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 brand-new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.
Sleeping Through the Slaughter, by Jessica Hatcher. Vice.
A rare peek into how the U.N. is failing the DRC.
The mission in Congo (acronym: MONUSCO, hashtag: #MONUSELESS) is the largest and most expensive UN operation in the world. It has some 20,000 military personnel there, at a cost of nearly $1.4 billion per year. As such, you’d think they might be on top of things, but whenever a massacre takes place on their watch, the peacekeepers—who’ve been there since 1999—have to deal with accusations of uselessness.
As our Oryx helicopter touched down in Katoyi village, me perched on the Head of Mission’s crate of claret select, I caught my first glimpse of the temporary MONUSCO military base the Human Rights Team would operate from. Thirty-six Uruguayan peacekeepers were living there under canvas, in a circular barbed-wire pen the size of a football pitch. Though many of them said they hated it, being a “peacekeeper” for the international community paid a lot better than the $700-a-month they’d bank back home.
As the platoon commander explained to me, they get caught between a rock and a hard place. “We all have families back home. I want us to get out there, but if it’s not safe I have to make the right decision for everyone concerned.” By “out there,” he meant the villages where these massacres are reportedly taking place.
Snap Goes The Crocodile, by Marina Akhmedova. Open Democracy.
Life inside a provincial Russian drug den. (Originally appeared in Russky Reporter, translated from Russian.)
The wood cabin’s kitchen is dark and cramped. At the table sits Witch with a bowl in front of her. In her hand she holds a wet sponge with which she is wiping the phosphorus off matchboxes. Dark red droplets drip into the bowl. Witch’s hands are red and bony, and she herself is as dark as an overdone roast potato. She has a mop of dark wiry hair. Outside the window are the sickly beds of the vegetable garden. The sky is leaden.
At the gas cooker stands a thin man called Misha. His matchstick arms hold an enamel saucepan lid over the burner. On it are crushed tablets of Sedalgin, an analgesic rich in codeine.
‘This is the way to wash matches,’ she says, turning to me. Witch can barely move her tongue. ‘So you get one of the igre … dients …’ Her half-dead tongue completes the verbal manoeuvre. Her eyes are fixed on one spot.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Pussy Riot v. Putin: A Front Row Seat at a Russian Dark Comedy, by Julia Ioffe. The New Republic.
Verzilov and Tolokonnikova had met as students in the philosophy department of Moscow State University, and had been doing shocking performance art for years, first with a group called Voina, after which they founded Pussy Riot. (One of their first performance pieces, for Voina, involved having sex, together with a large group, in Moscow’s Biological Museum on the eve of Medvedev’s inauguration. Tolokonnikova was heavily pregnant at the time.) “Punk Prayer” was part of a series of performances that took aim at symbols of the regime, past and present: the Place of the Skulls, the execution spot on Red Square; luxury shopping malls, the Moscow metro. The Catherdal was chosen because it had, in Pussy Riot’s view, become a commercial center and because the patriarch had just told believers to vote for Putin in the upcoming presidential election.
The Slave Who Sailed Around the World, by Josh Fruhlinger. The Awl.
The story of Enrique of Malacca, “the closest thing there is to a hero in the story of Ferdinand Magellan’s horribly botched attempt to circumnavigate the world.”
Magellan was something of a crank who fell out with his commanders. He returned to Europe, bringing Enrique home with him, fought in Portugal’s wars in Morocco, got a leg wound, was accused of illegally trading with the enemy, left the army under a cloud. He studied navigation charts and became more and more convinced that the islands in Indonesia that were the source of the most valuable spices could be reached by sailing west from Europe and around the Americas.
This was obviously of little interest to Portugal, which was enjoying a pretty good spice trade return on its strategic conquest investment at this point, but it piqued the interest of the Spanish. Spain’s new empire in the Caribbean wasn’t turning out to be as profitable as had been hoped; the conquest of Mexico was just getting underway and Peru wouldn’t be seized for another decade, so American gold and silver hadn’t started flowing back to Europe yet. Sailing to the Spice Islands in the Spanish direction (west) would avoid conflict with the Portuguese navy, and Magellan dangled the possibility that the islands were really on the Spanish side of the dividing line (an easy prospect to dangle, given how bad everyone was at determining latitude at this point). King Charles of Spain gave him five ships and a crew of 232, and the rights to a cut of the presumably lucrative spice trade he’d establish. The expedition left Spain on September 20, 1519. And Enrique went on this trip too—he would be invaluable as an interpreter in the region, obviously, but he also had gone everywhere else Magellan did since his capture, so there was no reason for him not to also go on this voyage.
Team of Rivals, by Krishn Kaushik. Caravan.
The strange case of an Indian diplomat accused of spying for Pakistan.
More than two years later, little more has been revealed about the strange case of Madhuri Gupta, whose trial finally began in a Delhi courtroom earlier this year. The initial narrative that unfolded in the media, of a disgruntled spinster-turned-spy, spilling state secrets for love or money or revenge—perhaps with the assistance, witting or unwitting, of the R&AW station chief—appeared to have come from the officials that investigated the case in the IB and Ministry of Home Affairs. The fact that RK Sharma’s identity had been leaked as well, however, suggested there might be a bigger story that had gone untold: one that had little to do with Madhuri Gupta, but instead revealed a bitter turf war that had played out inside the Indian High Commission in Pakistan, which pitted officers of India’s two civilian intelligence agencies against one another.