There is a moment in Adam Curtis’s documentary Bitter Lake in which the narrator (Curtis) talks about the ideals that brought both the Soviets and Americans to Afghanistan: to create a state based on their respective principles and ideologies, to create an ally in the region, to change the country in their likeness.But, Curtis concludes ironically, little did they know that Afghanistan would change them instead. Neither the Soviets nor the Americans could fathom that they would bring back to their home countries the very habits that they tried to eradicate in Afghanistan: corruption, nepotism, and the like.*For seven years now I have lived in Albania. I have seen ambassadors and foreign representatives come and go. And they all, so they say, share this same ideal: to make Albania a better place. Or rather, to make Albania more like wherever they came from: the West. Their presence would change Albania, would stabilize Albania.
Category Archives: Europe
World leaders from May to Trump to Erdogan are all promising to unite their countries while doing the exact opposite
Suddenly the world is full of leaders from Theresa May to President Erdogan of Turkey claiming to unite their countries while visibly deepening their divisions. Denunciations of supposed threats at home and abroad are a common feature of this new political style, whether they are tweeted from the White House or spoken at the podium outside 10 Downing Street.
“Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials,” said May this week, accusing them of deliberately trying to influence the results of the general election on 8 June. All this sounded very like Hillary Clinton convinced that Russia helped lose her the presidential election, though in the case of Britain any such calculation is highly unlikely given the common European assumption that Mrs May is going to win a landslide victory.
In the end, there was hardly a reset; rather a sort of tentative pause on Cold War 2.0. Interminable days of sound and fury were trudging along when President Trump finally decided NATO is “no longer obsolete”; still, he wants to “get along” with Russia.
Just ahead of meeting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin had stressed on Russian TV that trust (between Russia and the US) is “at a workable level, especially in the military dimension, but it hasn’t improved. On the contrary, it has degraded.” Emphasis on a pedestrian “workable,” but most of all “degraded” – as in the National Security Council releasing a report essentially accusing Moscow of spreading fake news.
There is nothing surprising in Boris Johnson saying that it would be difficult for the UK not to join US military action in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in response to a chemical weapons attack. Since the Second World War British governments have been trying to strengthen the UK’s status as the most important military ally of the US. But after 9/11 this obeisance became more craven and knee-jerk, despite producing failed British military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the Trump administration in power in the US, these British efforts to prove to Washington the usefulness and reliability of its links to the UK have become ever more desperate. Britain’s departure from a major alliance like the EU, and likely confrontation with it over the terms of Brexit, is bound to make Britain less of a power in the world. It therefore needs to foster closer relations with Trump’s America along with an unsavoury list of countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Pushkin Street has been transformed into a holy bazaar, and it’s crowded. Elbow to elbow, fur hat to fur hat, loudspeakers blaring out the chance to redeem your soul, stock up on groceries, or simply dance, dance, dance to the ecstatic music proclaiming God’s—and Rebbe Nachman’s—eternal greatness.If you want any remote chance of getting to the counter at one of the makeshift falafel or shawarma stands knocked together for the benefit of the tens of thousands of pilgrims who’ve just arrived, you’ve got to bore through a morass of people waving shekels, dollars, and hryvnias like it’s 99-cent-drink night at the local dive bar. It’s a jungle out here, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in Uman, Ukraine, the burial place of the 19th-century Hasidic mystic rabbi known as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (in Hasidism, “rebbe” is an affectionate term for “rabbi” that also connotes a strong spiritual leadership). Nachman promised redemption for anyone who visited his grave, and for more than 200 years that grave has been the site of a fevered pilgrimage for Jews from around the world. In the past decade, the atmosphere has grown carnivalesque at times, as the followers of Nachman, traditionally Hasidim from religious upbringings, have swelled with former Deadheads, erstwhile Phish Phanatics, reformed criminals, and recovering (and sometimes not) alcoholics and drug addicts. The operative language is Hebrew, though you hear English, French, Yiddish, and Russian. The only ones speaking Ukrainian are the locals, who are allowed onto Pushkin Street if they can prove they live or work in the area, a measure meant, presumably, to ease crowding, but also to prevent violence between the native population and the tens of thousands of once-a-year religious tourists. As a result, Ukrainians are sparse, but they’re not the only ones: The pilgrims are all men. Here and there I notice posters in Hebrew slapped onto telephone poles and synagogue walls: it is forbidden in places where there are large gatherings of men for women to be found!
One recent afternoon I set out on my old Raleigh bike on a tour of post-Brexit Britain. Two years earlier I had travelled the country on my bike as I researched a book. Now, after the vote for Brexit, I began another journey, this time with an even stronger sense of political disorientation. I wanted to discover what had become of the euphoria and, indeed, anger so present after the referendum of 23 June. For two weeks I cycled through the ex-industrial towns and cities of the Midlands and the north of England, two of the regions I visited in 2014.My method then had been basic and, to some, ill-advised. Over the four months I cycled, I either wild-camped or stayed in the homes of people who had heard about my venture by word of mouth, or whom I’d met along the road, and I asked people, simply: “What is life like here?” I received a bewildering range of responses, from worries about wages or what world their children might inherit, to explanations about ecological and community projects built on a sense of renewal and hope. I encountered generosity and insight into different ways of life in Britain, and last summer published my findings as Island Story, a travelogue in the spirit of William Cobbett and Orwell.
Source: The working class revolts
The persecutors of Chechnya’s gay citizens now feel strong, untouchable, invincible. Their victims, who they arrest, beat and torture, are at their mercy. They are protected by many things: by the tinpot tyrants who rule a republic violently subjugated by Vladimir Putin; by the den of reactionary views that is the Moscow regime; and by the acquiescence – support even – of a society soaked in homophobic hatred.Their consciences will not trouble them. It is always comforting to imagine that those who commit atrocities against fellow human beings are sociopaths or evil. But that does not explain the great horrors of human history, from fascism to colonialism. Inhumanity is only made possible by stripping a group of its humanity. You only feel empathy, after all, for those you feel are human beings like you. That’s how human beings who in other contexts feel compassion and love and warmth can become capable of the most unspeakable horrors.
By all accounts, what’s been happening to gay men over the last few weeks in Chechnya is absolutely chilling: reports detail authorities rounding up large numbers of gay men, illegally imprisoning them, and carrying out beatings and murders. Human rights groups, from Human Rights Watch to Outright Action International, are now sounding urgent alarms, with numerous international organizations pressuring Russian officials to act while others are poised to evacuate queer citizens.
Earlier in April, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published a startling report: that police in Chechnya had detained over 100 gay men and killed three in a state-sponsored anti-gay campaign. Now, human rights groups and the U.S. State Department are calling for a full investigation.
This had been described by some as a defining week in Boris Johnson’s brief and controversial time in the office of Britain’s Foreign Secretary. If that is the case, then it came to be defined quite swiftly and rather embarrassingly.
Less than 24 hours after Mr Johnson announced that he was leading the drive at the G7 summit to impose a super-tough set of sanctions on the Kremlin, the ministers in the group rejected his proposals.
His most punitive demands, such as placing a fresh batch of Russian military personnel on a black-list were given short shrift. There was an agreement to push for an investigation into the chemical attack in Idlib which had triggered the current crisis – but this was something Russia and Iran, allies of President Bashar al-Assad, had already said they would welcome.