Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Latvia declares independence

Let us look back, further back than we have before in this blog and return to 1914. It was a great period, one of modern technology, culture and fashion. Truly the height of civilization, so let's have a war.

Everyone knew a big war was coming. France wanted some stuff back that Germany had taken from it. Germany wanted to take more of everyone stuff and they were building the means to do so. Everyone had alliances with everyone else and people were just itching for a war and so it happened. The Great War to end all wars, but of course it wasn’t.

After four long brutal years, the war ends and as victors do, they start dishing out the spoils and in this case, creating new countries. One of the lucky ones was Latvia. In the aftermath of World War I, she declared independence from Russia but did Russia agree? Soviet troops were occupying Latvian territory as fast as German troops were withdrawing from it. This created shortages.

So now Latvia believes that they are an independent country and what is the first thing a new independent country must do? Issue stamps. OK, not the first thing but important enough anyway. Issuing stamps showing your own culture, heritage, customs and identity are a key part of a country's claim of independence; stamps are a symbol. So they placed an order for the printing of three million postage stamps.

"Houston we have a problem", there is a shortage of everything, including paper. How are they going to print millions of stamps?

Well the retreating Germans were not able to take everything with them and one of the things they abandoned were large numbers of unfinished maps which were stored in their Riga headquarters. There were so many that they were even being used in the Riga market to wrap fish. English fish and chips, anyone? OK not the fried kind anyway.

Now these maps were unfinished. The map side of these foldable maps was finished, but their backs, which were to show the region name, scale, etc., were not yet printed. They hadn’t been folded yet, so they were nice and flat and just waiting for someone to decide what to do with them that did not involve fish. The idea was to just turn them over and print the stamps on the other side.

The military maps on the back of these stamps, which are often upside down versus the stamp design, are usually printed in brown and black on dark cream gummed paper. Some were perforated and some imperforate, so you'll find both out there. You can find them with a blank backing, a simple line or an intense display of topography. Finding them on cover is far less common as the stamps were in use for a very short while.

Even though these map stamps have never been rare or expensive, there are forgeries out there, please don't ask me why so I won't have to lie to you.

Unfortunately the Latvians did not get their independence without a fight, and soon after declaring independence the Russians captured Riga, the capital city, and now we have a conflict involving the Soviets, the Latvian army, the Germans, as if World War One was not complicated enough. All's well that ends well as they were granted their independence two years later. The victors of World War One granted her independence.

This lasted until the second war to end all wars.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Oh Malaysia

Malaysia is a country where as of 2013, there were approximately 19.5 million people practicing Islam meaning approximately 61% of the population.

Their love of Israel is well known and in 2020, their former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for Muslims to attack Israelis during an interview on Lebanese TV.

"I know there are big powers that would like to see instability in Muslim countries," he said. "We are doing things - almost like helping Israel. Because we fight each other, the Israelis don't have to kill Muslims. Muslims are doing it for them." Instead, he said Muslims should turn their attention on Israel itself, which he claimed was created through the displacement of a Palestinian state by Western powers to rid themselves of Jews.

All of this is not news to us and in 1982 they issued two stamps for the "Freedom of Palestine" and depicting what they wrote "Masjid Al Aqsa" or the Al Aksa Mosque.

Only problem is that the image does not show the Al Aqsa Mosque but the Omar Mosque (Dome of the Rock) which is situated 500m away.

You would think that they would know what their Holy Mosque looks like!

A big oopsie!  

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Friday, June 4, 2021

A cold war incident

In a previous blog post, we learned that of all the countries in the world, only Czechoslovakia was selling arms to Israel and only because mother Russia, or Big Daddy, allowed them to.

Now Mommy Russia was not doing it out of the goodness of her heart, oh no, who would do that? Russia was one of the countries that immediately recognized the new state of Israel, albeit three days later. Maybe it took the email three days to arrive.

So why? Well the Cold War between the west and the east had begun in 1947 and tensions were high. The cold war actually started in 1947 with what was called the Truman Doctrine. The Americans did not want Russia to spread communism around the globe, they wanted to spread democracy instead. Good luck with democracy in Islamic countries, but that is another issue.

Many of the big boys in the Jewish State had origins in the eastern bloc. Many even spoke Russian. OK they also spoke English, German, Yiddish, French and nonsense, but since when is that relevant. So the Russians naturally thought that Israel would become a Russian satellite. Who knows they may even become a communist country.

America, on the other hand, did not trust the Jewish State for the same reason and placed an arms embargo. Actually POTUS called David Ben Gurion just before the declaration and begged him not to declare independence. The American Secretary of State George Marshall did not believe that the Jewish State would survive the war and did not want to support it. WW2 had just ended. He also did not want to loose the Arab countries. Logical after all, they had more money and were huge.

England did not want Israel not as a Jewish State and not as anything and some of their Spitfire jets attacked Israel. Some of their soldiers were actually caught as prisoners of war. Their ships still patrolled the port of Haifa after the Mandate ended and one of their generals, Glubb Pasha, was in charge of the Jordanian Legion.

But after the war, Israel did not become a satellite of Russia, nor did it buy arms from them. They bought from France. However Israel was not really on either side, the new kid just wanted to survive. Can't really blame her, right? She was faced with belligerency on all sides and constantly attacked and the world did nothing. Wait are we talking about 2021 or 1950?

Now tensions between East and West are high and the west had created the NATO defense pact. In May 1955, the Soviet Union and her satellites created their own defense pact, the Warsaw Pact. Bulgaria was one of the countries which was a part of that pact and there begins our story of the day.

EL AL, Israel's state airline, which was once jokingly referred to as Every Landing Always Late, was on a routine flight from London to Tel Aviv on the evening of Tuesday, July 26, 1955. It departed Heathrow Airport en route to Lod (today Ben-Gurion International Airport), via Vienna and and then Istanbul. After a brief layover at the Austrian capital, the Lockheed Constellation – a four-engine propeller plane – took off for Istanbul shortly before 3 A.M. on July 27.

Soon after takeoff, the flight encountered a thunderstorm, something that was known to cause distortions in the old-fashioned NDR navigation system in use in those days. In the case of LY-402, which was flying along the “Amber 10” air lane, it appears that the pilot changed course after concluding incorrectly that he had passed over the Skopje (Macedonia) navigation beacon. This change of direction caused the aircraft to cross from Yugoslavia into Bulgaria, near the border village of Tran.

Detecting the violation of its airspace, the Bulgarian air force scrambled two MiG-15 “Fagot” jet fighters from the Dobroslavtsi airfield to intercept the intruder. The plane flew over Bulgaria for 200km with the two Bulgarian jets trailing it for most of that distance, and at the time the pilots claimed to have issued several warning shots, but this claim was soon retracted. According to a history of Bulgarian aviation, the deputy commander of Bulgarian air defense, Gen. Velitchko Georgiev, told the two pilots, “If the plane is leaving our territory, disobeying orders, and there is no time left for more warnings, then shoot it down.”

What’s clear is that, as the civilian plane neared the country’s southern border and was about to cross into Greek airspace, the MiGs fired at it. The Constellation exploded at an altitude of 2,000 feet, with its pieces falling to earth near Petrich, Bulgaria. 51 passengers and seven crew members were killed.

The cover depicted above survived the crash. There is a Hebrew violet cancel: "This letter survived the EL AL flight that was brought down in Bulgaria, 27/7/55"

What happened and why? There was speculation that the Constellation plane was being used by the American Air Force for intelligence activities and was involved in espionage on Bulgaria and they didn't want the plane to leave Bulgarian air space. In fact, the plane that was used by EL AL was the same type as the American intelligence gathering plane.

One researcher concluded that “The Bulgarians wanted to demonstrate to the Soviets their power and their ability to control their airspace, to prove their loyalty and that they were worthy of the mission and purpose that had been delegated to them”.

Although the Bulgarian government at first refused to accept responsibility, blaming the Israeli airliner for penetrating its airspace without authorization, it eventually issued a formal apology, stating that the fighter pilots had been “too hasty” in shooting down the airliner, and agreed to pay compensation to the victims’ families. The compensation amount was a joke, each of the families of the victims received $8,236 which corresponded to the maximum compensation payment fixed by the Warsaw Convention for damage claims of individuals against foreign governments. 

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