Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Drums of Rain

Albania in the middle of the 15th century. Gjergj Kastrioti, called Skanderbeg, is resisting the advance of the Ottoman armies and is fighting a kind of hit-and-run guerrilla war from his fortresses in the Accursed Mountains. This is the historical backdrop of the novel The Siege by the Albanian author Ismail Kadare, a permanent candidate for the Novel Prize and Winner of the Man Booker International Prize.

A huge force of the Ottoman army is advancing to this remote and not yet completely subdued province with the task to conquer one of the biggest fortresses that is still resisting the at that time most powerful army in the world.

The Pasha that is leading the expedition force knows what is at stake for him: a failure to seize the fortress in summer would be considered as a complete failure of his by the Sultan. Not only would it be necessary to abort the siege at the begin of the rainy season, for the Pasha it would mean also personal disgrace and drastic consequences – in the best case early retirement, but more probably a death sentence after his return to the capital.

Kadare tells us the story from two different perspectives. The main narrator is a young chronicler whose task it is to write the official account of the expedition and siege. The chronicler, an intelligent but inexperienced person has therefore (almost) always access to any meetings of the war council, where the military leaders discuss with the Pasha the right strategy and next steps of the siege.

Important for the chronicler is especially his growing friendship with the Quartermaster, a kind of Chief Logistics Officer, who is very friendly and frank with him and is opening his eyes for the difficult task that such a mission including so many people is imposing on the logistics. Basic things about which we rarely read in the history books that tell only of the deeds of “great men”, are of crucial importance. Without a proper system of latrines, no triumph in any battle. We also understand, as the story advances, that the Quartermaster has an agenda too. He wants to be depicted in a positive light for posterity, and he is doubting also (like many others) the abilities of the Pasha as a leader, though he is voicing his reservations in the most indirect way.

A siege of a fortress on that scale was an extraordinary undertaking in the 15th century. It required already a very high level of organization, specialization and division of labor. We have the simple soldiers and the medics, experts for artillery, the janissaries, elite soldiers of the Sultan, the raiders (akinzhis), the infantry (azabs), the cavalry, and other specialized and rivaling groups, the “volunteers” (people who join in the hope to get a part of the booty), but also exorcists, soothsayers, spell casters, dream interpreters, and many other important crafts.

Each chapter that is written by the young Ottoman chronicler is mirrored by a short chapter that is told by an unnamed Albanian chronicler who is inside the fortress. The Albanians pray for an early begin of the rainy season, which seems to be the only possible rescue. (Or an attack of the myth Skanderbeg, who is hiding somewhere in the mountains.) So, “the drums of rain” – also the planned original title of the book, and also the name under which The Siege is published in French – are dreaded by the Pasha, but longed-for by the Albanians.

Since the fortress is well-protected by a sophisticated system of walls, and since there is also enough food and water inside the fortress, it proves more difficult as anticipated by the invaders to take it. Several attempts to storm the fortress in a frontal assault, supported by the newly cast cannon, fail and cause many casualties. A success at all costs must be achieved, and so the Pasha decides to follow a cunning plan: secretly he lets his soldiers build a tunnel that should lead directly to the middle of the fortress and that should enable a surprise attack and the opening of the gates from the inside for a huge wave of attackers…

Regarding the technical details of the siege, Kadare has made extensive use of Marin Barleti’s chronicle about the siege of Shkodra. But The Siege is more than a historical novel: it was written shortly after the invasion of Prague 1968 by the Warsaw Pact states. It is therefore obvious that the book contains also some very interesting comments on the situation after the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

One message that Kadare wanted to send out is possibly: Albania will resist any attempt to invade the country (the paranoid dictator Enver Hoxha built therefore hundreds of thousands of small bunkers – fortresses en miniature).

On the other hand, and this is also fairly obvious, the victory of the besieged (the invaders have to withdraw at the beginning of the rainy season and after the death of the Pasha) in the novel is only a temporary one. We can easily assume that a new, bigger army with even more frightful weapons will come back again next year – and from the history books we know the outcome of this process. Therefore Kadare’s message in this novel is – like in most of his books – very ambiguous.

What is additionally interesting about the novel are the countless calculated and intentional anachronisms it contains. To name just a few: There are show trials, the victims are sentenced to slave labor in the tunnel. And the only possible friend and ally in the outside world (in the book it is the Republic of Venice) plays a double game, because it is trading with and equipping the enemy of their (Christian) brothers, just for the profit.

“Great massacres always give birth to great books”,

says the Quartermaster to the chronicler quite at the beginning of The Siege. That may indeed be true. The Siege is a brilliant historical novel.


Ismail Kadare: The Siege, transl. David Bellos, Canongate, Edinburgh London New York Melbourne 2008 

Marin Barleti: The Siege of Shkodra, transl. David Hosaflook, Onufri Publishing House, Tirana, Albania, 2012 (first English edition; the original was published in Latin in 1504) 

Other reviews: 
1st reading’s Blog

see also:


© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


An incongruent thought

When Gregor Samsa wakes up as a “monstrous vermin” in The Metamorphosis he is wondering about what?

Right: How will I ever get to work in time?

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How should we act?

What is the worst crime? Are we always obliged to help others? Why is punishment sometimes necessary? What is the sense of life?

These and some other questions are the subject of a small book on ethics, written by the philosopher Ernst Tugendhat and the two experienced teachers and writers Celso López, and Ana Maria Vicuña. The book was originally written in 1995 for an ethics course in Chile, and it has a similar target as the books of Matthew Lipman for school children of thirteen to fifteen years.

Manuel, Camila and some of their friends go to school like almost all their peers all over the world. And they come along many situations, either personally in school, family or in the circle of friends, or by reports in the media, that touch ethical questions and lead to discussions among them, but also with their parents, teachers, or the trusted kind school librarian Senor Ibarra. The form of the dialogue, embedded in a small story, makes it an easy and entertaining read and makes it also more easy to follow the lines of argumentation. This open form also encourages the reader not to be content with the presented arguments, but to rethink the discussed question and find her/his own opinion and answers on it.

One of the best introductions to ethics for young people that I know of. Highly recommended for translation into English (the book is available in Spanish and German).  


Ernst Tugendhat, Celso López, Ana María Vicuña: El libro de Manuel y Camila, Editorial Gedisa 2001; Wie sollen wir handeln?, Philipp Reclam, 2000 

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Sleepwalkers

June 28th is an important date, especially this year and even more so in the Balkans.

It is (not only) the day when in 1389 during the “Battle on the Field of the Black Bird” (Kosovo) a huge army of the Ottoman Empire (supported by a number of Serbian warlords, such as Marko Kraljevic, the famous folk hero) clashed with a united European army. Many facts and even the outcome of this titanic battle are disputed until today among historians – it seems that the result was a kind of draw since the status quo in the Balkans lasted for a number of years more after the battle.

Until today, this battle (or the manipulated narrative of it) is used by Serbian ultra-nationalists as a basis of a more than doubtful territorial claim. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the practical implementation of a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Kosovo and other parts of former Yugoslavia started with a speech of Slobodan Milošević commemorating this battle and its distorted narrative of it.

But this June 28th is of course also the date when in 1914 (today exactly one hundred years ago) the Crown Prince and successor-candidate to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated on their wedding anniversary during a visit in the then Austrian province Bosnia-Hercegovina by Gavrilo Princip, a student of Bosnian Serb origin and member of the group Young Bosnia, a radical group that worked for a unification of Bosnia-Hercegovina with Serbia by all means (including terrorist acts).

Princip and his mostly very young associates – seven people were commissioned to commit the murder independently from each other, but the others failed or got nervous in the last moment – were linked to a secret society known as the Black Hand (the real name was Ujedinjenje ili smrt = Unity or death). The Black Hand consisted mainly of active or former officers of the Serbian military, many of them part of the group of assassins that killed the Serbian Czar Alexander and almost all of his family members in 1903. The mastermind behind both assassinations was a certain Dragutin Dimitrijević a.k.a. Apis, at the time of the Sarajevo murders holding a high position in the Serbian military intelligence.

We don’t know what would have happened if the Archduke had listened to the advice not to visit Sarajevo on such a sensitive day when the nationalistic feelings of the Serbs were boiling. There is a high probability that the First World War would have been avoided and that the Bosnian crisis would have taken another, less violent turn, just like the Albanian crisis a short time before had evaporated. It should be noted though that even after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, a great war was anything but inevitable.

During the last two or three years a big number of new books and articles on the Road to Sarajevo and WWI in general have been published. That may have something to do with the centennial of the outbreak of the war. But it seems that also recent developments in the Balkans, and a re-definition of the reasons that led to the war are a reason for this increased output of literature.

Among the most remarkable and outstanding books dealing with WWI and the way to it is The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark.

The Australian Clark is Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St. Cataharine’s College. He is the author of several acclaimed monographs, such as The Politics of Conversion, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Iron Kingdom.

For The Sleepwalkers Clark has not only done a lot of groundbreaking work in British, French, German, Austrian and Russian archives, he has also diligently looked into the archives of the “smaller” but nevertheless important players (Serbia, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Italy). Beside from these impressive archive studies Clark is well-connected in the sphere of historic research and profited also from unpublished works made available by colleagues. He also made extensive use of his contacts in order to discuss and if necessarily revise some aspects of his work after checking his draft against the opinion and expertise of his colleagues.

Additionally, Clark is an excellent writer. He is presenting us a very colorful narrative with lively and interesting characters. He has a good feeling for structuring his book and knows when to add an anecdote in order to make a point more clear. Despite the more than one hundred pages of annotations, the reader forgets easily that this is an academic work. This is a very vivid book – a rare exception for an academic book. All these ingredients raise the expectations of the reader to have an outstanding work in her/his hands – and indeed Clark doesn’t disappoint these expectations.

In the introduction, Clark makes it very clear that he is not particularly interested in “playing the blame game”. An overwhelming part of the literature on WWI and it’s outbreak is focused on or even obsessed exclusively by the question: “Who is to blame? Who was responsible?” Not that these questions are not very important. But in this context, questions of guilt and responsibility are usually part of an agenda. With the exception of Russia (or more correct the later Soviet Union), all powers that were involved in WWI published multi-volume collections of documents after the end of the war, mainly with the intention to justify their own actions and to increase the guilt and responsibility of the others, and thus manipulating public opinion in their own country (usually in a chauvinistic and ultra-nationalist way). Needless to say that all these collections omit or in some cases even falsify documents whenever it seems necessary.

Contrary to the so-called “Fischer Thesis” – Germany as the one bad apple state that is the single culpable for the war – Clark goes to lengths to show that the search for a “smoking gun” (also nowadays so popular when it comes to judging recent events – the Ukrainian crisis comes to mind) will produce a deeply disturbing result: There was no “smoking gun”, or to be precise all involved parties had their own “smoking gun”, i.e. their own share in the responsibility for what happened.

Instead of focusing exclusively on the guilt question, Clark is more interested in understanding – and helping the reader to understand – what were the complex motivations behind the acts of the key players. The whole issue is not only a question of how but also of why did the things happen as they did.

Clark has arranged the material in three parts. Part I focuses on the two primary antagonists, Serbia and Austria-Hungary. Their quarrel ignited the conflict.

Clark starts his account of events with the assassination of the Serbian Czar Alexander and his family by a group of conspiring officers under the leadership of a certain  Dragutin Dimitrijevic, later also known as Apex in 1903. This conspiracy, executed with great brutality, marked a new departure in Serbian political history. Not only was the power struggle between the two dominating clans, the Obrenovic and the Karadjordevic, finally resolved by the extermination of the Obrenovic. It also paved the way for an extremely nationalistic and irredentistic policy that aimed openly at the increasing of Serbian territory at the cost of her neighbors.

This policy was not only directed against the Ottoman Empire (or any country with rival claims for Ottoman territory, like Bulgaria) that still controlled comparatively big territories in the Balkans, but also against Austria-Hungary that had just seized Bosnia-Hercegovina from the Ottoman Empire and that was home to a big number of South Slavs (whether they considered themselves as Serbs or not was not a matter of concern to official Serbia). Austria formally annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, also with the aim to block Serb access to the Adriatic Sea.

Nikola Pašić, the rather enigmatic dominant figure in Serbian politics for more than 30 years, played a double game. Serbia depended economically from imports from Austria-Hungary and Pašić negotiated therefore several trade agreements with the unloved neighbor, but on the other hand he agreed on a secret customs union with Bulgaria and negotiated successfully for a big loan with favorable conditions from France. This loan was exclusively used for a big armament programme that increased considerably the firepower and strength of the Serbian army (it goes without saying that all weapons had to be bought in France).

Pašić, a Russophile, established also very close relationships with Russia. His relation with the Russian Minister in Belgrade, Nikolai Hartwig was so close that many people suspected that it was indeed Hartwig (an extreme Germanophobe, despite his teutonic name and his yearly spa in Bad Ems) on behalf of the Russians was the real ruler of Serbia. Count Hartwig was one of the most exposed figures of the “War Party” in Russia and did during the crisis in June and July his best to stir a European war on a large scale.

It should be noted that Pašić had also his own network of informants and spies (separated from those working for the military intelligence of Serbia). This network was especially active in Bosnia, and it is considered as established fact that Pašić knew about plans to assassinate the Archduke and sent some kind of warning to the Austrians. But this warning was not very specific and it was not taken seriously by the other side. How much exactly Pašić knew of the plans and to which degree he was involved in the assassination plot, is still unclear today. Pašić destroyed all his personal documents later.

Similarly detailed is Clark’s account of the situation of the other principal adversary in this conflict, Austria-Hungary. Contrary to Serbia, where Pašić was the dominant figure of politics over a long period, the decision makers in Austria-Hungary were a group of people with very opposing views. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Tisza, dreaded the prospect of including more Slavs into the Hungarian part of the double monarchy and was therefore very much opposed to conflicts with Serbia – his main concern was Romania. As to what kind of approach Austria-Hungary should take in its dealings with Serbia in the case of an imminent conflict there were two factions that had completely opposing views on this crucial question. The Archduke, although a rather unpopular figure, took a very “pacifist” view and was opposed to any adventure or aggression towards Serbia. The same was true of Berchtold, the Austrian Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria (and Hungary). The Chief of Staff of the army, Conrad von Hötzendorf was on the other hand someone that permanently urged the government to start a preventive war against Serbia, with which Austrian interests also clashed in Albania.

In Part II Clark gives us a bigger picture by including the other European powers in his narrative. All of them were bound by a complex system of treaties and alliances (part of them secret) together. There was the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and the chronically unreliable Italy that obviously saw its interest already somewhere else. And there was the close alliance between France, who considered Germany as its main enemy, and Russia, who considered Austria-Hungary (and the crumbling Ottoman Empire) as the main obstacle to expanding its power in the Balkans.

Britain, although also bound by alliance to France and Russia played a special role. Anti-German feelings didn’t play a big role in England. It was indeed Russia that was viewed as the main threat to the Empire, since Russia had aspirations in Persia and the Far East that were threatening British interests there. An alliance with Russia would contain Russia. Bad relations with Russia would do a lot of harm to the Empire whereas good relations with Germany were a good thing, sure, but Britain wouldn’t really profit that much from them: Germany had lost the marine armament race anyway and wouldn’t be a serious threat to the British Navy, and the colonial ambitions of the Germans were not very successful and serious and no threat to vital interests of Britain. This very rational assessment shifted British policy in the direction of France and Russia.

An extremely interesting aspect of this part of the book is Clarke’s explanation regarding the question: Who really governed in Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg? It is much more complicated as it seems. There were usually many players with different interests and different assessments of the situation involved. Ambassadors played a much more important role than today, the communication between relevant key players was frequently not formal, many decisions were taken by bypassing opponents who should have been involved in the decision making process. Also international organizations like we know them today were not existent – with all their imperfections these organizations play a very important role today simply by creating the opportunity for intense discussion of important questions between the key decision makers. In the pre-1914 days, state visits were quite rare and difficult to organize (usually by ship or train). Communication technology also put a limit on the decision makers that forced them frequently to act in a way they hadn’t if they were in the possession of more accurate information.

Part III finally gives a detailed account of the Sarajevo assassination and the mechanisms it ignited. I will not recount the details here because most of it will be known by anybody that is interested in history. But Clark presents a very good case against the simplistic assumption that it was one power alone that was responsible for the outbreak of the Great War. What is truly shocking is that many crucial decisions were taken in a way that was based on a sometimes grotesque misreading of the intentions of the other powers. There were no concrete plans to contain the conflict to what it was, a local conflict between neighbors.

Crucial to the complexity of the events of 1914 were rapid changes in the international system: the sudden emergence of an Albanian territorial state, the Turco-Russian naval arms race in the Black Sea, or the reorientation of Russian policy away from Sofia to Belgrade, to name just a few. These were not long-term historical transitions, but short-range realignments….This…made the system as a whole more opaque and unpredictable, feeding a pervasive mood of mutual distrust, even within the respective alliances, a development that was dangerous for peace…. Fluctuations in power relations within each government – coupled with swiftly changing objective conditions – in turn produced the policy oscillations and ambiguous messaging that were such a crucial feature of the pre-war crisis.

It is interesting what Clark says in his conclusions about the culpability for the war:

Do we really need to make the case against a single guilty state, or to rank the states according to their respective share in responsibility for the outbreak of war? In one classical study from the origins of literature, Paul Kennedy remarked that it is ‘flaccid’ to dodge the search for a culprit by blaming all or none of the belligerent states. A stiffer approach, Kennedy implies, ought not to shrink from pointing the finger. The problem with a blame-centred account is not that one may end up blaming the wrong party. It is rather that accounts structured around blame come with built-in assumptions. They tend, firstly, to presume that in conflictual interactions one protagonist must ultimately be right and the other wrong. Were the Serbs wrong to seek to unify Serbdom? Were the Austrians wrong to insist on the independence of Albania? Was one of these enterprises more wrong than the other? The question is meaningless. A further drawback of prosecutorial narratives is that they narrow the field of vision by focusing on the political temperament and initiatives of one particular state rather than on multilateral processes of interaction. Then there is the problem that the quest for blame predisposes the investigator to construe the actions of decision-makers as planned and driven by a coherent intention. You have to show that someone willed war as well as caused it. In its extreme form, this mode of procedure produces conspirational narratives in which a coterie of powerful individuals, like velvet-jacketed Bond villains, controls events from behind the scene in accordance with a malevolent plan. There is no denying the moral satisfaction delivered by such narratives, and it is not, of course, logically impossible that war came about in this manner in the summer of 1914, but the view expounded in this book is that such arguments are not supported by evidence.

If this is true, and the reviewer has little doubt about it after reading Clark’s masterfully written and researched book, then

the protagonists of 1914 were indeed like sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.


Christopher Clark: The Sleepwalkers. How Europe went to war in 1914, Allen Lane 2012, Penguin 2013


PS: One of the surviving assassins of Sarajevo, Vasa Čubrilović, wrote in 1937 a work for the Yugoslav government called Iseljavanje Arnauta (The Expulsion of the Albanians). In this work, Čubrilović is recommending the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo and the forced expulsion or extermination of the Albanians in Kosovo. This work was used as a script for the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo in 1999. Čubrilović’s work was re-published as a book in the 1980s, and Čubrilović, then in his 90s, was showered with the highest Yugoslav and Serbian orders by his disciple Slobodan Milošević. There is a direct line and continuity connecting the outbreak of WWI with the Kosovo War and the ethnic cleansing in this region. Official Serbia, an EU candidate, is celebrating the deeds of these people until today and is honoring them with monuments.

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The most disgusting photo of the week


Ultra-nationalist businessman Nemanja Kusturica (formerly known as filmmaker Emir K.) kissing the statue of a killer who triggered WWI with millions of victims.

Well, since Slobodan Milošević‘s xxx is not available any longer, this is at least consequent.

What a miserable creature…


photo source:

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A global bestseller

Scavenger hunt with intrusive cliffhanger dramaturgy.

Apparently a film script, laboriously camouflaged as sloppily written and partly plagiarized novel.

Holy Grail esotericism mixed with conspiracy theories.

It is always interesting to see what boring and inconsequential books dominate the global bestseller lists for years.

A little less unbearable than Paulo Coelho though. But that’s true anyway for almost all books.


Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday 2003

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Development Economics: Export Consortia in Developing Countries

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) make for the biggest share in employment and creation of value in almost all countries. In developing countries their importance tends to be even bigger because of the lack of big and competitive companies in these countries.

Entrepreneurs in developing countries face usually a lot of additional problems unknown to their colleagues in industrialized and developed countries. One of them is that they have usually big problems to have access to foreign markets. That is partly due to tariff or non-tariff barriers from the side of the countries who want to protect their local producers (either by subsidizing them, or burdening imports with high customs duties or introducing technical or phyto-sanitarian requirements in the name of consumer or health protection that serve in many cases mainly as instruments of a not-so-subtle protectionism.) Additionally entrepreneurs in developing countries are facing a lot of internal barriers in their own countries. All these barriers make it very difficult for companies from developing countries to sell their products abroad.

How can SME in developing countries increase their export competitiveness? One interesting option is the creation of export-oriented networks of companies via export consortia. Export consortia are specific network arrangements that are either sales- or promotion-oriented, and that include companies that are characterized by complementary and mutually-enhancing offers. The export manager of the consortium can facilitate solutions to export problems and enable the loosening of constraints related to the investments needed to penetrate foreign markets.

The book I am reviewing is a quite interesting study that looks in detail on existing export consortia in several countries and that includes an empirical analysis of nine export consortia in four countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Peru and Uruguay). These export consortia were supported in the framework of a UNIDO project over a period of several years with technical assistance from local and international experts.

The first chapter of the book gives an overview regarding the research on the internationalization of SME and the different categories of internal and external barriers exporters from developing countries are facing. Internal barriers include knowledge barriers (lack of information on foreign markets, lack of knowledge of incentives and export development programmes, language and cultural differences), and resource barriers (such as financial barriers, insufficient production resources, lack of marketing resources, insufficient managerial and human resources). External barriers can be categorized into environmental barriers (high competitive pressure, political instability or economic constraints, exchange rate risks, unfamiliarity with business practices, slow collection of payments from abroad) and governmental barriers (tariff and non-tariff barriers).

Chapter two has a look at the SME attitude towards cooperation and highlights that trust between the members of any SME consortium is instrumental to establish a lasting and successful cooperation. (Unfortunately, trust between business partners is a very scarce resource in developing countries, as I know from my work experience in several projects.) Crucial for the success of an export consortium seems to be the function of a network facilitator – an entity or individual that leverages his reputation and abilities by facilitating interfirm relationships within a local cluster or group of firms. His role is to promote and strengthen relationships among firms, give a clear strategy to the alliance, mediate negotiations among partners and help network members create opportunities for trust, shifting them out of their collaborative inertia. In industrialized countries these facilitators include chambers of commerce, business associations, local banks, educational or training institutions, local economic development agencies or public government bodies (like Export Promotion Agencies).

There are different types of existing or possible export consortia (chapter 3). Depending on the scope and objective, we can differ between promotional and sales consortia. Promotional consortia can develop and use for example a common brand to market their product abroad but act independently on sales level. A brand that is used for example by one hundred SME has a much bigger chance to be noticed abroad than the brand of one single small producer alone.

Many consortia focus on members from one specific sector, but there are also examples of multi-sector consortia. There are consortia that represent (potential) competitors and those where the members are non-competitors. Simple consortia have usually a small number of members, but there are also very complex consortia with many members that require a much higher degree of organization. Some consortia want to target a specific country or region, whereas others act globally. Some export consortia are created for a comparatively short time, others are based on the presumption that the members will cooperate for a very long period of time. There are even more classification but these are the most important.

In 2004 the United Nations Development Organization (UNIDO) has started a three-year project to gather experience regarding the existing export consortia in developing countries and to come up with a collection of best practices and recommendations that can help existing export consortia or that can be used to facilitate future export consortia. The reviewed book is a result of this three-year project.

I don’t want to go through too much technical details regarding the empirical analysis of existing export consortia (although for somebody like me who has worked practically with export consortia this part is very interesting). But in the last chapter this really instructive book comes up with a number of interesting conclusions and recommendations.

Export consortium management is a complex task. It requires from the viewpoint of strategic management that a consortium must cover:

  • Strategic alignment of member firms
  • Consortium strategy and actions
  • Organizational structure
  • Leadership and governance systems
  • Resources and competences
  • Performance measurement system
  • Definition of goals and objectives
  • Value proposition
  • Definition of strategic needs 


All these topics are dealt with in detail in the last chapter, and the use of tables and diagrams make this a very useful part of the book for anyone who is interested in this subject from a practical side.

In general, the authors seem to be quite enthusiastic about export consortia. It should be mentioned that the authors come from Italy, where export consortia are working very successful since many years, so it is not surprising they have a very positive outlook on this topic and seem genuinely interested to promote this strategy.

I agree with most of the content of the book and this publication is very valuable not only as an academic paper but also for any practitioner who is thinking about the creation of an export consortium. However, I know from my practical experience that most export consortia in developing countries fail because there is a lack of trust between the members and the complexity of the task is almost always seriously underestimated.

Additionally almost all export consortia in various countries with which I have worked are sales consortia that focus on one specific product (for example olive oil). My guess, based on empirical evidence is that export consortia that work as promotional and not as sales consortia work much more successfully. The same goes for export consortia with non-competing companies. They have in almost all cases a much better performance than consortia where the members are competitors.

Altogether I see this book as a very valuable contribution to development economics.


Fabio Antoldi, Daniele Cerrato, Donatella Depperu: Export Consortia in Developing Countries, Springer, Heidelberg Dordrecht London New York 2011


Export Consortia

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raw Material

Let’s start with the title. Raw Material is a correct translation of the German word Rohstoff. But Stoff means in German not only material, it is also a slang word for illegal drugs (dope) such as heroin or in this case raw opium.

The story of Jörg Fauser’s novel starts in Istanbul in the second half of the 1960s. The narrator – although it is a novel we may assume that the book is Fauser’s own life story – is living in the (then) run-down Cağaloğlu district, a bit north of the Blue Mosque.

During the 1960s, Istanbul and here more specifically the neighborhoods of Tophane and Cağaloğlu, were favorite hang-out places for all kind of Western young people: would-be writers and painters, drug addicts, petty criminals, political radicals plotting for a somehow diffuse revolution to come, hippies, beatniks. Together with Ede, a painter friend from Stuttgart, the protagonist, a young man with the strong ambition to become a writer, is sharing a tin structure on the roof of a dubious hotel. Life is cheap and so are the drugs. In an odd way a kind of idyll, even during the cold Istanbul winter:

“One poured some gasoline on the stone floor and lit it, and as long as the flames were giving off some warmth, the other looked for a vein. We took everything we could get, primarily it was raw opium, which we cooked, Nembutal for dozing off and all sorts of uppers to get going. When we were going, we had to get more dope and everything else we needed – we lived predominantly on tea and sweets – and then we lay there, wrapped in our blankets, played with the cat and worked. Ede painted, and I wrote.”

The reader is a bit concerned about the fate of this hero. Chances seem to be rather small that he will not end like so many drug addicts. But his genuine passion for writing and not so much the drugs (which he is replacing mainly by alcohol during the course of the story) keep him going and after his return and the start of a relationship with a girl, his life takes a turn, kind of.

In order to support himself, he is writing articles for a number of mostly short-lived magazines that are popular among young people in Germany. He has an opportunity to travel, even to conduct an interview with the famous beat poet William S. Burroughs. The story of the Burroughs interview is hilarious. After some friendly small talk at the beginning, Burroughs comes out with the one subject that really interests him: dope.

“What kind of stuff did you take?” “Oh, Opium mainly.” “What – raw opium? You didn’t mainline, intravenously?” ”Yup.” “Young man”, Burroughs said with the hint of a smile. “You must have been completely off your rocker.”

The literary cut-up technique for which Burroughs was famous is only a minor topic of this conversation. Burroughs comes again back to the subject of drug addiction, and how he was cured from it with the help of a new, but very strange method called the Apomorphine Formula.

“He disappeared into the next room, came back a second later and handed me a magazine-sized brochure wrapped in brown paper: William S. Burroughs: APO-33 Bulletin. The subtitle read: A Report on the Synthesis of the Apomorphine Formula.

“You can keep it”, he said. “My small contribution to healthcare,” and laughed; his choppy ha-ha-ha came from rather shadowy regions. “The apomorphine formula,” he said and sat down, “is a contribution to the cleansing and detoxification of the planet. Detoxification from what? From illness, addiction, ignorance, prejudice and stupidity. The question is: Are the people now in power interested in this detoxification? You know, young man, what the answer is to that.”

The strangeness and obvious paranoia of Burroughs were maybe never described better as in the last paragraph I quoted above.

In the second half of the story, the protagonist moves to Berlin, later to Frankfurt, starting to embark on a more regular life although he is living in an illegally occupied house. An attempt to work as a part of a film crew fails miserably but gives Fauser again an opportunity to show his self-ironic sense of humor.

As we have the feeling that the hero is a more stable person now, the reader’s attention is probably shifting a bit more to what is going on around our protagonist. Frankfurt in the late 1960s was one of the birth places of the German Student Revolt (and also of the brutal terrorism of the so-called Red Army Faction a.k.a. Baader Meinhof Gang). Fauser’s hero, is living through this time more as an amused spectator than as a real part of that student movement. The fake romanticism and annoying self-congratulation of so many literary or autobiographical books on the student revolt by people who participated in it (or later claimed to have participated in it) is completely missing in Fauser’s novel, and that’s one of it’s many strengths.

Fauser, together with Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, was one of the representatives of the Beat Generation in Germany. But we would not do him justice if we saw him as an epigone of a literary movement that he tried to copy. Fauser had his own voice and style. He was also an experienced journalist, and that is also much to the profit of his works. His stories are written without much fuss or affectation, in a precise, matter-of-fact way, with a lot of self-irony and humor, something that was extremely rare among writers of his time. There is a kind of raw energy about this and the other books of this author which make them very appealing to me. I like Fauser’s books a lot.

Fauser was run over by a truck in 1987, while crossing an Autobahn as a pedestrian in the night after his 43rd birthday. (Rolf Dieter Brinkmann was also run over by a car in 1975.)  Fauser’s work deserves to be discovered. For me one of the best German-language authors.

An English edition of Raw Material will be published in November 2014.

Raw Material



Jörg Fauser: Rohstoff, Alexander Verlag, Berlin 2004; Raw Material (transl. Jamie Bulloch), The Clerkenwell Press/Profile Books (publication date: 13 November 2014) 

(The quotes in this blog are translated by Marc Svetov. © Berlin Verlag 2009)

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


From the Dictionary of Inhumanity

It’s so disgusting.

A “friend” (now not any longer) sent me a link to a blog he likes. The first sentences of this blog are: “Because the parasite cannot help. The parasite can only harm.”

“The parasite” is not a vermin but people, human beings…from a specific ethnic group (doesn’t matter which one) – sounds exactly like the Nazi propaganda movie “Jud Suess”. First you declare that a certain race is vermin, and then…we know what followed.

In the 21st century.

In a country in Europe that prides itself for its “famous tolerance and hospitality”.

From a “friend”.

From a person who is otherwise an educated and decent person.

And his racism is so widespread among the vast majority of his fellow countrymen.

Revolting, disgusting, sad.

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Black Gallery

Romance, adventure, a heroic fight for freedom and independence against an army of brutal oppressors, a young couple that is re-united against all odds: this story has it all. No wonder that it was a kind of bestseller for generations in the author’s homeland. It offers entertainment and the heart-warming message that a fight for national independence against foreign rule can be successful in the end. But although this seems to be the message on the surface, there is a much deeper (and darker) hidden meaning in this story.

Jan Norris and Myga van Bergen are inseparable friends since their early youth and everybody expects them to be married one day. But the times are difficult. This is Holland in the late 16th century, the time of the Dutch Independence war against Spain. The couple is separated due to the circumstances and Jan is becoming a member of the so-called Watergeuzen, a group of rebels that is fighting the Spanish on the sea and that has a reputation of being particularly cunning, brave, and cruel.

Despite his young age, Jan is admitted as an officer on board of the “Black Gallery”, a mysterious ship that appears only at night and with whom the Watergeuzen have several spectacular successes against the Spanish fleet and fortresses. In the meantime, the beautiful Myga, now orphaned, is in serious trouble: the captain of the Spanish ship Andrea Doria falls hopelessly in love with her, and there is a plan to kidnap her. But Jan Norris gets by chance some information on the plot and rushes to protect his Myga…

I don’t want to give away the whole story here of course. But I think it is interesting to read Wilhelm Raabe’s The Black Gallery (Die schwarze Galeere) not only as an adventure and romance story.

Raabe, one of the great realistic authors of the 19th century (and today almost forgotten), proves with this early story not only that he knows how to entertain his readers with a colorful action and love story. He introduces also “gothic” elements like the Black Gallery (although based on a real ship it clearly reminds the reader of the Flying Dutchman) into the tale. And there is an interesting figure in this story which deserves particular mentioning: the experienced Spanish officer Jeronimo is a disillusioned old fighter who understands that this war is a useless effort: although the war is raging already since many years and too many soldiers and civilians have died, none of the parties has made any real progress…and for what all this bloodshed? Jeronimo is clearly a mouthpiece of the author in my opinion.

Raabe, deeply influenced by Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy, was anything else but a warmonger and chauvinist. Even the fight for a good cause has in any case very bad consequences and affects the character of each involved person in a very negative way.

It is surprising that Raabe’s story has been read for such a long time as a kind of simple heroic story that supports the virtues of the fighter for a good cause, the national independence.

But it is so obvious that Raabe was far from the intention to write a piece to stir nationalistic feelings. His message is clearly that war brings out the worst in each person. Although in principle sympathetic with the Dutch freedom fighters, he also mentions their immense cruelty, and Jan, the loyal friend and lover sets also a very bad example for killing the already unconcious Spanish officer out of personal revenge: a murder, not a fair fight in battle. The worst is that there is a young generation without the longing for peace – because they don’t know what peace is. Unfortunately this is today true as ever in many places on this planet…

In my opinion, Wilhelm Raabe (1831-1910) is one of the greatest writers of the 19th century and this story is a good opportunity to discover this author. The Black Gallery is as far as I know available in English only in a collection of Sea Stories. A book with Raabe’s stories in English would be a commendable deed by any publisher.


Sea StoriesWilhelm Raabe: Die schwarze Galeere, Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 2007

H.M. Tomlinson (ed.): Great Sea Stories of All Nations (2 vol.), Kessinger Publishing 2004

© Thomas Hübner and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.