‘Apartheid’ could be better translated as a policy of ‘good-neighbourliness’.
Dr Hendrik Verwoerd
My neighbours are a bit odd, but I think issuing them with pass books, restricting their movements, followed by crushing their testicles would be a misplaced policy. So what sort of world gave birth to these ideas?
Central Europe was the eye of the storm about 100 years ago. This post is titled after the book 1913 which meanders around noting the events. We think of the period as the Eve of The Great War, though most of the protagonists had their own thoughts.
Hitler probably passed Stalin as they strolled in the park of Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna. Hitler was just an artist, selling watercolours. Stalin was preparing the ground for the revolution - following on from Marx.
Paul Klee, one of my favourite modern artists, who was friendly with Kadinsky was thinking about a revolution in colour.
(This picture wasn't from 1913, but a decade later - I just prefer this period.) Later, the Nazis found his work and the rest of his "Blaue Reiter" group to be "degenerative". They preferred subjects from heroic German tradition - because their solution to "return" Germany to greatness was to look into their mythic past. But in Italy, the "futurist" painters were mainly aligned with Mussolini, painting what they saw as the sound and fury of the modern age. They thought of themselves as radical, and admired violence.
I have some family roots in these times and places; the author Jonathan Franzen adds his personal links as notes to his translation of Viennese satirist Karl Kraus. Kraus was a very forward thinking critic of the popular media manipulation of reality, and was noticing things going wrong in Austria. He warned about nationalism, corruption and, er, psychoanalysis. He also had it in for Zionism.
For all these revolutionaries, it was the fading empires of the 19th century that had to be challenged. The systems that caused so much misery and destruction in the last century began as solutions to other systems of unfairness and hopelessness in the previous one.
With the internet, it is now harder for serious problems to be hidden or ignored. I think it does put a natural stop to uncritical waves of fervour simply destroying institutions without replacing them. Looking closer at what has happened to Egypt, perhaps stuttering impasse is still better than prolonged disaster.
This is what Mandela got uniquely right - instead of "correcting Apartheid" by instigating a bloodbath with mainly white victims he did something exceptional in the violent century - he talked with his opponents. This was a pragmatic political breakthrough - it wasn't a stalling tactic, or a trick. He knew there would be no stability without rapprochement.
In this new century, the eye of the storm is no longer Central Europe - and rigid systems are not necessarily a problem anywhere. People are losing faith in old systems. But maybe, places that look chaotic now may produce better systems later.