Who needs our help?

The newspapers, the radio and the television continue to give us detailed cover of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. So we know it in detail. But what do we learn?

Indirectly, we are able to look at our own society and, while being aware that nothing is perfect, we are able to applaud western, democratic societies. We are free, we have our basic rights, and we are entitled to hold the views we choose. I wouldn’t like to be a Russian. For people of my age, and older, there is the memory of 1939 when Germany, under Hitler, drove us into major war. But even then we did not have the danger of nuclear weapons which threaten all human beings in the world. You don’t need to know my view of Putin, because you share it. If we can do little to change the situation, we can at least play a part in looking after Ukrainian families who need our help. And we can pray

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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49 Responses to Who needs our help?

  1. pnyikos says:

    We can also educate ourselves about Ukraine so as to counteract the numerous Russian propagandists in the blogosphere. I’ve been somewhat active against them, on Mercatornet [an Australia based Catholic-led forum] and also on the misnamed antiwar.com whose main writers are about as antiwar as the American Communists were during the time of the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact, denouncing “warmonger Churchill.”

    The central issue, which just about everyone avoids, is the enormous moral gulf between recognizing the independence of the two Donbass regions and sending them troops to safeguard their independence, and the all-out, unprovoked war against Ukraine that has shocked the world.

  2. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/ ) :

    // we are able to look at our own society and, while being aware that nothing is perfect, we are able to applaud western, democratic societies. We are free, we have our basic rights, and we are entitled to hold the views we choose //

    I’m afraid that that is changing, radically. During the political authoritarianism that flared up dramatically in the spring of 2020 and has been intensifying ever since, freedom of thought, speech, and action has been clamped down on. 2020 was a watershed. The working definition of “free” in the democratic West has been weakened substantially and forever. Boil the frog. We are the frog.

    As for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is clearly and completely wrong, legally and morally. Despite our newly authoritarian rulers’ evident desire for a single world government, nations in our time remain, by comment consent, sovereign, at least theoretically. The EU, a serious attempt by European politicians to neuter the rights of individual nations, is floundering. The people whose rights it takes away do not want them taken away. And yet, the open contempt of EU rulers for their subject nations is in the air. And among so many other unashamed manifestations of authoritarianism in the West, this has encouraged the ruler of Russia to thumb his nose at the rights of nations other than his own. Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and the West did nothing. Now, Russia has invaded what is left of Ukraine, bombing it and killing its inhabitants. And the West is merely deploring it. In the West, law has become glaringly fungible and morality coldly situational. The West is a paper tiger. The East knows it can roam free, effectively unopposed.

    • pnyikos says:

      Arming the Ukrainians with antitank and antiaircraft missiles goes well beyond just deploring the situation. But as far as sending troops to defend even a portion of Ukraine from Russian forces goes, the nations in a position to do it are hiding behind the fact that they are not obligated to do so, thanks to Ukraine not being in NATO. But there is nothing to stop them from doing it anyway, except cowardice.

      Western Ukraine is very much against Russian domination, and there seems to be a natural (even if mostly symbolic) dividing line formed by the two rivers named Bug, one flowing into the Baltic and the other flowing into the Black Sea. It marks off an area roughly the size of the areas seized by Putin’s army up to now, and it includes the city of Lviv, which has been the subject of talk about how the government could transfer there if Kyiv falls to the Russian army.

      The Romanians in Moldova might be especially glad to cooperate, since there is a small strip, Transnistria, bordering Moldova where there is a substantial Romanian speaking population.

    • John Thomas says:

      I certainly agree with David about the piecemeal destruction of our rights, in the West: look at the strife, and fines, meted out to Piers Corbyn, for demonstrating against the government’s Covid restrictions, and look at Canada! Covid showed how paper-thin the “freedoms” of the Western democracies really were (eg. Australia).
      It is said that the Ukraine situation brought on a sudden re-valuing of the idea and virtues of nationhood – yes, the EU is, and should be, the big loser, now.

  3. David Smith says:

    pnyikos writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/#comment-65628 ) :

    // Arming the Ukrainians with antitank and antiaircraft missiles goes well beyond just deploring the situation. //

    It’s my understanding that Poland intended to send MIG-29 fighters to Ukraine but that that was scotched by the US.

    // as far as sending troops to defend even a portion of Ukraine from Russian forces goes, the nations in a position to do it are hiding behind the fact that they are not obligated to do so, thanks to Ukraine not being in NATO. But there is nothing to stop them from doing it anyway, except cowardice. //

    Indeed.

    • Alasdair says:

      “ It’s my understanding that Poland intended to send MIG-29 fighters to Ukraine but that that was scotched by the US”
      It’s not so much the supply of the MiG-29s that was scotched as that the part of the deal was that the US would replace them one for one with more modern F-16’s.
      Development of the MiG-29 pretty much stopped with the fall of the USSR and it doesn’t match the capabilities of Russia’s current SU27-35 equipment. So cynically you could see Poland seeking to gain some advantage.
      I’m surprised that there is no reference made these days to the shooting down of a Russian aircraft by a Turkish F-16 (ie NATO) during the recent Syria conflict. There was no suggestion at the time of that being a WWIII scenario, in spite of Putin’s rankings.

  4. David Smith says:

    pnyikos writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/#comment-65628 ) :

    // Western Ukraine is very much against Russian domination, and there seems to be a natural (even if mostly symbolic) dividing line formed by the two rivers named Bug, one flowing into the Baltic and the other flowing into the Black Sea. It marks off an area roughly the size of the areas seized by Putin’s army up to now, and it includes the city of Lviv, which has been the subject of talk about how the government could transfer there if Kyiv falls to the Russian army.

    The Romanians in Moldova might be especially glad to cooperate, since there is a small strip, Transnistria, bordering Moldova where there is a substantial Romanian speaking population. //

    Are you suggesting that everything east of a line connecting the Western Bug and the Southern Bug ( https://www.dropbox.com/s/zcnssxv7d8qzv1h/IMG_0391.jpg?dl=0 ) could simply be given to Russia as a reward for its invasion?

    • pnyikos says:

      A decisive NO to your question at the end. The purpose of the line would be to prevent the total conquest of Ukraine. One scenario I have in mind would be like what happened in Korea in 1950. At one point, North Korea had occupied all but a tiny portion in the southeast corner of Korea; but they were then defeated, and South Korea eventually ended up with very close to the territory it had before the war started.

      If the forces opposing Putin could hold the Bug-Bug line, I hope that before long, they would be reinforced to the point where they could start retaking Ukraine. But just as in the war against North Vietnam, it would be understood that there would be no attempt to invade Russia itself.

    • pnyikos says:

      Over in the forum known as The Conversation, I have suggested making the small part of the Ukraine to which I am referring into a no-fly zone, except that there should be a small portion to the east of the Northern Bug where it forms part of the border between Poland and Ukraine. This is far more modest than the “boots on the ground” strategy I was espousing, but even it seems more than Biden has the backbone for.

      It also was too much for a naive young participant, who wrote “If American planes encounter Russian planes, and they start fighting, then we’re going to end up with dead American pilots and dead Russian pilots – and that will start World War III.”
      — in the comments section of:

      https://theconversation.com/ukraine-wants-a-no-fly-zone-what-does-this-mean-and-would-one-make-any-sense-in-this-war-179282

      I’ve set him straight twice, but he is highly unresponsive to my refutations. He is one kind of antithesis to what The Conversation was set up for: a place of reasoned discourse in which participants often learn valuable things from each other.

  5. Hock says:

    We are witnessing what modern warfare does to a country albeit there is something medieval in how it is being fought.
    I do think though that what we are doing in the West by isolating Russia from the modern world of finance,trade and tourism is probably the right one as to do nothing would be catastrophic, as would sending people to die and give an excuse for atomic warfare to ensue. (It already seems highly probable that Chemical warfare will be deployed soon.)
    No matter how this war ends up, probably with some puppet government installed in Ukraine under the direct control of Russia, all the embargoes must stay. No more handshakes in Moscow’s Red Square or on the steps of the Houses of parliament as though everything was now back on the table. Russia needs to be seen as a pariah state. It is already a rogue State and must forever remain that way as it is incapable of change.

  6. John Thomas says:

    Helping Ukranian refugees: I saw Michael Gove suggesting we took such people into our homes – but for how long? Permanently (they won’t want to return if Russia controls the country, in a few months’ time)? Will their children then go to school here? Will they learn English? Who will support them? (the British taxpayer already faces terrible strains, with rising energy prices, etc.). Heart, not head …

    • Alasdair says:

      //Will they learn English? Who will support them?//
      I wouldn’t worry about that. An English friend of mine has helped receive some Ukrainians at her adopted village in Italy. All the adults and even some quite young children speak English. Most of the adults (mostly women) were in employment or voluntary roles within days of arriving – in spite of not speaking Italian.

    • Alasdair says:

      “Will their children go to school here” – of course, and they will excel.
      “Will they learn English” – They already speak English.
      “Who will support them” – They will support themselves. We need doctors, medical scientists, radiologists, science and maths teachers, engineers. Exactly the skills they have in abundance.

  7. David Smith says:

    John Thomas writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/#comment-65637 ) :

    // Helping Ukranian refugees: I saw Michael Gove suggesting we took such people into our homes – but for how long? Permanently (they won’t want to return if Russia controls the country, in a few months’ time)? //

    Poles, I understand, are doing just that. A million and a half refugees so far. I imagine they’re simply doing what needs to be done.

    • Alasdair says:

      The hope obviously is that, in this case, the refugees will wish-to/be able to/ be needed to return to their homes.
      My church is at early stages of preparing a church-owned property for occupation by a refugee family. We will discuss with other local churches including our Catholic near neighbours in what way they could contribute practical as well as financial assistance.
      Unfortunately the property is currently not being entered since I was in there working 2 days ago and tested +ve for COVID shortly afterwards.

      • ignatius says:

        Hi Alisdair If the property was unoccupied it is HIGHLY unlikely you caught covid there.

      • Alasdair says:

        No. The property was temporarily closed because I had been there potentially infecting the premises. I clearly became infected elsewhere prior to visiting the premises. All clear now.

  8. Alasdair says:

    Failing to understand, or listen to the appeals (demands) of countries (legitimate or not) is one of the most common causes of invasions and wars (Kuwait, Falklands etc etc).
    Next up will be Serbia/Kosovo/Bosnia. Serbia’s position on Kosovo and Serbian “republics” within Bosnia is very similar to Russia’s position on the Crimea and the Donbas leading up to the 2014 annexations. Serbia also have Russian support.

  9. John Candido says:

    Born in 1957, I will be 65 in June, providing that WWIII doesn’t erupt in the coming months.

    Apart from ‘missing’ the Cuban Missile Crisis because I was five years old, I have never felt so worried and pessimistic over international affairs due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine during the whole of my life.

    Similar to being told by a trusted doctor that you have several months of life left, the news out of Ukraine is utterly depressing.

    The United Nations estimates that over 800 civilians have died in this disgraceful conflict.

    Apart from Russia’s deliberate policy of destroying as much Ukrainian property as possible, over 800 men, women and children have lost their lives to war crimes perpetrated by Vladimir Putin.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President Biden, and the Nato leadership are united in rejecting the repeated request of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

    Russia is led by a determined lunatic who is enforcing a slow war of attrition. The enforcement of a no-fly zone over Ukraine could quickly lead to a nuclear catastrophe.

    A no-fly zone must not be enforced if there is any possibility that it may trigger a nuclear exchange.

    My sympathies are with the Ukrainian and Russian people.

    Russia is led by a dictator whose ego is unbounded by democratic restraints.

    Ukraine is led by a man who should have anticipated that insisting on complete independence while Putin is alive would trigger a second invasion by Putin’s military.

    Wars evoke threats with dire consequences, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is similar in gravity.

    I beg all people, regardless of faith, to pray for God’s intervention to bring the war to a swift end.

    While God is appalled by Russia’s aggression, the war may well move past an inevitable Russian victory in the short-term to the war’s second phase of a guerrilla campaign by remnants of Ukraine’s military.

    Would John Nolan care to comment on the likelihood of a Ukrainian victory through a second phase guerrilla war as he is someone with previous military experience serving in Europe during peacetime?

    • Alasdair says:

      John //I beg all people, regardless of faith, to pray for God’s intervention to bring the war to a swift end//.
      Coming on the back of climate-related disasters, a pandemic (ie increased frequency and severity of events) it’s inevitable that the war in Ukraine is being viewed as “sign of the End Times”.
      If Putin is being driven by end-time prophesy beyond his control, we could expect to see an unprovoked, massive and disastrously unsuccessful attack on Israel.
      I’m not particularly prone to believe these recurring themes, but as an Evangelical Christian (ie literally bible-believing) I don’t reject them out of hand.

  10. Alasdair says:

    In terms of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I have an “advantage” over you. Firstly I was 8 years old. Secondly my father was a senior officer in the Royal Observer Corps. He was, or would have been, responsible for monitoring the effects of Atomic War around the UK to enable protection and mass movements of the population.
    Even at that tender age I therefore had some grasp of the situation.

  11. John Candido says:

    I am appalled by the off-the-cuff comment of President Biden that President Putin is ‘a war criminal.’

    This comment and others since may not help resolve this crisis.

    Whether Vladimir Putin is a war criminal is a legal matter for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to determine at a future date.

    I have said that Putin is a war criminal, but I am not the President of the United States.

    What counts in the long-term is the careful and judicious choice of public statements about an adversary during a dangerous context.

    In other words, diplomacy, diplomacy, and more diplomacy.

    Communication between leaders during a crisis may prevent this war from spreading beyond Ukraine.

    The dangerous prospect is that a NATO member bordering Ukraine may break with NATO discipline and act independently by sending banned equipment to Ukraine or attack Russian forces using their soldiers inside Ukraine in secret operations.

    Democratic leaders should examine how President Kennedy used restraint, force, face-saving secret negotiations and sheer luck to prevent war during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

    Careful diplomacy will bring this disaster to a sober conclusion.

    John Nolan, where are you when we need you?

    Please pray for peace without ceasing.

  12. David Smith says:

    John Candido writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/#comment-65668 ) :

    // I am appalled by the off-the-cuff comment of President Biden that President Putin is ‘a war criminal.’ //

    I don’t think – do you? – that anyone considers anything Biden says important. I’m afraid there’s scarcely any light left burning in the brain of that enfeebled man. I continue to wonder who, really, are the people running the American federal government. That enigma is more than a little worrisome.

    // The dangerous prospect is that a NATO member bordering Ukraine may break with NATO discipline and act independently by sending banned equipment to Ukraine or attack Russian forces using their soldiers inside Ukraine in secret operations. //

    I don’t see the wisdom of the rest of the world’s continuing to cower behind Putin’s threat to do something awful should anyone dare to openly aid the badly outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainians. Russia has attacked an independent Western nation twice in the past decade. The first attack – and seizure of territory – having gone unpunished, Russia did it again, this time invading the rest of the country and laying waste wherever it’s gone. If this, too, goes unpunished, an ominous precedent will be set, and no country will be safe. The nations of the “free” world will have effectively declared that their laws are toothless.

    • John Candido says:

      ‘I don’t think – do you? – that anyone considers anything Biden says important’. (David Smith)

      Vladimir Putin and his frightened ‘yes men & women’ disagree.

      They are appalled by the sweeping brazenness of such statements, never mind that its true.

      Driving a desperate man to cower into an embarrassed corner by labelling him a criminal is dangerously counterproductive.

      It’s better to be cautious about language during an international conflict using diplomacy.

      ‘I don’t see the wisdom of the rest of the world’s continuing to cower behind Putin’s threat to do something awful should anyone dare to openly aid the badly outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainians’. (David Smith)

      If you have miscalculated, the world may plunge into darkness.

      The free world isn’t ‘cowering’ but providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine to the maximum extent that this will not trigger WWIII.

      President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, other democratic leaders and the United Nations have the enormous task of resolving the Russian/Ukraine crisis.

      This is achievable using face-saving, secret negotiations with back-channels employed by experienced diplomats, and not by yelling ‘war criminal’ half a world away.

      The task is to land Russia and Ukraine into a face-saving agreement that both parties can agree.

      Pray for Peace.

    • FZM says:

      Ukraine isn’t really a Western nation, I think the Slavic population in Ukraine is most closely related to the other East Slavs in Russia and Belarus, especially in the eastern half of the country where the majority have Russian or mixed language as their mother tongue and are Eastern Orthodox. The post-Soviet political culture of Ukraine is also much closer to that of Russia and Belarus than anything in the West, I always got the impression that Ukraine was freer than Russia and Belarus, but also many ordinary people were poorer, and the government was more corrupt and dysfunctional. (Reforms since 2014 have been progressing slowly).

      The past few years there has been a growing impression in Belarus that Ukraine was being controlled by Americans, I was told that the American embassy is supposed to have had over 900 staff and there was a kind of joke saying, if you want something done in Ukraine, just ring the US embassy. I guess the Russians had the same impression.

      I also think that one of the reasons the current war has become so fierce is that both sides are patriotic and nationalism is still pretty strong, much more so than in most Western countries.

      • ignatius says:

        ” I also think that one of the reasons the current war has become so fierce is that both sides are patriotic and nationalism is still pretty strong, much more so than in most Western countries…”

        Unfortunately I agree. This means that things are unlikely to ressolve soon and may become even more savage than now. I continue to pray for military incompetence and the intervention of wise heads capable of some restraint.
        FMZ, do you know much about the Russian Orthodox church at the moment? What is its stance?

      • FZM says:

        As far as I know the Russian Orthodox Church largely supports Putin’s decision, the Patriarch is very close to Putin. Some of the Ukrainian bishops of the ROC definitely protested though. There are a couple of independent Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, one of which is linked to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, these strongly oppose the invasion. Likewise the Greek Catholics in the West of Ukraine, this is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism and the Greek Catholic Church has always tended to take an anti-Russian stance.

        I heard a Polish cardinal consecrated Ukraine to the Virgin the other week, some Russian Orthodox were saying this makes the conflict a religious war again.

        I think it was last year the Russian army finished the construction of the Central Cathedral of the Armed Forces:

        Someone made this video with some music from one of the Warhammer films.

        A lot of the imagery in the murals relates to the 1941-45 Great Patriotic War, I think this Cathedral symbolically centres certain strands of traditional Christian teachings that have now been de-emphasised in the West.

  13. David Smith says:

    Alasdair writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/#comment-65664 ) :

    // Coming on the back of climate-related disasters, a pandemic (ie increased frequency and severity of events) it’s inevitable that the war in Ukraine is being viewed as “sign of the End Times”. //

    But wars and diseases are with us always, no? If we’re surprised by them, it’s because, short lived creatures that we are, we were not alive when they last came calling.

  14. John Nolan says:

    My MA dissertation (Dept of War Studies, King’s College London, 1983) was on the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which during the Second World War fought the Germans, the Soviets and the Poles for Ukrainian independence. After 1945 it carried on the struggle against the Soviet Union, and despite the massive military resources used to ‘pacify’ Ukraine, continued the insurgency until 1953. Putin should have known what he was up against.

    Russia is no superpower. Its per capita GDP is less than that of Costa Rica and its much-vaunted army is not fit for purpose. With a ten-to-one advantage in aircraft numbers it has still not secured air supremacy. In the event of a confrontation with NATO it would lose, and lose quickly. Putin knows this, and hopes that dropping hints about nuclear first use will scare the West into inaction. When Biden states that a clash with Russia means World War III (it doesn’t) he is playing into Putin’s hands. The latter will simply ramp up the rhetoric.

  15. John Nolan says:

    Biden also stated that if Russia used chemical weapons NATO would respond ‘in kind’. NATO had to issue a quick disclaimer – under no circumstances would the alliance or any of its members resort to chemical warfare.

    The man’s a total liability.

  16. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/ ) :

    // Hitler, drove us into major war. But even then we did not have the danger of nuclear weapons //

    I’ve not thought much about this threat for a very long time, though it’s been with us since the middle of the last century. It’s one of those dangers that I imagine most of us have put away in the back of our minds because we have no way to prevent them or – we think – to deal with them if they materialize. Perhaps now is a good time to do a bit of reading up on the threat of nuclear war. I suspect we’d discover that it’s neither as unlikely as we are accustomed to assume nor as ultimately devastating as we’ve been told. Now that we all have the Internet, basic research should be a breeze.

    Both nations and, probably, non-state actors have nuclear weapons ready to use. I imagine that sooner or later one *will* be used. If that happens, it will be well if we are prepared to think clearly and rationally. If we wait until a nuclear weapon is used and panic breaks out, flooding the communications channels with fear and confusion and dangerously bad information – as happened in and after the spring of 2020 when what turned out to be a very mild new respiratory virus popped up and governments everywhere simply panicked – then it will be too late. As with Covid, ignorance and fear will prevail over knowledge and common sense. We’ve been warned. Shame on us if we fail to learn the lesson.

  17. Alasdair says:

    I always believed that confusing nationality with ethnicity was a 19th century notion that had been ditched long long ago. And therefore the ethnic history of people in Ukraine was highly irrelevant compared to their life aspirations.
    Personally I was always quite comfortable with with my Scottish history/ethnicity, UK nationality, and EU citizenship and saw no contradiction whatsoever. And I had no problems with the SNP since their aspirations are as far from ugly 19th century nationalism as one could get, and never remotely likely to cause any armed conflict.
    Recent events abroad and people’s commentaries on them seem to show though that I have been living in a fool’s paradise and a that a large part of the world’s population are still scrambling for genetic purity based upon junk history after all.

  18. FZM says:

    I always believed that confusing nationality with ethnicity was a 19th century notion that had been ditched long long ago. And therefore the ethnic history of people in Ukraine was highly irrelevant compared to their life aspirations.

    Ukraine as an independent country would not exist without the activity of the various kinds of Ukrainian nationalists who started raising a popular national consciousness in the 19th century and early Soviet period. There is obviously some ethnic element behind the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, from the more moderate, e.g. Ukraine is a European country and shouldn’t be ruled by an ‘Asiatic despotism’ in Moscow, then the supporters of the legacy of Stepan Bandera and the UPA, lastly the overtly racial nationalists in the Azov battalion, who have adopted a lot of German propaganda tropes about Russia from WW2.

    The Russian Federation has its own brand of multi-ethnic ‘Imperial’ nationalism, that looks back to the Czarist Empire as a model for the Russian Nation. Russian racial nationalists were under a lot of police/FSB surveillance till recently because they are regarded as violent criminals or subversive elements (they notoriously were). Part of the recent changes to the constitution did recognise the East Slav Russians as the ‘state forming people’ since they are over 70% of the RF population.

    (Sometimes there is ambiguity about what ethnicity means but I understand ethnicity as some combination of religion, culture, language, racial and historical elements.)

    I don’t really understand what a nation without any ethnic content would be, if the only basis for it’s existence as a political entity is constituted by universal and individualist values, calling it a nation seems self contradictory, it would just be a state.

    • Alasdair says:

      Scotland is not a nation by many definitions but many have aspirations for it to be a state. Fine by me. It’s too late for it to be a nation – it’s far too multi cultural. Similarly the UK is a state but hardly a nation anymore – also fine by me.

    • Alasdair says:

      //I don’t really understand what a nation without any ethnic content would be//
      Surely the USA is an example. Most people speak English because that is the language that has been adopted. But in the area I know best, East Texas, German ethnicity is very strong and has left the legacy of Lutheran Christianity so characteristic of the region. But close to 50% of the population are from Spanish speaking groups, including Mexicans who were the first European Texans. All primary school children get Spanish lessons and all signage and announcements on public transport are in both languages.
      So I continue to maintain that ethnicity and nationality are not inextricably linked.

  19. ignatius says:

    Thanks for all this FMZ it’s very helpful. In your view does the ‘West’ misunderstand a)Russia as a nation and b) the impulse towards defense against Nato encroachment?

    • FZM says:

      Ignatius,

      I only know a bit about Russia directly, my wife is Belarusian (though she has various family members who are Russian), so to some extent I see things through that lens.

      We were really surprised by war actually breaking out, few predicted it would go that far despite Russian and Ukrainian nationalists goading each other since 2014, people believed there were too many underlying similarities between the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples for it to happen in our times.

      In my own experience at least, the people in these countries are more similar to other Northern European people than I thought before having direct experience, though they are often poorer, so when you leave the biggest cities it can feel like travelling back in Britain in the 70s or early 80s, materially, and socially and culturally.

      A couple of things I thought ot that may have influenced Putin’s decision;

      Among the Russian leadership, there has always been a fairly deep suspicion of the ‘West’ (used to be the European Great Powers, Britain, France, Germany, now add the US) and ‘Romano-Germanic civilisation’, something going back to the 19th century, the French Revolution and Napoleon’s invasion. But this just persisted through the 20th century in various forms, possibly it got worse under the Communists and due to the 1941-45 German invasion. The 90s and early 2000s ended up in various ways reinforcing this.

      The ‘cult of state security’, something present in Czarist times but reinforced by the huge losses of life in wars and revolutions in the 20th century, and strong belief in realpolitik and raison d’etat among the Russian elites, means that national interest as understood by the nation’s ‘natural leaders’ is the ultimate criteria for whether use of force is legitimate.

      Ukrainians had their own quite strong reasons for wanting an alternative to a Russia-wards orientation, so it would have been good if the diplomacy around expansion of NATO and integration of Ukraine had been handled more carefully, as maybe Germany and France were indicating, experts would have been more aware of the risks of feeding and deepening the Russia/Ukraine split.

  20. John Nolan says:

    In ‘Memory and Identity’ (2005) Pope John Paul II wrote:

    ‘The term “nation” designates a community based in a given territory and distinguished from other nations by its culture. Catholic social doctrine holds that the family and the nation are both natural societies, not the product of mere convention.’ (p.77)

    This is a useful antidote to the heresy of ‘multiculturalism’, also condemned by Benedict XVI, but how good a definition is it? The sainted Pontiff also observes that patriotism, which is linked to the Fourth Commandment, should not be allowed to degenerate into nationalism. But how do we separate the two concepts?

  21. John Candido says:

    ‘Patriotism’ isn’t synonymous with ‘nationalism’.

    ‘Patriotism’ is defined as a love of country.

    ‘Nationalism’ is defined as a stridency or aggressiveness towards another state or a minority living within a state.

    The meaning of both words overlap each other without being synonymous.

    Either word is not an antonym of each other, but a contrast exists nonetheless.

    The following quotations are from the ‘Oxford dictionary’.

    ‘patriotism /ˈpeɪtrɪətɪz(ə)m /
    ▸ noun [mass noun] the quality of being patriotic; devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country:
    a highly decorated officer of unquestionable integrity and patriotism.‘

    ‘nationalism /ˈnaʃ(ə)n(ə)lɪz(ə)m /
    ▸ noun [mass noun] identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations:
    their nationalism is tempered by a desire to join the European Union.
    ▪advocacy of or support for the political independence of a particular nation or people: Scottish nationalism.

  22. John Candido says:

    John Nolan, can you explain what multiculturalism means as a heresy?

    Thanks in advance.

  23. John Nolan says:

    John Candido,

    Arguably a heresy in JP II’s eyes, although I was using the term loosely. Multiculturalism is more accurately a poisonous and divisive ideology, injurious to the body politic and the public good, and like all such ideologies, is based on a myth.

    • Alasdair says:

      But surely culturalism (as opposed to multiculturalism) is also based on a tangled web of myths. Some of these myths are what I call “junk history”. When junk history is “weaponised”, you get the Ukraine scenario.
      I am writing this from the Spangen district of Rotterdam which is highly multicultural and gets along just fine.

      • FZM says:

        From what John was quoting, I wonder if it is more a political philosophy thing. Multi-culturalism is a facet of Liberalism, the political philosophy of John-Paul II was rooted in the Catholic Aristotleian/Scholastic tradition. From that perspective multiculturalism is going to be a problem because it is unlikely that the citizens in that society will share an understanding of the virtues or of the common good, also it is unlikely that true religion will be able to occupy the place it should in civic life. Factionalism and subordination of the common good to private goods will be more likely.

        The criteria for what constitutes a successful political society will also be different to those of Liberalism; the successful perpetuation of families is understood as the reason higher level political societies come into existence, immoderate pursuit of private goods like food and sex are considered major vices, practice of religion (i.e. Christianity) is the ultimate end or good of the society… Liberal multiculturalism can be seen to fail on all these counts, apart from for minority communities which may use to maintain a traditional political culture closer to this one within their own group.

      • FZM says:

        Imo, it is now becoming clearer that there is some strength to the traditionalist critique of Liberal multiculturalism. I lived in multi-cultural communities in the North of England for a long time, the last place in Yorkshire was very multi-cultural even 8 or 9 years ago, that was what I was used to so I didn’t notice it until going to Eastern Europe, then it kind of hit me.

        De Toqueville wrote this contrasting democracy in America with an older political order:

        ‘Aristocracy links everybody, from peasant to king, in one long chain. Democracy breaks the chain and frees each link… Thus, not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries. Each man is forever thrown back upon himself alone and there is a danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart. ‘

        I read that years later but it was a good description of some of the difference I felt between where I had been in the UK and Eastern Europe (they have other problems but less so this one). The question of solitude, sterility and the breakdown of community may be the big challenges to urban Liberalism.

  24. John Nolan says:

    Two weeks ago I went to Milton Keynes Theatre to see Welsh National Opera’s ‘Madam Butterfly’. The production was starkly and confusingly post-modern, and the oriental elements were removed, making a nonsense of the plot and libretto, which is as much about a clash of cultures as it is about Pinkerton’s disreputable conduct and Butterfly’s naivety. It was all about Jeffrey Epstein and the #MeToo movement.

    Looking around the audience I didn’t spot a single black or brown face. The only black man was on stage, Keel Watson who sang the Bonze, dressed as a fundamentalist pastor.

    Not long ago the director of the BBC Proms described the audience as ‘horribly white and middle class’, a piece of blame-shifting which does not explain why some racial groups in our society seem unable or unwilling to connect to European culture.

    • Alasdair says:

      One of my greatest joys is to walk and cycle in the countryside. My part of the country has endless opportunities for this without even having to resort to a car. Noticeably the recent number of Eastern European arrivals also appreciate what we have to offer in this respect. Much less so non-European arrivals. I sometimes persuade Chinese or other non European co-parishioners to accompany me on country rambles. To a large extent they don’t “get it” – why would you walk so far from the convenience of shops, and food and drink outlets and risk getting stung or muddy shoes, when you could more easily just frequent the same familiar city park each time you want to enjoy the sunshine.

  25. ignatius says:

    FMZ writes: “I read that years later but it was a good description of some of the difference I felt between where I had been in the UK and Eastern Europe (they have other problems but less so this one). The question of solitude, sterility and the breakdown of community may be the big challenges to urban Liberalism.”

    This is a cogent and ever more compelling critique. De Toqueville read the situation well and we now recognise in the UK this great yawning loneliness and anomie which seems to be at root a product of the great grinding down machine which is also called the engine of capitalism. Perhaps its just me getting older but, in my own lifetime one can see the breakdown of community and the isolation of the individual running apace. I would guess the spiritual fallout of all this to be quite devastating.

  26. David Smith says:

    Alasdair writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2022/03/12/who-needs-our-help/#comment-65831 ) :

    // To a large extent they don’t “get it” – why would you walk so far from the convenience of shops, and food and drink outlets and risk getting stung or muddy shoes, when you could more easily just frequent the same familiar city park each time you want to enjoy the sunshine. //

    To each his own little parcel of peace. Some walk and think while others sit and dream. Those who choose simultaneously to walk and to dream had better carry a first-aid kit.

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