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19/12/2006

Magazine Roundup

Prospect | Tygodnik Powszechny | Revista de Libros | Le Figaro | Gazeta Wyborcza | Le Point | Il Foglio | Magyar Hirlap | The Times Literary Supplement | Nepszabadsag | Die Weltwoche


Prospect 01.01.2007 (U.K.)

Journalist Will Hutton and Meghnad Desai, professor emeritus at the London School of Economics, discuss whether the future really belongs to China. Hutton denies this with reference to "China's only partial conversion to capitalism": "The effective use of resources also depends upon a network of independent processes of scrutiny and accountability, undertaken by people in multiple centres of power and backed by rights and private property. A democratic election system is but the coping stone of this structure." Lord Desai, on the other hand, does not believe in a necessary connection between capitalism and democracy. "It would be nice if individualism, liberty and pluralism were necessary for capitalism. But the fact is that it can manage without those things. Capitalism does release forces that undermine authoritarian regimes, but unevenly and never inevitably."


Tygodnik Powszechny 17.12.2006 (Poland)

In an interview with Andrzej Franaszek, Polish author Jerzy Pilch reveals his reasons for writing: "Writing is like a therapy. Once several hours of writing per day are part of your professional duties, the world composed of your words becomes more real than the world outside. It gives you inner peace and great security. Basically I think that happy people don't need to write books."


Revista de Libros 17.12.2006 (Chile)

Rafael Gumucio is enraptured by Adolfo Bioy Casares' posthumous, 1600 page biography of his good friend Jorge Luis Borges, which appeared recently. "A monstrous, exhausting, absurd but somehow also heroic and unbelievably liberating book. In it, the two of them cavort around like two huge, amused silly billies. The role model was obviously James Boswell's 'Life of Johnson'. While Boswell was commonly considered to have been the greatest chump in English literature, Bioy can comfort himself that Johnson's work – considered at the time to be the height of Anglo Saxon intelligence – lives on largely through Boswell's biography."

Alvaro Bisama believes that it will take a while for Chilean literature to conquer its demons. "Augusto Pinochet is still the unconquered monster of the Chilean novel. Of course there are some novels in which he surfaces but even in the best ones - 'Casa de Campo' by Jose Donoso, 'Nocturno de Chile' by Roberto Bolano – he remains a marginal character, never occupying the centre of the story. It's just the same with Franco – who Pinochet admired. Nobody was able to tell a story about him, nobody had the courage."


Le Figaro 16.12.2006 (France)

Francois Simon, food critic at Figaro, is annoyed by the arrogance of the French in their eating habits and culinary preferences, given the internationalism of the Slow Food movement. "There is such an unbelievable sense of self-satisfaction in the gastronomical sector here that the whole world seems to be excluded from our self-adulation. Bolivian nuts and the Argentinian yakon root are met with contemptuous sighs of disinterest. Our lovely country is defined by an old-fashioned big-mouthedness, we stand up to the rest of the world. It's true that we were once gastronomic world champions, but we rested on our laurels. And in the meantime, the world opened its eyes. Having admired us, they set to work. And now, one can eat divinely all over the world."


Gazeta Wyborcza 16.12.2006 (Poland)

Alexander Milinkievic, winner of the Sacharow prize and leader of the White Russian opposition, talks in an interview about the protests against the bogus elections in the spring and what came after. "An Orange Revolution is inconceivable in this dictatorship. But the people have seen that they have to fight. We are going to bring people onto the street because only demonstrations will force President Lukaschenko to give in. But we still don't know what's going to happen. We're working on the people and helping them to drive the fears out of their heads."

In a wonderful essay essay, Artur Domoslawski looks at Latin America after the death of Pinochet and reflects on the influence that the Chilean dictator still has. "His recipe of brutal repressions and neo-liberal economic reform was imitated by many to varying degrees of success. The legacy of this pheonomena was a burden to South America in the 1990s and led to the recent counter-movement with the victories of Chavez, Lulas, Morales and others. The only country that went its own way in the 1980s was Cuba. Fidel Castro became a symbol for many rebels on the continent. But in realpolitik, he lost – the new, leftist movements have done away with the Cuban methods and are headed in a new direction. The irony of the story is that Castro's successor might follow Pinochet's model: raw capitalism and authoritarianism."


Le point 14.12.2006 (France)

Bernard-Henri Levy writes that it is a disgrace for Chile and the entire world that Pinochet was allowed to die in peace in his bed. But there is a second dictator who, unlike Pinochet, has not even been put to trial yet: Fidel Castro. Levy writes "Wake up, comrades and friends! A little solidarity! Make a little effort, please, to show yourselves as true democrats and republicans. There is little time for you and for us to ensure that Fidel Castro be made to account for the same crimes as Pinochet, in the name of all the torture victims of South and Middle American dictatorships."


Il Foglio 16.12.2006 (Italy)

Every journalist is advertising something, writes Giampiero Mughini, after being chastised by the press council in Lazio for advertising mobile telephones. "Take Carlo Rossella for example, a very likeable, great journalist who I've known for 30 years. I'd write a novel about him if I had the discipline. He's the perfect blend of great journalistic (and literary) talent and no ethical backbone whatsoever. Product placement is a constant in his pieces, an ever-present testimony to his inability to say no."

All of history's spy stories were told with Shakespeare's "Hamlet" writes Siegmund Ginzberg (here and here). "There's even Polonium. And the poisoners end as vilely as their victims, carried off by their own poison. After a certain point you lose sight of who wants to murder whom, on behalf of whom and to revenge whom."


Magyar Hirlap 16.12.2006 (Hungary)

In the early 1930s, Stalin orchestrated an artificial famine in Ukraine. Historians estimate that around a quarter of the country's population died. The Ukrainian parliament has now passed a law declaring that the 1931 – 1933 famine was genocide and making its denial punishable by law (news story). The subject is still taboo in Russia. The Hungarian historian Miklos Kun sees parallels with the denial of the Holocaust and the attempt to play down the evils of the Gulag. "In 1931 the KP prohibited the sale of foodstuffs, matches and petrol in Ukraine. Trade was restricted and even letters reporting the tragedy were not allowed to get through to the outside world. While in Ukrainian villages the desperate people, crazy with hunger, were eating the green branches of trees, Ukrainian food was being sold cheaply to other Soviet republics on Stalin's orders as part of the so-called 'Soviet dumping'.... On his tour of the Soviet Union, G. B. Shaw said to the press in Moscow that he'd never eaten so well as during the 'purported' famine in Ukraine. The KP no doubt treated the world-famous dramatist to a copious meal, but he could see with his own eyes how Ukrainian peasants were starving on the streets."


The Times Literary Supplement 15.12.2006 (UK)

Richard Wilson lauds the Guardian commentator Simon Jenkins as the greatest polemicist of our times, finding Jenkins' book "Thatcher & Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts" so fantastic he can hardly dare believe it. On the one hand, the facts on the Thatcherism of the Labour Party are too depressing: "In 1995 the British government spent 300 million pounds on management consultants. By 2003 the Office of Government Commerce put the figure at 1.7 billion. A year later it was found to be 2.5 billion." The anecdotes about Margaret Thatcher, by contrast, are almost too good to be true: "I liked the one about the Spanish Foreign Minister who declared to Mrs Thatcher: 'I had been told, madam, of your formidable intelligence, but no one had warned me of your beauty.' Douglas Hurd expected her to explode, but not at all. For years afterwards she would ask any Spaniard she met: 'Whatever happened to that charming Foreign Minister of yours?'"


Nepszabadsag 14.12.2006 (Hungary)

Judit Kosa sharply criticises recent attempts to idealise Hungary's past. She is prompted by Gabor Koltay's documentary film about Miklos Horthy, the authoritarian regent who was head of the Hungarian state between 1920 and 1944, and György Moldova's book about János Kadar, leader of the Hungarian Communist Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party between 1956 and 1988: "Both oversimplify the most important periods of the 20th century and their complex political systems, as if they were talking to little children. Their portrayals of Kadar and Horthy are rendered with complete disregard for the results of historical research. In two thick volumes Kadar is portrayed as the righteous leader of his people, a puritan petit bourgeois and a victim of history. The film about Horthy is over-long and portrays him as the saviour of the Hungarian nation, a wonderful father and the last hope for Hungarian Jews threatened by the Holocaust. Both portrayals are despairingly false. They are just vehicles for the authors' views on politics in Hungary today."


Die Weltwoche 14.12.2006 (Switzerland)

After bringing a worldwide exclusive four weeks ago (English here) documenting their meeting with Taliban Mullah Sabir and publishing the new Taliban codex, Urs Gehriger and Sami Yousafzai now write a gripping account of how they were kidnapped by a separate group of Taliban fighters: "The old man, who at first appeared to be our saviour, ordered his men to empty our pockets. Passports, wallets, several hundred dollars, digital camera, even my glasses, everything was taken and tossed in a pile on the sand. Then the old man strode over to us, pointed his gun and ordered: 'Kneel down in a row!' Until this point I hadn't lost hope. But now my inner strength waned. Life can't terminate so senselessly, I try to persuade my self in despair. And yet I know that kidnappings often end in such a banal, tragic way. Nathan knelt to my left, to my right our driver Ismael. He'd shuffled a meter or so away from me, as if he believed he could prolong his life by distancing himself from the 'infidel'. The thought of how pathetically such moments are portrayed in literature and film shot through my head. Often those condemned to death have profound thoughts, sentimental memories or a last wish. Nothing happens like that at all. Your heart beats too fast, the adrenalin surges are too strong. The only thing I felt in that moment of mortal fear was an extremely dry throat, as if I'd just swallowed a bag of flour."
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