The arrest of a reporter who held up a poster during a Russian news broadcast criticising the war in Ukraine reminds us how dictatorships operate. One of Vladimir Putin’s first acts on the home front, after sending his tanks over the Ukrainian border, was to pass a law specifying jail terms of up to 15 years for anyone who dares to disseminate ‘fake news’ – i.e. anything which contradicts his government’s lies – about the Russian war effort.
More than 100,000 people registered interest in giving a place in their homes for Ukrainian refugees under a government scheme, after widespread criticism of bureaucratic obstacles, though refugees would still require a visa. The scheme was the responsibility of Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary; asked if he would take in a refugee, he said: ‘Without going into my personal circumstances, there are a couple of things I need to sort out – but, yes.
Skopje, North Macedonia
In the West, it’s tempting to believe that revulsion at Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is universal, and that he’s receiving support only from a handful of miscreant countries like Venezuela, Syria and Iran. I wish this were true. I’m in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, where there’s much sympathy for Putin, which has only increased since the invasion began. This is despite the government in North Macedonia being pro-western and pretty decent when compared with its predecessors and many of its neighbours.
The ex-Speaker John Bercow has been found to be a serial bully and serial liar. The ancients would have had views on both counts.
Bercow’s bullying seems to have arisen from his uncontrollable temper. The philosopher Seneca (an adviser to Nero) painted a memorable picture of the physical results: ‘The eyes blaze and flash, the whole face is crimson, blood surges up his heart, the lips quiver, the teeth clench, the hair bristles, breathing is forced and harsh…’ (Seneca would have suggested showing Bercow a mirror).
Who first coined the place name ‘Londongrad’? The name was used in a BBC sitcom called Comrade Dad, written by Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent, and first broadcast in 1984. It was set in a Britain of 1999 when the Soviet Union had annexed the country. However, the first use of the term has been traced to an obscure columnist, Senator Soaper, writing for the Montana Standard in 1931. Ridiculing George Bernard Shaw’s fondness for communism, he gave Shaw’s address as ‘Whitehall Courtsky, Londongrad’.
Sir: I have been turning Owen Matthews’s article (‘Putin’s rage’, 5 March) over in my mind since I read it, and I feel compelled to respond. I am married to a Ukrainian, so I have some insight into the relevant history.
After the Wall came down, my wife’s uncle Stephan visited us in England. He had spent 20 years in a Soviet gulag because his brother – my father-in-law – had fought against the Russians for a free Ukraine in the 1940s, during what they still call the Great Patriotic War.