Opinion

John Lloyd

Europe’s impossible dream

John Lloyd
Jul 23, 2012 20:41 UTC

The economic logic of European integration is now directly confronting nationalistic sentiments in the hearts and souls of Europeans. It’s becoming clear that nationalism resonates more deeply. That is the stuff of our patriotic life, fragments from our history that we use to shore up our present and point to our future. To discard them is to discard part of our mental and moral makeup.

For much of the last 60 years the Union has been Good, scattering tangible and intangible blessings upon its growing group of member states. It brought investment to the poorer countries that joined. It broke down physical and psychological barriers between states, so that their citizens now pass casually into and through countries that once required major preparation. It gave the former Communist states of Central Europe an ideal to which to aspire and templates by which aspirations could become routine. And it made inter-European war so unthinkable that its possibility ceased to be thought about at all.

The dream of the founders was an ever-closer union transforming itself into something like a federal state. They thought it could exist in idealistic form while the practical changes were put – with much labor, compromise and argument – into place. One of these founders, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, called up the ideal in a speech in 1948:

We are carrying out a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace.

Two years later, in another speech, he filled in the nuts and bolts:

Europe will not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

London’s Olympic fog

John Lloyd
Jul 17, 2012 15:56 UTC

The scenes of wild British rejoicing in July 2005, when it was announced London would host the 2012 Olympics, have faded and been replaced by visions of doom. Once the games begin, the sheer beauty of the sports will take over, but for now, most media attention is given over to threats, to chaos, to failure.

The day London celebrated in 2005, four British Islamist terrorists killed 52 people in four different bombs attacks, three on the metro system, one on a bus. Seven years later, the shadow still hangs heavy. The security arrangements include sharpshooters, missiles and, most recently, 3,500 soldiers called in because the security provider, G4S, was found last week to have failed to deliver the necessary number of trained guards.

Britain does grumbling as well as any country: It’s hard to find any Londoner who does not use the word “chaos” to encapsulate what he or she thinks will happen to London’s traffic and public transport from late July through August. Residents have been encouraged in that view by signs everywhere on the metro warning that “this station will be very busy during the Olympics.”

Progressives are progressing toward what, exactly?

John Lloyd
Jul 9, 2012 21:26 UTC

Liberals and leftists all over the democratic world have often called themselves progressives, because it seems, in a word, to put you on the tide of a better future. (Also because in some countries, the United States most of all, to call yourself any kind of socialist was a route to permanent marginalization.) Progress doesn’t just mean going forward: It means going forward to a better place.

But a better place isn’t currently available, not for the right, and not for the left.

In the past two decades, progressives hitched their wagons to several charismatic individuals who were generally successful, both in gaining and retaining power. Luiz da Silva (Lula) in Brazil; Gerhard Schroeder in Germany; Tony Blair in the UK; and Bill Clinton in the U.S. They improved the lot of the poor somewhat, and, social liberals all, worked to bring in women, gays and ethnic minorities from the cold of discrimination and inequality.

To laugh or not to laugh

John Lloyd
Jul 3, 2012 17:43 UTC

For most of the world, the memory of the slaughter of the Jews, pursued with such disciplined ferocity to the bitter end, demands respect. It gets it, not just in the thousands of records of the event, but in art, too. Primo Levi, the Milanese Jew who survived Auschwitz itself, wrote memoirs (If This Is a Man; The Truce) and novels (The Wrench; If Not Now, When?) that have the power of understated horror and serve as a kind of standard for all others. Films – Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) and Stephen Daldry’s The Reader (2008) – two of the better known of the past decadeare somber, tragic affairs, the subject matter with which they work precluding anything approaching a happy ending.

There are exceptions, and, oddly, they are very funny ones. The earliest is the Ernst Lubitsch comedy To Be or Not to Be, released in 1942 and starring Jack Benny as a Polish actor who, through a series of comic turns, plays an SS Officer, Colonel Erhardt, in an ultimately successful escape bid. At one point, the real Erhardt, speaking of the concentration camps, snaps – “we do the concentrating, the Poles do the camping” – a line that still gives a start, though written and spoken when what the camping meant was still genuinely unknown by most. There are more, of course: Mel Brooks’s The Producers and Roberto Benigni’s 1997 La Vita e Bella, most memorably. Neither was uncontroversial, but what controversy there was has largely died, and they’re mostly seen as classics.

Now the Holocaust has a new creative frontier. In a ceremony that seemed as if it were made for another Mel Brooks movie, Hava Hershkovits won the Miss Holocaust Survivor contest in Haifa, Israel, last Friday. The organizer, Shimon Sabag, director of Yad Ezer l’Haver (Helping Hand), an institution that aids poor Holocaust survivors, said that the contestants “feel good together. They are having a good time and laughing at the rehearsals.” In the published pictures, Hershkovits, at 78, looks radiant and is wearing the victor’s tiara.

Julian Assange’s fall from the heavens

John Lloyd
Jun 25, 2012 19:54 UTC

Julian Assange, a fallen angel, remains, as of this writing, a guest of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. There he has sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces rape charges that he denies, and, he believes, possible extradition to the U.S., where he fears he may be tried and found guilty of espionage and sedition, for which death is still the extreme penalty.

When we talk of fallen angels, we invoke the original fallen angel, Satan or Lucifer, once beloved of God, the highest in his closest council, whose pride impelled him to challenge for heaven’s rule – and came before his fall to Hell. Assange was an angel of a sort, at least to many. They saw his role as founder of WikiLeaks and leaker of thousands of pages of cables on Iraq and Afghanistan, and then from U.S. embassies all over the world, as the act of a liberator, a rebel with a cause, one who could poke the U.S. in the eye in a new way, with only a laptop at his disposal.

He did set himself up very high. He challenged the deities and sacred texts of journalism, contemptuous of a trade that he saw as largely a handmaiden to power. In one comment, he said that the problem with the late News of the World’s hacking into people’s phones was largely non-existent. They had actually done original investigative work about people in this society that its readers were genuinely interested in.” In another, according to Guardian journalists who worked with him on the WikiLeaks material it published, he observed that if any of the informants who provided U.S. diplomats with the material in the leaked cables were to suffer retribution, they have “got it coming.” Now, he fears he does.

Europe’s reckoning is delayed…but for how long?

John Lloyd
Jun 18, 2012 18:33 UTC

Everything in Europe has a ‘but’ attached to it these days. Spain got a bank bailout last week, but it hasn’t convinced the markets. Mario Monti is a great economist and wise man, but he’s losing support for his premiership of Italy. Angela Merkel is listening to the voices that try to persuade her that Germany should bankroll growth, but she hasn’t done anything yet.

The New Democracy party, a grouping that, broadly, wants Greece to stick with the euro and bear more austerity (though it will bargain hard for less) has won… but what its leader, Antonis Samaras, has just got for himself is the worst political job on the continent, and may not be able to deliver. If, in democracy’s cradle, he can forge a coalition, keep to the terms of the bailout his country has received, enact rapid and deep reforms, and preserve democratic rule, he will deserve a place in the pantheon – a Greek word, after all, meaning a temple for the gods.

And so far, he’s been no god. A fellow countryman, the Yale political scientist Stathis Kalyvas, wrote in Foreign Affairs in June that Samaras “is widely seen as representing the corrupt and ineffective Athens political establishment that led the country to ruin”. Yet it’s this man, with all of his history, faults and frailties, on whom the future of Greece – and by many measures, the future of the European Union – depends.

A sinking Italy is grasping for direction

John Lloyd
Jun 12, 2012 19:02 UTC

Italy, one of the founders of the European Union, is now in the most critical of situations. If many different things do not go well for the bel paese in the next year, it may attract the use of the word “founder” in its other, more sinister meaning: to sink.

As the euro zone crisis – which has traumatized Greece, put painful squeezes on Ireland and Portugal, and now engulfs the banks and the economy of Spain – laps around the beaches of Italy’s peninsula, the mood has soured.

In the past week, interviewing some of Italy’s leading journalists for a book on journalism in Berlusconi’s Italy, the country I found was one of profound doubt. Italian journalists are not the least cynical of their profession and often greet new events with a we’ve-seen-it-all-before shrug. Not now. Now they follow and record and comment on the news with journalism’s customary hyperactivity. But they admit they have no notion of what will come – or even how their country will be governed. What might come is, by large consent, possibly, even probably, bad.

Not all are jubilant about the Queen’s Jubilee

John Lloyd
Jun 5, 2012 17:09 UTC

The last few days of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration have prompted the outpouring of patriotism and affection. But it did not faze Britain’s most determined protester. Peter Tatchell generally campaigns against homophobia and for gay rights: In one of his many (and one of his best) public projects, he tried to make a citizen’s arrest of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe when the latter came shopping in London in 1999, drawing attention to the president having called gays “pigs and dogs”. (London’s finest arrested Tatchell, not the dictator, for that episode.)

He was out again this weekend, on a wet, cool and blustery day as a flotilla of boats sailed down the Thames to salute the monarch. Just by Westminster Bridge, he and fellow leaders of the British republican party rallied a crowd of like-minded folk and some hecklers, who heard him say that though he thought the queen was personally quite nice, she was at the pinnacle of a pernicious class system, possessed hundreds of flunkeys and hundreds of millions of pounds, and must now stand aside to let the British people elect their head of state, as people should in a democratic country.

This wasn’t popular, but my respect for Tatchell, already high, went up. It’s a cliché but also a truth that a democracy is tested by its tolerance for those people and things that majorities can’t stand, and certainly the majority can’t stand the message that the republicans were shouting as they stood across the river from the Mother of Parliaments and the Mother of the Nation passed by in her specially prepared barge. The majority, in varying degrees, love the queen.

The hard challenges for Europe, an overly soft continent

John Lloyd
May 29, 2012 19:22 UTC

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, gave an interview to the Guardian last Friday. In it, she offered some advice to the people of Greece. A succinct summation: “Stop whining.”

She says that when she thinks of the Greeks, she has sympathy for their plight, but: “Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all these people who are trying to escape tax all the time.” And there is greater sympathy for the absolutely poor: “I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time.”

Lagarde does not in the least resemble my mother, except in one thing: When, as a child, I would whine “I don’t like it” about food she had prepared, she had a stock reply: “There’s some wee boy in Africa that would be glad of that!” (I would have been glad if he had had it – my mother was fond of tripe and couldn’t grasp my hatred of it.)

Facebook’s poor, huddled masses

John Lloyd
May 21, 2012 20:39 UTC

“Whosoever hath, to him shall be given”, said Matthew (13:12) – a text for our times, and if it were a Facebook status, I would like it to death.

Facebook’s IPO at the end of last week valued the company at $104 billion. It netted $16 billion, the biggest haul from an initial offering after General Motors and Visa. It added some more heft to founder Mark Zuckerberg’s bank balance, now weighing in at about $17 billion. Others who were in at the creation were propelled deep into multimillionaire land.

But us? Those of us, nearly a billion of us, who spend (if we’re American) some 20 percent of our online time on Facebook are more likely to get poorer than richer from the Facebook experience. “Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away, even that which he hath,” continued Matthew, illogically, but correctly.

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