Recommended weekly reading

There’s a lot to write about this week, but I thought I’d start with some pointers to things I’ve read recently and found illuminating about various aspects of world politics.

Jan-Werner Müller in the New York Review of Books with a long and very thorough account of Viktor Orbán and his Hungary. Somewhat dispiriting, but a valuable warning of how a democracy can go badly wrong.

Few politicians outside Hungary were eager to take up Orbán’s call to wage a pan-European Kulturkampf. But plenty on the respectable center-right were happy to use him for their own short-term purposes … As with Trump’s victory, Orbán’s success over the years does not demonstrate that right-wing populism is an unstoppable force. Rather, his victories have been enabled by the cynicism of center-right politicians in Europe who refuse to distance themselves from what is in fact a white nationalist government.

Olga Oleinikova at the Conversation with a review of Ukraine’s progress on the fourth anniversary of the 2014 revolution. A substantial list of both pros and cons, but grounds overall for some cautious optimism.

Evidently, the post-Euromaidan government efforts failed to make the case in the West for Ukraine to gain EU membership. Whether the EU will admit Ukraine (and when) is a big question. Within Ukraine, plenty of work remains to be done to ensure the success of its ambitious plans for economic growth, modernisation and accelerated democratisation.

Leila Al Shami at Leila’s Blog with a passionate denunciation of the Assad regime in Syria, its western apologists both left and right, and western indifference more generally. Moving stuff, but solidly grounded in the facts.

How many would consider their own elected government legitimate if it began carrying out mass rape campaigns against dissidents? It’s only the complete dehumanization of Syrians that makes such a position even possible. It’s a racism that sees Syrians as incapable of achieving, let alone deserving, anything better than one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time.

Neil Macdonald at CBC News, Canada, with a disturbing account of double standards in Middle East reporting, where Likud’s apologists are able to silence criticism of Israel’s attacks on the media and growing authoritarianism.

Israeli troops also killed a journalist a few days after CJFE released its statement. Yasser Murtaja, of Ain Media in Gaza, was shot in the abdomen April 6 while wearing a blue flak jacket emblazoned with the word “PRESS.” The picture of Murtaja lying mortally wounded was a dreadful reminder of journalistic vulnerability, particularly for those of us who have reported from war zones while wearing exactly the sort of blue jacket he had on when he was gunned down.

Eric Hendriks at Quillette with a frank assessment of the failings of China’s authoritarian model – worrying for the short term, but perhaps with a hopeful message for the future.

Bell and others loved to compare the ‘serene’ and ‘strong’ Xi with the erratic and clumsy Donald Trump. The comparison has always been misleading, however. Yes, Trump is incompetent – but what do we actually know about Xi? Xi is even more of a princeling than Trump, and he flourishes in a sheltered Party realm. He does not face domestic criticism from anyone. Everywhere, obsequious officials await him with notebooks to jot down his wise utterances. His inviolability is a façade.

The Economist with a review of Madeleine Albright’s new book on fascism, which looks like an excellent read.

As for Mr Trump, a tribune of the impatient, Mrs Albright’s wariness of hyperbole does not mean that she is sanguine. She calls him America’s first modern “anti-democratic president”. Transplanted to a country with fewer safeguards, he “would audition for dictator, because that is where his instincts lead”. In another era she would have been confident that such impulses would be contained by America’s institutions: “I never thought that, at age 80, I would begin to have doubts.”

Two pieces on the harrowing rape case that is exposing the deep divisions in Indian politics: Samar Halarnkar at, and Anuradha Roy at the Wire. I think the battle for India’s future is going to be a big story in the coming months (I’ll try to write something about it soon), but there are lessons here for the rest of us as well.

What can you do as an ordinary citizen trying to survive in a country run by criminal gangs? Mafias on a scale so large that they seem to exist beyond anyone’s reach. Mafias so clever at manipulating belief that millions believe their every lie? What can you do when you see your protectors turn into killers?

Finally, and also in the “harrowing” category, Melissa Gira Grant at New York magazine collects views from sex workers on the Trump administration’s suppression of Backpage, the website that allowed many of them a measure of safety and independence. Cue unsurprising silence from the right’s “free speech” brigade.

I had a regular client for several years and then, he went kind of off the deep end and assaulted me. I haven’t been in contact with him at all. The day that Backpage went down, it was like within the next two or three hours, he was texting me like, “Hey, what’s up? Hey, can I come over?” Just really trying to … I don’t know, capitalize on the fact that people are going to be in panic mode.

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