The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Germany’s Choice: America Or Russia?

Germans divide evenly in their sympathies for Russia and America. After the Bush presidency and the Snowden revelations, America is “an erstwhile friend whom many now see as sinister”. German distrust of Russia has grown with the Ukraine crisis, but Germany is “grateful for unification”, cannot imagine ever going to war with Russia again, and sees Russia as a primary focus of German foreign policy (4,630 words)

Boko Haram’s Reign Of Terror

However bad you think it is, it’s worse. Notes from a search team which found two of the kidnapped girls: “They were lying, half-dead, in the sweltering heat, their hands tied to a tree. One of the militia members cut through the ropes. The villagers were so frightened that they hardly dared leave their mud huts. The terrorists had stayed in the village for three days with their victims and killed four unruly girls” (1,800 words)

Nato: Unprotected In The East

What happens if Russia attempts to destabilise the Baltic states and/or violates Estonian or Latvian borders? The Balts can invoke Article 5 of the Nato treaty; but don’t expect Nato to do much in response. There is no emergency plan, and Germany doesn’t want to make one. It fears reaction at home and from Russia. “We wouldn’t even show up in time for the Russians’ victory celebration” (2,125 words)

How Western Is Germany?

Germany’s ties to Russia go deep; deeper than Germany could acknowledge in the post-war decades while it was anchoring itself into the European Union. But even the Second World War now counts as shared history binding Germany and Russia. A new East-West crisis may find Germany choosing, if not Russia’s side, then a position somewhere in the middle. Because, whatever happens, Germany will never attack Russia again (2,390 words)

Interview: Michael Hayden

Former NSA and CIA boss discusses surveillance after Snowden. “It has become harder for American services to cooperate with friendly services with common goals. What foreign service would want to cooperate with us, given our absolute seeming inability to keep anything secret?” Bugging Merkel’s phone was a serious mistake: “Shame on us”. But bugging Schroeder’s would have been understandable (2,900 words)

The Failure Of Venezuela’s New President

Good, clear account of how and why Venezuela has come to the boil in the year since Hugo Chávez died. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, a radical former bus driver promoted solely for his loyalty, has ruined the already-fragile economy with expropriations and price controls. Shops are empty. The currency has collapsed. Government-backed militias are conducting “a campaign of pure terror” against the opposition (1,670 words)

The Power Of Ukraine’s Billionaires

Rinat Akhmetov and Dmitry Firtash own big chunks of Ukraine’s industry and media. They also own big chunks of its government and parliament. When they turned against President Viktor Yanukovych, he was finished. Now they need replacement protégés. Akhmetov gets on well with Yulia Tymoshenko’s people. Firtash backs opposition leader Vitali Klitschko. Has everything changed in Ukraine, so that everything can stay the same? (2,200 words)

Looking For Lessons In Iceland’s Recovery

Interviews with Icelanders including an economist, a fisherman, a green investor and a knitting sexologist, about how the country got back on course after the 2008 crash. It reversed the disastrous diversification into global finance and went back to fishing and tourism. “Shortly after the crisis, the state opened all of its fishing sites, allowing every citizen to catch and sell up to 650 kilograms per day” (2,760 words)

Interview: Hans Küng

Catholic theologian discusses his approaching death, the departure of Pope Benedict and the arrival of Pope Francis. “I recently joined an assisted suicide organization. This doesn’t mean that I aim to commit suicide. But, in the event that my illness worsens, I want to have a guarantee that I can die in a dignified manner. Nowhere in the bible does it say that a person has to stick it out to the decreed end” (3,750 words)

How Ukraine Was Lost

Very interesting. Alexander Kwasniewski, former Polish president who was leading EU negotiations with Ukraine, on lessons learned. Russian trade sanctions worked. The EU pushed too hard for Tymoshenko’s release. “Brussels was naïve. From Putin’s perspective, Ukraine is an important factor, perhaps the most important one of all. He can’t achieve his goal of creating his own Euro-Asian union without Ukraine” (2,230 words)

The Mystery Of The Munich Nazi Art Trove

The story of those 1,400 “degenerate” masterpieces found in an apartment. It’s complicated. Hildebrand Gurlitt, who put the collection together, was purged from his job as a museum director in Hamburg in 1933 because he had a Jewish grandmother; a decade later he was buying paintings for Hitler. His son, Cornelius, in whose flat the paintings were found, has disappeared; he may well be the legal owner of most of them (6,400 words)

Turkified: Why I Can Never Be a Proper German

Marvellous first-person essay on growing up Turkish in Germany. However hard you try, you will never fit in; you are, at best, an object of curiosity. “Pleasing Germans is important. Immigrant parents teach their children this lesson at an early age … In Germany there are two types of immigrants: model immigrants and problem immigrants. You have to decide early, because switching later is difficult” (1,800 words)

How The World Shrugged Off Kristallnacht

To mark the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, German foreign ministry assembles contemporary reports from countries with missions in Nazi Germany. “No country broke off diplomatic relations with Berlin or imposed sanctions, and only Washington recalled its ambassador. Diplomats were puzzled over why the Nazis were acting so violently, especially given the resulting damage to their international reputation” (1,900 words)

The Penitent Warlord

Joshua Milton Blahyi, the former General Butt Naked, killed at least 20,000 with extreme cruelty during Liberia’s long civil war. Now he preaches Christianity and begs forgiveness from his surviving victims. It might be a cynical game — but why bother, in a country with no punishment for war crimes? Another warlord, General Prince Johnson, who tortured and bled the former president to death, is a senator in parliament (3,200 words)

Death In Space

An astronaut fact-checks the film Gravity. Getting a puncture in your space-suit isn’t all bad. “When you’re slowly running out of oxygen, everything seems funny. You slowly nod off. I experienced this phenomenon in an altitude chamber during my training as an astronaut. At some point, someone in the group starts cracking bad jokes. Our brains are gentle with us. A person who dies alone in space dies a cheerful death” (818 words)

Interview With Bashar Assad

Interesting throughout. “How can I still stay in power after two and a half years? Because a big part of the Syrian people support me, the government and the state. Whether that figure is greater or less than 50 percent? I am not saying that it is the bigger part of our population. But a big part means that you are legitimate. That is very simple. And where is another another leader who would be similarly legitimate?” (5,100 words)

Afghanistan: Return Of The Lion

Interview with Ismail Khan. Once among the most powerful of Afghan warlords. When American troops withdraw, he expects to resume that career. Nothing will have changed. “He sees a future in which power is divided between the clans as it was in the past, and in which the mujahedeen, the tribal militias seasoned by battles against the Soviets and later the Taliban, remain the sole governing force” (3,500 words)

The Eastern German Identity Has Disappeared

The institutions that oversaw Germany’s integration more than 20 years ago are winding down. Memories of the former GDR are fading. There is no political or cultural legacy to speak of. “The end of a country is on the horizon, a country that never formally existed: East Germany. A demographic group that also never formally existed is coming to an end, as well: the East Germans. It’s time for an obituary” (1,880 words)

Assad’s Cold Calculation: Poison Gas

Syrian leader has been introducing the use of chemical weapons gradually: one hundred or more killed in March; a thousand or more on August 21st. He is testing the reaction in the West, before going on to bigger things: his father gassed 10,000 in Hama. “Assad believes that no one will do a damn thing to stop him. There is a good chance he is correct”. Tally of the war so far: 100,000 dead, two million refugees (4,000 words)

Interview: Walter Laqueur

On the decline of Europe. Laqueur at 92, is sunk in pessimism. “Freedom, human rights, social justice are all wonderful, and I don’t want to minimize the achievements of European societies. But a role model? Europe is much too weak to play a civilizing or moral role in world politics. Nice speeches and well-intentioned admonitions carry little weight when made from a position of weakness” (2,300 words)

Inside Switzerland’s Fine Art Fortress

A visit to a warehouse in Geneva where the world’s billionaires keep their gold and fine art. The physical security is immense; the greater attraction is that Switzerland treats the warehouse as a free port: no taxes or duties on goods brought there. One downside: there’s so much treasure inside, that insurance companies won’t write any new cover. “A fire in Geneva is seen as the greatest potential loss scenario in the art world” (2,500 words)

The Men Behind Germany’s Building Debacles

Amazing stuff. Spiegel rounds up the architects responsible for three national fiascos — Stuttgart’s train station, Hamburg’s concert house, Berlin’s airport — and asks them to explain. They blame contractors, clients, national character, changing regulations, and, just a little bit, themselves. “A building project doesn’t simply progress from A to Z, with everything going according to plan. Most plans start at the end” (4,000 words)

The Boundaries Of Photo Editing

Computerised post-production editing is almost universal. This piece probes a little deeper by following a master Italian picture editor, Claudio Palmisano, as he works with news images. “Impermissible manipulation includes moving around pixels within a photo. But the choice of development techniques, as well as modifying contrast, saturation and density, are all allowed in principle” (2,500 words)

Wagner’s Dark Shadow: Can We Separate The Man From His Works?

Panoramic review of Richard Wagner’s place in German music, culture and history, as the 200th aniversary of his birth approaches. “Should we allow ourselves to listen to his works with pleasure, even though we know that he was an anti-Semite?”, asks Nike Wagner, his great-grand-daughter. To which Spiegel appends a bigger question: “Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?” (6,000 words)

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