Spain and the Roman Catholic Church


Gustavo Pazo


“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Matthew 28:19-20 RSVCE

No state has ever taken the instruction to spread Christianity around the world, and served the Catholic Church, as devoutly as the Spanish. The greatest Briton of all time, Sir Winston Churchill, referred to 16thcentury Spain as “the mightiest empire that had been seen since Roman times.” However, along with the comparison in terms of power, it also had the most influential role to play since the Romans in the spread of Christianity, and in the strengthening and growth of the Catholic Church. If Rome served as the solid foundational feet for the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church; Spain acted as the far-reaching hands with which its influence expanded throughout the world, from the Americas to the Far East.

Spain as we know it today has existed since 1492, when the united (through marriage) kingdoms of Castile and Aragon completed the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from Islamic rule, with the surrender of the Emirate of Granada. The unity of the kingdom ever since, was guaranteed by loyalty to the Crown; the common business of Empire; and a shared identity as faithful servants of the Church. An identity which both the monarchy and church saw fit to promulgate, as evidenced by the fact that its first rulers were bestowed by the Pope in 1494 the title of “Catholic Monarchs of Spain”, and are still to this day remembered by it.

Internally the Spanish Crown, concerned with their salvation, gave the Church, and later through the Inquisition, free reign to crush infidels and heretics alike in whichever way they saw fit; including with the use of torture. Conversion or expulsion from Spain was the best possible deal a non-Catholic could have wished for when considering others faced execution if found guilty of heresy. Externally, not only was the Church an integral part of their colonisation policy, it directed its foreign policy in Europe. As the Lutheran Reform began to threaten the power and influence of the Church, Spanish priests and theologians led the offensive of the Counter-Reformation at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), providing clarity in the formulation of an eloquent defence in favour of the Catholic Church and many of its practices and beliefs. In the words of historian Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo the council was “as Spanish as it was ecumenical.” Men like Diego Laynez, Alfonso Salmerón, and Melchor Cano strongly rejected the Protestant notions of predestination and justification by faith alone, and instead argued in favour of free will, ratification of the sacraments, the existence of purgatory, the hierarchy of the Church, and “Sacred Tradition” as an equal source of revelation to Sacred Scripture, among other points of dogma.

Throughout the 16th century, and until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Spanish armies loyal to their devout monarchs, joined the struggles in defence (and on behalf) of the Church against Protestantism, and were made to spill their blood throughout the Continent. From Flanders to France and the German states, during the Thirty and the Eighty Year’s Wars, thousands of Spanish men including the famous and feared tercios, took to the battlefields to enforce the teachings of Rome. Their sacrifices saw the return of France as a Roman Catholic state in 1589. Still, some sacrifices were never repaid; the previous year the Spanish Armada had endured the loss of some 15,000 men at sea in an attempt to restore Catholic rule on the English throne, and with the signing of peace in 1648, Holland became independent from Habsburg rule and became another majorly protestant sovereign state.

In what perhaps is its greatest contribution to the history of the West, and the world, Spanish ships led by Christopher Columbus expanded the seas and land of the known world when they reached the Americas in 1492 and opened the door for the cross-Atlantic contact of civilizations. When Spain was then granted papal authority in 1493 to take possession of the newfound lands, this was done on the basis that theirs would be an evangelising mission, seeking to convert the natives who inhabited those lands into followers of Christ and the Church. Over a relatively small number of years, Spanish conquistadors brought the local populations of the West Indies, including the locally powerful Aztec and Incan Empires, under the rule of the Spanish Crown and the teachings of the Church. Wherever the armies went, priests and friars followed, to carry out the mission that had been given to them. In 1521 Ferdinand Magellan, who was sailing across the Pacific, claimed a group of islands southeast of China for the Spanish Empire and proceeded to literally plant a cross on one of them. In 1543, two of the islands were named after the Prince of Spain, and after he had ascended to the throne as Phillip II, the name was extended to the rest of the archipelago becoming the Philippine islands, modern day Philippines. The legacy of the Spanish there can be seen today because Filipinos not only retained many Spanish words in their dialog; they also conserved the religion given to them during their colonial period, making them the second largest Christian state in Asia, and the largest Catholic in the region.

Spanish priests were not only vital in expanding the Catholic Church by preaching to new converts in the colonies, they were also responsible for the formation of many prominent Catholic orders and institutions. For instance, Domingo Félix de Guzmán formed the Order of Preachers, known as the Dominican Order; an order from which prominent Catholics have come from and whose members include Thomas Aquinas, author of the Summa Theologiae and the Summa contra gentiles; Francisco de Vitoria, forerunner of modern international law for his formulation of the rights of Amerindians; and Bartolomé de las Casas, himself a staunch critic of Spanish colonisation policy. A legacy which includes the introduction and propagation of the Rosary; and the honour of having produced five different Popes. Ignatius of Loyola on the other hand, founded the Society of Jesus. Known as the Jesuits, and with an emphasis on missionary work, members such as Francisco Xavier travelled as far as Japan to deliver the message of the Church and were leading figures in the expansion of the Christianity in Asia. The fruit of their work and that of Spain can be seen today reflected in the fact that the current Pope is the first one to be a Jesuit, the first from the Americas (Argentina), and the first from the Southern hemisphere. More recently, in 1928 Josemaría Escrivá founded Opus Dei as an organization designed to be predominantly composed of lay Catholics. Its mission is to share with others, through the example of its members, that a life of Christian holiness does not require direct service to the Church as a nun or priest. Today it is an expanding institution with members located all around the world.

Today the Catholic Church has just under 1.3 billion followers globally. About 48.6% of them live in the Americas, and 483 million of them in Latin America, which was predominantly ruled by Spain. Three of the five countries with the largest Christian populations today are located in the Americas (U.S, Brazil, Mexico), and two of the five were directly administered by the Spanish before gaining their independence (Mexico and Philippines), both overwhelmingly Catholic.

Scholars continue struggling to reach a consensus on the reasons for the decline and collapse of the Spanish Empire, which reached its zenith on the 16th century, but began its decline somewhere along the 17th, before reaching rock bottom in 1898 with a crisis which saw the loss of the Cuban, Puerto Rican and Philippine possessions. Both major Spanish accounts of their own history, however, agree that the Church had a role to play in it. Liberal accounts of the decline largely argue that the blinding devotion to the Catholic faith, and the dark wing of the Spanish Inquisition shut the nation out from the light which broke throughout the rest of Europe and consequentially left the nation behind; blissfully submerged in its outdated ways while the rest of the world moved in the other direction towards Enlightenment. On the opposite side, conservatives tend to emphasise the growing levels of corruption brought about by its own success, and the loss of morality, of faith, and of the shared sense amongst Spaniards that theirs was a holy mission, towards a common destiny, and for a greater cause, as reasons for the collapse.

Nevertheless, the essence of the Spanish nation, for as long as it has been one, was never best affirmed than in the romantically immortal words of Menéndez y Pelayo: “Spain, evangeliser of half of the globe; hammer of heretics, light of Trent, sword of Rome, cradle of Saint Ignatius; that is our greatness and our unity; we know no other.”

You Don’t Hate Mondays, You Hate the Modern World

Culture, History

Tom Érglis

“How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life. This is our modern danger one of the waxen wings of flight. It may cause our civilization to fall unless we act quickly to counteract it, unless we realize that human character is more important than efficiency, that education consists of more than the mere accumulation of knowledge.” – Charles Lindbergh

I work for a department store, mainly in inventory management however sometimes I’m asked to go downstairs as a customer assistant. This usually involves offering help, being told by the customer they don’t need it and then I resume straightening up mugs.

Strolling through our toys and even clothing sections made me reflect on the waste society that capitalism has produced. All around me in toys were plastics. In homewares there were hundreds of the same mugs just with different prints on them. I knew we had hundreds more of everything on the sales floor upstairs too. Who buys all this shit? It turns out according to an ABC article published in November that we are shopping as if in the midst of economic crisis. Though it sounds strange, I think this is good news.

Unfortunately, this spending pattern is the result of economic pressures being put on families which I obviously do not endorse. I am hoping that this slump in sales sends a message to the big stores that people will not be buying random trinkets. I am also hoping that this attitude will continue after the economy improves.

It is important to acknowledge capitalist economies have functioned for a millennium without the scale of waste that we see today. It is only because of advancements in production and competition (supposedly the great selling points of capitalism) that we are in the present predicament.

Capitalism functions in a vicious cycle. A person works, often in a job they don’t enjoy and to generate money for a place they don’t really care about to receive a portion of the capital which is imbursed into another company for products to distract them from the numbing processes of modernism. As production and purchasing of goods becomes more a part of our lives this numbing effect is only amplified.

In the last century before supermarkets and shopping centres, even the poorest child had one or two toys that would last them a lifetime (usually their lack of wealth meant they made sure the toys WOULD last a long time). These were often hand-crafted by skilled workers and distributed from the very place they were made, by the maker. There was never any need to create high speed, high efficiency production of these toys because there was no market for that. Toys weren’t something you threw away. They were cherished and passed down not because you grew tired of them but because you appreciated the skill it took to create, and the memories it stored. Will a Tickle Me Elmo™ Global Conglomerate Edition Faux Fur Toy™ ever be looked on the same? How does the toy made by slave labour in the Guangzhou Toy Factory #305 make you feel compared to the meticulous craft made by the little toy shop down the road run by the same family for generations? This doesn’t just apply to toys of course, but toys are the best example of things that are nowadays often enjoyed briefly then discarded. We can talk about cars which used to be made of metal instead of plastic composites. When a dent in the side door back then was as expensive to fix as just buying a whole new car, people tended to look after those things. Leather interiors are only recently ‘extras’. A few decades ago, they were standard. How could we afford to make cars in Australia years ago out of quality materials by skilled labourers, but now Holden has to close when all they did was assemble parts from overseas? Shouldn’t the process have become cheaper and more efficient? It would seem not.

Sometimes when I go to the baby toys section of our store there are toys that make obnoxious amounts of noise and almost leap at you from the shelf without even touching them. I’m convinced that this has nothing to do with its function as a toy, but more to do with the way the company demands a consumer’s attention and thus increases the products chances of being purchased. The time when a toy manufacturer was passionate about their craft has been replaced with the need to make as much money as possible by whatever means.

The competition of capitalism can be critiqued very simply in this context. If you make objects constantly available, advertising that penetrates through constant exposure and produce them at such a scale where a person is commanded to try the competition a person will become stuck in an infinite cycle of having an inferior product and be constantly reminded of this state. This breeds jealousy, envy, want and other vices that separate a person from society.

“The modern world has invented a thousand useless luxuries and turned them into necessities; It has created a thousand vicious appetites and satisfies none of them; It has de-throned God and created a shekel in His place” – Mark Twain

Whilst competition that promotes advancements makes life easier, it doesn’t make the process ethical. And making life easier does not necessarily equate to making life more fulfilling.

Returning to the words by Mr Lindbergh that prefaced this article, the overarching quality of humanity is its character. There is no character in the modern day, and I fear the time when civilization has fallen that he warned of has already passed.

Those who have read up to this point could accuse me of being a Marxist. I wish to clarify that I am just as happy to abuse that point of view as I am capitalism, but I can’t help but give Marx some credit. He foresaw that there would come a time when unrestricted capitalism would mean that an employee cannot even afford the products of capitalism, thus the whole system can no longer be maintained. The first things to go will be those stupid mugs, I hope.

Arts, culture, music, architecture and science are all vitally important to character. Art that excites and inspires, culture that is shared yet unique, music which is the rhythm of life and science which is not raw and purely rational but asks questions that sometimes can’t even be answered.

So how do we break free? What is the point of this wall of text? The answer is, I really don’t know. It’s a personal thing to confront and I hope this article has planted the seeds of thinking about how to deal with modernity. Rejecting materialism is a good first step, especially as we see the effects of mass production and consumption being wreaked upon the planet. Next, I would suggest connecting more with the community. The same joy can be brought out of the smallest act of kindness than any object can provide. Finally, explore something higher than yourself and of course higher than the material. Art, culture, religion and reading are all great avenues. Even visiting a park with friends can have a great impact on your mental wellbeing and it’s totally free. You’ll notice in moments of joy shared with other people how quickly your worries disappear. The goal of modernism which is becoming increasingly clear is to create a world full of people whose only thought is work and negative play (e.g. recreation that seeks to mitigate the effects of work, not enhance the human experience). For the sake of our future, do not go blindly into this fate.

Everyone dies, but not everyone lives.” – William Wallace

What Are We Celebrating?

Australia, History, Politics

Toby Caro

It is January 24 and the annual outrage of two days’ time is burning expectedly hot. Conversation is stained with the vitriol of disagreement as people condemn each other before they listen to a word.

The usual debate surrounding Australia day is between staunch conservatives who relish the tradition of the celebration, and indigenous voices decrying the hypocrisy of cherry-picking choice parts of colonial history. The contemporary Australia Day represents a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and such passionate points of view are not easily reconciled.

There is no doubt that it is ridiculous to presume a legitimate and continuous government can celebrate an historic event in part. Things happen and they need to be taken for what they are.

Similarly, it is important to recognise that there are indigenous people indifferent to January 26, apathetic to the celebration, or wholly and genuinely disinterested. There are also many white Australians very quick to appropriate such outrage and laud their own position as a herald of virtue.

That is not to say that there is not a significant population whereby Australia Day 2020 represents anything except pain, violence and exclusion.

Passing over what January 26 means now, with our multitude of retrospectively applied ideas, what does the date actually represent?

To be frank, on January 26, 1788, ‘Australia’ did not exist. For many indigenous, it marked the beginning of their subjugation. For many white arrivals it marked the beginning of their forced exile. There is nothing to celebrate.

The first use of the term ‘Australia,’ an abbreviation of Terra Australis, did not occur at least until the early 19th century, the concept of a nation emerged further on still, and incrementally at that.

It is not unreasonable to trace the birth of the modern government to January 26, but to think this was the dawn of modern Australia is unquestioningly naïve.

The Australian value of a ‘fair go’ was first forged around Ballarat in 1854.

Australian political institutions like the secret ballot and the popular vote emerged in the middle of the 19th century.

The Harvester judgement of 1907 enshrined ideas of community and egalitarianism into common law, and World War 1 saw the international broadcast of Australian mate-ship as the ANZAC Digger.

The White Australia Policy was not properly dismantled until 1973.

The Mabo land rights decision was not handed down until 1992, and constitutional indigenous recognition remains unfulfilled.

Australia was not even federated as its own country until the twentieth century.

There is virtue in symbolism. But January 26 is no symbol. It represents a British colony of violence and division.

In contrast, the American reverence of the fourth of July, is likewise marked by the irony of its history (of liberation and slavery), but suffers considerably less twenty-first century malice. This is because it actually serves to stand as a reasonable idea. The values that it captures are timeless, and are capable of evolving alongside society. Whilst it is important to remember and to recognise the history that surrounds it, Independence Day can be positively celebrated in the modern world.

This is not the case for Australia Day. Outside of our dominion status, January 26 does not represent a single aspect of modern Australia, or its values. Reactionary claims of tradition almost exclusively stem from ignorance, indignation or insecurity.

Our national celebration should not be annually characterised by such violent disagreement built on such tenuous arguments. Australia Day is a terrific celebration, on an absurd date, and to attest otherwise is to deliberately not recognise the historical oxymoron of its title.

The Spectacular Success of Seleucus, the Great Opportunist

Culture, History

Spiridon Raikos

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, his empire, which covered land all the way from what is now Albania to the edge of the Indian subcontinent, was split among his generals. These generals, known as the Diadochi, were to wage wars over Alexander’s territories that would characterise the next fifty years, and mark the beginning of what was known as the ‘Hellenistic period’ – the time when Greek influence over the Mediterranean and West/Central Asian world was at its peak. One of those generals in particular, and his rise to power, is worth our attention, if only because it demonstrates the enormous role of opportunism throughout history.

Seleucus I Nicator arguably had the most illustrious career of the Diadochi. In 315 BCE, initially having lost his satrapy and military to Antigonus Monophthalmus (a rival king and Diadochi), he would through the years of war come to regain his seat in Babylon and then rise to be one of the most powerful rulers in the ancient world. At its peak, the Seleucid Empire spanned territory from the western coast of Asia Minor to the Indus River, and was a testament to the monumental victories Seleucus had achieved. Given his unexpected ascent to power and prominence in the history of the Wars of the Diadochoi, the degree of Seleucus’ agency and fortune is a topic of great debate. Yet, his career clearly indicates a tendency toward opportunism.

Seleucus was an opportunist, not a long-term schemer, drawing upon key milestones in his rise to prominence such as his role in the murder of the Diadochi Perdiccas and subsequent promotion to satrap of Babylonia at Triparadeisus, his conflict with Antigonus (another Diadochi), and his flight from Babylon. Seleucus had seized opportunities out of both fortunes and misfortunes, and never had any sort of long-term plan.

The impressive rise of Seleucus I Nicator is made ever more so when considering his rather less prominent occupation during the campaign of Alexander in Asia. He is first mentioned in antiquity regarding his actions in the Indian campaign of Alexander’s conquests, as commander of the Hyspaspists, an elite infantry unit. Unlike the other successors, Seleucus was not one of Alexander’s primary generals. His rise to prominence occurred only after Alexander’s death, and over the course of years in the emerging power struggle among the successors. His first major position was as Perdiccas’ chiliarch, second-in-command to the appointed regent – up until his role in Perdiccas’ murder on an ill-fated Egyptian campaign. He was appointed satrap of Babylon as a result by the treaty of Triparadeisus, having made gains from his assassination of Perdiccas. In 316 BCE however, he lost his position due to a dispute with Antigonus, forcing Seleucus to flee for his life to Egypt under the protection of Ptolemy, another one of Alexander’s successors. While Seleucus’ power was limited during this period, his influence could be felt in his use as a propaganda tool by the other successors opposed to Antigonus. Seleucus, over the course of the struggle against Antigonus would regain his seat in Babylon and from there ascend to be one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful kings of Alexander’s successor kingdoms – his new ‘Seleucid Empire’ stretching at its height from the western coast of Asia Minor to the north-west of India. This spectacular rise from complete nobody to indomitable leader begs the question – was Seleucus’ ascension part of a long running scheme, or did he simply grab any opportunity he could reach, and get lucky?

The key events of Seleucus’ adult life involve the murder of his general Perdiccas and the resulting treaty of Triparadeisus, which gave him his position as satrap of Babylonia. It would be easy to claim his prominent role in Perdiccas’ murder proves that Seleucus had a constant plan from the beginning: but the general’s death was the result of a mutiny by dissatisfied troops, and Seleucus had joined on a pre-existing conspiracy against the regent’s life along with two other officers, Peithon and Antigenes. The apparent motivation for the assassination of Perdiccas (according to extant, if incomplete, historical evidence) was the regent’s ill-fated campaign in Egypt against Ptolemy, who had challenged Perdiccas’ authority, which subsequently lead to war. Ptolemy’s dissent against Perdiccas’ regency was not exactly a unique position, however, as the latter sought absolute control; his claims as guardian of Alexander’s interests conflicted with the fact that Alexander’s widow, Roxana, was pregnant and could potentially give birth to a male heir,

In historian David Braund’s analysis of these events, Perdiccas also rejected the claims of another possible heir, Herakles, son of Barsine and said to be Alexander’s son (though illegitimate) so Perdiccas’ denial of this claim is reasonable given the importance of Alexander’s blood. Ptolemy also suggested the empire be ruled by the successor generals as a joint council, which would undermine Perdiccas’ authority as regent. Perdiccas had thusly made enemies, and in 320 BCE he would face his downfall when the campaign against Ptolemy resulted in disaster. According to Diodorus Siculus, more than two thousand of his men, including some prominent commanders, were killed, prompting dissatisfaction that lead to mutiny. The resulting mutiny led to his assassination, the details of which are not fully known; Peithons’ involvement is recorded by Diodorus Siculus, with the implication that Antigenes led the coup, and Seleucus is mentioned in passing.

Seeing that Seleucus is given less attention in this event and is not the leader, it is hard to imagine this being somehow part of a grand power play. Perdiccas’ actions both in regards to the other Diadochoi and his failure in leading his troops to victory were unpredictable, and thus it would be safer to assume Seleucus was acting on opportunity. The following regent, Antipater, nearly met the same fate as Perdiccas at Triparadeisus, and would have succumbed had Seleucus not had joined with Antigonus to quell the mutiny. It would be strange to think that Seleucus’ plot involved an alliance with someone so unsuccessful, whose views actively contradicted those of the other Diadochoi (especially Ptolemy). It also makes little sense to believe that Seleucus was merely continuing his role in service of Alexander’s military – with Perdiccas at first, then acting as the representative of Alexander’s will until the appearance of a suitable heir. Seleucus’ role in the assassination seems more driven by dissatisfaction with Perdiccas’ leadership than by adherence to some grand plan for ascendancy.

The other key event precipitating Seleucus’ rise was his loss of the satrapy of Babylon in 315 BCE, leading to his reconquest of the same satrapy and the subsequent establishment of the Seleucid Dynasty. Seleucus’ first period as satrap began from 321 BCE, but due to conflict with Antigonus, he was forced to abandon his posting in 315 BCE. The roots of Seleucus’ conflict with Antigonus are found in Antigonus’ own rise to power, particularly in Antigonus’ symbolic acts, and his possession of the royal army (a significant military force) enabling him to take on rival satrap Eumenes, with Seleucus’ aid. Contemporary historians believe the principle source of conflict between the two satraps was the power vacuum left in Alexander’s wake – the account most supported by ancient evidence. According to Appian, conflict between Antigonus and Seleucus began when Seleucus insulted one of the latter’s officers in his presence, without consulting Antigonus first, a great public offense. Antigonus responded by demanding to see Seleucus’ accounts. Appian makes no mention of exactly how Seleucus responded here, but describes Seleucus fleeing Babylon, knowing that he could not openly fight Antigonus.

Diodorus Siculus, our other primary source, describes Seleucus’ response in more detail: Seleucus chided Antigonus, stating that the satrap had no authority to investigate Seleucus’ administration, and his position was his by right, a reward from Macedonia for his loyalty to Alexander. Seleucus subsequently travelled to Egypt and allied himself with Ptolemy. His new role as a propaganda tool, while it lacked actual agency, led to a coalition of the remaining Diadochoi against Antigonus, consisting of Ptolemy, Cassander, and Lysimachus.

Assuming Seleucus had planned his ascension, it would be difficult to comprehend his rise as a careful plot, by him or any other actor in this time, when Ptolemy had allegedly only given him ‘eight hundred foot-soldiers and about two hundred horses’, according to Diodorus, though Appian cites only a thousand foot soldiers and three hundred cavalry. Details of his extant military forces greatly enhance Seleucus’ characterization as an opportunist. No matter which primary source is consulted, Seleucus lacked the requisite forces for a recapture of Babylon. It may also be the case that Ptolemy rewarded him only in passing, clearly keeping larger forces for his own aims and giving a little to spare once Seleucus was no longer of any use to him.

Standing up against Antigonus in 315 BCE on account of personal pride and issues with Antigonus’ authority and being forced to run to Ptolemy, only to be given practically nothing in the way of military might as a token reward after years assisting Ptolemy is not the best plan one could conceive of if one were making long-term plans to become the next king of Alexander’s empire.

To say the least.

With this puny military might, however, Seleucus did manage to retake Babylon from Antigonid control in 311 BCE. Diodorus explains that Seleucus hoped for local Babylonian support, given their warm reception to him in his time as satrap: yet, as a result of his initially small force, Seleucus was required to raise their morale first. He allegedly accomplished this by appealing to Alexander’s success as the results of experience and skill: both attributes also associated with Seleucus due to his extensive military experience. Seleucus as an opportunist here appears to be the best way to explain his actions – he appears to understand his strength in military experience is the most expedient tool, and it was more expedient to convince the locals of that fact that than carefully planning and raising an army somewhere else.

Seleucus saw victory after victory (other than a single defeat against Indian king Chandragupta Maurya), and his empire wasestablished in 312 BCE, not to fall until the Roman conquest in 63 BCE. This impressive rise to power is a testament to his skill as a commander, and his ability to take advantage of misfortunes which occurred to him, and perhaps of his personal fortune as well – but it is not evidence of his skill at long-term planning. His role in Perdiccas’ assassination was not as leader – he merely latched onto something that existed long before him, and came out on top. He was given Babylon, but had never planned for it, and so his undiplomatic refusal to acquiesce to Antigonus’ demands to investigate his administration escalated to the point of outright hostility. His service under Ptolemy gave him nearly nothing in return, but Seleucus was able to make use of his few resources anyway. His is an empire that began with the grasping of opportunity, with chance, like so many others.

The Fetish: A History, A Future, and Why You Can’t Survive Without One

History, Philosophy

Peter Calos

On the first of October, in 2013, a man revealed anonymously to the internet that he had a deeply-held and obsessive fetish for the state of Ohio.

His story was as follows:

He lived in Ohio, and was intensely interested in hunting, in the geography and history of the state; enough to read an obscure book by a longhunter (a hunter who typically embarks on elongated excursions, some lasting for as long as six months). This book concerned the fault lines around the Ohio Valley River, and the author was a local, who he quickly managed to contact and befriend. This author happened to lead a hobbyist group that would often embark on hunting trips near the valley. Our protagonist was encouraged to come on one of the trips in question, where he was led into an obscure forest near the Ohio River. Once there, the members of the hiking party encouraged him to take several unidentifiable pills, and he experienced audio-visual hallucinations while the leader of the troop spoke about the history of the land and performed sexual acts in front of him.

Emerging from the experience, the man found he had acquired a…shall we say, a ‘certain taste’ for the fault-lines and specific geological features of Ohio.

This story, posted on 4chan slightly under six years ago, is almost certainly not true.

Yet it raises the question of how our interactions with and ideas of the fetish have changed over time. What is the origin of this idea, of attraction to a physical object? The etymology? Its conception over time? How should we consider the ‘fetish’ in modern society?

Tracing terms

The term ‘fetish’ first rears its head in 16th and 17th century travelogues, written by European traders journeying as far as their supplies and superstitions allowed into West Africa. Common parlance has it that the term ‘fetish’ refers to a small wooden idol, worshiped as a god by African tribesmen; Portuguese traders from the 15th century originally distinguished between a feitico (an object worn on the body and used in rituals) versus an idolo (a medium of worship). Collation of the terms was a European generalisation.

As the concept became more widespread, the colonialists’ impression of the fetish developed into an object that obstructed the natural path of commerce, it being a valueless piece typically composed of wood, stone, or bone, which captivated its owner despite its complete lack of monetary value.

Introductions of the fetish to Western intellectuals were fraught with travellers’ preconceptions of fetishes as primitive African misunderstandings of the universe. Their belief that devotion to a physical object could change the natural state of the world, bring prosperity to the unfortunate, or curse a particularly offensive person was a ridiculous idea to a culture that had already long accepted monotheism and the idea of an incorporeal god.

And this was also a culture that had only relatively recently recovered from the cultural shock of Protestantism, which had raised the following questions:

  1. What to do with physical representations of divinity
  2. How to accept that the Catholic power structure was both necessary to uphold social values, and also irredeemably corrupted by centuries of selling relics and indulgences.

Discrimination from a Christian world followed fetishists (If I may be allowed to use the term in an anachronistic context) in West Africa and in the Haitian colonies, on account of the association with witchcraft, sorcerous acts, and the deception of others through perceived tribal fakery. These tensions were compounded by the efforts of the West Africans to resist their oppressors with highly effective poisons. The use of fetishes had become yet another aspect of the ‘barbarian’ image the West had of her colonies.

In 1757, a French philosopher (Charles de Brosse) coined the term ‘Fetichisme’ to describe “the religious delusion that blocks recognition of rational self-interest and social order.” This description signposts two aspects of the European mindset: it is both an evolution of the Portuguese traders’ conception of the fetish as a useless trinket clogging up the market with inflated, non-extant value, and it is also an evolution of the idea that the fetish is an obsession, something that cannot be disregarded on a whim or bought or sold in the first place.

Fetishism abstracted: 19th century Europe

The backdrop of the late 19th century: European imperialism, contrasting the civility of a Europe which was being torn apart by politics and economic depression (the Austro-Hungarian Empire) with the brutal reality of colonial oppression. What Belgium had done in the Congo, and Germany in Southwest Africa, was widespread knowledge, to say nothing of the position of African-Americans in the United States.

Fetishism as a concept had become abstracted from its roots in totem worship, and had veered off wildly into two directions:

Commodity: Karl makes his Mark(s)

Commodity fetishism finds its roots in Karl Marx’s writings. In creating his labour theory of value, Marx conspicuously neglects a quite obvious source thereof: black slaves. In Marx, the slave is not a commodity, or a productive entity, or even a person: he is a ‘pedestal’, an object lacking agency, whose work is absorbed into Marx’s equations as part of the socially autonomous white labour force. In Marx’s work, the African slave is a demonstrative example for the plight of the European wage-worker, not an object in himself.

Yet the great irony of Marx’s attitude towards the fetishists is that his labour theory of value was itself a framework to be applied to the world in the absence of real evidence, something to be ideally taken in faith and acted upon by a unified proletariat. In other words, his work was written for the sake of creating a framework to judge the world by and act accordingly, which is the same principle as the African priests with their fetishes. Marx, being Jewish and downwardly mobile in class terms, was in a decidedly poor position within his own framework, and so must have considered the subjection of African culture to Europe to be in his personal interest (adding the Africans to the ‘ladder’ of European class would have brought him, relatively, one rung higher).

Commodity fetishism: when producers and consumers perceive one another in value terms, as mere creators or purchasers of value, rather than people. Economic relations abstract the reality of a given situation, hide the cruelty of the capitalist towards the worker through market-oriented language. In other words, in Marx, the ‘fetish’ is an obscurant; an obsessive, religious framework that conceals the truth of the world.

Sexual Fetishism:

The first person to coin the term sexual fetishism was the French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857-1911), who was also the progenitor of the first IQ test. Binet established the belief, popular among contemporary psychoanalysts, that a fetish was established as a result of an associative process, a lasting after-effect of a sexually-charged first impression. Following in his wake was the Austrian Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902), whose exhaustive book of sexual pathology, the Psychopathia Sexualis, challenged many pre-existing ideas on the formation and classification of perversions. The book was considered an essential resource for 19th century psychologists.

Krafft-Ebing retained the idea of perversions as functional sexual deviations which arose during puberty and declined after 40. He also wrote about individual fetishes in a distinctly gendered manner, referring to sadism and lustful murder as excessively manly, while masochism was excessively effeminate. Masturbation, in Krafft-Ebing’s view, was a key component in causing a fetish to appear.

He differed from his progenitors, however, in asserting that fetishes were mainly brought into being by hereditary tendencies, ‘taintedness’ in the family line which led to imbalances between inhibition and sexual instinct. This instinct was aggravated by stimulation, but not caused by it. Like Binet, Krafft-Ebing believed that a specific fetish was caused by the association of an object with inborn sexuality.

His most important deviation from the contemporary consensus, however, was the new conception of a fetish as not the result of degeneracy, a weak anatomy, or weak will, but as an intrinsic part of a person’s psychological composition, inseparable from that person. This more liberal perspective allowed him to then separate actions from psychological states – ‘perversions’ from ‘perversities’. “In order to differentiate between disease (perversion) and vice (perversity) one must investigate the whole personality of the individual and the original motive leading to the perverse act. Therein will be found the key to the diagnosis.” Perversion was now separated in the popular consciousness from immorality and crime, and thoroughly individualised.

One cannot avoid Freud.

In his first three essays on the subject, Freud simply summarised and regurgitated the views of his predecessors. Then came disparity: according to Freud, the sexual norm (attraction to a mature member of the opposite sex) was a perversion in itself, in the sense that the disposition towards perversion was common enough to overlap with sexual norms, and thus formed a part of sexual normalcy. In simpler terms, perversions existed, and were defined in much the same terms as Krafft-Ebing and his adherents, but they were universal. Childhood sexual proclivity was perversity to Freud because it always had the potential to veer off into any fetish as a consequence of a formative sexual experience.

In 1927, after having delved deeper into his psychological studies, Freud returned to the concept of fetishism, and redefined it as a result of traumatic childhood experience. Such a radical idea was a point of contention between Freud and other psychologists and contemporary sexologists, but this and other differences largely rose from a difference in objectives: Freud was sceptical about the possibility of ‘curing’ the perverted, while the main body of European psychoanalysts considered themselves medical workers. This was what distinguished psychoanalysts of the 20th century from sexologists: a focus on treatment versus research.

Fetish as Universal Phenomenon

‘Sexology’ became an accepted and well-defined intellectual discipline around the turn of the 20th century. This discipline was politicised in the sense that it dealt with power relations and the representation of deviants – the founder of the first sexological journal, Magnus Hirschfeld, defined sexology as a ‘progressive science’. His findings supported this definition: sexual deviation was not pathological or dangerous to society on a wider scale. A second founder of the discipline, the American Henry Havelock Ellis, claimed that sexology should serve a primary role in the politics of sex reform, and tried to garner sympathy in particular for sexual inversion.

Historical and anthropological contexts were added to the study of sexology, to divorce it from the exclusive domain of psychoanalysis and to potentially gain a deeper understanding of sexual proclivities. The question for Iwan Bloch, a major figure in the field and the creator of the term ‘sexology’, was not the origin and treatment of fetishes, but the reason they had been repressed throughout most of human history, and why they continued to be repressed. Activism from these circles mainly focused on the legal reformation of anti-homosexual laws, even from those sexologists who believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder.

Henry Ellis argued that the phenomena central to perverted desire was closely related to socially accepted sexual norms, implying that fetishists were in fact closer to the sphere of ‘normality’ than people had previously believed. According to him, sexual desire existed on a bell curve, with the majority of society close to the mean and a relative handful of individuals located at the extreme ends. Yet all previous standards upheld from Krafft-Ebing’s time were not lost: Ellis considered exhibitionism a perversion of the courtship instinct, and considered excessive self-stimulation to have harmful side-effects.

Ellis found a receptive audience in the 20th century Americans; in part because his writing was less obsessed with theory than the typical German tract, in part because it was filled with examples of deviation. These details, released publicly in popular science books, were seen as a form of social amelioration for those who had previously been pathologised. Many American sexology books became bestsellers.

Some statistical arguments and biological arguments were used to reduce the stigma of the fetish: because much of the population had a fetish of some kind or another, according to sexological research, practices that were ostensibly deviations were in fact secretive norms. Many of the fetishes were also practiced by animals, meaning there existed a biological, or a natural basis for a fetish. The idea was at the time radical, and by no means an accepted perspective – but an extant one.

Well, what do you think it means?

Try the following experiment: run the gamut of 20th century anthropological attitudes on the fetish, as I have just outlined them, through the gauntlet of 1960s and 70s progressivism. The result is our contemporary conception of the fetish as something slightly scandalous, but mostly harmless, and usually privately admissible.

(One will forgive the lack of relative detail in this section; my assumption is that the layman is familiar with the liberalising tendency of the second half of the 20th century on various fields of the social sciences, and the reader is also aware of the liberating effect its socio-cultural movements had on the public consideration and expression of sexual deviance. There is little I could add to that understanding within the scope of this work. To return to our topic, the modern-day fetish…)

According to the ever-reliable Oxford dictionary, a fetish is now “a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc…an excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing.” The original meaning of the word as an object of African worship is now apologetically retained as an outdated secondary meaning.

Since it has become to a large degree secularised, in the sense that it no longer refers strictly to either the sexual meaning or the original religious meaning, the term is somewhat less charged in modern Western society.

With that in mind, and given that we appear to have run out of history to analyse, please allow me to delve into the realm of speculative philosophy, to create a prospective definition for the term ‘fetish.’


The term may be increasingly divorced from its overtly psychological meaning, and come to refer to something like the following:

“A specialisation undertaken for its own sake, a private interest (not reliant on anyone else sharing it for it to interest you) that serves as a framework through which you interpret the world. Or a ‘motivating framework’. Not something that exists in isolation, and not something that completely dominates the mind, but exists in tandem with a whole host of other specialities and interests. We might tentatively call a ‘worldview’ a ‘collection of fetishes.’”

This covers both the original divine spectrum of the word and the modern secular use.

Under this definition, the fetish can be considered a ‘god’ in the sense that it provides an underlying meaning and reason to act in the world, and as an artistic/creative endeavour.

  1. Fetish in divine terms

There is no reason to discount the original definition, since a fetish and a god are the same. There is a tie here between the idea of ‘god as fetish’ and ‘fetish as god’. Both contain the key to meaning: a solid bedrock, an unquestionable foundation through which to interpret the world. Unquestionable in the traditional sense due to superstition, certainly, but now also unquestionable from a secular viewpoint as a result of the time put into it, the hours of understanding gained from a lifetime of experience, and from the inability of even the most ardent postmodernist to discount that experience.

A fetish contains its own minuscule yet gargantuan world: within the area of a single art-form or of a profession is a universe-full of specialist terms, of ideas, a personal history relative to the history of everything outside of it, which may actually belie or contradict another fetish’s history in tone, if not in content. A fetish defines things.

An example. Ask a 21st century atheist what God is and he’ll likely reply with some variation on ‘a psychologically driven superstition’. None of the terms of religion or the practices thereof have any meaning for him. But a 12th century Frenchman believes that God is the underlying reason for everything, and the existence of his God – his fetish – is what allows him to define everything, understand abstract events. He can look at an assortment of religious tools, symbols, icons, and understand how they all fit into the overarching tapestry of Christian faith – what each piece means, what it’s used for and why. In other words, for the man with the belief, the man with the fetish, somewhat arbitrary practices have their own meaning and map onto the world in a very specific, specialist way.

To use a secular example, a chess player understands the reason each piece moves the way it does – because it’s an abstraction of a certain type of warrior on a battlefield.

The understanding of shared world history differs between a fetishist and a non-fetishist. The aforementioned 12th-century Frenchman considers the crucifixion of Jesus to be the supreme moment of salvation, the event around which the world turns, while the atheist would view it as merely another Jewish rebel being given a typical Roman punishment. To use a less dramatic example, consider ‘history’ as viewed by an art historian, versus someone whose chief focus is political history. A peaceful exchange of techniques, driven by outside factors which are not in themselves important – versus the history of those same factors.

Whoever lacks a fetish lacks meaning: all aspects of life assume an equally important, agnostic, characterless character, and the observer becomes a post-modern believer in nothing, immobilised, with only a casual interest in everything, unable to decide anything is more important than anything else. This is the fate of the fetish-less.

2. Fetish in artistic terms – what makes good art?

The fetish in regards to art is a combination, between the excessive focus outlined in my modern definition (specialisation for its own sake) and the Marxist idea of commodity fetish, or the uniquely sell-able product. A fetish is what distinguishes one piece of art—one product—from another. What people typically consider ‘good’ art is usually a piece with a strong, unique focus, where a specific theme is explored in unusual and interesting depth, as opposed to a poor work, where a theme is ignored, treated in a shallow manner, or used as window dressing for the sake of some irrelevant aspect of the work. In other words, good art is good because it caters to a specific fetish.


Whether my prediction for the future of the idea of ‘fetish’ is deluded or prophetic, out-of-order or the order of the day; whether the fetish will become an entirely secular, non-sexual concept again or whether the European psychologists have associated it with the carnal instinct beyond all recovery is not something I can tell you.

Take, as a final example, the excessive, fervent devotion of a frenzied, sexually frustrated acolyte for a religious icon, which promises to cure him of his shameful impurities: an icon which he is intent on purchasing. Here is the archetypal frustrated, embarrassed 15th century Christian, convinced by the Catholic church that he can indulge in his forbidden fantasies if he purchases the requisite volume of indulgences. In this man, every aspect of the term ‘fetish’ is combined into a focal point. It is at once an obsession, a commodity, a locus for his desires, and a thing that grounds his worldview and allows him to define his world relative to it. So, perhaps, the term will never lose its potency, as long as we have that example to draw upon.

Within the history of the fetish we encounter a history of cultural exchange, unwilling and purposeful, of rebellion, discrimination, of mental deficiency, of degeneracy, of religions lost to time. The fetish as object and the fetish as symbol of the mind have been collated in our modern understanding as a slavish fixation, something to obsess over and fascinate us forever, no matter the future.

Spain and the Indies: A Moral Issue


Gustavo Pazo

“The Empire on which the sun never sets” is a phrase often associated with Britain, given the overseas possessions it once held, and the dominance it projected over the rest of the world. What many ignore, is that the term originated in praise of another empire, one whose might, and intercontinental presence surpassed that of Britain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the Spanish Empire. Great care is needed when analysing history. A frequent mistake we tend to make when learning about it, is trying to judge the actions committed by men and women of other times according to our own rationale. We find it hard to distance ourselves from our current world, with its cultural, social and political perceptions, and hard to put ourselves in the shoes of a Christian man from 1095 in the case of the crusade, or more to the case, the skin of a man from the sixteenth century. Not doing this, leads us to mistake the real moral concerns of the Spanish crown, with mere hypocrisy. Furthermore, it gives room for the simplistic view that what happened during the conquest of the New World was the result of a predatory empire, which found new land, forced its way in and proceeded to plunder its wealth without any regard for the wellbeing of the existing inhabitants in said territories.

Such view is at the core of Spain’s black and white legends. The first one, which was itself a result of the hatred Europe felt towards the nation due to its dominion wars and unadapting religious beliefs, paints Spain as a barbaric nation which did nothing but commit atrocities. The latter, created as a counterargument, sought to justify and absolve Spain of everything and anything during its three centuries of control in the American Indies, as they were called. Undoubtedly, both legends were false, as what occurred is much more complex and impossible to reduce to an era where everything was either criminal barbarity, or utopian perfection and goodness. Thus, the intention of this article is not to condemn or absolve Spain for what happened, but to highlight how this whole period troubled its conscience, and the lengths to which it went to justify the colonization both legally and morally.

Unlike today, conquest, invasions, and wars of dominion were not uncommon in the old days. In fact, they were a conventional element of the international relations between states, and traditionally, there was no need for those carrying it out to justify their actions. Historically, conquering was a symbol of a nation’s power. Thereby, to gain the right to conquer, a nation had to simply be more powerful than the adversaries it sought to place under its rule. However, during the Spanish conquest of what is now called Latin America, the moral and lawful justification of it became a major and fundamental concern for the Crown. As Dr Uslar Pietri puts it: “Never in the history of humanity, had a conquering nation gone through more profound and grave problems of conscience in relation to the fact of conquest.” That is a fact which honours the Spanish nation.

The forgotten, but fundamental reason that these conflicts of conscience were not hypocritical, but instead a real torment and source of concern for Spain, was that those governing at the time were not called the Catholic Monarchs without foundation. They, and their council of advisers, were profoundly religious; to them it was not an issue of infringing a written law, but rather something which they considered much more important: whether their actions would prevent their salvation and result in eternal condemnation. It is here that context plays a crucial role. For an atheist, and even some Christians of today, this may not seem like a valid reason, and might be discarded as hypocrisy. But, for Catholics Ferdinand and Isabella, their canonists and theologians, this would have been an issue of primordial concern. To them, the most precious thing was their salvation, and if they could not justify the conquest before God, they risked losing what they considered most important: the salvation of their souls.

Proof of this concern comes in the early and quick action taken by the monarchs to find justification, and so, in 1493 (less than a year after the finding of the New World) the famous Inter Caetera papal bulls were issued by Pope Alexander VI. The donation of these bulls gave Spain the sovereignty and authority, to carry the mission of converting these new lands to Christianity. Of course, it can be argued that the bulls were petitioned to serve as a political ground to stand on before Portugal, another expanding empire. Nevertheless, the legal and moral relief they provided was important. In fact, this brought an issue of its own that revived a great debate in Europe, and that was whether the Pope had the authority to grant such power of dominion. History suggests that a power struggle between the Pope and the civil power, represented by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was already existent. While critics believed popes did not hold such power, their supporters thought that as “representative of Christ on Earth”, a Pope held temporal power over it, and could then delegate that power to secular rulers. Keeping in mind the religious beliefs of the Spanish monarchs, it is easy to guess which interpretation they chose to follow and like that, the issue was brought to a momentarily resolution.

A few years later, a scandal reached the attention of Ferdinand II and Isabella. Priests and friars began to report back on the horrific conditions they had witnessed, of oppression and slavery, to which the Indigenous population had been relegated to. This presented a major problem for the Crown. The land was of no use without people working on it, but how could the subjugation of a foreign population be justified in the eyes of God? Well, after a long period of debate and consideration between canonists and theologians, a solution arose. The Laws of Burgos of 1512 were established. Essentially, these laws abolished slavery (on paper), recognised the Indigenous people as free, and installed a system of work called “encomienda”, through which they would be remunerated for their work and, which would also be non-exploitative (on paper), and receive Christian teaching. Law number two however, stated that “the Indians would leave their land voluntarily to come to the encomiendas so that they shall not suffer being removed by force.” Here came yet another problem. How would the Indigenous population become aware of the choice they had? Experts in law arrived at El Requiremento (The Requirement).

The Requirement was a legal document written in the Council of Castile, that explained among other things: the world from a Christian perspective, what Christianity was, who the Pope was and the powers he held, as well as who Ferdinand II and Isabella were. Furthermore, it asked the Indigenous people to allow these things to be preached to them, and specified that refusing to do so, would put the Spanish in a position to do it by whatever means necessary, including force, so that they could carry out the mission given to them. To us this may sound funny and grotesque, but to the Spanish it was a serious thing. Before a battle, not a single shot could be fired before that paper had been scrolled and read in Spanish, a language completely foreign and impossible to understand for those Indigenous peoples.

Throughout the following years, many individuals would rise and would reject and criticise Spain’s alleged rights over these lands. Among them were Friars Francisco de Vitoria and Bartolomé de las Casas. The former developed a new interpretation of natural law and the powers of the pope. Although Vitoria believed in the pope’s authority to delegate the task of evangelizing onto a secular state; he rejected the notion on which the Inter Caetera bulls were given. To him, neither a pope nor an emperor/king held temporal power over all the Earth, and as such, dominion over foreign lands could not be conceded nor taken from those who already hold it, regardless of their spiritual faith. Instead, he recognised another valid argument that justified colonization. He believed every nation had a right to enter into peaceful relations with each other, thus, if the Spanish were to seek peaceful contact with the Indigenous, but the Indigenous resisted with violence, then Spain would be within its rights to wage war and conquer them. The latter Friar, said of the Requirement that he did not know “whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of the council”, arguing individuals could not be forced to receive faith in God. Las Casas raised the issue once again at the Royal Court, and as a result, Emperor Charles V issued the New Laws of 1542. The status of the Indigenous as free people was ratified; slavery, as well as forced labour, were outlawed, and encomiendas were even suppressed, but later this measure was reversed.

Shortly after, Emperor Charles V was advised to suspend further expeditions to the New World, until a new group of canonists and theologians met to discuss how to guarantee the process of conquest was carried with justice, to give the monarch peace of conscience. Moreover, he even ordered that no one speak of the conquest. While other European powers could not care less, and colonization lasted until very recently, Emperor Charles V was even willing to remove the word conquest from official documents back in the sixteenth century. Consequently, the famous Valladolid debate takes place in 1550 between Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and Las Casas. This was the first time that the rights of the colonized and conquered of the New World were being discussed in Europe. Sepúlveda based his argument around Aristotle’s’ ideas of human nature. He argued that there is a natural division between races, by which some races were born to serve, thereby justifying the Spanish conquest of the New World. Las Casas on the other hand denied such a principle existed and argued that from a Christian point of view it was impossible to believe that anyone could have been divinely destined to be a slave. While there was no clear winner of the discussion in terms of the debate itself, it was Las Casas’ view which was reflected in the Laws of the Indies because said legislation forbade slavery and forced labour, and also included Las Casas’ thought that all men are born free.

The debate marked what can be considered the epitome of the conscience problem that tormented Spain. It was a prolonged legal process which reached an end in 1680 when Charles II ordered the famous Compilation of the Laws of the Kingdoms of the Indies, later published the following year. It is a compilation of every order and piece of legislation relating to the Indies. From the Law of Burgos until the moment of compilation.

Undeniably, most of these laws that were enacted were not enforced in practice. They rather served as only guidance for character and ethics in an empire that placed great importance on its Christian faith. That said, it was the first time that a European nation had questioned the state of its conscience as a result of conquest. It brought light to the question of whether some races were naturally/biologically inferior to others, and whether men had a right to enslave other men. To the honour of Spain, throughout the entire period it held control over the colonies, it determined that both questions had a negative answer. Since the Laws of Burgos, which were the first laws of the Indies, it denied the right to enslave, and recognised the Indigenous people of those lands as free. While there is a lot that should be considered and analysed about Spanish rule in Latin America, one thing that cannot be denied is that the Crown worried about the treatment and well being of those that were under its rule.



The First Crusade


Alexander Winn

The First Crusade

Never in the history of history itself has an event so captured the imagination of the general public and its legacy ingrained itself so firmly into the cultural landscape, yet been so elusive from the general populace whom discuss it. Historical misconceptions and deviations between common understandings and actual fact are not new. To just list a few we have heard repeated over and over again in various sources and platforms; World War I was fought by men living for months on end in trenches (the Eastern front was incredibly mobile and essentially lacked trenches, on the Western front men spent most of their time in respite camps behind the trenches), the 1967 referendum gave Indigenous people the vote (it did no such thing) and Paul Revere yelling at the top of his lungs that the British were coming (all American colonists were British, and would have looked at him quizzically, among other issues with the myth). Yet these pale in comparison to the abysmal public discourse surrounding the First Crusade. The aim of this article is to dispel those that relate to its causes and also some of its participants.

Myth #1 – Peaceful Muslims vs Evil Christian Crusaders

If one was to look at the most popular depiction of the First Crusade, one would think that thousands of Europeans, including Pope Urban II, woke up one morning and decided in a sudden bloodlust that thousands of peaceful Muslims minding their own business must be put to the sword, and the rest forcibly converted from their heathenish ways. Perhaps, it is not expressed quite that crudely, but the central idea propagated by popular media is of unprovoked, naked imperialism. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

Islamic conquests in the preceding four centuries had conquered most of the known Christian world. Jerusalem and Alexandria had all been conquered, as had been most of North Africa and Spain. Obviously, there are difficulties with the theory that the First Crusade was wholly a response to these previous military endeavours. Firstly, Spain, the closest part of the Islamic world to Western Europe, and therefore the most likely force to pose a military threat, was not the target for the First Crusade. Despite previous Christian military incursions into Spain prior to the First Crusade, namely with the capture of Toledo in 1085 AD and a separate military campaign launched by the Normans that captured al-Mahdiyya in North Africa 1086 AD, there is no evidence these military endeavours were part of one larger Holy War against Islamic enemies. They were for the most part localised examples of warfare. Even Islamic primary sources like Ibin- Al Athir which link these conflicts to the First Crusade do not expressly describe these conflicts as holy wars. Secondly, the Islamic world was bitterly divided in the 11th Century. As historian Thomas Asbridge explains, although the Moors of Iberia and Turks of Asia Minor shared a common heritage, there was no uniformity or even alliance between these factions that would have allowed a concerted military campaign against the Latin West. Steven Runciman further argues that Islamic forces reached their zenith in 717 AD under the Abbasids when they crossed the Pyrenees. Thanks to Charles Martel at Tours in 732 AD, they were forced from France and no longer posed as great a threat to Western Europe. Much to the chagrin of alt-right wing ideologues, the situation was not a perilous contest for the heart of Western Europe itself. The First Crusade was not an event that saved Western Europe from Islamic domination.

There are also very obvious difficulties in describing the First Crusade as a war of liberation for Christians in Jerusalem. There had been a reasonably sized Christian population living in Jerusalem when it was conquered in 637 A.D, but by 1095 most of the Christian population had already been forcibly converted.  The laws levied on those left, including the Jizya, a per capita tax on non-Muslims residing in Muslim territories, relegated many Christians from public life. Thomas Madden notes that authorities showed distinct religious hostility towards Christians by shutting down many churches, killing clergy. It is certainly a misconception to view the burdens placed upon the conquered Christian population as merely just a “tax” or indeed minor.  Some argue that conditions for Christians under Muslim rule were not as arduous as often claimed. Runciman argues that Christian populations were for the most part left alone, arguing the Caliphate’s treatment of Christians and other minorities, as people of the book, was much more favourable than European Christian treatment of their own religious minorities. It must be noted that Runciman’s viewpoint is not accepted by modern scholarly consensus. Whatever the conditions the Christian population in Jerusalem lived under, it is without a question there was not a large Christian population. Thus, justifying the war on the basis of liberation is difficult.

The First Crusade could accurately be described as a reaction to Seljuk Turk aggression. It was the annihilation of the Byzantine Empire’s forces at Manzikert in 1071 that prompted Alexius I to call for aid from Gregory VII and then Urban II. After Manzikert, the Turks advanced further into Asia Minor and conquered Antioch in 1086 AD. The loss of Antioch was a stunning blow for the Byzantines given its status as a profitable tax province, and as one of the five patriarch sites of the Church. With these victories, the Seljuks directly threatened Constantinople, the second holiest city in Christendom after Jerusalem. These conquests made the business of pilgrimage far more difficult. Initially the Turks prevented Christian pilgrims visiting Christian worship sites, and committed atrocities against pilgrims until they realised Christian pilgrims were a lucrative source of revenue. Some could try and argue that the First Crusades were not in any way a reaction to Seljuk aggression given that at the specific time the First Crusade was launched, the Seljuks were involved in a succession crisis over the throne. They had to contend with local rules challenging their authority and would not immediately threaten Constantinople. However, that would be unrealistic. No military force waits for their enemy to regain their strength before attacking. Even if the Seljuks in 1095 were not the same threat as in 1071 or 1086, it should not distract from the reality of the Seljuk threat in the more medium to long term. Its succession issues were merely a temporary weakness – the Byzantine losses in contrast created a much deeper structural problem. Once the Seljuks resolved their internal turmoil, Constantinople would be completely exposed for the taking.

Western Europe may not have been faced with the prospect of invasion, but the Byzantine Empire had been struck a serious blow and needed military assistance to prevent inevitable Turkish conquest. Whether that justified the continuation of the conflict to the Fatimid controlled Jerusalem, or capturing any land for that matter beyond reclaiming lost Byzantine lands is another issue.  It also almost goes without saying that the defeat at Manzikert was not the only cause or contributor towards the First Crusade, but it was substantial. Most importantly, the picture repeated in public discourse of the innocent Muslims being attacked by imperialistic, barbarous Europeans is pure, unnuanced fiction.

Myth #2 – Loot and Land

The narrative goes that the primary motive for Crusaders was supposedly the pursuit of loot and land. Accordingly, this narrative suggests that most Crusaders were the second sons of the nobility, unable to inherit land (land was inherited by the first-born son) and thus available to be sent East to find their own fortunes. In reality, many were extremely wealthy in their own right.  Raymond of Toulouse, as Count of Tolouse, and a key military commander, was already a fabulously wealthy landowner. Robert II of Flanders was the eldest son and heir to Flanders when he went on Crusade.  Stephen of Blois was already the Count of Blois. Hugh, Count of Vermandois, was the brother of Phillip I, King of France. Baldwin I of Jerusalem prior to Crusading was entitled to the County of Verdun. Even the more enterprising individuals like Bohemund, who established the principate of Antioch, were wealthy. He was the prince of Taranto and a wealthy military leader in his own right. All of these individuals were not poor disposed sons or stray knights. To the contrary, they commanded significant wealth, land holdings, political influence and military power in their own right.

While temporal reasons did influence decision makers, Crusaders went to battle predominantly for religious reasons. Of the five written accounts of Pope Urban II’s sermon at Clermont in November of 1095, there were three defining and common features between the accounts. The first was a promise of indulgence. This posed the greatest incentive to Crusaders. It may seem hard to understand today in the secular West, but as the historian Jonathan Riley Smith explains, the conception of heaven, hell and sin was a very real day to day issue for those living in the 11th Century. The decade had seen a huge swell of religious fervour. 1033 was the 1000th anniversary of the Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and many believed that Christ would return to Earth per the Revelations.

Medieval man lived and operated in a brutal world. Violence, particularly feudal warfare, was ubiquitous and must have weighed heavily on the consciences of the men involved, creating an endless dilemma between feudal obligations and the teachings of the church. The First Crusade provided the perfect opportunity to funnel the nobility’s skill in waging warfare into “productive” use. In a society where the line between Heaven, Earth and Hell was precarious, and where lords and knights were in a constant position of worrying about the impact of their warfare on their chances of everlasting life, Urban II’s offer of a total remission of sins and immunity from excommunication, essentially an offer of an eternal “get-out-of-jail-free-card” was an offer the nobility just could not resist.

Beyond indulgence, there were other religious based reasons for Crusade. The Sermon at Clermont focused on the atrocities committed against the Christian population whilst simultaneously harnessing 11th Century conceptions of love and charity. Robert the Monk’s account involves the most visceral description of the atrocities (the veracity of which are questionable, and even if true, are surely exaggerated). His account, which I will warn the reader of, contains content that is exceedingly gruesome:

”From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears, namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God, a generation forsooth which has not directed its heart and has not entrusted its spirit to God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords, attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent.”

Self-evidently, the visceral language would have imbued upon the medieval Christian listener a white-hot rage. It must be remembered there were no newspapers, radio, TV, internet, social media or fact checkers to question the allegations. To the medieval man, there would be an overwhelming imperative to end these atrocities. Urban II chose this motif very carefully, because he knew that the punishment of sin and the defence of Christendom in general was actually seen as a form of charity, and thus an extension of Christian principles of love. To modern man, punishment as an act of charity or of love is completely foreign. Our conceptions of charity usually only involve giving money to the local blind dog’s association, and our association of love is with romantic or parental concepts. Yet, charity and love encompassed broader concepts in the medieval era. As applied to the sermon, it meant that a Christian expedition designed to protect Christendom by ending these alleged atrocities, reclaiming the Holy Land and possibly preventing further conquest would have been seen as an act of charity and love. Thus, a medieval Crusader could genuinely say from the depths of his heart that his actions were being driven out of love. Of course, this does not justify or morally excuse anything or everything done during the First Crusade (the massacre of Jerusalem’s population at its fall in 1099 AD, including Muslims, Jews and local Christians alike was not at all an expression of love, but an egregious and shameful act of barbarity), but it does explain the motivations for military action in general.

Urban II’s plea also involved the subtle manipulation of the institution of the pilgrimage. Pilgrimage was extremely common, often directed to revering local shrines and churches for the purpose of venerating Saintly relics on Church holidays. Madden notes that in the 9th Century the discovery of the bones of St James the Greater in Spain (James the Greater was James, son of Zebedee, the first apostle to be martyred) prompted an increased interest in pilgrimage, as well as European demand to engage in warfare to reclaim lost sacred lands. With improving access and transportation, noble pilgrimages to Jerusalem were becoming increasingly common and important. Jerusalem had been the site of the crucifixion, resurrection and a number of other Christian miracles. It was the pilgrimage site of pilgrimage sites. Indeed, Medieval Europe was so fixated on Jerusalem that on many medieval maps, Jerusalem appears in the centre, reflecting its religious significance (the likelihood of its inclusion in the centre because medieval cartographers genuinely believed it to be in the centre is extremely slim, and far more likely explainable for religious reasons). The selection of Jerusalem as the target for an armed pilgrimage was essential in spurring the mass movement of people.

Beyond sources detailing the Sermon, most Latin sources corroborate the Sermon, and declare these three reasons in essence to be the cause for the religious fervour among the nobility and knights that caused the First Crusade. The Gesta Francorum, a chronicle of the First Crusade written by an anonymous author connected to Bohemund I of Taranto, goes so far as to state that Bohemund upon witnessing the Frankish procession to the Holy Land and thus being moved by the ‘Holy Spirit’ had his best cloak cut up and made into various cross shaped patches for his army. The veracity of this anecdote is highly questionable, and given the author was a scribe attached to Bohemund, it is obviously biased. Nonetheless, these religious sentiments, extreme as they were expressed, are reflected in most other European accounts (most of which are also written by clergy either attached to various lords or by later clergy relying on these earlier documents). The obvious flaw with Western European accounts was the preference towards elevating religious piety and downgrading potential temporal influences. They should not be taken completely at face value.

By comparison, Byzantine and Islamic sources suggest motives in line with the myth of European bloodlust. Anna Comnena, daughter of Emperor Alexius I, in her book the Alexiad cites a combination of influences. According to Comnena, Godfrey and other more simple-minded individuals (she did not mean Godfrey specifically was simple minded) were motivated by a legitimate desire to make pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre. More astute individuals like Bohemund were motivated by a desire to have a “reinvigorated” Roman Empire. Bohemund was not the most popular character in the Byzantine Court. Fighting in his father’s war against the Byzantine Empire from 1081, he was successful in seizing land from the Byzantines in a further blow to the already weakened Empire. Islamic sources by and large neglect to cover Frankish motivations for going on Crusade, mainly because Islamic writers did not see the Crusades as a particularly important watershed moment in their history – many read the Crusades simply as the story of an enemy infidel invading their lands.  Those that did cover the subject were normally extremely critical of the Crusaders. Ibn al Qalanisi’s chronicle of the First Crusade, one of the earliest written on the subject from Damascus (which was unscathed by the First Crusade), establishes the Franks as inherently violent infidels motivated mostly by greed.  To be fair, most of his focus is on Frankish actions in the Holy Land because this had far more relevance to Islamic historians.

Purely analysed in isolation, Latin, Byzantine and Islamic sources cannot provide a clear, definitive account of the motivations of the Crusaders because of the unique biases inherent to each source. Fortunately, surviving financial documents corroborate the theory that religious devotion was the main motivating factor for the Crusaders. Many land owners were forced to mortgage their properties in order to finance their expeditions. Many others forgave land disputes they had with the Church when they went on Crusade. It is incredibly improbable a feudal lord would go through enormous expenditures to arm a large retinue, mortgage large tracts of land and renounce land disputes (which are actual, almost guaranteed sources of wealth) to gain wealth. It’s an incredibly risky, ineffective way to get rich quick. It makes even less sense when considering that most individuals that went on Crusade returned home. It is beyond the scope of this piece to consider all the different temporal factors motivating certain individuals, but needless to say these motivations played a relatively minor role compared to religion. These were not proto-Imperialists motivated only by the desire for more loot and land.

Myth #3 – A Purely Selfish, Power Hungry Church

Another popular but mistaken theory surrounding the Crusade’s motivations holds that Pope Urban II was primarily motivated by a desire to reunite the Orthodox and Catholic Churches – he wanted to use the Crusades as a project to expand Papal power into the East. This claim has more truth to it than the others, but unfortunately still paints a simplistic caricature of the papacy and its motivating goals. Pope Urban II was simply just another papal figure in a long line stretching through the 11th Century focused on diligently expanding papal power. While the seizure of power is naturally and understandably viewed with a great degree of scepticism, the papacy’s attempts at power expansion in the 11th   century need to be understood within the context of the time.

Papal power hitherto to the 11th Century had been declining as a consequence of the fall of the Carolingian Empire, and had come to rely upon the support of local Roman and Italian rulers. Thus, Popes of the 11th Century began re-asserting the power of the church in various ways. Firstly, the papacy began a critical plan of ridding itself from the scourge of simony, that is the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, by for instance selling pardons for money. Fultcher of Chartres account of the Sermon at Clermont features simony as a prominent sin that needed to be stamped out. Christopher Tyreman also notes that the Papacy faced concerns as to how it could enforce canonical rules on clergy, clerical marriages and the integration of clergy into local partisan political disputes.

Flowing from these problems was the Investiture Controversy, a bitter political dispute between Gregory VII and Henry IV, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, over who would have the power to appoint new priests, bishops and cardinals. Gregory VII in the Dictatus Papea 1090 AD asserted a whole suite of sweeping powers and authorities that would make the Papacy supreme over the secular authority over all matters spiritual. The ensuing power struggle resulted not only in Henry IV and even his son Henry V’s excommunication, but also decades of unrest caused by successive Popes sponsoring rebellions against the Emperor.  In retaliation, both Henry IV and V appointed Anti-Popes, and even at one point invaded Rome. Clearly, the assertion of Papal supremacy was a crucial step to ensuring the Papacy could effectively root out corruption.

Furthermore, the Church had genuinely been attempting to reduce political violence in Europe with the Peace of God and Truce of God movements. The Peace of God was a mutual agreement between arms bearers upon an oath to protect individuals that were not part of the military such as the clergy, civilians, women, the vulnerable and the poor.  The Truce of God movement was a church mandated ceasefire. Violations of either would result in the perpetrators being excommunicated. The extent to which these movements were successful is debatable, considering many were localised and sporadic. Nevertheless, both movements represented what was in effect a seizure of power by the Papacy that actually helped prevent bloodshed. Pope Urban II may have deliberately ignored Alexius I’s request for an attaché of knights to serve under his command for a mass movement to in part expand papal influence in the East since the schism of 1054 AD. More likely, it was just as, if not more directed as part of a long line of Papal reforms at securing power in Europe. Moreover, the Council at Clermont was not a one-off, but part of a tour from the Pope to shore up support in France. In any event, it was not solely a cynical power grab to expand power in the East, and to the extent that it was a power grab, that does not mean it was an intrinsically bad thing necessarily. Whether it was or was not is a normative point for debate beyond the scope of this article.

The many myths and misconceptions that surround the First Crusade highlight the great care needed in analysing history. If we try to understand individuals and events through contemporary cultural, social and political lenses we do so at the peril of our own understanding and the expense of truth.

For more reading on this subject I recommend the works of historians Thomas Asbridge, Jonathan Philipps, Christopher Tyreman, Jonathan Riley-Smith, Thomas Madden, Steven Runciman (although his work is important, elements are dated), Carole Hillenbrand for Islamic perspectives and the Fordham Medieval History Source Book for primary sources.

Economic and Political Aspirations at War Within the Eurozone

History, Politics

ToAlexandra Wightman


One issue that many scholars face with analysing the failures of the Eurozone – and there are many – is the disconnect between the prism through which these issues are considered, and the realm of the issue itself. For more than a decade now, the Eurozone has been marred by recession, unemployment and sclerotic growth. Southern European nations, their currency artificially propped up by German manufacturing prowess, bound by rigid austerity measures under the supervision of the Bundeswehr, have been utterly unable to emerge from the deep recessions they entered during the Global Financial Crisis. How did this catastrophe occur? How did such an ambitious project fail so utterly? To trace the roots of the Eurozone’s failure, one must consider the intellectual foundations of the European project.

The European Project and the Beginnings of the Eurozone Crisis

The European Union as an intellectual project emerged in response to the Second World War. Scarred by the internecine destruction that characterised early twentieth century life on the continent, Europeans sought through integration to make renewed warfare not just unthinkable, but impossible. It was with this hope for peace that the architects of the Maastricht Treaty wholeheartedly endorsed the principles of free trade, freedom of movement, the unification of national currency in the form of the Euro and later, the creation of a singular, central European bank to administer monetary policy on behalf of member nations. In this piece I will argue that it was the political nature of the EU, predicated on an optimistic conception of integration, both economic and political, that precipitated the worst effects of the Eurozone crisis that are still being felt today. The EU is unable to have a unified or coherent amalgamation of fiscal policy, due to the structural issues of the Eurozone, and the inherent tensions of a political project that seeks to unify inchoate nation states into a coherent bloc subject to unilateral governance.

Following the conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty, the Euro was introduced in 1999. The ECB, which was inflation averse, was encumbered with the task of managing the EU’s monetary policy and the inflation of its currency. The presence of an ostensible ECB guarantee of member nations’ economic viability led to an overinvestment in the sovereign debt of peripheral member nations. For instance, the costs associated with Greece’s borrowing on ten-year bonds fell by 20 per cent following their entrance into the Eurozone. The inability of member nations to exercise deflationary control over their currency mitigated their ability to reign in the worst effects of a crisis as by design – the ECB was the only body empowered with deflationary control of the Euro. In early 2009 the Greek government announced that their national deficit was significantly higher than expected, far outreaching the limits outlined in the Maastricht Criteria and throwing the banks of the Eurozone into chaos. The ECB was forced to absorb the vast debt in order to stop the vulnerable banking system crashing entirely. The political and economic costs of this temporary bail-out would be drastic. Following the collapse of numerous national banks, the debt that had previously been private became public as governments continued to bail banks out to maintain functional credit and prevent a crash of the entire Eurozone. As the economies began to recede, the now-sovereign debt bloomed and borrowing interest rates soared as lenders realised the insecurity of their bonds, and harsh austerity measures were implemented into bailout nations. Nations now consider defaulting or leaving the EU entirely, and the political-turned-economic project of the Eurozone appears tenuous at best.


Monetary Policy Fissures

Despite the economic hegemony that the ECB exercises in the Eurozone, it has a lack of ability to create appropriate policy. The fundamentally poor policy, based on a lack of understanding of economic unification of the ECB and EMU spurred the debt that brought the Euro crisis to fruition. After the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, long term government bond interest rates dropped from 16% to less than 4% by 2005, with the interest risk premiums dropping from more than 7% to almost nothing in the same period. The encouragement of the ECB to use government bonds as collateral in banking exchanges was paired with their face of low inflation policies, relaxing nations into lending with no inhibitions leading to high sovereign debt. Upon the bursting of the multiple housing bubbles in 2008 the banks were exposed, panicking lenders into raising interest rates exponentially. The monetary policy of the ECB to lower interest rates to precipitate demand in Germany and France, also created the glut of cheap money available to Ireland and Greece that would go on to induce their sovereign debt crisis.

The ECBs responsibility for the Euro crisis can also be attributed to its lack of ability to uphold its monetary guidelines. The monetary governing body of the ECB, the European Monetary Union, recognised some of the issues that may arise from autonomy of fiscal policy and created the Stability and Growth Pact in an attempt to enforce similar fiscal policy across the Eurozone. However, the regulations of the SGP as well as the requirements for being able to enter into the Maastricht Treaty were never enforced and both France and Germany – who together account for 50% of Euro output –  shirked them within the first five years of the EMU, leading other influential states to lobby to have the regulations tweaked in their favour. Politically, the lack of authority carried by the EU and ECB allows the Eurozone’s economically dominant nations to become the most politically dominant, undermining the entire concept of a “union of equals”, and ensuring the political power falls to nations rather than the banks. The relaxing of the Maastricht and SGP requirements under Franco-German lobbying allowed nations to pursue more unstable fiscal policy, an important precursor to the crisis eventuating in 2008.


Structural Issues Associated with Fiscal Sovereignty

The unwillingness of European nations to surrender their fiscal sovereignty resulted in an uneven dichotomy between fiscal and monetary regulation, as well as wage and price flexibility, that results in nations with vastly different economic standards being given the same privileges and expected to acclimatise to the same conditions. The economic climate of the 1990s was suboptimal for the EU to financially converge but the political desire for unity was bolstered by economists claiming that the presence of the Euro would spur integration that would support it, rather than creating economic infrastructure to then support the introduction of the single currency. Countries had already surrendered their monetary autonomy when joining the union, which enhanced the importance of their fiscal policy power ensuring they were hesitant to abdicate their last tool of macroeconomic policy. Moravcsik notes that “[all nations] got what they wanted, but no one [wanted] to create a viable macroeconomic union”. Notably, there are no legitimate impediments to implementing universal fiscal policy that could resolve the Euro crisis and ensure a stable Euro. It is theoretically possible, but now and for the foreseeable future, politically infeasible.

The variation in monetary and fiscal policy due to cultural differences in the Eurozone contributed to the Euro crisis as it instilled a sense of false confidence into lenders from nations with weak economies that lead to vast irresponsible spending that drove up private and sovereign debt. The economic needs of the Eurozone were vast and so in the ECB trying to reconcile the political and economic demands of, for example Spain and Germany, it failed to implement a policy that suited either. The fiscal variation and disparities between nations in both prices, wages, and culture also ensured that imbalances accumulated to worsen inflation. When the peripheral nations fell into debt it became clear that it would be difficult to rebalance the rapidly deteriorating Euro, particularly given the lack of rebalancing mechanisms within the Eurozone architecture. Problematically, nations residing under the same monetary policy of the ECB ensures they cannot respond to upsets by lowering their interest rates or increasing wages to promote competition. Iceland operates on the independent króna and following the Euro crisis was able to mechanise currency depreciation in order to promote competition and restabilise their economy. Comparatively, debt-stricken Greece is restricted by the inflexible monetary policy of the EMU that ensures it cannot adjust its own currency to boost competition and stimulate the currency into rehabilitation. The issue that this presents is that any major upset in the market is extremely difficult to rebalance into surplus.


Ultimately, the Eurozone was an economic unit founded with inherently political goals. Its foundational myth was that an inchoate array of nations could be seamlessly integrated into a coherent and manageable economic bloc. Whilst this may have been possible if all the nations had agreed to surrender their national sovereignty, and most relevantly, their ability to control their own fiscal policy, the piecemeal approach that prevailed ingrained a system waiting for crisis. If the ECB and EMU were able to have complete control over both the fiscal and monetary policy of the Eurozone they would be able to ensure both interacted in such a way that would combat debt and promote growth – both Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Trichet, former president of the ECB, have called for this. With the decentralised policy as it sits under the status quo, this is not possible. This solution is wistfully simplistic and, as noted above, politically infeasible.

To its credit, the EU politically was able to take the dictatorships of Portugal, Spain, and Greece and reform them into stable democracies, but the economic downfalls of this project have and continue to be vast. The reality that must be confronted by the architects and proponents of the EU is that if the mantra of integration can be followed by actual results in favour of member nations, a complete realignment of the EU’s structure has to occur. It must either involve absolute integration of fiscal and monetary policy to allow for better policy making or it must seriously contemplate doing away with the strictures of the ECB to allow member nations to have more autonomy in the implementation of monetary policy, to complement their independent fiscal policy. Until these issues are confronted, the EU will never resolve its structural and institutional deficiencies.

Sectarian Conflict in Iraq

History, Politics

Tiarni Miller 

When U.S. President Barack Obama addressed Congress on the origins of conflict in the Middle East, he cited Sunni-Shi’a tension as the most divisive force in the region. He traced this conflict to the 7th century debate over Muhammad’s rightful successor, wherein the Prophet’s followers were divided amongst those who protested for a familial line and those who supported an electoral decision. Thus began, he proclaimed, the roots of the seismic conflict plaguing the Middle East today. But should religious sectarianism bare the full weight of responsibility for the internecine conflict?

A Sectarian Master Narrative

The dominant framework applied to the conceptualisation of contemporary Iraqi socio-political conflict is that of the eschatological methodology, in which an emphasis is placed on the ethno-religious dichotomy between Sunni and Shi’a communities. Mainstream scholarly discourse has traced this intra-Muslim conflict back to the ancient debate regarding who was to succeed the Prophet after his death in A.D. 632. It has been established by an array of scholars that this intra-Muslim religious sectarianism should hold the utmost importance in discourse, embracing an ideologically and eschatologically based analyses. However, as we factor in more recent national history, how effective is this school of thought?

The Transregional Approach

The transregional methodology analyses the sectarian binary through an evaluation of influential geopolitical factors embedded in the region. In this theory, conflicting national identities and sect-based politics are examined within the realm of pre-existing cultural borders. Scholars cite a history of cross-border mixing as a primary hurdle to national unification, arguing that local histories written in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Iraq, Arabia and the Gulf worked in a way in which historical legacy overlaps current regional lines. Whilst it’s a step away from the reductionism of the sectarian narrative, this perspective still lacks a holistic understanding of the national conflict that plagues the region.

The White Man’s Burden  

Current relations with Iraq and the international community dictate that both the sectarian master narrative and the transregional theory should be criticised for their implicit negation of Western responsibility. Academic dialogue has evidenced relatively widespread acceptance of the US’s role in the polarization of sectarian identities but the extent to which this has been considered geostrategic is subject to debate. The simple ethno-sectarian model allows for an easily digestible conceptualisation of regional social divisions and serves to negate the West’s responsibility for exacerbating the conflict in the twenty first century. This sentiment has also been conveyed through the work of Damian Doyle and Tristan Dunning, in their collaborative piece on the Iraqi sectarian dichotomy “Politics or Piety,” arguing that “[reductionism] for policy makers, [is] a manifestation of Orientalism that blames the “other” for seemingly intractable violent conflict and deflects scrutiny of the West’s role in the region.” But how has the West contributed to the polarisation of sectarian identities in Iraq.

After the invasion, the US military’s De-Ba’athification policy institutionally destabilised the country. The U.S. disbanded the Iraqi military, seized the power of governing elites and dismantled the Iraqi legal system. Using insights from institutional and ideational theory, political scientist Andrew Flibbert examined the consequences of dismantling the state. Sectarian and ethnic conflict intensified and alongside this there was an increase in terrorism and criminal rates and a prolonged period of slow economic growth. The crumbling political environment served to increase sectarian polarisation as the population faced pressure to turn inward and further establish distinct sectarian identities for some form of representation.

The extent to which this polarisation was part of a broader pursuit of U.S. hegemonic power in the region has been argued extensively. One perspective pursues the idea that the destruction imposed on Iraq could not have been calculated by the West, thus the increased sectarian conflict was not used as an instrument. However, evidence suggests that the United States utilised their power as the occupying force to provoke sectarian conflict, manipulating and exploiting sectarian interactions to advance their own interests. Acts like the destruction of the Askariyya mosque in Samarra served to establish sectarian identities and intensify conflict between Sunni and Shi’a communities in pursuit of obtaining geopolitical power. This is corroborated by political scientist Jeremy Salt who argued that ”While quietly fomenting sectarian division (between Sunni and Shia, and between the Kurds and the rest), the United States (used) Iraq as a springboard for special operations inside Iran aimed at identifying possible targets for a military attack and destabilisation of the regime through acts of sabotage.”

Iranian Hegemony

As we can see again, the eschatological model holds limitations in furthering research into the relationship between the polarisation of sectarian identities and Iranian geostrategic pursuits in Iraq. We can also hold that the destruction of the Iraqi socio-political environment and the subsequent inflammation of sect-based tension was largely a result of manipulation by Iranian proxies. With the prerequisite of a state under political instability, Tehran was able to exert power over Iraq through their manipulation of electoral results, the exploitation of sectarian division and mobilisation of non-state actors and militant organisations. Popular elections gave victory to Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite politicians over moderates, helping spread Iranian theocratic power on an institutional level. The collapse of Saddam Hussein served to increase Iranian regional influence as proxies were able to occupy positions of political power in the absence of Iran’s primary military rival. This political presence, combined with the development of sectarian militant reactionary groups working closely with the Shiite governing power, propelled Iranian influence in the region as Shiite militias became the dominant occupying presence in Iraq. With the Iranian-backed Shiite dominated government in Baghdad, the role of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) significantly increased. In the fight against ISIL, Iran provided the Iraqi state with militia fighters, Su-25 fighter jets and a US$195 million arms deal. This financial support allowed for an increase in sectarian conflict and dependency on Iran.

”These actions exemplify the instrumentalisation of sectarian identity at the regional and institutional level in order to advance geopolitical interests; that is, a regional example of ‘politics organised along sectarian lines’ ” – Doyle and Dunning.

Given recent histories and the intentions of occupying powers, we should critically reflect on the weight so often lent to ancient Islamic history. Sectarian tensions shouldn’t be viewed as dichotomously and instead, we need to continue to analyse the tactical polarisation of sectarian identities as a result of broader geostrategic pursuits.




Forging an Identity Through Repression: the Story of Lithuanian Nationalism in the Russian Empire, 1863-1914


Otis Platt

The end of the First World War changed the map of Eastern Europe forever. Yet, the carnage that set this train of national self-determination in motion began well before 1918.

In this piece I will focus on the Russian Empire’s policies of Russification introduced in the middle of the 19th century. I will show how these policies contributed to Lithuanian nationalism in the late 19th century and into the early 20th. This piece is important in understanding the modern geopolitics of Eastern Europe, particularly the post-Soviet states’ distrust of the Russian Federation’s foreign policy in their backyard. To understand the development of nationalism that contributed to the Russian Empire’s collapse after the First World War, we must travel back to 1795, during the Final Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth was formed by the Union of Lublin in 1569 by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In this multi-ethnic empire it was religion, not language that mattered. Article I of the polity’s 1791 Constitution made Roman Catholicism the “reigning national religion”. It took three partitions for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to cease to exist. The first occurred in 1777, the second in 1793 and the last in 1795. During the First Partition three powers grabbed land from the Commonwealth: the Holy Roman Empire (through the direct rule of the Hapsburg monarchy), the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire. In the Second Partition, the first power was absent, with the last two grabbing land in the west and the east respectively. The Final Partition saw the return of the Hapsburgs in addition to the Prussians and the Russians. In the aftermath of these partitions Prussia acquired the western portion of Lithuanian-speaking territory, with Russia obtaining the east.

In Prussia, the Lithuanian language flourished due to German scholarly interest, with no state-restrictions placed on its use. The language was used in Lutheran sermons and the towns of Königsberg and Tilsit became places of publication for Lithuanian books. This state support for the Lithuanian language in the Kingdom of Prussia can be contrasted with the approach the Tsarist authorities took with Lithuanian language and culture in the Russian Empire. But first, a little background and context may be necessary.

After the Final Partition and the absorption of ethnic Lithuanian lands into the Russian Empire, official Russian histories of the Grand Duchy revolved around its essential Russian character, justifying the territorial grab by Russia. This was also done to counter the effect of a growing sense of nationalism across Europe in the 1830s. After the unsuccessful Polish uprising of 1831 the Russian central government embarked on a programme of “de-Polonization” to replace Poles with Russians as the dominant ethno-social group in its Lithuanian territory. After all, this was “eternally Russian Land” (iskonno-russkaia zemlia) whose Lithuanian inhabitants had “from time immemorial” had paid tribute to Russian princes. By 1840 the Lithuanian Statute, the legal code for the Grand Duchy, was replaced with Russian law. The official Imperial view was that the Catholic peasants in this Northwestern region were descendants of Orthodox ancestors.

It made sense for the Empire to target Polish, as this West Slavic language still held significant social power in the early 19th century thanks to its centuries-long role as the hegemonic language of the Commonwealth that culminated in its role as a language of instruction at the University of Vil’na in 1816. By contrast Russian had only recently become a language of educated people, with the first Russian-language dictionary not being published until 1794. After the 1831 Uprising Russian replaced Polish as the language of administration and education, with the University of Vil’na being dissolved and its assets transferred to Kiev. By 1854 the language had been banned in public and private secondary education.

A brief period of liberalisation in the Russian Empire’s partition zones and the Congress Kingdom followed Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856), where Polish was reintroduced as a language subject. However, these concessions were swiftly revoked in the wake of the 1863-1864 Uprising, with Russian being introduced as the sole language of administration and education across the entirety of the Empire (particularly in its European zones). Russian also replaced Polish as the language of social advancement after this second uprising. The 1863 Uprising, otherwise known as the January Uprising, prompted a change in Russia’s “nationalities policy”. The definition of Russification varied from official to official. Some understood it as complete ethno-religious assimilation, others saw it as a policy of pure linguistic assimilation that would leave religion untouched.

Historians, old and new, agree that the main aim of the post-1863 Russification policies was to destroy the power of Polish landowners rather than targeting the Lithuanian peasantry. What historians disagree on is to what extent Russification affected Lithuanians.

Western historians think that the Lithuanian language was not repressed, but simply neglected. The justification of these Western historians is that Lithuanian-speakers were not seen as much of a threat as Poles or Jews, with Lithuanian often being used as a byword for “peasant” in official reports. Hence, it was the local Polish elites (the educated classes and Catholic clergy) who were directly targeted in this repression, with Lithuanians only being indirectly affected. According to these historians, Lithuanians had nothing to worry about from the authorities.

Lithuanian and other Eastern European scholars paint a different picture. They believe that Lithuanians were in fact disadvantaged by the Tsarist authorities. Older nationalist texts point to Russification as a deliberate policy of assimilation. Stukas, for example, cites closing of rural Lithuanian schools and the banning of Lithuanian in Latin script from 1864-1904 as examples of this. This idea finds support in more recent works, which chronicle how the “embryonic use” of Lithuanian, along with Little Russian (Ukrainian) and White Russian (Belarusian), were seen as aiding “Polish intrigue”, given the historical use of these languages in Grand Duchy. Others state that the Russians saw the Lithuanian peasants’ Catholic faith as marking them as “potential Poles”.

However, to suggest that Russification singled-out Lithuanians from the 1860s belies the “priorities and complexity of Russian nationality policies as well as the timing and development of Lithuanian nationhood.” The Imperial authorities only took notice of the nationalists in the late 1890s. Even then, the Lithuanian national movement was conflated with that of the Polish until the first decade of the 20th century. That being said, despite the authorities lack of concern for the Lithuanian speakers I still believe that the ban on Latin script was part of the broader policy of Russification, and it was an action that generated an angry response from Lithuanian speakers that led in part to the formation of a vocal nationalist movement.

During the period of the ban, an organised affair of book smuggling developed. The Bishop Valančius first spearheaded this – he began writing didactic books for peasants in 1866 that were published in Prussian Lithuania. Thanks to Valančius’ efforts, the illegal activities of smuggling soon grew into a profession. These “thousands of devoted patriots” made “their life’s work” from the book smuggling. It was estimated that around 38,000 literary items were smuggled across the border from Prussia between 1891 and 1893. From 1900-1902 this number swelled to 56,000. The role of the clergy in the book smuggling has been dismissed in recent years as belying the complexity of the situation. This is especially so if one considers the Polonised nature of the clergy in the 19th century.

By the period of the 1880s, the book-smuggling efforts had given way to a vibrant yet underground Lithuanian press. The nationalist journals Auszra (Dawn) and Varpas (The Bell) got their start in the 1880s. There is much debate over what exactly Lithuanian nationalism entailed.

Some historians such as Scott Spires posit that Lithuanian nationalism had its beginnings in the promotion of the Lithuanian language. The Lithuanian language had never occupied a place of official status, even during the days of the Grand Duchy. During its existence, the official languages of the Grand Duchy were Ruthenian (the ancestor of modern-day Ukrainian and Belarusian), German, Polish, Hebrew and Latin. During the days of the Commonwealth, “Lithuanianness” had amounted to a patriotic attachment to the Grand Duchy, a regional identity of sorts. This changed in the 19th century.

From the time of the Final Partition, Prussian linguists began drawing links between European languages and the broader Indo-European family. Lithuanian was becoming to be seen as “the most important and revealing of Indo-European languages, due to its considerable archaism.” German scholarly interest in Lithuanian as the oldest of Indo-European languages peaked in the 1870s, with the Lithuanians considered the closest living people to the historic Aryans or Indo-Europeans. This interest contributed to the revival of Lithuanian culture that began with the foundation of the journals in the 1880s, building from the nationalist revolutions had been sweeping Europe since the 1830s.

Other historians, such as Algis Valantiejus, stress other factors as important in the development of Lithuanian nationalism following 1863. He states that “the actual situation is much more complex.” Importantly, language had not been debated frequently or in much detail in the Varpas. Economic and political questions are important factors in understanding nationalism, and how an ethnic group sees material and nationally relevant conflicts of group interests.

Religion played a role. The Catholic Church often acted as agents of Polonization. For example, Polish was only replaced with Lithuanian in the seminary at Samogitia from 1890-1894. However, the clergy also played a role in shaping the identity of the people, particularly in the later half of the 19th century. The Catholic Church, along with the Protestant Church in Prussian Lithuania, sought to bring their influence to bear on Lithuanian speakers, thereby shaping this embryonic sense of linguistic-national identity. The Tsarist authorities’ attempts to centralize and unify rural life around the Russian Orthodox Church hastened the radicalisation of nationalism by fueling ethno-religious conflict. The Polonisation process on the peasants was powerful throughout the 19th century, to the point that peasants “experienced a feeling of shame and tried to not speak Lithuanian”. However, this had changed by the 1870s, with the Russian ban on printing prayer books in Latin script angering the peasantry to the point that the ethnic aspect of religion fuelled a growing sense of linguistic nationalism. The intelligentsia looked to legitimising religion as “a factor of solidarity” that coexisted with wider national loyalty. The term ‘culture’ had become to be used with increasing political self-consciousness.

Economic issues also affected social groups. Valantiejus makes the claim that “Lithuanian nationalism is one of the best examples of a movement that became successful before and without industrialisation.” Economic expansionism combined with the group interests of the petty bourgeoisie and the clergy in a manner directed against more privileged social groups, particularly Jews. Political economy would be linked with ideas of community, leading to a newly-developed sense of socio-economic awareness that made people aware of their previously limited conditions. Ultimately, romanticism would have to make way for positivism for the nationalist movement to gain any steam. The economic interests of the petty bourgeoisie realized their aspirations and strengthened their economic interests by calling for political autonomy and opposing the ban on the Lithuanian language. This advanced their goals into a “qualitative new stage”, as Valantiejus  puts it.

The role of the intelligentsia also played a role in the development of Lithuanian nationalism. Most intellectuals saw nationalism as the actualization of language, folklore and literature rather than the revival of the idea of statehood. Nationalism only emerged after the loss of political memory. It emerged in the ideological formations of the student societies in the capitals in the Russian Empire in the 1880s. With the publication of Varpas in 1889, romanticist notions gave way top positivism – it would be something of real and great use. This new periodical criticised the current forms of politics, culture and society. Liberty was going to become an ideologically respectable doctrine. There became a need to promote a more democratic and progressive trend of social development, infusing this idea of progress with elements of tradition. Progress became “an object of passionate devotion.” Morality would be wedded to progress by becoming an important value of national rebirth, on the same scale as freedom to Americans or equality to the French. The “historical idea of the nation took root together with the evolutionary ideals of the new social and moral order”, with material and spiritual progress being associated with the national project. The “evolutionary development” of Lithuanian nationalism required the restructuring of society while also appealing to a traditionalist ethnic core. This was to reach the peasants awakened by the religious and linguistic movement, enforce equality for the members of the national community and inspire confidence and dignity.

Several scholars argue that Lithuanian nationalism was a directed more against Poles than Russians. The belief in the superiority of Polish needed to be undermined. This would be best done, not by disparaging the Polish language in the eyes of the Lithuanians, but by elevating the Lithuanian language to its speakers and the world at large.

The coming of the 20th century saw many favourable changes for the Lithuanian nationalists. The lifting of the ban on printing Lithuanian in Latin script in 1904 strengthened the emerging nationalist movement. The defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) triggered the 1905 Revolution, which “necessitated liberal reforms and elements of democracy.” These first two events, along with the Stolypin reforms of 1906-1911 ensured that the Lithuanian nationalist movement was given “explosive impetus” for “cultural and political development”.

The lifting on the Latin script ban was done by decree of the Tsar on 7 May 1904. The intervening period of the ban allowed for a period of “intense Lithuanian maturity in national thought”, enabling Lithuania to realise “its unity and was able to foresee its future road and to mature politically.” The context of the lifting of the ban was a successful litigation by an ethnic Lithuanian engineer in 1902 on the grounds that the ban was without legal basis. This was coupled with the relaxation of the ban at the turn of the century. By the early 1900s the Imperial authorities became less concerned with the smuggling of books and papers printed in Latin characters themselves, and more focused their efforts on suppressing the revolutionary desires for independence contained in their subject matter.

The 1905 Revolution began as a reaction to the events of Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg in the context of Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the social and economic problems that had worsened in the years preceding 1905. Mass unrest started in the cities first – Moscow and St Petersburg and spreading to Warsaw, Riga, Tallinn and Vil’na – due to worker’s unrest. Its impact in the Lithuanian provinces started when workers went on strike in Vil’na on 11 January. This quickly spread to Kovno and other towns.

The Revolution had a dual effect on those pushing for Lithuanian statehood. It strengthened the nationalist cause while also giving the Lithuanian socialists a voice. A plethora of right wing and left wing associations popped up and nationalists and socialists were equally present at the 1905 All-Lithuanian Assembly. The Revolution was “another stepping-stone for the development of the Lithuanian intelligentsia that questioned its political leadership and reshaped its political and social identity.” Prior to the Revolution, the group with the largest following among intellectuals was the Lithuanian Social Democrats (LSDP), who boasted the largest membership, strong intellectual leadership and the largest network of activists in towns and the countryside. The events of 1905 allowed the party to portray itself as the vanguard of the revolution.The second-largest group among the intelligentsia was the Lithuanian Democratic Party (LDP). By 1905, this group risked separating into a conservative wing and a liberal wing full of younger activists. It would be largely due to the efforts of this latter group, which acted outside the framework of the party leadership in forming the Lithuanian Peasant’s Union, which ensured the LDP’s survival. The two other right-wing political groups, the national liberals and the Christian democrats, did not have the clear vision, programs or strategies going into the revolution would only achieve political party status until after the Assembly. This evidence tends to suggest that it was the Social Democrats who were the main beneficiaries of the 1905 Revolution. The revolution also had an impact on other ideals of Lithuanian statehood.

The nationalist intelligentsia of this period attempted to ‘re-Lithuanise’ Vil’na into Vilnius. They emerged at the turn of the century in the city as a “small but vibrant semi-urban community” in an attempt to develop their own “high (national) culture” by contrasting themselves from the Russians, Jews and Poles in the multilingual environment. The idea of Vilnius as the capital of a future Lithuanian state began with the politicization of the Lithuanian national movement at the beginning of the 20th century. The most important motive for nationalists to declare Vil’na as the capital was due to the need to substantiate the link between the historical capital of the Grand Duchy and a modern Lithuanian nation-state, which was relevant to the aspirations for political autonomy. Antanas Smetona, who would become the first president of the interwar Lithuanian state, stated that laying claim to Vilnius was the only way Lithuanians could claim to be a historic nation. The Lithuanian claim to Vil’na was also important for practical reasons. It was the largest city in the Northwest Region (Vil’na, Kovno, Grodno, Minsk, Vitebsk and Mogilev – basically historic Lithuania). Prominent nationalist Mykolas Römeris (Michał Römer) wrote in 1906 that whoever controls Vilnius controls the whole territory. The nationalists had to contend with the Russification of the city that occurred after the 1863-64 Uprising, along with the Polish politicians in the city. The threat of the Belarusian national movement was also seen as a threat after the 1905 Revolution. The Jews and the Russians in the city were also against the idea, so the Lithuanian nationalists were on their own. Political opposition from these groups and the Imperial government, when combined with the disunity between the Lithuanian left and right ensured that the intelligentsia found the task of ‘re-Lithuananising’ Vil’na impossible. In this context, it is no surprise that Wilno went to the Poland after the end of the First World War.

The Stoylpin land reforms represented the final aspect of the pre-First World War goals for Lithuanian statehood. The economic failure of agriculture following the 1861 emancipation and the 1905 Revolution convinced the imperial authorities to do away with the old communal system of land ownership and replace it with an individualist system. Hence, while the Duma was not in session, Russian Prime Minister Stolypin issued a decree on 22 November 1906 that enabled each peasant household to claim individual ownership of its land and withdraw from the commune. Plots of land were divided as per the scattered strips each household had been cultivating. This decree also abolished joint household ownership and made the head of a household the sole legal owner of property. The decree was confirmed by the Duma in 1910, which expanded it through legislation in 1910 and 1911.

During 1906 Stolypin also attempted to reform the rural institutions through a western zemstvo bill that would see the local elective bodies introduced in the Empire’s Western Provinces.Importantly, in the period between when this reform was introduced by decree (22 November 1906) and when it was presented to the Duma (20 January 1910), the Lithuanian provinces of Vil’na, Kovno and Grodno were deleted from the project. The margarine zemstvo of 1903 was never implemented here, meaning the pre-reform system of administration continued to be in place after 1911. The new law gave “gave Russians the right to elect their own representatives in Kovno and Vil’na provinces, while Vil’na town lost its right to elect one Duma member directly.” Despite this, in Suvalki province decided to tactically work with the Russian factions in order to influence public opinion in the metropole by addressing general issues that would benefit Lithuanians. Focusing on the political question of independence would alienate the nationalists from the Duma.

Older historians have stated that “by the time World War I began in 1914, great progress had been made in cultural political and organizational activities.” It is certainly true that a “revivalist” movement of ethnic Lithuanian culture had sprung up from the period following the 1905 Revolution to the beginning of the First World War. However, the some of the Lithuanian nationalists’ support for the Tsarist war effort at the onset of hostilities point to a level of political immaturity that would have to be given a greater level of maturity with the advent of Imperial German occupation in 1916. In Ober Ost, the name given to the territory the Germans occupied, Cyrillic and Russian were banned and for the first time in history Lithuanian, Latvian, Belarusian (in Latin script) and Yiddish were made into co-official languages alongside Polish and German. This, along with the earlier attempts by the Lithuanian intelligentsia after 1905 to assume leadership of the “national culture”, laid the groundwork for the “rebirth of an independent Lithuanian state” on 16 February 1918. This newly independent state emerged with a nationalism that had grown increasingly more radical during the war’s course.

The Russian Empire’s policy of Russification is relevant to a modern reading of the Russian Federation’s perceived territorial ambitions in its Eastern European backyard. The justification that the imperial authorities had at the beginning of the 19th century with regards to Lithuania being eternal Russian land is particularly pertinent. Russification and the Lithuanian nationalists’ response also highlight the modern Republic Lithuania’s distrust of its larger neighbour. Hence, feelings of anti-Russian sentiment are more deeply ingrained then the more recent era of Soviet control.