Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘John Le Carré’

The Spy and the Traitor *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd November, 2018

76D19536-DA19-40CB-A8F0-5A9F4FED3297When I first started working for the BBC World Service in the early 1980s, the name Oleg Gordievskh resonated round Bush House. He was the senior KGB operative who became disenchanted with the brutal reality of the Soviet Union, as well as of his own organisation, so became a mole for British intelligence. It would be an exaggeration to say that he brought down the old USSR, but he certainly mortally wounded the KGB. Particularly when he was based at the Soviet Embassy in London, he fed his handlers at MI6 a mountain of material about the KGB and its operatives and even briefed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on how she should behave at the funeral of former KGB Head and Soviet Leader, Yuri Andropov, as well as how to relate to the up-and-coming Mikhail Gorbachev. Gordievsky was such a valuable resource that the British didn’t even fully inform the American CIA about the man who was handing over so much information. But little did they know that within the CIA there was a traitor working for the Russians: Aldrich Ames. Whereas Gordievsky betrayed his country because he felt that it had a rotten system that needed to be overthrown, to become more like the West, Ames was in it purely for the money, earning over four million dollars from the Russians until he was finally rumbled. By then, thanks to Ames’s deductions the Russians had also worked out that Gordievsky was working for the enemy. Back in Moscow, his very life was at risk, but the British had long before worked out a complicated rescue plan to smuggle him out of the country via Finland if ever the need should rise. That is exactly what happened, though he had to leave his wife and children behind, leaving him guilt-ridden for years. The actual escape plan was worthy of a John Le Carre novel, but it is a central thread in Ben Macintyre’s superb book, The Spy and the Traitor, (Penguin Viking, £25). The cover does not lie when it trumpets this as the greatest espionage story of the Cold War and the tremendous amount of research the author has put in, along with an absolute mastery of pace, makes this a stunning achievement, not least as a portrait of a man who was driven by his conscience to betray his fatherland. Highly recommended.

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Scrutinising Belarus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2012

Belarus is often portrayed as the Bad Boy of Europe — the only European state that is not a member of the Council of Europe, thanks to its retention (and use) of the death penalty, the apparently fraudulent nature of its elections and its poor record on human rights. Opposition figures are regularly imprisoned (often for short periods), harrassed and denounced in the official media, and the KGB — which still keeps its Soviet-era name — is a looming, ominous presence, with a large headquarters on the main drag in the capital, Minsk. When I went there a few years ago to meet political and human rights activists, I felt I had walked onto the set of a film of one of John Le Carré’s novels. Rendezvous were made with people at their request in parks or noisy restaurants; Even the head of the Communist party insisted on meeting clandestinely in a café. Yet it is an over-simplification to denounce Belarus blithely as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, for all the self-evident shortcomings of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. People can access the Internet in the numerous cyber-cafés, and young Belorussians with enough money to pay for a Schengen visa can travel West, notably to Lithuania and Poland. They don’t need a visa for Russia, to which Belarus remains tied with an umbilical cord, And even if Lukashenko has sometimes irritated Putin and other Kremlin figures, Belarus is a useful ally for Moscow. Some of the subtleties of the situation came out in a meeting that I chaired this evening at the National Liberal Club, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) and Liberal Youth. This was the first such joint venture, which not only packed out the room but also produced some high-level debate, not only from the panel — Jo Swinson MP, Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi of Belarus Digest and Alex Nyce, former East European specialist at Chatham House — but also from the floor. Several members of the audience had had direct or indirect experience of working in or with Belarus and there was considerable discussion about what sort of stance the European Union should take on relations with the recalcitrant state. Intriguingly, a parallel was drawn between Belarus and Myanmar (Burma) and the question was posed as to whether constructive engagement might be a way forward in the hope of encouraging reform — though Lukashenko would have to release prominent dissidents before his good faith would be taken seriously.

http://libg.co.uk and www.belarusdigest.com

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The Good Tourist

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th October, 2008

  The Good Tourist sounds like it ought to be a novel by John Le Carré, but in fact it is a fascinating and highly personal exploration of ethical tourism by the former Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Lucy Popescu. Most books on the subject concentrate on the environmental and social impact of tourism in developing countries, but The Good Tourist (Arcadia Books, £11.99) takes a different tack, devoting individual sections to some of the world’s favourite exotic tourist destinations — such as Cuba, Egypt, the Maldives, Mexico and Morocco — in which the attractions are first set out in fairly broad-brush terms (enlivened by anecdotes from Lucy’s own travels, or those of her friends), followed by often harrowing descriptions of human rights abuses there.

Syria and Uzbekistan are examples of a particularly acute contradiction between beautiful countries and fascinating history on the one hand and hideous repression and torture on the other. Lucy does not spare us some of the gruesome detail, but it is all well-sourced, relying mainly on the testimony of local writers, journalists and human rights activists whose causes have been taken up by PEN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the like. When it comes to Burma (Myanmar) in particular, the question has often been asked: should tourists go there at all, as much of the income generated goes straight into the hands of the ruling junta? Lucy sets out the arguments both for and against and invites the readers to make up their own minds.

At times the book is delightfully quirky (though I fear some Ukrainians will bristle at seeing the Crimea discussed under ‘Russia’). I laughed out loud at the image of Lucy cornered in a quiet Istanbul back street by jeering, leering policemen who had confiscated her passport and refused to give it back, until she shouted repeatedly ‘Margaret Thatcher!’ But otherwise there is much to make one rage and even cry. Frustratingly, there is no index, which rather reduces the book’s worth as a reference volume, but amongst its strengths is a list of useful things a good tourist can do (as well as organisations that will help) and a very well-selected booklist of recommended books to read before, during and after one’s trip.

Link: www.arcadiabooks.co.uk

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