Showing posts from August, 2015

The Trigger by Tim Butcher: A review.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not top of everyone’s holiday destination list, yet it enjoys warm summer weather, beautiful scenery and its younger residents speak impeccable English.  The country also suffered a bloody and traumatic war during the 1990s and became associated, for many outsiders, with intractable ethnic divisions.
While Nato’s intervention in Bosnia, the siege of Sarajevo and the horrors of Srebrenica shape modern perceptions of the region, younger residents are apparently less aware of its role in the events which sparked World War 1.  That’s one of the conclusions reached by Tim Butcher, a former Telegraph journalist, in The Trigger, which centres on the story of Gavrilo Princip, the young Bosnian Serb who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and plunged Europe into conflict.
The book - part travelogue, part history - investigates how a figure who made such a profound impact on twentieth century history ended up being consigned to relative obscurity, among his compatr…

Stormont might not collapse but paramilitaries continue to disfigure Northern Ireland

The devolved institutions in Northern Ireland are supposedly ‘teetering on the brink’ of collapse yet again. 
After repeated failures to agree a balanced budget or implement welfare reform created months of uncertainty, the Executive’s future is now in doubt because the PSNI believes members of the IRA were involved in murdering a republican hit man.  Despite its apparent seriousness, this particular predicament is unlikely to bring the shaky edifice at Stormont crashing down.
The IRA was supposed to have disbanded its military ‘structures’ and decommissioned its entire arsenal of weapons back in 2005.  It was on the basis of this understanding that power-sharing resumed in 2007 and the DUP entered government with Sinn Féin. 
From the outset it was a fairly flimsy pretext.  
Less than a year after John de Chastelain, the retired Canadian general, oversaw decommissioning, the Independent Monitoring Commission reported that the IRA retained a substantial haul of arms.  Punishment shooting…

Yerevan: laid-back, pink and an ideal base for exploring Armenia

Yerevan, capital of the Republic of Armenia, is a cheerful place to visit in summertime.  The city, many of whose buildings are constructed out of a distinctive pink stone known as tuff, is laid-back and full of parks and cafes.
Republic Square, Opera Square and The Cascades, a giant stairway decorated with fountains and artworks, form an axis, running at a diagonal to Yerevan’s grid system.  These hubs are linked by a modern avenue of swanky shops.  If you’re tempted to clothe your children at ‘Armani Kids’, Armenia could be the country for you.
At Republic Square, crowds gather in the evenings to watch fountains ‘dance’ to lightshows and music.  Around Opera Square, people mingle in a series of outdoor watering-holes, like VIP Café, where we were moved on for (presumably) not being sufficiently important.  At the bottom of The Cascades they loiter around the artworks, older Armenians staying entertained with the odd game of backgammon and their younger counterparts making do with s…

Prometheus and Pushkin: visiting Kazbek and Kazbegi

Some of the people traditionally most opposed to the idea that the Caucasus is in Europe were French alpinists.  Mount Elbrus is generally now recognised as the highest European mountain, and five other peaks, including three in Georgia, are taller than Mont Blanc, the only mountain from outside the Caucasus range to make the top 10.  One of these Georgian giants is Mount Kazbek, which towers above the Terek River valley and a small town called Stepantsminda, commonly known by its former name, Kazbegi. 
To reach this region from Tbilisi it’s necessary to take the Georgian Military Highway, whose high passes were the Russian Empire’s overland route into Georgia and Armenia. Charles King’s history of the Caucasus, The Ghost of Freedom, describes postal caravans, heavily militarised and including everyone from diplomats to curious foreign tourists, which formed in Vladikavkaz to take mail south.  The poet, Alexander Pushkin, was one visitor who joined such a convoy.
We travelled in the…