Several recent GeoCurrents posts have remarked on Nepal’s relatively low social and economic indicators, especially when compared with other environmentally and culturally similar regions in the southern Himalayas. Explaining why this is the case, however, has not been attempted. Nepal’s chaotic political environment and recent history of conflict no doubt play a major role. But could a deeper reason be lodged in the fact that the modern state of Nepal is directly rooted in the early-modern conquest empire of the Gorkhas? In such an empire, one group of people conquers and imposes its will on many other groups, creating profound resentment. Turning such a polity into a well-functioning nation-state, and especially a democratic one, can be a challenge.
To assess this thesis, it is useful to look at other modern countries similarly founded on relatively recent conquest empires. Although many countries could potentially be placed in such a category, I have limited it to eight states, including Nepal (see the map below). Each will be briefly examined here.
Ethiopia, in its currently geographical bounds, emerged in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the rapid conquests of the Kingdom of Abyssinia, or Ethiopian Empire, dominated by the Christian Amhara people. Although most of Africa was colonized by Europeans, quite a few of its peoples were subjugated by this indigenous empire. Not surprisingly, religiously and linguistically diverse Ethiopia continues to experience pronounced ethnic tensions, and has never successfully transitioned into a fully national state.
Saudi Arabia is a more recently created conquest state, emerging in the early 1900s. In 1902, the domain of the Saud family was limited to a small area near the middle of the Arabian Peninsula. Through a spectacular series of conquests over the next several decades, Ibn Saud had carved an extensive state that became known as Saudi Arabia. Although one could argue that Saudi Arabia was never an empire because its creation involved the conquest of other Arabic-speaking Muslim groups, the actual situation was more complicated. The austere Wahhabi sect that was, and still is, closely linked to the Saudi dynasty, was foreign to most of what is now Saudi Arabia. Especially to Twelver Shi’ites of the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia can still seem like an empire. But it is also true that generous social spending and rapid economic development have more generally transformed Saudi Arabia into a successful nation-state.
Afghanistan is directly rooted in the Durrani Empire, carved out by Ahmad Shah Durrani in the mid 1700s. A Pashtun project, the Durrani Empire forcefully brought many members of other ethnic groups, with different languages and cultures, under its rule. In the twentieth century, Afghanistan sought to transform itself into a national state in several different incarnations, with middling success. But Afghanistan’s continuing tensions and turmoil have some linkages with its imperial formation.
Modern Burma/Myanmar is firmly rooted in the Burmese Konbaung Empire and Dynasty (1752 to 1885). The first Konbaung ruler crushed the wealthy and sophisticated Kingdom of Pegu in southern Burma and subsequently almost wiped its Mon people off the map. Konbaung rulers went on the conquer the Shan states, Arakan, Manipur, and even Assam, severely threatening the British East India Company in Calcutta. Three Anglo-Burmese war followed, eventually reducing the entire empire to British imperial rule. But when Burma was reborn as an independent state in 1948, its leaders sought to reestablish ethnic Burman domination over non-Burman peoples, following Aung San’s pre-war slogan “our race, our language, our religion.” Ethnic rebellions immediately proliferated and continue to this day. Burma has never been able to turn itself into a solid nation state.
Iran has deeper and more complicated roots, but it was essentially formed by the Safavid Dynasty, which conquered the region that is now Iran, and more, in the early sixteenth century. The religiously driven Safavids turned Iran a Twelver Shi’ite country; today it is a Twelver Shi’ite theocracy. The Safavid state was a joint project of Turkic military power and Persian cultural and administrative capability, the combination of which continued to form the backbone of the Iranian state long after the Safavid Dynasty fell from power in 1736. Iran eventually turned itself into a relatively successful national state, but to its mostly Sunni Kurds and Balochs, and to many Iranian Arabs as well, it can still seem like a Persian empire.
Russian arguably became an empire in 1552, when Ivan IV (“the Terrible”) conquered the important Muslim state of Kazan, turning Russia into a multi-confessional, multilinguistic polity. Subsequent expansion brought many other non-Russian peoples under its imperial rule. Although the Bolsheviks rejected the very idea of empire, in many ways the Soviet Union that they created continued to function as an imperial state – as does Russia to this day. Ethnic conflicts, however, are not a major problem today. Crucial factors here include the fact that ethnic Russian form a solid majority (70 to 80 percent of the total population) and the effectiveness of the Kremlin’s political suppression.
China is the most complicated case. Its civilizational roots extend back for millennia, longer even than those of Iran. But the geographical expression of China today stems from the conquests of the Qing Dynasty and Empire in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Taiwan, viewed by Beijing today as an intrinsic part of its territorial domain, had never previously been under Chinese rule. The huge regions of Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Manchuria all became firmly part of China owing to the power of the Qing. Ironically, the Qing were not themselves an ethnic Chinese but rather Manchus; their success in subjugating the vastly more numerous Han Chinese people resulted in their own demographic swamping and virtual disappearance as a people. Today, China forms a secure national state with relatively minor ethnic conflicts. Such stability stems from the demographic predominance of the Han people (92 percent of the population) and to the country’s rapid economic ascent. But to Uighurs, Tibetans, Mongols, and others, China can still feel like an imperial state.
Many other countries, including the United States, have some imperial roots and are treated as empires by some writers. But for the eight countries mapped above, imperial roots are pronounced. It is probably not coincidental that none of them has a successful history of democratic governance.
The Kurdish national myth links the origin of the ethnic group to the ancient Medes, an Iranian people who supposedly carved out a large empire that was quickly supplanted by that of the much better-known (and closely related) Persians in the 6th century BCE. As the Wikipedia article on the Kurds notes:
Many Kurds consider themselves descended from the Medes, an ancient Iranian people, and even use a calendar dating from 612 BC, when the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was conquered by the Medes. The claimed Median descent is reflected in the words of the Kurdish national anthem: “We are the children of the Medes and Kai Khosrow.”
Few if any scholars give credence to this theory. The poorly documented language of the ancient Medes does seem to have been closely related to Kurdish, with both languages placed on the Northwestern side-branch of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language tree. But the Median language does not seem to be any more closely related to Kurdish that it is to any of the other modern languages on the same branch. More to the point, historians increasingly doubt whether the Medes ever created a coherent state, let alone a vast empire. What little is known about their political organization comes from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, with Assyrian cuneiform archives providing a little additional information. Herodotus certainly assigned a prominent position to the Medes, but otherwise evidence about their geopolitical role is essentially lacking.
The Kurdish emphasis on their supposed Median progenitors is not surprising. In ethno-nationalist discourse, powerful and illustrious peoples from bygone eras are often enshrined in an ancestral position to bolster feelings of national pride. Such self-serving stories usually have little historical support and are therefore regarded with suspicion or outright contempt by most impartial scholars.
But if there is no solid evidence that the Kurds are the descendants of the ancient Meads, that does not necessarily mean that they have no cultural, historical, or genetic roots in ancient ethnic formations. Scholarship on such topics is often precarious, however, as the evidence is generally murky and national ideologies tend to intrude. But as long as they are based on some reasonable evidence, such “primordialist” ideas should not be rejected out of hand. Many of them warrant further inquiry, regardless of whether they seem farfetched.
To my mind, the most intriguing thesis on ancient Kurdish roots is found in the early works of Michael Mehrdad Izadi, one of the world’s most preeminent historical and cultural cartographers (his map collection, found at Columbia University’s Gulf 2000 Project, is a cartographic treasure trove). Born to a Kurdish father and Belgian mother, Izadi has deep and abiding interests in the Kurdish people. Some of his early writings on this topic can be found at Kurdistanica.com. Here he expounds his thesis of partial Kurdish descent from the ancient Hurrians, a Bronze-Age people who were associated with a powerful state (or empire) called Mitanni. Although the Hurrians, unlike the Kurds, were not an Indo-European people, some of their leaders, experts in chariot warfare, evidently were; their personal names, and even some of their deities, link them to the Indic (or Indo-Aryan) branch of Indo-European language family.
If Izady’s thesis is correct, the Kurds would have originated from an amalgamation of the ancient Hurrians and more powerful, mostly male, Indo-European-speaking intruders (initially speaking an Indo-Aryan language and later speaking one or more Iranian language). In global historical terms, this scenario fits into a common pattern. The languages of more military powerful peoples often supplant those of less powerful peoples, but other cultural aspects of the original group often survive with relatively little change. This is what Izady sees when he peers into the distant Kurdish past:
The legacy of the Hurrians to the present culture of the Kurds is fundamental. It is manifest in the realm of Kurdish religion, mythology, material and martial arts, and even the genetics. Nearly three-quarters of Kurdish clan names and roughly half of topographical and urban names are also of Hurrian origins, …. Mythological and religious symbols present in the art of the later Hurrian dynasties, such as the Mannaeans and Kassites of eastern Kurdistan, and the Lullus of the southeast, present in part what can still be observed in the Kurdish ancient religion of Yazdanism, better-known today by its various denominations as Alevism, Yezidism,and Yarisanism (Ahl-i Haqq).
Izady’s interpretation of Kurdish origins and religious beliefs, it must be noted, has been rejected by many experts in the field. The Wikipedia article on Izady includes some crudely dismissive comments, albeit made by some equally controversial scholars. In the long run, it is usually best to neither embrace nor dismiss evidence-based but non-mainstream interpretations of deep historical processes. Most of our key theories in both the natural and human sciences, after all, were once roundly rejected for contravening the established consensus.
When the language of an elite population replaces the language of a subordinated group, traces of the older language often persist in the form of vocabulary elements, sounds, and even grammatical structures. If Izady’s thesis is correct, one might expect to find such a Hurrian “substratatum” in the modern Kurdish language(s) (or, more precisely, a Hurro-Urartian substratum, as Hurrian’s only known relative was the language of the Iron Age Kingdom of Urartu in what is now eastern Turkey and Armenia). As it turns out, evidence does exist for such linguistic traces. Several years ago, the blogsite Within the Lands of Kurda ran a three-part series on this topic, entitled “The Hurro-Urartian Substratum in Kurdish.” Each of these posts is worth quoting:
It has long been shown by scholars that significant portion of Kurdish toponymy originates from Hurro-Urartian; examples are ”Barzani” which was name of a Hurrian god …
Indeed, there are hardly any cases where there is not a ”native” [i.e. Hurro-Urartian] Kurdish equivalent for the superimposed Irano-Kurdish words.
As can be seen, Kurdish language appears to be a creole language formed after an amalgamation of Hurro-Urartian and Iranic languages. The Hurro-Urartian layer, showing itself as an older substratum in which Urartian is stronger, while the Iranic layer, which began undoubtedly with the Scytho-Cimmerian invasion of Urartu emerges as a superstratum. The Iranic layer was further intensified with a wave of clearly identifiable Middle Persian loanwords under the Sassanid period, during which, Iranic aristocrats played a prominent role in local affairs
The author received some harsh criticism, however, in the comments section of the blog, particularly regarding the idea that Kurdish is a creole language. Linguists have very strict rules for determining such matters, and the author probably took a step too far. All that I can conclude from my own cursory investigation is that a major Hurrian-Urartian substratum in Kurdish as an intriguing possibility that deserves further inquiry.
Perhaps the most interesting line of evidence for the Hurrian roots of the Kurdish people comes from the realm of tattooing. Tattoos are haram, or forbidden under Islamic law, but Muslim Kurds – particularly women – have nonetheless maintained this ancient practice to this day, although it does seem to be slowly disappearing. Traditional Kurdish tattoos, primarily placed on the hands and face, are called deq. They are based on an elaborate symbolic system, sometimes deemed a “secret language.” Izady sees a clear Hurrian linkage here as well:
It is fascinating to recognize the origin of many tattooing motifs still used by the traditional Kurds on their bodies as replicas of those which appear on the Hurrian figurines. One such is the combination that incorporates serpent, sun disc, dog and comb/rain motifs. In fact, some of these Hurrian tattoo motifs are also present in the religious decorative arts of the Yezidi Kurds, as found prominently engraved to the wall at the great shrine at Lalish.
Regardless of any connections to the ancient Hurrians, deq tattooing is a fascinating topic in its own right. Several recent articles have focused on this endangered cultural tradition. I will conclude this post with quotations from two of these publications. First, from The Bajer:
DEQ is a secret language, mainly among women. … In some cultures, tattoos stand for religion, power, and joy; others believe the practice of DEQ has therapeutic power. According to some women I have interviewed, DEQ is a reminder of loss, a way to immortalize their loved ones. They keep essential memories constantly in mind with powerful symbols on apparent parts of the body, such as the face, feet, arms, hands, and chest.
DEQ differs from the modern tattoo with its unique ingredients and recipe, which varies across different ethnic groups. DEQ tattoo ingredients include sheet metal soot or ash, coal dust, milk from a lactating mother who has weaned a female baby, which is believed to make the tattoo stick permanently, and liquid from an animal’s gallbladder. The application of DEQ includes embroidering the mixture into the skin through one to three needles.
Deq symbols have different connotations but most of them are believed to protect women from evil forces. They are said to bring good health, cure illnesses and be associated with fertility and tribal affiliations. The figure of an eye is said to divert the evil eye, while an image of a gazelle brings luck. The figure of the sun or the moon refers to an endless and healthy life and an illustration of a millipede is associated with good housekeeping. For beautification, the figure of the moon or a star is preferred. The common “V” symbol is a tribal identifier. Certain geometrical figures or animal images refer to fertility. “Deq” is seen as an accessory, something that elderly women in Turkey’s southeast proudly show. Jodi Hilton, an American photojournalist, visited Syrians who have been displaced by the DAESH [ISIS] siege and now live at refugee camps in Turkey. There, she documented some of the last-remaining tattooed women from the Syrian town of Kobani.
For those interested in world history, architectural history, urban geography, and exploring on foot the world’s most important cities, I highly recommend Angus Lockyer’s new blog, Historicity. In the first three installments, Angus walks along the streets of London and explains the history and significance of important buildings and monuments. Although Historicity would be best enjoyed while retracing his steps, my wife and I found it both entertaining and illuminating while driving through the Montana countryside. Angus’s ability to weave the main threads of world history through an intimate urban landscape is impressive. We look forward to a forthcoming installment on Tokyo, as the presenter is a retired professor of Japanese history.
Angus Lockyer can also be heard speaking about Japan in two episodes of another great podcast, the BBC’s In Our Time. This engaging radio show, which has been running weekly since 1998, has a misleading name, as its content is usually historical. We affectionately call it “Melvyn and His Guests,” after its delightful octogenarian host, Melvyn Bragg, and the scholars he interviews.
(Note: The next several posts will focus on the geography of Montana.)
As noted in previous posts, Montana is experiencing a population boom. Three decades ago, however, there was widespread worry about population stagnation and possible decline. Since becoming a state in 1889, Montana has experienced several demographic cycles, each marked by different geographical patterns. Geographer William Wyckoff has extensively documented these changes. In particular, I recommend his essay “Peopling the Last Best Place, 1870-1990,”* published by the Burton K. Wheeler Center at Montana State University at the time of lagging growth and concern about the state’s future. I will briefly summarize some of Wyckoff’s arguments before considering the more recent era of population growth.
The early cycles of boom and bust, Wyckoff argues, were linked to economies of natural resource development, governmental investments, and climatic fluctuations. Prior to 1890, the non-native population was heavily focused in the southwestern part of the state, particularly in a handful of mining districts. As Wyckoff’s map of settlement in 1870 shows, southwest Montana at the time was linked most closely to Utah. A decade before the turn of the century, however, the settlement of the Great Plains in the east accelerated, propelled by railroad development, a series of relatively wet years, and high wheat prices.
But as the map shows, Montana’s population in 1900 was still concentrated in the west, particularly in the four labeled counties. Far above the others was Silver Bow, containing the extraordinarily productive and profitable copper mines of Butte. Neighboring Deer Lodge, a copper-smelting hub, also stands out (its shuttered Anaconda Smelter Stack, at 585 feet, is the tallest surviving masonry structure in the world). Relatively large population clusters were also found in Lewis & Clark County, another mining center, and Cascade County, an emerging energy (hydropower) and transportation hub. Helena, in the former county, boasted of having the world’s highest concentration of millionaires (50 in a population of 12,000 in 1888). Cascade’s county seat of Great Falls exploded from 3,979 residents in 1890 to 14,930 in 1900. Gallatin County in southwest, with 9,533 residents, was the main agricultural region supporting the mining economy. As can be seen in Wyckoff’s second map, the Butte mining district had become the state’s demographic core by 1890.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, agricultural expansion transformed the Great Plains, at least in areas accessible to the rapidly growing rail network. World War I was an especially promising time. As a result, many eastern Montana counties were subdivided. Ironically, the demographic cycle went into reverse just as new counties were proliferating. Drought struck in the late teens and returned periodically in the 1920s, a decade that did not roar in Montana; the state’s population dropped by 2.1 percent during this period. As Wyckoff notes, over half of Montana’s banks failed between 1920 and 1926.
The agricultural boom of the period from 1890 to 1920 resulted in a far more geographically balanced population structure for the state as a whole. As can be seen on the 1930 population map, the mining district of the southwest were no longer dominant. We also see the rise of Yellowstone County and its key city of Billings, an emerging agricultural, energy, and transportation hub. Billings would surpass Great Falls as Montana’s largest city around 1970, and today has almost twice Great Fall’s population.
Moderate population growth returned to Montana in the post WWII period, with the 1950s and 1970s posting strong gains. With the exceptions of Cascade and Yellowstone countries, however, the Great Plains continued to stagnate. Agricultural mechanization reduced the need for labor, and the region’s harsh climate and remote location discouraged settlement. As Wyckoff notes, population growth in the post-war period was propelled by the forestry industries in the northwest, energy in the greater Billings and Great Falls area, and the early emergence of natural-amenities development in some of the more scenic valleys in the mountainous west.
In the 1980s, Montana’s population growth rate fell to 1.6 percent. As Wyckoff writes, “More than two-thirds of Montana’s 56 counties lost population, and the state’s struggling economy since 1980 prompted over 50,000 residents to leave.” Stagnation in a time of national economic growth generated concern, leading Montana State University to commission the study in which Wyckoff’s essay appears. But the situation would soon turn around. Montana’s population grew by almost 13 percent in the 1990s and by almost 10 percent in each of the first two decades of the new century. Much of this growth was focused on amenity-rich areas in the west. Of particular note are the two college towns of Missoula and Bozeman, home, respectively, of the University of Montana and Montana State University. Missoula County grew by almost 22 percent in the 1990s, while Gallatin County, where Bozeman is located, posted a gain of more than 34 percent. As Montana State University increasingly emphasized science and engineering, Bozeman emerged as a regional tech hub, contributing to population gains of more than 30 percent in Gallatin County during both the 2000-2010 and 2010-2020 periods.
The 2020 map of population by county again reveals a stark demographic divide, especially when contrasted with the map of 1930. With the exceptions of Yellowstone (Billings) and Cascade (Great Falls) counties, the Great Plains remains very sparsely settled. Most of its counties had larger populations in 1920 than they do today, and several have fallen below 1,000 residents. Population is now concentrated in the west, but even in western Montana most countries have small populations and have experienced little growth. That situation is perhaps changing, however, as exorbitant real estate costs lead many people to seek housing outside of the region’s booming cities, especially Bozeman. Many other parts of western and central Montana have excellent natural amenities, and thus appeal to those who value outdoor experiences.
*In “Population Decline in Montana,” by Patrick C. Jobes, Craig Wilson, and William Wyckoff. Published by the Burton K,. Wheeler Center, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana. April 30 and May 1, 1991
Language-family maps, like the one posted here, generally show Austronesian languages blanketing the entire Philippine archipelago. But such a depiction is not accurate, as the mother tongue of the majority of the inhabitants of the tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula on the island of Mindanao is definitely not Austronesian. Perhaps as many as 700,000 people here speak Chavacano (alternatively, Zamboangueño or Chabacano* de Zamboanga), a Spanish-based creole language that has been influenced by a number of Philippine languages. Zamboangueño speakers are, moreover, scattered in minority communities across much of the southwestern Philippines and even into northeastern Borneo (in the Malaysian state of Sabah).
Other Chavacano dialects are found elsewhere in the Philippines, counting several hundred thousand speakers among them. The most important of these is Caviteño (or Chabacano de Cavite), found in the city of Cavite on Manila Bay, near the capital of the Philippines. Before World War II, Cavacano also dominated an important neighborhood in Manila itself, but this dialect, Ermiteño (named after the Ermita district), is apparently extinct.
Chavacano is interesting from both linguistic and historical-geographical perspectives. To begin with, it is widely considered to be one of the world’s oldest creole tongues, with a history dating back some 400 years. It is clearly based on Spanish, which is quite a rarity; although many creole language are Portuguese-based and many have been influenced by Spanish, the only other Spanish-based creole tongue is Palenquero, spoken by only a few thousand persons in a small area of Colombia. (See John McWhorter’s The Missing Spanish Creoles for an extended exploration of this topic.) The presence of words borrowed from Nahuatl indicate that Chavacano derives more from Mexican Spanish than from pure Castilian. Different dialects of the language show distinctive borrowing patterns from various Philippine languages. Other languages have contributed vocabulary elements as well. In the Chavacano dialects of southeastern Mindanao (Davao), the influence of Chinese and Japanese is marked, giving rise to “two sub-dialects, namely Castellano Abakay Chino and Castellano Abakay Japón.”
As mentioned above, one Chavacano dialect is extinct, and others may be diminishing. (Not surprisingly, the number of speakers and the current status of the different dialects is hotly disputed.) But Chabacano de Zamboanga is a healthy language, forming both the main mother tongue and the lingua franca of Zamboanga, the sixth largest city in the Philippines, with more than 800,000 residents. Efforts are being made to ensure the health of the Cavacano media. A recent article in the Philippine Inquirer, for example, highlights a Chavavano radio drama produced locally by a Canadian Catholic priest. As Christopher Sundita, writing a comment on a 2011 Language Hat post, claims:
[T]he Zamboanga variety is the healthiest variety of Chavacano. It has experienced exponential growth since the 1940s with Keith Whinnom (1957) reporting 1,300 speakers to the 2000 Census reporting around 380,000 (with the usual caveats). There is ample media in Zamboanga Chavacano and its local prestige ensures its survival. The future doesn’t look too great for the Cavite & Ternate varieties. And Ermita Chavacano is already gone, if its sole speaker hasn’t passed away yet.
[T]he mistaken notion among creolists (beginning with Whinnom 1956) that the largest Chabacano-speaking population, that of Zamboanga City, is small and moribund, when in fact it is a thriving first- and second-language speech community of perhaps half a million speakers. Frake (1971) was the first to provide more accurate information on Zamboangueño, but to this day many scholars in the Philippines and abroad are unaware of the true strength of the Zamboanga Chabacano community.
The geographical distribution of Chavacano sheds light on the distinctive historical geography of the Philippines. Although Spain ruled the Philippines for more than 300 years, Spaniards never settled in large numbers and did not seek to impose their language on people of the archipelago. The two most important places of Chavacano development were of particular military significance to Spain, and thus housed many soldiers and other Spanish-speaking personnel. One of these was Cavite, located on Manila Bay, which housed the all-important shipyard (the Astillero de Rivera) in which most of the storied Manila galleons, which sailed annually to Acapulco Mexico, were constructed. After the galleon trade was discontinued in 1815, the shipyard was transformed into the Spanish Arsenal.
Zamboanga, quite in contrast to Cavite, was situated at the far extremity of the Spanish imperial possessions in the Philippines. But that gave it great significance in the never-ending war between the Spanish Empire and the Muslim sultanates of southwestern Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. Fort Pilar in Zamboanga long served as the bulwark of Spanish power in the region, albeit an insecure one that demanded constant reinforcement. Mexican soldiers, masons and other workers from Cavite, and laborers from the Visayas Islands in the central Philippines rubbed shoulders in the fort and adjoining town. In due time, the creole language of Chabacano de Zamboanga emerged, allowing these disparate groups to easily communicate with each other.
The map that I constructed to illustrate this post shows not merely the two main area of the Chavacano language in Zamboanga and Cavite, but also the main divisions of the indigenous languages of the Philippines. Several of these groupings are, however, controversial, particularly when it comes to the Batanic languages of the extreme north. But there is wide consensus that virtually all languages of the archipelago belong to the Philippine sub-family, a linguistic group that extends into a small slice of northeastern Borneo in Malaysia and a significantly larger swath of northern Sulawesi in Indonesia. The languages in this family are relatively closely related to each other, leading some scholars to suggest that they all derived from a language that spread long after the original Austronesian settlers reached the archipelago. As to Wikipedia puts it, “Although the Philippines is near the center of Austronesian expansion from Formosa, there is little linguistic diversity among the approximately 150 Philippine languages, suggesting that earlier diversity has been erased by the spread of the ancestor of the modern Philippine languages.”
* Controversies arise over the use of “Chabacano” versus “Chavacano.” As the author of one article notes, “In Zamboanga City, the old-timers will be offended if you tell them that their language is chabacano instead of chavacano. To the new generation the words chabacano and chavacano are interchangeable.” The Wikipedia explains the origin of the word in this manner:
Chavacano or Chabacano originated from the Spanish word chabacano which literally means “poor taste”, “vulgar”, “common”, “of low quality”, or “coarse”. During the Spanish colonial period, it was called by the Spanish-speaking population as the “lenguaje de la calle“, “lenguaje de parian” (language of the street), or “lenguaje de cocina” (kitchen Spanish to refer to the Chabacano spoken by Chinese-Filipinos of Manila, particularly in Ermita) to distinguish it from the Spanish language spoken by the peninsulares, insulares, mestizos, or the elite class called the ilustrados. This common name has evolved into a word of its own in different spellings with no negative connotation, but to simply mean as the name of the language with that distinct Spanish flavour. However, most of its earlier speakers were born of mixed parentage – Hispanized urban natives, Chinese migrants and Spanish or Latin American soldiers and civil servants during the Spanish colonial period.
A crucial if often overlooked issue in world historical geography is whether seas and other waterways serve to separate or to unite human communities found on opposing shores. The answer, of course, is “it depends”: it depends on the distances entailed, the physical characteristics of the seas (and lands) in question, the maritime technology and orientation of the people involved, and so on. In some circumstances, even relatively narrow waters can form profound barriers, whereas in others seas provide easy linkages to distant lands.
Perhaps the best example of waterways forming barriers comes from the western Indian Ocean. Madagascar and especially the Comoros are not particularly far from eastern Africa, the probable homeland of humankind, yet they were not peopled until the Common Era (the time period staring at the year zero)—and when Madagascar was settled it was initially by way Southeast Asia, not Africa. The fertile and sizable Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues), were not discovered until much later and were not inhabited until the modern era.
The best example of seas connecting opposing shores is probably the Philippines, a quintessentially archipelagic country composed of more than 7,000 islands. The Austronesian migrants who came from Taiwan to the Philippines some 4,000 years ago were superb sailors with a well-developed maritime technology, and in the archipelago they found rich and inviting seas sprinkled with a profusion of islands. In this environment, waterways tended to link peoples found on the opposing shores, whereas the mountainous interiors of the larger islands tended to form barriers. It is not coincidental that the smallest administrative division of the Philippines is the “barangay,” a term that originally meant “village” but is actually derived from “balangay,” an indigenous watercraft.
The fact that seas have historically connected, whereas uplands have tended to divide, the human communities of the Philippines is best illustrated by a language map of the country. One can see such patterns on any such map of the country, but one does have to look closely to perceive them. To clarify the situation, I have made a new linguistic map of the archipelago that highlights such maritime connections. This map is based on several sources, relying heavily on language maps published in Wikipedia and Ethnologue. Note that I have mapped both individual languages and minor language families and dialect clusters, doing so in order to highlight maritime linkages. I have, however, left out some minor languages that have clear maritime geographies, such as Asi.
As the title of my map specifies, only those Philippine languages that span more than one significant island are considered. As a result, important languages such as Kapampangan and Pangasinan are excluded, as they are essentially confined to one island. But as can be seen, most of the major islands of the country are divided among two or more languages. Even some relatively small islands, such as Tablas, Burias, and Biliran, are linguistically split. In the central Philippines in particular, the central points of distribution for most languages are found at sea, not on land.
The sea-based distribution of Philippine languages map was probably even more pronounced in earlier historical periods. Three Philippine languages expanded greatly over the course of the 20th century: Tagalog, Cebuano, and Ilocano. Before that time, for example, Cebuano was not spoken in southeastern Mindanao, as it was largely confined to lands bordering the Bohol and Camotes seas. The oddly discontinuous distribution of the Southern Visayan languages, shown on my map as wrapping to the south of Mindanao, stems in part from the modern southward expansion of Cebuano. Before the Spanish conquest, languages in this group may have extended across much of northern Mindanao. The reduction of the geographical extent of the Southern Visayan languages may have been related to the eclipse of what had been the important city and state of Butuan in northern Mindanao, a decline that was itself closely linked to the Spanish imperial project. The Butuanon language survives to the present, although just barely. But at one time, Butuan was a very significant place indeed. As described in the Wikipedia:
Butuan, before its colonization, was known as the Rajahnate of Butuan, an Indianized kingdom known for its metallurgic industry and sophisticated naval technology. The rajahnate flourished at the 10th and 11th centuries CE, and had an extensive trade network with the Champa Civilization and the Srivijayan Empire.
On 1001 CE, the rajahnate had established contact with the Song Dynasty of China. The annual Song Shih recorded the appearance of a Butuan mission at the Chinese imperial court, and the rajahnate was described as a small Hindu country with a Buddhist monarchy, which had a regular trade connection with Champa. The mission, under a rajah named Kiling, asked for equal status in court protocol with the Champa envoy, but ultimately was denied by the imperial court. However, under the reign of Sri Bata Shaja, the diplomatic equality was eventually granted to the Kingdom, and as a result the diplomatic relations of the two nations reached its peak in the Yuan Dynasty.
Finally, it must also be noted that distinguishing the various languages and dialects of the Philippines is a difficult task, as a great deal of linguistic mixing has long occurred. Consider, for example, the situation in the Bantayan Islands, found to the northwest of Cebu. I have left this small archipelago blank on my language map, following the Ethnologue in classifying its tongue, Bantayanon, as a separate language. The Wikipedia description of Bantayanon is brief but intriguing:
The Bantayan dialect is mostly a mixture of Visayan languages: principally native Cebuano, Hiligaynon (Negros), Waray-Waray (Samar), Masbatenyo (Masbate) and Boholano (Bohol). However it has words it can call its own such as “kakyop, sara, buwas” (yesterday, today, tomorrow).
(Note that in my language map, Boholano is classified as a dialect of Cebuano.)
(UPDATE: Customizable maps of the Philippines are posted here.)
(Note to readers: Last week I promised a GeoCurrents post on secession movements and proposals for the partitioning internationally recognized sovereign states. That post is still forthcoming, but it is taking considerably more time than I had anticipated. At present, I hope to post it by the middle of this week. In the meantime, I have written something a little different.)
As a university geography instructor, I am often asked by students about potential careers in the field. “I love geography,” they tell me, “but how can studying it get me a job?” This is not an easy question for me to answer, because, like most professors, I have little experience and few contacts outside of academia. What I have long done is to refer such students to the Association of American Geographers (AAG), which provides information on such matters. Olivia Crosby’s “Geography Jobs,” linked to on the AAG webpages, is particularly useful.
Most “jobs in geography” discussions focus on the importance of technical education, particularly Geographical Information Systems (GIS). When I was in geography graduate school in the early 1980s at UC Berkeley, GIS was a relatively new field. Unfortunately, I missed the boat. I did so for two reasons. First the Berkeley Geography Department was hostile to Geographical Information Systems because the department was, paradoxically, both too conservative and too leftist for anything as useful as GIS. Second, I was myself something of eco-radical Luddite at the time, as such I had no interest in something as technical as GIS. But I have long since rejected the Luddite philosophy in favor of eco-modernism, and I am now a strong GIS proponent. I have not taken the effort to learn GIS myself, much to the disappointment of some GeoCurrents readers, but I always urge my students to do so. If they do, a rewarding career in geography might result.
The U.C. Berkeley Geography Department, to my knowledge, never embraced GIS, but most other geography departments have, as have a great many departments in other disciplines. “Spatial history,” for example, is a burgeoning subfield in the discipline of history, one that produces technically sophisticated historical geography (or geographical history, if one prefers). To my mind, the foremost practitioner of this art—and science—is the historical geographer Anne Knowles. See this New York Times article for an exploration of her work, and well as a discussion of the new term “spatial humanities.”
One school that has made great strides in GIS, both in regard to research and education, is the University of Southern California (USC), as can be seen in the website of its “Geographic Information Science & Technology Graduate Programs.” The USC program is particularly good at generating “infographics” that explore major topics of public concern through effective images. One example, that of the search for MA370, is reproduced here. The USC GIS program also produced the infographic on careers in GIS that is found at the top of this post. As can be seen, interesting job opportunities are available in numerous fields.
(Note to Readers: GeoCurrents is now on its summer schedule, which should entail 3 posts per week.)
Nigeria’s 2015 election has been widely regarded as marking a milestone in the country’s democratic transition. For the first time, an incumbent president lost a bid for reelection. Goodluck Jonathan, the outgoing leader, conceded defeat readily, graciously passing power to his challenger Muhammadu Buhari, who he had trounced in the 2011 election. Buhari had been a repressive military ruler of Nigeria in the early 1980s, but he now regards himself as a “converted democrat.” Many observers credit Buhari’s victory to the belief among many Nigerians that a northern Muslim with a military background can deal more effectively with the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency than a southern Christian with a civilian background, such as the militarily ineffectual Jonathan. Many also think that Buhari’s somewhat abstemious personal habits will give him an edge in tackling the country’s massive corruption problems.
As the first two maps posted here show, Nigeria’s 2015 election saw a significant reduction in county’s north/south regional/religious electoral divide. In 2011, every northern, Muslim-dominated state voted for Buhari, many by an overwhelming majority, whereas almost every southern, Christian-dominated state voted for Jonathan, many by an overwhelming majority. In the 2015 election, however, a number of southern states favored Buhari, including the country’s economic core of Lagos. Such a “mixed” electoral map is a hopeful sign for Nigerian national unity. Nigeria’s regional political division has been so pronounced that a special election rule was created to ensure some measure of trans-regional support: a successful presidential candidate must gain at least 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the country’s 36 states.
But the 2015 electoral map also shows the persistence of regional division. Although Buhari did quite well in many southern states, he failed miserably in the southeast. Over most of this densely populated and economically significant area, Buhari received less then 10 percent of the vote, as the electorate remained overwhelmingly committed to Jonathan. Intriguingly, the area that voted heavily for Jonathan in 2015 almost exactly matches the region that rebelled against Nigeria and declared itself to be the independent country of Biafra in the late 1960s, as can be seen in the next map. This area, demographically dominated by the heavily Christian Igbo people, thus remains politically distinctive from the rest of the country. Among some groups in the southeast, the desire for independence remains strong.
In the coastal belt of the southeast, another factor may have contributed to Buhari’s poor showing. Prior to the election, it was rumored that Buhari was planning to suspend job-training programs and payments to former militants that had greatly reduced political violence in this strife-plagued region. As Voice of Americareported on June 2, 2015:
Former militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta say unrest may resume if the country’s new president ends the amnesty program and monthly payments that brought peace to the oil-producing region.
Each month, former militants who used to spend their time bombing pipelines and kidnapping foreign oil workers in the Niger Delta get the equivalent of about $330 to convince them to occupy their time in other ways. They also get access to training programs intended to help them find other work.
This arrangement started in 2009, but it was never supposed to last forever. New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said so in his inauguration speech last week, announcing the program would end in December.
Two days later, however, a senior Nigerian official announced that the new Nigerian government “is committed to continuing with a militant amnesty program in the Niger Delta in a bid to improve the security situation in the oil-producing region…” The country can ill-afford renewed fighting in this region, despite the expense of the program.
The real change in Nigeria’s electoral geography from the 2011 to the 2015 election is found in the southwest, another densely populated, economically significant region. In 2011, this area had supported Jonathan, but in 2015 it gave the majority of its votes to Buhari. But in neither election was the margin of victory pronounced. As a result, the southwest has apparently come to function as the vital “swing region” in Nigerian elections.
Most of the southwest is demographically dominated by members of the Yoruba ethnic group. Although Yorubaland is mostly Christian, it also contains quite a few Yoruba-speaking Muslims, as well as many practitioners of the indigenous Yoruba religion, a faith that has seen something of a revival in recent decades. (Unfortunately, data on the actual religious make-up of the region is not easy to find.) Although the Yoruba are mixed when it comes to religion, they do tend to have a strong sense of regional and ethnic identity – as well as a degree of suspicion of both the Igbo-dominated southeast and the Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri dominated north.
Another “swing” area in recent Nigerian elections is the Edo-speaking state of Edo in the south-center. Here Jonathan triumphed in the 2015 election, but did so narrowly. Edo is one of the most economically productive states of Nigeria. It is also the heir of the once-powerful kingdom of Benin, noted for its magnificent artistic output of bronze-work during the medieval and early modern periods. The Kingdom of Benin is not to be confused with the modern country of Benin located to the west of Nigeria, which was formerly called Dahomey. Dahomey changed its name to “Benin” not in reference to the kingdom of that name, but rather to the adjacent portion of the sea known as the “Bight of Benin.”
Wednesday’s post will examine Nigeria’s regional divisions more carefully, looking specifically at those who would like to divide the country into several new sovereign states.
Unfortunately, regular posting continues to be delayed due to other obligations. I do, however, hope to write a brief post on some of those “other obligations” later this week. Mostly, however, I have simply been busy preparing slides for my weekly lectures this term on the history and geography of current global events. This week’s lecture focused on Ukraine. The 128 slides for this one-hour-and-fifty minute lecture are available below, in pdf format. The first group of slides examine current events, the second turns to geographical patterns, and the last explores historical development.
Next week’s lecture will look at news and controversies surrounding international migration, with a particular focus on South Africa and Mediterranean crossings from North Africa to Europe.
As mentioned in a previous post, I have devoted most of the past week to preparing a lengthy lecture on Yemen for my course on the history and geography of current global events. I had planned to develop several blog posts on the issues, focusing on such matters as the position of Hadhramaut, an important and fascinating region in eastern Yemen, in the current struggle. (For those interested in the culture of this region, I would recommend the blog-site “Out of Hadhramaut”.) Unfortunately, other pressing issues have descended, making it impossible for me to write these posts.
But I have decided to share all of my many slides from this lecture in PDF format, available at the link below. The first group of these slides mostly provides headlines pertaining to recent events in the country (up to April 7, when the lecture was give). The next set explores the geographical, demographic, economic, and cultural background of Yemen, with a subset devoted to Hadhramaut. The final section examines the country’s historical background, going back to the Bronze Age. I have provided URL information for many of these slides; many of those lacking such information are derived from Wikipedia. In the future, I will try to provide URL information on all slides for this course.
I have some misgivings about sharing these slides without providing explanations of them, as I am sometimes critical of the images that I show. One example here would be the BuzzFeed photos of qat chewing, which I find over-the-top and somewhat reminiscent of the exaggeration found in early anti-drug films such as Reefer Madness, but rather amusing nonetheless.
I do hope that some readers will find these images to be of some use.
(Note: GeoCurrrents is concerned with all things connected to mapping, including the history of cartography. One particularly interesting and rather mysterious feature of world mapping in the early modern period was the persistent depiction of California as an island. This portrayal is so distinctive is that it has captured the attention of many historians, geographers, and map aficionados. In 2012, the noted map collector Glen McLaughlin donated his prized collection of 800 maps depicting California as an island to the Stanford University Library. These maps are now available for viewing on-line. Author and cartographer Rebecca Solnit has conducted some interesting research on these maps, and I hope that more work from her on this topic will be forthcoming.
Another scholar who has tackled this issue is the eminent French historian Annick Foucrier. Professor Foucrier has also written a number of fascinating and important works on the history of French settlement and involvement in North America, particularly in California. Few of her works, however, are available in English, and hence they have not reached the audience in the United States that they deserve. As a result, GeoCurrents is pleased to run a summary of one of Professor Foucrier’s articles on the mapping of California as an island, which provides detailed information and innovative interpretations in a highly concise manner.
Many thanks to Claire Negiar, a graduating Stanford student, for translating and adapting this fascinating material for GeoCurrents. See the image posted above for the title and publication information of Professor Foucrier’s original article. )
The Californian Insular Myth: Follow the Blue Seashells
Studying the many iterations of the mappings of California, as well as the art and science of cartography from the 16th to the 18th centuries, tells a very different story from the linear process that we often imagine as having lead to the current state of knowledge about the physical world. A plethora of competing stakes and forces—historical, political, religious and economic— were responsible for shaping beliefs about geographical space. Such influences also helped maintain the long-held yet erroneous belief that California was an island. It is not until the diligent and rigorously scientific work of E.F Kino in the 18th century that the myths surrounding California’s insularity were finally subsumed, allowing the facts to trump strategic interests in the mapping of the American continent.
The 16th century was marked by a paucity of information on the region, due mainly to the Spanish government’s desire to keep the mapping of the American continent’s Northwest a secret. The reasons for this secrecy were manifold, but the Spanish emphasized their desire to protect commercial interests along the Pacific route. Maps of the region were thus treated as national secrets. All the information accumulated through the 16th century explorations were brought together in one unique map called the Padron Real, which was kept under lock and key in Seville, with only limited and partial reproductions. It is only when English competition and desire for discoveries intensified in the end of the 16th century that the Spaniards changed their attitudes and became more proactive in their exploration, trying to find the elusive AnianStraight which would allegedly enable the traversal of the American continent without going around Cape Horn, and which was repeatedly searched for from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
The Spanish crown, however, remained reluctant to support such exploration, as the discovery of any such strait would have hurt their interests by opening up the Northern Pacific to rival powers. Other European naval powers were indeed keen to gain information about any hidden maritime passageways. A map that Father De La Ascensión prepared with the goal of finding this mythical northwestern passageway was allegedly stolen by the Dutch, who captured the ship that it was on as it made its way to Spain.
The Dutch were known for the fantastical elements they added to their cartography: their maps had heavy ornamentations representing fantastical animals, which they used in part to conceal uncertainty in their mappings. The fact that the Netherlands was the initial center of production for the mapping of California in the 16th century can be corroborated by the presence of these fantastical elements in many of the earlier maps of California.
The myth of California being an island was arguably the product of religious zeal: members of the Church were eager to proselytize the indigenous populations, and wanted to find new arguments for doing so by re-interpreting reports from previous expeditions. As such, it was in their interest to renew the myth of the Californian island, as well as that of the existence of a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Coasts. But although the creation of the myth may have had a religious color, its perpetuation was tied to economic and political matters. Such conditions, in turn, were linked to the emergence of France as the main center of cartographic production in the second half of the 17th century
Several theories have been advanced to explain the decline of cartography in the Netherlands relative to that of France . Henry R Wagner attributes this to the fact that the Dutch cartographers published too many maps and atlases and thus exceeded their market’s financial capabilities, exhausting out their sources of revenue. Martin Acerra and Jean Meyer explain the earlier era of Dutch domination in cartography on the basis of the strength of its printing press, linking its decline in the second half of the 17th century to the profit-maximizing republication of old maps at the expense of new printings, which were both very expensive and likely to provide valuable information to their rivals. Information was therefore withheld as politics and economics shaped the circulation of information. The economic and political spheres were thus able to shape beliefs about the physical world itself and alter people’s perceptions of reality. Unlike today, in which we arguably have a duty to uphold the values of truth, progress, and cooperation between nations, knowledge was then considered not a public good but rather something that each individual nation could own and withhold at its own discretion.
Although these factors explain the decline of Dutch cartography, they do not explain why France’s map trade took off so strongly. As it turns out, several different political factors explain this sudden surge. Indeed, the rapid development of French cartography was largely the result of a new policy initiated by Louis XIV and his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert. The reasons for this new policy were mainly military, based on the government’s support of military engineers, for whom Louis the XIIIth had created the title of the “king’s geographer.” The creation of maps had significant military, scientific, and economic implications for all of the techniques that were linked to it. Any new information could not only make older maps obsolete, but would also bring glory and wealth to the cartographer who had envisaged and created the new map. France was eager to prove itself after its difficult period of peasant upheaval known as La Fronde (1648 and 1653), as well as its war with Spain, and therefore saw mapmaking as an opportunity to regain cultural prestige and to re-assert itself in the European geopolitical scene.
It is in this context that Nicolas Sanson published his noted 1656 map of Northern America, which, contrarily to his Dutch predecessors and European contemporaries, was notable for its sobriety and critical thought. This map was still influenced by the Dutch cartographic tradition in that it still represented California as an island, thus inheriting the older representation of the state. However, it offered more detail in the representation of the island’s contours, with carefully transcribed (and Frenchified) names for all coastal places. This map imposed itself as a model not only for French but also for English, Dutch, and Spanish cartographers. Although no new information had been discovered, Sanson’s map represented the northern coast of the Californian island with a number of protruding portions of land. As such, we see that the sheer desire of one prominent cartographer to differentiate himself from his predecessors or contemporaries was enough to shape the geographical vision at a time when the creation of new maps seemed to outpace the actual exploration by colonial powers.
By this point, the Californian “insularity theory” had gained significant traction. Members of the religious community reactivated the myth in order to obtain support for expeditions to convert the natives; for the Spanish, the island theory guarantied their rights against the English since, with Hernán Cortes, they were the first to land on the island. Finally, both cartographers and teachers were reluctant to see their knowledge challenged. But despite all these vested interests, the perception of California was about to change with the arrival of the Jesuit priest and scientist Eusebio Francisco Kino in the second half of the 17th century.
E.F. Kino announced at the onset that his expedition of 1683 would be different from those of his predecessors: equipped with a compass, which he could also use as a sundial, as well as an astrolabe, a telescope, and magnifying glasses to light fires, he set out to apply scientific rigor to what had been approximate mapping practice. Kino was also different because he turned to the Indians themselves, the only real sources of information, in order to elaborate his hypotheses, something unusual for his time. It was not until 1699, however, that E.F. Kino started to challenge the notion of an insular California. It was during the course of a gift exchange in a native village close to the intersection of the Colorado and Gila rivers that this inkling started to dawn on him. The natives offered him some rare objects, including the blue seashells called abalones in California, which he recognized an earlier sojourn to the coast of Baja California, fifteen years prior. The presence of such shells enabled him to hypothesize a terrestrial passage to California, based on the evidence of exchange networks between Indian tribes on the coast and those in the interior. In 1701, Kino cited the Bible as authority to justify the questioning of common knowledge; while the Spanish authorities were happy to believe, the Delisles wanted to see. The noted French geographer Guillaume Delisle offered a new map in which California was conveniently placed on the very edge, effectively truncating it and thus resolving the problem of having to decide whether to depict California as an island or as part of the mainland. Just like his father who had left this region blank on the map, Guillaume Delisle therefore installed doubt at the heart of his reasoning and practice. It was not until 1746, owing to the influence of Ferdinand Konschak, a Jesuit priest who did the whole tour around what definitely appeared to be a gulf, that the Spanish finally gave their royal sanction to a map that represented California as a peninsula. In 1747 the king of Spain, Ferdinand the VIIth, decided to officially rule in favor of this model, stating by royal decree that California was not an island.
What this historical episode shows is that in the absence of adequate information, cartographers supplanted knowledge with imagination. After having been an imaginary world, California became an imagined space. The transmission of geographical knowledge was done through a process of deference: maps were recopied and plagiarized, as cartographic dynasties handed over their encrusted plaques to their successors. The paucity of information made any new evidence precious, as it could be used to help sell new maps, which were very expensive to produce. But parallel to the creation of new markets for maps, the 17th century also saw the creation of the Paris of the Academy of Sciences (1666), an organization devoted to the collaboration of correspondents from different countries. The Academy served as an intermediary, bridging the gap between fieldwork and office work. With E.F Kino, California became an explored, measured, and represented space. The desire for exactitude dominated the way that C. Delisle dealt with California, thus becoming a deduced space where unknown territories remained blank spaces. And with this change came the acceptance of a confession to ignorance, allowing the possibility of progress that was truly scientific in nature.
(Note: Today’s post is by Claire Negiar, a Stanford senior, soon to graduate. Claire will be writing a few posts over the coming weeks, many of them focused on France and French dependencies.)
Saint Martin. Sint Maarten. A crossroad between North and South, split between France and the Netherlands, Saint Martin has known a different fate in the aftermath of decolonization than most other Caribbean islands. Although the European colonial powers of Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and even some of the Nordic nations usually battled it out for sovereignty over Carribbean islands in long back-and-forths, on the island of Saint Martin, the two main contenders chose a different path: that of peaceful coexistence. But what enabled Saint Martin to be successful in its division, while so many other attempts at dividing territory across the world have failed? And how have France and the Netherlands been able to coexist and build a coherent island community despite this division?
One hypothesis would be that the early colonization of Saint Martin has given time the chance to smooth over the conflicts and the disputes that resulted from this dual presence. Indeed, borders were disputed for some time before matters were settled: between 1648 and 1816, conflicts changed the border sixteen times. In the end, the French came out ahead with 54 km2 to the 41 km2 of the Dutch side. The French and Dutch had both coveted the island: while the French wanted to colonize all the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda, Dutch interest in Saint Martin stemmed from a desire to have a convenient halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (today New York) and Brazil (temporarily taken from Portugal). Because there were few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Soon after, the Dutch East India Company began salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well, which attracted the Spanish conquistadores’ attention: taking note of these successful colonies and wanting to maintain their control of the salt trade, they suddenly found St. Martin much more appealing than it had been. What is more, the Eighty Years’ War, which had been raging between Spain and the Netherlands, provided further incentive to attack. The Spanish forces captured Saint Martin from the Dutch in 1633, seizing control and driving most or all of the colonists off the island. Although the Dutch retaliated in several attempts to win back the island, these were unsuccessful.
However, fifteen years after the Spanish conquered the island, the Eighty Years’ War ended and the Spanish lost their inclination to continue defending the island. They deserted the island in 1648 and, when this happened, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements. Dutch colonists came from St. Eustatius, while the French came from St. Kitts.
After some initial conflict, both sides realized that neither would yield easily and, preferring to avoid an all-out war, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, which divided the island in two. In spite of the treaty, relations between the two sides were not always cordial. We can therefore see that Saint Martin’s history was off to a rocky start as well, and that things were not always as smooth as they are today.
Some elements of the initial partition of the island may, however, help explain why it has largely been successful. Indeed, the French and the Dutch realized it was in their interest to sign a treaty giving each of them roughly half the territory. In a game of prisoner’s dilemma, the French and the Dutch would therefore both have chosen the option of “lying low,” resulting in the most beneficial split for both, instead of choosing the “equilibrium” strategy of attacking behind the other’s back, resulting in a sub-optimal resolution where there is also an intense mistrust. All of the provisions of the 1648 Treaty of Concordia are still in force on Saint Martin today, thus showing that it has at least passed the test of time.
Another interesting point is the fact that the native population of Saint Martin was minimal, and that the population of the island has grown from both colonial settlements. That is to say, the indigenous peoples were overpowered and vastly outnumbered by the colonial powers, and that today the population is roughly split at 50% between the French and the Dutch sides, with 35,518 in Saint Martin and 37,459 in St. Maarten. Overall, the island’s population is highly mixed, with people from over 120 countries, speaking English, French, Haitian/Guadeloupe/Martinique Creole, Papiamento (a Portuguese-based Creole from the Netherland’s islands of the southern Caribbean), Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Italian. It seems that this intense melting pot helps defray cultural tension, as the island is not just a split between forty thousand Frenchmen and forty thousand Dutch. On Saint Martin/St. Maarten, languages, cultures, religions, and ethnicities mix and mingle, and as a result the fact that the island is split between the Netherlands and France has taken a secondary place.
Though initially a part of the French region of Guadeloupe, French Saint Martin more recently experienced a major geopolitical change. The constitutional reform of March 28th 2003 on the decentralization of the French Republic brought about transformation in the status of the overseas territories. The new law laid down a framework for developments in the status and administration of overseas “Collectivités”. In December of 2003, at the request of the municipal council, a referendum was held on Saint Martin on the island’s constitutional status under the framework of Article 74 of the Constitution (which allows the creation of a “collectivité” with a special status); a clear majority (76.17%) of the Saint Martiners voted in favor of this change. Since December 2007, Saint Martin has been a leader of the French decentralization process under this new article of the constitution.
A somewhat similar change occurred on the Dutch half of the island. In 1957 the Netherlands excluded the Netherlands Antilles from European Territory at the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Council, forerunner of the EU, cementing its status as a colonial possession. On October 10th, however, 2010, Sint Maarten however became a constituent (i.e., non-sovereign) country within the Dutch Kingdom, giving it an equal status to Aruba, Curacao and, theoretically, the Netherlands itself. Today, the government of the “Country of St Maarten” is a parliamentary democracy.
As such developments show, the two mother countries on the island have been willing to loosen their grasp on the island and offer a certain degree of self-rule to the local population. Such accommodation is rooted in part in the island’s demographic diversity, but mere distance probably plays a role as well. If Saint Martin were closer to France and the Netherlands, would these two countries be more inclined to resist this slow relinquishing of control? The island’s small size, and its lack of resources, has probably played a role as well.
The fact that Saint Martin has gained substantial autonomy is also synonymous with a loosened fiscal policy, which is advantageous to many wealthy French citizens. The same situation is found in other French dependencies, although the French government claims that it wants to crack down on the resulting financial irregularities. Because of their special status, Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélémy, Tahiti, and Wallis-et-Futuna all function, to a certain extent, as tax havens and money-laundering hubs. These « Collectivités d’Outre Mer » all benefit from complete autonomy in terms of fiscal and customs policies. The political division of the island of Saint Martin complicates this situation, although sovereignty is divided, no formal border separates the two parts of the island; one can weave in and out of the two countries without even knowing it.
Walking between the Dutch and French sides of the island of Saint Martin, the biggest difference is that of scale: while the Dutch side boasts very large hotels, nightclubs, casinos, and cruise-ship tourist populations, while the French side is home to smaller-scale hotels, restaurants, and, in true French form, a few topless beaches. What is more, financial institutions on the Dutch and the French sides have a policy of cooperation, thus making money-laundering relatively easy. Indeed, according to UN and European Commission consultant Michel Koutouzis:
“You arrive with black-market money in a Casino on the Dutch side. You are told to sit at a given table for an hour. The casino makes you win a pre-arranged sum, which is a common practice in tax-havens. Once you collect your winnings, you can go invest them on the French side in real-estate or marina projects.”
Today, two main issues have been plaguing the island, French and Dutch sides alike: drugs and disease. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the dispersion of the chikungunya mosquito-borne virus across the Caribbean, fearing its spread to the United States and throughout the Americas.
The virus, originally from Africa and southern Asia, causes fever and intense muscle and joint pain for weeks and, in some cases, years. There is currently no vaccine or cure. On December 10, 2013, the WHO confirmed the first two cases of chikungunya that were acquired locally rather than imported, on the French part of the island of St. Martin. As of Feb. 21, the Pan American Health Organization, a regional WHO entity, had confirmed 2,238 cases of the disease in the Caribbean—from Martinique to the British Virgin Islands.
Drug consumption and ease of access has been another concern for the island: both cannabis and heroin are relatively cheap on the island, and are thus prevalent and heavily consumed. Reducing the drug consumption and creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to seek out help remain top priorities for the local government.
Although the island of Saint Martin is divided, it benefits from surprising synergies between its two sides, with a shared but diverse cultural background, and a reputation for delicious food and beautiful beaches. However, the two sides of the islands also share the common challenges of disease, drugs, and regulating financial institutions to avoid money-laundering and tax evasion. Today, although politically divided, Saint Martin largely functions as a unified country, with the minor anomaly of having two separate official languages in different areas. Although not necessarily an example of perfect governance or exemplary policy, Saint Martin provides lessons for other regions of the world about successful coexistence. But is this model reproducible anywhere else in the world, perhaps in such a conflict-ridden and divided country as Cyprus, or is it too idiosyncratic of a situation to be generalizable to any other parts of the world?
Like many other pundits, David Frum fears that Vladimir Putin is plotting to transform Ukraine into a weak federation and then transform some of its federal units into de facto Russian dependencies. As he argues in a recent Atlantic article:
In the weeks since Russian forces seized Crimea, Vladimir Putin’s plan for mainland Ukraine has become increasingly clear: partition. Putin’s ambassadors and ministers don’t use that word, of course. In talks with their U.S. and NATO counterparts, they prefer the word “federalism.” They want to organize manipulated referendums to create Russian-aligned governments in the eastern regions of Ukraine. These governments would be endowed with broad powers, including authority over trade, investment, and security. Russia would then reach deals with these governments in an arrangement that would amount to annexation in all but name.
Frum goes on to make some interesting observations about the ambiguities in the idea of a federation. As he notes, although Russia proclaims itself to be a federation rather than a national state, it is actually governed from the center, allowing little autonomy for its so-called federal subjects. As Frum explains:
Russia, of course, is itself one of the most centralized nations on earth. The president appoints regional governors, who in turn handpick the Federation Council, Russia’s Senate. The central government controls most state revenue, the police— really, almost everything.
My main complaint with Frum’s formulation is his use of the term “nation” in the first sentence. Russia may be a centralized state, but that does not make it a nation state, much less a nation, as its constituent nationalities are categorized as separate entities. In Russia, even passports make it clear that Tatars, Chechens, Jews, and others do not belong to the Russian nation, as explained in a previous GeoCurrents post.
The kind of federation that Putin seems to envisage for Ukraine, however, is not the superficial variety epitomized by Russia, but rather the fully decentralized type in which the federal government has scant power, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ukrainian nationalists loathe the idea of transforming their country into a loose amalgamation, seeing, like Frum, a pretext for de facto partition and Russian domination. But regardless of Russian designs, Ukraine will probably continue to have trouble cohering as tightly unified state, as its split between the generally Russian-oriented southeast and the nationalistic and Western-oriented northwest is too profound. In the 2004 presidential election, for example, the Russian-inclined candidate Victor Yanukovych won over 90 percent of the vote in two far east eastern oblasts (Luhansk and Donetsk), whereas his rival Victor Yushchenko took over 95 percent of the vote in two regions of the far west (Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil). Such deep polarization does not bode well for Ukraine’s political future.
As is evident (and as was explained in earlier GeoCurrents posts), Ukraine is thus divided into two political units by a line running from the southwest to the northeast. But both of the resulting “macroregions” are in turn politically subdivided. The remainder of this post will examine the divisions of the northwest, the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism.
On the map to the left, I have labeled the northwestern half of the country “Nationalist Ukraine,” as distinguished from the southeastern “Russia-Oriented Ukraine.” Based on recent voting patterns, I have divided the former unit into three subregions. The first, labeled here “Core Ukraine,” is marked by pronounced but not overwhelming support for Ukrainian nationalists and Western-oriented politicians. To the west of the core is a smaller region composed of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil oblasts, which is characterized by overwhelming support for Ukrainian nationalism along with a strong measure of extreme nationalism. In this region, called here Far Western Ukraine, the Orange-Revolution hero Victor Yushchenko took more than 93 percent of the vote in 2004. In the 2006 election, the Far West, unlike neighboring oblasts to the east, generally rejected the Yulia Tymoshenko Block, supporting instead Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine. In the most recent election (2012), the extremist neo-fascist party Svoboda polled well only in this region, where it took more than 30 percent of the vote – and a plurality in Lviv.
While the Far West is the most ardent part of Ukraine’s nationalistic greater northwest, the extreme western oblast of Zakarpattia barely fits the pattern. In 2012, the Russian-oriented Party of Region took a plurality of its votes. The extreme nationalist party Svoboda, moreover, is relatively weak here. Zakarpattia also distinguishes itself in its variable voting patterns, which separate district from district, as can be seen in the map of the 2006 election. Zakarpattia is also notable for having given a substantial percentage of its votes in 2012 to Vitali Klitschko, a former highly successful professional boxer dubbed “Dr. Ironfist” in reference both to his physically prowess and his educational attainment (he holds a doctorate in “sports science” and is an avid chess player). Klitschko pushes for European integration, reduced corruption, and enhanced transparency, as well as lower taxes, but does not advocate cultural nationalism, viewing the language issues as relatively unimportant.
Zakarpattia’s distinctiveness is rooted in part in its physical geography. Located on the far side of the formidable Carpathian Mountains from the rest of the country, it is located in and on the outskirts of the Danubian Basin, also known as the Pannonian Plain. As such, it is much more easily accessible from Budapest, Bratislava, and even Vienna than it is from Kyiv (Kiev), let alone Moscow.
Historical-geographical patterns also help explain the political regionalization of “Nationalist Ukraine.” The main part of this region, which I dubbed “Core Ukraine” on the map above, was long under Polish-Lithuanian domination, but came under Russian rule with the partition of Poland in the late 1700s. Far Western Ukraine, on the other hand, passed from Polish rule to the Austrian (Habsburg) Empire, forming the eastern portion of its region of Galicia. It was returned to Poland after World War I, and did not become part of the Soviet Union until the end of World War II. The Austrian period seems to have been crucial in nurturing the far West’s devotion to Ukrainian nationalism as well as identification with the West. The key factor here was the continued survival and indeed florescence of the Uniate Church, which had emerged in the late 1500s under Polish-Lithuanian rule, when the Roman Catholic Church successfully brought part of the local religious establishment under its umbrella as one of the so-called Eastern Catholic churches (such self-governing Catholic divisions were allowed to keep their own liturgies, as well as married priests). As explained in an excellent Wikipedia article on the history of Christianity in Ukraine:
The Austrians granted equal legal privileges to the Uniate Church and removed Polish influence. They also mandated that Uniate seminarians receive a formal higher education (previously, priests had been educated informally by other priests, usually their fathers, as the vocation was passed on within families), and organized institutions in Vienna and Lviv that would serve this function. This led to the appearance, for the first time, of a large educated social class within the Ukrainian population in Galicia. As a result, within Austrian Galicia over the next century the Uniate Church ceased being a puppet of foreign interests and became the primary cultural force within the Ukrainian community. Most independent native Ukrainian cultural trends … emerged from within the ranks of the Uniate Church. The participation of Uniate priests or their children in western Ukrainian cultural and political life was so great that western Ukrainians were accused of wanting to create a theocracy in western Ukraine by their Polish rivals
Zakarpattia, or trans-Carpathian Ukraine, experienced a markedly different political history, as it was long part of Hungary, even during the period when Hungary was subordinated to Austrian power under the Hapsburg dynasty. It passed to Czechoslovakia in the inter-war period, and did not become part of Ukraine, and hence the Soviet Union, until the end of World War II. This region’s local“Uniate” Church, the Ruthenian Catholic Church, was mostly eradicated, or at least forced underground, by Soviet-era persecution. As a result, it maintained its structures most successfully among emigrant populations in the United States. Incidentally, the best-known American member of this community is the pop-artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987), born Andrej Varhola, Jr. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Ruthenian Church’s main body in the United States, not coincidently, is the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.
(Note: the base maps used for the historical maps here is the Euratlas, an excellent source. )
As mentioned in an earlier post, I am now devoting most of my attention to the book on Indo-European origins that Asya Pereltsvaig and I are writing. I am currently working on a chapter that recounts the intellectual history of the Indo-European concept, which is a fascinating and complex topic. Right now, I am perplexed in regard to an issue stemming from Biblical ethnography, and I am hoping that GeoCurrents readers might have some knowledge that they would be willing to share.
Through the 1700s, most European scholars understood human diversity primarily through the story of the dispersion of the sons of Noah—Shem, Ham, and Japheth—recounted in Genesis 10. Thus, when William Jones determined that Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and other languages of Europe, Persia, and India were related, he tried to fit this pattern into the Biblical narrative, specifically by arguing that the speakers of all of these languages were descended from Ham. This idea went against the established concept, which regarded Europeans as the progeny of Japheth and Africans as the descendants of Ham (see the medieval T-O world map posted to the left). To Jones, the “Japhethic” peoples were rather the nomads of Central Asia and the Americas. (Traditional Jewish accounts, on the other hand, tended to associated Japheth with the north, Ham with the south, and Shem with the middle latitudes, as on the second map).
Subsequent work by historical linguists contributed to the discrediting of Biblical ethnography, and thus helped usher in the secular intellectual age. Christian fundamentalists who stress Biblical inerrancy, however, still believe that Genesis provides the key to understanding human linguistic and racial diversity. Yet their websites usually downplay Genesis 10 and the sons of Noah and instead focus on Genesis 11, which recounts the story of the Tower of Babel. In reading the relevant passages in the Bible, I am struck by their contradictory nature. I am curious about how these contradictions have historically been handed by both religious thinkers and scholars of human diversity operating in the Biblical framework. Why, in particular, did early European ethnographers stress Genesis 10 rather than Genesis 11?
The text of Genesis 10 seems to claim that descendants of the sons of Noah developed their own separate languages before the Tower of Babel was constructed, which would seemingly explain why early historical linguists stressed these passages. Genesis 10:20, for example, is usually translated into English as, “These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations,” just as 10:31 is translated as “These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.” As Asya notes, in the Hebrew original 10:31 reads “le-mishpaxotam li-leshonotam be-artzotam le-goyehem,” literally, “to their families, to their languages (PLURAL!), in their lands, to their peoples.” (The last word “goyim” is interesting in that in the Bible it means various peoples, as in “ethnic groups,” “ethno-linguistic groups”, “ethno-linguo-religious groups”, or even “clans.” “Nations” seems too big of a word. Over time, however, it came to signify “peoples other than the Jews.”)
Genesis 10 thus seems to claim that the original human language diversified as the descendants of Noah scattered across the world. In the initial passage of Genesis 11, however, a different picture emerges: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” Such a single language, however, was “confounded” after the construction of the Tower Of Babel (Genesis 11:7). What then do Biblical experts think happened to the languages that had been spoken among the different lineages of Noah before the Tower was built? It is also unclear who actually build the tower, as the relevant Biblical passages do not specify the subject. As Genesis 11:2 reads, “And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.” But who were “they?” Some modern fundamentalist websites claim that all of humankind gathered at Shinar to build the tower; as result, the scattering that occurred after Babel was destroyed and the single human language was “confounded” gave rise to subsequent human linguistic and racial diversity. In this interpretation, the early scattering of Noah’s sons and their progeny was of no lasting significance, as it had nothing to do with post-Babel linguistic differentiation. But if this is the case, why did Biblical ethnographers of earlier centuries stress Genesis 10 and the sons of Noah while downplaying Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel?
One interpretation, seen in the map to the left, claims that the scattering of the sons of Noah happened after the Tower of Babel incident, but this requires a reversal of the sequence of events as recounted in the Bible. Fundamentalist efforts to square the Biblical account with modern science can be quite involved: the diagram posted here, taken from the “Creation Wiki,” tries to fit the Noahic descent groups with a modern mitochondrial DNA tree diagram. I have not encountered the terms “Mrs Ham, Mrs Shem, and Mrs Japheth” elsewhere.
The last three decades have witnessed a remarkable rise in xenophobic, deeply conservative, and even extreme right-wing parties across much of Europe. Whereas thirty years ago most xenophobic parties failed to even pass the 5% minimum voter threshold that is typically required to enter government, it can be argued that they now constitute as much as ~28% of the parliament in countries like Austria, and arguably have reached the ~70% level in Hungary. By 1999, the Austrians—who traditionally tout themselves as the “first victims” of the Third Reich—had elected the prominent nationalist and accused Holocaust denier Jörg Haider as the governor of Carinthia and given his Freedom Party more than 26% of the vote in the national elections. Haider proceeded to personally help dismantle multilingual street signs that were erected for the local Slovene minority. The Golden Dawn party, which now has more than ~7% of the national vote in Greece, often marches in the streets of Athens with Rune-emblazoned flags and jackboots that easily remind the older generations of the German occupation of 1941-45. Most recently, the Golden Dawn has distributed free meals to the racially “authentic” Greek public. At the same time, prominent members of Hungary’s powerful Jobbik party have even called for the government to prepare lists of Jews who might “[pose a] threat to Hungarian national security.”
Hoping to understand these surprising changes in the European political climate, this post will briefly analyze the characteristics of the xenophobic right as of 2013, underscore the diversity of xenophobic parties, and try to explain some of the patterns encountered when the far-right takes hold, as well as their exceptions. The rough percentages listed next to the parties refer to their approximate share of national parliaments according to the most recent elections, and are corroborated with each country’s respective government websites. It will become apparent that it is very difficult to locate common patterns that might explain when and why the far-right takes hold in Europe.
The shift across Europe towards the right is perhaps as surprising as it is alarming, considering that the specters of World War II and totalitarianism are still ripe in the historical memory of virtually all European societies. Even more surprising, the xenophobic right has enjoyed some of its greatest successes in countries that are usually associated with liberalism and multiculturalism, including Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Even in supposedly tolerant Switzerland, the powerful Swiss People’s Party (~26%) has restricted the construction of mosques and minarets and has even campaigned with an ad that depicted three white sheep kicking a black one out of the country. Far-right, racist parties like Vlaams Blok in Belgium were gaining in popularity until they were banned for extremism in 2004. In the 2003 elections, the Vlaams Blok won almost 12% of the seats in the Chamber of Representatives. Observers in the West have especially struggled to comprehend how quickly the extreme right has emerged in Greece, the supposed birthplace of democracy. The growing popularity of the right across the continent is a source of great concern for human rights groups in Brussels, which routinely encourage national courts to ban xenophobic parties on the grounds that they breach international protections against racism.
However, it is critical to understand that “the right” cannot be homogenized or reduced to the typical imagery of fascism, neo-Nazism, racism, or dictatorship that might emerge in our minds when we think of the right in European history. Xenophobic parties have garnered increasing support from voters of diverse political ideologies, primarily because of growing disaffection with the status quo. As the vulnerabilities of the European Union become more apparent, increasing numbers are calling for reform of pan-European economics, integration, open border immigration, and multiculturalism—principles that have shaped the development of Europe since World War II. With skyrocketing unemployment across most of the continent, massive immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Balkans into Western Europe, and what many feel to be a broken economic and political structure of the European Union, voters of various backgrounds seem to be choosing radically different solutions to the ongoing crises in Europe.
With this in mind, it is important to recognize that political movements of the xenophobic right are just as varied as social democratic and far-left parties. They include traditionalists, pro-Europeanists, Euroskeptics, democrats, nationalists, racialists, neo-Nazis, and even Greens. The vast majority of xenophobic parties calling for restricted immigration are obdurately democratic. Most advocate a traditional, conservative, or even moderate approach to resolving Europe’s problems within the democratic process. These relatively moderate nationalists include the True Finns of Finland (~19%), the Sweden Democrats (~6%), the Danish People’s Party (~12%), and the People’s Party of Portugal (~11%). Even the ruling Fidesz Party of Hungary (~53%) advocates a conservative platform rather than a militant or autocratic agenda, despite being castigated by Western media as far-right or even dictatorial after it amended the constitution to strengthen executive powers. In some countries, such as Serbia and France, far-right parties have little parliamentary strength but still boast very popular public figures. The Front National of France has only two seats in the National Assembly out of 577, but Marine Le Pen came in third in the 2012 presidential election with almost 18% of the vote. The extremist, racialist Serbian Radical Party is not even in the national government, but its former leader Tomislav Nikolić was elected president of Serbia in 2012. In short, we should be wary about placing all xenophobic movements in the same category. They vary as much in regard to their popular support as they do in regard to their ideology, and not all of them embrace anti-democratic, fascist, or authoritarian agendas.
Although all of these parties have their share of supporters who take a more violent approach to tackling immigration, most parties on “the far-right” are better described as conservative and xenophobic. The majority advocate a multi-party democratic system and do not call for any future constitutional changes that might repudiate democratic checks and balances. Most call for a non-violent solution to Europe’s economic and immigration issues. Even such nationalist parties as the New Flemish Alliance (~17%) and the Vlaams Belang (~8%) of Belgium are staunchly ethnic nationalist, but their ideology springs just as much from a desire to strengthen the rights of the Flemish population as it does from their plans to target immigrants. The same tendency applies to the rather moderate National Alliance of Latvia (~14%) and the Order & Justice Party of Lithuania (~13%), which are most concerned with offsetting the historically disproportionate influence of Russian minorities who settled in these states during the Soviet era.
The only major elected parties that take an aggressive, racialist, militant stance are the Jobbik Party of Hungary (~17%), Svoboda of Ukraine (~11%), the Golden Dawn of Greece (~7%), and “Attack!” of Bulgaria (~10%). For example, whereas most Greek parties are at least to some extent cultural nationalists (including the PASOK socialists) who allow immigrants like Albanians to assimilate into Greek culture, only the Golden Dawn often sees “Greek” as an exclusive racial category. The Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian far-right often makes similar exclusions. By contrast, “moderate nationalists” like the Sweden Democrats are more interested in curbing unrestricted immigration than they are in racial issues. Quite different are more militant parties like Jobbik, which is often accused of having links to the Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda), a quasi-paramilitary organization that has been compared to the brownshirts of the German SA. While Bulgarian nationalists, the Golden Dawn, and Svoboda do not have equivalent organizations, their supporters have been widely linked to vandalism and assaults against immigrants, mosques, and synagogues in Athens, Sofia, and Kiev. It is also widely assumed that the Athens police either cooperates with Golden Dawn or at least looks the other way during the frequent assaults on Albanian, Turkish, and Muslim immigrants in the capital.
Although the economic weaknesses that have swept the EU since 2008 have become increasingly obvious, the chief reason behind the rise of the xenophobic right is not the economic alternatives it offers, but rather its hostility towards unrestricted immigration from Africa, Asia, and the Balkans. But here too, each country and party is very distinct. Xenophobic parties in Europe range from simply wanting tighter border controls, to calling for a “whites-only” immigration policy, to demanding the wholesale deportation of minorities. Although virtually all xenophobic parties are at least “soft Euroskeptic,” some merely call for greater national autonomy within the EU, whereas other are petitioning to quit the EU altogether, primarily in order to resolve the supposed immigration crisis.
Although xenophobic parties challenge immigration policies as a whole, most of their hostility is focused on Muslim immigrants, especially Moroccans, Indonesians, Arabs, Somalis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis, as well as African blacks. Importantly, xenophobia is often equally harsh against other European or “white” immigrants, particularly Albanians, Bosniaks, Greeks, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Poles, Balts, Romanians, and Russians. In Italy, the center-right Lega Nord is more xenophobic towards Southern Italians than towards Muslims. The Golden Dawn of Greece is viciously hostile towards Albanians. In Switzerland, xenophobia is mostly directed against immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Whereas most major xenophobic parties are not overtly Anti-Semitic, Hungary’s Jobbik is widely seen as not just Anti-Zionist but anti-Jewish, and deeply anti-Ziganist (anti-Gypsy) as well. Austrian right-wing parties are usually focused against Slavs and Turks, while in the Netherlands the noted provocateur Geert Wilders and his Dutch Party of Freedom (~10%) are particularly hostile towards Muslims, especially Indonesians and Somalis. The militant Svoboda party of Ukraine (~11%) directs most of its xenophobia against ethnic Russians, Jews, Tatars, and Roma, while the aptly named “Attack!” party of Bulgaria (~10%) is vociferously anti-Ziganist, anti-Romanian, and anti-Turkish. The popular Bulgarian nationalist Volen Siderov has gone so far as to claim that Bulgaria still has yet to be liberated from “Turkish [i.e. Ottoman] rule” as long as Turks and other Muslims (presumably the Slavic-speaking Pomaks) “occupy” the country. The various “targets” of xenophobic parties demonstrates that the far-right is often successful in countries with large immigrant populations and where hostility towards newcommers is strongest. So too, the diversity of these targets remind us that we cannot generalize far-right movements as if they share the same enemies, agendas, solutions, or even political principles.
It is thus difficult to locate patterns that might explain why and where the far-right has achieved electoral success. Many examples lead to contradictory and surprising results. It is suggestive that this trend is occurring during a time of great economic hardship—just as the far-right gained sway in Europe during the post-WWI slump in the early 1920s. and especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s Considering the historical link between economic instability and the rise of the far-right, it is thus surprising that such countries as Spain and Cyprus have very weak far-right movements despite having suffered skyrocketing unemployment and crippling public debt. Instead, leftist parties such as the Eurocommunist Progressive Party of Cyprus and the left-leaning ethnic separatists of Catalonia have enjoyed remarkable success in the last several years.
As another possible explanation, one might expect immigrant “transit” countries that have recently experienced a surge of immigration, such as Malta, Italy, and Cyprus, to turn towards the right. But this is not generally the case. Indeed, Malta’s powerful Nationalist Party is deeply conservative and pro-Maltese, while Italy has several small neo-fascist parties, such as that of Mussolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra. However, extreme xenophobic parties like Imperu Ewropew of Malta and Forza Nuova of Italy have had very little success. Neither is even in the national government.
Other cases also make it difficult to find consistent patterns behind the rise of the xenophobic right. We might expect ethnically diverse countries with large immigrant populations like the United Kingdom to have strong right-wing movements. However, the British National Party has consistently failed to meet the 5% threshold. (The burgeoning U.K. Independence Party is certainly conservative and EU-skeptical, but it is not truly xenophobic.) However, diverse and immigrant-rich France has seen the rise of powerful xenophobic figures like Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen before her. If ethnic diversity itself does not automatically trigger the rise of the far-right, one might conclude that ethnic homogeneity provides a more fertile ground for xenophobia. This is certainly the case in regard to Hungary, which has by far the largest right-wing movement in Europe in terms of its electoral results. So too, relatively homogenous Finland offers substantial support to xenophobic nationalist parties like the True Finns (~19%). However, other relatively homogenous states, like Poland and Norway, have weak xenophobic parties.
We might also be inclined to look for basic cultural characteristics that might explain the rise of the far-right. It is perhaps intriguing that Hungary seems to be the first country to drift towards the far-right, having been the first to pass anti-Jewish legislation in the 1930s when Miklos Horthy installed a right-wing dictatorship . However, cultural xenophobia alone does not seem to lend electoral success to far-right parties. A prime example here is Romania. Although Romanian culture is often described as deeply xenophobic and often viciously racist (particularly against Roma and Jews, and even Hungarian to some extent), the Romanian parliament is almost completely social democratic and socialist. The same might be said about Poland, Serbia, and Croatia. Even countries with genocidal pasts such as Slovakia, Germany, Croatia, and Serbia, lack strong right-wing parties. Another key example is Russia. Although Russia has what many sources consider to be the most virulent subculture of skinheads and neo-Nazis fomenting violence against migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia—marked by such horrors as the filmed beheading of a Tajik boy—extreme right parties like Great Russia and the Russian All-People’s Union have very little electoral success. In short, there does not seem to be anything inherent in European national cultures that puts xenophobic parties in power.
One final explanation adds both perspective and contradiction. We might expect countries facing a difficult, traumatic, or confusing phase of transition to move towards extremist movements. Studies have shown that neo-Nazism, nationalism, and the National Democratic Party are far stronger in the former East Germany than in the rest of the country since the fall of the Berlin Wall. So too, this concept of transition may explain why Bulgarians and Ukrainians tend to support the far-right as they move away from their communist past. However, this explanation falls flat when we look at other former socialist states like Romania, Poland, Russia, and the Czech Republic, where the far-right is rather weak. Transition and cultural insecurity alone do not provide an explanation.
Two final examples are perhaps the most surprising when trying to explain the rise of the far-right: Norway and Sweden. Right-wing parties have never had much success in either country. Norway’s powerful Progressive Party (~22%) is only mildly xenophobic and is better described as conservative nationalist. The Sweden Democrats are much more virulently xenophobic, but have only recently broken the 5% minimum threshold necessary to enter government. However, throughout the 1990s and even today, Norway and Sweden saw some of the most brutal waves of anti-immigrant violence in Europe. While theses attitudes are by no means widespread in Scandinavia, this seeming contradiction might reinforce our conclusion that cultural xenophobia does not mean xenophobic parties will get elected. In Norway and Sweden, the extreme “black metal” music-oriented subculture that emerged in 1992 perpetrated numerous brutal attacks on immigrants. Over a hundred churches were burned in Norway and Sweden, often with the intent to purge Scandinavia of Christian influences that the arsonists interpreted as an immigrant “Middle Eastern plague” that had to be replaced by the ancient Nordic racial religion. Norway’s supposed immigration problem was met with uncompromising xenophobia and racism by members of this subculture. As late as 2008, prominent black metal musicians like Gaahl insisted that Norwegians had a duty to “remove every trace [of] what…the Semitic roots have to offer this world.” He captured the opinion of much of the growing subculture by asserting that Norway is no place for immigrant “niggers” and “mulattos.” The popular Norwegian drummer Jan Axel Blomberg repeated similarly that “we don’t like black people here.” The Norwegian case tells us that homogenous cultures facing a very difficult adjustment to immigration and diversity often generate extreme reactions, but that such reactions do not necessarily translate into electoral success.
As this post has demonstrated, the xenophobic right has become more pervasive than most observers may have realized. Perhaps this is disconcerting. At the same time as many Europeans are calling for greater integration and cooperation in order to fix Europe’s problems, increasing numbers of people are moving in the opposite direction by advocating greater nationalism, homogeneity, and xenophobia. However, the common gut reaction to interpret this trend as a rebirth of fascism, Nazism, racialism, or dictatorship is as sensationalist as it is oversimplified. The xenophobic right advocates radically different economic, political, and cultural platforms in response to the supposed immigration crisis. So too, as the above cases demonstrate, we cannot explain when and why the far-right takes hold by pointing to any common cultural, demographic, or economic patterns. When we consider the aforementioned conflicting and contradictory cases in Europe, it remains to be found what exactly causes far-right parties to become popular so quickly. Each xenophobic movement must be observed—with understandable trepidation and concern—on a country-by-country basis.
James Mayfield is a historian, researcher, and translator from StanfordUniversity with two Masters Degrees in History. He specializes in genocide, nationalism, post-colonial identity, and cultural traumas. He currently has two books soon to be released, one on the expulsion of 10,000,000 ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe (Memoria del Olvido) and one on an ethnic Slovene survivor of both German and Italian concentration camps during World War II (Peter Starič, My Life under Totalitarianism). Contact him here: email@example.com.
 In this article, “xenophobia” refers to any political platform that calls for the strict limitation of immigration, strengthened border controls, the reform or abolition of the Schengen Zone, or even the expulsion of minorities.
 This number refers to the combination of the Austrian Freedom Party (roughly 17% of the Nationalrat) and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (~11%). For Hungary, this number refers to Fidesz (~53%) and Jobbik (~17%).
 Anat Shalev, “Foreign Ministry ‘concerned’ over Austria elections,” Yedioth Ahronoth Newspaper, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3603718,00.html.
 “Haider zagrozil Korineku zaradi odločbe ustavnega sodišča,” Dnevnik, http://www.dnevnik.si/svet/158543.
 BBC, “Athens police stop food handout by Greek far right,” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22379744.
 Marton Dunai, “Anger as Hungary far-right leader demands lists of Jews,” Reuters, www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/27/us-hungary-antisemitism-idUSBRE8AQ0L920121127.
 Elaine Sciolino, “Immigration, Black Sheep, and Swiss Rage,” New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2007/10/08/world/europe/08swiss.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&.
 Hungary has even been threatened with suspension or punishment by some European Union MEPs. See Pablo Gorondi, “Hungarian PM Orban rejects criticism of constitutional change, says democracy not threatened,” Fox News, www.foxnews.com/world/2013/03/14/hungarian-pm-orban-rejects-criticism-constitutional-changes-says-democracy-not.
 Balazs Penz and Alex Kuli, “Brown shirts march in Budapest as Gyurcsany condemns ‘Fascists,” Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=avNDeYNJqkUo&refer=europe.
 Maria Vidali, “News from Greece: Anti-Jewish attacks,” Central Europe Review, http://www.ce-review.org/00/22/greecenews22.html.
 Paul Mason, “Alarm at Greek police ‘collusion’ with far-right Golden Dawn,” BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-19976841.
 Dan Harris and Karin Weinberg, “Violence ‘in the name of the nation,” ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/storynew?id=3718255&page=1.
 See Michael Moynihan, Lords of Chaos: Satanischer Metal: Der blutige Aufstief aus dem Untergrund (Index Verlag, 2004).
 See Bård Eithun Faust in Aaron Aites, “Until the Light Takes Us,” Artists Public Domain/Field Pictures, 2009.
 Jessica Joy Wise and Sam Dunn, “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” Seville Pictures/Warner, 2005.
 See Tomasz Krajewski’s interview with Gorgoroth, scan available here: http://s355.photobucket.com/user/WD37/media/755fc749.jpg.html.