When the Berlin Wall came down

On the evening of November 9 1989, East Germans began to walk through the Berlin Wall. Now, with hindsight, it seems inevitable that their story would end happily, that East and West Germany would reunite, that Berlin would become one city as it is so triumphantly today. But nothing seemed obvious at the time, and nobody was at all sure of that happy ending. On the contrary, the Berlin I remember was darker and stranger than any of the “vintage” footage you’ll see replayed this weekend. So many things could have gone wrong, and so many nearly did.
Some of this I saw because I arrived a day late, after the television cameras were gone: I drove to Berlin from Warsaw on November 10, in the company of two Polish journalists I knew slightly. Back in that now impossibly distant era of fuel shortages and pointless regulations, it was not so easy to drive a car across an Eastern Bloc border. We had to buy special insurance stamps, and acquire cans of extra petrol. When we finally started driving, we made slow progress along the crowded two-lane road that then connected Berlin and Warsaw, so different from the motorway that exists today. Continue reading “When the Berlin Wall came down”

Nationalism Is Exactly What Ukraine Needs

Democracy fails when citizens don’t believe their country is worth fighting for

Close your eyes, repeat the words “Ukrainian nationalist,” and an image might spring to mind: probably a man, most likely bearded, possibly with a shaved head and a drooping moustache. Perhaps he will be dressed in a black uniform, or a leather jacket and boots.
Depending on where you come from, you may additionally imagine an anti-Semite or a murderer of Polish peasants. Like any other stereotype, this one will be related to some historical realities. Two generations ago, there were Ukrainians who, caught between two of the most murderous dictatorships in history, collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviet Union. There were some who participated in the mass murder of Poles and some who participated in the mass murder of Jews. Continue reading “Nationalism Is Exactly What Ukraine Needs”

The Unwisdom of Crowds

Why people-powered revolutions are overrated

Kiev’s mass anti-government protests are a thing of the past, but the barricades remain, a shrine to the victims. Visitors trickle through the site, paying homage to the Heavenly Hundred, those murdered in the final days of the struggle. The martyrs’ names are taped to the trees, their photographs covered in mounds of flowers. Children holding little Ukrainian flags pose for photographs in front of these monuments. They don’t smile. Continue reading “The Unwisdom of Crowds”

Russia’s information warriors are on the march – we must respond

A robust campaign to tell the truth about Crimea is needed to counter Moscow’s lies

Russian television news is reporting…” Nowadays, when I hear those words pronounced on the BBC or ITN, I can’t help but wince. Over the past 10 days, Russian television news has reported, among other things, that 675,000 Ukrainian refugees have flooded over the Russian border; that extremists and neo-Nazi militants have illegally taken over the Ukrainian government in Kiev; and that Crimean “self-defence forces” or “pro-Russian forces” have spontaneously gathered in front of the Crimean parliament in order to defend it from those same Nazis. Continue reading “Russia’s information warriors are on the march – we must respond”

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”

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”

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”