Isabel Hilton

Isabel Hilton is the author of The Search for Panchen Lama. She recently crossed the Atlantic in circumstances most of us would find too hazardous.

Speak Bitterness: Growing up in Tibet

Isabel Hilton, 5 March 2015

Last August​, speaking at an international forum on development in Tibet sponsored by the Chinese government, Neil Davidson, a Labour peer and former advocate general for Scotland, criticised the Western media for bias. The story they had failed to tell, according to Davidson, was that of the remarkable economic development the Chinese government had brought to Tibet in a ‘short...

How to Defect: North Korea

Isabel Hilton, 10 June 2010

Our father, we have nothing to envy in the world, Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ Party. We are all brothers and sisters. Even if a sea of fire comes toward us, sweet children do not need to be afraid, Our father is here. We have nothing to envy in this world.

North Korean children’s song

What do we know about North Korea? The ‘quintessential rogue...

If the Dalai Lama ever makes it back to Lhasa, as excited press reports have suggested he might, he won’t recognise the place. The city that he left in 1959 had fewer than 30,000 inhabitants; it is now six times the size. In 1951 it covered one square mile; now it sprawls over twenty. The original city – a warren of low-rise Tibetan houses with their distinctive tapering shape,...

Down there

Isabel Hilton, 11 July 1991

It may be that the grotesque world of the small wars waged by the Reagan Administration in Central America has faded from public memory. Even at the time, there were never that many who were prepared to make the effort to distinguish between Nicaragua and El Salvador, let alone the even more obscure Honduras and Costa Rica. Nowhere was this more true than in the United States. The Vietnam War eventually engaged mass attention, not least because it was fought by a conscript army. But Central America remained a blur. Within the Administration, there was a continuum which ran between the two conflicts: Reagan’s officials had pinned to the front of their minds the slogan ‘Never another Cuba, never another Vietnam.’ And of the personnel overlap one newspaper headline proclaimed: ‘The gang that blew Vietnam goes Latin.’ But in spite of Reagan’s efforts to endow those sad little countries with the stature of a real threat to their giant northern neighbour, and, even more implausibly, to paint the sordid Contra forces in the heroic colours of America’s founding fathers, the voters refused to be inspired, or even to get out the atlas. Central America was the President’s favourite topic in his addresses to the nation, yet, relatively late in his Presidency, opinion polls reported that most US citizens were not sure who were the good guys and who were the bad guys ‘down there’. Asked to decide whether Daniel Ortega was a Mexican fast-food chain or the President of Nicaragua, a substantial majority opted for the tacos.

Dying for the Malvinas

Isabel Hilton, 3 March 1988

There was a junior minister in General Galtieri’s government who, in April 1982, made one of the few perceptive remarks to be made by government ministers on either side of the strange little war that was then being fought. After a brief visit to the newly recovered Malvinas, he said: ‘Every Argentine seems prepared to die for the Malvinas, but none would wish to live there.’ It did little for his political career, but he summed up the difference between the attachment of the Kelpers to those boggy, windswept islands, a place of hard living and stubborn attitudes, and the Argentine image of the place as the final jewel in the state regalia, a powerful symbol for a nation that relies the more heavily on symbols for its identity because of the lack of substance and cohesion in its national life. Argentina in 1982 was a nation that had failed to find itself, its national myths usurped by the military and, as Jimmy Burns points out, swept up into Juan Peron’s vision of ‘a country which is formed by generals, liberated by generals, led by generals and today claimed by generals’.

The Nominated Boy: The Panchen Lama

Robert Macfarlane, 29 November 2001

The Tibetan Government presently sits in exile in McLeod Ganj, a small town outside Dharamsala separated from Tibet itself by the ramparts of the Himalayas. The Dalai Lama escaped there in 1959,...

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The Rat Line

Christopher Driver, 6 December 1984

By chance, the evening I took this book to bed for the painful reading expected, I jabbed the tooth of a comb down a fingernail and cried out. As a reminder of what Klaus Barbie was about, not...

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