"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Sunset of European Empires

Hard though it may be to believe, we are fast coming on the centenary of the outbreak of what would come to be known as World War I, an event that, arguably, was the most consequential of the twentieth century and the most unnecessary.  In its aftermath, the map of Europe would be dramatically redrawn as the Russian, Ottoman, and Habsburg empires all collapsed. (The British Empire would take a little longer, and a Second World War, before it was dismantled, a story told in a book I just finished: Richard Toye, Churchill's Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made.) The dissolution of those empires would have dramatic consequences for many Eastern Christians, especially in Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Boundaries would be drawn and re-drawn, new countries created, and old countries resurrected at, and in the aftermath, of the Paris Peace Conference, a story magnificently told in Margaret MacMillan's hugely interesting and entertaining Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.

The collapse of most of Europe's empires after 1918 is told in a forthcoming book: Omer Bartov and Eric Weitz, eds., Shatterzone of Empires: Coexistence and Violence in the German, Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands (Indiana U Press, 2013), 544pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Shatterzone of Empires is a comprehensive analysis of interethnic relations, coexistence, and violence in Europe's eastern borderlands over the past two centuries. In this vast territory, extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea, four major empires with ethnically and religiously diverse populations encountered each other along often changing and contested borders. Examining this geographically widespread, multicultural region at several levels--local, national, transnational, and empire--and through multiple approaches--social, cultural, political, and economic--this volume offers informed and dispassionate analyses of how the many populations of these borderlands managed to coexist in a previous era and how and why the areas eventually descended into violence. An understanding of this specific region will help readers grasp the preconditions of interethnic coexistence and the causes of ethnic violence and war in many of the world's other borderlands both past and present.

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