On the 11th day of the 11th month and at the 11th hour — the moment at which the armistice ending World War I was declared a century ago — the leaders of the nations that once murdered one another during that brutal conflict gathered in Paris. That was expected. The surprise was the degree to which a formal occasion so brilliantly exposed the relationships between former allies and former opponents today.
The British prime minister, Theresa May, was not there. She chose to attend a ceremony in London, led by Prince Charles, in front of a memorial to Britain’s war dead.… Seguir leyendo »
In the two years that have passed since the 2016 election, we have learned a lot about malignant disinformation campaigns in Western democracies. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has indicted the Russian operatives who created fake identities and ran targeted advertising on Facebook. The ads themselves — supporting extreme anti-immigration groups and the phony “Army of Jesus” on the one hand, and fake “black lives matter” slogans on the other — have been made public. Reams of words have been written, studies have been made. We know how social media increases polarization, how fact-checking only reaches a narrow audience, how the lack of regulation enables false and opaque political advertisements, how algorithms favor angry and extreme views.… Seguir leyendo »
Sometimes works of art – books, plays, movies, songs – can change a culture. But sometimes, they epitomize how a culture has changed. Forty years ago, in October 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was named Pope John Paul II, galvanizing a wave of Catholic and secular activism in Poland that helped bring down a totalitarian regime. But now it’s October 2018. Record numbers of Poles are flocking to see a searing, painful film that condemns the Polish Catholic Church as corrupt and hypocritical.
The film is called “Kler” — a disparaging term for clergy — and it tells the story of three priests and a bishop.… Seguir leyendo »
In the strange world of the online alt-right, Sweden has long played a special role. This isn’t because of its economic strength (small but robust), or because of its population (just less than 10 million). This is because — how shall I put this delicately? — Swedes are blond.
Never mind that many aren’t: In the dismal fever swamps of the Internet, Swedes now symbolize Blondness and Whiteness for a whole host of people — American, European, Russian — who use that symbolism to tell a particular story: Blondness Under Siege. Whiteness Under Siege. Alt-right headlines such as “How Sweden is Committing Suicide Through Political Correctness” draw long chains of vicious and vulgar commentary.… Seguir leyendo »
After many weeks of claiming, dishonestly, that European allies “owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back” — in fact, Europeans spend far more money on European defense than does the United States — and after referring to NATO members as “delinquent” and worse, President Trump appears to have handed America’s European allies an ultimatum Thursday: Pay up, spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on the military, do it fast — or the United States will pull out. We can “go it alone,” he told them, by some accounts.
During the news conference he gave afterward, Trump even claimed Europeans had caved in to his demands: They had agreed to reach the 2 percent target faster, he said, and they could possibly increase it to 4 percent in the future.… Seguir leyendo »
There was a moment, at the height of the Greek debt crisis in July 2015, when many Athenians went to sleep expecting to wake up in a different country. One Greek academic told me he feared Greece would crash out of the euro currency overnight, that there would be no money in the banks in the morning, that there would be food shortages and then riots: “Greece is a middle-class country,” he told me. “I didn’t think we would be able to cope with the shock.” Several others told me that they had genuinely expected the arrival of a Venezuelan-style dictatorship, perhaps with tanks on the street.… Seguir leyendo »
Scruffy, yellowish-brown buildings are bunched around a long courtyard; portable toilets and generators have been set up on the dusty ground beside. Inside, military-grade laptops, the kind that don’t break if you drop them, are arrayed along a series of tables, their cables spooling off onto the floor. Men from different countries, some dressed in camouflage, talk in low voices. A large map of Europe’s Baltic coast has been projected onto one of the walls, with different colored markers scattered across it.
This, dear readers, is the transatlantic alliance. But this is not the transatlantic alliance in theory, the one people are discussing right now, with so much concern, from Washington to Tallinn to Montreal.… Seguir leyendo »
I was in Dublin in May 2015, on the day that Ireland held a referendum on same-sex marriage. The “yes” vote — in favor of allowing gays to marry — won resoundingly. That night, I walked through a street party which took over the city center. People spilled out of the pubs, sat on the curbs, talked and laughed. I was in town for a literary festival and asked one of the people who’d invited me how she had voted. She’d voted yes, she told me, though not because she was particularly invested in same-sex marriage. Instead, she said, “I wanted to show the Catholic Church that they don’t rule us anymore.”
Something like that has just happened again, though this time the issue at stake appeared even more controversial.… Seguir leyendo »
The Northern League started out as a secessionist party, advocating the breakup of Italy and independence for the northern provinces. The Five Star Movement started out as a joke — it was invented by a comedian — and then became a social media operation. Both evolved: The Northern League turned itself into a far-right party, using aggressive language about immigrants, while the Five Star Movement adopted some classic left-wing policies, calling for a universal income and high public spending. Together, they are now set to run the Italian government.
Unsurprisingly, they’ve had difficulty writing a joint program. Most of the things they agree on — conspiracy theories about vaccines; opposition to Russian sanctions; a strong rejection of austerity policies — risk creating a backlash.… Seguir leyendo »
“When I saw the masses of East German citizens there, I knew they were in the right.” A quarter-century later, that was how Lt. Col. Harald Jäger explained his decision to open the gates and let his fellow citizens through the Berlin Wall. Jäger was guarding a border checkpoint on Nov. 9, 1989, in the hours after East German leaders had announced that the travel rules were changing. As Berliners flocked to the wall, demanding to cross into the West, he asked repeatedly for clarification from his superiors, but nothing was forthcoming.
In the end, the crowds persuaded him to act: “At the moment it became so clear to me . … Seguir leyendo »
“I hope that one day we’d be able to return to a country we recognize.” For the first time since she was murdered by a car bomb six months ago, members of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family have spoken publicly about the circumstances that led to her death. Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist who wrote about corruption and money laundering in a country that had turned a blind eye to it. As one of her sons says in a video recorded by an international consortium set up to continue her investigations, she was “fighting to hold Malta and Maltese society to a higher standard.”
She was also reporting on a country that has undergone tumultuous change.… Seguir leyendo »
At long last, people have stopped asking “Is it really happening?” or “Does it really work?” or “Does it even matter?” Facebook has acknowledged the existence of Russian disinformation on its platform and has finally banned sites created by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian institution dedicated to covert online propaganda. Twitter has removed automated Russian botnets. Hearings and major conferences in France, Britain and Brussels have convened in recent weeks to discuss possible government responses to Russian disinformation campaigns within European democracies, too.
I’ve been to some of the conferences, testified at some of the hearings, and have written about the subject ever since Russia dialed up its propaganda war against the West in 2014, following its invasion of Ukraine.… Seguir leyendo »
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then … give it a little push every now and again … like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda,’ because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda,’ the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”
That’s how Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica — the election consulting firm that worked for Donald Trump; the Brexit campaign and dozens of other clients; political parties in Kenya, Mexico and beyond — described the company’s tactics to a “customer” who was, in fact, a reporter for Britain’s Channel 4 News.… Seguir leyendo »
If you’ve glanced at the headlines, then you’re already aware of the sprawling mess that is the Italian political landscape in the aftermath of Sunday’s election. You may already have seen the stories about “trouble for Europe” and the “populist victory.”
But before you move on, let me make the story just a tiny bit more complicated. The biggest beneficiary of the election, the eclectic Five Star Movement, is not a standard, anti-immigration, anti-European, “far-right” or “far-left” party at all. It is instead another version, albeit different in its language and attitude, of Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party, which swept the board in the last French presidential and parliamentary elections.… Seguir leyendo »
“All political careers end in failure,” a British politician once said: Sooner or later everybody gets voted out, overthrown or forgotten. Even knowing that, four months ago nobody would have put Angela Merkel on a list of world leaders most likely to be knifed in the back. Back in September, the German chancellor was elected to a record-breaking fourth term. The formula she had relied on for years — project the image of a safe, frumpy housewife; take decisions slowly and carefully, if at all — defeated all rivals once again.
But although her Christian Democratic Party won more votes than any other, the result was still its worst ever.… Seguir leyendo »
Anti-Semitism is back. Not just as a nasty little fringe sentiment, and not just in the Breitbart comment sections. Not just in social media either, although anyone who posts or tweets and has a Jewish-sounding surname (and even many who don’t) has had to get used to the fact that social media is a perfect conduit for language that would once have been too filthy to use.
The best antidote is not to care; that is what the “block” button on Twitter is for. But when the sentiments begin to creep into mainstream institutions in European countries, then some deeper analysis is required.… Seguir leyendo »
The Streisand effect is one of the curious byproducts of the Internet age. Named for the singer — who tried to suppress a photograph of her Malibu mansion, only to have the picture seen far more widely as a result — it occurs when an attempt to hide, remove or censor something from public view backfires badly.
The Streisand effect is now in full swing in Poland, where a simultaneously incompetent and malevolent government has passed a law — rapidly, in the middle of the night — intended among other things to criminalize the term “Polish death camps” and other expressions implying that the Polish nation was responsible for Auschwitz and other camps built by German Nazis.… Seguir leyendo »
He isn’t the country’s most important politician. In the Czech Republic, as in many European countries, the prime minister is far more powerful than the president. Nevertheless, the Czech president represents his country abroad, speaks on its behalf and generally helps set the tone and tenor of public debate, much like the American president does in the United States. And without question, the reelection of Milos Zeman — who is vulgar and sexist (not to mention aggressively pro-Russian, pro-Chinese, anti-European and anti-NATO) and has been accused of public drunkenness — will set the tone and tenor of public life in the Czech Republic.… Seguir leyendo »
On the journey up the Sierra Nevada to the San Lorenzo ridge, a very few abandoned military posts — forlorn bits of concrete, now green and crumbling — can be glimpsed along the side of the rutted jungle road. But there are no soldiers visible here, in one of the world’s most important bird sanctuaries. The only “uniforms” on display early in the morning are those of the birdwatchers, dressed in green and beige, wearing sensible shoes, carrying notebooks and binoculars.
There is no evidence of war or violence at the La Victoria coffee farm, either. Spreading out through one of the valleys below the ridge, the farm operates spectacularly archaic machinery, brought to Colombia at the end of the 19th century by an Englishman.… Seguir leyendo »
In columns or commentary, one sometimes needs to simplify in order to save space. But here’s my New Year’s resolution: In the coming 12 months, I will try to avoid the expressions “far right” and “populist” whenever possible. They are catch-all adjectives, useful in describing a general phenomenon. But they are also euphemisms, and they disguise what’s at stake.
The terms “right” and “left,” not to mention “far right” and “far left,” have long been due for a rethink. They date from the French Revolution of 1789, when the nobility sat on the right side of the National Assembly, and the revolutionaries sat on the left.… Seguir leyendo »