Is it possible to feel more ambivalent than I do about Orange Is the New Black? I love the actors and I especially love that it is about a culture of women. It is good to see a light shed on the disgraceful situation of prisons in this country. But the experience of being entertained by this soap opera—which is often extremely funny—turns us into tourists of suffering.
Seventy years ago, on June 6, 1944, a heroic group of American Rangers scaled the one-hundred-foot cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc, a vital promontory on the Norman coast. They were setting out to break through the Atlantic Wall—the German defenses spanning from the Arctic to the Pyrenees. Today, these fortifications are monuments to failure.
Twenty-five years have gone by, we have all grown old. But Tank Man in these pictures is still so young. From far away, his white shirt looks like a lily in summer, pure and unblemished. Tanks stopping in front of a lily. A historical moment, a poetic moment. And on the other side of that moment, maybe three thousand lives were taken away, to be forgotten.
Hu Jia is one of China’s best-known political activists. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests as a fifteen-year-old and is currently under house arrest for having launched a commemoration of the June Fourth massacre in January. But on his way back from a rare unsupervised hospital visit, I met up with him for a talk about his work and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tiananmen.
The real danger of the UK Independence Party in EU and local elections is not the party’s own policies, but the reaction it draws from politicians and supporters of the other parties. On the one hand, there is a tendency to brush its success aside, as merely a fairly insignificant protest vote. On the other hand, there is also a dangerous overreaction by the main political parties—and a drift toward an increasingly rigid policy on immigration, even if their heart is not really in it.
Ukraine’s president-elect Petro Poroshenko has his work cut out for him. He needs to end the rebellion in the east, make deals with Ukraine’s powerful oligarchs, fend off a possible threat from Tymoshenko, shore up a sinking economy, and talk to the Kremlin. One Ukrainian journalist told me that some people in Kiev are thinking that it might be better to let the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk go.
The poet Bill Knott always had some eccentric stunt, like the time he walked out on stage at the Guggenheim Museum carrying a brown paper bag, from which he’d extract a poem written on a small notebook paper, hold it up to the light, read a few marvelous lines of poetry and then stop, telling the people this poem is complete shit—and then go through the same routine again and again before deigning to read an entire poem.
On the European left, criticism of the purported fascism of the post-revolutionary government in Ukraine has been de rigeur. It can only be hoped that the Europe’s electoral results will open some eyes. The European left has a real problem, and it is not the Ukrainian far right. It is the European far right, which happens to be popular, and is supported by the Russian far right, which happens to be in power in Moscow.
As Ukrainians go to the polls to elect a new president, something strange is happening in the east. Its rebels, who a few weeks ago were triumphantly wrenching the region away from Kiev, now seem stalled; but without much sign that the government in Kiev is recapturing its lost authority. Rebel control is partial, but few are ready to risk being beaten, kidnapped, or worse to help run polling stations—or vote.
Ukrainian elections mark the eastern boundary of European democracy, which is why they are so threatening for Moscow. With a regularity that is clearly unwelcome, Ukrainians stand up for their rights. Ukraine has deep problems, which can best be addressed by fresh elections—the presidential ones on Sunday, and hopefully parliamentary elections this fall. Ukrainians should be allowed to get on with it.