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from Photographers' Blog:

Quiet moment of glory

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By Peter Andrews

I woke up on the morning of August 19, 1991 after staying at my friends’ apartment in Warsaw. I was on my way back from holidays in Canada and had just sold my car before departing to the Soviet Union to start my new job at Reuters in Moscow. Previously, I worked for the Associated Press in the then-Soviet Republics of Lithuania and Georgia as well as in Moscow itself where Reuters’ former Chief Picture Editor Gary Kemper and Moscow Chief Photographer Frederique Lengaigne recruited me for Reuters.

A neighbor stopped me on the staircase saying: “Do you know what happened in Moscow?”. There was a military coup and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was overthrown by Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev. It seemed impossible to me, I had just left Moscow two months earlier. Nevertheless, I immediately arranged the first available plane ticket to Moscow. The plane was almost empty and the only people on board were my colleagues from Poland with whom I had spent the previous year working with in Vilnius. The atmosphere on the plane was tense, but full of excitement. The change was happening in front of our eyes, but not the way we were expecting.

Upon landing at the Shermetyevo airport in Moscow I went straight to the Reuters office which was then on the Sadovaya Samotechnaya Ulitsa part of the Sadovoye Koltso in the center of Moscow. We exchanged quick greetings and I was on my way to the White House, a building which then housed the country’s parliament, where everything was happening. The Reuters picture crew already working on site included Sean Ramsey, Michael Samojeden, Genady Galperyn, Grigory Dukor, and Viktor Korotayev.

In those days we were working with film and, as far as I can recall, Frederique was in the office all the time processing our pictures and sending them to the world. The atmosphere was intense and strange as there were thousands of people on the streets of Moscow protesting against the military’s presence in the center of the city. Sean Ramsey was taking incredible risks and getting amazing images, as did the rest of the team. Michael took a great picture the next day of Yeltsin on the balcony of the White House.

from FaithWorld:

Hungary’s communist leader Kádár summoned priest before dying

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kadarHungary's last communist leader János Kádár met a priest at his own request shortly before he died, former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh revealed on Tuesday, two decades after Kadar's death.

"Aunt Mariska (Kádár's wife) called me: 'My husband wants a priest' she said," Németh, who headed the country's last Communist-era government in 1988-1990, told Reuters.

from Global News Journal:

Berlin Wall went down with a party — rather than a bang

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One of the most amazing aspects about the Berlin Wall's sudden collapse 20 years ago was that no one lost their nerve. Not a single shot was fired. The Cold War ended with the biggest street party Berlin, or any city anywhere, has ever seen. 

Who would have thought that's how the Berlin Wall would go out? Berlin's long division was the result of World War Two. The Wall was the focal point of the Cold War -- Soviet and American tanks faced off almost barrel-to-barrel at Checkpoint Charlie. Not surprisingly, many people thought that the stalemate would only be changed by another war. But instead on Nov. 9, 1989 there was no bang, no blood. Just a lot of celebrating. And a lot of tears.

from Afghan Journal:

Pomegranates, dust, rose gardens and war

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s1On a hilltop in central Kabul, the relics of Soviet armoured vehicles sit in the shadow of an incongruously vast and empty swimming pool. A tower of diving boards looks down into the concrete carcass built by the Russians. Boys play football there and on Fridays the basin is used for dog fights; combat is the only option for the canine gladiators, as they cannot climb up the sheer, steep sides. From the vantage point you can see the city's graveyards, its bright new mosques, the narco-palaces of drug-funded business potentates and the spread of modest brick homes where most Kabulis live. It's a favourite spot for reporters when they need to escape the press of urgent events and get cleaner air in their lungs. 

For years journalists have sought to tell stories that go beyond the conflict in Afghanistan. We've tried to portray this country - the crossroads of central Asia, the summer home of Moghul emperors, the cockpit of clashing empires - as more than a place of blood, deprivation and extremism. Amid the dust and the heat it has its oases of tranquility, its laughter and its charms. From the market stalls of sweet pomengranates that line the road in autumn to the rose gardens newly planted in central Kabul, Afghanistan is a place of thorny history, cultural complexity and spartan beauty.

from FaithWorld:

Soviet touches mark Russian Orthodox patriarch vote session

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(Photo: Russian Orthodox prelates vote for candidates for patriarch, 26 Jan 2009/pool)

There was a slightly Soviet air to the proceedings as bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church voted on Sunday for three candidates to be considered as their new patriarch. Meeting in the gold-domed Christ the Saviour cathedral overlooking the Moskva River, just a few hundred metres from the Kremlin, about 200 metropolitans and bishops had delegates badges dangling from their necks along with their usual pectoral crosses. A Soviet-style "presidium" of 16 top prelates presided over the session in the Hall of Church Councils. The proceedings started with voting for an election committee, a drafting committee and a credentials committee. Journalists covering the session couldn't help but think of the old communist party conferences.

Seated in the middle of this "presidium," Metropolitan Kirill -- the acting patriarch and frontrunner for the top post -- added to the atmosphere by chairing the meeting with a distinctively firm hand. But there were differences, of course. Voting for the three candidates was secret. And when it came time to announce the results of the vote, there was no official stamp to validate the protocol.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Revisiting America’s war in Afghanistan

File photo of Afghan riding a donkey past a destroyed tankI finally got around to reading Charlie Wilson's War (much better than the film and considerably longer) about the U.S. Congressman who managed to drum up huge amounts of money to fund the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's.

George Crile's book - about how the CIA channelled money and weapons through Pakistan to defeat the Red Army in Afghanistan and helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union - was first published in 2002.  But it's even more relevant today as the United States struggles to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and realises it will never succeed as long as "the enemy" has sanctuary in Pakistan. It is the only war that the United States has fought on both sides.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Returning to Kabul after five years

The rows of bombed-out and upturned Soviet era-planes that littered the ground at Kabul airport are gone. Gone also is the confusion that used to reign in the small immigration control office or over at the baggage belt in a dark corner of the damp building. You are quickly waved through, the bags have arrived and you are whisked off in Kabul's crisp early morning air.

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Returning to the Afghan capital after five years is both reassuring and a little bit disconcerting. Traffic clogs the dusty streets, people crane their necks out of cars hollering at each other to give way, smiling school girls in twos or threes wait by the roadside for a ride home in the crowded cabs. Mobile phone shops have sprung up everywhere, and everyone uses the phones. You even have shalwar-clad men standing at street corners selling Afghanis for dollars in one hand and pre-paid calling cards for your phone on the other.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Will more foreign troops bring peace to Afghanistan?

APCs of German ISAF in Afghanistan/Fabrizio BenschWith both U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain calling for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, there have been a slew of articles arguing this will at best not work and, at worst, fuel the insurgency.

The Financial Times quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. national security adviser and prominent supporter of Barack Obama, as saying the United States risks repeating the defeat suffered by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. "It is important for U.S. policy in general and for Obama more specifically to recognise that simply putting more troops into Afghanistan is not the entire solution," he is quoted as saying.

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