Beginning in the early nineteenth century, and ending with the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, historian Margaret MacMillan sets out to uncover the huge political and technological changes, national decisions and the small moments of human muddle and weakness that led Europe to the First World War. Christopher Prior finds this book effective in providing the reader with a sense of some of the complexities of topics less frequently visited by Anglophone historiography.
The War That Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War. Margaret MacMillan. Profile Books. October 2013.
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In a year when commentators and Cabinet ministers will continue to offer two-dimensional explanations for the start of the First World War, a book on the topic by someone with a proven track record of delivering popular works about complex narratives is in order. In The War That Ended Peace, Margaret Macmillan, the author of the much-admired Peacemakers (2001), has delivered an enjoyable romp through a decade and a half of European history. Continue reading
Posted by: March 9, 2014
Tagged with: book review
The EUROPP team take a look at the week in Brussels blogging
The European neighbourhood
Jan Techau at Strategic Europe writes on ‘Europe’s five deadly sins’ in the Ukraine conflict. He outlines what he views as the key strategic blunders Europe has made during the crisis, most notably ‘underestimating the attractiveness of its own model to millions of Ukrainians’. Sticking with the list format, Andrew Wilson at the UCL SSEES Research Blog has a list of ‘ten things you should know about Crimea’.
Angela Merkel and Vitali Klitschko at the EPP congress (Credit: EPP, CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Meanwhile Charlemagne’s notebook covers the meeting between Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk and EU leaders in Brussels, noting that “Russia gambled everything on trying to prevent Ukraine from signing a trade pact with the European Union… but Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine have hastened the very processes he was trying to block.”
Away from Ukraine, Susanne Gratius at the FRIDE blog takes a look at the situation in Venezuela. The EU has stressed the need for a peaceful resolution following three weeks of protests which have led to at least 17 deaths. She argues that the EU should not assume the role of mediator without first gaining the support of other Latin American countries.
The Crimean parliament has voted in favour of the region seceding from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation. If Russia agrees to this request, it is expected that a referendum will be held in Crimea on 16 March. Tatyana Malyarenko and Stefan Wolff assess opinion polling data in Crimea and write on the potential options for the region’s future. They argue that finding an interim solution which allows the situation to stabilise may be a useful way forward before making long-term decisions on Crimea’s status.
The situation in Ukraine is still highly volatile, especially in relation to Crimea and continuing uncertainty about Russia’s intentions. But there is a need to consider what a longer-term solution might look like in light of the different demands being made.
In Western capitals there has been a lot of talk, but less walk, about allowing the people of Ukraine to decide their future free from any outside interference. Western Europe in particular, it seems, is firmly focused on protecting its fragile economic recovery. Yet, not only is much of this talk informed by an assumption that Western promotion of democracy in Ukraine does not fall into the category of outside interference (while Russian actions, in contrast, do) but there is also very little in terms of hard facts to inform speculation about the motivation of people in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine.
Opinion polls carried out over the years tell a very interesting story. According to data from the Razumkov Centre, the share of the population in Crimea that view themselves as patriots of Ukraine has been around 9 per cent, which is unsurprising given that, as shown in Chart 1 below, 75 per cent consider themselves to be subject to “Ukrainianisation”.
Chart 1: Responses in Crimea to the question: “Do you agree that the Crimean population has undergone ‘forced Ukrainisation’?”
The UK has always had a contentious relationship with the European Union. John McCormick argues that this relationship has been hampered by popular misunderstandings, driven by a lack of credible information and general hostility towards European integration. He suggests that more attention should be paid to the positive aspects of EU membership and that academics should contribute more to public discussion on the UK’s future in the EU.
The British have long had their doubts about the European Union. They joined late and they had a referendum on membership within three years of joining. They have since dragged their feet on multiple EU policies (although, to be fair, they have provided important leadership on others) and they now face the prospect of a second referendum on membership. Small wonder, then, that the UK is regarded as the awkward partner in the European club.
But the recent debate in the UK about the EU has shown that while British citizens often hold strong opinions about their membership of the EU, those opinions are not always well informed. The biannual surveys run by Eurobarometer, the EU’s opinion polling service, make two key points about Britain: it is among the least enthused of all EU Member States (barely one-fifth of people in the UK currently have a positive view of the EU, placing them slightly above those in Spain, Cyprus and Greece) and it understands the EU much less than anyone else (barely one-third of Britons think they have a grip on how the EU works, one of the lowest rates in the EU).
This unfortunate blend of hostility and confusion has spawned a public debate over the EU that is replete with myths and misconceptions. Consider just three of the most persistent European fables. First, we are often told that as much as 80 per cent of British law is now made in perfidious Brussels. The figure is closer to 7 per cent, according to a 2010 House of Commons Library report. Second, Britain is losing control to unelected European bureaucrats. This argument fails to recognise the extent to which decisions at the European level are controlled by national political leaders and the elected European Parliament. Third, membership of the EU is costly. In a 2009 poll, people’s average estimate of how much the UK contributes to the EU budget was 23 per cent of gross national income. The true figure was 0.2 per cent. The spread of estimates is shown in the Chart below.
One of the key factors in the Ukraine crisis has been the role of the sizeable ethnic Russian population in the country. David Smith writes on the implications the crisis might have for two other countries with significant Russian populations: Estonia and Latvia. He notes that while citizenship policies in both countries have been unpopular among ethnic Russian communities, the focus has largely been on increasing the rights of Russian speakers rather than questioning the existence of the Estonian or Latvian state. Nevertheless, he argues that nationalist forces on both sides of the debate may seek to exploit the situation in Ukraine in pursuit of their respective agendas.
Ukraine remains in a state of high tension, following the occupation of key installations in Crimea by Russian troops. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin claims that the despatch of military units was justified by the need to protect the interests and physical welfare of Russian citizens and so-called compatriots (ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers) living in Crimea and other southern and eastern parts of the country. The deepening of the Ukrainian crisis has prompted reflection on its potential wider implications, not least for Estonia and Latvia, where Russian-speakers make up around a third of the population.
War memorial in Tallinn which was at the centre of protests in 2007, Credit: Terker (CC-BY-SA-3.0)
While many Russian-speakers living in these countries can trace descent back to the period of inter-war Baltic independence and beyond, the majority are Soviet-era migrants and their descendants. Following the restoration of their statehood in 1991, Estonia and Latvia did not extend automatic citizenship to people in this category, arguing that they had arrived as a result of an illegal annexation and subsequent fifty-year occupation by the USSR. While many have since undergone naturalisation as citizens, more than half of Soviet migrants and their descendants still hold either local ‘alien’s passports’ or passports issued by the Russian Federation.
These citizenship policies have been unpopular amongst local Russian-speakers, and have been loudly condemned by Russia, which denies that the 1940 Soviet takeover of the Baltic States amounted to an occupation and accuses Estonia and Latvia of engaging in systematic ethnic discrimination. Domestic and international frictions have also arisen over language and education policy, as both states have sought to break with the bi-national Soviet legacy and give greater prominence to majority language and culture. Divergent interpretations of the Second World War, too, have come into play, as witnessed by the unrest that occurred in Estonia following the relocation of a Soviet-era war memorial in 2007. Ethnic divisions arising from the Soviet past thus continue to pose a challenge to social and political cohesion in both countries.