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Top 10 books about Europe | Books

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The European Union is no topic for a novel. It’s not fiction. It’s boring. That’s what everyone told me when I began writing Our Europe: Banquet of Nations. So why did I decide to go ahead in spite of everything? Because I belong to a generation born with the notion that the construction of Europe would be the lasting, unchanging political framework of our lives as citizens. Now this same generation may witness its disintegration.

Today’s Europe is cut off from its own people, and no longer knows how to arouse political enthusiasm. All we see now is its unwieldiness; we forget the utopia at its heart. And yet I remain convinced that, despite our often legitimate anger and frustration with the slowness and dissension within the EU, it remains the most astonishing political adventure of recent decades. Where else and when have 28 countries decided, freely and democratically, to join their fates together?

I opted for the form of a poem rather than an essay, because I believe that the language of poetry is best suited to tell the story of the ashes and utopia from which we were born. Our Europe: Banquet of Nations is a long narrative poem about how one can still want to be European today, and ardently. Here are 10 books that have shaped Europe as we know it.

1. The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer
I’m cheating a little by beginning with these two. But how can I not? From the very beginning there have been wars and voyages, interminable fighting and then the long wandering that follows victory. The Iliad and the Odyssey have engendered so many other works, appeared in other forms, been re-examined (from Virgil to Joyce), that, when it comes to literature, they are Europe’s shared foundation.

Austrian author Stefan Zweig, pictured circa 1920.



Austrian author Stefan Zweig, pictured circa 1920. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

2. The Sleepless World by Stefan Zweig
Zweig is our great, worried European. His entire opus could find its place on a reading list about Europe, but I like this essay (published in Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink) because it develops the motifs of insomnia and nervousness. Zweig sensed the world around him was becoming agitated, and that this would lead to bloodshed.

3. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
I cannot talk about Europe without mentioning the Mediterranean, and The Leopard is one of the greatest Mediterranean novels. It has been unjustly overshadowed in recent years by Visconti’s fine film; one must read Lampedusa to immerse oneself in these southern lands where splendour and misery live side by side, and to understand that our heritage is one of both blood and light.

Londons National Theatre stages Brecht’s Threepenny Opera in 2016.



Londons National Theatre stages Brecht’s Threepenny Opera in 2016. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

4. The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht
Read it, listen to it, or see it performed: Brecht’s cheeky voice and Kurt Weill’s music remind us that our works must never forget the people. And when I think of The Threepenny Opera, I cannot help but think of the production by Giorgio Strehler – another great figure of European culture – which I saw in Paris in 1986, at the age of 14, and which I shall never forget.

5. Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire
I love this text. I often go back to it: one must read it over and over to be reminded of what Europe did when it reigned over the world. Each country wanted to go farther and faster than its neighbours, when it came to colonial predation. It is part of our history. And Césaire reminds us of this, in an enraged and poetic language, and with a mad energy.

6. The Truce by Primo Levi
I could have chosen If This Is a Man, a sober and clinical telling of our great black hole. But The Truce sheds light on an a lesser-known, less debated aspect of the Holocaust: the return. Levi invites us to imagine what Europe was like a few months after the Allied victory: a field of ruins, full of shadows trying to return home.

Resistance … Albert Camus, pictured in Paris in 1957.



Resistance … Albert Camus, pictured in Paris in 1957. Photograph: Loomis Dean/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

7. Letters to a German Friend (in Resistance, Rebellion and Death) by Albert Camus
Camus wrote these three letters in the midst of the war in 1943, while he was in the French resistance. They are a sharp and intelligent reminder of what must constitute our shared foundation: individual freedom, humanism, and the fight against barbarism. When Camus evokes this Europe, yet to be built, he calls on us to build it “in the wind of intelligence”. There is no finer compass.

8. In Europe by Geert Mak
This book is a journey both through present-day Europe and through time. It is a gold mine of information and knowledge and, above all, a precious exercise in repeatedly changing one’s point of view. This is what we are constantly learning how to do in Europe, and it is both difficult and thrilling: each history can be told from another point of view, and we are all the richer for this multiple vision.

9. Compass by Mathias Énard
Like its author, Compass is big and generous. Impressively erudite, the author invites us through his main character – a sickly, insomniac Viennese orientalist and music lover – to head down the road with him on his past journeys. In the novel, Vienna and Damascus mirror each other, as do Europe and Palmyra, in a dialogue of a thousand loving exchanges between east and west.

10. The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha: Spina Nel Cuore by Rhea Galanaki
One of the countless episodes in European history with which I was unfamiliar is that of the Cretan uprising of 1866. Contemporary Greek novelist Rhea Galanaki tells us the story of Greece’s struggle to throw off the Ottoman and Egyptian yoke, through the true story of two brothers who end up confronting one another.

Our Europe: Banquet of Nations by Laurent Gaudé (Europa, £10.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p on all online orders over £15.



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After Criticism, Trump to Select New Location for G7

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Lawyers who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations objected to the move, including several who emphasized that even though Mr. Trump, as president, is exempt from a federal conflict of interest statute, his role in the matter was improper.

“It stinks,” said Charles Fried, a Harvard law professor who served as solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. “It is so completely blatant.”

Some Republicans in Congress also questioned Mr. Trump’s move.

“In the law, there’s a canon that says, avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida, told reporters on Friday, adding, “I think that would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff.”

Former White House officials expressed shock that Mr. Trump would consider hosting an event that would enrich his family, and suggested that the choice would also pose immediate ethical concerns for the world leaders invited to the summit.

“The appearance of impropriety and self-enrichment will likely be troubling to at least some G7 leaders,” said Daniel M. Price, who helped organize the summits for President George W. Bush. “If I were still the U.S. sherpa and the president was invited to attend a summit at a business resort owned by the foreign leader host, my first question would be to White House counsel about whether ethics rules would permit the president to attend.”

The president’s reversal adds another twist to a process that appeared to flout longstanding State Department guidelines for vetting diplomatic event venues — Mr. Mulvaney said the idea for Doral was thought up in the White House dining room. Still, Mr. Mulvaney said aides created a short list of about a dozen sites, and narrowed it down to three possibilities in Hawaii and Utah.

Local officials in those states said they were never notified that the White House was scouting for venues for a major event. A spokeswoman for Gary Herbert, the Republican governor of Utah, said that officials did not know that the White House had considered two locations in the state for the Group of 7. And a spokeswoman for David Ige, the Democratic governor of Hawaii, said they determined that the White House had been looking for locations only after the fact.



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‘Iranian threat’ gives Israel ‘fundamental right, even obligation’ to bomb whomever it wants – Pompeo — RT World News

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Israel should not be constrained by international borders or laws if it feels under threat – and can always rely on US support – US State Secretary Mike Pompeo said following his meeting with Israeli PM and the chief of Mossad.

The US administration has always been “very clear” that it gives Israel a free rein in hunting down any purported sprouts of ‘Iranian threat’ in the region, using national security as an ultimate excuse, Pompeo said in an interview with Jerusalem Post.

Israel has the fundamental right to engage in activity that ensures the security of its people. It’s at the very core of what nation-states not only have the right to do, but an obligation to do.




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The withdrawal of American troops from Syria raised some concerns in Tel Aviv, but Pompeo rushed to emphasize that the US remains committed to “continuing that activity that the US has been engaged in now for a couple of years.”

We know this is a corner where Iran has attempted to move weapon systems across into Syria, into Lebanon, that threatens Israel, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure we have the capacity to identify those so that we can, collectively, respond appropriately.

Pompeo visited Israel following his urgent trip to Turkey, where he convinced President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to temporarily halt the cross-border operation in Syria, somewhat allowing the Trump administration to save its face after the ‘betrayal’ of its Kurdish allies.

In Tel Aviv, Pompeo held a meeting with the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, apparently reassuring them that the US withdrawal wasn’t a sign of weakness or intentions to reduce its pressure on Tehran.




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Brexit sparks boom in applications for politics courses

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The country remains deeply divided over the likely impact of Brexit, but one clear winner has already emerged – politics departments at universities.

There has been a 28% surge in applications to politics courses since the debate about Europe took off in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.

Applications went up by from 34,275 in 2013 to 47,445 in 2018 – according to the UCAS, which oversees admissions.

Liverpool University has trebled the size of its politics department.

That trend is largely reflected at institutions across the country and the number of students accepted on to politics courses in the five years to 2018 rose by 27% to 7,990, according to UCAS.

Liverpool University politics lecturer Jon Tonge says that other dramatic political events, such as the Scottish independence referendum and the 2015 general election, have also boosted applications.

And the fierce, often toxic, nature of the debate on social media has also captured the attention of young people, he said.

“It is a terrible thing to say, but the more unhealthy and divisive the debate is, the better it is for politics departments in terms of bums on seats,” said Prof Tonge.

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It is all a far cry from the Blair years, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dubbed the “tranquil age of politics” by Prof Tonge, when “consensus” reigned and politics courses were “not recruiting in huge numbers”.

Christopher Massey, a lecturer at Teesside University, which has just launched a BA (Hons) course in politics, agrees that Brexit has had a big impact on student numbers but Donald Trump’s presidency and protest movements such as Extinction Rebellion have also played a part.

“You cannot avoid politics now – it has even ousted celebrity culture in the news headlines, as something that shapes their lives,” he says.

‘I enjoy the drama’

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Jake Wilson

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Ted Hollas and Harry Souter are hoping to study politics at university

Ted Hollas and Harry Souter are A-level politics students at York College and both are hoping to study the subject at university.

Ted, 17, who describes himself as “right wing, but socially liberal”, said: “I hear people saying they are so bored with Brexit but I am really interested in it. I follow every twist of it in Parliament and I enjoy the drama.

“I would like a career in politics. I want to get try to get in there and make a difference.

“I imagine its is very intimidating, and a lot of pressure, but I am not going to let that put me off.”

Harry, 18, a self-described left-winger, said: “I got interested in politics through social media.

“When Brexit and Trump being elected happened there was so much more discourse about politics. Because people have such strong opinions you end up getting into it more. It feels more important.

“I like to know what I am talking about and studying politics helps with that. It is rewarding to be able to have a discussion with somebody and explain how you feel.”

Tim Evans, professor of business and political economy at Middlesex University, says politics is a lot less predictable – and lot “messier” – than it used to be, and students do not fit neatly into categories like Leave and Remain.

“I think it’s the most exciting time to study and to teach politics since the rise of the libertarian right in the 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he says.

But like other academics he is at pains to stress that Brexit is not the only game in town. Students are also looking to the global picture and issues such as climate change and artificial intelligence.

Robert Lamb, head of politics at Exeter University, says: “Our students have chosen to study politics because they are increasingly desperate to make sense of the tumultuous and bewildering times in which they live.”

Others see Brexit as a narrow, parochial issue which can put young people off politics.

“The increase in interest in studying politics should not be seen only as a result of dramatic developments in British politics around Brexit but wider shifts in global politics,” says Dibyesh Anand, Professor of International Relations and Head of the School of Social Sciences, at Westminster University.

“In fact, in our case, a very diverse student body has meant relatively tepid interest in British politics but a high interest in politics beyond Britain as well as international relations.

“To an extent, this could also illustrate a challenge British politics faces – it remains dominated by white men – and students from BME background, especially women, do not feel it is welcoming of them.”



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