Whatever you think about it, I believe everyone agrees that February 24th, 2022 brought History back into our homes, marking one of those watershed moments between a “before” and an “after.” Recent events have prompted me to write a few notes, condensed from the thousand things that have been chaotically swirling around in my head in these past weeks.
Nearly 80 years — about 3 or 4 generations — of democratic drunkenness under the comfortable umbrella of NATO (i.e. the US) had deluded many of us into thinking that we would never have to worry about once-vital issues like the safety of our community. In other words, this long period had made us believe that we had indeed reached the end of History as Fukuyama argues. Instead, we have abruptly realized that not only was this idea a mere illusion, but also that we have taken our peace and protection over these decades for granted; we should not forget, however, that we have paid a high price for this privileged status in terms of national sovereignty. In essence, the war in Ukraine was a wake-up call that made us aware that the end of history is fake news and that we will also have to get our hands dirty again.
The crisis in Ukraine also points out a huge problem related to media and information. The effort to get an objective idea about what is truly happening there is overwhelming. Besides the usual difficulty of trying to look at events through the eyes of the other — for example, how can a Westerner understand the sense of encirclement felt by the Russian people? —, there is an unprecedented information overload, which is further entangled by the availability of digital tools suited to electronically alter the evidence of what happened (audio recordings, pictures, videos). This is one of the paradoxes of the information age. And speaking of paradoxes, when it seemed that humanity had just started to become aware of the need for a decisive ecological transition, we hurried to reignite coal-fired power plants to deal with the consequent energy crisis exacerbated by the Russian invasion.
That said, we must never forget the starting point, namely Russia’s invasion of a sovereign country. This incontrovertible fact should be enough for us to label Russia the villain of the day without hesitation. Nevertheless, in a situation like this, I do not understand those who try to make sharp distinctions between good guys and bad guys. We are facing the conflict of two empires (and let us not forget that on the horizon there is a probable, future clash with a third one, i.e. China) and we Europeans are geographically just in the middle of it. Plain and simple. It matters little what mission the empires flaunt to justify their moves: whether it is to export democracy, liberate the subaltern classes from labor slavery, denazify a country, even evangelize, or whatever, the bottom line remains fundamentally the same. In this regard, all the empires have been the same. Their primary goals are to extend their area of influence and to move the first line of defense as far away as possible from the heart of the nation. Period. The conflict between the US and Russia has never ceased, despite our belief that the Cold War had ended. On the one hand, Russia’s suffocation has continued relentlessly. On the other, the Russian empire, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, reorganized to relaunch its offensive, first annexing Crimea and then invading Ukraine. And in all of this, we Europeans could only watch as powerless spectators.
From an anthropological standpoint, what is happening has clearly highlighted how differently the countries relate to suffering, life, and death. Imperialist nations have hardwired into their DNA the ability to suffer, which is a basic requirement for overcoming the adversities involved in their mission. “Normal” nations like Italy have placed the well-being of their people at the top of their priorities and are no longer equipped to deal with challenges of this magnitude — incidentally, this realization had already emerged in part with the Covid-19 pandemic. In this regard, there is no match. We “normal” countries are losers from the start. We have lost the ability to suffer because we have not been challenged for generations. Even worse, we have also lost our sense of proportion: we have felt no sense of shame in comparing the Covid-19 epidemic to war in the past two years. Today, faced with the endless images and news coming out of Ukraine daily, we are realizing the unimaginable horrors of true war. At the end of the day, I seriously question whether Italy is ready to face what lies ahead if we are not even willing to give up air conditioning.
Another seemingly paradoxical aspect that impressed me is the perception we have had of this war from the very beginning. The dignity of the suffering of the people affected by the war is beyond question, whether they are Russian, Ukrainian, Syrian, Yemeni, etc. I believe, however, it is inevitable that this war is being perceived very differently by the citizens of Western Europe than those occurred in the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And this is even true for conflicts that geographically were much closer to Italy as in the case of the Balkans. In my opinion, this is due to obvious reasons related to our geopolitical positioning and our everyday life although it has been still only touched upon to date. Unlike previous conflicts, we feel this war is also ours, to some extent. We feel — or maybe the propaganda makes us feel — that we need to be involved actively. This explains why, for example, we are supplying weapons to Ukraine.
In conclusion, in 2022 the priorities of my country are:
- To arm the Ukrainians so that they can continue to fight (and die) for themselves and on our behalf too.
- By economic means, to cause as much suffering as possible to the Russian people, in the hope that this will cause them to put enough pressure on their political class to stop the war.
Sad, isn’t it?
Is it possible that after 250,000 years of being on this earth we have not been able to find a better way to figure our conflicts out and to coexist peacefully? In these moments, I am truly tempted to agree with those who claim that humanity is a cancer that must be eradicated as soon as possible.
Feature image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/13476480@N07/51986156860
Translated with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator.