Category: History

Königsberg (AKA Kaliningrad) under international law: Russian, German, Polish, Lithuanian, or simply Prussian?

The progress of the ‘star wars’ (AKA missile shield) affair, which Russia seemed willing to aggravate by talking about plans to station missiles in Kaliningrad, without any concerns whatsoever for the welfare of Kaliningraders and Europeans, should make the European Union reexamine its current policy under the Kaliningrad Strategy, of collaborating with Russia by facilitating the transit of goods and persons and helping its socio-economic development.

Instead of just hearing what Russians have to claim before the international community, the EU should ask the international community by which right keeps the Russian Federation hold on Königsberg territory, and should demand from Russia a date for devolution, no matter how hard Russian media propaganda tries to avoid the question:

Although disputes over the status of Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad have practically ceased, this should be regarded as a signal that all the parties concerned are aware of the serious repercussions that instability in that region could cause.

Geopolitical Stability has been by far the most repeated pro-Russian argument since the 90’s, also in official European Union forums (see Freedom to Kaliningrad thread); it is easily summed up into a “let’s maintain the statu quo to avoid destabilizing the region”. The murmuring of those plans to use Kaliningrad as missile base made by Russian military officials to the press, to escalate tensions in the missile shield affair, has shown how the Russian Federation respects the will of Europeans for stability in the region. Not to talk about Russia’s lack of respect for the lives of thousands of European citizens in this winter’s gas disputes, or its lack of respect for Estonian democratic decisions, or its support for the authoritarian Belarusian regime of Lukashenko

Other great arguments made by pro-Russians include “Nazi Germany”, “World War II” and “Mother Russia”, and are easily read elsewhere in Russian media and blogs when the Kaliningrad question is mentioned. Nevertheless, most Kaliningraders – whether ethnic Russians or not – show often an open mind about the return options. And even official Russian media like Russia Today recognize still in 2009 (only in English texts for outsiders) the Lithuanian claims to the territory and its return; East German rights are still taboo in Russian ‘free’ media, while Polish claims are probably too weak to be worth mentioning:

The region became an administrative unit of Russia [sic] in 1946 after the Potsdam conference and the partition of Germany. Although it solidified as an administrative entity, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the issue of reassimilating the Kaliningrad region into its historic entity of Lithuania arose.

According to a thorough study on the question (The Kaliningrad Challenge, 2003) Russia has been always concerned about the risk of separatism in Kaliningrad, which might be greater than expected if the European Report The EU and Kaliningrad (2002) is correct in assessing that Kaliningrad’s level of development is closer to Lithuania and Latvia than previously thought. In that sense, ethnic Russian Kaliningraders see Kaliningrad in the future as another Baltic Republic, either still somehow federated to Russia with great autonomy or fully independent. Moreover,

There are opinion polls – now more frequently held within blogs and forums – which show that Kaliningraders occasionally imagine their future not so much as a fourth Baltic Republic, but as part of a return to Germany

As it has been already argued on the situation of Königsberg/Kaliningrad region and the Northern Territories/Southern Kuril Islands under international law:

In a similar way, the Soviets also refused to discuss the final peace settlement in Europe after the Second World War. It is important to emphasize that neither the United States nor Britain agreed at Potsdam or anywhere else to the transfer of East Prussia or part of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union. Thus, although the Kaliningrad Region is currently administered by Russia, it is not a legal part of Russia.

Stalin was seeking a deal on East Prussia at the Tehran conference in 1943, drawing a line in red pencil on the map “to illustrate the fact that, if part of eastern Prussia, including the ports of Könisberg and Tilsit, were given to the Soviet Union, he would be prepared to accept the Curzon line […] as the frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland.”

This line goes roughly along the current border between the Kaliningrad Region and Poland, but Stalin’s red line on the map went virtually through the cities of Königsberg and Insterburg (see the Map). Charles E. Bolen, the interpreter for the American delegation, says in his memoirs that during their discussion, Stalin and Churchill virtually agreed on the future borders of Poland, but the official American record of the conversation says that “although nothing was stated, it was apparent that the British were going to take this suggestion back to London to the Poles.”

On February 11, 1945, at the Crimea (Yalta) Conference, the Big Three agreed on the Curzon Line as the boundary between Poland and the USSR. However, the archival material clearly shows that there had not been any legally binding agreement made between the allies about the transfer of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union at any of the Second World War conferences. This is why Stalin attempted to secure his gains at the Potsdam conference in Berlin, which took place from July 17 to August 2, 1945.

After the end of the Second World War, the Kaliningrad question began by Stalin’s personal will of revenge against Germany:

Königsberg was neither appended outright to the Soviet Union nor was it to be considered part of the Soviet zone of occupation, which had been outlined earlier in the agreement.

[The Soviet Union] acted decisively to completely eradicate the German presence in Königsberg and replace it with Soviet presence. This began even before the end of hostilities with the Reich:

Königsberg was destroyed in the last weeks of the war when there was no real reason to assault it. When the soldiers of the Byelorussian front were dying in its streets in the first week of April, 1945, the rest of the Red Army was already besieging Berlin. Seven centuries of history went up in smoke in one week of shelling and bombing. By then, the decision to annihilate East Prussia and grant Königsberg to the Soviet Union had already been taken, so the reason for its destruction remains a mystery. Did Stalin take the decision in a fit of war revenge? Did he think that the setting of an ancient bourgeois city would hamper the development of the new Soviet city he wanted to build in its place? Or did he fear that, unless turned into a pile of ruins, Königsberg might not be conceded to him by the Allies after all? Pictures and models in the bunker-cum-museum where the capitulation of the city was signed are revealing. Most of the destruction was done after-wards, when the victors took to the task of building a new city on the ruins of the old…

While the destruction of the city’s infrastructure was underway, an equally brutal purge of its population through gang rapes and indiscriminate crimes was carried out:

The demography of that part of Lithuania Minor which is under direct Soviet administration, the “Oblast,” has changed in the most radical way in all its history. The original population of the area — German as well as Lithuanian — has disappeared completely. Many had fled before the Soviet armed forces invaded the area in 1945; those who remained — several hundred thousand — either perished from hunger or disease or were deported to Siberia; the others were expelled to Germany in 1949. They all — about 1,200,000 before World War II — were replaced by about 600,000 settlers from the northern and central parts of Russia. The administration and economy of the “Oblast” has been reorganized to conform with Soviet models and practices. It has been fortified to serve the strategic aims of the Soviet Union.

Modern Claims in Europe

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there were 4 main alternatives for the future of Kaliningrad, following Raymond A. Smith’s article The Status of The Kaliningrad Oblast Under International Law (1992), which argues in favour of the Lithuanian claim, but which also addresses some historical and political questions:

From the historical [point of view] sovereignty over the territory of the Kaliningrad Oblast passed over the course of centuries from the the indigenous Old Prussian population, to the Teutonic Order, to the Kingdom of Poland, to the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and finally, perhaps, to the USSR/RSFSR. It is not surprising, then, to find that each of these entities (with the exception, of course, of the Teutonic Order) has a conceivable claim to this territory. This section examines the legal basis, or lack thereof, of the actual or potential claim of each entity, as well as the potential claim of the indigenous population.

  • The German Claim: Some Germans challenge the validity of both the Final Settlement and the original “dismemberment” of the German Reich.
    Their arguments are complex but can be reduced in essence to two claims:

    1. the Allies had no power to allow German territory to be annexed by other countries
    2. the West Germany and even the modern Federal Republic of Germany are not coextensive with the German Reich and are therefore not competent to speak for it in its entirety

    The first proposition is supported by numerous charges: that the guarantees of self-determination in the Atlantic Charter, the UN Charter, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties were ignored; that the Ancient Roman principle of ex injuria non oritur jus prohibits punishing Germany by unilateral confiscation of its territory; that the powers of the Allies as occupiers were strictly curtailed by the Hague Laws of War of 1907; that use of German lands as “compensation” to Poland for lands lost to the Soviet Union has no basis in international law; and many others.

  • The Russian Claim: As the historical overview recounted, the working premise of the Potsdam Conference was that the Soviets would receive the Oblast at the final peace conference. The Allies specifically committed themselves to supporting the Soviet claim in the Final Settlement, but when that settlement was finally signed in 1990, specific title was not transferred. Why the Final Settlement did not include a specific statement of transfer is unclear. The seemingly most probable reason is that the transfer of Kaliningrad to the Soviet Union is considered a fait accompli and that the legal niceties of including a specific mention of transfer were outweighed by potential political embarassment such a mention might have caused the Kohl government. Such a position assumes that the tranfer has already taken place, an assertion which rests on shaky ground.

    Similarly, the Act of Military Surrender specifically indicates that the occupation itself did not effect the annexation of Germany. Thus, although Germany surrendered unconditionally, none of its territories were automatically annexed to any other state. Such annexation would have to be made explicit in a legally binding document. Only “administration” was established by the Potsdam Agreement, however, and “administration” is definitely not the same as “annexation” under international law.

    Rather than present arguments based on international law, Stalin advanced the law of revenge. ‘The Russians had suffered so much and lost so much blood, they were anxious to have some small satisfaction to [sic] tens of millions of their inhabitants who had suffered in the war,” Stalin said at Potsdam.

    In the absence of ethnic and historical claims to shore up their questionable legal claim, then, the only argument which the Soviet Union can depend upon is the principle of prescriptive claim. This principle transfers title to land when a country has held it for a long period of time without protest by the land’s original owners or by the international community at large. No specific time frame is suggested for the acquisition of prescriptive claim. Grotius suggested 100 years, a figure which the Permanent Court of International Justice endorsed in 1933. The International Court of Justice, on the other hand, said that fifty years had been long enough for a boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana to have legal effect.

  • The Polish Claim: Poland has no ethnic claim to the Oblast. Although the southern half of East Prussia was occupied mainly by Polish Masurians, they had almost no presence in the northern part.

    Poland’s historic claim is only marginally stronger. For some two centuries, Prussia was a fief of the Polish King, but during that period the area remained firmly under German control. In any case, title was decisively transferred by the Treaty of Wehlau in 1657. During World War II many Poles operated under the belief that all of East Prussia would become theirs, but they were never legally promised the territory in its entirety.

  • Lithuanian Claim: The claim of the Lithuanian state could rely upon both ethnic and historical grounds.
    1. The Lithuanians may argue that
      the first peoples to hold sovereignty over the region were ethnic Lithuanians and closely related Old Prussians, and
    2. the pre-1945 population outside the cities of the Oblast was largely of Lithuanian origin. If the status of the Oblast were to be altered in the future, then, the Lithuanian state could have a strong argument for assimilating this remainder of Lithuania Minor.

    The idea of unifying the Oblast with the rest of Lithuania has strong historical precedents. Lithuanian assemblies met in Chicago and New York in 1914, The Hague in 1916 and Berne in 1917 to demand an independent Lithuania including all of Lithuania Minor. An assembly in Vilnius in 1917 restated the problem to define the new Lithuania within its “ethnographic borders,” a concept endorsed by a later assembly in Voronezh the same year.
    Finally, on November 30, 1918, the National Council of Prussian Lithuania issued the Declaration of Tilsit:

    Taking into account that everything that exists has a right to continue existing and that we, Lithuanians who live here in Prussian Lithuania, are the majority of the population of this land, we demand, on the basis of Wilson’s right of national self-determination, that Lithuania Minor be joined to Lithuania Major

    The clearest catch here is that any annexation of the Oblast by Lithuania might hinge upon the democratic decision of an indigenous Lithuanian majority to authorize such an annexation. And, as we have seen, virtually none of the indigenous Lithuanian population remains in the Oblast, having fled or been killed or exiled after World War II. This raises the final claim to be discussed — that of the indigenous population.

  • The Claim of the Native Population: The right to national self-determination is one of the main cornerstones of the contemporary international legal order. Eight of Wilson’s Fourteen Points refer to such concerns. The Atlantic Charter’s third and fourth principles call for self-determination in matters of both boundaries and choice of government. The Charter of the United Nations calls for colonial powers to foster self-determination in “non-self governing territories”. That right might be interpreted as concerning:
    1. The Oblast’s postwar ethnic Russian settlers – as opposed to central Soviet or Russian authorities.
    2. the traditional population which was decimated or expelled en masse after World War II, which is defended on the grounds that forcible deportations of native populations is clearly in violation of international law – native Königsbergers expelled after World War II, then, have a right under international law to choose to return to their native land.

    On that question, there is the precedent of United Nations action regarding the settlement of Gibraltar:

    As in the case of the Oblast, the key issue was whether the rightful native population of the Rock should be considered to be the contemporary residents or an earlier population who had been compelled to depart in 1704. The British argued that over the centuries since 1704 a permanent and authentic population had been developed on the Rock, which now had the right to determine their own fate. The Spanish countered that the post-1704 population were “pseudo-Gibraltarians” and that the rightful rulers of Gibraltar Rock were the descendants of Spaniards who had resettled, for the most part, in the nearby city of San Roque.

    Under pressure from the United Nations to end its colonial occupation of Gibraltar and in an attempt to settle the status of the Rock once and for all, the British government conducted a plebiscite in 1967. The choices were stark — full political affiliation with either Great Britain or with Spain — and the result was unequivocal: 12,138 to 44 in favor of Great Britain. Nonetheless, the U.N. General Assembly once again condemned British occupation of Gibraltar, this time in the strongest language yet. It, in essence, declared the plebiscite null, accused the British of resisting decolonization, and called once again for immediate negotiations between Great Britain and Spain for a transfer of sovereignty.

    Whatever the merits of the Gibraltar case, the precedent for the Oblast is clear. If the rights of native populations can stretch back to 1704, then surely the postwar expellees from the Oblast would have an unambiguous right to return to their homeland and choose its political fate — be that choice in-dependence or association with another state. The current population of the Oblast would presumably have no say in the territory’s political future.

    The key difference between Gibraltar and the Oblast is that in the former case, there actually is a population in San Roque able and willing to resettle the Rock. No analagous “population-in-exile” exists in the case of the Oblast. Rather, much of the population of Königsberg was killed or died in exile. Those who were deported to Germany (and their descendants) in all likelihood now enjoy a standard of living which is, at least quantitatively, many times better than any which would be possible in the backward conditions of the Oblast. Further, most — although far from all — Germans seem to have accepted the loss of the prewar lands; the idea of reclaiming part of East Prussia would not necessarily resonate with much of the population. It seems extremely unlikely, then, that more than a handful of such native German Königsbergers would wish to uproot and resettle in the Oblast.

Even with German and Lithuanian strong claims about the Soviet colony of Königsberg opposing the legality of Stalin’s annexation, Russia did in the 90’s what it was used to in such cases when the Soviet Union was still a Great Power: they took the easy way, and annexed the territory to Russia, expecting the international community to accept it. Which is nice, because the EU as a Great Power will therefore be entitled to follow the same principle in the future…

In my personal opinion, the European Union faces today 3 alternatives, given Russia’s will to retain Stalin’s European exclave no matter how illegal or illegitimate it is from an international point of view:

  1. Support modern Kaliningraders in their demands of greater autonomy within the Russian Federation – and maybe a future separation from it -, which is the fairest position under modern international law, which demands non-belligerant positions (against Russia in this case) and respect for human rights – Russian settlers and their families. This is certainly the option of most Kaliningraders of Russian ethnicity, as well as most EU-politicians.
  2. Support Germany’s or Lithuania’s claims (or both), seeking to integrate Kaliningrad within the European Union, maybe as a sort of a Baltic territory co-administered by both Germany and Lithuania, financing the return of (families of) expellees to Königsberg, and the return of (willing) families of Russian settlers to Russia. This is the option preferred by many Germans and (I guess) most Lithuanians.
  3. Support the creation of a modern Baltic Prussian State (Prusa), which could help unite the Pro-Baltic (and Pro-European) attitude of Russian Kaliningraders, the will of native peoples and their families to return to East Prussia, as well as claims of EU member states to integrate Königsberg in Europe, by embracing Old Prussian history of the territory and its peoples. Modern organizations supporting the revival of the Old Prussian language would probably support its revitalization in Königsberg include the future Research Institute of Prussology and the Prussian language organization in Poland.

The third is my preferred option, not because I am some kind of language revival freak (what I possibly am, given that I also support Old Prussian language revival), but because what many (want to) regard simply as ethnic German and ethnic Lithuanian inhabitants of East Prussia in 1945 were in fact descendants of Old Prussians who had lost their language in favour of either German or Lithuanian languages, depending on the territories they dwelled when they ceased to speak Prussian. Given that historical, cultural and linguistic background of the Königsberg (or East Prussian) territory, the European Union should take action supporting the return of those expelled peoples and their families to their ancient territory, which they were forced to leave half a century ago.

There is therefore no need to support the adscription of East Prussia to modern countries or peoples, be it Russia, Germany, Poland or Lithuania. And the only alternative to modern peoples, cultures and states is to support a linguistic and cultural revival of a Prussian people and language that should have never disappeared.

Accession of Turkey to the European Union: A Quick Reference of Common Pros and Cons

Spanish President (i.e. Prime Minister) José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero promised he will personally support Turkey’s accesion to the European Union for 2010, because – he says – “that great country has been waiting for too long at the doors of Europe”. That is probably a follow-up of his concept of the Alliance of Civilizations, which was created within the UN thanks to his personal promotion, mainly with the support from Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Common criticism to Turkey’s membership by Europeans include:

1. Turkey is not in Europe, and the European Union should only accept European countries.

  • It depends on the concept of the European continent. But Europe is a geopolitical concept, just like North America – it began as a regional concept (modern Greece) different from Asia (modern Anatolia), and has been extended to include from Portugal to the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus. Today it is clear that the geographical continent is Eurasia (Europe+Asia), or even Afro-Eurasia, like North and South America are in fact part of a common America.
  • It also depends on what you define as “being in”. A part of Turkey (region of Marmara, including Istambul) is in Europe, although its largest territory lies in Asia. Russia is in a similar situation, but few people would doubt its classification as a European country. Spain has territory outside Europe (like Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands, all in Africa), and so do the UK and France.
  • The whole territory of another member state, Cyprus, is in Asia. Also, the western islands (like Great Britain, Ireland, Azores and Iceland) are separated from continental Europe, but still included in the political concept of Europe.

2. Turkey is a Muslim country, and the European Union should only accept Christian countries

  • Turkey is defined as a secular, constitutional republic. Unlike most Europen countries, which lay the foundations of their modern laicism on liberal efforts, in Turkey it’s conservatives who defend a laicist country since Atatürk.
  • Turkey is a Muslim-majority country. Just like Bosnia or Albania. But, unlike Turkey, they do not define their countries as secular. And, unlike Turkey, they could probably enter the EU without problems, if their economy and politics where equivalent to Turkey’s.

3. Turkey has a Turkic (for some “Arab”) culture and population, and the European Union should only accept European peoples (AKA Indo-Uralic and Basque)

  • Hispania (Portugal and Spain) had a history of successful invasions by Celtic tribes, Romans, Visigothes and then Muslim Berbers and Arabs. Only after 1500 could the Iberian Peninsula be called a mainly Indo-European, Christian territory. Did those wars and invasions fully change the real population that dwelled the land? Modern culture and social beliefs might answer yes. History and archaeogenetics say no. The same happens with Turkey. In other words: are Turks mostly descendants from Turkic peoples? Probably not more than modern Spaniards are mostly descendants from Arabs…
  • Also, Malta, a member state of the European Union since 2004, was invaded by Arabs and its modern language is an Arab dialect.

4. Most Turks are Eurosceptics, they don’t really want to be in the European Union. Turkey will be another UK, hindering our common development as a stronger European Federation.

  • Turkey has made a great effort since 1959 to enter the EU. The majority of Turks have demonstrated more than once their will to become members of the EU.
  • Even if Turkey was a future Eurosceptic country that could try to stop the development of the EU into a stronger Federation, the EU has already developed a concept called multi-speed Europe, so that a core European Union can develop its own economic and international policies as a common State (Euro, security, etc.) while others – like the UK – can stay aside in a simple European customs union. Also, the Czech Republic entered the EU to be one of the strongest Eurosceptics, and there wasn’t a strong opposition against its membership then.

5. Turkey is too big in terms of population and could destabilize the whole European Union political, social, economic systems, as well as its international relations.

  • Turkey has 71 million inhabitants. With the preference that the European Union democracy gives to small states over populated ones (and the EU Constitution as the Treaty of Lisbon will reinforce that if approved), the 2004 enlargement of ten countries bringing 75 million people plus the 29 million people from Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 wouldn’t have been made. Also, since the accession of those countries, the EU has a population of 500 million people, and 70 million more are 14% more, while the accession of the 12 member states in 2004 and 2007 meant an increase in the EU population of 26%. That means that the possible destabilization of the EU by the accession of Turkey is now (and probably then) less risky than the accession of the Eastern Bloc.
  • Turkey’s geostrategical situation and strong Armed Forces could help the European Union become an international actor in world conflicts, including the Middle East and South Asia. Nowadays, like the invasion of Iraq demonstrated, Europe is just a handful of countries either with or against the US, without a real independent policy of its own.

6. Turkey doesn’t respect Kurdish rights, like language, politics, etc. Greek and Armenian minorities were expelled and their rights should be restored before entering the EU.

  • Linguistic rights of minorities aren’t recognized in almost any European Union member state. Apart from linguistically divided countries like Belgium, only Sweden and to some extent Spain, Portugal and Great Britain have given a legal framework for minority languages. Italy and France are obviously not far better off than Turkey in that respect, especially after the introduction of a greater degree of official tolerance for Kurdish cultural activities in 1999, encouraged by the European Union.
  • Political rights for Kurdish political parties might be compared to Spain’s declaration of illegality of Batasuna, the political arm of Basque terrorist organization ETA. The violation of human rights in Turkey are comparable to the situation in Northern Ireland in the 60’s and 70’s, to Spain’s violation of human rights during and after the transición (1973-1981), of the German Democratic Republic in the 80’s, etc.
  • Greek and Armenian populations have been displaced and genocides have been committed in Turkey. But still more recent are other European displaced peoples (Jews, Gipsies, Poles, Germans) and wars (2nd World War, Spanish Civil War, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe) in EU member states.

7. Turkey has a long-lasting conflict with Greece, a member state, and therefore it is illogical to let two traditionally enemy nations enter the Union.

  • The European Union was created by states who had fought against each other in the Second World War. One of the aims of the European Communities was to promote cooperation and peace in Europe.
  • Many European countries have historical and territorial disputes unsolved, and are still part of the EU. So for example Spain with Great Britain over Gibraltar; Portugal with Spain over Olivenza; Germany, Austria and Hungary with the Czech Republic over the Benes decrees, still in force; etc.

I promised arguments against, and I’ve already written them down:

Turkey is geopolitically, culturally and historically Asian; the majority of its population is Muslim; it has a Turkic and Arab tradition; a lot of Turks are eurosceptics; it is too big in terms of population and could destabilize the rest of the EU economically, politically and socially; it doesn’t respect human rights as the rest of European countries; and it has a long-lasting conflict with Greece and Cyprus.

Separated, all those reasons against accession could be accepted. But with such a combination of them, it will be difficult to obtain the necessary support from member states, because opponents will always have strong reasons to reject it…

A simple FAQ about the “advantages” of Esperanto and other conlang religions: “easy”, “neutral” and “number of speakers”

This is, as requested by a reader of the Association’s website, a concise FAQ about Esperanto’s supposed advantages:

Note: Information and questions are being added to the FAQ thanks to the comments made by visitors.

1. Esperanto has an existing community of speakers, it is used in daily life, it has native speakers…

Sorry, I don’t know any native speaker of Esperanto, that has Esperanto as mother tongue – Only this Wikipedia article and the Ethnologue “estimations” without references apart from the UEA website. In fact, the only people that are said to be “native Esperanto speakers” are those 4 or 5 famous people who assert they were educated in Esperanto as second language by their parents. Is it enough to assert “I was taught Volapük as mother tongue by my parents” or “I taught my children Esperanto as mother tongue” to believe it, and report “native speaker” numbers? Do, in any case, those dozens of (in this Esperantist sense) native speakers of Klingon or Quenya that have been reported in the press represent something more than a bad joke of their parents?

Furthermore, there is no single community of speakers that use Esperanto in daily life, I just know some yearly so-called World Congresses where Esperantists use some Esperanto words with each other, just like Trekkies use Klingon words in their Congresses, or LOTR fans use Quenya words. Figures about ‘Esperanto speakers’ – and speakers of Interlingua, Ido, Lingua Franca Nova, Lojban or any other conlang – are unproven (there is no independent, trustworthy research) and numbers are usually given by their supporters using rough and simple numbers and estimations, when not completely invented. Studies have been prepared, explained, financed and directed by national or international associations like the “Universala Esperanto-Asocio”, sometimes through some of its members from different universities, which doesn’t turn those informal studies into “University research”. The answer is not: “let’s learn creationism until evolution is proven”, but the other way round, because the burden of proof is on the least explained reason: If you want people to learn a one-man-made code to substitute their natural languages, then first bring the research and then talk about its proven advantages. Esperantists and other conlangers make the opposite, just like proposers of “altenative” medicines, “alternative” history or “alternative” science, and therefore any outputs are corrupted since its start by their false expectatives, facts being blurred, figures overestimated and findings biased in the best case.

2. But people use it in Skype, Firefox, Facebook,… and there are a lot of Google hits for “Esperanto”. And the Wikipedia in Esperanto has a lot of articles!

So what? The Internet is not the real world. If you look for “herbal medicine”, “creationism” or “penis enlargement”, you’ll find a thousand times more information and websites (“Google hits”) than when looking for serious knowledge, say “surgery”. Likewise, you can find more websites in Esperanto than in Modern Hebrew, but Hebrew has already a strong community of (at least) some millions of third-generation native speakers who use Hebrew in daily life, while Esperanto – which had the broadest potential community – has just some hundreds of fans who play with new technologies, having begun both language projects at the same time back in the 19th century.

Also, is the Wikipedia not a language-popularity contest? A competition between conlangers, like Volapükist vs. Esperantists, Ido-ists against Interlingua-ists, Latinists against Anglo-Saxonists, etc. to see which “community” is able to sleep less and do nothing else than “translate” articles to their most spoken “languages”? How many articles have been written in Esperanto or Volapük, or in Anglo-Saxon or Latin, and how many of them have been consulted thereafter, and by how many people? In fact, Volapük wins now in number of articles, so we should all speak Volapük? No, Esperanto is better than Volapük, of course, because of bla bla…
I guess everyone wins here: Wikipedia has more visitors, more people involved and ready to donate, while those language fans have something more to say when discussing the advantages: hey, we have X million articles in the almighty Wikipedia, while your language has less! Esperanto/Volapük/Ido/… is so cool, we have so many “speakers”! Then, congratulations to all of you Wikipedian conlangers; but, if I were you, I wouldn’t think the real world revolves around the Wikipedia, Google or any other (past or future) website popularity.

3. Esperanto is far easier than what you are suggesting. I am fluent in Esperanto, and I only studied 3 hours! And so did my Esperantist friends!

Do you mean something like saying “me spikas lo esperanto linguo” – with that horrible native accent that only your countrymen understand – and then being able to tell anyone “I speak Esperanto fluently after 3 hours of study”? And then speak about two or three sentences made up of a mix of European words more once a year with your Esperantist friends in an international “Congress”, and then switch to English or to your mother tongue to really explain what you wanted to say? Well then yes, to say “I speak Esperanto fluently” or “I learned Esperanto in 2 days” is really really easy – hey, I’ve just discovered I am a fluent speaker of Esperanto, too! Esperanto is so cool…
But, talking about easiness…Have you conlangers noticed it’s “easy” just for (some) Western Europeans, because those “languages” you are using are made of a mix of the most common and simplest vocabulary of some Western European languages, whereas other speakers think it is as difficult as any Western European language? Do you really really think it is easier than English for a Chinese speaker? I guess good old Mr. Zamenhof didn’t realize that English, French, Latin, Italian, German and Polish wouldn’t be the only international languages today as it was back then in the 19th century, when European countries made up almost the whole international community…
Furthermore, do you really really think that supposed ease of use, which is actually because of the lack of elaborated grammatical and syntactical structures, hasn’t got a compensation in culture, communication and even reasoning?

4. But I’ve been told that Esperanto is successful because it has a (mostly) European vocabulary that makes it easy for Europeans, an agglutinative structure that makes it especially fit for Africans and Asians, and some other features that make it better than every other language for everyone…
I won’t be extending into linguistic details, because those assertions are obviously completely arbitrary and untrustworthy. Not only Esperantism has failed to prove such claims, but also some people have dedicated extensive linguistic studies and thoughts to see if that was right – Esperantism has obtained independent criticism by insiders and outsiders alike, and still they claim the same falsenesses again and again. You have e.g. the thorough article “Learn not to speak Esperanto” which, from a conlanger’s point of view, discusses every supposed advantage of this Polish ophthalmologist’s conlang. Also, it is interesting that some researchers have noted the condition of Esperanto for most speakers as an anti-language, as they use the same grammar and words as the main speech community, but in a different way so that they can only be understood by “insiders”. That can indeed be the key to the perceived advantages of Esperanto by Esperantists of different generations and places, just like anti-social people like slang words to communicate with members of their community and to hide from outsiders, and it is especially interesting in light of the condition of Esperantism as an anti-social movement more than a promotion of a language, representing Esperanto with flags, slogans (“democracy”, “rights”, “freedom”,…), international consultative organizations and congresses…

5. You talk about real cultural neutrality for the European Union; but, since there are several non Indo-European languages inside the EU, Proto-Indo-European does not solve that issue either.

In fact, the European Union is made up of a great majority of Indo-European speakers (more than 97% falling short), and the rest – i.e. Hungarians, Finnish, Maltese, Basque speakers – have a great knowledge (and speaking tradition) of other IE languages of Europe, viz. Latin, French, English, Swedish, Spanish. So, we are proposing to adopt a natural language common to the GREAT majority of the European Union citizens (just like Latin is common to the vast majority of Romance-speaking countries), instead of the current official situation(s) of the EU, like English, or English+French, or English+French+German… To say that Indo-European is not neutral as the European Union’s language, because not all languages spoken in the EU are Indo-European, is a weak argument; to say exactly that, and then to propose English, or English+French, or even a two-day-of-work invention (a vocabulary mix of 4 Western European languages) by a Polish ophthalmologist, that’s a big fallacy.

6. So why are you proposing Indo-European? Why do you bother?

Because we want to. Because we like Europe’s Indo-European and the other Proto-Indo-European dialects, just like people who want to study and speak Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit do it. Have you noticed the difference in culture, tradition, history, vocabulary, etc. between what you are suggesting (artificial one-man-made inventions) and real world historical languages? Hint: that’s why many universities offer courses in or about Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Proto-Indo-European, etc. while Esperanto is still (after more than a century) another conlanging experiment for those who want to travel abroad once a year to meet other conlang fans.
We propose it because we believe this language could be one practical answer (maybe the only real one) for the communication problems that a unified European Union poses. Because we don’t believe that any “Toki Pona” language invented by one enlightened individual can solve any communication or cultural problem at all in the real world. Because historical, natural languages like Hebrew, or Cornish, or Manx, or Basque, are interesting and valuable for people; whereas “languages” like Esperanto, Interlingua, Ido, Lojban or Klingon aren’t. You cannot change how people think, but you can learn from their interests and customs and behave accordingly: if, knowing how people reacted to Esperanto and Hebrew revival proposals after a century, you decide to keep trying to change people (so that they accept inventions) instead of changing your ideas (so that you accept natural languages), maybe you lack the necessary adaptation, a common essential resource in natural selection, appliable to psychology too.

7. Why don’t you explain this when talking about Proto-Indo-European advantages in the Dnghu Association’s website?

Because if you make a website about science, and you include a reference like: “Why you shouldn’t believe in Islamic creationism?” you are in fact saying Islamic creationism is so important that you have to mention it when talking about science… It’s like creating a website about Internal Medicine, and trying to answer in your FAQ why Homeopathy is not the answer for your problems: it’s just not worth it, if you want to keep a serious appearance. We are not the anti-Esperanto league or something, but the Indo-European Language Association.
Apart from this, proto-languages are indeed difficult to promote as ‘real’ languages, because there is no inscription of them, so they remain ‘hypothetical’, however well they might be reconstructed, like Europe’s Indo-European, or Proto-Germanic – see Five lines of ancient script on a shard of pottery could be the longest proto-Canaanite text for a curious example of a proto-language becoming a natural dead one. For many people, Proto-Basque (for example) seems exactly as hypothetical as Proto-Indo-European, when it indeed isn’t. If we also mixed Esperanto within a serious explanation of our project as a real alternative, that would be another reason for readers to dismiss the project as “another conlanging joke”. No, thanks.

8. Esperanto has its advantages and disadvantages. You just don’t talk from an objective (or “neutral”) point of view: most linguists (of any opinion) are – like Esperantists – biased, so there is no single truth, but opinions.

Yes, indeed. Many Esperantists, as any supporter of pseudosciences, conclude that people might be for or against their theory, and that therefore both positions are equally valid and should be taken with a grain of salt. For this question, I think it’s interesting, for those who think in terms of “equal validity” of their minority views when confronted to what is generally accepted, to take a quick look at Wikipedia’s Neutral Poin of View – equal validity statement, because they’ve had a lot of problems with that issue. To sum up, it says that if you talk about biology, you cannot consequently demand that evolution and creationism be placed as equally valid theories, only because some people (are willing to) assume they are; if you talk about the holocaust, or medicine, you don’t place revisionism or alternative medicines as equally valid theories or sciences: there are academic and scientific criteria that help classify knowledge into scientific and pseudoscientific. Most (if not all) Esperantist claims are at best pseudoscientific, and when they claim real advantages of their conlang, those are just as well (often better) applied to other conlangs or even to any language.

9. Then why do the “Universala Esperanto-Asocio” enjoys consultave relations with both UNESCO and the United Nations? Why is Esperantism described as “democracy”, “education”, “rights”, “emancipation”,… Why do still Esperantists support Esperanto, when it hasn’t got any advantages at all, and they know it?
The only conclusion possible is that Esperantism (and some other fanatic conlangism) is actually a religion, because it’s based on faith alone: faith on believed “easiness”, on believed “neutrality”, on believed “number of speakers”, without any facts, numbers or studies to support it; on the belief that languages can be “better” and “worse” than others. And it’s obviously nonsense to discuss faith and beliefs, as useless as a discussion about Buddha, Muhammad or Jesus. But, trying to disguise those beliefs as facts helps nobody, not even Esperantism, as it can only attract those very people that see creationism and alternative medicines as real alternatives to raw scientifical knowledge. Esperanto is the god, Zamenhof the messiah and the UEA its church.

Bronze Age village discovered in central-western Romania, in the region of Transylvania

The official Agerpres news agency reported on Wednesday that a village established in the Bronze Age has been recently discovered near Zalau town, northwestern Romania. The discovery was made following an archeological discharge relating to 2 square kilometers in Recea, close to Zalau.

“It is for the fist time in Transylvania, central-western region of Romania, when a village dating back to the Bronze Age iscompletely examined,” said Ioan Bejinariu, the archeologist of the History and Art Museum in Zalau. “Only by conducting digging works on large areas of land can one have an overview of a location,” said Bejinariu who is in charge of this site. “The village consists of eight houses built in the upper region of a hill on two almost parallel rows. Pits were found near the houses used for supplies’ storage,” he added.

As many as 124 archeological sites were found, including houses, graves, supplies’ pits or ovens, as well as two human skeletons dating back to several historical periods starting with 1500-1300 B.C. and up to the 3rd and 4th C A.D., Bejinariu informed. In addition to the location originating in the Bronze Age, a well-preserved pottery kiln was discovered on the Sulduba valley, dating back to the 3rd and 4th C A.D. According to Ioan Bejinariu, the oven confirms the region used to be populated by sedentary people in that period.

I think findings like this one (and the ‘German Stonehenge‘) make clear that there is a need for further research of the old central and northern European settlements, maybe through a unified European funding, instead of spending the regional budgets of European states to promote culture in the own regions only.

The problem with such a decentralized (culture) funding – regarding the European Union as a whole – is that we could end having rich regions spending lots of money to find a handful of meaningless stones in their territories, instead of dedicating those resources to study hundreds of buried villages in cost-efficient archaeological sites located in poorer European regions. Maybe the best way to wake up the necessary interest is to learn once and for all that the migrations that shaped Europe came from the East, just like the migrations that shaped modern Spain came from the North after (or accompanying) the Reconquista.

Five lines of ancient script on a shard of pottery could be the longest proto-Canaanite text ever found, archaeologists say

According to the BBC News ‘Oldest Hebrew script’ is found:

The shard was found by a teenage volunteer during a dig about 20km (12 miles) south-west of Jerusalem. Experts at Hebrew University said dating showed it was written 3,000 years ago – about 1,000 years earlier than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Other scientists cautioned that further study was needed to understand it.

Preliminary investigations since the shard was found in July have deciphered some words, including judge, slave and king. The characters are written in Proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet.

I found it interesting because of the implications that these findings might have on classifications of dead languages into more natural or artificial regarding the knowledge we have of them, especially about proto-languages like Proto-Canaanite (or Europe’s Indo-European), which can easily move from category 9 (‘hypothetical language’) to category 8 or even 7 (‘dead language’).

As we have said before, this implies that, despite the efforts of some conlangers to make their newly created conlangs (look) the same as proto-languages like PIE – in the sense of ‘artificiality’, they obviously aren’t.

Bronze Age “German Stonehenge” of Saxony-Anhalt unearthed, maybe related to Europe’s Indo-European speakers

Some years after the discovery of the Nebra Sky disc and observatory (dated ca. 1600 BC), near what was then called the “German Stonehenge” (see Deutsche Welle news), archaeologists from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg have unearthed another similar structure, but this time probably related to the Indo-European settlers who still spoke Europe’s (or Northwestern) Proto-Indo-European, if the timeline and space have been correctly set by linguists and archaeologists.

Goseck Observatory While the Goseck observatory (reconstructed in the picture) was dated between 5000 and 4800 BC, this wooden construction – termed again “German Stonehenge” -, found not too far from the river Elbe in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, near the village of Pömmelte-Zackmünde, is supposed was used for worship between 2300 and 2100 BC, and was later covered by another “wooden pagan structure”. Which of those structures (if any) might be linked to the community of Europe’s Indo-European speakers, is yet unknown.

From the weekly Der Spiegel news, later copied by international news agencies worldwide:

Still, the scale of the site must have been impressive. Archaeologists have already discovered six rings of wooden pillars — the biggest of which has a diameter of 115 meters. In one of the structure’s outer areas there was also a circular ditch with a diameter of 90 meters. By analysing ceramic vessels found at the site, the researchers have worked out the place of worship dates back to the 23rd century before Christ and was used until the 21st century BC.

“We don’t know of any other structure like this on the European mainland from this time,” Spatzier said. It was, in fact, an exciting time in Europe: trade networks for ores, amber and salt were rapidly developing. Mankind’s knowledge was also growing by leaps and bounds, as not only goods but ideas were travelling across the continent. Around 2,500 years earlier at the very end of the Stone Age, Neolithic people had already constructed the nearby Goseck Circle — a wooden ring 70 meters across considered the oldest solar observatory in Europe. In the Bronze Age, some 500 years after the Pömmelte site was built, the famous Nebra sky disc was made. The circular bronze object likewise depicts the heavens.

First observed from an airplane in 1991, researchers are now trying to figure out how exactly the new site — dubbed by the media as the “German Stonehenge” — was used. They believe the place must have been a site for celebrations and ritual acts, as the earthen walls could not have offered defensive protection against attackers. Animal bones and vessels found at the site also point to it being a cult site. And human skeletal remains — not unlike findings at the original Stonehenge — have also been dug up. The researchers are especially intrigued by the graves of a child, aged between five and 10, who was buried in a fetus-like position, and that of a higher ranking dignitary.

On top of that, another wooden pagan structure, which probably came into use directly after the one being dug up, has been found nearby. So far, archaeologists have undertaken only a small exploratory excavation. “We might start a bigger excavation there next year,” Spatzier said — in the hopes of completely uncovering the mysteries of the German Stonehenge.

Every time such findings are made I whonder why a period of history so meaningful for the western world hasn’t yet served as scenario of an important historical novel, like Quo Vadis, or Pharaoh, or The Clan of the Cave Bear, or Aztec, etc. Any reader interested in beginning a historical fiction (blog) novel? I can help with the original language of characters 😉