We continue to publish articles on the Ukraine conflict in order to give space to different opinions and to shed light on as many aspects as possible. Today we publish a letter from the sociologist Pietro De Marco* to the Vaticanist Sandro Magister.
I request your hospitality for some considerations prompted by the ongoing war in Ukraine. The news horizon and the proliferation of chronicles and reflections on the pages of the media indicate duplicity, rather dystonia. On the one hand there is the conflict with its facts: the acts of war and the political decisions about the present and future of the entire European area. On the other hand, the demonstrations, prayers, moral and political declarations for peace. Demonstrations and prayers that speak of war in its truth, without ever touching it or considering it as such; eyes are on the suffering, on the migrants, on peace.
The duality would be an invariable complementarity if in the compassionate or peace-seeker there was also a rational engagement with the conflict, an instance of judgment of merit, and finally a non-dualistic positioning between good and evil.
To say: “There is war, long live peace” is, in my opinion, tantamount to moving in an exclusive “rationality by values” and ignoring the necessary “rationality by goals”. Because of this indifference to outcomes that are not absolute (the peace that flourishes), everything can be heard in the squares, to the point of the absence of any judgment or the reverberating "Anything, as long as we stop fighting". And there is also too much playfulness. There are young people, but also adults, women and men, who seem to live more in the comedies of Aristophanes ("There are too many hormones in this matter," we heard exclaimed on TV, "If women were in power... ’) than to meditate on Herodotus.
Today, in view of the history of peoples, the “peacemakers” can no longer hide behind the veil of their horror at hatred and bloodshed, nor under that of a love of neighbor that disregards everything. In this order of reality which is the conflict that is taking place, the less gracious virtue of justice must dominate. Less gracious, because justice in relations between peoples, if granted at all, must be justified: its judgment must have consequences. And these will, and already do, coincide with the mechanics of war, since they concern it: weapons and means made available to the weaker party to fight, penalties for the aggressor to injure him on multiple levels and certainly causing distress, as well as symmetrical threats to intimidate him. In the end, one side will inevitably give way (or give up terrain with losses).
If the words of peace do not see this chain of necessary facts realistically aimed at ending the conflict, if they consider it abstractly to be an evil not worth examining iuxta propria principia, they condemn themselves of it. And these self-satisfied words are pecked away by the sparrows.
It is not war in general, but this or that war determines the place of decision. Prayer, the most intense and theologically conscious, is necessary and undoubtedly pleasing to God, but it falls within the inscrutable realm of His will. Or are we as a Church tempted to use prayer as an "excuse" not to take a stand and not work in and on this war? We would not succumb to this temptation if we had retained the ability to think about events in terms of a theology of history. Instead, the dominant theologies are antithetical to Paul, hostile to Augustine, they would mock Bossuet or de Maistre. They flirt with the philosophies, but even Hegel's heretical, but very high theology of history is alien to them. They think small or utopian, and utopia is the product of emotional ethics.
What am I getting at? "War is therefore an act of violence to force the enemy to do our will," is one of Clausewitz's well-known definitions. Turning away the Christian distinction of war as such, and saying no to evade the careful scrutiny of an event that will go far beyond the evils and sufferings of the moment, is not just a mistake. It's running away from a responsibility.
Nothing relieves the Catholic Church of this responsibility. The Holy See, a spiritual power but a power nonetheless, has so far moved tentatively, as if walking between prayer - with the Pope admirably acting, but acting as an individual rather than the human head of the Church - and passed over action, the actions of others. I have followed with great interest the distant years of Giorgio La Pira's international political activity (Cuba Crisis, Vietnam), which may not have been very fruitful, but which was a bearer of reason, analysis and the ability to influence.
We know that the famous "Divisions of the Pope" are just the worldwide Catholic people. But offering the Vatican as a place of encounter and negotiation does not mean turning the Ukraine conflict into a mystical place. The Holy See will only mediate if it has the power and authority to do so; if, for example, in the play of the moral, religious and political forces in the world it can say: The Catholic Church, whether in agreement with the Orthodox Churches or not, can neither accept nor endure the present showdown which consciously and according to a clear plan consciously deny the decisive freedoms, the large nations in new self-determination, which the world and all churches gained with the collapse of the USSR. The collapse of the Soviet system was wanted by its own people, it is in a way a world historical fact that one would like to know is irreversible.
The Catholic Church, as Holy See, has the power, if it wishes, to oblige Catholics in conscience not to provide any alibi or scope (moral, ideological, political) to the project of a neo-imperial Russia, and thereby to put an end to the unwise pro-Putin New Constantine Catholic positions. That means, having said that, to contribute with all your strength as an expert on humanity and as a sister of the Orthodox churches to ensure that peace negotiations can be carried out over a limited area (guarantees, possible border corrections) and not politically and religiously retrospectively (no return based on history of large European areas under the arbitrary rule of an autocrat).
There is no sign of this or any similar determination on the part of the Holy See. It is to be hoped that the difficulties Rome has had to date in raising its declarations to the level of the Catholic Church's international standing are due to caution in seriously investigating the situation and the open questions, and not to recognizing that there meanwhile, it has disbanded its worldwide moral army and retired its special forces, those capable of realistic judgment. Among them, the Society of Jesus once stood out. History will do without them.
*Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Florence and at the School of Religious Studies in Florence with a focus on sociology of religion and culture. As a doctor of philosophy, he also deals with the European history of the ideas of the Renaissance and the early modern period as well as Jewish, early Christian and Islamic-medieval thought. In 2015, on the occasion of the second synod on the family, he was one of the first to sign the international appeal to the Pope on the future of the family.
Two "little notes" from Sandro Magister
Two small remarks on the activity of the Church in this war. The first concerns the ban on the word "war" in Russia, which has been replaced by "military operation". At the Angelus on Sunday, March 6, Pope Francis responded explicitly: "This is not just a military operation, but a war that sows death, destruction and misery". Andrea Tornielli, editor-in-chief of the Holy See's communications department, wrote on the front page of the Osservatore Romano that "Pope Francis has rejected the 'fake news' that seeks to present events with verbal subterfuges to cover up the gruesome reality of the facts."
But one only has to go back a few days to see that the Holy See itself, in its first official statement — issued on February 24 by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin — after the Russian aggression, or, as the document puts it, “after resorting to these “verbal subterfuges” after the start of Russian military operations on Ukrainian territory”.
The second comment concerns the proposal of the Community of Sant'Egidio, and in particular its founder Andrea Riccardi, to make Kyiv an "open city". The declared aim is to “avoid armed conflict, house-to-house and street-to-street fighting” because “Kyiv is the Jerusalem of Russian Orthodoxy and thus of Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian Orthodoxy. It must not become Aleppo.”
Few know, however, that an "open city" is technically a city which, by express agreement of the conflicting parties, can be occupied by the enemy, in this case Russia, without resistance.
And some hints
So much for Magister's comments, to which a few notes should be added:
Riccardi apparently recognizes the all-Russian commonality that has been expressed in the title by the head of the Church, originally sent by the Patriarch of Constantinople, since Christianization in the 10th century. For the first 300 years, this had its seat in Kyiv, the capital of the still unified Rus, and was metropolitan, later patriarch of “all Rus”.
Relevant: The advance of the Central Powers (German Reich, Austria-Hungary etc. until March 1918 (dark green line)
The conquests of the Mongols led to a divergence in the late High Middle Ages, because the liberation struggle against the Mongols was carried out on the one hand by the self-liberating northern Rus, especially Moscow, and on the other hand by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Two catholic powers. This laid the foundation for today's linguistic, but above all cultural and religious division of the country.
When it comes to the question of who bears responsibility for a war, what matters is not only who fired the first shot, but above all what happened before the shot was fired. Historical science will pursue this question one day, away from the general public. In fact, the winner writes history.
Those who advocate a unitary state of Ukraine, which in its extent was a more accidental product of the turmoil of the end of World War I (see map above), run the risk, willfully or criminally, of misjudging Ukraine's complex reality. Depending on your point of view, this consists of two parts (Ukrainian West, Russian East) or three parts (Russian East Ukraine, Orthodox West Ukraine, Catholic West Ukraine). A statehood can be established and justified for each part. One of the serious mistakes that led to the current war is that these facts have been ignored in recent years and the Kiev government has been encouraged in this by the West. There are a number of possible and suitable instruments for a peaceful solution: partitioning the country, transforming it into a confederation of states, transforming it into a federal state with strong internal ethnic and religious guarantees, to name just three. A fair division, as history teaches, would often have been the better solution and would have prevented millions of suffering, war, death and displacement. However, most states, including Brussels, have declared border changes an idolatrous taboo.
What does that mean? One example among many: If Austria and Prussia had recognized and guaranteed ethnic relations in 1848 based on the Swiss model, or had organized some crown lands and provinces according to ethnic criteria - even while maintaining the historical borders - the ethnic struggles that later broke out would have been defused from the outset and the the tragedies of exile and expulsion of the 20th century would probably have never materialized.
The maximalism of the strongest doesn’t merely entail tragedies to come, but also tragedies for them, because today's strongest can soon become the weaker.
Translation/Notes: Giuseppe Nardi
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org