Saturday, September 30, 2017

Why do Some Countries Steal History and Heritage from Other Nations?

This is an addendum to the previous article: German Saints Stolen by the Slovenes

The previous article exposed the problem of theft of historical figures by Slovenes, but did not address the question of ‘why’. Why do Slovenes steal celebrities from other nations? More specifically, why do they steal famous historical figures of German and Italian origin?

Revisionism in Slovenia

The Slovenes, having been mostly illiterate and confined to small peasant villages for so many centuries, with no independent country or civilization of their own, do not have much of a national history. Consequently, there is a lack of famous figures who can be upheld as national heroes or as representatives of the Slovene nation. Indeed, the concept of a Slovene nation did not emerge until the 19th century, and the country of Slovenia itself did not exist until 1991.

It comes as no surprise therefore that modern Slovenes have chosen to rewrite their own history and kidnap celebrities from other nations, in order to embellish their history and artificially enhance the prestige of their newly-formed country.

Other obvious motivations for these thefts includes a desire to suppress controversial events of the recent past, such as war crimes and ethnic cleansing, as well as a desperation to prove the “Sloveneness” of certain territories that today are part of Slovenia, but which historically were not Slovene. To do this they must ignore and erase the history of those who preceded them, or else adopt and usurp the history of those who preceded them.

Slovene Revisionism: The Italians of Istria and Julian Venetia

In the case of Istria and Julian Venetia, the people who preceded them are the Italians. Prominent Italian men, such as the theologian Pietro Paolo Vergerio and the physician Santorio Santorio, both natives of Capodistria (then part of the Republic of Venice, today Slovenia), are stolen away from Italy; their names are translated into Slavic and they are deceptively presented as “Slovenes”. The same Capodistria is called “the oldest Slovenian city”. In reality, the city did not become Slovene, neither politically nor ethnically, until the second half of the 20th century.

In this way, besides adding to their national prestige, the Slovenes are able to convince newer generations of Slovenes – and also attempt to convince others – that this territory has always been Slovenian, thereby rationalizing or even denying the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Italians at the end of the Second World War, and justifying their annexation and occupation of Italian territories which had no cultural or historical connection to Slovenia.

Slovene Revisionism: The Germans of Styria

In the case of Styria, both Slavic and Germanic tribes had invaded and settled this territory since the Early Middle Ages. This region therefore had a mixed population for many centuries, with Slavs predominantly living in the smaller towns and countryside villages of Lower Styria, and Germans primarily inhabiting Upper Styria and the larger cities of Lower Styria, such as Marburg.

The architecture, cuisine and overall culture of Styria clearly shows the predominating German influence over the region, and there is very little that can be considered ‘Slovenian’. For almost its entire post-Roman history, the language of administration and culture in Styria was Latin and German, and all the cultural and urban centres were markedly German, while for most of their history the Slovenes in this region had neither art, nor architecture, nor literature.

Prior to World War I Styria's population was 68% German and 32% Slovene. In 1900 the city of Marburg, the capital of Lower Styria, had a population that was 82.3% German and 17.3% Slovene. After World War I, Lower Styria was annexed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. German cities such as Marburg were Slavicized and renamed. German schools, clubs and organizations were ordered closed by the new Yugoslav regime, and many ethnic Germans fled to Austria. By the end of World War II, Marburg (today Maribor, Slovenia) was almost completely destroyed and the surviving German population was expelled by the Yugoslav Communists in 1945.

Similar events were repeated in other regions of modern Slovenia which historically had a mixed German-Slovene population, such as Carinthia and Upper Carniola. By appropriating historical German figures, such as painters, nobles, ecclesiastics and saints, modern Slovenes have been able to construct a history and fabricate a myth in which these lands have always been purely and exclusively Slovene, entirely erasing German heritage and denying their historical presence.

Revisionism in Croatia

Unfortunately this problem is not limited to Slovenia. Many other young countries, especially in the Balkans, engage in this very same brand of revisionism. Croatian politicians and academics, for example, have usurped virtually all historical Italian figures of Istria and Dalmatia and have proclaimed these men to be “Croatian”, thereby denying the millennial Italian presence in those regions and the Latin civilization which flourished there until the 20th century.

Even though these men originally had Italian or Latin names, spoke Italian and Italic dialects, wrote in Italian or Latin, belonged to Italian culture and often descended from ancient Italian families, the names of all these historical figures have been Croatized by modern Croatian authors. They have even gone so far as to proclaim Marco Polo, King Arthur and Joseph Haydn as “Croats”.

Even the churches, bell towers, palaces and piazzas of Istria and Dalmatia – built by Italian architects in a distinctly Italian style – are now claimed to have been built by Croats. The Italian artworks of the Renaissance are likewise proclaimed to have been produced by artists of the “Croatian Renaissance”, a pseudo-historical time period which never occurred in real history, but which was invented by Croatian nationalist historiographers in the 20th century.

In this way, Croatian text books are able present a falsified version of history in which Istria and Dalmatia were exclusively Croatian since the 7th century, as if Latin and Italian people did not densely inhabit those regions and contribute to its culture and civilization for all those centuries past. The Croats have thus conducted a near-perfect ethnic cleansing, not only killing and expelling the Italian population itself, but also erasing all traces of their historical presence in these lands, while usurping Italian heritage and history for themselves.

Revisionism in Montenegro

Similarly, the Montenegrins have usurped all the historical Italian figures of the Bay of Cattaro, even those who bore Italian names and who wrote exclusively in Italian or Latin, falsely proclaiming them as “Montenegrin Slavs”. Italian Dalmatian authors who flourished under Venice, and who wrote in Italian, are now proclaimed the “founders of Montenegrin literature”, despite having never written a single line in the Slavic language and having no historical connection to modern Montenegro.

Merely because the land in which these men were born and lived is today part of the modern country of Montenegro, they are today presented as belonging to Montenegrin Slav culture and heritage. In fact, the Bay of Cattaro had no connection to Montenegro until after World War I, when the entire region was annexed to the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia and incorporated into the Zeta Oblast.

Montenegro is a very young country. It was first created as a soi-disant independent principality in 1852, although its independence was not internationally recognized until 1878. It became a kingdom in 1910, but quickly disappeared from world maps in 1918 before regaining independence in 2006.

It is not difficult to understand why Montenegro is desperate to forge a history for itself and usurp an older heritage which does not belong to them: they seek national prestige, but more importantly they seek to justify their status as an independent country. For this same reason, the Montenegrin government is currently in the process of artificially inventing a separate “Montenegrin language”, in order to distinguish themselves from their Serbian neighbors.

Revisionism in Serbia

The Serbs frequently and quite recklessly argue that Croats are merely “Catholic Serbs”, thereby denying the existence of Croatian nationhood. Not only do they proclaim all Croats to be Serbs, but they use this argument as a pretext to justify their desire for a Greater Serbia, in which all of Croatia and other nearby territories such as Bosnia would be annexed to an enlarged Serbia.

Revisionism in Albania

Albanians have fabricated an entire ethno-national myth based on Illyrianism, according to which all people from ancient Illyria – including Roman Emperors and the descendants of Italic colonists – were in fact “ancient Albanians”. They further utilize this myth to justify their territorial claims over disputed regions such as Kosovo and the Greek region of Epirus.

Revisionism in Romania

The Romanians have adopted this same type of national myth by proclaiming themselves the descendants of Dacians. According to the most extreme forms of Dacomania, ancient Romania is the cradle of civilization, ancient Romanians invented the wheel, founded Rome and built the Roman Empire. Such outlandish ideas are plainly a desperate attempt to bolster national glory. More practically, this ideology is often utilized to distinguish Romanians from their Slavic neighbours, but most especially to justify the annexation of Transylvania – which historically had never belonged to Romania – and to legitimize the persecution of the Hungarian minority.

Revisionism in Macedonia

The Macedonian Slavs pretend to be the descendants of the ancient Macedonians and Alexander the Great, and deny that the ancient Macedonians were Greek, thereby entirely usurping ancient Greek history for themselves. In reality, the Slavs arrived in Macedonia only in the 7th century, a millennium after Alexander. They utilize historical revisionism not only to justify the existence of an independent Slavic Macedonia, but also to advocate for the annexation of Greek Macedonia from Greece in order to form a United Macedonia ruled by Macedonian Slavs.

The anti-historical notion of a Slavic or non-Hellenic Macedonian ethnicity was a theory advanced by the Yugoslav Communists, who sought to maintain territorial claims against Greek Macedonia and to de-legitimize Bulgarian claims on Yugoslav Macedonia, whose population identified as Bulgarian. Today, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continues the same State-sponsored rewriting of history, primarily to justify its existence and for the sake of territorial aggrandizement.

Revisionism in Bulgaria

The Bulgarians present themselves as Thracians and proclaim Spartacus an “ancient Bulgarian”. Moreover, posing as Thracians enables them to justify their argument that the entire historical region of Thrace rightfully belongs to Bulgaria.

Revisionism in Hungary

Many Hungarians claim to be descended from Huns, and sometimes claim Attila the Hun was a proto-Hungarian. The motivations behind this claim are unclear, but so far this myth has had no significant real life consequences.

Revisionism in Poland

Even the Poles have been known to participate in ethnic theft: Nicholas Copernicus, who was born in Prussia to a German family, is recognized by almost all Poles today as a “Polish astronomer”. The territory in which Copernicus was born had a long history of changing hands betweens Poles and Germans, and since the end of World War II the lands of Prussia have remained part of Poland. However, the fact remains that Copernicus belonged to a German family and was not Polish.

The theft of Copernicus represents, first of all, a desire by Poles to find an important historical figure who can represent Polish achievement in science, which is otherwise lacking, and second of all, an attempt to minimize the historical significance of ethnic Germans in Prussia in order to demonstrate the historical Polishness of that land, thereby justifying Poland’s annexation of ethnically mixed territories after the two world wars and the expulsion of ethnic Germans after World War II.

Revisionism in Russia

Russia is perhaps the most successful country in history to participate in a nationwide historical revisionism, having effectively usurped the history of Kievan Rus. Beginning with Ivan the Terrible, the Muscovites changed their collective identity, proclaiming themselves the heirs of Old Rus and changing their name from ‘Muscovites’ to ‘Russians’ in the 16th century. According to this narrative, Vladimir the Great and Olga of Kiev were Russians and therefore the rulers of modern Russia have a right to rule over all traditional Ruthenian lands, particularly modern Ukraine and Belarus.

Revisionism in Greece

Revisionism in Greece takes on a somewhat different form. Rather than claiming that specific historical figures were ethnically Greek – although such claims are made on occasion – many Greeks prefer to take credit for other nations’ achievements by proclaiming that Greeks directly or indirectly influenced other countries. One such example is the myth of Greek scholars fleeing to Italy and supposedly “sparking the Renaissance” after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.

In reality, Greek refugees had very little impact on the development of the Renaissance in Italy. The early Renaissance was a purely Italian phenomenon, a natural outgrowth of the late medieval Italian city-states, and had already begun more than a century before the fall of Constantinople. The unprecedented flourishing of arts and technology in Italy, and the rise of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, can hardly be attributed to Byzantine scholars (who, moreover, never produced anything comparable to the Italian Renaissance in their own homeland).

For several centuries now the Greeks have remained in a state of cultural stagnancy and political irrelevancy. From the medieval to the modern age the Greeks have produced very few notable philosophers, scientists, authors, artists, architects, sculptors or engineers; in recent centuries they have made very few notable technological, scientific, medical, artistic or literary contributions. As a whole, they have had very little impact on Western civilization since the end of the classical age.

The position of modern Greece stands in clear contrast to its ancient counterpart. Such a reality must take its toll on the pride of a population which produced so much in the ancient past. It is not surprising therefore that many Greeks today feel a desperate need to create exaggerated myths and take credit for the achievements of the Italian Renaissance, since they themselves have been unable to achieve such heights since the days of Aristotle.

Revisionism in Western Europe: France

Instances of historical revisionism and national theft can also be found occasionally in Western Europe. For example, the French often claim Clovis and Charlemagne as Frenchmen, even though they were Franks who spoke a Germanic language. Perhaps more notoriously, the French claim Napoleon as a Frenchman, although most are aware that he was born in Corsica to an Italian family.

Revisionism in Western Europe: Spain

The Spaniards sometimes claim Christopher Columbus was a Spaniard, even though most of the world knows he was from Genoa. Spaniards also sometimes proclaim that ancient Roman emperors such as Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius were “Spanish”, or that illustrious Romans such as Lucan, Seneca the Younger and Seneca the Elder were “Spanish”, merely because they were born in the territory of what is now Spain. However, those emperors were known to be descendants of Roman colonial families from Italy, who, moreover, maintained cultural and political ties to Italy through Rome. Meanwhile Lucan and the two Seneca’s likewise were born into the same colonial family from Italy, namely the gens Annaea who were of Oscan origin.

Such men, born to Italic families who spoke the language of Rome, and who – as Roman colonists – maintained cultural and political ties to Italy, were clearly representatives of ancient Italic civilization, and had nothing to do with the country of Spain or modern Spaniards. Such historical revisionism is little more than an attempt to usurp illustrious Romans – who were not ethnically Spanish – in order to depict the modern Spanish nation as belonging to the ranks of ancient civilization, when in reality Spain was not yet existent and the people of the Iberian peninsula did not begin to develop a distinct civilization of their own until the medieval period, after the fall of Rome.

Revisionism in Western Europe: Germans and Anglo-Saxons

Pseudo-historical ideologies such as Nordicism – according to which all ancient civilizations were created by tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed superior peoples related to modern Scandinavians, Germans and Anglo-Saxons – used to be very prevalent in the United States and Western Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, such ideas were entirely abandoned by all reputable historians and scholars many decades ago.

When they were in vogue, these ideas were utilized for several different motives, among which was a desire for the Germanic peoples to insert themselves into ancient history, as they were conscious of the fact that their ancestors had neither literacy nor arts nor urban centres in classical times, and did not develop any high level of civilization until well into the Middle Ages.

Moreover, their ancestors were often blamed for the collapse of the Roman Empire. By depicting themselves as the founders of Rome and many other ancient civilizations, the Anglo-Saxons and Germans were able to forge an imaginary history in which their own people were the ancient bearers of civilization, rather than illiterate and uncivilized barbarians, while also exonerating their ancestors from the charges that the destruction of Rome was attributable to them.

Concluding Remarks

While instances of historical revisionism and stolen heritage can be occasionally found in Western European countries, it is much less frequent today than in Eastern Europe, especially the Balkan countries where it still takes on a particularly aggressive and even genocidal form, as witnessed by the Yugoslav Wars of 1991-2001 and the ongoing territorial disputes over regions such as Kosovo.

One can argue the reasons why certain countries – often times younger, smaller and eastern – have a tendency to fabricate their histories and appropriate famous figures from other nations.

One can debate about whether or not this phenomenon is psychological and rooted in inferiority complexes, especially after having been subjected to foreign rule for so many centuries; or whether it can be perceived as a struggle for survival or cultural relevancy by smaller nations in the face of stronger or more advanced countries; or whether it is rooted in a desire to justify territorial conquest and persecution of ethnic minorities; or whether it is due to excessive envy and pride; or whether it is merely a result of poor education; or a combination of all these motivations.

The reasons for this phenomenon are certainly open to interpretation and debate. But no one can deny that this phenomenon exists, and that it can become very dangerous if not corrected.