Remembering Thomas Goltz

Friday, August 18, 2023

I was sitting in the sauna the other day, reading the Bozeman Yesterdaily Chronicle, when an article caught my eye. "Former MSU Professor and World Traveler Remembered" read the print version (the online title is different). 

Who could it be? I wondered. And then I saw the photo. 

Thomas Goltz passed away on July 29. Here is his obituary from the Livingston Enterprise

Red Star over the Black Sea: Excerpts from Chapter 11

Saturday, June 17, 2023

On this date in 1951, a Turkish poet named Nâzım Hikmet awoke before dawn, crept out of his house in Istanbul, and boarded a motorboat piloted by his brother-in-law. Their destination? The Eastern bloc. 

Chris-Craft boat of the sort Nâzım Hikmet
used to escape Turkey in 1951


The two brothers-in-law rode their boat up the Bosphorous, the turquoise saltwater strait which divides Turkey, and Istanbul, into “European” and “Asian” sections, before heading out into the Black Sea. Their original idea had been to get Nâzım to Bulgaria, and from there the USSR. En route, however, the brothers-in-law spotted a Romanian cargo ship, the Plekhanov. Boarding this should would, for Nâzım, be just as good as traveling all the way into Bulgarian territorial waters. Either way, they figured, Nâzım would be safely deposited behind the Iron Curtain. Nâzım boarded the Plekhanov, and his brother-in-law turned around and piloted the boat back to Istanbul. They would never see each other again.

Below you'll find some excerpts from Chapter 11 of my new book, Red Star over the Black Sea: Nâzım Hikmet and his Generation. These pages relate what Nâzım was doing between the day of his escape from Turkey and his arrival in Moscow twelve days later. They're redacted and without footnotes, though. If you want the real deal, you'll have to buy the book.  

Excerpts from Chapter 4, Red Star over the Black Sea: Nâzım Hikmet and his Generation

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The first time I visited Batumi, Georgia, I couldn't believe my eyes. Rather than the drab, post-Soviet settlement that I expected to find, I'd come across a subtropical-looking place filled with flowers, weird-looking insects, and pastel-colored buildings. That was back in 2009, when I undertook the first of two research trips (the second was in 2013) on behalf of what would become my first book, Turks Across Empires.  

During the course of writing my second book, Red Star over the Black Sea, I didn't go back to Batumi. I did, however, feel transported there somewhat by the writing in Vâlâ Nureddin's later account of his travels through Anatolia and the USSR with Nâzım Hikmet. Vâlâ's description of their first days in Georgia, which had recently come under Bolshevik control, brought me back to the rocky beaches and very cool vibe that I associated with Batumi in particular. 

Below you'll find a few of the sections from Chapter 4 of Red Star, which went on sale in the UK a couple of months ago. The book is set to go on sale in the US at the beginning of June. The photos are from a travelogue that I was keeping on this blog in 2009

The Turkish Elections & the Origins of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Friday, May 19, 2023

Well, the results of the first round of balloting are in, and it's not looking good for the opposition. 

I can't say I'm surprised. While the economy in Turkey has been terrible, this election was largely a referendum on President Tayyip Erdoğan. In a country that is broadly divided regarding their opinions of Erdoğan, people aren't going to turn their backs on him just for the hell of it. They needed a good reason to vote differently this time. 

Four-time electoral loser Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu 
once again faces off against 21-year 
incumbent Tayyip Erdoğan

What they got instead was Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a decent man who in the first round of the campaign made real efforts to appeal to people's better instincts, as opposed to exploiting their resentments in the style of his opponent. 

But the resentments that many in Turkey have long held against the Republican People's Party (CHP) are real enough that, 100 years after the founding of the Turkish Republic, roughly half the country cannot bring itself to vote for Atatürk's party.

The Breakup of Russia?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Putin's air of invincibility is shrinking by the day. But what would happen if he were somehow removed from power?

In my previous post, I speculated on the possibilities of sudden collapse in Russia. My argument was that, as was the case with respect to the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, there's a possibility of a similarly unexpected downfall in today's Russia as well. While Vladimir Putin by all accounts appears to be quite secure with respect to his ability to maintain his position in power, there is certainly precedent in Russia for seemingly stable regimes falling unexpectedly. 

As I noted on Monday, Putin's legitimacy rests largely upon his ability to deliver. He has no dynastic claim. There is no all-powerful party in the manner that there was in Soviet times. Nor is there any real ideology associated with Putin's rule. Instead, Putin's competence has been his primary tool of legitimacy in Russia. And, no matter how much Russian authorities endeavor to hide the truth from their citizens, the fiasco that is the war in Ukraine is becoming increasingly difficult to explain away. So, when your claim to legitimacy is based mainly upon your competence, that legitimacy evaporates once you've been exposed as incompetent. 

And that can be very bad news if you happen to be the incompetent one in power.  

Thinking beyond Putin

Monday, April 10, 2023

Lately I've been thinking about the possibilities of collapse. No, not my own--but rather that which could take place inside Russia. 

When Nicholas II of Russia was, in 1905, pushed to the brink of overthrow, the world was incredulous. After all, the Russian government had, it seemed, been making all of the right moves for decades. The liberalization of the economy that had followed Russia's abolition of serfdom had led to an astonishing level of development. In the 1890s, Russia had the second fastest-growing economy in the world, after the USA. Foreign investment in the Russian economy increased nine-fold between 1880 and 1900. 

Red Star over the Black Sea: Excerpts from Chapter 5

Saturday, April 8, 2023

For the past week or so I've been posting excerpts from my new book, Red Star over the Black Sea: Nâzım Hikmet and his Generation. You can find the book's prologue here, a few sections from the introduction here, and selections from Chapter 2 here

A few points to keep in mind: 

1) These are just excerpts, not entire sections. So, for example, the offerings on this post represent only a small part of Chapter 5. 

2) These sections do not necessarily appear contiguously in the book. In some places, I've cut intervening sections out while preparing the digital excerpts. 

3) There are no footnotes in the excerpts, but there are in the book (more than 1600 of them, as a matter of fact). So, if you're wondering where the information comes from, check the notes in the book. 

Something else that you'll notice when reading the excerpts: the book is about a lot more than Nâzım Hikmet. While the poet-communist is at the center of the story, you'll see that the book also details the lives of other, less well-known figures. Mainly, what I was interested in doing with this book was placing Nâzım within a particular context, then using the stories of this generation's lives to say something bigger about the times in which these people lived. 

I hope you like it. 

Red Star over the Black Sea: Excerpts from Chapter 2

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Over the past few days I've posted excerpts from the prologue and introduction of my new book, Red Star over the Black Sea: Nâzım Hikmet and his Generation. The book, which is published by Oxford University Press, is now on sale in the UK. It will be available for purchase in the United States starting in the first week of June. 

Below you'll find some excerpts from the book's second chapter. 

Red Star over the Black Sea: Excerpts from the Introduction

Saturday, April 1, 2023

After seven and a half years of working on my biography of Nâzım Hikmet, at times it's difficult to believe that the work is finally over. With the exception of teaching days and other times I was momentarily busy with something else, I woke up almost every morning between August of 2014 and February of this year thinking about this book. 

Not only did I wake up thinking about the book, but almost without exception I felt excited and very positive about the project. I hardly ever felt stuck or unsure of what I wanted to do with it. In this respect, Red Star over the Black was a lot of fun to write. 

So now what to do? It's hard. I think a lot of people feel a mild touch of postpartum depression after a project they've spent years on has come to an end. I can't say that I feel depressed about the book ending per se, it's just difficult to know what to think about now. I find myself flipping through the book, reading sections of it out loud, then wandering off distractedly to change the record that's playing or write some notes about a new project I'm interested in. 

Or posting excerpts from the book to my blog. 

Anyway, below you'll find some of the fruits of these labors, excerpts from the book's introduction. It's not the whole intro, but it should give you a good taste of what's there. 

I hope you like it.  

Prologue: Tears of Joy

Monday, March 27, 2023

This morning I was minding my business as usual at the Borderlands Lodge when, fresh from emerging from a mid-morning sauna I happened to notice the snowy residue of footprints on my front walk. 

Well, who could that be? I wondered.  

It feels great to see this baby in print

It turned out to be the delivery of the author copies of my book,
Red Star over the Black Sea. The book, which is published by Oxford University Press, goes on sale in the UK next week. It'll be available in the US at the beginning of June

After seven and a half years of working on this project, it's pretty amazing to finally hold the book in my hands. 

And what about you? Any interest in getting a copy of your own? If you're still on the fence, maybe checking out the prologue (sans footnotes) below will help you decide. 

In the meantime, please forgive these tears of joy...  

Regrouping in Belgrade N & P

Saturday, February 25, 2023

I've been away from the blog for a while, mainly because I was finishing up my book on Nâzım Hikmet. I finally did send up the final proofs a couple of weeks ago. I've been told the book will come out first in the UK (the publisher is Oxford University Press) on April 2. Apparently, it will be available in the US starting June 2. 

So, I've been holing up at the Borderlands Lodge. 

The book has been a long time coming. As I recount elsewhere, I came up with the idea of working on Nâzım in the summer of 2015, and started reading up on him in earnest in the fall and spring of 2015-2016. The years to follow took me on multiple trips to archives in Moscow, Istanbul, Amsterdam, and Washington, D.C. 

It was a great experience. I loved the research, and especially working in the archives. Researching in Moscow, especially, was thrilling, mainly because none of that material had ever appeared in books on Nâzım before. But the writing process was also quite interesting. When the pandemic began, I was in a position to shift entirely to writing. So, that's what I did every day. 

There are obviously much bigger things going on in the world right now. This is one little book in a universe of suffering that's taking place in Turkey, Syria, and Ukraine, alongside many other locations on this planet. 

On the other hand, this is what I've been doing for the past seven and a half years. I hope people enjoy it. 

Russia-Ukraine Notes: Early October Edition

October 2, 2022

After almost eight months of fighting, it feels like developments have been shifting in the Russia-Ukraine war in recent weeks, doesn't it? 

Separated at birth?

On the face of things, there is worrying news. The prospect of Russia using nuclear weapons is particularly frightening, without question. It is unclear what the US or NATO response would be to something like that, but at the same time I don't know how Putin's making these threats should change Washington's behavior right now. 

Nâzım Hikmet Book Talk in Texas

Saturday, October 1, 2022

This past week I spent a few days in Austin talking about a book of mine that'll be coming out next year. 

I paid a visit to the Longhorn anti-Leninists of Texas 

It was a really great trip. Over the summer when I was in Istanbul I'd received an invitation to discuss the book on Nâzım Hikmet that I've been working on. The book, called Red Star over the Black Sea: Nâzım Hikmet and his Generation, isn't finished yet--I'm going through the copy-edited   draft right now--but it's supposed to come out (through Oxford University Press) in March of 2023.

Re Russia-Ukraine: Changes Coming?

Thursday, September 22, 2022

After a flurry of posts regarding Russia-Ukraine in the winter and spring, I haven't had much to say in recent months. As I'd expected, invading Ukraine proper proved to be a much messier and difficult affair than the annexation of the Crimea. 

Now, with Russia planning hastily-organized referenda in Eastern Ukraine and more public criticism of the war emerging in Russia following the announcement that Moscow will call up as many as 300,000 reservists, it feels like there could be some changes coming.   

Catching up in the 'Grade

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Today we had the Fall Festival parade in Belgrade. I'd forgotten about the event, but while Zooming with my parents and brother this morning I noticed the large numbers of people parking in front of my house and pedestrians walking up the street. 

Time to grab your fez and head to Belgrade

But that's how things go when you're living in the tenderloin district of Belgrade, Montana. Whether it's the Jingle Jog, the Christmas Convoy, or the Fall Festival, some form of alliterative amusement is always on the agenda. 

The Return: Part III, Istanbul

Thursday, June 30, 2022

It had been three years since I'd been in Istanbul, and even that had been a short, week-long trip back in 2019. After living in Turkey between 1992 and 1999, I'd returned to the US to begin graduate school. But, given the fact that I work on Turkey professionally, I return frequently. From 1999 until 2020 there had been only one calendar year, 2002, when I hadn't gone to Turkey. And now, three years had passed. 

I was supposed to be in Kazan, Russia this summer. That obviously didn't work out, but I was able to switch to researching in Amsterdam and Istanbul instead. 

The Return: Part II, Talkin' Turkey

Thursday, June 23, 2022

I was at a hippish-type of place in Çukurcuma, not far from the AirBnB I'd rented in Cihangir. A friend of mine runs an art gallery there and she'd invited me to a soiree. It was a nice evening. I'd always despised Cihangir, which is lousy with youngish western foreigners, but Çukurcuma is alright. A DJ was playing cool- sounding music that was dribbling in the background, and we were all sipping red wine and talking about the paintings on the walls. 

It's good to be back

A couple of dudes, old-school Turkish leftist types, started chatting me up. It turned out we had some friends in common, people I'd known from the various times of my life that I've lived in this city. Talk turned to politics and the Russia-Ukraine war, and they asked me what I thought. I deflected, half-knowing what would come next. Of course they blamed the US for everything. 

The Return: Part I, Amsterdam

Monday, June 20, 2022

Three years. It had been three years since the last time I'd been out of the US--a delightful summer spent in Moscow, Mongolia, and Istanbul in 2019. Up until 2020, the last time I'd gone an entire calendar year without crossing a border had been sometime back in the mid-1980s. 

Which way to the Borderlands

But yeah, I didn't do much traveling in 2020-2021, other than a couple of quick trips to Michigan. So, let's just say that the old backpack was a bit dusty when I retrieved it from the back room to prepare for this summer's travels. 

A Double Retreat?

Saturday, April 9, 2022

The news these days, of course, is that Russian forces have been withdrawing from most of Ukraine as part of an effort to establish more defensible positions in the east of the country.  

But alongside this retreat to the East that we've seen this week, there have also been some hints of a retreat to the West.  

Back and Forth in the Quagmire

Saturday, April 2, 2022

The news from Russia and Ukraine this week has oscillated between intense Russian bombardments of Mariupol and other cities in Ukraine, followed by Moscow's pledges to relent somewhat and re-position its forces in the eastern part of the country. 

So what's been going on with this? 

I could be wrong, of course, but I'm of the opinion that Moscow probably is really planning to re-group in eastern Ukraine. From the looks of things, some troops are also retreating to Belarus for now. 

A "Mission Accomplished" Moment?

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Well, it certainly has been a messy, destructive March. All month long, observers have been watching the war in Ukraine and wondering why Putin has been doing this.  

The interesting news this week has been the Kremlin's announcement that the so-ca
lled "first phase" of the war is over, and that now Russian forces will be focusing upon Eastern Ukraine. 

If this is indeed the case, it seems like a noteworthy sign. Could this be Vladimir Putin's "mission accomplished" moment?