NEAL ASCHERSON QUOTES

Scottish journalist and author (1932- )

To be defeated, but not to give in, is victory.

NEAL ASCHERSON, Wojtek the Bear

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Tags: defeat, victory


The way that words mutate reminds me of fashions in music. The word--the note--is a constant. But the setting and chord in which it occurs alters with the mood of a nation from major to minor, from the assertive to the mournful and foreboding.

NEAL ASCHERSON, "Chords of Identity in a Minor Key", Games with Shadows

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Tags: words


History--the product, not the raw material--is a bottle with a label. For many years now, the emphasis of historical discussion has been laid upon the label (its iconography, its target-group of customers) and upon the interesting problems of manufacturing bottle-glass. The contents, on the other hand, are tasted in a knowing, perfunctory way and then spat out again. Only amateurs swallow them.

NEAL ASCHERSON, Black Sea

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Tags: history


Broadly speaking, most people lived their lives in a kind of unwilling conformity. The thing was that they were offered, as time went by, various kinds of freedom, most of which were sort of dummy freedoms somehow.

NEAL ASCHERSON, interview, Frontline

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Tags: freedom


Vampires, incidentally, do exist, even if Vlad was not one of them. I well remember the Hamburg Vampire in the middle 1960s. He climbed into a flat and drank the blood of a young woman, who asserted that before he came through the window she had felt a deadly chill and become unable to move. The skeptical police took her off to the hospital, where the Vampire was actually caught halfway up the creepers on the wall, on his way to have one more for the road. He ended up in a mental clinic. The victim and the police officer in the case ended up telling their story in convincing detail on German television.

NEAL ASCHERSON, "Dracula in Britain", Games with Shadows

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Tags: vampires


There are many kinds of revelation. But the most powerful is the vision which transcends the mental boundary between life and non-life, and Scotland is a place where this sort of revelation often approaches. Staring into a Scottish landscape, I have often asked myself why--in spite of all appearances--bracken, rocks, man and sea are at some level one.

NEAL ASCHERSON, Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland

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When Tony Benn became a minister in the 1960s -- and I think this must be apocryphal -- he had a huge map of Britain hung upside down in his office, so the channel was at the top and Scotland was at the bottom and, apparently, he said, "This is how we need to look at this country, with the money and the power draining by force of gravity out of the south east." That was a great idea. I rather liked him for that. I don't know if it's actually true or not.

NEAL ASCHERSON, interview, "Velvet and Stone", Bella Caledonia, Oct. 10, 2011

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For the past 15 years or so, British governments have tried to persuade the rest of us that the best judges of the national interest are ... businessmen. This may be a ridiculous statement, but--ominously--fewer and fewer people laugh at it.

NEAL ASCHERSON, attributed, Quotes about Economy and Economics

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All human populations are in some sense immigrants. All hostility between different cultures in one place has an aspect of the classic immigrant grudge against the next boatload approaching the shore. To defend one's home and fields and ancestral graves against invasion seems a right. But to claim unique possession -- to compound the fact of settlement with the aspect of a landscape into an abstract of eternal and immutable ownership -- is a joke.

NEAL ASCHERSON, Black Sea

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Tags: illegal immigration


Who should regulate the media? Who should control the press? The commentariat agonises, as if the choice was between state control through some autocratic press law or a new Press Complaints Commission redecorated with false teeth. But there is another way. Let journalists regulate themselves.... Let's have a little democracy in the media. Even in the Murdoch papers, the number of journalists who are irretrievably lawless and callous is quite small. Most of the disasters at the News of the World happened because its editors treated their staff in the style of Muammar Gaddafi.

NEAL ASCHERSON, "A Democracy of Journalists", Open Democracy, Jul. 18, 2011

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Tags: journalism


Well, if there is a spectrum between ethnic and civic forms of nationalism, which is a rather schematic way of looking at it, all nationalism contains elements of both, but Scotland is very far on the civic end of the spectrum. That is partly because nobody has ever been stupid enough to say that Scotland is an ethnicity in a genetic sense. A kingdom of Scotland existed long before anybody talked of a Scottish people. So that is one thing we have been spared.

NEAL ASCHERSON, interview, Scottish Review of Books

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I am always fascinated when people talk about "the forging of a nation." Most nations are forgeries, perpetrated in the last century or so.

NEAL ASCHERSON, Games with Shadows

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I think England has been in the long-term damaged by Britishness.

NEAL ASCHERSON, "Is Britishness a generous thing, or has it damaged England?", Open Democracy, Jan. 17, 2012

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But the people did get it. They had lost something -- not exactly their fear, but their patience. Suddenly it seemed unbearable to go on accepting these systems, these portly little idiots in their blue suits, for another year, and then for another day, another hour. That special sort of impatience is the power-surge of revolution.

NEAL ASCHERSON, "1989: how it ended", Open Democracy, Nov. 4, 2009

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Tags: revolution


I went into journalism in a grandiose way. I thought maybe I'd do a little journalism whilst I write the great novel of all time you see -- one has to keep oneself afloat.

NEAL ASCHERSON, interview, Scottish Review of Books

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Who invented political tolerance? The English invented it, it's something which has taken roots with some difficulty in Scottish politics.

NEAL ASCHERSON, "Is Britishness a generous thing, or has it damaged England?", Open Democracy, Jan. 17, 2012

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On the Black Sea, my father saw it begin. And on the Black Sea, seventy years on, I saw the beginning of its end.

NEAL ASCHERSON, opening lines, Black Sea

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It was a real revolution. But with one missing feature. That is the feeling in a people that "We have done it once, and if the new lot let us down, we can do it again!" It was that proud, menacing confidence which made the French revolution special. But it's not around in 21st-century Europe. After 1989, the people handed over liberty to the experts. Will they ever want it back?

NEAL ASCHERSON, "1989: how it ended", Open Democracy, Nov. 4, 2009

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I'm always interested in debunking myths if they are untrue. But it's also important to identify myths and how they function, what value they may have.

NEAL ASCHERSON, interview, Scottish Review of Books

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Tags: mythology


In Moscow, dim and green under the summer rain, columns of armour were waiting in the side-roads off the long avenue from Vnukovo airport. Tanks from the Taman Division stood beneath the dripping trees around Moscow University with their field kitchens and command trucks. This was not a new sight to me: the Soviet tanks had rested like that beneath the trees of the parks in Prague, late in another August twenty-three years before. Now they had invaded and crushed one more country -- their own.

NEAL ASCHERSON, Black Sea

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