Daily Archives: July 9, 2009

The past confronts Central Europe in different ways

Do you want to rip the band-aid of communism off quickly and painfully or in a less painful way that lasts far longer?

Why do approaches to the past in Central Europe vary so much from one country to another? And in particular, why have Hungary and Poland the first two countries to adopt democratic regimes been so slow to confront the painful issue of state terror? In his remarkable master’s thesis, Tomáš Bezák, a Slovak political science student, drew the following conclusion: in the countries where the communists played an active role in the transition to democracy, confrontation with the issue of past oppression came much later. It is a view that is also expressed by Czech born political analyst Jacques Rupnik in his latest book, “Une democratie trop vite fatiguée” A democracy jaded all too soon: “In countries like the Czech Republic and East Germany, where communist power appeared to be unassailable, there were no discussions and the regimes fell within a few days. So there was no reason to make any promises to the communists.” Circumstances were different in Poland and Hungary. It made sense to make a deal, but there was a price that had to be paid — a promise to put lustration operations on hold, and allow major figures from the communist regime access to senior positions in the subsequent democratic administration.

From Presseurop

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How far back do you want to go?

Before the British screwed the Elgin Marbles out of the Turkish, before the Turkish screwed the Greeks out of ruling Greece…

Athens was the force behind the Delian League of Greek city-states in the 5th century BC, which was founded to provide money for the common defence against Persia. The funds raised, however, did not go towards defence but were used by the Athenians to pay for expensive building projects on the Acropolis, including the Parthenon. The city-states that did not want to pay were conquered and their citizens became subjects of Athens. The league was no longer a mutual protection pact; it was “the cities that the Athenians rule”.

The classical Athenians extorted money to craft what have become known as the Elgin marbles; now their descendants want the works returned to them. I propose instead that the marbles be returned to the descendants of the people who helped pay for them in the first place, and who now live in the Delian League’s former cities along the eastern Aegean. For moral clarity, the Elgin marbles should be returned to Turkey.

That’s Robert Ingle writing in to  the Economist. Continue reading

Better paper versus cheaper iron

[T]he British inventions of the eighteenth century–cheap iron and the steam engine, in particular–were so transformative… the technologies invented in France–in paper production, glass, and knitting–were not.

via Delong. It’s stupid how I feel pride in that passage. It’s too bad that all the French inventions — which are no doubt way more important than I’d think — seem stereotypically fey and cheese-smelling in comparison to British iron and Welsh-coal-driven steam.

It’s almost as unfair a list as the following, which was cruelly produced during a debate in the pages of the TLS over how science-friendly Islam is or has been:

It is too strong to say that there was no science at all in the Islamic world after al-Ghazali, but such science as there was led to nothing important. Certainly the great period of Islamic science came to an end around the twelfth century. Nor has it been revived. A 2002 survey by Nature identified just three areas of science in which Islamic countries excel: desalination, falconry and camel reproduction.

A list designed to humiliate. I wish I could have been in the room where people debated the merits and demerits of defining camel reproduction as a science.