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”
Even while Hard Choices was still wafting its way across the Atlantic Ocean— and long before it landed on my desk in central Europe, an entire twenty-four hours after the official publication date—Hillary Clinton’s account of her State Department years had already led several news cycles, inspired thousands of megabytes of commentary, and left its subsequent reviewers with serious literary and philosophical dilemmas. Continue reading “Hard Choices”
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”
Europa sollte geeint handeln. Und Deutschland muss verstehen, dass Diplomatie nicht alles ist. Mit Russland nur zu reden, hilft nicht weiter. Denn es will die EU und die Nato destabilisieren.
Hat Deutschland die Lektionen der Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts gelernt? Wenn ich darüber nachdenke, merke ich: Die Frage ist absurd. Es gibt kein Land, das mehr Denkmäler baute, mehr Bücher schrieb und mehr öffentlich und privat an seiner Rolle in den Kriegen, angesichts der Gewalt und des Völkermordes des 20. Jahrhunderts litt. Continue reading “Deutsche, ihr müsst wieder Abschreckung lernen!”
A review of John Borrell’s ‘The White Lake’. An escape to the country for Borrell turned out to be a struggle for the soul of Poland
In 1993, John Borrell, a longtime foreign correspondent with no permanent home, decided to abandon journalism. Tired of writing about wars and violence — he had been in Beirut, Rwanda and Nicaragua — he determined to throw himself into European rural life. But instead of a year in Provence, he chose 20 years in Kaszubia, northeast Poland. Borrell, originally from New Zealand, had married a Pole. They bought an exquisite piece of land beside a pristine lake, and there they built a boutique hotel. Continue reading “An escape to the country that became a struggle for Poland’s soul”
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”
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 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”
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’”
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”