Opinion

John Lloyd

A peace prize for a continent that’s far from tranquillity

John Lloyd
Oct 12, 2012 20:46 UTC

If, upon hearing the news that the Nobel Peace Prize is going to the European Union, the first response is “You’ve got to be kidding”, the second must be… “they’ve got a point.” The third is: But how much of a point?

You’ve got to be kidding is easy enough. The demonstrations, the strikes, the protests. An unprecedented police presence in Athens to ensure the prime minister of friendly Germany, Angela Merkel, is safe from angry mobs. The military in Spain hinting they may intervene to stop the country breaking up. A stream of opinion pieces speculating on Greek exit, euro collapse…and/or German domination. A faltering of the belief, on the part of most European intellectuals, that the EU was a unique, enlightenment project that showed the world (and particularly the United States) what peaceful, consensual spread of civic virtues looked like.

And then, in the midst of this, with no guarantee that all will be well, the European Union gets the Nobel Peace Prize, joining past winners Martin Luther King Jr., Lech Walesa and Andrei Sakharov, among others. One of these is not like the others.

This latest prize, then, has echoes of the Nobel committee’s last beguiling selection: Barack Obama. I thought in 2009 that it was a bad idea, not because I didn’t admire him, but because I did. I admired him for his intelligence, his ability to enthuse and his seriousness, but I didn’t know how good a president he would be (nor, of course, did he). To give him a prize before he had proved himself one way or the other was to fall into the same trap as much of the media: that is, to conflate the fact that he was the first black president of the U.S. with his ability as a president – to assume that because race no longer automatically barred some ethnicities from the highest office, that he was already a world historic figure (shouldn’t the prize have gone to the U.S. electorate?). It was to make race the defining element in him. Yet here was a man who was an American, an intellectual, and a politician and who made it clear, as he had throughout his career, he was to be judged as such.

If Obama was a prize too soon, the EU’s award seems one too late. The Union was indeed conceived by its founding fathers as a mechanism first of all for ending war. Though I believe the progressive determination of the German people to face the horrors they had visited on the world was and remains the key to decades of peace, there’s little doubt that the enterprise for peace was assisted by a framework – in which Germany most of all believed – that gave them (and Italy) an entry into a democratic club. The system played the same role for Greece, Portugal and Spain, all countries where authoritarian governments, with much blood on their hands, were replaced by parties and leaders who also used Europe to give democracy legitimacy. But these were now decades ago. They spurred a wave of European optimism then. So why – as sane voices call for an end to the Union – now?

The politician’s hagio-biography

John Lloyd
Oct 8, 2012 22:03 UTC

Last week, Ed Miliband, who wants to be Britain’s prime minister, had the kind of public event that changed people’s, or at least the media’s, perception of him: He was punchy, sharp, raspingly dismissive of the government’s strategy. The Labour Party leader, in his speech to the party’s annual conference, spoke for over an hour without notes, moved about the stage with apparent ease, and seemed in a fine, combative humor. He got good press, which he generally hasn’t for the first year of his leadership. It didn’t have quite the earth-moving quality of Mitt Romney’s steamrollering of President Obama a day later – another, and much greater, turnaround event for the man who wants the somewhat larger job of U.S. president. But Miliband did good.

Unfortunately, he also spoke about himself.

This was unfortunate, because what he told his audience – the nation, rather than just the Labour Party conference – was the now-standard democratic politician’s confected biography. He had a loving family, and he was just like most people – in his case, because he went to state schools. Trust me, says this biography: I am psychologically secure, and I know ordinary life. As he said in his speech: “that’s who I am”.

But who is this “I”, really? The “I” who went on to Oxford University and to the London School of Economics (elite)? Then to Harvard (elite and American)? Then almost immediately to a career in politics, as a senior politician’s aide (far from ordinary life)? The “I” who had a father, Ralph, who was the UK’s most prominent Marxist sociologist? This “I” has apparently been banished from Miliband’s story – he is just the “I” that he thinks his electorate wants him to be.

In India, a press corps searching for its morality

John Lloyd
Oct 2, 2012 19:13 UTC

I was in India last week, where I met three frustrated moralists. One was a journalist, an investigator of some distinction (which, to be fair, can be frustrating anywhere). The other two were regulators of the press and broadcasting, respectively. They have little power and thus little influence over what they see as a scandal: the way the media ignore the “real” India – impoverished, suffering, socially divided – in favor of a glossy India that’s little more than the three “C’s” – cinema, celebrity and cricket.

Justice Markandey Katju is one of these frustrated regulators. Katju, a former judge of India’s Supreme Court, is chairman of the Press Council of India, which – very loosely – oversees the press. When I told smart Indian journalists that I would see him, they were amused, and many told me he was “mad”. Justice Katju does thunder, but he’s not crazy: He’s an outspoken moralist, and his thundering says something not just about Indian media but also about India.

Calling Katju “outspoken” would fall too short. He hectors and lectures. In fact, Katju does speak with something of the fervor of the Indian governing class of the pre- and post-independence period, when ideals were at least as important as details and mechanisms. “There was a fashion show recently in Mumbai,” he said, “where there were 512 journalists. 512! The models were wearing clothes made of cotton grown by farmers who are committing suicides in their thousands every year! And is that reported? Maybe one reporter will be sent sometimes.

Unintelligent, but constitutionally protected

John Lloyd
Sep 25, 2012 17:43 UTC

There’s some shuffling of feet going on in Western governments, about this whole freedom of speech and the press thing that democracies are pledged to defend. And who wouldn’t shuffle, after the events of the past week, and of the past 30-plus years, in the Islamic world.

Two quite deliberate provocations were the immediate cause of the deadly riots. One, a video called the Innocence of Muslims, is so technically and dramatically bad that on first viewing it would seem to be something done in satirical vein by Sacha Baron Cohen, all false beards and ham dialogue. The other, the publication of a series of cartoons of Mohammad in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, showed Mohammad in various nude poses. Whatever their quality, they do not just make waves – they make deaths. We can no longer pretend otherwise. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses taught us too much.

The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week that “freedom of expression must not be infringed … but is it pertinent, is it intelligent, in this context to pour oil on the fire. The answer is no.” This formulation, repeated in different ways across the governments of the democratic world, says that states will and must uphold the principle of freedom; but that freedom, once conceded, should be used with care.

Princesses and their paparazzi

John Lloyd
Sep 18, 2012 20:42 UTC

When the editor of the Irish Daily Star, Mike O’Kane, was asked about his decision to publish a few of the topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince William – a future king of Great Britain, the crown perhaps descending from his grandmother’s snow-white head to his own prematurely balding pate – he replied: “Kate is not the future queen of Ireland, so really the only place where this is causing fury seems to be in the UK, and they are very, very tasteful pictures.”

Alfonso Signorini, editor of Chi (“Who”) magazine in Italy, answered the same question by saying, “first of all it is a journalistic scoop … surely it’s unusual to see a future Queen of England topless? I think it’s the first time in history, so it deserves an extraordinary edition.” (He has 200 pictures of the couple and plans to do more.) Chi is the top gossip magazine in Italy, and like Closer, the original publisher of the pictures, in France, is in the magazine division of Mondadori, owned by Silvio Berlusconi.

Signorini, a former classics professor, is also a TV host and did his boss great service last year when he interviewed, with almost paternal sympathy, Karima El Mahroug, otherwise known as Ruby Rubacuore (“Heartstealer”), an exotic dancer in a Milanese nightclub. Berlusconi is alleged to have paid her, while she was under 18, for sex at one of his “bunga-bunga” parties when he was still Italian prime minister. The charge, of encouraging underage prostitution, is now being heard in a court in Milan. Signorini’s interview, dwelling on her tough childhood and her gratitude to Berlusconi for his wholly platonic friendship and financial assistance – “He behaved like a father to me, I swear” – was itself a journalistic scoop: the first time a prime minister of Italy had been revealed as one who gave selfless succor to a penniless young exotic dancer.

The unemployed generation

John Lloyd
Sep 11, 2012 16:48 UTC

Western youth are not what they used to be. Richer, better educated, more independent-minded than their forebears –they were once equipped for all conceivable futures.

But now, what future can they conceive?

These are the young men and women for whom the forward march of the generations has halted. Social normalcy was once defined as things only getting better. But now, not. What mixture of circumstances, what global alchemy, can put them back on that track once more?

For us in the older generations (40 years old and up), it is heartbreaking, even guilt-making, to hear of friends’ sons and daughters failing to find or to keep work. We see some of this firsthand, as increasing numbers of young people rely on or move in with their families, sometimes by preference and often out of necessity. Richard Settersten, a professor of human development at Oregon State University, says his research shows the young are:

Michelle Obama and Ann Romney: Humanizers-in-chief

John Lloyd
Sep 5, 2012 16:43 UTC

The political gap between Democrats and Republicans is wide and deep, to the detriment of political accommodation in the United States. An idea to solve this: Dispense with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and let Michelle Obama and Ann Romney run instead. They, at least, agree on some things.

Both think they have been given an “extraordinary privilege.” Both claimed they started married life without much (Obama was the more credible on this); both said they were so much in love (with their husbands) they got married despite their circumstances; and both thought their husbands were men of extraordinary, fine character, and intelligence, dedication and warmth.

This remarkable bipartisanship is, however, the fruit not of a reflection on politics but the thinking of their husbands’ public relations teams on what best would help each in the race to the White House. Both women, who appear to possess intelligence and character, have been corralled ruthlessly into a role that insults those gifts: the political spouse.

Italy’s unelected democrat

John Lloyd
Aug 31, 2012 16:54 UTC

The great Italian caricaturist Altan had a cartoon on the front of La Repubblica last week, in which an Italian is sinking below the waves, shouting: “I’m drowning!” On the beach, a fat man whose swimsuit sports the German national colors, says: “Zat is how you learn, zpendthrift!”

This in a left-of-center daily that is supportive of the crisis plan of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and has set its face against anti-German populism. The press of the right has been less restrained: A recent front-page photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel showed her with a hand upraised, perhaps to wave — but vaguely reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s minimalist Nazi salute, with the headline “Fourth Reich.” The article claimed that two world wars and millions of corpses were “not enough to quiet German egomania”. This in Il Giornale, a Milan daily owned by the Berlusconi family.

I smiled at the Altan cartoon on an Italian beach, where I was last week, looking about for signs of desperation. They were not dramatic, but observable. Simply, fewer people came. The soaring cost of petrol, which went over the 2-euro mark for a liter, was generally held to be the main culprit for the reduction in the annual hunt for the sun. It was little problem to hire a beach umbrella, to book a table for dinner, even to park. While most summers the political news is absent or silly, this year the Italian papers chronicled, daily, the fever chart of the Italian and European economy, and it was febrile indeed — now a spurt of optimism, now a stab of doom.

Italy’s unelected democrat

John Lloyd
Aug 28, 2012 15:12 UTC

The great Italian caricaturist Altan had a cartoon on the front of La Repubblica last week, in which an Italian is sinking below the waves, shouting: “I’m drowning!” On the beach, a fat man whose swimsuit sports the German national colors, says: “Zat is how you learn, zpendthrift!”

This in a left-of-center daily that is supportive of the crisis plan of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and has set its face against anti-German populism. The press of the right has been less restrained: A recent front-page photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel showed her with a hand upraised, perhaps to wave — but vaguely reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s minimalist Nazi salute, with the headline “Fourth Reich.” The article claimed that two world wars and millions of corpses were “not enough to quiet German egomania”. This in Il Giornale, a Milan daily owned by the Berlusconi family.

I smiled at the Altan cartoon on an Italian beach, where I was last week, looking about for signs of desperation. They were not dramatic, but observable. Simply, fewer people came. The soaring cost of petrol, which went over the 2-euro mark for a liter, was generally held to be the main culprit for the reduction in the annual hunt for the sun. It was little problem to hire a beach umbrella, to book a table for dinner, even to park. While most summers the political news is absent or silly, this year the Italian papers chronicled, daily, the fever chart of the Italian and European economy, and it was febrile indeed — now a spurt of optimism, now a stab of doom.

Where is the Paul Ryan of Europe?

John Lloyd
Aug 22, 2012 12:30 UTC

“European” is Representative Paul Ryan’s insult of choice for President Barack Obama, and for his policies. Yet the influences Ryan cites, and the thoughts behind his plan for debt reduction, were offered by Europeans of the 20th century. Their ideas, the foundations of which were laid in Europe’s turbulent twenties and thirties, have nearly a century later found an influential apostle in the United States.

Like his European precedents, Ryan the savior-theorist has appeared at another turbulent time. The near-century-old politico-economic school he embraces now seeks to prove itself on ground made fertile by the fearful debt that hangs over the world’s greatest power.

The first of these influences, and the one on which his enemies have most eagerly seized, is the controversial capitalist-individualist Ayn Rand. Rand was born, raised and educated in Russia, during the period spanning the revolution that ruined Rand’s comfortably off family. Although many consider Russians to be non-European, Rand was raised in a secular Jewish family in Russia’s avowedly European city, St. Petersburg, and her educational influences were all European.

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