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Letters from the Melting Pot

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“There she lies,” says the hero, David Quixano, looking out over New York harbor, “the great Melting Pot—listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth—the harbour where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian, black and yellow, Jew and Gentile, . . . the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross—how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!” Israel Zangwill, whose parents were refugees, described the almost unbelievable optimism of the immigrant. His play The Melting Pot was a runaway

Letters from the Fringe of Europe

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Touring the South Caucasus, you’re likely to see what appear to be European Union flags on official buildings, particularly in town centers. This is the flag of the Council of Europe: a less exclusive group than the EU, but one for which membership does designate “European-ness”. There is a certain pride in this: In 1999, the year Georgia joined, the prominent politician Zurab Zhvania famously declared “I am Georgian, therefore I am European.” Joining the “European family” entails mutual cooperation with regard to culture, economics, and security, but does it really settle the debate? Not really. The people of modern-day Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan feel caught between Asia and Europe, not quite at home in the cultural centers of the East or the West, and demonstrating in themselves a marvelous dialectic between the two. This is the historic role of the regions called Anatolia and the Transcaucasus. The Turkish Republic was one of the first countries to join the

Letters from the Baltic

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In the mid-nineteenth century, European peoples began a movement toward self-definition in terms of “national” or “ethnic” distinctions. It was an age of social upheaval and change. With the industrialization of the Baltic region (modern Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), indigenous ethnic groups began to replace Baltic Germans, Polish-speaking elites, and Jews in towns and cities. These same urbanized populations were subject to the Russification policies of the later tsars and developed a greater sense of their own identity in response. As national consciousness arose, resistance to imperialism took the form of increased interest in folk traditions—music, literature, dance, dress, and a revival of pre-Christian religious traditions in institutional form. The principle of national self-determination shattered several empires in the First World War, leading to independence for Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland on the Baltic, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia in

リトアニア、カウナスの杉原千畝

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For English click here. 東ニ病氣ノコドモアレバ 行ッテ看病シテヤリ 西ニツカレタ母アレバ 行ッテソノ稻ノ朿ヲ負ヒ 南ニ死ニサウナ人アレバ 行ッテコハガラナクテモイヽトイヒ 北ニケンクヮヤソショウガアレバ ツマラナイカラヤメロトイヒ ヒドリノトキハナミダヲナガシ サムサノナツハオロオロアルキ ミンナニデクノボートヨバレ ホメラレモセズ クニモサレズ サウイフモノニ ワタシハナリタイ —宮沢賢治 (1896-1933) リトアニアで外交官をしていた菅原千畝氏は、戸口で100人以上の難民がいる騒動で目を覚ましました。ほとんどがポーランドのユダヤ人で、ドイツの占領から逃れようとしていました。唯一の方法は、ソビエト連邦を横断し、さらに海外に渡航するために日本へ入国することでした。ソビエトは、日本の通過ビザを持っている人にのみ退出許可を与えるだけでした。

Letters from Eastern Europe

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Nationality cannot be observed in the blood, nor in the soil, nor even on the tongue. “Nationality exists in the minds of men,” a Dutch historian explained, in the wake of the last Great War. “Outside men’s minds there can be no nationality, because nationality is a manner of looking at oneself not an entity as such. Common sense is able to detect it, and the only human discipline that can describe and analyse it is psychology. . . . This awareness, this sense of nationality, this national sentiment, is more than a characteristic of the nation. It is nationhood itself.” Nations, in other words, are not natural entities but social constructs, like race or gender, resting on sometimes insidious assumptions about the essential characteristics of their members. Today a revival of nationalism is reshaping the postwar order of Europe. These nationalist impulses emerge from a basic human desire for the perceived safety of a strong group identity, and for perceived homogen

Letters from Southeast Asia

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Nationalism assumes that the world-system naturally divides into unified societies, identifiable by the essential characteristics of language, culture, religion, history, or ancestry, and that these characteristics are held in common and retained over time. Nations are seen as rooted in a specific territory, the repository of its history and memory. The interests of the nation are taken to be the supreme good, and those interests can only be promoted by self-governance, by a nation-state. In the twentieth century, ethnic nationalism entered East and Southeast Asia like a virus, which modernized Japan caught from Europe and spread to its colonial acquisitions. In the twenty-first century, this set of assumptions continues to shape the perceptions of Asian peoples and the activities of Asian governments: to turn neighboring countries into adversaries rather than partners, to reduce pluralism to tribalism and persecution, and to reject progressive change as foreign even where it

Travel With A Microphone

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It took me a few long trips to realize that audio recordings can be just as evocative as videos at a much smaller size. Here's one from my 2016 travels in Central Asia, Russia, and Iberia, when a kind Portuguese couchsurfer let me in on his weekly poetry event. The rest can be seen here.