A GLOSSY magazine recently asked a friend to compile a list of "wars in progress" around the world, each entry of no more than 100 or so words. It made chilling reading to see set out in stark black and white the number of countries wracked by internal turmoil.
Many of these conflicts are carried on with little international interest. We are dimly aware of when they started, of a United Nations initiative here or a peacekeeping mission there trying to bring harmony to discord, but would be hard pressed to state quite what is going on where and why.
Christopher Hitchens' recent TV documentary for BBC on the divide in Cyprus made the point that for the people of that Mediterranean island time has stood still since the 1974 partition. Everything that happens in Cyprus is divided between the Turks in the north and the Greeks in the south. And nothing has changed or can change until that divide is healed.
Sometimes too there seems a rush to finish off wars. A round of peace talks are arranged and achieve modest successes. That war is then written off as over bar the shouting when in effect the "minor details" that are left to be sorted out can lead to a resumption of hostilities outside the gaze of the media and the international community.
Case in point
NICARAGUA is a case in point. I know some readers will at this point sigh and turn the page — not Nicaragua again! And yes they are right in that there is now a freely elected pro-western government in Managua and peace talks have taken place.
However, before we put the long and bloody conflict between Nicaragua's Sandinista government which lost power earlier this year and the US funded "contra" mercenaries down to experience, it is worth recording that peace has not yet broken out. Violetta Chamorra, the new head of Nicaragua, holds together a decidedly shakey coalition, and her brave decision to co-operate with the Sandinistas in the transformation from one regime to another has left many of her erstwhile "contra" willies fess than happy.
Some have vowed that the fighting will go on. And according to reports which trickle out of Nicaragua in some parts of the country people are still dying in this wholly unnecessary conflict, created by the White House, but now with a momentum of its own.
Another side of the conflict that seldom detains us for too long once the first overtures to peace have been made is the fate of the victims of that war.
The "contra" war left 30,000 people dead in a country of no more than three million. Many thousands were disabled. Resources are so scarce in post Sandinista Nicaragua that little is done to help these people. Basic health care facilities are in short supply and light-weight wheelchairs and the sort of disabled aids that we take for granted in western Europe are not even dreamt of. Mrs Chamorra's closeness to the White House does not seem enough to convince the Americans to go a small way in giving reconstruction money to match the estimated $6 billion they spent on maintaining the "contra" war against the Sandinistas. Basically the Americans were happy to pay to destroy the country and its people, but not to repair the damage they underwrote.
Thankfully others take a less partisan and a more long term view of development. The Nicaragua Health Fund in this country, an organisation with the backing of CAFOD, Christian Aid and other agencies, did much to help the Sandinista government in the great strides it took towards setting up a health service that was open to all the Nicaraguan people. And their work will go on regardless of the change of government since it is directed towards people and not in support of systems.
The Fund has launched an appeal for £25,000 to fund concrete, practical projects to help the disabled victims of Nicaragua's war. One scheme is to run a wheelchair repair workshop, another to enable the disabled ex-soldiers and civilians to start up in work or study. The Health Fund can be contacted at 83 Margaret Street, London, WIN 7HB.
ANOTHER conflict that we prefer to ignore until the murderous campaign of the IRA reaches mainland Britain or Europe is that in the north of Ireland. After 21 years of an over escalating death toll, the murder of civilians in the north ceases to shock us. It is only the occasional and especially brutal or callous killing that can command front pages.
But the horror of each and every death in the province was brought home to me once again recently when reading a new collection of short stories by David Park, a 36 year old teacher from Co Down. Oranges From Spain (Jonathan Cape, £11.95) is a very impressive debut and the themes of the tales range across a whole spectrum of human experience. But in the background of all of them is the "troubles" in the north, lurking in shadows of every citizen of that region's life as they attempt to go about their "normal" routine, and occasionally blazing forth in a hail of bullets or the blast of a bomb.
In "Searching the Shadows", a distraught mother turns to her priest when her teenage and only son is taken away by threatening men in dark coats. Fr Flannery discovers who the abductors are — IRA vigilantes — and their reason for the kidnapping — the son has been involved in petty crime and they are eager to displace the police as the forces of' law and order and hence are disciplining him. It is a tragic and poignant story and, as with many in the collection, shows the impotence of those caught up in the "troubles" to effect a peaceful outcome. Fr Flannery is powerless to save the young man or the mother from her grief.
And Mr Park is equally convincing writing from within the Unionist ghetto.
I WAS recently fortunate enough to visit the parish of Buckden in East Anglia. Based at the Claretian's rather splendidly medieval home at Buckden Towers the parish had requested a brief talk about my experience in Brazil, so copiously recorded in the paper several months back.
What was encouraging was that this congregation was interested in what was going on so far away — they were not prepared to consign the third world and its issues to a dusty corner of their consciences. Nor did they want platitudes but real analysis of the situation there. So perhaps my earlier accusations of our insularity regarding the conflicts of our world are unjustified.
FINALLY a note of apology. It is from time to time brought to my attention by readers that our obituaries section is rather too brief, particularly when a much loved parish priest or curate dies and is accorded only a couple of paragraphs on page three.
As ever it is a question of space and where to put what and how often. One reader, Carole Healey, raised the subject when she wrote a moving tribute to her parish priest Canon Joe Flanagan from St Mary Magdalen church, Brighton. She pointed out the amount of column inches that had been devoted to Cardinal Tomas 0 Fiaich's death in the same week and asked that the cleric who had inspired her parish be given equal billing for his selfless devotion.
It is a subject that needs more detailed consideration, but I would welcome the thoughts of other readers.