For All Nails #282: My Empire of Dirt

by Johnny Pez

Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Kingdom of Austria, German Empire
7 April 1977

Sitting in the office of the Chief Executive of the European Union, his office, Frederick of Poland was not a happy man. The office was cold, it was drafty, and it was poorly lit. When he walked across the carpeted floor, the floorboards beneath creaked and groaned like a team of ghosts getting ready for a long night's poltergeisting.

When Frederick of Poland had agreed to become the Union's head, he had been under the vague impression that the organization's headquarters would be located in the Palace of Versailles. After all, that's where they had all met to design it. For some reason, though, when the time came to decide where the Union's Chief Executive and Congress of Delegates would meet, all the various suggestions -- Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Rome, Athens -- had somehow cancelled each other out, and it turned out that Vienna was everybody's second choice. So Vienna it was.

So, having decided on Vienna, where had the delegates finally chosen to set up? The Schonnbrunn Palace? The Belvedere Palace? No! They had chosen the grubby old Hofburg Palace, ancient seat of the Habsburgs.

The Habsburgs themselves had abandoned it by the 19th century, and no wonder. After losing a series of wars, culminating in Marie Antoinette's War (as it was known in Central Europe) in the 1790s, the Habsburg Empire had fallen on hard times. The Habsburgs had let the Hofburg go to seed, and periodic efforts since then to spruce the place up had been halfhearted at best.

Frederick's dark thoughts were interrupted by the annunciator on his desk. A light came on and he heard the voice of his secretary say, "Sir, Herr Scavoni is here to see you."

It wasn't likely that Scavoni had come to bring good news. Unscheduled meetings were never about good news, and a quick glance at his planner showed Frederick that he wasn't due to meet with Scavoni today. Frederick pressed the appropriate button on the annunciator and said, "Please show him in, Guiscard."

Bartolomeo Scavoni was a short, stout, balding man who wore what remained of his hair in a ponytail, in the Italian manner. He represented the Italian Kingdom's duchy of Parma in the Congress of Delegates, and had by some mysterious means wound up becoming President of the Congress.

Frederick rose and circled his desk (creak, creak went the floorboards), shaking the man's hand while saying, "Good morning, Herr Scavoni, a pleasure as always." The European Union had no official language, but all of its business was conducted in German, because that was the only language everyone in the Union had in common.

"Good morning, sir," Scavoni replied in his musically accented German. "The pleasure is all mine." It had been Frederick's decision that when he was acting in his capacity as Chief Executive of the Union, he should be addressed as "sir" rather than "your majesty". After all, the next Chief Executive might not be a crowned head, and in that case the use of "sir" would be a useful precedent.

"So, Herr Scavoni, what brings you to see me this morning?" Might as well get it over with, Frederick thought.

Scavoni's expression was appropriately subdued. "It concerns the Croatian situation, sir."

Frederick smiled humorlessly. "You mean the Serbian situation, don't you?"

Scavoni nodded. "The Serbian situation is the Croatian situation. Despite the pressure that has been brought to bear upon him, Herr Jelic has introduced a measure into the Congress calling for the creation of a separate Serb state."

"It won't pass, of course," said Frederick.

"Of course," Scavoni confirmed, "but that's not the point. Jelic knows perfectly well that the Union was not designed to deal with the member states' internal political matters. Now that Jelic has opened this can of worms, every minority group with a grievance will be petitioning for their own states: the Dacians in Hungary, the Bretons, even the Ukrainians in your own state, sir, and the Dalmatians in mine. And all it takes is for just one such measure to pass, and that will ring down the curtain on the Union. The state in question would never allow itself to be dismembered, and will instead withdraw from the Union. And then ... "

In growing dismay, Frederick said, "And then?"

Scavoni shook his head. "Then Berlin will have to act, but no matter what they do, someone isn't going to like it. If they try to hold the Union together by force, they could plunge Europe into war. On the other hand, if they don't try to keep the Union together, it would spell the end of German hegemony in Europe, and very likely the end of Herr Grauer's governing coalition."

"Isn't there anything you can do to stop it, Herr Scavoni?" said Frederick desperately. "Amend the Charter to prohibit measures such as Jelic's? Have him expelled?"

Again Scavoni shook his head. "We wouldn't have the votes necessary to pass such an amendment. Nor, for that matter, to expel Jelic. There are too many Delegates from the minority parties."

"A can of worms, you called it," said Frederick. "My father always said that when you open a can of worms, the only way to re-can them is to use a larger can. Is there a larger can available to us?"

"If there is, sir," said Scavoni, "I confess I cannot see it."

There was a long pause before Frederick sighed and said, "I must thank you for bringing this matter to my attention, Herr Scavoni."

"I regret that I was unable to provide you with a solution, sir."

"So do I, Herr Scavoni," said Frederick. "So do I." He escorted his guest out of the office, the floorboards groaning out their ghostly symphony, then returned to his desk. He had just reseated himself, when the annunciator spoke up.

"Sir," said the metallic voice of Guiscard, "a call from Herr Merkel in Berlin. Line one."

"Thank you, Guiscard." It didn't take a Nostradamus to foretell what Merkel was calling about. With another sigh, Frederick picked up the handset and pressed the indicated button. "Good day to you, Herr Merkel."

Forward to FAN #283: Ségou is Worth a Mosque.

Forward to 7 April 1977 (Frederick of Poland/European Union): Attending Union College.

Return to For All Nails.

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