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!
Category Archives: Europe
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.
Does “Brexit mean Brexit”, or does “Brexit means Britain should cosy up even more to murderous human rights abusers?” Our government is already a serial cheerleader of gruesome regimes: a grubby arms dealer at their service, too. But as Theresa May prostrates Britain before her head-chopping friends in Saudi Arabia, her strategy is clear. Abandoning the vast single market across the Channel doesn’t just mean reducing Britain to the status of lapdog to the woman-groping Muslim-bashing demagogue across the Atlantic. It means an ever-closer relationship to regimes which inflict suffering on people inside and outside their own borders.
Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today, the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought, for instance, without harming others. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.
The Russian government was careful in the hours after the murderous attack on St Petersburg’s underground system. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the “cause was being ascertained” while Andrei Przhezdomsky, the head of the country’s anti-terrorist committee, stated it was an “an unidentified explosive device”. The prosecutor-general added later that it “was a terrorist act”.
We cannot deal with Islamist terrorism alone. Using security as a Brexit bargaining chip is a dangerous game
This is Theresa May in her Article 50 letter on a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU: “In security terms, a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.” Then we had Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, talking about Britain’s contribution to Europol: “If we left, we would take our information with us.”
And this is Alex Younger, the head of MI6, in his first public speech three months ago addressing the issue of Brexit and security: “The need for the deepest cooperation can only grow. And I am determined that MI6 remains a ready and highly effective partner, just as the UK is and will be. These partnerships save lives in all our countries.”
Whose views should the people of this country, a week after the Westminster attack, believe offers greater protection against terrorism? The chief of the intelligence service? Or politicians trying to use public safety as a bargaining tool?