The pictures from Kiev don’t tell the whole story

The conflict in Ukraine is, at heart, about politics – not an ethnic, geographical or linguistic dispute – and nor is it confined to Kiev
Yes, the photographs from Kiev this week were uncanny, even “apocalyptic”. The orange sky, the burning buses, the blood on the barricades did indeed create scenes which looked like a Second World War movie. They made the city seem foreign, exotic, unreal – which is precisely why you should be wary of them. Continue reading “The pictures from Kiev don’t tell the whole story”

‘Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot’

What makes someone into a dissident? Why do some people give up everything — home, family, job — to embark on a career of protest? Or, to put it differently, why, on Feb. 21, 2012, did a group of young Russian women put on short dresses and colored tights, place neon-hued balaclavas over their faces, walk into the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and mount the altar? And why — although they knew that their compatriots would be indifferent and that arrest might follow — did they begin to sing:

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Banish Putin
Banish Putin, Banish Putin!

Continue reading “‘Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot’”

Secrets of the Kremlin

Catherine Merridale's Red Fortress gets behind the facade of Russia's most famous building

  • Red Fortress
    By Catherine Merridale
    Allen Lane, pp.505, £30 ISBN: 9781846140372

A building bearing testimony to the power of eternal Russia; a timeless symbol of the Russian state; a monument to Russian sovereignty. To the modern eye, the Kremlin fortress seems as if it had always been there, as if it had never changed and never will.
All of which is utter nonsense, as Catherine Merridale’s fascinating history reveals: the story of this famous compound is not one of continuity, but of construction, destruction and reconstruction. Every reincarnation of the Russian state over the centuries — and there have been many — has been accompanied by a corresponding reincarnation of the Kremlin. Its history is thus a metaphorical history of Russia, as Merridale understands very well. ‘If states have trademarks,’ she writes, ‘Russia’s could well be this fortress, viewed across Red Square.’ Continue reading “Secrets of the Kremlin”

ANTI-SEMITE AND JEW

The double life of a Hungarian politician.

  • LETTER FROM BUDAPEST

The day was chilly but clear, the crowd energetic. Some were in quasi-military uniform, others in hooded sweatshirts emblazoned with patriotic symbols. Dozens of flags fluttered in the breeze. The red-white-and-green tricolor of modern Hungary was prominent, but so was a flag with red and white stripes, remembered by most Hungarians as the symbol of the wartime Fascists. There were hundreds of banners bearing the word “Jobbik,” shorthand for Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom—Movement for a Better Hungary—the name of Hungary’s far-right political party. Continue reading “ANTI-SEMITE AND JEW”

Time for our leaders to stop talking about ‘justice’ in Syria if we can’t or won’t enforce it

Honesty may be the best and only realistic policy

‘It’s about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn’t stand idly by.’
— David Cameron, 27 August

‘The chemical massacre in Damascus cannot and must not go unpunished.’
— François Hollande, 30 August

‘We lead with the belief that right makes might, not the other way around.’
— Barack Obama, 31 August

Continue reading “Time for our leaders to stop talking about ‘justice’ in Syria if we can’t or won’t enforce it”

Middle East violence ‘the result of generations of tyranny’

It’s not an Arab Winter: Today’s violence in the Middle East is the end result of generations of tyranny, suppression and distortion of political discussion

The Washington Post headline declared that “scores” were dead. The New York Times wrote of “mass killings.” The Telegraph, when I last checked, was claiming that “more than 623” died in fighting in Egypt over the past few days, but of course that’s an estimate. In truth, no one knows the real death toll because the violence that began with the army’s forced clearances of protest camps in Cairo on Wednesday quickly spread across the country. Angry mobs have since pushed military trucks off bridges, burned churches, torched buildings. Continue reading “Middle East violence ‘the result of generations of tyranny’”

Spies, terrorists and an undercover ham sandwich

I am trying very hard to understand why everyone is shocked — shocked! — by news that the US government helps itself to the massive data flows generated by Google, Facebook and Twitter. I have always assumed that something placed into an internet database is no more secret than something written in a letter. We all know that those pop-up advertisements — so amazingly compatible with what we searched for on Facebook ten minutes ago — aren’t there by accident. But if we aren’t bothered when ruthlessly efficient multinational corporations troll through our data in order to earn billions for their teenage CEOs, why are we bothered when the comparatively inept US government does the same while searching for terrorists? Continue reading “Spies, terrorists and an undercover ham sandwich”

How to Succeed in Business

  • Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
    by Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell
    Knopf, 228 pp., $24.95
  • The End of Men and the Rise of Women
    by Hanna Rosin
    Riverhead, 310 pp., $27.95

To begin with, a quiz. Who wrote the following sentences: Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, or Sheryl Sandberg?

(a) When communicating hard truths, less is often more.

(b) It takes self-confidence, courage and a willingness to take the heat when you make the tough calls.

(c) Opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.

(d) Get your priorities straight and keep a hot list of what you’re trying to do.

(e) Seeking out diverse experiences is useful preparation for leadership.

(f) People used to ask me, “How could somebody as busy as you go to all those swim meets and recitals?” I just put them down on my calendar as if I were seeing a supplier or a dealer that day. Continue reading “How to Succeed in Business”

Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher

  • Margaret Thatcher, The Authorised Biography
    Volume One: Not For Turning
    by Charles Moore
    860 pp, Allen Lane, £19.20

In her first meeting with the press after defeating Edward Heath in February 1975, the new leader of the opposition modestly paid homage to her predecessors: “To me it is like a dream that the next in line after Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath is … Margaret Thatcher.”

Accidentally, she had voiced what many other people in the room also felt. As Charles Moore explains, “The fact that her election did indeed seem like a dream was a large part of her problem.” In and out of her party and across the country, many people found the ascent of Thatcher outlandish, even bizarre: “The oldest, grandest, in many people’s eyes the stuffiest political party in the world had chosen a leader whose combination of class, inexperience and sex would previously have ruled her out. And it was not obvious that it had really meant to do so, or that it was confident of its choice,” writes Moore. Continue reading “Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher”

To Americans, Margaret Thatcher stood for free markets and free people

No transatlantic alliance since has held a candle to the potent symbolism of Reagan-Thatcher

In America, we didn’t know about the miners’ strike, and I suspect that if we had, we might not have cared. We were mystified by the poll tax riots. We were bemused by the Falklands war – where are the Falklands, anyway? – and lukewarm about Britain’s fights with Europe. We like the idea of Europe, after all; we are in favour of having European allies, as we call them, and we are under the impression that Britain is one of them. So why shouldn’t you all just get along? Continue reading “To Americans, Margaret Thatcher stood for free markets and free people”