Natalie Nougayrède

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Empty tables at a restaurant in St Mark’s square in Venice: coronavirus has highlighted the role public spaces normally play in European life. Photograph: Claudio Furlan/AP

Europeans have stopped shaking hands. That is, I and almost everyone I have come across has stopped.

At an event last week hosted by the German foreign ministry in Berlin, we shunned the handshake. We huddled awkwardly, nodding heads, or half-jokingly stretched out a leg to touch an interlocutor’s foot as a new form of greeting. In Paris, a fashion and perfume store manager told me sales were badly down because “the usual 30 bus loads of Chinese tourists a day” had completely stopped. A taxi driver said he was keeping his car windows open, despite the cold, to avoid contamination from passengers.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘If you think Syria is just a distant quarrel that we Europeans can easily turn our gaze away from, think again.’ A member of the Syrian national army in Ras al-Ayn, Syria. Photograph: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

These past few days have been a watershed for Europe. I’m not thinking about Brexit, but about Syria – which increasingly looks like our 21st-century Spanish civil war. Western and European defeat in Syria (by which I mean political and moral, not just military defeat) has parallels with the 1930s when democracies were unable or unwilling to stand up to authoritarians when it mattered, or even to play any kind of meaningful role in preventing a catastrophe that would soon enough engulf them, too.

Events in north-eastern Syria are obviously tragic, if not lethal, for the tens of thousands of people caught up in them locally.…  Seguir leyendo »

People walk among the crosses at a mass grave in Kuropaty, near Minsk, commemorating the victims of Stalin’s regime. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

In December I travelled to Minsk for a seminar with a group of European historians. A few miles outside the capital of Belarus, we visited places where both the Nazis and Stalin’s secret police had committed some of the worst crimes of the 20th century. During those few days, I also spoke with some young locals who offered glimmers of hope as to what a truly united Europe could one day look like.

It was the most instructive trip I’ve made in years: a deep dive into conflicting European memories, highlighting the difficulty of overcoming stereotypes and ideological narratives, as well as the legacy of the cold war in people’s minds.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Emotions sweep away reason; radical gestures lead to more radical gestures; passion drenches everything; the picture becomes one great confusing swirl.’ Photograph: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty

Watching Catalonia and Spain feels like watching a Pedro Almodóvar movie where all the characters start to act freakily. It could be Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (in this case, a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown) or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (a film about what, in the end, ties us to one another rather than separates us). Don’t get me wrong. Catalonia is a serious matter. But it is also hard not to see the hysteria, the hyperbole, the manipulation. Emotions sweep away reason; radical gestures lead to more radical gestures; passion drenches everything; the picture becomes one great confusing swirl.…  Seguir leyendo »

Has the age of cyber warfare dawned? Barack Obama refrained from calling the hacking of Sony an act of war by North Korea. He prefers to describe it as “cyber vandalism”, and has warned of a “proportionate” response.

As experts ponder what form such retaliation might take – and we still don’t know what caused North Korea’s internet outage this week – there were interesting tweets from Toomas Hendrik Ilves, president of one of the smallest states in the world, Estonia. “Destructive cyber-attacks, as we have seen in the Sony case, threaten all our liberties worldwide if intimidation is allowed to stand.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the world awaited the US Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme under the George W Bush administration, there was very little introspection in Europe. As if European countries had nothing to do with what went on in the hunt for al-Qaida in the years after 9/11. In fact, many of America’s European allies were deeply involved in the CIA programme. And they have managed to stay very quiet about it. Could this change now?

Under President Bush the CIA used a web of European airports and bases for its extraordinary rendition flights, secretly transferring terror suspects across borders for interrogation.…  Seguir leyendo »