Sick man of Europe

Sick man of Europe

The term "Sick man of Europe" is a nickname associated with a European country experiencing a time of economic difficulty and/or poverty.


The phrase "sick man of Europe" is commonly attributed to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, referring to the Ottoman Empire, because it was increasingly falling under the financial control of the European powers and had lost territory in a series of disastrous wars. However, it is not clear that he ever said the precise phrase. Letters from Sir George Hamilton Seymour, the British ambassador to St. Petersburg, to Lord John Russell, in 1853, in the run up to the Crimean War, quote Nicholas I of Russia as saying that the Ottoman Empire was a sick man—a very sick man," a "man" who "has fallen into a state of decrepitude", or a "sick man ... gravely ill". [de Bellaigue, Christopher. " [ Turkey's Hidden Past] ". New York Review of Books, 48:4, 2001-03-08.] [de Bellaigue, Christopher. " [ The Sick Man of Europe] ". New York Review of Books, 48:11, 2001-07-05.] [" [ Ottoman Empire] ." Britannica Student Encyclopedia. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 19 Apr. 2007.]

It is not easy to determine the actual source of the quotation. The articles cited above refer to documents held or communicated personally. The most reliable, publicly available source appears to be a book by Harold Temperley, published in 1936. [Harold Temperley, "England and the Near East" (London: Longmans, Greens and Co., 1936), p. 272.] Temperley gives the date for the first conversation as 9 January 1853, like Goldfrank. [de Bellaigue, Christopher. " [ The Sick Man of Europe] ". New York Review of Books, 48:11, 2001-07-05.] According to Temperley, Seymour in a private conversation had to push the Tsar to be more specific about the Ottoman empire. Eventually, the tsar stated, "Turkey seems to be falling to pieces, the fall will be a great misfortune. It is very important that England and Russia should come to a perfectly good understanding... and that neither should take any decisive step of which the other is not apprized." And then, closer to the attributed phrase: “We have a sick man on our hands, a man gravely ill, it will be a great misfortune if one of these days he slips through our hands, especially before the necessary arrangements are made.” [Harold Temperley, "England and the Near East" (London: Longmans, Greens and Co., 1936), p. 272. Temperley's translation of the Emperor's comment [spoken in French] is quite accurate. An alternative translation from the original published document follows: "We have on our hands a sick man -- a very sick man: it will be, I tell you frankly, a great misfortune if, one of these days, he should slip away from us, especially before all necessary arrangements were made." Source: Parliamentary Papers. Accounts and Papers: Thirty-Six Volumes: Eastern Papers, V. Session 31 January-12 August 1854, Vol. LXXI (London: Harrison and Son, 1854), doc. 1, p. 2.]

It is important to add that the British Ambassador G. H. Seymour agreed with Nicholas on this point; here is his response: "Your Majesty is so gracious that you will allow me to make one further observation. Your Majesty says the man is sick; it is very true; but your Majesty will deign to excuse me if I remark, that it is the part of the generous and strong man to treat with gentleness the sick and feeble man." [Parliamentary Papers. Accounts and Papers: Thirty-Six Volumes: Eastern Papers, V. Session 31 January-12 August 1854, Vol. LXXI (London: Harrison and Son, 1854), doc. 1, p. 2.]

Temperley then asserts, “The ‘sickliness’ of Turkey obsessed Nicholas during his whole reign. What he really said was omitted in the Blue Book from a mistaken sense of decorum. He said not the ‘sick man’ but the ‘bear dies…the bear is dying… you may give him musk but even musk will not long keep him alive.’” [Harold Temperley, "England and the Near East" (London: Longmans, Greens and Co., 1936), p. 272; cites: F.O. 65/424. From Seymour, No. 87 of February 21, 1853.]

Neither Nicholas nor Seymour completed the phrase with the clause "of Europe," which appears to have been added later and may very well have been journalistic misquotation. Take, for example, the first appearance of the phrase "Sick man of Europe" in the New York Times (12 May 1860): "The condition of Austria at the present moment is not less threatening in itself, though less alarming for the peace of the world, than was the condition of Turkey when the Czar Nicholas invited England to draw up with him the last will and testament of the 'sick man of Europe.' It is, indeed, hardly within the range of probability that another twelvemonth should pass over the House of Hapsburg without bringing upon the Austrian Empire a catastrophe unmatched in modern history since the downfall of Poland." One should note not only that this is not what Nicholas was trying to do or what he said, but that the author of this article was using the term to point to a second "sick man," this one more generally accepted as a European empire, the Habsburg Monarchy. [ [ "Austria in Extremis"] ," "New York Times" (12 May 1860), p. 4. The article is freely available. For an intriguing effort to link the misuse of this phrase to Turkey's efforts to join the EU, see Dimitris Livanios, “The ‘sick man’ paradox: history, rhetoric and the ‘European character’ of Turkey,” "Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans" vol. 8, no. 3 (December 2006): 299-311.]

Later, this view led the Allies in World War I to underestimate the Ottoman Empire, leading in part to the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign. However, the "Sick Man" eventually collapsed under the might of a British attack in the Middle East.

Modern use

Beginning in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, the United Kingdom was sometimes known as the "sick man of Europe" because of industrial strife and poor economic performance compared to other European countries. Spain had such a nickname due to the economic difficulties during the last years of Francisco Franco's reign and the period following the dictator's death until about 1983.

The Republic of Ireland was also known by this epithet during a long period of poverty, before the beginning of a prolonged period of economic growth in the 1980s, creating thousands of jobs and raising living standards dramatically ("See Celtic Tiger"). The term was also used in describing Portugal before the Portuguese economy staged a recovery in the 1990s.

During the 1990s, Russia and many fellow Eastern European countries were called "sick men of Europe" due to the severe economic hardships of the time, as well as the soaring rates in alcoholism, drug abuse, and AIDS that led to a negative population growth and falling life expectancies (although, in recent years, it has shown signs of slowing down).

The term was applied to the Russian Federation more recently in the book "Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution" by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (Scribner). In this book, chapter nine is titled "Sick Man of Europe."

In the late 1990s, the press labeled Germany with this term because of its economic problems, especially due to the costs of German reunification after 1990, which are estimated to amount to over €1.5 trillion (statement of Freie Universität Berlin).

In May 2005, The Economist attributed this title to Italy, covering "The real sick man of Europe". This refers to Italy's structural and political difficulties thought to inhibit economic reforms to relaunch economic growth.

In 2006, Mark Steyn calls Russia the "sick man of Europe" in the book . This diagnosis is based on Russia's demographic profile, which is a main theme of the book.

In 2007, a report by Morgan Stanley referred to France as the "new sick man of Europe". [Chaney, Eric. " [ The New Sick Man of Europe] ". Morgan Stanley, 2007-03-02.]

In April 2007, The Economist described Portugal as "a new sick man of Europe". [" [ A new sick man of Europe] ", The Economist, 2007-04-14.]

In 2008 the nickname was given to Italy by The Daily Telegraph. [" [ Italy: The sick man of Europe] ", Telegraph, 2008-04-15.]

ee also

*Sick man of Asia


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