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Belonging
Identity, Society, Beliefs, Countries

27 JuLY 2021

Oligarch Goliaths
A posse of Russia’s richest men, plus Russia’s national oil company, go to court in London tomorrow to try to muzzle Catherine Belton, a former Moscow Times and FT correspondent and author of Putin’s People, one of the best books yet on… Putin’s people. Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea, objects to the suggestion that he bought the club on Putin’s instructions. Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, billionaire bankers, are suing for defamation and on data protection grounds respectively. Belton’s publisher, Harper Collins, is standing behind her and as part of planet Murdoch has some legal and financial muscle. It will come in handy. The law firms acting for the claimants, including Carter-Ruck and Harbottle & Lewis, take themselves extremely seriously.

Without prejudging anything, let’s just say this: it is horribly difficult to get at the truth of what Russia’s oligarchs do, how they make their money and how much of it involves mutual back-scratching with the Kremlin. Belton is exceptionally brave to try, and the legal minds that decide her case may want to bear in mind the words of a former Russian foreign intelligence (SVR) colonel who served a stint in New York, and whom she quotes: “I want to warn Americans. As a people, you are very naive about Russia and its intentions. You believe because the Soviet Union no longer exists, Russia is now your friend. It isn’t, and I can show you how the SVR is trying to destroy the US even today and even more than the KGB did during the Cold War.” The UK isn’t the US. But still.

26 JuLY 2021

Budapest march
Budapest’s Pride march on Saturday attracted thousands of people. More than 40 embassies and foreign cultural institutions in Hungary issued a statement of support for the march. This year, it was about more than supporting the country’s LGBTQ community. The far-right government of Viktor Orbán, the prime minister, recently passed a law that, according to critics, equates homosexuality with paedophilia and bans the portrayal of LGBTQ lifestyles to children. The European Commission launched legal action against Orbán’s government over the law on the grounds that it contravenes European values of tolerance and individual freedom. “The law is an outrage,” Istvan, 27, told Reuters at the march with his boyfriend. “We live in the 21st century, when things like that should not be happening. We are no longer in communist times, this is the EU and everyone should be able to live freely.” Orbán’s opponents say he’s using LGBTQ issues as he’s used immigration before, to divide voters ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

23 JULY 2021

Robinson docked
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the far-right activist and English Defence League Founder better known as Tommy Robinson, has lost a libel case brought against him by the Syrian schoolboy Jamal Hijazi. In 2018 footage went viral of Hijazi being attacked on a school playground almost immediately before Robinson posted a series of unsubstantiated claims, including that Hijazi was violent himself and had attacked English girls in his school. The statements led to a flood of online abuse in addition to the attack, forcing Hijazi to leave the school and suspend his education. Three years on a judge has ordered Yaxley-Lennon to pay £100,000 in libel damages which he claims he can’t pay because he’s bankrupt. He’s known to have received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from supporters on both sides of the Atlantic, however. Where did they go?

22 july 2021

Ice cream stand
Cookie dough got political this week. Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream brand, demanded that its Israeli licensee stops selling its products in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Unable to accept the demand, the licensee must have known what was coming: Ben & Jerry’s announced it will cancel the licence agreement. The move by Ben & Jerry’s, a wholly owned Unilever subsidiary, amounts to a boycott of Israel, where the brand is popular and offers special flavours for Jewish holidays. Israeli politicians aren’t happy with the company’s clear political message. Israel’s new PM, Naftali Bennett, reportedly told Unilever chief executive Alan Jope that Israel will “take strong action against any boycott directed against its citizens”. It’s not the first time Ben & Jerry’s has waded into activism. The company put its name against Black Lives Matter, climate justice, LGBTQ equality, and criminal justice reform.

21 july 2021

UK borders
Today the EU gets confirmation that signing a treaty with Brexit Britain doesn’t mean a thing, and the UK launches its first formal test of whether the EU will react with a groan or a writ. The latter seems more likely. Brandon Lewis as Northern Ireland minister and David Frost as Brexit implementation bruiser will propose that GB-made goods can enter Northern Ireland without checks (£) even though the UK explicitly agreed to such checks as a fundamental plank of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The EU agreed to them as an alternative to a hard border on the island of Ireland. But it needs checks somewhere to ring-fence the single market, which the UK has decided to leave even though Vote Leave told voters in 2016 they wouldn’t have to. The Frost strategy is to tear up the deal he negotiated and blame the other side. Perhaps this is one of the things you can do with “independence”. We shall see.

It’s no less fraught in the English Channel, crossed yesterday by 430 would-be migrants in small boats, a record for a single day. Nearly 8,000 have crossed so far this year, roughly as many as in the whole of last year. The numbers are minimal compared with those of migrants attempting to enter southern Europe from Turkey, Libya and Morocco, but still an embarrassment for Priti Patel, the home secretary, who has promised the Daily Mail she will halt cross-channel migrant trafficking with the help of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which makes arriving in the UK without permission a criminal offence. Under international law, refugees are entitled to seek asylum on arrival.