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. 


I gave a talk about the Russia-Ukraine war at the Belgrade Community Library a couple of weeks ago. It was a really nice experience. There was a good crowd, and people asked a lot of good questions. I managed to chat with a number of people after the event had ended. I also met some of my neighbors, as the library is located a short distance from my house. 

To be honest, I hadn't really been thinking much about the war lately. At least not as much as last year, when I wrote quite a bit

Part of the reason for this was no doubt related to the fact that, between September 2022 and February 2023 I was reading and re-reading my manuscript to the point of pukedom. But also, I felt like I hadn't really changed my mind regarding what I had written earlier, and had little to add for the time being. 

Reading through my old posts in preparation for the library talk, I found myself generally agreeing with what I'd written in late 2021 and 2022 regarding the war. I still think it makes much more sense to keep Russia occupied in Eastern Ukraine. Putin could get everything he wanted tomorrow, and within a year or two we would just be going through the same cycle of threats and drama again, only further to the west.    

Such as in Moldova, for example? Who knows? Normally I'd say it would make little sense for Russia to open up a second front at this particular moment, but then again I felt the same way about invading Ukraine. That made no sense to me, either, other than кому-то это надо. 

But maybe Putin thinks it makes sense to create multiple crises in multiple places (look out, Georgia) as a means of establishing leverage that he doesn't have right now because he's losing the war in Ukraine. That's assuming, of course, that a move would go well in Moldova, and that there wouldn't be the unexpected resistance Russia has encountered in Ukraine. 

I also wonder what such a move would have on European and US opinion regarding aid. Could aiding Moldova turn into an issue of debate? 

At the end of January, a Pew Research poll said that 

about a quarter (26%) now say the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine, while 31% say it is giving the right amount and 20% would like to see the U.S. give Ukraine additional assistance.

More recent polls have reflected higher levels of support and sympathy for Ukraine, but the support does seem to be softening to some degree. Borderland readers, of course, won't be surprised to hear this. 

If the proper arguments are made, I think Americans are capable of understanding, over a sustained period of time, why it makes sense to support Ukraine. But especially in the part of the country where I live, it's important to emphasize that, as far as dealing with Russia is concerned, it's a question of now or later. And if we wait until later, it'll end up being a lot messier and difficult. 

Turkey/Syria Quake

As of now, reports are of an estimated 50, 000 dead. 50,000 dead! My goodness. The big one that hit outside Istanbul in August 1999 was 7.6 on the Richter scale, a bit smaller than this recent quake (7.8). Nearly 20,000 people died in 1999. 

Huge aftershocks are still taking place in Turkey, some of which would constitute major catastrophes in their own right were it not for the fact that everything has already been destroyed. 

I've been to most of the cities affected by the quake and have friends who have lost loved ones. As far as I know, no one that I know personally was killed, but we'll see what happens. Not that it matters, but this is one of my favorite parts of Turkey. 

The 1999 earthquake, and what was perceived as the pathetic response of the government to the crisis, is often credited with helping Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP win the elections of 2002--and they've been in power ever since. 

Today, we're hearing the same complaints: too much corruption allowing shoddy buildings to be constructed; too slow a reaction to the earthquake; not enough assistance is being provided to the survivors, etc. 

Once again, people are saying "things will never be the same again."   

It will be interesting to see if the AKP's time in power ends up bookended by seismic catastrophes. 

Sports Update

Spring training games started today, as the Detroit Tigers' inevitable march toward world championship glory begins, yet again. 

Seriously, though, I am optimistic. Our scandal-tainted manager is gonna teach the boys how to cheat the right way. 

I was also very glad to see (well, hear) the radio broadcast team of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price again.  

Listening to baseball via the online radio broadcasts is one of the last redeeming characteristics of the internet. I especially enjoy listening to "afternoon" games, which start at 11:05 am Mountain time. Who knows how many innings of baseball I listened to during the course of Red Star over the Black Sea's creation. 

One thing that's great about listening to baseball while writing is that, if I suddenly need to concentrate on something I can mute the broadcast and then, even if I forgot for two hours that I have a game on, I can unmute my computer and still have a puncher's chance of catching the end of the game. 

Baseball: it lasts forever! 

This is threatened, of course, by the recent efforts of Major League Baseball to speed things up. This afternoon's Tigers-Phillies matchup, for example, lasted only two hours and seventeen minutes. Sure, it's just a spring training game, but the addition this season of a pitch clock is likely going to have an effect on things. 

I know I'm just a cranky old man at this point, but I'm fine with slow baseball. It's a leisurely game. I don't have much experience going to Tiger games in person, but when I was in college I went to a lot of Expo games at Olympic Stadium. It cost a buck to get into the bleachers. I whiled away many an afternoon there drinking beer, reading the newspaper, and smoking the occasional joint. I considered it a splendid way to spend my time.  

And this was in gross, cavernous, cigarette-smoke filled Olympic Stadium. Imagine if the games had been outside? 

So who needs less of that? We get angry at "shrinkflation" when it takes place in supermarkets, why are we happy with this when it comes to sports? Are we supposed to ask for only three quarters of a football game now? 


Anyway, this is what's going on at the Borderlands Lodge these days. Now that my work on the book is over, I'm slowly starting to sift through all of the other tasks I've been ignoring for the past several months. In particular, it's nice to read books for pleasure again. 

After seven and a half years, I'm super-happy to be finished. 


Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library. 

Or perhaps you're a red star over the Black Sea? If so, you can pre-order the book here

More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.   

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