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Thoughts on War

A dream of many: Ukraine in the EU.

Although on this blog I mostly post poetry, it’s usually poetry inspired by events that have been happening to me or around me, and I have often posted my thoughts on political events in the past. 

These events have always been about places I know, from having lived there, or at least visited and know enough about to have formed an opinion. Thus I haven’t written about the Arab spring uprisings, nor the civil war in Syria, nor, despite the horror of it, the war in Yemen.

In some instances I’ve been reticent because it’s hard to say much without offending som people who I’d rather not. As an author, I don’t want to alienate my readers, nor nail my colours to a mast in full sight of the world when there are many colours and many masts, all of which may (or may not) be valid, when it’s not my place to get into, for example, US politics. I wasn’t a fan of Trump’s, but I know that millions there were, and I know some of these personally. I’d rather everyone read my books, not just people of one persuasion, and I hope they’ll find something in my books that might sway them to think the way I do. 

In the present case, however, it’s impossible not to opine. 

Although I don’t know much about Ukraine, and the nearest I’ve been is Prague (or Leningrad – not sure which is closer), it’s Europe.

I’m a European.

I’ve said many times that my family is fully committed to the European integration ideals.

My kids have two passports and speak three languages and have a mix of many cultures. Tell them to decide what they are and the only answer is European. They can’t split themselves into any single country or culture. Nor should they have to.

If Ukraine wants to be part of the EU, then they should be welcomed. And we in the EU should not worry about losing our identities if we have a stronger union – just as being Basque doesn’t mean you can’t feel Spanish too, or more correctly, being in a country called Spain does not mean you can’t be Basque, so being in Europe doesn’t mean we’ll be less Irish.

The invasion of Ukraine is so clearly wrong that it’s uncontroversial to condemn the actions of Putin and the generals who obey his orders. The poor bastards doing the fighting are not to blame, nor the Russians, and Belarusians who’ve had to live with corrupt and psychotic megalomaniacs running their lives for the last twenty and more years.

As an Irishman (I do only have one passport and my 4 languages are really 1+ fractions) I’m sensitive to the questions posed on social media about what one would do if it were our country being invaded. 

Well, that’s an interesting question. 

Ireland had an invasion a long time ago. 

We didn’t completely succeed in getting rid of them. Some would say we’ve not quite finished with that task.

It’s a complicated situation.

And at least in the place I lived in, it was not encouraged to involve ourselves in anything about it, though we knew of people who did. 

The point, in the case of Ireland, a part of Europe – as the recent Brexit debacle has clearly shown everyone, even those people who had as much idea of our place in the world as they had of that of Ukraine until Mr Trump’s impeachment – we don’t solve such conflicts with tanks and bombs and guns (like the song laments). 

The cultural connection between Russians and Ukrainians are very probably similar to that between British and Irish. We’re not the same, but sometimes outsiders mix us up, and that’s because we’re closely tied, which should make us allies rather than enemies, who can solve our differences peacefully.

To return to the question, however, of whether the citizens of the Republic of Ireland would take up arms to defend our country if the British (to use the obvious example – the Scandinavians are hardly likely to take to their boats again) came over the (so far invisible, but who knows what might happen if they leave Johnson in charge of the place) border.

The answer at least for me, is yes. 

We aren’t going back to that shit again (a sentiment probably felt by the Ukrainians after eighty years of control by the USSR, I suppose, though we suffered ten times longer). 

In my case I don’t want to be in a war zone with the supply of insulin – and electricity needed to keep it cool – gone while we’re besieged (not that Dublin has a metro where anyone could take shelter from falling bombs to begin with). I’d rather die swiftly by lead poisoning during the fight than slowly succumbing to diabetic ketosis. If the war could be ended faster by my actions, if my daughter could survive on the insulin I’d thus not need, then it’d be worth it.

But I’ve lived a good half a life, and most of the people called to their country’s defence are those who have plenty to live for, in any place they can find that will take them in (often hard to do – look at the poor bastards who’ve tried to get into Europe from Morocco in the last few days, as Spain says one thing looking north with open arms while speaking volumes by actions as it turns its back on the south). 

The Irish “put up with” the “English” for so many centuries because they’re inclined to grumble and get on with life – the bastards at the top all alike in their eyes. Even when we had our periodic revolutions, those that took part were not necessarily admired by the general populace, never mind emulated. 

Again, it’s complicated, and nobody has any good answers.

I read a twitter feed yesterday about battalions of Chechen soldiers who have joined the Ukrainians, having been exiled (for whatever reason – forced or chosen) from their homeland after Putin’s war there. Some were saying they were traitors to their homeland (since Chechnya is still officially part of Russia), and other’s that the Chechen soldiers fighting for Russia (for whatever reason, too – money, lack of alternatives, etc.) were the traitors. This reminded me of the controversy of the Irish battalions who fought for the UK in the First World War and the opinions of the general public towards them – varying from heroes to traitors, too.

One must go with one’s own conscience in this respect, but I think at the least we have respect the choice of each to fight or not, as long as it’s not for the wrong side. And if someone is forced to fight for the wrong side, simply encourage them to do what they can to resist in any form they can – on a scale from simply being nice to the civilians to proceeding as slowly as possible without being court-martialled, to direct sabotage. 

So, in conclusion, we should all do what we can, and in some cases that means big steps forward, in others it means putting on an extra jumper and turning down the heating. 

To each their own, and all forward in the right direction. Too many around us, though, are dragging us backward. Only by mass movement can we catch them and sway them our way.

Will We Ever Rewild Ireland?

While every week practically, there is some good news from somewhere around Europe or further regarding the rewilding of our environment, it seems Ireland is sadly lagging behind. The golden eagles we restored to our landscape are struggling, and might go extinct again.

Golden_eagle_before_fledging_laurie_campbell.jpg

Irish golden eagle chick; photo taken from Golden Eagle Trust, credit Laurie Campbell

In the Italian Apennines, bears are making a comeback. A recent article said that bears, and other predators need some understanding, and the goodwill of the locals. If not, they’re doomed. The bears have this goodwill, though, and prevention is better than compensation. Electric fences keep bears out of bee hives and chicken coops, and sheep folds. The sheep have to be brought in closer to the farmhouses and protected. This makes it more expensive, but considering how much money could be earned by small towns and villages providing wildlife viewing opportunities and tourism as farmers get older, and their children leave because they don’t want to farm, that’s not considered an unwise investment. And the bears have always been around, if a little higher up the mountains.

As the reintroduction of lynx to Great Britain rolls forward, people ask if this predator will target sheep. The answer, from other countries, is that it’s very unlikely, as long as the rest of the ecosystem is functioning and the sheep aren’t in the forests – where really they’re not supposed to be.

These forests are, in fact, the reason lynx are needed in the environment – to help rejuvenate them. Over-population of deer is preventing regeneration, and lynx are designed to hunt deer. This article on CNN indicates that lynx reintroduction has support of 90% of Brits, and the effects on the environment are expected to be significant, if it follows the pattern of cascading impacts wolf reintroduction had in Yellowstone National Park.

The article also states that returning predators is “not a quick fix for long-term decline” because “the removal of predators for decades causes changes in a system that make it resistant to the effects of reintroduction.”

One of these changes is the attitude of humans, especially those who work the land. While the Apennine farmers have always lived with bears, and European farmers with lynx, and farmers in northern Spain with both bear and wolves, farmers in Ireland and Britain have had it relatively easy. The idea of changing their practices on a livestock that already loses money and only subsists because of EU payouts is rather daunting. “When projects do not have public support it can prove fatal for returning species.” As it is, we know how much goodwill predators have in Ireland.

It can be done, though. In China, where the tiger was extirpated 65 years ago, a few breeding females have recently been spotted. And rehabilitated Amur tigers have been released back into former haunts, one of which has given birth to two cubs.

Apart from ensuring that the predators are not overtly killed by those opposed, the habitat has to be suitable. Rewilding Europe helped rewild Dutch rivers penned in by dykes and canals, and only then could forest return enough to allow beaver recolonisation. The Amur tigers have thousands of square kilometres of birch forest still intact despite logging, and the lynx in Britain will only be released in forested areas.

Irish forest cover is still very low compared to the rest of Europe, with sheep still grazing in woodland, on top of whatever deer population is there. The land has been so changed that there is a debate as to whether the Scot’s Pine survived and can considered native. Some think it is an invasive on peat bogs and should be removed. It’s hard to be angry at Scot’s Pines at the best of times, though. A recent Economist article says it’s a waste of time and energy trying to eradicate even the bad ones, but considering that the bogs are not necessarily the best environment in terms of providing habitat for as wide a variety of species and a robust environment, I think we should give the Scot’s pine a free pass and let it get on with growing. It will help rewild the landscape, providing habitat for more species than the bogs do. As I said before, and George Moniot said yesterday in an interview, rewilding is not an attempt to turn any clocks back.

Having any trees grow might be hard, though, unless the sheep are reduced. Making our environment suitable for reintroduced predators will involve keeping such targets out of their way, and reducing the destruction they and their husbandry is responsible for.

The predators we’ve already reintroduced might die out again if we don’t.

In Donegal, a place as wild as we can claim to have in Ireland, the constantly overgrazed and burned bogs are not producing enough food for the golden eagles to breed. Instead of getting fat on hares and grouse, like they do in Scotland, the poor eagles have to hunt badgers and magpies.

News like that makes even the most gung-ho Irish rewilder pause and wonder, if the golden eagle can’t clasp a foothold on our island, what hope will the wolf have?

It will only have a hope if it finds the goodwill of the rural community.  And  George Monbiot said yesterday, the countryside is not inhabited only by farmers. If 90% of Britons favour having lynx in their forests, there, then we can hope a majority of Irish will also approve. And  when sheep inevitably disappear from out hillsides as the payments propping them up are removed from EU legislation, and in some places to help the much-loved golden eagles, the forests can return to provide a home for them and many other species.

 

YES! The Big Day has come

So the big day has arrived; no, not the release of my follow-up novel to Leaving the Pack (a second effort that was far from the rushed, written-in-two-months scramble to get another book on the presses much like the second album of a group that spent years perfecting their first, but which still might seem pretty much thrown together!) but the day that the Scots will vote to gain their independence.

I absolutely believe that the yes vote will win. It has to. Nothing else makes sense. As a citizen of a country that had to fight for its independence from the same country (let’s just, for ease equate England with the mainstay of power in Great Britain – after all, that’s the whole point) I can’t imagine that anyone who has been given the chance to gain the same state without any bloodshed would pass up on it. As Howard Zinn said, no war is worth it: and if the Scots had to fight for what they’ll be handed on a platter today, I’d say no, it’s not worth it. Not today, not anymore. It was worth it for us at the time, but times change. It’s worth it for others at the moment (there are too many separatist and civil wars going on to mention) but England is not as bad as it used to be and the situation of the average Scot not so dire.

Of course, they’re still threatening reprisals to stop people voting yes, but those are empty threats. Really.

It sounds a little like (and I am just adding my imagination here, because I have no experience of this) an abusive spouse threatening his/her partner to stop he or she walking out the door. For the sake of brevity, let’s call England the husband and Scotland the abused wife. The analogy is not that far off the mark – if everything actually was “better together” why the hell would there be a vote in the first place? It’s as if the abusive husband has said, “well, fuck you, then. Fuck off and leave me if you really want to. I bet you don’t have the balls to do it, though. You need me more than I need you.” Of course, now it looks like the show of bravado has backfired and the wife really is going away. So the husband has been forced to beg and plead, and yes, threaten. The first threat is that if she goes, then that’s that – no coming back .”If you walk out that door, then don’t come back.”

Bollox. Like any shithead abuser, he’ll be on his knees and crying, embracing her if she does commit the folly of returning, if things really are not better for her alone. Going back to geography for a moment, the British would be delighted if Ireland rejoined the Commonwealth. If we left the Euro and asked to join the pound, they’d be happy, too. What country would not take back another? Did the West Germans say, “No, Easties, we got used to life without you during the last forty years, and really, you’ll just be a drag on us, let’s just maintain the status quo, apart from the odd conjugal visit”? Look at Russia and Ukraine – the big bad bear can’t help trying to pull back a country that really doesn’t want to go back.

No, Scotland, if you really do want to go back one day (and believe me, even if things go to shite, you’ll see that independence is more than worth it – ask any kid who’s left his parent’s luxurious house to live in a bedsit with cardboard box table and no TV) then England will open her arms.

But one thing is not a threat – that you’ll never have this chance again. England will never allow another vote. They know the mistake they made even suggesting you could walk away so easily. They’ll fight any other movement to repeat the vote. If you say no, then you’ll have to fight, and bloodily, for a second opportunity. When it comes to simply walking out on the relationship rather than escaping through a basement window, it’s now or never. And never is a long time.