization increases, people find it harder to envisage Northern Ireland as an autonomous entity. “We’re back to this binary situation where people either see it as a problematic part of the U.K. or as a part of united Ireland,” said Graham Walker, a politics professor at Queen’s University, Belfast.

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My previous Ireland posts, the top more Ireland-specific, at bottom a broader look at nation and minorities:

Is England ready for fresh Irish blood on its hands?

15 Sep

This is not a question I ask glibly or to be deliberately provocative.  In fact, I think I was a little too glib in my earlier opinions about the issue of Brexit and Ireland and I’ve been sobered up a bit.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a summit of the EU, Brussels, June 2017Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a summit of the EU, Brussels, June 2017

And it’s The New York Review of Books’ excellent piece by Fintan O’Toole, Brexit’s Irish Question“, that made me think a little more carefully about the whole issue.

I suggest everybody read the whole article since it’s open to the public, but I think even it pulls its punches a bit too much and doesn’t realize the degree of danger this “question” poses.  This is not “Brexit’s Irish Question.”  This is England’s Ireland Problem.  AGAIN.  STILL.  A reversion to form.  Before 1999.  Before 1921.  So all parties, but especially England, not Britain, should tread very carefully.

A good if rather lengthy summary/call out are the following three paragraphs from the piece:

“The Republic of Ireland was one of the most ethnically and religiously monolithic societies in the developed world. Its official ideology was a fusion of Catholicism and nationalism. The anti-homosexuality laws reflected the dominance of the Catholic Church, which was also manifest in extreme restrictions on contraception, divorce, and abortion. While the vast majority of its population was repelled by the savage violence of the Irish Republican Army’s armed campaign against British rule across the border in Northern Ireland, most agreed with the IRA’s basic aim of ending the partition of the island and bringing about what the Irish constitution called “the reintegration of the national territory.”

“But the Irish radically revised their nationalism. Three big things changed. The power of the Catholic Church collapsed in the 1990s, partly because of its dreadful response to revelations of its facilitation of sexual abuse of children by clergy. The Irish economy, home to the European headquarters of many of the major multinational IT and pharmaceutical corporations, became a poster child for globalization. And the search for peace in Northern Ireland forced a dramatic rethinking of ideas about identity, sovereignty, and nationality.

“These very questions had tormented Ireland for centuries and were at the heart of the vicious, low-level, but apparently interminable conflict that reignited in Northern Ireland in 1968 and wound down thirty years later. If that conflict was to be resolved, there was no choice but to be radical. Things that nation-states do not like—ambiguity, contingency, multiplicity—would have to be lived with and perhaps even embraced. Irish people, for the most part, have come to terms with this necessity. The English, as the Brexit referendum suggested, have not. This is why the Irish border has such profound implications for Brexit—it is a physical token of a mental frontier that divides not just territories but ideas of what a national identity means in the twenty-first century.”  [My emphases]

The passage’s conclusion pretty much says it all.  As the second decade of the twenty-first century comes to a close, and as Ireland approaches 100 years of freedom from almost 800 years of English rule, Ireland will enter the historical record as having taken a step forward and England as having taken a step backwards.  Good riddance, to be frank, as I have to say so against some pretty deep Anglophile sentiments.  It took me till much too late in life to realize that the best thing to do to an irate lover who loudly announces he’s not talking to you anymore is to ignore him, but that is what the European Union is rightly and justly doing to Britain.  And Britain is doing exactly what the “irate lover” always does when you call his no-talking bluff: trying to somehow work his way back into the position where he can regain at least some of the power that he forfeited with his drama so that he can manoeuver a bit.  But it’s not going to work.  Europe is genuinely tired of the drama.

The issue here is that it’s unconscionable that England’s drama should again be made Ireland’s.  Here’s a political map of the past two decades of Northern Irish life:

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 10.58.26 PM

What the map shows really clearly is that, as the percentage of Protestants in Northern Ireland has declined, the two groups have actually — during almost twenty years of what we have liked to imagine was peace — grown further apart and polarized into staunchly Sinn Féin Republican constituencies and Protestant DUP constituencies.  As the Review article points out Sinn Féin supporters in a non-EU Northern Ireland will now be deprived of the ability to have either or both Irish and British citizenship, something to which I cannot see them taking to very kindly.  I also do not see supporters of DUP, a corrupt bunch of thugs that represents the absolute worse of the English Reformation’s traditions of Guy Fawkes’ Day, anti-Catholic hatred and racism (no, Catholics aren’t always the bad guys), easily giving up their attachments to London.

But that’s exactly what London has to do.  England left Ireland in 1921 with a sizeable chunk stuck between its teeth that, like a pitbull, it would not let go of and which is why we find ourselves where we are today.  It left India in 1947 like a teenager who sheepishly goes off to sleep at his girl’s after his friends have trashed his parents’ place while they were away.  It left Cyprus in 1960 exactly the same, a time bomb ready to go off — which did.  Under no condition should England be allowed to leave a similar mess this time.  Time for the international community to make the English clean up after themselves.

The international community and NATO more specifically did not support Portugal in its attempt to hold on to Goa after Indian independence.  That means the UK neither, obviously.  It’s now time for the world to tell the UK to entirely and finally Quit Ireland, its closest and perhaps most deeply brutalized colony.  I’m usually not so intransigent on these issues, but the historical record calls for a complete rejection of any attempts by Irish Protestants to keep England involved in Irish affairs by “protecting” them or their rights; complicated compromises only kick the can down the road.  The historical record calls for a complete rejection of even a syllable of their “position.”  The historical record calls for a referendum, which Unionists will lose, and calls for London to make it clear to them that they are being cut loose.  Let them keep British citizenship if they want.  Come up with a resettlement scheme for them if that’s what they want, immigrants that the English can live with since they can’t tolerate detestable, lazy, dirty Poles.  Otherwise, bye-bye guys…

But if Theresa May and her government of buffoni were ethical enough or had the balls to do something like that, they would have started that process already, instead of still talking gibberish about everything like they are.

This might end badly.  Let’s hope not.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ireland — Gimme a break; I can’t believe this is even up for discussion

13 Aug

26 plus 6 equals 1

Check out the Times article from a few days ago: “On Irish Border, Worries That ‘Brexit’ Will Undo a Hard-Won Peace“.

I was once dragged by force into a corner by a Lebanese friend at a party in Cambridge and told to never ask anyone Lebanese their religious affiliation, I guess because I probably just had done.  Of course, I still ask. Like I implied in my Turkish post a few days ago, pretend unity (that you’re a passionate Erdoğan supporter and I’m not, or if you’re Maronite and I’m third-generation Palestinian doesn’t mean that we can’t still be “unified”), can only become real unity if differences are acknowledged. (*1)

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 3.46.29 PM

I’ve had not dissimilar experiences with Irish folks if I’ve ever tried to talk about religion or Ulster or “the Troubles.”  I once asked a guy at an Irish bar in Queens who was from Northern Ireland if he was Catholic, and I got a blank and frankly angry stare in response, and with so much alcohol and testosterone in the mix, realized quickly I should shut up and look the other way or change the topic.  A female bartender who heard the one-sided exchange said to me softly: “not a good idea to ask people those things…”  Ok.

pPJAwhu n ireland religionMap of Northern Ireland with distribution of Protestants (red) and Catholics (green) according to age group, showing a clear demographic decline of Protestants.

I also hear Irish anger at what they think is an out of touch diaspora that funded continuing IRA violence when the Irish themselves on both sides were starting to get tired of the violence and the fences were starting to come down — though that’s slightly disingenuous — in the early days these diaspora funders were heroes — and, as a non-metropolitan Greek, immediately assuming that the “diaspora” is “out of touch” or stuck in a time warp is a seriously irritating train of thought; there’s lotsa ways we’re more in touch than you lot.

So I’m really setting myself up as an easy target since I’m not even Irish or Irish-American.  But I feel I can’t be silent as the English decide the future of any part of Ireland again.

I know that the Brexit vote came as a shock to a lot of Americans, as we were forced to confront the fact that the English are not all that smart, and can be as jingoistic, xenophobic, ignorant and proudly “know-nothing” as Americans can be.  And I say the English because Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against leaving the European Union — in Northern Ireland, particularly, in percentages that would indicate a large number of Protestants voted to stay as well — and they should now be free to decide their own fates free of London.

Sometimes I feel that my views on the ethnic nation-state and minorities come across as selective and sort of random to readers, so let me take this moment to clarify a bit.  I am, of course, against the brutal assimilationist policies of the nation-state and a supporter of minority language and cultural rights.  On the other hand, I’m also against a minority holding an entirely polity hostage because it refuses to conform with the conditions of living in a state where they don’t hold numerical superiority.

There’s a great and frustrating passage in Rebecca West‘s beautiful Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, where her Serbian (and half-Jewish) tour-guide is arguing with a Croatian intellectual in Zagreb; “but you are not loyal” says the Serb:

Croat: You treat us badly.  How can we be loyal?

Serb:  You’re treated badly because you’re not loyal.

Croat:  How can we be loyal if we are treated badly?

Serb:  If you were loyal, you wouldn’t be treated badly.

Croat:  When you treat us better, we’ll be loyal.

Serb:  As long as you’re not loyal you can’t expect to be treated better.

And on and on and on…

Rebecca-West

(Rebecca West, who along with disconcertingly smart and honest, was clearly a real babe as well — broke a lot of hearts and refused to forgive when hers was…cool.  As Lauren Cooper would say: “Forgiving is for l-o-o-o-o-z-u-u-h-h-z-z!!!”)

Of course, we saw, during WWII, just after West’s second trip, and then again by the end of the last century, that Croatians had no intention of being loyal to Yugoslavia no matter how much bending-over-backwards to ‘treat them better’ Belgrade did.

img_0973 BLGF worn

Or take Catalans again, in a state where as a minority they are treated exceptionally well.  Still, with full language and cultural rights, they feel Madrid is oppressing them and they want full independence, threatening to rip apart the fabric of a country that has made impressive democratic achievements over the past few decades.  And those of you who bought the public relations crap about how “hip, cool and Mediterranean” Catalonia is, and who spend your tourist money in Barcelona and the Balearics have only contributed to the discriminatory tendencies of Catalan chauvinism and the worsening crisis of Catalan separatism.  Try Galicia or the Basque Country if you want to see parts of Spain that are not part of the Castilian center, but where ethno-linguistic difference has made its peace with the Spanish state and society has agreed to co-existence.  Or if they’re too rainy and un-Mediterranean for you, go to Córdoba and Granada (skip Seville, too Catholic and bull-obsessed), poorer parts of the country that need your money and where you can buy the public relations spin of Edward Said instead, who once outrageously made the claim that 60% of Spanish vocabulary is of Arabic origin, (or maybe the spin of Al Qaeda and ISIS) and wallow in Al-Andalus nostalgia.

spain_910_1492

Spain4 autonomous regions

Even more and very closer to home: my father’s Greek minority village of Derviçiani in southern Albania.  My early-days romance with the village is kinna over and I feel free to express things that I’m angry at myself for not saying to the faces of people there earlier.

EpireDuNOrd1913

I’d love to ask: what the f*ck do you want exactly?  They have Greek primary and secondary education; they have Greek churches (a Church about which few of them know anything or take seriously in any way, or have bothered to learn about in order to address the consequences of four decades of enforced atheism, but they have them); the Albanian Orthodox Church itself — meaning not just Greek minority churches, but the Church of Orthodox Albanians — in fact, is headed, run and staffed by Greeks, (extremely enlightened ones, I have to admit), the way the Arab Orthodox Churches of the Levant were for so many centuries; they have, I believe, two political parties that have members who sit in the Albanian parliament.  If their villages are experiencing slow to rapid depopulation, it’s not the fault of Albanians or Tiranë; they were simply trapped — Greeks and Albanians together — in a Stalinist cage for fifty years and now are free to leave: the villages of Greek Epiros started hemorrhaging inhabitants soon after WWII, and neighboring Albanian villages, both Christian and Muslim, are also emptying of young people.  Still, they’re hostile to neighboring Albanians; still, they want autonomy for “Northern Epiros,” which for some of them stretches half-way up to the middle of Albania (I don’t care if “the stones speak Greek all the way to Dyrracheio/Durrës” — The. People. Who. Live. There. Now. Don’t. And don’t want to be part of a Greek autonomous region. 2**); still, they make Muslim girls get baptized if they want to marry any of their precious boys, μη χέσω (thank God Albanians still wear their Islam kind of lightly or these poor girls would be in serious trouble) and will ostracize any Christian daughter or sister who falls in love with and marries a Muslim; still, they get offended, even a hip, British-educated nephew does, if you visit the pleasant, well-watered, historical Muslim village of Libohovo — Albanian Libohovë — across the valley and you come back and say it was very nice and that the young people there don’t seem much different than ours.  Of course, this attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the conversation from Black Lamb… above indicates, so that when you put up the flag of Autonomous Northern Epiros 1914 on August 15th and the Albanian police has to come and take it down, then you’ll just end up on the bad side of the Albanian authorities and ordinary Albanians’ retaliatory instinct and the vicious cycle will just keep going.

neolaia derbitsanis flagA flag of the Youth of Derviçiani, which, just by wild and completely invented coincidence, happens to have been “founded” in 1914, the year there was a short-lived experiment in Northern Epirote autonomy, which was squashed by Italian objections, because Italy considered Albania within its sphere of influence.  Obviously not a sign of just the “youth” of the village — there was no Youth of Derviçani in 1914.  And if there are still any doubts, the Palaelogan double-headed eagle lays them to rest.

(Really, is there anything as idiotic as a flag?)

But back to Ireland.  I think Ulster Protestants caused enough “troubles” by acting — with the hypocritical support of England — like they were a besieged minority that couldn’t be part of the Irish Republic.  So if a majority of Northern Irish voters chose to exit the Brexit, that’s a golden opportunity just dropped out of the heavens into our laps to correct an egregious historical wrong.  The invasion and conquest of Ireland, its depopulation and the ripping to shreds of its society, culture and language did not start with the Potato Famine of the nineteenth century.  It started with the Normans and the Plantagenets, and then the Tudors and the Stuarts and, finally, Cromwell and his Taliban, and it was a grueling, vicious, murderous process, as violent, or more, as any of Britain’s other colonial wars and right on Europe’s front door, and the Plantation of Ulster itself and the rest of Ireland was a conscious colonial policy of appropriating land and settling poor Protestant Scots and northern Englishmen in the country in order to “civilize” it and break Irish resistance to English hegemony.

Ireland_Protestants_1861-2011

If the above maps seem to indicate that a large number of Protestants left the Irish Republic in the twentieth century because they didn’t feel comfortable without the English crown’s protection, that’s unfortunate (it was not so unfortunate in cases where the Anglo-Irish elite felt they had to flee when their expropriated land was re-expropriated) but that can’t be a justification for the continued amputation of the country.

It’s a classic strategic move, though.  Ulster Protestants are not a socioeconomic group comparable to the Anglo-Irish landowners; they were always as squire-ridden as their Catholic neighbors and are still pretty much on equal footing in that sense.

But everybody has to be better than somebody, or else you’re nobody.  So, just like Catalans have to think they’re really Mare-Nostrum-Provençal Iberians (3 ***) and not part of reactionary Black Legend Spain; or Neo-Greeks have to think that they’re better than their Balkan neighbors (especially Albanian “Turks”) because they think they’re the descendants of those Greeks; or the largely lower-middle class, Low Church Anglican or Presbyterian or Methodist Brits who fled their socioeconomic status back home and went out to India in the nineteenth century in order to be somebody, had to destroy the socially laissez-faire modus vivendi that had existed there between Company white-folk and Indians, creating an apartheid and religiously intolerant, aggressively evangelizing, social system that laid the groundwork for the unbelievable blood-letting of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; or, perhaps history’s greatest example, poor whites in the American South (many, ironically, of Northern Irish Protestant origin) that had to terrorize Black freedmen back into their “place” because the one thing they had over them in the old South’s socioeconomic order, that they weren’t slaves, had been snatched away (and one swift look at the c-ontemporary American political scene shows clear as day indications that they’re, essentially, STILL angry at that demotion in status); or French Algerians couldn’t stomach the idea of living in an independent Algeria where they would be on equal footing with Arab or Berber Algerians.  So Protestant Ulstermen couldn’t tolerate being part of an independent state with these Catholic savages.

White Mughals Dalrymple

Freedman_bureau_harpers_cartoonA Bureau agent stands between armed groups of whites and Freedmen in this 1868 sketch from Harper’s Weekly.

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 6.56.34 PM

Recent White supremacist rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville — thanks to @JuliusGoat: “Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression.”

The colonial power — or just the colonized mind — then disingenuously but actively seeks to right these wrongs and protect the embattled minority.  The results?  A Lebanon torn apart by Maronite phobias and Palestinian victim-entitlement; the greatest threat to Spanish democracy since Franco; a Greece completely isolated from its nearest and closest — in every sense — neighbors; an India where British response to the Rebellion effectively disenfranchised Indian Muslims (4 ****) — Dalrymple shrewdly locates one of the beginnings of modern Islamic fundamentalism in that disenfranchisement and the Deobandi Islam it created 5 *****; the Ku Klux Clan and the murder of Emmett Till and Donald Trump; the vicious Algerian War of Independence, which resulted in French Algerians having to flee the country entirely to a France where they’re still a bulwark of reaction and racism, and the still bad blood between Algerian immigrants and natives in that country.

(I thought about adding Cyprus to that list, that’s going on forty-some years of division after the 1974 Turkish invasion, but didn’t, because Turkish Cypriots actually were an embattled minority, and Greek Cypriots have to do some moral self-searching about their terrorizing, or passively supporting the terrorizing, of their Turkish neighbors, before they blame either Turkey or the Greek junta for f*cking things up for them.)

I was against the Scottish independence referendum of a few years ago because I’m against separation and the putting up of borders generally.  But then the apparently stoned British electorate went and separated itself from the rest of Europe, and if Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales even, or Cornwall or the Isle of Manx or Jersey and Guernsey for that matter, want independence from England now, England will have only brought that down on its own head.  If Northern Ireland votes to stay in the European Union then de facto reunion with the Republic will have occurred; I would just like de jure recognition of that facto too, so that there’s no more excuse for meddling in Irish affairs.  Irishmen have done a lot of genuinely hard work confronting the demons of their own past in recent years; today’s Ireland is a democratic, pluralist, morally progressive society where the Catholic Church’s death-grip has been broken.  That Ulster Protestants can’t live there in peace and security and without English protection is a ludicrous idea.

So let it happen, and if Ulstermen don’t like it — sorry to sound like a reactionary nativist — but they’re free to go back to Scotland where they came from.  Or if they want they can come here and join their distant cousins in Kentucky and the Ozarks.  I’m sure President Trump will consider them the “right” kind of immigrants.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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1 * It’s a little reductive, but I think it’s not outrageously so to see the Lebanese Civil War as essentially, or initially,  a conflict between Maronite demographic panic and paranoia (not entirely unjustified) and Palestinian entitlement of the oppressed (even more justified); every other group seems to then have had no choice but to choose sides.  Then add Israel — which arguably started the whole problem — and Syria to the mix, και γάμησέ τα.

2 ** Of course, Northern Epirote Greeks’ δήθεν innocent desire for autonomy is completely disingenuous — though we’re supposed to think that Albanians are too stupid to get that — and is really just a prelude and first step to independence and union with Greece, though they’re a demographically fast-dwindling percentage of the population of the region they lay claim to.  That’s not a deterrent, however; all you have to do is believe that all Orthodox Albanians are reeeeeeeally Greek and you’ve solved your demographic issue, since Muslim Albanians are just turncoat intruders in the region as far as Northern Epirotes are concerned.

The only obstacle that would then be left is to get Albanians to forget what happened to the Muslim Albanian Çams of western Greek Epiros (Albanian: Çamëria, Greek: Τσαμουριά Tsamouriá) during WWII, when they were subjected to massacre and expulsion in a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Greek right-wing resistance and had to flee to Albania.

Chameria_map2

I still haven’t figured out how, as Muslims, they escaped the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange of the 1920s; it would’ve been a more merciful fate.  I also haven’t figured out how the tsamiko, a dance of central and southern Greece, got its name.  Or else, what clues to a forgotten past the fact that my grandmother’s maiden name was Çames provides; almost all our last names are Albanian — with the Greek male nominative -s ending added to them — as in Bako-s — but as far as I know there’s no clan in our villages whose last name is actually the name of an Albanian sub-ethnic group.  See: (Easter eggs: a grandmother and a grandfather“.

Scratch a Greek and find an Albanian, I guess…  Or a Vlach…  Or a Slav of some sort…  (See: Albanians in Greece and the “documentary that shocked Greece” from SKAI)

This kind of issue always reminds me of the Puerto Rican expression from a song of I dunno what period: “¿Y tu abuela donde está?” or ¿Y tu agüela, aonde ejtá?“And where’s your grandmother?” i.e., before you get all high and mighty and Whitey on us, show us the Black grandmother you’ve got hidden in the kitchen.

3 *** This fetishizing of the Mediterranean as a region, a lost paradise of cosmopolitanism and healthy diets, drives me nuts.  Everyone is suddenly “Mediterranean.”  The big laugh, of course, is that Turks are Mediterranean.  Then comes the less funny one about Croatians being Mediterranean, whereas Serbs are clearly not — Croats wanting to have it both ways, and be Mediterranean and Mitteleuropean at the same time — even if they’re from neolithic Herzegovina and about as neanderthal themselves as their Serbian and Muslim neanderthal neighbors; Istrians have sealed their Mediterranean-ness by buying every Italian restaurant in New York City’s boroughs, and of course the largely Italianate Dalmatian coast seals in most Europeans’ minds the idea of Croatia as a country on the f*cking M-E-D-I-T-E-R-R-A-N-E-A-N.  Actually, the closest example to Croatians’ appropriation of a largely Venetian Adriatic is the Turkish appropriation of Greek Aegean imagery, in tourist and p.r. language, on both the Anatolian coast and in Imbros and Tenedos.

Just as nicely condescending is the saying from some-where in the Iberian periphery that “de Madrid no se ve el mar,” “you can’t see the sea from Madrid.”  Supposedly a jab at Castillian casticismo, and inward-looking provincialness.  No, you can’t see the sea.  That’s why Castille is such a beautiful, high plateau, dry and bright and chilly and Romanesque and stunning in its emptiness and vastness.

A White Turk friend once dragged me to Sorrento on our trip to Naples and Campania, which I knew would be a mistake, because it would be and turned out to be a tourist-swamped, hellish Thomas Cook holiday trap because it was “on the sea.”  (but one makes concessions to one’s travelling partner’s fantasies.)  We cut out as soon as we could and headed to Ravello, up in the mountains away from the sea and she was blown away by how beautiful it was.

And what happens to Greeks like me? who are from a part of the Greek world that is clearly more Balkan in every way than it is Mediterranean?  What do we have to do to join the club?

4 **** William Dalrymple is a great historical writer who does what professional academics can’t do because they’re so specialized that they can easily say: “Sorry, I don’t work on that period” when you ask them anything they don’t know.  The breadth and depth of his knowledge on South Asia is truly amazing and he makes it all interesting and stimulating for the layman without dumbing it down.  When I first started this blog I wrote to him asking to reproduce some of the passages on the British destruction of Mughal Delhi contained in his book, The Last Mughal, and he immediately and generously shot back with an email that said: “Go for it.”  Thanks again.

So check out those posts here and here and here .  Better yet, buy the book.

5  ***** Worth reproducing here in whole:

“Following the crushing of the Uprising, and the uprooting and slaughter of the Delhi court, the Indian Muslims themselves also divided into two opposing paths: one, championed by the great Anglophile Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, looked to West, and believed that Indian Muslims could revive their fortunes only by embracing Western learning.  With this in mind, Sir Sayyid founded his Aligarh Mohamedan Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University) and tied to recreate Oxbridge in the plains of Hndustan.

“The other approach, taken by survivors of the old Madrasa i-Rahimiyya, was to reject the West in toto and to attempt to return to what they regarded as pure Islamic roots.  For this reason, disillusioned pupils of the school of Shah Waliullah, such as Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi – who in 1857 had briefly established an independent Islamic state north of Meerut at Shamli, in the Doab – founded an influential but depressingly narrow-minded Wahhabi-like madrasa at Deoband, one-hundred miles north of the former Mughal capital.  With their backs to the wall, they reacted against what the founders saw as the degenerate and rotten ways of the old Mughal elite.  The Deoband madrasa therefore went back to Koranic basics and rigorously stripped out anything Hindu or European from the curriculum.*

*(It was by no means a total divide: religious education at Aligarh, for example, was in the hands of the Deobandis.)

“One hundred and forty years later, it was out of Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the Taliban emerged to create the most retrograde Islamic regime in modern history, a regime that in turn provided the crucible from which emerged al-Qaeda, and the most radical and powerful fundamentalist Islamic counter-attack the modern West has yet encountered.”

the-last-mughal

See also his magisterial The Return of a King on nineteenth-century Afghanistan, which I have a few issues with, particularly his conclusions, but which was a couldn’t-put-it-down one for me.

Dalrymple return

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ireland — Gimme a break; I can’t believe this is even up for discussion

13 Aug

26 plus 6 equals 1

Check out the Times article from a few days ago: “On Irish Border, Worries That ‘Brexit’ Will Undo a Hard-Won Peace“.

I was once dragged by force into a corner by a Lebanese friend at a party in Cambridge and told to never ask anyone Lebanese their religious affiliation, I guess because I probably just had done.  Of course, I still ask. Like I implied in my Turkish post a few days ago, pretend unity (that you’re a passionate Erdoğan supporter and I’m not, or if you’re Maronite and I’m third-generation Palestinian doesn’t mean that we can’t still be “unified”), can only become real unity if differences are acknowledged. (*1)

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I’ve had not dissimilar experiences with Irish folks if I’ve ever tried to talk about religion or Ulster or “the Troubles.”  I once asked a guy at an Irish bar in Queens who was from Northern Ireland if he was Catholic, and I got a blank and frankly angry stare in response, and with so much alcohol and testosterone in the mix, realized quickly I should shut up and look the other way or change the topic.  A female bartender who heard the one-sided exchange said to me softly: “not a good idea to ask people those things…”  Ok.

pPJAwhu n ireland religionMap of Northern Ireland with distribution of Protestants (red) and Catholics (green) according to age group, showing a clear demographic decline of Protestants.

I also hear Irish anger at what they think is an out of touch diaspora that funded continuing IRA violence when the Irish themselves on both sides were starting to get tired of the violence and the fences were starting to come down — though that’s slightly disingenuous — in the early days these diaspora funders were heroes — and, as a non-metropolitan Greek, immediately assuming that the “diaspora” is “out of touch” or stuck in a time warp is a seriously irritating train of thought; there’s lotsa ways we’re more in touch than you lot.

So I’m really setting myself up as an easy target since I’m not even Irish or Irish-American.  But I feel I can’t be silent as the English decide the future of any part of Ireland again.

I know that the Brexit vote came as a shock to a lot of Americans, as we were forced to confront the fact that the English are not all that smart, and can be as jingoistic, xenophobic, ignorant and proudly “know-nothing” as Americans can be.  And I say the English because Scotland and Northern Ireland voted against leaving the European Union — in Northern Ireland, particularly, in percentages that would indicate a large number of Protestants voted to stay as well — and they should now be free to decide their own fates free of London.

Sometimes I feel that my views on the ethnic nation-state and minorities come across as selective and sort of random to readers, so let me take this moment to clarify a bit.  I am, of course, against the brutal assimilationist policies of the nation-state and a supporter of minority language and cultural rights.  On the other hand, I’m also against a minority holding an entirely polity hostage because it refuses to conform with the conditions of living in a state where they don’t hold numerical superiority.

There’s a great and frustrating passage in Rebecca West‘s beautiful Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, where her Serbian (and half-Jewish) tour-guide is arguing with a Croatian intellectual in Zagreb; “but you are not loyal” says the Serb:

Croat: You treat us badly.  How can we be loyal?

Serb:  You’re treated badly because you’re not loyal.

Croat:  How can we be loyal if we are treated badly?

Serb:  If you were loyal, you wouldn’t be treated badly.

Croat:  When you treat us better, we’ll be loyal.

Serb:  As long as you’re not loyal you can’t expect to be treated better.

And on and on and on…

Rebecca-West

(Rebecca West, who along with disconcertingly smart and honest, was clearly a real babe as well — broke a lot of hearts and refused to forgive when hers was…cool.  As Lauren Cooper would say: “Forgiving is for l-o-o-o-o-z-u-u-h-h-z-z!!!”)

Of course, we saw, during WWII, just after West’s second trip, and then again by the end of the last century, that Croatians had no intention of being loyal to Yugoslavia no matter how much bending-over-backwards to ‘treat them better’ Belgrade did.

img_0973 BLGF worn

Or take Catalans again, in a state where as a minority they are treated exceptionally well.  Still, with full language and cultural rights, they feel Madrid is oppressing them and they want full independence, threatening to rip apart the fabric of a country that has made impressive democratic achievements over the past few decades.  And those of you who bought the public relations crap about how “hip, cool and Mediterranean” Catalonia is, and who spend your tourist money in Barcelona and the Balearics have only contributed to the discriminatory tendencies of Catalan chauvinism and the worsening crisis of Catalan separatism.  Try Galicia or the Basque Country if you want to see parts of Spain that are not part of the Castilian center, but where ethno-linguistic difference has made its peace with the Spanish state and society has agreed to co-existence.  Or if they’re too rainy and un-Mediterranean for you, go to Córdoba and Granada (skip Seville, too Catholic and bull-obsessed), poorer parts of the country that need your money and where you can buy the public relations spin of Edward Said instead, who once outrageously made the claim that 60% of Spanish vocabulary is of Arabic origin, (or maybe the spin of Al Qaeda and ISIS) and wallow in Al-Andalus nostalgia.

spain_910_1492

Spain4 autonomous regions

Even more and very closer to home: my father’s Greek minority village of Derviçiani in southern Albania.  My early-days romance with the village is kinna over and I feel free to express things that I’m angry at myself for not saying to the faces of people there earlier.

EpireDuNOrd1913

I’d love to ask: what the f*ck do you want exactly?  They have Greek primary and secondary education; they have Greek churches (a Church about which few of them know anything or take seriously in any way, or have bothered to learn about in order to address the consequences of four decades of enforced atheism, but they have them); the Albanian Orthodox Church itself — meaning not just Greek minority churches, but the Church of Orthodox Albanians — in fact, is headed, run and staffed by Greeks, (extremely enlightened ones, I have to admit), the way the Arab Orthodox Churches of the Levant were for so many centuries; they have, I believe, two political parties that have members who sit in the Albanian parliament.  If their villages are experiencing slow to rapid depopulation, it’s not the fault of Albanians or Tiranë; they were simply trapped — Greeks and Albanians together — in a Stalinist cage for fifty years and now are free to leave: the villages of Greek Epiros started hemorrhaging inhabitants soon after WWII, and neighboring Albanian villages, both Christian and Muslim, are also emptying of young people.  Still, they’re hostile to neighboring Albanians; still, they want autonomy for “Northern Epiros,” which for some of them stretches half-way up to the middle of Albania (I don’t care if “the stones speak Greek all the way to Dyrracheio/Durrës” — The. People. Who. Live. There. Now. Don’t. And don’t want to be part of a Greek autonomous region. 2**); still, they make Muslim girls get baptized if they want to marry any of their precious boys, μη χέσω (thank God Albanians still wear their Islam kind of lightly or these poor girls would be in serious trouble) and will ostracize any Christian daughter or sister who falls in love with and marries a Muslim; still, they get offended, even a hip, British-educated nephew does, if you visit the pleasant, well-watered, historical Muslim village of Libohovo — Albanian Libohovë — across the valley and you come back and say it was very nice and that the young people there don’t seem much different than ours.  Of course, this attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the conversation from Black Lamb… above indicates, so that when you put up the flag of Autonomous Northern Epiros 1914 on August 15th and the Albanian police has to come and take it down, then you’ll just end up on the bad side of the Albanian authorities and ordinary Albanians’ retaliatory instinct and the vicious cycle will just keep going.

neolaia derbitsanis flagA flag of the Youth of Derviçiani, which, just by wild and completely invented coincidence, happens to have been “founded” in 1914, the year there was a short-lived experiment in Northern Epirote autonomy, which was squashed by Italian objections, because Italy considered Albania within its sphere of influence.  Obviously not a sign of just the “youth” of the village — there was no Youth of Derviçani in 1914.  And if there are still any doubts, the Palaelogan double-headed eagle lays them to rest.

(Really, is there anything as idiotic as a flag?)

But back to Ireland.  I think Ulster Protestants caused enough “troubles” by acting — with the hypocritical support of England — like they were a besieged minority that couldn’t be part of the Irish Republic.  So if a majority of Northern Irish voters chose to exit the Brexit, that’s a golden opportunity just dropped out of the heavens into our laps to correct an egregious historical wrong.  The invasion and conquest of Ireland, its depopulation and the ripping to shreds of its society, culture and language did not start with the Potato Famine of the nineteenth century.  It started with the Normans and the Plantagenets, and then the Tudors and the Stuarts and, finally, Cromwell and his Taliban, and it was a grueling, vicious, murderous process, as violent, or more, as any of Britain’s other colonial wars and right on Europe’s front door, and the Plantation of Ulster itself and the rest of Ireland was a conscious colonial policy of appropriating land and settling poor Protestant Scots and northern Englishmen in the country in order to “civilize” it and break Irish resistance to English hegemony.

Ireland_Protestants_1861-2011

If the above maps seem to indicate that a large number of Protestants left the Irish Republic in the twentieth century because they didn’t feel comfortable without the English crown’s protection, that’s unfortunate (it was not so unfortunate in cases where the Anglo-Irish elite felt they had to flee when their expropriated land was re-expropriated) but that can’t be a justification for the continued amputation of the country.

It’s a classic strategic move, though.  Ulster Protestants are not a socioeconomic group comparable to the Anglo-Irish landowners; they were always as squire-ridden as their Catholic neighbors and are still pretty much on equal footing in that sense.

But everybody has to be better than somebody, or else you’re nobody.  So, just like Catalans have to think they’re really Mare-Nostrum-Provençal Iberians (3 ***) and not part of reactionary Black Legend Spain; or Neo-Greeks have to think that they’re better than their Balkan neighbors (especially Albanian “Turks”) because they think they’re the descendants of those Greeks; or the largely lower-middle class, Low Church Anglican or Presbyterian or Methodist Brits who fled their socioeconomic status back home and went out to India in the nineteenth century in order to be somebody, had to destroy the socially laissez-faire modus vivendi that had existed there between Company white-folk and Indians, creating an apartheid and religiously intolerant, aggressively evangelizing, social system that laid the groundwork for the unbelievable blood-letting of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; or, perhaps history’s greatest example, poor whites in the American South (many, ironically, of Northern Irish Protestant origin) that had to terrorize Black freedmen back into their “place” because the one thing they had over them in the old South’s socioeconomic order, that they weren’t slaves, had been snatched away (and one swift look at the c-ontemporary American political scene shows clear as day indications that they’re, essentially, STILL angry at that demotion in status); or French Algerians couldn’t stomach the idea of living in an independent Algeria where they would be on equal footing with Arab or Berber Algerians.  So Protestant Ulstermen couldn’t tolerate being part of an independent state with these Catholic savages.

White Mughals Dalrymple

Freedman_bureau_harpers_cartoonA Bureau agent stands between armed groups of whites and Freedmen in this 1868 sketch from Harper’s Weekly.

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 6.56.34 PM

Recent White supremacist rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville — thanks to @JuliusGoat: “Imagine if these people ever faced actual oppression.”

The colonial power — or just the colonized mind — then disingenuously but actively seeks to right these wrongs and protect the embattled minority.  The results?  A Lebanon torn apart by Maronite phobias and Palestinian victim-entitlement; the greatest threat to Spanish democracy since Franco; a Greece completely isolated from its nearest and closest — in every sense — neighbors; an India where British response to the Rebellion effectively disenfranchised Indian Muslims (4 ****) — Dalrymple shrewdly locates one of the beginnings of modern Islamic fundamentalism in that disenfranchisement and the Deobandi Islam it created 5 *****; the Ku Klux Clan and the murder of Emmett Till and Donald Trump; the vicious Algerian War of Independence, which resulted in French Algerians having to flee the country entirely to a France where they’re still a bulwark of reaction and racism, and the still bad blood between Algerian immigrants and natives in that country.

(I thought about adding Cyprus to that list, that’s going on forty-some years of division after the 1974 Turkish invasion, but didn’t, because Turkish Cypriots actually were an embattled minority, and Greek Cypriots have to do some moral self-searching about their terrorizing, or passively supporting the terrorizing, of their Turkish neighbors, before they blame either Turkey or the Greek junta for f*cking things up for them.)

I was against the Scottish independence referendum of a few years ago because I’m against separation and the putting up of borders generally.  But then the apparently stoned British electorate went and separated itself from the rest of Europe, and if Scotland and Northern Ireland and Wales even, or Cornwall or the Isle of Manx or Jersey and Guernsey for that matter, want independence from England now, England will have only brought that down on its own head.  If Northern Ireland votes to stay in the European Union then de facto reunion with the Republic will have occurred; I would just like de jure recognition of that facto too, so that there’s no more excuse for meddling in Irish affairs.  Irishmen have done a lot of genuinely hard work confronting the demons of their own past in recent years; today’s Ireland is a democratic, pluralist, morally progressive society where the Catholic Church’s death-grip has been broken.  That Ulster Protestants can’t live there in peace and security and without English protection is a ludicrous idea.

So let it happen, and if Ulstermen don’t like it — sorry to sound like a reactionary nativist — but they’re free to go back to Scotland where they came from.  Or if they want they can come here and join their distant cousins in Kentucky and the Ozarks.  I’m sure President Trump will consider them the “right” kind of immigrants.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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1 * It’s a little reductive, but I think it’s not outrageously so to see the Lebanese Civil War as essentially, or initially,  a conflict between Maronite demographic panic and paranoia (not entirely unjustified) and Palestinian entitlement of the oppressed (even more justified); every other group seems to then have had no choice but to choose sides.  Then add Israel — which arguably started the whole problem — and Syria to the mix, και γάμησέ τα.

2 ** Of course, Northern Epirote Greeks’ δήθεν innocent desire for autonomy is completely disingenuous — though we’re supposed to think that Albanians are too stupid to get that — and is really just a prelude and first step to independence and union with Greece, though they’re a demographically fast-dwindling percentage of the population of the region they lay claim to.  That’s not a deterrent, however; all you have to do is believe that all Orthodox Albanians are reeeeeeeally Greek and you’ve solved your demographic issue, since Muslim Albanians are just turncoat intruders in the region as far as Northern Epirotes are concerned.

The only obstacle that would then be left is to get Albanians to forget what happened to the Muslim Albanian Çams of western Greek Epiros (Albanian: Çamëria, Greek: Τσαμουριά Tsamouriá) during WWII, when they were subjected to massacre and expulsion in a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Greek right-wing resistance and had to flee to Albania.

Chameria_map2

I still haven’t figured out how, as Muslims, they escaped the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange of the 1920s; it would’ve been a more merciful fate.  I also haven’t figured out how the tsamiko, a dance of central and southern Greece, got its name.  Or else, what clues to a forgotten past the fact that my grandmother’s maiden name was Çames provides; almost all our last names are Albanian — with the Greek male nominative -s ending added to them — as in Bako-s — but as far as I know there’s no clan in our villages whose last name is actually the name of an Albanian sub-ethnic group.  See: (Easter eggs: a grandmother and a grandfather“.

Scratch a Greek and find an Albanian, I guess…  Or a Vlach…  Or a Slav of some sort…  (See: Albanians in Greece and the “documentary that shocked Greece” from SKAI)

This kind of issue always reminds me of the Puerto Rican expression from a song of I dunno what period: ¿Y tu abuela donde está?” or ¿Y tu agüela, aonde ejtá?“And where’s your grandmother?” i.e., before you get all high and mighty and Whitey on us, show us the Black grandmother you’ve got hidden in the kitchen.

3 *** This fetishizing of the Mediterranean as a region, a lost paradise of cosmopolitanism and healthy diets, drives me nuts.  Everyone is suddenly “Mediterranean.”  The big laugh, of course, is that Turks are Mediterranean.  Then comes the less funny one about Croatians being Mediterranean, whereas Serbs are clearly not — Croats wanting to have it both ways, and be Mediterranean and Mitteleuropean at the same time — even if they’re from neolithic Herzegovina and about as neanderthal themselves as their Serbian and Muslim neanderthal neighbors; Istrians have sealed their Mediterranean-ness by buying every Italian restaurant in New York City’s boroughs, and of course the largely Italianate Dalmatian coast seals in most Europeans’ minds the idea of Croatia as a country on the f*cking M-E-D-I-T-E-R-R-A-N-E-A-N.  Actually, the closest example to Croatians’ appropriation of a largely Venetian Adriatic is the Turkish appropriation of Greek Aegean imagery, in tourist and p.r. language, on both the Anatolian coast and in Imbros and Tenedos.

Just as nicely condescending is the saying from some-where in the Iberian periphery that “de Madrid no se ve el mar,” “you can’t see the sea from Madrid.”  Supposedly a jab at Castillian casticismo, and inward-looking provincialness.  No, you can’t see the sea.  That’s why Castille is such a beautiful, high plateau, dry and bright and chilly and Romanesque and stunning in its emptiness and vastness.

A White Turk friend once dragged me to Sorrento on our trip to Naples and Campania, which I knew would be a mistake, because it would be and turned out to be a tourist-swamped, hellish Thomas Cook holiday trap because it was “on the sea.”  (but one makes concessions to one’s travelling partner’s fantasies.)  We cut out as soon as we could and headed to Ravello, up in the mountains away from the sea and she was blown away by how beautiful it was.

And what happens to Greeks like me? who are from a part of the Greek world that is clearly more Balkan in every way than it is Mediterranean?  What do we have to do to join the club?

4 **** William Dalrymple is a great historical writer who does what professional academics can’t do because they’re so specialized that they can easily say: “Sorry, I don’t work on that period” when you ask them anything they don’t know.  The breadth and depth of his knowledge on South Asia is truly amazing and he makes it all interesting and stimulating for the layman without dumbing it down.  When I first started this blog I wrote to him asking to reproduce some of the passages on the British destruction of Mughal Delhi contained in his book, The Last Mughal, and he immediately and generously shot back with an email that said: “Go for it.”  Thanks again.

So check out those posts here and here and here .  Better yet, buy the book.

5  ***** Worth reproducing here in whole:

“Following the crushing of the Uprising, and the uprooting and slaughter of the Delhi court, the Indian Muslims themselves also divided into two opposing paths: one, championed by the great Anglophile Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, looked to West, and believed that Indian Muslims could revive their fortunes only by embracing Western learning.  With this in mind, Sir Sayyid founded his Aligarh Mohamedan Anglo-Oriental College (later Aligarh Muslim University) and tied to recreate Oxbridge in the plains of Hndustan.

“The other approach, taken by survivors of the old Madrasa i-Rahimiyya, was to reject the West in toto and to attempt to return to what they regarded as pure Islamic roots.  For this reason, disillusioned pupils of the school of Shah Waliullah, such as Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi – who in 1857 had briefly established an independent Islamic state north of Meerut at Shamli, in the Doab – founded an influential but depressingly narrow-minded Wahhabi-like madrasa at Deoband, one-hundred miles north of the former Mughal capital.  With their backs to the wall, they reacted against what the founders saw as the degenerate and rotten ways of the old Mughal elite.  The Deoband madrasa therefore went back to Koranic basics and rigorously stripped out anything Hindu or European from the curriculum.*

*(It was by no means a total divide: religious education at Aligarh, for example, was in the hands of the Deobandis.)

“One hundred and forty years later, it was out of Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan that the Taliban emerged to create the most retrograde Islamic regime in modern history, a regime that in turn provided the crucible from which emerged al-Qaeda, and the most radical and powerful fundamentalist Islamic counter-attack the modern West has yet encountered.”

the-last-mughal

See also his magisterial The Return of a King on nineteenth-century Afghanistan, which I have a few issues with, particularly his conclusions, but which was a couldn’t-put-it-down one for me.

Dalrymple return

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

New Year in Derviçani: loving to come; dying to leave; fireworks; hate that won’t die; and a judo fantasy

14 Jan

Dropoli Road 1
I spent New Year’s Eve and Day in Derviçani, my father’s village in Albania, and as always it was an exhausting experience. No matter how well I arm myself emotionally to take this place on: knowing how it’ll test my eating and drinking prowess, my instant access to genealogical knowledge files, my capacity for being immersed in the constant love, attention, curiosity and just physical presence of scores of relatives, the emotional demands of everyone – not that they’re not normal; they’re perfectly sane – we’re the emotional cripples compared to them – the memories of those people lost who I never got to know, the steady haemorrhaging away of those who still remember those people and the mentally exhausting task of drawing often traumatic memories out of those who are still around; the whole community’s looking ahead with indifference to the past I’m here to excavate, while they’re still stuck in a different past I’d like to change: one of hurt, deprivation and ethno-religious – sorry I can’t call it anything milder – hatred — and especially around holidays – hatred armed — often hidden but nonetheless real and present and easily accessible; it all drains every drop of my emotional energy. All that, and then the going through the borders and customs and floodlights that still reek of Stalin and enclosure and entrapment…as soon as the vehicle has picked up speed and we’re riding through the ugly brush country of Greek Pogoni and on my way to Jiannena, my body feels this, excuse me, defecatory freedom that I only know from a New York cop letting me go with a typical: “Ok, git outta heeya.” I love coming here. I love leaving perhaps even more.

A friend of mine, E., who came here to a family wedding with me last summer, something of a professional Balkanist, I guess one would call him, sent me a very sweet email about what a “lovely evening” it must’ve been when I sent him pictures of the fireworks that Derviçani and all neighboring villages shoot off; but he should have known that all the bright lights might have had a slightly more sinister edge than is immediately evident. The immediately neighbouring village to the north of Derviçani is is the Muslim-Albanian Lezarates, for example, with whom we’ve had a centuries-long blood feud – why and how is lost in the past but I’ll give you what I know and why a bit further down. Needless to say, a fireworks display at New Year is anything but a piece of innocent joy. It’s a minor war-skirmish from a distance, which my buddy should have guessed.

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To begin with, in the Greek villages of Dropoli, the valley south of Gjirokastër (Argyrocastro) down to the ridge and now Greek border of Mourgana, New Year is celebrated by Greek time, one hour ahead, while Albania is one hour behind. “They think they’re Italians,” we like to make fun of them. Then, among the fireworks, at least in the past, innocent Roman candle stuff, were also included the firing off of Kalashnikovs, dynamite, and what sounded to me, frankly, like rocket-propelled grenades…the Kalashnikovs are still around for sure. Then at midnight local time, the Albanian villages of the valley come out with an even bigger barrage of rockets’ red glare.  They blow it all. We wait about twenty minutes, and at 12:20 shoot off some more of our flares. They’re “Arvanites,” i.e. — you draw your own conclusions – so they shot off all their stock at one time, while we’re crafty Greeks who held back on some to send out a second ball-busting round a little bit later. A few tiny spurts from Lezarates itself or the Muslim Libohovo across the valley was all we got in return.

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*   *   *

I wrote in my preface to Annia Ciezadlo’s beautiful piece on the Syrian refugees and Mytilene: “Be Like Water: The Nonviolent State of Iraq and Syria. The Republic-in-Motion of Lovers Not Fighters. The Government-in-Exile of People Who Just Want to Go to School.” that:

Across exactly from Mytilene is the Turkish town of Ayvali (Ayvalık). Ayvali was one of those products of the Ottomans’ improvisatory policies for managing the multiple ethnic and religious corporate groups that constituted the empire, and usually worked; in the 18th century, the coast of the Anatolian Aegean being underpopulated and underutilized economically, a grant was given to Greeks to settle the region that didn’t just encourage Greeks, but excluded Muslims from settling there, to make the area even more attractive for Greek settlers…

Ayvalik_III

Ayvali

“And very soon, Ayvali grew, out of its seafaring activities and the fertility of its hinterland, into a prosperous and what is, architecturally, still a beautiful small Greek city, the object of much nostalgia in the Greek genre of Anatolian martyrology, but more, the symbol of what Patricia Storace calls “the voluptuous domesticity” that Greeks associate with their former paradisiacal life on the Aegean coast…

[It’s also made Ayvali, the neighbouring island of Cunda, and the formerly Greek-inhabited islands of Tenedos and Imvros to some extent, newly fashionable for White Turk hipster tourists, since their parents’ generation didn’t get a chance to turn it all into Bodrum or Benidorm like they’ve done to the rest of the coast.  They’re the Aegean coast equivalent of Pera/Galata and like neighborhoods in Istanbul.  See my Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013]

“So the two regions came to fit into each other like a Yin/Yang symbol, and when the Exchange came, most Ayvali Greeks were settled in Mytilene, while the Turks of the island were shipped just across the water – the often treacherous channel were so many refugees today have drowned (it’s a great error – popular and tourist-based — to see the Aegean as a benign sea), and settled in Ayvali and its neighboring villages.”

“…the Ottomans did odd shit like this, to keep everybody happy and for the most part it worked.  Like Ayvali and its environs, in Istanbul, for example, in the 17th century the Porte granted the mostly Chian shipyard workers from the tershana in Hasköy on the Golden Horn/Keratio, the right to establish a village around the pre-existent shrine of St. Demetrios on the hilltop which the gulley up through Dolapdere leads to, and where no Muslims, weirdly, were allowed to settle.  This was the nucleus out of which the legendary Greek neighborhood of Tatavla grew, and which, due to its rough, working class character, was an intimidating place for Muslims to enter until the end of the Empire.  Except for its famous Carnival, when everyone was allowed.

“The same would happen in highland regions of Greece, Epiros especially — where remittances from emigrant locals provided the wealth to pay for it — and autonomous privileges were bought from the Ottoman authorities by groups of villages in return for a modest amount of self-government and the right to not have Muslims settle there and not be subject to Islamic proselytizing of any sort — violent or otherwise.”

*   *   *

For many reasons that’s not what happened in the Christian villages of the valley of Dropoli. At some point in the late 17th and early 18th century the region was subjected to a violent wave of Islamization. There are little bits and pieces I’ve been able to put together on my own, though I’m anything but a professional historian, but I haven’t been able to come up for a single, holistic theory of why this happened across what seems to have been much of the western Balkans at the time. Was it Mehmet IV’s failing at Vienna a second time, this time with the Hapsburgs chasing the retreating Ottomans as far south as Kosovo? (The subsequent Austrian withdrawal and the violent anti-Serb reprisals that followed — the whole internecine blood-letting mechanism worked like tragic clockwork — is part of what set off the Great Migration of the Serbs northwards at the time and accounts for the demographic shift of the of the Serbian nation’s center of gravity far north to the Hapsburg frontier and the movement of a great many Serbs across the Danube into Austria itself.) Was it the simultaneous urban revolt of what had always been the loyal city of Jiannena, under the leadership of a charismatic priest known as Dionyses Skylosofos, which had always sounded to me doomed from the beginning, and ended in the expulsion of the Christian population of the city from inside the walls – a common Ottoman response to infidel misbehaving – while the city’s walled neighbourhoods became exclusively Muslim and Jewish till the 1920s and the Exchange?

Was it the spread of Bektaşism that needed to be put down? Because this is the period when Bektaşism: an originally Sufi order from Anatolia that ended up becoming an Alevi-like, quasi Shia branch of Islam, eventually became Albania’s and Epiros’ most naturalized form of the religion. I asked a British academic that I once met personally and who’s a specialist on Bektaşism, and incidentally – or maybe not – of Turco-Jianniotiko descent himself, something I always wondered about: Bektaşism was pretty much the official Islam of the Janissary order and the Classical Ottoman period Janissary corps was of disproportionately Albanian, Serbian and Bosnian stock. We now know that Janissaries maintained much closer contact with their communities of origin than previously thought. Was the spread of Bektaşism in the western Balkans a kind of circular process, where young men taken away into the corps came back to their communities and there spread their new form of Islam, more digestible to Christians willing to convert: pacifist — paradoxically for a warrior corps — full of semi-Christian elements, again like Alevism, like music and dance and shared, liturgical feasts? “That’s an excellent question,” he responded, “but not one we have any way of answering.” (That’s the cynical explanation of Greeks of our parts anyway: that so much of southern and central Albania is Bektaşi because Albanians just couldn’t give up their drink.)

Dropoli Road 2.jpg

For our case, did the discouraging of Bektaşism by an Ottoman power-that-was, after a humiliating defeat that spelt out clearly that they were never getting the rich plains of Hungary back (as that ass Orbán insists on reminding us) and certainly not ever a chance at Vienna, go hand in hand with a wave of violent proselytizing and conversion in southern Albania/Epiros? That is, did defeat and suppressing disorthodoxy within the faith come hand in hand with converting the real giaourides as well? (Mind you, I’m not even sure there was any suppression of the Bektaşis at the time — sure only of that that occurred with the disbanding of the Janissaries in the 1820s by Mahmud II.)  The period left its mark on Dropoli in any event, whatever other events it was connected to.

There is, as a result, a violently defensive Greekness about our villages, which I’ve tried to respect and tried to free myself from intellectually and spiritually at the same time for most of my life, that is clearly a descendant of a violently defensive response to attempts at forced conversion. The “national anthem” of the Greek villages of Dropoli is “Δεροπολίτισσα,” “Dropolitissa,” — girl from Dropoli — a song heard at least once at every feast, wedding and other gathering:

“Dropolitissa, when you go to church,

When you go to church with lamps and candles.

Pray for us too, for us Christians,

For we’re being crushed by Turkdom*

And they’re slaying us like lambs,

Like lambs at Easter, like goats on St. George’s Day.”**

Μωρ’ Δεροπολίτισσα,
μωρ’ καημένη
μωρ’ Δεροπολίτισσα, ζηλεμένη,
βάλ’ το φέσι σου στραβά
σίντα πας στην εκκλησιά,
με λαμπάδες με κεριά
και με μοσχοθυμιατά.
Και προσκύνα για τ’ εμάς,
για τ’ εμάς τους Χριστιανούς,
τι μας πλάκωσ’ η Τουρκιά
και μας σφάζουν σαν τ’ αρνιά,

σαν τ’ αρνιά τη Πασχαλιά

τα κατσίκια τ’ Αϊ Γιωργιού.

* The word used is Tourkiá, not a plural, but a great, overwhelming singular mass, which is…I dunno…a collective noun, I guess, grammatically? The verb for “crushed” — “plakose,” comes from “plaka” which means “slab,” usually of stone.  The image is one of a great big slab of granite falling onto you.  Not Turks, but Turkdom: “Türklik”

** St. George’s Day is April 23rd always near Easter; with the Calendar change, it often comes before Easter, so if Easter is May 1st, like it will be this year, St. George’s Day will be moved to May 2nd so that so important a saint’s day doesn’t fall during the lenten period or Holy Week. So the two are closely related, in Greek folk songs, especially, one coming as the non-rhyme ending of the line after the first.

*** “Οι ερευνητές του 19ου αιώνα, Παναγιώτης Αραβαντινός και Κωνσταντίνος Σάθας, πιστεύουν ότι αναφέρεται σε εξέγερση του 1565 και στις τραγικές συνέπειες που είχε η αποτυχία της. Κατά τους Ν. Παπαδόπουλο και Α. Μαμμόπουλο το τραγούδι χρονικά πρέπει να τοποθετηθεί στην περίοδο 1600-1700.”

“According to folklore researchers Panagiotes Aravantinos and Konstantinos Satha, the song refers to the an uprising dated 1565 [before my estimate] and to the tragic results of its failure. According to N. Papadopoulu and A. Mammopoulo the song should date chronologically to the period between 1600 – 1700…[ which is more in keeping with my theory of larger Ottoman and Central European events — second siege of Vienna, Great Migration of the Serbs — and to local folk-historiography about the slaughter of Christians, the song itself and the conversion of Lezarates, all during and around the time of Mehmet IV’s reign, the spread of Bektaşism in the region – almost as a compromise form of religious change – all coming at around the same time and resulting in Dropolites’ reputation as Orthodox Christians of an almost nationalist fanaticism, including their later and current resistance to language change and…of course…as if Lezarates weren’t unpleasant enough neighbors, they’re inatlı refusal to ever forgive them for converting.]”

This is a recording of the song; though it’s from a formal folklore performance and the women aren’t wearing Dropolitiko dress (like in the very old photo below), the vocals and clarinet and violin soloists are superb.  Young Greeks suddenly became fascinated with our dronal, polyphonic singing, that of Greeks and Albanians in southern Albania, in the mid to late 90s.  And the style, the “code” of the dancers — I don’t know what to call it except the deadly seriousness with which we used to take our song and dance tradition, perhaps most important — is gorgeous:

Dropolitisses sitting

Apparently, the Christian peasant women of Dropoli, serfs essentially of the çiftliks of Gjirokaster’s ağas, went around till the mid-nineteenth century with a tattooed cross on their forehead, like Egyptian Copts still put on their wrists, to defensively state their faith, to prove a girl’s religion when/if abducted by a Muslim man, or to prevent seduction by sweet-talking Bektaşi babadhes, though there’s no living memory of that practice, at least not of Bektaşis as agents of violent conversion: if anything, quite the opposite. What there is living memory of, though, is of Lezarates and their ‘opportunistic’ conversion to Islam at some point in the early 18th century, for which they will never be forgiven: turn-coats that we will now have nothing ever to do with. And there’s the alternative, totally science fiction myth, that Lezaratinoi are descended from a legion of Janissaries who had some contagious disease, and were abandoned to die by their comrades on the bare rocky plateau that Lezarates is built on. And yet survived. And today’s Lezaratinoi are the descendants of these Janissary-cyborgs: ruthless, tough as nails…Albanian.

This is our view of them at least; maybe we should take a look in the mirror.

In any event, the depredations of the now upper-handed-because-Muslim Lezaratinoi –- constant raids, shootings, encroachment on flocks and fields, bride-snatchings — none of which any Christian in Ottoman times had any real legal recourse for — it meant taking things, and a rifle, into your own hands – had gotten to a point where the population of a once entirely Greek village located between the two villages, Kolortse, up and moved to the safety of numbers in Derviçani in the 1860s, and there’s still a sub-ethnic difference recognized between “Old” Derviçiotes and them.

Buci grave 1

The death toll of this current feud between the two villages – though nobody seems to know when we’re counting from – now stands at Lezarates 23 – Derviçani 21: that’s how many fatalities in the other community we’re each responsible for, the “Lazides” two points ahead. A not so recent one, but one that is pretty much illustrative of the whole “geist” of these incidents, is this young man, Gazmend Buci, shot at the age of 21 in 1999 while walking through some fallow field on the northern end of Derviçiotiko territory. Two Derviçiotes saw him there — this was a couple of years after the Albanian army just self-disbanded, and the entire state came close to collapsing, during an economic crisis caused by a ridiculous pyramid scheme the government was part of and when people had just walked off with anything the fleeing conscripts left behind: guys proudly driving tanks back home to their village, whole vans of Kalashnikovs pounced on and distributed to anybody who wanted one, or two or three if you had the guts, and it took the Albanian police quite a while to get things under control. But no mass collection or return of arms was ever conducted so you can bet that most households in the region still have one or two or more firearms under the floorboards.

He was “looking to steal” something was the excuse. What, what, what, he could’ve possibly been been looking to steal in the empty, gravelly no-man’s land between the two villages?…or is “stealing” just what Albanians do? Anyway, the Derviçiotes just blew him away with two volleys in the chest. His family took his body and buried him in Lezarates…but set up this semi-grave monument to him in 1999 in the middle of the Derviçiote’s empty field where he had been killed.

Now, you don’t think that’s the end of the story just because it happened in 1999, seventeen years ago, do you? As more and more Albanians of all countries and of all religion and ethnicity are migrating again: some, especially Kosovars, are joining the larger sweep of refugees heading north; others are leaving a Greece in deep economic doldrums, and returning north to their villages and trying to make use of the arable land they left lying fallow since they fled through the seemingly magic opened gate they feared would close on them again in 1990-91. These gulley-striated hills between Derviçani and Lezarates – the old lands of Kolortse – used to grow a deep black grape with a high sugar content and thick skin that could be left to macerate pretty heavily, produce a strong, tannic wine like a Cahors, and then still leave mash powerful enough to make excellent raki out of. And people are at it again. Fields dead since the 90s are sprouting everything you can imagine. It’s just a matter of time before the Derviçiote owner of this plot is going to put it to plow again and the kid’s from Lezarates soi is gonna come make a fuss about it and claims for blood price and a new round of other dumb, Balkan male shit will start all over again.

Buci grave 2.jpg

Especially now, Lezaratinoi are hurting economically. Because, between the late 90s and 2013, Lezarates gave up almost all other form of economic/agricultural activity and dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the cultivation of hashish.  And of excellent standard mind you, in case you think we’re all subsistence-level barbarians – this was hash of good Bordeaux quality; and not just producers of it, but merchants of Uzbek and Afghan product and blenders of some pretty fine dope that they sold through networks they had all over the rest of the Balkans and Europe. This made us happy because it kept them prosperous and off our case and we were free of the petty-and-not-so-petty thievery they were always supposedly agents of. If you had looked at a Google Earth map of the region at the time you could see the whole barren, rocky slopes south of Argyrocastro, and every field of Lezarates’ (Lazarat in Albanian) in a bright, fertile green.

Valley Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 8.40.26 PM

When you went into the village – which we Derviçiotes never do, out of both disdain and fear, but I did once out of curiosity in 2013 — it had turned into an Albanian version of a south Afghan Pashtun village, nothing but high, cement-brick walls, topped with barbed-wire loops, the random Mercedes that there was no room for with the others in the compound, sitting outside, and not just no women, like in Afghanistan – no people, at all – in the empty lanes, no coffeehouse, a pitiable little mosque put up recently for the wear-it-lightly Islam most Albanians practice. (I’m sure that if I could make a normal, human visit of the village and actually speak to people, there’d a ruined Bektaşi tekke, destroyed by Hoxha’s Chinese-inspired cultural revolution in the 60s, round a holy man’s grave that I could find, but…τρέχα γύρευε…στα μέρη μας…) But soon, I think, the European Union got wind, no pun intended, of what most of the Balkans had already known for years and a huge police operation moved in, burst into every family’s compound and burned everything they had growing to ashes – “even their basil,” said one cousin of mine from Derviçani with glee. And her glee was made even greater because Lezarates’ humiliation was augmented by the fact that the police operation had entered the village through the upper mahalladhes of Derviçani (see map above), and — don’t quote me, what the fuck do I know — but I’m pretty sure with info from Derviçiotes who had been doing business – of some sort – with them for quite some time.

*   *   *

So yeah

So yeah, E., New Year’s Eve in Derviçani was lovely. Great wine, great raki, the most delicious you might have ever imagined of any form of animal protein: lamb and rice, boiled ram, goat, farmers’ cheese with red peppers, feta, the paça and işkembe traditional on New Year’s Eve, the right sweets – kurabiye and melomakarona. A scary amount of heavily imbibed, hair-trigger male anger at a teenage kids’ game of twenty-one, the sound of vaguely artillery-sounding fireworks at midnight. And the relief that I’m no longer one of the kids, and don’t have to go out on a drive in the region on a night like that or go to a neighboring village’s – even a Greek one’s – café for a party or a “pop-up” disco in Argyrocastro that lasts till noon the next day.

Pitta 1.jpg

Pitta cutting 2.jpg

The next morning-more-like-noon comes the cutting of the Vasilopitta.  I had known that in certain parts of western Greek Macedonia, the Vasilopitta was an actual food, meaning, not a sweet çörek like in most of the north or a soggy poundcake like Old Greeks make, but pitta — spinach or cheese or cabbage — that the good luck coin was baked into, like it is in many sweet breads and cakes in many parts of the Christian world. I didn’t know that in Derviçani it was a deep dish börek casserole made with a yufka crust and filled with all of the previous night’s left-over, shredded meats mixed with tarhana and a copious amount of butter, all light as a brick and delicious but not as good as the leftover paça you’re looking for desperately for your hangover. I got the lucky “flouri” this year (from florin?) and promptly lost it.  What are you going to do?  “Δωρεάν ελάβατε, δωρεάν δώτε” – “Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

Pitta plate flouri 3

K., one of my favourite nephews, never not a joke or laughter on his tongue, never not a smile on his face, comes bursting into his “mana’s” (granma’s) house that midday, probably hasn’t been home yet, and among his stories of the previous night’s revelry is a stabbing, at a party at a bar in Argyrocastro, between two Albanian kids.  (This is fascinating: part of them — our kids — think they’re fabulously superior to Albanians, but unless things get ugly for some real reason, they’ll easily be best buds.)  “Ώ, μω…” says babo in the classic vocative call of the region, “Why didn’t one of you stop him?” “Cause then we’da had two stabbed guys to take to the hospital, μω μάνα…” trailing off in the the way the region’s drawl does…says K., giggling as usual.

Now ‘mana’ goes off on another song I had never heard before, but which is of the same timbre, and certainly same time period or, at least, subject matter:

Σ’ αυτή τη τάβλα πού’ μαστε

σε τούτο το τραπέζι,

Άγγελο φιλεύαμε και τον Χριστό ευλογάμε.

Και την Κυρά την Παναγιά, πολύ την προσκηνάμε.

Βοήθα Παναγία, για να γλιτώσουμε,

Κι όσες καντήλες νά’ χεις

Θα σ’ τις χρυσώσουμε.

“At this meal we’re sharing, and at this table where we are,

We were hosting an angel guest and blessing Christ,

And we were praying to our Lady Virgin.

Help us, Panayia, help us and escape,

And all the lanterns we have for you,

We’ll cover in gold.”

*   *   *

The rest of New Year’s Day is spent visiting Vasilys for their namedays – hoping for some quick raki for your hangover — and, for me, spending time with the old people who didn’t have the energy for pop-up parties or even for playing cards till past midnight. The personal stories I’m looking for are usually told me in some intimate corner when enough raki has been shared between me and teller; the teller wants to say it all but it’s too painful and difficult and the older they get the harder it is to get them up to speed; the tales’ status is already too reliquary to just blurt out all over the place — and there are too many young people around who don’t have enough memories of past totalitarianism — arrests, informings, beatings, labor camps, executions, mass graves — to think that the wandering misery and half-assed violence of now is really all there ever was – and they just won’t know how to pay the proper respect.

There’s a great deal of grumbling and complaining about their position as Greeks in Albania.  But other than the suffering of a totalitarianism past — I could never say any of this there openly, mind you — what’s the problem? Who knows, really? Do you know how good you have it – to me, at least, a person from the outside – I feel like saying? Your churches and schools are functioning unobstructed. The border that was a barbed-wired death-zone that kept people from their loved ones for generations is basically a formality now. The Orthodox Church of Albania is, in fact, headed by a Greek, Archbishop Anastasios, a cleric of exceptional intelligence and cosmopolitanism in the Bartholomew vein and compassion for what he knows is the wounded society that’s been given to him to heal. He’s rebuilt its destroyed institutions and churches and monasteries, opened up dialogue between Christians and the country’s Muslim majority so that relations between the two are probably better in Albania than practically anywhere else in the Muslim world.  And, in fairness to both Greeks and Albanians, liturgical practice and administration are fully bilingual according to community — in the best openness of Byzantine tradition.  He may have brought Greek and Albanian Orthodox closer than they have ever been in the past two hundred years of their history simply by recognizing Orthodox Albanians as Albanians and not as a part of his flock that needed to be “Hellenized.”

On a village cultural level, you’re the ones not taking care of your inheritance and birthright: your art and song and dance, your dress, your architecture – that made and make you what you are – so don’t blame the “Arvanites.” All that’s been forgotten in just two decades is mind-bogglingly sad: the singing that’s on UNESCO’s list of intangible art forms has practically died; you’ve torn down most of your traditional homes to build bad imitations of Northern Suburb villas. But you’re just still sitting around and talking about how Greece sold you out and the Protocol of Corfu and its promises of Northen Epirote autonomy reneged on. The contentlessness of nationalism. Even my hippest nephew, my favorite of all of them, who’s the d.j. and organizes the pop-up parties in Argyrocastro that go to midday of the 1st, and the only one likely to read this, is bitching about autonomy for the minority. And busy – well, in his case maybe not hating, just feeling slightly superior – but everybody else: hating. Like for its own effing sake. Even he, the super-suave one from Tiranë, who speaks more and better Albanian than he does Greek, got a little perturbed once when I told him that frankly I can’t see the difference between the kids from Libohovo (an Albanian Muslim village right across the valley from us) and our own. What for?

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.30.13 PM

The 2014 annual paneygyri of the Greek youth of Derviçani…(video by Alexandros Nekos)…in Albania, just to make sure…and here. They put up the flag of Autonomous Northern Epiros 1914 — a short-lived experiment after the Balkan Wars that was then abolished due to Italian objections, since Italy considered Albania their sphere of influence — and the Albanian police came and made them take it down.

*   *   * 

I have this fantasy. And who knows what I’ll do with it one day, because right now it’s nothing but that…not a fantasy I hope or think might actually drop into my lap, or a dream I think I’ll ever find myself in the process of actively working towards. Just a fantasy…

Dropoli Road 3

I’d have a few million dollars and I’d find a big empty plot of land outside Derviçani somewhere, on a low hill, but no so low or central in the valley that the river would flood it every other year. And I’d build a big, architecturally beautiful judo dojo there: yeah, with a weight room or maybe an interior basket-volley-ball court; but mostly two, haydi, three, beautiful regulation-size tatami spaces, and cedar wooding and perfectly sprung floors that would suck up force like heaven. And it’d be a low-slung compound and look like kind of a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie house, except with the beautiful grey-white local stone and where possible, large glass windows with views of the mountains all around.

I’d find two or three open-minded senseis to teach there. Fuck, I’d even invite Iliadis to come give guest-star classes, though this would piss off the Albanian kids, and the Greek kids would get irritated when the Albanians pointed out that Iliadis isn’t even really Greek.  Or I’d invite some of the other younger, the real, Georgians, Tchrikishvilli or Liparteliani – perfect candidates for these fuckers — if they’d come.  They’d be towards the end of their careers by then — God grant them many more victories — and they’d be used to the Eastern European living standards and they’d teach the slightly more rough-house ex-Soviet judo these kids would love. (We’d move on to a more elegant Japanese style later – for that I’d bring my man G. from Athens, or D. and A. even from New York as guest teachers, for the subtler understandings of certain things.)

Yes, at first they’d come armed and we’d have to pat them down. And we’d have to explain that jiu jitsu and judo were created precisely in order to fight with no arms. And that would take a while to permeate their thick Albanian/Greek skulls. But apparently it took a while to convince the Japanese of the same in the 19th century, when the carrying of weaponry was forbidden by the reforming Meiji regime to the samurai class, the only ones who had the privilege anyway, which I kinda don’t doubt. And I’d persevere. And knowing them, they’d first learn all the moves with which one can seriously do another guy damage. And we’d have to steer them away from that inclination. Tough.

Exterior of Robie House designed by Frank LLoyd Wright.

Exterior of Robie House designed by Frank LLoyd Wright.

There would be a lot of serious injuries in the beginning, but we’d have a good physical therapy team. And we’d spend the first few years explaining: “Guys, hurting each other is not what we’re here to do.”  And if they asked why we don’t do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or the so-called “Mixed Martial Arts” they see on television or YouTube, I’d tell them they’re not mature enough for that stuff and that judo is a much more difficult and challenging, and much more beautiful sport anyway…harder – more “archontiko,” as G. in Vyrona likes to say.  It’ll be a base for anything else they might want to learn after. And that single element: “archontia” – style, elegance, nobility, seriousness and sobriety — bet you any money, would convince them.

Most importantly, membership would be free to kids from Derviçani and one super-low, nominal price for kids from any of the region’s neighbouring villages in Gjirokastër county –irrespective of language or religion.

And given the physical and mental toughness land this hard breeds, the steely alacrity, and the perseverance and stubbornness – or just the inat that’s our curse that we can transform into something else if we want to — we’d have an international level, at least juniors,’ team put together in a matter of years.  And the place would be a lightning rod that would suck up all that extra testosterone and drive it right into the earth.

And then maybe something would snap. And something would come of it. And they’d see themselves all as a team and not as Greeks and Albanians or Christians and Muslims.  And then you’d see. The whole region would change.

Dropoli Road 4

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Post-datum: A Kosovar production of an Albanian-Serbian Romeo and Juliet was produced in Belgrade last year, directed by one of Serbia’s most prestigious actors, Predrag Miki Manojlović, as a cooperation between Radionica Integracija: Belgrade and Qendra Multimedia: Priština.  Read Armandra Kodra Hysa’s  glib and cynical to the point of nastiness review of the production in The Balkanist.  It’s the perfect example of “throw out the good because it’s not perfect” pettiness and more of the negativity our countries already have an excess of.  It’s infuriating.  It’s a start Anthro Al!  I’d love to see it staged at the dividing Mitrovica Bridge too.  But you can’t ask for too much too fast. That there was no violence is cause enough for some contentment.  Forget about recent soccer nonsense; do we remember the reception given Angelina Jolie’s Land of Blood and Honey when an attempt to screen it was made in Belgrade a few years ago?  Think of how far from that this has come.

Below are Alban Ukaj as Romeo and Milica Janevski as Juliet.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 


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