Longform’s Picks of the Week
The best stories from around the world.
Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
David Remnick • Danse Macabre
On Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, its uncanny knack for reflecting changes in Russian politics and culture, and the recent acid attack on its artistic director.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, in 1991, and the economy went into free fall, the Bolshoi lost millions in subsidies. The annual budget for the theatre dropped to twelve million dollars, hardly enough to pay the dancers, the coaches, and the staff, let alone develop new ballets. Then, a decade ago, Russia came into its own as an oil-and-gas economy. The federal budget stabilized and the Russian government hired Iksanov, who was soon able to bring the budget up to a hundred and twenty million dollars. Iksanov also hired McKinsey, the management consultancy, to help reconfigure salaries and ticket prices, and set up an outside board of directors; it attracted a small stream of oligarchs who were pleased to pay the still modest annual sum of three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars to sit on the board.
The greatest achievement at the Bolshoi is the one nobody talks about anymore-the end of ideological control. The last time anyone in power, or on the streets, tried to restrict the repertory in a serious way was in 2005, when the Bolshoi Theatre staged the opera “Rosenthal’s Children,” a political fantasia written by the novelist Vladimir Sorokin and the composer Leonid Desyatnikov. Sorokin’s libretto featured the homosexual coupling of the clones of Stalin and Khrushchev, an encounter between Mozart and a prostitute, a murderous futuristic pimp, and other details sure to get the attention of cultural conservatives. There were street demonstrations led by a pro-Kremlin youth group, during which Sorokin’s novels were shredded and put in a makeshift toilet bowl, and hearings in the State Duma. In the end, the protests fizzled and Anatoly Iksanov thanked the legislators for the extra publicity.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
How a U.S. Citizen Came to Be in America’s Cross Hairs
Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage • New York Times
The legal and practical details behind the drone strikes that killed two U.S. citizens.
The missile strike on Sept. 30, 2011, that killed Mr. Awlaki – a terrorist leader whose death lawyers in the Obama administration believed to be justifiable – also killed Mr. Khan, though officials had judged he was not a significant enough threat to warrant being specifically targeted. The next month, another drone strike mistakenly killed Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who had set off into the Yemeni desert in search of his father. Within just two weeks, the American government had killed three of its own citizens in Yemen. Only one had been killed on purpose.
A Tale of Two Londons
Nicholas Shaxson • Vanity Fair
Who lives in the world’s most expensive residential building? A portrait of the new global super-wealthy.
The really curious aspect of One Hyde Park can be appreciated only at night. Walk past the complex then and you notice nearly every window is dark. As John Arlidge wrote in The Sunday Times, “It’s dark. Not just a bit dark-darker, say, than the surrounding buildings-but black dark. Only the odd light is on. . . . Seems like nobody’s home.”
That’s not because the apartments haven’t sold. London land-registry records say that 76 had been by January 2013 for a total of $2.7 billion-but, of these, only 12 were registered in the names of warm-blooded humans, including Christian Candy, in a sixth-floor penthouse. The remaining 64 are held in the names of unfamiliar corporations: three based in London; one, called One Unique L.L.C., in California; and one, Smooth E Co., in Thailand. The other 59-with such names as Giant Bloom International Limited, Rose of Sharon 7 Limited, and Stag Holdings Limited-belong to corporations registered in well-known offshore tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Liechtenstein, and the Isle of Man.
From this we can conclude at least two things with certainty about the tenants of One Hyde Park: they are extremely wealthy, and most of them don’t want you to know who they are and how they got their money.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Notes from the Underground
Ned Parker and Raheem Salman • World Policy Journal
The rise of Nouri al-Maliki.
To understand Maliki-this century’s first Arab leader elected through a genuinely democratic process, which prefigured the Arab Spring and came out of the extraordinary circumstances of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq-one needs to explore where Iraq’s prime minister comes from, his early days as an ambitious young revolutionary, and his defining decades of hardship and punishing exile. This is a man swept up by the spirit of Islamic revolution, who lost his home and family in the name of an idea, and then plotted for 23 years devoting himself to incremental guerrilla violence. All the while, his backers and allies betrayed him as he bought time, studied them, and drew strength from every blow until one day he was stronger and tougher than them all. He understood what it was to lose everything, be betrayed, and then surprise your enemy by outlasting him.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
What Vali Nasr Gets Wrong
Sarah Chayes • Foreign Policy
A former State Department insider has written a blistering account of the
Obama administration’s missteps in Afghanistan. But is he right?
“The Inside Story of how the White House Let Diplomacy Fail in Afghanistan” is more conventional than it may at first appear. Nasr’s is merely the latest salvo in ongoing interagency skirmishing to define the narrative on Afghanistan, to tell a story that lays the blame for the policy’s failure at someone else’s door.
In this case, the originality is that the tale’s main villain is not the military, but the White House (albeit described as bewitched by the military). The hounded victims are former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke — who happen to have been Nasr’s friends and bosses.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News