فصل 38

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فصل 38

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I have known many people who were children at a time before either Germany or Italy existed. It seems incredible, doesn’t it? That these great and powerful nations, which play such an important role, aren’t old at all. After the revolutions of 1848 ­ when new railway lines were being built all over Europe and telegraph cables were being laid, when the towns which had turned into factory towns were expanding and many peasants were being drawn into them, and when men had taken to wearing top hats and funny pince-nez spectacles with dangling black cords ­ the Europe we know was still no more than a patchwork of tiny duchies, kingdoms, principalities and republics, linked to one another by complicated ties of allegiance or enmity.

In this Europe (if we ignore Britain, which was at this time more concerned with its colonies in America, India and Australia than with the neighbouring continent), there were three important powers. In the centre of Europe stood the empire of Austria. There the emperor Franz Josef had been ruling from the Imperial Palace

This is what the map of central Europe looked like before Italy and Germany had become states. At the same time as all these little pieces of land were uniting to create those two powerful states, the Turkish empire was breaking up into an ever-increasing number of independent countries.

In Vienna since 1848. I saw him once myself when I was a little boy. He was by then an old man and was crossing the park at the Palace of Schِnbrunn. I also have a very clear memory of his state funeral. He really was what an emperor was meant to be. He ruled over all sorts of different peoples and countries. He was emperor of Austria, but he was also king of Hungary and count-elevated-to-therank-of-prince of the Tirol and had lots of other ancient titles, such as king of Jerusalem and protector of the Sacred Tomb ­ a title that went back to the Crusades. Many provinces of Italy came under his authority, while others were ruled by members of his family. Then there were the Croats, the Serbs, the Czechs, the Slovenes, the Slovaks, the Poles, and innumerable other peoples. For this reason, the words on old Austrian banknotes (for example, ‘ten crowns’) also appeared in all these other languages. The emperor of Austria even had some power, at least in name, in the German principalities. But the situation there was rather complicated. When Napoleon shattered the last remnants of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806, the German empire had ceased to exist. The many German-speaking lands ­ which included Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, Frankfurt, Brunswick and so on and so forth ­ then formed an association, known as the German Confederation, to which Austria also belonged. All in all it was a remarkably confusing picture, this German Confederation. Each speck of land had its own prince, its own money, its own stamps and its own official uniform. It was bad enough when it took several days to get from Berlin to Munich by mail-coach. But now that the same journey took less than a day by train, it had become almost unendurable.

The patchwork presented by the lands of Germany, Austria and Italy was quite unlike anything around them on the map.

To the west was France. Shortly after the revolution of 1848, it had once again become an empire. One of Napoleon’s descendants had been able to reawaken memories of the glory of the past and although far from great himself, he was first elected president of the republic and soon afterwards, emperor of France under the name of Napoleon III. Despite all its wars and revolutions, France was now an exceptionally rich and powerful country, with great industrial cities.

To the east was Russia. The tsar was not loved in that mighty land. You must bear in mind that by this time many Russians had studied at universities in France and Germany and their outlook was quite modern and up to date. But the Russian empire and its officials was still living in the Middle Ages. Just think: it was only in 1861 that serfdom was formally abolished and then, for the first time, twenty-three million Russian peasants were promised an existence worthy of human dignity. Making promises is one thing, but keeping them is another. In Russia, generally speaking, government was by the lash ­ or the knout, as it was called. The penalty for speaking freely, for expressing even the mildest opinion, was exile to Siberia at the very least. Consequently, students and members of the middle classes who had received a modern education detested the tsar so much that he lived in constant fear of assassination. This was, in fact, the fate of most tsars, however hard they tried to guard against it.

Beside the immensity of Russia and the battle-hardened might of France it seemed impossible for any other country to make itself heard in Europe. With the loss of its Latin American colonies, beginning in 1810, Spain had become weak and powerless. Turkey, no longer in control of its European possessions, was now referred to in the newspapers as the ‘sick man of Europe’. Its various Christian subject peoples had been fighting for their liberty with the enthusiastic support of the rest of Europe. The Greeks were first, followed by the Bulgarians, the Romanians and the Albanians, while Russia, France and Austria fought over the rest of Turkey’s European possessions and Constantinople. This was just as well for Turkey, for none of those three countries was willing to surrender such a rich prize to any of the others. So Constantinople stayed Turkish.

Meanwhile France and Austria were still fighting over the Italian dominions, as they had been for hundreds of years. But times had changed. Italians had also been brought closer to one another by their railways and, like the inhabitants of German towns, they too had come to realise that they weren’t simply Florentines, Genoese, Venetians or Neapolitans. They were all Italians, and they wished to decide their own fate. At that time there was only one small state in northern Italy that was free and independent. It lay at the foot of the mountains over which Hannibal had once come and was called Piedmont, which means exactly that: foot of the mountains. Now Piedmont and the island of Sardinia together formed a small but strong kingdom under one ruler, King Victor Emmanuel. And he had an exceptionally able and wily minister called Camillo Cavour, who knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted what all Italians had been yearning for, and what so many of them had shed their blood for in bold but often ill-conceived and perilous adventures, both during and after the 1848 revolution: a unified Italian kingdom. Cavour himself was no warrior. He had no faith in the secret conspiracies and risky surprise attacks favoured by a brave dreamer called Garibaldi and his young fellow fighters in their efforts to win their country’s freedom. Cavour was looking for a different and more effective way, and he found one.

He managed to persuade the ambitious emperor of the French, Napoleon III, that he should join in the struggle for Italian freedom and unity. He encouraged him to think that if he did so he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. For by involving himself in the struggle for freedom of a country that didn’t belong to him, he could only harm Austria, through its possessions in Italy ­ a prospect which did not altogether displease him. At the same time, being the champion of liberty would make him the hero of a great European nation, and this too was a tempting thought. Thanks, then, to Cavour’s cunning diplomacy and to the bold expeditions of the impetuous Garibaldi, and at the cost of a very great number of lives, the Italians achieved their goal. In the two wars they fought against Austria, in 1859 and 1866, the Austrian armies often had the upper hand, but as a result of interventions by Napoleon III and the tsar, the emperor Franz Josef was finally forced to give up his Italian territories. Elsewhere everyone had cast their votes, and the results showed that the whole population wanted to belong to Italy. So the various dukes abdicated. By 1866 Italy was unified. Only one state was lacking, and this was the capital, Rome. But Rome belonged to the pope, and Napoleon III refused to hand the city over to the Italians for fear of falling out with him. He defended the city with French troops and repelled a number of attacks by Garibaldi’s volunteers.

In 1866, Austria’s stubborn determination might yet have ended in victory if Cavour hadn’t cleverly arranged an enemy for Austria with similar intentions. This was Prussia, in the north, whose prime minister at the time was Bismarck.

Bismarck was a noble landowner from north Germany. He was a man of exceptional intelligence with a will of iron. He never lost sight of his goal and wasn’t in the least bit shy of telling even King William I of Prussia exactly what he thought. From the outset Bismarck wanted just one thing: to make Prussia mighty and use its strength to make one great German empire out of the jumbled patchwork of the German Confederation. For this, he was convinced it was vital to have a strong and powerful army. Indeed, it was he who famously said that the great questions of history are decided not by speeches but by blood and iron. I don’t know whether that’s always true, but in his case history proved him right. The Prussian representatives were unwilling to grant him the great sum he needed for this army out of the people’s taxes so, in 1862, he persuaded the king to rule against the constitution and the will of parliament. The king feared he would suffer the same fate as King Charles I of England when he failed to keep his word, and Louis XVI of France. He was travelling with Bismarck in a railway carriage and turned to him and said: ‘I can see exactly where all this is leading. Down to Opera House Square where they’ll chop off your head beneath my windows, and then it will be my turn.’ Bismarck merely said: ‘And then?’‘Well, then we shall be dead,’ replied the king. ‘True,’ said Bismarck, ‘then we’ll be dead, but what better death could we have?’ And so it came about that, against the will of the people, a great army was equipped with a large number of guns and cannons and was soon proving its worth against Denmark.

With these exceedingly well-armed and well-trained forces Bismarck attacked Austria in 1866, while the Italians were attacking from the south. His aim was to force the emperor out of the German Confederation, leaving Prussia as its most powerful member. Prussia could then lead Germany. At Kِniggrنtz, in Bohemia, he defeated the Austrians decisively in a bloody battle. The emperor Franz Josef had to give in and Austria left the Confederation. Bismarck didn’t press his victory too far and made no further demands. This incensed the generals and officers of the Prussian army but Bismarck wouldn’t budge. He had no wish to make a lasting enemy of Austria. But, without telling anyone, he made secret pacts with all the other German states, ensuring their support in any war Prussia chose to undertake.

Meanwhile, in France, the growth of Prussian military power was making Napoleon III increasingly uneasy. He had just lost an utterly unnecessary war in Mexico in 1867 and was fearful of this well-armed neighbour across the Rhine. In any case, the French had never felt comfortable with any growth in German military might. King William of Prussia was staying at a hot-spring resort at Ems when Napoleon III’s ambassador interrupted his cure with the most extraordinary demand. On behalf of himself and his descendants, the king was to renounce in writing claims that he had never even made. Without the king’s agreement Bismarck then seized the opportunity to force Napoleon III to declare war. Against the expectations of the French, all the German states joined in, and it was soon clear that the German troops were better equipped and better led than the French.

At a place called Sedan, the Germans captured a large part of the French army, which happened to include Napoleon III. They hurried on towards Paris where they laid siege to the well-defended city for months. The defeat of France meant that the French troops in charge of the pope’s protection had to leave Rome, and this allowed the king of Italy to make his entry. It was all very complicated. Meanwhile, during the siege, Bismarck persuaded the various German kings and princes to propose to the king of Prussia, who was staying at Versailles, that he accept the title of German emperor. You won’t believe what happened next. King William insisted on being called emperor of Germany and not German emperor, and the whole thing nearly fell through. Finally, however, in the great gallery of mirrors at Versailles, the creation of the German empire was solemnly proclaimed. But the newly appointed emperor, William I, was incensed at not having the title he had wanted. In full view of everyone, shockingly and intentionally, he strode past Bismarck, refusing to shake the hand of the empire’s founder. Despite this Bismarck continued to serve him, and served him well.

In Paris, during the months of the siege, a dreadful and bloody workers’ revolt had broken out which was later suppressed with even greater bloodshed. More people died in it than in the whole of the French Revolution. For a while afterwards France was powerless, and the French were forced to make peace. They had to hand over a large part of their country to Germany (Alsace and Lorraine) together with a large sum of money. Because he had ruled so badly, the French dismissed Napoleon III and founded a republic. They had had enough of emperors and kings and they wouldn’t ever have any again.

Bismarck was now chancellor, or prime minister, of the unified German empire and he governed with great authority. He was a fierce opponent of the sort of socialist action recommended by Karl Marx, but he knew about the appalling conditions of the workers. He believed the only way to stop the spread of Marx’s teachings was to allay the worst hardships of the workers, so that they no longer wanted to turn the whole state upside-down. So he created organisations to give support to workers who were sick or had had accidents, who would otherwise have died from lack of assistance, and did his best to ensure that the worst poverty was reduced. Even so, all workers in those days still had to work a twelve-hour day ­ including Sundays.

Prince Bismarck, with his bushy eyebrows and his stern and resolute expression, was soon one of the best-known men in Europe. Even his enemies agreed that he was a great statesman. When the peoples of Europe wanted to set about dividing up the world, which was now so much smaller, they met together in Berlin in 1878, and Bismarck led the discussions. But when a new German emperor came along, the two were constantly at odds. After many disagreements with his chancellor, William II could stand it no longer and dismissed him. Bismarck, now an old man, retired to his ancestral estate. There he lived for several more years, sending messages to the new leaders of the German government to warn them of the blunders they were making.

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