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Sick Man Of Europe

The term "Sick man of Europe" is a nickname that has been used from time to time, to describe 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. "[http://www.nybooks.com/articles/14094#fnr1 The Sick Man of Europe]". New York Review of Books, 48:11, 2001-07-05.

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. Temperley gives the date for the first conversation as 9 January 1853, like Goldfrank. 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.”

It is important to add that the British Ambassador G. H. Seymour agreed with Nicholas's diagnosis, but he very deferentially disagreed with the Tsar's recommended treatment of the patient; he responded, "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."

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.’”

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 Habsburg 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.

Later, this view led the Allies in World War I to underestimate the Ottoman Empire, leading in part to the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign. However, the "Sick Man" eventually collapsed under numerous British attacks in the Middle East.

Modern use

Throughout 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, culminating with the Winter of Discontent of 1978-1979."[http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=3987219 The real sick man of Europe]" ''The Economist'', May 19, 2005. After a painful period of reform and restructuring, Britain experienced tremendous economic growth during the 1980s, the 1990s and 2000s as well; the greatest period of growth of any European country.

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 1990s, 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.

In the early 1990s The Economist labelled Greece as the "Sick Man of Europe" in one of its articles, due to this country's (then) decade-old poor economic performance, and political instability.

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 of 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 America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. 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".

In April 2007, The Economist described Portugal as "a new sick man of Europe".

In 2008 the nickname was given to Italy by The Daily Telegraph.

In July 2009, the nickname was given to Greece, due to the 2008 Greek riots, rising unemployment and political corruption, bureaucracy and inefficiency.

On the 2009 Cheap Trick album "The Latest" there is the song "Sick Man of Europe".

On the 29th of October 2009 Britain was name the "sick man of Europe" on BBC Question Time because it has not yet came out of recession, whereas France, Germany, USA and other countries had.

Source: Wikipedia