Pray for Spain

News of the death of Adolfo Suarez brought back vivid memories of living in Madrid in the immediate post-Franco era. Everyone seemed to be talking politics, and if you knew where to go, you could hear Basque and Catalan being spoken in various cafes (such national languages were outlawed under Franco). When the first election was called, the Madrid traffic rustled its way through the streets, so thick on the ground were the pamphlets and campaign leaflets. Now, when the property boom has long since turned to bust and the Spanish economy has creaked and wheezed to its present parlous state, the streets are again alive with argument, but this time conducted with angry, not hopeful, voices. Austerity in southern Europe has cut deep, much deeper than in the north, and the bright hope that Adolfo Suarez and King Juan Carlos I seemed to usher in is no more.

Does it matter? I’m inclined to think it does, not only because of the people behind the statistics, but also because a united Europe, a stable Europe, is one of the best protections for all of us against the centrifugal tendencies of modern democracy and the distinctly undemocratic tendencies of Russia. It is a few years since I was last in Spain, but my impression is that it is no longer as united* nor as Catholic as it once was. The Church is no longer the glue holding society together. Secularisation and immigration have together wrought profound changes. Indeed, it is difficult to see any glue, except that of democracy itself; and democracy, as we know, is always much more fragile when times are hard. The temptation to sell one’s birthright for a mess of pottage is never stronger than when one is hungry and has no hope of ever being anything else.

Let us pray for Spain and her peoples, and for the repose of the soul of Adolfo Suarez who managed the difficult transition from Francoism to democracy in despite of the prophets of doom. There are many ways of serving, and politics is not the least noble for those who themselves wish to live nobly.

* ‘united’ is always a difficult term when used of Spain, which is a land of fierce regional pride, at least in my experience.


From Big Bangs to Little Whimpers

Yesterday was one of those curious days one suspects will prove more important than anyone realised at the time. On the one hand, there was the public announcement that an American team working on the BICEP2 project had found a residual marker for cosmic inflation (see the brief BBC report here); on the other, President Putin signed an order recognizing Crimean independence and approved a draft bill on the absorption of the peninsula into the Russian Federation. The contrast between the excitement over extraordinary new evidence in support of the Big Bang Theory for the origin of the Universe and the sick feeling that Ukraine was being destroyed with barely a whimper could not have been more marked.

The Universe is too big a subject for most of us to grasp, but what is happening in Ukraine touches us all. There have been the inevitable sabre-rattlers with half-remembered notions of how the First and Second World Wars started, who are anxious to ‘stop Putin in his tracks’ — usually at the cost of other people’s lives. There have been the indifferentists who think the Crimea not worth bothering about and don’t mind being called ‘appeasers’ by the sabre-rattlers. Then there are those who are aware of the labyrinthine ties between Russia and Ukraine, Russia and Crimea, and the economic and political mess Ukraine is in whatever the outcome of the present difficulty. Western politicians, by and large, simply don’t ‘get’ the complexity of the situation, tending instead to see everything through the lens of their own experience.

If Syria has made us recognize how defenceless ordinary people are in the face of mutual hatred and joy in destruction, the situation in the Crimea reminds us that people may not want to live as we think they should. It is worth thinking through the implications of that and acting accordingly. We must pray for a peaceful resolution of the situation, but we should also pray that those engaged in trying to find a diplomatic solution should have the humility and generosity of spirit to recognize the right of others to live as they think best.



I imagine every Western politician woke up this morning wondering what to do about Russia and the Crimea. Last month it may have been Syria or North Korea. Before that, Egypt. We tend to deal with difficulties and problems sequentially, dropping one when another looms into view. It is not that Iraq and Afghanistan have been ‘dealt with’, but we are collectively great believers in ‘moving on’. We have other countries in our sights now. The trail of death and destruction is one we prefer to ignore because ultimately it is traceable back to those who gave the order to mobilise the troops or clamoured for something to be done. That qualification is important because it reminds us that in a democracy we all bear a measure of responsibility, whether active or passive. We can’t distance ourselves from it simply by saying ‘not in my name’.

I mentioned a few days ago that I had been thinking about the Crimean War of the nineteenth century. I have also been thinking about the symbolic importance of Ukraine to the Russian people, about gas pipes and oil lines, and the way in which Western politicians tend very easily to assume that an uprising or protest movement will usher in something better than before. If it doesn’t, it can be forgotten, or at least allowed to slip from the headlines, e.g. Libya. Unlike many political commentators, I have no suggestions to make regarding the dilemma we face. I have only one constructive tool to offer: prayer. To some, that will seem laughable; to others, an admission of failure; but I think myself it is the most powerful thing those of us who are not movers and shakers in the accepted sense can do. Indeed, prayer has a way of upsetting the usual order of things. It can bring hope and peace out of the darkest situation. Let us pray that it does so now.


Another War?

As predicted, the language of Western politicians is becoming more bellicose. Whatever the findings of the U.N. team now investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria, there is a disturbing sense that President Obama’s talk of a red line being crossed is going to lead to a missile strike or more. While some are  busy beating the drum about its being ‘the right thing to do’ (arguable) and lamenting the terrible loss of life in Syria (undeniable), I wonder how many are asking themselves one simple question: who gains from this? On the face of it, using chemical weapons was not only murderous, it was crazy. Neither the Assad regime nor its opponents are stupid. Perhaps we should be looking beyond Syria to some other more shadowy figures who stand to gain from the West’s being plunged into yet another war, and pray with all our hearts that another catastrophe may be averted.