Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, in Florence
How To Write About Authoritarians Without Getting Arrested
Since the Berlin Wall came down and Francis Fukuyama announced the End of History, “stasis” has had by far the better of the argument. From 1989 onward Western political arguments were conducted within extremely narrow lines, with radicals and reactionaries thoroughly excluded. Liberal democracy lacked plausible ideological challengers, in the West and elsewhere: Neither radical Islam nor Putinism had anything like the appeal of Marxism and fascism in their heyday. The contradictions of capitalism inspired plenty of criticism but little in the way of active resistance. And every time a seemingly world-historical crisis came along — Sept. 11, the Great Recession — it turned out to just circulate the same groups of elites in and out of power. Ross Douthat on crisis or stasis?
I’M SO OLD I CAN REMEMBER WHEN PEOPLE MOCKED ITS INCLUSION IN THE “AXIS OF EVIL:” Lawmakers move to step up defenses against North Korea
Westerners were growing up on the films of James Bond, Soviet citizens had their own favourite spy, a wartime agent who went under the name of Max Otto von Stierlitz. And it could easily have been Stierlitz who prompted Vladimir Putin to join the KGB, writes Dina Newman.The USSR’s answer to James Bond was a very different kind of spy. He had no time for women or gadgets. His life was devoted entirely to his work in Berlin in World War Two, where, under cover, he infiltrated the German high command.Stierlitz was the hero of a 12-part series, Seventeen Moments of Spring, screened on Soviet TV every year around 9 May – the date the USSR marked as the end of World War Two.
Apart from being a gripping drama, it has a perfect Cold War plotline, with Stierlitz disrupting secret peace negotiations between the Nazis and the Americans in 1945. But the film also had another hidden purpose.“The film showed the importance of secret agents, who are highly respected people in our country. It instilled patriotism in the post-war generation,” says Shashkova.In fact, it was commissioned by Yuri Andropov – then head of the KGB, later the country’s leader – as part of a PR campaign designed to attract young, educated recruits.Vladimir Putin has never said whether or not it was Stierlitz who inspired him to become a spy. But he was 21 when the film was first screened, and he joined the KGB two years later.