28 June 2010

28 June 1914

28 June 1914...written on 28 June 2010

Ninety six years ago today the Habsburg heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot. It always amazes me, as it did people at the time, how this one event could unleash a chain reaction that completely changed the world. I reflect on this every year…so I decided to write a quick note.

In one sense we know the world never changes and never will until Christ comes back. But in terms of historical development and huge watershed events, they don't get much bigger. Rome's defeat of Carthage, the fall of Jerusalem, the Hegira/Hijrah, the humiliation at Canossa, the First Crusade, the Battle of Ain-Jalut, the fall of Constantinople, the nailing of the 95 Theses, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, Napolean…. And certainly June 28, 1914. This is just since Christ. There were others before him and certainly others beyond 1914. But when you consider the thousands of years of history how many really huge events have taken place?

Not five years later, the Habsburg Empire….rulers since the 13th century, Holy Roman Emperors, Emperors of Austria, kings of Hungary, Bohemia, and for a time…Spain, the Netherlands…the New World….

Gone…the last Emperor of Austria, Kaiser Karl II packs his family's belongings into a car and heads for Switzerland. A short time later they moved about (I can't remember all the different places..Madeira I think…) and had to stay in a borrowed house unable to pay their hotel bills. Wilson's policies broke up the empire and they were done…cast down. It's hard to even imagine. The descendants of Charles V were now broke and destitute. I'm no fan of Franz Josef or any of the Habsburgs but it was mercy…in a sense, that he died in 1916 and did not live to see it. His life had been one of grief and loss. The Habsburg lands had often been the March of Europe..they were the defenders of Roman Catholic Christendom, persecutors of Protestants, oppressors of the vast mosaic of Central and Eastern European ethnicities. Issues dating back to Habsburg times and Metternich-ian policies still plague that region today. Just the other day in the news there was row between the Slovak and Hungarian governments. The Slovaks are still bitter toward Magyarization policies from the Dual Monarchy period (1867-1918)…. The Hungarians seethe over their losses of Upper Hungary, the Burgenland, Vojvodina, Croatia, Transylvania etc…

The Treaty of Trianon drove Horthy and the Hungarians to ally with Hitler in hope of regaining their kingdom. The break of Yugoslavia in the nineties can also be traced to issues related to both the Habsburgs and the Turks….

All these things come together around the events that occurred on 28 June 1914.

The Hohenzollerns, rulers of Brandenburg and Prussia for hundreds of years and the brief but powerful 2nd Reich…were cast down. Germany in ruins, the stage being set for the rise of a new ruler who also would change the world in unfathomable ways. The model of Sacralism, the lands of the 1st Reich, the Holy Roman Empire…a thousand years of Christendom would give us Nazi Germany.

The Romanovs, rulers of Russia for 300 years…executed. Another macro-historical event in 1917…the Russian Revolution, the telos of 1000 years of Russian and Orthodox Sacralism. The Soviet Union under Lenin and then especially Stalin….would exercise more power over a larger area than the Tsars had ever dreamed of.

The Ottoman Turks who had ruled Anatolia since Manzikert in 1071, had been a force in the Balkans in the 14th century, conquerors of Constantinople in 1453, Hungary in 1526 etc…. Only after the defeat at Vienna in 1683 did the tide begin to turn against them. They were cast down and the secular state of Turkey was born a few years later…on the shed blood of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds. The Arab lands were free which would also have a profound effect on world history a few years later when oil was discovered in the newly formed Saudi Kingdom, the newly created state of Iraq etc….

Not just the Ottoman Middle East would be affected….

Persia (not part of the Ottoman empire) would now be dominated by Soviet and Anglo-American interests leading to further tensions and bloodshed later in the 20th century.

The Soviets would conquer Central Asia…and the break-up in 1991 would lead to war…new countries being created out of thin air…deliberately divisive lines drawn on maps by Josef Vissarionovich Dzugashvili….Stalin.

It's in the news today…the violence in Kyrgyzstan between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

All these events were set in motion on 28 June 1914.

Also June 28, 1389 was the day of the Battle of Kosovo. A poor date for the Habsburg heir to show up in Sarajevo. To the Serbs in Bosnia acting on orders from Belgrade….June 28 was a day of nationalist passion. It was the day their King Lazar had been defeated by the Turks. They would not be liberated until 1878 at the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish war. My great-great grandfather was a Volgadeutsche conscript in the Tsar's army.

Milosevic also made use of the day in 1989…the sixth hundredth anniversary. He promised the Serbs that never again would the Serbs suffer a defeat like Kosovo, the Field of the Blackbirds. They had been dominated by the Turks...Tito and the communists….and now they were free. It was time to fight for what was theirs. Time to deal with the Croats, Albanians, and Bosniaks….We all know what happened in the nineties with Serbia. Their nationalism has always been intimately tied in with the memory of their Sacralist state and the hope of rebirth. You don't think Sacralism plays out when a Serb who thinks of himself as a Christian kills an Albanian who is a Muslim….

People in other parts of the world seem to have better memories than we Americans….

What's the point in all this??? Well, I just wanted to sit down and type something out as quick as I could off the top of my head….and I guess what I'm trying to say is….

Just that when people woke on that day 96 years ago…they had no idea that the old order…so many things would forever change. Many ancient things would be swept away….powers cast down….it would be a whole new world dominated by new empires…new thrones. In some ways it started the 20th century down a path of unprecedented horror…never to be forgotten or taken lightly…but in some ways it can bring hope.

The world changes…the gospel doesn't. New worlds create new venues for the gospel to work. I hope Christians in America will think that way when their country falls and breaks up someday…twenty years, fifty years, or a hundred years for now. Will they trust in God and look forward with reflection and hope? Or will they cry out and wail as the people do in Revelation when Babylon falls?

If someone had written a novel in 1890 and suggested the Romanovs, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and Ottomans would all be toppled in the span of a few years…it would have been laughed at.

The powers that be are ordained of God. What will happen tomorrow, or some June day twenty years from now? We don't know….but though the world seems tossed about and flipped upside down, we can watch, hope, suffer, and live in confidence. Praise be to our God.

How can anyone not be interested in history…?

If you're interested in some of what I've talked about, email me and I can recommend some excellent books. Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan is a page turner dealing with these very legacies (ghosts is a metaphor)… I cannot recommend it enough. His analysis isn't always perfect, but the book is a fascinating journey and lesson. A great place to start…..

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