Welcome to Monday, and happy new year from the Worldcrunch crew! 🎊
Ukraine claims 400 Russian forces were killed in a missile strike in the Donetsk region, Lula is sworn in as Brazil bids adeus to Pelé. Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based The Initium focuses on the very particular situation of China’s Catholics, caught between Xi Jinping and Pope Francis.
[*Inuktitut - Canada, Alaska]
Tolstoy's lesson: Why boycotting Russian culture is such a bad idea
The Ukrainian Culture Minister has called for a total boycott of Russian culture. But Gaspard Koenig writes in French daily Les Echos that such a move would play into the hands of the enemy:
Oleksandr Tkachenko, the Ukrainian Culture minister, recently called for an international boycott of Russian culture — a measure that has already been put into practice by some Western opera theaters and universities.
Yet, despite the utter sympathy that we feel for Ukraine, the answer for Tkachenko is clear: No.
Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.
Today, Tkachenko argues that Russia is trying to undermine Ukrainian’s culture by destroying its cultural heritage or by eradicating Ukrainian’s language in occupied territories. And that’s precisely the reason why Ukraine, which wishes to be the herald of European democracies, shouldn’t use the same means nor the same logic as its enemy.
A war against an autocrat’s army shouldn’t turn into a fight against a whole people, and even less against a whole civilization — with its past and its artists.
The risk of essentializing Russian identity goes beyond the cultural sphere. And it’s disturbing to see a laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, such as Oleksandra Matviichuk, who runs a Ukrainian NGO that advocates for civil liberties, refusing to be interviewed alongside her co-winner Yan Rachinsky, who runs Memorial (another famous Russian organization for defense of human rights). If Nobel Peace Prize Laureates fail to make this distinction, who will be able to properly make it?
Russian culture deserves even less to be suppressed. Indeed, from Gogol mocking the tsarist bureaucracy to Solzhenitsyn denouncing Soviet crimes, Russian authors have often been some of the most effective critics of political power. Actually, perhaps opening up War and Peace wouldn’t be totally useless. It could help to understand the current war’s ebbs and flows, the imperial craziness, and the indoctrination of a certain portion of the population.
Through his novel, Leo Tolstoy narrates the French invasion of Russia. And one shouldn’t think that civilians were spared at the time, nor that the law of war was respected. In his work, Tolstoy thus describes the behavior of two French soldiers in Moscow: one of them steals an old man’s boots, and the other one is about to rape a young Armenian woman.
The French invasion of Russia can therefore be seen as a mirror — of course, polished by history and literature — of the current tragedy that Ukraine is facing.
Tolstoy also provides us with more general instructions on war, and they are particularly instructive, especially in the epilogue. In his novel, he also becomes a philosopher of history and mocks the pompous reasons that are invoked, through the war, what were actually no more than cold-blood assassinations.
“Men march from West to East, massacre their peers, and while doing so, they perform speeches on the glory of France, on the perfidy of England, and so on.”
Above all, Tolstoy forces men to face their responsibilities. “These justifications,” he goes on, “free the men from facing their responsibilities.” But every Russian conscript today should assume the responsibility evoked by Tolstoy, by choosing to desert rather than to kill (and the Ukrainian army has opened a hotline supporting Russian deserters).
Contemporary Russian culture also participates in resistance. Despite censorship, scathing pieces still find their way to publication in alternative publishing houses such as Popcorn Books.
Summer in a Pioneer Tie is a novel depicting a homosexual love story in a Soviet summer camp has sold around 200,000 copies since it was published last year. The novel is an open critique of communism’s last years, and tenderly depicts LGBTQ+ relationships. As a result, the book is a straight attack of the conservative values that the Kremlin has been promoting.
Actually, the book became such a phenomenon that the Russian Parliament has just unanimously voted a law banning the depiction of “non-traditional sexual relationships.”
Yet, Tkachenko remains right on one thing: culture is a weapon. But instead of negating it, culture should be used against our adversary.
— Gaspard Koenig / Les Echos
• Ukraine claims missile attack on Russia killed 400: Ukraine says a missile attack on Makiivka, in the Russian-occupied region of Donetsk, killed an estimated 400 Russian soldiers in the early hours of Jan. 1. Pro-Russian authorities have acknowledged that attack but the number of casualties has not been confirmed. Meanwhile, multiple overnight strikes targeting Kyiv caused power outages, the latest in a series of attacks that were stepped up over the recent holidays.
• Pope Benedict lying in state: Pope Benedict XVI’s lying in state has started in St. Peter’s Basilica, drawing tens of thousands of devotees to the Vatican, ahead of Thursday's funeral — the first time a pope’s funeral will be led by his successor. German-born Joseph Ratzinger died on Dec. 31 at age 95, nearly 10 years after becoming the first pontiff in six centuries to resign.
• Mexican jail attack kills 14: Ten prison guards and four prisoners were killed after unidentified gunmen opened fire on a jail in Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico, allowing at least 24 inmates to escape.
• Recession ahead for one third of world: The head of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva forecasts that one-third of the world economy will be in recession this year, adding that the spread of COVID will make the next couple of months “tough for China.”
• France asks other EU countries to test Chinese travelers for COVID: France’s Health Minister François Braun has asked other members of the European Union to follow suit and require travelers from China to provide a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed in. EU officials had failed to reach a consensus before the Christmas holidays, as Beijing relaxed its strict “Zero-COVID” policy despite a renewed coronavirus outbreak.
• Brazil welcomes Lula… Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva was sworn in as Brazil's new president on Sunday, returning to the presidency after a 12-year hiatus that saw him serve time in jail over corruption allegations. Lula used his inaugural speech to vow a drastic change of course from far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, who opted to skip the handover ceremony altogether, instead flying to Orlando, Florida, as he faces various investigations from his time in office.
• …and bids farewell to Pelé:A wake for Pelé will be held today at the Santos Football stadium, before a private burial gets underway. The Brazilian soccer giant died last week at the age of 82 in São Paulo.
Italian daily La Stampa writes that former pontiff Benedict XVI has entered "the Father's house", as the Pope Emeritus's body is lying in state in the Vatican. German-born Joseph Ratzinger, who died on Dec. 31 at age 95, was the first pontiff since 1415 to abdicate the papacy over health reasons. His successor, Pope Francis, is expected to lead a "simple" ceremony for Benedict XVI’s funeral on Thursday.
Bye-bye kuna, hello euro! On Sunday, Croatia bade farewell to its national currency as it officially switched to the euro and entered Europe’s open-border Schengen zone. The switch comes a decade after Zagreb joined the European Union. In Croatian, kuna means “marten”, a species of weasel whose pelt was used as a form of payment in the region in the Middle Ages and which was already depicted on a coin in circulation for 150 years.
Between Xi Jinping and Pope Francis, China's Catholics are still stuck in limbo
An agreement between the Vatican and Beijing was quietly renewed recently. However, China still views Catholicism with a mix of deep suspicion and general distraction. Meanwhile the faithful and pastors are caught between two very different worlds, reports Hong Kong-based The Initium.
🇨🇳 The atheist Chinese Communist Party considers religion to be a spiritual opium, and accuses Catholicism in particular of being an accomplice of Western imperialism. In order to resolve the plight of Chinese Catholics, after the efforts of three popes, the Vatican and Beijing signed a two-year Provisional Agreement on Nomination of Bishops in 2018. On Oct. 22, when the world’s eyes were focused on Xi Jinping’s groundbreaking third term as president, which is also the expiry date of the previous agreement, the Vatican immediately announced the renewal of the agreement for another two years.
🇻🇦Since taking office in 2013, Pope Francis has been in touch with Beijing through cultural exchanges and diplomacy. After Wuhan became the target of the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020, the Vatican sent a helping hand by facilitating a meeting between the Holy See's Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi around the Munich Security Conference in Germany. This is the highest level meeting of officials from both sides. Three years after the COVID-19 epidemic, Sino-Vatican relations have cooled, with the Communist Party repeatedly refusing face-to-face talks on the grounds of epidemic control. In late August, the Holy See suddenly received an invitation from China, as the Chinese Communist Party was preparing for the 20th National Congress, which they interpreted as a sign that the Chinese Communist Party had room to manage its relations with the Holy See.
✝️ When the agreement was signed in 2018, the Vatican remained optimistic, with Pope Francis calling on the faithful and the Chinese government to "overcome their mutual hostility" and exhorting the faithful to have a strong faith in God. Papal diplomats who have dealt with Beijing over the years have increasingly wondered "are the Chinese to be trusted?" Before the 2018 agreement was signed, a senior member of the Holy See involved in the negotiations said that a bad agreement was better than no agreement at all. Today, 60 to 70% of Chinese clergy would believe that the agreement has so far been a failure. Chinese Catholics make up less than one percent of the country's population, are nowhere near as strong as the Cold War-era Polish Catholic Church, and are more divided than the Vietnamese Church.
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➡️ Watch the video: THIS HAPPENED
“There’s a war raging in the middle of Europe. For me, this meant meeting many interesting people."
— — Germany’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht is under fire for her tone-deaf “happy new year” message, which she published on her personal Instagram account. Standing in a Berlin street with new year’s fireworks going off in the background, Lambrecht awkwardly links the war in Ukraine to the personal connections she was able to make in 2022.
📸 PHOTO DU JOUR
As part of an elaborate inauguration day ceremony, Brazil's incoming President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva paraded in a convertible Rolls Royce on the way to the swearing-in in Brasilia. Holding up the "L" for Lula sign, the 77-year-old is accompanied by his wife Rosangela Silva, as well as Vice President Geraldo Alckmin and his wife Maria Lucia Ribeiro. — Photo: Santiago Mazzarovich/dpa/ZUMA
• Out With The Car, In With The Urban "Super-Island" — MENSAGEM
✍️ Newsletter by Bertrand Hauger, Laure Gautherin and Hugo Perrin
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