At a turning point in history

Publish date 29-06-2022

by Vittorio Emanuele Parsi

War has returned to the center of Europe, in a form - that of the conflict between sovereign states, which mutually recognize each other as such - which we no longer believed we had to witness after the Second World War. Support goes to Ukraine and the sufferings of its courageous people who struggle to preserve their independence, formally obtained thirty years ago, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but affirmed over the centuries of a more than millennial history.
Solidarity also goes to the Russian people, dragged into an anachronistic and bloody madness by a leadership that has a Jurassic conception of international politics, made up of "spheres of influence", diktats, threats and the use of military force to force others to bow to their own arrogance and their own delusions of omnipotence.
It is said that the world has gone back to the times of the Cold War, of the confrontation between the Soviet bloc and the American bloc that characterized the history of the second postwar period up to 9 November 1989. Unfortunately, things are more complex, history never repeats itself. not even passing “from tragedy to farce”. Never, during the Cold War, had a great power invaded a third state to force it into its sphere of influence. Instead, it had happened several times that violence had been used to bring back those who threatened to leave it: sometimes directly (as in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968), sometimes indirectly (as in Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973 or Poland in 1981).

A situation like the one we are witnessing in Ukraine is therefore unprecedented. It is a blatant violation not only of international law, but also of the delicate triangulation between norms, principles and practical reason through which states try to chart their own routes.
What is certain is that the European security scenario has irreversibly changed after the Russian aggression on Ukraine. And we are already seeing this. The European Union has had to acknowledge that the peace that reigns within its borders does not represent a foretaste of the already written future of the entire continent. On the contrary. At the borders of the Union, at our borders, war has returned. Moreover, announced by the Russian aggression, again against Ukraine, in 2014.

It is the end of the post-Cold War, but it is also the end of the illusion that the Union can only be a "civil power", able with its example to illustrate the way forward for the rest of the world. All this also contained a good dose of hypocrisy, starting with the one that left the market and its forces with the task of building a peace "without losers or winners". The continuous economic and financial crises that have occurred in recent years and the growing polarization of income, wealth and prospects in our societies tell a very different story. But this latest awakening is even more traumatic.
We will have to become aware that the road to a more equitable, inclusive and peaceful world is still long, that history does not go back, but that we are certainly at a "turning point in history", which will require us not to be deceived by false analogies with the past but also not to make the same mistakes. We will have to be able to demonstrate in facts, even in the most painful ones and in the most serious moments, that we know how to be "one European people".

Looking at the reactions that this war has aroused we cannot fail to be dismayed by noting how many - faced with the rape of a nation - wanted to seek and justify the reasons for the rapist. It is the same mechanism that we have seen at work in violence against women. Ukraine has also been accused of "coming home late in the evening, with a dress that is too short, perhaps a bit tipsy", of "having gone looking for it", insisting on being free to choose one's own destiny, membership to the EU, to NATO…

Fortunately there is also the hope that the mobilization of tens of millions of Europeans gives us, materially expressed in the Italian squares and in those of Prague and Berlin, in the name of peace and in support of rights and to the value of the Ukrainian people. Here is the centrality of the role of the individual commitment of each of us, which can contribute to making a difference, as the very existence of Sermig has testified for decades. Let's start from here, from what we know how to do and testify, let's start from this feeble light, to fight against darkness.

Vittorio Emanuele Parsi
Professor of International Relations at the Catholic University of Milan
NP March 2022

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