Though the continent's collected prime ministers will no doubt again pledge to do all that's within their powers to preserve the grandeur of the European Union when they meet today in Brussels, the continent's fate ultimately rests on the quiet, technocratic governments of Italy and Greece. Unfortunately, those administrations have since seen their fortunes diverge considerably. It’s worth noting, however, that their respective failures and successes have been entirely predictable (if not entirely preventable.) Take Italy first.
“The list of controversies grows weekly,” Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, filing from Jerusalem, write in The New York Times.
The world knows well the story of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese poet and dissident who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize—and who is currently serving an eleven-year sentence in prison. Less well-known is the story of his wife, Liu Xia, an artist whose brilliant photographs are equal parts upsetting and compelling. It is a cliché to say that lovers “are one,” but in this case there is much truth to it. Liu Xiaobo’s poems and Liu Xia’s photographs struggle with shared demons and feed from a shared intelligence. The couple met in Beijing art circles in the 1980s and began living together in 1996.
I was reminded of this devastating analysis of the sloppy case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn when I read that his wife, Anne Sinclair, is taking over the French version of The Huffington Post. This factoid was reported in Mediabistro, an online publication founded almost a decade ago by Laurel Touby and whose financing was put together by the sagacious investor Bill Ackman and by less sagacious me.
Exactly one year ago today, I stood in front of the Lawyers Syndicate in downtown Cairo and watched as a few thousand protesters suddenly streamed into the area from the north, overwhelmed Egypt’s notoriously violent riot police, and pushed onward towards Tahrir Square. That mile-long march, which culminated with the protesters bursting through a human chain of officers and seizing the Square, was the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever witnessed, and it remains so.
I. A year has passed since liberal America and the liberal opinion class, in particular, went ecstatic over the Arab debut into the modern world. I know that my standing in that class is suspect. So, being a bit flummoxed myself by the not altogether dissimilar developments in the vast expanse from the Maghreb to Mesopotamia, I conquered my doubts and made a slight stab for hope. But I quickly realized that I was wrong and left the celebration.
With so much alarming going on in the Middle East, it’s hard to keep track of everything that seems to be going wrong. No sooner had the Libyan civil war ended than another erupted in Syria. Iraq appears determined to follow, and perhaps overtake their Syrian neighbors. Egypt remains locked in a multi-sided struggle among the military, the Islamists and the secular liberals.
Is China at war with the West? Hu Jintao, China’s leader, evidently thinks so, and to go by his recent words and actions, the greatest threats are blockbuster movies and reality TV. While the state has been increasing its restrictions on outside cultural products and keeping old barriers in place—limiting the number of foreign movies to 20 a year, for instance—Hu brought the scaremongering to a new level in a recent essay.
Whatever Kim Jong-Il’s death meant for the people of North Korea, it did not change the fundamental strategic interest that the United States has in the country. The paramount issue for Washington remains assuring that Pyongyang never uses its nuclear arsenal, and that it never leaks or gifts its weapons material and technology to other nations or terrorists. But if Washington’s basic strategic posture remains, it should consider revising its current non-proliferation policies in the wake of Pyongyang’s change of leadership.
One evening recently in Rangoon, my friend Ko Ye (not his real name) arrived at the apartment where I was staying, brandishing the latest issue of the weekly newspaper he runs. It was, he announced with great fanfare, a landmark edition: For the first time ever, government censors had allowed him to run a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most prominent dissident, on the cover. The edition also included other previously banned topics: political analysis of U.S. relations with Burma and an article about Martin Luther King that contained the taboo phrase “human rights” in the headline.