Monday, 31 December 2012

A snippet of the most intriguing stories from 2012

2012: the year that changed everything. Or did it?

I’ve been lucky enough to spend this Christmas with my family on the beautiful island of Antigua. Every day, just before sunset, I take a walk through the luscious Caribbean rainforest which surrounds the area. Whilst these daily exertions have run the risk of being hounded by packs of savage dogs and, on one terrifying occasion, murderous donkeys (like cows, they have an evil glint to their eyes) they have also been an opportunity for reflection. Today, I was contemplating how innovative 2012 has been.

It’s been a big year. I've turned 18, left school and been financially severed from my parents. Britain held the Queen’s diamond jubilee, the London Olympics and is now expecting the birth of their future monarch. The world has been dragged through elections, uprisings, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, economic turmoil and, through all the chaos, records have been broken, discoveries have been made and random acts of kindness endure. In a farewell salute to the past 365 days, I thought I’d ponder over some of the elements which have shaped 2012 in their own, unique way. This is not a summary. Nor is it a list of the most influential events or individuals. It's a snippet: a handful of newspaper cuttings from this incredible year.

Bradley Wiggins

It is as a lowly and inactive observer that I celebrate the achievements of Bradley Wiggins this year. He is, in my opinion, the British icon of 2012. Sir Wiggo (knighted at this year’s honours) became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France and, during London 2012, joined Sir Chris Hoy as the most decorated British Olympian. He beat the French at their own game and he effortlessly rocks canary yellow and sideburns. The man is a true role model and made me care that bit more about the world of cycling than I did last year. I pray that he doesn’t do ' a Lance Armstrong' on us.

Marie Colvin

This is a personal tribute as well as a nod to the news story which has dominated media outlets throughout 2012 and has inflamed sensibilities across the globe: the Syrian revolution. This year has not been without heartbreak, disappointments and tragedies. Among those was the untimely death of Marie Colvin. An award-winning War correspondent, her remarkable bravery and determination are an inspiration to me and thousands of others. In 1999, through her reporting and refusal to leave a besieged compound, she was credited with saving the lives of 1,500 women and children. This was not an isolated incident – she was not deterred when in 2001 she lost the sight in her left eye after falling under attack in Sri Lanka. Right up until the end she was a woman who fought for the causes she believed in: despite the Syrian authorities’ attempts to prevent foreign journalists from covering the uprising, Colvin crossed the border illegally on the back on a motorcycle. It was a move which led to her death in the city of Homs in February – she has not, and will not, be forgotten.

The Evolution of the Meme

How could we forget Gangnam style, Kony 2012, the Overly Attached Girlfriend and the Ridiculously Photogenic Guy? We couldn’t. Because as an internet user, and I assume you are one if you are reading this, you will see them ALL over the internet. Whilst you can dismiss spending hours mindlessly watching videos of cats flushing toilets and chimpanzees on segways as a waste of time, it’s important to put it into perspective: we are possibly witnessing the beginning of a universal sense of humour. Just think, if the world shared the same jokes we could solve conflicts and prevent wars just by showing the “other side” a meme of the Grumpy cat. It brightens my day to have a little giggle at, what really is, a shared celebration of the absurdities of life. Whilst it is imperative that we pay attention to the monumental episodes of this year, it is also important that we don’t forget the small ones…

Images from

Pussy Riot

It’s time I wrote about this. Like L’Affaire Merah it’s something I’ve been following all year but for some reason cannot bring myself to write about properly. Nevertheless, I need to address one of the central effects of Pussy Riot: the incarcerated Russian rockers have revolutionalised the nature of political protest. They have illustrated, like the Occupy movement and Kony 2012, that the internet is a powerful political force: upload a video to YouTube and you can trigger a worldwide political movement, supported by stars such as Madonna, Paul Macartney and Lady Gaga. It doesn’t even need to be a universal struggle – make it “stylish” and the trends of the Internet will bring in the cyber troops. I will not attempt to defend Pussy Riot: what they did was wrong and I cannot abide the hypocrisy of western “democracies” in their accusations. Their punishment, however, was disproportionate to their crime and justice should always be fought for. 2012 also saw the re-election of Vladimir Putin, a strong leader often criticised for his inflexibility. This event alone will have long-term consequences for Russian politics and the country’s relations with the West.

The Denver and Newtown shootings

The killings shocked America and the world. Lack of gun control meant that the lives of hundreds were needlessly lost because of an out-dated, dangerous clause in the American constitution. Whilst some argue that it is unbalanced to focus on these events when the American government has been responsible for the deaths of so many innocent citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan , it doesn't change the fact that gun crime brings grief and hardship to families every year. This pain could be prevented. Shootings happen all over the world but it happens more often and more violently in the US. This needs to stop. Everyone knows it. The die-hard protection of the 2nd amendment has always been seen as inevitable and its revision impossible. Will 2012 be the year that the NRA finally starts to see eye-to-eye with the rest of the world?

If you’re not drunk already, take a moment to reflect on what 2012 has meant to you. I wish you all a very Happy New Year!


© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Friday, 28 December 2012

What to expect when you read Bulgakov's Master and Margarita

An article I wrote for Yuppee Magazine - published 28/12/12

Expect the unexpected...
Admittedly, the title is somewhat 
suggestive of Christian Grey at a cocktail party. I am sorry to disappoint all the 50 Shades fans out there, but this is not the case. As a classic, The Master and Margarita is a definitively cerebral work of literature: I fully expected it to be one of those books that would take me months to read and, on turning the last page, I'd congratulate myself on having run an intellectual marathon, cross-eyed from the confusion of nuances that only the most educated of scholars can decode. Do not be seduced by this expectation. Whilst The Master and Margarita is certainly one of the most complex books I've ever read, it is also a captivating tale of love, courage and black magic...

Click here to read the rest...

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Generation XXX: should we accept that Porn is now a force to be reckoned with?

Porn: an odd taboo. It causes people to recoil with embarrassment at the very mention of it, yet every second over 28,000 internet users are viewing pornographic material. In other words, whether by accident, curiosity or motivation, we’ve all seen it. If you are prepared to admit that it’s kinky to watch other human beings engage in sexual acts then watching porn is really no big deal. Pornography and voyeurism has existed since the beginning of time: there’s the kama sutra, Ancient Greek eroticism and, well, I highly doubt Neanderthals bothered to install mammoth skin privacy screens between cave dwellings.

An impressive example of ancient pornography that I encountered in the ruins of Pompei 3 years ago 

As a yahoo baby, I am from the generation that grew up together with the internet. On the eve of my 16th birthday there was no longer any need for “the talk”: I, along with my contemporaries, had already discovered the facts of life by myself, either through adolescent shenanigans or the World Wide Web. Indeed, the average age of internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old. Free and unrestricted access to adult content has revolutionised sex education:  for many, it is now their primary input of information and arguably not a bad one – far more lucid than awkwardly sliding a condom over a banana. However, as is so typical of the internet, every social progression has its drawbacks: from early on youngsters learn about a warped and often extreme form of sexual intercourse. These images tend to colour the fantasies which stay with a person forever. Furthermore, opposition groups point to evidence that suggests that porn has had desensitising effects on young consumers.

Before researching this article, I was at war with the porn industry – albeit, mentally. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. Before any male readers scoff in disgust and accuse me of penis envy, I’ll reassure you that I am not about to give you a lecture on feminism. Well, maybe a tiny one. What Caitlin voiced were the anxieties I’ve been feeling for a while now. The industry, and the expectations it implies, have distorted today’s sex lives rather drastically. Take, for example, the Brazilian wax. Most men now expect the women they encounter to be partly, if not fully shaven, thereby instilling in all of us a fear of the “Hairy Mary”. Whilst I’m all for a bit of maintenance, why should we go through the pre-planning, extortionate costs and PAIN of having our genitals stripped so that they look like a pre-pubescent child’s? As Caitlin put it “we’re basically paying money to own a vagina”. All because the porn industry says so.

And it’s not just women who are affected. Most men are now driven by a feeling of inadequacy, both in the muscular and phallus department. How are they meant to compete with the Channing Tatum/Ryan Gosling/Christian Bale ideal? This is a direct result of the regular consumption of videos involving women with bouncing plastic boobs and men with monster shlongs.

Jesse Jane: the male ideal

In order to get some direction in analysing this colossal minefield of controversy, I decided I’d conduct a mini-survey (20 people: 10 female, 10 male) of my friends’ pornographic preferences. I didn't realise how tricky this would actually be: few people want to talk about it, it’s a very private part of people's lives. However, I did manage to cobble together some form of data. The most revealing aspect about my survey was the absence of female voices – they either denied that they watched porn (which, sadly, may very well be true) or didn't want to answer my question. Official research found that 70% of women keep their cyber activities secret. I think that this reveals a fundamental problem with our modern and tolerant society. My male participants readily provided me with a healthy diversity of categories from blonde babes (6/10), schoolgirls (2/10) and threesomes (3/10), to MILF (4/10), lesbian (4/10) and anal (2/10). Men know what they want and what turns them on – for them it’s usually positive experimentation and exploration. Perhaps it’s my age, but why this discrepancy ladies? There are thousands of women out there who watch it and enjoy it, but why do the majority remain silent? Does our society see the publicised consumption of pornography as unacceptable? If women are to win the battle of ridiculous expectations we need to beat the industry at its own game. I am calling all women to arms; Amazonian style. Whether you like it or not, Porn is now an indestructible part of our culture and I say we embrace it. As a $4.9 billion industry it’s never going to disappear – the effects, be they positive or negative, cannot be reversed. Let’s get porn savvy.

There is one big problem with this theory. When I asked one friend why she didn’t watch porn she replied that the violence of “regular” porn scares her. To her credit, she’s right to be freaked: if someone was trying to brutalise me with a gigantic sausage, rasping into my ear like a sick goat, I would run a mile. Porn always seems to be the same old drill (as it were) and is completely unrealistic. Where are the muffin tops, awkward bra tangles and queefs? There comes a point in a woman’s life where, as she tries her hardest to bend her pale, flabby body into ‘The Pretzel’, she must sit her man down and tell him, sweetly, that she will never be the Sasha Grey or Alexis Texas of his dreams. What my friend’s fears told me, more than anything, was how unfriendly the porn industry is towards the average woman: girls generally want passion, sensuality, and a bit of slap & tickle. What women need is good porn – the quality stuff. This is why I fully support E.L James’ contribution to erotica. The 50 Shades formula is genius: it’s hot and it pushes the ‘mainstream’ boundaries. Like Twilight, it also includes the not-so-secret ingredient to every good recipe for infatuation: the “perfect” man. The effect is clear: more and more women are speaking out about what they want. They’d love to explore in a way that doesn’t make them feel demeaned. The porn industry needs to adapt to accommodate women without quirky preferences or fetishes – women who are out of their depth in a shadowy world of bukkake, creampies and orgies.

James Deen: the female ideal

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Impressions of a lost history

Message from the writer: apologies for the long silence, I will be mainly working off my travel blog for this year

Last weekend I finally made it to Foix and Montségur. For want of a better word, I can only describe the trip as magical. When we disembarked from the train at Foix it was pouring with rain and the temperature was quickly dropping to zero. This actually made the scene more dramatic: the whistling winds and curtains of mist hanging over the Pyrenean peaks gave the fortress a slightly eerie quality - this was later reinforced at Montségur when we were reminded of the conditions the Catholic soldiers had had to endure throughout the duration of a year long seige! What struck me about Foix was how small the castle and town were in comparison to the power the Counts had once wielded: their sphere of influence stretched from Northern Spain to almost half of the Midi-Pyrenean region, yet the town is situated in one of the most isolated and uninhabited places in France.


Montségur was everything I expected it to be. Towering above a tiny village, the ruins of the castle remain a testament to the impact of the Cathars. For those of you who are interested (if you’re not then I advise you to skip this paragraph), Catharism was a religious movement that flourished in the 11th & 12th centuries (its origins have been traced back to Bulgaria) – the Cathars, or “Cathari” (the purified), believed in dualism and they rejected the material world and the sinful act of fornication… and, infact, anything that had been created through coitus (they did not eat meat or fish). As Catharism spread throughout the Languedoc region in the 1200s, the challenge to the catholic doctrine and papal authority became clearer. In 1209, Innocent III waged a crusade on the whole of Occitania. 45 years of bloodshed and massacre ultimately led to the breakup of Occitanian autonomy, the institutionalisation of the medieval inquisition and the eventual unification of France after the Treaty of Paris in 1229. As Luchaire wrote in 1905, “Everyone, from Innocent III on, had worked, struggled, and suffered, without realising it, for the benefit of the king of France.” It is for this reason that the Albigensian crusades are so pivotal in French history.

The top of Montségur: the views were incredible and the sun even came out for us!

Paradoxically, the fortress that now stands at Montségur was built by the very soldiers that massacred the "perfects" (the most zealous of all those in the Cathar hierarchy) in 1244. The skeletal remains of heretics' settlement can still be seen protruding from the steep slopes of the mountain. What I hadn't grasped was the importance of the site. Montségur had been the Cathars' official headquarters – its downfall in 1244 marked the beginning of the end of heresy in Occitania. It was a self-sufficient, highly pious society - its steep slopes and strong natural defences made it almost impregnable. With only a narrow winding road in the face of high winds as an access point, it is a wonder that a fully-armoured French army were able to besiege the fortress. The site is not without mystery: historians continue to debate how a settlement of 500 people could function without a natural source of water; whilst local inhabitants continue to search for the lost network of caves that are mentoined in medieval documents and most certainly contain the answers to the hundreds of questions that surround Catharism and the crusades.

The shrine that stands at the foot of the mountain - 800 years on, locals still lay wreaths of flowers here in rememberance of the "two hundred men and women [who] joyfully entered the flames rather than betray their religion."

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Monday, 10 September 2012

Queen Viktoria

[Image from The Times]

If you’ve been following the Paralympics this month I’m sure you’ll agree that they have been a source of inspiration. Not only have the games proved that, no matter what, humanity is limitless; they have served as a platform for raising awareness about disabilities. They are a symbol of determination and commitment. Every Paralympian who has taken part is a role-model, supporting the Olympic Committee’s motto: Inspire a generation.

However, it’s not just Paralympians who have defied physical hindrances. At last night’s closing ceremony, the world caught a glimpse of one of pop’s  “bravest chanteuses”: singer/ songwriter and model Viktoria Modesta. Posing within a cage of ice as a Snow Queen, Latvian-born Modesta continued to do what she is infamous for: challenging our modern perception of altered beauty. In 2007, Viktoria’s leg was amputated after a lifetime of operations and medical complications. At birth she had been pulled out sideways which resulted in the dislocation of her hip. Negligent doctors left her leg in plaster for too long, destroying the nerves and stunting her natural growth. From birth to adolescence, Viktoria’s life was dominated by nine intensive operations – on one horrific occasion her heart stopped beating mid-procedure. Talking about her early experience of post-soviet healthcare, Viktoria said “On the whole these operations were a series of terrible medical mistakes in Eastern European hospitals that made the problem worse, instead of better.” After moving to London in 1999, she underwent a voluntary amputation so that she could walk properly: she fought to convince her doctor that would make her happier. Now, instead of hiding her missing limb, Viktoria flaunts it. Consequently, she has become an icon and an inspiration to many.

The combination of her unique features and resilient character contribute to her impressive and statuesque presence: her style is entirely her own – dramatic and provocative, she pushes the boundaries as both a haute-couture and fetish model. Viktoria launched her music career in 2009 and was selected as one of the six best unsigned artists in the UK by Evo Music Rooms on Channel 4. Her recent single ‘Only You’ is an eclectic mix of influences: R&B beats, pop, synth and strings. Hailed as “a breath-takingly modern musician”,and her voice is strong and unusual with a hint of Amy Winehouse and Florence Welch welded to her own sultry tones.

At 24, Viktoria has a name in both the underground fashion and music scenes and on the mainstream stage. Her fundamental principle is “to reach your potential no matter what you’re doing” – an attitude which has undoubtedly been the root of her success. Despite her disability she has proved, like the Paralympian athletes, that any ambition is possible.

'Who's that girl?' post @ Reene Ruin

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises...

ALERT: a public display of patriotism is about to take place. Shield your eyes, wee and impressionable folk.

The Olympics opening ceremony inspired me to clarify how I really feel about my own country. Having suffered from a case of wanderlust from a tender age, I have never felt a true sense of patriotism. Nevertheless, reading back over my thread of tweets from Friday evening I was appalled to find I’d morphed into a monstrous drooling, brainwashed CHAUVINIST*: quips such as “Urghhh america does NOT rule the waves I tell you! #rule Britannia” can be found lurking amongst my more defiant messages of outrage at the MET’s Critical Mass arrests.

I have been apprehensive about the future effect of London 2012, not least; the financial burden it might unleash – Greece is living proof that an economic boost is not guaranteed. But for what it’s worth, Danny Boyle and London 2012 have undoubtedly managed to ‘inspire a generation’: not solely in sport (my own bum will forever remain comfortably glued to this sofa) but in remembering that we’ve all got a part to play. Symbolic of this, were Boyle’s use of ordinary citizens rather than expert dancers and actors, and his granting of the cauldron lighting honour to this generation’s most promising athletes.

Danny Boyle did Britain bloody proud, especially those of us sitting smugly in the left-wing spectrum: I was pleased to see the glorification of the NHS, the CND, multiculturalism, the industrial revolution, the suffragettes, the evolution of social media, and London’s hip-hop scene. Everything I personally hold close to my red, white and blue core was showcased to the world. It made me shamelessly proud of my country and the British people. In a nutshell, Boyle artfully presented the humorous and eccentric face of modern London that is so different to the traditional image of monarchy, bowler hats and tea. I salute him.

My contempt for the British political system was also given a well-deserved slap. Whilst our politicians are, for the most part, total slimeballs (ironically exemplified during the ceremony by Aidan Burley, MP for Cannock Chase, with his insensitive tweet: "Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap...") it was a fairly poignant moment when I was prompted by a fellow tweeter to “try counting up how many of these countries are actively killing their own citizens right now”. Indeed, the “bigger picture” question for me that evening was: what is the weight of a biased electoral system in comparison to the daily, brutal massacre of hundreds of innocent men, women and children?

My mum was convinced Kenneth Branagh was Bradley Wiggins...Can't blame her really

This moment just ROCKED.

*Readers: if this confuses you, familiarise yourself with the original meaning of this word... i implore you

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Monday, 7 May 2012


ATTENTION: During the next few months of doom (also known as, A levels) I shall be offline - it may be sometime until I update the blog. Until then - stay active comrades! I salute you!

PS. Monsieur Flanby is president-elect. Shucks...

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Red Flag of bleu marine

France: the contemporary cradle of revolution, philosophy, literature, wine, garlic and cheese.  Despite its short distance from the white cliffs of Dover, French culture and society is so unlike our own. It may surprise you to know that the Parisian superstar, Serge Gainsbourg, on his first visit to London described England as “the most exotic place on earth”. In my opinion, however, it is the politics of modern France which make the country so interesting.

 The French are not ashamed of their revolutionary tradition. Extremism and radical ideology flourishes across the political spectrum with parties such as ‘The Worker’s Struggle’ (Lutte Ouvrière) ‘The New Anticapitalist Party’ (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste) ‘The Pirate Party’ (Parti Pirate) ‘Hunt, Fish, Nature Traditions’ (Chasse, Pêche, Nature Traditions) ‘Arise the Republic’ (Debout la République) ‘National Centre of Independents and Peasants’ (Centre National des Indépendants et Paysans) and ‘The National Front’ (Le Front National/FN). The latter has been compared to our own British National Party, an extreme right party notorious for its xenophobic, racist policies – sadly it is our only “mainstream” extremist party (the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain has never got the respect it so deserves). As a nation we zealously reject Nick Griffin and his “insane, offensive ideals” – so why just 21 miles across the channel, did Marine Le Pen (leader of the FN) win almost 20% of the first round’s votes*? That’s almost 10 million citizens.

 Why do such a high proportion of the French population vote for Le Pen when she proposes the expulsion of illegal immigrants, the reinstitution of the death penalty and the exit from the EU? With France’s unemployment rate at 10% it is understandable why workers in the industrial northern regions have supported Le Pen’s measures to put ‘French citizens’ first. I don't think it is too bold to suggest that certain islamaphobic sensibilities were inflamed during the tragic Merah affair last month when 7 people, including 3 children, were shot dead. Surprisingly, The Guardian recently revealed that 18-24 year olds also rally and canvas for Marine: the party is, in fact, fundamentally anti-establishment. The French have grown sick of Sarkozy’s ‘bling-bling’ image (his rise in salary, expensive dinners and supermodel wife) – in this time of crisis and austerity they want radical change and they want it now. Similar ideological patterns are springing up across Europe: the Swiss have demanded the abolition of minarets; the Dutch parliament is partly-ruled by Geert Wilders and his far-right Party for Freedom; even the trial of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian serial killer, with his salute that conjures up images of Nazi Germany (see below) highlights the stronger presence of extreme right politics on the continent.

 The thing that really strikes me is that in Britain, the economic situation is the same – yet where is our rise of the extreme right? The answer to this lies in our established, pragmatic, past, specifically, 1688 - the year of the Glorious Revolution. But perhaps that story will have to wait for another day… 

* for those unfamilar with the French electoral system, the two winners won around 28% (Hollande) and 26% (Sarkozy)

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

No Putin No Cry

(article written for school blog 4th March 2012)

It’s 19:50 and outside the Hampshire countryside is quiet, dark skies revealing the twinkle of the odd star. Tomorrow, I will get up and go to lessons - follow the daily routine. Who knows – maybe I’ll rebel against the norm and decide to cross to the ‘cold’ side at lunch, despite the allure of the beef Lasagne… That’ll be the extent of my insurgency. Meanwhile, it’s 23:50 in Moscow. The snow continues to fall mutely on an animated Red Square. The exit-polls of today’s presidential election are currently signalling the lead of Vladimir Putin, who’s gained a majority of 63.3%. Putin didn’t even bother campaigning he was so sure of his inevitable return to the Kremlin. Infact, as I write this, not all the ballots have been tallied – yet he stands on a pre-built stage victoriously addressing a crowd of his supporters… wait for it… CRYING at the words “Glory to Russia!”. This ex-KGB officer, with his black-belt in Judo and impeccably smooth pectoral muscles, actually shed a tear. He’s human?! The Russian twitterati for one are in shock: “I. Can’t. Believe. Putin. “Cried”” (@MiriamElder); “No Putin No Cry” (@JuliaIoffe); “Teary-eyed #Putin addressing 110,000 crowd in central Moscow” (@RT_com).  When the Muscovites wake up tomorrow to start their daily business, it will not be a typical day. It will be the first day of the second (and even longer) era of Putinism. But this one looks as if it’s going to be fundamentally different. The European editor of The Economist, John Peet, has pointed to the importance of the growing white ribbon protest movement: it will be interesting to see how the Russian authorities choose to counter-act this wave of disturbances and to what extent they might loosen Putin’s grasp on Russia. Unlike, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution of 2004 these demonstrations do not (yet) follow a single leader – their aim is not to usurp but to reform. Already the protesters and pioneers of the Russian blogosphere have announced their intention to take to the streets tomorrow to condemn the “fraud and corruption” of today’s elections. Indeed, there were many reports of “carousel voting” – buses allegedly transported pro-Putin punters from one polling station to another in order to register multiple votes. I spent today watching the progress of the election (yes, I have a life) through the system of webcams that had been set up to prove to the world and “those who wanted Russia destroyed” (according to Putin) just how ‘free and fair’ the elections were. This is one of the images I stumbled upon…

Casual electoral behaviour? Even more amusing was the image of Chechnyan soldiers (or was it rebels?) turning up at the booths, machine guns slung over the shoulders. I am by no means suggesting that Britain is politically superior: whilst Russia is almost shamelessly corrupt, we can’t claim to know half of what goes on behind the closed doors of Downing Street and – to be honest – I’d rather we were more blatantly undemocratic instead of being continually fed this ‘fig-leaf democracy’ claptrap. It will be interesting to watch Russia’s political landscape under Putin… Reporters are already questioning whether Moscow will witness its own Russian Spring…

(photos: via @MiriamElder)

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Russian Elections 2012: The end is nigh... Or is it just the beginning?

This Sunday, the world will watch as the Russian Federation democratically elects its successive Head of State. Each citizen has the right to a single vote. Every ballot paper is sorted by independent and uncorrupted officials. The results are transparent, proportional and fundamentally egalitarian.

… Or so the story would go if Vladimir Putin really had been assassinated back in January. When a friend scampered up to me on Monday morning excitedly jabbering that the FSB had foiled an “attempted assassination plot” against Putin I thought she was joking. Having studied the French Revolution last year, I was instantly reminded of a similarly authoritarian character: Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1804, it was announced to the French that their precious First Consul had discovered an assassination attempt on his life. The apparent perpetrator was the Duke d’Enghien, who was swiftly executed. On December 2nd 1804 at Notre Dame Chapel, Napoleon was declared Emperor Napoleon the First, gaining absolute power and control over his nation and the flourishing French Empire. This tactic is a timeless trick that has been used by rulers throughout History to unite and gauge the support of their realm. And guess what? It’s fool-proof.

But can you really keep a straight face at the Russian government’s allegations? Putin’s d’Enghien is an unsuspecting Chechnyan rebel who publically aired his guilty conscience on Russia Today – the state-controlled TV channel. Well, I guess if I’d tried to kill the future President of Russia (oh excuse me, is it too bold of me to jump the gun?) I would definitely broadcast my humiliating failure; putting my friends, family and country in critical danger – because that would be the normal thing to do right? It baffles me that the authorities have only just this week, seven days before the entirety of the Russian franchise are to make their presidential choice, announced this supposed conspiracy… surely if it had happened in January they should’ve proclaimed it there and then? It must have been all that paperwork…

The fishiness doesn’t end there. UK based exiles and renowned OPPONENTS OF PUTIN, Boris Berezovsky and Akhmed Zakayev, were revealed on Wednesday as being responsible for the killing of Anna Politkovskaya – the Russian human rights activist, journalist and OPPONENT OF PUTIN who was shot inside her apartment building in 2006 (it should be noted, on Vladimir Putin’s birthday). Look at those capitalised words very carefully… “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”…

I honestly can’t decide whether I support the courage of the white ribbon protesters or the advantages of Putin’s leadership… I’ve spent the last week parading about in a t-shirt bestowed on me by a friendly passing Russian activist which proclaims: “Vladimir Vladimirovich can fuck off”. But do I actually subscribe to this statement? I won’t pretend that I’m a little apprehensive about publicising my views on Putin – I know little about the internal workings of Russia; I have no idea about the realities of living in a politically suppressed state; I am only a young, western onlooker that records what she observes (and I want to impress this upon any Russian- based readers). However, it does seem that Russia is resigned to its fate. There is little hope for a dramatic and unexpected twist in Sunday’s results: whilst Russia’s governmental system echoes that of the Soviet-era with its domination of the siloviki (over 70% of Russian governmental officials derive from the secret intelligence service); the oil business, the power of the oligarchs and Russia’s own instrinsic corruption (referred to today in The Week as having the same features as that of the ‘gangsta’ tradition) will continue to shape the country’s hopes for a real democracy. Is it possible that Russia just doesn’t suit democracy? Although my head is with the reality of what is inevitably going to be a deeply flawed election, my heart is with the young people of Russia this weekend.

Recent demonstrations include those of the ‘human chain’ and 'Pussy Riot' (an all-female punk rock band): the recent uprisings have a symbolised a shift in Russia’s attitude (at least in the metropolitan areas) towards Putinism and the state of Russia’s democracy – tens of thousands of protestsers have braved the fiercely cold weather and even fiercer authorites in their struggle for “a true democracy”.

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Friday, 10 February 2012

Putin, Russia and the rest...

Because I lack a social life and remain besotted with the Russian Federation, I have spent the past four Thursday evenings taking notes from the BBC documentary ‘Putin, Russia and the West’. This time last week, the Guardian journalist Luke Harding produced an article suggesting that the content of the series included “pro-Putin bias” and that certain sources (primarily British-based Soviet dissidents such as Vladimir Bukovsky) had even gone as far as to cite it as blatant propaganda (“If Putin had asked his propagandists to come up with a film they couldn’t have done better.”).

Does the ‘independent and neutral’ British Broadcasting Corporation really support the dictatorial, semi-tyrannous, domination of Vladimir Putin over the Kremlin? Harding himself has, in the past, hinted at the answer to this question, highlighting the BBC’s lack of material condemning and openly opposing Putin’s previous actions – in stark contrast to Harding’s own subversive articles which resulted in his expulsion from the Russian Federation in February 2011. He is indeed, the first reporter to have been expelled from Russia since the Cold War.

I would be inclined to disagree with Harding and critics of the documentary. ‘Putin, Russia and the West’ is a fascinating, powerful, well-researched political commentary on Russian affairs under Putin’s steely blue glare – examining a range of events such as, the 2008 Georgian War, the Ukrainian ‘Orange Revolution’ and the poisoning of former president Yushchenko, and the  recent 2010 Nuclear reduction treaty with the USA. Furthermore, it’s main focus (as stated by the producer Norma Percy herself) is on Russia’s foreign policy and its stance on the West – notably America. Critics have complained that the film ignores Russia’s harsh internal policy – even “glossing over” Putin’s human rights abuses in Chechnya. I personally feel from a westerners point of view, that this is less important: if Putin regains office in March, we need to understand the wider consequences that this will have on international relations. Of course, it would help us to understand why the mesmerising anti-Putin protests are taking place this very minute in Moscow, however, the basic facts are made pretty evident throughout the film:  Russian democracy does not, and will not, thrive whilst Putin has control. Last night, the BBC commentator made that crystal clear: “Vladimir Putin continues to undermine democratic principles and the rule of law.” Indeed, we could only watch, blushing at promisingly-more- liberal-Medvedev’s pitiful attempt to stand up to his ‘partner-in-crime’ which resulted in his resignation from the 2012 presidency campaign.

During yesterday evening’s episode, I studied the growing twitter trend (#PutinRussiaAndtheWest). I was surprised to discover the number of tweeters posting taglines such as, “I <3 Putin”, “Putin is such a bad-ass” and was even more astonished to find myself joining this display of adoration for Vlad. The effect the film had on the majority of views was somewhat revealing – perhaps the BBC is after all, subconsciously sympathetic to the regime. To put all ‘professional tone’ to one-side – Putin is very politically sexy. The documentary explored this phenomenon beautifully, showing clips of his harsh, direct manner in dealing with oligarchs and corrupt officials; and his seduction of the public through miraculous publicity stunts (see attached clips – they are hysterical). It was enough to make one want to invite him to replace the current Prime Minister (it doesn’t matter that you don’t speak English Mr Putin – you get results and target those responsible for this sh*t!)

Putin shows one of Russia's richest men who's boss...

So Vladimir, you can speak English?! There's hope for us yet!

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Friday, 27 January 2012

Rule, Britannia!

Currently I have the good fortune of studying the English Civil War and the Cromwellian Protectorate. Insightful though it has been, this morning I found myself growing increasingly depressed with our pathetic efforts at a “Revolution”. Let’s face it our “English Revolution” was just a loud, unnecessary parliamentary tantrum. It achieved next to nothing, except huge public debt and an unstable, bickering regime (sound familiar?!).  It was infact the peaceful ‘Glorious Revolution’ some 20 years later that really changed the British constitutional landscape, yet even the Chartists, of the 1840s, with their fruitless efforts for proletarian representation, are hailed as the more radical. We had a King, laboriously executed him (nothing, compared to the fêted guillotine of Louis XVI); witnessed the failure of a handful of aristocrat-dominated Parliaments, a Republic, a military dictatorship, and then blushingly re-established another ringlet ridden monarch. Pfff. We came full circle, with little improvement. Indeed, it seems that our revolution, even back then, subscribed to traditional British principles – the restoration of the monarchy was a comfortable last resort, not the die-hard glorious ideology. Perhaps the high point of the turmoil was when, as a result of Pride’s Purge (a so-called ‘keystone’ in the creation of the English Republic), the excluded Parliamentary members headed straight to the nearest Pub (Ironically named ‘Hell’). I do, at least, raise my rusty ale chalice to this jovial side-note.

I realise that this post will probably not appeal to all – it may be just a blur of meaningless chronology to you. But what it all really comes down to is this: will Great Britain ever be anything other than a constitutional monarchy? Will we always have the faces of a haphazard Hanoverian royal family on our coins?  It could be argued that before the Will & Kate’s wedding last year, a proportion of the population (especially youths) were disillusioned with the monarchy and what it stood for.  Just googling ‘anti-monarchy uk’ returns a countless number of hits ( ; are amongst the results) However, I think it’s safe to say that the couple has given a breath of fresh air to the role – that much was evident from the more contemporary ceremony and the infamous open-topped car finale. Furthermore, Britain experienced a much-needed ‘bringing-together’ in 2011, with tremendous results. I fully expect that this year, with the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (if you make it past 64 years on the throne Lizzy I will openly curtsey to you then and there, wherever I am…) will be just as exciting and will undoubtedly appeal to the partisan element in us all – no matter how ‘hip’ or ‘leftie’ we are. Britons, prepare yourself for another rare conservative moment: I believe that for the time being, the monarchy fits the United Kingdom like an iron-cast glove… we might as well cling to it ;-)

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Has the Russian Winter met the Arab Spring?

Although they are on opposite sides of the globe, are the uprisings of 2011 within these oil-rich nations part of the same movement? I have concluded that they do infact share parts of same cause – to rid their countries of the inner corruption which controls them and enhance/establish their own democratic status. This post will examine some of the current results from the events of February and December.

Last month, I attended a lecture given by a previous ambassador for the Middle East. He explained that the progress made in Arabia was extremely volatile and wrapped up in bureaucratic and military corruption – therefore a regime resembling anything remotely democratic would be a gradual and sensitive process. In Egypt for example, it is the army which holds the real balance of power. They will do anything to protect their own luxurious lifestyles which are, it must be noted, currently being funded by the US government itself ( in US$2billion in “aid”. Hence, they have violently opposed a new constitution, one clause of which implies that all military spending should be transparent and controlled. Needless to say, the Libyans, Tunisians and Egyptians have been comparatively successful in removing their former tyrants and establishing some kind of democratic order, with elections being held and constitutions being codified. Syria is another matter entirely (partly because neither British or American interests are at risk)…

In Russia, the situation is utterly different. Although the Russian government has claimed to be democratic since 1991, with its proportional electoral systems and State Duma, it remains psychologically soviet (a recent article in The Economist ‘Homo-Sovieticus’ examined this phenomenon): riddled with blatant censorship, the domination of the FSB (the new KGB) who hold over 70% of governmental offices, and the extravagant power of the Russian oligarchy. Then there’s Putin himself whose unofficial dictatorship has become somewhat of a joke with the release of propaganda-type photographs two months ago.  The recent protests, although subversive by nature and symbolic of a new-born attitude towards Putin, will achieve very little in the short-term and are by no means a revolution. They may rock the boat but it seems Putin will return to the Presidency for at least another term.

On a separate but perhaps relevant note, I have come to the conclusion that Democracy is a waste of time and resources: it’s a manipulative governmental control mechanism to make the popular masses think they have power and influence and therefore maintain a relative degree of general contentment. There is no ‘democratic’ state on this earth that can claim they have the perfect democracy. In Britain our democracy is deeply flawed, not least through the use of a biased and majoritarian First-Past-The-Post voting system which – by the way – doesn’t work: we last had a true parliamentary majority in 1935. It would be great if we had a strong and stable single-party government with decisive executive powers but, excuse me, WE’RE IN A FLIDGING COALITION GOVERNMENT DURING A WORSENING ECONOMIC CRISIS. All we need is a British dictatorship (benevolent or oppressive – whatever gets the results) during times of crisis, and a proportional, direct democracy during times of prosperity. Only in heaven would it be that easy.