Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Russia just won the Eurovision propaganda war

Ukraine’s decision to ban Russia's Eurovision contestant from entering the country makes Kiev look like the bad guy. Once again, Moscow has outmaneuvered its enemies.

Eurovision, the annual contest in which European nations compete against one another to produce the best song, has been no stranger to political controversies over its 60 years. But nothing compares to what is now unfolding in Kiev.

This year, the song contest has become entangled in today's most controversial and beguiling geopolitical conflict - Russia's 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea.

The stage was set last May, when Ukrainian contestant Jamala scored a shock win in the 2016 contest with a song about Crimea. It wasn't explicitly about the current conflict. Instead, it was an emotionally intense song about the Soviet Union's mass deportations of Crimean Tatars to Siberia in 1944.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Spectres of a Dutch past

Modern Holland sells itself as enlightened and peaceful, but this perception is not shared in Indonesia. Will today’s election return the Dutch to a more brutal era?

I’m flying somewhere over India at the moment, making my way to Amsterdam after a fascinating week on the Indonesian capital island of Java. Once I land in the morning I’ll be spending the day covering the Dutch election, and it’s safe to say the things I saw here on the other side of the world will be shaping my impressions.

The degree to which today’s election will say something about the direction Europe is heading has been a bit overstated in the English-speaking media. Headlines have declared breathlessly that far-right firebrand Geert Wilders is set to “win” the election and bring the Netherlands into the same axis of populism as the UK and US. But it's not quite that.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Life after the coup

Educated city-dwelling elites in Thailand despised their democratically-elected leader, and many welcomed the country’s 2014 military coup. Are there lessons here for America?

In the centre of Bangkok, at a large roundabout, stands what is perhaps the most ironic monument in Thailand today.

The Democracy Monument, built in 1939 to celebrate the 1932 Siamese revolution which established a constitutional monarchy, attracts few tourists. It is much less of a landmark than its counterpart the Victory Monument not far away, which commemorates the 1941 Thai victory over the French.

As I stand alone below the four solid spikes of the edifice, I see cars and motorbikes wiz by without a glance. Perhaps they are too uncomfortable to look. Thailand has not had a democracy for two years. And if you ask Bangkokians, they’re just fine with that.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Five paths for the post-Brexit EU27

Wednesday's Commission tract on the EU's future suggests a 'two-speed Europe' is probably the way forward. But wouldn't this just create more chaos and confusion?

Should the European Union separate or federate, or somewhere in between? 

This was the question posed in yesterday's remarkably honest and self-reflective white paper on the future of the EU, published by the union's executive body in preparation for a 'declaration of purpose' to be adopted at a summit in Rome next month by the 27 member states who will remain in the EU after Brexit (if it ever happens, that is).

The paper outlines five scenarios for how the EU should react to the Brexit vote - not in terms of how it should proceed with the divorce negotiations, but whether and how it should change itself to avoid any more member states choosing to leave.