Monday, July 25, 2005

Going to Arizona

I am going to Arizona on Thursday, 28 July 2005. I will be away from an internet connection for a while. I will be back here in about two weeks. See you then.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Putting the Human back in Humanities

Dr. Camicao at Academic Splat has gotten me thinking about the future direction I would like to see for historical scholarship. I think that the human element definitely should take center stage. I have been increasingly moving in this direction myself for a while. My own writing has evolved from a heavily "scientific" style influenced by German and more importantly Russian models of historical production to a more humanistic emphasis. I think that good scholarship should seek to synthesize both the objective facts of history as well as how humans subjectively experienced these events. It is this human element that makes history interesting. A lot of historical writing even when sympathetic to the people under study tends to overemphasize the details of the external forces acting upon them to the exclusion of their subjective experience. I myself have been guilty of this in the past. In my more recent writing I have tried to strike a greater balance towards situating the human element in the center of the narrative. When I did my upgrade from M. Phil. to Ph.D. my committee noted that I showed a lot of sympathy towards my historical subjects and their subjective views, but that it was appropriate and not over the top. That is they thought that objective scholarship did not require a sterile approach. It certainly never requires a moral neutralism which was something I was never guilty of employing and reject as a perversion of objectivity.

Since I finished writing my thesis I have moved even more in the direction of putting the human element back into the historical narrative. In May 2004, I attended a conference in Beirut on Violence in the Middle East where one of the main themes to emerge was in fact the need for all humanities to do this. That is center the common humanity of the subject in our scholarship while recognizing the distinctly different ways various cultures express that humanity. Now that I am starting to write some non-academic material I think the challenge is to bridge the differences between the culture of the reader and the historical subject to show this common humanity and illuminate the differences in its expression. This is the task I think that should lay before humanity scholars.

I am going to continue on this theme in my next post which will deal with the topic of Orientalism. Or why I am an Orientalist and why followers of Edward Said in post-colonial studies should stop sullying the term. I have decided I am going to tackle my use of the term as an identifier before somebody points out that it is usually used as an insult in the humanities.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Expanding my knowledge base as an Orientalist

One of the very serious flaws cultivated by academic historians is moving everything down to a microscopic level. Hence you get monographs written on individual villages, single commercial commodities, solitary military battles and other exceedingly narrow topics. Many of which are of absolutely no interest to anybody outside a narrow group of specialists. Often lost in this ever proliferating publication of minute details is any sense of the broader outlines of history. I am trying to break away from this overspecialization and expand my knowledge base to see how different regions influence each other.

I have realized that like most other people dealing with the Caucasus and Central Asia I have approached it largely from the vantage point of the former colonial power of Russia and the USSR. I think that this Eurocentrism may have also been a problem for people dealing with other areas of Asia and Africa in the early years of independence as well. I have been trying to approach the region as an Orientalist rather than a Russianist or God forbid a Sovietologist. Hence I am very glad that my degree and my supervisor are actually in history of the Near and Middle East which is where most of the Muslim regions of the former USSR belong. I have also found that my work gets a much better reception from the Near and Middle East studies people than the Soviet studies people. Primarily because most of the Soviet studies people, particularly in the US, have romanticized the USSR and are still unwilling to properly criticize it. Certainly not to admit that it practiced racism or that it can be compared to regimes such as Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. In contrast the Near and Middle East studies people recognize that Russia and the USSR were colonial empires not substantially different from France and the UK in a number of key aspects. They also had ready analogies to understand Soviet ethnic cleansing in the experience of the Armenians in 1915 and the Palestinians in 1948. In contrast most Eurocentric and Russocentric scholars have vehmently resisted the idea of comparative history for ideological reasons.

Approaching Central Asia and the Caucasus as part of the greater Middle East rather than parts of an undifferentiated Soviet Russia of course has required me to attempt to broaden my knowledge base. I have realized that my knowledge of a number of relavent subjects is weak. Below I have listed some of the areas of my knowledge I am looking to expand.

Countries and regions geographically adjacent to Soviet Central Asia that have had important cross border influences. Most notably Iran, Afghanistan, Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Pakistan. I have done a little bit of reading in the last year on Afghanistan and Iran. I am very much looking for a good book on the history of Pakistan and the relationship the north western parts of the country have historically had with Afghanistan and Central Asia. Also a good book on Eastern Turkestan that deals with the region from the vantage point of Central Asia rather than Beijing.

The theology and social history of Islam in its various forms. I am particularly interested in how Sufiism fit itself to various anti-colonial struggles. Political Islam has taken alot of forms and the Wahhabist brand now receiving attention in the US has historically not been the most popular. Particularly in Islamic areas outside the Arab world.

The influence decolonization and civil rights movements had on subject peoples in the USSR. I think the common wisdom that there was no influence from such events as the Algerian revolution is bunk. I know for a fact having read a lot of Samizdat material that both the Crimean Tatars and Meskhetian Turks compared themselves to the Palestinians in the 1970s. Despite the best efforts of the Soviet government, the USSR was not a totally isolated bubble immune from the trends that shaped the history of the rest of the world. They could not keep all information of the outside world under control. It did seep through and the existing evidence shows that it did have some effect. Unfortunately it looks like I will probably have to write this last history myself since it is vehmently rejected by reigning orthodox opinion.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Happy Manifesto Day

On this day in 1763, Tsarina Catherine II issued a manifesto inviting all Christian foreigners to settle in the Russian Empire and receive a litany of rights and benefits out of reach for the vast majority of the world's population. The Tsarina granted the new settlers free land, freedom of religion, 30 years tax exemption, interest free loans, communal autonomy and eternal freedom from military conscription. Most of the people who took advantage of this offer came from the German speaking states in Central Europe and they initially established compact colonies on the lower Volga. By 1769, around 23,000 German colonists had established residency in the Volga region of the Russian Empire in response to Catherine II's invitation. In a rare instance of history, one woman created an entire ethnic group with a single royal decree. She is the metaphorical grandmother of the Russian-German people.

In subsequent years, Germans settled other regions of the Russian Empire. Most notably the Black Sea coast of of what is now Ukraine and what was the Crimean Khanate until 1783. The first German settlers to this region arrived in 1789. Hundreds of thousands more Germans immigrated to the Russian Empire during the next century. By 1897, nearly 1.8 million Germans lived under Tsarist rule. In the 1870s, Tsar Alexander II began to revoke the rights granted to the German colonists by Catherine II. Most notably he subjected them to military service starting in 1874. Declining political, economic and social status prompted a huge wave of Russian-German migration to the New World in the late 19th and early 20th century. By the late 1930s over 1 million Russian-Germans lived in the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. While a somewhat greater number still remained in the USSR.

The history of the Russian-Germans in the USSR is detailed in other posts on this blog. It is a story of great suffering and endurance. By 1989 there were over 2 million Russian-Germans in the USSR. In the next decade over 75% of them resettled in their ancestral homeland of Germany. Today the millions of people of Russian-German descent live spread amongst the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other countries in Eurasia and Latin America. All of these people can trace part of their heritage back to a single decree issued by Catherine II on this day in 1763. For the record my great grandparents on my father's side were ethnic Germans from Volhynia in Ukraine who came to North America near the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. So to everybody of Russian-German descent in the Americas, Europe and Asia, Happy Manifesto Day.

The Human cost of cotton

There is a reason why the US used slave labor to cultivate cotton in the years before the Civil War. It is not only backbreaking labor to harvest it by hand, but it is also very unhealthy. The pollen fills the air and causes lung, eye and skin ailments. Trachoma and other eye infections plagued the deportees sent by Stalin to work on cotton farms in Central Asia during the 1940s. Cuts and scrapes became rapidly infected and septic from the dust and pollen. Children in particular were prone to eye and skin infections. These conditions combined with an untreated malaria epidemic and famine like food shortages killed tens of thousands of Karachais, Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks and Russian-Germans in Southern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Unfortunately, the brutal exploitation of humanity to produce cotton in Central Asia has not ended. Uzbekistan is one of the world's largest producers of cotton. The state controls the cotton industry and pays the farmers a small share of the world price for cotton. Islam Karimov's dictatorship profits greatly from this exploitation. One of the largest labor contingents in Uzbekistan is in fact not paid at all. Children are involuntarily sent to help with the cotton harvest by local officials during hours that they should be in school learning. A child can pick up to 30 kg of cottton a day. After the harvest, the Uzbek state then sells the cotton to Cargill which ships it to China to produce cheap textiles for the US and European markets. Similar conditions including the large scale use of child labor also exist in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Just something to think about when getting dressed in the morning.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Links as new technology

I figured out how to do links. Definitely not standard issue technology for Orientalists like myself. Certainly more complicated than the cave drawings I use in most presentations. But, it appears to work and I have added my first link, Camicao at Academic Splat. I anticipate that it will shortly be linked to this site in return. Since I believe in reciprocity, anybody who adds a link to my blog, let me know. You can just put the notification in one of the comments and I will add a link on this site to your blog.

Meskhetian Turks and historiography

Today, I got through the section of the cotton paper on Meskhetian Turks. They are a hard group to write about historically because of a lack of sources. Until fairly recently most of them were illiterate. Hence compared to groups like the Russian-Germans and Crimean Tatars they have left a much smaller written record about themselves. There are a few memoir pieces written in Russian in such works as Tak eto bylo, but I have not found much else signficant.

There are of course the Soviet records, but alot of the document collections on various deported groups have been compiled by scholars from the nationalities themselves. Having either a state structure in the Russian Federation such as the Kalmyk Republic or a foreign patron such as Germany or South Korea helps alot in terms of having resources to publish these document collections. The Meskhetian Turks have no state structure in Georgia, their historical homeland, and the Turkish Republic has not taken an active interest in them the way the German and South Korean governments have with their respective kinsmen. Further, none of the various Meskhetian Turk communities around the world are in a position to promote historical research. They are still victims of ongoing persecution in Krasnodar Krai, Russia. Since the recent revolution their status in Kygyzstan has been precarious. Even 16 years after the Fergana pogrom they still maintain a low profile in Uzbekistan. Those in Turkey suffer from poor economic conditions and an ambigious legal position. Finally, those that have come to the US are very recent immigrants still adjusting and trying to integrate into their new surroundings in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and upstate New York.

Oral history would be helpful here. Unfortunately, I like most historians who do not specialize in Africa have no clue how to do such research well. What I have found helpful have been the works of anthropologists dealing with subjects that use oral history. After one discards the worthless academic jargon there is usually alot of good stuff left. When I was writing my doctoral thesis I found a couple of anthropology dissertations and books that contained good oral history data on the various deported peoples. For the Meskhetian Turks, I found Kathryn Tomlinson's Ph.D. thesis at UCL quite informative. I do not know when it will see publication as a book. It is one I would like to own. Last I heard she was in Sumatra.

Thank you to my new readers

I would like to thank both Camicao and Academic Coach for stopping by and leaving polite comments. Out of four people who have left comments on this blog other than myself, three have been intelligent, polite and constructive people. One was an awful Scottish troll who was extremely rude and called me all kinds of names. I had to close comments on the post. He, however, linked it to a post on his blog where it attracted libels in his comment thread from others not only against myself, but the School of Oriental and African Studies, my supervisor and my Ph.D. examination committee. I thus purged the entry and all comments to it in order to minimize this type of unacceptable behavior. I am very glad that my two latest commentors are very different from David McDuff and people like him who are totally lacking in civility and manners.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Crimean Tatars

I got another two pages on the cotton paper done today. I am making very good progress. I think I can get it sent off before I migrate to Arizona.

Today I wrote some on the Crimean Tatars. In a mere three days, the 18th, 19th and 20th of May 1944, the Soviet NKVD forcibly deported over 180,00 Crimean Tatars from their homes to special settlements in the Urals and Uzbekistan. At the time of the deportations, Uzbekistan was experiencing a full blown epidemic of malaria. The Crimean Tatars had no immunity to this disease. The Soviet Union had no stockpiles of anti-malarial drugs either for prophylactic or treatment purposes at this time. Internal Soviet reports make it clear that the regime knew that there was a malaria epidemic in Uzbekistan and that there were no anti-malarial drugs in the USSR or means to import them. Despite this fact they deported over 150,000 Crimean Tatars to malaria infested areas of Uzbekistan. Over 15% perished from this disease in less than a year.

I have grown tired of trying to fight with people who try and minimize these types of crimes because the victims were Muslims and not Jews and the perpetrators were mostly Russians and not Germans.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pakhta Aral

I have started writing my paper for the cotton conference on 3-4, November 2005. As is standard for my writing pace, I will do a page a day until I get it done. Some days I might do more than a page. But, one page is the minimum quota. Since I am going to try and keep it short, about 20 pages and it is not due until mid-September I have plenty of time to write it and revise it before sending it off.

I don't write in the order the paper appears. I find it much easier to skip around, writing the part that interests me at the moment rather than try and fight writers block. As I result I almost always get my one page done in less than two hours no matter how lazy and uninspired I happen to be that day.

I got through three pages on the Karachais in the Pakhta Aral region tonight. Really chilling stuff. Of course all the exile settlements had severe food shortages and massive deaths, but some stick out. For the Karachais Pakhta Aral appears alot in the memoir literature as the deadliest region of banishment. It was a vast open air desert concentration camp almost completely devoid of food for the few men and many women and children confined there. The NKVD sent these people there to die solely on the basis of their ancestry. Whole families died out from hunger and malnutrition related diseases during the years 1943 to 1948. A great many Western academics still seek to minimize this crime compared to other crimes committed further west. The Muslim Karachais are a politically incorrect people. They are the wrong ethnicity and religion to deserve our collective sympathy. Likewise their killers lack the proper ethnicity and ideology to garner our collective condemnation. Undoubtely, Scottish trolls will attack me and call me names for pointing this out again. But, I still think there is something almost uniquely horrible in condemening people to starve to death. Even if they are Muslims and hence "unworthy victims."

Monday, July 18, 2005

Future Writing Projects

Now that I have posted on the ghosts of writing past and writing present I suppose I should say something about the ghost of writing future. My big future project is of course the current general history book I am working on, Catherine's Children: A Short History of the Russian-Germans under Soviet Rule. I am not sure what I will do once I finish it. There are a number of projects I would like to eventually tackle, but alot depends on being in locations where I have access to resources. If as I suspect I will be far away from any decent libraries and archives then my choices will of course be limited. But, still there are a number of projects I would like to take on eventually if the opportunity presents itself. Some of these are narrow academic projects. I will only write another academic book, I have written three already, if I get a position in a university, think tank or other such place. If I go back to working in a coffee shop for the rest of my life then I am going to write for a broader, more appreciative and most importantly more profitable market. At anyrate the list of possible future books is below.

A book on the forced repatriation of Russian-Germans back to the USSR in 1945 and 1946. This book could either be written in an academic style or as a popular work. Either way it would require access to the archives in DC and probably London as well. There also may be some stuff in the Estonian archives. VOMI moved some Russian-Germans from the outskirts of Leningrad to Estonia in the process of evacuating them to the Warthegau. Some did not make it out of Estonia before the Soviet reoccupation. The NKVD forcibly sent these evacuees to labor camps and special settlements in the Urals, Siberia and Tajikistan. I did at one point during the writing of my dissertation contact the US archives about their holdings on this subject. They told me that they had a huge amount of material on the forced repatriations. Nobody has gone through it since Mark Elliot made use of some of it in the mid to late 1980s to write Pawns of Yalta. Dr. Elliot himself proved to be delightful exception to the rule of rude and unhelpful American academics when I contacted him by e-mail. He was quite cordial and willing to provide assistance.

A book on the Russian-German emigration movement in Estonia during the early 1970s. I found a considerable amount on this subject in the Estonian Supreme Court archives in Tartu. In particular the activities of Bergmann, Oldenberger, Fast and Schulz. Their 1974 trial became an international event due to Sakharov's appeals to West Germany publicizing the case. I think this book could also be either popular or academic. It would, however, require another trip to Tartu. So it would have to be researched in June. Estonia in February was almost beyond my ability to endure, particularly Tartu.

A history of the Karachai and Balkar peoples. This would probably have to be an academic book. These two related Turkic peoples have a rather small population and remain rather obscure to all, but specialists on the Caucasus. Despite this I think they would make a good academic study that could take advantage of alot of good, but spread out research in Russian. There is to date very little at all written on the history of these peoples in English. A short academic monograph would be a possibility if I get some sort of university affiliated job.

A history of the Meskhetian (Ahiska) Turks from 1829 to 1989, that is from the time of the Russian conquest of Meskheti-Javakheti to the time of the Ferghana pogrom. This would be difficult without archival access in the former Soviet states. I used almost every published source in Russian to write the section of my dissertation dealing with the Meskhetian Turks. It still turned out to be less than 80 manuscript pages, double spaced. I tried without success to contact associates in Russia and Azerbaijan about getting access to archives. In particular I wanted to look at the Memorial archives in Moscow. As usual I got no help what so ever from anybody I asked regarding gaining access to these archives. People I contacted in Moscow, Almaty, Baku and even the US were less than helpful if they even responded. Some people like the American I contacted regarding the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland library and archvies in Stutgardt were downright rude. Although not as ill mannered as certain Scotsmen. Estonia was the one exception to this rule of blocking my entry to foreign archives. As a US citizen I of course have the legal right to look at my own government's archives. Well those that are declassified at any rate. I do not see this problem of access being solved anytime soon. I am not among the chosen that get to do such things.

A general history of Kyrgyzstan. Other than Martha Olcott's book on the Kazakhs there are no good national histories in English of any of the Central Asian states. I would concentrate on the territory of modern day Kyrgystan rather than the ethnic Kyrgyz. Thus I would cover the Russian, Russian-German, Russian-Korean, Meskhetian Turk, Chechen, Ingush, Balkar, Karachai, Dungan, Uigher and Uzbek populations that have lived in Kyrgyzstan as well. The book would focus primarily on the years of Tsarist and Soviet rule and conclude with independence in 1991. I am not sure if there would be any demand for a popular book on this subject. It might have to be an academic work due to the obscurity of the topic for most people.

A comparison of Soviet and Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing and racial exclusion. This book would definitely have to be a very carefully footnoted academic work due the subject matter. I have already made all the basic points regarding connections, similarities and differences in a peer reviewed journal article scheduled for publication in May 2006. What would be necessary would be to fill out this skeletal work. That would definitely require access to a very good library. I would also prefer to collaborate on this work with somebody who has a deeper background in Palestinian history than myself including an ability to read Arabic.

Well that is six possible books. I could probably write four of them if I stayed here in the DC area. I am not sure if any of them are possible to write in the wastelands of southern Arizona, hundreds of miles from any suitable libraries.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Things Still to Write

OK, the previous post dealt with material written and awaiting publication. Although in one case the piece in question has been in print for a year. This entry deals with stuff that still needs to be written that has been assigned due dates.

In order of nearest due date, I have the following three projects. First up is the paper for the SOAS conference on Cotton in Central Asia. They accepted my abstract and want the first draft of the paper in September. Second up are the remaining four articles for the encyclopedia on modern slavery. They are due in October. Finally, I have an abstract due in November for a conference in Canada.

I am not as enthusiastic about any of these short pieces as I am about the non-academic book I am writing. I have almost 50 pages done. I think it will probably be my most widely read piece to date. Academic publishing just has so few readers. It is now an accomplishment to sell 1000 copies of a scholastic book. An academic journal with that big of circulation is relatively large. But, of course most copies end up on the library shelf unread. The only publication with fewer readers is this blog.

Wacky Ways of Academic Publishing

I have been trying to make sure all the projects I have in the pipeline to be published are on their way. So I have been e-mailing editors in the US, UK, Germany and Estonia. Some of the projects are going quite smoothly. The book on border changes being issued by Tartu University is right on schedule with no problems. The chapter I wrote did not require any major revisions from its original form. The Kennan Center book is hopelessly behind. Some people still have not submitted the draft of their chapters due 1 April 2005. My dissertation is still being considered for publication as a book by a British publisher 1 year after I sent them the manuscript. For about nine months they refused to respond to my e-mail until informing me that they were waiting on an outside reviewer to submit his report. I once reviewed an article for an academic journal and I had a six week deadline. What is this year thing? That covers publications in the form of books.

The encyclopedia on European migration has been delayed due to problems with the translated German version. For some reason they want to issue both the English and German versions at the same time. They did send me the information to fill out so they could wire my 200 Euros into my bank account in March 2006 when they submit it to the printer. I finished writing the first draft of this article in summer 2003 and the final one in fall 2004. If I had to rely on rapid payment from publishers to eat I would starve to death in short order. I just sent in the contract for five short articles for an encyclopedia on modern slavery. They do not pay any money, but I figured it would give me exposure to a new audience. I have written one of the articles and I sent it electronically to the editor yesterday. That covers encyclopedia articles.

The biggest surprise came from the world of academic journals. In early summer of 2004, the editor of Ukrainian Quarterly requested a copy of a paper I gave on Crimean Tatars at that year's ASN (Association for the Study of Nationalities) Convention at Columbia University. I was in London at the time and sent him an electronic copy of the paper. I also informed him it was already available online at the International Committee for Crimea website ( I then did not hear from him again for almost a year. Last month I wrote the editor inquiring as to when it would be published. He requested I send him the paper again. I sent it again and did not hear from him until yesterday. He informed me that my article had been published in the Spring/Summer 2004 issue, a year ago, not long after I initially sent it. I had a publication I did not know about for a year. That is a slightly pleasant surprise.

The other journal article I have scheduled for publication will come out in May 2006. It will probably be the most controversial piece I ever get to publish in a peer reviewed journal. It is on the connections and similarities between Soviet and Israeli ethnic cleansing and policies of racial exclusion. I expanded a bit on the paper I delivered on the same topic at the Violence in the Middle East Conference at Lebanese American University in Beruit in May 2004. It went over well among the mixed audience of Americans, Brits, Lebanese and one German woman. Given the reaction of people like the Scottish troll who earlier defaced one of my comment threads, I suspect it will not be so popular outside the Middle East.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Why the 1950s were more Radical than the 1960s.

The general wisdom is that the 1960s were the most radical decade in terms of political upheaval in the post-war period. It is often contrasted with the allegedly conservative 1950s. This view is put forth by a lot of former 1960s radicals like Todd Gitlin, Mark Kurlansky and David Horowitz. But, from an international viewpoint it appears that the 1950s were far from conservative and were in many ways more radical than the following decade. Further much of what was considered radical in the 1960s only occurred because it built upon a foundation developed in the 1950s.

The most important development in the world after the end of World War II was undoubtedly decolonization. This process really reached the tipping point in the 1950s with the 1960s being mostly follow through. Significant violent revolutionary movements for independence occurred in Indochina, Algeria and Kenya. The 1950s saw the defeat of a significant colonial power, France, militarily by the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu. In contrast while winning the war, the North Vietnamese never won a single battle against the US during the 1960s. They just wore out our political ability to keep fighting much as the Algerians did to the French in the 1950s. In other areas of the world political revolutions or coups implementing radical policy changes took place in Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Guatamala during the 1950s. Far fewer such revolutions took place in the 1960s. The only revolution of the 1960s that comes close to Cuba in terms of radical change was in the politically insignficant nation of South Yemen. The emergence of the Third World which for people outside of Europe and North America represented a radical change from the last century of colonial rule really took place in the 1950s not the 1960s.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The British Left and Its Ideological Blinders

The Price of Occupation
By Tariq Ali
The Guardian UK
Friday 08 July 2005

" The real solution lies in immediately ending the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Just because these three wars are reported sporadically and mean little to the everyday lives of most Europeans does not mean the anger and bitterness they arouse in the Muslim world and its diaspora is insignificant. As long as western politicians wage their wars and their colleagues in the Muslim world watch in silence, young people will be attracted to the groups who carry out random acts of revenge."

This quotation sums up alot of problems with the British Left as represented by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Stop the War Coalition and other spinoffs of the same Trotskyite base. They are so confined by anti-western bias that they are unaware that they are only making half points. The Islamic world contrary to Ali and others does not just destest western capitalist imperialism and military occupation of Muslim peoples. It also hates military occupations by other foreigners. Not listed in Ali's list are the occupations of Chechnya, Kashmir and Eastern Turkestan. All of which have also engendered terrorist resistance as a result of non-Muslims occupying and oppressing Muslims. But, the case of Chechnya is probably most glaring because Russia is a Western colonial power. Yet, Ali deliberately exlcudes Chechnya from his list of Muslims fighting against occupation. Far more Chechens, about 100,000 (10% of the population) have been killed by the Russian occupation in the last ten years than the Israelis have killed Palestinians. This of course does not justify Israeli barbarity, but certainly one can oppose both Israeli and Russian attrocities. Because Russia has historically been hostile to the US it seems to get a free pass from the British Left to practice scorched earth policies, Latin American style dissapearances and old style imperial rule over Muslims in the Caucasus.

This is a real blind spot on the Left in the UK and it makes it hard to take them seriously regarding issues like Iraq and Palestine. One gets the very distinct impression that the British Left is only pro-Palestinian because the US government is pro-Israeli and not because the Palestinian cause is right. Indeed when the Israelis forcibly expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1947 and 1948, almost all of the self-identified British Left along with the American Left and the Soviet government strongly supported the Zionist cause. The British Left would now like to bury the history of this previous support, but it really does show a strong track record of ignoring attrocities in the service of ideology.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Future Attractions

Alright, on the very small chance that somebody other than myself is reading this blog, here are some of the topics I will cover in the near future.

Why the 1950s were more radical than the 1960s

The British Left and its ideological blinders.

Why it is Russian-German and not German-Russian (Hint: the Russian and German language translations of this second term would mean an ethnic Russian living in Germany.)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Russian-German Round-Up

These thoughts are more speculative, but prehaps somebody can shed some light on them. That is if anybody reads this blog. :-)

Russian-Germans in South America

By WWI there were about 250,000 Russian-Germans in Brazil compared to about 150,000 in Argentina. Yet the literature on Russian-Germans in Argentina is much much greater than on those in Brazil. My LOC subject search came up with one book in Portuguese on Russian-Germans in Brazil. But, it was only published in 1997. There were over a dozen books on Russian-Germans in Argentina. Why this discrepency?

Russian-Germans in Azerbaijan

My reading suggests that the Russian-German communities in Azerbaijan may have fared among the best of the settlements during the 1920s. It also suggests that this was due to two factors. First, the Azerbaijanis unlike the Russians and to a lesser extent the Ukrainians had no anti-German prejudices. Hence they allowed more real autonomy for the "Konkordiia" villages that formed its German national autonomous raion. Second, the highly religious Russian-Germans benefitted from living in a predominantly Muslim area. The assault on religion in Islamic areas of the USSR did not begin until 1928, several years after its initiation in Christian majority areas. They could thus maintain their religious life to a much better extent than Russian-Germans in places like Ukraine and Siberia. This is just a preliminary conclusion, but it seems logical.

This going to conclude my short series on Russian-Germans for now. I will undoubtedly return to the subject in the future. Especially, if I have any requests. I might also cover other ethnic groups in a similar manner.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Communities of Faith and Survival

It has occurred to me that the brotherhoods and fellowship circles that developed among Russian-German Lutherans, Mennonites and Baptists in Kazakhstan in the 40s and 50s resemble sufi brotherhoods. More specifically they appear to have been formed for the same reasons and filled the same social function as the Chechen sufi brotherhoods. The fact they were both formed at roughly the same time by deportees in Kazakhstan adds weight to this observation.

In both cases communities of faith adapted to survive severe repression. Repression that was based both upon their ethnicity and religious beliefs. These adaptations are not unique to the USSR. Early Christians in the Roman Empire also organized informal and underground circles of believers to maintain their communal religious existence. Suffism has a long history of being adopted by Muslims of many different nationalities as a way of resisiting foreign oppression. Sufis have been associated with anti-colonial movments in places as diverse as the Caucasus, West Africa and Indonesia. The clandestine meeting of lay believers to maintain their traditions of worship by Russian-Germans and Chechens kept their communities alive despite the annihilation of formal religious infrastructures including Lutheran pastors and the ulema. The Catholic Church with its reliance upon trained and ordained clergy in a specific heirarchy found it much more difficult to adapt in exile. The belief of a personal relationship with God and a priesthood of all believers by the pietically influenced Russian-German Lutherans, Mennonites and Baptists proved more durable. Especially as the various brotherhoods moved closer to the organization of the Mennonite Brethren under the pressures of exile. Likewise Muslims also believe in a personal relationship with God and the Umma is a community not a flock. Of all the Abrahamic religions Islam has prehaps proved the most flexible in surviving in hostile surroundings due to this non-hierarchial structure. It is probably thus not surprising that under extreme pressure that Christian practices among the Russian-Germans came to more closely resemble Islamic ones.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Russian-Germans as a Racial Catagory

The real problem of the Russian-Germans in the USSR after 1955 was not lack of territorial autonomy. But, rather the complete prohibition on legal assimilation in the Soviet system which led to a situation of acculturation into Russian societywithout acceptance into it. They were going to lose their German culture in the USSR no matter what in my opinion. But, the discrimination on the basis of being descended of German immigrants could be solved by losing their German legal catagorization. Allowing the catagorizing of acculturated Germans as Russians would have probably led to psychological assimilation as well. The immutable nature of being classed as Germans served as an artificial marker. It left them in a position similar to Blacks in this country during earlier times. No matter how much they adopted Sovietways they could not attain equality with other citizens.

The autonomy movement leaders in the mid-1960s were mostly Party members and they endorsed the nationality structure established in the USSR. They wanted a return to the policies of the USSR during the mid-1920s at the height of korenizatsiia(nativization). But, the violence of the dispersal and cultural repression during WWII pretty much shattered the German communities. They were much more fragile than other deported groups such as the Chechens or Crimean Tatars due to being a much less cohesive group and having far more recent roots in Eurasia. Restoring and maintaining a living German culture was a longshot even with restored autonomy. Even the deported nationalities that returned to restored autonomous territories lost alot of their former culture as a result of the exile. Most notably they found it very difficult to maintain their native languages against the assimilationist pressures to adopt Russian. The primary language of the Chechens and Kalmyks is today Russian.

Achieving legal and social equality could have been done for the Russian-Germans by one of three ways in my view. The first was within the Soviet system. That is to restore the Volga German ASSR and national raions to protect the Germans living in these territories from discrimination. This was the solution of the 1960s activists. It had problems already in the 20s and 30s. Not the least is that most Russian-Germans did not live in the Volga republic. The second was what the activists of the 1970s advocated and what became the accepted solution in the 1990s. That is mass migration out of Eurasia to Germany. This also has problems in that having lost their German culture they are considered Russians in Germany and face a new wave of discrimination. One that acculturation in a few generations, however, will hopefully end. What was never considered by Russian-German activists was a true civil rights revolution. That is the removal of official mandatory nationality classifications. At the very least going back to the pre-1938 practice of allowing free choice of nationality rather than making it hereditary. Even allowing an entry of Soviet might have helped some. But, nobody in the USSR could think outside of essentialist and primordial catagories of nationality that allowed for no change over generations. This put stigmatized nationalities in the same kind of bind as visible minorities in the west. They were always going to be marked as such.

Russian-German Historiography (first in a series)

Well, I have been trying to make the most of my short time with the LOC. I was there 12 hours today reading up on the mass of Russian language literature that has come out in the last five years on the Russian-Germans. I was pretty well set on the 1940s due to my dissertation. But, the stuff on the 1920s is just humungous. I have been trying to plow through it, but man there is alot. Not much of the information is in English either. There seems be a natural split in the scholarly literature. Stuff based upon archives in the former Soviet states is almost all in Russian. A lot of its boring academic stuff, but alot of it is also pretty fired up about the injustice of Stalinism. Some of its written by Russian-Germans, some is written by Russians. But an increasing amount is written by Ukrainians, Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs and other natives of areas where Germans once lived. These works are fascinating in that they provide a viewpoint that most people do not even consider exists. Although historical analogies are sometimes slippery imagine a history of American slavery told by Indians. That is kind of what the Kazakh scholarship is like. The Germans play the Blacks, the Kazakhs the Indians and the Russians the Whites. Of course some Indians did own slaves and some Kazakhs mistreated Germans, more so now that they have independence. This point is totally ignored by Kazakh scholars, but everybody has their biases.

The German language stuff is based mainly on interviews of settlers from Kazakhstan and Siberia. Most of it deals with integrating them into German society. But, a fair chunk is an attempt to get the stories from those who survived the Stalin era before they perish from old age. But, very little on the 20s or 30s. However, I suspect that the older German tendency towards sociology will become dominant. So most new exciting historical scholarship on the group will be in Russian and much of it will be by people who are neither German or Russian in any sense.

Some thoughts and the future

Allright, first I just want to say that having lived in London for almost three years and gotten my MA and PhD just down the block from the Russell Square tube station I found the news of the Al Qaeda attack on London disturbing. I hope everybody I know in London is okay. I wrote Habbash (not his real name), my best friend there to make sure he was ok and tell him I am again returning to London in November.

Other things I have planned. I am going to do a series of posts on Russian-Germans. Since I have been reading and writing alot of the group recently, I thought I would throw out some random thoughts. Alot of these are too abstract and academic to be incorportated into the general history I am writing. But, they do flow from that narrative. I have posted many of these pieces already on the GWA listserve, but I want them all in one place so I am going to put them up here. Also my folks can catch them here. I know they occasionally read this blog. Among such topics covered will be the new Russian-German historiography, Russian-Germans as a racial catagory in the USSR, comparison of Russian-German protestant brotherhoods and fellowships to Chechen sufis and other good stuff.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Gassing and Shooting vs. Starvation and Disease

Post Removed due to attracting libelous attacks by British trolls.

In Response to Kurt b

I think Kurt b's comment on my post regarding Stalin and Hitler sums up what unfortunately has become the common wisdom. But, it really is special pleading and most people do not accept the argument with regards to other events. The fact that the USSR was hypocritical and engaged in subterfuge and deception counts against it rather than for it. Likewise the blatant honesty of the Nazis is a tiny redeeming factor in their favor. The anger at Nixon over Watergate had a lot more to do with the dishonesty surrounding the coverup than the actual break in. The fact that the USSR claimed to be acting in favor of lofty goals such as national equality while practicing ethnic cleansing and racialized discrimination makes these practices worse not better. Nobody ever denied the racist nature of Nazi Germany. Not even Holocaust deniers claimed that Hitler's regime was free of anti-semitic practices. Yet, there are a very large number of extremely powerful people in American academia who deny the existence of racially motivated state crimes by the Soviet Union.


I noticed that somebody left a rather thoughtful comment regarding my Hitler vs. Stalin post. It was posted under my post on other blogs. Oh well, at least one person read this blog so its inspired me to add a few more posts.

The good news is that Vladimir, Katya, Pavel and Oksana German all got political asylum. Given the discriminatory nature of US asylum law I can only attribute it to divine intervention. It is some powerful miracle to make a federal judge see the truth.

The bad news is I am still unemployed and the academic hiring season is over. I am going to go out to Arizona and live on my uncle's ranch until I can think of a new career option. One that does not involve working at a coffee shop, I hope. I am trying to take full advantage of the LOC while I am still in the DC area. Out at my uncle's place it is an hour drive to Tuscon.

I have a few writing projects going on. The big one, I have 42 pages written is to write a popular history of the Russian-Germans under Soviet rule. I am going to call it Catherine's Grandchildren I decided today. I had originally thought prehaps Splinters of the Fatherland, but very quickly dismissed it. The term Fatherland unfortunately has taken on too much political baggage. It is hard enough to get any sympathy for people descended from German speakers as it is. Even though the Soviet government admitted that the charges of treason against the Russian-Germans were false in 1964 I still encountered Americans, Canadians and Israelis that still took the old Stalinist line on the internet in the 1990s. Actually I encountered a lot of them on usenet. I no longer bother to pay attention to such people. It just makes my borderline bloodpressure go over to the wrong side.

Other writing projects are a few encyclopedia articles for a project on modern slavery. They are due in October. I also just got accepted with some support (meals and lodging) for a conference on cotton in Central Asia at my alma mata, SOAS. The papers will be published in a special topic issue of Central Asian Survey. Now I need to go to the LOC and find out enough to write more than the 500 word abstract I submitted. That paper is due soon, September.

All right I am going to try and address my one comment in my next post.