Hugh Barnes

Hugh Barnes, formerly on the LRB’s editorial staff, is the author of three books (Special Effects, Gannibal and Understanding Iran) and the editor of He is currently based in Kyiv.


From The Blog
24 March 2022

Also queuing at the border post was Alex Sokol, a 46-year-old human resources manager at a Ukrainian bank. He’d been skiing in the Pyrenees when the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, and he cut short his holiday to return home, even though he had no military background. ‘I have only seen weapons on TV,’ he said. ‘It’s better to give weapons to people who are experienced. But there’s lots of other things I know how to do. So I will do them, to help my country.’ One of the things he knew how to do was bulk purchasing. He’d left his skis in Andorra and flown to Poland with body armour in his luggage.

From The Blog
15 March 2022

At the traffic lights on Sumy Street, in the centre of Kharkiv, a convoy of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles marked with a white letter ‘Z’ turned left towards Freedom Square. One of the largest squares in Europe, it’s home to Derzhprom, or the Palace of Industry, a spectacular constructivist building made up of towers and skyways that was photographed by Robert Byron in the late 1920s, and praised by Béla Bartók as a mix of Manhattan and the Bauhaus. There’s a black-and-white photograph of a Soviet T-34 tank parked in front of the Derzhprom during the Battle of Kharkiv in 1943.

From The Blog
9 March 2022

On Saturday, 5 March, I was arrested in Zaporizhzhia, in south-east Ukraine, for trying to get close to a nuclear power plant that had just been shelled by Vladimir Putin’s invading army.

From The Blog
11 April 2014

Most informed sources in Ukraine and Russia believe that the annexation of Crimea was planned and carried out by the siloviki (former KGB and security service officials close to Putin), and not by the foreign policy elite (including the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and defence minister, Sergei Shoigu), whose influence has been waning since Putin veered to the right in the wake of the 2011-12 anti-government protests. A senior figure in the Yeltsin group told me that Putin is using the Ukraine crisis to cleanse the elite and to consolidate his support with the non-metropolitan public at large. It is no coincidence that the last few weeks have seen the Russian authorities cracking down on liberal and internet media. A former intelligence officer told me that influential members of the president’s inner circle, such as Sergei Ivanov, Nikolai Patrushev and Igor Sechin, view the confrontation with the United States and European Union as a good thing for Russia, an opportunity to make a long-advocated turn towards China.

Turns of the Screw

Hugh Barnes, 7 August 1986

The first novels of Lewis Nkosi and Catharine Arnold raise issues that have been in the news of late: racist oppression in South Africa and the ugly behaviour of the smart set at England’s oldest universities. Neither phenomenon is new, but that is not all they have in common: both can be regarded as symptoms of madness, which is always making news – this, at any rate, is the diagnosis favoured by Nkosi and Arnold. They discount the talk of journalists and are at pains to show how states of emergency or of madness come about, and how adversity in the world modifies concern for the self. Much emphasis is laid on the unconscious activity of the mind, which for Sibiya in Mating Birds as well as for Francesca in Lost Time means horrid imaginings, displacement and a fear of poltergeists. Capitulation is charted: Sibiya awaits execution in a Durban jail, although the Government is about to fall and from his cell he can hear street-singers announcing ‘the near-dawn of freedom’. Francesca, a famous concert cellist, suffers private madness – as opposed to the collective variety accountable for apartheid – in the form of a nervous breakdown. At the same time taboos are flouted by the characters and invoked by the authors as if they were the unconscious of society. Sibiya’s crime was to sleep with a white woman, while a revelation of incest, for which a neglectful father is held to be responsible, contributes to Lost Time. In each case the novelist has recourse to psychoanalytic theory, and a meaningful relationship would seem to be implied between free societies and the free association of ideas.’

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