Monday, October 19, 2015

Jean-François Colosimo on Putin's Visit to the Vatican

French original here

Colosimo: "For the Pope, the primary enemy is jihadism, not Russia."

FIGAROVOX/GRAND ENTRETIEN -Ukraine, Bashar al-Asad, Middle Eastern Christians: Jean-François Colosimo gave an expansive interview with FigaroVox in which he analyzes the geopolitical issues behind Vladimir Putin's visit to the Vatican.

This Wednesday afternoon, Pope Francis is meeting with Vladimir Putin at the Vatican. Why are they organizing such an in-person meeting now?

The historic meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope Jean Paul II opened the way. This meeting between Pope Francis and Putin, the second after their first meeting in November 2013, has become almost imperative, faced with the events that are sweeping Europe and the Middle East.

In fact, various reasons explain the urgency of this audience.

The first relates to the resolution of the Ukrainian conflict. In the 8th century, there occurred a major division in the heart of Europe. The confrontation between Byzantine and Frankish missionaries would lead to a rupture between Constantinople and Rome, Greeks and Latins, anticipating the separation between the Orthodox and the Catholics. This gives rise to the line of fracture running from Riga, through the Baltic states, to Split in the former Yugoslavia, which crosses through the middle of Ukraine. It is obvious that the opposition between Eastern and Western Ukrainians, without being a religious war, involves this long memory. In this way, this border country is divided between contradictory mentalities born of the Christian East and West and of their dispute over the imperial heritage, whence the strong tensions between Brussels and Moscow. Eastern Rite Ukrainian Catholics, who originally came from the Orthodox Church but who have been united to the Catholic Church for several centuries, make up a minority concentrated in the west, in the region of Lviv, are very active and of a nationalist inclination. Through its power to moderate them, the Holy See has genuine leverage to ease the crisis.

As for the second reason, this audience is equally motivated by the dramatic situation of Middle Eastern Christians. As his statements in Sarajevo on the present climate of a "Third World War", the pope is doubtlessly defending the idea of a "primary enemy." This is jihadism and not Russia.

The third reason comes out of the first two. For Vladimir Putin, this meeting represents the opportunity to escape his diplomatic isolation, particularly with regard to the European Union. During the private part of this tête-à-tête, the Pope will not fail to address thorny questions of the risks to peace posed by the Kremlin's diplomatic offensive and the threat to basic freedoms in Russia. But Peter's successor also means first of all for this meeting to come within the context of the quickened pace of ecumenism that marks his pontificate.

A source at the Vatican told La Croix that "The Holy See understands that a solution to the conflict in Syria inevitably involves Russia..."

That's the informed, sensible and reasonable position to take with regard to the situation in the Levant. It is unfortunate that the realism of the Vatican's diplomacy is absent from the French government and, more broadly, from the European Union.

There can in fact be no lasting resolution to the conflict now burning in the Middle East without the cooperation of Russia and Iran. These two countries have a long history, centuries of diplomacy, and networks in the region because they have strategic, even vital interests in the region.

Ever since Russia entered onto the stage of international relations in the 18th century, it has desired to guarantee its access to warm water and has acted through the Orthodox communities. This policy of influence was continued by the USSR through the socialist Arab regimes. Moscow, which possesses military bases in Syria, represents not only active support for the regime of Bashar al-Asad but also a key interlocutor with Tehran. The United States itself has come to realize the indispensability of Iran's participation on the ground for countering the advance of ISIS, which cannot be stopped only with bombings.

Might the Pope support authoritarian regimes like that of Bashar in order to address the threat of ISIS?

Frances is facing the tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes, which can be calculated in the hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of refugees or displaced persons of all confessions before the indifference of the international community-- which is coming to resemble more and more a sort of passive complicity. For him, this certainly involves averting an imminent, irreparable catastrophe that would do harm to the very meaning of humanity.

As for the rest, there can be no doubt about the Holy See's struggle for freedom of conscience and democratic freedoms across the five continents. To think so would be to subject it to unworthy judgment. For half a century, we have been able to notice that Vatican diplomacy, moving forward patiently and sometimes secretly, has been able to reverse situations that we thought were unchangeable. Thus, with regard to the states that are still communist in Asia and Latin America or are newly fundamentalist in Africa and the Middle East, Rome's action remains invariably positive, unknotting what is circumstantial while remaining uncompromising on the essentials. Moreover, every day in the world there are Christians struggling and dying for the dignity of all.

So the Holy See's position with regard to Bashar al-Asad amounts to a policy of the lesser evil?

I don't think there is a particular desire to preserve Bashar al-Asad or any indulgence for his crimes. It only comes from the imperative to put a stop as quickly as possible to the growing barbarity and from the lucidity to admit that during the current chaos of the Middle East-- to which America and Europe have carelessly contributed-- there will be no magical solution. Whether we want it or not, the Alawite regime, for lack of anything better, has become the rallying-point for a great number of communities that refuse for Islamism to come to power. The Holy See's policy stems from real knowledge of history and the present. Knowledge that is sorely lacking in the inconsistent humanitarianism that has now taken hold over the foreign policy of France and the European Union.

Some are already talking about a trip by the Pope to Moscow. Is a Vatican-Moscow axis credible?

The only axis that we can really speak of today, renewed and strong, is that which exists thanks to ecumenical dialogue, which is ever more supported, between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. It also passes through Constantinople and Patriarch Bartholomew.

Pope John Paul II, a world traveler, was not able to visit Russia. A visit by Pope Francis to Moscow, but more likely a meeting with Patriarch Kirill in a symbolic location, equidistant from both sees, would be an encouraging witness for all Catholic and Orthodox believers who are sincerely engaged in the concrete search for unity.

Does the Pope have real diplomatic influence, or is he content with ministry of the word? 

This echoes Stalin's famous question, "How many divisions does the Pope have?" The USSR isn't there anymore. The Vatican is still there. Due to its good fifteen centuries of existence, its network of international relations that is first in the world with its countless nunciatures, and its status as an observer at the UN, the diplomacy of the Holy See, led by the Pope, represents a true force of information and influence.

It especially has the prophetic ministry of the Bishop of Rome as a servant of the Gospel. More than ever, globalization which combines a deadly consolidation of the market at its center and the deadly explosions of identities at its periphery experiences the vital need for a word of life. By going to the Parliament in Strasbourg, to Lampedusa to rescue migrants, and to Istanbul to call for military intervention within the limits of just war, this is what Francis is tirelessly doing.

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