Opinion

John Lloyd

Germany’s renewed hegemony isn’t something Europe needs to fear

John Lloyd
Aug 22, 2014 06:48 UTC

German Chancellor Merkel attends news conference in Berlin

She can’t help it. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, is the most important leader in Europe. She tries to duck it by exhibiting a modest demeanor, presenting no charisma, no grand pronouncements, no apparent ambition to stamp her views on history. She just carries on.

Yet European leaders vie for her Mona Lisa smile (or is it a smile?). Are we comfortable with Merkel’s influence and power?

No other politician in Europe brings the gravitas she does to a meeting. No other European leader can be so definite about what Europe’s support – which has been expressed, if in varying degrees of intensity, by all member states of the European Union – amounts to as a whole. And her unrivalled, understated leadership in Europe will be again on display.

Merkel travels to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, this weekend to meet with Petro Poroshenko, the country’s president, to show support and to offer counsel before his meeting early next week with Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus. She met Poroshenko in Berlin before traveling to D-Day memorial celebrations in France in June, and once there, talked with Putin about the crisis in Ukraine. She’s the go-to woman.

Just ask Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old prime minister of Italy. He grabbed his premiership in an inner-party coup, then solidified his position with 41 percent of the vote in the May European elections, making his left-of-center Democratic Party the largest in the European parliament. Renzi’s political fortunes have been riding high ever since, high enough, it seems, to have emboldened him to approach Merkel with a request to relax her stern observance of the fiscal austerity rules all states using the euro have agreed to. She isn’t budging yet. Italy needs labor reform, higher productivity, and faster and cleaner justice so that foreign investment will flow into the country, Merkel insists. Short of these changes, the German chancellor and her still sterner finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, believe that any larger assistance or transfers to the country would create more moral hazard.

‘Braveheart’ they’re not. What’s Scotland’s problem with a United Kingdom?

John Lloyd
Aug 19, 2014 15:04 UTC

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The collapse of empires has been regarded as a good thing for at least a century, much strengthened by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s efforts at the Versailles Peace Conference after World War One, where he sought to inscribe into international practice and law the right of all peoples to achieve a national state.

The lifting of the incubus of Soviet Communism in 1991 from the states of Central and Eastern Europe was opposed only by a few worried political leaders and rather more dispossessed Communists, but even they either put on a smile or kept their heads down. George H.W. Bush, in the White House when the Soviet center would no longer hold, tried to stem the communist tide by embracing his new friend, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, to avoid chaos in the east — in vain. Nationalism, which the Soviet Union’s ideologists had regarded as one of the cardinal sins and had filled the gulags for decades with those suspected of harbouring its sentiments, triumphed.

Now comes Scotland’s turn. The residents of Scotland, on Sept. 18, will vote on the simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The less well Muslims and Jews actually know each other, the more hatred grows

John Lloyd
Aug 7, 2014 15:26 UTC

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In the small town of San Dona di Piave near Venice last Friday, an imam, Raoudi Albdelbar, asked Allah to, “Kill them all (the Jews), down to the last one; make poison of their food; transform the air that they breath into flames, and put terror in their hearts.” The imam was so proud of his sermon that he made a video of it and posted it on his Facebook page — from where it went viral. Earlier this week, Italian antiterrorist police showed up and arrested the imam on charges of inciting violence, and began the process of expelling him to his native Morocco.

There’s a doleful, five-century-old parallel to the iman’s prayer. In his “Trials of the Diaspora,” Antony Julius, a polymath British lawyer, has taken Shylock’s trial in the Merchant of Venice as the ur-trial of diaspora Jews, seeing in it a subtle re-imagining of the old blood libel. In Shylock’s pitiless pursuit of a pound of flesh cut from the merchant Antonio’s body, Julius detects another instance of Jews seeking Christian blood.

Shakespeare gave Shylock a speech that seemed to challenge the dehumanization at the heart of anti-Semitism – “Hath not a Jew eyes. … If you prick us, do we not bleed?” — even as the play drove inexorably to the ghastly humiliation of the Jew. But Shakespeare did not know any Jews; they had been expelled from England in 1290 after centuries of oppression and were not readmitted till the 1650s. Shylock was a composite, born of the normal anti-Semitism of a Christian Englishman but softened by the sympathetic insight of one who recognised common humanity even as he assumed uncommon Jewish malignancy.

Gaza war may just be a taste of what’s to come

John Lloyd
Aug 4, 2014 11:03 UTC

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The existential vise in which the state of Israel lives is tightening as the civilian body count and property destruction in the Gaza Strip mount. The latest war between Israel and Hamas is further testament to the historical fact that Israel’s forefathers had to conquer the land that today’s Israelis dwell in and ferociously defend. What hope is left of finding a lasting settlement with the Arabs?

In his My Promised Land, Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit repeatedly and poignantly poses his country’s most pointed questions: How to live as free and moral people on the ruins of a dispossessed people? How to assuage the wounds inflicted on the expelled Arabs? And how to cherish the nation-fortress so dearly bought?

“Israel is the only nation in the West that occupies another people,” writes Shavit. “On the other hand, Israel is the only country in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli state unique. Intimidation and occupation are the twin pillars of our condition.”

Meet Vladimir Putin’s homophobic, vitriolic, charismatic master of propaganda

John Lloyd
Jul 24, 2014 20:54 UTC

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has soared at home in the wake of his actions in Ukraine – and the masterful spin his intervention has been given.

The joy that greeted Putin’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in March was due, at least in part, to a propaganda system less complete but more virulent than its Soviet predecessor.

At the center of the system is a remarkable journalist called Dmitry Kiselyev. A long-time and popular presenter on the state-owned Channel One, Kiselyev has “put the nation on a diet stripped of critical voices and soaked in patriotism.”

As Israel attacks Gaza, Jews elsewhere feel an impact

John Lloyd
Jul 16, 2014 20:37 UTC

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As the death toll in Gaza rises, so does anger against Israel — and sometimes, by extension, Jews — in Europe and elsewhere.

We should mark how unique this is. There’s a very large, and often very rich, Russian community in London — and there are no attacks on Russians or their mansions, restaurants or churches because of the Russian seizure of Crimea and sponsorship of uprisings in eastern Ukraine. 

People from Sri Lanka didn’t live in fear when their government was pounding the Tamil Tigers into submission, with thousands of deaths. Chinese visitors are undisturbed by reaction to their government’s suppression of dissent in Tibet and its jailing of dissidents. And quite right, too. Who knows what Russians, Sri Lankans or Chinese abroad think about their governments’ actions?

Here’s who should be watching the watchers

John Lloyd
Jul 9, 2014 17:39 UTC

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The files stolen from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden, the quiet American who has turned the security world inside out, drip out week by week – in The Guardian, on the new website The Intercept, financed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, in the German weekly Spiegel and in the Washington Post. The last of these outlets had the latest installment on Monday. It told us that “ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike” had been swept into the NSA’s computers in far greater numbers than foreigners reasonably suspected of possible terrorist links.

The leaks present the most profound challenges to free societies, because freedom is not a steady state — once acquired, never lost — but rather one that constantly waxes and wanes, loses and gains.

The first of these challenges is to journalism itself, and it’s twofold. Snowden, the journalist Glen Greenwald who is an  associate in publishing the files and others in the “radical leaks” community, such as Julian Assange, believe that the extent of the surveillance and the power it gives to the state to oppress citizens is so great that only their form of journalism is capable of exposing the danger and rousing people to opposition. Greenwald writes in his memoir, No Place to Hide, that journalism must be “an act of aggression against the government.”  He thinks that the check the Fourth Estate is supposed to provide to government “is only effective if journalists act adversarially to those who wield political power.” The largest dereliction of journalistic duty is to be “subservient to the government’s interests, even amplifying rather than scrutinizing its messages and carrying out its dirty work.” His view is  an angry, uncompromising challenge to the values and practices of the mainstream media.

Could Vladimir Putin give peace a chance in Ukraine and beyond?

John Lloyd
Jul 3, 2014 17:46 UTC

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What would it take for Russia to walk a way from violence and seek peaceful coexistence with its neighbors? It’s certainly hard to see a way out right now.

The dogs of war in the east have been let slip again. On Monday, Petro Poroshenko, the recently elected Ukrainian president, said a 10-day unilateral truce with the separatist, pro-Russian forces in the eastern part of his country had ended: Force would now be required to “free our lands.”

Ukrainian units were moved in to try to bring the cities and areas controlled by the heavily armed separatists under control. By Tuesday morning, the Ukrainian military was reporting air and artillery strikes.

Are we at war? And why can’t we be sure anymore?

John Lloyd
Jun 30, 2014 06:00 UTC

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron poses for group photograph taken with G8 leaders at the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen

The question — “Are we at war?” — seems absurd. Surely, we would know it if we were. But maybe we’re in a new era — and wars are creeping up on us.

In the decade after the collapse of communism, the United States and its allies seemed invulnerable to challenges, from military to technological to economic. All changed in the 2000s, the dawning of the third millennium: an Age of Disruption. Russia, under a president smarting publicly at the loss of the Soviet empire, has now delivered an answer to decline: aggressive claims on lost territories.

China, admired for its free-market-driven growth since the 1980s, is feared for the strategic expansion that now accompanies it. This happens in its own region: a dispute between Beijing and Tokyo over disputed ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands remains tense. It is also at work far beyond — in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America — where it seeks energy and natural resources.

If Prince Charles becomes King Charles, will his kingdom leave him?

John Lloyd
Jun 19, 2014 10:22 UTC

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall Camilla arrive for the second day of the Royal Ascot horse racing festival at Ascot, southern England

Could Prince Charles finally get his crown? And if he does, could it mean the end of the United Kingdom?

Abdication in favor of the younger generation seems to be something of a trend in Europe — if two cases can be considered a trend. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated last year so that her son, Willem-Alexander, could bring some youth and vitality to the largely ceremonial role.

More recently, King Juan Carlos, widely credited with having assisted the end of the Franco dictatorship in Spain in 1975 and with puncturing a rather feeble coup attempt in 1981, vacated the throne in favor of his son, Felipe. The announcement was followed by large demonstrations calling for an end to the monarchy entirely, with Cayo Lara, leader of the United Left Coalition, quoted as saying, “We are not subjects, we are citizens.”

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