Tony Wood

Tony Wood is completing a PhD in Latin American history at NYU.

What next for Bolivia?

Tony Wood, 9 December 2019

Thecrisis that led to Evo Morales’s forced removal as president of Bolivia began on the night of Monday, 21 October. Presidential and parliamentary elections had been held on Sunday, and according to a preliminary tally released by Bolivia’s electoral authorities that evening, Morales had a lead of 8 per cent over Carlos Mesa, his nearest rival – not quite enough to...

Shining Path

Tony Wood, 4 July 2019

On 26 December​ 1980, residents of Lima woke to a gruesome, incongruous sight: dead dogs had been strung up from lampposts in the city centre, some bearing pieces of cloth scrawled with the words: ‘Deng Xiaoping, Son of a Bitch.’ It was the work of the Partido Comunista del Perú-Sendero Luminoso. Sendero (or Shining Path, as it’s referred to in English) was an...

The Battle for Venezuela

Tony Wood, 21 February 2019

On​ 23 January – the anniversary of a revolt that toppled the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958 – the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president. But the crisis has been long in the making. Most of the Venezuelan opposition boycotted the presidential election held last May, in which Nicolás...

Diary: Russia’s Oppositions

Tony Wood, 7 February 2019

At a time​ when relations between Russia and the West are at such a low ebb, it can be easy to forget exactly how much the two sides agree on. This is especially true in the realm of economic policy, where for years now the Putin government has been implementing its own version of austerity, designed to slim down Russia’s social welfare apparatus still further. The Russian term for it...

Russia and the West

Tony Wood, 2 March 2017

The Russians quickly realised that avenues for cooperation between Moscow and Nato were alternatives to membership, rather than stepping stones to it. When Putin asked Clinton at a 2000 summit how he would respond to Russia’s joining the alliance, Clinton apparently looked desperately to the advisers flanking him: Albright ‘pretended that she was looking at a fly on the wall’, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger ‘did not react at all’, so Clinton was reduced to saying he would ‘personally’ – a word he repeated three times, to be on the safe side – support it.

Yuri Herrera

Tony Wood, 5 October 2016

‘I didn’t cross​ the line, the line crossed me,’ a character in Yuri Herrera’s first book, Trabajos del reino (2004), remarks. In Mexico ‘la línea’ often means the border with the US, but in this case the words also refer to an ethical transition: the speaker is a former US law enforcement official who decided to throw in his lot with the...

Elmer Mendoza

Tony Wood, 1 June 2016

Writing​ in 1973, the Mexican critic Carlos Monsiváis argued that, for a number of reasons, his country lacked a genuine crime fiction tradition of its own. For one thing, if Mexican crime writers were to aspire to realism, the accused would never be punished ‘unless he were poor’. In fact, ‘the identity of the criminal is the least of it’; the suspense would...

Putin’s Russia

Tony Wood, 5 February 2015

Nearly​ five thousand people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since April 2014; according to Ukrainian government figures, 514,000 have been internally displaced by the fighting, with another 233,000 applying for refugee status in Russia (9000 have sought asylum in the EU). Peace talks over the fate of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions have so far been fruitless, and the ceasefire nominally...

At Tate Modern: Kazimir Malevich

Tony Wood, 20 August 2014

How​ many Maleviches were there? Though renowned as a pioneer of abstraction, especially for the stark geometry of his Suprematist canvases, Kazimir Malevich worked in many styles over the course of his career. The retrospective at Tate Modern (until 26 October), the most substantial in 25 years, is an unusual chance to see all his personae in one place, with more than three hundred...

Ukraine back from the Edge?

Tony Wood, 4 June 2014

After​ six months of a rolling crisis that has brought mass street protests, the fall of the Yanukovych government, the annexation of Crimea and pro-Russian rebellions in the east and south of the country, Ukraine seemed by mid-May to be poised on the brink of a far deeper disaster. With fulsome backing from the West, soldiers loyal to the interim government in Kiev were engaged in what it...

Oil in Russia

Tony Wood, 6 June 2013

There is no shortage of turning points in Russia’s 20th-century history, from the October Revolution of 1917 to the German defeat at Stalingrad in February 1943, to the overnight disappearance of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. But as well as these obviously pivotal moments, there are other, hidden hinges of the country’s fate. Geologists had long suspected that the ground...

Russia Vanishes

Tony Wood, 6 December 2012

A huddle of elderly people trudge through ankle-deep snow, pushing a wooden freight car along a barely visible set of tracks. The women are wrapped in headscarves, the men wear fur hats and thick gloves. These are the last remaining inhabitants of Workers’ Settlement No. 3, and the subjects of Sergei Dvortsevoy’s remarkable 1998 documentary Bread Day; the freight car is bringing...

Since the mid-1980s, Edward Burtynsky has been photographing landscapes that have been transformed by human intervention. In his early work – a series on mines and one on railway cuttings from 1985; one on quarries from the early 1990s – the human presence took the form of a geometric intrusion into the natural world: regular slabs cut from granite, rail-tracks slicing across a...

Russia Protests

Tony Wood, 23 February 2012

In the closing weeks of 2011, the wave of protest that had spread to dozens of cities since the start of the year – from Tunis to Cairo, Madrid to Athens, New York to Oakland – reached some unlikely places. On 10 December, as many as sixty thousand people turned out in Moscow to demonstrate against the falsification of parliamentary election results the previous week; five...

Architecture had a shifting status within Russian modernism: first younger sibling, then domineering older brother. The riot of avant-garde experimentation and iconoclasm began in painting and literature in the years before the First World War; many totemic works date from this period – Malevich’s Black Square, Bely’s Petersburg, Goncharova’s Cyclist. The Revolution...

Vladimir Sorokin

Tony Wood, 30 June 2011

In Vladimir Sorokin’s novel The Queue, one of the protagonists is struggling with a crossword: ‘1 Across – Russian Soviet writer.’ Suggestions come from people next to him in the long line that is the book’s setting and subject – Sholokhov, Mayakovsky? – but are rejected, because neither fits both adjectives at the same time. When Sorokin wrote The Queue in the 1980s, these adjectives – always in tension – could still sit together in a handful of cases (the answer settled on is Gorky); but since then, they have been severed from each other by the watershed of 1991, and now represent distinct historical epochs, as well as two separate literary cultures.

Siberia is Melting

Tony Wood, 9 September 2010

The corridor we are standing in bristles with ice. Thick layers of what turn out, on closer inspection, to be delicate, hexagonal crystals line the walls and ceiling. I and a handful of other visitors are in the basement laboratory of the Permafrost Institute in Yakutsk; according to the red numbers of an LED panel, the temperature is −8 °C. After a few minutes, our presence – breathing, talking – has raised the temperature to −7 °C, and we are ushered back to the surface, where it is 35 °C, a day of dazzling Arctic sunshine and heat that makes the skin prickle. Here, as elsewhere in Russia, it has been a searing summer, turning large swathes of the landscape into kindling. The apocalyptic scenes in European Russia – thousands burned out of their homes, millions of hectares of crops destroyed, Moscow wreathed in smoke from smouldering peat bogs – have dominated news reports. But vast areas of the Far Eastern Federal District were damaged too.

Anna Politkovskaya

Tony Wood, 24 June 2010

She is recognisable even in the grey, pixellated CCTV images: a tall, slender woman with grey hair, her oval glasses perched on an aquiline nose. She is looking to her right, a stern expression on her face, as she carries her shopping towards the door of her apartment building. She enters, disappearing from view; the time-stamp reads 16:01. It is the last time she will be seen alive. She will...

Eisenstein in Mexico

Tony Wood, 3 December 2009

Writing his memoirs in 1946, two years before his death, Sergei Eisenstein declared that he had ‘been fascinated by bones and skeletons since childhood’. His first experience of film involved watching a flying skeleton horse pull a bewitched carriage across the sky, in Georges Méliès’s Les 400 Farces du diable. It was skeletons, he says, that made him go to...

Kadyrov’s Death Squads

Tony Wood, 14 May 2009

On 16 April, President Medvedev announced the official end of Russia’s ‘counter-terrorist operation’ in Chechnya, effectively declaring victory in the long war against Chechen separatism. Much of Grozny – virtually razed to the ground during a decade and a half of fighting – has now been reconstructed, and in recent years there has been a marked decline in the...

Why Did Saakashvili Do It?

Tony Wood, 11 September 2008

The conflict in South Ossetia has produced a cloud of rhetoric that seems to have grown in inverse proportion to the intensity of fighting on the ground. Once the outcome became clear – a crushing Russian military victory – Cold War imagery flooded the Western press. Far more than the status of a tiny mountainous enclave in the South Caucasus was said to be at stake: not only was Georgia’s territorial integrity imperilled by Russian tyranny, but the future of democracy was under threat. In the Washington Post of 11 August, Robert Kagan asserted that the conflict will be seen as ‘a turning point no less significant’ than the fall of the Berlin Wall. Given this ‘much bigger drama’, ‘the details of who did what to precipitate Russia’s war against Georgia are not very important.’

Daniil Kharms

Tony Wood, 8 May 2008

An old woman leans out of her window and, ‘because of her excessive curiosity’, leans too far: she falls to the ground and shatters to pieces. A second old woman leans out of her window to see what has happened to the first – and also leans too far, tumbling to the same fate. More women follow suit (a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth), a chain that ends only because the narrator of this story, ‘sick of watching them’, breaks off to go to the market.

Diary: Chechnya

Tony Wood, 22 March 2007

The drive to Grozny from Nazran, in neighbouring Ingushetia, takes about an hour and a half. We speed past a cluster of Russian soldiers at the roadside while we are still in Ingushetia; shortly afterwards two Mi-8 helicopters come barrelling overhead at low altitude – signs of continuing military operations, in this ‘post-conflict zone’. The Kavkaz-1 checkpoint on the...

The first ‘wanted’ poster to be issued in Russia appeared in late February 1884, and featured six likenesses of the suspect: three frontal shots, showing a man in his late twenties, with a moustache, with a beard and clean-shaven; and, beneath them, a trio of three-quarter views of the same man, repeating the permutations of facial hair, but with a fur hat added to each image. The...

In Moscow

Tony Wood, 8 August 2002

As you come into Moscow from Sheremetevo airport, the way is guarded by a monument marking the limit of the German advance in October 1941: red girders protrude from a sloping plinth, forming a line of three skewed crosses, replicating in miniature the anti-tank defences that once stood here. Then, this would have been an open field: now the monument doubles as the gate to Khimki – more...

On 28 May 1919, the residents of Moscow woke to find that the walls of the Strastnoi convent had been daubed with what at first glance might have appeared to be crude blasphemous slogans. More attentive reading, however, revealed that this was poetry: ‘I sing and appeal: Lord, give birth to a calf!’ ‘Look at the fat thighs/Of this obscene wall./Here the nuns at night/Remove...

Marquis de Custine

Tony Wood, 24 August 2000

The Marquis de Custine is best known for La Russie en 1839, an eloquent account of his travels across European Russia and of the horrors and absurdities of the Russian autocracy. Born in 1790, Custine lost his grandfather at the age of three and, a year later, his father: both were executed during the Jacobin Terror, although both had been sympathetic to the Revolution. Indeed, his grandfather, General Adam-Philippe de Custine, had been a supporter of the American War of Independence and in 1793, as one of the few French aristocrats in favour of revolution, was appointed commander-in-chief of the Army of the North. He was tried for failing to prevent the surrender of the besieged Cond, while Custine’s father was tried for printing and distributing a defence of the General. Custine himself had a quieter life. He grew up on the family estate at Fervaques in Normandy, and travelled in Italy, Switzerland and Germany as an adolescent. He had a brief career in diplomacy, working in an undefined role under Talleyrand at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, but returned to Fervaques in 1816.

Victor Pelevin

Tony Wood, 10 June 1999

Russian history is full of turning points. To the outside observer, there is nothing but upheaval on an unimaginable scale: revolutions, murders, war, starvation – a litany of suffering. Seen from within, these events are no less terrifying. They lack the shape our general terms give them, and perhaps for those experiencing them, shapelessness is a key part of the terror they hold.


Crisis in Venezuela

21 February 2019

I’m not surprised Malcolm Deas disagrees with my assessment of the situation in Venezuela (Letters, 7 March). But I do take issue with his suggestion that I attempted to ‘disguise’ the nature of the crisis there. I simply described the actual character and positions of the Venezuelan opposition, and highlighted the less than pure motives of the external actors who have involved themselves...
Gilberto Perez is mistaken in thinking that Tarkovsky spelled ‘Nostalghia’ with an ‘h’ in order to gesture to the specifically Russian character of the emotion (LRB, 26 February). First, there is no ‘h’ in the Cyrillic alphabet; it’s there because he wanted to spell it the Italian way, to reflect the fact that he made the film in Italy. Second, the Russian...

Colonial War

6 July 2006

Anna Neistat powerfully evokes the realities of life in Chechnya, and the systemic brutality of Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule (LRB, 6 July). The ongoing catastrophe of the war there has vanished from the world’s consciences and TV screens, so the publication of such reports is to be welcomed, especially as Putin’s neo-authoritarian turn has made them increasingly rare. She also makes some...

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