Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

The Marx Brothers: Karl and Groucho

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th March, 2007

the-liberal-issue-10.jpgThe former Soviet Union has been occupying my thoughts for most of today, with all its bitter-sweet legacies. I went into Bush House (BBC World Service) at midday to record a From Our Own Correspondent piece that I’d written in Moldova, then early this evening attended a reception at Soho’s Groucho Club, for the celebratory launch of the 10th issue of The Liberal bi-monthly magazine, in which I have a despatch from Yerevan (Armenia). The former Soviet Union is certainly the flavour of the month — or in the case of The Liberal, the next two months, as the whole of issue 10 is devoted to ‘The Russian Restoration’. Before Karl Marx gets too excited from beyond the grave, however, this does not mean Communism is about to make a dramatic comeback (which it nonetheless did in Moldova in 2001). In the ideological stakes, it is Groucho, rather than his namesake, who is more in fashion these days, on both sides of the former Iron Curtain.

Fashionable indeed was the turnout at the launch party, but also eclectic. Veteran poet Dannie Abse looked slightly bemused, while Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was going round wondering out loud why she tends to pick fights with people (all in the cause of liberalism, of course). A string quartet battled womanfully on, managing at times to make heard Bach, Schubert and Vivaldi above the babble of bright young Liberal things and the bubble of champagne.

I must confess that when Ben Ramm first told me (at a garden party in Camden) about his ambition of resuscitating the magazine that had been associated with Byron and Shelley (and effectively sank with the latter), I was sceptical that it could be viable. I hadn’t counted on his energy and determination. He may sometimes have rubbed the Liberal Democrat hierarchy up the wrong way (not least by publicly calling for Charles Kennedy to be given the boot), but he really has created a fascinating pot-pourroi of poetry, politics and culture — and seduced many very well-known names to write for it, by no means all liberals. These have included Germaine Greer, Christopher Hitchens, Ariel Dorfman and Wole Soyinka, to cite but four. There are always a few surprises in the contributors’ lists. On this occasion these include chess master Gary Kasparov and Mugabe-baiter Peter Tatchell.

Human rights inevitably run as a sub-text through much of the issue, not just because of Russia’s gulag past but also because of current gross misdemeanours, notably in Chechnya. So it’s appropriate that the featured charity in this particular issue of The Liberal is Human Rights Watch — not as ubiquitous in the British Press as Amnesty International, but the admirable producer of countless well-researched and often chilling reports on human rights violations around the globe, which make it a formidable lobbying organisation and media resource.

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