Dissolving: Private code

Many years ago, I drove a car with automatic gear shift for the first time in Tbilisi. To avoid practicing the new technology in urban traffic, first Lloyd came to the wheel. He had long been driving at home, in the States, but never in Europe. At the first intersection, he asked: “What does that red board mean with the white line? Should we stop?” “No, Lloyd. You should not enter.” And then: “And that yellow diamond?” “Highway, we have the precedent to cross.” “How silly. They should rather put a STOP board in the crossing street.” After a couple of questions I asked, suspiciously: “Lloyd, how many pages is your Highway Code Book?” “Well, twenty or so. We do not have such silly boards. Everyone is expected to drive with a sober mind, and in doubtful cases they write it with text.”

In my experience, the drivers in Tbilisi are also led by Lloyd’s wise principles. They do not care much with traffic signs, they rather use private codes: beeps, blinking, hand signals, overshouting. And unique markings on their cards, which are not included in any Code Book, but provide more information about the owner and his intentions than any road sign.

Tbilisi, Jewish quarter. Either he had no money for the last seven, or that perfect license plate is reserved to the Messiah.

The enemy of my enemy

Property protection, Georgian style


Niko Pirosmani (1862-1918): A train from the Kakhetian wine region to Tbilisi

Goran Bregović’s music to Nana Dzhordzhadze’s შეყვარებული კულინარის 1001 რეცეპტი / Shekvarebuli kulinaris ataserti retsepti (A Chef in Love, 1996). The film, showing the cuisine and life of Tbilisi in the 1910s, can be seen with Russian dubbing here.

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The day of victory

In Noratus, next to the medieval Armenian cemetery, a small booth, where a cheerful old woman is selling thin coffee, knitted socks, T-shirts with the letters of the Armenian alphabet. Among the dolls in Armenian national costume, the national flag is stretched, with a T-shirt on it, displaying the photo of Nikol Pashinyan. I kneel down to take a picture of it. The woman smiles. “Dear little Nikol”, she caresses the photo with love.

“What are the expectations?” I ask our host at the Odzun church. “Ninety-nine percent that he’d be elected.” “And is it not possible that then the oligarchs will call on their followers to block the roads?” He just spats. “The oligarchs, they have long since fled with their money.”

After Karahunj, the Armenian Stonehenge, a car wash with a small eating house, a modern caravanserai, where both man and herd are cared for. A television on the wall, Nikol Pashinyan is holding his introductory speech in the parliament. He’s an unusual sight in suit, after the military outfit of the past weeks. “What is he saying?” I ask the barist. “That everything will be good”, he says enthusiastically.

We arrive to the rock monastery of Noravank around two o’clock in the afternoon. At the monastery’s gate, taxi drivers are squatting, families standing, nobody is moving, everyone is listening to the car radio. The applause just blows out when we get out of the bus. “Victory?” I ask them. “Victory”, they say with shining face. “What proportion?” “Fifty-three against forty-two.” We shake hands. From the radio arises the cheering of the crowd in Yerevan’s main square.

Noruz with kings

Nou Ruz, New Light, the spring equinox, the twenty-first of March, or the first day of the month of Farvardin archangel, New Year’s Day in the Persian calendar. For weeks before it, three kings, singers dressed as Zoroastrian priests or painted as black men go about the bazaars, and wish good luck with New Year’s songs to the merchants and to everyone who rewards it with a few coins. They also brought good luck to me, because although the camera was not set to autofocus, nevertheless the gloom does not destroy the video, but rather makes it mystical. Near the middle, when they get closer, the picture will be sharper, and as they move away, the view gets gradually blurred, as if they were absorbed in the vibrant lights of the bazaar.

Two thousand five hundred years ago on this morning, King Darius and his descendants, surrounded by their nobility and priests, stood in the eastern gate of the Apadana, the royal reception hall of Persepolis, to greet the first ray of the rising sun, and then receive the envoys of the twenty-one provinces. The envoys are still lined up, carved in stone, on the eastern stairway, where they walked up, and on the northern stairway, where they left the royal hall. We go up to the palace at the best time, at five in the afternoon, to see, how the sunset paints them, how it calls them to life for an hour, every day, since two thousand five hundred years.

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The gift-bearing of Persepolis became so emblematic in Persian culture, that even Marcell Mauss’ classical anthropological work, The Gift is illustrated by a Persepolis envoy in the Persian translation.

Just like the visit paid to the king on this day. There is no king in Persepolis now, since Alexander the Great and his chief commanders set fire to Xerxes’ palace on that drunken night. On this day, the people of Iran proceeds to the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the country. A colorful crowd is waving around the simple and majestic tomb that emerges alone in the plain of Pasargade. Medes from Hamadan, Kurds and Bakhtiari nomads from the Zagros mountains, Azeris and Khuzestanis, Armenians and Baludzhis, taking photos of each other and with each other, marveling at each other and at the greatness of the Persian empire. They also receive with self-evidence and joy the envoys of Europe, the heirs of Athens, who, after so many centuries, have finally come to a better understanding, and came to pay their tribute to the great king of Persia.

Franz Ferdinand’s three deaths

In the previous post about Sarajevo’s syagogues, a cuckoo’s egg slipped in about the Yugoslav memorial plaque of Gavrilo Princip, unscrewed from the wall by the German army marching into the city in April 1941, and sent to Hitler for his birthday. Now the cuckoo hatches from the egg and spreads its wings.

In fact, the removal of the plaque was considered so important by the German official newsreel Deutsche Wochenschau, that they dedicated an entire half minute to it out of the twenty-four-minute broadcast of the truly glamorous events of the week. By clicking on it, the video starts right at 11:38, at the beginning of the scene.

“In Sarajewo. Hier wurde am 28en Juni 1914 der österreichische Tronfolger Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand durch das feige Attentat eines serbischen Studenten niedergestreckt. Diese Schüsse waren das Signal zum Weltkrieg. – Die Marmortafel, die diesem Ort von Volksdeutschen entfernt, und dem deutschem Wehrmacht übergeben. Sie trägt die Inschrift: »An dieser historischen Stätte erkämpfte Gavrilo Princip Serbien die Freiheit.« Der Führer überwiest die Tafel der Berliner Zeughaus.”

“Sarajevo. On June 28, 1914, the infamous terror attack of a Serbian student killed Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand. This gunshot gave the signal to the Great War. – This marble plaque was removed by the Volksdeutsche and handed over to the German army. Its inscription: «In this historic place, Gavrilo Princip achieved freedom for Serbia.» The Führer forwarded the plaque to the Zeughaus in Berlin.”

The newsreel emphasizes that the plaque was removed not by the army, but by the Volksdeutsche, the local ethnic Germans, and it was they who then handed it to the army. However, the spontaneity of the dozen of young people, dressed in flawless white shirts and ties, and performing a well-choreographed little march, is quite questionable. Not to mention that the field musicians and officers of the Wehrmacht are assisting in this action, obviously just as spontaneously. And if we also know that the pictures were taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s personal photographer, who then immediately boarded Hitler’s private train Sonderzug Amerika, especially sent for the plaque, to photograph the next day the Führer, celebrating his fifty-second birthday in Mönichkirchen, as he is intensely looking at the plaque, then it will be clear that it was a well-planned and prepared symbolic event.

Hitler is also beholding extremely spontaneously the plaque surrounded by two and half zombies. We know that only Hoffmann was allowed to take photos of him, and only while posing, in poses worthy of a great statesman. These poses were borrowed from the topos repository created by classical and romantic painting and sculpture, which also offer us a clue to understanding them. The one we see here is “the great general contemplating the ruins of Rome” pose. Which also suggests that this plaque meant more to him than merely spoils of war from an unnatural state created by Versailles.

Hitler agreed with Franz Ferdinand’s removal from the throne, even though he condemned the assassins. The Slavic-friendly crown prince, who had a Czech consort, meant to him and to his associates the danger of a compromise with the Slavs and the diminution of the weight of the German element. It is no wonder that he celebrated with relief on Munich’s Odeonplatz the war that settles accounts with Serbia and Russia threatening the German Lebensraum. By accident, this moment was photographed by Hoffmann, who, twenty years later, found the future Führer it in, at his request. No matter whether the figure is really the young Adolf, or, as some say, some retouching by Hoffmann was also necessary to make the identification. The point is that Hitler wanted be in that picture, he wanted to be at the starting point of the glorious German Sturm. It was the zero point of the Sarajevo pistol shot that launched him and the German people on the right track, and now that this track – despite the humiliation of Versailles and through its obliteration – would soon reach its zenith with the overcoming of Russia, the Führer looks back at this starting point when contemplating the Princip plaque.

In 1930 the Yugoslav state, by placing a plaque on the spot of the Princip attempt – albeit setting it as a private initiative – with the inscription “На овом историјском мјесту Гаврило Принцип навијести слободу на Видов-дан 15. јуна 1914” – “From this historical place Gavrilo Princip brought us freedom on St. Vitus’ Day, 15 June 1914” (that is, on the 28th of the Gregorian calendar), managed to achieve the outbreaks of not only its former World War enemies, but also of its own allies. That Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung calls it a “monstrous and intolerable provocation”, is just natural from the German side. But also London Times wrote, that the plaque immortalizes “an act which was the immediate cause of the Great War, of its attendant horrors, and of the general suffering which has been its sequel”. Churchill, in his contemporary The Unknown War calls it the monument of infamy, which, erected by Princip’s fellow countrymen, “records his infamy and their own”. And according to the contemporary British historian Robert William Seton-Watson, the plaque “was an affront to all right-thinking people”.

The Sarajevo Volksdeutsche handing the Princip plaque to the German Army

However, we cannot understand the real cause of the establishing of the plaque if we do not know the myth that it fits within. The clue is offered by the seemingly unnecessary archaism of Vidovdan, St. Vitus’ day, in the text. On this day, 15 June 1318, the whole Serb nation, led by Prince Lazar, was martyred on the plane of Kosovo, confronting the Ottoman army to the last warrior. This is the zero point of Serbian history. One has to get back here, and here one has to restart history, which at that point took a regrettably wrong turn. This is the so-called Kosovo Myth, which was coined by 19th-c. Serbian romanticism, and to which we can lead back all the 20th-century Balkan wars that started from Belgrade. To kill a tyrant on St. Vitus’ Day is an archetypal act, as was done by the legendary Serbian warrior Miloš Obilić, who struck the Sultan after his victory. And vice versa: if a Serbian warrior kills someone on Vidovdan, it symbolically attests that he was a tyrant. Princip’s Vidovdan bullet in one moment produced the archetypal constellation required by the Serbian military leadership to represent the fight for the re-devision of the Balkans as a sacred national war. From then on, the struggle for Bosnia was not just a dog-fight over the territories left by the Turks, but a necessary historical act leading to the correction of national history, which had taken a wrong turn in 1389. This zero point and this myth was faced with the myth and zero point of the Führer contemplating it in the railway wagon in Mönchkirchen.

Princip and his fellow conspirators as Vinovdan heroes. Below: The “chapel of the Vinovdan hroes”, erected upon Princip’s ashes, in Sarajevo’s old Orthodox cemetery

The plaque was then moved to the Zeughaus in Berlin, which was then a military museum called Arsenal. Here, a huge exhibition of the symbolic booty was organized, with Princip’s plaque in the middle. They also brought here the French rail car, in which in 1918 the German capitulation was signed, thus washing away the shame of Versailles. The building is today Deutsches Historisches Museum, where similar objects still often pop up, now of course as exhibition objects. Like the Zagreb bronze plaque, which attempted to give a new consciousness to the young South Slavic state by stamping the Hungarian coat of arm under its figures’ feet.

The Gravrilo Princip plaque on the booty exhibition in the Zeughaus

During the siege of Berlin, the plaque was destroyed together with the German myth. In Sarajevo, the Yugoslav partisans replaced it on 7 May 1945, a day before the German capitulation, with this inscription: “With eternal thanks to Gavrilo Princip and his comrades fighting against the German invasion.” For now, the Serbian myth gained the upper hand, in a new, popular tuning. In 1953, when the building was converted into a museum of the Young Bosnia movement, which had organized the assassination, a new plaque was set up with a new text: “On June 28, 1914, from this place Gavrilo Princip expressed with his pistol shot the people’s protest and centuries-old aspirations for freedom.” This plaque disappeared between 1992 and 1996, when the people of Sarajevo also expressed with machine gun shots from this place their aspirations for freedom and protest against the tyranny of Serbian nationalism, keeping the city under a bloody siege. Today it only says in Bosnian and English: “From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia.”

On 28 June 2014, when this  plaque was inaugurated, another monument was also solemnly set up in Sarajevo. The small square is located at the westernmost end of Sarajevo, which is nevertheless called East Sarajevo. This is the part of the town where the Serbs moved out during the siege, and where, after the war, new housing estates were built for them from international aid. There are no physical boundaries between the two parts of the city, yet there is virtually no contact and no public transport between them. Here, a new, heroic statue of Gavrilo Princip was set up, and at the same time one of the first public spaces of the new district in formation was also named Gavrilo Princip Park. The myth lives on.

The new Princip monument in Google Street View, and its inauguration at the centenary

However, the first souvenirs of the assassination were much earlier than the 1930 memorial plaque. Already a hundred years ago, the local paper shops entered into the service of catastrophe tourism, and immediately started publishing picture postcards, which do not merely represent the Latin Bridge and its environs as a city view, but rather as the scene of the assassination, sometimes marking the exact spot with a small cross.

The souvenir postcards were usually provided with the Franz Ferdinand memorial stamps, which represented, besides the princely consorts, the Sarajevo Basilica, planned but never realized in their memory (see below).

And in 1917, on the third anniversary of the attempt, the first plaque appeared on the spot, marking the location for all subsequent plaques. This plaque was set up by the Austro-Hungarian government on Moritz Schiller’s deli, from which Princip stepped out to shoot the crown prince. The only Bosnian-language plaque with cross and imperial crown said: “In this place, Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his consort, Duchess Sophie Hohenberg suffered a martyr’s death at an assassin’s hand.”

The plaque in front view, and seen from the quay and from Franz Josef street.
Last photo: the scaffolding used to affix the plaque.

Already in 1916, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina announced a competition for a grand martyr’s monument of the princely couple. It had a Hungarian winner, the excellent Art Nouveau sculptor and architect Jenő Bory (1879-1959), later rector of the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, who in January 1915 was commissioned to Sarajevo as a military engineer. Here Pater Puntigam, the director of the archbishop’s seminary, and the chief promoter of the Archduke’s cult, showed him the Archduke’s bloody shirt, and introduced him to the conception of the story which was to be visualized in the memorial.

Since there was no room for a monument in the narrow Franz Josef Street, only a 2×1-meter cast steel plate was sunk into the pavement, with the Latin inscription: “Hoc loco die 28. Junie 1914. vitam et sanquinem fuderunt pro Deo et patria Franciscus Ferdinandus archidux eiusque uxor ducissa Sophia de Hohenberg.” (“In this place Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophie Hohenberg gave their lives and blood for God and the homeland.”) Probably this sunken panel gave the idea of that much later, post-1953 monument, which sank the assassin’s footprints into the pavement of the walkway.

No legible photo of the sunken panel has survived, and different sources remember slightly different texts. This one is from Belgischer Kurier, a local version of Deutsche Kurier published in occupied Belgium.

The actual monument was set up on the opposite side of the quay, at the head of the Latin Bridge opposite the house. Two tall columns held the bronze relief of the princely couple, with a small Pietà statue and an eternal flame under it. For the sake of symmetry, a semicircular marble bench was also built at the other bridgehead, where it was possible to meditate on the historical scene.

The memorial column with the relief, and with different mourning groups

The model of Jenő Bory’s relief. Tolnai Világlapja, Aug. 10, 1916

The three units of the monument at inauguration

And this was just the beginning. Pater Puntigam began collecting more tribute to erect even larger memorial buildings to the princely couple: a huge Neo-Romanesque church in memory of Franz Ferdinand, and a youth home named for Duchess Sophie. Both were designed by Jenő Bory. The first three million golden crowns were collected, and Bory was already involved in the execution, when the Monarchy was forced to armistice, and then to retire from Sarajevo. The church was never realized. However, Jenő Bory recalled to have been inspired by it for his own home and studio in Székesfehérvár, the famous Bory Castle. The Serbian troops marching in Sarajevo removed both memorial plaques and the monument. Only the arched bench remained in the site, as an apparently innocent abbreviation of the story, which, however, spoke volumes to the initiates.

The model of the Franz Ferdinand memorial church, and a summary of Jenő Bory’s other monumental designs in Sarajevo. Új Idők, 1916/2, 21-22.

But the story is not over yet. It turned out that the original bronze relief of the monument also survived the stormy century in the cellar of the museum. In 2001, it was proposed in the City Council to restore the columns, and set it up in its original location. For the time being, they erected a plexi plate at the memorial site, with a small drawing of the original sculpture, and a historical explanation.

All this fits well with the new conception of Bosnian history outlined in recent decades, the three pillars of which are the independent medieval Bosnian kingdom, the rich culture and tolerance of Ottoman Sarajevo, and the Austro-Hungarian era of economic and intellectual revival. The public buildings and achievements of Austrian times are emphasized throughout the city. The former Young Bosnia Museum has been converted into a museum presenting the Austro-Hungarian Golden Age in Bosnia. At the centenary ceremony in Sarajevo, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra played Haydn’s Imperial Hymn. The epoch of Austria Felix has become a new zero point for Bosnian history. The monument of the assassination stood in the service of a new myth.