Zapad means “the West” in Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, and various other Slavic languages. I learned this many years ago, when I became acquainted with Czechs in, of all cities, Toronto. They had a very literate magazine called Z├ípad, edited by Josef Skvorecky and managed by his wife, Zdena Salivarova. It posed as ethnic grunge, for the purpose of winning a few minor subsidies from the State’s multicultural agencies. But secretly it, and the Czech books of the splendid ‘Sixty-Eight Publishers, were known wherever Czech and Slovak readers had settled — by the 1970s a considerable diaspora.

Indeed, it was from my passing acquaintance with Czechs, and the odd Pole and Hungarian, that I contracted the lethal anti-Communism and “conservatism” that proved so ruinous to my future career. This, and of course I should give some credit to e.g. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who turned my stomach against “liberalism” before I had left high school.

It was not simply politics. For what appealed to me in these (Western) Slavs, and by extension through the many other races I encountered, was this appeal to “the West,” in all of its assembled meanings. Part of it was that anthropological tolerance and untroubled curiosity which has made the West the museum-repository of the works of all civilizations: North, South, and East. Too, I had experience maturing in Asia, when, long before I had subscribed consciously to Christianity, I came to acknowledge that “alien” religious tradition, and the artistic and intellectual truths that had been embraced by the Church. I became convinced that “Western civilization” was unquestionably superior — rooted, as it were, in truth, not power — even while I was charmed by other exotic traditions.

I came to know that even my juvenile atheism was tinged with Christianity, inevitably, because of my very longing for truth.

The imperfection of the West is well understood in all of its languages. But it has an aspiration which I think ultimately is a passionate desire, for salvation, from the God who listens.

The Russian invaders of Ukraine carry a “Z” (for “Zapad”) scrawled on their tanks and other military vehicles, to show that they, too, aspire to something. It is not, however, Catholic Christianity, nor even an Orthodox twist, but conquest of the West. They are, once again, as enemies of our civilization, defeating themselves; as all enemies of the West have magically contrived to do.

We, in the West, have been our own enemy. But we should abandon this affectation.