I'm legend

(To Julian Carax)
04/01/21

Geopolitics is a transversal discipline that rests on the foundations of mother materials; they are brush strokes that lead to a variegated fresco. How many subjects? Many, but all alive, pulsating: economics, sociology, anthropology .. and history. If there is anyone who believes that history is a fine matter made of fireplace details, well, then .. ding! Thanks for attending! Those who are convinced that there is more, sit down and enjoy the vacated place.

Close your eyes, and imagine that John Nash1, Bueno de Mesquita2 and an author for now veiled play with us: the first, careful solver of dilemmas and liberator of prisoners; the second, committed to shape the present for see the future, and the third aimed at making more gothic interesting winter evenings.

We change times and places; remember that there are connections so history is geography in motion, while geography is the representation of a given historical moment3, and that each state has a policy dictated by its geography. We will start from the past to get to the because of the present; be careful though: history is understanding and contextualizing; it is wide-ranging thinking, it is, according to Marc Bloch, to maintain contact with a living present, not with a single gray detail; it is a life without a providence that is too sacred for man: it is a continuum without cesuras.

True, history is sometimes written by the victors, but it is up to the vanquished to do it justice without distorting it with the intent of do it again. We are made of sparks of knowledge and a desire to know: it is up to us not to extinguish them. We start from afar, from the last imperial vestiges of Rome; Constantinople is slowly dying out after more than 1000 years, and a new power, the Ottoman one, is rising. The Sultanate is so strengthened that the short-sighted Western powers with maritime and commercial interests, despite professions of the Christian faith, attracted by the preservation of economic advantages, prefer the siren song of neutrality. Despite repeated papal appeals, the lack of interest in Constantinople allows the Ottomans to plan their conquest.

Emperor John VIII Palaeologus asks for Western military help by bartering the only goods available: submission to the Catholic papacy; God does not seem to preside over any council, and the union between the two churches, proclaimed in Florence in 1439, paves hell. At least it seems prophetic that "39", which 500 years later will sanction the uselessness of the Munich agreement, despite the fearful concessions bestowed on another aspiring hegemon. Ottoman success precludes Genoese and Venetian penetrations into the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea; the Serenissima adapts, negotiating agreements with the new owners of the Bosphorus. In fact it is no longer possible to move in the eastern sector with the same freedom as before, so much so that in 1480 the Turks occupied Otranto, arousing an apprehension not shared by the rest of Italy, given that it seems not to regret that the king of Naples was so hard hit.

The elements are all there: decline of an exhausted power, rise flamboyant of a new hegemon that makes cohesion and power projection its creed. Two giants between which relevant and complex political subjects are debated: the Holy Roman Empire and other actors, apparently minor, destined for the struggle for survival, according to paradigms worthy of the purest realpolitik in Renaissance style; in the background, Petrine scrolls of incense, accompanied by pragmatic visions of management of secular power that allow Pius II to send Mohammed II a letter (in controversy with Western rulers) with the offer to become the sword of the first Rome, given his right to aspire to the succession of Roman emperors, as conqueror of Constantinople.

The Turks inspire fear: what they do best has always been war, and it is a reputation that hardly dies, given that even in today's football stadiums, in Persian soil, the Azeris just need to remember to to be Turkish to induce opponents to a milder silence.

Bayezid I does not hide the intention to feed his horse on the altar of Peter, and Suleiman the Magnificent sends his akinci4 in Prague and Regensburg to remind Charles V who the real is Qaysar-ı Rum5, the descendant of the conquerors of the last Christian bastion, as well as the expression of a profound cult of the state that has always been only Turkish, the one that most interests Bahceli and his Gray Wolves today.

The wind of the Balkans pushes the West on the path of technological primacy, while the Ottomans refine their art of governing different ethnic groups thanks to an inclusive policy which, as the Romans did, balances the Turkish numerical scarcity; even now, the myth turkish is that for which every move only extends the boundaries ofidea of Turkey, as they should (perhaps) know in Germany.

History sees the Turks overwhelm the Serbs in Kosovo Polie in 1389; to strengthen itself in the Balkans, which are politically increasingly fragmented, as per tradition; in 1393 they conquer the kingdom of Bulgaria, threaten Hungary. After Tamerlane's defeat in Ankara in 1402, the Ottomans rise again; Murad II in 1444, in Varna, defeats Serbs, Poles and Hungarians; in 1453 Mohammed II, who in the eyes of the people combined prophetic value and war skills, conquered Constantinople, which became the new capital with the name Istanbul and with the millenary Basilica of Santa Sofia transformed into a mosque; the Sultan in the north points to the Danube and Sava as borders, trying to organically integrate the Balkans into the empire.

The balance of power shifted in Ottoman favor, so much so that any attempt to expel the Turks from Europe and to determine the policies of the other continental powers was hopeless. It is an expansion that does not stop, it is a wave that breaks in Vienna in 1529, but which nevertheless overwhelms Serbia, Bohemia, Cyprus.

The Ottoman naval power is broken in 1571 in Lepanto by the Christian fleet but it is, in the historical proceeding, only a moment, since the Turks conquer Crete anyway.

A little more than a century after Lepanto, in 1683 the Turks returned under the walls of Vienna, a target however out of their logistical reach, and were stopped forever by the intervention of the Polish Sobieski, while Venice lost control over all the islands and ports. Aegean, except the Ionian islands. The feeble cohesion between the Christian allies prevents the exploitation of Lepanto's success, so much so as to hinder the immediate reconquest of Cyprus, opposed by Philip II, hostile to the Venetian Lion.

Power projections, balance of power, political self-harm inspired by backyard interests, transformations of places of worship; after all, it is not so difficult to think back to the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, which controls the accesses to the southern Turkish coasts, to Lebanon and to Syria; the rededication of Santa Sofia; the attempts to expand influence towards the Balkan area; to the East Med; to a military revival in North Africa; the ethnic clashes in the former Yugoslavia between Serbs and Muslims; to alliances of convenience, such as that close with Budapest, the usual enemy.

If Turkey is now lacking a valid political economic structure, it certainly cannot imagine being able to count on an impossible system neosultanal, a historical paradox that would highlight the organic-institutional void of a country with an important past, but with an equally nebulous future.

First conclusions: the situation pushes Europeans to look west for new ways to the east as the conflict against the Ottoman Empire, which persists and involves Austria, Spain and Venice, only occasionally engages the Christian whole, characterized by the congenital inability to cope common against an enemy capable of reaching the heart of Europe.

Let's stop here: the Turkish imperial decline, which in just over 200 years from the Viennese siege will lead to the disintegration of the state, belongs to historical cycles characterized by actors unable to keep up with the times.

Let's reveal the third character: Bram Stoker, or the writer who, improperly, brought to the attention in 1897 the voivode of Wallachia, better known as Dracula6 or Vlad the Impaler, as well as a thorn in the Ottoman side.

Let's dispel some myths: we talked about Wallachia, and not Transylvania and, yes, Vlad was, as reported by Fyodor Kuritsyn7, a brave and ruthless prince, but no more than the others have been, suffice it to recall the torture reserved by the Turks for Bragadin (image) and by the Azeris to the Armenians in our times obviously not so civilized.

Of Vlad, a Romanian national hero, there are effigies and a bust at the Muzeul Militar National: what makes him still so alive in the popular imagination that he wants him shield of Europe, it is his challenge to Ottoman rule, it is his efforts to keep Wallachia an independent principality nestled between Turks and Hungarians, both of whom are inclined to prefer a useful buffer rather than a state to be conquered or protected; today we would talk about proxy.

Geopolitically the Carpathians are economically important, and a fundamental role is played by the Saxon cities. If the passes between Moldova and Transylvania are narrow and blockable, those between Wallachia and Transylvania are open to the heart of Europe. Vlad's Wallachia is an example of a complex balance of power, with an internal politics conditioned by the petty nobility, i boyars. Also Mel Brooks, under these conditions, he would have given up his joke "it's good to be king".

Vlad's life is not easy: a young hostage of the Turkish court; in contrast to his brother Radu; father and elder brother killed; usurped throne; harassed by Saxon merchants from Transylvania; unreliable allies; prince of a region economically backward compared to its neighbors.

When Vlad takes power, he remembers who was faithful and who was not: the myth ofimpaler.

1460 is a faulty year: Vlad interrupts relations with the Sublime Porta, resumes contacts with Hungary, Wallachia from a simple geographical expression rises to the magnitude of a problem.

Pending the arrival of the inevitable Turkish reprisal, Vlad begins a campaign of raids on the two Danube banks; the voivode adopts a tactic aimed at reducing the Ottoman war capacity: he grew up at the sultan's court, he knows the art of war.

In the spring of 1462 the Ottomans launched an expedition led by Sultan Mohammed II and his brother Radu; it is no longer a simple battle for military supremacy north of the Danube. Vlad, master of the territory, leaves only one point to be crossed and obliged to Vidin8, and it is certain that the damage he has caused south of the Danube will leave the Turkish army, a victim of logistical over-extension that will then punish it in Vienna, without supplies.

Vlad doesn't need to defeat the Turks in the open, he has to make the cost of their presence untenable. Muhammad II, in turn, does not want the debellatio Wallachian: the gain that comes from the taxes of such a territory is unparalleled with the price required by a complete control against Hungary; just replace Vlad with the more malleable brother Radu. With Vlad controlling the greater Danube extension along the border and practicing the tactics of scorched earth, the Sultan cannot use his river power to establish a secure bridgehead; begins a campaign that can be framed in the context of an asymmetric war, a clash between two unequal forces that define victory in their own terms, a concept that Kissinger, referring to the Vietnam War, would have summarized by saying: the guerrilla wins if it does not lose. The conventional army loses if it doesn't win.

Vlad, unable to defeat his opponents, also because attacked by Prince Stephen of Moldavia, his cousin, tries to make the Ottoman army unable to continue its military campaign. The last Wallachian chance dates back to June 17, 1462, with a foray into the Turkish camp: Vlad, while failing to eliminate the Sultan, shows him that nothing is taken for granted. An important psychological success. While Vlad asks (without obtaining it) the help of the King of Hungary who late realizes that he has a Bey of Wallachia is more uncomfortable than negotiating with Vlad, the Sultan arrives in Targoviste, the Wallachian capital, finding the gruesome scene of a forest of impales9.

The terror that Vlad inspires becomes a legend, impresses itself as a lasting effect on the Turks, according to Laonico Calcondila10, soldiers afraid and anxious to return to their land, new ones suffering from post traumatic stress.

Vlad's campaign, from a military point of view, was a failure, given deposition, Hungarian imprisonment and subsequent beheading, but it proved that imperial power could suffer. In fact, the Ottomans didn't want to conquer, but simply make a modern one regime change such as to allow us to turn our attention elsewhere, leaving Wallachia at the geographical center of the area, with its cultural identity intact: neither Turkish nor Hungarian.

Leaving aside Stoker's fantasies, we believe that both Nash and de Mesquita, in the field of Game Theory, would have found more than enough material to define the many dilemmas that have studded the Ottoman golden period, identifying however in the dullness of Western politics, fragmented according to the lines of force of the individual states, the delta capable of acting as an uncontrollable variable in the statistical calculation of forecasts.

The policy of secret agreements, of bilateral negotiations, has found fertile ground in recent years, but it makes clear a principle, still misunderstood by the European regional hegemons: the strategic political cohesion of the counterparts makes any project useless; according to the thought of Jep Gambardella, protagonist of the Great Beauty, appropriates the invincible power to make them fail anyway.

1 One of the most brilliant and original mathematicians of the twentieth century, he revolutionized economics with his studies of mathematics applied to game theory, receiving the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994.

2 Politologist, professor at New York University, and senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

3 Prof. Carlo Jean

4 Chosen troops

5 Cesare dei Romei

6 Patronymic, as the father belonged to the Christian order of the Dragon (Dracul)

7 Government official and diplomat, he exerted a great influence on Russian foreign policy in the time of Ivan III. One of the suggestions, among many, was to face the Tartars of the Golden Horde as Draculea had faced the Turks, that is, with extreme severity and rigor.

8 Bulgaria

9 As described by the chronicles

10 Byzantine chronicler

Images: web