Contemporary Venezuela is living proof of the old adage that history repeats itself. H. Michael Tarver and Julia C. Frederick document the numerous parallels between the country’s past and present in “The History of Venezuela.” Taken out of context, several accounts in the book could easily be mistaken for a description of Venezuela’s current state of decay. Tarver and Frederick’s discussions of the various challenges the country has faced – such as rising debt, price controls, inflation and government spending – apply equally to any number of bygone Venezuelan governments, as well as to Nicolas Maduro’s administration. Perhaps the most prescient example is the case of President Marcos Perez Jimenez, who in 1952 manipulated the results of an election that didn’t go his way to ensure his victory and then formed a constituent assembly to validate his mandate. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Maduro did almost the same thing in this year’s presidential elections, right down to forming a parallel legislature.
For an avid follower of Venezuelan politics, the historical affinities Tarver and Frederick outline make for a novel reading experience. The authors also manage to pack a punch with the amount of information they convey, rattling off facts in a simple tone that facilitates quick reading. The downside of this approach, though, is that the content can at times come across as superficial. In between chronologies of names and events, Tarver and Frederick provide mere snippets of analysis or insight. While they clearly articulate the order of events, the authors spend little time discussing the forces behind them. The book, for example, makes multiple references to rising debt at different points in Venezuela’s history but never really gets into how or why this debt accrued over time. Apparently trading depth for brevity, Tarver and Frederick leave the reader to identify patterns and anomalies.
As a result, “The History of Venezuela” is probably best suited to a reader seeking the nuts and bolts of the country’s background. And it’s a good starting point for further study, presenting adequate coverage of Venezuelan history in a compact package. Getting the most out of this book, however, requires the reader to go off and investigate specific events or references independently to fill in the details that would complete the big picture.
Allison Fedirka, analyst
Nearly every attempt to explain the surge in popularity of the xenophobic, nationalist Alternative for Germany political party, or AfD, has concentrated on the social and economic inequality between the states of the former East and West Germany. After about 40 years of Soviet occupation, East Germany’s industry was not competitive relative to that of West Germany. When the Berlin Wall came down, jobs went west, lots of people followed and many of those who stayed behind became embittered and prone to radicalization – or so the argument goes. James Hawes believes the differences go back much further than the last half of the 20th century.
In the simplest terms, Hawes’ argument is that the people east of the Elbe River – which cuts diagonally across the northeast part of modern Germany, roughly from Hamburg to Dresden – have always been different from their peers in the country’s west and south. This isn’t the place to recap European history, but the theory is not as outlandish as it first sounds, and electoral maps generally back it up. The areas where the AfD is most popular today are also the areas where the Nazis were most popular, and the antidemocratic, anti-Semitic German National People’s Party, or DNVP, before them. In its entirety, it’s a compelling argument, but from a GPF perspective, it’s not the most interesting one Hawes presents in “The Shortest History of Germany.” That honor belongs to his claim that what historians frequently view as Germany’s unification under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was actually its Prussianization. Even if we don’t accept Hawes’ argument about the Germans east of the Elbe – he’s a little too quick to brush aside that the Nazis polled above 30 percent in the rest of Germany in 1933 – there’s no doubt that the strategic interests of people in areas such as modern-day Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania would be different from those of people in Frankfurt or Bavaria.
This divergence affects how we think about German foreign policy after 1871. It was Prussia’s rivalry with Austria that led Bismarck to prop up the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the Dual Alliance, pledging German assistance should Russia attack Austria-Hungary and helping to start World War I. (If the empire collapsed and 8 million Austrian Germans – along with their Habsburg king – suddenly wanted to be part of Prussia-Germany, Prussia’s leadership of Germany would come under threat.) After the Treaty of Versailles, the Prussian nobility known as Junkers remained in control of the German army. Adolf Hitler linked up with the Junker party, the DNVP, and adopted the Prussian idea of “Lebensraum” (territorial expansion) which had been absent from the Nazis’ 1920 manifesto. You already know how this ends: As Hawes puts it, “In 1933, defeated and amputated but still undead, East Elbia finally took all Germany with it into the abyss.”
In some ways, Hawes’ theories force us to rethink Germany, because looking at it from 1871 to 1945 can’t tell us much about the country today. Prussia is long gone, and the West German states finally dominate. The five East German states that remain part of Germany (excluding Berlin, a historical outlier) make up only about a sixth of the country’s population and even less of its economic output. But at the same time, Germans spent a millennium trying to extend the eastern border for a reason: the North European Plain. Securing the east is still a vital interest, only the strategy is different. Germany may have changed, but geography hasn’t.
Ryan Bridges, analyst