We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Best idea ever?

Crowdfunding military procurement? Could this be the best idea ever? Or at least the best idea since letters of marque?

Actual link to the project here.

A strange map


Partly due to despair at my unwillingness to decorate my flat in any way whatsoever, and partly because she knows I like this kind of thing, a friend of mine sent me this antique map of central Europe as a gift. She obtained it in an antiquarian map shop in Krakow, Poland.

First, obvious observation. This is a map from Nazi Germany. In the margin, it is identified as being the product of a mapmaker in Leipzig, but there is no date given.

Secondly, when I see a historical map, I like to play the game of figuring out the dates of the map by looking at the border, and using my historical knowledge of political geography to narrow the date down.

Figuring out the year of this map is easy. This map is from 1939. In most instances, getting the year is all you want to do. However, 1939 was a somewhat problematic year.

Klaipeda and the area around it is shown as part of Germany, not Lithuania. Also, Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist, Bohemia and Moravia has been annexed by the Reich, Slovakia is a supposedly independent country, and Carpathian Ruthenia has been invaded and annexed by Hungary. All these events occurred in March 1939, so the map was clearly designed after March 1939.

It’s looking at Poland that things get interesting. Firstly, Danzig is not shown as a free city, but is shown as part of the Reich. Danzig was invaded by Germany on 1 September 1939, proclaimed part of Germany on 2 September, and formally annexed under German law on 8 October. Danzig had, however, been under the control of the local Nazi party since 1933, and would have joined Germany instantly if it had been allowed to under international law. Is it possible that some German maps showed Danzig as part of Germany prior to September 1939? Possible, but I suspect probably not.


By far the most fascinating thing in this map is the red line through Poland, however. Poland is clearly identified as “Polen”, but the Molotov-Rippentrop line – it the limits of German occupation after the invasion of Germany in September 1939 – has been drawn through it. Therefore the map must have been printed no earlier than September 1939. This has clearly been printed at the same time as the rest of the map – it is not something someone added with a pen later, or anything like that.

What I suppose is possible is that the mapmaker had a map prepared reflecting recent border changes immediately prior to the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. When the invasion occurred, the map was quickly modified to show Danzig as German and the zones of German and Soviet occupation before being printed and sold.

And yet, this map does not reflect the view of the world that the Nazis wanted to present. Upon invading Poland, they declared that Poland as a country did not exist. On that same date of October 8, Germany formally annexed the northern and western sections of their Polish conquests (including the Suwalki triangle, clearly shown on this map), and declared the South-East to be the “General-government”, essentially a German colony (but not a “Germany colony in Poland”, as Poland did not exist). This map is therefore curious, as it essentially shows Poland (clearly identified as Poland) under German (and Soviet) occupation.

I cannot imagine maps like this being printed in Germany long after the annexation decree of October 1939. In the Nazi view, there was no occupied Poland the way there was later an occupied France. There was simply German territory that unfortunately happened to have Poles, other Slavs, and Jews living in it. It’s easy to imagine foreign maps from later showing the German and Soviet occupation of Poland like this, but German ones, not so much. So my conclusion is that this map was printed very soon indeed after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

Plus of course this map ended up in an antiquarian map shop in Krakow in Poland, which between 1939 and 1945 was in that aforementioned “General Government”. One has no idea how and when it got there, but I suspect that “during the occupation” is the most likely answer.

Thoughts anyone?

A Japanese hero in Lithuania


I visited the above house in Kaunas, Lithuania last month. In 1940, this house was the Japanese consulate. Kaunas functioned as the capital city of Lithuania prior to the Second World War. The Lithuanians considered Vilnius to be their rightful capital, but it was masquerading as the Polish city of Wilno at the time. Upon the German occupation of Western Poland and the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland in late 1939, many (both Polish and Lithuanian) Jews were trapped in Lithuania and clearly in great danger, but were unable to gain exit visas to leave the Soviet Union (or travel across it by the Trans-Siberian railway) unless they had visas to go somewhere else. There were Japanese government rules stating that transit visas could be issued to Japan, but only if the applicant had plans to go somewhere else after Japan, and also that he had adequate financial resources.

Seeing the desperation of the situation, and against orders, Japanese consul Chiune Sugihara issued Japanese transit visas to anyone who asked. (In the book Bloodlands historian Timothy Snyder – who clearly finds Sugihara as fascinating a figure as I do – makes it clear that Sugihara was a Japanese spy as well as a Japanese consul, and his job was to keep track of Soviet troop movements for the Japanese government). During September 1940 he spent something like 20 hours a day writing out visas. When the consulate was closed and he had to leave, he was followed by a crowd to the railway station. As his train left, he was still throwing blank visas with his seal and signature on them to a crowd of desperate people. In total, he wrote something like 3000 visas, and as dependent family members could travel on the same visa as the principal person it was written for, those visas covered several times that number of people.

kaurailKaunas railway station today.

Upon receiving these visas, Jews were able to travel on the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok and then go by ship to Japan. They then dispersed to various places, but many were deported to Shanghai when the tripartite pact with Germany was signed shortly afterwards. Shanghai was also under Japanese occupation, and there these people spent time in the Shanghai ghetto – Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees – where they stayed until Shanghai was liberated by the Americans in 1945. I visited the remnants of the Shanghai ghetto in 2006, and wrote about it at the time. Although this was crowded and at times squalid, it was a place of relative safety. The Japanese behaved monstrously towards certain other groups, but they had nothing against Jews, and did not turn the Jews in Shanghai over to the Germans despite German requests. Rather cleverly, Jewish leaders in Shanghai played upon Japanese mistrust of their German allies. Upon being asked by a Japanese governor why the Germans hated the Jews so much, rabbi Shimon Sholom Kalish replied “They hate us because we are short and dark haired”.

Most Jews who got to Shanghai survived, and then emigrated to Israel, Australia, the US and other places after 1945. Estimates of the number of lives saved by Sugihara go as high as 10,000, although estimates of about 6,000 seem more common.

Half of the building in Kaunas is now a museum to Sugihara. I wanted to see this – it was why I went to Kaunas. The other people in the museum when I went there were a busload of Japanese tourists. Almost everyone who had signed the guest book had done so in Japanese, too. I didn’t see any Lithuanians or many other Europeans, which is a shame given this extraordinary story.


It’s an exceptionally good thing that the museum is there, but I did find the tone of the museum to be slightly curious. The museum did seem to be going out of its way to present the Japanese in general in the best possible light overall, rather than simply telling the story of Sugihara. That Sugihara was acting against orders was mentioned but not emphasised, and much was made of Jews who reached Japan being treated well, but not much was said about where they went after the Japanese alliance with Germany intensified and they were deported from Japan. The truth – the Shanghai ghetto mentioned above – doesn’t actually reflect too badly on the Japanese, but it is rather unfortunately connected to other things that do reflect badly on the Japanese. It is impossible to praise Sugihara himself too much – the man saved the lives of 6,000 or more people just out of basic human decency – but does this reflect well on Japan as a whole? That is harder to say. As is the case with other various people who did similar things, his story remained obscure for many years. His career with the Japanese foreign service ended after the war for reasons that may or may not have had to do with disobeying orders in Lithuania.


Eventually, Sugihara’s story became widely known, and he was later honoured by Yad Vashem, the state of Israel, the state of Japan and the state of Lithuania, but this took a long time. As it did with Paul Grüninger, Oskar Schindler, and others.

Fountain of the Future

A story in The Telegraph has brought to mind the following quotation, which seems doubly apt:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

- Karl Marx, writing in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”

Thinking about Putin, Ukraine, and fallacious arguments

Here is an excellent piece from The Libertarian about how to think about what is going on with Russia, Ukraine, etc, and the response to it of various people, including those who fall into the trap of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” fallacy. Other fallacies are addressed such as “who are we to judge X?” and “it’s just not our business” positions.


Latest on the referendum in the Ukraine: Hughesovka votes to join the UK

Via Tim Worstall, this:

Donestk was founded in the 19th century by John Hughes, a Merthyr Tydfil steel worker who had landed a contract from the Tsarist government to provide steel plating for the navy.

Now residents of the city have responded to pro-Russian protests for autonomy from Kiev with an internet vote that rejects Russia’s claims in favour of a turn to the Queen and London.

It calls for the restoration of the original name Hughesovka or Yuzovka and requests London rule.

After the Bolshevik revolution, the city was renamed Stalino and finally called Donetsk in 1961.

A total of 7,000 people had voted by Sunday with 61 per cent voting to secede to Britain and a further 16 per cent voting to make the city an English-speaking autonomous region inside Ukraine.

“We demand a referendum on the return to Yuzovka to its original bosom – a part of Great Britain,” the preamble declared. “Glory to John Hughes and his town. God Save the Queen.”

I read in Colin Thomas’s book on Hughesovka / Stalino / Donetsk, Dreaming a City, that the name “Stalino” preceded the era when everything was named after Stalin, and initially was intended to identify the town with its main industry, steel.

How fracking affects what is happening in Ukraine and Russia

“Natural gas was the origin of the crisis in Ukraine. It is in Russia’s interest to keep Ukraine and Europe hooked on Russian gas at prices just low enough to quash incentives to drill and frack for shale gas. Russia’s state-run news and propaganda outlets have for years disseminated articles critical of fracking and supported opponents of the technique. Now with Yanukovich gone it’s as if Putin has taken the Crimea as a kind of hostage — collateral to hold against what Ukraine owes Russia for gas. The desperation of Putin’s actions underscore the threat that shale gas development really does pose to Russia’s gas-fueled diplomacy.”

Christopher Helman, Forbes.

A new book, called The Frackers, has come out on the issue of the shale-gas engineers and how they have succeeded despite, and not because of, state involvement. Al Gore or whoever might try and lay claim to have invented the internet but they certainly cannot do so with fracking. About the best that can be said of the role of government is that it sometimes upholds property rights necessary for said activity to go ahead.


Seen on a building site in cosmopolitan London…

building site putin

I saw this in a very affluent part of London, scrawled on the hoarding of a building site. One of the people working there saw me taking this picture and laughed.

Me: “I wonder who wrote that?”

Builder bloke, foreign accent:  “Many guys here are Polish.”

Me:  “One of them wrote this?”

Builder bloke, shrugging: “I guess.”

Me:  “Is this because of what is happening in Ukraine?”

Builder bloke:  “Yeah, Ukraine.  And because it’s true.  People forget, then something like this makes you remember what it is to live close to Russia.  My son is in Army.  Shit like this is why.”

Me: “Polish army?”

Builder bloke:  “Latvian army.”

A missed opportunity.

momlKiev, Ukraine. January 2013.

This rather extraordinarily monumental statue stands on top of (and forms part of) the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev, Ukraine. The monument is officially named “The Mother of the Fatherland” but (perhaps curiously) is more commonly referred to as “The Mother of the Motherland”, and (perhaps less curiously) is sometimes referred to colloquially as “Tin Tits”. The museum commemorates the Soviet victory of the Nazis in World War 2. Although people in most countries of the USSR have rather ambiguous (at best) feelings about their Soviet past, the victory over the Nazis is quite reasonably seen as a good thing, and memorials to the war are still generally looked after and treated with respect. The statue itself is 62 metres tall. Including the base and building it stands on, the statue is over 100 metres above the ground, making it one of the largest statues in the world.
The statue sits upon a high hill overlooking the Dnieper River from its right bank, towards Kiev’s endless Soviet era suburbs on the other side of the river.

Enormous as this statue is, it is actually less grandiose than an earlier proposal. In the 1950s, there were proposals to built twin statues of Lenin and Stalin side by side, each approximately 200 metres tall – each significantly higher than the Washington Monument. Thinking about this in the past, I have thought that these statues would have been unspeakable abominations, and that the Ukrainian people were extraordinarily lucky to merely have the current, modest structure instead of this.

kiev2Kiev, Ukraine. June 2009.

This evening, though, I am not so sure. Well, not entirely. Sure, they still would have been unspeakable abominations, but what a fine day today could have been had they been there. Imagine these gigantic statues of these evil men being pulled down, and the immense splash that they would have made as they fell from the top of the hill into the Dnieper, causing tsunami all the way to Dnipropetrovsk.

That would have been awesome.

Hungarian Prime Minister fights third duel this year

The year being 1913, of course.

The Times, 21 August 1913 p4

The Times, 21 August 1913 p4

The whole business seems to be a bit stylised although still dangerous.

Bulgaria loses the Second Balkan War

I do not claim to be an expert on the Balkan Wars which were fought in 1912 and 1913. If I understand correctly, in the First Balkan War Turkey was almost completely thrown out of Europe while in the second Bulgaria embarked upon a war of conquest and ended up with rather less than she’d started with.

The Times 23 July 1913 p8

The Times 23 July 1913 p8

The significance of all this, as Eric Sass points out, lay in how it altered Russia’s relationship with Serbia. Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria were Slavic states. Russia, being the biggest, wanted to be the leader. Serbia and Bulgaria, being small wanted Russian protection. So, when a dispute rose over the borders between them the two small states submitted their dispute to the big one. When Bulgaria failed to get what she wanted she went to war.

Defeat led to Bulgaria allying herself with Austria-Hungary while Russia responded by allying herself ever more closely with Serbia. Hence, perhaps, the robustness of Russia’s response to Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia in 1914.


Update For a while now I’ve been in the habit of linking to the whole page rather than just the article. This has been to give readers the chance to see what else was making the news at the time and, perhaps, to find something just as bloggable. Well, it appears Simon Gibbs has done just that.

Names can be complicated


There is, in this world, something called the Budweiser trademark dispute. The giant American brewery Anheuser-Busch produces a beer named Budweiser, an industrial mass produced lager that is not greatly revered by beer connoisseurs but which sells in large quantities, and a brewery called Budweiser Budvar Brewery in the Czech city of České Budějovice (Budweis in German) produces another beer called Budweiser, which is considered an excellent beer by most beer lovers. The two breweries have been fighting in courts throughout the world with respect who has the right to the name Budweiser ever since the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia. In some countries the Americans have won and the Czechs have had to find a different name, and in others the Czechs have won and the Americans have had to find a different name. In Britain the courts have made the eminently sensible ruling that both brewers can use the name and drinkers are smart enough to be able to tell the difference, but I don’t believe this has happened anywhere else.

Beer lovers are often sympathetic to the claims of Budvar, because the beer is better and because it actually come from Budweis, and this is therefore the “Original Budweiser”.

This is not really true, however. Anheuser-Busch started brewing the American Budweiser in 1876, due to the fact that the beers of Budweis were famous, including amongst German Americans. However, the Budvar brewery did not exist at that point. This brewery was not founded until 1895. At some point after that, they also started using the name Budweiser, possibly because the name had been given further fame by Anheuser-Busch. At least to some extent, the Czechs at Budvar may have started using the name because of the use of it by Anheuser-Busch, and not the other way round. Budvar was founded by ethnic Czechs, and the only reason they would have had for using a German name was that the German name had already been made famous by other brewers.

However, what of those earlier beers from Budweis, responsible for Anheuser-Busch starting to use the name? Well, there is another, much older, brewery in Budweis / Budějovický Budvar. This brewery, known as Budweiser Bürgerbräu until 1945, made beer in Budweis under the Budweiser name at least as early as 1802. It is almost certainly this company’s beers that Anheuser-Busch was copying when they started using the name “Budweiser”. This brewery was run by ethnic Germans from its founding until 1945, after which it was taken over by ethnic Czechs and de-germanised. The brewery is now called Budějovický měšťanský pivovar, which is a precise Czech translation of its original name. When de-germanisation took place, the brewery ceased using German words and names, including “Budweiser” (it regained some interest in using them post-1989). However, this brewery has by far the strongest claim that it produces the beer that is the original Budweiser.

That said, the trademark battles between the other two, larger companies have been so ferocious that Budějovický měšťanský pivovar has stayed clear of them, despite apparently having a stronger claim to the name than either of them. The brewery is quite a substantial one, and produces a significant quantity of (excellent) beer. It sells the beer under a variety of names including Crystal, Samson, B.B. Bürgerbräu, Boheme 1795, and more. It only uses the word “Budweiser” in places where trademark law is weak.

This is why I took the above photo, in Tbilisi in Georgia last month. It was certainly not the first time I had consumed beer from the brewery that actually gave us Budweiser, but it was the first time I had ever seen beers from that brewery actually using the word. It is not the most prominent word on the label, perhaps, but it is still prominently there.