Dark Continent

by Mark Mazower

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310

In his analysis of recent European history, Mark Mazower inverts the customary labeling of world areas: he considers Europe, rather than Africa, to be the dark continent. Imperialist motivations, policies, and practices all enter into his assessment of the darkness of European attitudes and behaviors. The fact that European powers considered Africa to be “dark” or unenlightened, he argues, says more about the Europeans’ ideas, which they projected onto the people they encountered and used to rationalize subjugating them. The numerous conflicts that continued to affect European “union” in the late 20th century, when he was writing, are directly traced to the kinds of problems that stimulated outward expansion in the age of imperialism. One complication of that expansion was that governments sometimes refused to acknowledge that similar problems existed, or failed to address those problems, at home.

Tracing European conflicts from the late 19th century through the two 20th-century world wars, the author shows the lingering effects of imperial ideology and statecraft. Ethnic distinction, which has often been expressed in nationalist secession movements, and religious differences were among the motivating factors that had supported expansion into Africa. These factors arose with renewed vigor on the European continent. Bringing the issues up to date as of its 1998 publication, he also considers the break-up of the Balkans and the pushes toward expansion of the European Economic Community. Similarly, he considers the influx of peoples from formerly colonized areas, a substantial component of the refugee crisis that was already underway.

Mazower does not understate the most egregious and prolonged cases, such as the Holocaust, as he addresses the Nazi targeting of Romany, as well as Jewish, minorities. He considers the political dogma and religious persecution that under-girded Stalinist campaigns. He also examines, however, the numerous instances of sustained internal colonialism, such as England’s relationship with Ireland and Spanish policies in Catalonia.

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