There is nothing much else to talk about this week except the war in Ukraine. The horrors grow worse by the day. I feel guilty just looking on, as cities are destroyed and people flee, including Scottish families caught up in the chaos.
There have been small demonstrations in the main Scottish cities. There have been church services and prayer meetings and condemnation of the Putin regime from our politicians. And there is a growing humanitarian aid effort by the major charities and by groups of ordinary citizens. But mostly, we can only wring our hands and our hearts in despair.
The Russian consulate building, in one of the grand boulevards in the west end of Edinburgh, is shuttered and deserted. Two police officers guard its entrance and there are barriers to keep back the regular demonstrators. There are said to be a hundred Scots volunteering to go and join the Ukrainian army.
We are shutting the door on Putin’s Russia. The Scottish Government says it is cutting off agricultural and forestry grants to the handful of Highland estates owned by Russian oligarchs. A Russian ship due to dock at the Flotta oil terminal in Orkney has been turned away. The football authorities say no Scottish team will play against Russia. The Edinburgh Festival has cancelled its invitation to the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, said to be a close friend of Vladimir Putin.
All these are pitifully small sanctions against a war-monger like Putin but Scotland is limited in what it can do on its own. Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland is willing to welcome Ukrainian refugees. Indeed she has urged the UK Government to join the rest of Europe in offering three year visas to anyone from Ukraine who wishes to come to Scotland, not just close relatives of the small Ukrainian community already here. There is a Ukrainian church in Edinburgh and the city has been twinned with Kyiv for the last 30 years.
As I watch the Second World War scenes from Ukraine on television I wonder if this is yet another revolutionary moment in our world history. We thought we’d seen the end of tanks on the streets of Europe, buildings in ruins, women and children clambering onto trains, queues outside banks and the wounded being brought into hospitals struggling to cope.
It’s enough to cause a major re-think of where our civilisation is going. And this comes after two years of a global pandemic, an economic slump and increasing signs of a planet in climate revolt. I wonder if there will be – as there was in 1945 – a recommitment to the United Nations, a new insistence on human rights, and a re-organisation of our economy.
These are big themes, no doubt being explored in thoughtful universities, think tanks and even by retired politicians, like Gordon Brown who has just published a book on such matters. But we all have a part to play in thinking these issues through, while also handling the day-to-day business of living – coping with the Covid rules (still in force in Scotland, unlike England), facing the higher costs of energy and wondering when the proper spring will come.
A stroll through my local cemetery was a good place to try to balance the etheral and the mundane. The snowdrops will soon give way to crocuses and daffodils and the “ordinary” news of this week will give way to the news of next week.
But for that it’s worth, here it is. Covid cases are up to over 9,000 a day (because we are now counting second infections) with 1,200 in hospital and an average of 10 deaths a day. There are political arguments over the government’s new “economic strategy”, over young people in prison, and over reform of the gender laws.
And plans are getting under way for Edinburgh Festival this summer. The violinist Nicola Benedetti has been appointed director of the International Festival and Benny Higgins, the new chairman of the Fringe Society, has promised “a more glorious festival than ever.”
It’s worth remembering, in this time of war in Europe, that the Edinburgh Festival began in 1947 when the world was emerging from that other war and peace-making and re-construction were in the air. Let’s hope there is a post-war reformation this time.