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About Neal Ascherson

Neal Ascherson is a journalist and writer. For many years he was foreign correspondent and then columnist for the (London) Observer. Among his books are The King Incorporated: Leopold the Second and the Congo (1963; Granta, 1999); The Struggles for Poland (Random House, 1988); Black Sea (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1996); and Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland (Granta, 2003)

Articles by Neal Ascherson

This week’s front page editor

Adam Ramsay, Editor

Adam Ramsay is a co-editor of openDemocracyUK.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Ancient Britons and the Republican dream

Neal Ascherson's lecture from 1985 feels more relevant than ever.

Is Britishness a generous thing, or has it damaged England?

The Daily Telegraph's Peter Oborne and Scottish writer Neal Ascherson discuss national identity in light of the approaching referendum on Scottish independence.

A democracy of journalists

The stramash over abuse of power and standards at Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp should reinvigorate the idea of journalists’ self-regulation, says Neal Ascherson.

Abkhazia and the Caucasus: the west’s choice

The Georgia-Russia war of August 2008 refroze a region. The small Black Sea nation of Abkhazia is the key to its unblocking, says Neal Ascherson.

Charles de Gaulle remembered

A London radio broadcast on 18 June 1940 by an unknown French officer altered history’s course. It was also the first act in Charles de Gaulle’s extraordinary thirty-year role as national-political leader and embodiment of “a certain idea of France”. Neal Ascherson traverses a landscape of memory - from Greenock to Paris, Algiers to Warsaw - to recall his encounters with a colossus of French and European history.

1989: how it ended

The wave of change across east-central Europe in 1989 was a real revolution - but with one missing feature. Neal Ascherson recalls a time of surprise and exhiliration.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, the irascible angel

A fearless Irish intellectual who embraced the risks of commitment has died at the age of 91. Neal Ascherson recalls some of the high wires and sharp edges of an epic life.

After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia

The war over South Ossetia and its messy, dangerous aftermath is a lesson in collective forgetting. A new political settlement involving independence for Abkhazia and a revivified Georgia is needed to break the cycle, says Neal Ascherson.

(This article was first published on 15 August 2008)

The Polish March: students, workers, and 1968

The spark of the great student revolts of 1968 first ignited in Warsaw. The epic events in Poland that followed are a neglected episode in the political history of a tumultuous year. Neal Ascherson traces - and recalls - the "Polish March".

(This article was first published on 1 February 2008)

Poland after PiS: handle with care

Poland's stunning election result deserves a closer look, writes Neal Ascherson.

The case for pre-emption: Alan M Dershowitz reviewed

Alan Dershowitz's advocacy of new rules to codify pre-emptive state attacks in the era of "war on terror" is partisan sophistry with chilling historical echoes, says Neal Ascherson.

(This article was first published on 18 May 2006)

Scotland's democratic shame

The fallout of Scotland's messy election may be a London-centred deal that corrodes the democratic potential of Britain's post-devolution politics, reports Neal Ascherson.

Ryszard Kapuscinski: from Poland to the world

The foreign correspondent's decades-long observation and insight revealed truths of power from Tehran and Addis Ababa to Warsaw itself, says Neal Ascherson.

Catholic Poland's anguish

During the communist era, many Polish priests collaborated with the communist authorities and informed on ordinary Catholics - a fact that is being conveniently forgotten.

Catholic Poland's anguish

The painful exposure of senior clergy's collusion with the communist-era secret services reflects the ambiguities of the Catholic church's place in post-war Polish society, writes Neal Ascherson.


A reviving English nationalism that targets its northern neighbour's financial dependency exposes deeper flaws in the British political settlement governing the two countries, says Neal Ascherson.

Torture: from regress to redress

A new Human Rights Watch book examines the return of torture as practice and doctrine. Its core theme is United States policy in the era of "war on terror", finds Neal Ascherson.

Good Night, and Good Luck

George Clooney's new film brilliantly examines the freedom of the American media during the McCarthy period. But, asks Neal Ascherson, is it really old news, and who can take up the challenge today?

A carnival of stupidity

The conflagration over Danish cartoons of Islam's prophet reveals that Europe's balance of freedom, mutuality and coexistence is at a trigger-charge moment, says Neal Ascherson.

Fears and hopes

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)

Victory's lost sister - the wreck of the Implacable

The epic story of a French battleship conquered, renamed and deployed by the British fleet after the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 illuminates modern Britain’s obsession with a constipating “national heritage”, says Neal Ascherson.

Poland's interregnum

Could the unlikely twins, Jarosław and Lech Kaczynski, offer Poland a route beyond corruption and sclerosis? Neal Ascherson assesses a pivotal moment in its politics.

The victory and defeat of Solidarnosc

The Solidarity trade union forged by the industrial workers of Poland’s Baltic coast in August 1980 began the revolution that toppled communism in Europe. On its twenty-fifth anniversary, Neal Ascherson, who witnessed the days and nights of negotiation in the Gda?sk shipyard that led to the historic breakthrough, assesses its political achievements and costs.

Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road

The liberating unity Georgians discovered in late 2003 is dissolving under the pressure of political disputes, energy shortages, and regional turmoil. In Tbilisi, Neal Ascherson finds a country more at home with its past than its future.


A British letter to France: vote for Europe

As the French prepare to vote on the European Union constitution, a group of thirteen writers, politicians and constitutional experts in Britain follow the example of their Polish and German counterparts by urging a “yes”.

Pope John Paul II and democracy

In his long life, the Polish pope, Karol Wojtyła, was at the forefront of the struggle for liberty. But in his twenty-six years at the Vatican, where did this towering figure stand on democracy? The distinguished writer Neal Ascherson dissects an ambiguous legacy.

From multiculturalism to where?

The concept of multiculturalism, and the policies that stem from it, have played an important role in displacing the imperial ideal of assimilation, but in its fatal linkage with hard notions of ethnicity it is deeply conservative and increasingly obsolete. The challenge now is to develop a “post-hybridity” politics based on common human nature.
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