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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Deep Purple Funk

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Next Monday, 11 February, is promising to be quite an eventful day on the Gazprom front – that’s of course the gigantic Russan natural gas company, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, of which the Russian government owns a majority stake. On the one hand, it’s the same-old same-old, what we’ve all seen before, for Monday is the day that Russia, speaking for Gazprom, will cut off all natural gas supplies to the Ukraine due to alleged non-payment by the latter of $1.5 billion. Curiously, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has been scheduled for some time to arrive in Moscow for a visit on Tuesday. At least he’ll be glad to be away from his native country and someplace instead where it’s actually warm inside the buildings, though one can imagine that the diplomatic talks he will engage in might still be rather frosty.

But that is all par for the course for a European winter; I can remember recently thinking to myself “Hmm, it’s already February – shouldn’t we have had the regularly-scheduled Russian energy cut-off crisis by now?” More interesting is that next Monday is also the evening of the going-away concert in honor of Dimitri Medvedev – Gazprom chairman now, but Vladimir Putin’s “recommended” candidate for president of the Russian Federation at the upcoming March 2 elections, and therefore also a shoo-in as the next Russian president. The concert will be headlined by the legendary English rock-n-roll band Deep Purple, and this was recently commented upon in the New York Time’s weblog “The Lede: Notes on the News,” by Mike Nizza, who notes that Putin himself will surely be present as well. (more…)

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An Offer Muscovites Cannot Refuse

Thursday, April 1st, 2004

Europe, you can say, is very “green”-minded. Sure, this attitude does vary slightly as you travel from one part of the European Union to another (at least as it’s constituted in its present form, slated to last not too much longer until next May 1). But what can stand as a symbol of this attitude is the multiple trash-separation bins (plastic; glass; the rest – or however it works in your neighborhood) to be found in most countries of the Union, together with local residents standing in front of them, meticulously sorting their trash into the separate bins in which it belongs (or so at least in theory).

Russia, on the other hand, is one country destined never to make it into the EU, for geopolitical reasons or what have you. (Who knows, though, some commentators say differently.) Nonetheless, trash separation has now found its way as far east as Moscow, as reported in a highly-amusing article in the French Libération by Lorraine Millot (Eco-Trash Gets All Moscow Enthused). When it comes to trash-separation, we know that Germans will do it, at least; but will Slavs do it? Mme. Millot explores this fascinating sociological question. (more…)

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Poles Very Nervous Over Russian Election Results

Tuesday, December 9th, 2003

The elections to the Russian Duma that took place last Sunday throughout the Russian Federation resulted in an overwhelming victory for the “Jedna Rosja” or “United Russia” party widely seen to be the vehicle of Russian president Vladimir Putin. But take a little closer look – you don’t need to go any further down than third place – and what else do you see? You see the “Liberal Democratic Party,” but don’t let that innocuous name fool you: that’s the right-wing nationalistic party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Remember him? He was one of those bizarre politicians whom the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 enabled to crawl out from underneath his rock to ride the crackpot vote to the Duma. Back in the early 1990s Zhirinovsky could be counted upon to utter the most amazing, and alarming statements – for example, I recall that he once threatened one of, or all, the Baltic states with invasion – that you would hope never to hear from a leading politician from the world’s second nuclear power. After providing a few years of that sort of bizarre comic relief, Zhirinovsky’s “Liberal Democrats” faded away in subsequent elections. But now they’re back – to a position in the legislature almost even with the Communists.

I’m no expert in Russia or Russian politics (and I don’t read Russian). But that’s not a problem in the EuroSavant context, which rather calls upon me to pass along the wisdom put forth on a given issue by some European country’s press. Today it’s time to look at the results of those recent Russian elections from the viewpoint of a country that knows Russia all too well: Poland. And there’s scarcely any good news to be found. (more…)

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Germany on the Lifting of Iraqi Sanctions

Sunday, May 25th, 2003

Today we treat the German view of the recent 14-0 vote of the UN Security Council (on which Germany now serves as a non-permanent member) to lift most sanctions against Iraq. (more…)

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German Imperial Reminiscences

Saturday, April 26th, 2003

It comes perhaps a bit too late – a reminder to the German public of Germany’s past great-power involvement in the Persian Gulf region would have been useful in the diplomatic wrangles preceding the War in Iraq – but the Süddeutsche Zeitung recently had a entertaining article about project for the Berlin-to-Basra “Baghdad Railway” (in German only). I guess they had to be true to the anniversary aspect: it was one hundred years ago, on 13 April 1903, that the Bagdadeisenbahngesellschaft (i.e. the business company set up to build it) was established at a lavish ceremony in Constantinople attended by Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was more than just a planned railway; even unbuilt, it carried tons of geopolitical implications for relations between Germany on the one hand and Russia and Great Britain, in particular, on the other. Then World War I intervened, and it never was finished.

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France vs. US: The German View

Friday, April 25th, 2003

In the run-up to the War in Iraq Germany joined Russia and France in what the Economist has termed the salon des refusés in opposition to the US hard line. Now, as yesterday’s entry showed, a deep split between the US and France has arisen on lifting economic sanctions and the legal basis for proceeding with Iraq’s reconstruction generally, while Germany has downplayed its differences with the Bush administration. What is the German judgment on the Franco-American tiff? (more…)

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