May 26, 2014

QotD: The “inevitability” of Austro-Hungarian collapse

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

These spectacular symptoms of dysfunctionality might appear to support the view that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a moribund polity whose disappearance from the political map was merely a matter of time: an argument deployed by hostile contemporaries to suggest that the empire’s efforts to defend its integrity during the last years before the outbreak of war were in some sense illegitimate. In reality, the roots of Austria-Hungary’s political turbulence went less deep than appearances suggested. [...]

The Habsburg lands passed during the last pre-war decade through a phase of strong economic growth with a corresponding rise in general prosperity — an important point of contrast with the contemporary Ottoman Empire, but also with another classic collapsing polity, the Soviet Union of the 1980s. Free markets and competition across the empire’s vast customs union stimulated technical progress and the introduction of new products. The sheer size and diversity of the double monarchy meant that new industrial plants benefited from sophisticated networks of cooperating industries underpinned by an effective transport infrastructure and a high-quality service and support sector. The salutary economic effects were particularly evident in the Kingdom of Hungary. In the 1840s. Hungary really had been the larder of the Austrian Empire — 90 per cent of its exports to Austria consisted of agricultural products. But by the years 1909-13, Hungarian industrial exports had risen to 44 per cent, while the constantly growing demand for cheap foodstuffs of the Austro-Bohemian industrial region ensured the Hungarian agricultural sector survived in the best of health, protected by the Habsburg common market from Romanian, Russian and American competition. For the monarchy as a whole, most economic historians agree that the period 1887-1913 saw an ‘industrial revolution’, or a take-off into self-sustaining growth, with the usual indices of expansion: pig-iron consumption increased fourfold between 1881 and 1911, railroad coverage did the same between 1870 and 1900 and infant mortality decreased, while elementary schooling figures surpassed those in Germany, France, Italy and Russia. In the last years before the war, Austria-Hungary and Hungary in particular (with an average annual growth of 4.8 per cent) was one of the fastest growing economies in Europe.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

May 17, 2014

QotD: Modern echoes of 1914

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Though the debate on this subject is now nearly a century old, there is no reason to believe that it has run its course.

But if the debate is old, the subject is still fresh — in fact it is fresher and more relevant now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. The changes in our own world have altered our perspective on the events of 1914. In the 1960s-80s, a kind of period charm accumulated in popular awareness around the events of 1914. It was easy to imagine the disaster of Europe’s ‘last summer’ as an Edwardian costume drama. The effete rituals and gaudy uniforms, the ‘ornamentalism’ of a world still largely organized around hereditary monarchy had a distancing effect on present-day recollection. They seemed to signal that the protagonists were people from another, vanished world. The presumption stealthily asserted itself that if the actors’ hats had gaudy green ostrich feathers on them, then their thoughts and motivations probably did too.

And yet what must strike any twenty-first-century reader who follows the course of the summer crisis of 1914 is its raw modernity. It began with a squad of suicide bombers and a cavalcade of automobiles. Behind the outrage at Sarajevo was an avowedly terrorist organization with a cult of sacrifice, death and revenge; but this organization was extra-territorial, without a clear geographical or political location; it was scattered in cells across political borders, it was unaccountable, its links to any sovereign government were oblique, hidden and certainly very difficult to discern from outside the organization. Indeed, one could even say that July 1914 is less remove from us — less illegible — now than it was in the 1980s. Since the end of the Cold War, a system of global bipolar stability has made way for a more complex and unpredictable array of forces, including declining empires and rising powers — a state of affairs that invites comparison with the Europe of 1914. These shifts in perspective prompt us to rethink the story of how war came to Europe. Accepting this challenge does not mean embracing a vulgar presentism that remakes the past to meet the needs of the present but rather acknowledging those features of the past of which our changed vantage point can afford us a clearer view.

Among these is the Balkan context of the war’s inception. Serbia is one of the blind spots in the historiography of the July Crisis. The assassination at Sarajevo is treated in many accounts as a mere pretext, an event with little bearing on the real forces whose interaction brought about the conflict. In an excellent recent account of the outbreak of war in 1914, the authors declare that ‘the killings [at Sarajevo] by themselves caused nothing. It was the use made of this event that brought the nations to war.’ The marginalization of the Serbian and thereby of the larger Balkan dimension of the story began during the July Crisis itself, which opened as a response to the murders at Sarajevo, but later changed gear, entering a geopolitical phase in which Serbia and its actions occupied a subordinate place.

Our moral compass has shifted, too. The fact that Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia emerged as one of the victor states of the war seemed implicitly to vindicate the act of the man who pulled the trigger on 28 June — certainly that was the view of the Yugoslav authorities, who marked the spot where he did so with bronze footprints and a plaque celebrating the assassin’s ‘first steps into Yugoslav freedom’. In an era when the national idea was still full of promise, there was an intuitive sympathy with South Slav nationalism and little affection for the ponderous multinational commonwealth of the Habsburg Empire. The Yugoslav wars of the 1990s have reminded us of the lethality of Balkan nationalism. Since Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo, it has become harder to think of Serbia as the mere object or victim of great power politics and easier to conceive of Serbian nationalism as an historical force in its own right. From the perspective of today’s European Union we are inclined to look more sympathetically — or at least less contemptuously — than we used to on the vanished imperial patchwork of Habsburg Austria-Hungary.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

April 5, 2014

“They, and they alone, will decide who the Racists are”

Filed under: Football, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:53

Ace on racism and the unofficial deciders on who is a racist and who is not:

Karl Lueger was the mayor of Vienna at the turn of the century, whose populist politics were often riven with anti-semtism — so much so that he was cited as an inspiration by none other than Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.

However, there’s a debate about how anti-semitic he actually was, and how much of an anti-semite he pretended to be for the sake of political positioning.

Lueger is famous for an answer he once gave on this issue. He was asked how he squared that fact that many of his policies were anti-semitic, while he counted many Jews among his close friends.

I decide who is a Jew,” he said, apparently creating his own definition of Judaism.

This flexible opinion on “who is a Jew” permitted him to both debase himself (and Vienna) with populist politics of hatred while simultaneously carving out a space for himself to consort with the Hated Other, as he might choose.

Similarly, today, White “liberals” have decided to sell out liberalism to the leftist, totalitarian goons of the Progressive Speech Police. They’ll join the Progressives’ hate campaigns against free speech and free thought — but only when those campaigns are directed towards non-liberals.

Playing to the Progressive mobs just like Luegar played to the Vienna ones, White Liberals reserve themselves the power to both traffic in hateful intolerance, and except themselves and their friends from the claims they otherwise inflict on others.

They, and they alone, will decide who the Racists are.

In the case of the campaign to get Dan Snyder to rename the Washington Redskins (because it’s an offensive, racist epithet), Ace points out that some racist terms are more equal than others:

Obviously no one names a sports club after something they think is substandard, or shoddy, or weak, or useless. People always object to the Redskins name by using the same example — “Well, what would you say if someone named his baseball team the New York N*****s, huh?”

But that’s stupid. No one does that. No one would do that. Because “N****r” is inherently a demeaning term, and a hateful one, and no one — no one — names their sports clubs after things they hate.

They name them after things they respect, or wish to emulate, or wish to associate themselves with. Thus the large number of teams named after great cats, and bears, and stallions, and even the gee-whiz technology of the 50s (jets, rockets).

And as for clubs named after types of people, all those people have a positive association; in football, especially, a martial-themed sport if there ever was one, those positive associations all have to do with virility and deadliness in battle:





Fighting Irish.


You do not see “The San Francisco Coolie Laborers” in the lists of any sports teams, nor the “Boston Drunken Irish Wife-Batterers.” All team names are tributes to the group in the nickname.

Some team names implicitly specify a race/ethnicity — Vikings, Fighting Irish. There is no commotion over this — people understand that when someone names a team the “Vikings,” they mean it a positive way. They are speaking of the fury of the Northmen — and not, for example, their propensity to rape and reduce much of Europe to a constant Twilight in which civilization could never advance too far before being pillaged and raped into rubble.

Nor does anyone seriously think “the Fighting Irish” is really about the Irish’s well-known tendency to over-indulge in alcohol and then get their Irish up. (Oh, what a giveaway.) And that one really does actually step right on up to the line of being a slur against the Irish — but we understand the intent behind it is playful, and positive. (Mostly.)

In fact, White Liberals currently on their jihad against the name “Redskins” make an exception for other teams with Indian nicknames — Braves, Chiefs, Indians, all okay. Not racist, the White Liberals have decided, although it’s unclear how they’ve come to this conclusion.

All three names, after all, do reference a specific race — Native Americans — just as surely as “Redskins” does, and for the exact same reasons.

But White Liberals know the difference. White Liberals can tell you who the Racists are.

January 6, 2014

Austria, the “laboratory of the Apocalypse”

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:25

Bethany Bell in Vienna writes about Austria just before the start of the war in 1914:

Across the road, a crowd had gathered outside a large, late 19th Century building. I walked over to have a look. It was the Embassy of what was then still Yugoslavia. An official had just pinned to the door two notices about the war that was, at that time, raging in Bosnia. Two men in front of me were talking about the siege of Sarajevo.

I shivered. History suddenly seemed very close.

A few months ago, a Viennese friend frowned as he stirred his coffee. We were sitting in Cafe Griensteidl, in the centre of town.

I’d just told him that, even after 15 years of living here, I’m still haunted by Vienna as it was just before the outbreak of World War One, before the defeat that led to the collapse of the rotting Austro-Hungarian Empire.

“But don’t lots of periods of history feel close in Vienna?” he asked. “You’ve got Mozart and the Baroque, you’ve got the 19th Century and the Ringstrasse, you’ve even got the Flak towers of the World War Two… Why not focus on them?”

I looked around at the cafe with its marble-topped tables and high white ceiling. Among the visitors and tourists, I recognised several senior Austrian civil servants, a couple of foreign diplomats and one of the country’s most distinguished historians.

“It’s partly the idea of cafe society,” I said lightly. “Just think who might have been sitting here back then!”

At the end of the 19th Century, Cafe Griensteidl was at the heart of Vienna’s dazzling intellectual life, patronised by people such as Arnold Schoenberg and Theodore Herzl. Sigmund Freud is thought to have preferred the nearby Cafe Landtmann.

“Ah, you have bought into the romance of fin-de-siecle Vienna!” he exclaimed. “You know that it was encouraged by some of Austria’s leaders after 1945. They wanted people to look back at a period of history they could be proud of — not like World War Two.”

He looked up at the Jugendstil mirror above our table.

“Even this cafe isn’t really genuine,” he said. “The original Griensteidl shut down in 1897 — this place was re-opened in the 1990s.”

“You know better than me that lots of traditions and places have survived,” I replied. “It’s not all fake — just look over there,” and I pointed through the window at the bank opposite. Built by the Modernist architect Adolf Loos, around 1910, the building had caused a scandal because of its severe lack of decoration.

“I think what haunts me is something a bit different,” I said.

“It’s the thought that this exquisite, civilised place didn’t seem to be able to stop its own collapse — and that it unleashed so many destructive ideas and people that tore Europe — and the 20th Century apart.”

The writer Karl Kraus had a phrase for it. In his obituary for Franz Ferdinand, he called Austria the laboratory of the Apocalypse.

My friend smiled wryly. “Ah, yes,” he said, “the Viennese, dancing towards destruction.”

December 23, 2012

Goldbugs, behold the CombiBar

Filed under: Business, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:48

If you’re a big gold fan, you might want to look at the CombiBar, which is a gold wafer that can easily be broken down into one-gram portions:

Private investors in Switzerland, Austria and Germany are lining up to buy gold bars the size of a credit card that can easily be broken into one gram pieces and used as payment in an emergency.

Now Swiss refinery Valcambi, a unit of U.S. mining giant Newmont, wants to bring its “CombiBar” to market in the United States and build up its sales presence India — the world’s largest consumer of gold where the precious metal has long served as a parallel currency.

Investors worried that inflation and financial market turmoil will wipe out the value of their cash have poured money into gold over the past decade. Prices have gained almost 500 percent since 2001 compared to a 12 percent increase in MSCI’s world equity index.

[. . .]

The CombiBar is particularly popular among grandparents who want to give their grandchildren a strip of gold rather than a coin, said Andreas Habluetzel head of the Swiss business of Degussa, a gold trading company.

Other customers buy gold for security reasons.

“Demand is rising every week,” Habluetzel said. “Particularly in Germany, people buying gold fear that the euro will break apart or that banks will run into problems.”

H/T to Tyler Cowen for the link.

August 20, 2010

A different (but not completely wrong) way to view Europe in 1914

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 21:33

Jon, my former virtual landlord, sent me this link while I was on vacation (and generally unable to stay connected to the internet for more than minutes at a time). If you’ve already seen this, my apologies for being late:

The First World War, explained as a pub fight…

    Germany, Austria and Italy are stood together in the middle of the pub, when Serbia bumps into Austria, and spills Austria’s pint.

    Austria demands Serbia buy it a complete new suit, because there are splashes on its trouser leg.

    Germany expresses its support for Austria’s point of view

    Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.

    Serbia points out that it can’t afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for cleaning Austria’s trousers.

    Russia and Serbia look at Austria.

    Austria asks Serbia who it’s looking at.

    Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone.

    Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in compelling it to do so.

As Jon pointed out, the key comment is “And when Germany wakes up, it goes out to its car, gets the gun out of the glovebox and heads back inside…”

July 22, 2010

First results from new study around Stonehenge

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:27

A new study of Stonehenge by the University of Birmingham and Vienna’s Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology has made its first major discovery:

Archaeologists have discovered a second henge at Stonehenge, described as the most exciting find there in 50 years.

The circular ditch surrounding a smaller circle of deep pits about a metre (3ft) wide has been unearthed at the world-famous site in Wiltshire.

Archaeologists conducting a multi-million pound study believe timber posts were in the pits.

Project leader Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said the discovery was “exceptional”.

The new “henge” — which means a circular monument dating to Neolithic and Bronze Ages — is situated about 900m (2,950ft) from the giant stones on Salisbury Plain.

I imagine, given how many times Stonehenge has been mucked about with by earlier enthusiasts, there must be much misleading data has to be sifted and re-sifted before any definite discoveries can be announced. Stonehenge has been fascinating people for centuries and there are probably lots of amateur investigations that may well have made the situation more confusing (think of a sixteenth century equivalent of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft with a nose for treasure).

June 24, 2010

Tempest in a wine glass

Filed under: Europe, Law, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:47

The most recent issue of OntarioWineReview included a snippet from an article originally published in Decanter on the outcome of a legal tussle between Reidel and Eisch over the term “breathable glass”:

Austrian glassmaker Riedel has declared victory in its lawsuit against its rival Eisch Glasskultur over false claims for breathable glass.

Riedel, Nachtmann and Spiegelau filed suit in Munich, Germany alleging that Eisch’s advertisement boasting ‘breathable glass’ constituted false advertising.

On 19 January the two parties agreed to settle after Eisch’s claim that its ‘breathable’ glasses were made using a secret process that ‘opens bouquet and aromas within 2 to 4 minutes’ was not supported in court.

The court ordered Eisch to cease claiming its glass is ‘Breathable’ or ‘Opens bouquet and aromas within 2 to 4 minutes’, or face penalties of up to €250,000, or imprisonment of up to six months for senior directors.

A few years ago, Elizabeth and I bought a set of the Eisch “breathable glass” wineglasses and actually tested them. I doubted the claim, as I couldn’t think of a way that glass could be altered to allow air to pass through that would not also change other characteristics like clarity. Later that evening, we sat down with our friend Brendan and tried to determine if there was any difference between the “breathable” and ordinary glasses.

It may just have been our willingness to believe, but we each thought the wine in the breathable glass was better than the same wine in an ordinary wine glass. That being said, we didn’t think the degree of improvement was enough to justify replacing all our Riedel glasses.

December 6, 2009

Farewell to the Orient Express

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Railways — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 00:32

Economic times are hard on non-essential services, and the luxury train called the Orient Express faces cancellation:

Its name evokes images of glamour and mystery and has provided authors including Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming with perfect backgrounds for their tales of intrigue and suspense.

But now the Orient Express is to be cut from Europe’s rail timetables. Next weekend, the service — which runs only between Strasbourg and Vienna — will be scrapped, a victim of high-speed railways and cut-price flights.

“The name the Orient Express will disappear from the official timetables before the year is out, after more than 125 years,” says Mark Smith, the rail expert who runs The Man in Seat Sixty-One website.

Only travellers who can afford lavish private trains — such as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and the Danube Express’s Istanbul Odyssey — will be able to enjoy the service’s former glory.

Of course, it’s hard to believe that Vienna qualifed as an “oriental” destination . . .

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