Martinis, Carpets and Sacks of Gold: A U.S. Diplomat in French Tunisia
Tunisia achieved independence from France after almost 75 years as a protectorate. Life under French rule was pleasant for some, including foreign diplomats. The number of French colonists grew, ultimately occupying one-fifth of the arable land of Tunisia, and the French directed the building of roads, ports and railroads, and the development of mines. But resentment against the European colonizers became apparent soon after the turn of the twentieth century. By 1911, Tunisian nationalist sentiment led to civil disturbances within the universities, building to massive demonstrations and only subsiding with the imposition of martial law.
After World War I, Tunisians seeking self-rule established political parties, and following World War II, the nationalist struggle intensified with violent resistance. France granted independence to Tunisia on March 20, 1956, establishing a constitutional monarchy. The following year, Prime Minister Habib Bourguiba abolished the monarchy, took power, and would dominate the country for the next 31 years.
Joseph Walter Neubert shared some of the lighter aspects of his experience as an Economic Officer in Tunis between 1949-1952, prior to the Tunisia’s independence. He completed his memoir in 2007. continue reading
From Russia with Love and Back Again: Rostropovich’s Exile and Return
Mstislav Rostropovich, considered one of the greatest cellists of the twentieth century, was born in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in 1927. Graduating from the Moscow Conservatory, Rostropovich quickly established himself as the preeminent concert cellist in the USSR, collaborating with composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Britten. In 1955 he married Galina Vishnevskaya, a soprano at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Though he was immensely popular as a musician, Rostropovich’s outspoken political views and support of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and other dissidents prompted the Soviet government to restrict his foreign travel and performances within the Soviet Union.
In 1974, while in France for a series of performances, Rostropovich requested permission from his government to travel to New York for a concert at Lincoln Center. The musician made the trip west with his family despite his government’s refusal, and his Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1978. In 1990, as Mikhail Gorbachev worked to reform the USSR, Rostropovich returned to Moscow as conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra for a series of performances, and in that year his Soviet citizenship was restored. He died in Russia in 2007. continue reading
134 Cells, One Inmate: The Closure of Spandau Prison
From November 1945 until October 1946, the International Military Tribunal indicted and prosecuted Nazi leaders for their roles in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials. Eleven of the 24 men who were tried as major war criminals were given the death penalty. Seven of them — Konstantin von Neurath, Erich Raeder, Karl Dönitz, Walther Funk, Albert Speer, Baldur von Schirach, and Rudolf Hess (seen right) — were given prison sentences to be completed at the notorious Spandau Prison.
Built in 1876 along Wilhelmstrasse in West Berlin, Spandau Prison originally served as a Prussian military detention center and was later used to hold civilian and political prisoners. On July 18, 1947, the prison took on a new role as the holding place of the seven high-ranking Third Reich officials. The operation was run by the Kommandatura, the post-war governing body of Berlin with the participation of the U.S., U.K., USSR and France.
Four of the prisoners were released between 1954 and 1957; Speer and von Schirach were set free in 1966. That left Rudolf Hess as the sole occupant in a facility designed to hold 600 prisoners. continue reading
Hong Kong Returns to China, Part II
As the formal handover of Hong Kong to China approached, many grew concerned about Beijing’s intentions. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens emigrated in the late 1980s and early 1990s for places like the UK and Vancouver while several came to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong with claims of American citizenship. The event of the formal handover, which took place on June 30-July 1, 1997, was a glitzy affair. The Prince of Wales read a farewell speech on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II; newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and the departing Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten also attended.
Richard Boucher served as Consul General in Hong Kong from 1996-1999. He describes the crush of Congressional delegations and the fear mongering in the American media, which he found especially frustrating when he learned that no one read his cables. continue reading
Hong Kong Returns to China, Part I
In September 1982, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went to Beijing to begin a dialogue on the issue of Hong Kong, a small nation that had been a colony of Great Britain for over a century. At issue was the 99-year lease which gave Britain authority over the islands was set to expire in 1997, raising a host of questions on what the future of the territory would look like. In 1984, after two years of negotiations, a Joint Declaration was released in which Britain agreed to cede Hong Kong at the expiration of the lease, while China guaranteed to allow the small nation to maintain an amount of political autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. continue reading
Evolution of the European Union: Early Seeds of Dissolution?
Britain has always been a part of Europe and yet at the same time, it has seen itself as distinct from the rest of the continent — the English Channel has often proven to be more than just a geographic barrier. However, in the shadow of World War II, as the continent realized the need for greater political and economic cooperation, there was a shift among the British ruling elite towards more integration. In 1961 Britain applied for membership of the EEC. French President Charles de Gaulle was concerned that British membership would weaken the French voice within Europe and decided to express veto power with a resounding “non.” He also feared that close Anglo-American relations would lead to the United States increasing its influence in Europe. Charles de Gaulle also vetoed a second application from Britain in 1969.
Soon after President de Gaulle resigned, the Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, took the UK into the EEC in January 1973, along with Denmark and Ireland, which expanded total membership to nine countries. continue reading
How Did We Get Here? A Look Back at the Creation of the European Union
Welcome to Part I of our crash course on the formation of the European Union (EU). Each treaty signed between 1948 and 2007 brought Europe one step closer to today’s EU.
Back in the aftermath of World War II, a group of European countries decided that the Dunkirk Treaty of 1947, which the UK and France signed against a possible rebirth of German aggression, needed an additional “mutual defense clause” and so came up with the Treaty of Brussels (1948). That “mutual defense clause” turned out to be the basis upon which the 1954 Paris Conference established the Western European Union (WEU).
In the meantime, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was implemented as the first international organization based on the principles of supranationalism (i.e., a system where negotiated power is delegated to an authority by governments of member states). Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the 1951 Treaty of Paris. continue reading
Spain’s Post-Franco Emergence from Dictatorship to Democracy
Spanish leader Francisco Franco died November 20, 1975 at the age of 82 after 36 years in power, first as a dictator, then as head of a semi-pluralist authoritarian system. His regime was held responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000 political dissenters, many during the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. Franco persecuted political opponents, repressed the culture and language of Spain’s Basque and Catalan regions, and stifled freedom of speech.
Although Spain maintained an official policy of neutrality during World War II, Franco aligned himself ideologically with Hitler and Mussolini, allowing the German and Italian navies to use Spanish harbors at the beginning of the conflict and, in the process, leading to loss of U.S. support for his government amid diplomatic and economic isolation. Once the war concluded and the threat of Soviet aggression pervaded Western Europe, relations between the U.S. and the anticommunist Franco warmed. Spain was invited to join the United Nations and to come under the protection of NATO.
Franco had vowed to restore the monarchy, and in 1969 picked Prince Juan Carlos, the grandson of King Alfonso XIII, as the next king. continue reading
We Don’t Give a Dam — The Feud Over Financing the Aswan High Dam
Egypt’s agriculture has always depended on the water of the Nile; the river’s perennial floods, while critical in replenishing the fertile soil, constantly threatened to wash away a season’s harvest. The Aswan High Dam was built to regulate the river’s flooding as well as to create hydroelectric power and a reservoir for irrigation. Its planning and financing in the 1950s played a major role in American-Egyptian diplomatic relations, and was in part responsible for precipitating the Suez Crisis in 1956. (Photo: Corbis)
Following the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, new president Gamal Abdel Nasser viewed a new, larger dam as politically and economically vital for Egypt. The United States, looking to counter Soviet influence in the Middle East, offered to finance the construction of a dam as well as provide arms shipments to Egypt, on the condition that the weapons be used only defensively and that the U.S. supervise all training. continue reading
Getting on the Seoul Train — The 1988 Summer Olympic Games
The Olympic Games represent the height of sporting diplomacy, with thousands of athletes transcending politics for two weeks as they represent their countries on the world stage. While the athletic spectacles entrance and amaze on television, without the behind-the-scenes political efforts and negotiations, there would be no Olympic Games. For many countries, hosting the Olympics is an opportunity to show the world its culture, hospitality, and innovation. The 1988 Summer Games served as just such an opportunity for South Korea, as they gave the world a preview of South Korea’s impending economic boom, as the country moved alongside Japan to become a leader in technological development.
Moreover, the 1980 and 1984 summer Olympic Games, held in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively, were marred by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent boycotts.By 1988, there were no such issues and Seoul had one of the highest participation rates to date, with 159 countries and 8400 athletes attending. It also marked the swan song for Olympics powers the USSR and East Germany. as both ceased to exist before the next Olympic Games. continue reading