dinsdag 31 maart 2015

across the sea.

When the late French historian Fernand Braudel wrote his La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II in 1949, he did something unusual. Before that, histories were written from a national perspective. Braudel wrote a history of the Mediterranean though. Indeed, the water connects - and probably even more than land does. For a long time, crossing a sea or lake by boat was a far easier task than the travel over land - over mountains and through woods full of dangers, both human and wild. In our age of cars, trains, highways, and TGV this might be difficult to imagine. Just as hard (even though it's logical) as it might be to see that history doesn't stop at a border. 

All these lands were once under Roman rule or influence. 

Indeed, the Roman Empire was centred around the Mediterranean - which was dubbed Mare nostrum after all. This made the British, Germanic and Northern Gallic provinces over here a periphery. When their link with a transalpine centre in the fourth century broke, however, they naturally reconnected over the North Sea. Germanic tribes migrated to Northern Gallia and Southern Britain. Frisians traded and fished up to Scandinavia. Wool of British sheep was processed in Flanders and Holland. Britons went for study to Paris. And it wasn't a surprise that it was coastal trading towns from the Baltics to England - but mainly from Northern Germany - that united in the Hanseatic League. 

As much as we are used to the idea of a sea that divides, it is striking how many of them don't. In many ways - history and economy for example, the Southern US shares more with the Caribbean than with the Great plains. The Southern Caucasian state of Azerbaijan is regarded at times part of Central Asia, with which it shares authoritarianism apart from an oil-dependent economy.

Connected by more than pipelines? Not only Azerbaijan, but basically 
all Caspian littoral states are oil dependent dictatorships. 

Both Ukraine (2004, 2013) and Georgia (2003) revolted against the mafiose Post-Soviet structures in their countries, and they subsequently even proposed a 'Black Sea Union'. Ukraine and Georgia bonded that much that currently many former Georgian revolutionaries serve in the Post-Maidan administration in Ukraine. Georgia looking West - over the Black Sea towards the European Union, and Azerbaijan looking East - over the Caspian towards Central Asia, suddenly sounds a lot more plausible. 

The Black Sea is surrounded by real (Turkey, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria) 
and would-be (Ukraine, Georgia) NATO members.

At the moment, we see how Egypt's Vietnam (Yemen) is just accross the Red Sea and how the Persian Gulf simultaneously holds Iran and Saudi Arabia in a deadly embrace. Yes, the more I look at my maps, the more they look like this: