HOORAY for John Tusa, whose 20/20: A View of the Century has just won the Broadcasting Press Guild's prize for the best radio programme of the year. This magisterial series takes a lofty, non-chronological view of our turbulent times, by means of a succession of present participles. This week's was called Belonging and it studied the badges we wear to proclaim our various allegiances.

Tusa is a superb teacher. If you stick with him through calamity and dismay, he will lead you towards a tentative optimism, snatched from the teeth of despair. As usual, this week he roamed the world for opinions, talking to an American Indian chief who (I think) was called Mike How- Many-Horses; to a Belfast peace-worker; to an old Indian lady who had witnessed the massacres attendant on Partition: "It was as though a beast were dancing," she sighed, unforgettably.

We have moved, he said, from iron imperial rule to an apparently chaotic maelstrom in which every tiny faction sports its own favour. He agreed with Michael Ignatieff that this is "the narcissism of the minor difference", the tragic irony that the most violent quarrels erupt between peoples who are most alike - Serbs and Croats, for example, or Hutus and Tutsis. Though it seems an incorrigibly self-destructive situation, Tusa, as is his wont, wrenched some joy from it.

When the Apollo astronauts looked back on "this good earth", they saw it as a rich and brilliant whole: from this one-world vision have sprung such movements as Greenpeace and Amnesty International, pointing the way to a future in which the breakdown of empire could reach the limit of the individual, when perhaps, just conceivably, we might all wear the single badge of humanity.

Desmond Tutu is one of Tusa's mentors, sharing this view. From his beleaguered continent came the week's most remarkable talk. Allan Little's African Harvest (R4) was ostensibly about South Africa's first local elections, but, in his attempt to understand the current situation, he ranged from the public execution of William Burke to the building of Great Zimbabwe by ancient, highly sophisticated Africans.

Burke, who, with his accomplice Hare, is remembered as a body-snatcher, was, in fact, a serial killer, murdering at random to sell bodies to an Edinburgh surgeon. This surgeon, Robert Knox, was a highly regarded racist who propounded the view that the African brain stops developing at adolescence. A scornful Johannesburg sandwich-lady agreed, deriding the political discernment of the African voter, but she was quite outclassed by an old Soweto woman who compared the new democracy to a baby learning to walk, needing gentleness and care. He was moved, said Little, beyond words, but the words he found were perfect.

Almost as condensed and even more personal was Melvyn Bragg's contribution to the Lenten series Stranger Than fiction (R4). Speaking rapidly, almost compulsively, he described his own progress from conventional Anglicanism through impatient "so-called rationalism" to his current acceptance of the intelligence of God working through the universe. He reached an understanding of Christ's last words from the cross with the help of a remark once made to him by Fred Hoyle and by the writings of Anne Conway, a 17th-century philosopher. All this, from the famously sceptical and often irascible host of Start the Week.

Sometimes you can only feel grateful to such broadcasters, who trust us to listen attentively to their profoundest thoughts. Another, in this unexpectedly rich week, was George Szirtes, a poet who took us back 40 years to Hungary 1956 (R3). From president to cleaning-lady, Hungarians remembered that momentous year, which began with floods and earthquake, flowered into the hope of freedom and ended in savagery. "I hadn't realised until then," said one sad old voice, "that bullets actually glow as they fly through the dark."

In the heady days of resistance, people were encouraged to put their radios in open windows, when crowds gathered in the streets to hear the news. If that happened here and now, people would run away, hands over ears, to avoid more awful non-news about cows. I knew it was really serious when The Archers (R4) went into Topical Insert Mode. Apart from a tiny snippet of veal-calf gloom, the last time this happened was during the Gulf War. This week, the producer had prepared as many as three emergency scenes a day to respond to the next government utterance, on behalf of the farming community. It is a relief, at least, to know that Ellie May comes from the purest strain of BSE-free Sussex cattle.

In France, said Kevin Connelly on From Our Own Correspondent (R4), they have more sympathy for us than we might imagine. That might be because the sign "VF" displayed by butchers stands not only for Viandes Francaises but also for Vaches Folles. And it didn't stop them printing a cartoon showing four starving sailors in a lifeboat. Three of them, looking at the fourth, are agreeing, "We can't eat him, he's British."