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How I accosted a Grandmaster

Vagaries of geography make people come up with all sorts of occupations, some quite weird. For example, compulsive chess playing. The island of Grimsey is the only part of Iceland that is intersected by the Arctic Circle. It runs directly across the bed of a legendary pastor. Legend has it that this God-fearing fellow was instrumental in populating the island, while brave young men struggled with the ocean leaving their wives in his care. The current population exceeds one hundred and although everyone laughs at the legend of the fertile pastor, his successor makes only flying visits once a month. […]

An Election Descended from Heaven

The great Russian writer Nikolay Gogol once noted in a private letter that his unwritten works were his “heavenly visitors”’. That is, they already existed in heaven and just had to descend to earth, safely landing in the author’’s mind. That’’s basically what I have to say about the Duma elections due on 4 December, as well as the presidential election due in March. The good news is that their results have already been written in the Kremlin heaven and that all state politics has to do is bring them down to earth safely without any scandals and misunderstandings. I’’m […]

Cursed by History

In his latest book, my friend the Ukrainian writer Taras Prochasko proposed a rather daring thesis. He suggested that, had Germany won the last war, Ukraine would have ended up in the European cultural sphere. My initial response to this statement was that of profound resentment. Of course, I understood that Poland and Ukraine fared very differently during World War II. In a way, Hitler had flirted with the Ukrainians, holding out the prospect of some rudimentary autonomy (or so, at least, it seemed to the Ukrainians), forming Ukrainian SS units and various auxiliary and police units. Poland had simply […]

The Holy Grail Of Hungary

The prime minister of my country, who happens to be the rotating president of the European Union, stressed the special importance of this year’’s Easter for all Hungarians in an article written for his favourite daily. This Easter, Mr Orbán announced we not only celebrate the rising of Jesus Christ along with the revival of nature in the springtime, but we also celebrate the resurrection of Hungary. Mr Schmitt, the Hungarian head of state, gave his approval on the new law in a televised appearance, after which Orbán declared the outcome to be the most modern constitution in Europe to […]

The Polish Ark

Photo: Peter Župník Arriving in Licheń, on a summer’’s day. Approaching from behind I caught my first glimpse of it against the background of the lake: first the azure of the water, then the green of the reeds and the forest and finally all that golden glimmer materializing from the soil like a mirage. Yes, like a golden cloud. A gift from outer space. I drove to a crossroads and then slowly made my way through a bazaar of Blessed Virgins, Jesuses and Popiełuszkos. Turned out in plastic, on rugs, as three-dimensional spectres, on sheet metal. The stalls selling commodities […]

The Gold Harvest

It is a book that won’’t appear until March, yet it has already been hailed as the most important publishing event of 2011. Newspapers have written about it. Journalists and politicians have discussed it on television. It is enough to type the first word of its title into a search engine and hundreds, if not thousands, ofreferences come up. Internet fora are flush with comments. Some are full of indignation, outrage and hatred for the author. He has been called a traitor, a renegade, a liar, a cheat and a slave of mammon. Furious bloggers swear they won’’t touch the […]

Hungarian Christmas Carol Therapy

It has been bothering me for years now that talk of Christmas – in the media but sadly, also in the church – has become completely devoid of meaning.  This year I have found an antidote: Hungarian Christmas carols I have brought back from Budapest. To be precise:  Christmas carols from baroque Hungary. To be even more precise: Christmas carols from baroque Hungarian Transylvania. In terms of music they are your typical baroque Christmas carols, half traditional folk music, idyllic, pastoral, accompanied by bells, gentle and moving.  In terms of lyrics – well, they are Hungarian Christmas carols. The lyrics […]

Lukashenko 4.0

Chinese model in a European country   Belarus has changed a lot in 15 years in spite of  (some say: thanks to) the dictatorship. Its economy has grown at twice the rate of neighbouring Ukraine. This is a Chinese, or rather a Singaporean model. Lukashenko is convinced that it is the one best suited to the Belarusian mentality and geopolitical situation.   Not everyone agrees with him. A parallel society has grown up. Rock music, samizdat and discussion clubs are all flourishing.   In order to ride this wave, Lukashenko is ready to commandeer what used to be the opposition’’s […]

Victory Day

For me, Victory Day represents a watershed in European history. In essence, the history of wars came to an end in 1945. Until then wars, along with other activities, were regarded as man’’s natural pursuit, his natural need, and the pacifist critique of war was considered a marginal and weak-willed phenomenon. Warrior man was a social and gender model. Surpassing all imagination, the horrors of World War II produced an unprecedented humanist syndrome in post-war Europe, completely shattering the positive image of war as such. It became obvious that war cannot be considered a continuation of politics by other means, […]