The last annexation

Alajos Hauszmann is one of the most significant representatives of Hungarian historicist architecture. Many buildings in Budapest are associated with his name. They include the splendid block of flats at Döbrentei street 8, whose commissioner was one of Hauszmann’s first clients and his old friend György Kégl (1822-1908) – a distant relative of Sándor Kégl, the renowned Iranologist and great friend of cats. The commission was probably also connected with an earlier, almost fatal accident. In fact, during a duck hunt, Kégl shot off an incisor of Hauszmann, who at that time was at the beginning of his career. Due to his guilty conscience, he payed close attention to him, as Hauszmann himself mentions in his diary.

On 22 and 23 April, during the Budapest100 festival of this year, this house was open to visitors. The stories of the former inhabitants were collected by Noémi Saly, the great monographer of Budapest, who also lives here. One of her own family stories was also included in her volume Példabeszédek (Parables, 2015):

“My mother moved to Döbrentei street in 1947. It was two years after the siege. Two of the three rooms in the flat were only covered by the starry or stormy sky, and the kitchen had no walls. The bathroom had also no roof, so the rain and snow fell steadily on the thick ceiling beams. […] She enters into the block of ruins, bathing in sunshine, and then, through the gilt beams, to the balcony. The Danube is blue, so she decides to stay.”

Some blocks away: Döbrentei street 16, seen from Attila street, in 1945. Source: Krisztián Ungváry / Fortepan

Many people spent shorter or longer time in the house from its construction to its nationalization in 1950. One of the first inhabitants was Rezső Abele, the former governor of Fiume, who moved to Budapest after his resignation in 1897, and lived here until his death in 1923. Although he changed the Adria for the Danube, nevertheless he kept the brand: both the governor’s palace in Fiume and the house in Döbrentei street were built by Hauszmann. Later, in the early 1920s, several prominent figures of the Russian monarchist emigration found new home here. Under the leadership of  Petr Glazenap, the former military governor of Stavropol, here operated from 1921 the administrative center of the White Legion, which tried to recruit former Russian prisoners of war in Hungary and anti-Bolshevist officers of the former Austro-Hungarian army for a war against the Soviet Union. Although Glazenap left to Munich in 1923, the former colonel of the Tsar’s body guard Vladimir Malama and his family, who had lived here since 1919, remained in the house. Their flat was home on a weekly basis for a political salon, whose purpose was to convince the local representatives of the Entente about the necessity to restore the monarchy in Russia. The club’s regular visitors included the Governor of Hungary, Miklós Horthy, who was on friendly terms with Malama. In 1925, the organization of the Russian emigrés was abolished by an order of the Foreign Ministry, but the Malama family remained in Döbrentei street. Vladimir Malama died in 1935 in Nice, but his wife, Anna Samoylova remained in Budapest. She died in 1950, allegedly due to the illness received in 1945 from the Soviet soldiers.

And towards the end of his life, from 1939 on, here lived Zoltán Medve Zoltán (1868–1943), the retired governor of Krassó-Szörény County, who at the peak of his career, on 12 May 1913 performed the last territorial expansion of Hungary, the annexation of the island of Ada-Kaleh.

Albeit the Interior Minister’s order required full confidentiality, the event quickly became known. The Népszava reported about it three days later, on 15 May, taking over the report of the Keleti Értesítő:

“On 12 May, the Monday of Pentecost, the Turkish island of Ada-Kaleh near Orsova, was annected and immediately taken into possession on behalf of the Hungarian government by Dr. Zoltán Medve, Governor of Krassó-Szörény County.
It is reported from Orsova: On Monday at 12 noon, Governor Zoltán Medve, Vicegovernor Aurél Issekutz and Mr. Podhraczky, Chief Servant of Orsova, accompanied by a gendarme officer and four gendarmes, appeared in the island of Ada-Kaleh, and immediately went to the Governor’s building, where the Governor of the island, Sherif Eddin Bey received them.
Mr. Medve showed the decision of the Hungarian government, and he read its Hungarian text. This decision instructed the Governor to annex the island of Ada Kaleh in the name of His Majesty, and to immediately take it into possession.
Then, turing to the Vicegovernor and the Chief Servant, the Governor briefly outlined the importance of the event, and he entrusted them to strictly observe the traditions of the island’s population, especially the free practice of religion, and to act so that the inhabitants feel themselves equal to the other sons of the homeland. Finally he called on the Chief Servant as the administrative authority to take over the island as part of Krassó-Szörény County.
After the annexation was completed, a protocol was redacted. Governor Sherif Eddin Bey declared, that he cannot acknowledge the annexation, because he had received no instructions from the Turkish government. He is therefore obliged to refuse the signature of the protocol, and to protest against the occupation of the island. Governor Zoltán Medve referred to the decision of the Hungarian government, and declared, that he cannot take the protest into account. Nevertheless, he had no objections to the Governor’s remaining on the island, until he receives detailed instructions from his government. He also instructed the gendarmes to stay in the island as a sign of the annexation, and to take care of the order and peace. After this, the Governor and his escort left the island.
According to a more recent telegram from Orsova, on Tuesday evening Sherif Eddin Bey left the island, but nobody knows to where. Rumor says, that the Turkish government will oppose the annexation of the island in the most decisive way at the great powers.”

Despite the appearances, the annexation was merely a formal act, the last episode of the decade-long territorial debate. In fact, Ada Kaleh had previously been under Hungarian sovereignty. It was almost precisely thirty-five years earlier, on 25 May 1878, that the Monarchy, taking advantage of the Stan Stefano Peace Treaty which closed the Russian-Turkish war, occupied the Turkish island on the Lower Danube. The treaty, concluded on 3 March, had not decided about the possession of the island, only about its evacuation and the demolition of its fortress. Thus, the Ottoman empire in any case had to renounce the territory, whose possession was not irrelevant to the Danubian empire. In case they did not act, a neighboring competitor, Serbia or Romania could have laid hand on the island, laying in a comercially and tactically strategic point. In March and April 1878, the Austro-Hungarian diplomacy, which was already vigilant, made the decisive step, and after lengthy negotiations, on 21 May, with the tacit consent of the Russians, the representatives of the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman government agreed on the temporary Austro-Hungarian occupation of Ada Kaleh, postponing the final regulation.

The temporay occupation lasted forty years. The clearing up of the odd situation – a Turkish civil administration alongside with an Austro-Hungarian military presence – was from time to time on the agenda of the Hungarian party, but no progress was made until the annexation of 1913. The annexation took place in a political situation which was very similar to the occupation of 1878. The Monarchy wanted to prevent that during the new negotiations at the end of the first Balkan War any other Balkan state might require the island for itself. However, the integration into the Hungarian civil administration remained nominal – due not so much to Müdir Sherifeddin’s protest, but rather to the prudence of the Austro-Hungarian government, which did not want to overshadow the good relations with the Porta either in 1913, or later, in the war years. A Lex Ada Kaleh was never born. The “Ada Kaleh question” was finally resolved by the dissolution of the two parties, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. The 1938 Sèvres and the 1933 Lausanne Treaty awarded the island to Romania.

Forty years of Hungarian rule, however, did not pass without trace. In the years of the occupation, the strategic significance of the island declined (only during the war it became important again, when even Egon Erwin Kisch, “the frenzied reporter”, wrote articles from here. Nevertheless, due to its situation and the neighboring Orsova and Hercules Bath, the island soon became a popular tourist destination, as it is attested by newspaper ads and postcards sent from here. But it attracted not only the touirsts. Turcologist Ignác Kúnos visited the island several times. His ethnographic research was aided by the local teacher and merchant Mehmed Fehmi, who, as attested by the postcards, also operated a printing press, and who, as the leader of the anti-annexation movement, was elected in 1914 the deputy of Ada Kaleh in the constituency of Constantinople. Kúnos held lectures and published articles on his visits to the island, and he published the materials collected by him in several volumes: the folk songs in 1906, the folk tales first in 1907 in German, in two volumes, then in 1923 also in Hungarian. Thereby he virtually saved a great part of the island’s ethnography and of the archaic Turkish dialect spoken here, almost seventy years before its sinking under the water of the Danube. Kúnos probably would have got to the island without the Hungarian occupation as well, but, alongside with the gradual disappearance of the Rumelian Turkish world, the popularity of Ada Kaleh in Hungary also contributed to his interest in the island. Seen from this point of view, the decades long Austro-Hungarian aspirations were perhaps not completely useless.

The first summary blog post on Ada Kaleh in Hungarian was published on Falanszter. The Dunai Szigetek (Danubian Islands) regularly publishes information-rich entries on it, with many little-known infos and images. In 2011, a large exhibition on Ada Kaleh was organized in Bucharest, whose catalog, Marian Țuțui’s Ada-Kaleh sau Orientul scufundat (Ada-Kaleh, or the sunken Orient) will be soon presented by us.

Package tour to Ada Kaleh. Ad in Budapesti Hírlap, 17 June 1899

A genre postcard on Ada Kaleh: the original version (above), livened up with a few odalisques for a tourist trap (below)

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Tea and horse for sale

Along the tea-horse-road, on Shaxi’s marketplace. In the same square, in the Qing-era theatre, traditional performances every day. In Lijiang fresh yak milk and yak milk ice cream, in Dali pu erh tea compressed in bricks, in Nuodeng salt crystals from the local salt mines, in Baoshan antiquarian tables on the street, catering to the eye.

Along the tea-horse-road, as the south-western section of the Silk Road is called, the most different goods have traveled for thousands of years, from Yunnan and Sichuan up to Tibet and down, through Burma and Vietnam as far as India. The roads meandering in the plateau below the Himalayas, in the valleys of some of the world’s largest rivers, lead through the lands of dozens of ethnic groups and cultures, the string of towns of thousands of years, where you feel time being stopped.

We will travel along these roads and visit these towns in this November with the travelers of río Wang. We present our travel plans in detail, with maps and photos, in our usual blog encounter point, the special room of Selfie Bar, Budapest, Rákóczi út 29, on 27 April, Thursday, at 6 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

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The fifty shades of Latin

In the bird’s-eye view, one might have the comforting illusion that country borders are also language borders. Especially where the borders follow the ranges of high mountains that separate peoples, like the Alps or the Pyrenees. In Germany they speak German, in Italy Italian. In France French, in Spain Spanish (all right, in Catalonia Catalan). This is supported by the historical experience that in Eastern Europe, in the past century, the changes of state borders were usually followed by the forced resettlement or assimilation of peoples speaking other languages. So that, for example, on the two sides of the Ukrainian-Polish border, arbitrarily drawn in 1939, or of the German-Polish border, also so drawn in 1945, we can hardly find anyone speaking the language of the other side. However, when you happen to survey in the ant’s-eye view a more fortunate border zone, where neither the border nor the residents have moved very much over the past centuries, your experience will be quite different.

I want to go north from Catalonia’s northernmost region, the Boí Valley, one of the cradles of European Romanesque art, to France’s southernmost region, the Upper Garonne, to the pilgrimage church of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, which was for the inhabitants of the valley the nearest connecting point to the great Compostela pilgrimage road throughout the Middle Ages. The distance from Castilló de Tor, which guards the entrance of the valley, to the cathedral of Comminges, is just ninety kilometers, which you can cover in one hour and a half by car, including the obligatory slow downs.

The Spanish-language Wikipedia site of the destination, Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges informs us (the French one does not), that the little town is called San Bertran de Comenge in the Occitan language. Why is this interesting? Because the inhabitants of the town, although declining in proportion, speak this language. Occitan – the lengua d’oc, as Dante called it after the word oc meaning “yes”, and as opposed to his own lingua de sì –, the original Latin language version of Southern France has been increasingly pushed into the background by French in recent centuries.

But Occitan is also divided into various dialects, from eastern Provençal to western Gascon, the latter being spoken here, in the region of Saint-Bertrand. This dialect is known to all of us, as one of its most famous speakers was D’Artagnan, the fourth musketeer, who, as a rookie in Paris, was mocked simply for his Gascon accent. The Gascons were excellent soldiers, they formed the backbone of the King’s musketeer guard, and also represented a peculiar linguistic patch of color in 17th-century Paris. Another famous Gascon speaker was none less than the Virgin Mary. At least, in 1858 she said to Bernardette Soubirous, the shepherd girl of Lourdes, in the latter’s native language: Que sòi era Immaculada Councepciou, “I am the Immaculate Conception”, which it still emblazoned on the pedestal of her statue in Lourdes. No wonder, then, that the locals are proud of their ancient tongue, and in more and more towns they operate a nursery and primary school in this language, although no version of Occitan is officially recognized in France.

Crossing the Spanish or Catalan border, you would expect to hear only Spanish or Catalan. But the first café in the town of Bossòst, over whose streets the peak of Tuc d’Aubas hovers like Mount Fuji, bears the proud name Er Occitan – The Occitan –, and moreover, as marked by the peculiar definite article neither in Spanish nor Catalan, but in the Occitan language.

And the main language of the information board at the town’s 11th-century Romanesque church – whose northern gate is adorned with the loveliest Romanesque relief of the Virgin Mary – is also not Catalan or Spanish. But yet another, which I can only assume, for lack of competence, is Occitan. The assumption is correct, but not precise.

In fact, a few towns away, on the gate of the Romanesque church of Vila a board announces the hours and languages of the Mass for the settlements of the neighboring Aran Valley. Even the language of the board and the names of the days are peculiar. And in the center of the valley, in the town of Vielha – which is called Viella both in Catalan and Spanish, for nevertheless the former version is written at the entrance of the town – they celebrate Sunday Mass in the Aranès language.

Aranès or Aranese is the version of Occitan, more precisely of Gascon, or even more precisely, of Pyrenean Gascon, which, as the name indicates, is spoken in Aran Valley. This small area, which falls to the north of the ridge of the Pyrenees, but still belongs to Catalonia, and is home to the source of Garonne River. The dialect of its inhabitants is closer to the adjacent Occitan than to Catalan, from which they are separated by the ridge. The number of its speakers is less than ten thousand, yet it is the official language of the valley. Moreover, in 2010 it was adopted by the Catalan parliament as the third official language of all Catalonia, in addition to Spanish and Catalan. Thus Catalonia is the only state where a variant of Occitan enjoys official status.

Crossing the mountain, we get back to Boí Valley. This is already in Catalonia, therefore, we might assume, they speak Catalan. Yes, but what kind? The language they speak among themselves in the shops and pubs is appreciably different from the one you hear in Barcelona: it is deeper, they often say -a or -au instead of -e, the -er at the end of the words is pronounced , like in French, and a lot of Spanish words are used. This is the Ribagorçan dialect, spoken on both sides of the Catalan-Aragonian border instead of the official Catalan or Spanish. Even if the great linguist Joan Corominas considers this to be the “most archaic and purest” form of Catalan, you would have to cross quite a few valleys going south-east to hear the standard version of Catalan.

Romance linguistics teaches that by walking across the former Roman Empire from Sicily to Normandy, every pair of neighboring villages can understand each other. It is nice to see how this really works on a small scale.

The bridge

Maurice de Flaminck, The bridge (detail, s.d., 1890s). From the great Impressionist exhibition of Potsdam

We are having lunch in Neukölln, in a Turkish kebab house, with the Berlin sightseeing group. Twenty people are too many for the small canteen, we must join others at their tables. A meek little man is dining with his son, he opens up slowly, he speaks good English. They came from Aleppo, a life-threatening journey, crossing many borders. There is no wife and mother, it is not known where she was left, we do not dare to ask. The little boy is going to go to school, to refugee school, he already knows a few words in German, he proudly plays with the colored pencils received in advance. And then the inevitable: “And where are you from?” It is hard to speak the words, we do not know what memories they might bring with them from one of the many borders. “From Hungary.” The father translates it to his little son. The boy’s face brightens up, he lifts his colored pencil: “Hungary is friend!” Blessed be the name of the nameless one who gave him this impression of us.

Persian disco

I know these songs. They play in the taxi, as soon as you leave for the city from Khomenei Airport, they rumble in the kebab shop and in the bazaar, they stiffen your mind during the all-day bus route across the desert. But I have never seen people publicly dancing to them, especially not with a glass of whisky in the hand, and particularly not in the company of girls with uncovered hair and in skirts that at the thigh. Any of these subplots individually would call out for a few years of prison in Iran. But not in Berlin, in Neukölln’s Werkstatt der Kulturen, in the cellar of which a Noruz celebration, a spring New Year’s disco is being held tonight. The songs are the characteristic pieces of rollicking Iranian music, laments in Persian about the torment of love and the inevitability of adulthood, singing Egyptian pop in Arabic, which is becoming increasingly fashionable in Iran, or changing to Iranian-Azerbaijani Torki or Kurdish folk songs for the sake of the Iranian ethnic minorities present in the room. The audience still responds as they did at home, the boys dance only with boys and the girls with girls, but at least no longer in separate rooms, but in a common space, laughing, embarrassed, at the unusual situation. The children wander about along the edge of the stage, they already grow into the situation, imitating the adults, until around midnight they are taken away to sleep.

Habibi (Sweetheart), with Arabic text

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And the bonus: Üsküdara, the Balkan migrating melody, about which we have already written, tonight in its Iranian version


The Wall had fallen twenty-eight years ago, just as many as it had lived. The wounds slowly scab over. Who remembers any more that in the Potsdamer Platz there was a forest, from where thousands of crows took off at dawn, that behind the Märkisches Museum the street ended in a trabant leaned against the wall? Only the seamless row of remarkably new houses reveals the lack of a past, the scar of the basalt cube line running in the middle of the asphalt sets one more layer on this city full of scars. And yet, even after twenty-eight years, a crack in the space-time opens in the most unexpected places, the wall romanticism rises again in the very middle of the city. A few hundred meters from Checkpoint Charlie, where you now have to relive in the freak show of a Persian artist what it felt like to peep over the wall, along the Stallschreiberstraße, where Martin Luther King personally hurried to express a distressing opinion about the East German border guards who opened fire on that morning on a DDR-Flüchtling, the coppice wood, which has thriven for twenty-eight years, has disappeared overnight. In the middle of the land, moled by building machinery, a guard with long white hair is watching the cut-out woods, at the yowl of his dog he turns back, he beckons to the camera. The new house row of the Alte Jakobsstraße, and the TV tower of the Alexanderplatz shines through the clearance. The cast stone blocks running on the edge of the ground will not indicate for long the former line of the wall. Time has swallowed another piece from the shelf islands of recent history.

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Carnival in Mamoiada

The normative descriptions of folk customs, such as we find in ethnographic encyclopaedia, or in the representative publication of the Museum of Mediterranean Masques of Mamoiada about the local Carnival, lift the custom into a timeless sphere, adjust it to the rhythm of the eternal return. What was yesterday will be tomorrow as well, and the parade of the mamuthones and issohadores of Mamoiada appears before us from the obscurity of five thousand years as we would have experienced it by entering the stream of time at any of the carnivals in the past five thousand years.

The normative description highlights the actions repeated year after year, which are considered the essential elements of the custom, and the carriers of collective identity. Exactly because of this, it does not account for such casual and improvised actions of the realization of the custom, as, for example

• that the mamuthones and issohadores, while dancing through the village, en-route stop at every bar, where they dance around the room, and they get free drink in return;

• the villagers take part in the feast in a wide variety of carnival costumes, which, from a historical and symbolic point of view, are absolutely incompatible with the millenary tradition of the mamuthones, but this absolutely does not bother anyone;

• the participants of the parade again and again quit their ritual role, to interact with the relatives and friends, thereby strengthening social ties, and they take pictures with their mobile phones of the other millenary masquerade, the kurents invited from Slovenia to amuse the village, just as these latter take photos of them, and all the onlookers of all of them;

• and that this multi-threaded series of events, which waves on, halts and then restarts during many hours in several sites, unique and never repeatable, and only to be experienced here and in person, this is the very carnival of Mamoiada.

On the Milan flight a young Italian couple is watching me organizing the photos. “Where is this?” they ask. “In Mamoiada, Sardinia”, I reply. “Next year we will go there, too”, they decide.

Mamuthones in the bar. Video by Tibor Nagy

Maria Pittau: Su Beranu (Spring). From the album Raighinas (2004)

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New blood. Video by Ildikó Fabricius