The last weeks have been very painful for many activists and human rights defenders. Watching the indiscriminate terror carried out against Syrians in Ghouta while the International Community was distracted or cautious in raising their voice has been another shocking punch in the face for whom he still believes that international human rights law is an uncontestable reference for the humanity. It is not easy to write down his own indignation for what is again happening in Syria. One is somehow struggling with the feeling that it has become a useless exercise because dictatorship there does not fear any threat any longer, that the champions of democracy have vanished. I have read in the last days amazing reports of talented journalists who have not ceased to describe the brutal fury of war ravaging the Syrian soil, and the thirst for power of its main sponsors.

Even the UN Security Council Resolution adopted last Saturday to urge a 30-day ceasefire in Ghouta has not stopped the angels of death. In the 48-hours since the ceasefire, the Syrian regime has launched 81 air-strikes, 32 barrel bombs and 213 artillery shells on Ghouta’s districts[1]. If that happens, it is because the Syrian regime is persuaded of enjoying immunity. And this immunity comes from the long shadow of Russia.

I have been following the Syrian uprising for freedom and dignity since the very beginning, and the reasons for what happened in 2011 are still there, or better said have been confirmed by the political and military events of the last years. Despite the defeat of the Islamic State, peace has not come back to Syria yet. I remember my Syrian activist friends saying a few years ago: “Do not get the false impression that you have to simply fight the Islamic State to curb terror”. And in fact, terror on people multiplied exponentially since the Islamic State has been brought to his knees. The central operational room of it is in Damascus, and the regime is so defiant because of this immunity it is enjoying. The evidences of that are there: some 11 Syria-related Security Council resolutions have failed to pass because of Russian vetoes[2]. Even the last resolution on Ghouta – adopted unanimously after long negotiations with the Russian counterpart – has been derided by Russi  a shortly after the vote, on the one hand by siding with al-Assad’s moves on the ground, and on the other hand by urging to stop bombings from 9am to 2pm in order to let Ghouta’s inhabitants to quit the area through safe corridors. With this manufactured half-way farcical ceasefire Russia took the liberty to declare unilaterally, Ghouta’s people are given two options: to quit forever their hometown, or to die. While Trump’s American administration has de facto abandoned his international leadership role in the matter, Russia is testing how far it can go in shaping the international rule of law according to his imperial ambitions.

I apologize for using such a direct tone and vocabulary, but I do not find any else which can be more appropriate. I am not a political analyst and I do not pretend to take the job of illustrious opinion-makers away, but yes, I see things clear.

Russia has so far feigned in attempting to bring the Syrian crisis to a political solution. What is happening in Ghouta, an Eastern neighbourhood area of Damascus, is a replay of Aleppo’s devastating siege. Ghouta and its 400,000 people are under al-Assad’s siege since 2013. They are the target of bombings and a suffocation strategy since years. Medicines and food are lacking, and civil infrastructures such as schools and hospitals have been systematically destroyed. According to OCHA, 700 people need an immediate evacuation for urgent medical treatment, while 12% of children below 5-years of age are suffering of severe malnutrition, and one child in three suffers of development retardation. The most recent aggression by the Syrian regime and Russia has put many hospitals out of use and generated an amazing price increase for essential food: bread price, for instance, has multiplied by a 25-factor in the course of the month of February[3]. One could argue that Ghouta is controlled by Islamists. There are certainly Islamic groups fighting there along other secular ones[4], and they certainly receive support from Muslim countries, but is that enough to liquidate an uprising which wanted to end a long-lasting one-family regime? Has not al-Assad done all what was in his capacities to radicalize the popular resistance and thus profile himself as the last rampart against Islamic fundamentalism?

For me, what is performed in Syria is not just about Syria. Syrians are Guinea pigs within a larger strategy to defeat democracy. It is one of the tools used by Russia to undermine the democratic world and discourage those who look hopefully at it in other world’s regions such as the Middle East. We have extensively read about the infiltration war carried out by Russian operatives or entities to change political balances on the occasion of other countries’ electoral rounds. In my country, Italy, a xenophobic party such as the Northern League openly declares its loyalty to what Mr. Putin stands for. On Sunday, February 25, his leader, Mr. Salvini,  hold a rally in Milan’s Piazza Duomo branding the gospel and the rosary in his hands to promise a crusade against foreign immigration, terrorism and the Islam, and trying to use similar codes and scenarios as those surrounding the Kremlin’s strongman[5]. The coalition Mr. Salvini’s party belongs to is in the lead at the national parliamentary elections of March 4, according to the polls. Russia has been meddling in the last years in the affairs of democratic countries in order to undermine the value of democracy[6]. In Syria, a strategy of radical annihilation of any hope for democracy advancements has been carried out to its extremes. The victims of that have been the Syrians themselves first of all, and Europe in the backstage for having received multiple waves of refugees. Asylum-seekers have played a major role in energizing the propaganda of xenophobic and nationalist groups, thus destabilizing Europe from inside. I profoundly dislike conspiratorial theories, but the more I look at the global picture, the more I am tempted to believe that Syrians’ massive displacement has been facilitated as a weapon against Europe and the democratic countries located in the Middle East.

If we abandon the Syrian people now, we the peoples and nations grown under the star of freedom and democracy (however imperfect and contradictory our regimes are) will be in danger as well. I see a multiple convergence of State powers  against democracy taking a run under the leadership of contemporary Russia. If the normalization of carnage (this is what happens nowadays in Syria) succeeded, more aggressive political and violent steps would follow, and authoritarianism would win more support, even within European nations, as a safe haven against instability and threats. This horizon has a name, it is fascism. In fascism, all those who question the regime are targeted as terrorists or infiltrators, whether they hold the same citizenship or not.

What is happening around the last UN Security Council resolution on Ghouta is therefore very important. Enforcing the ceasefire would create the conditions to force the Syrian regime and Russia to the negotiating table for a political solution inspired by the value of the rule of law and human dignity. This is in fact what happened when NATO strikes helped end the Bosnian conflict in 1995 by bringing Milošević to the negotiating table. If we on the contrary let the rule of carnage prevail, we have to get ready to extraordinarily severe consequences for the so-called “free world” as well.

It is a pity that our high schools deal with the European history of the XX century with sufficiency, running against the time to complete the curriculum before the end of the school year. This is unfortunately true for Italian high schools. Our young generations should know much better about what fascism was about, about the World Wars I and II, about the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. It is only by recently reading a travel journal by Geert Mak[7] that I found out that if an iron curtain was drawn across Europe itself was because of the delay in breaking the Nazis’ defense Gustav Line in Cassino, nearby Rome[8]. The Line could have been crossed and Rome liberated nine months earlier if it were not for waffling politicians and timid generals circulating in Italy those days. After that Mussolini was dethroned in July 1943, the new Italian government remained divided and hesitant for too long, the Italian king, army chiefs of staff and government fled to Brindisi, Puglia, and the Germans had the time to get re-organized. History does not give you a second chance, certainly not at the same price. When one does not understand the seriousness and the potency of the dangers ahead of us, he/she could be wiped out.

To those who have not surrendered to powerlessness in their souls and hearts, I might recommend to support the initiative of “The Syria Campaign” to push leaders to be ready to use force to uphold the last UN Security Council resolution[9]. Personally, I do not wish a Europe of nationalisms and rampant fascisms, inspired by powerful regimes such as Russia and others, who despise democracy, freedoms and human dignity. These regimes act strategically to undermine these values internally and externally, thus feeding their hunger for power based on order, obedience, and cultural or ethnical allegiances. For this reason I stand with the Syrian people. They are fighting for us.

Florence, 27 February 2018

 

Photo: Getty Images, 2018

Notes:

[1] Source: The Syria Campaign, 26 February 2018.

[2] Source: New York Times, 21 February 2018.

[3] Source: Le Monde, 27 February 2018.

[4] See this review of the groups fighting in Ghouta by the Forum for Regional Thinking (www.sbs.com.au/news/who-are-the-rebel-groups-fighting-in-syria-s-eastern-ghouta)

[5] If you understand German, please read the excellent report Das System Putin by Michael Thumann, Die Zeit, 14 February 2018, which describes the nation-centered and faith-based propaganda used by the Kremlin and conveyed by the country’s media.

[6] I recommend reading Atlantic Council – Eurasia Center, The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses, Second Edition, November 2017.

[7] Geert Mak, In Europe. Travels through the Twentieth Century, Vintage Books, London, 2008.

[8] Opening this Southern European front had pretty much been Winston Churchill’s idea, who was aware of the impermeability of the Western front and wanted to reach Berlin via Italy and Austria. As early as 1942 he was one of the very few to take into account the shape of post-war Europe, and in his view the Soviet Union had to be kept as much as possible out of Europe (Mak, pg. 507-508).

[9] https://act.thesyriacampaign.org/letter/save-ghouta/?t=7&akid=1069%2E140388%2ErL858-

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