History Department, University of Exeter
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From Karl Polanyi for president to European refugee camps in the Middle East, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Karl Polanyi for President
Patrick Iber and Mike Konczal
Should health care and education be rights, or products that those with enough money can purchase in markets? About seventy-five years ago, in response to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered, through the programs of the New Deal, an expanded definition of freedom founded on economic security—immortalized as “freedom from want” in his famous speech of 1941. In our own time, severe inequality and the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression have once again brought the issue of what should count as a right to the surface of political debate.
One candidate, Bernie Sanders, has argued explicitly that health care and education—two things that the New Deal mostly left alone—should be rights and therefore accessible to all. While public policy pundits fight over the specifics, they miss that Sanders, by discussing these things as rights instead of just policies, has changed the nature of the debate. This key distinction helps explain why tens of thousands have turned out to Sanders rallies across the country—not to mention the millions who have supported him online and at the polls—demonstrating enthusiasm for a politics that he explicitly identifies as “democratic socialism.” But what kind of socialism? [continue reading]
Eighty years on, Spain may at last be able to confront the ghosts of civil war
On a sunny morning earlier this month, a small group gathered at the entrance to Barcelona’s Fossar de la Pedrera, or Mass Grave of the Quarry. They were a mix of ages and types. An elderly woman, smartly dressed, clutched flowers as she stood next to her middle-aged son. A father and his young daughter waited patiently. Another visitor struggled to keep a restless chihuahua in check and hold on to her parasol. The Fossar is relatively inaccessible from the city. Hidden by sheer walls of sandy rock, it rarely features in the tourist itineraries. Local people generally stay away but, once a month, small huddles can be seen making a dignified progress between the plaques and monuments, tactfully slowing down as members of the group linger over a particular name or a certain tribute.
This is a place of mourning. Following the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939, the bodies of 1,700 Republicans –soldiers, civilians, people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time – were carted through the centre of Barcelona and dumped here without dignity or ceremony, after summary execution by the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco. Their bullet-ridden corpses were covered in quicklime before being thrown into a pit, the better to ensure their rapid decomposition. In a grim example of fascist humour, the medical certificates of many of the dead reported the cause of death as “internal haemorrage”. [continue reading]
The time Canada annoyed Ireland so much that they impulsively ditched the Commonwealth forever
One week after Kevin Vickers tackled a middle aged protester at a memorial ceremony, Ireland seems surprisingly fine with the whole affair. No reprimands from the police or the Taoiseach (prime minister). An Irish Independent columnist called Vickers the “courageous Canadian ambassador.” An unscientific Irish Times online poll even had 50 per cent of respondents calling him a “hero.” “Pity our own police aren’t more like him,” wrote one Irish Vickers fan. But Canada-Ireland relations haven’t always been so rosy and understanding. In fact, Irish political myth holds that one of the major milestones of their modern history is owed entirely to Canadian obnoxiousness. “There seemed to be no proper appreciation of our status,” John Costello, Ireland’s Taoiseach, would complain to Lord Rugby, Great Britain’s representative in Dublin.
In 1948, Costello had just been reluctantly sworn in as Ireland’s Prime Minister when he decided to make his first official foreign visit to Canada. There, he found a hostile governor general, a weirdo prime minister and an official dinner straight out of hell. So, Costello confided to Rugby, “I made the decision to cut through all this.” By “cut through all this,” the Irish leader meant that, at a surprise September 7, 1948 press conference on Ottawa, he unilaterally declared to the Canadians that his country was officially done with Britain and its Commonwealth. [continue reading]
IMF Finance & Development
The triumph of markets over the state appeared almost complete in the early 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall had discredited the role of the state in commanding the economic and political life of citizens. The political scientist Frank Fukuyama proclaimed in 1992 that the spread of democracy and capitalism around the globe would henceforth make history somewhat “boring.” Among economists, markets—already held in fairly high regard—gained further esteem. Prominent left-leaning economists like Larry Summers admitted to a “grudging admiration” for such champions of the global spread of free markets as Milton Friedman.
But Harvard economist Dani Rodrik refused to join the party. Instead, he warned that globalization—the process of economic integration of nations through trade and finance—may have gone too far. In a 1997 monograph, he said there was a “yawning gap” between the rosy view of globalization held by economists and “the gut instincts of many laypeople” to resist it. In the United States, he noted, “a prominent Republican,” Pat Buchanan, had just run “a vigorous campaign for the presidency on a plank of economic nationalism, promising to erect trade barriers and tougher restrictions on immigration” (themes pushed two decades later by Republican Donald Trump in his campaign for the 2016 presidential nomination). [continue reading]
The forgotten story of European refugee camps in the Middle East
Tens of thousands of refugees fled a war. They journeyed across the Eastern Mediterranean, a trip filled with peril. But the promise of sanctuary on the other side was too great. No, this is not the plight faced by Syrian refugees, desperate to escape the desolation of their homeland and find a safer, better life in Europe. Rather, it’s the curious and now mostly forgotten case of thousands of people from Eastern Europe and the Balkans who were housed in a series of camps across the Middle East, including in Syria, during World War II.
As the Nazi and Soviet war machines rolled through parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, vast civilian populations were displaced in their wake. In areas occupied by fascist troops, Jewish communities and other undesired minorities faced the harshest onslaught, but others, particularly those suspected of backing partisan fighters, also were subject to targeted attacks and forced evacuations. Amid the upheavals, the clearest route of escape for some European refugees was south and east. Many ethnic Croats living along the Dalmatian coast fled to the Adriatic isle of Vis; Greek inhabitants of the Dodecanese, a string of islands in the Aegean, found their way to British protection in Cyprus. [continue reading]
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