Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Cross of Pribina

A review of "One Europe, Many Nations" by James B Minahan 

Like the other reviewer, I'm somewhat ambivalent towards this encyclopedia. It really does contain factual errors and peculiar omissions, showing that the author can't really handle the vast material he has amassed to write this work.

Here are some I spotted in the chapter on Slovakia, a nation I happen to be familiar with. The Slovak language is based on the Central Slovak dialects spoken around Banská Bystrica, *not* the Western dialects around Bratislava. The author never mentions the mission of Cyril and Methodius, despite its central significance for Slovak nationalism. That's like writing about the United States without mentioning, say, the Pilgrim Fathers. He incorrectly calls the double cross at the Slovak flag “the Cross of Pribina”. Every Slovak I met calls it the cross of Cyril and Methodius, or simply the double cross. A quick search on the web reveals that the Cross of Pribina is a Slovak medal awarded by the President, and looks nothing like a double cross. Finally, it's anachronistic to use the name Bratislava before 1919, when the city was called Pressburg, Presporok or Pozsony. The point is not to nitpick – many other facts in the Slovak entry are quite correct, but these are glaring errors and omissions showing that the author knows little about Slovakia, and somehow misinterpreted whatever sources he was using.

Here are some other errors (I think!). In the Ingrian entry, Ingrians and Izhorians are treated as the same people, when in fact they are distinct. In the Wallonian entry, Wallon and Picard are said to be the same language. The Scanian entry treats the Scanians as an oppressed group within Sweden, suggesting that the author was taken in by some particularly virulent Scanian nationalist. The author also confuses Skåne with Skåneland (a broader concept).

On the other hand, *all* entries doesn't seem to be wrong (the one about Sorbs seems correct – there really are Sorbs in Poland, for instance). I'm also willing to cut the author some slack when it comes to the exact numbers of each nationality covered. It's often a hotly contested issue how large (or small!) a national or ethnic group actually is, and the same goes for language fluency. I admit that I kind of like the author's “Titoist” tendency to split large nationalities into smaller groups. Yes, the encyclopedia does include articles on Rhinelanders, Alanders, Romands, Andalusians, Swabians, Voralbergers, Lombards and Sanjakis. (I didn't see any entries on Gorani and Sarakatsani, though. Maybe next time?) Conversely, I noticed that the author has a somewhat broad definition of “Europe”. Geographically speaking, the three Transcaucasian nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are not European. However, I'm willing to cut him some slack here, too, since all these terms are somewhat fluid anyway.

I think this work shows the perils of trying to write an entire encyclopedia all by yourself. John Michael Greer can do it, but then, JMG is a super-nerd. And even he probably couldn't pull off a pan-European encyclopedia (with Caucasus and Transcaucasus appended). The author should be commended for his efforts, but perhaps next time assembling a team for a project of this type could be better…

I'm willing to fact-check the Slovak entry.

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