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.
The Oath of the Burrnesha: Women Living as Men in the Albanian Alps, by Michael Paterniti, GQ
An unusual tradition where women take a pledge to live as a man — and to maintain lifelong celibacy — began hundreds of years ago in the Albanian Alps.
These were burrneshas, the text read, or women who dressed and lived as men, in isolated regions of northern Albania, a land of ultraconservative mores. There were strict rules and reasons for this transformation, ones that had been established some 500 years earlier, as part of a medieval canon of laws known as the Kanun. Today possibly only a few dozen burrneshas still exist-and the tribe is fast dwindling.
In the pictures, the burrneshas posed and gazed dreamily, disappeared behind clouds of cigarette smoke or sat erect in a chair, surrounded by family, smiling beneficently. Their vulnerability seemed a strength. And it occurred to me that perhaps I was looking upon the rarest thing of all, complete actualization. Or transcendence. If so, how had they pulled it off?
My Life and Times in Chinese TV, by Moira Weigel, n+1
A trip inside the propaganda machine.
Sunny Xeroxed my passport and student visa and gave me a document to sign, promising in both Mandarin and English “not to do anything against the Communist Party” for the duration of my stay. Then she showed me to where I would sit. While she went to find me one of the bottles of SMG branded water that stood on each of the empty desks around me, I looked around. This was where the propagandists worked. For the next four weeks I would be one of them, but at 10.30 AM on Monday, the newsroom was deserted. So much the better. I had promised not to do anything against the Party, but my plan for the next four weeks was to be as diligent a double agent as possible. I was going to learn how rising China spins its story to itself.
Putin’s Counter-Revolution, James Meek, London Review of Books
How the invasion is a counter-revolution by Putin and his government against Russians and Ukrainians alike — against East Slav resistance as a whole.
The truth is that Russia and Ukraine have been reunited for a long time, in a corrupt mosaic dominated by Moscow. Putin didn’t begin invading Ukraine to bring it back into the fold but to stop it escaping. He established a patriarchal-oligarchic police state in Russia; the now universally despised Ukrainian president-in-exile, Viktor Yanukovich, was well on his way to establishing one in Ukraine; the leaders of Belarus and the Central Asian republics have established similar repressive polities. Russophone Ukrainians have real fears about Ukraine’s new leaders. Putin’s great fear is that the people of a future better Ukraine might inspire an entirely different unification with their East Slav brethren on his side of the border – a common cause of popular revolt against him and other leaders like him. The revolution on Maidan Nezalezhnosti – Independence Square in Ukrainian – is the closest yet to a script for his own downfall. In that sense the invasion is a counter-revolution by Putin and his government against Russians and Ukrainians alike – against East Slav resistance as a whole.
Arms Wide Open, by Donna Bowater, Stephen Mulvey, and Tanvi Misra, BBC
The battle for Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Cristo Redentor statue.
Down there are the poor in the favelas, the rich in the luxury high-rise apartments, the homeless, the famous football stadiums and Guanabara bay with its scattered islands and boats. Beyond the sands of Copacabana and Ipanema, the limitless Atlantic ocean.
To the left, standing twice a man’s height, is the slightly bowed head of Christ, also looking down on the beauty of the city.
But unlike the forests or the ocean, this statue was the work of man and will not last for ever. Close up, the toll of 83 years of weathering is starkly apparent.
The Reckoning, by Francis Wade, Foreign Policy
After decades of censorship, Burma’s filmmakers probe their country’s dark past.
But this moment represents more than a documentarian telling the story of a farmer who lost his land. It is a snapshot of two Burmese citizens — an artist and a villager — enjoying the freedom to speak, criticize, and document openly, without fear of retribution from the military that ruled the country from 1962 until just a few years ago. For five decades, government censors gagged not only the news media, but also the film, art, and literature communities. For filmmakers in particular, the use of camcorders without a license and the unauthorized publishing or screening of recorded material was a criminal act. And, then, in November 2010, Burma held elections, the new government instituted reforms, and things began to change.
Today, Lin Sun Oo is among a handful of gutsy Burmese who are using motion pictures to push for greater political and historical transparency. Some are new to the film scene while others are climbing up from the underground. The shift heralds a significant revolution for the country’s film industry — and for Burma’s understanding of the abuses that its leaders had long concealed.
Bleron Çaka/Wikimedia Commons; Feng Li/Getty Images; MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images; CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images; Lauren DeCicca