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GARTON ASH, Timothy



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After saying yes to Turkey, the EU is having difficulty finding clear and consistent grounds for saying no to other, still more remote candidates - but being in the general vicinity of Europe does seem to be a continuing requirement.

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Facts are subversive. Subversive of the claims made by democratically elected leaders as well as dictators, by biographers and autobiographers, spies and heroes, torturers and post-modernists. Subversive of lies, half-truths, myths; of all those "easy speeches that comfort cruel men.

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I'm a histo rian by training and by conviction. And so the thing that has throughout informed my thinking about international relations is history. I think, for example, the reason that I was perhaps able to see sooner than some others that the Soviet Empire in Easter n Europe was decaying--if not disintegrating--was that I came to it through history and through Germany, rather than through Sovietology and through Moscow. And therefore the starting point was that no empire in history has lasted forever, and this one won 't either.

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What is the elephant in all our rooms? It is the global triumph of capitalism. Democracy is fiercely disputed. Freedom is under threat even in old-established democracies suc h as Britain. Western supremacy is on the skids. But everyone does capitalism. Americans and Europeans do it. Indians do it. Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes do it. Even Chinese communists do it.... Karl Marx would be turning in his grave. Or perhaps no t, since some of his writings eerily foreshadowed our era of globalized capitalism. His prescription failed but his description was prescient.

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Well, that's the way democracy works. We h ave to build this Europe with the material we have at our disposal. And this material is national democracy.

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I find Chinese debates about their political system domestically, but als o about China's claims in the international system, to be among the most original and surprising and exciting of our time. The starting point is a system that none of us had anticipated, which I call Leninist capitalism, but also obviously because it is th e most important emerging power. The question of China's relations with the United States in particular, and the rest of the world in general, is the question of war and peace in the 21st century.

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In a democracy it is ultimately for us, the citizens, to judge where to place the balance between security and privacy, safety and liberty. It's our lives and liberties that are threatened, not only by terrorism but also by massive depredations of our privacy in the name of counter-terrorism. If those companies from which governments actually take most of our intimate details want to show that they are still on the side of the angels, they had better join this struggle for transparency too.

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It is not just that it is profoundly offensive to the leaders and people of a democratic Germany to paint Hitler on the wall (or on the remnants of the Wall). It is also consummately counte rproductive. Such sauce does not make the meat of substantive criticism more interesting. It means that the whole dish is pushed away. It does not mean that Britain's voice is listened to more attentively in the councils of Europe. It means that it is list ened to even less.

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