Lecture Review: Dr. Lorena De Vita on ‘Democracy, Relativism and Pragmatism: The 1952 Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel’.

Written by Eleanor Hemming

This semester, the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History are putting on a series of fascinating and relevant seminars, where leading scholars from all over the UK and Europe come to Edinburgh to talk about their research.

This week, the visiting speaker was Dr. Lorena De Vita, a professor of History of International Relations at the University of Utrecht. Presenting her paper on the topic of ‘Democracy, Relativism and Pragmatism: The 1952 Agreement between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel,’ De Vita highlighted the importance of this agreement as not only the first case where reparations were paid between two countries that had not themselves existed at the time the crimes were committed, but also a subject that breaches the broad question of responsibility and repentance from state to state. Furthermore, De Vita emphasised that this agreement between the FRG and Israel sheds light on broader topics of the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the relationship between the FRG and the GDR, and even the importance of linguistic choices.

Dr. De Vita began her seminar by highlighting the difference in response to reparation payment from the FRG and GDR, and the reasons for these differing responses. As a young democracy, she highlighted that it was important for West Germany (the FRG) to show that they were a responsible and democratic nation, ready to negotiate as a serious player on the world stage. Furthermore, De Vita argued that negotiations with Israel helped solidify the FRG’s self-proclaimed position as the voice of all Germans. Despite the FRG’s already precarious financial position, pressure from outside in the form of allied forces advised the FRG that reparations were ‘politically smart and morally right.’ In contrast, De Vita pointed out that the GDR (East Germany) did not receive pressure from Moscow to likewise showcase their newfound responsibility and remorse. From the outset, the GDR had presented itself as a country of communists, resistors against the Nazis, who had thus also suffered and, had not played a part in the genocide of the Jews. De Vita concluded that the result was two opposite policies on Israel from the two Germanys – one of attempted reconciliation, and one of a lack of recognition.

Dr. De Vita then went on to underline the significance of these negotiations in the international sphere, which went beyond the Cold War tensions between East and West, having important implications for the Arab-Israeli conflict. One of Israel’s claims for reparations stemmed from the flow of Jewish refugees they had received after the collapse of the Third Reich, which had cost them dearly – and after the Arab-Israeli conflict, the numbers of refugees only grew, as those who had previously lived happily in the Middle East found themselves subject to hostility. However, the Arab League was concerned by the prospect of reparations strengthening Israeli power and thus becoming a greater threat in the Middle East. Furthermore, Arab states argued that if Israel was being compensated for the flow of Jewish refugees into Israel, then they themselves should be equally compensated for the flow of refugees out of Palestine. The Arab League felt that they too had been seriously affected by the creation of Israel, and, having always had an accepting attitude to Jews in their own countries, felt they also had a right to reparations. From the perspective of the FRG, they did not want to upset the Arab League by taking sides with Israel in the conflict, and in an attempt to reconcile the situation, a delegation was sent to Cairo to negotiate with the Arab League there. Unfortunately, a spanner was thrown in the works – East Germany turned up out of the blue! This put an end to negotiations – De Vita emphasised that it was not only embarrassing for the FRG to be shown up like this, it moreover made it difficult for West Germany to act as the one defining voice of all Germans.

Alongside the political effects of these negotiations, Dr. De Vita was keen to emphasise the importance of language and the moral implications language choices had. Language can say a lot about people’s attitudes to an event, and this agreement was no different. De Vita focused on the words chosen by either side to mean ‘reparations’, which interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, had two very different connotations. The Hebrew ‘shilumin’ used by the Israeli side indicates a material payment, but no expiation of guilt for the crime. In contrast, the German word ‘Wiedergutmachung’ translates as ‘making good again,’ and has a sense of going beyond the material sphere. It was not only the linguistic choices around the word ‘reparations’ that became a political point. At the negotiations themselves, despite the fact that every member sitting round the table spoke German as a native tongue, all talks were conducted in English. This, if nothing else, highlights the still high hostility between both governments – a fact perhaps unsurprising as many members of the new FRG state had also worked in the government of the Third Reich. Furthermore, it represents the desire of both states to present themselves as established states with separate values – despite the fact that at this time many Israeli citizens had ties to Germany, and vice versa. These ties were shown up clearly at the negotiation table itself, as one member of the German delegation, hearing English being spoken in the accent of his home town, discovered that he had gone to the same high school, one year apart, as his Israeli counterpart.

The paper was then commented on by Stephan Malinowski, who led us to consider whether reparations had impacted the future relations between Germany and Israel, and discussed the continuing question of anti-Semitism today with a rise in right-wing voting sympathies across Europe. Malinowski reflected that De Vita raised some broader questions about the moral meaning of reparations as a purely monetary gesture to ‘make things good again,’ or as a transaction with a deeper meaning that can be applied today in post-colonial states or amongst Native and African-Americans.

The CMSCH will be holding two further seminars this semester, firstly on the 31 October, where anthropologist Esra Ozyurek from LSE will be discussing Holocaust memory and democratic emotions amongst Turkish Germans, and on the 14 November, when Jake Blanc from Edinburgh University will present his paper on democracy and dictatorship in the Brazilian countryside. To find out more, look up the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History on Facebook, and come along to what promises to be another interesting and thought-provoking event.

Classical influences on Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Written by Bella Howard-Vyse

To say that the Classical influences on the Modern World are both underestimated and underappreciated would be an understatement. Despite the fact that 60 per cent of words in the English language derive from Latin, there are other less obvious connections between the two vastly different worlds: the Ancient and the Modern. The influence of Classical literature on more recent writers has been exponential. Take Shakespeare, for example; possibly the greatest and best-known poet and playwright of all time. A huge proportion of his work was inspired by Greek Mythology and the fantastical legends that were so highly regarded in antiquity. The works and talents of Shakespeare cannot be questioned; however, the roots of his ideas have greater links to mythology and have been carried further through time than one might first believe. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the writer’s more famous plays and appears to have been significantly influenced by Classical literature. Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ has offered a particular contribution to the works of Shakespeare and this is evident through the idea that, as the name suggests, ‘Metamorphoses’ embodies ideas of change and a lack of permanency in different ways. This concept runs parallel through Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, encapsulating elements of change and volatility within the real and the fantasy world as characters experience the ethereal. This is evident when Puck turns Bottom into a creature that is half-man half-donkey, and when Titania becomes victim to Oberon’s love potion. Similarly, the mythological story of Theseus and the Minotaur is reflected, somewhat, through this play. The Minotaur was a creature renown for being half-man half-bull, and this can be echoed through Shakespeare’s characterisation of Bottom after Puck has played his trick, transforming him into half-donkey.

There are various reflections of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in the four lovers in Shakespeare’s play. Theseus’ infidelity to Ariadne after taking her away from Crete is mirrored through Hermia being abandoned by Lysander. Theseus leaves the Cretan princess unannounced after she falls asleep on their return to Athens. Similarly, Hermia has just fallen asleep in the forest after running away from her father, when Lysander deserts her. In this way, a parallel can be drawn through both Ariadne and Hermia fleeing from their fathers’ who disapprove of Theseus and Lysander, respectively. The nature of both the desertions is similar as they both happen whilst the women are asleep and as they try to escape their home. Shakespeare plays further on the ancient myth of Theseus and the Minotaur to form the part of the story in which the four lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena, get lost in the forest. This seems to reflect the labyrinth in which the Athenian youths find themselves facing death; either through starvation from wandering through the maze or by being eaten by the Minotaur. It is in this labyrinth that the children meet the half-human Minotaur just as it is  in the forest that the young lovers meet the half-human Bottom. In both instances, those who were contained within the labyrinth, (be it the Athenian youths in the myth or the lovers in the play), are unable to escape: the former from death and literally from the maze, and the latter from their endless passions and romantic complications as well as from the forest itself. The complex nature of the lovers’ ever-changing situation, however, also traps them inside the forest in a different way to the physical nature of King Minos and the concrete walls confining the Athenians. In Shakespeare’s play, a pre-eminent focus of the comedy is down to the altering love interests of the four main characters. Initially, Hermia is set to marry Demetrius but is in love, mutually, with Lysander, whilst Demetrius is loved and pursued by Helena when he himself loves Hermia. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and as a result, places the love potion on Lysander instead. This means that all the lovers leave the forest matched differently to how they entered it. Their freedom from the forest is symbolic of their freedom from the quarrelling confusion of their love stories since this is what added to their confinement, in a metaphorical sense, inside their labyrinth. As in the myth, the lovers have to be aided by some ‘external power,’ in the form of Puck, as they could not save themselves from the labyrinth. This is reflective of the fact that the Athenian youths who were also trapped in their labyrinth in Crete, were unable to save themselves until they were freed by Theseus.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of the first plays to pull away from the idea of religion. It is recognised that, at the time of Shakespeare, writers and poets were encouraged, if not expected, to highlight the critical values of Christianity and the importance of religion. Christopher Marlowe, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, was accused of being an atheist and a biography on the writer said his atheism, ‘finally caught up with him’, and was ‘a serious offence, for which the penalty was burning at the stake.’ Shakespeare may have been inspired to introduce this unconventional and unfamiliar faith by the likes of Ovid, whose epic poem offered an alternative to Christianity, giving way to the ideas of a different and reverie world outside that of ordinary faith. Works based on Christianity allowed writers to discover philosophical meanings and pose moral questions. However, the approach that Shakespeare took in this play allowed him to explore beyond the realms of reality into a world full of change, transformation and magic, thus producing a play full of enchantment and the supernatural.

Unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the story of Theseus did not have a happy ending. The good fortune that Theseus enjoyed at the beginning of his story is shown to be short-lived. In mythology, Theseus kidnaps Hippolyta, after abandoning Ariadne, and takes her back to Athens where they marry and have a son named Hippolytus. Theseus then betrays his wife and falls in love with Phaedra, and she tricks him into murdering Hippolytus. This has relevance to A Midsummer Night’s Dream because Oberon says:

To the best bride-bed will we, Which by us shall blessed be; And the issue there create/Ever shall be fortunate.’

This is ironic given the fact that the ‘issue’ created in Theseus and Hippolyta’s marriage bed was neither blessed nor fortunate, as Greek mythology tells the story of Theseus killing his son after believing his new wife that Hippolytus had raped her. Many in the Renaissance audience would most likely have known this story and so would have recognised the irony in Oberon’s blessing of their marriage bed.

There are also several simpler connections between the ancient mythology and Shakespeare’s play. Firstly, Theseus, as previously touched on, has been taken to be the name of one of the main characters in Shakespeare’s play also set in Athens. The name of his wife in the myth has also been adopted by Shakespeare to be the name of his wife in the play; Hippolyta. The name of the lover Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream may have been derived from Helen of Troy who was taken from her husband Menelaus, in Argos, to Troy by Paris. This consequently led to the Trojan War where the Greeks and the Trojans fought for 10 years: the Greeks for the restoration of Helen to her home, and the Trojans to keep her. This could be seen to refer to the part in the play where both Demetrius and Lysander fight for Helena’s love and acts as further evidence that Shakespeare may have been influenced by this story in Ancient Greece.

The gods of Ancient Greece and Rome are represented by the fairies who interfere with the lives of mortals. This was a well-known trait in antiquity and the gods were present in a lot of literature at the time. Their presence is particularly prominent in epic poetry such as Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ and Homer’s ‘Odyssey,’ as well as various Greek and Roman comedies and tragedies. Shakespeare’s character Puck appears to resemble Mercury, the Roman messenger god. Not only does he act as a messenger for the King, but he also likes to play tricks on the mortals, just as Mercury was renowned for. The King and the Queen of the Fairies could be Jupiter and Juno who are known to quarrel out of jealousy, just as Oberon and Titania do, notably over who will care for the changeling child that Titania stole from the Indian King after the child’s mother died. The abduction of this child is similar to that of Ganymede who was the, ‘most beautiful of all mortal men: and so the gods snatched him away…so he should live among immortals.’ This shows a further parallel between Ancient literature and Shakespeare’s ideas.

Such concepts and parallels drawn between Greek Mythology, Classical literature, and Shakespeare’s famous play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, form only the shallow foundation of the idea that the Classical World had such profound influences on the world we live in today. The fact alone that Shakespeare, such an incredible writer, was inspired by this world that came before him, begs the question as to the nature of other such influences on our world and makes us wonder just how much else, and indeed what else, we owe to the beautiful literature and fascinating myths of antiquity.



Mabillard, Amanda, ‘Shakespeare’s Sources for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare Online,’ 2000, http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/mssources/html ; accessed: 14 October 2016.

Shakespeare, William, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ed. Jonathan Bate, (London, 2008)

Homer, The Iliad

Biography.com editors, ‘Christopher Marlowe’,

www.biography.com/people/christopher-marlowe-9399572 ; accessed 21 October 2016

Three Hours in Hell

Written by Lewis Twiby

Guernica, April 25, 1937

“Franco is about to deliver a mighty blow against which all resis…” Testily, Luisa shut off the radio. The rebels had been blasting out their asinine propaganda for the last few hours. It had been affecting some. Over half of her battalion had been destroyed during their flight from Bilbao. Poor rations, political infighting, cramped conditions, and a sense of impending doom had pushed everyone’s tensions to the limit. Franco’s boasts over the radio didn’t help matters either. She gave a heavy sigh. It was getting to her now. Please Maria, be safe. Maria had gone missing during the flight from Bilbao. The big bad generalissimo was scared of women with guns and was very eager to acquaint them with a wall…

“Are you not at all fearful?” the Brit asked. The journalist from London had been nicknamed El Señor for his formality. His hair was still ruffled from their exodus.

“No, Señor. We ousted Napoleon and we ousted de Rivera. Franco is a coward, scared of women and the future while licking the boots of Mussolini and Hitler. No, Señor. We are not fearful.” They would never surrender and that was a fact. Luisa had left her rural home in Catalonia to achieve one thing: freedom. No one could take that away from her and thousands more ranging from Catalans to Basques, from anarchists to Marxists to women.

“Anyway, we have the Soviets on our side!” Anton cried, slapping the journalist so hard on the back that his glasses slipped off of his nose. “They helped us at Guadalajara and they will help us again!”

She stared mournfully at Anton. He was so optimistic.

April 26, 1937

It was another quiet day. Every day was a quiet day in Guernica. Unlike most days a tense feeling hung in the air. The tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Refugees from across Basque had flooded into the tiny city putting everyone on edge. The fighters were waiting for the stomping feet of the Rebels and the locals were waiting for the ominous sound of gunfire which had strafed the country. Luisa watched as two snow white doves flew peacefully together in the square. No worries, no war, no fighting. An ideal life. How much simpler life would be if you could grow wings and fly away. Only that would mean running. If you ran you left your troubles behind, but they would still be there unless you confronted them. Suddenly her concentration was shattered. Church bells rang out all around her. As soon as one started ominously chiming another joined in. It created a foreboding melody. The doves scattered.

“Good Lord what is that? Mass?” Señor asked.

“No,” she replied. “Air raid.”

Anton looked through his binoculars and immediately dropped them in shock. “Dios mío. That’s a German plane.” A mottled grey plane clung to the sky like a hawk. Luisa felt like a vole seeing the apex predator flying ahead. A loud whistling noise echoed across the sky. Quickly she grabbed her two compatriots and dragged them into the cellar. The whistling gave way to a roar louder than any lion. Screams of anguish wailed through the sounds of crackling. Luisa’s heart dropped thinking of how many lives had been destroyed. She pulled the other two up; Señor’s glasses had shattered.

“Are you two okay? Good. We need to go and help with recovery!” she ordered. The three staggered out of the cellar to be met with Hell itself. In the distance a great fire summoned by Lucifer greedily lapped at the roofs of buildings. The smoke billowed high into the sky threatening to entirely consume the sun.

“That’s an incendiary!” Señor cried indignantly. “They’ve not hit the munitions factory! Those dogs have hit a civilian centre! Have they no sense of decency?”

Welcome to the Spanish Civil War. They never managed to get to the fire. The next wave hit. It was not one hawk this time. It was a swarm. Engines roared above them like thunder as they dropped their loads. Rubble smashed around them as bombs shattered the formerly tranquil city. Lucifer’s Realm spilled out into Guernica. Luisa saw fires consume all in their path, regardless if it was church, house or human. The flames of Guernica started filling her lungs, trying to strangle the life out of her. Smoke as black as coal vanquished the sun’s brightness to bring about Judgement Day itself. Screeching civilians fled into the streets to escape the great burning.

“Why is that plane so low?”  Señor shouted over the destruction. She could make out the black cross on the green-grey paint of the plane. The road exploded. Innocents were torn apart in red gore. Anton vanished in an explosion of crimson. Señor crumpled to his knees with an anguished cry. This was the end. Through flames and bullets Creation has come to an end.

Luisa and Señor walked through what was left. Hollowed out buildings were painted with white. Her once black hair had been stained grey with ash from the burning of buildings and bodies. She felt numb. Fighter and civilian had burned as one. Fighter and civilian had been strafed as one. Fighter and civilian had died as one. Command had given the orders to move town; the rebels were coming like vultures after a kill.

“Luisa, I do not know how I am ever going to write about this. The atrocities…People in Britain do not like to hear about that. What will I say?” Señor forlornly sobbed. It looked like he had aged fifty years.

“Simple. Say that we went through three hours in Hell.”


Raymond Carr, Spain, 1808-1975, (Second Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).

Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, (Fourth Edition, London: Penguin, 2001).

Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain, (London: Harper Press, 2012).

Research Seminar Review: Dr Harshan Kumarasingham’s ‘An Indian Augsleich?: The Austro-Hungarian Analogy and the Decolonisation of India’

Written by Carissa Chew

On 19 October 2017, the Global and Transnational History Research Group – one of the many groups within the University of Edinburgh’s History, Classics and Archaeology department which organises regular research seminars and workshops that are welcome to all – met to hear Dr. Harshan Kumarasingham present on his latest paper: ‘An Indian Augsleich?: The Austro-Hungarian Analogy and the Decolonisation of India’. Dr. Harshan Kumarasingham is a lecturer in British Politics at the University of Edinburgh, a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, and an Affiliated Scholar at the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. The paper, which brings together two imperial formations that are rarely considered within the same analytical or scholarly framework, is part of Kumarasingham’s wider ongoing research project with Natasha Wheatley of Princeton University on ‘Multidirectional Traffic in Imperial Legal Analogy between the British and Austro-Hungarian Empires’.

As Kumarasingham demonstrated through the example of Queen Victoria’s demand in 1873 that she be styled ‘Queen Empress’ like Maria Theresa in Vienna, analogies about the structure of imperial sovereignty were frequently made between the British and Habsburg empires. It is well-established that these analogies worked both ways. Whereas late nineteenth-century feudal lords in Hungary had looked toward the English constitution as a potential means of preserving Hungarian independence, the Habsburg concept of a ‘sovereign of sovereigns’ was adopted by the British in India, where the monarchs of the Princely States were brought into a subsidiary alliance with the British monarchy that allowed Britain to retain significant influence over the regions, especially in external affairs. These imperial analogies were invoked on both sides to further juridical-political agendas and to gain analytical purchase on domestic circumstances. The comparison between Britain and Austria-Hungary is perhaps unsurprising, given that both domains similarly experimented with divided and pooled sovereignty; dealt with issues concerning the incorporation of ethnic, political and historical differences into law; and explored different versions of federalism. The imperial analogy was also drawn upon in the imagining of alternative futures, and it is this particular function of the Austro-Hungarian analogy for the British Empire that Kumarasingham’s paper focuses on.

‘An Indian Augsleich?’ concerns the last years of the British Raj and examines the extent to which Austro-Hungarian models of federalism influenced the debate over India’s post-imperial future. As the end of the British Raj became increasingly foreseeable, Kumarasingham explained, competing visions for India’s future emerged. What would unite the Congress Party who wanted a united India with strong central governance, the Muslim League who wanted to protect the interests of India’s minority Muslims and who had begun to campaign for an independent Pakistan, and the Princely States that had been under indirect rule and wanted to maintain their relationship with The Crown? For some, a solution could be found in the Austro-Hungarian analogy, in which India could be the Austria, Pakistan the Hungary, and India’s Princely states the Croatia. Together, they could form a delegation of subjects under one British sovereign. Kumarasingham elucidated the popularity of such an analogy: the last two Viceroys of India, four of Britain’s Secretaries of State to India, and two native Indian civil servants had seriously explored this Austro-Hungarian model for India’s future, particularly in regard to the increasingly likely prospect of an independent Muslim state. Kumarasingham also importantly remarked that within this debate over India’s future governance, the failures of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was dissolved in 1918, were largely ignored.

Kumarasingham proceeded with an overview of the various instances in which the Habsburg model can be seen to have informed a vision of Indian independence. It was not just British officials who advocated the Habsburg analogy; it formed a serious part of the discussion among Indian elites too. Government minister in Churchill’s War Cabinet, Sir Stafford Cripps, had suggested that there should be a loose union between the Indian and Pakistani nationalities, in which the territories would only be united in the person of the sovereign and by common institutions of war and finance. A model of two delegations – one Indian and one Pakistani – was similarly discussed by the British delegation of the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. For some, this Augsleich structure was seen as a potential transitional model that would enable the division of assets and a more gradual transition to independence for India. Within India, Aga Khan III, who served as head of the League of Nations from 1937 to 1938, had shared in the Austro-Hungarian vision and saw India as the Bavaria in the analogy, whilst Indian civil servant and learned judge Sir Benegal Narsing Rau had travelled to different parts of Europe, including Vienna, to examine the way that these countries had historically managed (and were contemporarily managing) their many polities. Moreover, many minority groups, such as the Princely States that did not see themselves as part of British India, were attracted to the idea of keeping The Crown’s guarantor function. Kumarasingham concluded his argument with the example of the Earl of Listowell, the Secretary of State for India and Burma from August 1947 to January 1948, who as late as May 1947, just three months before independence, was still seriously considering the Austro-Hungarian solution.

In his concise presentation, Kumarasingham revealed the major role that the Austro-Hungarian analogy played in both British and Indian ideas about the future of a post-imperial South Asian subcontinent. ‘An Indian Augsleich?’ contributes to wider discussions on Indian Independence by constituting a challenge to the perceived inevitability of Partition and revealing the 1940s as a time of possibilities. Moreover, Kumarasingham’s research contributes to the recovery of the British and Habsburg culture of comparison and cross-imperial legal reasoning that has until recently been largely overlooked by historians.

A Roman Russia

Written by Travis Aaroe

The fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 finally brought an end to Byzantium, the Christian successor state to the Ancient Roman Empire. After the holy city’s capture, Orthodox Christendom was thrown into a state of panic and confusion, and seemed to be teetering on the edge of oblivion. The only politically independent Orthodox states left in the Balkans were a collection of small duchies and kingdoms, soon to be swallowed up by the expansionist Ottoman Empire. The only region of Eastern Christianity not under immediate threat of subjugation was Russia, which had joined the Orthodox fold following the conversion of Prince Vladimir the Great of the Kievan Rus in 988AD. The remarkable endurance of Russian Orthodoxy created a potent narrative of the Grand Duchy of Moscow (the precursor to the modern Russian state) taking up the mantle of Rome and of Orthodox Christianity after the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. This ideology implanted a sense of holy mission into Russian culture, which continues to shape Russia’s view of its place in the world to this day.

As Byzantium disintegrated, elements of the old empire trickled north towards the relatively untouched and stable Russian principalities. Orthodox clergymen began to relocate to Moscow from the 14th century onward as the Ottomans gained ground in the Balkans – one of these émigrés, a Bulgarian by the name of Cyprian, even became Metropolitan of Moscow in 1390. These clergymen provided much of the theoretical basis for the Moscow’s fledgling identity as a new homeland for the Orthodox and Roman traditions. For example, in the chaotic and sorrowful years that followed the fall of Constantinople members of the Orthodox intelligentsia sought to ensure the survival of Moscow, the most powerful remaining Orthodox state. A Serbian monk wrote to the Muscovites in 1480, imploring them to resist the Mongolian Great Horde’s assault on Moscow, lest they share the same fate as their Balkan and Greek brethren. Furthermore, in the early 1500s another Serbian monk wrote the ‘Tale of the Princes of Vladimir’ – a book which hailed the Grand Princes of Moscow as descendants of Augustus Caesar, and argued that their princely crown was originally a gift from Emperor Constantine IX of Byzantium to his Russian grandson. As the Muscovite duchy grew in power, claims of its destiny grew grander still; the monk Philotheus wrote to Prince Vasili III of Moscow in 1511, claiming that his city would be the third and final Rome, and that he was the legitimate ruler of all Christian peoples.

Moscow’s inheritance of the legacy of Rome manifested itself in other ways as well. In 1467, Prince Ivan III married Princess Sophia, the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, and Moscow adopted the Byzantine double-headed eagle as its own coat of arms in 1472. This double-headed eagle has remained the symbol of every subsequent Russian state, except during the times of the Soviet Union.

Aside from the ideological, familial and symbolic reasons for treating Moscow as a “Third Rome”, the Grand Duchy’s successes further justified this label. In 1480, Moscow led a coalition of Russian cities to a decisive victory at the ‘Great Stand on the Ugra river’, a battle which ended the Islamic Great Horde’s suzerainty over the region. A pan-Russian state was eventually created under Muscovite leadership in 1547, and its rulers took the title of ‘Tsar’ – Russian for Caesar.

This “Third Rome” ideology began to implant itself deep within the Russian psyche as the new Tsardom developed. It entailed that Russia was a special nation with a holy mission to, spread the true Orthodox faith, reclaim the holy city of Constantinople and ultimately redeem the Christian world by ushering in a new age of godliness. The novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky would later write of a “ceaseless longing, which has always been inherent in the Russian people, for a great universal church on Earth”.  The sentiment was exacerbated by Russia’s insecure geopolitical position: with no natural borders it was surrounded by enemies such as Poland, Sweden, Prussia, the Ottomans, the steppe hordes and the Siberian tribes – in the eyes of the Russians, their nation was a besieged island of godly, neo-Roman civilization in an ocean of barbarian heathens.

It is therefore no surprise that Russia’s “Third Rome” identity would guide its foreign policy as it emerged as one of the great powers of Europe. Driven by this messianic mission and a desire for greater security, Russia conquered in all directions – expanding an average of 100,000 square kilometres annually from 1547-1914. This included Russia’s colonization of Siberia from the late 1500’s onward which, inspired by a desire to civilize and Christianize the wild region, would eventually extend Russia’s borders to the Pacific Ocean. The Westernizing reforms of Tsar Peter the Great did little to dull this desire for an evangelising conquest – if anything, Russia’s modernization was a means to more effectively carry out its holy mission. This is evidenced by the foreign policy of Catherine the Great, who in the 1780s formulated the ‘Greek Plan’ of relentless southward expansion, which would culminate in the liberation of Constantinople from the Turks and the establishment of a new Russo-Byzantine Empire. To this end, Catherine famously crushed the Zaporizhian Host and the Crimean Khanate (Ottoman vassals), thus annexing much of modern-day Ukraine and extending Russian power into the Black Sea and the Balkans.

Russia’s sense of destiny guided its policy throughout the Age of Revolution as well. In the heady days following Napoleon’s downfall in Russia in 1812 and the subsequent toppling of his government, Tsar Alexander I envisioned Russia (by now the premier land power in Europe) as a divine instrument to create a new world order of universal Christian brotherhood under Russian leadership. This led him to create the ‘Holy Alliance’ after the Congress of Vienna with Prussia and Austria, which was designed to contain often anti-clerical and anti-monarchical liberal uprisings.

Russia’s “Third Rome” messianism collided with the realpolitik of other European powers in the middle of the 19th century. His answer to the ‘Eastern Question’ of what the European powers should do in the face of the Ottoman Empire’s decay was southward expansion at the Empire’s expense, with the objective of eventually liberating Constantinople and vindicating himself as the heir to Rome. This policy deeply alarmed many European powers, who feared that such a scheme– if eventually executed – would upset the European balance of power by allowing Russia to control the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. These geopolitical tensions led to the Crimean War (1853-1856) in which France, Britain and Sardinia intervened against Russia after Tsar Nicholas I threatened the Ottoman Empire with renewed conflict. Russia, diplomatically isolated and without any major allies, was defeated and its expansion south temporarily halted. The Crimean War ideologically alienated Russia from its fellow European nations – who in Russia’s view had cynically sided with the Islamic Ottomans over the Christian cause. This gave rise to a new dialectic in the minds of Russians: Western liberalism, secularism and cynicism versus Russian conservatism, godliness and messianism. Hence, far from ending Russia’s sense of holy mission as a “Third Rome”, the Crimean War exacerbated the sentiment by pitting Russia’s cultural values against the outside world.

Grand narratives of Russia’s divine ‘Roman’ destiny arguably contributed to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 – which was to prove the ruin of the old Tsarist, Christian Russia. Ironically, the previously-mentioned Russian cooperation with Prussia (later Germany) and Austria was destroyed by Russia’s attempts to realise Catherine’s ‘Greek Plan’ – as its renewed attempt south towards Constantinople led it into diplomatic conflict with Austria. Russia’s desire to cut a path towards Constantinople drove it into the arms of Britain and France and into alliances with fellow Orthodox states such as Serbia, diplomatic manoeuvres which would eventually drag it into conflict in 1914.

Communist rule led to the suppression of Russia’s deep Christian character. As a result, Russia’s distinctly ‘Roman’ identity laid dormant. However, the extraordinary revival of Orthodox Christianity in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union has rekindled this old narrative. Once again, a newly conservative and devoutly Christian Russia stands in opposition tothe liberalism, secularism and consumerism of Western Europe and America.  Notable Russian conservative intellectuals have gathered in organisations such as the Izborsk and Byzantine Clubs – and expound the view that Russia is the true successor to the Roman Empire, and as such has a special destiny as the defender of traditional Christian values against the alleged decadence of the West. One of the most notable proponents of this view is the philosopher Aleksander Dugin, who reportedly has ties with many leading Russian politicians as well as the Kremlin itself. Dugin argues that Russia should aim to banish Anglo-American liberalism from the Eurasian continent – a conflict in which Russia would act as ‘Rome’ against Anglo-Saxon ‘Carthage’.

Since the traumatic fall of Constantinople, Russia has seen itself as a “Third Rome”: a redeemer and vindicator of Christian civilization, and a bastion of the true faith beset by enemies – be these enemies Islam, Enlightenment-era revolution, or consumerist liberalism. As Russia rediscovers its Christian identity after decades of Communism, it is not inconceivable that this old narrative might greatly influence Russian foreign and domestic policy once again.


Billington, James H, ‘The Icon and The Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture’, Vintage Books, 1970

Galstyan, Areg, ‘Third Rome Rising: The Ideologues Calling for a New Russian Empire’, ‘The National Interest’, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/third-rome-rising-the-ideologues-calling-new-russian-empire-16748, June 27th 2016

Kissinger, Henry A, ‘World Order’, Allen Lane, 2014

Magaril, Sergei, ‘The Mythology of the “Third Rome” in Russian Educated

Society’, in ‘Russian Politics and Law’ (Volume 50), 2012

  Strémooukhoff, Dimitri, ‘Moscow the Third Rome: Sources of the Doctrine’ in ‘Speculum’ (Volume 28), 1953.

The Long March Home

Written by Daniel Sharp

 I am writing this on some ripped scraps; sitting on a rock at night; several feet away there is the light from the camp fire, my only illumination. Other men are packed around the fire. There is no space. So I sit here, on my rock. The fire may as well be put out- the light is dim, the wind blows and makes the flames tiny, and the cold bites as hard as before.

To be honest, I do not know why I am writing. It is not a suicide note exactly – I am not going to kill myself. I am just going to let myself drift away. Once the men start moving, I will leave the group, as so many have done before, either by choice or because they have fallen half dead, and lie down in a ditch, where the cold and the grief will take me as the please. This is my last record then. It will probably never be found, but it allows me to set down some of my story.

The month is November, the year 1812, and the place, Russia. Oh, what a place! Vast and warm a few months ago, it is now vast and freezing. I have never felt cold like this. We left the west with a grand army, one of the largest ever assembled, led by our Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Now we are cut down by hundreds of thousands due to death, disease and desertion. I would willingly have laid down my life for the glory of France, my people, and my Emperor. But this campaign has been a disaster. It will be the beginning of the end for France as I know it, and for the little general.

I have followed him for over a decade. He is a giant, a conqueror of men, women, children, nations, armies, kings, emperors and lands. We have not seen one like him since the days of Alexander! But oh- those days are gone. This invasion of Russia has been his biggest mistake. He has lost so many men, so many supplies, and, most of all, he has lost his reputation. Here lies Napoleon! Former master of the universe, defeated by Russia’s vast interior, the tsar’s retreating army, the Cossacks, and the weather. Glory is gone. And so shall I soon too.

My wife and my son accompanied me on the campaign. They died two days ago. The cold got them, that is all. I went to check on them one morning and their bodies were frozen stiff, their eyes lightless. I burned the bodies, but said no prayers. It is not just the soldiers who have suffered. The civilians, women children who came with us have suffered too. I thought that if I had them I would make it home, back to Paris. Our home is small, but it is ours. Or rather, it was ours – now, without them, it is no longer a home, it is just a house, and I will never make it home again.

Little over a month ago we entered Moscow. After all our hardship, surely this was the end! The capital of the tsar was taken – victory was ours! The Russians had evaded our armies, choosing to retreat rather than fight for the most part, to exhaust us. By God, did they succeed. But we had won! Moscow was ours! After the awful march, picked at by Cossacks and scythed down by fatigue and disease, and a bloody battle at Borodino, we were done – glory was restored! Long live the Emperor! Long live France! Alas, Moscow was burned by the Russians, and the tsar never surrendered.

Thus we left Moscow, forced to retreat in shame. But our exhaustion was too great for us to care – we felt like Sisyphus after an eternity of toil. We just wanted to see home again. That goes for all people in this once great army – the French, the Polish, the Prussians and all the others. Home, just home – that is all we wanted, and now most of us will die in the red snow.

A battle was fought at Maloyaroslavets towards the end of last month on the way back from Moscow. It was not as awful as Borodino, that great blood factory which spewed out human remains like a fountain gushing water. But we were tired and demoralised, and it was truly awful to behold the continuing human sacrifice to the gods of war offered up that day. Indeed, I have witnessed terrors in all the battles we have fought. I have always been immune to weak emotion in the heat of battle, but this campaign has scarred me.

Yes, I have seen many battles. I served under the Emperor in Italy and I was there at Austerlitz, when he crushed two emperors under his heel and showed the height of his artful skills in war. I met him for the first time yesterday. He came along in the afternoon, greeting his men to keep up their morale as he often did. This was a half-hearted attempt. We were exhausted, and so was he. We were all demoralized. The soldiers were all starving – we had barely eaten in weeks. He shook my hand, attempted a smile, and gave me his condolences on the death of my family. Someone must have told him before he had gotten to me. A flicker of love swelled within me – this was the man I had followed for years and who would lead us to glory! But it was extinguished in an instant – the old love was gone. I felt as much anger as I could in my desolate state, and then felt nothing again as he moved on.

A few years ago meeting the Emperor would have brought me untold happiness. I had never been lucky enough to meet him, though I had heard tales of his kindness and generosity to us soldiers. I knew these stories were true. But now I could not forgive him for leading us here, for throwing away all he – and we! – had fought for. For the ruin he had brought upon us and our families.

But that is all in the past. The sky is starting to lighten and we shall be moving soon. I shall put these scraps under this rock, and then I shall hasten to my sleep in the ditch by that small frozen hill, and if there is even the tiniest amount of divine justice left in the universe, I may just see my dear and beautiful family again.

Author’s note: Estimates vary, but Napoleon’s Grande Armée assembled for the invasion of Russia numbered as many men as 680,000. On returning from Russia, as few as 27,000 remained due to the effects of war, disease, capture and desertion. This is not to mention the Russian casualties, or the civilian casualties on both sides. It was one of the most lethal military campaigns in history.


Boris Johnson and Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Mandalay’: How should we remember prejudiced authors and their literature?


Written by Carissa Chew

In recent news, footage has been released showing UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reciting part of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’ (1892) whilst he was touring the Shwedagon Pagoda during an official visit to Myanmar in January 2017. Andrew Patrick, the British Ambassador to Burma, hastily informs Johnson that this reference to offensive colonial poetry is ‘not appropriate’. After all, ‘Mandalay’ was written about the former colony of Burma, which Britain had oppressively ruled between 1886 and 1948. The discriminatory nature of this colonial regime is notoriously exposed in George Orwell’s Burmese Days (1934). Moreover, it was during the aftermath of the violent Third Anglo-Burmese War – which had ended in the ruthless systematic destruction of northern Burmese villages – that Kipling had visited the colony. It is therefore unsurprising that Johnson’s recital of ‘the temple bells they say, come you back you English soldier’, quickly incited public outrage.

No doubt, the reaction to this incident is part of a wider backlash against a long list of inappropriate comments that Johnson has made in recent years, including his use of the racial slur ‘piccaninnies’ to describe black people in 2002, as well as his more recent suggestion that the Libyan city of Sirte could be a new Dubai if the Libyans would simply ‘clear the dead bodies away’. This raises serious questions over whether he should remain Foreign Secretary, but this article does not intend to focus on the politics surrounding Johnson. Rather, if we take Johnson out of the picture, the public’s immediate reaction to this reference to Kipling raises wider issues concerning the way that we should treat literature that we deem politically incorrect and offensive today.

The general response to the recital of ‘Mandalay’ has been one of disapproval. But is this popular branding of Kipling as a racist and imperialist fair, or is it in fact too simplistic? Boris Johnson is criticised for reciting lines from poetry that he does not understand, but can we only truly ‘understand’ Kipling through discrediting his work? Perhaps we need look no further than ‘The White Man’s Burden’ (1899): a notoriously jingoistic poem that calls upon the white men of the United States to accept their moral responsibility as a racially superior nation to civilise the people of the Philippines. For Kipling, the natives are a homogenised mass of ‘silent, sullen’ figures, who are characterised as ‘half-devil and half-child’. As the critic Peter Keating has stated, ‘there can be no doubt that the poem is profoundly racist in sentiment’.

Can the same be said of ‘Mandalay’? This poem, written in a crude parody of working class dialect, shows the glorified landscape of Burma calling for a British soldier to return to his Burmese mistress. In a recent opinion piece published by The Guardian, Ian Jack has suggested that we should ‘cut [Boris] some slack’ as the poem is not ‘pro-colonial’. However, it is naïve to equate the lack of explicit jingoism in ‘Mandalay’ with the absence of a pro-colonial slant. Fundamentally, if we look past the embellished imagery of Burma, Kipling aids the imperial enterprise by encouraging British soldiers to return to the colony. The poem plays upon a soldier’s feeling of obligation to continue his imperial duty, which was a duty that ultimately manifested itself in the continued social oppression, economic exploitation and violent policing of the Burmese population. In this way, Kipling legitimises the violence of the Anglo-Burmese wars. ‘Mandalay’ is therefore a sophisticated example of colonial propaganda that aided recruitment into the colonial service by ingeniously evoking a sense of longing for a romantic and exotic Orient.

Although the expression of racial prejudice is more implicit in ‘Mandalay’, it nonetheless resonates throughout the poem. Kipling’s romanticised Burmese environment and exoticisation of indigenous women contributes to what Edward Said has labelled Orientalism: the discourse which offered a justification for European colonialism based on ideas of racial difference. Kipling always portrays Burma as place of ‘otherness’, which can be seen in his disparaging depiction of Buddhism as the worship of a ‘Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud’. Moreover, Kipling only glorifies the colony as a ‘cleaner, greener land’ with ‘neater, sweeter’ women in comparison to the ‘gritty pavin’-stones’ of urban London where working class women are ‘Beefy face an’ grubby’. It is Kipling’s classist sentiment here that is profound. Does ‘Mandalay’ elevate the status of Burma and its non-white population by expressing a genuine fondness for the colony? Or is Kipling making a derogatory comparison between a non-white population and the British working class, in order to deride the latter?

It is worth noting that we cannot expect Kipling to have challenged the hegemonic colonial discourse of his time. The nineteenth century saw an increased intellectual focus on rationality. Accordingly, scientific evidence was held in increasingly high esteem. White supremacy was presented and taught as scientific fact: it had been ‘proved’ through the pseudo-sciences of phrenology, social Darwinism and eugenics, for instance, that non-white races were physically, morally and intellectually inferior. For the Victorian population, these theories on race justified the European colonial enterprise; many people genuinely believed that the West had a moral responsibility to ‘civilise’ the ‘savages’.

Nevertheless, we can recognise many anti-imperial strands of thought in Kipling’s work. The poem ‘Recessional’ (1897) emphasises the ephemerality of Empire and explicitly challenges the legitimacy of patriotism by referring to it as ‘pomp’, and a ‘frantic boast and foolish word’. In ‘The Widow at Windsor’ (1892), Kipling exposes the adversity that the imperial soldiers faced and, through the voice of a British working class male, expresses disillusionment with the Empire through disparaging the British flag. Challenges to racial preconceptions are also evident in Kipling’s novel Kim (1900), with critic Abdul R. JanMohamed recognising that, although Kim reveals an underlying ‘problem of racial difference’, it also contains ‘a positive, detailed, and non stereotypic portrait of the colonised that is unique in colonialist literature’. Thus, when it comes to looking at Kipling’s presentation of race and imperialism, there is significant inconsistency and complexity.

We therefore cannot simply dismiss Kipling as a bigoted colonialist, particularly when we consider this popular demonisation of Kipling in relation to our ‘forgetfulness’ of the prejudices of other historical figures and authors. Take the revered image of Mahatma Gandhi for instance, who we remember as the pacifist leader of the Indian nationalist movement who extended the political sphere to the oppressed sections of Indian civil society. In our celebration of Gandhi’s achievements, we look past his condescending view of African people, who he derogatorily referred to as ‘Kaffirs’ in his demand that they be racially segregated from Indians in South Africa. If we excuse Gandhi as a product of the colonial era, should we not excuse Kipling also? And what about racism in Dickens; anti-Semitism in the poetry of Chaucer, Eliot and Pound; and misogyny in Shakespeare, Milton and Orwell? Does Roald Dahl’s anti-Semitism change the way we view his children’s literature? And how do we treat the work of William Golding in light of the knowledge that he once attempted to rape a 15-year-old schoolgirl?

My point is this: it is hypocritical to simply brand Kipling as a racist imperialist when we continue to hold other prejudiced authors and historical figures in such high esteem. Certainly, we are correct to criticise Kipling’s colonial stance and the racist ideology that resonates throughout his work. However, there should then be more discussion in the media about the prejudices of historical figures and authors who we continue to venerate. Just as we understand why it was offensive for the Foreign Secretary of a former colonial power to quote Kipling in a former colony, we should instantly recognise why it was inappropriate for the President of India to erect a statue of Gandhi at the University of Ghana last year, and so forth. Nevertheless, it would be ignorant to dismiss the value of Kipling’s literature entirely, such as by removing him from school curriculums. Whilst we cannot defend the blatant racism in ‘The White Man’s Burden’, this does not mean that we should not find value in other examples of Kipling’s work, such as in ‘Mandalay’. This poem displays Kipling’s aesthetic value and his vivid written imagery. To understand Kipling and other controversial figures, therefore, we must explicitly recognise the difficulties and ambiguities that their literature poses. Kipling’s writing constitutes an important part of British literary history and our colonial past, which we cannot forget or hide.


Biswas, Soutik, ‘Was Mahatma Gandhi a racist?’,0 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-34265882 ; accessed 14 October 2017.

Blair, E. A., ‘How a Nation is Exploited – The British Empire in Burma’, 1929, http://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-prize/orwell/essays-and-other-works/how-a-nation-is-exploited-the-british-empire-in-burma/ ; accessed 13 October 2017.

Jack, Ian, ‘Boris Johnson was unwise to quote Kipling, but he wasn’t praising Empire’, 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/07/boris-johnson-kipling-myanmar-mandalay-colonialism ; accessed 07 October 2017.

JanMohamed, Abdul R, ‘The Economy of Minichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature’ in Race, Writing and Difference, ed. Gates, Henry Louis (Chicago, 1986), quoted in Christensen, Tim, ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Misrecognition, Pleasure and White Identity in Kipling’s Kim’, College Literature, 39 (2012), p.9.

Keating, Peter, Kipling the Poet, (1994), quoted in Brantlinger, Patrick, ‘Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden” and Its Afterlives’, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, 50 (2007), pp.172-91.

Kermeliotis, Teo, ‘Ghana: Call to remove Gandhi statue over “racist views”’, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-34265882 ; accessed 14 October 2017.

Kipling, Rudyard, ‘Mandalay’, 1892, http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_mandalay.htm; accessed 7 October 2017.

Kipling, Rudyard, ‘Recessional’, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume E, ed. Greenblatt, Stephen (9th edn, New York, 2012), pp.1879-1880.

Kipling, Rudyard, ‘The White Man’s Burden’, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume E, ed. Greenblatt, Stephen (9th edn, New York, 2012), pp.1880-1882.

Kipling, Rudyard, ‘The Widow at Windsor’, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume E, ed. Greenblatt, Stephen (9th edn, New York, 2012), pp.1878-1879.