Legionnaires’ Fiscal Disease

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

One of the most fantastic military adventure stories in history, but which few people have ever heard of, is that of the Czechoslovak Legions. Czechs and Slovaks have generally heard about them, as you would imagine, but as an article in Lidové noviny makes clear, that fact doesn’t necessarily command any Czech government money (nor Slovak, probably) any more.

Students of European history know that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was involved in World War I on the German side (the “Triple Alliance”) from the very beginning – logically, since that Empire was dominated administratively by German-speakers. However, a large part of its soldiery was made up of Slavs, with no particular affinity for things German. (Which Hungarians, however, did have – but that’s another story!) Finding themselves on the Russian front, ordered to fight and kill fellow Slavs on the other side of the trenches, many of these soldiers soon found that they would rather just desert at the first opportunity – and indeed, then form into units on the other side that would fight for the Russians. (more…)

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Georgia = Czechoslovakia?

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday, speaking of the recent Russian actions in Georgia, that “This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed.” Examining her words carefully, one could conclude that her point is essentially that Russia is attempting a repeat of what it accomplished with its Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia – exactly forty years ago this month, as it happens – but should not be able or allowed to succeed this time.

But are the two military undertakings, separated by four decades, really comparable? You could ask the Czechs themselves about that. (more…)

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Coming Soon: Austerlitz Theme Park!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Austerlitz: the very name is covered in glory for the French, as well as for anyone else with any knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars. For it was on this Central European battlefield in 1805 (a little less than two months after the sea Battle of Trafalgar, as it happened) that Napoleon Bonaparte faced down the combined armies of two great empires – the Austrian and the Russian – and beat them bloodily and decisively in a battle regarded as a tactical masterpiece. In the aftermath the Austrian Emperor Francis would sue for peace, acknowledging France’s previous conquests in Italy and Germany; what was left of the Russian army would be permitted to scurry back on home; and Prussia (non-participating) somehow would become annoyed enough with this result to shortly go to war against Napoleon itself (bad move). In today’s Paris you will find a Gare (i.e. train station), a Quai (i.e. embankment), a Pont (i.e. bridge), a Rue (i.e. street), a Port and a Villa d’Austerlitz – despite the name itself being about as un-French-sounding as you can get while still staying within the Roman alphabet.

In fact it’s a German name, of course, because back in those days of the very early 19th century German culture and the German language were dominant over Central Europe, as they had been since the Thirty Years’ War, and the major city outside of which the battle was fought was known as Brünn. (more…)

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Belgium Again in Crisis

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Don’t look now – but Belgium is once again in a governmental crisis. Prime Minister Yves Leterme yesterday evening (Monday, 14 July) submitted his resignation to King Albert II, after having served in that capacity for thirteen months. You’ll recall that Leterme – leader of the Flemish political party Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V) – had been the compromise candidate for prime minister in the first place, voted in by the kaleidoscope of Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking parties of the Belgian political landscape pretty much in desperation after nine months of haggling after the latest national elections of June, 2007. July 15 (i.e. today) was the deadline he had set to be able to present a new plan for re-structuring Belgium’s governmental structure. It seemed that the deadline was coming up fast and little to no progress on forming such a plan had been made. So Leterme resigned. The Economist weblog “Certain ideas of Europe” is keeping on top of developments with an summary entry Time to dissolve Belgium?. (more…)

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The Freeze Came from Within

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

Yesterday, 21 August, was the 35th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 that put an end to the “Prague Spring,” and here in Prague that story is getting big play in the media. This is even though it’s all about the past, specifically a quite unpleasant incident from the past which presumably nearly every Czech knows about (whether s/he experienced it directly or not) and which perhaps s/he would just rather forget. Respekt is probably the leading Czech journal of commentary, with a quite impressive battle-record of offending (and being threatened by) post-1989 governments, and in its current issue it approaches the event from a different angle. It was not the case that the Red Army invaded the country (accompanied by symbolic contingents from Warsaw Pact “allies”) and that was that: end of the “Prague Spring.” Rather, the Communist tightening-down of the country back to the pre-1968 level of repression (or, in some respects, an even worse state) actually proceeded over the course of a year-and-a-half, into 1970. In other words, not that much changed in Czech society right after the invasion; the oppressive changes came later, gradually, in the face of a Czechoslovak populace which could see what was happening but did little about it. It was this same populace which had been enthusiastic for its new freedoms in the first part of 1968, prior to the invasion, introduced by the then-government led by Aleksander Dubcek. So how could the re-introduction of a Communist dictatorship happen? What are the lessons for today? These sorts of questions are intelligently explored by Tomas Nemecek in his article entitled Mráz prišel zevnitr, or “The Freeze Came from Within.” (more…)

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