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.


Watching the Eclipse, David Remnick, the New Yorker.

Ambassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade.

"In 1991, McFaul was in St. Petersburg, trying to organize a seminar on local government. He found himself doing business with a man from the mayor’s office named Igor Sechin. He and Sechin took an immediate liking to each other. It turned out that, like McFaul, Sechin was interested in Mozambique. They both spoke Portuguese. Sechin never actually said that his familiarity with matters Mozambican came from having been a young Soviet intelligence operative in Maputo, or that he still was a K.G.B. officer, but McFaul knew the score. What he discovered, as they talked, was that Sechin assumed that McFaul, too, was an intelligence agent.

It was an encounter with a certain historical freight: a generation later, when McFaul became Obama’s Ambassador to Russia, Sechin became the president of Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned, hugely profitable energy conglomerate. He would also be the most important counsellor to the same man he was working for way back in 1991: a career intelligence officer and deputy mayor named Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin."


Slaves of Happiness Island, Molly Crabapple, Vice.

Abu Dhabi and the Dark Side of High Art

"I first set foot on Saadiyat on a day so hot it nearly made me faint. Journalists are not allowed to visit without government minders, so I sneaked in. Saadiyat’s terrain looked like the moon. Bulldozers churned up pearl-colored dust. The dust dried my eyes. It came out in my snot. In company-branded jumpsuits, men toiled through their 12-hour shifts, welding and lugging rebar beneath the merciless sun.

brahim served as my translator. He is in his early 20s. With his carefully styled black hair, he resembles a South Asian James Dean. Ibrahim asked me to withhold details about his life for fear of deportation, or worse. “If I speak to the media, they will take me from my room and put me somewhere no one will find me,” he said. Ibrahim has the sort of intelligence that crackles around him in sly, sarcastic sparks. He is smart in a way so obvious that he tries to hide it from his bosses by speaking in broken English. He knows five languages, loves poetry, and dreams of getting a master’s degree."


Vladimir Putin’s Chess-Master Nemesis, Steven Lee Myers, the New York Times.

Garry Kasparov, the Man Who Would Be King of Russia

"It was a Wednesday, and he sensed a spectral presence on the balcony of his apartment in Moscow (almost all regional leaders in Russia keep a home in the capital). When he went to investigate, aliens in yellow bodysuits transported him to an enormous spaceship and then to another planet. They did not talk much, but he emphasized that he needed to get back soon, because he had a flight to Kalmykia the next day. They assured him not to worry; there was plenty of time. In Ilyumzhinov’s various retellings, his tale remains remarkably consistent, and he has stood by it, despite skeptical and amused questioning from journalists. Over the years, he has expounded on his views of extraterrestrial life, comparing them to the belief in Jesus Christ or Buddha. He also has opined that chess itself comes from a higher plane, either God or outer space: It certainly is not of this world.

Like Kasparov, Ilyumzhinov was a chess prodigy, becoming Kalmykia’s champion when he was 14, but he never reached similar heights in international competition. After high school, he worked in a factory until he was conscripted by the Red Army. Following his time in the military, he returned to a factory job before gaining acceptance to the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, the university that prepped the Soviet Union’s diplomats and provided him with business-world contacts. When the country fell apart, Ilyumzhinov ended up the owner of a network of businesses and a very rich man, though as is the case with many of Russia’s oligarchs, the exact source and size of his wealth is opaque. Ilyumzhinov was elected Kalmykia’s president in the heady years of Russia’s new democracy, running on the argument that, as a rich man, he would not succumb to corruption. In fact, as many regional leaders in Russia in the 1990s did, he treated his homeland as his personal fief, neutering the local legislature and controlling the media. In 1998, one of his aides was convicted in the murder of an opposition journalist and political activist, Larisa Yudina. Earlier this year Sergei Mitrokhin, the chairman of the Yabloko Party, the biggest liberal party in the 1990s, cited the murder as a reason to oppose Ilyumzhinov’s re-election to FIDE, describing his Kalmykia presidency as “a disgusting merger of authoritarian rule, corruption and crime.”"


How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy , David Samuels, Bloomberg Businessweek.

It's been a long road of mismangement and war for Libya since Qaddafi's death.

"In the weeks that followed Qaddafi’s death, Farkash was seized by a vision of how rebuilding the country might also be a pathway to personal riches. The more he studied Libya, the more convinced he became that it was a gold mine—a strip of coastal desert in North Africa, next to Egypt, with a relatively well-educated population of 6 million in need of seemingly every kind of consumer product and service, for which the country would easily be able to pay by continuing to pump its usual 1.3 million to 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. The Central Bank of Libya, according to Reuters, had more than $100 billion in foreign reserves, mostly money collected from oil sales under Qaddafi. The Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the overseas investment arm of the Qaddafi government, had about $70 billion invested with blue-chip Western companies such as Société Générale (GLE:FP) and Goldman Sachs (GS), and an additional $50 billion or more invested throughout Africa. And in Libya, every asset you could imagine was dirt-cheap. “It was a clean page,” he remembers. “You could start from scratch.”

Farkash returned to Libya that very month, along with two friends from London. Together, they started a Libyan investment bank with offices in Tripoli and Benghazi, with the aim of encouraging direct foreign investment in Libya. “You could smell that there were deals everywhere. Attractive deals,” he recalls. “Deals about to be done, and deals waiting to be done.” Land was inexpensive and increasing by the day in value, he says. You could fill your gas tank for $5."


On Israel's Defeat in Gaza, David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy.

Hamas will dig out from under the rubble and the world will remember the image of four boys killed on a beach.

"Yet, whenever this most recent conflict is seen to be over, it will not be remembered for the security logic behind it or the speeches justifying it. Nor will it be remembered for the tactical gains that Israel may have achieved. No, the lasting image this war will leave the world is of four boys on a beach, playing soccer and then running for their lives, hurtled from a carefree moment of childhood to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

There is no Iron Dome that can protect Israel from images like that. There is no Iron Dome that can undo the images of suffering and destruction burned into our memories or justify away the damage to Israel's legitimacy that comes from such wanton slaughter. Most importantly, the Iron Dome protects Israel only from the damage others try to inflict upon it; it cannot save the country from the damage it does to itself."

-/AFP/Getty Images, -/AFP/Getty Images, Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images, Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images, MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images


Steppe Children

After more than 50 years in exile, Tibetans are grappling with a new wave of diaspora no longer content to remain in South Asia. But can those coming of age in the West help preserve a culture under siege?

Today, the language is just a hazy memory: snatches of a few familiar phrases floating through a sea of foreign noise, and an arcing, incomprehensible script. But once upon a time, Tashi Dondup could speak Tibetan. 

It was 1985. The 5-year-old Dondup and his parents had moved from his mother's hometown of Boise, Idaho, to Dharamsala, a small city on the Indian side of the Himalayas that's home to the Tibetan government in exile, and where Dondup's father, whose name is also Tashi Dondup, spent his childhood. The younger Dondup didn't speak any Tibetan when he got there, but he went to a Tibetan-language school with other Tibetan children, made friends, and learned fast.

Then, suddenly, it was over. Dondup's parents, who'd met in India when his mother was working on a documentary on the Tibetan government, were worried about their long-term prospects in a small Indian city, and about their son falling behind in school. So in 1986 they returned to Boise, where Dondup's father was the only Tibetan, and Dondup the only half-Tibetan.

Today, the 34-year-old is living a life he calls "basically fully Americanized." He camps; he surfs; in 2012, he got his MBA from the University of Oregon, in entrepreneurship. After graduation, he moved back to Idaho, where he works for a sports media company. He still has his old workbooks from his days in Tibetan school -- he just can't read them. "We know that part of who we are is Tibetan," Dondup said of himself and his brother Neddy, 24, who also doesn't speak Tibetan. "But there's a disconnect between knowing what you are and actively feeling that way." 

Mixed-race Tibetans coming of age in the West like Dondup and his brother are grappling with issues that an increasingly dispersed community will face more of in the future: how they fit into the Tibetan cause, how to preserve a sense of connection to a far-flung homeland now several generations removed, and how to handle the perception that they are contributing to the dissolution of a community that still feels like it must fight to preserve itself.

It's been more than 50 years since the first wave of Tibetans fled the plateau for Dharamsala, following a failed uprising against Chinese Communist Party rule and the subsequent brutal military crackdown, in which the Chinese government executed or imprisoned tens of thousands suspected of supporting a Dalai Lama-led government. As exiles, this first wave expected to return home quickly once Tibet gained its independence, said Emily Yeh, who researches Tibet at the University of Colorado, Boulder. So instead of dispersing like other diaspora communities, the roughly 85,000 people who first fled Tibet mainly clustered around a central core, built around Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama, in the mountains of India, Nepal, and Bhutan, next to their homeland. 

But the past three decades have seen the start of a new chapter for Tibetans living outside of the plateau, a vast landmass of about 965,000 square miles in southwest China. As the decades in exile wear on, and the prospects of returning to the plateau have dimmed, more Tibetans are exchanging refugee life in South Asia for the West. Western countries, won over by the lobbying efforts of the Tibetan government, have arranged for large-scale resettlement programs that bring in hundreds of immigrants. Like Dondup's father, some of them -- there are no good estimates on the number -- have married Westerners and raised families with half-Tibetan children. 

They're leaving at a time when a community that's always fretted about cultural preservation -- about how to maintain a strong sense of itself even though Beijing has destroyed many of the hallmarks of its culture -- faces increasing questions about what, exactly, constitutes "authentic" Tibetan-ness today. Parents in Dharamsala worry that their Hindi-speaking children are too Indian, while new arrivals from Tibet to Dharamsala struggle to fit in, considered by their first-wave counterparts too Sinicized to be truly Tibetan. Meanwhile, Han Chinese settlers continue to flow onto the plateau, in what the Dalai Lama has called an ongoing "cultural genocide."

Amid all this, some mixed-race Tibetans have struggled to find their footing. There are enough of them asking the same questions about their collective identity that a group of about two dozen organized a conference in June in London, where they received messages from Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay, Tibet's representative to Northern Europe, Thubten Samdup, and even the Dalai Lama himself. Intermarriage for Tibetans was "inevitable," the Dalai Lama wrote. What was important, he said, was "the preservation of the Tibetan language and culture." 

Samdup, who addressed the attendees in person, was more blunt: "If we are not able to bring together this generation of Tibetans of mixed parentage into our community, the next generation is lost," he said.

There are an estimated 130,000 Tibetans living in exile, and fewer than 20,000 of them currently live in the West, according to the most recent survey conducted by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the main body of the Tibetan government in exile, in 2009. (The CTA estimates the total number of ethnic Tibetans in the world at about 6 million.) Most of those living in Europe are based in Switzerland, which is home to an estimated 3,500; roughly 10,500 live in Canada and the United States. Some came as individuals, like Dondup's father. Others were part of larger-scale resettlement programs, lobbied for by a Tibetan government in exile eager to send more of its citizens to the developed world to act as ambassadors for the Tibetan cause, writes University of New Mexico anthropologist Julia Hess. Hess is the author of Immigrant Ambassadors, a 2009 book about a program that resettled 1,000 Tibetans in the United States in the 1990s.

Hess writes about the anxieties of those left behind: Tibetans in the West would grow too concerned with money; they would give up on the goal of eventually returning to the Tibet; Tibetans would be "scattered like beans around the world," in the words of one member of the exile community, Nawang Dorjee, writing in 1992 in the New Delhi-based magazine the Tibetan Review, as quoted in Hess's book. Once assimilated, he worried, they wouldn't look back. 

Tenzin Tara Haines-Wangda, 20, a student at York University in Toronto, grew up in Ottawa with her Canadian mother and her sister. Her parents gave both children combined Tibetan/Western names; her 23-year-old sister, a Toronto-based photographer, is named Lodoe Laura. Her Tibetan father, Jurme Wangda, worked in Japan on behalf of the Tibetan government; for most of the sisters' childhood they didn't see much of him.

As a child, Haines-Wangda felt a strong connection to her ancestral homeland, she says -- her family had a prayer room in their house, and said Tibetan prayers before meals. She would try to incorporate Tibet into her school projects -- she wrote poetry about Tibet in English class, and brought Himalayan salt to science class, for instance -- and was quick to talk about her heritage. "When I was growing up, we were the only Tibetan people in Ottawa, and I felt like it was my role to represent them as a people," she said. "That was very important." 

But as she grew older, her relationship to her "Tibetan-ness" grew more complicated. She had unsettling encounters with other Tibetans, who told her to make sure to marry a Tibetan, or that they would never marry a non-Tibetan themselves. Others peppered her with questions on her unusual name. And there was always the ever-present question: Can you speak the language? (She can't.) "It's the first question Tibetan people ask you," she said, as "a gauge of a kind of level of Tibetan-ness."

Both sisters are politically active on behalf of Tibet -- a habit long-instilled in them by their father, who was once a bodyguard for the Dalai Lama. They lobby the Canadian Parliament on Tibetan issues when back home in Ottawa and talk to MPs in Toronto, where both sisters currently live. But the pride in her heritage that came easily to Haines-Wangda as a child is trickier now. "On some level, I still want [Tibet] to be really important in my life," she said. "But now, I'm almost scared about how other Tibetans will react." It offends her when other Tibetans weigh in on her future marriage choices. At the same time, she says she thinks about these questions a lot herself -- how Tibetan she wants her future children to be, and whether she'll be able to instill a sense of cultural identification in them if she marries someone who isn't of Tibetan heritage. 

The half-dozen mixed-race Tibetans interviewed for this story all said they don't really speak Tibetan, a language with about 8 million speakers that's in the same family as Burmese. Almost all of them feel at least a little guilty about it. (For more on the politics of speaking Tibetan in exile, see this post on the website Lhakar Diaries.) A few, like Dondup, spoke some as children, but lost it as they grew up in communities with few Tibetans. Many said they were trying to relearn -- but that Tibetan, with its many dialects, a grammar very different from English, and few other speakers around to practice with, continued to elude them.

I'm half Chinese -- a personal fact I was sometimes a little nervous to share with those I interviewed. But I brought it up because I wanted to discuss how we were different. I don't act particularly Chinese, but when I don't cook Chinese food for weeks, when I don't know what to do at a Chinese wedding or a funeral, or when my cousins tease me for not speaking Cantonese, I do feel embarrassed, even a little un-filial. But I never feel that I've let down a whole nation. Many of the people I spoke with say they do. "The nature of the political situation in Tibet has really enforced this notion of staying true," Lodoe Laura Haines-Wangda told me. "I understand the feeling of people who came from Tibet wanting to hang onto that purity. But you feel that kind of guilt and shame from them; your parents also feel that guilt and shame." 

In late March, Voice of America Tibet, a branch of the U.S. government-funded broadcaster, posted a short report on young Tibetans of mixed race on its website and Facebook page. The piece sparked a flurry of comments. Some were delicate on the question of cultural preservation and mixed marriages: "Soon the 50/50 Tibetan children will become 1/4 Tibetan, then less and less Tibetan from generation to generation. Just a fear of mine..." wrote one commenter. Others quickly turned ugly: "If [the] upcoming Tibetan generation feels that this new phenomena of mix parentage [sic] is acceptable then people like me has [sic] to resign from Tibetan social life in order to survive.... And we are going to do it even at the cost of Tibetan unity because it is worth doing."

The steady flow of Tibetans to the West shows few signs of slowing. The Tibetan government continues to lobby Western governments to take in more of those currently living in South Asian settlements. Ottawa is in the midst of a large-scale project to resettle 1,000 Tibetans from the northern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh to Canada, while May 2013 saw an attempt to attach an amendment to U.S. immigration reform legislation that would have provided 5,000 Tibetans with visas.   

For Dondup's father, the decision to resettle in the United States wasn't difficult. But he regrets not speaking more Tibetan with his sons at home. He urges other Tibetan families new to the United States to keep up the language with their children and make sure they remember where they came from. He still holds out hope that his sons will meet some nice Tibetan girls and marry them. "But I know," he says, "chances are quite small."

Photo courtesy of Tashi Dondup