Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “peace”

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Hebdo, polarisation, Quakers, Orthodox

The Charlie Hebdo murders have sparked off widely-differing reactions around the world, and ripples of solidarity and hostility that go way beyond the original event.

It seems that people are being friended and unfriended on the basis of Je suis Charlie and Je ne suis pas Charlie. I had two such opposite reactions to one of my blog posts on the subject.

A few days ago I posted a blog article Je ne suis pas Charlie.

One person posted a comment saying

Thank you Steve for your post. It has given me courage to post my own views on Facebook which I copy below. On Facebook, I can be found as Brigid O’Carroll Walsh. I am also interested in your comments, Steve, about modernity and fundamentalism and think that this is an idea well worth exploring. Anyway, thank you and here is what I said on Facebook:

Dear Facebookies, All the stuff I am reading about the protests of the dreadful killings in France seems to me to leave so much unsaid. My own view, I think, is a minority view and I did not want to air it because I fear a thoughtless howling down. However, this post by my oldest internet friend, Steve Hayes, has given me courage.

Another, an old friend I have known for nearly 50 years, not only online but also face-to-face, wrote in a very different vein, on Facebook:

Steve Hayes, I find your whole attitude offensive in the face of such sad events. I think you are being deliberately bloody-minded. You are very close to being unfriended so please keep your comments on this issue to yourself from now on, or at least don’t post them on my page.

So the events of last week have certainly polarised people, and seem to have lost me an old friend, which makes me very sad.

And that would be the end of my sad story, but for one thing that strikes me as curious. Both the friends who reacted in such very different ways are Quakers, and I wondered about other Quakers’ views. Someone posted some links in a comment on  my encouraging/offending blog post, which included this one from a Quaker. I find myself in broad agreement with it.

QuakersI have quite a number of Quaker friends, including some linked on Facebook, but not many of them have posted anything directly on this issue. But some of those who have have seemed to wonder how one can do peacemaking in this kind of situation.

Most of us are a long way from Paris, and it is impractical to do anything there, but the division seems to have spread so widely that it would be worsh looking to see what it is that is causing it. How is it that two Quakers can have such radically different views?

One thing that strikes me is that it could be a misunderstanding, and that instead of “unfriending” and breaking off relations in other ways, we should be talking through our differences. Modern technology has made communication much easier in many ways. This should, in theory, make it easier to discuss and resolve differences, clear up misunderstandings etc.

But very often it has the opposite effect. If you had a friend on another continent before about 1990, you could send one another Christmas cards once a year, and not be aware of any fundamental differences of opinion. Modern communications technology makes it more obvi0us and immediate. In some ways, ignorance was bliss. As one person put it, we live in an  age of communicati0n without community.

So one of the challenges of peacemaking and peacebuilding is to see how we can use the advances in communications technology to build community, and try to reduce misunderstandings.

I’m not a Quaker, but an Orthodox Christian, and some see the two as very far apart. Fr Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian of the last century, told of attending an ecumenical conference as an Orthodox delegate. One of the organisers offered to seat him with the “high church” group — Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and the like. He saw this as the organisers puting him in a box of their own making, and he said Why not with the Quakers? They share our emphasis on the Holy Spirit?

Fr Alexander went on to say:

The important fact of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and in the encounter – after so many centuries of almost total separation – between Orthodox and the West is precisely that the Orthodox were not given a choice; that from the very beginning they were assigned, not only seats at a certain place, role and function within the ecumenical movement. These ‘assignments’ were based onWestern theological and ecclesiological presuppositions and categories, and they reflected the purely Western origin of the ecumenical idea itself. We joined a movement, entered a debate, took part in a search whose basic terms of reference were already defined and taken for granted. Thus, even before we could realize it,we were caught up in the essentially Western dichotomies – Catholic versus Protestant, horizontal versus vertical, authority versus freedom, hierarchical versus congregational – and we were made into representatives and bearers of attitudes and positions, which we hardly recognized as ours, and which were deeply alien to our tradition. All of this was due not to any Machiavellian conspiracy or ill will, but precisely to the main and all-embracing Western presupposition that the Western experience, theological categories and thought forms are universal and therefore constitute the self-evident framework and terms of reference for the entire ecumenical endeavor

And perhaps that illustrates the kind of assumptions we make about each other, that leads to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and, sometimes, hostility.

I think that is one of the obstacles to attempts at peacemaking. And perhaps it is something that Quakers and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship could work on together.

Some observations on the Ukraine crisis

Three weeks ago I wrote about the lies that the media were feeding us on the “Ukraine crisis”.

It struck me that when they showed us “breaking news” on Ukraine, it would almost invariably be Barack Obama, John Kerry, David Cameron or William Hague looking stern and serious and admonitory, and warning Russia of severe consequences.

I was a bit hesitant about writing about Ukraine (as opposed to writing about the media writing about Ukraine), since I am no fundi on Ukraine, but if the Western politicians can have their say, so can I. I don’t have a coherent story to tell, or any warnings to give, just some rather disjointed observations.

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

The story coming out of the Ukraine unrest that most impressed me was the story of clergy standing between sometimes-violent demonstrators and sometimes-violent riot police, and praying for peace. I found them much more interesting than  Obama, Cameron, Kerry, Hague & Co (herinafter referred to as OCKH). Unlike OCKH & Co, the praying clergy had boots on the ground, in Ukraine — see In Kiev, Protests Bring Orthodox Priests To Pray On The Frontline Despite Government Warnings. But that was not the kind of story the media like to tell, and so it got little coverage compared with OCKH & Co.

When it wasn’t all about OCKH & Co, then the narrative was all about Putin. He was clearly the bad guy in the Western narrative, which is further evidence for the truth and usefulness of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis (see The Orange Revolution, Peeled | Notes from underground).

But when it comes to Putin, I found some interesting comments in an unexpected place: Russia’s Blunder Needs a Realist’s Response | The American Conservative. Hat-tip to my blogging friend Terry Cowan, who drew my attention to it, and recommended it thus:

Here is yet another excellent analysis from “The American Conservative.” For my left-leaning friends, do not be put-off by the word “Conservative” on their masthead. I know of no other site that so effectively battles that most American of all heresies—namely, the belief in our own exceptionalism. And for my rightist friends, be prepared for views widely at variance with Movement Conservatism. Both are conservative in the same way that Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss are both authors.

For myself, I’m not sure whether Crimea’s decision to leave Ukraine and join Russia was a good one or not. What I am sure of is that the US and UK’s decision to have a hissy fit about it was a very bad one. Basically what they are saying is that mob rule is good in Kiev, but bad in Sevastopol, but they haven’t seen fit to tell us why they think that.

And then there is the question whether it was Russia’s “blunder”. In what way was it a blunder?

Well, if I were President Putin, and if I were thinking in a purely secular political manner, I would see it as desirable to have Ukraine as a friendly neighbour, one that was willing to trade with me on advantageous terms and so on. To judge from news reports, the protests in Kiev were precisely against such an advantageous trade agreement with Russia, and the protesters would have preferred 0ne with the European Union. Why they think closer ties with the EU would be a good thing is a bit of a mystery to me — they just have to look at the fate of Greece to see the down side of that. But it’s their bed, and they will have to lie in it.

But if Crimea leaves Ukraine and joins Russia, it tips the balance of power in the rest of Ukraine to the western Ukraine, which is far less sympathetic to Russia, so it does seem to be a bit of a blunder on Russia’s part, and the alacrity with which they accepted Crimea’s request for incorporation seems a little short-sighted. But it has probably boosted Putin’s popularity, and hence his chances in the next election, and that kind of thing tends to carry more weight with politicians than long-term interests. It’s one of the draw-backs of democracy that we have to live with.

But I don’t live in Russia or Ukraine, so such mundane political considerations don’t concern me directly.

I suppose my concern is more ecclesiastical, and there other considerations carry more weight. This article can help give one a clue: RUSSIA – UKRAINE Crimea annexation frightens Patriarch of Moscow – Asia News:

When last March 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the federal parliament in impassioned defense of Great Russia, to justify the annexation of the Crimea, the expressions on the faces of the front rows of the assembly betrayed an unusual concern. Amid the Imam’s turban and the rabbi’s hat, the absence of Patriarch Kirill’s white tiara. Two rows behind the veiled miter of his vicar, the elderly Metropolitan Juvenalij, nodded uncertainly. He was sent to represent the Patriarchal Church, whose blessing was essential to confirm the necessary re-appropriation of the “holy land” of the Crimea.

Kirill’s absence was justified by his spokesman with uncertain references to his state of health (but the day before he had regularly presided over a long celebration) and the devout silence of Lent (but this should also apply to Juvenalij) . In reality, the absence of Kirill’s blessing demonstrates the extreme embarrassment of the Moscow Patriarchate over the Ukrainian crisis, which threatens to upset even the structure of the same ecclesiastical institutions, and obliterate the enlargement projects pursued with great tenacity by Kirill himself in recent years. It seems that Putin has gone too far for his spiritual fathers.

Now that is from a Roman Catholic source, and has its own (Western) axes to grind, but it does show that the Church is not necessarily cheering on the latest political developments. This is in part because of the complicated history of Christianity in Ukraine, as the Wikipedia article on the topic shows: History of Christianity in Ukraine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Currently, three major Ukrainian Orthodox Churches coexist, and often compete, in the country: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Additionally, a significant body of Christians belong to the Eastern Rite Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and a smaller number in the Ruthenian Catholic Church. While Western Christian traditions such as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism have had a limited presence on the territory of Ukraine since at least the 16th century, worshipers of these traditions remain a relatively small minority in today’s Ukraine.

If you want to know more, read the full article, but one reason for the “Orthodox” divisions in Ukraine is the idea that ecclesiastical boundaries should follow ethinc and political ones.

This idea is a bit strange to Orthodox Christians in Africa, where we are all, east, west, north and south, under the jurisdiction of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa. Orthodox Christians in Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa, in spite of living in different countries, under different flags, with different languages and cultures, are all part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, under one Pope and Patriarch[1]. But Europeans, especially, seem obsessed with the idea that if one country becomes independent from another, it must have a separate church jurisdiction.

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Monks and priests pray between protesters and police in Kiev

Orthodox bishops around the world are preparing for a Pan-Orthodox Council — the first such gathering since the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. It would be a pity if it were to be dominated by such nationalistic considerations as have given rise to the divisions in Ukraine, which the present political turmoil is only likely to exacerbate.

Yet the witness of Christians in Ukraine to a more excellent way of love and peace is important for the rest of the Church, and the world. And I hope it is that, rather than the divisiveness, that gets reflected in the Pan-Orthodox Council.

But all this makes the antics of OCKH & Co even more bizarre.

Fifteen years ago Nato, at the urging of Clinton and Blair, the predecessors of the OCKH cabal, bombed Yugoslavia in order to divide it — see 15 years on: Looking back at NATO’s ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Yugoslavia — RT News. Some 3000 people were killed. Yet they castigate Putin as evil for dividing Ukraine, without raining death from the skies. This resembles nothing so much as Orwell’s 1984 where good causes become evil at the whim of the authorities. They tell us it was a good thing to divide a country by massive bombing killing thousands of people, but that it is a very bad thing to divide another country by holding a referendum. That sounds like the Orwellian chant: War is Peace and Peace is War.

I prefer religion in the public square, boots on the ground, praying in Maidan.

__________

Notes

Actually it’s not quite as simple as that — there are actually two popes, both with the title of Theodore II, arising from a schism in the 6th century after disagreements at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but that is a different story.

By Jingo! Let’s have another war!

Over the last few days the Western media (well, Sky News anyway) has been banging the war drums, promoting war in Syria.

syria1Has anyone noticed how, since the end of the Cold War, there seem to have been a lot more hot ones? And most of them started, or aggravated, by the Western powers, especially Britain and the United States. usually by intervening in other people’s civil wars.

I think Tony Blair still holds the record as warmonger-in-chief — Yugoslavia 1999, Afghanistan 2002, Iraq 2003.

And we are now being subjected to the same barrage of media propaganda that we were subjected to in 1999. An intervention that we were told was necessary to avert a “humanitarian disaster” actually caused a humanitarian disaster far worse than anything they claimed to be averting.

And now we are hearing the same thing about “chemical weapons”. The US is already using chemical weapons in its drone strikes. Most wreapons nowadays reply on explosions caused by chemicals. The only ones that are not chemical are nuclear, and at least no one has used those yet. And the people killed in drone strikes are just as dead as those killed by any other means.

Is there any way of stopping this rush to war, or at least persuading people to stop and think about it before rushing into it?

I suggest there is one.

I suggest that the Liberal Democratic Party of the UK holds the key.

The LibDems are in coalition with the Conservative Party, whose leader, David Cameron, has been beating the war drums loudest. The LibDems and their supporters were the ones who were least enthusiastic about the Afghanistan War of 2002 and the Iraq War of 2003. So perhaps it is time for them to give notice to David Cameron that if he gets Britain involved militarily in the Syrian civil war, they will leave the coalition. Whether they have the guts to do that is another matter, but if they do, it will probably enable them to make a better showing in the next UK election than the oblivion that is likely to be their fate if they stick to the coalition to the end. So perhaps what is needed is for all Brit voters to urge their MPs, and especially all LibDem MPs, to vote against war, and if war is inevitable, to leave the coalition. Start tweeting, folks!

And if Cameron pulls back from the brink, perhaps Obama will think twice.

And then there are reports like this one:

US ‘backed plan to launch chemical weapon attack on Syria, blame it on Assad govt’: Report – Yahoo! News India:

The Obama administration gave green signal to a chemical weapons attack plan in Syria that could be blamed on President Bashar al Assad’s regime and in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country, leaked documents have shown.

A new report, that contains an email exchange between two senior officials at British-based contractor Britam Defence, showed a scheme ‘approved by Washington’.

Perhaps not the most reliable evidence, but the evidence about who the Western governments believe is responsible for the use of “chemical weapons” in Syria seems to be just as tenuous, and relies mainly on innuendo.

And there’s more here: Britain’s Daily Mail: U.S. ‘backed plan to launch chemical weapon attack on Syria” | Global Research:

We are reproducing herewith from Archives.org for the record the controversial Daily Mail article pertaining to a US sponsored intelligence operation to launch a chemical weapons attack on Syria and blame it on President Bashar al-Assad.

From the outset, the underlying objective was to provide a justification, on “humanitarian grounds”, for a military intervention directed against Syria.

The price of peace: why Kennedy died

This is a book I haven’t read yet, but it looks very interesting.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It MattersJFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters by James W. Douglass

Hat tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: The Unspeakable who quotes from this interview with the author Why Was JFK Murdered?: A transcript of the Lew Rockwell Show episode 150 with James W. Douglass:

Why did Kennedy die? He died because he was turning towards peace. That can be established. It’s in all kinds of documents, and I’ve cited hundreds of them, and there are tens of thousands behind the hundreds I’ve cited. He turned toward peace, so that’s the reason why he’s assassinated. What if he had not turned toward peace? Of course, he wouldn’t have been assassinated because that’s the critical issue right there. If he had not turned toward peace, if he had not, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, turned toward his enemy, Nikita Khrushchev, and said, I need your help, and had Khrushchev, for that matter, had not turned toward his enemy and said, yes, now we need to let Kennedy know that we want to help him – he said that to Gromyko, who was standing beside him, his foreign minister. Had that not happened, you and I wouldn’t be talking about this right now, nor would anyone else be doing much talking. We’d be in a nuclear wasteland. That is hopeful. Had John F. Kennedy not gone up against the Powers That Be in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis and turned with his enemy towards peace, there would be no hope for anything right now. That is hopeful.

That is certainly different from the impression that I got at the time. At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it seemed that Kennedy was the warmonger, prepared to have a nuclear war because he didn’t like the idea of Soviet missiles in Cuba, close to the USA, but being unwilling to remove American missiles from Turkey, on the border of the USSR.

View all my reviews

Iraq Inquiry witness lies through his teeth

A top Foreign Office legal advisor, Sir Michael Wood, told the British Iraq inquiry that the invasion of Iraq had no basis in international law, and that he had told government ministers that.

Fair enough, so far, so good.

But then he went on to contrast it with the 1999 Nato attack on Yugoslavia, which he said was justified because of the humanitarian situation, with hundreds of thousands of people being driven from their homes.

That is pure propaganda spin.

Yes, thousands of people were driven from their homes in that conflict, but only after the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia had begun.

That doesn’t mean that driving people from their homes was a good thing, but the historical fact is that it was in retaliation for the Nato bombing, it was not the cause of reason for the Nato bombing.

Sir Michael Wood lied through his teeth.

Memoirs of a Neophyte: The 2008 South Ossetia War: A Guide

Memoirs of a Neophyte: The 2008 South Ossetia War: A Guide: “There are two basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin’ little war in Ossetia:

1. The Georgians started it.

2. They lost.

[…]

They were doing something they learned from Bush and Cheney: sticking to best-case scenarios, positive thinking. The Georgian plan was classic shock’n’awe with no hard, grown-up thinking about the long term. Their shiny new army would go in, zap the South Ossetians while they were on a peace hangover (the worst kind), and then…uh, they’d be welcomed as liberators? Sure, just like we were in Iraq. Man, you pay a price for believing in Bush.”

The Gaelic Starover: Evangelicals for the Prince of Peace

The Gaelic Starover: Evangelicals for the Prince of Peace

There’s also a book recommendation that looks quite interesting.

Post Navigation