September 24, 2023

The Guardian view on European fiction in translation: still too little, too late | Editorial

Progress has been made. But as the wounds of Brexit heal, literature has a key role to play in building a new entente cordialeIt is a running joke in the anglophone literary world that noon on the day that the Nobel prize for literature is announced is an annual moment of collective shame. News of the first Belarusian laureate in 2015 was greeted, according to one writer, by the sound of 10,000 reporters Googling Svetlana Alexievich – though, as Ms Alexievich is herself a distinguished journalist, reporters were on this occasion relatively well placed.When the French novelist JMG Le Clézio took the medal seven years earlier, there was no such luck: his novels were nowhere to be found. His most recent translator, Alison Anderson, reported that it had taken multiple rejections on both sides of the Atlantic before his bestseller, Onitsha, was picked up by an American university press. It took a year after the win for Penguin to scramble two of his works into print in the UK as modern classics. Continue reading...
September 19, 2023

Oh Miriam! Stories from an Extraordinary Life by Miriam Margolyes review – a ‘national trinket’ remembers

The actor follows her unfettered 2021 memoir with a miscellany of showbiz tales, agony aunt advice and her F-bomb on the Today programme“I’m lesbian, I’m short, I’m fat, I’m Jewish, I’m Dickensian,” rattles off Miriam Margolyes, fully aware no string of identity markers could capture her uniqueness. Oh Miriam! is similarly hard to define – a mix of celebrity memoir, sex advice column and anti-Tory soapbox, it demonstrates the loose-cannon plain talk that has endeared her to millions, while pushing back against her caricature. Often snortingly funny, it’s also surprisingly rueful. “Why is it that now I am showered with the work that eluded me for so many years?” she asks.The book jumps between subjects almost at random, but early sections are the freshest, covering stories of her Belarusian émigré family and her adolescence spent in 1950s Oxford. She saltily updates the Proust Questionnaire, a Victorian parlour game that prompts discussion about overrated virtues and personal mottoes. Margolyes’s own conversational icebreakers include: “Who should define madness?”, “Should cunnilingus be taught in schools?” and “Has America’s legacy bettered or worsened human happiness?” Continue reading...
September 15, 2023

Russia-Ukraine war live: Lukashenko proposes ‘three-way cooperation’ with Putin and Kim Jong-un

Belarusian president’s suggestion comes during a meeting with his Russian counterpartIn its daily public intelligence briefing on the war in Ukraine, the UK’s Ministry of Defence appears convinced of Ukrainian claims to have inflicted significant damage on the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. Citing satellite imagery, it writes:Despite the Russian ministry of defence downplaying the damage to the vessels, open-source evidence indicates the Minsk [landing ship] has almost certainly been functionally destroyed, while the Rostov [submarine] has likely suffered catastrophic damage.Any effort to return the submarine to service is likely to take many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. There is a realistic possibility that the complex task of removing the wreckage from the dry docks will place them out of use for many months. This would present the Black Sea fleet with a significant challenge in sustaining fleet maintenance. Continue reading...
September 15, 2023

Li Shangfu: speculation grows over fate of China’s missing defence minister

Li Shangfu, who has not been seen for nearly three weeks, is under house arrest, claims US ambassador to JapanChina’s defence minister has not been seen in almost three weeks, amid reports that he is under investigation, in the latest case of a senior Communist party official to disappear from public view.Gen Li Shangfu was last seen on 29 August when he gave a speech to the China-Africa peace and security forum. His last overseas trip was to Moscow and Minsk in mid-August, where he met Russian officials on the sidelines of a security conference, and with the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko. Continue reading...
September 13, 2023

Britain likes to think it ‘stood alone’ against the Nazis. So why did it convict so few for war crimes? | Jon Silverman

Out of 274 suspects investigated in England, Wales and Scotland, there was only a single convictionJon Silverman is research professor of media and criminal justice at the University of BedfordshireIn the mid-1980s, as Holocaust “awareness” bloomed in western societies, Britain woke up to the revelation that, for 40 years or so, it had provided a safe haven for refugees from eastern Europe whose participation in the genocide had rarely, if ever, come under scrutiny. It was a deeply uncomfortable awakening for a country that had prided itself in “standing alone” against Hitler’s tyranny.The passage of the War Crimes Act 1991 raised the possibility of putting on trial those who had not been British citizens or residents at the time the crimes were committed. The outcome was the prosecution in 1995 of Szymon Serafinowicz, a Belarusian living in Banstead, Surrey, although his trial collapsed when the jury ruled he was mentally unfit, and the conviction in 1999 of one auxiliary policeman, Anthony (Andrzej) Sawoniuk, for murdering Jews in his native Belarus. By then, Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit had been mothballed, and political attention switched to enshrining remembrance, in the form of the first Holocaust Memorial Day.Jon Silverman is research professor of media and criminal justice at the University of Bedfordshire. He is the author, with Robert Sherwood, of the forthcoming book Safe Haven: the United Kingdom’s investigations into Nazi collaborators and the failure of JusticeDo you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here. Continue reading...
September 11, 2023

Khan’s Flesh review – a portrait of the quiet majesty of the mundane

Ordinary events are imbued with a poignancy in this documentary showing the fragile power of community and identity in a Belarusian village Cast in a subdued, beige-toned palette, the tableau-like compositions in Kristina Savutsina’s documentary portrait of a small Belarusian village echo the wry sensibility found in the work of Swedish director Roy Andersson. Like in the latter’s output, Khan’s Flesh traffics in the mundanities of everyday life, where ordinary events also hold the capacity for poignancy and irony.Throughout this crisp 57-minute film, the camera remains static, yet the highly associative editing creates a sense of movement and rhythm out of stillness. Moving from one ordinary space to another – a hospital bed, a church, a community meeting room, even a graveyard – Khan’s Flesh manages to elicit a kind of circular totality out of a constellation of minute gestures. At once simple and monumental, images of reunion and separation, birth and death are strung together in a deliberately undramatic fashion; after all, these are the very facts of life. Continue reading...
September 7, 2023

British American Tobacco to end sales in Russia within a month

London-based company says it has agreed to sell Russian and Belarusian businesses, 18 months after initial decision to withdrawBritish American Tobacco says it will sell its last cigarette in Russia within a month, ending its presence in the world’s fourth-largest tobacco market a year and a half after it first pledged to do so in response to the invasion of Ukraine.The London-based maker of Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes came under fire in March last year after initially continuing to operate in Russia, breaking ranks with global brands such as Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Continue reading...
September 5, 2023

Green Border review – gripping story of refugees’ fight for survival in the forest

Venice film festival: Agnieszka Holland’s brutal and timely drama shines a dark spotlight on the horrors faced by refugees in the exclusion zone between Poland and BelarusAt 74, Polish film-maker Agnieszka Holland has lost none of her passion – or compassion – and this brutal, angry, gruelling drama, in sombre black and white, is recognisably the work of that director who made Europa Europa in 1990. It is about the “green border” exclusion zone between Poland and Belarus, now the location for an apparently unending ordeal for refugees.With sly malice, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has in recent years permitted the admission of refugees, cynically encouraging their hope of getting easily from there on foot across the border into Poland and the EU via the Białowieża Forest – but only as a way of punishing and undermining the European Union for its anti-Belarus sanctions. He has effectively weaponised these desperate souls and the increasingly resentful and aggressive Polish border force avoid the bureaucratic necessity of feeding and housing these incomers in camps and just throw them back over the barbed wire fence, where they live and die in the forest wasteland. Belarus’s “green border” destabilisation strategy helps push Poland into paranoid xenophobia, precisely the geopolitical mood which Lukashenko (and Putin) find congenial.Holland’s drama covers a mosaic of people caught up in this nexus of desperation, hunger, fear and political bad faith: there are refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa, a Polish border guard with a pregnant wife who is having qualms about the brutality he is expected (illegally) to dish out and a Polish psychotherapist horrified and radicalised by witnessing the death of a refugee child, who then joins what amounts to a guerrilla band of young Polish activists who make sorties into the forest to give what medical help and legal assistance they can.The result is a sombre, yet gripping movie in what feels like two separate genres: a movie about the eastern front in the second world war, or the first world war, or perhaps an entirely different, futurist film: a post-apocalyptic drama in which the forest is the site of some frantic survival-struggle experienced by people whose humanity has been almost entirely stripped from them, as if by some nuclear blast or germ warfare strike.When the refugees first stumble euphorically into Poland, believing that their worries are now over, they still feel like human beings. But this is eroded by the pure absurdist horror of being brutally evicted back to Belarus and then thrown back into Poland by two sets of soldiers, neither of whom want the responsibility of dealing with them, back and forth – and all under cover of that forest, whose darkness makes it that bit easier to get away with uniformed brutality.When Afghan English teacher Leila (Behi Djanati Atai) stumbles across a ploughed field and pitifully asks a Polish farmer for water, he obliges and even gives her some apples and points towards a farmhouse where more help is to be had. But when she turns and sees him call someone on his mobile, she panics and runs back to the cover of woodland while he calls after her: “Wait!” Was he really trying to help? Or going to denounce her to the authorities? Farmers in occupied Poland or occupied France must have looked similarly ambiguous.Later, a hatchet-faced Belarusian border guard demands €50 from Leila for a bottle of water; first refusing to give her change for a larger bill and then petulantly grabbing the water back and contemptuously returning her money with a slap. Holland shows that these degrading petty assaults, along with the very real physical violence, chip away at their sense of themselves as human beings. And the Belarusian and Polish guards are themselves scared of each other.And then there is the war in Ukraine, and Holland’s film shows that this very same border force is mobilised to welcome thousands of Ukrainian refugees: somehow all the realistic arguments against refugees appear to have melted away.Green Border is a tough watch: a punch to the solar plexus. But a vital bearing of cinematic witness to what is happening in Europe right now. Continue reading...
September 2, 2023

Nobel Foundation reverses decision to invite Russian ambassador to awards

Foundation backtracks on earlier announcement that representatives from Russia, Belarus and Iran would be invitedThe Nobel Foundation has reversed its decision to invite ambassadors from Russia and Belarus to this year’s Nobel awards ceremony in Stockholm after the invitation sparked anger.In 2022, the Nobel Foundation, which organises the annual Nobel prize ceremony and banquet in Stockholm, decided not to invite the Russian and Belarusian ambassadors to the awards event because of the war in Ukraine. Continue reading...
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