The Birth of North Korea

For this week and the letter ‘N’, I will be giving a brief history on possibly one of the most infamous (if not the most infamous) modern-day political anomaly that is North Korea. North Korea is a byword for oppression, modern-day dictatorships, mass poverty, corruption, and any other negative connotation relating to politics and culture – to the extent that the term “this is like North Korea” is used to immediately express unfairness, personal depravity, and sometimes just commercial inconvenience. But how did North Korea come about? This blog will look at the years between the Second World War and the Korean War and how the political power and state of the land that still exists today originated and grew.

Continue reading “The Birth of North Korea”

Don’t Mention the Empire!

 

The British Empire holds a strange place in the UK’s national memory; many young people have little knowledge of it while many older people remember it fondly, with 65% of over 65s in a YouGov poll saying the Empire was something to be proud of in 2014.[1] Considering that the British Empire lasted for 500 years, it is rarely talked about, usually only brought up when talking about immigration or invoked as a nostalgic tool to invoke ‘Britannia’ in relation to issues such as Brexit.[2] Actual detail is rarely mentioned, it’s rarely covered in film or TV despite the UK’s love of period drama and the teaching of it in schools is minor, if existent at all.

I was never taught about the British Empire in school. I was never even taught about the slave trade, except for brief mentions during Black History Month – and then only the USA’s role was mentioned. I know some people a little younger than me at least were taught about the slave trade and going back to my parents’ school days of the 1960s and 1970s, the slave trade was mentioned. The British Empire overall though was barely touched upon. While teaching of the British Empire has reportedly been improved upon in recent years, it is still patchy due to a focus on certain aspects or periods of the Empire.

The problem with teaching about the British Empire is that it isn’t easy and it doesn’t make Britain look good. Take the teaching of World War Two in Britain – the Nazis were clearly evil and we fought against them, so we’re the good guys! Great detail is gone into on the Nazi atrocities, quite rightly. However any evil done by the British is glossed over to preserve the dichotomy. No talk of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler prior to the war; or the bombing of German civilians; or the British government doing nothing to help victims of Nazi persecution (the famous Kindertransport children were only allowed to enter the country if a non-governmental organisation found them a place to stay and a £50 bond per child was paid); the internment of those who came from countries who were part of the Axis Powers; and the blind eye turned to the rape of women and children, committed by Allied troops, by the Allied leadership to name a few. Acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Allies does not make the Nazis look at any better, nor does it mean disrespecting those who died – they were not the government. Acknowledging these atrocities does however damage the myth of a heroic Britain, of a past we should be proud of. That is exactly why the British Empire is such a touchy subject.

Exact numbers of those who died at the hands of the British Empire will never be known, and no estimation will ever be agreed on but let’s take a look at a couple of generally accepted figures. 3.1 million Africans were transported by the British to its colonies and other countries.[3] 1 million (at least) died in the Irish Potato Famine, while the British government exported food from Ireland and British landlords evicted families.[4] 4.3 million died in the Southern India famine of 1876–78, while the British government exported food from India and refused to provide any charity, instead forcing the starving to work for rations that were not enough to sustain them.[5] At least 28,000 Boer women and children and 20,000 Black people died in one of the earliest examples of concentration camps, created by the British Army during the Second Boer War.[6] These uncomplicated figures are enough to cause horror for any person with something resembling a moral compass. These are indefensible. These were civilians; the excuse of ‘they were attacking us’ just simply doesn’t count for these examples.

Now there are people who claim that the British Empire was a force for good, a highly controversial claim among many historians, but the major problem with the lack of education or thorough discussion of the Empire outside academic circles means that these claims are fed uncritically to the public almost always via newspapers and politicians who are using this argument for their own political means. For example, if we refer back to the atrocities above, the Daily Mail in one article claimed that during the British Empire ‘the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out’ but we played a role in ending the slave trade and ‘successfully exported’ democracy to countries that were colonies.[7] This of course shows a rather dismissive attitude to the deaths of millions and conveniently leaves out the British role in beginning the slave trade. This is not exactly unsurprising when you consider even Wikipedia refuses to use the Daily Mail as a source; that such an article makes no attempt to even vaguely consider history properly. It is also understandable in some respects why newspapers like the Daily Mail aggressively pursue such a position; they do not exist to teach history – or even tell the truth – they are there to push a particular opinion onto readers in the hope that readers will support their political aims at the ballot box to financially support their owners. This, of course, is not confined to just right-wing newspapers but to newspapers in general.

The problem is that when many peoples’ knowledge comes from journalists set on achieving political goals the actual debate and evidence of the Empire is not present. While historians cannot escape ideology completely, at least there is some kind of attempt at being critical of their perspectives and examining evidence. If an argument is to be made that the British Empire was ‘good’ then it should be put forward properly evidenced with historical rigour, with an actual chance of experts being able to debate the argument for its historical accuracy rather than political value. This is why it is so important that the British Empire is actually taught in schools so students have a chance to critically engage with the history rather than be fed carefully condensed politicised propaganda. An evidenced debate in schools has been favoured by school leaders and historians over a curriculum based on fostering patriotism.[8] This approach has also been favoured by students themselves.[9]

The lack of knowledge about the British Empire is particularly problematic because of how much of an impact it is having today. The British Empire created Apartheid in South Africa, and continued to resist imposing sanctions on the government till the end. Claims of violence between black and white South Africans has recently been the subject of interest amongst Trump supporters. The British Empire played a large part in the beginnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict, perhaps the most controversial conflict in modern history. After pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other for the British Empire’s own gain, the rushed partition of India helped cause the bloody legacy of the events of the partition that still plagues the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Intervention in Afghanistan began with the British Empire and the volatile state of the country can be linked back to British installed puppet governments. Proper understanding of these current events cannot be achieved without the knowledge of what past events caused them, and in so many cases the British Empire played some part.

It is even still having an impact on government policy as seen with the recent Windrush scandal with those who came to Britain and their descendants from former colonies in the Caribbean being threatened with deportation. The disregard for these people who spent their early lives under colonial control and then came to rebuild the UK due to lack of work available in their own countries because of colonial policy, all while having to cope with racism and poverty when they came to Britain. The recent scandal led to many of these people facing racism and poverty all over again; with many arguing that such behaviour would have never happened to white immigrants and that the decision to destroy records was racially charged. Whether such assertions are true or not, there is certainly an issue that being former colonial subjects that their history was not considered as important as white Britons.

Despite such claims that the British Empire was a good thing, even from politicians in government, there is a strong suggestion that perhaps the British government aren’t quite as proud about it as they claim. In 2011 a group of elderly Kenyans won the right to sue the British government for the torture they allege they suffered in the Mau Mau rebellion against the Empire. As a result of this an official review of colonial government papers, which unlike most government papers had not been passed onto the National Archives, was undertaken. The review found that they had been purposefully hidden, and that also thousands had been disposed of with the expressed intention by the secretary of state for the colonies so that any records that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” should be destroyed.[10]

 

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/07/26/britain-proud-its-empire/

[2] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/dont-mistake-nostalgia-about-british-empire-scholarship

[3] http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/slavery/pdf/britain-and-the-trade.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

[5] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=S2EXN8JTwAEC&pg=PA132&dq=famine+british+empire+india&as_brr=3&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=famine%20british%20empire%20india&f=false

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml

[7] https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20180412/281861529084026

[8] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/british-empire-students-should-be-taught-colonialism-not-all-good-say-historians-a6828266.html

[9] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413714/History_for_all.pdf

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes?newsfeed=true

 

The Kite Runner- Using Literature as a source for recent times

The post will look at the historical significance in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel, The Kite Runner. The novel is a coming of age story focusing on Amir born into a Pashtun family in Afghanistan. Recently, as of Monday 10th July I went to watch the stage adaptation of it with another blogger- lauraljpotter. This got me thinking as there is plenty to right about. Particularly, life in Afghanistan during the 1970s, during the Soviet occupation and the Taliban occupation. I also touch upon Afghans who immigrated to the United States of America during the late 1970s and 1980s, mainly commenting on the accounts in the novel. For starters, I will explain the basic premise of the story and provide a general historical account of the country. Minor spoilers of the plot will be announced to emphasise the historical value of this time period.

The story starts in the mid-seventies focusing on Amir’s friendship with Hassan, who is the son of the family servant and the strained relationship Amir has with his father Baba. The themes Hosseini highlights are the following; friendship, identity, love and redemption, spanning across time from Afghanistan in the mid-seventies towards California in 2001. The modern state of Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Duran but long before this happened the area was conquered numerous times. The earliest account we know was in 330BC, when Alexander the Great conquered it. In the 700s AD, Arab armies invaded the area and the inhabitants of the area converted to Islam. Later in 1218, Genghis Khan’s army penetrated the area. This is interesting to note as it explains the ethnic mix of people that live in Afghanistan and this is still visible today, this will be explained in more thorough detail further on. Conflict did not end there as in the mid-1800s Britain and Russia clashed in order to gain control of Central Asia. There was a power vacuum in Central Asia due to the declining Ottoman Empire, Qajar dynasty and Qing dynasty in the region. This was called “The Great Game” as Britain and Russia vied to occupy these territories. Eventually “The Great Game” led to the First Anglo-Afghan War. By the end of the 1800s, Afghanistan was unwilling to allow British presence in the region and refused a mission to be set up in Kabul. This resulted in the Second Afghan War. At the time Britain acquired an empire that stretched all around the globe, it was coined as “the empire, where the sun never sets”. Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan was still a part of India and in 1893, the British established an unofficial border to separate Afghanistan and British India. A third war ensued between the Afghans and the British. In 1919 the Third-Anglo War concluded. To summarise, what this short piece does is provide a background account to the complex history of Afghanistan up until when the story starts.

Now we will focus on the country of Afghanistan in the sixties until the seventies. It was a different place to what it became in the early noughties. It was a relatively safe and stable country since 1933 when Zahir Shah quelled unrest by becoming king. Before Zahir Shah, since after the Anglo-Afghan Wars there was always a power struggle in order to establish a long lasting dynasty in Afghanistan. In the twentieth century Emir Amanullah tried to rule and incorporate western influences in Afghanistan, but civil unrest in the country ousted him out. However, from what the background account tells us, this proved to happen throughout the course of history. In particular for those who had money and prominence, life in Afghanistan was very good, full of lavish hill top homes and festivities. Life was full of excitement and opportunities were abundant. This was looked at in Hosseini’s novel. Notably, Baba and Amir’s comfortable home, Amir’s schooling, Amir’s birthday celebrations and the Kite flying competition. This reveals that Amir had a stable and comfortable home life. Expanding on this western travellers often ventured through Afghanistan as a pit stop before moving on to India. This particular route was known as the “hippie trail”.

However, that air of stability soon collapsed when in 1973 King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin. Two ideologies developed during this time in wanting to prevent gradual western ideals that occurred in the royal Afghan court. One ideology supported communism and the Soviets. This group was called the People’s Democratic of Afghanistan. Another ideology advocated for a return of religious values in society. It was the PDPA that ended up being more successful first in 1978, within a year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, plunging Afghanistan into the Cold War as a potential satellite state. They did this to strength the communist ideology of the PDPA in Afghanistan as well as extending their on sphere of influence in Central Asia. However, war ensured as not everyone was happy with the Soviet invasion, in “The Kite Runner”, Babi, Amir’s father did not want the Soviets to take control of Afghanistan. Using Babi as an example, many affluent families in Afghanistan and those who held close ties to royalty were suspected to be reactionaries and many of them like Babi and Amir had to flee to neighbouring Pakistan and as a result became refugees and wait admitted asylum. It was from there that many families moved on to the United States of America, like what Babi and Amir did. Babi and Amir like many Afghans settled in Fremont, California. A majority of Afghans who fled Afghanistan settled in the San Francisco Bay area of California like Fresno, Los Angeles, Virginia and other major areas like Illinois, Florida and Washington. Many Afghan migrants worked in unskilled professions or in the public sector. Some Afghan professions mentioned in “The Kite Runner” were traders, teachers, policeman and gas station attendants. Life was not always easy for any particular new arrivals to the USA but what Hosseini does draw attention to is the fact that it was perhaps easier for some to assimilate into the new American culture, whereas for others it was more difficult. This was looked at in the form of father and son, Babi and Amir. Babi struggled seeing as he had established himself in Afghanistan it was bound to be difficult to pack up and start again, particularly as he was living in a comfortable hill top home in Afghanistan. In Fremont he was living in an apartment block. For Amir, you could argue that it helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a writer as he improved his English, went to college to major in Creative Writing and found love and married Soraya. In essence embracing his new opportunities and attempting to pursue the “American Dream”.

The Soviets tried their best to capture all of Afghanistan, but this did not happen, they found it difficult to penetrate the countryside and this remained relatively untouched. The Soviets eventually realised that they couldn’t continue funding a conquest they knew they could never win. The geography of Afghanistan is testing as it is a heavily mountainous land-locked country. Again, more civil unrest ensued and much of the country was being taken over by mujahedin groups. The capital, Kabul managed to quell this for three years as Najibullah, an ally from Moscow was able to control the area. Eventually, Kabul fell and Najibullah lost control. Even still these rival mujahedin only managed to control the city until 1996, when they were ousted by much younger jihadis. They were known as the Taliban and controlled everyday life in Afghan society from there on in, including the vibrant capital Kabul. Kabul changed drastically under this leadership. Kabul was once a place where men and women could sit in university together and women weren’t told what to wear. This all changed when the Taliban took control and implemented a strict regime on Afghanistan.

In more recent time, in the noughties Afghanistan garnished much negative connotations and further turmoil. Most notably, the War on Terror, Afghanistan was used as a testing ground by British and American forces. After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre all attention went on combating Al Qaeda, the Terrorist group responsible for the heinous act and capturing their ringleader, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were told in “The Kite Runner” in the form of one character the antagonist, Assef who frequently tormented Amir and Hassan. He constantly made fun out of Hassan’s ethnicity of being a Hazara. Some people like Assef did not like the Hazara people as they held a belief that they were not true Afghans and how they polluted the country. This was ironic in the story as Assef himself had a Pashtun father and a German mother. Many Hazara people as a result faced widespread discrimination in everyday life. This is something that many Hazara people face even today. Harking back to what I mentioned earlier, there were two different ethnic groups mentioned in the story, one were the Pashtuns and the other group was the Hazaras. The Hazaras were said to be descended from inner Asia and more specifically around Mongolia. This makes sense considering how many times different armies came to conquer and/or settle in Afghanistan. However, this theory is not entirely confirmed and we do not know for sure where they actually descended from.

Afghanistan faced much hardship over the years and history seemingly starting to repeat itself in the form of occupation, then reoccupation, then occupation, then reoccupation an endless cycle it seems over the centuries and something that still lays bare in Afghanistan today; whether that be when Alexander the Great first captured the land or as early in 2009 when Obama increased the number of American troops to arrive in Afghanistan.

An overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa (extended version)

Original was posted on- 12/04/2015 by lauraljpotter

Original title- A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa

The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the nineteenth century after the abolition of slavery. , as the next form of cheapest labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India. The British adapted the Hindu caste system that was already in place in India since Ancient times and they continued to do so in the nineteenth century. The system was as follows; Brahmins (Priests) remained at the top of the caste system, Khsatriyas (Warriors) were next, Vaishyas (Merchants/Landowners) followed them, Shudras (Servants/labourers) were of a lower caste and lastly the Untouchables (those who killed cattle for a living/eating the flesh of cattle) were considered to be out of caste and subordinate to all. The Indian labourers that were employed to build the railway would have been a lower caste.

As well as Indians migrating to Kenya and Uganda, those countries are often studied when analysing the Indian diaspora, other Indians migrated to other surrounding countries such as; Tanzania and Mozambique. These Indian Diasporas have not been studied as much and in some cases until recently. As a result we have less information about them. However, with the limited information we have it is still informative nonetheless. We will start with Tanzania. As with Kenya and Uganda, many Indians settled in India, those who came were mainly from the Gujarat region and were traders. Many Indians who settled in Tanzania were mainly found in the large port city, Dar es Salaam and Stone Town, Zanzibar. Zanzibar in particular was home to many Parsis. Parsis were originally from Persia that migrated to Gujarat and Sindh (now in Pakistan) and practice the Zoroastrian faith. Many of them worked as merchants and for the colonial government as civil servants. The father of Freddie Mercury, Bomi Bulsara worked as a Cashier for the Colonial Office in Zanzibar and the family lived there. After decolonisation there was an anti-Indian sentiment in Tanzania and many left the country for the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Some went back to India and Pakistan. The situation was no different in Zanzibar. After the 1964 revelation, which was to destabilise the power the Arab/Asian ruling class many Africans were unhappy by this inequality and felt they were unfairly represented politically. As a result many of the Indian diaspora, namely Parsis fled to other areas in the Commonwealth with many settling in the UK.

The countries that have been covered so far were in the British Empire. There was a sizable Indian diaspora in Mozambique. Mozambique was not part of the British Empire but it was part of the Portuguese Empire in Africa. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer noted how he spotted Hindu traders off the East coast of Africa. Many Indians took advantage of the trade route between East Africa and India for centuries. Some from the Vaishya caste settled in Mozambique during the nineteenth century. Muslim traders were also present in Mozambique and were involved in trade that included; ivory and selling cashew nuts that proved to be lucrative. Beforehand some traders were involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade until it was outlawed. Some of the Indian Diaspora from South Africa continued to move up north towards Mozambique. Mozambique must have been considered a good place for the Indian diaspora and for their trade to prosper. So what went wrong?

Firstly, in the late nineteenth century there was an outbreak of plague in Mozambique and the Indian community was blamed for it. As a result, Indian migration to Mozambique as well as Asian migration in general was heavily restricted. This restriction was imposed from 1899 until 1907. However, it was still financially difficult for Indians who wanted to settle in Mozambique, the restriction was still in “force” in all but name.

Later on in the twentieth century, things took a worse turn for Indians in Mozambique after the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961. Prior to 1961, Goa was a Portuguese territory. The Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveria Salazar placed Indians in Mozambique in concentration camps and froze their bank accounts. The Portuguese claimed this was to protect them. However, another reason was that they had hoped for the Portuguese prisoners captured in Goa would be released. From the 1970s the decolonisation of Mozambique occurred. During this time many Indians left the country. Most of the Indians were of adherents of Ismailism, a branch of the Shia sect of Islam. However, unlike the Indian diaspora in other East African nations they were not forced out by those from inside the said countries they adopted as their new home. The Ismaili Indians were told to leave by an outside source, Aga Khan IV, an Imam. The case with East Africa being, they were told or made feel to leave from inside the country.

Not only did Indians migrate to East Africa, many had migrated to South Africa. Before the abolishment of slavery and arrival of the British, Dutch traders had acquired Indian slaves from the Mughal Empire and settled them in the Cape. The Mughal Empire ruled most of India apart from the southern tips. These Indian slaves were from Bengal, today the territory is in the Republic of India and Bangladesh during the 1600s. Interestingly enough they were never classed as ‘Indian’ or ‘Asian’ by Dutch Traders. They were called, ‘Cape Malay’ or ‘Cape Coloured’. However, there was no substantial rise in the Indian Diaspora until the British arrived at the Cape. Many Indians were transported to Natal Colony, today part of South Africa to work as indentured labourers, like what has been discussed previously in the post about Indians migrating to East Africa. They came to work on sugar, tea and cotton plantations that were introduced in Natal colony as the land was deemed appropriate for this type of cultivation to flourish. Again, due to a lack of indigenous labour, labour had to be imported from another Colonial hold, India. Over five decades c. 150,000 indentured labourers were imported from Tamil speaking areas, Hindi speaking areas and Telugu speaking areas. In terms of religion many of them identified as Hindu or Christian. There was a smaller Muslim population too. Colonial officials felt indentured labourers were a better choice than African workers because many of them were economically self-sufficient or that the British felt their working practices were not suitable for a growing economy based on a large supply and demand.

As with the Indian diaspora in East Africa some decided to remain in South Africa after their service. Many established themselves rather quickly in industry. These included; agriculture, the railways, fishing and clerks. Others established themselves as traders, but these Indian traders arrived after the indentured labourers. The main difference here was these traders paid for themselves in search of a new life in South Africa, whereas those in indentured labour could not afford this. Their payment was considered to be labour. These traders were mainly Muslim or Hindu Indians from the Gujarat region and Uttar Pradesh. In spite of large numbers settling in Durban, not all of these migrants settled there. Some migrants moved inland towards Johannesburg, establishing trading posts. Much to the dismay of white and even African tradesmen there was some conflict because there were more Indian tradesmen than white and African tradesmen.

Many Indian migrants faced discrimination in South Africa throughout the years, but unlike Uganda they were not forced to leave and unlike Kenya they didn’t feel as if they had to choose between British citizenship and Kenyan citizenship in Post-Colonial times. However, Indian South Africans were far from being free citizens in their new home. Indian migrants suffered from early discrimination in the colonies of; Natal, Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Some colonies treated Indians more harshly than others. For example in the late 1800s in the Orange Free State, a Boer held territory, Indians were banned from living there. Generally Indians were restricted from certain areas and professions in the other states. For example in the Transvaal, Indians were banned from working in the mining industry and they were not allowed to walk on pavements. In Natal voting rights for Indians were restricted. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi stated he received racial discrimination when he resided in the country as a Lawyer. In Cape Colony although racial discrimination occurred, it was not as bad in other colonies where they were banned entirely or that there voting rights were restricted. In actual fact Cape Colony proved to be the most lenient towards Indian migrants as they were allowed to vote, own property and prosper in trade.

During Apartheid, effective from 1948 until 1991 the population of South Africa was segregated according to the colour of their skin. People who were not considered to be white were racially discriminated. Indians living in South Africa at the time were not considered to be white, they were often classed as coloured and in some cases black. They suffered racial segregation just as much as the native population. Discrimination occurred in everyday life in South Africa. This included public facilities, employment opportunities, education and events.

The Indian diaspora is one of the largest in the world and although many have left African countries, some migrated back to Africa after the troubles of expulsion or discrimination. Today there are c. 40,000 people of Indian origin living in Mozambique, c.50,000 in Uganda, c.70,000 Tanzania, c.110,000 in Kenya and c.1,300,000 in South Africa.

Interview with Stardust Years owner, Karen Fitzsimmons.

Stardust Years is a brilliantly unique shop on the Winchester High Street, specialising in vintage and historical fashion items. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the shop for the first time and at once fell in love with the beautiful items on display. After my visit, I approached the owner Karen Fitzsimmons, and she kindly agreed to answer a few questions I had about historical fashion and the growing popularity of vintage-wear.

Q: When did Stardust Years open?

A: July, 2013

Q: Where do you get the items from?

A: That’s a bit like asking Tinkerbell where she gets her Magic Fairy Dust!  All I can say is that I go out and source all our stock myself.  We do not buy over the counter so, if you’re reading this and you have a treasure to sell please don’t come to us as you’ll only be disappointed.

Q: It must be hard to part with some of the beautiful items on sale, what has been your favourite item that you’ve encountered?

A: Oh, it is! I think there are too many to choose from but if I had to choose it would be some of the Rayne Shoes that I had when we first opened the shop.  As a result of researching Rayne Shoes, I met Nick Rayne, the son of Sir Edmund Rayne who steered the family business during its most successful years.  Rayne Shoes supplied many Hollywood stars with shoes, including Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh. They also made the Queen’s wedding shoes.

Nick bought some of our shoes for the Rayne Shoe Archive (you can see some of our shoes – including the pair we donated) in the book, Rayne, Shoes for Stars which accompanied last year’s exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum. We were invited to the Book Launch at the Dorchester Hotel, held in the famous Oliver Messel Room. It was wonderful.  I was very sad at parting with the shoes so soon after I had found them – my husband took a photo of me saying goodbye to them when we were packing them for the courier’s collection!  However, they led me on an exciting journey and I know their beauty and craftsmanship will be enjoyed by so many more people in the future.

Q: When did your interest in vintage and historical fashion begin and why?

A: I loved Cinema from an early age and I grew up watching fabulous films from the 1930s, 40s and 50s which gave me my love for the fashions of the past.  They were so creative and glamorous.


Q
:
Is there a particular era that you feel drawn to, and if so why is this? (Would you say it was based on the aesthetics of the era or a historical interest? Or both?)

A: My favourite eras are the 40s and 50s.  Across those decades there was so much diversity and creativity, even though we were plunged into a World War.  I love the tailoring, the detail and the care that went into the creation of accessories as well as clothing. Designers of some of the most glamorous fashions of the day were also involved in developing Utility Clothing (eg Digby Morton and Hardy Amies) and functional, eccentric items such as the Gas Mask Shoulder Bag (H Wald).

Q: What era of clothing is the most popular among your customers, and why do you think this is?

A: I think the 1950s is the most popular due to a number of factors.  There are the customers who are ardent vintage fans and attend a lot of vintage dances and weekend events.  The most popular period for vintage events seems to be the 1940s and the 1950s.  Then there are the customers who are looking for a dress for a special event and find the choice on the High Street limiting.  These customers find our 1950s rails attractive because of the diversity of styles that ran throughout the decade.  Whatever your figure, you can find something that suits you and looks wonderful.  The 40 and 50s were a time of great social change and these changes are reflected in contemporary fashion.

Q: What is the strangest/quirkiest vintage item you’ve encountered in the shop?

A: I can’t think of anything strange!  I always have to consider who would buy whatever I source. What I do love about vintage is that you can find quirky elements such as a 1940s clasp on a handbag or a clasp to a necklace.  We did have a marvellous 1920s bag with a mirror base and a large carved, enamel clasp which had to be twisted in a particular way to open the bag.  You can find lovely, unique accessories inside what appears to be a fairly plain handbag, too.

Q:  Do you have a vintage fashion icon or inspiration?

A: Too many to mention in terms of designers but Christian Dior is one of my favourites. I love those designers who also designed for the cinema such as Adrian, Edith Head and Irene Lentz and any of the actresses they dressed.


Q
:
Equally, do you have a contemporary fashion icon or inspiration?

A: No.

Q: Can you see the influence of past styles on contemporary fashion? If so, what would an example of this be?

A: Oh, yes.  Nothing seems to be new.  There was a recent resurgence of 1950/60s fashions, as well as the 1970s with maxi dresses (which, of course were pre-dated by earlier fashions!).  I do wonder if future fashion will ever be as exciting as the developments that occurred during the 1910s – 60s.

Of course, fashion historians will be able to point to other great periods in history.  As the way we live changes, so will the way we dress so it’s interesting to see how young fashion designers will translate that into fashion and accessories.

Q: Why do you think vintage fashion is becoming so popular? In your opinion, would the popularity of programmes such as Downton Abbey or Mr Selfridge have anything to do with this?

A: Popular culture has always influenced fashion so it’s no surprise that very successful period dramas have contributed to the continuing popularity of vintage fashion.  There have also been a lot of anniversary events around the two World Wars and I think that has increased the interest in the 1940s, in particular.

The way in which we celebrate our lives has also been influenced by popular culture and social history.  We’ve seen customers buying vintage for birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.  Sometimes, it’s been a Mad Men birthday party or a 1930s wedding. I once had three ladies in one afternoon all going to the same 1940s party but none of them knew each other.  None of them liked to dress in unfamiliar clothing! (With each lady, I looked at our reference books, discussed what they already had in their wardrobe and accented it with an accessory or advice on hair).

Q: What would you say to someone with a newly found interest in vintage and historical fashion? Any tips or advice?

A: I would recommend joining the mailing list of the Fashion & Textile Museum in London.  They have some fabulous exhibitions. I would advise anyone wanting to buy vintage to be discerning – for me, there’s a difference between vintage fashion and old clothing.  Good vintage will cost more but it’s worth it for the superb tailoring and quality of the fabrics. I have some customers who come to Stardust Years because they’ve become collectors and buy investment pieces.  Others, are looking for a high-end piece of fashion that’s unique and won’t be identifiable as a “High Street piece.” Then there are those customers who just want to enjoy wearing the fashions and feeling a little closer to the past.

Also, always try on a garment – and never over jeans! I love wearing vintage but shapes have changed – plus, we’re all individuals!  I’ve never agreed with fashion sizes – we don’t fit a designated size. For this reason, I never buy my vintage wardrobe online.

Finally, remember there are no rules – you don’t have to go for the “complete” vintage look. Sometimes, it’s just as much fun and stylish to put the past with the present and create an individual look for you.

Q: Is there any era that you dislike in terms of the fashion trends? If so, why is that?

A:  The 1970s – I remember it the first time round – and I wasn’t keen on it then!
Though, looking back, I do admire what designers like Zandra Rhodes and Emilio Pucci achieved.

Q: What do you think we can learn from vintage and historical fashion?

A: The way people lived their lives, how our values have changed and how much effort went into creating something – whether it was a dress or a handbag.  People comment that our stock is in very good condition (most of it, anyway!) and that’s generally because, people didn’t have many clothes.  “Sunday Best” was exactly that.  Hardly worn and very well looked after because their “Sunday Best” was the only Best they had.

I’ve seen haute couture items by Dior, from the 1940s and 50s, which were constructed with wide inner seams so that as the wearer’s shape changed, the fashion house could alter the dress, accordingly. Nowadays, we live in “disposable” times – if something breaks, needs a part or needs letting out, we don’t mend it, we throw it away and just buy a replacement.

Q: Have you ever encountered an item with a really fascinating history attached? 

A: We have a costume once worn by actress Glenda Jackson in the film The Incredible Sarah, based on the life of Sarah Bernhardt. The designer, Anthony Mendleson was nominated for Best Costume Design in 1976 (but lost out to Danilo Donati’s Fellini’s Casanova).  It has a gorgeous circular train and would be a beautiful wedding dress. We also have a fur wrap believed to have been worn by actress, Vivien Leigh.

Sometimes, the most interesting items are the ones that come with clues to their owner/wearer’s life eg the 1930s clutch bag that has a theatre ticket inside it, dated the 18th of August, 1945.  When we find such clues to its past, we always keep the item with the vintage piece.  I once had a 1940s suit with a damaged skirt.  The jacket was priced but the customer had to take the skirt, too (at no charge, of course). I couldn’t bear to have them parted, not after they had been together for over 75 years!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Just that if you find a vintage item remember, it is just like you; individual and unique – you won’t find anything like it anywhere else!

Q: Thank you so much for your time.

 

A great many thanks to Karen for taking the time to answer my questions, I loved reading your responses. Stardust Years will be celebrating its third birthday this weekend. To help celebrate in style, there will be free signature cocktails as well as the return of the TLC Rail, and vintage ‘Rescue Remnants,’ going free to a good home! On Sunday afternoon, between 1 and 3pm, Stardust Years will also be joined by Virginia Hannan, Bespoke Dress Design who will be available to offer tips and suggestions on dress design and alterations.

More information can be found on Karen’s Stardust Years blog, and on their Facebook page.

We’ll Meet Again: The Breakdown of Family Relationships after World War Two

Featured Image taken from: Fashion-era.com. Image shows Bridal Party leaving the Church, in South Wales in 1947.

When thinking of the World Wars and relationships, they are often thought of in two ways. The first, the strengthening of a bond after war because of what was nearly lost. The second, women widowed because her boyfriend, lover or husband never did come back. The generation of widows and spinsters after the First World War is a common phenomenon that comes up in conversation, and those who can remember the 1970s often mention the number of elderly women who were single, possibly because their husband or boyfriend had died in the war. However, for this piece, I wanted to look into something else. I wanted to counter the idea that those men who did come back, came back to strengthened relationships. In fact, it can be argued many came back different men, from the things they’d seen and done, to both wives who didn’t really understand and children they’d barely ever seen. This post will looking at marriage in general and the Second World War, which means both marriages and relationships that were established before the Second World War and those during the war. My interest here is on the effects on relationships post-war.

Divorce Rates

In their essay on World War Two and divorce in the US, Pavalko, Elder and Elder, Jr. underline that Veterans were more likely to divorce than non-Veterans. In the US, they claim, divorce rates soared to a new high, and it was usually attributed to the new, quick marriages during the war.However, there have been few studies to this field, and therefore not much discussion on what exactly caused these consequences for marriages and families. The graph below demonstrates the slight peak in divorce rates in the US, just after the end of the war. But why? Was it because the families could not cope with the return of often incapacitated men? Or was it because women had found a new freedom in the war, with industrial work, and didn’t want to give it up?

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Returning Sweethearts and Unknown Fathers

The graph above also illustrates the rise in marriages, indicating many were celebrating their sweethearts returning home, but why then did divorce also peak? One reason could simply be, the man who returned home was unknown to the family of young children. Many young children who had grown up during the war, old enough to remember it but too young to remember their father who only had returned home sporadically if at all, arguably did not understand the new hierarchy created with his return. Considering the first few years are vital in forming relationships with parents, having an absent father would have affected the development of these relationships not only in the immediate aftermath of the war, but also in later life.

Of course, one factor is that of hasty marriages in wartime, and the subsequent breakdown of these. Returning sweethearts were sometimes just that, brief sweethearts whose moment in the sun had passed. However, for many, the issue was deeper than that. Unknown fathers were returning from war, but also were changed husbands. Much has been written on the shell shock of World War One, and the repercussions from that, especially concerning deserting and cowardice. However, this is as much an issue after the Second World War. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was not defined as a mental illness until the 1970s, with the diagnosis of Vietnam veterans. The issue before and during the Second World War (and of course, after) was that only weak-minded and hesitant men were affected by psychiatric problems caused by combat. Wilbur Scott, in his article, underlines that in the Second World War, it began to be documented that even men who had performed well in previous combats were affected by trauma and mental health issues. This illustrates a changing view – that mental health problems could affect anyone.

Misunderstanding Mental Health

It was an issue that went widely ignored, much like after the First World War. Even when there was some consensus amongst medical professionals that anyone could be affected, ‘weak-minded’ or not, there was still some dispute that it was a real medical issue. One US general, George Patton, notably stated that ‘I won’t have the hospitals cluttered up with these sons of bitches who haven’t got the guts to fight.’ This attitude, and the following lack of support for those coming back at the end of the war, resulted in the straining of relationships, with both their spouses and their children..

However, it was not only the men who suffered from mental illness. Harry Leslie Smith fought in the Second World War and met his wife, Friede, during his time-serving. She was from Germany, and had seen and dealt with some life-changing experiences. Her father had been a trade-unionist and therefore an enemy of the Nazi party, and she had seen her city of Hamburg firebombed in 1943, in which tens of thousands were killed. Because of this, after the war and her move to Britain with her new husband, she grew depressed, withdrawn and anxious. Smith claims these times were particularly trying, and difficult for them to understand and get through. Mental health is viewed poorly enough now, but in post-war Britain it was barely understood, let alone talked about. Memories of shell shock shadowed the previous war, but it was something the people trying to rebuild their lives couldn’t understand in the same way.

Smith underlines how the National Health Service (NHS) and its establishment were pivotal in their understanding of what Friede was going through. The doctor they saw treated Friede for depression and what is now known as PTSD.  Smith attributes the NHS into helping save his marriage, and his wife. However, this also makes it evident that the lack of knowledge surrounding these issues meant not everybody took advantage of the new free health service, nor did many people realise there was something wrong health-wise to help treat the issue. Smith himself states it was only when a friend recommended going to the GP did either he or his wife contemplate seeing a doctor for her problems. This illustrates how many marriages and relationships may have disintegrated due to this lack of understanding, and also lack of help and discussion concerning contemporary mental health issues.

The Man’s War vs The Woman’s War

When looking at marriages and relationships between men and women in the Second World War, it is important to underline the different experiences both have had. For some women in Britain, they had been a driving force in industry and gotten a taste of working life during the war, and afterwards were expected to go back to the home and to raise their families. This was something some women could not adjust to. In the same way, it was also difficult for men to adjust from fighting in a war – from having seen death, come near to death and having killed – to going back to day-to-day work life.

Although the image of wartime for women is often that of increased freedom to work, the case for many was unexpected single motherhood – and usually the raising of very young children. Married women who had had children in the years leading up to the war had not expected to be raising their children alone. This in itself, in 1940s Britain, was a difficult task and could have had an effect on familial relationships, not only with the children and their father, but with the woman struggling to see her husband in an equal role to hers as a parent, when she had been the only one caring for the children for so many years. This would have put a further strain on family dynamics.

This post has mainly been used to establish reasons why family relationships broke down after the Second World War. It is also important to consider that not all separations ended in divorce, due to their time-consuming nature and expense, especially amongst working-class families. Unfortunately, this post is lacking evidence and is mainly based on theories, but I thought it was an interesting topic to share theories on, and hopefully in the future more research will be done on this topic. Soon, like the First World War, this period will be out of living memory and now is really a good time to start asking these questions, and a good time to build up some new evidence.

Further Reading

History of PTSD: World War Two

Harry Leslie Smith: The NHS Changed Everything

Lewis, Jane, Women in Britain since 1945 (Oxford 1992).

Pavalko, E.K., Elder, G.H. & Elder, Jr., G.H., ‘World War II and Divorce: A Life-Course Perspective’, American Journal of Sociology, 95, 5 (1990), 1213-1234.

Scott, W.J., ‘PTSD in DSM-III: A Case in the Politics of Diagnosis and Disease’, Social Problems, 37, 3 (1990), 294-310.

Wilson, Elizabeth, Only Halfway to Paradise: Women in Postwar Britian: 1945-1968 (London 1980).

The Role of Greenland in WW2 and The Cold War

Although Greenland has always been one of the more remote places of the world, its position leaves it with a potentially very significant role to play in any world-wide conflict. The Geographical location of Greenland is important for three reasons, the first being that it is part of the land that forms the ‘GIUK Gap’ which is an important naval choke point in the north Atlantic that is between the landmasses of Greenland, Iceland and the UK. Secondly Greenland is the perfect place for weather stations that are necessary for detecting conditions that may affect weather farther south and East. Finally radar stations are needed in Greenland in order to track aircraft due to it being on the shortest route between Europe and the United States.

Obviously the biggest examples that could include this region are World War Two and the Cold War. But before WW2 in 1934, the importance of the region was first discussed by the USA. In this year a mass flight of US bombers from Washington D.C to Alaska was undertaken in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the U.S. Army’s latest long-range bomber, the B-10, but it did something else: It demonstrated the importance of the Arctic to aviation. At this point the USA was most concerned about Japan and the potential for their attacks on Alaska as Anchorage, Alaska is almost exactly equidistant from Tokyo, New York City and London. That’s part of the reason it’s one of the world’s largest air cargo hubs today. Once WW2 was underway however, they soon saw a similar significance to Greenland as If you fly between the eastern United States and eastern Europe or Russia, or between the western United States and western Europe, you will need to pass over Greenland.

In April 1940, Nazi Germany occupied Denmark on its way to an invasion of Norway, and almost a year later, the United States signed the US-Danish Agreement on Greenland, which permitted the United States to establish military bases in Greenland. Despite its remoteness from densely populated areas, Greenland is considered part of North America and thus falls under the Monroe Doctrine, which states efforts by European nations to interfere with North American issues will be opposed by the full ability of the United States. In July 1940, the foreign ministers of the Americas declared that “any attempt on the part of a non-American state against the integrity or inviolability of the territory, the sovereignty, or the political independence of an American state should be considered an act of aggression.” This was aimed at Nazi Germany, which had by then occupied several European countries that had possessions in North America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, the Germans were undeterred and  in the summer of 1940, German ships, apparently on scientific or commercial missions, landed people on the eastern shore of Greenland. German submarines secretly landed other parties. These were all attempts to establish weather stations on Greenland (similarly attempted in remote areas of Canada as well) in order to help forecast the weather for Germans submarines at sea and for continental Europe. In the autumn of 1940 and again in spring 1941, German long-range aircraft flew over Greenland. This led to the belief that the United States had the authority to act to establish bases in Greenland to provide for its defense. During the course of the war, thousands of American aircraft flew over Greenland on their way to Europe. American soldiers were stationed in the icy territory as a defense mechanism, and American civilians and soldiers manned weather stations to assist the war effort farther east.

Perhaps one of the least well-known campaigns of World War II was the hunt for these German weather stations. The United States began doing this in 1940 and the job fell mostly on the shoulders of the US Coast Guard who patrolled with ships and aircraft, looking for German weather ships, or supply boats attempting to reach weather stations the Germans had set up. They were also assisted at this point by native Greenlander trackers who assisted in spotting. On top of these efforts there was also the ‘Sledge Patrol’ which was a 15 man mixed force of Norwegians, Danes and Greenlanders supported by the US who spent much of the war patrolling the coast and hunting Germans as well. On dog sleds, 2 and 3 man patrols would head out for a few months and attempt to find German weather stations in a game of cat and mouse, with the Germans Generally the mice and having to pack up their station and flee if discovered. The Germans did strike back however, in an attack on the Sledge Patrol’s base camp, killing one member of the team, Eli Knudsen, the only loss they endured.

The last land based weather station of the Germans was knocked out in October of 1944. Spotted by the USS Eastwind during a patrol, a landing party of Coast Guard sailors (Who, as part of this role, underwent special training under the supervision of commandos), made a nighttime landing and caught the Germans by total surprise, and were able to capture most of their documents. No more German land based stations were attempted after that, although offshore trawlers were still utilized.

Even before the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, some in the USA were looking ahead for what they saw as the next global conflict: The war between the United States and the Soviet Union. After WW2 the USA offered to purchase Greenland from Denmark for $100,000,000 but was rejected. For several years Denmark was under pressure from its citizens to get rid of the American military bases, while constantly in a back and forth with the USA who would not drop the issue. Events elsewhere in the world in 1948 and 1949 quickly overtook these events. The Berlin Blockade, Soviet pressure on Finland, the coup in Czechoslovakia, and the detonation of the Soviet atomic bomb in 1949 all pushed the Cold War into high gear. It became politically impossible for the Danes to evict the United States from Greenland altogether.

By 1950, the United States was putting nuclear capable bombers into its base at Thule in northwest Greenland. The following year in 1951, Denmark and the United States signed an agreement that overwrote the 1941 deal where Denmark would keep sovereignty over Greenland, but the United States would be allowed permanent military bases. In the years that followed, the American presence spread. From Thule and other air bases, the United States and Canada built radar stations as part of the Distant Early Warning Line designed to detect Soviet bombers. In 1960, the United States activated the world’s first Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar in Thule. Greenland throughout the Cold War was used as a vital position from which to defend its North and Eastern borders from potential air, missile and submarine attacks.

The 1951 agreement lasted until 2004, when the United States and Denmark signed a new Greenland defense agreement.

Maori Protests and the Treaty of Waitangi

History of the British Empire’s involvement and subsequent negative and detrimental impacts on indigenous people and societies of the lands they colonised in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is well-known. Those effects today are highly prevalent even in now developed and Westernised countries  of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with indigenous populations having faced depleting numbers, inequalities in welfare and health care and mistreatment from the government, and ongoing disputes concerning land rights. But focus has slid from the perspective of Maori people, and their history outside of New Zealand is largely ignored, and their movements and protests discussed very little.

In New Zealand, a major problem lies within the context of implementing treaty settlements via indigenous institutions. Issues of marginalisation help to fuel feelings of discontent and protests concerning their own land rights. Marilyn Lashley discusses how treaty settlements as reparative justice ‘provides neither adequate nor sufficient redress to most Maori individuals or households harmed by marginalization and the lingering legacy of dispossession.’  But where do these disputes concerning treaties originate from, and why is it felt that they are not doing enough to decrease the gap in inequality between the Maoris and Pākehā – the Maori term for New Zealanders of European descent? Lashley underlines the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi as a source of dispute. The treaty established New Zealand as a British colony, and was written in English and Maori. Lashley discusses that this inclusion of both languages has been a major cause of disagreement, as the texts differ greatly. Maori people understood that the treaty was one for power sharing between themselves and the British, and Maori people would be equal with the British in the cultural, economic, social and political life of New Zealand. From the English text, however, the Maori ceded ‘all the rights and powers of sovereignty over their respective territories’ to the British Crown. Therefore, instead of creating a united country of the European settlers and the Maori, the legacy was one of continued land disputes, wars over sovereignty, treaty rights and marginalisation.

In the 1974, the renaming of  Waitangi Day as New Zealand Day was seen as inappropriate by many protestors, who saw it as demeaned the Treaty of Waitangi. But issues had started earlier, by using the day as a national day of thanksgiving concerning issues detached from the treaty. Therefore, this caused a growing number of protests in the 1970s. In 1971 activist group Ngā Tamatoa organised the first protests at Waitangi on Waitangi Day. This would be followed by protests in 1973, in which members of Ngā Tamatoa wore black armbands, signifying the loss of Maori land. The Ngā Tamatoa were a group created by young Maoris who wished to draw attention to the loss of Maori land and indigenous rights, created in 1968. Throughout the 1970s, Maori people increasingly took part in protests concerning their marginalisation and land rights.

Government response to the protests has been arguably slow. In 1975, the Treaty of Waitangi Act ‘reasserted the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of New Zealand’ (Lashley, pp. 6). Although it went through readjustment ten years later, it still prevented the Maori tribunal from functioning as a legally binding institution.  Protests have thus continued against acts and instances in which the rights of the indigenous Maori population is negatively affected, although not as intense as protests in the 1970s. Lashley argues the most successful treaty settlements in bringing the Maori and the Pākehā  have been in language, preschools and biculturalism, using institutions like the Tainui Trust Board to provide community-based educational, social, and health services and employment. However, it is evident Britain’s colonial footprint has left its lasting mark on New Zealand’s Maori population and their voices are largely ignored in the main scope of discussion, which underlines the major reason for these protests in the last fifty years. Issues have transcended into the country’s current political situations. The Maori marae is an open space where people can gather for discussion. In 1998 then opposition leader Helen Clark was criticised for speaking on the marae when Maori women could not. Ongoing protests have meant politicians have often avoided attending Waitangi Day at Waitangi, showing the remaining passion amongst Maori people concerning their marginalisation and land rights.

Further Reading

Maori Protest Movements

Waitangi Day Protests

Lashley, M.E., ‘Implementing Treaty Settlements via Indigenous Institutions: Social Justice and Detribalization in New Zealand’, The Contemporary Pacific, 12,1 (2000), 1-55.

Merry Drinking and Home Food in Lithuania

By popular vote the guys decided July would be themed as “Food Month”. This is to say that we would look at the role food has played in history from different view points. When I came to choose my subject, I realised I had actually written about this previously: Pumpkins. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to revisit some of the areas of the blog we have left for dead. I looked through our tags and discovered that the history of Lithuania only had one update. One of my dear friends, Karolina, happens to be Lithuanian and always tells me wonders about the food from her home. So today I welcome you to embrace the Lithuanian food spirit, and as a congratulations for getting a great grade in her Archaeology Dissertation: this one is for you!

 

Lithuanian cuisine has many elements in common with that of other Eastern European and Baltic countries, particularly Poland-after all they formed a great duchy and alliance since the Middle Ages. This is the reason why there are similar types of dumplings, spurgos and blynai in Lithuanian, Polish and many Jewish recipes. The staple foods from this area are things like barley, rye, berries, potatoes, mushrooms, and certain greens, suited to the climate of the region. However, the nation making and expansionism of certain countries in Europe had great impact in the cultural and collective identity of the country, which did also leave a mark in their culinary heritage. The absorption of Lithuania into the Soviet Union did produce severe changes in the way Lithuanian food was understood- like elsewhere, Soviet product and dishes took prevalence, replacing those of the native population. Nevertheless, the local traditions were kept alive in private garden plots that the Soviet government allowed the people in the region to keep. Families dedicated themselves to the cultivation and care of these plots as a way of keeping their identity and memory alive. Since the independence of Lithuania in 1990, returning to their old dishes and recipes has been an important cultural drive as a way of re-establishing Lithuanian identity.

Now, there is an incredible amount of Lithuanian delicatessen that I could spend hours talking about. Yet, I realised there is something that remarks this revival of cultural identity, and that I am very familiar with, which I believe exemplifies the Lithuanian spirit and identity in a concise way- and without having to induce anyone into a food coma. I believe that Lithuanian brews and drinks show the right amount of tradition and innovation that their entire cuisine represents.

One of the products that is highly celebrated since the Lithuanian independence is Alus -beer. In fact, Lithuanian beer has won several international awards and its finding its own niche within the European supermarkets. (I know this first hand – Karolina knows everything about beer!). They produce this in a traditional farmhouse brewing style. Since their independence, over 200 breweries appeared in the country; many have since closed, and it is acknowledged that perhaps only 70-80 of them are still functioning. In any case, these are local produce, with recipes unknown and dissimilar to other place in Europe and the world. Another traditional Lithuanian drink is Krupnikas (Starka). This is a honey like liqueur and it dates back to the 16th century, during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It is not so popular nowadays, and in fact the beverage has rather derive into a kind of trauktine, which is like an herbal vodka, that also has medicinal properties. Mead, or midus, also has an important place in Lithuanian history. As in the rest of Northern and Baltic Europe, mead was a common drink since ancient times. Experts believe that the Balts drank and produced mead since 1600 BC. The tradition continued and is reflected in the use of this beverage by noble families as a signed of distinction and identity throughout the Middle Ages and into the 16th century. Some academics advise that the Radvila family, one of the most famous aristocratic lineages in Lithuania, used and produced med heavily well into the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 20th century there was a rise in mead production, just like with bear. Beini Šakovas Prienai bier brewery was one of the first companies to start producing four different types of mead that they will let mature for at least five years before consumption. Lithuanian mead reached its peak when Aleksandras Sinkevičius was awarded his own production certificate by the Soviet Union in 1969 as a registered product. Thus the Lietuviškas midus because a honey brew technique recognised by the Soviet power as an achievement and drink innovation. Even though mead is not very common nowadays in Lithuania, its rich history still has a soft spot in the heart of the communities.

 

As an afterword, I think it is interesting to find out that food matters so much in Lithuania that, according to Alexander Belyi and Antanas Astrauskas, national legislation on  traditional culinary tendencies must prove a continuous use and recurrence of at least 100 years. This is heavily overseen by the Culinary Heritage Foundation, created in 2001 by Birutė Imbrasienė, trying to restore some of the traditional Lithuanian recipes of 19th century. As a cultural scholar, I find it fascinating that a nation can have such a deep reflection of their cultural changes and values imbued in their everyday use and consumption: food and drink. This is true of many cultures and communities, and I believe that throughout this month, you will become well acquainted with this phenomenon elsewhere. We usually take food for granted, even though is an intrinsic part of our existence.  As we change, it changes with us. What we drink and what we eat, and how we understand these things, shows our own character, who we are, and where we come from.