Tag Archives: Angela Merkel

An Empty Gesture?

Couldn’t one say the same about everything the Pope says and does? In the news we learn that Pope Francis Takes 12 Refugees Back to Vatican After Trip to Greece. Twelve Syrian Muslim refugees, three families with six children,  all back to Rome with him on the Papal plane. The Vatican, the Pope said, would care for the three families. The Pope wanted to bring the world’s attention to the “grave humanitarian crisis” and plead himself for a resolution.


This Pope is called the “People’s Pope,” as opposed to his predecessor, Benedict XVI, the German Pope whose very distance from the people is probably what most of all brought about his early retirement.

But is that the very best the Pope could do? Give another life to three Syrian refugee families in Vatican land? Why anyone could have done that. I could have done it, although not in Vatican land but in Tampa, Florida where I live, but my gesture, not backed up by the Vatican’s wealth, would have been an even emptier gesture than the Pope’s.

Isn’t the Pope a powerful man, the leader of some 2 billion members of the Catholic Church? Couldn’t he have asked that his flock follow his lead. And in fact, did anyone follow? Countries , individuals, NGOs already there on the ground, not to mention the wealthy multinational corporations, those that Bernie Sanders tells us are exploiting the wealth of the world for their own ends and purposes, did anyone at all step up to the plate? as a follow-up to the Pope’s trip to Lesbos?

As far as I know no one did. The developed world could have taken in hundreds of thousands of the refugées and paid for it in any number of ways, say by just stopping all of their futile hot war activities for a week or two. The world is rich, the refugées need the world’s help, and the best the world can do is to send the Pope? “Send” because isn’t the Pope only doing what he thinks the world expects of him? Without being assured of the favorable publicity would he have even gone to Lesbos, or on past occasions South America, or Africa, these trips also being at the time empty gestures by the church’s leader, in particular the head of the church of Christ, whose single most important message has to be extending a helping hand to those in need.

So the Pope’s going to Lesbos, and even flying back to the Vatican with the three families, was all an empty gesture?  What might the Pope have done instead? Well, for one, organize an air lift. I’m sure the Vatican is rich enough to do that.That would have certainly changed people’s minds as well as their hearts, and perhaps even slowed the decline and deterioration in relevance of the Catholic Church. And the Pope could have done this without putting himself or his reputation at any risk.


But there are any number of things he could have done. By his words, and actions, strengthen the position of Angela Merkel who is in a political life and death struggle in her own country while trying to do the “christian thing” herself, and provide refuge for not just three families but for one million or more refugees, that making what, 300,000 families, and at least as many children? Are the Pope’s means to make a real difference in this situation any less than those of the German Chancellor?

Sure there might have been any number of things, other than his empty gesture. The Vatican is the sole owner of over 100 acres of prime real estate in the heart of Rome, and therefore Europe. And I assume that within the Vatican there are an endless number of priceless treasures, and probably even more wealth in offshore (not in the Vatican) bank accounts.

For there is no lack of means to help the situation on Lesbos and elsewhere. And the Pope must know that during the present situation Europe itself is struggling to remain Europe, and remain together while confronting the arrival on its shores of millions of refugees, from Syria, but also from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pope took three Syrian families onto his own plane. Is that really all, the very the best he could do?

Continue reading An Empty Gesture?

Ms. Merkel, Europe’s new Iron Lady?


Is Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, our new Iron Lady? A Wall Street Journal article today, Ukraine Government Forces Clash with Rebels in Donetsk, makes me ask the question.

We read that the fighting between  Kiev’s forces and the pro-Russian rebels hasn’t stopped and that today, Monday, Ms. Merkel said that the European Union is far from easing sanctions on Russia, given the recent clashes between the opposing sides that left at least 12 dead in some of the worst violence since the cease-fire signed earlier this month.

And furthermore given this situation, and especially the complete lack of steps taken by the Russian president in eastern Ukraine to calm things down, Ms. Merkel warned that the West had to keep up its pressure on Russia, and that it might even be necessary to reconsider Europe’s energy cooperation with Russia. “Given the absence of an effective border control and buffer zone in eastern Ukraine,” she said, “the EU is very far away from even considering the removal of sanctions.”

And she went on to say that Europe (Germany certainly) would do its best to insure that a reasonable situation results from the cease-fire in Ukraine, but given the present conditions in the lands in dispute there is currently no option to lift existing sanctions. Instead it will be necessary to keep up the pressure to achieve a reasonable political process.

She is talking tough. An iron lady? In any case she went on to indicate that it might be necessary for Germany, and Europe, to reduce their dependence on Russian gas. Germany gets now about one third of its supply from Russia and Ms. Merkel says that they will have to rethink their energy policy in the medium- to long-term if the present violation of basic principles of nations at peace by Russia continues.

Her language does make her into a kind of iron lady, speaking the truth to power, or better in the present instance, calling out injustice, in this case Russia’s aggressive behavior in the Ukraine, although she did avoid the term aggression.

Sylvie Kauffman, the editorial director and a former editor in chief of Le Monde, in another article, To Russia with Love, this in the opinion section of the Times and also on Monday, makes it clear just how alone Ms. Merkel is in Western Europe, to be hanging tough and speaking the truth. (In what follows below I try to give at least the sense and principal direction of Ms. Kauffmann’s article, but not every word, not every paragraph.)

It’s not only the actor Gérard Depardieu, his new residency in Saransk, Mordovia (a republic of the Russian Federation), where he benefits from a 6 percent income tax rate as a “private entrepreneur” and his antics about how proud he is to have become Russian….

When Sergei Naryshkin, the president of the Duma, the Russian Parliament’s lower house, came to Paris on Sept. 1, he had no problem meeting with French businessmen and legislators, even though he is not supposed to set foot in France, and Mr. Naryshkin is one of 119 Russian and Ukrainian individuals targeted by waves of European Union sanctions.

However, Naryshkin was let into France as the guest of the Council of Europe, an international organization based in Strasbourg. He certainly made the most of it: The highlight of his visit was a packed conference hosted by the Russian ambassador in Paris, where C.E.O.s of French companies with big investments in Russia and 10 members of the French National Assembly and senators from various political parties listened to his presentation of the “internal conflict” in Ukraine….

Ten days later, a group of 14 French legislators was in Moscow, again meeting Mr. Naryshkin and his Duma colleagues. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who sits on the board of two Russian banks, is another visitor to Moscow and critic of sanctions….

The French fondness for Russia makes for strange bedfellows. Mr. Putin’s staunchest ally in France is Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front, whom Moscow has been actively courting for some time. Ms. Le Pen admires the Russian president’s “patriotic economic model,” as well as his defense of conservative values and his stand on homosexuality.

Marine Le Pen also got a warm welcome from Mr. Naryshkin when she visited Moscow in June. And she concurred with far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon when he described as an “unbearable betrayal” the decision by President François Hollande to suspend the delivery of two Mistral battleships to Russia….

If this pro-Russia current crosses party lines from the far right to the far left, it is because it is based on a strong suspicion that the United States wants to return to the Cold War and drag Europe in with it. Businessmen might not have such ideological motivations; many are privately critical of Mr. Putin’s erratic behavior, but argue that their companies are much more exposed in Russia than American businesses and that they need to protect their investments….

In the decades after World War II, the Soviet Union and attitudes toward communism tore apart the French left. Today, Russia and Mr. Putin are again a dividing factor — but along different lines….

After the Georgia crisis, Russia and Ukraine went off the E.U.’s strategic radar screen, replaced by a cosy neighborhood policy. From that point of view, Crimea, Donbass and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 have provided a brutal wake-up call.

It does seem that at this time Ms. Merkel is the only prominent European who has heard the “brutal wake-up call.” Would that she be listened to.