One to keep the conspiracy theorists happy
Nutters of the world rejoice! Yep, all those raging loons who reckon the EU is a giant Catholic conspiracy to reverse the Reformation and subjugate us all to the laws of Rome (intriguingly often having a lot of crossover with the crowd who seem to think "dhimmi" Europe is heading towards the Caliphate) are likely to have a field day with Pope Benedict XVI's latest little foray into EU affairs, arguing Christianity (aka Catholicism) to be central to the European ideal. The pro-lifers are also getting excited about Benny's hopes for EU-wide bans on abortion and the like - well, they would, wouldn't they?
This all comes on the back of Popey's meeting with the centre-right European Parliament EPP group leader Hans-Gert Poettering, largely unreported in the English language press - though there is a bit more if you read Spanish or Italian... Poettering has, however, managed to spew a wonderful load of hyperbolic garbage should you be arsed to track his silly pronouncements down, with cack like "The EU constitution is a 'holy text'" oozing from his lips along with blatant untruths about how the (largely anti-Turkish EU-entry) EPP "aims for new relationships, for which Christians and Muslims can be privileged partners as believers."
From a British perspective, this Papal intrusion into EPP affairs could be interesting. After all, the Tories - currently a part of the EPP group, though David Cameron has hinted at a pull-out - were for many years associated with the Catholic Jacobite claim to the throne. Could this be a true back to basics for the Tories? Will they be promoting the Stuart claim? Or will this be just the excuse they need to withdraw from the EPP and go it alone in the right-wing hinterland of EU parliamentary politics with the likes of UKIP, Kilroy and the fascists? The EPP is currently the only viable centre-right group in the European Parliament, but if it starts allying itself with Catholic interests, can the Church Party afford to remain allied to what could end up pitched as a Catholic front organisation while continuing to laud the Church of England to keep its core voters onside?
Of course, I'm being facetious, and it's all a lot more complex and (a little) less silly than all that. It's also no coincidence that Benny's spouting his latest God-approved guff shortly before the Italian elections. Is Rome trying to influence the people of Italy to vote in favour of Berlusconi? Most likely - the Church has always been keen to keep close to the wealthy (how else can they afford all those lovely marble buildings and golden chalices?), and as Italy's richest man Berlusconi's the obvious bloke to get on board. Shame there are no Michelangelos around to gain lucrative commissions from the Vatican these days, really... Maybe they could make do with Tracey Emin?
If you can be bothered, the Pope's full address is typically bland nonsense, but easy to spin beyond all recognition, should you be that way inclined (which, following a nice liquid lunch and a heavy week in the office, I evidently am). I mean yes, as the Catholic Church's main PR man he has to argue his case, but Christ,
"By valuing its Christian roots, Europe will be able to give a secure direction to the choices of its citizens and peoples, it will strengthen their awareness of belonging to a common civilization and it will nourish the commitment of all to address the challenges of the present for the sake of a better future."
Bugger off, Benny - Christianity is obviously central to European culture, and only an idiot would deny it. But the Catholic Church has also - bar the 20th century's flirtations with the new religions of fascism and communism - been the single biggest cause of chaos and rupture between nations in the continent's history. The last fifty years have seen an increasing movement towards secularism continent-wide, and fifty years of peace. The only conflict on the continent in that time - the Yugoslav unpleasantness - being categorised by some particularly vicious massacres of people based on their religion.
Hardly something to aspire to, I'd say.(This has been an alcohol-fuelled exercise in exasperated, under-researched exaggeration and misrepresentation. Normal service will resume at some point. Probably.)
Ukraine election pointers
Looks like the Guardian has recommended this place as a source for Ukraine info thanks to my liveblogging of the "Orange Revolution" back in November/December 2004 (see here for the relevant posts).
I am, however, massively out of touch with the situation over there - if you're interested, try Foreign Notes, Orange Ukraine, Neeka's Backlog, Leopolis, Publius Pundit's Ukraine archives and the (English language) Kyiv Post.
Be careful though - the Kyiv Post is also perpetuating the "Yanukovich is pro-Russian, Yuschenko pro-Western" nonsense over-simplification that took many of us in during the Orange Revolution. Hell - even the BBC's doing it... It really is nowhere near that simple - and there's a lot more to it than mere post Cold War political repositioning going on out in Ukraine, with dodgy business links and behind-the-scenes financial/personal ties between almost all the major political figures in the country that are enough to put even Blair's Labour party to shame...
Personally I'm rooting for Yulia Tymoshenko, but only because she's rather prettier to look at than the other major figures (despite her bizarre hairstyle). Her origins are as uncertain as her intentions - much like the rest of the leading candidates.
In other words, whoever wins by the time all the votes are counted (probably sometime tomorrow), no one is likely to be able to predict the ramifications. Foreign Notes, however, seems to have been doing the most consistent job of informed, largely unpartisan coverage of political events over in Ukraine for the last year or so. Almost certainly the best place to start in an attempt to unravel and understand the Byzantine rivalries of the place.