Your nation or mine?
One of the big broadcasting successes this summer in Europe has been Radio Finland's weekend newscast in Latin. Begun as a promotional stunt, the five-minute bulletin has attracted a loyal following among shortwave listeners. I picked it up at 11,750 kilohertz and understood about a quarter of it as the phrases hurried by: "Germani limitem inter ipsos ... Poloni autem ... se iura minoritatis Germanorum in Polonia habitantium...nationibus potentissimis ...nuclearibus. . . . "
This reminder of a time, half a millennium ago, when Europe was cemented by a common language and culture, stood in pleasing contrast to what is going on in the Balkans, where scenes in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia evoke some of the nastiest chapters of racist nationalism in the twentieth century. Too bad Navasky and his associates did not get something from Kucan, Milosevic and Tudjman, bosses of Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia respectively, on their view of patriotism and who is fit to be reckoned part of the patria.
The Slovenes themselves have made haste, amid celebrations of newfound nationhood, to declare an amnesty for collaborators with the Axis powers. A few hundred miles north the Slovakians are dusting off their own proud heritage, evoking the salad years of Father Jozef Tiso, Catholic wartime leader who Aryanized the property of Jews and arranged with Hitler for their transport to death camps farther north.
It's enough to make one yearn for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which did impose upon large portions of Middle Europe some kind of transnational respect for minorities, as did the Communists in the postwar period now concluded. Of course, the Austro-Hungarian Empire didn't seem so great to many of its inhabitants. "From the charnel house of the Vienna cabinet:' cried Louis Kossuth in 1848, "a pestilential air breathes on us, which dulls our nerves and paralyzes the flight of our spirit." Metternich's dominions were known as the prison house of nations, and the saying was that forbidden books were the only ones read and forbidden newspapers the only ones believed. On the other hand, the Habsburgs did bring Sacher torte wherever they extended their rule. They made a dessert and they called it peace.