It’s a competition with some questionable talent, scorned for its lack of taste, and yet the Eurovision Song Contest has an audience of 125m and brings pundits out in force to discuss what is says about the state of Europe today. With this year’s final coming up this Saturday in Malmö, Sweden, we give you the best pieces on how it works and why Europeans care, so that you can mingle with confidence at Eurovision parties.
Did we mention it is seen as a proxy for the political situation in Europe? The FT’s Gideon Rachman wrote in 2008: “With both Eurovision and the EU, expansion has had a similar effect – west Europeans complain that they no longer recognise a club that they founded, and that they continue to fund.”
♦ Cuts to welfare payments in the UK will hit northern communities as much as five times as hard as the Conservative heartlands of the south. Take a look at the FT’s Austerity Audit interactive to see all the research and reporting on the effects of the current government’s radical reforms.
♦ Mona Eltahawy explains why satire is a serious subject in Egypt: “What is satire if not a marriage of civil disobedience to a laugh track, a potent brew of derision and lack of respect that acts as a nettle sting on the thin skin of the humourless? And what is revolution if not the ultimate act of derision against the established powers.”
David Stockman, a former budget director for Ronald Reagan, is fearful for the future of capitalism in the US: “Sooner or later — within a few years, I predict — this latest Wall Street bubble, inflated by an egregious flood of phony money from the Federal Reserve rather than real economic gains, will explode, too.”
The New Yorker’s Lizzie Widdicombe writes about the culture at Vice Media, where a publication that is “a combination of National Geographic, High Times, and Penthouse Forum” is growing its commercial and journalistic ambitions.
Stephan Haggard lays out North Korea’s action and rhetoric, and explains that “it is not clear that the North is in fact escalating in the traditional sense of the term; the game is largely declaratory and rhetorical.”
Police have found “no evidence” so far that anyone else was involved in the death of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, but are retaining “an open mind”, according to one of the detectives working on the case. It’s hardly surprising that questions remain. While one friend told the FT: “In the last few months, he was very depressed, very low. He felt beset by all the issues that surrounded him”, another – Nikolai Glushkov, a fellow Russian exile – told the Guardian’s Luke Harding: “I will never believe in the natural death of Boris Berezovsky.” It may be a while before any certainty is reached [update: police said late on Monday that a postmortem found the cause of death was “consistent with hanging”] – but in the meantime, it’s worth reading up on the life of a man whose influence over his homeland will be felt for a long time to come.
Owen Matthews recalls his first meeting with Berezovsky in 1998, at the “luxurious Logovaz Club, a restored prerevolutionary mansion in central Moscow”. In a piece full of pithy assessments (“Yeltsin may have made Russia free, but it was Berezovsky who made it for sale”; “Berezovsky was Dr. Frankenstein, whose monster was a poker-faced little KGB officer”), Matthews paints a vivid picture of the mathmetician-turned-kingmaker whose love of power contributed to his undoing.
Writing for the FT, Ben Judah contrasts the Berezovsky of old – “they called him ‘the comet’, because he burnt so bright and talked so fast” – with the “insecure, self-doubting and anguished man” of recent months.
Today, a conservative or hardline faction in the Kremlin, emboldened by Putin’s return to the presidency, is seen as jostling to replace the more liberal Medvedev with its own premier. Putin, too, is thought ready to jettison Medvedev as a scapegoat in the event of a crisis such as an economic slowdown – and Russia’s economy has got off to a weak start this year.
For now, the premier remains in the same Gorky-9 compound he occupied as president, in which Boris Yeltsin spent his second presidential term, just off the chic Rublyovskoye Shosse 15km beyond Moscow’s outer ring road. Read more
Back then, China was the junior partner in the relationship. These days, although the Russians would be reluctant to acknowledge it, China is the more important partner – simply because of the sheer size and dynamism of its economy.
That said, there is a time lag in the way the two countries behave on the international stage. Russia is no longer a superpower, but still has the instinct to demand a central role in the settlement of the big international issues – just look at the role that the Russians have assumed over Syria. By contrast, China is an emerging superpower, but is still loath to take the lead on international issues outside of its immediate neighbourhood. Read more
Allegations of election rigging are nothingnew in Russia. But a new study of ballot box fraud has provoked strident denunciations from Kremlin circles – because it has emerged from a corner of the regime least expected.
The study also concluded that Vladimir Putin would have still won the presidential poll in March, but with 52 per cent rather than 65 percent of the vote.
These conclusions, questioning the legitimacy of the ruling party, and the mandate of Mr Putin, would probably have been stomached had they been raised by an opposition group.
But it turns out the Centre is connected to the solid core of the Kremlin. It’s a right-wing thinktank associated with a branch of Putin’s circle known as the “Orthodox Chekisti” for their links to the Orthodox church and their professional backgrounds in the Soviet era security services (“Chekist” in Russian is slang for spy). The Centre’s scientific director is Vladimir Yakunin, chief of Russia’s state railway monopoly, who owns a country house in the same compound as Putin on Lake Komsomolskoe near St Petersburg. Read more
Sergei Ignatiev has been a silent presence at the helm of the Russian central bank for 11 years. The end of his term and the question of succession has “gripped Russian markets, turning the central bank into a hive of intrigue”.
Chinese citizens are increasingly going online to vent their anger over pollution, forcing the government to respond.
Israel’s transport ministry has introduced new bus lines for Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, a moved denounced as segregation – a “response to pressure from Israeli settlers who live in the West Bank but are unhappy about sharing buses with their Palestinian neighbours”.
Gideon became chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times in July 2006. He joined the FT after a 15-year career at The Economist, which included spells as a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok. He also edited The Economist’s business and Asia sections.
His particular interests include American foreign policy, the European Union and globalisation