European studies blog

109 posts categorized "Politics"

07 July 2021

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part II)

With Euro 2020 in full swing, we've come up with a few football-related titles from the collections. Next up, France, Italy and Poland... 

“Sports and politics both thrive on hope, and both largely consist of disappointments”, wrote Laurent Dubois in his fantastic Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. The book takes the French national team as its subject, following a nation whose political and footballing reality is “firmly rooted in Empire”. Victory at the World Cup for the first time in 1998 occurred against a vitriolic criticism of the squad, most prominently from the leader of the far-right Front National party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who claimed in 1996 that the national team had “too many players of colour”. The team included Guadeloupe-born Lilian Thuram and Zinedine Zidane, whose parents had immigrated to Paris from northern Algeria before the start of the Algerian War, and whose histories feature prominently in the work.

Cover of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France with a photo of the French team celebrating

Cover of Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France by Laurent Dubois (Berkeley (California), 2010) YC.2010.a.7769.

Dubois traces how the 1998 victory did not silence the racist discourse. In 2007, Georges Frêche of the Socialist party echoed Le Pen’s sentiments and was thus excluded from his party. Blame for Les Bleus’ disastrous 2010 World Cup mutiny was placed firmly on the black and Muslim players by Le Pen’s daughter and current leader of far-right National Rally party, Marine, who declared that the World Cup was not a success because many of the players had “another nation in their hearts”. In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 competition, the French Football Federation attempted to place a 30% cap on players with “certain origins” in football academies across the country, while national team coach Laurent Blanc argued for selecting players with “our culture, our history”

A second World Cup victory in 2018 has not ended the constant racism levelled at French national team players. They are forensically examined by a commentariat who question their every move - from performances on the pitch to their supposed heartiness when singing the French national anthem. However, despite their shock penalty exit to Switzerland in this summer’s Euros, a new set of superstars including Kylian Mbappé, a Parisian banlieusard of Cameroonian and Algerian descent and Paul Pogba, born in Paris to Guinean parents, will continue to inspire people around the world. They fluently speak what Lilian Thuram described football to be: “the language of happiness”.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Cover of the 1977 edition of Azzurro tenebra with a photo of a footballer running

Cover of Giovanni Arpino, Azzurro tenebra (Turin, 1977) X.909/83737

Sports journalist and prize-winning writer, Giovanni Arpino (1927-1987) is the author of one of the most beautiful novels on Italian football. A story of defeat, Azzurro tenebra is a fictional account of the unlucky participation of the Italian national team, the azzurri (‘blues’), in the 1974 World Cup in what was at the time West Germany. Some legendary names feature in the book: coaches Ferruccio Valcareggi (‘the Uncle’) and Enzo Bearzot (‘Vecio’), Gigi Riva (‘the Bomber’), Gianni Rivera (‘the Golden Boy’), and goalkeeper Dino Zoff (‘San Dino’). Arpino joins the Italian delegation and is acutely aware of the difficult position of the team, struggling to find an identity and lost in the transition between the old stars, who had won Euro 1968, and the new talents, who would end up winning the 1982 World Cup in Spain a few years later.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

If asked to name a Polish football player, the one that instantly springs to mind for most people will be the current captain of the Polish national team and star striker at Bayern Munich, Robert Lewandowski who also holds the record of most goals scored for Poland at national level. Those with longer memories may however come up with another name – Włodzimierz Lubański, who held this record before Lewandowski.

Cover of Włodzimierz Lubański’s autobiography with a portrait

Cover of Włodzimierz Lubański’s autobiography, Włodek Lubański: legenda polskiego futbolu (Katowice, 2008) YF.2011.a.19125

Lubański’s career from 1967-1975 had been spent at the well-nigh invincible Górnik Zabrze where he played a key part in winning six Polish Championships and six Polish Cups as well as reaching the quarter finals of the European Cup in 1968 and being beaten only in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1970 by Manchester City. In his autobiography, he recounts that on an evening out with Spanish players, following a UNICEF fundraising match in which he had participated, he was pursued by Real Madrid whose representatives arrived in Poland and offered a million dollars for Lubanski. Apparently discussions took place at ministerial level and in the Central Committee of the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party who decided they would not let him go. He comments that, as was common at the time, he knew nothing of this and only found out after the event. So different from the modern business of football!

Cover of Kazimierz Górski, Pół wieku z piłką with a portrait

Cover of Kazimierz Górski, Pół wieku z piłką (Warsaw, 1985) YL. 1988.a.19

England fans may also remember Lubański as one of the players in the fateful England v Poland World Cup qualifier that ended in a 1-1 draw at Wembley in October 1973. This heralded the first of Poland’s two World Cup 3rd places in 1974 and 1982, under the leadership of Kazimierz Górski and England’s first ever failure to reach the World Cup Finals.

Janet Zmroczek, Head of European and American Collections

More European Studies blogs about Euro 2020:

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part I)

The mystery link between The Brass Bottle and Soviet football revealed 

Euro 2020: Orange Madness

18 June 2021

Portuguese liberal exiles in Plymouth

England has a proud history of taking in political refugees, as readers of the British Libray's publication Foreign-Language Printing in London will know.

London was the focus of foreign-language printing in Britain, but we have cases of Dutch refugees in Norwich (see Anna Simoni in FLPIL) and Portuguese in Plymouth.

Dom Pedro IV granted a constitutional charter in 1826 and renounced the throne of Portugal (he remained Emperor of Brazil) in favour of Dona Maria da Glória (Maria II), his seven-year-old daughter. On 13 March 1828 Pedro’s reactionary brother Dom Miguel seized power and abolished the constitutional charter, causing the flight of at least 2000 liberals into exile. They sailed from the Peninsula at Corunna and El Ferrol, landing at Falmouth, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

Dom Pedro had sent Dona Maria from Rio to Porto, but when it was learned that Dom Miguel was in control she changed course for England. She landed at Falmouth on 24 September 1828 and travelled to London, where she was presented with a copy of the Constitution and a sceptre.

Title page of a London edition of the Portuguese Carta Constitucional
Title-page of Carta constitucional da Monarchia Portugueza (London, 1828) 1572/1061

The exiles lived in squalor in a refugee camp in Plymouth, the so-called Depósito Geral, but they managed to build a stage at their own expense. The camp’s governor closed the theatre down, and the actors decamped to the Theatre Royal. This was probably the theatre built in 1813 in the city, although da Sousa says that it was based in Saltram House  in nearby Plympton, owned by the first Earl of Morley, a supporter of the liberal cause.

The arrival of the princess in England was the occasion for a production of Catão, by the major liberal literary figure, Almeida Garrett, imitated from Addison’s Cato. (It had previously been staged in Lisbon.) It was played four times at the Theatre Royal in October and December 1828.

During the performance of 24 October 1828 the death of Dom Miguel was announced, and the Portuguese Constitutional Hymn and God Save the King were sung with “frantic excitement and vivas etc.” The announcement was, however, premature, and civil war dragged on in Portugal until 1834, with the liberals triumphant and the exiles repatriated.

The BL has a number of small publications printed for the exiles on the south coast of England:

Aviso aos portuguezes, leaes defensores da Augusta Rainha a Senhora D. Maria Segunda, da carta constitucional, e gloria da sua patria (Plymouth: Law, Saunders e Heydon, [1828?]) HS.74/2237(38)

C. Xavier, No: 28. Plymouth, 24 de Setembro de 1828 (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1828]) HS.74/2237(39)

A Few words on the subject of the “Denominated Act” of the three estates of the Kingdom of Portugal, assembled in Cortes, in Lisbon, on the 11th of July, 1828. Translated from the Portuguese (Plymouth, 1828) 1141.i.18.(2.)

Marcos Pinto Soares Vaz Preto, Sermão pregado na Capella Catholica de Stonehouse… = Sermon on the birthday of Pedro IV., Emperor of the Brazils, in thanksgiving for the arrival of Dona Maria 2nd, Queen of Portugal. (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1828) 1358.i.20

Acaba de receber-se a seguinte Proclamação, pelo Paquete Lord Hobart vindo do Rio de Janeiro, e chegado hontem ao Porto de Falmouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, 1828) RB.31.b.151/3

José Pinto Rebelo de Carvalho, Hymno dos emigrados portuguezes, em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1828] HS.74/2237(37)

Refutação dos sofismas empregados por alguns jornalistas ingleses sobre Dom Miguel em Portugal e os Portuguezes em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1829?] 8042.cc.22.(2.)

Requirimento feito pelos Voluntarios Academicos de Coimbra, existentes em Plymouth, e dirigida á Junta encarregada da Administração, fiscalisação, distribuição dos subsidios applicados aos emigrados portuguezes, installada em Londres; a sua informação, e despacho (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1829) RB.23.a.20687

José Bento Said, Remedio d’amor, e queixumes de Dido contra Eneas: traducções livres das obras de Ovidio. Tres sonetos, e garantias dos direitis civiz e politicos dos cidadåos portuguezes, outorgados na Carta Constitucional de 1826 (Angra: Imprensa do Governo, 1831) Includes: Descripção das tres magnificas Cidades Plymouth, Ston-House, e Devonporth, a qual o Auctor offerece gratuita aos Illms. Snrs. Academicos, Officiaes Militaes, Ecclesiasticos, e mais Snrs. que subscerevêrão. RB.23.a.17999(1)

The three shown below have recently been added to the collection:

Opening of 'Duas palavras ácerca da Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte'
Satiro Mariano Leitao, Duas palavras ácerca da Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte (Plymouth: Na Imprensa de Law e Co., 1829) RB.23.a.39288

 

Opening of 'Aos honorados portuguezes'
Aos honrados Portuguezes da emigraçaõ
(Plymouth, 1832) RB.23.a.39287

 

First page of 'Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte
Antonio Pereira dos Reis, Carta de José Fidelis da Boa Morte a seu compadre e amigo José da Vestia (Plymouth: Nettleton,  1828.) RB.23.a.39289

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

Barry Taylor, ‘Un-Spanish practices: Spanish and Portuguese protestants, Jews and liberals, 1500-1900’ , in Foreign-language printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (London: British Library, 2003), pp. 183-202. 2708.h.1059

João Baptista da Sousa, ‘Catão em Plymouth: controvérsias acerca da representação da tragédia em Inglaterra – 1829’, in De Garrett ao Neo-Garrettismo: actas do colóquio ([Maia?], 1999), pp. 75-90. YA.2001.a.41366

04 June 2021

Translating the French Revolution: Italian printing culture during the revolutionary Triennio, 1796-1799

The British Library holds the largest collection of printed material on the French Revolution outside of France. As we know the French revolution was not limited to France but affected the historical trajectory of numerous countries in Europe and around the world. One of the first European areas where French revolutionary ideals found a fertile soil was the Italian peninsula. In 1796 the French Army, led by the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, defeated Austrian and Sardinian troops. On 15 May 1796 Bonaparte entered Milan, which rapidly became the most active political laboratory of the peninsula.

Plans for the Foro Buonaparte in Milan

Giovanni Antonio Antolini, plans for the Foro Buonaparte in Milan, city side, c. 1801. Part of Napoleon’s ambitious but unfulfilled plan for remodelling the city of Milan (Image from Wikimedia Commons 

During the revolutionary Triennio, the period between the arrival of the French troops led by Bonaparte and the French defeat in 1799, there was a veritable explosion of print culture: 40 new periodicals in Milan, ten newspapers printed in Venice in 1797 alone; 20 serial publications in Genoa, and smaller centres such as Brescia or Ferrara also produced their own revolutionary newspapers. The British Library holds two periodicals that are exemplary of this Italian revolutionary press: the Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (‘Journal of the Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality’) and the Osservator piemontese (‘Piedmont Observer’).

Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza

Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (Milan 23 May 1796) [PENP.NT309]

The first newspaper was the work of the physician Giovanni Rasori, a vocal supporter of a democratic republic. Rasori had travelled to Britain and France, and his newspaper reflected his familiarity with the two countries. Translations of French or English works appeared frequently, such as Volney’s Ruines or tracts by radicals, such as William Morgan’s Facts Addressed to the Serious Attention of the People of Great Britain Respecting the Expence [sic] of the War and the State of the National Debt (London, 1796; RB.23.b.7561). In a similar vein the Osservatore piemontese published long extracts from Joseph Priestley’s Lectures on History and General Policy (Birmingham, 1788; 580.h.16).

Both newspapers presented the Italian translations of British works through the intermediary of a recent French translation. Rasori translated Morgan’s work as it appeared on the columns of the Parisian Moniteur Universel (Gazette nationale, ou, le Moniteur universel France, Paris, 1789-1810; MFM.MF17), while the authors of the Piedmontese newspaper commented and published large excerpts of Priestley’s work which had been translated into French in 1798.

First issue of Osservator Piemontese

First issue of Osservator Piemontese (Turin 1798) P.P.4175

The arrival of the French armies in the Italian peninsula favoured the publication of works that were previously forbidden. The translations of these texts appeared in periodical publications thus making more difficult for researchers to find them. These texts were partially reprinted in periodical publications, as those presented above, or were collected in anthologies such as the Biblioteca dell’uomo repubblicano. The British Library holds the prospectus for this anthology published in 1797 in Venice (awaiting shelfmark). The ambitious plan was to print 15 volumes containing the main works of philosophers like Rousseau, Voltaire and Mably. However the Peace of Campo Formio (27 October 1797), when France ceded Venice to the Austrian Empire, put an end to this effort of creating a first comprehensive compilation of political thinkers crucial to understanding the political basis of the French revolution.

The brief interlude of the Italian republics was not an ephemeral season in the Italian history. On the contrary the last years of the 18th century served as the basis of the development of new kinds of Italian political thinking, rooted in a lively exchange with other European traditions such as the French Enlightenment and the British radical movement.

Niccolò Valmori, Postdoctoral research associate at King’s College, London, working on the AHRC funded project ‘Radical Translations: The Transfer of Revolutionary Culture between Britain, France and Italy (1789-1815)’

Further reading:

Radical Translations Project website

Valerio Castronovo, Giuseppe Ricuperati, Carlo Capra (ed.), La stampa italiana dal Cinquecento all’Ottocento (Rome, 1976). X.989/90090(1)

Giorgio Cosmacini, Scienza medica e giacobinismo in Italia: l'impresa politico-culturale di Giovanni Rasori (1796-1799) (Milano, 1982). X.329/20279

Katia Visconti, L’ultimo Direttorio: la lotta politica nella repubblica cisalpina tra guerra rivoluzionaria e ascesa di Bonaparte, 1799-1800 (Milano, 2011). YF.2012.a.13963

Carlo Zaghi, Il Direttorio francese e la repubblica Cisalpina (Rome, 1992). YA.1992.b.2989

 

12 March 2021

New Slavonic e-resources at the British Library

With the tentative but hopeful news that the British Library Reading Rooms will be able to re-open after 12 April, we wanted to highlight some new Slavonic e-resources. Like the Library's other subscribed resources, the following Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian-language digital collections and archives will be available to access onsite in the St Pancras and Boston Spa Reading Rooms. To view the full list of databases and to access them in the Reading Rooms, please use this link.

We are working on making these resources available remotely to all registered readers, but – bear with us – it is a mammoth job. In the meantime, you can find a number of (mostly) free digital resources via our blog and collection guide.

Cover of 30 Dnei from 1925 with an illustration of a steam train in a station

Cover of 30 Dnei from September 1925. Credit: East View

30 Dnei Digital Archive

Founded in 1925 in Moscow 30 Dnei (30 Days) was an illustrated Soviet literary journal famous for the serialised publications of works such as Il’f and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf. It was also known for its visually striking covers designed by famous Soviet artists and photojournalists, including Aleksandr Rodchenko. After falling foul of the central government in later years, the journal ceased publication soon after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941.

30 Dnei originally appeared as a literary supplement to Gudok (The Whistle), the daily newspaper of Soviet railway workers. In the 1920s, Gudok became known for its satirical sketches, to which Il’f and Petrov were regular contributors. The Library holds imperfect runs of Gudok from 1921 and 1922 on microfilm (MFM.MF1284V).

 

Belarus anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942 

Belarusian anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942. Credit: East View

Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets and Press

These two collections consist of 97 World War II leaflets produced during the period of German occupation of Belarus in 1941–1944, as well as 30 newspaper titles published between 1942 and 1945. Most of the leaflets were published clandestinely by the multiple Soviet guerilla (partisan) detachments, as well as by the scores of underground resistance groups which operated in German-occupied cities and villages. The majority of the newspapers were printed by underground resistance groups in secret printing press facilities operating in small Belarusian towns in the territories occupied by the Germans, while others were distributed by Belarusian partisan detachments operating from remote areas of Belarus. The materials are in Belarusian and Russian.

 

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987. Credit: East View

Chernobyl Newspapers Collection

Following the Library’s recent purchase of the digital archive, The Chernobyl Files, we have acquired an additional electronic collection of newspapers published in towns in the exclusion zone and its immediate vicinity. They include three previously unavailable local newspapers, Prapor peremohy, Tribuna energetika, and Tribuna pratsi, and cover the period 1979–1990.

 

Cover of Nedelia with a photograph of people sledging

Cover of Nedelia, 28 December 1963 - 4 January 1964. Credit: East View

Nedelia Digital Archive

Founded in 1960, Nedelia (Week) was a popular illustrated Soviet weekly newspaper that began as a Sunday supplement to Izvestiia under the editorship of Aleksey Adzhubey, the son-in-law of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It was one of the very few Soviet periodicals that kept the official Communist Party propaganda to a minimum, covering instead cultural, social, and political happenings with a certain degree of light-heartedness, which perhaps was the main reason behind its popularity.

 

Ogonek title page from 1903 with an Art Nouveau illustration of a woman reading

Ogonek, no. 1, 1903. Credit: East View

Ogonek (St. Petersburg) Digital Archive

Established in 1899 and in continuous print until 1918, Ogonek started as a weekly illustrated supplement to the influential St. Petersburg-based newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti (British Library: Mic.B.1089). Ogonek later became a separate entity, attracting some of the most notable journalists, photographers and critics of the period.

Russia in Transition

This digital collection contains primary source materials, ranging from samizdat newspapers to flyers to posters to booklets and brochures from 1989 to 1993, encompassing a period of unprecedented social and political activism in Russia. In addition to this new collection, the British Library also has access to a large number of digitised election related materials from the countries of the former Soviet Union (see Social Movements, Elections, Ephemera).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Materials republished from products originally made available by East View Information Services

04 March 2021

Rosa Luxemburg: a brief glimpse in five items

Rosa Luxemburg, who was born 150 years ago this month, has come to be seen as an iconic figure of socialist and revolutionary thought. Her life and legacy are reflected not only in her own works but in the many works about her that have been written in various genres – biography, academic study, polemical and literary – since her murder in 1919. Below are a handful of examples from the British Library’s collections which illuminate some of the many aspects of her story.

Cover of 'Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens'
Rosa Luxemburg, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (Leipzig, 1898) 8282.ff.14. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens

Luxemburg’s first published monograph was her doctoral thesis, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (‘The Industrial Development of Poland’). Although Luxemburg was herself Polish, she gained her doctorate from the University of Zürich, since women were barred from higher education in Poland, where Luxemburg, as a Jew and a Polish speaker in a country under Russian rule, faced additional social and educational challenges. She had sought refuge in Zürich in 1889 to avoid detention for her revolutionary activity at home. The city was something of a centre for socialist exiles, and alongside her university studies, she continued working for the cause, becoming known as a writer, organiser and highly effective public speaker. By the time her thesis was completed and published, her written work was focusing more on these issues, and a plan to write a longer economic history of Poland never came to fruition.

Cover of 'Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie'
‘Junius’, Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Berlin, [1916]) YA.1997.a.11594. (Image from the Bavarian State Library)

Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie

Luxemburg strongly believed in the international nature of the struggle for social justice. On the outbreak of war in 1914, she hoped that workers would refuse to fight and would recognise that the ruling classes in their own countries were the true enemy and the workers of other countries their true allies. When the German Socialist Party (SPD) members of the Reichstag gave their support to war, she felt betrayed. Together with Karl Liebknecht, the only SPD representative to remain opposed to the conflict, she founded the Spartacus League, which grew into the German Communist Party. Jailed for her socialist and pacifist activities, Luxemburg continued to write in prison, most notably the pamphlet Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (‘The Crisis of Social Democracy’) in which she set out her views on the war as an imperialist and capitalist project and her despair at the attitude of the SPD, and calls for revolution. Published in 1916 and often referred to as the ‘Junius Pamphlet’ after the pseudonym Luxemburg wrote it under, it is one of her best-known works.

January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

Following the brutal murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht by right-wing ‘Freikorps’ militias in the aftermath of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919, they were seen as martyrs for the socialist cause. Although Luxemburg had often disagreed with fellow-socialists on a range of issues, she was increasingly depicted as a heroine of the left and has sometimes been described as the woman who could have united the different strands of Weimar Germany’s left-wing politics in the face of the growing right-wing threat. In 1924 the Young Communist League of Great Britain published a pamphlet entitled January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, 1919 (8140.i.4.). The first in a planned series of ‘Manuals for Proletarian Anniversaries’, it suggested ways to commemorate Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s murders, an anniversary which still sees still sees parades and acts of remembrance take place today.

Cover of 'Rosa Luxemburg', with photographs of Luxemburg and the actress who portrayed her in the 1986 film
Margarethe von Trotta and Christiane Ensslin, Rosa (Nördlingen, 1986) YA.1987.b.6118

Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of Rosa Luxemburg

As well as eulogies and memoirs, Luxemburg was from early on remembered in poetry, drama and fiction. In 1986 the German director Margarethe von Trotta released her film Rosa, which portrayed Luxemburg in a decidedly feminist context. Luxemburg has often been regarded as uninterested in feminism as she tended to keep at arm’s length from the formal women’s movement of her time. This was partly because she felt that she would be sidelined by being associated purely with women’s issues, but also because she saw the issue of equality as being vital to all workers regardless of nationality or sex. She was also somewhat wary of the way the suffrage movements tended to be predominantly run by and focused around educated middle-class women. Nonetheless, she had close ties with leaders of the women’s movement, particularly her friend Clara Zetkin, and her own determination to live in both the personal and political sphere on an equal footing with male friends, lovers and colleagues is reason enough to celebrate her today as a feminist pioneer.

Cover of 'Red Rosa' with an stylised picture of Rosa Luxemburg surrounded by images of war
Kate Evans, Red Rosa (London, 2015) YC.2017.b.584

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg

A recent publication that depicts the many facets of Luxemburg’s life, work and personality in a compelling and accessible way is Kate Evans’s striking graphic biography Red Rosa, a work originally commissioned by the New York branch of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Evans initially knew little about Luxemburg, but studied in particular her collected letters (London, 2013; ELD.DS.286414), which is perhaps what gives the book such a rounded picture of Luxemburg both as a brilliant thinker and inspirational political figure, and as a very human woman determined to live on her own terms. Kate Evans will be one of the speakers at a British Library online event marking Luxemburg’s 150th birthday on 5 March 2021. Rosa Luxemburg: At Home in the Entire World brings together authors, actors and activists to examine Luxemburg’s revolutionary legacy. 

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

05 February 2021

Women's Suffrage in Switzerland

In 1971 Switzerland became one of the last countries in Europe to grant women the vote at national level; only the small neighbouring principality of Liechtenstein was later in doing so, in 1984. It may seem surprising that a country that was an early republic, that became in the 20th century the home of several international and humanitarian organisations, and that is often seen as a model of stability and good social order, should have lagged so far behind in such a key area of human rights.

Switzerland had not been without a women’s rights movement, and there had been formal calls and campaigns for female suffrage from the 1860s onwards. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, writers such as Meta von Salis and Emilie Gourd, to name but two, argued for women’s rights in various spheres, and several women’s organisations were founded. A ‘Swiss Congress for the Interests of Women’ was held in Geneva in 1896, and campaigners also had male allies such as the jurists Louis Bidel and Carl Hilty, who both published articles in favour of women’s right to vote.

Cover of the Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva
Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva, Bericht über die Verhandlungen des Schweizerischen Kongresses für die Interessen der Frau  = Actes du Congrès suisse des intérêts féminins ... ( Bern, 1897.) 8416.h.26. (Image from Zurich University Library)

A Swiss general strike in November 1918 included women’s suffrage among its demands but was short-lived and came to nothing. Two formal parliamentary motions on the subject in the same year were effectively ignored, and various petitions to Parliament were equally unsuccessful. From 1920 onwards, some Swiss cantons held referendums on allowing women to vote at cantonal level, but none of the motions were passed.

The central role of the popular referendum in Swiss politics offers one clue to why Switzerland took so long to grant women the vote. Major constitutional change, whether at national of cantonal level, can only be brought about by a referendum rather than by parliamentary vote alone as in other European countries. And of course, the voters in these referendums were all men! It was also argued that the constitution defined a Swiss citizen with full rights in clearly masculine terms (‘un suisse’, ‘ein Schweizer’). As early as 1886 Emilie Kempin-Spyri, the first Swiss woman to gain a doctorate in law, had argued that this was a generic masculine rather than being intended specifically to restrict citizenship to males. However, this argument was rejected by the Swiss Federal Court, as it would be again over 40 years later, when put forward by jurist Léonard Jenni.

Cover of a French-language edition of the Swiss Constitution
A 19th-century edition of the Swiss Constitution (Fribourg, 1856) 8073.d.74.

Swiss citizenship also became linked in many people’s minds with the compulsory military service performed by Swiss men. In fact it was an attempt in 1957 to extend this obligation to civil defence work to be undertaken by women that provided part of the impetus for the first national referendum on female suffrage in 1959. Although the civil defence proposal had not been passed, it had opened debate on whether women could be asked to perform national service when they lacked full political rights.

The arguments for and against women’s suffrage in the 1959 referendum, as in earlier cantonal votes, were familiar ones, as reflected in pro- and anti-suffrage posters. Opponents argued that political debate was beyond women’s understanding and too dirty a business for them to sully themselves with, and that political rights would make them neglect domestic and maternal duties or turn them into de-feminised harridans. Supporters countered that women deserved to have their voices heard in a free and modern society, that anti-suffragists were selfish reactionaries seeking to reserve power for themselves, and that a ‘yes’ vote would win male voters the gratitude of women.

Posters showing a baby's pacifier with a fly crawling over it, and a man casting a 'yes' vote for women's suffrage
Posters from the 1950s against and in favour of female suffrage (images from swissinfo.ch)

In 1959 the anti-suffrage voices were more successful, and the motion to grant women the vote was defeated by a two-thirds majority. However, in three Cantons – Vaud, Neuchâtel and Geneva – there was a majority in favour of women’s suffrage, leading all three to give women the vote at local and cantonal level. Other cantons followed suit in the next decade, and by 1970 nine of Switzerland’s 25 cantons had universal local and cantonal suffrage. This development was a factor in the decision to hold a new national referendum, which took place on 7 February 1971 and saw the 1959 result reversed, with a two-thirds majority in favour of women’s right to vote in national elections. By the end of the following year, most cantons had also granted full suffrage at local and cantonal level.

The run-up to the 1971 referendum forms the background to the 2017 Swiss film Die göttliche Ordnung (The Divine Order), in which the women of a Swiss village go on strike from domestic duties to persuade the local men to acknowledge their rights. They succeed, and at the end we see the main protagonist standing proudly beside her husband as he casts his vote for women’s suffrage. However, in the kind of community depicted, the reality would probably have been rather different. Even in 1971 the rural north-eastern cantons voted overwhelmingly ‘no’ to women's suffrage, and two of them held out at cantonal level for almost two more decades. Appenzell Ausserhoden granted women cantonal voting rights only in 1989, and it took a Federal Court ruling the following year to force neighbouring Appenzell Innerrhoden to do the same. Willingly or not, Europe’s last bastion of electoral inequality had finally fallen, and all Swiss women could enjoy equal voting rights.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Marie Boehlen, Eine kleine Geschichte des Frauenstimmrechts in der Schweiz, 2nd ed.. (Zurich, 1955.) 8418.a.2.

Verena Bodmer-Gessner, Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Schweizer Frau im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert ... 2nd ed. (Zurich, 1968.) 2745.g.5.

Frauengeschichte(n) : Dokumente aus zwei Jahrhunderten zur Situation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Zürich, 1986.) YA.1990.b.7138

Louis Adolphe Bridel, Le Mouvement féministe et le droit des femmes (Geneva, 1893) 8416.h.21.(3.)

Carl Hilty, De senectute. Frauenstimmrecht (Bern, 1900.) YA.1993.a.25223

Werner Kaegi, Der Anspruch der Schweizerfrau auf politische Gleichberechtigung. Gutachten ... ( Zurich, [1956]) 8418.fff.2. (French edition, tr. Bernard Hofstetter, Le Droit de la femme suisse à l'égalité politique … ( Geneva, 1956.) 8418.ff.39.)

Iris von Roten, Frauenstimmrechtsbrevier. Vom schweizerischen Patentmittel gegen das Frauenstimmrecht, den Mitteln gegen das Patentmittel, und wie es mit oder ohne doch noch kommt (Basel, [1959]) 8298.a.25.

Nehmen Sie Platz, Madame : die politische Repräsentation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Bern], 1990.) YA.1994.b.533

Frauen und Politik = Femmes et politiques (Bern, 1994) 34 1073.498000

Sibylle Hardmeier, Frühe Frauenstimmrechts-Bewegung in der Schweiz (1890- 1930): Argumente, Strategien, Netzwerk und Gegenbewegung (Zürich, 1997.) YA.2002.a.1466

Daniele Lenzin, Die Sache der Frauen: OFRA und die Frauenbewegung in der Schweiz (Zürich, 2000) YA.2002.a.18725

Beatrix Mesmer, Staatsbürgerinnen ohne Stimmrecht : die Politik der schweizerischen Frauenverbände 1914-1971 ( Zürich, 2007.)

Susanna Woodtli, Gleichberechtigung: der Kampf um die politischen Rechte der Frau in der Schweiz. (Frauenfeld, [1975]) X:100/15476

Der Kampf um gleiche Rechte (Basel, 2009.) YF.2010.a.9729

Schulz, Kristina. Frauenbewegung, die Schweiz seit 1968 : Analysen, Dokumente, Archive (Baden, [2014]) YF.2015.a.8530

Fabienne Amlinger, Im Vorzimmer der Macht? : die Frauenorganisationen der SPS, FDP und CVP, 1971-1995 (Zürich, [2017]) YF.2019.a.23260

Claire Torracinta-Pache, Le pouvoir est pour demain : les femmes dans la politique suisse ([Lausanne], 1984.) YA.1986.a.9986

Doris Stump, Sie töten uns, nicht unsere Ideen: Meta von Salis-Marschlins, 1855-1929, Schweizer Schriftstellerin und Frauenrechtskämpferin (Thalwil/Zürich, 1986.) YA.1988.a.7520

Doris Brodbeck, Hunger nach Gerechtigkeit : Helene von Mülinen (1850-1924), eine Wegbereiterin der Frauenemanzipation ( Zurich, 2000) YA.2001.a.23815

Marianne Jehle-Wildberger, “Wo bleibt die Rechtsgleichheit?” Dora Rittmeyer-Iselin (1902-1974) und ihr Einsatz für Flüchtlinge und Frauen (Zürich; St. Gallen, [2018]) YF.2020.a.10618

Marianne Delfosse, Emilie Kempin-Spyri (1853-1901): das Wirken der ersten Schweizer Juristin : unter besonderer Berücksichtigung ihres Einsatzes für die Rechte der Frau im schweizerischen und deutschen Privatrecht (Zürich, c1994.) YA.1996.a.20102

28 November 2020

Friedrich Engels: politics and paradoxes

On New Year’s Eve 1857, a Manchester businessman wrote a long letter to a friend in London, ending with a description of an enjoyable day’s foxhunting. He boasted of having been one of the best horsemen in the field, and was excited to have been in at the kill. It might come as a surprise that the writer and recipient were the ‘fathers of communism’, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, but it points to some of the contradictions in the life of Engels, whose 200th birthday we mark today. (The letter can be found vol. 40 of the complete works of Marx and Engels, pp. 233-6)

Engels family background was almost a pattern of early 19th-century German ‘Biedermeier’ rectitude: his parents were devout pietists, and his father’s cotton mill in Barmen (now part of the city of Wuppertal) was part of Germany’s early industrial development. The young Engels soon rejected his parents’ religion, but would be associated with the family business, Ermen & Engels, for significant portions of his life.

It was while studying commerce as an apprentice in Bremen that Engels began to move in radical circles and to write about the harsh life of factory workers that he observed. Although he used a pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his family, they were concerned enough at his political views to send him to England to take up a clerical post in Ermen & Engels mill in Salford in the hope of turning him away from radical ideas. The plan backfired as Engels became more rather than less concerned with the plight of the workers and the need for them to combine against their oppressors. He closely studied the lives of the working people in and around Manchester, not merely researching statistics and studies, but visiting some of the poorest and most wretched districts of the city and meeting the people there.

Lage der arbeitenden Klasse
Title-page of the first edition of
Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England  (Leipzig, 1845) 1141.d.25

The resulting book, Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (The Condition of the Working Class in England), published in 1845 after he had left England, remains one of Engels’ best-known works. Although no English translation appeared until 1886, this first German edition has a long dedication in English ‘to the working classes of Great Britain’, ending with an exhortation to them to continue progressing towards a better future. Its ending – ‘be firm, be undaunted – your success is certain and no step you will have to take … will be lost to our common cause, the cause of humanity!’ seem to foreshadow the famous final words of the Communist Manifesto, which Engels wrote with Karl Marx four years later: ‘Workers of all countries, unite!’

Green paper cover of 'Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei'
Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1849) C.194.b.289

Engels and Marx had first met briefly in 1842, but the encounter was not a success. However, during his time in Salford, Engels had published various articles in German radical papers that had interested Marx, and when they met again in Paris in 1844, they found that their thinking had become very similar, and quickly agreed to work together. It was the start of a life-long friendship and collaboration, but one where Engels, by his own willing admission, would play second fiddle to Marx, whose mind and work he considered the more important.

In practice, this meant giving up much of his own revolutionary work to provide both moral and practical support to Marx. After the failure of the revolutions of 1848-9, both men lived as exiles in Britain. While Marx studied and wrote, Engels returned to his clerical job with Ermen & Engels, gradually rising to become a partner in the firm. During the 20 years that he worked there, Engels lived a double life: a middle-class businessman who enjoyed bourgeois pursuits and was a member of prestigious social institutions, yet was dedicated to ending the grip of middle-class businessmen on trade and industry, and a champion of the working classes who was part of the system that exploited them, and who worked in a trade dependent for most of his career on cotton produced by enslaved people in the Americas. This double life took literal form in the two households he maintained, one where he could entertain ‘respectable’ colleagues and friends and one where he could live with Mary Burns, an Irish worker who was his partner from 1842 until her death in 1863 (he later lived with her sister Lizzy, and eventually married her on her deathbed in 1878).


Half-length photograph of Engels
Friedrich Engels during his time in Manchester (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

As well as juggling these different lives, Engels was sometimes pushed almost too hard by Marx. After Mary’s death, Marx’s letter of condolence also contained an appeal for money couched in joking terms that the grieving Engels found hard to forgive. And when Marx fathered an illegitimate son with the family’s servant, Helene Demuth, it was Engels who claimed paternity of the boy and gave him his name to save Marx’s wife Jenny from discovering the truth. Nonetheless, the bond between the two men remained strong. Their almost daily letters overflow with private jokes and nicknames and scurrilous gossip alongside – sometimes part and parcel of – intense social, political and theoretical debate. Engels was also much loved by Marx’s family and considered by his daughters as a ‘second father’.

In 1869 Engels was at last able to give up his day job, move to London to be near Marx, and return seriously to writing. After Marx’s death, he worked with Marx’s daughter Eleanor to complete the second volume of Das Kapital – as well as understanding his thought better than almost anyone else, Engels was one of the few people who could easily read Marx’s handwriting. 

Hand-written inscription in a copy of 'Kapital'
Inscription in volume 2 of the Russian translation of Das Kapital presented to the British Museum Library by Engels and Eleanor Marx (St Petersburg, 1885). C.185.b.12.

Although Engels was by this time something of a grand old man of revolutionary socialism, he remained and still remains somewhat in Marx’s shadow. He has no massive monument like Marx’s famous grave in Highgate Cemetery (Engels’ ashes were scattered in the sea near Beachey Head), and the commemorations of his bicentenary have been modest in comparison with those for Marx in 2018, and not just because of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps the anniversary will nonetheless offer an opportunity to look again at his work and legacy.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

15 October 2020

Solidarity in satire

This is the last post in a series of blogs on the Solidarity movement published to commemorate its 40th anniversary. You can read about the 21 Gdánsk demands here, the poet Jadwiga Piątkowska here, and 'Mały Konspirator', a manual to anti-government activity in 1980s Poland, here

The British Library collection of Polish underground ephemeral publications [BL shelf mark Sol. 764] includes a significant number of posters, photographs, cartoons and humorous ephemera created by artists involved in various opposition groups. The ephemeral publications best reflected a rapidly changing reality in 1980s Poland. They were particularly effective in conveying Solidarity ideas, documenting its activities and informing about crucial social and cultural events of the time. Both simple in form and laconic, these visual materials carried powerful and indirect commentaries on the political situation as well as delivering witty, amusing and comforting messages. Most of them were produced anonymously and only some had features that later allowed for identifying their designers.

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti

Lenin with Mohawk punk graffiti (1987) designed by Dariusz Paczkowski, a street art and graffiti artist. It was created to mock the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, whose image was widely used in communist propaganda.

A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Arrest warrant – the society hunts a national enemy (ca. 1982). A mock ‘wanted’ poster for General Wojciech Jaruzelski, responsible for proclaiming martial law in Poland in December 1981, with a description and an offer of a reward for his capture.

An image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star

I love PZPR (the Polish United Workers’ Party) – an image of a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother with a police baton; I love the USSR – an image of General Jaruzelski and a red star; I love ZOMO (Motorized Reserves of the Citizens’ Militia) – para-military formations particularly brutal during the period of martial law in 1981-1983.  At the right bottom corner – Solidarity wins!

The next two images are examples of ephemera discouraging Polish citizens from voting in elections and must have been created either in October 1985 for the parliamentary elections, or in June 1988 for the election to the National Councils.

A sticker styled after a telegram

A sticker styled after a telegram: “Stay at home / stop / Gorbachev votes in your place anyway / stop”.

A mock election list with drawings of pigs as candidates

Election List. Candidate no. 1 the Polish United Workers’ Party, Candidate no. 2 the Alliance of Democrats, Candidate no. 3 the United People's Party, Candidate no. 4 the Christian Social Association. *Fill in missing data.”

Drawing of a person sitting on a TV and reading the journal «Solidarność»

A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. Created in 1981.

Drawing of Lech Wałęsa with his hand coming through a TV

New Year’s wishes with the image of Lech Wałęsa, the future first democratically elected president of Poland and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Created in the 1980s.

Poster with the logo of A Cappella

The Military Song Festival in Kołobrzeg 88. The festival began in 1969. Part of the official propaganda, it was organised by the Main Political Directorate of the Polish Army and its aim was to instill patriotism and promote the image of a heroic soldier. In 1988 a group of activists from Ruch Wolność i Pokój (Freedom and Peace Movement) planned to disrupt the festival carrying with them 30 posters. Stopped and searched by secret service agents they managed to leave behind this poster which features the logo of A Cappella, a periodical published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój.

Poster with a dove/peace sign

A poster by Ruch Wolność i Pokój advertising an International Seminar on Peace taking place in Warsaw on 7-9 May 1987. Ruch Wolność i Pokój was a peaceful anti-government movement and advocated non-violent resistance. Its programme included support for conscientious objectors, protection of the environment, international cooperation, protection of the rights of minorities, abolition of capital punishment, and withdrawal of the Soviet army from Poland. It carried out numerous protests including hunger strikes, occupational strikes, marches, happenings and public burning of draft cards.

A poster with the logo of A Cappella
 

“A teddy bear is better than a machine gun”. A poster with the logo of A Cappella published by Ruch Wolność i Pokój

Zuzanna Krzemień, Ela Kucharska-Beard and Magda Szkuta, Curators of East European Collections

03 October 2020

German Reunification - Before and Beyond 1990

On 3 October 1990, after over 40 years of division, East and West Germany became a single state. The breaching of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the opening of borders between the two states that followed had brought the question of a possible unification to the fore, but many assumed it would be a slow process over several years. However, the replacement of East Germany’s ruling Socialist party by a pro-unification coalition after the country’s first free elections, and the near-collapse of the East German economy, hastened the process, and the two states became one within less than a year.

The British Library’s holdings of material on the question of German reunification go back far further than the early 1990s. On its foundation in 1949 the West German Federal Republic established the Ministerium für gesamtdeutsche Beziehungen (Ministry for all-German Relations; the word ‘gesamtdeutsche’ was later replaced by ‘innendeutsche’ (Intra-German’) to avoid accusations that the Ministry advocated a return to pre-1937 borders). Part of the Ministry’s remit was to manage formal relations with the East German Democratic Republic, since the Federal Republic refused to recognise it as a legitimate state and therefore could not handle relations through the Foreign Office. But the Ministry also published material on the East German state and on the prospects and practicalities of a potential reunification, such as a collection of documents reflecting the Federal republic’s efforts to restore German Unity.

Cover of 'Die Bemühungen der Bundesrepublik um Wiederherstellung der Einheit Deutschlands'
Die Bemühungen der Bundesrepublik um Wiederherstellung der Einheit Deutschlands durch gesamtdeutsche Wahlen: Dokumente und Akten 
(Bonn, 1952)  S.F.430/12.(2.)

As well as official government publications on the issue, individuals also published thoughts and reflections. We have several works by the politician and writer Wilhelm Wolfgang Schütz, starting with Die Stunde Deutschlands: Möglichkeiten einer Politik der Wiedervereinigung (‘Germany’s Hour: Possibilities for a Policy of Reunification’; Stuttgart, 1955; 8030.aa.28.). One of his later works, Reform der Deutschlandpolitik (Cologne, 1965; X.709/3138.) was translated into English as Rethinking German Policy: New Approaches to Reunification (New York, 1967; X.709/6290). A pamphlet edited by Klaus Otto Skibowski, a close adviser to the first Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, sets out what he sees as the moral case for reunification, but also considers practical issues around the process, not least the financial implications. Interestingly, the map on the cover shows a jigsaw-image of Germany including areas within its pre-1937 borders. The question of what territory would be included in a united Germany was not fully settled until 1970 when West Germany formally recognised the Oder-Neisse Line as the border with Poland, and reiterated in the 1990 reunification treaty.

Cover of 'Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands' with a stylised map of the divided Germany including former German territories in Poland
Cover of Klaus Otto Skibowski (ed.), Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands (Aschaffenburg, 1955) 08073.d.89.

Although most of the literature from the 1950s and 60s in our collections takes the West German line that East Germany is Soviet-occupied territory, there are some exceptions, such as a, Programm der nationalen Wiedervereinigung Deutschlands (Programme for German National Reunification; Stuttgart, 1952; 08074.f.12. The text is available online here), issued by the West German Communist Party, which depicts West Germany as a slave state of American, British and French imperialists, and an expansion of the East German system to the west as the most desirable form of reunification.

In the 1960s, the Federal Republic began to establish more formal and co-operative relations with the states of Eastern Europe, and in 1972 finally formalised relations with the German Democratic Republic. While the question of reunification did not go away, our collections contain fewer publications on the issue from the 1970s and 80s. But following the actual reunification, the number of publications naturally increases, from the formal reunification treaty signed on 31 August 1990 (S.F.583/476) to academic studies and political reflections.

Cover of 'Ein Schnäppchen names DDR' with a drawing of snails
Cover of Günter Grass’s critical take on reunification, Ein Schnäppchen namens DDR (Frankfurt am Main, 1990) YA.1995.a.29449

Not all of these are positive. The Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass was one of the most prominent voices expressing concern and dismay at the way the West German Federal Republic effectively absorbed the former German Democratic Republic. Similar concerns are expressed in satirical form in a collection of sketches and cartoons, Das letzte Ende, from the East German Cabaret Distel (‘Thistle’), and find a poignant echo in the popular film Good Bye Lenin where the main character, having tried to keep the truth about the events of 1989-90 from his ailing mother, a former East German party activist, fakes a broadcast announcing the end of the German Democratic Republic in a way that he himself finds more acceptable and relatable than the reality.

Cover of 'Das letzte Ende' witj a photograph of one of the Cabaret Distel performers
Cover of Das letzte Ende: gibt es ein Leben nach der Wiedervereinigung (Berlin, 1991) YA.1994.b.4972

It is certainly true that after initial euphoria, Germans on both sides of the former divide found it difficult to adapt. Many East Germans lost their jobs as the infrastructure of their former state crumbled and was rebuilt according to capitalist principles, while some westerners resented the large amounts of money pumped into the east to tackle these problems. The concept of the ‘Mauer im Kopf’ (‘wall in the head’) was coined to describe lingering mistrust and misunderstanding among the citizens of the different former republics. Reunification also saw a rise in right-wing nationalist groups which identified and attacked immigrant workers as a scapegoat for their own dissatifactions (the website zweiteroktober90 examines the roots and early manifestations of this violence).

The many books – from Germany, Britain and beyond – in our collection published since 1990 examine these problems and contradictions, and examine the history of reunification and the new Germany since 1990. A search in our online catalogue using the keyword ‘Wiedervereinigung’ or, for more recent material, the  subject heading ‘Unification of Germany (1990)’ is a good way in to exploring the collections.

Despite the challenges and problems around reunification, for most who remember the days of a divided nation it is hard to see it as anything other than a positive step, and a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that ‘around nine-in-ten Germans living in both the West and East say that German unification was a good thing for Germany’ and that ‘life satisfaction in East Germany has skyrocketed since 1991’. Although today’s 30th anniversary celebrations will be muted due to the Covid pandemic, there is still every reason to celebrate.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

09 November 2019

The Revolutionary Year of 1989

Thirty years ago today the crossing-points between two German states opened, marking the end of the Berlin Wall, demolished in the following months. The concrete barrier, separating East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989, has been a symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe. It was also a stage of dramatic escapes and a topic frequently explored by artists and writers. 

The demolition of the Berlin Wall generated high hopes about the new order emerging in 1989, after the collapse of authoritarian regimes across Central and Eastern Europe and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union. Timothy Garton Ash gave one of the most compelling accounts of these events and the spirit of the period. He went to Berlin to study the archival sources on the German resistance to Hitler, but found himself in the middle of a political upheaval in the region and embarked upon writing what he himself described as “history of the present”. He witnessed, among others, the first partly free election in Poland, the celebratory reburial of Imre Nagy (the executed prime minister of the revolutionary government in 1956) in Hungary, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Blog on 1989 - Timothy Garton Ash - We The People
Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, We the People: the Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge, 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: the Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London, 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (a revised and updated fourth edition of We the People)

As a major turning point in European history, the events of 1989 have been repeatedly revisited by historians and social scientists. What exactly happened? Did the transition to democracy and free-market economy bring the expected results? Did the end of communism live up to the expectations of the people? Answers to these pertinent questions can be found in two volumes (co-)edited by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian-American political scientist, who invited leading scholars in the field to rethink the meaning and impact of what is often called an annus mirabilis, a miraculous year.

The issue of bringing to justice people involved in authoritarian regimes has been hotly debated long after the transition to democracy. These debates are particularly vivid around the anniversaries of the revolution. In a large comparative study, edited by Michael Bernhard and Jan Kubik, the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the changes are analysed in 17 post-communist countries. The authors looked into how the memory of the historical events was shaped by various parties in order to serve their political agenda and concluded that the fractured memory of 1989 undermines democracy in the region.

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

The most recent attempt to rethink the changes of 1989 is a freshly-published book, The light that failed: a reckoning by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. They critically assess the belief prevalent after 1989 that the liberal democracy was destined to expand worldwide. The book begins with the sarcastic assertion that “the future was better yesterday”.

Andrzej Sadecki, British Library PhD placement student working on the topic ‘Politicisation of commemorative practices in Eastern Europe’ 

References

Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, The light that failed: a reckoning (London 2019), DRT ELD.DS.455162 (EPUB)

Timothy Garton Ash, We the People. The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Timothy Garton Ash, The magic lantern: the revolution of '89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (EPUB)

Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), The Revolutions of 1989 (London 1999), YC.1999.b.2118

Vladimir Tismaneanu, Sorin Antohi (eds.), Between past and future: the revolutions of 1989 and their aftermath (Budapest, New York 2012), YC.2002.a.8579

Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

 

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