Book Review, Communism, Eastern Europe, Literature, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics, Russia, Uncategorized

The Evil That Men Do

Published in the Dublin Review of Books: (http://www.drb.ie/essays/the-evil-that-men-do) The unconscious of a whole continent and age has made of itself poetry in the nightmare of a single prophetic dreamer Herman Hesse Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov casts a shadow over European literature. Sigmund Freud described it as ‘The most magnificent novel ever written’; while Friedrich Nietzsche acknowledged his Russian contemporary …


Communism, Eastern Europe, Fascism, Philosophy, Politics, Russia, Ukraine, Uncategorized, United Kingdom, United States

Confronting the great men of history

(Published in Village Magazine, June 2016) That there was something altogether more disturbing about Hitler’s Germany than Stalin’s Russia is often assumed. Perhaps it comes from the idea of Germany, the most intellectually and industrially-advanced country of its time, being led by an individual whose core belief was the annihilation of a substantial ethno-religious minority. By comparison the aspirational ends …


Anti-Refugee Sentiment in Czechia

(Published in Village Magazine, April, 2016) Aflons Mucha’s Slav Epic enjoys pride of place in the Czech National Gallery in Prague. It is a cycle of twenty large and portentous paintings completed between 1910 and 1928 recalling the history and myths of an heterogeneous people inhabiting territory from the Asian steppe to the shores of the Mediterranean. The artist imposes …

Ukraine’s Fragile Identity

(Published in Village Magazine, December 2015) Ukrainians like to say their country is the largest fully European. That scale is enhanced by a transport infrastructure relying on unwieldy, Soviet-era rail and pot-holed roads beyond a few stretches of motorway as I discovered to my discomfort on a recent trip into eastern Ukraine. Moreover, with average salaries less than €200 per …

Europe’s angry Ukrainian frontier

(Published in Village Magazine, September, 2015) Crossing from Slovakia into Trans-Carpathian Ukraine a distinct culture comes into view. At the interchange of Çop trains from the West halt on account of different rail gauges used on the other side. Stalin ordered this to prevent ease of entry for invading armies, or escape. Crossing the frontier into the former Soviet Union …

A Czech in Ireland (longer version)

(Unpublished, 2016) The Irish Free State avoided most of the depredations of World War II. There were casualties from a few bombing raid and Belfast suffered grievously but the Emergency is mostly remembered for insufficient white bread and Eamon de Valera’s visit to the German embassy with a letter of condolence on the death of Adolf Hitler. Moreover, in an …

A Czech in Ireland

(Published in the Irish Times 5/4/16) Seventy years ago in 1946 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia emerged as the largest political party in free elections forming a coalition government with the support of smaller parties. By that time Denis Scrivener (nee Zdenek Skrivenek) had returned to Prague with his new Irish wife Nan Keating. But the Communist Party soon became …

Confronting Putin

(Version published in Village Magazine, March, 2016) As we know well in Ireland filthy lucre is one of man’s greatest temptations. In the venal world of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1869), virtually all of the characters apart from the Prince and Nastassya Filippovna succumb to greed. Ganya is willing to do almost anything in his passion for money – even marry someone …

In Defence of Kundera’s Absurdity

(Published in Village Magazine, November/December 2015) Portentousness is the word that best describes most Anglo-American literary criticism. The canon seems to demand erudition and a knowing hauteur loaded with an impression of being slightly jaded by the cocktail party circuit. That at least is the tone favoured by the Times Literary Supplement whose reviewers tend to devour books as A. …

Guilty secrets in a fantasy town

Cesky Krumlov is a town so ethereal as to be almost unreal. Mercifully, it avoided the bludgeoning communist-era development that, in places, eclipses a wondrous Czech architectural inheritance. What remains is a monument of mitteleuropa architecture, encompassing a dizzying display of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque: deservedly the town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cesky Krumlov, a three …