John Laughland

Confusion, snobbery and Pegida – a letter from Dresden

Sachsenschweine — Saxon pigs — said the graffiti as my train moved out of Berlin on its way to Dresden. Germany is not as monolithic as it can seem: not only do some of its ancient kingdoms continue a ghostly existence as states of the Federal Republic, but also their populations nurture historic rivalries, at

Ukraine: It’s not about Europe vs Russia

To discuss the Ukrainian crisis in terms of a choice between Europe and Russia is misleading for several reasons. First, the European issue has been ruthlessly exploited by the Ukrainian opposition and its Western backers as an excuse for overthrowing the government illegally and by force. Opposition leaders have never distanced themselves from the most

Paris: Parc life

Autumn in Paris has been immortalised in one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s most poignant poems. Having left his wife in Berlin, Rilke moved to Paris in 1902 where he wrote ‘Herbsttag’ (Autumn Day). ‘Whoever is alone now, will remain so for long. He will stay up late, write long letters and wander restlessly in the

Why France’s gay marriage debate has started to look like a revolution

Paris: Revolutions are often sparked by an unexpected shock to an already weakened regime. As commentators in France remark not only on the crisis engulfing François Hollande’s government but also on the apparent death-rattle of the country’s entire political system, it could be that his flagship policy of legalising gay marriage — or rather, the gigantic

A master of tactical retreat

A fanciful and doubtless risky parallel between Charles de Gaulle and the Russian emperor Alexander I suggested itself while I read Marie-Pierre Rey’s superb new biography of the latter. Both men came to power through an act of political parricide: Alexander because he was tacitly complicit in the plot to overthrow his father, a plot

Travel: Shop like a Roman

When I am in Rome, I do as the Romans — I engage in rampant materialism. The eternal city may be — via the Church which has its headquarters there — the way to heaven; its population, however, is more interested in this world than the next. The city is full of superb shops, as

Travel: The charms of le barroux 

If you are looking for an undiscovered part of Provence, then you can forget about Le Barroux. Apart from the fact that both Petrarch and Pope Clement V spent their summers nearby in the 14th century, the pretty hilltop village topped by its disproportionately large castle has been the holiday destination of members of the

Deeply perplexing

This book is about the fate of 230 French women sent to the German concentration camps in January 1943. Arrested as members of the Resistance, they first went to Auschwitz before being transferred to Ravensbrück and Mauthausen as the Allies advanced. In Auschwitz they witnessed some of the most terrible scenes in human history. Only

Vive les vacances!

‘Vous partez?’ ‘Vous partez un petit peu?’ ‘Quand est-ce que vous partez?’ Since early June, Parisians have been asking and answering these questions remorselessly, their minds fixed on holidays and nothing else. Since early July, the capital has been emptying out dramatically: the markets are deserted, shops are boarded up, food supplies even run down.

Liberty, equality, fecundity

At a wedding in the Loire last weekend, in the grounds of the groom’s parents’ small château, an acquaintance from work unexpectedly materialised out of the crowd. In his early thirties, he introduced me to his blonde, gangling wife, maybe a year younger than he. The conversation turned to children: they have four, including a

A right mess

Observing French politics in the run-up to next spring’s presidential elections is like watching one of those slow-motion films of controlled car crashes in which a dummy and its vehicle are rammed into a wall. Nicolas Sarkozy is the dummy, who will make one last ungainly gesticulation as he lurches into catastrophe, and the coalition

Revenge tragedy

As a hardened opponent of military interventionism and international war crimes tribunals, I find I am often floored when Rwanda is invoked. ‘How can you possibly advocate standing idly by when hundreds of thousands of people are being massacred?’ is a difficult question to answer. The events in Rwanda in 1994 have become the supreme

The end of the rainbow: a guide to the colour revolutions

In contrast to the storming of the Bastille, the spate of revolutions which have flickered across our television screens in the last two decades have tended to adopt brand images connected with colours or plants. Most of them have wilted as quickly as they flowered. Whether Burma in 2007, Armenia in 2008, Tehran in 2009,

Meet Italy’s answer to Boris

Gianni Alemanno, Rome’s new right-wing mayor, tells John Laughland that it’s time for the Eternal City to adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ approach There are few people, I imagine, who could make Boris Johnson jealous, but Gianni Alemanno is probably one of them. Two days before Boris’s election as Mayor of London, the conservative Alemanno conquered

Fish fries in Half Moon Fort

When you think of Barbados, you think of celebrities. Tony Blair’s annual holidays in Sir Cliff Richard’s villa; high-profile Hello! weddings on the beach or the golf course, like that of Tiger Woods or Jemma Kidd and the future Duke of Wellington; the absorbing sight of an enormous Luciano Pavarotti being gently decanted into the

There’s no place like home

When we said we were thinking of moving to Urbino, our friends ooh-ed and aah-ed with envy. Urbino is a perfectly preserved mediaeval and Renaissance fortified town which sits on a hill in the Italian Marches commanding spectacular views over the surrounding fields and valleys. Its layout has hardly changed since the day when Duke

Public places and private faces

‘Kings, who are the sovereign arbiters of the fortune and the conduct of men, are always themselves the most severely judged and the most curiously observed.’ Louis XIV complained in his memoirs (addressed to his son) about the public gaze in which monarchs lived, and the malicious gossip to which they were always therefore subject:

Giants in petty strife

Listing page content here ‘In London, if a man have the misfortune to attach himself to letters, I know not with whom he is to live, nor how he is to pass his time in suitable society.’ David Hume was notorious for preferring Edinburgh’s intellectual life to London’s, but the city where the philosopher was

A chat with Milosevic

John Laughland on a memorable encounter with the butcher of the Balkans at the UN detention centre in The Hague — and his claims of innocence to the last I was one of the last Western journalists to meet Slobodan Milosevic. It was early last year. A fierce wind was whipping the cold rain straight

Full Marx for George Bush

Ever since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there has been a seemingly endless flow of self-congratulatory comment in the West about how former communist countries — and even some which have remained communist — are gradually westernising and learning the ropes in the capitalist jungle. Very often, these countries’ so-called progress is in fact