Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Larry Watts and rehabititating Ceausescu

Stelian Tanase is a famous Romanian political journalist who was recently put in charge of Romanian Television (TVR) the state-owned broadcaster which is hovering on the brink of bankruptcy. He recently stopped the transmission of Larry Watts's multi-episode documentary "Mostenirea Clandestina" into the Republic of Moldova half-way through an episode, 
on the grounds that the show was "communist propaganda".  This kind of dramatic thing is how Romanians tend to behave when they feel like showing leadership. It was rather unfair on the viewers who were watching at the time.

Larry Watts, who is a friend of mine, has many enemies. He is accused of rehabilitating Antonescu and now Ceausescu too. As someone whose television programme was binned by Ion Cristoiu, Watts has my sympathy.

Watts always insists that he considers Ceausescu a
thoroughly bad thing and has no wish to rehabilitate him but in fact
his historical works do just that, as far as foreign policy is
concerned, and I do not say this as a criticism. Of course Ceausescu
needs to be rehabilitated - he was not the demonic figure writers in
English considered him to be back in 1990. Watts makes the good point
that English-language journalists to some degree followed the
anti-Ceausescu propaganda put out by the USSR.

I have not read Watts' latest book but this is a review of his earlier
work, With Friends Like These, which may give you an idea of his
point of view and the work he has done. It is certainly very useful

The recent past is a forgotten country. The Cold War now seems a
period as remote as the Thirty Years War, John le Carré’s novels
almost as quaint as those of Dumas père. Those of us who grew up in
the West in the Cold War rather than studying it as history rely on
memories of information that was very partial and misleading. We now
know that the so called satellites of the USSR were very much actors
following their own scripts. Often the supposed puppets were pulling
the strings. Kim Il Sung manipulated Stalin into supporting his attack
on South Korea and Ho Chi Minh inveigled Russia into enabling him to
defeat the South Vietnamese. Now Larry Watts’ ground-breaking,
enjoyable and meticulously researched book, which deserves to find a
wide audience, shows that Ceausescu’s Romania posed a threat to the
USSR greater than Tito and comparable with the 1956 Hungarian
uprising, the Prague Spring and the Solidarity movement in Poland.

Eastern Europe was not the story of quislings ruling subject people
on instructions from the Kremlin. The men and one or two women (of
whom Romanians Anna Pauker and Elena Ceausescu were two of the most significant)
who ran the Communist Empire were believers who had risked death and
imprisonment from their enemies and from their communist friends
because of their beliefs. In power they combined as all politicians do
the desire for power, love of manipulation and genuine idealism, to
which they added a ruthless devotion to their grim cause and a
fanatical conviction that they understood the direction of history
which seemed to them scientific but we clearly see to be essentially religious.

Of course Marx and Lenin were wrong. Class is not the
driver of history, nor even are economic interests. Nations command
far more allegiance even from socialists than social classes. Behind
the monolithic appearance of the Soviet Bloc the disappearance
of national differences of course did not happen. What is remarkable
is the degree to which the conflicts between neighbouring countries in
Eastern Europe before 1945 continued seamlessly after the Communists came
to power. The most arresting example is Hungary, until 1918 the most
reactionary country in Europe west of Czarist Russia. There in 1919 in
the vacuum left by the disappearance of the Hapsburg Empire the arch
conservative antisemitic army and civil service enlisted as supporters
of the Bolshevik revolution of Bela Kun a.k.a. Aaron Cohen.
The Hungarian gentile middle class saw in Bolshevik Russia the only
hope of preserving Greater Hungary, in particular Hungarian
possession of Transylvania and the Banat, which had been occupied
after the armistice by Romania. Kun’s regime hoped the Russian Red
Army would break through Romanian lines into the Bucovina and link
up with the Hungarian Red Army. Instead, the Romanian army occupied
Budapest and overthrew the Communists.

Larry Watts's book explains that in the 1944-46 history repeated itself and
the supporters and gendarmes of the Hungarian dictator Admiral Horthy
who had distinguished themselves in Hungarian occupied
Transylvania with great brutality, reinvented themselves as Communist
officials and ‘people’s police’. Stalin encouraged Hungarians to hope
that Transylvania would become a separate country or divided between
Romania and Hungary. He played off Hungary and Romania against each
other in the same way that Hitler had done.

Meanwhile the annexation of Bessarabia (now most of the Republic of Moldova)
and the Northern Bucovina (which became part of the Ukraine) led to
the arrests,
deportations and killings of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Romanians who
found themselves living in the USSR. In addition, Khrushchev in charge of
post-war Ukraine presided over a deliberate famine which Watts says was
probably aimed at ethnic Romanians that may have killed between one and
two hundred thousand people, while Leonid Brezhnev, First Secretary of
the Soviet Republic of Moldavia, may have reduced the ethnic Romanian
population there by as many as a quarter of a million.

Mutual antipathy between Russians and Romanians (the Mamalizhniki or
polenta eaters) has long roots in conflict over territory. Russia ruled
Bessarabia (Eastern Moldavia) off and on since 1812. She occupied the
rest of Romania on several occasions between 1812 and 1919. It was
very feasible had it not been for the other Powers that Romania would
have been incorporated in the Russian Empire as were
Georgia, Armenia and central Asia.

Communism only exacerbated things. Engels whose works had the status
of holy scripture for Marxist-Leninists had written that the Romanians
were a ‘degenerate’ people, ‘a people without history’. The revolution
said Engels would ‘annihilate’ the Romanians, wiping them ‘from the
face of the earth. And that too would be a step forward.’ Engels wrote
this in 1849, angry with the Romanians for fighting for the Emperor
against the 'progressive' forces of the Hungarian nationalist Kossuth.
From Communism to Fascism was always but a step.

Gheorghiu Dej the Communist leader of Romania from 1948 till his death
in 1965 was unique among Stalin’s satraps in not being a ‘Muscovite’, a
Communist trained during the 30s in Russia. He won favour with Moscow
for his support in helping reassert Soviet control over Hungary after
the 1956 Revolution and succeeded (one would like Watts to have
explained in more detail how) in persuading the USSR to withdraw
troops from Romania by 1958. Crucially the Romanians also managed to
roll up very extensive KGB and Hungarian spy networks (very often the two
were combined). These included a series of Hungarian irredentist
secret societies operating in Transylvania run by the Communist
government in Hungary with KGB knowledge.

In the Warsaw Pact Organisation hastily cobbled together in 1955,
Romania from almost the beginning played the role of enfant terrible
and barrack room lawyer. Romania took an independent line, enjoying
good relations with Tito, building the Iron Gates hydroelectric plant
on the Danube without Khrushchev’s permission. In 1963 Dej told
Kennedy that he did
not support Soviet missile deployments in Cuba and would never allow
Soviet missiles to be stationed on Romanians soil. The Cuban crisis
may have precipitated an effective declaration of independence in
1963 by the Romanian government who refused to increase military
budgets saying they saw no threat of aggression from the West. The
Bucharest Spring of 1964 Watts convincingly argues should be compared
to the split with Tito in 1948, the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and
the Prague spring four years later.

Ceausescu was more disruptive than de Gaulle in NATO. In June 1965,
unnoticed by Western secret services, Romania was dropped from Warsaw
pact military operations. The Pentagon continued to plan on the
assumption that Romania would fight alongside her Warsaw pact partners
even though Romania’s role in the alliance was to impede Soviet
policy. Again unbeknown to the CIA, Romania became a Chinese ally
second only in importance to Albania, a position it used to help mend
fences between China and the United States. For example, Romania helped
persuade Hanoi to negotiate with Washington. In 1967 Romania refused to
break off relations with Israel following the Six Day War while De Gaulle
aligned with the Soviet position. Romania acted as honest broker between Israel
and the Arab states and can be take some of the credit for the 1978 Camp
David agreement that led to peace between Israel and Egypt.

Ceausescu, alone of the Communist leaders, publically backed the
Prague Spring and condemned the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia.
Yet none of this was understood by the CIA who were spellbound for many
years by the disclosures of the Soviet defector Golitsyn. Golitsyn said that
Romanian independence was a KGB ruse. This Trojan horse theory which
had been disseminated before Golitsyn continued through
the Gorbachev period. By 1990 it had become the received wisdom in the
West, after Ceausescu’s regime had been overthrown by Romanian
Gorbachevites working in league with the Kremlin and the KGB.

Other legends were circulated according to which Kadar and Gomulka
followed independent lines whereas both were always loyal to Moscow.
General Jarulselski and Urho Kekkonen long-time President of Finland
were Soviet agents. Tito was far more amenable to the Soviets than
Romania and unlike Romania bought Soviet military equipment. He
allowed the Russians to fly over Yugoslav aerospace and use land
transport routes and Yugoslav ports for transshipping arms to Soviet
clients in the Middle East.

Watts tells us that on several occasions between 1968 and 1971 Russia
planned to invade Romania and Honecker of East Germany was told as
late as the end of 1973 that Brezhnev had approved an invasion. Russia
was emboldened by the relative nonchalance with which the Western bloc
has reacted to the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Had an
invasion of Romania been received in the same way, Russia intended to
march into Yugoslavia. In August 1968, the Romanian Communist Party
expected an invasion by the USSR and voted almost unanimously to
fight, though as Ceausescu admitted without hope of success. The Stasi.
the East German secret service reclassified Romania as an enemy state
at this time. The Americans unaware of what was going on were anxious
to avoid being drawn into a conflict. So was Tito, who had good reason
to fear that Yugoslavia would be invaded after Romania. In August 1968
Tito turned to Great Britain for help, using Sir Fitzroy Maclean as an
intermediary, in the event of a Soviet invasion of Romania. MI6
unlike the CIA knew that a Russian invasion was on the cards. Harold
Wilson discussed with Michael Stewart and Denis Healey the idea of
sending crack troops to fight alongside partisans as in the Second
World War. 1968 not 1963 was probably the moment when Cold War
came closest to becoming hot.

Ceausescu’s famous speech from the balcony of the Central Committee
building on 23rd August 1968 had won him national support but
Nagy and Dubcek had had equal popular backing. Why did the Russians
and their allies not invade? For a number of reasons. Because in
Romania, unlike in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, they no longer had a
sufficiently extensive intelligence network enabling them to
know what was going on in the party or the armed forces or clients in
top positions who could request a Soviet intervention, because
Ceausescu and his colleagues unlike the Czechs would have fought and
because they had assumed national control over their armed forces
which were prepared a military response against an invader from any
direction. The fact that the US, Britain, and perhaps most explicitly,
Socialist giant China had weighed in to deter a Soviet move no doubt
played their role.

Courted by the Carter Administration in the late 70s
Watts argues that Ceausescu was free in the late 1970s to have led Romania
into a non-aligned position similar to that of Yugoslavia and to have
competed with Tito for American favours. Instead he decided to create
an autarchic national communist state, independent of Moscow and
Washington, a path that led him to the firing squad in Tirgoviste on
Christmas Day, 1989.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Easter in the Bucovina

In the end, from all my options for Easter, including Mount Athos, Meterora, Kiev, Transylvania, Rome and Clacton-on-Sea, I chose to return to Bucovina and the wonderful painted monasteries, which are for me the most lovely things in Romania, which is saying a very great deal.

Actually, wanting to see what was going on in Ukraine, I went to both Northern and Southern Bucovina. Northern Bucovina has been in Ukraine since the Soviet troops got there in 1944.

For those who don't know, the Bucovina was part of Moldavia that was taken from the Sultan by the Hapsburg Emperor in 1775 to link Galicia (Austrian Poland) to Transylvania. In 1919 the Bucovina was given to Romania but the northern half was seized by Stalin in June 1940. Sometimes people say that this was agreed under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 but, in fact, Russia's annexation of Bessarabia (which is now the Republic of Moldova) and the Northern Bucovina had not been agreed with Germany. Romania, allied to Hitler, took it back in 1941. Stalin regained it in 1944. 

Most of the Romanians fled or were deported to Siberia after 1944, but I noticed that the villages near the Romanian border have signposts in both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. This means that the villagers, or some of them, speak Romanian, are Romanians.

The name Bucovina means land of the beech trees and they are everywhere on the rolling hillsides. 

The capital of the Bucovina under Austria and until 1940 was Cernauti. This is its Romanian name, it's Czernowitz in German or Cernivtisi in Ukrainian. It was an enormous pleasure to return for my second visit.  Since my first visit I have had the chance to hear a lecture on life in Cernauti before 1914 by an Australian historian - Bucovina was Austria's equivalent of the Wild West, an unsettled place where fortunes could be made and lost and where people of all ethnic groups settled, Jews being the largest group. People of different ethnic groups never live side by side in complete amity but the citizens of Cernauti seem to have got by without too many great problems. The end of the Habsburg monarchy and war was to change this.

For decades I only travelled in post-Communist Europe and I still find it depressing to go to Western Europe. All that shininess and affluence make my heart sink. But I went to Western Europe for the monuments and to places like Burma and Mozambique to see the world until I realised that it is only Eastern Europe that I really love - where people are human and  normal. I especially love Ukraine and dear Cernauti, which are like Eastern Europe used to be in the late 1990s. 

Last time I was there, in 2007, I thought it was much like Satu Mare or Baie Mare or many other Austro-Hungarian towns but it is more charming than they are. The buildings are wonderful pastel shades in the early evening sunshine and there is an indescribable calm here which is only found in countries which are not powerful or rich or in the EU. What a joy it is to leave the EU, although the people of Western Ukraine would probably love to join it.

We arrived on Good Friday, and the mauve-pink Cathedral, once Romanian Orthodox and now one of the three kinds of Ukrainian Orthodox, was thronged with worshippers. I spent ten minutes there but my friend who had driven me to Cernauti stood outside waiting for me and so I went out again by that same door wherein I went, sorry that I should miss the Burial of the Lord ceremony, when a coffin is taken in procession around the church and nearby streets.

We walked around the lovely town bathed in evening sunlight and the sense of pleasing melancholy that you get in provincial towns towards the end of day, especially in obscure countries.I had looked forward to  chatting to locals about revolution and war but there was no-one to talk to. We did see an impromptu shrine to the heroes killed at the Maidan in Kiev, two of whom were local men or boys. Then we looked through the empty town for somewhere to eat and ended up eating a wonderful halibut at our hotel, the Hotel Bukovyna and salmon blinis. Far too big a feast for Good Friday, I know.

Photo: EU flag flying over Cernauti townhall
EU flag flying over Cernauti town hall 
Cernauti, Easter Saturday
We spent Saturday morning mooching around Cernauti and then went back to the future in Romania where we stumbled on the wonderful little painted church at Padrauti. Rain-swept and chilly it was easy to imagine Stephen the Great winning a battle against the Muslims in this remote barbaric spot.


Then Suceava and though the town was closed for Easter we ate a really wonderful tochitura in a brasserie called Centru Vechi. I realise that huge portions are the Bucovinan idea of hospitality. Even I, even I, left half my food.

I found the war memorial in Suceava saddening. Romanians should have avoided war in 1877 and 1916. Had Romanian borders not been enlarged in 1919 Romania might have kept out of Second World War and avoided Communism. On reflection, though, this last idea is unconvincing because even had Romania remained neutral in the First World War Bessarabia (now Moldova) would still have dropped into her arms after the Russian revolution and therefore would have been taken back at some point by Stalin. It would however have been in Romania's interests to stay out of the Great War and in the interests of her allies too. Norman Stone said that the entry of Romania on the Allied side in 1916 delayed the Allies' victory by a year.

In Suceava I read about the fifty thousand Jews rounded up into the Cernauti ghetto by Romanians by order of Antonescu in 1941 and later killed. I had forgotten this until someone reminded me. attended the Catholic Mass and then the Orthodox, which moves me much more deeply. The latter ended at 3.30 and then I found Lidia Rusu, with whom I was staying, who drove me back - it took over an hour - to Vama.

Sunday lunch was cooked by Lidia Rusu's husband who is the best cook I have encountered in fifteen years in Romania. I knew an equally good Hungarian cook in Transylvania in the early 1990s but she moved to Hungary and, alas, she is dead. In any case it is not possible to compare Hungarian food with Romanian food. The meal was wonderful and unfortunately I found I did not a strong enough personality to resist the home-made tzuica.

Vespers at the village church (a pretty one built in 1990 but to the same design as churches had long ago). Then my second visit to the Vama Egg Museum, now much bigger than in 2002 and a thriving business with painted eggs from around the world. I saw an ostrich's egg, which in Switzerland had been cut open and made into the replica of a church complete with congregation. But the painted eggs from the region were the point of the exhibition. Painting eggs (emptied of their contents first) are the Bucovinan tradition.

Monday began with Mass on a crisp sunny morning at the beautiful painted monastery at Moldovita. Then lovely Voronet and Humor. For readers who do not know Romania these and several other monasteries have no architectural interest but are famous for their wall paintings inside and outside which form wonderful galleries of mediaeval sacred painting. Romanians come to see them for their great beauty and also for the purpose for which they were made as an aid to prayer.  Bucovina is becoming more developed these days and starting to get a little commercialised but there is still a sense of holiness here and still a traditional rural way of life, though that is changing very much. Now Romanians go and find work in Eastern Europe and Romanian agriculture is, for reasons I do not fully understand, in big trouble.

Voroneţ Monastery

Ed Miliband cannot be England's first Jewish or atheist Prime Minister

Mr. Cameron turns out to be a Christian, though, as he self-deprecatingly once said, his faith fades and reappears
“like Magic FM in the Chilterns."
Mr. Clegg also told us this week that he is not an atheist, but an agnostic.  His wife and mother are both devout Catholics, his grandmother a devout Russian Orthodox, so he says that perhaps he will come to believe in God.

An article in the Spectator this week says that Ed Miliband won't be our first Jewish Prime Minister but can be our first atheist Prime Minister. This is inaccurate. Ramsay Macdonald was an atheist and Attlee believed in the Christian 'ethic but not the mumbo jumbo' and therefore was also an atheist. 

Chamberlain was a Unitarian and so not a Christian, but not, I assume, an atheist. (Many Unitarians in our day are atheists, though not in Transylvania, where they are numerous.) 

Most modern Prime Ministers were Christian. Wilson, Callaghan ( a lay preacher), Home, Macmillan, Mrs Thatcher and Mr. Blair were all very religious. Is Gordon Brown? I suspect so, son of the manse that he is. Edward Heath's first job was on the Church Times but I know no more of his religious ideas than this. Churchill was not, though he talked about 'the man upstairs' - he was too much the Edwardian progressive. Bonar Law I think was a freethinker, but my memory might be at fault. Lloyd George liked singing hymns. Salisbury and Balfour were deeply religious Christians. 

Disraeli was a Jew as regards his race but converted to Low Church Anglicanism. Michael Howard, had he become Prime Minister, would have been our first adherent to the Jewish religion to be Prime Minister, as he occasionally enters a liberal synagogue.

I have forgotten whatever I might have known about Asquith and Eden's religious views. Can anyone assist me? 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

This made me burst out laughing loudly

The Brighton Argus had misattributed the comments about a future "war between mankind and goats" to the director of the Brighton Science Festival. The comments actually came from a reader.
The reader had also suggested the following question, which was submitted to the director:
“In an upcoming war between mankind and goats, which side will you be on? What techniques can science provide in order to give mankind an edge in a conflict against powerful and cunning goats?”

For more local news click here.

Two new knights of the Garter

Buckingham Palace has announced that the former heads of the Bank of England and MI5 have been appointed to the Order of the Garter by The Queen.
Mervyn King was made Knight Companion and Eliza Manningham-Buller was appointed Lady Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
The Lord King and Baroness Manningham-Buller fill two of the three vacancies that were open due to the deaths of Baroness Thatcher, Lord Kingsdown and Viscount Ridley. The number of Companions no stands at 23 out of the 24 allowed.
I don't like these appointments. There should be no damned merit in the Garter, only noble blood. But Lady Manningham-Buller seems like a good egg and is the daughter of Viscount Dilhorne, Harold Macmillan's last Lord Chancellor. He was, it seems, an unpleasant man - I loved R.F.V. Heuston's character assassination of him in his Lives of the Lord Chancellors 1940-1970, perhaps the funniest book I ever read, even funnier than his volume covering 1885 to 1940.

I wondered when the order was opened to women and thought it was a new-fangled development but it was brought in by King Edward VII according to Rafe Heydel Mankoo. Although King Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, coined the phrase 
We are all socialists now
he was not a left-wing firebrand. Nevertheless, I rather wish he had left this ancient mediaeval order of chivalry all-male. After all King Arthur's knights did not include any dames. Appoint dames, by all means, but it might have been better to have kept them out of the ancient orders of knighthood and make them knights bachelor, or perhaps I mean dames spinster.

Lenin spoke English with an Irish accent

Lenin spoke English with an Irish accent, say Russians.

Is there any footage of Lenin speaking? 

Here is Trotsky speaking English, courtesy of Pathe, which has put its films on the net.

And here is the Kaiser speaking English

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

"What could be more British than to be ‘somewhat proud’ of our country? Honestly – it makes you somewhat proud"

This beautiful, lyrical article about what makes the author love England makes me happy, and I agree with most of it, but also unhappy. It is the Englishman's proudest boast that he never brags, and being somewhat proud of ourselves sounds like the same thing.

And yet...

On the whole, I am ashamed that my countrymen are only 'somewhat proud' of our country. They seem to think loving ones country a lot is suspect.

Every European people should be very proud of their country, apart from one obvious exception. Two, in fact, including the Austrians.

At dinner recently with an English journalist who votes Labour, we got round to discussing the mass migrations that are changing the world. My friend was shocked that I said I wanted 'Europe to continue to have a white and Christian majority'. He explained it was 'white' he found shocking, not the Christian bit. Is he right that this opinion is tendentious and if so how did we reach this point? He is a 30 year-old Cambridge man (how I hate the unisex or bisexual Americanism 'alumnus') and represents the people who will rule England as well as the people who already do.

He said he would defend to the death my right to say what I said, which was comforting, and that he was a patriot. I did not doubt his patriotism. I never doubt Labour supporters' patriotism. Or rather I did not until a couple of days ago a left-wing poet, who is my Facebook friend, posted that he loved the word 'country' and added, for fear of giving offence perhaps, that 'I am not a patriot'. When I commented that I assumed everyone was patriotic it became clear that some of his Facebook friends were shocked to be accused of patriotism.

We live and learn.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The public space in Romania

A question I have wanted to ask for 15 years: why do many Romanians walk around the streets in their dressing gowns? Not, admittedly, Romanians from the best circles.

George Orwell on gun control

How much more free England was in the 1930s is illustrated by this quotation from George Orwell, who turns out to be no friend to gun control.

“That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”


Does anyone care less about Oscar Pistorius? 
Why does he edge Ukraine out of the news?

The mystery of the missing plane no longer grips us

Isn't it a waste of taxpayers' money to continue looking for this plane? Though it was very careless to have lost it.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Admiral Zumwalt fought racism and sexism

This curious article about a battleship named after a retired U.S. admiral confirms me in my scepticism about the U.S. armed forces. When I saw them at close quarters in Berlin in the 1980s they seemed completely unwarlike.

The Admiral 'fought racism and sexism' the obituary begins. This reminds me of Oscar Wilde's line, 

'The General was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life'. 
I am afraid I do not believe in sexual equality in the armed forces.

Working backwards to find a genetic basis for homosexuality

It should be obvious to a child that the people saying there is a genetic factor to homosexuality do so to strengthen the case for social acceptance of homosexual acts. Try suggesting that there is a genetic factor in intelligence - which everyone knows is true - and therefore races have different IQ levels (not something I believe, by the way, before you lose your temper with me) and see the reaction. People start with a conclusion and then find a scientific argument to support it. When I see scientific evidence cited I always ask what political or philosophical position is it supporting - if it is supporting a fashionable one I make a rebuttable assumption that the evidence is flawed.  It reminds me that A.J. Balfour pointed out that none of the many philosophical arguments for murder being wrong had anything in common with the others except their conclusion. It is almost, he said, as if the authors started with the conclusion and worked backwards.

There was some preposterous scholar called I think Boswell who maintained that the third century church had no objection to homosexual couples and canonised a couple of saints who were homosexual lovers. Reviewers took this odd book very seriously.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Odessa - not from the Nazis but from the Romanians. The Romanians are remembered by elderly Odessans for their corruption but were kinder rulers than the Germans or the Communists and, when the Russians started to defeat the Germans, the Romanian government stopped deporting the remaining Jewish population to extermination camps. Mr Putin seems to think that the Soviet troops liberated the city from the Nazis. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

York has been ruined .... like everywhere else

York was ghastly even when I was there in 1978. Just plant for the tourist industry, even then. I remember when in the 1970s they discovered a piece of Roman road at York and Michael Wharton said he wished they would leave it amid the Edwardian streets unmarked and unexplained. 

That is how it is in the Fatih district of Istanbul, or as I prefer Constantinople, where Roman triumphal columns stand in the back streets ignored.

Patriotism is always good

Why do many people, many conservative and Conservative people, think patriotism is alright in small doses? How can one love ones country too much? It's like saying loving your parents or children or Mozart is alright in small doses but shouldn't be taken too far. It is also a very telling sign of the decadence of the rich world. That wonderful play Oh! What a Lovely War is partly to blame and that dreadful era the 1960s. Thank God the 1960s didn't happen in Romania.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Wonderful spring weather and manele playing far away

The porter is playing manele downstairs and the music and the lovely weather are perfect. Manele so much better than Western pop music, but for some reason (I wonder what it can be) Romanians are very scornful of a great Romanian art form. 

Ioana Radu, though, is very much better, of course. Ioana Radu is here. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Conservatism is love

Conservatism, as Roger Scruton said, is about love. Love of existing things and of tradition. Socialism and liberalism are also about love, but they tend to focus on what is unloveable about the world rather than celebrate what is to be loved. All political philosophies have their poetry and their ugliness. The poetry mostly comes out at elections.

The worst thing about being a conservative, though, is the other people who are conservatives. Grown-up, unromantic people who do not care about the poor and instead worry about their careers. But there are also bohemian conservatives like me and Michael Oakeshott, some of whose aphorisms I have just been reading. 

Not another book about Disraeli

This is a very interesting short review of yet another biography of Benjamin Disraeli. For some reason I mention him a lot on my blog. I never took a huge interest in him when studying history at school and university but now he seems crucial. I am not entirely sure why.

He had happy memories of 'the pleasure of being made ​​much of by a man who is daily Decapitating half the country' when he was the guest of Ali Pasha in Albania as a young man in the 1830s. Very, very funny and very remark Unpleasant indeed. He made ​​sure Russia got Bessarabia in 1878 as a punishment for rebelling against the Sublime Porte but he had good reasons to want to preserve the Ottoman Empire. Since it came to an end we have had the modern Middle East.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Bulgaria is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

At dinner last night a Romanian friend told me that Bulgarians, visiting their monasteries, behave like holidaymakers, unlike Romanians who behave like pilgrims when they visit theirs. Two Bulgarian academics told me recently that the Church is not liked and respected south of the Danube the way it is here. I wonder why. Are the centuries of Turkish rule the reason? I should have thought Turkish rule would have made the people like the Church more, not less.