Place and space matter, and the setting provided by Hong Kong is more distinctive than most. The Atlantic's Bourree Lam explains how the geography of the ongoing protests in the former crown colony turned Special Administrative Region not only represents a departure from Hong Kong’s usual routine of occasional public assembly, but it also makes it less likely that events will unfold in the manner of an “Asian Spring” or “Tiananmen II”. A violent outcome certainly remains possible, but without a large central square for either protesters or police to target, any such violence will be diffuse and difficult to contain. Whether this is cause more for optimism, or concern, remains to be seen.
More evidence that Germany just isn’t that into Twitter—even in one of its greatest moments of national achievement during our global, information age. As The Economist discussed back in December, the reason for otherwise tech-savvy Germans generally shunning Twitter is ambiguously cultural, maybe tied to language but much more likely linked to Twitter’s extremely un-private nature.
Germany’s frankly unbelievable 7-1 dismantling of Brazil on Tuesday understandably saw a fair few records set. It was Brazil’s biggest ever World Cup loss, the biggest defeat in World Cup semifinal victory, and Miroslav Klose became the highest ever World Cup goal-scorer; and that’s just to name a…
Adorable in any format, I love the animated-gif presentation. The full video is on YouTube (linked above), but the storyboarded gifs allow this moment to be suspended in time, indefinitely, like a still photograph.
This ability to provide reflective pause long has made me prefer photo to video. And it is this ability to display animated gifs that makes me prefer Tumblr to Facebook. Well done, Internet.
The old Los Angeles County Courthouse, with City Hall in the background, late 1920’s. The Courthouse - seriously damaged in the Long Beach Earthquake of ‘33 - was demolished in 1936.
And here are some views of the building constructed to replace this old beauty, courtesy of Google Maps.
I generally like modern architecture, but in this case, I wouldn’t exactly call this progress.
Are You In or Out?—The Potential Unraveling of Geopolitical Tapestry in the Wake of the Crimean Referendum
Stanford University linguist, Asya Pereltsvaig, provides an overview of the many possible seams along which central Eurasia could rip apart in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Whether we see this as a new wave of post-Soviet partition, or as an aggressive move of Russian irredentism, or as a return to old-school Mackinderian geopolitics, the prospects for lasting peace on the margins of Europe and Russia have become quite a bit bleaker.
President Putin’s Fiction: 10 False Claims about Ukraine
Secretary Kerry and Company turn up the public diplomatic heat on President Putin.
1. Mr. Putin says: Russian forces in Crimea are only acting to protect Russian military assets. It is “citizens’ defense groups,” not Russian forces, who have seized infrastructure and military facilities in Crimea.
The Facts: Strong evidence suggests that members of Russian security services are at the heart of the highly organized anti-Ukraine forces in Crimea. While these units wear uniforms without insignia, they drive vehicles with Russian military license plates and freely identify themselves as Russian security forces when asked by the international media and the Ukrainian military. Moreover, these individuals are armed with weapons not generally available to civilians.
2. Mr. Putin says: Russia’s actions fall within the scope of the 1997 Friendship Treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
The Facts: The 1997 agreement requires Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, which have given them operational control of Crimea, are in clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
My post over the weekend focused on the Volga Tatars. Here is a primer on the Crimean Tatars, a distinct but historically related group that is much more directly impacted by the crisis in Ukraine.
Tatars and Tartary
The Kazan Kremlin, a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site (photo via the Kazan Kremlin State Historical and Architectural Museum)
While I was providing a quick overview of the global distribution of major religions, a student in my world geography class asked about a small patch of Islam shown on a map in the middle of a sprawling region of Russian Orthodox Christianity. My short, semi-informed answer was that the patch was centered on the Volga River metropolis of Kazan, long home to the Tatars. This post is a longer, somewhat-less-ignorant response to the obvious follow-up question: Who are the Tatars?
The Thirteenth-Century Eurasian empire of Genghis Khan was divided into four regions upon the Mongol leader’s death. The western-most of these imperial realms became, in effect, Tartary, the lands of the emperor Batu’s “Golden Horde”. (Like Kublai Khan of China’s Yuan dynasty, and Chagtai of the eponymous Central Asian empire in present-day Uzbekistan, Batu was one of several of Genghis Khan’s grandsons who ruled over parts of the old Mongol Empire in the late 1200s.) The geographic heart of Tartary was, and remains, the central Volga River valley,where a mix of medieval Turkic peoples, Mongol rulers, and the local Bulgars eventually became the Volga Tatars of today.
Rather than a singular political or cultural identity, “Tatar” has served as a label more generally applied to Central Asia’s Turkic and/or Muslim peoples whose principle source of common identity was their opposition to Slavic, Christian neighbors of the Russian and Ukrainian plains to the north and west. Even more broadly, the label “Tartar” (with an extra “r”) was used in the age of Marco Polo to describe all of the Altaic peoples, Mongol as well as Turkic, stretching across the full length of the great Silk Roads to and from China. Thus, whether one highlights the Tatars’ sackings of Kiev and Moscow in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, or Ivan IV’s landmark victory for Tsarist Russia at Kazan in the Sixteenth Century, the Tatars long have been identified as something of a bête noire, or at least a counterpoint, to Russian/Christian civilization, much like the Mongols have been for China.
Like their Slavic counterparts, the Tatars are a diverse group. For example, the Volga Tatars were one of many Central Asian groups conquered by Timur (aka Tamerlane) in the late 1300s and early 1400s, a conquest that help lift the “Tatar Yoke” off of old Muscovy and facilitated the subsequent rise of imperial Russia. Timur himself can be described as a Tatar, at least in the broad medieval sense, given his Turko-Mongol origins from Samarkand. Nonetheless, the southern/eastern orientation of his Timurid empire opened the door to Russia’s expansion and development from the 1400s onward. Another example of Tartary’s diversity are the Crimean Tatars, whose history and presence at the heart of the northern Black Sea coast places them also at the heart of the very tense Ukrainian-Russian frontier today.
Following Ivan IV’s defeat of the Khanate of Kazan in 1552, power in the Volga region generally rested with the Slavic, Christian Russians. The Volga Tatars didn’t disappear, however, and in the century prior to the Russian Revolution they strengthened their economic and political standing within the Tsars’ realm. By the early Twentieth Century, there emerged a strong nationalist movement centered at Kazan, built around the Tatar language and Muslim faith. As the revolution unfolded, the Tatars did eventually receive their own Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, but its autonomy was severely limited by Stalin, who sought to Russify this critical economic region as part of his grand campaign against the Soviet Union’s various ethno-national groups. In addition to Stalin’s repression of Tataric culture, the population suffered periodic decimating losses during the Soviet era, including famine in the early 1920s, and the devastation of World War II in the 1940s.
Russia today remains home to the great majority of the world’s estimated five to seven million ethnic Tatars (i.e., the Volga Tatars). The collapse of the Soviet Union saw a move toward Tatar independence in the early 1990s, but by 1994, Tatarstan’s enduring place within the Russian Federation had been cemented via a power-sharing agreement between Kazan and Moscow, which was championed by Tatarstan’s own strong-armed President, Mintimer Shaimiev. Tatarstan has remained an example of political stability within the often tumultuous world of the multinational Russian federation, even in the four years since President Shaimiev retired. But historic notions of a “horde” of Turkic, Muslim Tatars perceived to be threatening the core of Russian/Christian civilization will always make Kazan a potential flash point for future conflict. Especially as the current crisis in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine unfolds, Tatarstan—and greater Tartary—is a region to be watched.