Monthly Archives: December 2013

Gideon Rachman

At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.

So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: 

David Gardner

Scene of the huge car bomb explosion that rocked central Beirut, killing Mohamed Chatah and at least four others on December 27, 2013 (Getty)

The bombing in the heart of Beirut on Friday morning, which killed leading Sunni politician Mohammed Chatah, was no random terror attack or communal reprisal. It was a targeted assassination, which would have required careful reconnaissance, detailed intelligence, and complex logistics.

The blast that destroyed Chatah’s car, leaving little but shredded metal and a torn vehicle license that identified its owner, took place not very far from where Rafik Hariri, former prime minister and the towering figure of modern Lebanon, was assassinated by a vast bomb in February 2005

An elderly woman walks through a wintry Spanish city, sadly bemoaning her country’s fate. “All the studies show we always come last in the rankings,” she exclaims, shuffling past a placard highlighting Spain’s poor performance in international education tests.

She bumps into old friends, all of whom tell her of their plans to leave the country and “become foreigners”. At a nearby market, stalls advertise the benefits of becoming German, Scandinavian or British. She meets a tousle-haired man clutching his German certificate: “I want to know what it feels like when everyone owes you money – not the other way around.” 

By Gideon Rachman
I executed a personal pivot to Asia this year, with separate trips to South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China (twice). There was certainly plenty to write about – new leadership in China, Abenomics in Japan, Sino-Japanese confrontation, nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. Yet, on more than one occasion, I found myself sitting in a hotel room in East Asia – but writing about the Middle East.

Judging from our list of the most-read stories of the year, it was a year of personalities, the taper, technology – and increasing turmoil in Syria and Egypt.

This interactive, compiled from the most read stories of the year, gives a picture of what the FT audience was interested in each month.

It’s broken down into four sections, overview, world, companies and markets so you can drill down into the most popular stories in each section. 

Neil Buckley

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Getty)

As Mikhail Khodorkovsky enters a fourth day of freedom in Berlin after his stunning release from a remote prison colony last Friday, some conclusions can now start to be drawn. All suggest it is premature to get too excited about the implications of the liberation of Russia’s most famous political prisoner.

First, though it may be true – as Mr Khodorkovsky claims – that no formal conditions were attached to his pardon by president Vladimir Putin, the former Yukos oil company chief is in de facto exile. He says he will not return to Russia while a $500m legal claim related to his first conviction on fraud and tax evasion charges in 2005 still hangs over him. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled this claim illegal. But unless Russia’s supreme court strikes it out, Mr Khodorkovsky fears it could be used, at the very least, to prevent him from leaving Russia again if he did go back. 

Neil Buckley

The manoeuvre was vintage Putin. After answering journalists’ questions for four hours and five minutes in an annual press conference – which had already included a question about Mikhail Khodorkovsky – the Russian president chose to slip the main news into a casual comment to a group of journalists afterwards. Russia’s most famous political prisoner, and arguably one of the most famous in the world, will be pardoned after ten years in jail “in the shortest time”.

 

♦ In Turkey, Gulenists have burnt their bridges with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, while Mr Erdogan makes no bones about his desire to purge the bureacracy of his former allies. It is, according to one of Turkey’s old secular elite, “like Alien vs Predator.
♦ Edward Luce points out that the Indian politicians expressing outrage over the strip search of diplomat Devyani Khobragade are suffering from a hypocrisy problem: “So far, no Indian leader has expressed a scintilla of concern about the rights of the Indian domestic servant whom Ms Khobragade had allegedly mistreated.”
♦ Ben Bernanke announced the taper, but minimised market discomfort.
♦ David Pilling considers which events shook Asia in 2013.
♦ James Carroll, a former priest, looks back at the first year of a radical pope.
♦ B.R. Myers, an expert on north Korea, explains exactly what happened to Kim Jong Un’s uncle and why Kim doesn’t look smart taking his wife around with him. 

Tony Barber

Ronnie Biggs poses with a 'Wanted' poster: Getty images

Like most Britons raised in the 1960s, I grew up thinking that the human species consisted, in essence, of three types of people: fun-loving musicians like the Beatles, harmless screwballs like Johnny Morris (of BBC television’s Animal Magic series) and unspeakable villains like the Great Train Robbers.

And now the greatest train robber of them all, Ronnie Biggs, has passed away. RIP Ronnie. 

Chequebook diplomacy: With the US becoming an absentee superpower in the Caribbean, the Chinese are moving in.

♦ A corruption investigation has shaken Turkish political and business life with the detention of prominent executives and people close to the government amid a deepening feud within the ranks of a country’s religious conservatives.

♦ In The New Statesman Paul Conroy asks when will people start taking notice of Syria again.

Gun country: The New York Times examines the complicated relationship between the US and firearms, told through the personal stories of Americans.