Raúl Castro, who succeeded his elder brother as president of Cuba in 2008, was elected to a second five-year term, whereupon he announced that it would be his last. A two-term limit — just like George Washington. Who could fail to be reminded of the last sentence of the Farewell Address? “I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow Citizens, the benign influence of good Laws under a free Government, the ever favourite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labours and dangers.”
Yoani Sánchez is a well-known Cuban dissident and blogger. The dictatorship has recently done something remarkable: let her out for a tour. The first country she went to was Brazil, where she was met by, among others, Castro supporters. They screamed at her, called her a CIA stooge, threw Xeroxed dollar bills at her. One of them got close enough to pull her hair. They shut down the screening of a documentary that features Sánchez — a screening that Sánchez herself was to attend. She said, “Even before leaving Cuba I knew this could happen. It’s sad, because I’ve been waiting one year for this. I really wanted to see the film.” Castro backers wanted to see her hounded and humiliated, even outside Cuba.
The Alliance of Civilizations is a shadowy program of international togetherness under the auspices of the United Nations. In practice, the Alliance rounds up a mixed bag of self-selected busybodies and assembles them in a five-star hotel in some pleasant city. An indifferent public usually neither knows nor cares about such freebies. The latest Alliance gathering in Vienna has been different, because Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, chose this venue to play politics. “The time has come,” he said, “to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity just like Zionism, just like anti-Semitism, just like fascism.” Would it be another crime against humanity to note how dispiriting it is that this sort of thing makes for an effective tactic in ascending to the leadership of the Arab world? Arriving in Turkey on his first trip abroad since confirmation in office, Secretary of State John Kerry is reported to have had frosty meetings with Erdogan and Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “Objectionable” was the adjective Kerry applied to Erdogan’s Vienna attack. President Obama has singled out Erdogan as one of the five leaders with whom he enjoys effective working relations. Illusion, what follies are committed in thy name.
Italians have a genius for finding a way through intractable difficulties, and they will have to make use of it, urgently. The country has a debt of 2 trillion euros, the highest in the euro zone (relative to GDP) after Greece. This year alone, it will need to borrow 420 billion euros to service this debt. Over a year ago, Germany offered help on condition that Mario Monti become prime minister. Italians resented becoming a German protectorate and disliked Monti’s tax increases. A general election has left Monti and his party almost invisible. There’s a stand-off in numbers between the Left under Pier Luigi Bersani, an old Communist, and the Right under a Silvio Berlusconi reviving from political death. Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement have polled enough votes to be on the same footing as the two main parties. Sixty-four and also an old Communist, Grillo is a comedian by profession. He looks, dresses, and behaves like an aging hippie. A natural demagogue, he knows how to touch a public nerve and air a prejudice. The incompetence and corruption of the entire political class is one of his favorite themes, and the pacifism of Iran is another. He recommends that Italy, in a clean sweep, break with the euro and return to the old lira. So he has one good idea, which may be enough.
George Galloway is a renegade British MP who has managed the startling feat of becoming the most boorish and obnoxious man in England while belonging to a political party with “Respect” in its title. In February, Galloway visited Christ Church College at the University of Oxford, at which he was supposed to debate a third-year student on the motion “Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank.” The event didn’t last long. A few sentences into the opening speech, it became clear to Galloway that his opponent was an Israeli. Visibly upset, he stormed out. “I don’t debate with Israelis. I’ve been misled,” he shouted while throwing on his coat. This prompted disbelieving calls of “Racism!” from the crowd, but Galloway would not be moved. “Respect,” the party claims, stands for “Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade Unionism.” Perhaps they couldn’t think of an acronym that included “Anti-Semitism”?