“Russia is Putin. Russia exists only if there is Putin. There is no Russia without Putin.” These are the words of the Kremlin’s current policy-wizard-in-chief, Vyacheslav Volodin. Many people in Russia happily believe this kind of clap-trap, and even the many who don’t are quite content to live with it. How did it get to this? How did the obscure middle-ranking state functionary of 25 years ago end up as one of the two or three most powerful people in the world?
The political profile is a paradoxical thing, and that is part of its fascination. Power is rarely introspective: at its height it is usually unable to reflect or describe itself, and even at rest the last person you would ask for insight into the politician is the politician. But there comes a phase in political careers when the essential battles are over, when there is no message to stay on, but all is still recent enough to be vivid in the mind and to inform some part of the present day political contest. This is the moment that the eminent historian of government Peter Hennessy chooses to conduct the profiles that are collected in his new book Reflections: Conversations With Politicians …
ELIZABETH JANE HOWARD who died on January 2—‘Jane’ to all who knew her—was an English writer of great originality and honesty. Only at the end of her long life did she receive the recognition she deserved. “I feel like I’ve been playing second fiddle my whole life,” she told me a few weeks before her death. “Now I’m playing first violin and I quite like it.”
I can only recall ever being asked to write two obituaries in my career, but it is kind of fitting that they should be a bookmatched pair: Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. I found these obits in a folder as I was searching for some background on the current fight to oust the blood-soaked president of Syria – so, bedtime reading for Mr Assad, perhaps.
WHAT a library is YouTube! When I first saw it I thought, great – old clips of Johnny Cash! Now I begin to see that the library is more Alexandrian than it is special interest. The Man In Black does have a place, but so does The Woman In White, and every shade in between – and yes, that does include cult philosophers of language and linguistics …
IT IS EASY to forget the river, in London. So when I was ushered (at an early hour) into the riverside office of the Financial Times – to discuss with the editor a profile of the great financial newspaper – I was startled suddenly to see the Thames running so close and so fast, almost lapping the FT‘s panoramic windows beneath Southwark Bridge.
OSAMA bin Laden has been killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a figure of fascination and horror to the end. A journalist who had risked his life to interview bin Laden was asked what the man was like. “Personally? He was charming,” he said. “And very clever.” I never met bin Laden, but soon after he was chased out of Afghanistan, one of the US broadcast networks asked me to prepare this obituary.
IN Iraq Saddam Hussein has been put to death, in circumstances as shocking and repulsive as the dictator himself. But who was he, really? Just before the invasion of Iraq, one of the US broadcast networks asked me to prepare this obituary.