Remember The Starving Armenians

On August 6, 1895, the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, attended a pro-Armenian meeting presided over by the Duke of Westminster.  In an admirably candid nod to the tyranny of political correctness he is reported by The New York Times as having said that “he had attended rather to meet the expectation that he would be present than because he had any important contribution to make to the discussion of the subject under consideration.”  The date also illustrates that the timelines of ethnic conflict are very long indeed.

That is why we rejoice that the still (thankfully) comprehensive New York Times reports today on the historic establishment of diplomatic relations between Greece and Turkey.  It is also noteworthy that in the same edition the Times covered Mr. Putin’s article in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza highlighting his view of Poland’s complicity with the Nazi regime in sending its army to occupy two Czech provinces following the Munich Agreement in 1938.

Why do these events and controversies, each regurgitating disputes long past, matter?  Because in the next decades European and American companies will be marketing to consumers in emerging markets to an unparalleled degree and they had better know their history or expect major flamings.  Which of us had heard of Uighurs a year ago?  Why are gypsies such an issue in Hungary?  Is terrorism in the Niger Delta caused by tribal conflict or economic under development?

During the era of America’s great economic clambake (1945-75), there was little need to “read” the ethnic tensions of the world except for geopolitical purposes.  In the years to come, the makers of everything from soap to software will need cultural risk management functions if they wish to avoid blow-ups.  Local may be the new global.  It’s also the old global.  You just have to know how to read it.

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