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Germany

Gunter Grass, Literary Alpha Wolf Of Post-War Germany

The Nobel laureate, who died this week, helped Germany find its voice after the horrors of World War II. But his life ultimately embodied his nation's struggles to come to terms with its past.

Gunter Grass in 2004
Gunter Grass in 2004
Thomas Schmid

BERLIN — He walked onto the literary stage at precisely the right moment and had the temperament to suit the times. Günter Grass was a lucky man. His novel The Tin Drum, written in Paris and published in 1959, made the former Bohemian famous overnight. Up to that point, a certain reserve and tendency to avoid strong words had dominated Germany's post-War literary scene: Günter Eich’s sparseness, Wolfgang Koeppen’s dark and epic poetry, Heinrich Boell’s tired melancholy.

From the very beginning, Grass, who died April 13 at age 87, filled every occasion with his typical "here-I-am" gestures, and his work with sometimes rough language — which both produced critics. Still, he was generally popular, seeming to address a certain need among his contemporaries, particularly in Germany.

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Geopolitics

Russia's Military Failures Are Really About Its Soldiers

No doubt, strategic errors and corruption at the highest ranks in the Kremlin are partly to blame for the Russian military's stunning difficulties in Ukraine. But the roots run deeper, where the ordinary recruits come from, how they are exploited, how they react.

Army reserve soldiers go to Red Square to attend a Pioneer Induction ceremony

Anna Akage

To the great relief of Ukraine and the great surprise of the rest of the world, the Russian army — considered until February 24, the second strongest in the world — is now eminently beatable on the battlefield against Ukrainian forces operating with vastly inferior firepower.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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After renouncing the original ambitions to take Kyiv and unseat the Ukrainian government, the focus turned to the southeastern region of Donbas, where a would-be great battle on a scale comparable to World War II Soviet victories has turned into a quagmire peppered with laughable updates by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on TikTok.

The Russians have not managed to occupy a single significant Ukrainian city, except Kherson, which they partially destroyed and now find difficult to hold. Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians are left to suffer the bombing of cities and villages from Lviv to Odessa, with looting, torture and assorted war crimes.

The reasons for both the poor performance and atrocities are many, and include deep-seated corruption and lack of professionalism up through the highest ranks, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had never served in the army, and arrived in his position only because of his loyalty to the No. 1 man in the Kremlin.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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