Sustainable Trivialization?

Once again the leaders of the European Union have demonstrated their inability to see the past as anything either than a ruthlessly exploitable economic resource or a convenient political excuse for happy talk.

Case in point:  The Iron Curtain Heritage Trail.

From the slick marketing of this cultural route (and the generous EU funding to support it), one might be tempted to think that the Cold War is over and forgotten– as safely irrelevant to modern Europe present as Caesar’s Gallic War.

Sure sites are neatly memorialized and marked, but they are wrapped up in a blissfully recreational package that includes nature, cuisine, and bed-and-breakfasts– all in the name of economic development.  Whether the actual revenue will exceed the EU investments is a matter for later statistics.  But one thing is for sure:  this kind of themed vacation consumption of “history” renders it harmless and discourages any kind of reflection other than the tourist activity itself.

But what about the serious problems of East-West economic imbalance; of xenophobic western fear of eastern migrant workers, infrastructural gaps and social upheaval; of the legacies of nuclear confrontation and secret police?

Never mind. Just make your reservations for a healthful countryside vacation.  In its inevitable march toward Themeparkhood and profitable recreation, Europe’s Cold War dividing line is now a bicycle path.  And the pity is that it’s not even done with a sense of humor, with a conscious awareness of history’s grand ironies.  It is done with a dangerous amnesia and all the jargon of modern development.

Michael Cramer, a member of the European Parliament from Germany, initiated the project, according to his own description, to “transfer the idea of ‘experiencing history’ to a European level… This 6,800 km trail guides cyclists with an interest in history from the Barents Sea on the Norwegian-Russian border to the Black Sea along what used to be the Iron Curtain, which is now no longer a dividing line but a symbol of a shared, pan-European experience in a reunified Europe.  This was also a reason why, in the autumn of 2005, my proposal to include the project in the European Parliament’s report on ‘new prospects and new challenges for sustainable European tourism’ was adopted by a large majority. Twenty countries, 14 there of EU Member States, are involved. The “Iron Curtain Trail” is part of Europe’s collective memories which can help promote the much talked-about European identity.

“Cycling tourists spend more money than those travelling by car”, Michael Cramer said.

Six-Gun Saint or Sociopathic Thug?

Is the hunger for tourism income and destination-theming making us historically insane?

From the New York Times September 7, 2010

Not-So-Charming Billy


Santa Fe, N.M.

BILL RICHARDSON, New Mexico’s departing governor, is known for his studied sense of theater. But when he recently declared that he would hold a hearing to consider a posthumous pardon for the state’s most notorious resident — William Bonney, a k a Henry McCarty, a k a Billy the Kid — a lot of us wondered if he had lost his mind.What’s to be gained by dredging up stories from a tired old shoot’em-up? Why should we care about a trigger-happy sociopath who’s been moldering in his grave for almost 130 years? New Mexico has a rich history, but some episodes from the past are best left there.

 At issue is a deal made in 1879 by one of Mr. Richardson’s predecessors, Lew Wallace (later the author of “Ben-Hur”). Wallace promised to grant Billy the Kid amnesty for murders he committed during the so-called Lincoln County War if he would testify about a killing he had witnessed; the Kid testified, but Wallace’s men reneged on the deal. Two years later Pat Garrett, the sheriff of Lincoln County, shot and killed the outlaw.

Billy the Kid is something of a phantom figure. There is only one known photograph of him. His real name and date of birth are disputed. As a result, people interpret him in their own ways. He’s often portrayed as a folk hero, like Rob Roy or Robin Hood. It is said that more films have been made about him than any other figure in American history. He is our state’s most bankable tourist commodity and his name is plastered on everything from casinos to no-tell motels.

But regardless of whether he got a raw deal, the Kid was a thug. He murdered one of Garrett’s predecessors and as many as eight other people. He rustled horses and cattle. Far from heroic, the Lincoln County War was just a feud over beef contracts, and it marked one of the bleakest episodes in the history of the West.

True, for some the story evokes a certain romanticism of gun smoke and leather, and the governor is banking on Western buffs to bring new attention, and tourist dollars, to our state.

The pardon hearing, which will likely convene in November in the town of Lincoln, will be complete with period costumes and Wild West facial hair. Mr. Richardson himself will preside, playing a role somewhere between Judge Judy and Judge Roy Bean.

Mr. Richardson has a good sense of humor, but governors who play with history often get burned — witness Gov. Robert McDonnell of Virginia and his ill-advised Confederate History Month proclamation. Governor Richardson has already drawn public criticism: descendants of Pat Garrett and Lew Wallace have implored him not to follow through with his plans; Billy the Kid, they and others note, was a cop killer.

Under Governor Richardson, New Mexico has taken significant steps forward, with investments in solar and wind power, film production and light rail. He even got rid of cock-fighting. The state has begun to slowly pull away from the poverty, crime and backwardness that defined much of its past. Billy the Kid is a symbol of that era. Why does Mr. Richardson, as one of his last acts in office, want to revisit it?

Hampton Sides is the author, most recently, of “Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin.”


John the Baptist Update: Minister Warns F**king Archaeologists to Shut Up

From the Sofia News Agency:   

Bulgarian Archaeology Scandal Grows as Minister Declines to Apologize

August 9, 2010, Monday   

Bulgarian Diaspora Minister Dimitrov (left) has made headlines with his statements after the discovery of the alleged relics of St. John the Baptist. Photo by BGNES


Bulgaria’s Diaspora Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov has made it clear he has no intention of apologizing for a recent statement made after the discovery of St. John the Baptist relics in Sozopol that many archaeologists deemed insulting.   

“Why, damn it, why, where is all this envy coming from?! This is what I cannot find an explanation with this fucking people, with these fucking colleagues,” the Diaspora Minister and a former Director of the Bulgarian National History Museum, said last week when expressing his indignation that some of the Bulgarian archaeologists had declared the media sensation over the finding of the relics of St. John the Baptist premature.   

Later last week he explained he did not mean to insult the Bulgarian people or the Bulgarian archaeologists as a whole but that his words referred to “a group of people calling themselves archaeologists.“   

“I am condemning several archaeologists, who had made anonymous statements in the press, and who did not express doubt but, rather, envy and hate for their colleague. I was just defending out colleague Popkonstantinov,” Minister Dimitrov stated last Friday.   

His further pejorative statements about the culture of Ancient Thrace contributed to renewing his conflict with leading Bulgarian archaeologist, Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov.   

Prof. Totko Stoyanov, head of the Bulgarian Archaeologists’ Association, also expressed indignation over Dimitrov’s comments.   

“I have no intention of apologizing to anyone,” the Diaspora Minister told bTV on Monday explaining once again that the Bulgarian word for “fucking” or “damned” that he used did not actually have a pejorative connotation…   

For full story, click here.   

For background, see post of August 19   

And I Still Believe Every Word of This!

And the problem has gotten much worse since 1994… thanks to historical park promoters and planners a LOT less skillful than Disney– employed by the EU, UNESCO, the World Bank, and cash-strapped governments around the world  

Walt Disney's America Park Plan (RIP - died 1994)


 From the late, lamented Lingua Franca (December 1994)      

The Battle That Disney Should Have Won      


     (everything, except the mistaken editorial substitution of Charleston, South Carolina for Charlestown, Mass.!)