Monday, 1 September 2014


It's better to have no friends than to have the wrong friends.

And as Chamfort said, it's better to misspend your youth than to do nothing with it. 

I am almost tempted to apply that to life but no, this is not Christianity. I am tempted to say that it is possible to sin by not sinning, but this is not Christian either.

Serial defaulters

An interesting chart from the Economist shows which countries have defaulted most often.

Greece, astonishingly, only defaulted seven times. However, I read that Greece, following independence from Turkey, was in default for more time than not in default. 

It's largely about religion of course. Catholic and Orthodox countries default most. No surprise there.

We must live with Russia taking part of Ukraine

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

(SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 by W.H. Auden)

We must live with Russia taking part of Ukraine, unfortunately. Dr. Kissinger is right about this. A free and fair referendum in the east would be best but the Russians will not permit this as they would probably lose. A clear division of Ukraine should benefit most of Ukraine which the West will then smother with such love as it can afford. Russia will lose badly because of even limited sanctions and because of lack of investment. Putin is boxed in but he cannot go back. We must try to make sure he believes it would be war if he attacks the Baltic States - that old Cold War illusion that the US would really destroy the world to save Norway.

I remember my brilliant history master, Dr. White, saying that the American nuclear deterrent was pure illusion. What kept the peace was the French atom bomb. No one believed the Americans would launch a nuclear war to save England but everyone knew that the French were bloody minded enough to launch bombs to defend France.

Unfortunately the French bomb cannot help Kiev. In any case the French are cynically about to sell Russia military equipment including warships of just the type useful in invading small countries.

So many British people I know on the right seem to back the Kremlin. I do not. I deplore the unnecessary and unjust Russian invasion as I deplore our invasion of Iraq and our overthrowing Gadaffi's perfectly legitimate government in Libya. I do not know to what extent people in the east of Ukraine want to be part of Russia and the Kremlin will make sure there is no way of finding out. No areas of Ukraine except Crimea had a Russian majority and in Crimea an opinion poll taken in 2011 showed that 71% of the people there wanted Crimea to remain in Ukraine. 

Much more importantly what DID NOT happen and which Putin expected to happen, after he send his men to create rebel republics, was a great uprising in the east. Still, we need to calm this down. Thank God McCain who wants to arm Ukraine is not President and Obama is.

The truth is the West considers it's fine to intervene in dictatorships where brown people live but not in countries where white people do and 'the West' is right to think overturning boundaries by force in Europe sets a very dangerous precedent. In fact we set this dangerous precedent in Kosovo, but this does not mean we should shrug over Ukraine. It is all very very very difficult. It calls for someone like Dr Kissinger and i think the old man's advice this time is good.

Auden's poem written 75 years ago today which I quoted above seems very apposite but this one by Belloc seems more so.

Thinking about what to do about Ukraine it seems wrong to fight Russia or to run away from a fight. This poem comes to mind.


When Bears are seen 
Approaching in the distance,
Make up your mind at once between 
Retreat and Armed Resistance.

A Gentleman remained to fight—
With what result for him?
The Bear, with ill-concealed delight, 
Devoured him, Limb by Limb.

Another Person turned and ran; 
He ran extremely hard:
The Bear was faster than the Man, 
And beat him by a yard.


Decisive action in the hour of need

Denotes the Hero, but does not succeed.

Dr. Kissinger's recent Wall Street Journal article begins:

Libya is in civil war, fundamentalist armies are building a self-declared caliphate across Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan's young democracy is on the verge of paralysis. To these troubles are added a resurgence of tensions with Russia and a relationship with China divided between pledges of cooperation and public recrimination. The concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis.
The search for world order has long been defined almost exclusively by the concepts of Western societies. In the decades following World War II, the U.S.—strengthened in its economy and national confidence—began to take up the torch of international leadership and added a new dimension. A nation founded explicitly on an idea of free and representative governance, the U.S. identified its own rise with the spread of liberty and democracy and credited these forces with an ability to achieve just and lasting peace. The traditional European approach to order had viewed peoples and states as inherently competitive; to constrain the effects of their clashing ambitions, it relied on a balance of power and a concert of enlightened statesmen. The prevalent American view considered people inherently reasonable and inclined toward peaceful compromise and common sense; the spread of democracy was therefore the overarching goal for international order. Free markets would uplift individuals, enrich societies and substitute economic interdependence for traditional international rivalries.

Read the article here.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Douglas Carswell changes the weather

From Facebook:

Labour activist writing on Labour Uncut about Carswell's defection from the Tories to UKIP:

"His constituency is ripe Ukip territory. Old, white, not particularly well off."

Commenter on the article:

"Whatever happened to the time when Labour was interested in the votes of old, white, not well off people?"

Douglas Carswell is my MP. I don't approve of people abroad voting, but since I am allowed to I shall do so. I have the option few  outside Clacton have of voting UKIP without helping Labour or the Liberal Democrats. 

He, Lord Salisbury and Edward Leigh are almost the only British politicians I admire these days, from far away. Mr. Carswell reelected will be a big figure. in a sane world he only MP would be the party leader but the world we live in is not sane.

UKIP should try to avoid policies except on Europe and immigration.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Notes from London - 2.

Wren churches are utterly unspiritual, utterly Protestant and yet I am very fond of them and not only because of their beauty. They are, sadly, very English.

When I was twenty I much preferred Gothic to baroque - now the other way around.

In the National Gallery:

Gainsborough's landscapes sometimes approach the level of Edward Ardizzone.

Tiepolo - there are no words. 

Russia is openly invading Ukraine - here's why

As I was told three weeks ago was inevitable (hat tip to Paul Craggs) Russia is now invading Ukraine. In fact to say this is to fall into the Russian trap - they started the invasion six months ago.

I am convinced Russians do overwhelmingly back Vladmir Putin and understand why but he is a disaster for them. He is now aiming, I suspect, at building a land bridge between Russia and Crimea. Apart from the legal and moral objections to his invasion of Ukraine it is very hard to see what Russia can gain to set against what she will lose.

I am still thinking about Russia and reading things by people who support the Kremlin as well as those who do not. So many people are surer of everything than I am of anything. But these two articles seem to be outstandingly good.

This by 

Russia’s coercive military pressure on Ukraine in the aftermath of the Maidan revolution is typical of the way great powers, including the United States, have behaved in the past.

He reminds us that
Crimea had a popularly-backed separatist movement in the early 1990s, and its leader, Yuri Meshkov, won a landslide victory in a free election in Crimea’s presidential election in early 1994. Yeltsin’s government actively supported Meshkov, and the only thing that brought an end to Russia’s backing for him was the victory of Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine’s presidential election in July 1994. Kuchma was a leader Yeltsin liked and wanted to help.

Mark Kramer explains the reason for the invasion of Ukraine six months ago in this way.

A counterrevolutionary dynamic has been crucial in shaping Russia’s response to the Maidan revolution in Ukraine. Under Putin, Russia has been a deeply counterrevolutionary power since at least 2004 (after the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine) and particularly since December 2011, when mass protests erupted in Moscow and some other Russian cities after fraud marred the parliamentary elections. Having initially been caught off guard, Putin successfully countered the protests in Russia, but the mere fact that unrest broke out at all—and that it quickly took on distinctly anti-Putin overtones—instilled in him a counterrevolutionary obsession, which, combined with his determination to remain in power indefinitely, has been the primary driver of almost everything he has done both at home and abroad since returning to the presidency in May 2012.

Lord Skidelsky is always worth reading. He thinks Putin is in big trouble. He is probably right but I do not see him leaving power in the next few years. 

Leave to one side the moral and geopolitical background of the Ukraine imbroglio. Russians are justified, I believe, in their view that the West took advantage of Russia’s post-communist weakness to encroach on their country’s historic space. The Monroe Doctrine may be incompatible with contemporary international law; but all powers strong enough to enforce a strategic sphere of interest do so.

....But the fact remains that Russia is too weak to challenge the West further, at least in the way that it did in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin is of course right to think that the USA and the EU worked to bring about the revolution in Kiev. The evidence is here, thanks to Peter Hitchens. Russia worked hard to sustain the old regime and probably spent even more money and lost. This is why I do not see Putin as a winner. He did not really win in his war with Georgia either.

In another interesting article, Owen Matthews thinks that those who come after Putin may be worse. and he discusses in an article subbed

Meet Vladimir Putin's real challengers (they're even worse than he is)

the Russians who were running the so-called Donetsk republic.

‘Having taken Crimea, Putin began a revolution from the top,’ Strelkov wrote in June. ‘But if we do not support [this revolution] now, its failure will sweep aside both him and the country.’ Strelkov’s close associate Igor Ivanov, the head of the rebel army’s political department, has also furiously denounced the ‘-Chekist-oligarchic regime’ of Vladimir Putin and has also predicted that Putin will soon fall, leaving only the army and the church to save Russia from chaos.

Are these people worse than Vladimir Putin? They correctly finger him for a Chekist and their Christianity unlike his sounds sincere. And it's great that they love the Whites. Owen Matthews thinks otherwise and astonishingly thinks that the Whites might have been as bad as the Reds.

It will be interesting to see if Putin, as he intends, does die in power. It is less likely than it looked before he invaded Crimea.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Quotations from Alfred Adler

The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.

Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.

Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.

Behind everyone who behaves as if he were superior to others, we can suspect a feeling of inferiority which calls for very special efforts of concealment. It is as if a man feared that he was too small and walked on his toes to make himself seem taller.

Boris the Old Pretender

Boris Johnson made 'a solemn vow' not to sit in Parliament while serving as mayor of London and now intends to do exactly that.

Unfortunately, much as we like him, this should not be acceptable. By accepting it we should connive at a terrible lowering of standards, standards not just in politics but in England generally.

He is making rather obvious attempts to be a pseudo-right-winger - one remembers Edwina Curry waving handcuffs while speaking to the Conservative Party Conference. Boris Johnson has mooted the idea that British citizens who go to Syria should be deemed to have engaged in terrorism unless they prove otherwise which seems un-Conservative - and un-English to me.

I like the idea of stripping Muslim extremists who commit crimes of their citizenship - and men who rape children too - but I don't see why fighting in a civil war in a foreign country should be a criminal offence.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Notes from England - 1.

I tried to watch the new Doctor Who last night. He is a Scotchman, presumably to help persuade the Scots to stay in the United Kingdom. I was dismayed that two of the female characters in a children's programme were married to one another and try to draw comfort from the fact that one of the two is from Outer Space and has scales. 

I am reading the first pages of 'The Riddle of the Sands' - my yacht cruise whetted my appetite - and find I am saddened by how much less hierarchical England is these days. Then solicitors were ipso facto middle-class and vulgar. I sometimes think I should have gone to the bar and fought against the zeitgeist there. But better to be in Bucharest and away from it all.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sir Richard Attenborough has died

I am (much) too young to remember Richard Attenborough the actor and haven't seen the films he acted in on television. My mother liked them, though. I didn't much like the ones he made. 

Dickie the luvvie slightly bored me and he seemed a humourless progressive. When at an awards ceremony Mel Smith made a joke about a new film called 'Gandhi 2: The Empire Strikes Back' the camera panned on Dickie, who glowered.

Now Smith and Dickie and all our great men are dead. I'm not feeling so well myself.

'Is the West willing to live with the Islamic State governing and raising armies in the heart of the Middle East? The question is not rhetorical.'

This is an Interesting analysis by Fred Kagan in  the Sunday Telegraph.

We British helped create this horror and we have to do something to help Kurds, including Yezidis, and Christians. Partly this is for humanitarian motives and some would say why shouldn't we help the Shia too and then I am not exactly clear how to answer. I do not think the so-called Caliphate is a direct threat to British interests. The direct threat comes from many young Muslims in Britain and from allowing further immigration


My nephew-godson's 21st birthday and my niece's 18th birthday party. Discussing how time flies, I hear myself say,

'I remember the Soviet Union breaking up and then whoosh it's now.'

Kazimierz Dolny and Warsaw

Wojcech saw that I was in Lublin on Facebook and  recommended Kazimierz Dolny. Touristy and thoroughly predigested but I enjoyed it, restaurants, amazing architecture and sylvan walks, despite myself. 

Kazimierz Dolny, merchant's house, market square
Detail from the facade of the house

Kazimierz Dolny is a village with quite extraordinary architecture. it is no longer a real village but a tourist place but it is not too full of trippers and the man in the tourist information centre told me that 80% are Polish. The churches and the houses are remarkable, especially the one in the photograph above.

Then a taxi to the nearest station twenty minutes away and the two hour journey through attractive countryside to Warsaw. 

I had forgotten - twenty years passed since I was last here - that it is beautiful. Warsaw rebuilt after the war - not a brick was left standing by the Germans - is not simply evidence of the rebirth of the human spirit because it was rebuilt under the Communist regime, baroque churches and all. The same Stalin who had partitioned Poland with Germany in 1939. 

One thinks all the time of what the Germans did here in the war. It feels like a sort of morgue.

However, Warsaw is something for Poles to take pride in as well as sorrow. The old town itself is pretty and wisely they did not rebuild the mid and late 19th century buildings but rebuilt it as it had been earlier, but it is a place for tourists, a kind of Covent Garden. Much more interesting is the long Royal Route which winds through a mile or more to the old town, full of copies of wonderful airy classical buildings. Someone said a copy is an act of cowardice following an act of courage but I wonder if this should apply to Warsaw and decide that clearly it doesn't. The centre of Warsaw is a very attractive and does make Bucharest look the shabby compromised place that of course it is.

Like Sweden, Poland does not quite feel Germanic, at least not in these parts which were annexed by Russia - and not in Cracow which was part of Austria either. Poland is herself.

Embedded image permalink
Warsaw: Palace of Culture, a present from the USSR

Friday, 22 August 2014

More thoughts on Vladimir Putin

There is a case for Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine but people who admire him have forgotten what the KGB was like. Is like.

ISIS and Al Qaeda are a reaction to Western hegemony, and so is Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

The case for Putin is beautifully argued here and is very hard to rebut. The Americans and the rest of us misunderstood diplomacy badly - Kissinger and George HW Bush would not have done so -  but yet Putin is still clearly bad news for his own people as well as for his neighbours.
Strobe Talbott (remember him?) has written an interesting historical / biographical background to Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Yeltsin saved the former USSR from wars, except in poor crucified Chechnya and gave Russia democracy. But it is easy to understand why Russians regard him as a drunken traitor who sold his country and stole a fortune. What is sad but equally easy to understand is that they despise Gorbachev. In a way it is Russia's version of the stab in the back theory whereby Germans blamed the social democrats (and Jews) for defeat in 1918. Gorbachev, for all his folly in imagining Leninism could be made democratic, did make Russians free and ended the Communism that he wanted to reinvigorate. It is not true that all this was inevitable. Had Chernyenko lived twenty years the USSR would have lived with him.

Edward Lucas's book, The New Cold War, was prescient. Hard to believe six years have passed since it came out. But Russian economic success hadn't only been because of rising energy prices. A middle class has been created, though not one that critiques Communism or Putin. Instead Stalin is being rehabilitated but not Lenin. What, as Lenin once asked, is to be done?  


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Lublin and rain

I told Kevin as we drove that had my Romanian friend come with us - he was detained in Bucharest by affairs - he would have wanted to stay out late drinking. Kevin said that in that case it was a good thing he didn't come with us and I felt a great sense of being middle aged. The truth is that this no longer appeals to me either. How did this happen to us?

I had wanted to visit Zamosc since a Pole told me in 1990 on the railway platform in Plovdiv that Cracow was far too touristy and that I should visit Zamosc. All tourists hate other tourists just as all egoists hate other egoists. I have asked many people since then who lived in Poland about Zamosc and all said that they had never been there but always wanted to. Finally today, after 24 years, I made it.

And it is beautiful indeed, built by an Italian architect in the 16th century and undamaged by wars. It's small enough, tiny in fact, to be easily ruined by tourism but it hasn't been. It's still full of useful shops except in the main square which is cafes. One senses that though the architecture is Palladian the wide open spaces of the Ukrainian steppe are close and we are in the far East - the far East of the early modern period. 



Kevin has a great number of strongly held opinions, as an Englishman should so long as they are reasonably original. One is hatred of pigeons. He admires the great beauty of Zamosc but the cruel nails with which architraves are dotted to deter pigeons are what most appeal to him. 

But the real surprise was Lublin, where I am staying, enjoying a nice inexpensive central hotel, the Europa, the oldest hotel in the town and one of the oldest in Poland. Kevin has gone on now somewhere and I am chilling.

Lublin is a, by me, unexpectedly glorious discovery, where I shall linger three nights. Yes it is touristy but very few tourists compared to Vilnius or Cracow, with which it invites comparison. Still the old town is the usual array of Irish pubs and tourist restaurants. On the other hand outside the city walls there is also much to see that is old and beautiful and has not become a museum. There are a lot of wonderful baroque churches.

It has a similar gate to Vilnius's.

Cracow gate, Lublin

Lublin Cathedral
But next year I shall escape tourists altogether in Albania, Georgia or Armenia. They have not been transmuted into tourist industry plant. 

Crimea, though I am sure it is discovered and touristed, would also be fascinating.

When Poland ceased to exist in the 18th century Lublin was taken by Austria but it spent the century after 1815 in Russia and it does not have the Germanic feeling of Central Europe but something more northern and eastern. Its history after 1939 was tragic of course. The town had been German and Jewish but the Jews were wiped out, the Ukrainian and Polish guerrilla armies suppressed and Stalinism imposed.

I began today with a delightfully dark sky, drizzle and a very good Polish breakfast indeed. Black bread which I couldn't find in Ukraine. Wonderful roulades. I recommend the Europa for food. Indeed I love Polish food, which is wonderful. But how can a cuisine which involves copious amounts of dumplings, pancakes and meat not be wonderful? The same goes of course for Ukraine and Russia.

What a wonderful country Poland is - Catholic, gallant, aristocratic. As an Eglishman former great powers speak to me - Poland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal. If only Poland and Sweden could be great powers again in place of Russia. Although actually Sweden is far too socially liberal and Poland is moving in that direction too. 

If only Poland could free Europe from rule by the generation of 1968. But it won't happen. I suppose that is the role for which Vladimir Putin is positioning himself. And so many people I speak to assume that he must be right because the EU the UK and the USA must be wrong. The truth is I feel that the social conservatives are the KGB's new useful idiots,

Rain continues today, not too heavy, which for an Englishman feels right in August and a tremendous liberation. Towns are always at their most beautiful and most characteristic in the rain and rain cools everything down and makes it pleasant to don my linen jacket. I am always happier for practical and philosophical reasons when wearing a linen jacket. I am free. The sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy myself.  I can relax.

Putin right or wrong

Unfortunately this article, by a distinguished American political scientist, on why the Ukraine crisis is America's fault is mostly true, but it doesn't explain what America should do now or why Ukraine shouldn't be as free and prosperous as Poland.

Putin is the kind of ruler Russians admire and for some good reasons. They admire Peter the Great, Alexander II and frequently Stalin. Putin's behaviour over Ukraine and Georgia is exactly the behaviour of earlier Russian rulers and was precipitated by foolish Americans. It was the kind of behaviour of Frederick the Great or Bismarck completely understood. Nevertheless Putin is on the whole the enemy of Russia, and, for all her very many faults, even in the eyes of conservatives America is on the whole her friend. 

Russia deserves to escape from autocracy, kleptocracy and the KGB but it almost certainly won't happen. Once again de Maistre is right: every country has the government she deserves. 

Cioran aphorism

I cannot admire nihilists like Emil Cioran or Samuel Beckett, but this aphorism of Cioran's is funny.

"In a world without melancholy nightingales would belch."

Here are some more aphorisms that I love.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Back in the UkSSR

I paid five lei (one pound) for a shared taxi from Sapanta to Sighet, a distance of eight or nine miles and there met Kevin who had driven up from Bucharest. We crossed the Ukrainian border in half an hour.

Ukraine is enchanting, like Romania in the Nineties before things were spoilt. The Northern Maramures and the Ukrainian  Carpathians are as beautiful as anywhere I've ever been, included Bosnia, Switzerland or Transylvania. 

We started over the border and in a moment were in Solotvino, the birthplace of Robert Maxwell, the bouncing Czech, who in fact came from here - Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, which was in Czechoslovakia after being in Hungary and before being taken by the USSR.

Our second stop was Dilove, the centre of Europe, at least according to the Austrian imperial government. I remember when John Major became Prime Minister of England and said he wanted Britain to be at the heart of Europe Charles Moore pointed out that the centre of Europe was in fact some miles south-east of Vilnius. However there appears to be more than one suitor for this honour. I hope this one is the real one, outside the EU and in a neglected and forgotten country.

Statues of Bandera, a very interesting tragic figure of whom I want to know more, are seen in small towns along our way. People do not know about the war the Ukrainians fought against the Communists and the Poles during and for many years after the second world war. This war fought by Galicians often in conjunction with the Germans is what creates the hatred for Nazis and fascists in eastern Ukraine and which Vladimir Putin is trying, with only partial success, to exploit.

Like Romania, Ukraine does not have motorways, or not here, and so the journey is enjoyable and we see the country unfold. A poor country but a very good one.

Ivano Frankivsk was the town where we stopped for the first night. A pretty and very relaxing place, with the deep peace of a provincial town in a poor country. The buildings in the centre are Austrian and belle epoque and it is clear that the disappearance of the Austrian Hungarian Empire was a tragedy for everyone, even the beneficiaries. The reason the empire ceased to exist was Woodrew Wilson and his Fourteen Points, the triumph of Gladstonian liberalism. 

Wilson's direct descendents are the American cold warriors and George W. Bush. Wilsonianism is what helped overthrow the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Viktor Yanukovitch and now has landed us in the crisis we are in with Vladimir Putin. On this I cannot make up my mind. The Americans and the EU handled things stupidly because they are liberals and yet why should the Ukrainians not have the freedom and prosperity of Poland?

I love Ukraine where people seem like normal human beings, not clones and companymen. Communism is in many ways oddly less corrupting than the ideology we have in the West. Of course Ivano Frankivsk is very Western, another lovely Habsburg city built in the first age of globalisation. I pray the Russian invaders leave Ukraine but it seems Ukraine wins even if she loses, for she would lose her backward Russified provinces. In fact Russia will surely not annex those provinces because that would throw Ukraine forever into the arms of the Americans. But even without making this mistake, I think Russia will certainly lose.

I eat blinis nonstop but they don't call them blinis for geopolitical reasons.

We stay at the George in Lvov/Lviv/Lemburg. I like to find the oldest hotel in a city, the one that's a landmark, and hope it's mildly run to seed, shabby genteel. This one is exactly that, like the Londonskaya in Odessa or the Pera Palace in Constantinople before it was renovated and thereby ruined.

We have three nights in Lviv and plenty of time but we don't see nearly all that there is to be seen - the city has about sixty old churches and i think I saw fewer than ten.

I am enthralled by Lvov though it is almost too touristy, almost on the cusp. The Lonely Planet guide I carry with me printed in 2005 says it is is like Prague was before it was renovated and overran but since 2005 much has changed and tourism has increased by 2004 since 2010. Now, though, it is like Cracow was in the early 1990s, somewhat touristy but yet retaining some innocence. 

It feels in places like the Austrian city it was in the 19th century. In other places it feels Italian, truly the Florence of the East that is its nickname. Sometimes it seems the Polish city it also was. 

Two restaurants were recommended to us. One is Kryjivka, a restaurant that would horrify Russians as it is a homage to the partisans who fought the Red Army and sometimes the Germans and Poles in the Second World War. It is underground and you have to know a password before you are allowed to enter. It is fun and full of pictures of Bandera. The food is fine. Kryjivka is a different restaurant, by the way, from this one, which was accused of anti-Semitism.

Kryjivka: underground resistance Banderist restaurant where we ate. They don't let you in unless you know the password which our hotel gave us.
The other restaurant we were recommended was House of Fairy Tales, where each floor of a four room house has the theme of a fairy tale. This seems to be very Ukrainian in its tweeness. I thought it looked enormous fun but my friend Kevin refused to eat there. He said the dwarves put him off. He felt they were being exploited. I find the Ukrainian sense of humour and fantasy delightful.

We went to the prison this morning where the NKVD murdered thousands of people before the Gestapo revealed the NKVD murders and then used it for their own political prisoners and murders. then it became NKVD and KGB again. A very searing experience. This was the organisation that Vladimir Putin wanted to join from early boyhood and which is now running Russia. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is now admired by people who should know better as a social conservative and Christian gentleman.

KGB Gestapo NKVD prison in Lvov where so many died.

St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, handed back by the Orthodox

Sapanta and the festival

I took a taxi from Satu Mare to Sapanta. It took an hour and a half, the way was beautiful and it cost RON 200 which is just over EUR 40. But rural Romania is changing. In August the villages were crammed with peasants who had emigrated and were returning for their summer holidays. Many of the villages were full of expensive houses built by people who had made money abroad.

Sapanta is famous for its merry cemetery, full of brightly painted tombstones with verses inscribed by a village craftsman, Mr. Stan, from the 1930s onwards with stories of the lives of the deceased. They have no literary value but are a wonderful piece of naive art and make me think of Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard and that peerless history of medieval village life in Catalonia, Montaillou. 

Mr. Pop the tombstone maker of Sapanta

The cemetery became a recognised tourist site under Communism and the tombstone maker claimed friendship with Nicolae Ceasescu. The tombstones are notable for the complete absence of references to religion. I am too lazy to write more about the cemetery and append this link to a very good article from the American press. 

We were here for the performance of Sean Davey's orchestral piece last night which sets many epitaphs to music. It was performed behind the cemetery itself. The occasion was haunting. The turnout was not as high as I expected and I was  disappointed for Peter and the organisers though for myself I do not want a Sapanta crowded with outsiders.

Chilly and raining this morning. Sapanta has WiFi and espressos. The old order changeth. I met many carpet makers, a farrier and other craftsmen yesterday and all say they love their work, which their ancestors have done for generations. They all seem happy but say that their children have gone to high school and have book learning and won't carry on the craft. The children will get mortgages I suppose and credit cards. As I type this clumsily with my index finger the singing from the church reminds me it is the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, a big festivity here, and I must go to Mass.

Shepherd taking it easy, Sapanta

This is what I wrote last time I was in the Maramures. I can't believe nine years have passed. 

Satu Mare in the dog days

The TV says it will be 38º Celsius in the shade in Bucharest today, which is 100º - and 50º in the sun, which is 122º. The Maramures where I'm off is equally hot. And I left my panama under a tree in Africa.

But a panama would not do for the Maramures, though it would save me from sunburn or sunstroke. I remember gratefully my hat from the last old-fashioned shop in Strada Lipscani which still sells useful cheap things. 

The traditional hat of the Maramures is the clop, which balances on the head and looks much too small. 

It's supposed to be highs 30s Celsius but it doesn't seem so hot to me which proves I have not become a Romanian because every summer hits them like an unlooked for calamity. Every winter ditto.

As i left the office on my way to the airport I asked the woman in the lift if my hat made me look like a shepherd.
'No, an agriculturist [peasant-farmer].'
Mission accomplished.

My plan had been to take the train from Bucharest to Sighet and then be met by someone who would take me to the Maramuresan village of Sapanta and Peter Hurley's festival 'The Long Road to the Merry Cemetery', but I changed my plan for a better one and flew for the same money to Satu Mare. Instead of sleeping on the hot train I hugely enjoyed Satu Mare in the evening and in the immense heat. 

A man wIth a shard-like metal leg is wearing shorts in the cruel heat. Dog days in a small, poor, once grand town. All these handsome German- Jewish- Hungarian towns that got handed out to new countries in 1919 and given new names in the languages of the local peasants. I have visited them from Grodno in Belarus to Subotica in  the Voivodina and Ljubljana in Slovenia.

I strolled around the lovely, badly dilapidated  Hapsburg streets and finally found an appetite and ate good Hungarian food: veal paprikas in a good restaurant with a jazz singer called sternly No Pardon. The intense heat starts to abate as the sun sets. 

Gundel pancakes, Tokay, jazz classics.

I feel wonderfully happy

The proof is that I feel positively benign to the three year old girl at the next table in the restaurant. She is noisy but a mid-Victorian angel.

Satu Mare is exactly my kind of town, romantically decrepit. John Betjeman would have called it dim.

It should be in Hungary of course but if it were how dull it would be, though well painted and cared for.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Harold Wilson???????????????????????

The Royal Mail in Britain have issued eight stamps with great Prime Ministers on them and Harold Wilson is one of them.

Harold Wilson???????????????????????

I remember Stefan Andrei told me 

'Harold Wilson was the best Prime Minister Britain ever had' 
but this was an eccentric view even by the standards of Ceausescu's foreign minister.

I would have put in Pitt the Elder, Palmerston and Disraeli too. Grey yes, Salisbury probably. Attlee yes. Mrs Thatcher probably. Blair no and anyway he is still alive. Wellington and Canning no. 

Asquith was infinitely better than Wilson, but so was almost everyone. I can only think he is there because people still remember him, he won elections and he invented anti-discrimination laws, the most regrettable of his achievements.

What about Ukraine?

"Ukraine is a thorn in the side of anti-war leftists because it completely explodes their claim that there is nothing odd, nothing prejudiced, about their myopic focus on Israel. If these protesters truly were consistent in their loathing of war, especially wars contributed to by our governments, then they would have marched and tweeted and shouted about Ukraine as much as they have done about Israel. But they haven't."
My friend Ruth Dudley Edwards repeats in The Telegraph the point I made in this blog a few days ago.

I don't agree with her, however, that this proves that anti-Israel people are in fact anti-semites. The word 'antisemitism' is bandied around too much, even though I myself have bandied it around a lot.

I think I would be convinced that there was a surging tide of left-wing antisemitism spilling over England if at least some people were complaining that Ed Miliband is Jewish. I do not see anyone doing that. Nor did people say this of Michael Howard. When Ralph Miliband was attacked as 'the man who hated Britain' by the Mail all hell broke loose, something only explicable because people felt it was an antisemitic attack, which it was not.

Ukraine - I am taking neither the Russian nor the US line, but sympathise with Ukraine

The US and the EU were responsible for starting the Ukrainian crisis, by helping overthrow Viktor Yanukovych's government. The West were very foolish. Much of the problem is American idealistic diplomats as in Graham Greene's The Quiet American, a novel about inept American diplomacy in Vietnam.  How much foreigners helped and how crucial that help was nobody knows.

People who prefer Putin to the US and EU - many of these on the eurosceptic right and the anti-immigrant right - reasonably say that the US has no right to complain about Russia intervening in Ukraine after 'we' intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq. This would be a fair point were it not that the same people passionately object to our intervening in Iraq and being in Afghanistan. I objected to the US and UK intervening in Iraq - and the UK and France intervening in Libya - and the attempt to intervene in Syria - and Russia walking into a sovereign state and annexing part of it.

I am not clear why Russia has to see the US and EU as a threat now that Russia, though with a very different political culture from the EU's, does not represent any more a competing ideology. Of course, I know that a victory for the pro-European street protesters in Kiev was a threat to the Putin regime. The last successful revolution in Kiev probably led some years later to similar protests in Moscow. But this is not at all the same as the ideological battle between the Soviet Union and the democratic countries of Europe.

In any event, I am  clear that there is no strategic or economic reason why Russia should want Eastern Ukraine, but the coup in Donetsk is not about fear of a Western invasion of Russia via Ukraine and still less about economics.

People compare Putin to Hitler, a foolish but understandable comparison. Hitler began expanding within three years of coming to power, while Putin did nothing until he got Georgia to attack Russian troops in Georgia in 2008. Another distinction is that Sudeten and Polish Germans wanted to be in the Reich. Russians in Ukraine seem not to want to rebel against Kiev, to Putin's dismay no doubt.

Who gains? 

China for sure, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues here..

Moldova has gained - and may one day join the EU? 

Russia will lose. Europe will lose. Ukraine might well gain in the end by moving into the Western orbit.