There is no civil society

Russia's problem is our system. A system was created here that created such a person [Putin]. The question of the West's role in creating this system is a very serious one. The problem is that this system didn't create a society. There are a lot of very nice people in Russia. But there is no civil society. That's why Russia can't resist.


These words, this week, of Steve Rosenberg, writing from Moscow, are alarming. ‘…the West’s role in creating a system … (that prevented) the creation of a (civil) society … (so that) Russia can’t resist.’ My particular interest is in ‘the West’s role in creating this system’. Even a distant observer can have an opinion and mine would be that the West never developed a generous and imaginative attitude towards Russia. Here you have an ancient Christian, cultured, society that has struggled with its identity at least since the time of Peter the Great (c.1700). Three times since then it has been invaded by western countries and, after the Second Word War, it built an enormous shield.

The Americans were tempted to break through that shield but wiser heads prevailed and we had a ‘cold’ – in contrast to a hot – war for forty years until 1989. It was then that ‘the centre could not hold’ and the Russian empire simply imploded and all the vassal states on its periphery became independent, including Ukraine. That would have been a moment for wise restraint in the West but instead they gloated that they had won and America was now the only superpower. Someone even went so far as to write a book called The End of History. The Russians were humiliated and have spent the last thirty years preparing to bounce back. Now they have done it in an unpardonable way but at least the West should acknowledge that they, the West, are partly to blame. Instead of reaching out to Russia and doing everything possible to help them build a ‘civil’ society in a respectful way, they simply continued to gloat. Now the West has to pay and pay big.

I did not mean to wander into politics, if that is what I have done, but we are not good at sustained study when things seem to be going well. We only use our brains when things begin to go wrong and we ‘know how to fix it’. But we should never have allowed them to go wrong in the first place. All this may sound like a far-off reflection on today’s gospel but when Jesus praises the poor widow for insisting against the ‘unjust’ judge, he is teaching us of the need for sustained effort and prayer if we are to find our way in this complex world that we have fashioned.

16 October 2022         Sunday 29C    Ex 17:8-13      2 Tim 3:14 – 4:2         Lk 18:1-8

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