Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 30 December 2022

UKRAINE VALOUR: making the most of the time in between.

Leonid Fatkulin’s house was damaged during Russia’s latest strike on Ukraine. Mr. Fatkulin, 79, was still in bed when missile fragments landed on his roof.
Credit...Laura Boushnak for The New York Times
A gas pipeline in Mr. Fatkulin’s house caught on fire after the attack, but firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze.
Credit...Laura Boushnak for The New York Times
A gas pipeline in Mr. Fatkulin’s house caught on fire after the attack, but firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze.
Thursday’s strikes in Ukraine were part of the 10th major missile barrage fired at Ukrainian cities in the past three months.
Credit...Laura Boushnak for The New York Times
Thursday’s strikes in Ukraine were part of the 10th major missile barrage fired at Ukrainian cities in the past three months.

KYIV, Ukraine — In interviews at a children’s playground in Kyiv where missile fragments had whistled out of the sky earlier in the day, Ukrainians expressed a blend of stoicism and defiance on Thursday, saying that they needed to continue with their lives, despite the danger.

Families in the city, Ukraine’s capital, have settled into routines amid waves of Russian attacks and countless air-raid alarms. Thursday’s attack was the 10th missile barrage fired at Ukrainian cities in three months.

“We were at home and heard explosions, so we moved into the corridor,” Galina Khomina, a graphic designer. That was in keeping with the “rule of two walls,” which advises people to seek areas in an apartment with two walls between themselves and the exterior.

Ms. Khomina keeps a blanket in the corridor for her daughter, Nastya, who is 3. Soon after the booms, they heard the whistling of objects falling from the sky — debris from a cruise missile or the air defense weapon that had shot it down over the Pechersk neighborhood in central Kyiv.

When the air-raid alert had lifted a few hours later, Ms. Khomina had taken Nastya for a walk outside and found police tape and missile debris in the playground. After eyeing the metal fragments along with other parents, she had stayed to let Nastya, bundled in a purple coat and pink hat, play on the swings and slides.

“It was a first for us that it was so close,” she said. “We hope it will end soon. We are used to it, and we are not afraid. Life goes on. You only have one life.”

The twisted metal fell onto a basketball court, beside a dumpster, wounding no one and causing no damage in the park — fittingly known as “the rocket playground” for its rocket-shaped jungle gym.

In Kyiv, some parents respond to air-raid alerts by bundling their children in warm clothing and running for underground subway stops, the safest place during strikes. Others head to basements or remain in relatively safer areas of their homes. Leonid Fatkulin, 79, was in bed on the first floor of his two-story brick home in an outlying district when what he believes were fragments of a Russian missile landed on the roof.

“I was going to get up and shave when the explosion shook the house,” he said. A natural gas pipeline caught fire. Mr. Fatkulin said he had run upstairs, yelling at his son, Oleksandr, “Are you alive?”

Both men were unhurt. After firefighters put out the blaze, his son and his son’s friends sifted through the wreckage of the house.

“It’s not a war,” Mr. Fatkulin said, standing beside the remains of his house, a coat thrown over his bathrobe. “It’s a crime against humanity.”

Anton Osadchi, 15, a student at a culinary school, was strolling in the playground after the attacks canceled lessons. “We need to be victorious over the Russians,” he said.

Mykola, 8, was walking with his grandmother. When asked what had happened, he said, “all sorts of horseradish fell out of the sky.” To Mykola, horseradish sounds like a naughty word, and the attacks deserved his most punishing language.

His grandmother, Tetyana Kaplina, 75, a retiree, said she had been eating a breakfast of pancakes and sour cream with her husband when she “heard a loud bang and started shaking all over.”

“My husband doesn’t hear well, so he missed it,” she said. “He was lucky.”

The explosion and hiss of debris falling outside the window was terrifying, Ms. Kaplina said. “It’s something you can never get used to.”

Ukraine's Lesson: 

No respite in the West’s fight for freedom

Flags are displayed in Kyiv’s Maidan square in memory of those killed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Picture: AFP
Flags are displayed in Kyiv’s Maidan square in memory of those killed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Picture: AFP

If 2022 ends better than it began, that is first and foremost thanks to the Ukrainian people’s heroic resistance to Russia’s war of aggression. But as a new year dawns, the risks remain acute, both in terms of the conflict itself and of the broader geopolitical balance.

At the heart of the war’s first phase were the strategic errors Vladimir Putin made in launching his attack. As I argued on these pages shortly after the Russian invasion got under way, Putin’s decision bore all the hallmarks of the mistakes that characterise dictators’ wars of aggression – mistakes that are particularly acute in personalistic dictatorships; that is, political systems in which an autocratic ruler operates largely unchecked by institutional constraints.

Having surrounded themselves with yes-men, those rulers are unlikely to receive realistic assessments of the difficulties their plans will encounter. And the more brutal they are, the more improbable it is that their cronies will have the courage to speak truth to power, making dictators especially prone to confusing their desires for reality.

Thus, when Stalin ordered the preparation of plans for an attack on Finland in June 1939, he was adamant that the Finnish forces could be routed in 12 days, sacking Boris Shaposhnikov, the chief of the general staff, who argued that the invasion would face stiff resistance. Instead, Stalin accepted his toadies’ assurance that the Red Army would be “cheered on by happy Finns, yearning to be free from fascist oppression”.

Stalin soon learned, however, that the last thing the Finns wanted was reunification with Russia, from which they had only recently secured their independence. As Nikita Khrushchev revealed in his memoirs, the blood-soaked conflict cost the Soviet Union well over a quarter of a million casualties, severely damaging its ability to resist Nazi Germany’s onslaught in June 1941.

Vladimir Putin tells Russians on February 24 that a “military operation” in Ukraine has begun. Picture: AFP
Vladimir Putin tells Russians on February 24 that a “military operation” in Ukraine has begun. Picture: AFP

The same imperviousness to reality characterised Saddam Hussein’s decision in 1990 to invade Kuwait. Kuwait, Saddam claimed, was merely a fragment of “Greater Iraq”, which had been deprived of its oil-rich southern province by the Western colonialists. Considering himself the legitimate heir of both Nebuchad­nezzar, the Babylonian leader who ruled Egypt and conquered Jerusalem, and Saladin, who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the 12th century, Saddam portrayed Kuwait’s “reunification” with Iraq as his “historical mission”.

READ MORE: Isolated, distrustful Putin leans on hard-line advisers | Public distance, private ties: How Xi deepens his bond with Putin | ‘Extremely difficult’: Putin admits Ukraine challenges, tightens controls | Leaked battle plan shows Putin’s mad dash for Kyiv

By then, Saddam had eliminated every critic from his inner circle, relying mainly on close relatives for advice. Knowing that disagreement usually meant death, they didn’t dare challenge his conviction that the US, which he thought was still smarting from its defeat in Vietnam, would not intervene on Kuwait’s behalf.

His war plans therefore simply ignored that contingency, leaving his army completely exposed when Operation Desert Storm obliterated Iraq’s war-fighting potential.

Putin not only repeated every one of those mistakes, underestimating both the internal resolve and external support on which Ukraine could draw; in his efforts to minimise the likelihood of a coup, he also weakened Russia’s striking force, fragmenting its military into myriad poorly co-ordinated structures, with some of the strongest units – such as his pretorian guard and the heavily militarised federal security service – falling outside the general staff’s chain of command.

Exactly as happened with Saddam’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war, the result of those coup-prevention techniques was to dramatically undermine the military’s capacity to carry out combined operations, squandering the invading force’s numerical advantage.

That those errors have been extremely costly is obvious. Nor have the consequences been limited to the conflict zone alone: as well as infusing NATO with new life, the West’s assertive response — and especially that of the US — has given China pause, leading to the recent slight, but not insignificant, de-escalation in its bellicose stance.

It would, however, be reckless to ignore the dangers that remain. Just as history highlights the traps into which dictators typically fall, it also suggests that they can adjust their strategy.

The essential feature of personalist regimes is that they endow a single individual with untrammelled decision-making authority. When failure on the battlefield convinces the autocrat that change is needed, little stands in the way. Military organisational adjustment can therefore be swift, as Stalin repeatedly showed in the course of World War II.

Just how far Putin will go in that respect remains to be seen, as does the effectiveness of any changes. There is, however, no evidence that he has abandoned the goal of capturing more terrain; and it is also clear that he is “Syrianising” the conflict, resorting to the scorched earth tactics Russia has deployed to horrifying effect in Syria. The pressure on Ukraine is therefore unlikely to abate.

At the same time, the conflict has demonstrated the continuing importance in battle of kinetic force – that is, of the sheer capacity to blow things up. The corollary of that role is the massive demand conventional warfare imposes on supplies of military materiel, ranging from relatively simple components such as bullets to the precision-guided artillery that has been decisive in repelling the Russian assault.

Unfortunately, the West’s inventories of materiel were already at very low levels when the fighting began and have been drastically depleted since.

Much as in World War II, the US has largely borne the burden of serving as the “arsenal of democracy”, to use the rallying cry Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched in his 1940 end-of-year radio broadcast, whose purpose was to prepare Americans for war. But the nature of contemporary materiel and a prolonged erosion in the West’s defence industrial base mean that there is no prospect of replicating the outcomes of Roosevelt’s wartime Victory Program, which – by mobilising what Roosevelt called “the genius of our people for mass-production” – allowed the US to produce more weapons each year than the world’s entire stock of armaments in 1940.

Rather, with inventories dwindling and production lagging, there is a real risk that the Ukrainian forces will suffer shortages of vital materiel, weakening their capacity to resist renewed Russian offences. Should those shortages – and the devastating strain the war is placing on Ukraine – lead to a substantial reversal in the balance of forces, the effects would be felt worldwide.

Nowhere would the reverberations be more consequential than in China. Xi Jinping doubtless realises that invading Taiwan involves immense, arguably incalculable, risks, both militarily and to the survival of China’s communist regime. But it is also apparent that, like Saddam, he regards suborning the island, and thus completing the Chinese revolution’s unfinished business, as his historic mission.

Additionally, it is a grim fact that each of China’s wars of aggression – from its involvement in the Korean war of 1950-53 through to the invasion of India in 1962, the recurrent attacks on Soviet troops at the Sino-Soviet border from 1966 to 1969, and the large-scale invasion of Vietnam in 1979 – has coincided with periods where the communist leadership was experiencing domestic crises and (in the words of the eminent historian Roderick MacFarquhar) used military adventures to “launch a patriotic campaign to solidify the people behind them and eliminate any remaining adversaries”.

As Xi navigates an economic slowdown and a deeply troubled exit from the pandemic, any sign that the West’s resolve is weakening could rekindle the temptation to strike. And it would also give added comfort to the world’s other dictators, including Iran’s embattled mullahs.

But the mullahs’ difficulties, as they step up the Islamic regime’s already savage repression, highlight one of the West’s greatest assets: the human desire to live in freedom. After all, when young Iranians risk death by chanting “Woman, life, freedom”, the liberty they are demanding is that of the much-maligned Western way of life. As a new year starts, defending that way of life – and helping the Ukrainians’ heroic efforts to defend it by defending their homeland – remains the only road to a just and durable peace.

Thursday 29 December 2022

Covid-19 : les mesures de protection prises par certains pays vis-à-vis des voyageurs en provenance de Chine sont « compréhensibles », estime l’OMS

Plusieurs pays ont décidé d’imposer des tests obligatoires. La Commission européenne avait convoqué une réunion informelle jeudi pour « discuter (…) de possibles mesures pour une approche coordonnée ».

Le Monde avec AFP

Publié hier à 22h51, mis à jour à 08h10 

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Des voyageurs en provenance de Chine se font tester à leur arrivée à l’aéroport de Milan, en Italie, le 29 décembre 2022. ALESSANDRO BREMEC / AP

L’abandon soudain de la politique zéro Covid en Chine, qui fait face à une flambée des cas d’ampleur, fait craindre l’apparition de nouveaux variants à l’étranger et a poussé plusieurs pays à rétablir des mesures de protection à l’entrée de leur territoire. Ces dernières sont « compréhensibles » compte tenu du manque d’informations fournies par Pékin, a estimé jeudi 29 décembre le chef de l’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, qui a exhorté Pékin à communiquer davantage sur l’état de l’épidémie dans le pays.

« En l’absence d’informations complètes venant de Chine, il est compréhensible que des pays prennent les mesures dont ils pensent qu’elles protégeront leur population », a déclaré M. Tedros sur Twitter. Plusieurs pays, parmi lesquels l’Italie, le Japon ou encore les Etats-Unis, ont décidé d’imposer des tests obligatoires à tous les voyageurs venant de Chine.

La Commission européenne avait, quant à elle, convoqué une réunion informelle jeudi pour « discuter (…) de possibles mesures pour une approche coordonnée » des Etats de l’Union européenne (UE) face à l’explosion des cas en Chine. L’introduction d’un dépistage obligatoire au sein de l’UE pour les voyageurs arrivant de Chine est « injustifiée », a toutefois estimé le Centre européen de prévention et de contrôle des maladies (ECDC).

Lire aussi : Article réservé à nos abonnés La Chine se rouvre au monde, malgré la flambée de cas de Covid-19 sur son territoire

Les systèmes de santé « sont capables de gérer » la maladie

Les pays de l’UE « ont des niveaux d’immunisation et de vaccination relativement élevés » et les « variants circulant en Chine circulent déjà dans l’UE », a affirmé l’ECDC dans un communiqué, expliquant qu’une telle mesure n’est pas nécessaire au niveau de l’Union dans son ensemble. Pour l’agence européenne, « les infections potentielles » pouvant être importées sont « plutôt faibles » par rapport au nombre d’infections quotidiennes rapportées, et les systèmes de santé « sont aujourd’hui capables de gérer » la maladie, a-t-elle ajouté. La Commission va « continuer à faciliter les discussions entre les Etats membres », s’est contentée de faire savoir un porte-parole après la rencontre, sans autre précision.

« Nous sommes préoccupés par l’évolution de la situation » en Chine « et nous continuons à encourager la Chine à traquer le virus et vacciner les personnes les plus à risque », a ajouté le chef de l’OMS. Les hôpitaux chinois sont submergés par un grand nombre d’infections après la décision de Pékin de lever les règles strictes qui avaient pendant longtemps permis de juguler la propagation de la pandémie mais avaient fait plonger l’économie et suscité des protestations au sein de la population.

Lire aussi : Article réservé à nos abonnés L’Europe sans stratégie commune face aux voyageurs en provenance de Chine

Les autorités chinoises ont annoncé cette semaine qu’elles mettaient fin à la quarantaine obligatoire à l’arrivée en Chine, incitant de nombreux Chinois à prévoir de se rendre à l’étranger. Le 21 décembre, M. Tedros a déclaré à la presse que son organisation s’inquiétait de la résurgence de l’épidémie en Chine, où la commission nationale de la santé a fait savoir la semaine dernière qu’elle renonçait à publier un bilan quotidien des décès dus au Covid-19.

World must be vigilant amid China’s Covid reopening

There are echoes of early 2020 in Xi’s policy of obfuscation 


It feels eerily like early 2020 again. China is the global epicentre of Covid-19. Countries across the world are scrambling to impose restrictions on travellers from the country. Meanwhile, the severity of the outbreak within China is obscured by spin, dubious statistics, and government opacity. Xi Jinping’s botched exit from his “zero-Covid” policy earlier in December — which lifted measures including mass testing and lockdowns — has overwhelmed many hospitals. Now, after almost three years in isolation, the decision to reopen Chinese borders, from January 8, has turned its domestic mismanagement into a potential global problem — again. While the world is now better prepared to deal with a wave of Covid cases from China, significant health risks remain. Strong vaccination rates means many nations are already learning to live with the virus. But in developing countries, where inoculation remains weak, there continues to be vulnerability. There are also concerns that China may again be lax in sharing data on evolving strains that could drive new outbreaks, and that health services could be stretched over the fluey winter months. Indeed, after years of seclusion, demand for international travel among China’s 1.4bn population is soaring. The world needs to tread with care. In China, tens of millions are being infected daily. The death toll is obscured by Beijing’s recently narrowed definition of Covid-19 fatalities — but bodies seen at hospitals and crematoria paint a grimmer picture. Plans to lift quarantine requirements for inbound travellers, remove caps on flights arriving into China and ease outward travel bring significant risks from a country that under “zero-Covid” built up little immunity. Vaccination rates are low among the elderly too. Those risks threaten to spread, spurring some countries into pre-emptive action. The US this week joined others including Italy and Japan in imposing testing requirements for passengers from China. It is an understandable precaution, especially for countries like Italy, which is desperate to avoid a repeat of March 2020, when it became the first major European country to experience a severe Covid outbreak. Yet both pre-departure and on-arrival testing is far from foolproof. It also has limited worth — particularly when countries are adopting a patchwork approach and when there is no evidence as yet of a dangerous mutation. The world is also in a different position now, in terms of existing disease spread and protection. Far more important would be a revival of widespread genomic sequencing to spot dangerous new variants (which might be made easier by some on-arrival testing): many countries downgraded their capabilities as the pandemic waned, or never developed them. China’s reopening is a reminder that a more concerted push towards sequencing and global information-sharing is crucial. Beijing’s co-operation is vital. Its obfuscation over the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan three years ago was deplorable. Today’s lack of transparency is no less reprehensible. Unreliable data on cases and deaths within the country makes it harder for others to respond proportionately. Indeed, the US CDC cited the lack of “transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data” from China as a reason for its new measures. Misinformation also complicates internal efforts to lower cases. While draconian measures helped to contain Covid-19 in China, Xi’s dramatic volte-face and lack of preparation for reopening now risks it spiralling out of control across the country. To guard against a resurgence of the pandemic elsewhere, co-ordinated global vigilance, rather than scattershot restrictions, should be the priority.


Così si è logorato il rapporto tra governo e Parlamento

Da che cosa dipende la confusione dei giorni scorsi, nel corso dell’approvazione parlamentare del bilancio di previsione dello Stato per il 2023? I motivi contingenti sono noti. Il governo ha avuto solo due mesi per preparare il bilancio. La compagine esecutiva è fondata su una coalizione instabile, la cui coesione va verificata giorno per giorno. La spesa è in larga misura destinata a compensare il rincaro delle fonti di energia, e quindi si tratta di decidere sulle restanti somme, di ammontare limitato.

In Parlamento e nel governo vi sono «homines novi», con scarsa esperienza delle complesse procedure e poca competenza sulla intricata materia della finanza. Infine, il Parlamento, quando approva il bilancio, è alle prese con la decisione di gran lunga più difficile, sulla quale si misura il suo rapporto con il governo (per la Costituzione, solo il governo può presentare il progetto di legge di bilancio) e si determina la vita dello Stato (la finanza condiziona l’amministrazione, e quindi l’attuazione delle leggi, grazie al «potere della borsa»).

Ma è sulle cause strutturali e permanenti, che riguardano le modalità di raccordo tra governo e Parlamento e la maniera in cui la maggioranza dialoga con le opposizioni, che vorrei soffermarmi.

La confusione che ha regnato nel corso dell’esame parlamentare del bilancio è frutto di un indebolimento del rapporto governo-maggioranza parlamentare, che non riguarda solo l’esecutivo in carica, perché è una tendenza di lungo periodo, che si è accentuata in questa fine anno.

Il raccordo esecutivo-legislativo, nel modello classico, è definito dalla formula di origine ottocentesca, ripresa da Leopoldo Elia a metà del secolo scorso, per cui il governo è il «comitato direttivo della maggioranza parlamentare». Però, il governo, e più in generale la politica, sono più interessati, quotidianamente, ai rapporti con il Paese, rappresentati dai sondaggi, dalle reazioni sui «social», dalle frequenti elezioni parziali (regionali e locali) o europee, e dai mutamenti di un elettorato molto volatile che questi segnalano. Affidano i rapporti con il Parlamento a un apposito ministro senza portafoglio, introdotto nella compagine esecutiva alla metà del secolo scorso, ma la cui presenza è stata discontinua fino a venti anni fa. Una volta, di un apposito ministro non vi era bisogno perché tutto il governo dialogava quotidianamente con il Parlamento. Ora questo non accade più, sia a causa dei frequenti impegni internazionali dei ministri, sia a causa della prevalenza di una mentalità populistica, che mette l’enfasi sul Paese, piuttosto che sul Parlamento. Si tratta di una tendenza profonda, di una vena populistica che percorre la politica contemporanea, che porta in primo piano il dialogo con il Paese, piuttosto che con i suoi rappresentanti nelle Camere.

Questo produce una scissione tra modello parlamentare (il governo è figlio del Parlamento e risponde ad esso) e realtà (il governo cerca nel Paese la sua investitura). Quindi, il dialogo principale non è quello che si svolge nel Parlamento, i rapporti governo-Parlamento vengono sottovalutati, la formula «governo comitato direttivo della maggioranza parlamentare» non funziona più, il legame si fragilizza, viene sottovalutato il rapporto con il Parlamento, per mantenere il quale non basta un apposito ministro, per quanto capace sia. Ne è prova proprio il dibattito sul bilancio di previsione dello Stato, che una volta si svolgeva in una apposita lunga sessione, nel corso della quale ciascun ministro doveva illustrare la propria «tabella» di spese.

Questi fattori di crisi del parlamentarismo classico vanno di pari passo con altre tre componenti. I partiti, come tramite tra società e governo, sono vacui (forse con la sola eccezione proprio di Fratelli d’Italia, che ha conservato molti tratti di un vero partito-associazione-organizzazione): non promuovono congressi, hanno deboli strutture periferiche, il dibattito interno è inesistente, hanno abdicato alla funzione di educare alla politica, rinunciando anche, da tempo, al compito di selezionare la classe dirigente. Le designazioni dei candidati e la formazione delle liste elettorali sono opera dei segretari dei partiti e della ristretta cerchia che li circonda. Sono loro che provvedono a indicare gli eleggibili, destinandoli a collegi «sicuri», per cui i parlamentari, più che scelti dal popolo, sono nominati, salvo conferma elettiva. Il governo assorbe sempre più la funzione legislativa, grazie al ricorso ai decreti legge (sono già dieci quelli approvati dal governo Meloni in due mesi), lasciando al Parlamento un compito di legislatore interstiziale (compito in sostanza amministrativo) ed eventuale (a causa del monocameralismo alternato: infatti, al Senato quest’anno spetta solo ratificare il bilancio di previsione 2023).

Una ultima conferma di questa diagnosi sta nell’uso, invalso da anni, per cui il governo, nel presentare il bilancio, dove sono segnate le destinazioni di spesa, lascia una quota libera da allocazioni, per soddisfare proposte parlamentari di domiciliazione della spesa. Si tratta di una prassi che sfiora la legittimità costituzionale e che dimostra che il governo cerca in altri modi di «conquistare» l’appoggio parlamentare, coinvolgendo anche le opposizioni, perché queste non facciano il «filibustering», cioè l’ostruzionismo.

Vedo, in conclusione, nelle vicende di queste ultime settimane il segno dell’accentuarsi di una tendenza che comporta una trasformazione radicale. Governo e Parlamento divengono due parti che guardano in direzioni diverse. Il legame tra di loro si indebolisce e i punti di snodo tra politica e sistema politico si spostano fuori dalle Camere.

Il Qatar e i politici fragili

Diceva Mark Twain che non conviene fare un uso eccessivo della morale nei giorni feriali: si rischia di ritrovarsela tutta stropicciata la domenica. È una regola della politica quella secondo cui, se ci si trova con le spalle al muro, la mossa più conveniente consiste nel «buttarla in morale», ridurre tutto a una faccenda di «mariuoli». Evitando così di parlare delle precondizioni politiche che spiegano l’esistenza del mariuolo.

In che contesto politico si inserisce il Qatargate, questa faccenda di mariuoli e Stati corruttori? Il contesto è dato dall’ambiguo rapporto fra settori della sinistra europea e il fondamentalismo islamico. Il riferimento qui non è, ovviamente, alla sua ala combattente. Ma a quelle forme di fondamentalismo che non fanno ricorso alle armi ma che tuttavia, a causa del loro spirito antioccidentale, sono comunque per noi assai insidiose.

Quando in Europa si parla male del Qatar ci si riferisce ai diritti umani violati dall’emirato a casa propria. Ma in gioco c’è di più. Il Qatar, con le sue ricchezze, è uno dei più importanti sponsorizzatori della penetrazione del fondamentalismo nel mondo islamico e nelle comunità musulmane in Europa. Tramite al-Jazeera, l’emittente televisiva più popolare di lingua araba, finanziata dallo Stato, e tramite il sostegno finanziario e organizzativo a gruppi fondamentalisti, il piccolo Qatar è ormai da anni un centro di influenza internazionale di prima grandezza.

Anche se non sapevano della corruzione, i dirigenti del Pd e il gruppo socialista europeo sapevano che Panzeri e soci erano stretti collaboratori sia del Qatar che di altri centri di potere del Medio Oriente, i cui valori sono incompatibili con quelli della civiltà europea. Ma, prima che esplodesse lo scandalo, non hanno mai avuto nulla da obiettare. Da dove deriva questa indulgenza nei confronti di regimi e movimenti apertamente ostili alla civiltà occidentale? Quell’indulgenza può stupire solo chi non si è reso conto dei mutamenti intervenuti nelle forze politiche europee e nel loro retroterra intellettuale dopo il tramonto delle ideologie otto-novecentesche. Se a destra si è imposto il neo-nazionalismo, una reazione difensiva nei confronti della accresciuta interdipendenza internazionale e delle sue conseguenze sociali, la sinistra ha preso un’altra strada, ha riempito di nuovi contenuti la sua antica alleanza con i chierici, con l’intellighenzia. Un tempo, a cementare quell’alleanza, erano i miti connessi al ruolo della classe operaia, della lotta di classe, dell’utopia socialista variamente declinata. Persino il partito laburista britannico aveva allora, fra i suoi scopi statutariamente definiti, la statalizzazione dei mezzi di produzione.

Andato in cenere quel mondo con che cosa si potevano sostituire gli antichi miti? Come tenere in piedi l’alleanza fra sinistra politica e chierici? La scelta è stata di dare vita a varianti del catch-all party, a partiti pigliatutto. Organizzazioni che tutelano una pluralità di interessi ma anche agenzie dedite alla promozione di diritti: qualunque diritto (o supposto tale), purché rivendicato da una minoranza. Tramontato il socialismo, una vaga e indefinita ideologia progressista è ora la ragione sociale dei partiti pigliatutto della sinistra. Con due conseguenze.

La prima è che il progressismo è un surrogato debole del socialismo, fatica a entrare in sintonia con le richieste delle maggioranze. Proprio per questo, nel tentativo di vincere le recenti elezioni, o di contenere le perdite, il partito socialdemocratico svedese ha dovuto assumere una posizione molto dura sull’immigrazione. La seconda conseguenza è che vengono messe insieme cose che fanno a pugni fra loro. Come il sostegno al movimento Lgbt e, per l’appunto, l’indulgenza verso il fondamentalismo islamico. Di quella indulgenza le prove sono tante. Si pensi alla copertura data per anni dai socialisti belgi e dalla sinistra francese alla islamizzazione (nel segno dell’islamismo radicale) di interi quartieri delle città belghe e francesi. In Italia, se si va a spulciare fra gli eletti dei partiti di sinistra in ambito locale, qua e là si scopre la presenza di fondamentalisti.

C’è una parte della sinistra che definisce «islamofobo» qualunque discorso che metta in guardia contro il radicalismo islamico. Ma poiché il termine islamofobia è stato inventato da islamici fondamentalisti per squalificare le critiche, che esponenti della sinistra abbiano adottato quell’espressione testimonia di un avvenuto cortocircuito culturale. Certamente, c’è anche un calcolo politico: l’indulgenza verso i più attivi (che sono spesso i più radicali) delle comunità islamiche europee dovrebbe aiutare a canalizzare voti verso la sinistra medesima. Ma conta, soprattutto, la crisi identitaria: se non sai più bene chi sei, non riesci a distinguere fra quelli con cui puoi accompagnarti e quelli con cui non devi farlo.

Vediamo, a proposito di Qatar, di chiarire bene. Una cosa sono gli accordi dettati da esigenze geo-politiche, nonché gli affari fra diversi che restano consapevoli delle loro radicali diversità — della loro incompatibilità politica — e altro sono i rapporti di stretta collaborazione che cercano di occultare quelle diversità.

Prendiamo il tema dell’energia. Non possiamo più dipendere dalla Russia. Dobbiamo differenziare i fornitori. Ma molti di loro, come la Russia di Putin, non ci sono affini, sono retti da governanti che, alla luce degli standard occidentali, consideriamo tipacci. Il problema, come abbiamo ormai capito, è che non possiamo più dipendere da un solo tipaccio. Cosicché se il «tipaccio A» vuole ricattarci dobbiamo poterlo scaricare e rivolgerci al «tipaccio B». Per dire che non c’è niente di scandaloso nel fare accordi col Qatar in materia di energia.

Altro è invece pretendere di annullare le differenze, stabilire «legami pericolosi» con mondi che sono dichiaratamente ostili alle libertà occidentali. La causa di ciò che è accaduto nel Parlamento europeo va ricercata nello stato confusionale di gruppi politici culturalmente fragili, in crisi di identità, privi di quel senso della politica e della storia che orienta le scelte delle autentiche classi dirigenti. Prede perfette per chi quel senso politico possiede. E sa come sfruttare tutte le risorse che servono per la conquista delle menti e dei cuori, nelle lotte per l’egemonia.



The Sad Tales of George Santos

George Santos leans against a table, smiling, in a room that is otherwise empty except for “George Santos for Congress” signs.
Credit...Jackie Molloy/Bloomberg
George Santos leans against a table, smiling, in a room that is otherwise empty except for “George Santos for Congress” signs.

Opinion Columnist

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What would it be like to be so ashamed of your life that you felt compelled to invent a new one?

Most of us don’t feel compelled to do that. Most of us take the actual events of our lives, including the failures and frailties, and we gradually construct coherent narratives about who we are. Those autobiographical narratives are always being updated as time passes — and, of course, tend to be at least modestly self-flattering. But for most of us, the life narrative we tell both the world and ourselves gives us a stable sense of identity. It helps us name what we’ve learned from experience and what meaning our life holds. It helps us make our biggest decisions. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once observed, you can’t know what to do unless you know what story you are a part of.

A reasonably accurate and coherent autobiographical narrative is one of the most important things a person can have. If you don’t have a real story, you don’t have a real self.

George Santos, on the other hand, is a young man who apparently felt compelled to jettison much of his actual life and replace it with fantasy. As Grace Ashford and Michael Gold of The Times have been reporting, in his successful run for Congress this year he claimed he had a college degree that he does not have. He claimed he held jobs that he did not hold. He claimed he owned properties he apparently does not own. He claims he never committed check fraud, though The Times unearthed court records suggesting he did. He claims he never described himself as Jewish, merely as adjacently “Jew-ish.” A self-described gay man, he hid a yearslong heterosexual marriage that ended in 2019.

All politicians — perhaps all human beings — embellish. But what Santos did goes beyond that. He fabricated a new persona, that of a meritocratic superman. He claims to be a populist who hates the elites, but he wanted you to think he once worked at Goldman Sachs. Imagine how much inadequacy you’d have to feel to go to all that trouble.

I can’t feel much anger toward Santos for his deceptiveness, just a bit of sorrow. Cutting yourself off to that degree from the bedrock of the truth renders your whole life unstable. Santos made his own past unreliable, perpetually up for grabs. But when you do that you also eliminate any coherent vision of your future. People may wonder how Santos could have been so dumb. In political life, his fabrications were bound to be discovered. Perhaps it’s because dissemblers often have trouble anticipating the future; they’re stuck in the right now.

In a sense Santos is a sad, farcical version of where Donald Trump has taken the Republican Party — into the land of unreality, the continent of lies. Trump’s takeover of the G.O.P. was not primarily an ideological takeover, it was a psychological and moral one. I don’t feel sorry for Trump the way I do for Santos, because Trump is so cruel. But he did introduce, on a much larger scale, the same pathetic note into our national psychology.

In his book, “The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump,” the eminent personality psychologist Dan McAdams argues that Trump could continually lie to himself because he had no actual sense of himself. There was no real person, inner life or autobiographical narrative to betray. McAdams quotes people who had been close to Trump who reported that being with him wasn’t like being with a conventional person; it was like being with an entity who was playing the role of Donald Trump. And that role had no sense of continuity. He was fully immersed in whatever dominance battle he was fighting at that moment.

McAdams calls Trump an “episodic man,” who experiences life as a series of disjointed moments, not as a coherent narrative flow of consciousness. “He does not look to what may lie ahead, at least not very far ahead,” McAdams writes. “Trump is not introspective, retrospective or prospective. There is no depth; there is no past; there is no future.”

America has always had impostors and people who reinvented their pasts. (If he were real, Jay Gatsby might have lived — estimations of the precise locations of the fictional East and West Egg vary — in what is now Santos’s district.) This feels different. I wonder if the era of the short-attention spans and the online avatars is creating a new character type: the person who doesn’t experience life as an accumulation over decades, but just as a series of disjointed performances in the here and now, with an echo of hollowness inside.

This week Santos tried to do a bit of damage control in a series of interviews, including with WABC radio in New York. The whole conversation had an air of unreality. Santos was rambling, evasive and haphazard, readjusting his stories in a vague, fluid way. The host, John Catsimatidis, wasn’t questioning him the way a journalist might. He was practically coaching Santos on what to say. The troubling question of personal integrity was not on anybody’s radar screen. And then the conversation reached a Tom Wolfe-ian crescendo when former Congressman Anthony Weiner suddenly appeared — and turned out to be the only semi-competent interviewer in the room.

Karl Marx famously said that under the influence of capitalism, all that’s solid melts into air. I wonder if some elixir of Trumpian influence and online modernity can have the same effect on individual personalities.