When I lived in Paris in the early 1960s the Bataclan was a cinema. It had been converted into one in 1926. (Incidentally, bataclan means junk; ‘tout le bataclan’ is slang for the whole ball of wax, or all that jazz.) I don’t recall going to it: there were so many other cinemas. It was built in 1864 as a site for café concerts. You could have your dinner and listen to an act. From the outside the building looked like a Chinese pagoda: chinoiserie was the mode. More »
‘Nous sommes en guerre.’ Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement on Sunday morning, after meeting François Hollande to discuss the massacres in Paris, echoed his successor’s statement to the French people on Friday evening, which used the g-word four times. Modern statecraft deploys a mobile army of mixed metaphors, as when the ‘they’ who kill ‘us’ are also partly ‘us’. If it’s war abroad, does that mean that Friday’s killers count as combatants, with Geneva Convention rights, and that military action needs legal authorisation? If it’s domestic terrorism, what title does the state have to range beyond its borders, pursuing Isis on foreign sovereign territory? More »
Sunday: we wake under blue skies to Nicolas Sarkozy calling for ‘the whole world’ to destroy Isis and demanding a ‘new’ immigration policy, as he steps away from a meeting with Hollande. Stern words on the first day of national mourning declared by the president. Last night Paris was half a city, maybe less. In the capital where the world’s first public audience paid to see a motion picture, the art house cinemas were closed like bakeries, the foyers of the multiplexes dark behind their plate-glass entrances. Few people on the streets, fewer on the metro: twenty passengers at most in a carriage on the Ligne 4; seven in a carriage on the little line from Châtelet to Mairie des Lilas. Nine o’clock, or thereabouts. One hundred and thirty dead, a hundred more with critical injuries in hospitals around the city: Lariboisière, St Louis, La Pitié-Salpêtrière, others. More »
When Narendra Modi was elected prime minister of India in May 2014, a former aide to the outgoing premier Manmohan Singh described the moment as the birth of a ‘second republic’. He meant that the secular-socialist republic founded by India’s English-speaking elite had run its course. After 25 years of coalition governments, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party had won a parliamentary majority. David Cameron was one of the first foreign leaders to reach out to him, congratulating the prime minister elect for getting ‘more votes than any other politician anywhere in the universe’.
This marked the end of Britain’s costly diplomatic boycott of Modi in retaliation for the massacre of more than a thousand Muslims, including British citizens, by Hindu mobs in Gujarat when he was the state’s chief minister in 2002. An investigative team appointed by India’s Supreme Court cleared Modi of criminal responsibility – but, as the anti-Modi protests in London this week demonstrate, not everyone is convinced. It hasn’t helped that, over the last year, religious minorities in India have endured vicious persecution. More »
The results of the election in Turkey on 1 November took analysts by surprise: the Justice and Development Party (AKP) received nearly half the votes, an increase of 9 per cent on its performance five months ago, and close to its best ever showing, in June 2011. When the party came to power in November 2002, after a long period of instability and economic crisis, it was with only a third of the popular vote. But it quickly captured a good part of the secular electorate when it went along with political reforms required by the EU in order to start membership negotiations. Centre-right business circles were attracted to IMF-inspired institutional reforms, and the AKP won the support of the poor with its health and welfare policies. By the end of the decade, the party’s mastery of the mechanisms of governance was complete. Even after jettisoning the liberals, it won the elections in 2011 with 50 per cent of the vote. More »
Private George Taylor of the Worcester Regiment, my great-uncle, was killed in Flanders a century ago. Family lore has it that his sister, my maternal grandmother, was raking out the fire at home in Birmingham when a shiver went down her back; she said unthinkingly, ‘Don’t be silly, George,’ and that, it turned out, was the moment he had died. Uncle George thus joined the glorious, mute and quiescent dead.
Meanwhile, my father’s father had enlisted at 16 when the Great War broke out. He took a bullet to the head while rescuing a wounded comrade in no man’s land – a heroic act for which he was, in the ludicrous expression, ‘decorated’. He survived. His ‘good war’ notwithstanding, my grandfather’s after-war life was a litany of petty criminality, dodging, black-marketeering (in the Second World War), and domestic violence – he once dangled my father, as a baby, out of an upstairs window when my grandmother couldn’t stop him crying. Such may be the lives of those who fail to die too young – or, to put it the other way, live too long. More »
Carál Ní Chuilín, the Northern Ireland minister of culture arts and leisure, was interviewed on Radio Ulster’s Arts Show last Thursday. Asked what she thought was important about the arts here, the minister replied: ‘That people don’t see it as another whinge.’ More »
It’s two days until the elections in Myanmar. The NLD’s campaign has ended, while the incumbent USDP is staging one last push with a rally in Yangon. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what may happen. More »
Mediapart, the French online journal known for its investigative scoops and the quality of its analytical pieces, is in trouble. The problem is to do with VAT – the tax collector has decided the journal owes €4.1 million – but it goes much deeper. At the root is an argument of principle, conducted in the open by the editors for several years, about fair competition between print and online newspapers. Mediapart insists it should be entitled to the preferential VAT rate reserved for print media: a derisory 2.1 per cent as against the standard rate, which rose last year from 19.6 to 20 per cent. More »
I met J. at the central railway station in Belgrade, where he was waiting among a handful of Syrian and Afghan refugees. The only English speaker in his group, he introduced me to his family – parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews – as we waited for a train towards Croatia. They were from Homs and had been on the road for several weeks: they’d landed on Samos, taken the ferry to Athens and headed north, on their way to Germany, where their brother had lived for several years.
‘These people,’ J. said, motioning to his family and leaning in, almost whispering, ‘think they can trust all Europeans – but here they cannot. It is dangerous. Serbia is fucked up.’ He had seen refugees being robbed; a Syrian family, who, like many, had spent the previous night in the station, had had their money taken from them as they slept. ‘It’s up to me to look after these people. I’ve hardly slept for the last week,’ J. said. ‘I carry a knife just in case.’ He leaned back into his chair and looked me up and down. ‘I want to tell you something so you see how hard this journey is for people,’ he said. (I’ve changed some details to protect his and the others’ identities.) More »