24 May 2022: Regal un-repentance; Corruption, old and New; 1492 and all that; The right Rx for Ukraine?; An amusing plaque; & Other stuff

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza 

The visiting ex-king has been rebuked by the government for his failure to ‘explain & apologise’. His supporters won’t care un bledo about this. ‘Explanations? What about?’ he replied curtly when asked by journalists outside the yachting club if he would try to clarify the situation when he met his son. How bout Noblesse oblige? Anyway, the (PP)mayor of Sanxenxo says he’s coming back here in June, to attend the Sailing World Championship. Lucky us.

Which reminds me . . . Alongside revelations of new incidences of political corruption, we’re now enjoying a return to those of a very senior member of Rajoy’s PP government – Ms Cospedal  – and of the ex-Presidenta of the Madrid region – Ms Aguirre y Gil de Biedma. I very much doubt the majority of Spaniards are much interested in either the new or the old. Es lo que hay. Of Ms Aguirre, someone has written: Resulta curioso que sus opositores suelan referirse a Esperanza Aguirre como ‘la marquesa’ cuando, en realidad, es [solo] condesa de Bornos. A countess end not a Marquess. La condesa de la corrupción, some say.

If you have a deep interest in medieval Spain, you could well enjoy Joshua Cohen’s The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family. This novel highlights the theory of the father of the Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu that the Conversos expelled in 1492, along with still-practising Jews, were genuine Christians and that they were all exiled not on religious but on racial grounds – for failing to pass the test of limpieza de sangre. This theory that Spain gave anti-Semitic racism to the world has never been widely accepted, I understand. The novel suggests that Benzion Netanyahu was not a very  nice chap but I have no idea how accurate a portrait this is. Wiki says he struggled to fit into Israeli academia without success, perhaps due to a combination of personal and political reasons. In other words, not very popular even in Israel.

As in  the UK, those in the Galician hotel and restaurant business are finding it very hard to find staff ahead of the summer upsurge in demand. Everyone thinks they know the reason in the UK – the post-Brexit exodus of young Continentals – but what is the reason for our local problem? Post Covid, are the young work-shy? Or too well paid to do nothing?

Ukraine v. Russia

Richard North today:  It is extremely difficult to find reliable, coherent information – and not at all from a single media source. . . . Overall, the impression gained yesterday hasn’t changed, where the indications were that the Russians were making steady progress in the Donbass, with Ukrainian forces under sustained pressure. 

Meanwhile, Dr Kissinger – surprisingly still alive – has joined the chorus of ‘realists’ demanding that Ukraine bring an end to the war by ceding territory to Russia. As he probably would have done to the UK back in 1940. Just give Hitler some of your colonies and leave him alone on the Continent, perhaps. In the article below, the British historian Max Hastings echos Dr K’s medical advice that the Ukrainians swallowing a bitter pill.

Finally . . .

In the Welsh university town of Aberystwyth, a plaque was installed on a park bench in honour of a certain Huw Davies*. But the authorities removed it. I can’t for the life of me understand why but here it is for you to judge:-

* ‘Davies’ is the Welsh version of the English name ‘Davis’. Or vice versa. In Britain, but not in other Anglo countries, they’re pronounced the same way.

Boom Boom! When Louis Philippe was deposed, why did he lose less than any of his subjects? Because, while he lost only a crown, they lost a sovereign: Edith Bertha Ordway, ‘The Handbook of Conundrums’.

For passing readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.


Ukraine must seek peace talks to have any hope of revival: Max Hastings, The Times

The towering certainty, 90 days since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, is that Russia has not achieved victory, and is not going to. The Ukrainians have shown magnificent fighting spirit, tactical skill and resolution. As for Russia, it is hard to decide whether Vladimir Putin’s army is more disgraced by its incompetence or its savagery.

In the Second World War Russian generals earned the admiration of the world. They were repulsive human beings, indifferent to losses, including hundreds of thousands of their own men shot for alleged cowardice. But they won their battles, especially from 1943 onwards. Today, by contrast, Putin’s commanders seem to have forfeited the skills of their forebears. It may be years before we learn the full truth of what has been taking place in the Russian army. Tactical defeats feed upon themselves — the heavier the losses, the harder it becomes to induce troops to renew attacks with conviction. Whereas the Ukrainians have been fighting nimbly and imaginatively, the invaders’ initiatives and responses remain sluggish. Russian conscript morale is rock-bottom.

In providing Ukraine with means to defend itself, for the hundredth time since 1945 Washington has shown that its role is critical. Though the UK has also contributed energetically and honourably, the US has supplied ten times as much hardware as any other nation, twice as much as all other countries put together. Be in no doubt: had America withheld support from Ukraine, as might well have happened under President Trump, then with or without the British it would have lost the war. The EU, excepting Poland and the Baltic states, has failed miserably to support Ukraine as it deserves. This is partly because of European dependence on Russian energy. But there is also a deeper malaise, evident since the end of the Cold War. Western Europeans still recoil from shedding blood in any cause. It remains uncertain that their defence and security policies will henceforward be galvanised as their early rhetoric promised. President Macron still appears to flinch from an outright collision with Putin.

As for Ukraine, while much of the world hails its people’s achievement, stubborn challenges persist. British ministers, headed by Liz Truss and Ben Wallace, have diminished themselves by their irresponsible rhetoric, especially the foreign secretary with her insistence that there must be no peace while one Russian remains on Ukrainian soil.

We are not the ones fighting and dying. It is sadly unattractive to embrace proxy bellicosity for domestic political advantage. Where this war stops can only be a Ukrainian decision. Some of us have argued from the outset that it is one thing to halt the Russian onslaught, as President Zelensky’s forces have accomplished, but a far tougher proposition to expel Putin’s forces from Donbas. The Ukrainian president showed by his words on Saturday that he himself recognises this is unlikely to prove attainable. To reconquer the east, his commanders would need to manage complex all-arms operations. The Russians will remain formidable defenders.

On both sides economic pressures are building, likely to prove as critical to the outcome as immediate events on the battlefield. The cash costs of the struggle are mind-boggling. All the participants’ and suppliers’ inventories of high-tech weapons — even those of the US — are deeply depleted. Industry cannot instantly gear up to restock them.

We still do not know how horrible the Russian leader is willing to be — whether, to check a Ukrainian counter-offensive or to achieve something he might call victory, Putin is willing to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Some American experts remain intensely wary of this risk.

Professor Yehezkel Dror, Israel’s influential strategy guru, argued last week that Zelensky’s western allies were pursuing recklessly self-indulgent policies, ignoring the fundamental reality, that Ukraine remains the weaker party: “Emotional name-calling, such as branding Putin as a war criminal and calling for a regime change in Moscow, may be morally and ethically correct and honourable, but it is also a form of strategic madness. Russia is, and will remain, an indispensable major partner in the global arena.”

Some pundits suggest that the war will either drag on indefinitely, or become frozen, with the killing suspended by stalemate or a ceasefire, but no settlement. The objection to such an outcome is that it would block the revival of Ukraine. It also renders impossible recovery from the frightening global food chain disruption that is already taking place.

Benn Steil of the US Council on Foreign Relations has published a powerful essay, arguing that there can be no Ukrainian resurrection as long as it borders a Russia committed to its ruin. Steil wrote: “The regrettable but inescapable conclusion is that long-term, credible internal and external security is a precondition for a successful Marshall Plan in Ukraine, and that the United States and its allies are incapable of providing it . . . Russia may never be able to conquer Ukraine, but it is more than capable of making it a hellish place to live and do business.”

Too much British political and media attention focuses on gloating over Russian battlefield humiliations. These are real enough, but what matters most to the Ukrainian people is how the shooting can be stopped, and their lives start again. An absolute Ukrainian military “victory”, with Russia condemned to the permanent pariah status it has earned, remains unattainable. Sooner or more likely later a negotiation will have to take place. The challenge will be to identify guarantees against Putin renewing his aggression at will.

One comment

  1. There are no guarantees that Putin will honour any ceasefires, which means Europe will remain under constant threat of invasion for the foreseeable futures, whatever Max Hastings writes. Regrettably, German politicians do not grasp the fundamentals. Berlin promised Poland Leopard tanks to replace those the nation handed over to Ukraine, but the German government failed to keep its word. This was reported by Die Welt with reference to a statement by Polish President Andrzej Duda, according to Ukrinform.

    “The government has not kept its promise. And frankly, we’re very disappointed. We have provided Ukraine with a large number of tanks because we believe that this is our responsibility as a neighbour,” he said.


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