|Posted on 23 March, 2022 at 2:50|
In the year 400 AD the Emperor Constantine and two patriarchs (Eusebius and Macarius) found what they said was Calvary, where Jesus Christ was crucified and entombed at the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter and Venus. They pulled down the temple and built a church. In 613 AD the church burned down while the Sassanids occupied Jerusalem but 20 years later the Emperor Heraclius re-built it. Although the Muslims didn’t pull it down when they took Jerusalem afterwards, it was kept as a Christian monument, burned down, repaired and rebuilt over and over again through the centuries. It is now in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem in Israel.
There is a Ridley Scott film called ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ dealing with the crusades, in which the character Balian of Ibelin addresses the citizens of Jerusalem before Saladin besieges and bombards the city. In it, he asks, ‘The Romans built the church on the site where Christ was crucified, the Turks took it over, it was burned down and rebuilt and now it is ours. Who has claim? All have claim. None have claim.’
There is truth in that piece of dialogue. If the newly converted Constantine pulled down the temple of Jupiter and Venus and chose to build a church, maybe the Vatican should collect an army and invade Israel to ‘restore’ history. Alternatively, maybe there should be another Christian crusade to restore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and all that area to Christian hands. Ridiculous? Maybe, but the application of that kind of logic seems to be behind both Putin’s war and Xi Jinping’s claim upon Taiwan. ‘It used to be part of my country, so I’ll take it back’. Trouble is, it may mean killing everyone in the place and destroying all the infrastructure.
One has to ask oneself whether restoring history makes anyone right or happy or wise? My own opinion is it is a risible concept. It is the nature of the world that changes happen, and borders change through war, through negotiation, through democracy, even inheritance. It is no more sensible to try to go back than returning England to the Celts. Cardiff would become the capital city and the Welsh would rule all of England.
In 2021, Vladimir Putin wrote a long essay about his historical claims to Ukraine to excuse his annexation of Crimea. In the first half, he uses ancient history to justify ‘uniting’ Russia and Ukraine. He even states that the 2 nations are brotherly. He objects to the separation of their languages; he objects to their independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union. He states plainly that the Russian language should be taught in their schools and that Russia was robbed of her financial benefits (of the trade between the 2 countries) by the separation.
Mr Putin also asserts that the Ukrainians are fascists. It may be true that there is a rise in far-right politics in eastern Europe since the Soviet Union collapsed. It is probably because of a rise in nationalism in many of the previous Soviet republics. Stepan Bandera with his Insurgent Army fought alongside Hitler’s forces during WW2 and killed many Poles and Jewish people during WW2, but let’s not lose sight of why he did that. He believed, as a Nationalist, that Hitler would win and give Ukraine its independence and was prepared to do anything to achieve that. Some 20% of Ukrainians view him as a hero.
Citing history, Putin brands all Ukrainians with that tenet. He overlooks that President Zelensky is Jewish, was elected by a 70% majority and that in a modern democratic society to which Ukraine aspires, one is allowed, and allowed to voice, one’s beliefs, however misguided or wrong they might be. I believe in free speech. I also believe no one should hurt or kill someone else or force their beliefs on others. My own philosophy is, ‘Believe what you like mate, just don’t shove it on me.’
Even in a crazy world where people have beliefs that are inherently evil like Bandera did, there can be no society who would openly condone the mass murder of women and children and unarmed civilians. The Holocaust, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Chechnya and Georgia are all examples of this. Now Ukraine. Have we learned nothing?
All people of good conscience must pull together for justice and, dare I say it, kindness. We can express this by supporting the democratically elected government of the sovereign state of Ukraine, but more importantly, by protecting and sheltering those terrorised by the evil being perpetrated on the civilian population of Ukraine.