Watching other people’s history

We’re back from a trip to Vienna, Budapest, Slovenia and Croatia. We were on a holiday and mostly did tourist things, but for quite a lot of the time we stayed in rented holiday apartments which mostly meant that if we wanted to watch TV it was whatever the local cable service provided  rather than the standard hotel fare of CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera.

We’d left Australia just after the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and had been sated on both Australian and British documentaries about World War I.

In Vienna of course it was different. The first world war brought about the end of empire and ushered in the republic. It was also the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War 2.

In the Leopold museum there was an exhibition on the impact of the war on Vienna’s avant garde arts scene, which included remarkable film of the winter war in the mountains – film I’d never seen before. On ORF one evening there was a rerun of a truly remarkable documentary on Franz Ferdinand’s assassination that tried to put it in context with the various Balkan conflicts of the early part of the twentieth century, and again included amazing footage that I’d never seen before, and traditional folk songs about the assassination – we tend to forget that for the people of the Balkans this was one war in a sequence of bloody conflicts between Austria-Hungary and the dying Ottoman empire and its successor states.

What was really wierd was that some of the people interviewed were some of the same academics interviewed in British and Australian documentaries, but they were speaking from a different point of view.

Another documentary was one on soldiers photographs – unlike the British who tried to discourage ordinary soldiers from taking photographs on the front, the Germans encouraged it leading to a vast archive of pictures, again little seen outside of the German speaking world.

There were other things. Not just documentaries but TV dramas – the programs that tell the stories a society tells itself.

Standing out among them was a Sarajevo TV drama about a prosperous middle class family in the 1930’s, but with the subtext that a multi-ethnic society was possible, and another low budget drama from Bosnia that looked as if it was made by the local amateur dramatic society, set in the nineteenth century and about corruption and double dealing during the last days of Ottoman rule.

And photographs – we stayed the night in Krasnja Gora, a ski resort in Slovenia  en route to somewhere. In the square there was a construction site and the fence round the building works had been covered with a montage of photographs of people going skiing in the 1920’s and 30’s, queueing up at the train station with their skis etc. It looked as prosperous, and perhaps a little more so than anywhere else at the time.

It gave us a different view of history, and one that counterbalances the standard anglo view of the early decades of the twentieth century

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About dgm

IT professional, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical and medieval historian ...
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