European studies blog

7 posts from March 2018

20 March 2018

Hygge, noir or both? The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer

With the current enthusiasm for all things Danish, from the cult of hygge to crime dramas, it is fitting, on the 50th anniversary of his death, to examine the legacy of Denmark’s greatest contributor to the history of cinema, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968).

Dreyer Portrait
Portrait of Dreyer directing in 1931, from Ebbe Neergaard, En filminstruktørs arbejde. Carl Th. Dreyer og hans ti filmer (Copenhagen, 1940)

Certainly, judging by the subjects of his films and the events of his own life, it would be difficult to regard Dreyer as a typical representative of ‘Europe’s happiest nation’. He was, in fact, only half Danish; his mother, Josefine Bernhardine Nilsson, was a servant on a farm in Sweden where she was seduced by her Danish employer Jens Christian Torp – a situation familiar to readers of Martin Andersen Nexø’s novel Pelle Erobreren (Copenhagen, 1906-10; 12581.r.18.). Torp was already married, and when Josefine died he placed their illegitimate son in an orphanage. At the age of two the little boy was adopted by a typographer named Carl Theodor Dreyer, and his wife, Inger Marie, who gave him a home and a name but little in the way of emotional warmth or security. When he was 16 he broke away from his adoptive parents, but their lasting influence is evident in the ideology which underpins many of his films, set in a Denmark where religious conservatism prevails and failure to conform can have fatal consequences.

At the time when Dreyer made the transition from journalism to film, the Danish silent cinema was in its early stages, and even during his mature career as a director he lacked the support of a well-established national film industry. This apparent disadvantage, in fact, accorded well with Dreyer’s preference for solitude and independence at all costs. In his biography En filminstruktørs arbejde, Ebbe Neergaard describes the moment when the young Dreyer, visiting the vaults of the Great Northern Telegraph Company in the company of an elderly accountant who proudly pointed to his life’s work – a collection of musty files – recoiled in horror from the prospect of a similar fate and promptly resigned his post to strike out alone.

Throughout his life Dreyer was outspoken in his criticism of mass-production film-making, and his insistence on the integrity of the individual, no matter what the outcome, runs through his work. He began in a small way, writing film scripts for Nordisk Film (1913-19). Although he later called this period ‘a marvellous school’, it coincided with the decline of Danish film during the First World War, where, although neutral, Denmark lost many of its foreign markets and Nordisk’s German theatre chain was bought up by Ufa in 1917. Dreyer then left Denmark to work in the French film industry; while living in France he met Jean Cocteau and other members of the French artistic scene and in 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. This, like his next effort, Vampyr (1932), privately funded by Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg who also played the hero, was a commercial failure. Both were subsequently recognized as masterpieces of emotional realism and surreal expressionism, but Dreyer was deterred from making any more films until 1943, when he directed one of his greatest works, Day of Wrath. Denmark was by now under German occupation, and this story of the persecution of alleged witches in a remote Danish village stands as a metaphor for the climate suspicion and oppression which flourished in those days.

Dreyer Cover
Montage of images from The Passion of Joan of Arc reproduced on the cover of  En filminstruktørs arbejde

Many of Dreyer’s films are set in small, tightly-knit communities in rural districts. However, they do not portray an idealised world of neighbourly cosiness but demonstrate how an apparently secure web of relationships can become a trap. In Master of the House (1925), he depicts a tyrannical father’s hold over his family and its eventual subversion; on a wider scale, The Word (1955) shows the stranglehold of religious bigotry over the lives of villagers, with a strict father forbidding his daughter to marry out of their sect and a young man transformed into an eccentric ‘holy fool’ by excessive theological study. Yet there remains hope, even though in this case it requires the death of his sister-in-law Inger in childbirth to bring about the miracle which eventually transcends and dissolves the artificial boundaries which constrict their lives.

Dreyer degeneration#
‘The degeneration of family life’: the birdcage scene from Master of the House; pictures from En filminstruktørs arbejde

David Bordwell’s The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Berkeley, California, 1981; L.42/1194) provides a masterly study of the cinematic techniques which Dreyer employed throughout his career, culminating in his last film, Gertrud (1964). He analyses not only Dreyer’s use of the camera but his choice of plays and stories to adapt in exploration of spiritual conflict, social pressure to conform and the fate of those who defy it, and the concepts of sin and transgression (though Dreyer later disowned Two People (1945), based on a crime story and directed while he was living in exile from the Nazis in Sweden). But in his choice of Kaj Munk’s play Ordet as the source for The Word, he made common cause with a figure whose defiance of a corrupt regime, like Joan of Arc’s, cost him his life. Unsparing in his condemnation of moral compromise and hypocrisy alike, Dreyer invites his audience to explore the borderlands of the natural and the supernatural, earthly and spiritual, and to think for themselves in drawing their own conclusions.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

Further Reading

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fire film ... Jeanne d'Arc, Vampyr, Vredens Dag, Ordet. Udgivet med indledning af Ole Storm. (Copenhagen, 1964) X.900/560. (English translation: Four Screenplays (London, 1970) X.981/1902.)

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Om filmen. Artikler og interviews. Udgivet af Erik Ulrichsen (Copenhagen, 1964) X.908/793. (English translation: Dreyer in double reflection ed. by Donald Skoller (New York, 1973) 75/22116

Claude Perrin, Carl Th. Dreyer ... points de vue, documents, filmographie, bibliographie, chronologie, 50 illustrations (Paris, [1969])

Tom Milne, The cinema of Carl Dreyer (New York, 1971) X.900/6387.  

Maurice Drouzy, Carl Th. Dreyer, né Nilsson (Paris, 1982) X.950/26307

Edvin Kau, Dreyers filmkunst (Copenhagen, 1989). YA.1991.b.411

16 March 2018

The Russian Love Affair with the Arabian Horse

The title does not refer to the mythical indiscretions of Catherine the Great, although she indeed kept a number of Arabian horses, but to the enthusiasm which many famous Russian equestrians and breeders have had for the type.

Arabian - CCCP AlbumAn Arabian from an album of characteristic horse breeds of the USSR, 1953. S. V. Afanas’ev, Al’bom porod loshadei SSSR (Moscow, 1953). Cup.1253.dd.28.

Among the British Library’s collections, one book in particular illustrates the aristocratic infatuation with the Arabian. Prince A. G. Shcherbatov and Count S. A. Stroganov’s Kniga ob Arabskoi Loshadi (Saint Petersburg, 1900; British Library 7293.l.33.) combines an overview of the breed with an account of the authors’ journey to what is now Syria, purchasing stallions for breeding back in the Russian Empire. It was translated into English as The Arabian Horse: A Survey, which the Library also holds (London, 1989; YK.1990.b.3731).

Book of the Arabian Horse

Above:  The lavish cover to Shcherbatov and Stroganov’s book. Below: A mare called Latifa, bought by Stroganov in Damascus in 1895.


Shcherbatov and Stroganov championed the Arabian against the English Thoroughbred, another popular breed. They considered the Thoroughbred inferior, as it had emerged during a great confusion of equine bloodlines after the English Civil War. Cromwell’s revolution had led to the destruction of stud books and heavy loss of stallions – ‘it turned out to be impossible to reconstitute the pedigrees of the surviving animals’.

By contrast, Bedouin traditions ensured no confusion of bloodlines: ‘Our belief in the pure blood of the Arabian horse stems above all from the importance which the Arabs in horse-breeding attach to blood’. The purity of the Arabian appealed to principles close to the hearts of Russia’s ruling classes, who meticulously traced their own genealogies as well as those of their animals.

Shcherbatov and Stroganov argued that the increasing encroachment of the railway and the disruption of traditional Bedouin ways of life, such as the shift in warfare to the use of rifles from the back of camels rather than lances on horseback, brought the future of this unspoiled breed into question in its native homeland.

It fell to Russia to ensure the preservation of the Arabian’s pure bloodline, for Russia alone remained true to the aristocratic conception of an ideal purity of blood within a perceived sea of international vulgarity. In its turn, they thought, only the pure-blooded Arabian could help breed horses to out-compete the constitutional monarchies and democratic republics in equestrian sports and on the battlefield.

By 1900, the Arabian had already clearly proved its worth for improving the Empire’s stock. In the late 18th century, an Arabian stallion named Smetanka had been used as the basis for one of Russia’s best known breeds – the Orlov trotter.

Orlov Trotter - CCCP Album An Orlov trotter from the album of Soviet horses.

The project to develop a Russian trotting horse had been taken up by Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov-Chesmensky, in his retirement after an eventful military career. Orlov had been a central player during the 1762 coup which secured the throne for Catherine the Great, and was rumoured to have personally assassinated the deposed Tsar Peter III. Through his rigorous and experimental breeding programme, the Orlov trotter emerged as one of the leading horses for harness racing and other sporting disciplines of the 19th century.

Orlov PortraitAbove: A portrait of Count Aleksei Orlov-Chesmensky from Sergy Dmitrievich Sheremetev, Alekhan (Saint Petersburg, 1898). 09603.dd.13. Below: Tolstoy based his 1886 work Kholstomer on the life of the Orlov trotter Muzhik I, born in 1805. Leo Tolstoy, Kholstomer (Moscow, 1951). YF.2011.b.1596.

Kholstomer Cover

According to the coaching expert Andreas Nemitz, wealthy Russians typically used Orlov trotters as the centre of a troika to pull their droshkys, flanked by two gallopers. Captain M. H. Haynes, a British observer of Russia’s equine culture at the end of the 19th century, wrote that Orlov trotters ‘admirably suit the requirements of fashionable Russians, who love to go as fast as their coachmen can drive them, even over the roughest cobble stone pavement, which of course does not suit the long fetlocks’.

Orlov Pair A pair of Orlov trotters in harness from Capt. M. H. Haynes, Among Horses in Russia (London, 1900). 07293.i.46.

Russia’s Arabian and Orlov trotter populations declined sharply during the 20th century, harmed by the wars and social upheavals of this time. In 1997, enthusiasts founded the International Committee for the Protection of the Orlov Trotter to secure the future of the breed.

Despite the development of more competitive breeds since its heyday, the Orlov trotter is still well loved by enthusiasts and amateurs alike. As Sherbatov and Stroganov wrote in 1900: ‘One has only to glance at the Orlov-type trotters … to recognise immediately in the proudly-arched neck, the bright, prominent eye, the thin skin, the silky mane, the high-soaring tail and the overall nobility of their bearing, the Arabian blood infused only once, more than a century ago’.

Orlov TodayAbove: An Orlov trotter, image from Wikimedia Commons. Below: 
 the Orlov trotter in action, image from Wikimedia Commons

Orlov in action

Mike Carey, Eastern European Curator.


‘A Russian History’, The Arabian Magazine 29.5.2013 [online] available at [Accessed 27.2.2018].

Vsevolod A. Nikolaev & Albert Parry, The Loves of Catherine the Great (New York, 1982). 83/10566.

Andreas Nemitz, ‘Traditions and Styles in the Way of Driving Horses Part One’, The Carriage Journal 36, 4 (Spring, 1999), 152-4. P.P.8003.qn.

‘Orlov Trotter’, International Museum of the Horse (2018) [online] available at [Accessed 27.2.2018].



13 March 2018

Konstantin Somov and Hugh Walpole in Russia

One of the curious aspects of working with the material book is the sudden confrontation of its physical properties, the weight of proofs, the storage of sheets and missing gatherings – and its combustibility.

I was reading a work by Hugh Walpole, written in Russia during the First World War. A copy of the first edition of this novel, The Dark Forest, published in 1916 is in the British Library, and contains two curious pieces of evidence: a printed dedication to Konstantin Somov, and a pencil annotation stating that almost the whole of the edition was destroyed in a fire at the printer’s warehouse.

Walpole Dark forest dedicationHugh Walpole, The Dark Forest (London, 1916) C.134.c.9. Front endpapers with a note describing the fate of the edition and a handwritten dedication by Walpole to Sir Gerald Kelly.

Fires were not, unfortunately, uncommon in the printing trade at that time and accounts abound with records of losses or inventories depleted by smoke damage. More commonly mice or cats are blamed for the loss of sheets or full gatherings. However, I had been reading about Walpole’s experiences writing a novel and attending to proofs in the conflagration of the Eastern front, so a fire in what was the safe shores of ‘home’ was all the more shocking.

Walpole was a popular, though now largely forgotten, English writer who, in the First World War, travelled to Eastern front as a volunteer for the Russian Red Cross. He stopped in Petrograd before joining his ‘Otriad’ on a tour of duty near Lviv in May 1915. He managed to get a position as a ‘sanitar’ (medical orderly) and in his memoir ‘The Crystal Box’ he vividly described the conditions in which he wrote his novel at the Galician front:

Standing beside some carts in the Galician lane, my knees trembling with terror, the wounded moving restlessly on their straw, the afternoon light like the green shadow of a dried-up conservatory, I found a pencil and, steadying my shaking body against the cart, I wrote.

After his tour ended in October 1915 Walpole returned to the UK to publish his novel, excited by what he had achieved. The Dark Forest and his second novel The Secret City: ‘capture an atmosphere that would I know escape me afterward. … they are not bad books because as records of a foreigner’s apprehension of a country at its most critical time, they are true.’ In 1916 he went back to Russia to found the Anglo-Russian Bureau in Petrograd, part of a British initiative to counteract German propaganda.

Walpole’s time in Russia was formative of his literary taste. On 28 March 1915 he noted in his diary that he was with Arthur Ransome, Hamilton Fyfe, Konstantin Somov, and other Russian friends debating that ‘realism no good any more for Russia – Symbolism also dead. Alexis Tolstoi most interesting new novelist.’

Ransome Truth about Russia After Walpole left the Anglo-Russian Bureau, his friend Arthur Ransome continued to report on the situation as in this pamphlet, The Truth about Russia (London, 1918) 8286 f. 17.

Walpole’s mentor in Russia was the acclaimed painter Konstantin Somov. A former member of the ‘Pickwickians of the Neva’, the circle whose ideas were to be key in the creation of innovative magazines such as Mir Isskusstva (‘The World of Art’), and of the Ballets Russes, Walpole was a sentimentalist and his reaction to the Russian Modernists is complex: in his appreciation of plays at home or in Russia he frequently mentions the emotion of specific scenes, individual actors or joint performances. He was not ‘highbrow’ and also went with Somov to watch wrestling and barebacked riding, and his enthusiastic observations are drawn into his novel: ‘I adore a circus; and when I can find one with the right sawdust smell, the right clown, and the right enthusiasm, I am happy.’ Yet he was drawn to the idealism of the Russian Revolution.

Somov Lesebuch der Marquise
 Illustration by Somov from Frans Blei Das Lesebuch der Marquise: ein Rokokobuch (Munich, 1923) YA.1994.a.19985. Somov was working on this book when Walpole was in Russia.

Somov had not followed Diaghilev to the West, finding for the time being artistic fortune in his own country. Escorted by Somov, Walpole was thus able to socialise with leading representatives of Russia’s new culture, such as Sologub, Glazunov and Scriabin, and to see legendary stars such as Tamara Karsavina in La Fille Mal Gardée, recording that she ‘seemed inspired’. In addition to the Anglo-Russian Bureau in Petrograd, Walpole set up a small office in Moscow with R.H. Bruce Lockhart which had good relations with Moscow’s cultural life. As Karsavina recalled in her memoir Theatre Street, entertainments continued, Lockhart gave banquets, wrote stories for the wide-circulation Russian trench newspapers and took propaganda films to the Russian troops. Walpole himself reported on the build-up to the October Revolution, writing the official report for the British government, and portraying it in his second novel The Secret City which won the inaugural James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1919.

Karsavina Portrait

Picture by Edmund Dulac of Tamara Karsavina in the ballet Parade in 1920, reproduced in Karsavina’s memoir, Theatre Street (London, 1930) 010795.d.46. in which she records her friendship with Walpole.

The development of his taste in Russia would lead to Walpole’s re-evaluation of the role of cultural production and his desire for a ‘broadbrow’ view of the arts. He recalled his Russian experiences in the forewords to his works on Russia, recommended Lockhart’s A British Agent to the British Book Society, and wrote an introduction for an edition of Saki's Reginald and Reginald in Russia. His experiences also gave him a lifelong collecting habit; he filled his house in Cumbria with paintings, books and sculptures and later donated works to the Tate and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

On his return to Britain Walpole helped Russian friends who came over after the Revolution, seeing Somov again on his way to New York for an exhibition of Russian revolutionary art in January 1924. Somov urged Walpole to support the artists by writing magazine articles, but Walpole had moved on.

Somov was disappointed in their US reception: the American public were more interested in prerevolutionary art and icons. He moved to France he continued to paint and produce illustrations. He corresponded briefly in his later years with Walpole, offering to sell him paintings to add to his collection, something Walpole could not resist.

Daphne Somov p127
Illustration by Somov from Longus Daphnis et Chloé translated by Paul Louis Courier. Grande Collection du Trianon, No.8 (Paris, 1931) 012403.f.38.

Giannandrea Poesio and Alexis Weedon, University of Bedfordshire

This work is part of a larger project and forthcoming article ‘The origins of the ‘Broadbrow’: Hugh Walpole, Konstantin Somov and Russian modernism’ co-authored by Giannandrea Poesio and Alexis Weedon.


Hugh Walpole, ‘The Crystal Box: Fragments of Autobiography’, in The Bookman (Feb 1923) PP.6479.e.

Hugh Walpole, The Secret City: a novel in three parts. (London, 1919) NN.5340

09 March 2018

Mr Inkblot’s Academy – A Polish Children’s Classic

Each generation of children has its own favourite book which defines their childhood. For children growing up in Poland in the 1950s and 60s it was a book about a school for wizards called Akademia pana Kleksa (‘Mr Inkblot’s Academy’) by Jan Brzechwa, first published in 1946.

AkademiaCover1960Jan Brzechwa, Akademia pana Kleksa (Warsaw, 1960) X.990/537

The book tells the story of incomparable eccentric Ambroży Kleks (Ambrose Inkblot), headmaster of an equally nonpareil school for wizards based in Fairylandia at the very end of Chocolate Street. Fairylandia lies not far off but is not that easy to find unless one is invited and guided there, just as one day an unhappy, bullied 12-year-old boy, Adaś Niezgódka (Adam Contrary), is by a learned blackbird which communicates words by dropping their first syllables.

Inkblot MathewMathew the blackbird on the phone

The school is a three-storey building with classrooms, refectory and dormitories, and the top floor, to which there are no stairs, housing all Mr Inkblot’s secrets. It stands in the middle of a large unkempt park, surrounded by a wall lined with iron gates leading to other fables. Nobody knows how many of these gates there are, but all are locked with silver locks, and Mr Inkblot keeps the keys in a silver casket.

The 24 boys in the school – all of whose names begin with A – are taught by Mr Inkblot the subtle art of wizardry in subjects ranging from inkblotography and letter-spinning to un-breaking broken things. Mr Inkblot also helps the boys improve their dreams by selecting the best of them from dream-reflecting mirrors at each boy’s bedside: He also cooks for them: brightly-coloured beads which turn to delicious soups and juices, but also huge roasts, prepared with the help of a magnifying pump. But he can cook anything a boy can fancy by painting the dish with his magic brush. He himself gets by on hair-growing pills but loves flavoursome colours and for elevenses treats himself to a handful of butterflies, a special kind which he plants and grows like beans.

Inkblot clockMr Inkblot examining the broken clock

Mr Inkblot, who knows and sees everything, is the epitome of goodness and always tries to make everyone happy with themselves. He is a tall man, though he can control his size with the magnifying pump, making himself teeny-weeny for going to bed. He has a mop of hair gleaming with all colours of the rainbow and a vast bushy beard as black as soot. He wears an old-fashioned velvet frock coat with a lemon-bright waistcoat full of pockets, the contents of which could easily fill three rooms.

Inkblot expeditionMr Inkblot taking his pupils on a school expedition

Jan Brzechwa, started writing Mr Inkblot’s Academy in 1944, when war was still raging outside the window of his Warsaw flat. As a Jew he was hiding on the ‘Aryan’ side, somewhat contrarily, by not hiding at all and trying to live a ‘normal’ life. Writing was for him a way to escape the horrors of war by sticking to what he was good at: writing children’s stories and rhymes. He was an acknowledged master of the art.

Yet the horrors seeped into the narrative, most vividly in the story of Alojzy Bąbel (Alois Blister), a boy-marionette brought to Mr Inkblot for schooling by Philip the barber, Mr Inkblot’s nemesis. Mr Inkblot brings Alois to life but the boy grows wickeder and wickeder, spewing hate and destruction, until he has to be dismantled. This enrages Philip, who steals Mr Inkblot’s secrets, sending him and his Academy on a course to total annihilation. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, Brzechwa originally named the wicked boy Adolf, but, wanting to protect the innocence of his young readers, or just driven by his wicked sense of humour, changed the name to that of Hitler’s father, thus neatly blaming it all on the parents.

Inkblot Alois BlisterMr Inkblot bringing the boy-marionette Alois Blister to life.

The character of Mr Inkblot also had his real-life counterpart. Franz Fiszer was a real character, legendary in the literary circles of pre-war Warsaw. A Socrates and a Falstaff, a practicing metaphysician and the last of true alchemists, if by such we mean not quack-chemists but serious searchers for the philosopher’s stone, Fiszer dined and drank during legendary symposia, which convened spontaneously wherever he sat at a table. It would be an inconsolable waste if Franz Fiszer were to recede into oblivion without a trace. Luckily for him his memory has not been totally blotted out – he transmogrified into Mr Inkblot. Thanks to Jan Marcin Szancer – another Polish Jew hiding in occupied Warsaw, who created Mr Inkblot’s definitive image much as E.H. Shepard did for Winnie-the-Pooh – Fiszer/Mr Inkblot became a great friend to generations of Polish children.

InkblotFranciszek_FiszerPortraitPortrait of Franciszek Fisher by Aleksander Żyw. Reproduced in Roman Loth, Na rogu świata in Nieskończoności, wspomnienia o Franciszku Fiszerze (Warsaw, 1985) YA.1988.a.1331

Mr Inkblot’s Academy was the first of a trilogy, followed by Mr Inkblot’s Travels and ending with Mr Inkblot’s Triumph, which rounds up the story with Adam’s graduation from the Academy and his last journey with Mr Inkblot in search of the disappeared tribe of Fairytalers (and his own parents). It all ends well – despite continued machinations by Alois Blister – with Adam’s engagement to a lovely girl named Reseda.

Inkblot Adam and ResedaAdam and Reseda

The books’ enduring promise of escape, renewed interest in Mr Inkblot and his academy when Poland was drowning in the greyness of the martial law imposed in 1981. Three films made in the 1980s relaunched the imperishable Mr Inkblot’s career and brightened the years of yet another generation of Polish children, and perhaps not just Polish, as the films were shown on European television well into the 1990s. One can only wonder why Mr Inkblot’s Academy’s film potential was discovered so late. Brzechwa himself wrote film scripts, among them an adaptation of another classic, The Two who Stole the Moon, the horrid twins of the title played by Kaczyński brothers, later president and prime minister of Poland. Sadly, an earlier project of turning Mr Inkblot’s Academy into a Hollywood film came to nothing, even though it was scripted by Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas. Although her treatment was the first English version of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, and can be read online via the website of the Münchener Stadtbibliothek, there has never been a published translation – a challenge perhaps for a publisher today?

Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator


07 March 2018

Amid a thousand and one stars: the Crimean Tatar language

One of the most momentous historical events in Crimean Tatar history was when the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Djemilev addressed his people in the Crimean Tatar language at the opening of the first Crimean Tatar Mejlis (Parliament) in 1991 after his return to Crimea. Although giving a speech in one’s mother tongue might be considered as the most natural thing, in this case it proves the significance of preserving that mother tongue despite the Soviet Union’s efforts to destroy the Crimean Tatar language. In 2009 Crimean Tatar was categorised as ‘severely endangered’ in the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.  

CrimeanTatarMustafaDzhemilevCover of Mustafa Dzhemilev: “Na protiazhenii desiatiletiĭ golos krymskikh tatar ne byl uslyshan...",  edited by G.Bekirova (Kyiv, 2014). YF.2014.a.27330

The early history of the Crimean Tatars and the development of their language is naturally complex. The Mongols called themselves ‘Tatars’ and it was only after the death of Chingiz Khan that they were called ‘Mongols’. Crimean Tatars are the descendants of Kipchak Turks who took a big part of the Mongol army, under the command of Batu Khan, grandson of Chingiz, to the doorstep of Europe. This western division of the Mongol Empire is called the Golden Horde; the Crimean Tatars belonging to this division settled in the Crimean Peninsula in the 12th century and consequently the Crimean Khanate was founded.

Crimean Tatar is linguistically a part of the Kipchak branch of the Turkic family. Edward Lazzerini points out that “a semi-nomadic eastern Kipchak people who settled eventually in the north-east of the peninsula, the Nogays enriched Tatar vocabulary with respect to natural objects, the concerns of daily life and certain forms of economic activity.” He adds that these elements “were of limited though significant influence, affecting the lexicon primarily and providing the literary language with an unusual array of synonyms”. As the Crimean Tatars are followers of Islam, Arabic and Persian served to broaden the Crimean Tatar language.

Crimean Tatars in traditional costumes from Th. de Pauly,  Description ethnographique des Peuples de la Russie (St Petersburg, 1862). Tab.435.a.14

In the 19th century, Ismail Bey Gaspirali/Ismail Gasprinski realised the need for reform in education for the Turco-Muslim peoples of tsarist Russia, recognising the resolution of the language question as the first condition. Gaspirali wanted to create a pure Turkic lexicon of Crimean Tatar and simplify its syntax. Following these changes, he tried to modify the Arabic script by including vowel symbols and eliminating redundant letters as well as introducing punctuation. In 1883 Gaspirali, whose dream was “unity in thought, unity in language, unity in action”, founded the newspaper Tercuman/Perevodchik, which lasted until 1918. The language Gaspirali used in Tercuman was simplified in form that it would be understood by Turkic readers not only in Crimea but in Ottoman lands, Central Asia, and the Volga regions. Gaspirali was interested in one simple common literary language that would bring all the Turkic people in Russia together.

 After October Revolution in 1917, Crimean Tatar’s fate followed that of other minority languages in the USSR.

CrimeantatarGrammar1925 cropped
Above: Cover of Bekir Choban-Zade. Qırım Tatar ilmi sarfı (Simferopol, 1925), a grammar of the Crimean Tatar language in Perso-Arabic script:    14499.s.84. Below: Cover of the journal İleri: Ayda bir kere çıqar siyasi, ictima'i, 'ilmi ve edebi jurnaldır (Simferopol, 1926-[1927?]. 14499.tt26


 The new language policy of the Soviet Union replaced the Arabic script with a 31-letter Latin alphabet in 1929, only be replaced by Cyrillic as it was for all other nations in 1938.The changes of script have meant that not only the Crimean Tatars but the Central Asians and other nations lost the whole of their pre-revolutionary written culture as well as the first hand sources regarding the formative first decades of Soviet rule.

The Crimean Tatar people were deported on the orders of Stalin on 18 May 1944 to Central Asia, the Urals and Siberia where they were forced to live in ‘special settlements’ for more than a decade, stripped of all the rights they had enjoyed as Soviet citizens – including that of calling themselves Crimean Tatars. Schooling for the Crimean Tatars was either in Russian, or in the national language of the region where they had been settled. The national literature was destroyed and the Crimean Tatar language reduced to a pre-literate state. Esher Shemizade, Crimean Tatar poet, rightfully voiced what all the Crimean Tatars were feeling “a nation can exist only under the condition that it has its own literary language.”

With the lift of the ban by the Soviet Authorities, the Crimean Tatars managed to publish their first newspaper Lenin Bayragi (‘The Banner of Lenin’) in Uzbekistan in 1957. It appeared three times a week, with an initial circulation of 23,000. It used to be four pages and only the last page gave a glimpse of the language, the meaning of words and explanations for preserving the Crimean Tatar language and teaching it to the younger generation. This newspaper was published until 1990, when the Crimean Tatars started to return home. At this time its title was changed to Yani Bunya (‘New World’) and publication moved to Simferopol in Crimea.

CrimeanTatarNewAcquisitionsRecent acquisitions: Bi-lingual (Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian) anthologies of Crimean Tatar poetry and prose: Molytva lastivok: antolohia krymsʹkotatarsʹkoï prozy XIV-XX st.  (Kyïv,  2005-2006) ZF.9.a.6651 and Kuneshten bir parcha = Okrushyna sontsia (Kyiv, 2003). YF.2006.a.11779 

The Crimean Tatars regard their native language as a treasure worth preserving for its own sake. The poet Remzi Burnish captured this essence in his poem ‘Ana tilim’ (‘My Mother Tongue’):

Each nation has its own tongue
in which lovers confide,
To it, that tongue is sweeter than honey,
It will never be forgotten.
My nation is kinsmen, too.
Has its own tongue that sings,
Amid a thousand and one stars
This tongue, in my cradle,
Raised me with its lullaby,
It pulled forward from my youth
Holding me by the hand…

(translated by Edward Allworth with S Ahmet Kirimca)

Melek Maksudoglu, independent researcher

Further reading:

Gulʹnara Bekirova, Piv stolittia oporu: krymsʹki tatary vid vyhnannia do povernennia (1941-1991 roky): narys politychnoï istoriï (Half century of resistance: Crimean Tatars from deportation to return (1941-1991)) (Kyïv, 2017). YF.2017.a.20021

Brian Glyn Williams, The Crimean Tatars: from Soviet genocide to Putin’s conquest (London, 2015). YC.2017.a.6553

V.E.Vozgrin, Istoriia krymskikh tatar. Ocherki etnicheskoi istorii korennogo naroda Kryma v chetyrekh tomakh. (Simferopol', 2014). YF.2015.a.3442

Mehmet Maksudoglu, Kırım Türkleri (Istanbul, 2009) 

E Allworth (ed), The Tatars of Crimea: return to the homeland: studies and documents (Durham N.C., 1998) 98/11840

Edward Lazzerini, ‘Crimean Tatar: the Fate of a Severed Tongue’ in: Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Soviet National Languages: their past, present and future, edited by Isabelle T. Kreindler. Contributions to the Sociology of Language; 40 (Berlin, 1985) X.0900/323(40) pp. 109-124

M. Ülküsal, ‘Colonialism and the Soviet Russia’ Emel İki Aylık Kültür Dergisi (EMEL JOURNAL) issue 2, Cilt 1, 1961 14498.c.20 

R. H. Hanoglu “Kırım Edebiyatı” Emel Iki Aylık Kültür Dergisi (EMEL JOURNAL) issue 13, Istanbul, 1962 14498.c.20 

Şevki Bektorë , Tatarça sarf, nahiv: Tatar oku işleri, ilmi heyeti tarafɪndan tasdik boldu (Sevastopol, 1923). ITA.1986.a.1063


05 March 2018

Travels to Montenegro in the 19th century: a collection of digitised books

In the 19th century Montenegro was one of the least known countries, formally part of European Turkey, but in reality an unconquerable country on the edge of its existence, which presented a constant challenge to the power of the Porte. The Ottoman Turks overran Montenegro with large armies several times, captured the capital Cetinje, burned the villages and crops, but the free mountain people were never subjugated and thus invaders paid dearly in losses for their conquests and retreats. Before its full independence in 1878, the Turkish authorities never recognised the facto autonomous status of Montenegro.

In a collection of 18 travel books in six languages (French, Russian, English, Serbian, Italian and Hungarian), published between 1820 and 1896 and recently digitised by the British Library, European visitors to Montenegro recorded a wealth of knowledge about the country and its people.

A_10126dd14_F Woman from Montenegro. From L.C. Vialla de Sommières, Voyage historique et politique au Montenegro (Paris, 1820). 10126.dd.14. 

The travel accounts comprise history, topography, statistics and data on human and natural resources, maps and images of Montenegro. They describe the Montenegrins’ way of life and customs, their habits and character, religious ceremonies, superstitions and beliefs, skills, knowledge and ignorance in equal measure. These accounts provide useful insights into the everyday life of Montenegrins, their virtues and weaknesses and their moral values. The observers were equally interested in health and education, economy and trade, political relations, diplomacy and governance, legislation and consequently the life and development of the state of Montenegro.

B_10126dd14_MInhabitant of Montenegro. From Voyage historique et politique au Montenegro

The Montenegrin man was depicted as a free man and warrior armed at all times with a gun and sabre (yatagan) and the usual ‘strucca’ (struka) over his shoulder, a cover made of canvas or animal skin which he used against the elements or as a sleeping pad. Every Montenegrin wore a moustache, had shaved beard and the fore part of the head, as far as the line of the ear. He wore folding red cap with black lining, a homemade suit of rough cloth, which was long and narrow with tight sleeves and knee-high wide trousers with woollen socks and leather moccasins (opanak). The Montenegrin woman wore colourfully embroidered shirts and decorated outfit with a scarf for married women or a red cap for girls.

C_10126dd14_L Fishing festival in Montenegro. From Voyage historique et politique au Montenegro

Fish was one of the most important products of Montenegro. Crnojević River (Rijeka Crnojevića) and Skadar Lake were abundant in quality freshwater fish. They were exported dried and salted to local markets and to Trieste, Venice and other places. Montenegro held a traditional fishing festival celebrated as a harvest holiday. This was a special occasion celebrated during fishing seasons in the presence of the Montenegrin ruler and dignitaries. 

E_10126dd19Cattaro. From Andrew Archibald Paton, Highlands and Islands of the Adriatic (London, 1849). 10129.dd.19.

As well as fish, the Montenegrins sold other products three times a week at the market in Kotor, which was the main trading town and a place of supply for Montenegro. Here the Montenegrins mostly traded in wool, goats, wood, dry meat, bacon, fat, lard, honey, wax, turtles, vegetables, livestock, game, eggs, milk, cheese, wheat, corn flour, potatoes etc.


 Vladika (Prince-Bishop of Montenegro) Petar II Petrović Njegoš . From John Gardner Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro (London, 1848). 10290.dd.16.

The title of Vladika was a popular term for the Orthodox Metropolitan of Montenegro who was the spiritual, political and military leader of a theocratic patriarchal country. Petar II Petrović Njegoš successfully continued his predecessor’s reforms of the national customs, government and institutions of Montenegro. He founded the first primary school in Montenegro and a small press for the printing of school and educational material. In this press Vladika Petar II printed his early collection of poetry Pustinjak cetinjski (‘Cetinje hermit’)  in 1834.

F_10126d32_C Tsetinje (Cetinje). From Emily Anne Beaufort, The Eastern Shores of the Adriatic in 1863 (London, 1864). 10126.d.32.

Cetinje monastery, destroyed and rebuilt several times until the mid-19th century, represented on its own the capital of Montenegro. Close to the monastery Vladika Petar II had his residence built (seen in this lithograph to the left of the monastery) which housed his private library and accommodated public administration. This was the beginning of the first town in Montenegro created at the foot of the high mountains which guarded the freedom and independence of this country.

G_10126d32_P Vojvoda (Duke) Mirko Petrović, the father of Prince Nikola of Montenegro. From The Eastern Shores of the Adriatic in 1863

Vojvoda Mirko Petrović epitomises a Montenegrin freedom fighter.He was a hardened military commander who won important battles against the Ottoman forces. A photographic portrait of Vojvoda Mirko was taken in 1863 and he is described in The Eastern Shores of the Adriatic in 1863: “In person he is a remarkable-looking man: very small for a Montenegrine, thin and spare in figure, every line in the closely-shaven face expressing decision, and the small restless eye lighting up in conversation with such a fierce eagle’s glance, that one can fancy how wild and fiery it must be in war. His voice is peculiarly high-pitched and thin, unlike that of his countrymen in general, but when excited in the Senate he managed to give it a hoarse roar that astounded one’s ears.”

First-hand travel accounts were usually published to meet the curiosity of the officials and the public of countries with a political, military, commercial, cultural or general interest in far-away or lesser known countries. Their detailed descriptions and insights remain valuable for researchers today. It can be seen that travel writers were well informed and well acquainted with the existing literature about the subject of their interest. Some travelogues provide useful bibliographies that reveal the body knowledge available at the time of writing. They enable two-way communication with the past and our understanding of the world as it used to be and as it is now. Since 1995 the publishing house CID in Podgorica has specialised in publishing international travel literature about Montenegro in Serbian translation which is an important addition to the British Library collection.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

Digitised books not cited in the text:

Egor Petrovich Kovalevsky, Chetyre miesiatsa v Chernogorii (St Petersburg, 1841) 10290.e.22.

Aleksandr Nikolaevich Popov, Puteshestvie v Chernogoriiu (St Petersburg, 1847) 10126.dd.13. 

V. M. G. Medaković, Život i običai Crnogoraca (Novi Sad, 1860) 10126.eee.13. 

J.M. Neale, Notes, ecclesiological and picturesque, on Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, Styria, with a visit to Montenegro (London, 1861) 10205.b.7.  

Richard Cortambert, Coup d’œil sur le Monténégro (Paris, 1861) 10126.d.10. 

Alfred Boulongne, Le Monténégro, le pays et ses habitants (Paris, 1869) 10125.e.23.

R.H.R., Rambles in Istria, Dalmatia and Montenegro (London, 1875) 

James Creagh, Over the Borders of Christendom and Eslamiah… (London, 1876)

Alfredo Serristori, La Costa Dalmata e il Montenegro durante la guerra del 1877 (Florence, 1877) 10127.ff.8. 

James George Cotton Minchin, The Growth of Freedom in the Balkan Peninsula (London, 1886)  

Adolf Strausz, A Balkan Félsziget (Budapest, 1888) 10125.f.11.  

Pierre Bauron, Les Rives illyriennes (Paris, 1888) 10126.g.14. 

Robert K. Kennedy, Montenegro and its Borderlands (London, 1894) 010127.a.24. 

Giuseppe Marcotti, Montenegro e le sue donne (Milan, 1896) 

Further reading:

Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, Montenegro und die Montenegriner (Stuttgart, 1837). 1294.c.3. Serbian translation Crna Gora i Boka Kotorska (Belgrade, 1922).

Heinrich Stieglitz, Ein Besuch auf Montenegro (Stuttgart, 1841). 1294.c.5. Serbian translation Posjeta Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 2004). YF.2008.a.34254.

Wilhelm Ebel, Zwölf Tage auf Montenegro (Königsberg, 1842-44). 1426.h.6. Digital copy available from the University of Belgrade Digital Library.

Johann Georg Kohl, Reise nach Istrien, Dalmatien und Montenegro (Dresden, 1851). 10290.a.14. Serbian translation Putovanje u Crnu Goru (Podgorica, 2005). YF.2008.a.30618.

Xavier Marmier, Lettres sur l’Adriatique et le Montenegro (Paris, 1854). Serbian translation of Marmier’s Lettres and other works relating to Montenegro Pisma o Jadranu i Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 1996). YF.2008.a.40694.

Alfred Boulongne, Crna Gora: zemlja i stanovništvo (Podgorica, 2002). YF.2008.a.24793

Egor Kovalevskii, Chernogoriia i slovenskiia zemli (St Petersburg, 1872). 12264.f.16. Serbian translation of this and the same author’s Chetyre miesiatsa v Chernogorii (St Petersburg, 1841), as Crna Gora i slovenske zemlje (Podgorica, 1999). YA.2001.a.19183.

Gabriel Frilley, Jovan Vlahović, Le Monténégro contemporain (Paris, 1876). Serbian translation Savremena Crna Gora (Podgorica, 2001). YF.2008.a.34156.

La France au Monténégro d’après Vialla de Sommières et Henri Delarue. Récits de voyages publiés et complétés par Cyrille (Paris, 1876).

Alfredo Serristori, Crna Gora i Dalmatinska obala (Podgorica, 2010). YF.2011.a.14503.

Ludvík Kuba, Na Černé Hoře (Prague, 1892). Serbian translation U Crnoj Gori (Podgorica, 1996). YF.2008.a.39380.

Ignat Horica, Na Cerné Hoře (Prague, 1895).

Giuseppe Marcotti, Crna Gora i njene žene (Podgorica, 1997). YF.2008.a.28680.


01 March 2018

The Battle of Valle Giulia 50 Years After - 1 March 1968

50 years ago today a new era began in Italy. Students joined the global wave of dissent, protesting against the bourgeois value system, fighting for equality and civil rights, and requesting a modernisation of the education system in the country.
‘La contestazione’ started in Rome, on Friday 1 March 1968. The School of Architecture of the University of Rome, in Via di Valle Giulia, became the battlefield for the first violent encounter in Italy between the student movement and the police. 

1968_giacconeFausto Giaccone, Fight between police and students outside the School of Architecture at Valle Giulia. Rome, 1 March 1968. From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milano, 2008) LF.31.b.4963 

Some accounts of the participants have been recorded about that day, which was described as ‘a collective initiation’. 
In the words of Oreste Scalzone, a student at the time, who later became a politician:  

Freedom was the morning of Valle Giulia. They [the police officers] had seized the school of Architecture […]. The night before, discussing the protest at a university committee meeting, we decided that we would go to get it back. We woke up early and we went [… ]. We arrived by the green esplanade and started throwing eggs at the police, who seemed all wrapped up, unprepared, because they were used to repressing protests without expecting any form of resistance. When they charged, we didn’t run away. We withdrew and then counterattacked [our] stones against [their] tear gas grenades […] (quoted by Nanni Balestrini in L’Orda d’Oro (Milan, 1997; YA.2001.a.31572); own translation). 

At the end of the battle, 148 police officers and 478 of about 1500 protesters were injured, 4 were arrested, and 228 reported to the police.

1971_lucasUliano Lucas, Piazzale Accursio, Milan, 1971.  From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milan, 2008) LF.31.b.4963

Among the students and the police officers involved, many then had careers in journalism (Giuliano Ferrara, Paolo Liguori, Ernesto Galli della Loggia), others in politics (Aldo Brandirali, and the above-mentioned Oreste Scalzone), others in the arts, like the actor Michele Placido, the architect Massimiliano Fuksas and the songwriter and director Paolo Pietrangeli, who wrote a song called ‘Valle Giulia’ to celebrate that, suddenly, on that day a new thing happened: ‘non siam scappati piu’ (‘we didn’t run away any more’). The song quickly became the iconic anthem of the protest: ‘No alla scuola dei padroni! Via il governo, dimissioni!’  (‘Down with the bosses’ schools, out with the government, resignation now!’).

Pier-paolo-pasoliniPier Paolo Pasolini on the set of The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Pier Paolo Pasolini  famously wrote about the event. Some verses of his poem ‘Il PCI ai Giovani’ (‘The Italian Communist Party to the Young People’), written in the aftermath of the Battle of Valle Giulia, have been quoted for decades to state that Pasolini was supporting the police:

Pasolini PCI ai giovani
Extract from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Il PCI ai Giovani, 1968Translation into English by Guido Monte  

But if one reads the full poem, it becomes clear that the Pasolini uses his irony to provoke the students, urging them to abandon their bourgeois rebellion, to take their fight under the wing of the Communist Party and closer to the workers because, in his idea, Communism was the only way to make a revolution happen. 

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) 

References/Further Reading

Alessandro Portelli, The Battle of Valle Giulia. Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (Wisconsin, 1997) YC.1997.a.3597

Michele Brambilla, Dieci anni di illusioni. La storia del Sessantotto (Milan, 1994) YA.2001.a.34307

Wu Ming 1, The Police vs. Pasolini, Pasolini vs. The Police, translation from Italian by Ayan Meer