Opinion

John Lloyd

from The Great Debate:

Eurovision’s Conchita brings out Russia’s worst and Europe’s best

John Lloyd
May 12, 2014 22:08 UTC

The most complicated thing said over this past weekend by a public figure came from the perfectly rouged lips of the winner of the Eurovision song contest, Conchita Wurst. “I really dream,” she said, “of a world where we don’t have to talk of unnecessary things like sexuality.”

That’s silly on two levels and deeply idealistic on a third.

It’s silly, first and most evidently, because sexuality won’t be unnecessary for a long while, and may last as long as this world does.

It’s silly, second and most personally, because Wurst (her second, adopted name means “sausage” but apparently is also Austrian German slang for “whatever…”) had just won the first prize in the world’s wackiest tournament ­-- the Eurovision Song Contest held this year in the Danish capital Copenhagen. She was dressed in the slinkiest of gowns hugging a perfectly sexy figure, the perfectly rouged lips set off by a perfectly trimmed black beard. ‘Unnecessary’ had nothing to do with it.

The statement is deeply idealistic because what she was saying was: it’s time we stopped thinking that it’s necessary to make a fuss about a man who’s become a woman and grown a beard. I have my thing and you have yours and if we don’t hurt each other, who is to say who’s better? It’s like … whatever.

Conchita, born Thomas Neuwirth in a small Austrian town is a kind of mascot for the European Union, which takes pride in being neither one thing nor the other – it passes laws, but is most definitely not a single state.

Russia’s scorning of Europe

John Lloyd
May 1, 2014 20:15 UTC

After a quarter of a century of claiming to be a part of Europe, Russia has ceased to regard it as a goal. As tension over Ukraine remains taut, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has confirmed a new line. He no longer wants Russia to be thought of as “European.” Europe and Russia, he now says, are in separate moral spheres.

When I first began visiting Russia in the Soviet Union in the eighties and eventually lived there, it marked itself as a different political, economic and social world system. What struck the Western visitor most was that it wasn’t a consumer society. There were no advertisements; the shops, largely empty of goods, were overstaffed by women who ignored you or were rude; the restaurants sold greasy, lukewarm and sometimes uneatable food. Hotel rooms were bare, with tepid water, cracked ceramics and bad smells. Most people — even young women — were dowdy. And that was Moscow. Outside the capital, it was often worse.

One could say — as I did — that these things were superficial. Soviets may have argued that they aimed for modesty of living; they were attempting to make citizens more or less equal in plainness, directing them to political or intellectual interests and satisfying the mind rather than the tastes for comfort.

For Russia, it can only get worse

John Lloyd
Apr 28, 2014 17:05 UTC

Russians who disapprove of what their country is doing to Ukraine are a small and unpopular minority.

The boldest champion of dissent, Alexei Navalny, is under house arrest. He and his brother Oleg are awaiting trial for fraud involving the French company, Yves Rocher — which the company has denied ever happened. Pavel Durov, who founded and ran In Touch, Russia’s largest social network, has left the country after being fired from his position. Sergei Guriev, the former head of the New Economic School, the center of liberal economic thinking, fled Russia last year, fearing arrest.

Even with their backs against the wall, though, the liberals are feisty. They press their case that Russia is now hastening its own doom. I caught up with several of them at a conference outside of Moscow last week, organized by the Moscow School of Civic Enlightenment, a non-governmental organization focused on democratic and civic issues. (Full Disclosure: I have been on the Moscow School’s advisory committee for the three years).

The UK’s paradox of faith

John Lloyd
Apr 23, 2014 14:32 UTC

When David Cameron recently proclaimed in the Church Times — the organ of the Church of England — that he was a Christian, that his faith helped guide him through life and work and that Britain is a Christian country and should be proud of it, he was met with a wall of disapproval.

When a European leader says he’s a Christian and that he lives in a Christian country, he’s asking for trouble. The approved political position in Europe is that religion should be commended for its sterling values when it cares for the poor and condemned when it is used as a rationale for terrorism. Otherwise, politicians should steer clear and leave it to the clergy.

European states are not the United States, and thus not “nations under God,” (though only since 1954, when the words were added to the pledge of allegiance). EU states are nations under constitutions that prescribe secularism. They say that all faiths may (peacefully) flourish and that none shall have priority.

The coalition of the reluctant

John Lloyd
Apr 17, 2014 15:07 UTC

Russia is currently winning the Game of Empire. It has taken Crimea and it is closing in on Eastern Ukraine. Whether or not more will be invaded, no one can tell.

We are not accustomed to leaders of great states who go for broke. Meet a leader of a great state who is going for broke. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, a man of history.

In the Soviet Union, the balance of terror left space for small wars that were “in the national interest.” National interest included invading Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 to remind the citizens that they were Communists. The West backed dictators in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere to remind them that they were anti-Communists.

Modi: Democrat or divider

John Lloyd
Apr 9, 2014 19:25 UTC

India’s 815 million voters started the five-week voting cycle earlier this week. It’s already being celebrated as a triumph just for taking place — “the largest collective democratic act in history,” according to the Economist.

The winner will matter. India now punches far below its demographic weight — its 1.24 billion people are served by just 600 diplomats, about the same number as the Netherlands. The United States, with 314 million people, has 15,000. But that apparent lack of interest in making a mark on the world seems about to end.

What had seemed a likely victory for the first minister of the northwestern state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has now hardened into a near certainty — at least for much of the Indian media. Modi, self-made, ambitious and energetic at 63, has the ability to project India’s latent power. He wants growth, which India greatly needs to raise more of its citizens out of poverty and to provide jobs for its expanding population.

It is time to save the EU

John Lloyd
Apr 2, 2014 16:17 UTC

A surge of far-right parties is about to hit the European parliament. Last weekend’s success of the National Front in France was led by the party’s leader Marine Le Pen, who pledges to take France out of an agreement that is destroying jobs and flooding towns with immigrants. Similar advances by the right are appearing in differing degrees of intensity elsewhere in Europe.

The European elections next month will likely see 100 or more deputies from the Freedom Party of Austria, the British UK Independence Party, the Dutch Freedom Party, the Finnish True Finns, the Flemish (Belgian) Vlaams Blok, the German Alternative for Germany, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Italian Five Star Movement, the Swedish Democrats as well as the National Front enter parliament. They’ll be noisy, passionate, insulting, disruptive and in some cases well-primed to exploit every weakness and mistake in the European parliament.

The arrival of these deputies is the most recent bit of bad news for the Brussels politicians and officials whose job is to steer the European Union through its roughest patch in half a century. Together with two other hammer blows, this bad news could actually save the EU.

France is the ‘sick man of Europe’

John Lloyd
Mar 26, 2014 15:49 UTC

It’s France’s turn to be the “sick man of Europe,” a competition that no country wants to win.

The phrase seems to have originated with Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who wrote it in reference to the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in the mid-nineteenth century. The Tsar said Turkey was “sick” and journalists added the “man of Europe” a century later. It was bestowed on whichever laggard European state could be put into a headline.

In the seventies it was the UK, then seen as prey to militant unions. In the nineties it was Germany as it struggled with the costs of reunification. Italy, with no or low growth and huge debts, has had the title sporadically over the past four years. So has Greece, of course, as well as hard-pressed Portugal.

Russia’s imperialism vs globalization

John Lloyd
Mar 21, 2014 18:17 UTC

In the sanctions against Russia announced this week by the U.S. and the European Union we begin to see the outline of a titanic struggle. It is one between imperialism and globalization. The Western states have been reminded that imperialism is alive and well, even rampant, and threatens the vision for a more global world economy.

“Russia can be an empire with Ukraine,” said a senior Russian banker earlier this month in an off-the-record briefing. “Without it, it cannot. Simple.” Having Ukraine does not mean possessing it. It is enough for Ukraine to be closely linked to Russia, run by leaders who understand and acquiesce in that necessity. The large failure underlying Russia President Vladimir Putin’s great success in seizing Crimea is that he has propelled much of the rest of Ukraine away from Russia and guaranteed instability; or worse.

The targeting through sanctions of the Russian political and financial elite, including their favored bank, Bank Rossiya, described by a Russian fund manager as “a pocket bank and special purpose vehicle” for the Kremlin elite, has one goal in mind. That is, to drive a wedge between Putin’s imperial strategy and the Russian political and financial aristocracy who have homes in France, yachts moored off Tuscany, children in British private schools and businesses that depend on global markets.

Will the anaconda strike again?

John Lloyd
Mar 19, 2014 18:11 UTC

Ukraine is now a pile of dry straw, waiting for Vladimir Putin to decide whether he will douse it with gasoline and set it alight, or leave it dry and trembling in the wind.

Putin has Crimea and no one will fight him for it. In his speech on Tuesday, when he announced his decision to draw Crimea into the bosom of Mother Russia, he casually told the West not to worry, there will be no more land grabs — “no one needs a divided Ukraine,” he said.

Now many are invoking the Sudetenland crisis of 1938 — where the then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain earned transient glory and eternal obloquy for agreeing with Adolf Hitler that the region, existing along the Czech side of the Czech-German border with a large majority of German inhabitants, should be ceded to a then-resurgent Germany. Chamberlain’s concession seemed to avoid a war. On the agreement, signed under duress by the Czech President Edward Benes, troops occupied the German areas, and later, the rest of Czech territory.

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