Talking about peace when there is no peace*

Jim Hodgson, May 23, 2023

Peace is a pre-condition for any possibility of transforming the global economy for the sake of humanity and the Earth – or, more modestly, achieving those elusive Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

In the weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I added my voice to those of others who pleaded for peace talks. In recent weeks, new efforts from church leaders and global South political leaders are underway to bring the sides together. But peace initiatives are either ignored or disdained by most media and “Western” leaders.

Headlines and images from Mexico’s La Jornada and Argentina’s Página 12 newspapers. On the left, Lula asks that a new Cold War between China and the United States be avoided and defends the use for currencies other than the U.S. dollar for international trade. On the right, from top: Zelensky asks for support from G7 powers; G7 leaders create new sanctions against Russia and debated in Hiroshima the nuclear arsenals of other countries; The Vatican makes its peace effort official so as to end the war in Ukraine.

Case in point: the participation at the recent G7 meeting in Hiroshima of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra ModiFinancial Times dismissed Lula and Modi as Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s apologists.” Their participation was eclipsed by that of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who did meet with Modi, but blamed scheduling conflicts for not meeting Lula – and then joked with reporters that Lula was more disappointed than he was. 

Well, yes. Lula’s interest in peace has everything to do with funds diverted to war and away from efforts for authentic development that could help alleviate the other crises of climate change and migration. (Lula also said that Zelensky did not show up for a meeting they had scheduled.)

In Hiroshima,  Lula criticized the division (or re-division) of countries into two antagonistic blocs and abandonment of a multipolar world that seemed to be emerging in the wake of the pre-1991 Cold War.

Meanwhile, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was not even invited. But he and other African leaders are involved in a peace initiative to end the war in Ukraine. In a news conference May 17, he said he had had “separate telephone calls” with Putin and Zelensky over the weekend, where he presented an initiative drawn up by Zambia, Senegal, the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Egypt and South Africa. Leaders of the six countries say they plan to travel to Russia and Ukraine “as soon as is possible.”

In his weekly newsletter on May 15, Ramaphosa said South Africa would not be drawn “into a contest between global powers” despite having faced “extraordinary pressure” to do so.

“We do not accept that our non-aligned position favours Russia above other countries. Nor do we accept that it should imperil our relations with other countries,” Ramaphosa said.

During the same week, Chinese envoy Li Hui visited Moscow, his first stop in a European tour that would also take him to Kyiv, to develop a 12-point plan proposed by Beijing on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. 

Last September, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for establishment of a Commission for Dialogue and Peace that would facilitate the search for a solution through negotiations. 

Nobody has a “magical formula to achieve peace,” writes Juan Pablo DuchLa Jornada’s Moscow correspondent. “But [proponents of peace] hope that Russia and Ukraine would establish a ceasefire and sit down to negotiate their conditions with the objective of putting an end to the bloodshed and devastation. All that is lacking is that Moscow and Kiev by open to making concessions – the first not wanting to cede Ukrainians regions already annexed and the latter refusing to lose territory – but without concessions, it does not seem possible to open a path toward peace in a war that, say what you will, only brings calamities.”

WCC delegation with Ukrainian church leaders in Kyiv on May 11 (WCC photo); Patriarch Kirill with WCC general secretary in Moscow on May 17 (ROC photo).

Meanwhile, the World Council of Church and Pope Francis have both renewed their efforts for peace. 

In mid-May, a delegation led by WCC general secretary Jerry Pillay visited church and government leaders in Kyiv and Moscow. In Kyiv, the WCC delegation met with senior leaders of both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, two churches whose dispute has intensified since the Russian invasion. In Moscow, they met with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and widely viewed as a supporter of President Putin.

For his part, Pope Francis has given Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi the task of leading a mission in hopes it can “ease tensions” in the Ukraine war and lead to a path of peace. The pope has said has said he would go to Kyiv if such a journey would help bring peace, but said that could happen only if he could also visit Moscow.

* The phrase “peace, peace, when there is no peace” is found in Jeremiah 6:14 and later at 8:11. It is also found in Ezekiel 13:10 and 16. The direct criticism is of those who build flimsy walls and smear them with whitewash: a makeshift solution to a problem. The metaphor then and now is points to poor leadership. In our time, we can think of leaders who promise that war will lead to peace. “They have treated the wounds of my people carelessly,” writes the prophet Jeremiah, “saying ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

War Never Again – Westerplatte, Gdansk, Poland (site of the first battle of World War II in 1939).

One thought on “Talking about peace when there is no peace*

  1. To me, a big factor too often not mentioned in this NATO provoked war with Russian occurring in Ukraine is the profits being generated for investors in design and production of weaponry. Canada supports sending weaponry while lobbying against peace negotiations. Apparently over $8 billion since 2020. Meantime Ukrainian people suffer and die. Also, funds and constructive focus on addressing the social and environmental calamities already upon us are diverted to this and other wars.


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