We, Europeans, in the era of Trump and Putin
Gianluca Solera - 13/11/2016
Despite the fact that Donald Trump, addressing his supporters in New York right after having received the news that he would be the new president, said: “It is time for us to come together as one united people. It is time”, many voiced out their hostility marching a few hours later in the streets of America against him. It was the first time that American people took to the streets against a newly elected president within a few hours from the race. One of the demonstrators carried a poster stating: «Resign or Revolt». No surprise. Mr. Trump was a paladin of the narrative of hate, sexism and racism, and of old style industrialist capitalism. He won obtaining less ballots than his adversary did. 60,071,781 votes (47.7%) for Ms. Clinton, and 59,791,135 votes (47.5%) for Mr. Trump. There is a problem in America’s democracy. When Mr. Dmitry Kiselyev, the most prominent anchor on Russian state television, recently stated that American democracy has failed, he was right if we look at that. It is barely conceivable that you get the majority of votes and your rival wins. The system has to be changed, and genuine American democrats should campaign for reforming it, even if this is unpopular. He was right as well if we refer to the hideous level of offense and outrage reached through the appeals to racial and ethnic resentment, and sexism, that powered Trump’s campaign. Mr. Kiselyev, however, was not referring to that. By denouncing that the White House has lost its legitimacy, he was preparing the ground for a much brutal message: democracy is decaying, and it is not the best available political system any more.
It is time for concern, for our nations and for our political systems. What we should be mostly concerned about now are two issues.
The first issue is the growing practice of disconnecting democracy from universal values and fundamental rights, and of making it as a tool to implement illiberal and discriminating policies, and to question earlier achieved individual and collective rights. We have to be frank with ourselves. Democracy has less and less to do with its Greek conceptual roots, modern democracy seems turning excluding and exclusive, it has exhausted its empathic transformative role, and has become a divisive tool preventing social redistribution and universal rights.
The Left bear major responsibilities for this involution, having often abandoned what it stands for. For the sake of democracy, the Left must find back its pride and consistency. You should not miss the views of French sociologist Didier Eribon in this regard. He criticizes both the governmental Left - who overlooks the struggle for people’s rights, and pretends to modernize the progressive spectrum through the decomposition of social welfare and the reduction of workers’ rights – and the young and informal Left claiming to represent the 99%. When men and women of this Left go to those neighbours where the unemployed live, in fact, they are just ignored. Take America. Occupy Wall Street has not prevented Mr. Trump from winning the vote of his marginalized and frustrated fellow citizens. Even this new Left does not represent the 99%, because it does not recognize that social classes still exist, and one cannot address on equal terms a graduated and acculturate youngster living in central Paris, and an unemployed worker living in a Northern French banlieue. If we want to halt the sunset of progressive political forces, we have to be radically clear and honest, and address the pain, misery and rage of the dispossessed and the losers, of the «small people». That means, as well, going back to solidarity and internationalism, to a culture of «rights for all», and dismiss the fake perception that «good nationalism» is possible. The Left should not fall in the following trap - «we can come back to our constituencies and pretend to solve our problems breaking ties with the rest of the world, and playing dishonestly with those living on the margins of society» - and still name herself «progressive». In this fragilised context, we would be easily eaten up by fascist ideologies, or identity-based narratives. The challenge is refocusing around social justice; this is the missed mission of the Left, and voters feel it. «If there were a [real] Left party, by which she could feel represented, she would also vote for this party, even if it advocates for the rights of homosexuals, or for ethnical minorities» tells Mr. Eribon referring to his mother, who supports the Front National .
The second issue we should be concerned about is the loss of momentum of the European integration project, squeezed between the new policy-to-come of American isolationism, and the present danger of Russian imperialism. From now on, any attack to the European Union, which aims at dissolving it without proposing any alternative European democratic and cohesive project, will play in the ends of those who want to undermine the achievements of the peoples of our continent. On this point, I would like to elaborate more, because we are underestimating the Russian role in creating political turmoil and [i]escalating military violence around Europe, I am afraid.
Since annexing Crimea in March 2014, Russia has heightened a disinformation campaign, painting the West as violent, disorderly, swarming with refugees and inherently undemocratic, or fabricating fake coverage about rape by immigrants or arms sales to the Middle East. On the other hand, it is supporting right-wing (or far-Left) parties to influence the European agenda, divide the countries in the name of nationalism, and realign consistent parts of European public opinion along the lines of an anti-West and anti-liberalism narrative. According to several research centres, Russian entities finance parties such as the French Front National or the Greek Golden Dawn in exchange of a parliamentary voting behavior favorable to the Kremlin. Budapest-based Political Capital Institute clarifies that European far-right organizations serving Russian state interests fill three major functions: (a) Social and political destabilization at the member state, community and transatlantic levels alike; (b) Provision of external legitimization of the Russian regime (e.g., through ideological support and observation of elections); and (c) Provision of information and spread of disinformation (i.e., transmitting Russian propaganda to EU member states and gathering intelligence).
Even in Italy, parties like the Northern League are overtly exhibiting signs of support for and offering cooperation with Russia, while they are virulently attacking the European Union and feeding a culture of hate against migrants. In Mid-October 2016, regional councilors of the Northern League visited Crimea to open a political channel and establish business-relations. Confusion is great, and political stupidity grows. There have been even some public figures from those Central Italy’s areas recently affected by an earthquake, who wrote directly to Mr. Putin asking for a trade deal with their territories to revitalize their economy based on the production of Delikatessen such as row ham, and on the fashion and furniture industries. I imagine already the generous Russian government helping those unlucky Italian communities by buying their ham in large quantities, and then parachuting it on the besieged city of Aleppo.
In addition to instigating political turmoil, Russia is going through a phase of sustained militarization. Prof. Khodarkovsky reminds that, in the last five years, Russia has been rapidly modernizing its military, and by 2015 has increased its military budget by 40%. Russian drills of civil defense in case of war, military exercises, and redeployment of military systems along the borders are multiplying, spreading thus uncertainty and fear. Syria is a pilot case, where military terror and disguised diplomacy are applied to serve Putin’s ambitions at the expenses of local people. After having successfully followed the strategy of the «scorched earth» in Grozny during the second Chechnya war, when the city was besieged, and then systematically bombed until complete annihilation (1999-2000), Russia is now preparing the ground for the capitulation of Aleppo using the same barbarian strategy. Devastating weapons are dropped on Aleppo, like bunker-busting bombs that can destroy underground hospitals and civilians’ shelters, or phosphorous bombs, that are similar to Napalm and burn human flesh to the bones. Despite it, the only comment Mr. Trump has issued on Syria after his election, is that he will abandon what he calls «rebels» and will seek a rapprochement with Mr. Putin on the Syrian president’s fate, supporting him in his presumed struggle against terrorism. There cannot be best reward to the criminal policies of Syria and Russia, and no best gift to Jihadist terrorism. Such an endorsement legitimizes war brutality as a political strategy, and I do not see now any obstacle for regional or global military powers intending to follow such a criminal path elsewhere, Europe included. The first test for Europe is Syria. Leaving Syria to its destiny would not only mean a possible second wave of refugees fleeing to Europe, but also condemning to annihilation the democratic aspirations of Arab nations to democracy, and paving the way to the consolidation of a newly legitimized generation of authoritarian regimes at the gates of our continent. These regimes will do their best for reducing to silence any internal dissent, on the one hand, and mock European democracies, on the other hand. Europe needs a radical change of stand against repression in Syria to prove that its attachment to democracy shall overcome any internal or external threat, even if that implies profound political divergences with Global Powers.
The moment to grow-up as Europeans has arrived. Reshaping the European integration project is not anymore an issue of where Italy, Germany or Hungary stand with EU policies, nor a matter of Left or Right positioning, nor a matter of despising Brussels bureaucracy. It might become a matter of preventing future external conflicts, and internal divisions and violent developments. We should not forget either that Mr. Trump could withdraw the American troops from Europe, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, without even consulting the US Congress. Mariia Tsyshchenko, a Ukrainian political activist, working on empowering youth and women, and operating also in areas where Russian separatists are clashing with the Ukrainian army or where they have imposed their control, says to me: «I am afraid, that the next ones will be the Baltic countries». Then, she recommends Europeans to reconsider their current disinvestment in defense. During a recent meeting of EU defense ministers in Bratislava, Italy called for a coalition of member countries willing to establish a joint permanent military force. This is a difficult topic to be addressed from a progressive perspective, and certainly parliamentary scrutiny of the military apparatus is a necessary condition. If the idea of an EU-army is too controversial, if it would require substantial amendments of national basic laws and constitutional charts, EU countries should however definitely strengthen cooperation on defense and security, and work toward a future European integrated force as part of a set of common institutions bolstering integration in several fields, including economic, financial, and social policy . Common defense should not be exclusively based on military deterrent, but include a Nonviolent Civil Defense system, acting as a complementary force and an alternative one when military intervention is not required, especially beyond European borders. That would reinforce the unique position of the European Union as a civil power, which implies a high potential for soft power that has to date clearly distinguished the EU from traditional Great Powers, and on the same time would launch a clear message to those Powers cultivating imperial appetites along the borders and in other regions of the world.
As Die Zeit has beautifully written, Mr. Trump embodies global egoism, which could imply radical cuts in global security investments, separation, convergence of interests with authoritarian leaders, and betrayal of partners. Europe is warned. The new American president, we should not have doubts about it, raises the global danger of war. There is, however, a counter power to global disorder: this is Europe. It is the most articulated power that personifies democracy, prudence and rationality, has created the strongest integrated transnational market, draws up shared policies, which are often not ambitious but whose reorientation toward social justice and sustainable development is possible, and has built common institutions, which are certainly imperfect as well, but can be reformed and further democratized.
On the other hand, do not underestimate the hysteria and the disorder men like Mr. Trump or Mr. Putin will nourish, and keep vigilant. Be prepared for the worst, get ready to perform civil and political resistance, get organized, think strategically, and get prepared to defend democracy and freedom by any means in your own constituencies, where Trumpists and Putinists will grow like mushrooms. You can create your own Trump- or Putin-free district or town, taking care of the most derelict and unlucky fellows in your community, or advocating for free thought and critical mind, and showing publicly that we do not need them and their followers in order to find our own mission for life. Yet, those who will watch things happening with distant regard, they will be enslaved by propaganda, and forced to accept a life system built on fear, hate, business and order.
Stockholm, 13 November 2016
- Source: «Whoever wins the America presidential elections, Russia comes out ahead», in The Economist, 8 November 2016.
- Felix Stephan, «You cannot claim that you were the People [in German]», interview to Didier Eribon, in Die Zeit, 4 July 2016.
- Source: Neil MacFarquhar, «For Russia and Putin, a Surprise Gift from America», in The New York Times, 9 November 2016.
- See Political Capital Institute, «“I am Eurasian” – The Kremlin connections of the Hungarian Far-Right», riskandforecast.com, 14 April 2015.
- Giuseppe Pietrobelli, «Crimea, Northern League’s expedition upsets Ukraine: “This is contrary to international law. We are deeply embittered” [in Italian]», in Il Fatto Quotidiano, 19 October 2016.
- Letter written by the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Pesaro and Urbino. See Maurizio Gennari, «Earthquake, letter to Putin. Companies: "Stop sanctions" [in Italian]», in Quotidiano.net, 3 November 2016.
- Independent experts estimate that Russian military spending stays at 5.3% of the gross domestic product (China stands at 2.1%, and the USA – still the largest in real dollars - at 3.5%). See Michael Khodarkovsky, «Playing with Fear: Russia’s War Card», in The New York Times, 26 October 2016.
- Source: interview to Mr. Trump by Monica Langley and Gerard Baker, in The Wall Street Journal, 11 November 2016.
- I met her at WoMidan, a transnational project offering a dialogue and action platform for empowering women activism for change in Europe and in the MENA region (Stockholm, 10-11 November, 2016). Katerina Malofeyeva, a journalist from Donetsk, who witnessed the horror of war, added: «I do not like Russian separatists when they kill my people, nor the Ukrainian army when it bombs my town. I want to get rid of nationalisms».
- See Jacopo Barigazzi, « The almost-an-EU-army plan », in Politico, 27 September 2016.
- «...aber nicht am Ende», Die Zeit, n. 47, 10 November 2016.