Maragana Girl P.S. 01bycaligula97236©
Notes on the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia as a society
(the stuff that didn't make it into the novel)
Readers have commented and asked me questions about my imaginary country, the Grand Duchy of Upper Danubia. Here are some details to give you an idea of what this imaginary society is like, of what I envisioned when I created it.
I want to emphasize that Upper Danubia is not my personal vision of "Utopia". Instead, my fictional country is a literary effort to create a society that is not perfect, but one that is plausible and interesting, and also very different from any real society that exists in Europe today. There are many details about the culture and values of the Danubians that I would like if I had to actually live there in real life, but there are also many injustices and social restrictions that I would find hard to accept.
The country has a population of roughly 5 million people, all of them ethnic Danubians. In terms of size, its land area would be roughly the same as the territory occupied by Slovakia. The country is landlocked, with the only major trade route to the outside world being along the fictional East Danube River. Upper Danubia is cut off from its neighbors by mountains to the north and east, and by thick forests to the south. The only way in or out of the country is through major railroad and highway border crossings near the river, or through a single airport located near the capitol. As far as links to the outside world, that's about it.
The only large Danubian city is the capitol, Danube City. Of course, in Danubian it would be called "Danubik Mostk", but I always refer to it as Danube City in my narrative. Danube City has a population of roughly 800,000 people. The only other sizable city in the country is the eastern provincial capitol of Rika Chorna, with a population of 350,000. No other city in Upper Danubia exceeds 200,000 residents.
There are two major geographical regions in Upper Danubia: the Eastern Valley and the Danube Valley. The Danube Valley is the older section of Upper Danubia, settled for over 3,000 years by ethnic Danubians. The eastern section of the country was settled after 1512 by refugees from Lower Danubia fleeing the Ottoman Empire. Separating the eastern and western halves of the country is a range of low-lying heavily forested mountains. The central mountains contain the only sizable body of water in Upper Danubia, the Rika Chorna Reservoir.
Danubian is supposed to be a unique European language, such as Basque. In reality I based many of the made-up Danubian words on actual words I know from Russian and Ukrainian. Danubian is not supposed to be a Slavic language, but I borrowed some words and altered them to make up the phrases of Danubian dialogue that appear in the story. The same goes for characters' names. Most Danubian names are based on real eastern European names, simply because I wanted them to sound at least somewhat realistic.
Like most European countries, class played a huge role in Upper Danubia's social development until the late 1700's. Included in these classes were the Grand Duke and his Court, the "Outer Nobility", the Danubian Church, various guilds, and two classes of criminals. However, the Grand Duke's Reform of 1780 reduced the number of formal social classes to just three: Public Officials, Common Citizens, and Criminals. For a while members of the nobility were considered Public Officials, but after 1830 only persons actually holding a paid government position were Public Officials.
The formal class system is an anachronism and causes some confusion, since a police officer fresh out of the National Police Academy is a Public Official, while an established business owner is a "Common Citizen" and thus in theory socially inferior. Even more confusing was the status of three of Kim's university professors, who, although working in a position normally held by Public Officials, also were convicted criminals serving long sentences and wearing collars. The unspoken protocol of Kim and her classmates was to ignore the criminal status of the professors and treat them as Public Officials, even on the days they show up to class with welts from a judicial switching.
Morality, Sexuality, and Protocol
Morality and Protocol are extremely important elements of every Danubian's daily life. Protocol is a loose translation of the Danubian term "haráshkt jettít" which is perhaps better translated as "the proper way to live". Protocol determines how Danubians of different classes greet and interact with each other, how family members and in-laws greet and interact with each other, and the correct daily behavior of a person within his or her place in society. The rules are very specific, and a person who ignores them will "lose honor" and be shunned by his peers.
The issue about public morality that tends to confuse foreign visitors in Upper Danubia is public nudity. Most Danubians are not particularly modest about their bodies. Danubian women, like their male counterparts, typically sleep, sunbathe, swim, and exercise nude. During warmer days in the school year it is common to see classes of naked high school or university students jogging in public parks or performing calisthenics in groups segregated by sex. During the summer it also is common to see middle-aged and older people gardening in the nude, or during the hottest part of the day, wearing nothing but work shoes and a traditional wide brim farmer's hat.
To a Danubian the sole purpose of clothing is to protect the body from the elements. Going naked in public is permitted in Upper Danubia and, in fact, is required at all public beaches and swimming pools. Being naked in public is a required condition of any criminal sentence. Nudity also is required during all gym classes and swimming sessions in Danubian public schools.
The presence of naked bodies in public is not an indication of loose morality in Upper Danubia, but instead a different definition of morality. Being naked is not viewed as a sexual act, but wearing a swimsuit, provocative clothing, or any other item designed to draw attention to a person's body is. To wear expensive items, or dress to draw attention to oneself is considered a sin by the Danubian Church and inappropriate for the country's values. For example, the only accepted jewelry for women is engagement jewelry. Danubian women do not wear earrings or bracelets, and men do not wear jewelry at all. Make-up, deodorant, and perfume also are items that are rarely seen among the Danubians.
In the 1920's swimsuits temporarily became popular among young women who were wearing them to flirt with young men. Danubian priests were offended by the use of such clothing as a means to flirt, and viewed the swimsuits as much more provocative than the naked body. Furthermore, in a nation concerned about maintaining its values and cultural identity, swimsuits were looked upon as an unwelcome foreign influence. The result was a law passed in 1931 that made importing, producing, selling, or wearing all swimwear and most athletic clothing illegal.
Danubians place a huge importance on the traditional family. Young men and women are under great pressure from parents and peers to marry by the time they are 24. Family formation is part of a person's "path in life". As a result of the social pressure, there is almost no tolerance for "alternative lifestyles", which makes life extremely difficult for anyone unable to fill the society's expectations of family living.
A reader asked me about homosexual relationships in Upper Danubia. Homosexuality among Danubians exists, but is not tolerated nor sanctioned by either the society or the Church. As a result, the country's homosexuals and lesbians must endure a 90-minute train trip from Danube City to cross the southern border where they can meet and socialize. Immediately on the other side of border there are several bars and discos frequented by Danubian gays and lesbians. Prior to Vladim Dukov's government, the gay bars also were frequented by the Danubian Secret Police. One of Prime Minister Dukov's reforms was to order the Secret Police to stop collecting information about the bar patrons and to destroy all records about gays and lesbians collected prior to his administration. He did not approve of gay relationships, but he argued that it was not the role of the government to enforce protocol on Danubians socializing outside the country. Prime Minister Dukov's views on homosexuals, although conservative by US standards, were quite tolerant by Danubian standards and were met with resistance from many of the religious leaders who had supported his candidacy and his other government programs.
The worst humiliation for an average Danubian is to have his or her genitals touched by a person of the same sex. For example, Danubian doctors are always the opposite sex from their patients. Men are seen by female doctors and women patients by male doctors, to prevent the shame of having the patient's genitals examined or touched by another man or another woman. The younger Danubian male police officers who were fondling male criminals prior to Vladim Dukov's reforms were doing so not for sexual gratification, but to inflict the worst form of humiliation on their victims. When Malka Chorno touched and aroused Kimberly Lee prior to her second punishment, what she actually was doing was insulting Kim as a woman. At the time Kim did not know enough about Danubian culture to understand she was being insulted, nor comprehend Officer Chorno's true intentions.
Verbal Insults in Danubian society
The most common verbal Danubian insult is the adjective "dishonored". To call someone "dishonored" is to declare that person contemptible and pathetic. It is an insult frequently used by a person of higher social status against one of lower social status. For example, it is common for a police officer to insult a criminal by calling him a "dishonored little bastard". Also, poor preparation or poor performance can earn a person the term "dishonored". A high school coach, if truly annoyed by a student's performance on the playing field, might call him a "dishonored sloth" or say "your laziness has dishonored you". To call someone "dishonored" insinuates a demand for altering personal behavior. A person who is accused of being "dishonored" is expected to change to regain his honor and his place in society.
In Danubian culture, to call someone "dishonored" is not nearly as bad as calling someone a "liar". If a Danubian dares to call another person a "liar", he needs to base that accusation on fact or on a specific incident. "Liar" is not a term taken lightly in Danubian culture.
The absolute worst verbal insult a Danubian can use against another person is "dishonored liar". The statement has a much stronger meaning than anything that could be expressed with words in Western culture. To be called a "dishonored liar" goes way beyond a taunt: it is an utter condemnation of a person's soul and a statement of absolute contempt. To use such a strong term signals that, in the eyes of the person making the statement, the person being accused is spiritually dead, there never can be forgiveness, and no further relationship or interaction can ever take place.
A Danubian would never call another person a "dishonored liar" without a very good reason. For example, Vladik Dukov's ex-fiancé felt justified using the term on him only after she actually witnessed him making love to another woman. Regardless of her suspicions, she never would have dared to call him a "dishonored liar" before being absolutely sure he was cheating on her. To hear the term used on him devastated Vladik much more than being caught, because it was true. He had lied to his fiancé, and in doing so dishonored himself before his father's household and the Creator.
If the words "dishonored liar" are spoken in a personal dispute, the society demands that someone involved in the incident immediately report to a member of the Danubian Clergy and request permission to perform public penance. Once the shock of the confrontation with his ex-fiancé wore off, Vladik knew that the only way he could begin restoring his honor was to present himself at the Temple of the Ancients and surrender custody of himself to the Danubian Church.
If it turns out the accusation is false, then the person making the statement must submit to public penance instead. Falsely accusing someone of lying is a very serious matter. During the Middle Ages a false accusation was considered a capital offense, although the victim of the false accusation had the right to commute the sentence if the offender was willing to serve him as a collared slave. In the more tolerant and lax society of modern Danubia, the only result of a false accusation is a period of public penance lasting several years.
Courtship, Marriage and Family
Young people may meet at school, church, or work, or they can be introduced by their parents, as was the case with Vladik Dukov and his first fiancée. Courtship normally is a two-to-three year process, with the expectation that the first year is "dating" before the formal proposal, and the second year is "serious engagement" after the proposal. Choosing the correct partner is extremely important because the Danubian Church does not permit divorce. It is expected a couple getting married have taken the time to know each other well enough to understand what they are getting into.
The couple must formally court each other's parents. No proper young Danubian woman may spend time alone with a young man who has not had dinner at the house of her parents or guardian. A courtship normally begins when a young woman asks her parents to invite a young man to a formal dinner on Sunday afternoon. If the parents approve of him, the daughter may begin seeing him alone, as long as he returns to her house for dinner once a week. If the parents withdraw permission for the suitor to come over for dinner, then the relationship is suspended. In such cases the daughter has the right to demand an explanation from her parents, which must be reasonable and specific. The young woman also may consult with a priest who can attempt to arbitrate, but if her parents insist on denying the suitor permission to sit at her table, she will obey and end the relationship.
Once the young man has the approval of the young woman's parents, then he must seek his own parents' approval of his girlfriend. This once again is done through dinners. The young man's parents also have the right to deny a young woman permission to sit at their table, but in practice denials from the man's parents are very rare.
The final stage of a courtship is a formal proposal. A Danubian man proposes by giving his future fiancée three articles of jewelry: a ring, a traditional necklace, and a silver hair comb. The man presents the items one by one. If accepted the couple is formally engaged. If she accepts the items the woman must wear them to show herself as committed to the marriage.
Education, childhood, and adolescence in Danubian society
Danubians are considered underage until they complete high school. Normally teenagers complete high school shortly after their eighteenth birthday. For becoming an adult, what matters is not on what date a person's eighteenth birthday falls, but the accomplishment of getting the high school diploma. To obtain the diploma is crucial in a person's Path in Life, because the diploma declares that its holder has completed the training necessary to exercise the full rights of a free citizen. Without a diploma, a person cannot marry, vote, hold property, or travel outside the country. Danubian teenagers, no matter how rebellious they might want to be, never drop out of school because without a diploma, their society will not allow them to function as adults.
There are three phases of a young person's Path in Life prior to graduation from high school. Those are: early childhood, late childhood, and adolescence. Early childhood covers the period from a person's birth to their entry in grade school at age six. Late childhood covers the first seven years of a child's time in school, from age six to age 13. Once a young teenager enters the eighth form in school (or "grade" in the US), that person officially becomes an adolescent.
Danubian children have a relatively easy life during the years leading up their thirteenth birthday. They are expected to follow protocol, but usually are spoiled and have few responsibilities. Parents and teachers never hit or physically punish young children, with a single exception. If a child behaves violently towards other children or family members; both the school and the parents will tie the offender's hands and write "dishonored" on his forehead. Any potential bullies can expect to be restrained and publicly humiliated, so bullying in Danubian schools is extremely rare.
Life for a young person in Danubia changes radically the week before he or she enters the eighth form. There is one final care-free summer, but at the end of August young teens must report to the Church closest to their house for a week of lectures, religious ceremonies, and indoctrination rituals that celebrate the passage into adolescence. The transition is a very serious one, because starting in the eighth form, all Danubians are expected to quit acting like children and start acting like adults. At the end of the rituals, each newly-inducted adolescent is required to formally present a favorite toy to a younger relative, to symbolize the abandonment of childhood and the passing of time.
Children do not do chores and are not subject to corporal punishments. Once a person becomes an adolescent, that changes. Parents are expected to train their adolescent offspring to perform all the tasks necessary to maintain a house, with the expectation that within a year the teenager could completely run a household should it be necessary. Schools greatly increase workloads, physical exercise intensifies, religious training intensifies, and adolescents participate in national ceremonies.
In Danubia there is no such thing as a "youth culture". Children and adolescents aspire to become adults and respected members of society, so the idea of allowing separate pop cultures for adults and teenagers would be considered a threat to the country's core values and an offense against the will of the Creator.
Dating is important in the lives of Danubian teenagers. Teenagers can have relationships from the moment they pass the initiation ceremony, but any relationship must be sanctioned by both sets of parents. As with everything else, dating has a strict protocol that requires partners to treat each other honorably and with respect. The purpose of dating is not to have fun, but instead to allow teenagers to practice the social skills needed for marriage. If a teenager starts dating, the goal of such a relationship is to search for a "proper partner" for one's future Path in Life. Sexual contact is not encouraged, but is not such a taboo as it is in other cultures. To deal with the reality of sex; Danubian schools, the Church, and parents are responsible for sexual education and pregnancy prevention. Abortion is not legal in Danubia, but contraceptives are readily available.
The most important change from childhood to adolescence is corporal punishment. Danubian children are not subject to corporal punishment, but adolescents most definitely are. Both schools and parents can administer corporal punishment for rebellious behavior, with a maximum severity of 25 strokes of the switch. If a high school student is subjected to a switching, normally the punishment starts with a formal hearing in the director's office that is similar to a trial. If the director and the teacher agree that the student should be switched, his or her classmates are assembled in the gym or the school cafeteria and the offender is ordered to strip. The director normally offers the offender the chance to cooperate, which spares the humiliation of having to be handcuffed. To avoid the dishonor of being presented to the other students in handcuffs, most offenders cooperate. The offender is then escorted naked and presented to the other students, and must stand quietly while the director reads the offense. Once the offense is announced the student is required to lie across a chair for punishment, which can range from 10 to 25 strokes. When the punishment is over, the student must stand up and turn away from his or her classmates to allow everyone to see the welts. Switchings in Danubian high schools are fairly common. In a school of 400 students (which is the average size of a school), during a typical month two or three students receive formal punishments.