January 07, 2010

So what else is new?

A quote and its context:
"Sans doute par l'effet de mon vieux sang normand, depuis la guerre d'Orient, je suis indigné contre l'Angleterre, indigné à en devenir Prussien ! Car enfin, que veut-elle ? Qui l'attaque ? Cette prétention de défendre l'Islamisme (qui est en soi une monstruosité) m'exaspère. Je demande, au nom de l'humanité, à ce qu'on broie la Pierre-Noire, pour en jeter les cendres au vent, à ce qu'on détruise La Mecque, et que l'on souille la tombe de Mahomet. Ce serait le moyen de démoraliser le Fanatisme."
(Gustave Flaubert / 1821-1880 / Lettre à Madame Roger des Genettes / 12 ou 19 janvier 1878)

"Without doubt because of my old Norman blood, since the war in the Orient, I am mad at England, and getting mad at Prussia! After all, what do they want? Whom are they attacking? That presumption to defend Islamism (which is in itself a monstrosity) makes me angry. I demand, in the name of humanity, that they crush down the Black Stone, blow its ashes in the wind, that they destroy Mecca, and that they defile the tomb of Mohammed. This is the least that can be done to demoralize the fanaticism."
(Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) in a letter to Madame Roger des Genettes on January 12 and 19, 1878)
The historic background of Flaubert's anger is the Crimean war. France and Britain declared war on Russia in March 1854, following the events around the coup d'état of 1851 in France where Napoleon III had sent his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to force the Ottomans to recognize France as the "sovereign authority" in the Holy Land. Fighting began when the Russians insisted on protecting the rights of Orthodox christians in the Balkan territories of the Ottoman Empire. The Russians delivered an ultimatum to the Ottoman Sultan in May 1853, which the Sultan rejected, supported by the British. The Russians launched military operations and occupied Danubian principalities on the Russo-Turkish border (now Romania) in July 1853. Encouraged by the support of the British fleet, the Ottomans declared war on Russia and proceeded to launch an offensive in the Danubian principalities. The Russian Black Sea fleet attacked and destroyed a Turkish squadron at Sinope.

Britain and France formally declared war on Russia on March 28. Russia evacuated the Danubian principalities it had seized in the first stages of the War to placate Austria which threatened to enter the War on the Allied side which was potentially critical to Russia because, unlike the British and French who were deploying expeditionary forces, Austria bordered Russia and might thus have pulled the full weight of its army against that country.

The Allies performed a siege of the Russian fortress at Sevastopol which lasted more than a year. The rest is history.

The Russians accepted preliminary peace terms offered by the Allies and supported by Prussia (soon to be the leading power in a German Empire) on February 1, 1856. The Treaty of Paris, dating March 30, 1856 ended the war formally. It left Constantinople and its Orthodox Christians in the hands of the Ottomans.

What does that teach us?

First that the will to stand by one's own was never particularly strong among Europeans, isn't, never will be.

Second, Islam never voluntarily budged an inch, doesn't, never will.

Third, this simple, frequently taught but never learned, lesson wasn't put to good use, isn't, never will.

2 comments:

Will said...

Hi.
Very interesting story.
It seems history keeps repeating itself and Christianity has still learned nothing.
Have a great week!
Will-MFS.

fpb said...

Actually, Flaubert must have been speaking of something much more recent. In 1877, the Russian armies swept through Romania and Bulgaria and forced Turkey to accept a peace treaty that created a comparatively enormous free Bulgaria including the whole of modern Macedonia, most of Thrace and access to the Aegean. This was clearly a provisional settlement at best, because the boundaries forced on Turkey by the new Bulgarian state made the rest of European Turkey untenable and clearly ready to be invaded and freed in its turn as soon as Greece, Montenegro and Serbia felt strong enough. This had followed a horrendous series of massacres in Bulgaria that had revolted the whole of Europe. Britain, however, had a tradition of supporting "legitimate" Turkish power that went back at least as far as the Congress of Vienna, and refused to accept this settlement, effectively rescuing Turkey from annihilation. What followed was the Congress of Berlin (1878), which redrew the borders to make the Turkish European remnant manageable, and in which the two biggest cynics in Europe, Disraeli and Bismarck, formed a bloodstained, Islam-backing mutual admiration society that, looking back, leaves me a bit queasy. This is clearly what Flaubert is speaking of.

There is a post-script. Bismarck showed his chronic incapacity to understand free people. He and Disraeli may have thought they had achieved a diplomatic masterpiece, but the British public were not impressed. And neither was old Gladstone, who had retired to private life. He came back to politics like a whirlwind, roused the country with a series of brilliant anti-Turkish speeches, and swept Disraeli from office.