10392711They are holding a gun to our heads. They have seized 2017. This is how the new year begins. Like in a big bank robbery, they have pointed their gun-machines at people. This is the image which comes to my mind when I look around myself and listen to the news. We are walking in a hostile wind which is slapping us across the face. And we are suffering. The recent fall of Aleppo is the symbol of a contagious and rampant art of politics and doing based on threat and propaganda.

Listening to the Russian authorities about their 2016 achievements is embarrassing. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has recently praised the killing in Syria of 35,000 opposition fighters («terrorists» according to media Sputnik[1]) and the ultimate break of the chain of «color revolutions» across Middle East and North Africa. Not a single word was spent on the civilian casualties. The message he conveyed is clear: from now on, opposition protests will be dealt as warfare, mass demonstrations or civil uprisings for freedom or democracy will be classified as Western interference and addressed with military means. The hopes of the Arab Spring era have faded. Civil protesters in Asia have been clearly warned. If we have to talk about a new global war, well, what has been declared against acts of people’s self-determination, inspired by the same values which we have built Europe on, seems to be one. A war against democracy as a system[2].

It is at least odd to hope that the Syrian crisis, born out of a peaceful uprising crushed by an authoritarian regime, will be politically solved by whom is determined to break the legs to democracy. The current ceasefire in Syria, announced December 29, 2016, has been already breached so many times by the Syrian authorities and its allied militias, like in Wadi Barada, nearby Damascus, that the opposition had to freeze the negotiations planned in Astana following an agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran. Everything seems placed to keep the opposition on tenterhooks. For instance: since Islamist group Fatah as-Sham is excluded from the negotiations, and they can be attacked at any moment, and considering that they are present in many areas of the country, military action will always be justified as counter-terrorism even in the presence of a ceasefire. Regardless of the fact that this group has broken connections with al-Qaeda in July 2016[3], nor that they gather mostly Syrians and not foreign militias, nor that they are not necessarily opposed to a political solution coming out from the newly announced negotiations[4]. Let me be clear: I do not feel particularly sympathetic for that group, but I am afraid that they are excluded from the deal so as to maintain a resemblance of legitimacy in hitting militarily the opposition in the next weeks or months. During the resistance against Nazi-fascism, Italian partisans succeeded in getting united gathering fighters of communist, socialist, catholic or secular affiliation under the banner of the National Liberation Committee. They had different societal visions, and opposed political orientations, but they struggled side by side to beat the fascist regime and oust Germans from Italy. Holding a gun to someone’s head here means preventing Syrians to be united under the banner of fighting a dictatorial power.

Even on climate change we are kept under threat. Two key climate change indicators — global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent — have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data. October 2016 was the second warmest October in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies[5]. Despite that, one of the key-countries responsible for climate change, the US, will be lead as of this month by a president who denies human responsibility in these catastrophic developments for biological life on Earth. M. Donald Trump has not only stated that «the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive»[6], that he does not accept the scientific evidence that climate change is real, and he wants to dismantle the Paris agreement – what many have already described as barely sufficient to stabilize global warming[7]. He did even more: he placed as a Secretary of State the president and chief executive of Exxon Mobil (Rex W. Tillerson), and as Environmental Protection Agency administrator a close ally of the fossil fuel industry (Scott Pruitt). This man together with other Republican attorneys general formed a secretive alliance with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda. The perfect team to keep the gun on our heads and let the earth gradually fall into an unknown ecological scenario, in the name of the benefits of the few.

If the Superpowers can do that, why should not it happen also among small fishes like my own country, Italy? The tones of the political debate here are becoming day by day more aggressive, the space for dialogue and dialectic is getting narrower, and blatant propaganda, not the search for truth and cohesion, is invading the public arena. Traditional political parties are not seen any more by many as the free association of citizens contributing to shaping the policies of the country, like art. 49 of the Italian Constitution states. On the other hand, however, also new parties who pretend to refresh the political arena have chosen the path of the «politics of shouting» instead of that of analyzing and reasoning. That path does not need evidences of truth, nor the exercise of debate and review. We are all silently falling into an era of ideological intoxication, which makes us loosing the sense of the real and the common sense, and therefore makes us exposed to any kind of extreme positioning, from consumerism to xenophobia, from revisionism to cultural supremacism. A couple of examples. The new political movement Five Stars, created by former comedian Beppe Grillo, and which I have also publicly supported in several occasions, is riding high in the social and audiovisual media with continuous attacks against «the government» and Europe. A climate of confrontation and alarm seems to be the best environment where it can affirm its role of «real opposition to the System», and its political lines are either formulated on the top and then ratified via online consultations among members, or simply announced via Internet without passing through a large and informed debate on the ground. Almost everything goes through the web. Society and its intermediary bodies risk disappearing to the benefit of the mass as the sum of atomized characters. Difficult to establish dialectics when you have as a partner your computer, impossible to search for wisdom. In this community architecture, everything might become possible. No surprise that, on foreign policies, Five Stars has embraced the best arguments of Putinism, and all what refers to foreign issues is accommodating Russian narrative or aiming at hitting the European institutions as the source of all our diseases.

The other example refers to migrants. Whenever something happens, such as after the terror attack at Berlin’s Christmas market (December 19, 2016) or after a recent protest in a first reception centre nearby Vicenza – subsequent to the death of a young Ivory Coast citizen inside the centre (January 5, 2017)[8], media and political figures vomit offenses against foreigners, showing no intention of understanding or no human empathy for people having crossed deserts and seas to earn a better life. The media environment is so imbued with disrespect, scorn and often hate towards foreigners that the worst feelings and aptitudes have conquered space in politics much beyond the issue of migration itself, making politically correct the use of statements or offenses which were unacceptable earlier. We are brainwashed. We, and I speak as an Italian, as the citizens of a nation who produced more emigrants than any other European country in the past century[9], and who has also historically been at the crossroads of civilizations and human mobility. The «politics of shouting» has killed our critical mind, it is another revolver pointed at our temples. Propaganda replaces discernment, aggression replaces justice, scapegoats replace cohesion. It smells of a new form of authoritarian individualism. Unfortunately, you can detect that smell also in other European societies.

Signs of refusal of this culture of holding a gun to someone’s head are there. Just to mention the issues raised above: (a) On December 22, 2016, the UN General Assembly has approved with 105 votes in favor out of 193 a resolution to investigate war crimes in Syria and prosecute them. A special team will be instructed to collect and verify proves that could constitute the basis for prosecution. Such a resolution was vetoed in the UN-Security Council already in 2014 by Russia and China; (b) Six cities, some of them severely contaminated, have taken action so that they will try to give up cars entirely, and radically address climate change at least in their own constituencies: Barcelona, Oslo, Mexico City, New Delhi, Chengdu[10]; (c) Private initiatives to host refugees are taking ground in many European cities, as a citizens’ response to the emergence, and as an alternative to the policy of placing them in large sheltering or detention centres; one of these initiatives is Welcome Refugees[11].

Yesterday, as is tradition, in Italy we burnt the old year in a bonfire. Towns and villages had their own bonfire in the main square. The old year was represented by a puppet, the Befana, an old lady, a kind of nice witch. Now that the old year is just ashes and memories, we have to face the new one. They are holding a gun to our heads. We have to be stronger than them.

Therefore, let me wish a happy new year to those who stand for justice, dignity, equality and brotherhood. And an unsuccessful new year to those who preach hate, sectarianism and oppression.

Malcesine, 7 January 2017.

 

[1] «Russian Jets Launched 71,000 Strikes in Syria, Eliminating 35,000 Terrorists», in Sputnik News, 22 December 2016.

[2] See as well Nicolas Bouchet, «Russia’s “militarization” of colour revolutions», in Policy Perspectives, Vol. 4/2, Center for Security Studies, January 2016.

[3] Martin Chulov, «Al-Nusra Front cuts ties with al-Qaida and renames itself», in The Guardian, 28 July 2016.

[4] Source: Al-Jazeera Arabic, 4 January 2017 («”فتح الشام”: لسنا ضد الحل السياسي في أستانا»).

[5] Source: NASA News, July 19, 2016, and November 18, 2016, at climate.nasa.gov.

[6] Jon Corrigan, «The Most Retweeted Tweet of the Debate was Posted in 2012», in CBS News, 27 September 2016.

[7] Rebecca Harrington, «President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t believe in climate change. Here’s his platform on the environment», in Business Insider UK, 9 November 2016.

[8] Davide Lessi, «Revolt in migrant center near Venice after young woman’s death», in La Stampa, 4 January 2017.

[9] Italians flowed out in massive numbers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Italians made up the largest voluntary emigration in recorded world history. See Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Stephanie Malia Hom (ed.), Italian Mobilities, Routledge, 2016.

[10] Joe McCarthy, «These 6 Cities Are Trying to Give Up Cars Entirely», in Global Citizen, October 14, 2016.

[11] Originally born in Berlin in 2014, the initiative has then spread all over Europe.

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