Thursday, January 25, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 25.1.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Some clever folk believe that getting energy from the sun is the way to go. Not the Spanish government, though. It reversed its strategy a couple of years, ending subsidies and penalising private consumers for using solar panels. Not surprising, then, that Spanish MPs have opposed EU measures aimed at increasing private access to 'green' energy. One wonders why.
  • Those of us who've chosen to live in Spain will be surprised at its low ranking in the list of the best countries of the world. These are the winners and the other surprise is that the UK comes in at no. 4. Favoured by the criteria, I guess.
  1. Switzerland
  2. Canada
  3. Germany
  4. The United Kingdom
  5. Japan
  6. Sweden
  7. Australia
  8. The United States
  9. France
  10. The Netherlands
  11. Denmark
  12. Norway
  13. New Zealand
  14. Finland
  15. Italy
  16. Singapore
  17. Austria
  18. Luxembourg
  19. Spain
  20. China
  • Says Fiona Govan of The Local: One of the most obvious cultural clashes experienced when you move to a new country is just how differently parents go about bringing up their children. More from her on Spanish practices here.
  • More critically, here's The Huffington Post (in Spanish) on 10 things which shame Spain.
  • None of these came up, though, in the king's defence of his country at Davos, here.
  • Oh dear. President Rajoy travelled on the inaugural AVE high-speed train from Valencia to Castell√≥n last week. It was delayed by some mechanical problem for 20-30 minutes. But not so long on the way back.
The EU
  • I don't think Don Quijones is too impressed with the ECB's plans for a new financial instrument – the ESB. ESBies, he admits, could come in handy by providing the ECB with a means of continuing to taper its QE program without visiting untold damage on weak, heavily dependent economies like Italy’s or Spain’s. The new instruments might even provide the ECB with a way of gradually liquidating the massive sovereign bond exposures accumulated in its QE program, if it all works out according to plan and nothing breaks. But . . . Naturally, there is a danger that trying to solve the Eurozone’s chronic structural problems with even more extreme forms of financial engineering could end up backfiring. The Law of Unintended Consequences. Which seems quite iron in the EU.
  • A heavy duty has been slapped on Spanish olives. Doubtless there'll be a reaction against some US product(s). There always is in this game.
  • See the nice Times article below on the reaction there to the satirical British film The Death of Stalin. It reminded me of my view that Fart should be treated with scornful humour (Loser!) rather than with counterproductive anger. As the writer says: Bombast and bullying hides weakness and self-doubt.
Nutters Corner
  1. Evangelist Franklin Graham : These alleged affairs with Trump didn’t happen while he was in office. This happened 11, 12, 13, 14 years ago. And so, I think there is a big difference and not that we give anybody a pass, but we have to look at the timeline and that was before he was in office. . . I believe Donald Trump is a good man. He did everything wrong as a candidate and he won, and I don’t understand it. Other than I think God put him there. A very forgiving God that would be, then.
  2. Donald Fart to Mrs May in a phone call on December 19 last year: You could be this generation’s Churchill. I knew the man was out of touch with reality but that far??
  3. US evangelists who gullibly respond to Financial Bible crap. Spellbinding video on this here.
The Gender War
  • A second personal observation: Confused (postmodern?) men who suppress their masculinity – decidedly not the same thing as any form of sexual harassment – end up being rejected by strong women as boring and weak. Discuss.
  • I was a bit taken aback yesterday to learn that Jane Birkin will be performing here later in the year. Talk about a flash from the past. Or perhaps I mean a sigh (or moan).
  • The irritating Mr Mittington has correctly pointed out that there were people executed after the end of  Spain's Civil War. Exclusively of the Left, of course, under the Franco regime. Need I say that I meant during the interregnum that lasted until Franco's death? As in the UK under the  dictator Cromwell.
Today's Cartoon

"We've decided to abolish second class mail"

Tyrannies can’t stand being laughed at: David Aaronovitch

Russia’s decision to ban British satire The Death of Stalin shows how bombast and bullying hides weakness and self-doubt

It must have been just like the good old days. On Monday evening in Moscow a group of politicians sat down with the culture minister to watch a movie, agreed that they didn’t like it and decided to suppress it. That film was the British-made satire The Death of Stalin but the irony of the decision to ban it was lost on those present.

I saw the film last year, and many readers will have seen it too. It’s hard to pick a favourite from the line-up of grotesque characters: Steve Buscemi’s canny Khrushchev, Simon Russell Beale’s terrifying secret police chief Beria, Jason Isaacs’ impulsive army chief Zhukov or Michael Palin’s slippery foreign minister Molotov, able to convince and unconvince himself of the most fundamental beliefs within seconds. But though they were all satirical versions of themselves, the essential truth of the drama was that these men constituted the heart of a cannibalising tyranny, in which they had been scared witless by, and finally liberated from, the vozhd — the great leader.

So why ban it? A potpourri of reasons was offered by the Russians for the decision. It was bad timing, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the German commander Paulus’s surrender at Stalingrad. It was a “planned provocation” (though who by and what of was never made clear). It “smeared the memory of our people who defeated Nazism” apparently. It was an “absolute pasquinade” said Yelena Drapeko, deputy head of the Russian parliament’s culture committee. Which was an odd kind of criticism since “pasquinade” means lampoon or satire — exactly what The Death of Stalin claims to be.

The awful truth about Stalin shown in the movie is essentially the one revealed by Khrushchev in his famous de-Stalinisation speech to the Communist Party Congress in 1956. Joseph Vissarionovich was a mass murderer under whose aegis you could be picked up and shot for no good reason at all. 
Russians have officially known this for years. Even my father, a British Communist Party official who my aunt told me wept on the day that he heard of the dictator’s death, was forced in the end to accept that Stalin had been a bastard.

Russia, of course, is not alone in finding satire hard to stomach. Tyrannies the world over find it impossible to take. Back in 2014 North Korea launched an entire cyberwar against Sony for daring to make fun of Kim Jong-un’s regime in the film The Interview.

Eight years earlier several Arab nations banned Sacha Baron Cohen’s mock documentary Borat. Dubai’s censors cut so much “offensive” material on its release that the 90-minute movie ran to just 30 minutes. Baron Cohen’s later film The Dictator, about a fictional north African leader, attracted similar censorship in one-party states. Much of the Beijing government’s effort to control Chinese social media is about stamping out jokes at the ruling party’s expense.

Moscow has not always been so hostile to representations of the Stalin era. I recently watched a Russian TV version of Vasily Grossman’s book, Life and Fate. It tells the stories of several people during and after the Second World War. But instead of focusing exclusively on heroic resistance to the invading Germans (though there is plenty of that) it also shows how Russians suffered at the hands of Stalin and his henchmen. One, Krymov, an old Bolshevik and a hero of Stalingrad, is arrested, sent to the Lubyanka and tortured to get him to confess to entirely fictitious crimes.

In 1960, the manuscript of the book was seized from Grossman’s apartment by the KGB. Two years later the Soviet ideology chief, Mikhail Suslov, apparently told Grossman that his book was so dangerous that it could not be published for two or three centuries. Grossman died in 1964 with the book unpublished. It took Mikhail Gorbachev’s accession to power for Life and Fate to be available to Russians in Russia.

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, though, Russian nationalism has become far more strident. And a principal beneficiary of this is the memory of Stalin. Last summer one poll asked respondents to name the greatest person in the world of all time. The poet Pushkin was third, Vladimir Putin was second and Stalin was top. One can’t help thinking that it’s just as well for Uncle Joe that he’s already dead — Putin hates coming second.

Two other recent Russian TV dramas help explain the decision to ban The Death of Stalin. One is about Sofya, the 15th-century wife of Ivan III of Muscovy. A beautiful, high-cheek-boned woman, she survives attempts by foreign agents to poison her, defeats the monarchy’s domestic enemies with necessary harshness, and expands Russia’s borders. The second is about Catherine, the 18th-century wife of Tsar Peter III. A beautiful, high-cheek-boned woman, she . . . you can guess the rest. It’s exactly the same, down to the princess-poisoning foreigners.

The theme in both dramas is the one in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1944 film, Ivan the Terrible Part I. Russia’s ruler is reluctantly forced into despotism by traitors at home and saboteurs abroad. Stalin liked Part I but banned Part II.

Why was Stalin so careful? Why are Russia’s censors so careful now? Because in their minds, powerful traitors and foreign enemies surrounded him then and surround them now. One big dissident breath and the whole fragile edifice might come crashing down.

Their outward show of strength is in inverse proportion to their internal self-confidence. In a situation of such weakness, even the way TV depicts history must be controlled.

One of The Death of Stalin’s biggest critics is Nikita Mikhalkov, who accused the film of “smearing the memory” of those who fought the Germans. But he is himself a film-maker — his 1994 film about Stalinism, Burnt by the Sun, won an Academy award. Compare and contrast: we gave him an Oscar and he bans our film. Now a big Putin fan, here he is, like one of those Soviet cultural stooges, arguing for the banning of “inappropriate” works of art. For inappropriate read dangerous.

My favourite objection, though, belongs to Yelena Drapeko. The Death of Stalin, she said, was made to convince Russians that “our people are terrible and our leaders are idiots”. Our leaders in the present tense. This is odd because though Beria, Khrushchev and Molotov are in the movie, Putin, Medvedev and Drapeko herself are not.

But what can you say to someone who takes a secret policeman’s cap and jams it so firmly on her own head? Only that it fits all too well.


Maria said...

As for the gender issue, it would depend on what is masculinity? Is it the expectation of a man to act like a macho-know-it-all? If a woman is looking for a "masculine" man, perhaps she is nostalgic for a time in which most of the decision-making was done by men. In any case, how about searching for a man who is a "person" rather than a stereotype? Feminine and masculine are two words whose meanings have always been subjective, and really are not at all useful in defining a person. A man can be strong and have "feminine" qualities.

Perhaps what the author meant is that "strong" women are searching for "strong" men, and will reject a weak personality saying they're not "masculine" enough, confusing terms.

Perry said...

Since Professor Jordan Peterson's interview with Cathy Newman, I & millions of men & women, have become supporters of the man.

I ordered his latest book & it arrived 20 minutes ago, so I'll be "off watch" for a few hours whilst I read it from cover to cover.

In the interim, I urge everyone to watch videos of his other talks & interviews. Links below. Unless you are a Social Justice Warrior, of course!!!!