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Archive for the category “Russia”

Racism as an Orthodox problem

Someone recently posted a link to an ostensibly Orthodox web site that seems to be pushing a racist and white nationalist agenda. 15,000 White South Africans Flee Racist Persecution, Plan Move to Russia – Russian Faith:

…the whole notion that Boers see Russia as a possible new homeland is telling and it is huge in its implications. It is happening, as I predicted a few years ago, that white Christian peoples (which is by definition–a European root) will increasingly see Russia as their salvation.

The racism in that article is bad enough, but the idolatry is worse. The Orthodox Church teaches salvation in Jesus Christ, not salvation through Russia.

I’ve followed links to the “Russian Faith” web site in the past; it often has pictures of pretty Orthodox Churches, and a veneer of Orthodoxy. But looking to Russia for salvation rather than to Christ really is idolatry. There’s even a Russian word for it, dvoeverie — dual faith, double mindedness. Believing in Christ and something else; putting your faith in Christ and… Christ and Russia; Christ and whiteness; because Christ alone is not enough. Which is perhaps why St James tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).

So I’ll no longer be following or sharing links to the Russian Faith website on social media, because it seems to be promoting the Russian faith, that is faith in Russia, rather than the Orthodox faith, which is faith in Christ.

In pointing out the errors, the phyletism, the heresy, of web sites like Russian Faith, however, one must be careful not to be sucked into the opposite error — the currently-fashionable Russophobia of the Western media, where anything linked in any way to Russia is seen as ipso facto evil. In the eyes of the Western media, to say that someone has “Russian connections” is enough to damn them. I believe that there is such a thing as Holy Russia, exemplified by countless Russian saints, but Holy Russia was the Russia that followed the Orthodox faith, faith in Christ, not faith in whiteness or in Russia itself.

This is Orthodoxy: the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Theodoros II, visiting the Diocese of Kisimu in Western Kenya, whose bishop, His Grace Anthanasius (on the Pope’s left), served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria for 13 years, and was beloved by all his parishioners, black and white (Photo by Amadiva Athanasios).

Just because this article was sparked off by something posted on a Russian website does not mean that Orthodox Christians who are not Russian are exempt from the danger of falling into heresies like phyletism, I once heard someone say, at coffee after Divine Liturgy at a church in Johannesburg, “The Orthodox Church is not missionary because its purpose is to preserve Greek culture.” And there is that slogan I have heard from many people Hellenism is Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy is Hellenism. That too is phyletism, and dvoeverie.

 

Fathers and sons

Fathers and SonsFathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading about this book for fifty years or more, usually in connection with Nihilism as a worldview. Nihilism: nothing exists, nothing is knowable, nothing has value. A dreary philosophy, perhaps, but one expounded by one of the characters in this novel.

Back when I first heard of it, I was an Anglican, and the description of Nihilism reminded me of the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity:

Almighty God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our Lord. Amen.

And so I conceived of a nihilist as someone for whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy. And without God, Nothing is very strong indeed.

This was later reinforced by a computer game called Mazeland, which entailed exploring a monster-filled maze, where one encountered ever more powerful monsters, the most powerful of which was a Nothingness. The game usually ended with the sentence. “The Nothingness hit you 264.76 times. The Nothingness killed you.”

I pictured the book as being in some little winter-bound Russian peasant shack, with father and son shivering in front of the stove having deep philosophical discussions.

Then my son gave me a book voucher for my birthday, and at last I saw the book and bought it.

It utterly failed to live up to my expectations.

It is the story of a couple of university students on their summer vacation. They visit the parents of one, then on their way to visit the parents of the other stop in a town, go to parties, meet interesting people, chat to them, go to the parents of the other, then repeat. On their travels they fall in love, fall out with each other, and do lots of other things that students do on vacation.

This could be any students at any time, but Turgenev manages to describe conversations between the characters that seem to have a hidden meaning, and infuse this picture of everyday student life with something deeper.

At the particular historical juncture in Russia when the story takes place, there was the emancipation of the serfs, and perhaps in South Africa today with all the talk of land reform it rings bells for us in our history too.

I don’t know if Anglicans still use that Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity; I don’t even know if they still have a Fourth Sunday after Trinity. But at the end of the book I wanted to read that collect, and it seems to be the most fitting epilogue to the story. Let the reader understand.

View all my reviews

Russophobia: the key to success in Anglo-American politics

It seems that the surest path to failure in politics in the US and the UK is not to be Russophobic enough for the war-mongering “mainstream” media.

Last week it was Newsweek and the London Independent trying to outdo Bell Pottinger in trying to stir up race hatred in South Africa by misrepresenting the land issue. This week it’s the Guardian  joining them on the alt-right by pronouncing doom on Jeremy Corbyn for failing to be enough of a Russophobic bigot: Theresa May transforms into cold war colossus by not being Jeremy Corbyn | UK news | The Guardian.

I can think of plenty of things one could criticise in US President Donald Trump’s policies — poisoning the air and water and killing off endangered species for a start. But it seems that the most common criticism is that he isn’t Russophobic enough for the media pundits.

Perhaps we need to put prejudice on hold, and heed this warning: Russian to Judgement – Craig Murray:

The same people who assured you that Saddam Hussein had WMD’s now assure you Russian “novochok” nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil. As with the Iraqi WMD dossier, it is essential to comb the evidence very finely. A vital missing word from Theresa May’s statement yesterday was “only”. She did not state that the nerve agent used was manufactured ONLY by Russia. She rather stated this group of nerve agents had been “developed by” Russia. Antibiotics were first developed by a Scotsman, but that is not evidence that all antibiotics are today administered by Scots.

This is not to say that Russians, and possibly the Russian government could not have done such a thing, but the British démarche makes it clear that Teresa May is playing the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s adventures in Wonderland — first the sentence, then the verdict, and the evidence must follow as best it can. Jeremy Corbyn is quite right to be cautious. It was his own party that fell for this 15 years ago. And there is still a great deal of obscurity about who developed and provided the poison gas that was used in Syria a few years ago.

As a result of the Russophobic hype of the last few years, I don’t trust anything that Anglo-American media say about Russia, its government, or its role in world affairs. As a result of an apparent tit-for-tat policy that has developed in the Russian media since the Ukraine crisis in 2014, I don’t trust anything the Russian media say about Britain and the USA either. So who can one trust? Perhaps a more neutral source like the Irish TimesUnlikely that Vladimir Putin behind Skripal poisoning:

Theresa May’s first scenario, that the Kremlin was directly involved, seems unlikely. Skripal was in the UK as part of an official spy-swap deal with Russia. The only suggestion of suspicious activities on Skripal’s part has been a report in the Daily Telegraph that he was close to an unnamed person in the organisation run by Christopher Steele, who produced the dossier claiming Russia had compromising material on Donald Trump.

For President Vladimir Putin to have launched such a vicious attack would have been counterproductive as it would jeopardise any spy swaps in the future.

There’s a lot of hatred and violence in the world, and it’s bad enough when the media report it. When they report it, however, they are just doing their job. But when they are busy stoking it up, it’s something else.

And I’ve just added Creating Russophobia to my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads. As the blurb on GoodReads puts it:

Contemporary Russophobia is manufactured through the construction of an anti-Russian discourse in the media and the diplomatic world, and the fabrication and demonization of The Bad Guy, now personified by Vladimir Putin.

That doesn’t make Putin the “good guy” either. He’s a politician like the rest of them, and he believes in Realpolitik like the rest of them. The real “bad guy” is the Orwellian rhetoric of the Anglo-American media.

Yet another reason to boycott Nestlé

Over the years there have been several calls to boycott Nestlé, the Switzerland-based food firm, which was originally known for producing chocolate, but has since branched out, more controversially, into baby food, bottled water, instant coffee and a few other things.

The latest boycott call, however, arises not from their products, but from their advertising and packaging — Orthodox Leaders Call for Boycott of Lidl, Nestle for Airbrushing Out Christian Symbols on Products:

Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church are asking worshipers to boycott Lidl and Nestlé, which removed Christian symbols from their food packaging in an attempt to be “religiously neutral.”

Earlier this month, shoppers noticed that the German supermarket chain Lidl had used photo editing software to remove crosses on top of an iconic Greek church on its food packaging. Swiss food giant Nestlé and the local dairy producer Mevgal have also removed religious imagery from their Greek yogurts.

In response, the Orthodox Church in Athens is urging its members through sermons and on the internet to boycott Lidl, Nestlé and Mevgal, according to The Sunday Times, whom a spokesperson of the Church told the issue will be raised at a special synodical meeting next month.

In this, they seem to be trying to go out of their way to be offensive. The cosmetics firm Dove recently stirred up controversy by racially offensive ads. Now these firms, or at least two of them, are being religiously offensive. Perhaps Lidl didn’t intend their packaging to be offensive, but it was only after it had stirred up controversy that Mevgal and Nestlé introduced theirs as well.

No one is compelling these firms to put pictures of churches on their packaging. If they don’t like churches and what they stand for, then they could quite easily show pictures of something else. There are plenty of picturesque sights in Greece other than churches.

Some, especially those in the secular West, might wonder what all the fuss is about. It is easy for such people to forget that in the 20th century just about every country in Europe with a majority (or substantial minority) of Orthodox Christians was under communist rule until the 1990s. For people who remember that, and especially those who lived through it, removing crosses from churches is a bit like putting up a Whites Only sign in post-1994 South Africa. People will get offended, because they recall that the Bolsheviks removed the crosses from churches (and in some cases replaced them with red stars). Removal of the crosses thus has a flavour of arrogant bullying authoritarianism.

For the Bolsheviks in Russia there was a kind of standard procedure. First they would knock the crosses off, then the bells, and then they would urge (sometimes forcibly) the members of the congregation to chop up the ikons for firewood. Then they would convert the buildings to stables, warehouses, flats etc. Of course they themselves didn’t see it as oppression — in their minds they were liberating the peasants from superstition, but the peasants themselves didn’t see it as any kind of liberation, just as oppression worse than the Tsar’s.

When I visited Russia in 1995 many temples had only recently been handed back to the Church by the government, and most of them were in poor condition, needing extensive repairs. But almost invariably the first step in repairing them was the replacement of the cross on the highest dome. There could be cheap paper ikons stuck up with sticky tape; the paint could be peeling and the plaster crumbling; worshippers could be making their way across an unsurfaced floor all over steel reinforcing and electrical conduits, but at the top of the highest dome was a golden cross. Restoring it was a priority. Crosses were the first things the Bolsheviks broke down, and were the first things that the Christians replaced. For Orthodox Christians, removing crosses from temples is not trivial.

Today many countries in Europe are no longer under Bolshevik rule, but in the Middle East many Christians in countries with Islamist governments are not allowed to display crosses on their churches, and when commercial firms start displaying the same oppressive attitude, yes, it is offensive. And in the post-Cold War world it can also look like a bit of in-your-face Clash of Civilizations oneupmanship.

As one Greek bishop said:

Imagine the same thing happening in Russia, with products parcelled and plastered with pictures of Moscow’s gold domes, only without their crosses. They [the companies] would be paying each and every person there millions in damages. But here, they have not only stolen us of our voice … but they know that the cost of damage caused in this small country will be small.

So you can add this to the reasons for boycotting Nestlé. At least one Christian blogger I know displays this logo, and perhaps others should start doing so too. Here is a reminder of some of the other reasons for boycotting: 5 shocking scandals that prove it’s time to boycott Nestlé | The Daily Dot:

The company’s abuse of California’s resources is reason enough to be angry at Nestlé, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for a firm with decades of controversy behind it. It’s been the target of multiple boycotts and protests, Twitter campaigns against the company, making it an almost irresistible target for ire among Californians angry about water bottling practices in the state.

Where’s the outrage?

Where’s the outrage?

This is a strange rhetorical question that I’ve been seeing with increasing frequency on the Internet. A Google search showed about 259,000 results.

And it seems strange because if you read what people write about it, a lot of them seem to think that outrages are a good thing, and that they are deploring their absence.

Or people will describe an outrage, giving the details of its exact location, and then ask where it is.

“Police shoot unarmed teenager in Gotham City. Where’s the outrage?”

And the answer, of course is right there, in Gotham City. They just said so.

So it seems that people don’t really know what “outrage” means, and seem to think it means the same as “rage”, but is enhanced by adding a prefix — inrage, outrage, uprage, downrage. Just as people think one can enhance “centre” by putting “epi” in front of it, or “record” by putting “track” in front of it, and some even seem to think that “ultimate” can be enhanced by putting “pen” in front of it.

“Outrage” actually means “the forcible denial of others’ rights, sentiments, etc” or “an act of violence”. When police shoot an unarmed person who is not breaking any law, it is the shooting itself that is the outrage, not the emotional reactions of people hearing or reading about it. An outrage is never a good thing.

But even if it is a malapropism, and if people actually mean “rage” when they say “outrage”, is it a good thing? It is something I’ve seen asked on Christian websites and blogs and social media, and there’s quite a good answer here Where’s the Outrage? | ifaqtheology.

Rage is often the cause of outrages; we often read of incidents of “road rage” where an enraged motorist assaults or sometimes murders another. Is that a good thing?

Time magazine cover, May 29, 2017

Recently Time magazine had a cover showing an Orthodox Church descending on the US White House and assimilating it. Some Orthodox Christians were asking “Where’s the outrage?” about that. Well, quite clearly the outrage was on the cover of Time, but I think what they meant was “Why aren’t more people enraged by this outrage?” And the implication was that they thought more people ought to be enraged by it.

But one of the things we are taught as Orthodox Christians is that we should subdue the passions and control them, and anger, rage, is one of the passions. The way to godliness (theosis) is through bringing the passions under control, and the aim is dispassion (apatheia). So why try to provoke passions in others by asking “Where’s the outrage?”

There are many things in the world that tempt us to let our passions rage unrestrained — Facebook, for example, has recently added an “anger” button which you can click if something enrages you. I try to avoid using it, because it is a temptation to indulge in the passion of unrestrained anger.

If you find the Time cover outrageous, by all means say so, but try not to get enraged by it. One can point out that it displays ignorance and is irresponsible journalism, and hope the errors might be corrected. But indulging in emotional outbursts of anger doesn’t achieve anything. I think that Donald Trump is far more influenced by Pseudo-Evangelical Moneytheism than he is by Orthodox Christianity, so the Time cover is misleading, to say the least. But don’t get all worked up about it, and demand that other people get worked up about it too — to do that is simply to indulge the passions.

And do try to use words like “outrage” accurately (yes, I’m an Orthodox language pedant).

 

 

The war drums beat louder and louder

The media — print, broadcast and social — seem to be filled with war propaganda these days, so much so that other things seem to be getting crowded out.

And I see more and more of my friends being sucked in to it and by it.

In the US election campaign, there seems to be a “more Russophobic than thou” contest, and some have been saying, apparently in all seriousness, that one of the things against Donald Trump as a US presidential candidate is that he isn’t as Russophobic as Hillary Clinton. I can think of plenty of reasons why Donald Trump would not be a good person to be president of the USA, but not being Russophobic enough isn’t one of them. Yet a lot of people do seem to think that is a serious obstacle.

Hillary Clinton has herself declared that her Number One Priority is to remove President Bashir al Assad of Syria. That calls to mind the fulminations of Alfred Lord Milner against President Paul Kruger of the ZAR, at the height of Jingoism in the 1890s. Jingoism seemed to go out of fashion briefly in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a few decades thereafter took the surreptitious form of neocolonialism, but now it is out of the closet with a vengeance.

A few of my friends on social media have been urging me, in all seriousness, to sign petitions calling for “no-fly zones” in Syria. They are people whom I have always regarded as being not without a degree of common sense, but the war drums seem to have driven the common sense right out of their heads. A few years ago a “no-fly zone” was declared over Libya, and the last state of that country is worse than the first.

My question to my friends who think “no-fly zones” are the answer is: why do those calling for a “no-fly zone in Syria not also call for one in Yemen too?

And secondly, who should enforce such a “no-fly zone”? Preferably a neutral party that doesn’t have a dog in that fight, like Uruguay, say, or Botswana. Do you think Russia, or the USA, or France, or the UK, or ISIS or any of the other groups muscling in on the Syrian civil war and the Yemen civil war would pay the slightest attention to even the combined air forces of Uruguay and Botswana?

Bashir al-Assad is not my idea of an admirable ruler, but in the last 20 years or so we have had a lot of propaganda about the need to remove people like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and those attempts turned out pretty disastrously, because even if they were villains, those who replaced them were worse villains. And still people like Hillary Clinton are promising to apply the same quack remedy to yet another country. It seems to be the policy of “The West” in general to replace secular rulers in the Middle East with militant Islamist groups, one of whose aims is to drive out all Christians and those who don’t adhere to their own peculiar brand of Islam.

Syrian Civil War. Syria - Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels - Green.

Syrian Civil War. Syria – Red. Countries that support Syrian Government, Bluue. Countries that support Syrian rebels – Green.

Russia for a while acted with some restraint in Syria, but is now bombing with as much abandon as the rest of the belligerents, so has come down from the high moral ground and entered pot-and-kettle territory.

Half the countries of Western Europe are bombing and shelling Syria (or supporting those who do), and yet get all uptight when Syrian refugees arrive at their borders trying to get away from their bombs.

And then, as if all this wasn’t enough, along comes this exceptionally nasty piece of war-mongering journalism Queen in row over Putin ally’s visit | News | The Times & The Sunday Times:

The Queen is to host an audience for one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and a key supporter of Russia’s actions in Syria, prompting protests from MPs.

The royal reception is for Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox church, who arrives for his first UK visit next Saturday. MPs and a former senior government adviser have called it a “propaganda” trip from a churchman who has described Putin’s presidency as a “miracle of God”.

In July Kirill, 69, an alleged former KGB agent, also described Russia’s operations in Syria as “noble and honest”. Last month Britain’s UN representative accused…

Not that this is not one of those fake news sits. It’s not even The Sun. This is The Times, part of the “mainstream” media, one of the self-styled “quality” papers. And here they are trying to turn the church into a political football, wanting to treat the Patriarch of Moscow as badly, if not worse than President Zuma and the South African government treated the Dalai Lama.

What they don’t mention (but I learned from a priest who receuived an invitation to the event) is that the Patriarch was going to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian Church in London. The article seems calculated to stir up hatred against the church. I think there are laws in Britain against “hate speech”, and wonder if this kind or article is perhaps in breach of such laws. But whether or not that is the case, ity does seem that it is being used to beat the war drums louder.

My concern in all this is that people seem to be increasingly sucked into to war propaganda, and to swallow it quite uncritically. I’m not a fundi on Mioddle Eastern affairs, and I’ve never been to Syria, but in my no-doubt over simplifiend and even simplistic understanding, one thing stands out: the Western media, the Russian media and the Middle Eastern media all have vested interests in the conflict, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and if possible verified independently.

But it seems to be that there are two main scenarios, and perhaps both are operating at the same time.

  1. There is a Sunni Shia conflict
  2. There is a conflict over gas and petroleum products.

President Bashir al Assad of Syria has the support of Shia groups in Syria, and those who support him, both locally and internationally, are either supporting Shia interests, or are perceived by otghers as doing so. These include such groups as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The West, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states support Sunni Islam, and and so the conflict can be described, simplistically, as a Sunni-Shia conflict, with the West o9n  the Sunni side and Russia on the Shia side, and if the conflict keeps escalating there is a danger that it could end up as World War 3.

Tjhere are also economic interests involved, especially as they relate to gas pipelines between the Middle East and Europe, which pass, or are planned to pass, through Syria. Those opposed to Bashir al Assad may have mixed motives, but among them could be that he leans towards Shia and he may oppose their favourite pipeline project. And those who prop him up may have motives that include his support for their pipeline project, and oppiosition to rival projects that may threaten theirs. For more on this, see here: Syrian war explainer: Is it all about a gas pipeline?. And no, I din’t believe it’s all about the pipelines, but I do believe that some of it may be. Take this article with just as big a pinch of salt as any other.

And as a reminder, here’s a kind of timeline of the conflict: Syria: The story of the conflict – BBC News:

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State.

And it too needs to be filtered for bias.

Geopolitics in a nutshell

I think this graphic is one of the best and most succinct summaries of current world politics that I’ve ever seen.

Stupid

Of course this is nothing new. As Billy Joel sings:

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world was turning

But stupid is as stupid does.

The new Cold War

This morning a friend asked on Facebook what I thought of this article, and I will try to reply here. BREAKING NEWS – PUTIN EXPOSES OBAMA’S PAID ISIS MERCENARIES IN MIDDLE EAST AND SYRIA! | THE MARSHALL REPORT:

(Putin speaking): First point. I never said that I view the US as a threat to our national security. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat, but I don’t feel the same way about the US. What I do feel is that the politics of those in the circles of power, if I may use those terms, the politics of those in power is erroneous. It not only contradicts our national interests, it undermines any trust we had in the United States. And in that way it actually harms the United states as well.

But I can’t reply to this in isolation. It is part of a whole string of media reports and media reporting that goes back two years or more.

Concerning the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, we are bombarded by  increasingly shrill and decreasingly credible media propaganda from all sides that I’ve simply stopped paying attention to most of it. If there is any truth wrapped up in the all-too-obvious lies, I have no means of sifting and discerning it.

I have tended to interpret all in the light of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, as expounded in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. I’ve already written about that here, so I won’t repeat much of it now, except to say that things are now much worse.

I have tended to attibute the growing American Russophobia, which strikes me as loony and entirely irrational, to Putin’s blocking of Obama’ s plans to bomb Syria. But now the Russian air force is bombing Syria.

The world... is going to hell in a hand cart

The world… is going to hell in a hand cart

Two years ago, I regarded Russia Today as  a more reliable news source than most of the Western media, especially on events in the Middle East. Now it is blatantly filled with anti-American propaganda, so I don’t watch it any more. It’s clearly playing tit-for-tat to the Russophobic line of the BBC, Sky News, CNN, and Fox news. As a result the truth suffers.

Can Al Jazeera be trusted? When reporting on other parts of the world, perhaps. But Syria? I’m not so sure. Al Jazeera’s base is Sunni, the Syrian government tends to be Shia. There could be some bias there that would be difficult for non-Muslims to discern.

Also, since I’m inclined to be pacifist, I find the increasing belligerence of warmongering politicians distressing. Obama promised “change you can believe in” but he is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as his predecessor George Bush and the only difference is that he is more articulate about it. David Cameron is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as Tony Blair, but I didn’t expect him to be any better. I did, at one time, and probably foolishly, hope that Obama would be better than Bush and Clinton. But it’s always naive to believe in politicians’ promises, and Obama proved to be no exception.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

If the Labour Party, under Jermy Corbyn’s leadership, manages to win the next UK general election, will it be any better? Will this, at last, be “change you can believe in”?

Not if the British media have anything to do with it. They have slammed him left, right and center, dismissed him as insane because he has qualms of conscience about annihilating millians of people in a nuclear holocaust.

And my mind goes back more than 50 years to Jeremy Taylor, a Johannesburg school teacher who sang this song:

Well one fine day
I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street.
“Good day,” I’ll say
“I’ve come a long way
Excuse my naked feet.
“But I lack, you see
the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest
to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone.
If I’ve gotta die
then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?

Three cheers for the army and all the boys in blue
three cheers for the scientists and politicians too
three cheers for the future years when we shall surely reap
all the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.

I would fight quite willingly
In the forces of Her Majesty
but not at the price of sacrificing
all of humanity.

That expressed my sentiments when I was 21, and still does, now that I’m 74.

And, since the politicians of the world seem to be determined to restart the Cold War, and threaten to make it hot, another Cold War hymn seems appropriate.

The day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
and in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky high.

What’s really going on in Ukraine?

For the last year or more, Ukraine has been descending into violence. This week, we are told, a group of leaders are meeting in Belarus to try to find a peaceful solution to the problems, but nobody seems very hopeful that a solution that all interested parties can agree on can be found. Leaders locked in Minsk talks on Ukraine ceasefire | World news | The Guardian:

Russian, Ukrainian, German and French officials, as well as separatist leaders and officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OECD) are locked in talks in Minsk trying to smooth the way for a summit deal leading to the demilitarisation of eastern Ukraine.

The leaders of the four countries are expected to meet in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday in an attempt to secure a ceasefire in the region, where pro-Russia separatists have been expanding the territory under their control in recent weeks.

Fighting raged in east Ukraine on Tuesday as both sides tried to make territorial gains before the proposed summit, which is being billed as a last chance to prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control.

It would be nice if they could find a peaceful solution, but I doubt that they will, because no one really seems to want one. And it is also very difficult to know what is really happening there, because most of the media reports one reads are tendentious and biased to one side or the other, so one has to read between the lines, and reading between the lines is often a misreading.

So here is the picture I have.

It is probably simplistic, and possibly wildly inaccurate, but I have no way of knowing, because the news media can’t be trusted.

I tend to interpret what is happening in Ukraine in the light of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory, because it seems to have predicted such clashes with uncanny accuracy, and what is happening in Ukraine seems to be almost a paradigm case.

Huntington identified nine civilizations, and compared the boundaries between them with the geological fault lines between tectonic plates. He predicted that most post-Cold War conflicts would take place along these fault lines, and that when they did, the more powerful countries in the civilizations would tend to be drawn into the conflict, and often use a local conflict on the fault line as a proxy for larger civilisational conflicts.

Civilizations and theoir boundaries, according to Huntington

Civilizations and their boundaries, according to Huntington (1996)

There is one inaccuracy in the map, however. According to Huntington’s theory, the fault line between the Western and the Orthodox civilizations should run right through the middle of Ukraine, though the map does not show that clearly.

In Western Ukraine Ukrainian nationalism is stronger, and more people speak the Ukrainian language (as opposed to Russian). In the past it was ruled by Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there were significant minorities of Poles and other peoples. In much of Western Ukraine the Roman Catholic Church was strong, either in its Latin form, or in its Eastern Rite (Uniate) form. These characteristics tend to put it into Huntington’s Western Civilization.

Eastern Ukraine, by contrast, has many people who speak Russian in preference to Ukrainian, and the strongest church is the Orthodox Church, linked to the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was never ruled by Western empires, except briefly, in the 1940s, by the German Third Reich.  This tends to put it into Huntington’s Orthodox Civilization.

The differences between east and west tend to shade off towards the centre of the country with a more mixed popularion. Eastern and Western Ukraine have tended to support different political parties, though all seem to have been characterised by corruption. The parties supported by western Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Western Europe, and have tended to favour trade and cultural links with Western Europe. The partes supported by eastern Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Russia, and to favour trade and cultural links with Russia.

Here’s my take on it:

It would be in the interests of a stable, free and prosperous Ukraine if there could be a balance between the interests of east and west, so that one would not dominate or threaten to dominate the other.

The present crisis started when President Viktor Yanukovych (whose support was mostly in the east) cancelled a proposed trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and proposed making one with Russia instead. Those in favour of closer ties with the West protested, initially in the main square in the capital Kiev, but also in other centres as well. The protests became increasingly violent, with violence being used by some protesters and the police. It was at this point that several clergy and monks were seen standing between protesters and the police, praying for peace.

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

On 21 February 2014 President Yanukovych fled from the capital, perhaps fearing a coup, and the following day the Ukrainian parliament voted to depose him (unconstitutionally, and apparently with unseemly haste). Russia gave asylum to Yanukovych, and said that his deposition was a coup, and said it would protect Russian speakers in Ukraine; the West supported Yanukovych’s opponents, and the pressure from these outside interests gave it all the marks of a classic clash of civilizations.

And now some of the eastern parts of the country want independence, and this has developed into a civil war, which is also, because of the backers of each side, a proxy war in the clash of civilizations.

If there is to be any peace in Ukraine, then it’s time for the big boys to back off, and not to back one side or the other, but simply to back peace. In other words, the civilisational leaders must stop playing a zero sum game, and must help the Ukrainians to look for a win-win solution. I suspect that the current talks will fail because the participants are not looking for peace, but victory, which would be the conclusion of trade agreements that would favour one side and not the other — in other words, a zero-sum game. But I pray that it is not so, and that there will be at leasst a glimmer of sanity.

Now my view may be ridiculously simplistic, and I have been assured by one blogger that it is based on totally wrong premises, and that there are no differences or differences of opinion between Eastern and Western Ukrainians, and they would all live together in perfect peace and harmony and unanimity if it weren’t for the evil Russians, or rather, one Russian in particular, the evil Putin.

Well, not having been to Ukraine myself, I’m in no position to refute it, but I do regard it with a great deal of scepticism, because everything I’ve read about the history of the region indicates that there is no unanimity between Eastern and Western Ukraine, though I do think they might do a better job of sorting out their problems among themselves if they weren’t being egged on by Russia and the West.

So I reject that interpretation, and still haven’t seen a better one than the one I have given above. Does anyone else have one that isn’t driven by blind nationalism or civilizational loyalty?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On rewriting history and the clash of civilizations

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auchwitz, and it has been marked by commemorative events, speeches by political leaders, articles about the Holocaust and the like.

Among these was a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin: Those who rewrite history attempt to hide own disgrace. “The Russian president has blasted attempts to rewrite the history of WWII and hide the crimes of Nazism as inadmissible and immoral, adding that people who do this often try to distract attention from their nations’ collaboration with Hitler.”

“Direct attempts to silence history, to distort and rewrite history are inadmissible and immoral. Behind these attempts often lies the desire to hide one’s own disgrace, the disgrace of cowardice, hypocrisy and treachery, the intent to justify the direct or indirect collaboration with Nazism,” the Russian leader stated.

“In places where they imprint the ideas of ethnic and moral supremacy into people’s heads, where they destroy or scoff at human values, civilization is being quickly and inevitably replaced by barbarity,” Putin noted, adding that the process is often accompanied with war and aggression.

Well, one can’t cavil at those sentiments, and I wouldn’t want to, but the problem is the subtext. All historical writing carries what one historian called “the burden of the present”, and this is no exception. If you want to understand Putin’s words, you must read them in context, and the context is the present, and relations between Russia and Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin and Russia's chief rabbi Berl Lazar light the candles at the ceremony commemorating the Holocaust victims (RIA Novosti / Alexey Nikolsky)

Putin is talking about the past, but in the present there is a fight going on, and Putin has a dog in that fight, and his words need to be interpreted in that light. In his words he is having a dig at Ukraine, which, when occupied by the Nazis in WWII, in some places welcomed the occupiers and collaborated with them, including collaboration in the Holocaust.

And in this he has a point, as this article shows: How the world teaches the Holocaust – or ignores it.

Ukraine and Norway are two European countries where the Holocaust is not explicitly taight in school history textbooks

Ukraine and Norway are two European countries where the Holocaust is not explicitly taight in school history textbooks

So what Putin is apparently implying about Ukraine might be true, but it is nevertheless disingenuous.

I was recently told by a Ukrainian nationalist that I “supported Putin” because I referred to a civil war in Ukraine. I suppose that in the nationalist worldview anything less than enthusiastic support must mean that one sides with the enemy.

But this article illustrates what so many people seem to be at pains to deny: that there is a clash of civilizations. The conflict in Ukraine bears out, with uncanny accuracy, what Samuel Huntington wrote about “the clash of civilizations” twenty years ago.

Huntington pointed out that where a civil war took place entirely within a civilization, it would be less likely to become a clash of civilizations. The civil wars in Rwanda and Burundi 20 years ago bear this out.

But where the “fault lines” between civilisations run through a country, as they do in Ukraine, then such a civil war is likely to become a proxy war for the wider civilizations, and others become involved. The fact that most of much of the “news” about the Ukraine conflict in the Western media was composed of attacks by Western politicians on Putin bears this out. And this article on Putin’s speech about historical revisionism bears it out too, because Putin is clearly using it to have a dig at the Ukrainian leaders.

So Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theory is being demonstrated every day, not merely by actual violence, but by the media spin put on events, and even the denialists sometimes show by their very denials that it is true.

 

 

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