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Letters

Vol. 18 No. 4 · 22 February 1996

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Amphibologies

Timothy Garton Ash (Letters, 8 February) protests amiably, but still too much. In the New York Review of Books of 24 October 1991 he published a ringing appeal, under the title ‘Let the East Europeans In!’, co-signed by one of Kohl’s aides, for the speedy admission to the EC of just three countries: Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. This should start, he argued, with their immediate co-option into the foreign policy counsels of the Community, and continue with their participation in elections to the European Parliament in 1994. Economic aid should also, he argued, be concentrated on this trio. ‘To give priority to these countries’, he wrote, was ‘realistic when we consider the available resources of the present EC’. Meanwhile other and poorer candidates, not on the shortlist, would presumably have to fend for themselves.

About the same time, the American political scientist Ken Jowitt, a specialist on Romania, was warning of the dangers of dividing Eastern Europe into two zones – an Orange County and Watts. A few months later, fires duly started in the Balkan ghettos. Might a less one-sided distribution of journalistic energy in the Eighties, and diplomatic generosity in the Nineties, have helped to avoid the Yugoslav disaster? The practice of picking favourites does not benefit Eastern Europe, which needs collective rather than selective treatment from Western Europe. Even in the trinity of intended privilege, there are those, like George Konrad, who could see this.

Since the war in Bosnia, Garton Ash has extended his attention south of the Danube. But he still wants a shortlist. The new one is composed of states ‘not on course’ for entry into the EU – Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Belarus, Ukraine. These states are excluded because they are too large, or they are ambivalent about Nato, or ‘the political leaders of the EU and Nato’ do not want them, or they are undemocratic. About this it might be said that Turkey is a member of Nato, Serbia a small country, Russia more democratic than Croatia, and the preferences of EU leaders regularly discounted by Garton Ash himself, when they don’t coincide with his own. To round matters off, he gamely concedes that consignment to an excluded Third Europe is ‘probably unfair to Ukraine’. The criteria are a jumble of ad-hockery that unravels itself.

For the included Second Europe – i.e. all other former Communist countries – Garton-Ash advocates top-speed entry into an EU that has shed the misguided goal of a single currency, although Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are still to occupy the front row. He argues that this design should not be confused with Conservative policies towards Europe, since it envisages ‘more sharing of power and sovereignty’ in the Union than at present. But since his recipe for a new constitutional settlement on the one hand excludes East European members from the Common Agricultural Policy and structural funds, pending the dissolution of this acquis communautaire, and on the other, reserves to a West European triumvirate (UK, France and Germany) the power to act as they please in ‘foreign, security and defence policy’, its effect must be to weaken rather than strengthen the cohesion of the Union. Decently veiled, it is a formula for dis-integration.

A scheme like this for scotching the single currency is music, if not from, certainly to the Foreign Office. From Thatcher’s speech at Bruges to Douglas Hurd’s recent leading article in the Financial Times. Conservative strategy has consistently sought to thrust Eastern Europe as a spoke in the wheels of the ‘ever closer union’ intended by the Treaty of Rome. Garton Ash is, of course, a writer with a mind of his own. It would be surprising if the advice he gave Thatcher back in 1990 chimed exactly with that of Trevor-Roper or Stone, when she conferred with them at Chequers over German unification. So, too, his current design for enlargement to the East, more capacious than any official proposals, is undoubtedly distinctive. After originally describing his scheme as ‘sceptical, empirical and pragmatic’, he now strikes a rather different note, explaining that ‘my project is a radical one.’ The claims are contradictory. There is no doubt the latter is more accurate. But the question remains: how realistic is this kind of radicalism, bent on undoing what the Union has so far done?

Lastly, a historical point. Garton Ash complains that it is a canard to trace ideas of Central Europe principally to Friedrich Naumann and his German predecessors. He asks: what about Masaryk? Indeed. The answer is suggestive. Masaryk commented only briefly and weakly – a few lines – on Naumann’s Mitteleuropa in 1916. In his own writing of this period, ‘The Problem of Small Nations in the European Crisis’ and The New Europe, composed in 1917, he accepted that there was a ‘striking difference between the East and West of Europe’ and argued that the principal problem of the First World War was ‘the political reconstruction of Eastern Europe on a national basis’. In that battle, ‘the Czech and Slovak nation is the anti-German vanguard of all the nations of Eastern Europe.’ At times Masaryk spoke of a ‘central zone’ stretching from Norway to Greece, but he distinguished it from the ‘vague term’ of Central Europe, which occasionally surfaces but never organises his thinking about the continent. In 1918, in exile in the United States, he could patronise a ‘Mid-European Democratic Union’ embracing even Armenians and Ukrainians, not to speak of Zionists, but he had no illusions about the association, nor the metaphysics of middleness. Masaryk was a much more considerable mind than Naumann. But on this subject there is no comparison between the contributions of the two. The idea of Central Europe could never acquire the salience for a Czech patriot aspiring to national independence that it had for a German contemplating regional dominance. Has the field of force behind that difference so greatly changed today?

Perry Anderson
European University, Florence

‘We’ must be ‘they’

In my review of Fritz Wittels’s memoir (LRB, 4 January) I suggested that before we condemn Wittels too eagerly for his resentment at women having lives of their own, ‘we should consider whether we have never had this thought ourselves; and what we do with it once we have had it.’ It seems to some readers that by ‘we’ I was merely referring to men, and that I was implying some admiration for Wittels’s misogyny. But from a psychoanalytic point of view it is more or less generally agreed that children of both sexes have a mother. When I wrote that everyone might once have grudged a woman her independence I was referring to thoughts from childhood. In my experience both sexes have these thoughts about their mothers; and so both sexes are – among many other things – ambivalent about women having lives of their own.

Adam Phillips
London W11

Winners and Losers

Misha Glenny says (Letters, 8 February) that Milosevic did not pursue a pan-Serb agenda, and did want ‘the maximum control over the maximum amount of territory’. In the real world, that was either/or. The inference, parading as axiom, that Milosevic was indefinitely committed to keeping maximum territory after this commitment had stopped making sense, has cost many lives. It begat the prejudice, cherished in London, Paris and the United Nations, that coercing the Croatian or Bosnian Serbs would mean confrontation with Serbia.

Milosevic ‘never crystallised his war aims’, because he had none beyond preserving and enhancing his regime’s power. Having promoted the war in Croatia in 1991, his best course in 1992 was to do worse in Bosnia, again open-endedly. He backed the Vance-Owen plan because Serb gains had become a liability. But divesting these gains needed extreme guile and care, deflecting perceptions of a sellout while keeping democratic options at bay. ‘Maximum control over maximum territory’ is a thrilling mantra, but it makes Milosevic stupid and fanatical. What was that control to be for?

Glenny sees the aborted Frasure-Milosevic plan as a lost chance for peace. He should explain why, since nothing in the record suggests Bosnian or Croatian Serb leaders would have yielded quietly, and Tudjman had his own timetable. Nato’s ‘disproportionate’ force midwifed a settlement – and no Western lives were lost.

Mark Thompson
Berlin

It would be good if Attila Hoare and Mark Thompson (Letters, 8 February), and everyone else who writes so antagonistically to you about Bosnia, were to reflect on what Neal Ascherson says in the same issue about foreign correspondents who ‘go native’. For why, now that the real war seems to have stopped in Bosnia, should we have to endure a disagreeable pastiche of it, conducted by letter, from those who appear to derive more satisfaction from their own polemics than from the imposition of a dreadfully overdue peace?

Neil Forster
London N1

God in the Body

Anne Hollander’s piece on the Nijinsky Cahiers (LRB, 25 January) prompts several questions, especially about language. Hollander is reviewing a French translation of Nijinsky’s Russian manuscripts, sometimes giving us quotations in English. It should be remembered that Nijinsky’s first language was Polish. He received his education in Russian, but his biographer Richard Buckle writes that he was ‘slow in book-learning’. Most people who worked with him found him inarticulate. Therefore we must ask: do his writings, however moving, really bring him ‘closer than anything could to life’?

Hollander writes warmly of Nijinsky’s wife Romola and her understanding of him. But is this warmth merited? Everything about the Nijinskys’ marriage is odd. When Vaslav proposed to Romola in 1913, she spoke no Russian, and his French was rudimentary. Peter Ostwald’s 1991 psychobiographical study Vaslav Nijinsky: A Leap into Madness produces evidence to show that part of what prompted Nijinsky to mania in 1917-19 was Romola’s infidelity with a hotel physician. By 1919, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. In 1920, she gave birth to a second daughter, Tamara. As Joan Acocella has said in the New Yorker, not only is it likely that Vaslav was not the father, but Romola herself later chose to say so.

Hollander discusses Nijinsky’s frequent assertion ‘that he is God.’ Nijinsky was hailed as ‘le dieu de la danse’ (an accolade revived for him by French critics from its several applications in the 18th century to the leading male dancers of that era). The label was first applied the morning after his debut in Paris in 1909; and his sister, in the thoughtful 1971 Afterword to her Early Memoirs, applies the phrase to him again. As I understand, Russian has no indefinite article. Is Nijinsky writing, ‘I am God in the body’ or ‘I am a god in the body’? He may simply have been repeatedly reflecting on the accolade he had so repeatedly received.

Alastair Macaulay
Financial Times,

Devil take the hindmost

The ‘smoking gun in Wellsian scholarship’ which John Sutherland has now quoted twice in your columns (LRB, 14 December 1995 and Letters, 25 January) is actually nothing of the sort. Sutherland claims (1) that Wells’s comments on the ‘sterilisation of failures’ in 1904-5 were not meant for public consumption; (2) that they put their author ‘in the minority on the ultra-hard wing’ of the eugenics movement; (3) that Wells scholars have overlooked these comments; and (4) that they leave social policy with an inescapable choice between the ‘gas chamber’ and the ‘castrating shears’. He is wrong on all four points.

Sutherland has no need to cite Wells’s comments by their file number in the UCL Galton Archive, since they were made at a public meeting and then published together with Galton’s essay in Sociological Papers (1905). Far from being ‘intended for Galton’s eyes only’, they would have been read by everyone following the eugenics debate. If, therefore, Wells had moved from the soft wing to the hard wing of the movement, someone would have noticed. In fact, the Oxford philosopher F.C.S. Schiller, reviewing A Modern Utopia in Nature, spoke of Wells’s ‘distrust of eugenics’. Wells’s recent biographer David Smith quotes from the same passage as Sutherland, and describes it as ‘fairly tame’ in the 1905 context. This is not to say that it is easily defensible today. In 1905 the intellectual world was gripped by a full-scale moral panic about the ‘rapid multiplication of the unfit’ – now we have other sorts of moral panic. What Wells was doing was to reject Galtonian eugenics while calling for further research (not for immediate action) on the possible effects of the ‘sterilisation of failures’ about which he had expressed many qualms. When he spoke of ‘Nature’s way’ as being to slay the hindmost, he was referring to the human effects of Natural Selection; if we find this objectionable, as I’m sure we should, we ought to look at the facts of comparative life-expectancy in our own society rather than starting a proto-Nazi witch-hunt. (As for the ‘castrating shears’, I imagine that Sutherland has by now noticed that there is a distinction between castration and sterilisation. Would he maintain that, in contemporary Britain, nobody is ever compulsorily sterilised?) Wells wrote many thousands of words about eugenics and, for the most part, they had a salutary effect in turning people against the Galtonian vision of selective breeding. Unfortunately, Wells maintained that deliberate breeding to improve the race was physically impossible and likely to be disastrous in practice – not that it was unthinkable in a liberal society.

Patrick Parrinder
Reading University

Blame the Indians

The parkway Alan Bennett drove along on his way from Rhinebeck to New York (LRB, 4 January) is not the Topeca but the Taconic. Topeka is in Kansas, some thousand miles or so west, but then the Tagkhanic Mountains are hard by the Taconic Parkway, so who’s complaining? We Americans are great pronouncers but terrible spellers. Blame the Indians, who were good at names but neglected orthography.

Robert Creamer
Tuckahoe, New York

The Great NBA Disaster

John Sutherland (LRB, 19 October 1995) may be interested to learn that at least one newspaper already discriminates between areas of a country by the prices it charges for its product. The Observer published in London charges $5.25 to deliver its papers to the west coast of Canada, but only $4.95 to the east coast. Should Scottish readers of the Observer be on the look out for price increases?

Teresa Harley
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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