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“Przekrój” Magazine brings to the English reader some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in such fields as culture, society, ecology and literature. Stand aside from the haste and fierceness of everyday news and join us now!

Przekrój
Our eternally pessimistic correspondent gives his historical highlights for the month of August.
2019-08-01 00:02:00

August in History
Diary of an Eternal Pessimist

August in History
August in History

August in history according to an eternal pessimist.

Read in 7 minutes

1st August 1989

Meat ration cards were taken off the market in Poland. Now the only things missing were sausages in the shops and money in the wallets.

2nd August 338 BCE

Macedonian king Phillip II beat the armies of Athens and Thebes in the Battle of Chaeronea. The victory helped him take over Greece, but Phillip did not enjoy his newfound hegemony for long. Just two years later, he would be undone, just as he was getting ready for war with Persia. And just to think he could have lived happily ever after in Macedonia…

3rd August 1598

King Sigismund III Vasa set sail from Oliwa at the head of 85 ships to reclaim his heritage and the throne of Sweden. He thought it would be an easy task, but it all ended in a bloodbath. Wars between Poland and Sweden continued for several generations, ultimately ruining the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

4th August 2015

Miss Piggy and Kermit announced their break-up on Twitter. Apparently, she was no longer mad about the frog.

5th August 1305

The English captured the Scottish rebel William Wallace, and after unspeakable tortures, they killed the poor man. Fools! Little did they know that seven centuries later, those events would inspire an Oscar-winning movie. Now, the world remembers Wallace as a hero who bravely fought heartless English villains.

6th August 1902

The passenger ship RMS Carpathia was launched. Lucky for the passengers of her competitor Titanic, as Carpathia saved 700 survivors from the sinking transatlantic ship 10 years later, in April 1912.

7th August 1428

The people of Valais took to persecuting those suspected of witchcraft, approaching the task with typical Swiss precision. The prejudiced clergy, along with fearful judges and a superstitious peasantry, launched the massacre of countless innocent people, giving way to witch hunts across Europe.

8th August 1709

A Jesuit priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão presented his opus magnum to the king of Portugal: a flying ball on a propeller. The poor man had no idea this attempt at showing off would attract the attention of the Inquisition. Perhaps he should’ve just stuck to his prayers.

9th August 1662

A massive earthquake took place in the Tatra Mountains, leading to the collapse of the Slavkovský štít mountain peak and lowering it by a staggering 300 metres. It was not the best century for Poland! First, the Deluge from Sweden, and just a few years later, an Armageddon near Zakopane.

10th August 1500

Portuguese sailor Diogo Dias discovered Madagascar. And what good did it do? Soon enough, someone figured it was an excellent place for sending prisoners to.

11th August 1984

The US President Ronald Reagan announced that in five minutes, an attack on the USSR would begin. He was only joking, but the whole world was about to have a heart attack anyway.

12th August 1869

In California, self-proclaimed emperor and known madman Joshua A. Norton delegalized the Republican and Democratic Party in the US. Nowadays, many Americans would probably consider this idea visionary rather than mad.

13th August 1969

The first American astronauts to walk on the Moon joined the Apollo 11 parade in New York. They took their time, though: upon their return from space, they all had to undergo a three-week-long quarantine, just to make sure they didn’t drag anything nasty back with them. What a way to treat heroes…

14th August 1880

The construction of the cathedral in Cologne was finally completed. The temple was the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The process took a while – 632 years from start to finish! The Middle Ages came and went, and Gothic Revival was the new it-style in architecture by then.

15th August 1604

False Dmitry I attacked Moscow to ‘reclaim’ the throne. The Poles, who supported him, got to fill their pockets quickly. Meanwhile, Moscow suffered from the aftermath of a civil war. And in the end, it all led to mutual hatred and craving for vengeance.

16th August 1794

During the Kościuszko Uprising, the first Polish banknotes in history were issued. Today, they are a plum for collectors, but back then they were not much use.

17th August 1989

Two experts in explosive moviemaking, the directors Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, get married. However, just two years later, their union would go down in flames.

18th August 1976

In the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, a spat ensued over a cut-down poplar tree. Punches were thrown from all sides, leading to a fight between several American, South Korean and North Korean soldiers. Axes were swung, killing and wounding a few men. And obviously, it was all caused by political – rather than environmental – concerns…

19th August 37

Emperor Caligula completed the construction of the Temple of Augustus. This was a promising start to his reign, but centuries later, no one would remember it. The architectural feat would soon be eclipsed by Caligula’s sexual excesses and drowned out by the neighing of the horse he appointed as a senator.

20th August 1960

Belka and Strelka, two dogs who travelled into orbit aboard the Soviet spacecraft Korabl-Sputnik 2, returned from space. They were the first living creatures to visit space and survive. As a reward, both dogs got to spend the rest of their lives in comfort. And after they passed away… Well, they were stuffed and put on display to serve political propaganda.

21st August 1968

Polish tanks rolled across Czechoslovakia in a display of “brotherly help” provided by the USSR, the Polish People’s Republic and other Communist nations to the Czechoslovak Stalinists, who were deeply concerned about the changes initiated in their country by the Prague Spring. To the people of Czechoslovakia, it was a tragedy. And to Poland, a source a great shame for many years to come.

22nd August 1911

The staff at the Louvre in Paris failed to notice an Italian man, Vincenzo Peruggia, hiding in one of the closets. On the next morning, however, they did notice that the Mona Lisa had disappeared from the museum. Apparently, Peruggia had resolved to take Leonardo da Vinci's painting back to the artist’s homeland…

23rd August 1755

Locked in a prison in the Venetian Doge's Palace, Casanova received some ‘great’ news when a guard told him he would be transferred to another, more comfortable cell. It was a shame, really, because Casanova had already prepared an escape route and would now be forced to plan the whole thing all over again...

24th August 1853

It was a bad day for George Crum, a chef from Saratoga Springs, New York. George was annoyed with a guest who demanded their chips be cut in ridiculously thin pieces. The chef sliced the potatoes paper-thin, deep-fried them and over-salted them on purpose. That will show them! Imagine Crum’s surprise when he was told the clients loved it. And that’s how potato crisps were invented.

25th August 1698

The famous reformer of Russia, Tsar Peter the Great, came back from his voyages across Western Europe. Seeing him go, the Dutch could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The monarch was way too keen on conducting scientific experiments that included pulling people’s teeth out with blacksmiths’ pincers. Russian boyars, however, were not so happy to see their tsar back when he imposed a beard tax in his country.

26th August 1768

Captain James Cook embarked on the first voyage around the world. Had he been happy to call it a day after the first voyage, he would have probably lived in peace for many years to come, rather than ending up as dinner in Hawaii. Unless it’s all just a legend…

27th August 1896

The Anglo-Zanzibar War erupted in the morning morning. It also ended in that same morning, having lasted a whopping 38 minutes. But even such a short-lasting conflict was enough to take the lives and health of about 500 people.

28th August 1965

Bob Dylan was booed by the audience during his concert in New York when he tried using an electric guitar on stage. That’s what we call a high-strung crowd…

29th August 410

King Alaric I led the Visigoths out of the conquered Rome. The Visigoths were happy because they got to rob and plunder. The Romans were also pleased because they got to stay alive. Little did the Visigoths know that their treasures would sink along with their ships on the way back. The Romans didn’t get the last laugh, either – 41 years later, they were attacked again by the Vandals, who were even more barbaric than the previous lot.

30th August 1963

The Moscow-Washington hotline was set up. It was so long ago, and yet the connection remains so patchy still…

31st August 1659

Stefan Czarniecki returned from Denmark, where he fought Swedish armies. Immortalized in the Polish national anthem, he “returned across the sea to save his homeland”. If only his kinsmen remembered what from.

 

Translated by Aga Zano

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