The Orientalist by Tom Reiss

Ali and Nino, the closest thing that modern Azerbaijan has to a national novel, was first published in German in 1937, sold in various translations, hit US bestseller lists in the early 1970s and bears the name Kurban Said as its author.

But the question of the author’s identity had never been resolved. All anyone agreed on was that Kurban Said was the pen name of a writer who had probably come from Baku, an oil city in the Caucasus, and that he was either a nationalist poet who was killed in the Gulags, or the dilettante son of an oil millionaire, or a Viennese cafe-society writer who died in Italy after stabbing himself in the foot.

The answer, which Reiss gets to quickly, is essentially, “All of the above.” And therein, of course, lies a tale. Or twelve.
Continue reading

The Gay Chancellor?

In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the governing Social Democrat (SPD)s got whipped, to the tune of a 10 percent drop at the polls. In Berlin, by contrast, the SPD picked up 1.1 percent, received the most votes of any party, and now has the option of continuing its coalition with the Left (PDS) or forming a new one with the Greens. (Behind the SPD, the big winners in Berlin were the Greens — up to 13.1 percent from 9.1 percent — and “other” — parties that did not top the 5-percent hurdle collectively accounted for 13.8 percent of the vote.) Like its northern neighbor, Berlin has high unemployment. It also has a crushing debt that is slowly being worked out through budget consolidation and deals with the national government. It also still has lingering constraints from the old days (personnel appointed for life, pensions for former GDR bureaucrats, possibly some remaining double institutions). In short, economically Berlin is the kind of place that turfs out governments on a regular basis, particularly given voter volatility in postcommunist societies. Yet, the SPD-led government was not only re-elected, its share of votes even increased modestly. Why?
Continue reading

The Torygraph Comes Through, or

The Return of the ?berpimp?

In things German, I usually check the Daily Telegraph several times before believing what they write, much less quoting them. But this story falls into a particular category, known in journalistic jargon as “too good to check.” (Thanks, Atrios.)

Update: I think this is fiction, or at the very least “sexed up.” That hasn’t stopped the discussion from spreading. See notes at the end of the posting.
Continue reading

Not Everybody Likes Orange

Or the idea that while Russia can bring hundreds of millions of goodies for Kuchma and Yanukovych, the European Union, Poland and other countries to the west have things to offer too.

One publication from Ukraine sees the conference we mentioned as evidence that Germany has been plotting a coup in Kiev. (The URL in the article takes me to a binary stream that I didn’t trust; maybe someone else can enlighten us on what temnik.com.ua is all about.) It doesn’t look like the authors — who considered the fall of Milosevic a coup, too — have discovered Fistful yet.

Anyway, below the fold is a taste of how the other side thinks. (Thanks to the Ukraine List for the translation.)
Continue reading

Memories of the Wall

I suspect that I’m in a minority of AFOE’s writers and readers in that I actually saw the Berlin Wall in place pre-1989. We were on a school trip to Germany in 1987 and had actually been given permission to travel to West Berlin, so we naturally went to see the Wall. Strangely, though, it’s not the Wall that sticks in my memory from that trip – like most people my chief mental image of it is it being toppled in 1989 – but the journey between Hanover and Berlin, travelling by coach across East Germany on a long autobahn that had been effectively sealed off from the rest of the country, large embankments to either side of the road making it impossible for us to see any of the GDR – and, indeed, for anyone in the GDR to see any of us. I still have my old passport from that trip, complete with a GDR stamp within it.

Fifteen years after that, I saw some of the Wall again – in Rapid City, South Dakota, all of places, where two sections of it are on permanent display downtown. The one thing I do remember of seeing in West Berlin – the layers of graffiti covering the Western side of the Wall – aren’t really shown by the sections Rapid City acquired but then that’s merely a reminder of just how long it was.

The continuing partition of Berlin

Reparlez-moi des roses de Gottingen
qui m’accompagnent
dans l’autre Allemagne
? l’heure o? colombes et vautours s’?loignent.
De quel c?t? du mur, la fronti?re vous rassure…

Tell me again about the roses in Gottingen
that come with me
into the other Germany
when the doves and vultures part ways.
From whichever side of the wall, the border comforts you…

– Patricia Kaas, D’Allemagne

Today is the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as Tobias notes, political unification has not created the single, new Germany its authors so fervently hoped for.

Fifteen years ago today, I watched the news from my dorm in Strasbourg, having, only the day before, decided to cancel my planned trip to Berlin that weekend. Otherwise, I would have had a valid train ticket to the street party of the century. By the time the wall came down, it was impossible to get train fare or a room anywhere in the city, and going was simply out of the question.

Damn.
Continue reading

In Search of A Lost Time

I don’t know if one day when historians come to examine what exactly happened (or should I say what went wrong) with the EU they will be able to identify that defining moment, the decisive hour, when everything went sailing down the river. If they are so able I wouldn’t mind a quick bet that it might be sometime about now. The ideal of the EU, it seems to me, is being blown away before our very eyes. Maybe the fault is with the politicians, maybe it is with the institutions, maybe it is with all of us: but this cannot be like this. Failure to advance a consensus on reform and the constitution cannot (or at least should not) let us fall back into our old ways of cynical cutting up the cake, power politics and triple alliances. We have, as I have been trying to suggest, a Euro which is about to fall apart between the competing pressures of Northern stringency (the Netherlands) and Southern laxity (Italy), while what is being proposed here will do nothing to help whatsoever.
Continue reading