A woman crosses the street as anti-tank constructions are seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters

Cathy Majtenyi: Let’s be precise about freedom’s meaning

By 
  • March 10, 2022

The world sits on the edge of its collective seat as the horror of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to unfold.

The conflict is bringing to the fore concepts that Canadians and the rest of the world should reflect deeply upon in their own lives and societies.

Up front and centre is the right to self-determination. On Dec. 1, 1991, the people of Ukraine, a republic under the control of the then-United Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR), voted overwhelmingly for independence, which they achieved and under which they thrived.

It is unconscionable that Russian President Vladamir Putin should suddenly try to wipe out Ukraine as an independent nation, violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

The Catholic Church and Canadian society are grappling with that concept somewhat in addressing long-running injustices committed against Indigenous peoples. Although circumstances may be different than the Ukrainian situation, the ICCPR principle applies to the right of Indigenous peoples to pursue political, social and economic systems that accord with their traditions.

Our faith demands that we treat all persons with dignity and respect. Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) imagines a world where “every man, no matter what his race, religion or nationality, can live a fully human life, freed from servitude imposed on him by other men … a world where freedom is not an empty word and where the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich man.”

The war in Ukraine may lead us to reflect on the concept of “freedom” as it applies to recent developments in our own country.

The trucker convoy that occupied the centre of Ottawa for weeks promoted the view that the government violated the freedoms of Canadians by imposing measures intended to contain the spread of COVID-19

Section 1910 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us why we have governments: “It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.”

The common good, in this case, is the health and safety of Canadians, especially for the vulnerable. The truckers may argue that they should be free to reject vaccines and face masks. But others — the elderly, children, immunocompromised and even the healthy — may argue that they should be free from the risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease in public places, spread by those who chose not to comply with public health measures.

Ukrainians are fighting for the freedom to simply exist as Ukrainians, to not live under Russian subjugation that restricts every aspect of their lives.

The Ukrainian invasion also puts the spotlight on another concept: our heavy reliance on oil and gas, accounting for about 80 per cent of the world’s energy, which Russia may cut off to the rest of the world.

Scientists have long warned that the burning of fossil fuels — oil, gas and coal — releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Greenhouse gasses trap heat in the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise. As the world becomes warmer, extreme weather events, food insecurity, the extinction of plants and animals, and other negative impacts become the norm.

It’s imperative that we create alternative energy sources and reign in our materialistic lifestyles to ensure the integrity of our natural and human environments. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ exhorts us to take this call for responsible stewardship seriously.

Less reliance on fossil fuels, a re-thinking of “freedom,” and respect for people’s right to self-determination are some of the many concepts that the Ukrainian invasion are bringing to the fore. Let’s reflect on these lessons as we strive to protect the common good wherever we are.

(Majtenyi is public relations officer specializing in research at an Ontario university.)

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