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Europeans Goodbye?

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‘Demography is destiny.’ Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon

In 1825 the world’s population reached, for the first time, the figure of 1 billion with a doubling of the population 100 years later and on to 5.3 billion in 1990. It stands today at 7.5 billion.

A demographic transition is taking place worldwide but at different rates. Seven per cent of the world’s population is over 65, and this is unevenly spread, with. Africa has the world’s youngest population, with Europe and Japan harboring the smallest number of children.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to number 9.5 billion, assuming present trends continue, at which time the population of the developing countries will be 6 times larger than that of the developed countries due to higher fertility rates. The increase in the world’s population will be identical to the number of people on the entire planet back in 1950.

In Africa, some countries will see their population triple, requiring the building, each week, of a town of a million inhabitants.

On the other hand, in East Asia, the birth rate is collapsing. China and Japan have among the world’s lowest birth rates – Hong Kong’s is below 1 – and in Japan 14% of the population is over 65 years old. At the present fertility rate of 1.25 child per woman, the country’s population will be of only 60 million in 2100.

China’s population is also forecast to decrease to less than 20% of the world’s population but the country will have 25% of the world’s senior citizens.

A sustained fertility rate of 1.3 means that, over a century, a country would lose 75% of its population.

Europe’s declining birth rates

Over the past three centuries, Europe’s population multiplied fivefold and if you include the population of European origin that immigrated worldwide, we are led into a sevenfold increase.

The main reason for this increase was due to a reduction of mortality. At the beginning, this decline was gradual and ascribed to a more productive agriculture, trade that enriched European nations, the industrial revolution, advances in medical knowledge, better nutrition, a more relaxed lifestyle and better public order. Starting in the nineteenth century, a drastic reduction of mortality of infectious and contagious disease to nearly zero increased life expectancy at birth from 35 years to 70 years.

Other contributing factors for this increase were the decline in female fertility as women entered the professional world in ever larger numbers. They also had easy access to birth control methods.

The number of working-age adults increases and the economy grows as not only the economic contribution of the population increases, but also the social contributions decrease. This is called the ‘demographic dividend’. It is, however, at this stage that the state must undertake productive investments such as in education and health infrastructure in particular to support old age.

Birth rates increased in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, but remained below that of other parts of the world. European population was always constrained by the use of traditional birth control methods, a low number of extra-marital births, a late marriage age and a fairly large percentage of unmarried persons.

Low birth rates are a worldwide trend, and if every woman will only have a single child, the world’s population in 2075 will be of 1.6 billion. Europe, in particular, is suffering, and is forecast to continue to suffer of depopulation. Its present population of 740 million is expected to drop to 707 million by 2050 and of 646 million by 2100.

For a population to remain stable, the total fertility rate – the number of children a woman will have in her lifetime should be of 2.1. In eastern and southern Europe, the figure is presently of 1.3, and in some areas has dwindled to 1. In Germany, nearly 30% of the women born in 1960 have not had any children. Russia is losing half its population every 40 years and its underpopulated large land mass could be seen as an invitation by China.

When birth rates eventually decreased, they brought about a new vision of the family, with women succeeding in roles other than that of wives and mothers and with reduced coital rates. Fertility was increasingly controlled by females rather than males.

Urbanization played a leading role in the drop in birth rates. The smaller family became the reference in Europe first, and then spread to many other countries. Urban couples did not have the social pressure that rural families had, of having children rapidly becoming economic contributors.

In an urban environment, individual success is important and family ties lose their primary role as education, health and employment is ensured by institutions other than the family. Children become a cost rather than an asset.

This led to a demographic transition of low birth rates and long life expectancy which helped the population of Europe and of the world grow.

The transition normally starts with low child mortality; children being the first beneficiaries of increased survival. In Europe, today, nearly all births occur in a hospital environment with a large number of precautions taken including for premature children.

In Europe, the countries that were rich at the end of the Second World War, such as in Scandinavia and North-West Europe, saw the number of traditional families decline as women had satisfying employment opportunities and individualism was on the rise. Everything was postponed, from leaving school to dying. Postponing births eventually results in women being too old to be pregnant.

Professional women tend to cheat more, divorce more often, have fewer children, and more often than non-professional women feel sorry of having married and having had children.

Women concentrating on their careers find the stress of caring for children – which, in today’s society takes an increasing amount of parents’ time as well as a change in the relationship between parents – a burden, particularly if the household work – usually considered as a low-level type of work – is not shared with the male parent. Women have a major decision to make as to whether they pursue a career, marry or build a family. They will select cohabitation as against marriage if they believe that being married will hinder their possibilities of career advancement. Investments in child care infrastructure and a balance between life and work lead to increased birth rates. Women must have the possibility of returning to their jobs after a pregnancy and maternal leave.

Women pursuing careers may study for long periods of time and therefore they will have their first child at an advanced age, thus limiting the number of children they will have. Mothers having their children at a more mature age translates into older grandmothers, if they would still be alive, who may not be able to assist their daughters or grand-daughters. The non-availability of this care may reduce even further the propensity of women to have children.

Increasingly they may not want to mate, preferring to enrich their lives financially and intellectually, or will select low-fertility partners. They may find there is a lack of desirable partners. Pressure put on by media as the looks of women, slim and a canon of beauty, may also lead women to opt for a slimmer look to the detriment of family formation or even partnership and sex with a man.

In the Mediterranean countries where family values were supported by culture and governments, the transition took place later. In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.’

In Central and Eastern Europe where communism collapsed and with it went the allowances and a large number of free services, families hesitate to assume the burden of a child.

As societal pressure is determinant in defining the number of children a couple will have, a smaller family became the social norm. It fulfilled in a minimalistic manner the social pressure to have children.

One of the most important elements in social pressure is religion and all religions encourage a strong birth rate. Hence, in industrial societies, as religiousness wanes, so does the size of families.

A theory suggests that as children survive, there is no need for families to have ‘replacement’ children in case of death and the child become the child-king. Another theory proposes that since children no longer look after their parents, they do not need to bear the cost of bearing them. A third theory proposes than in resource allocation, families today prefer spending their funds on matters other than raising children which they will have only if the benefits outweigh the costs. The benefits are essentially emotional and a response to societal demands including that of creating new networks such as with other school parents and later in time with the in-laws. The costs have their origin in education, the purchase of food and other products, and possible tensions between the parents as the fathers concentrate on their professional activity to create wealth for their family, which often translates in absences from the family.

Job instability has also had a negative impact on the willingness of couples to start a family.

Women’s libido appears to be on the wane and men’s sperm count is decreasing and the spermatozoids are less active probably due to the chemicals absorbed in the diet. Obesity in both men and women also affects their fertility.

The large number of leisure activities easily available and the ideas that freedom and personal development are essential to a happy, productive life are major distractors and inhibitors to starting a family. The ubiquitous nature of erotic and pornographic images leads men to view their companions as exclusively a sex image and not a partner with whom to establish a family. At the other end of the scale an ever increasing number of men have opted out of sex altogether.

Education, in turn, impacts fertility in a number of ways. It allows reaching a better status and material conditions, it improves the ability of women to select the right partner who has the same level of education and may also be reluctant to have a large family, and it leads to better informed women and therefore larger use of contraceptives, and increases the opportunity costs of childbearing.

Financial issues are also a hindrance to starting or expanding a family. Educated couples may also prefer to concentrate their wealth, during their lifetime or through inheritance, on a single child.

Increasingly, in an unstable world, would-be parents, particularly younger couples, are afraid of conceiving children in what could be a very different and dangerous world.

The availability of contraceptives and the legalization of abortion have also been contributing factors. They not only enabled women to postpone pregnancies but also sharply reduced unwanted pregnancies.

In Southern Europe, as children stay with their parents until marriage, by the time they leave home, they are at a more advanced age than adults from Northern Europe, and therefore are more likely to have fewer children. They are also less likely to take financial risks by taking responsibility for a family. This has been called the ‘delay syndrome.

The one population segment that is growing in Europe is the Muslim population that, even though it averages only 5% of the population, with the notable exception of Russia where it reaches 15% and France with 10%, may eventually bring about major changes in society as their culture is essentially very difficult from the permissive and liberal European culture. if Muslims maintain a high fertility rate, we could witness a repeat of what is believed to have taken place with the Christians in the early days of the church in Rome, with a small group rapidly gaining in importance and leading the emperor himself to convert.

However, the fertility of Moslems in Europe is declining rapidly, adjusting itself to that of the native European population, and thus showing that immigration is not a viable alternative to stop population decline. Migration does, however, contribute to replace an ageing workforce.

Nearly 50 million migrants will have to be admitted to the European Union by 2050 for the population to remain stable. For the retirement benefits to be maintained at their present level of 4 active persons per pensioner, the figure for migrants is even higher, reaching 13 million a year. Presently there are 11 million migrants in Europe and an unknown number of illegals.

There are other ways through which this decline could be halted. One of them is through the entrance of candidate countries which, like Turkey, have a growing demography.

As birth rates decline, due to personal choices, both the number of children and the population, over time, shrinks. The working age population decreases and fertility declines even further. Eventually there is the third transition period with all age segments of the population declining.

An ageing society

In the world today, for the first time in human history, old people outnumber the young. In developed countries, 20% of the population is older than 60. Worldwide, 1% of the population is over 80 and, being the fastest growing age group, is due to reach 4% by 2050.

Since the middle of the 19th century, life expectancy has increased by 3 months every year, leading to the forecast that by 2060, it will have reached 100 years and possibly even higher if life-extension drugs or technologies are developed.

Europe has the world’s oldest population, with 22% being over 60, and 1% being older than 80, this last figure is expected to reach 4% by 2050.

Women still have a longer life expectancy than men, but the difference is narrowing and may not be sustainable over the long term. Smoking by women, together with the adoption of social habits that used to be reserved to men, is believed to be the major culprit in allowing this difference to narrow.

While the average sex ratio at birth favors males by approximately 105 boys to 100 girls, the ratio reverses itself with age as women have a longer life expectancy than men. For the population over 60, the figures are of 82 men for 100 women and decreases to 55 men for 100 women at age 80. The ratio at these older ages is even lower in Europe with 69 men per 100 women at the age of 60, and 42 men per 100 women at the age of 80. One of the reasons for the difference between Europe and the rest of the world is the large number of young men who died during the Second World War.

Explanations for the longer life expectancy abound. One of them is that the present generation that is retiring is the first to have known both antibiotics and vaccines. They also received a better nutrition as food prices decreased.

Economic and political issues

All the models indicate that economic growth can only take place if there is demographic growth.

Several countries have introduced pro-natal policies such as the financing of day-care centers, fiscal advantages, payments at birth, etc. Research has shown that these policies incite families to have children earlier, but not to have more children.

Older persons are conservative and risk-averse. Therefore it is more than likely that entrepreneurial actions will decrease. Savings will also be on the decrease and lead to higher interest rates increasing the cost of investments. Inheritances, except for the wealthy, will be paltry, leading the younger generations to have reduced wealth.

Pensions and health care costs will soar as the number of people gainfully employed shrinks compared to the number of elderly retired. The increase in the pension and health care budget for France, for instance, is set to increase by 13% and reach five times what the country spends on defense.

Health care for older people is an expensive undertaking, particularly in the treatment of terminal diseases such as the setting of implants and cancer, both of which are a common occurrence on people over 65. A solution to curb these rising costs is to reduce reimbursements or increase insurance premiums or taxes but there is a limit to the acceptance by the tax payer of new increases. Another option is a strict limit set by the government on prices of medications and hospital equipment as is the case in Japan.

As the workforce will decrease, employment of older people may be encouraged by governments through the removal of social contributions and other social payments from corporations, through investments in lifelong learning and by applying penalties on corporations discriminating on the basis of age.

On the positive side, however, new opportunities for employment and for entrepreneurs will be created by the so-called silver economy. These relate to new products and employment in areas as diverse as health care, assisted domestic living, education, travel, spas, etc.

However, even if a number of these urgent measures are applied, the relative importance of Europe in the world will no doubt diminish.

Another action European governments could take to help slow population decline, is to reduce the number of preventable deaths due to alcoholism, car accidents, suicide and smoking for persons under 65 years of age.

Forecasts

Forecasting not being an exact science, there are several forecasts as to the future population of the world and of Europe.

One suggests that future fertility rates will vary, depending on the country, between 1.35 to 2.35 children per woman, leading to a world population in 2030 of between 7.7 and 10.6 billion.

By 2050, Asia’s population will be of over 5 billion and that of Africa nearly 2 billion. India will be the most populated country with 1.4 billion inhabitants.

The world’s population of over 60 will double to 22% of the total population by 2050 and will be larger than the number of children and in the developed countries will be twice the number of children.

Europe’s population is expected to drop by 7 million between now and 2050 and it will only represent 7% of the world’s population in spite of the fact that the populations of France and Great Britain are expected to continue to grow. The countries with the sharpest growth will be Romania and Croatia.

The European continent appears to be moving to an empty land populated mainly by older persons who will sink into poverty as the number of working people decreases. Should large waves of immigrants or the introduction into the EU of Turkey be allowed replace the existing population, European culture will disappear.

Goodbye Europeans, Farewell.

Europe

Geopolitics For Giants And Dwarfs

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PHOTO: Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia / Marko Beljan, NATO

Authors:  Zlatko Hadžidedić and Adnan Idrizbegović

June 2021 was far more than just dynamic in terms of global politics: President Biden’s inaugural foreign visit was organized as a coordinated gathering of the most relevant Western institutions, from G7 to NATO, to which he added the introductory meeting with the leader of the American main  geopolitical adversary, Vladimir Putin. President Biden devoted the first months of his mandate to the healing of wounds inflicted to the American society by the previous Administration of President Donald Trump, and the June campaign was practically his first foreign policy step. Given the fact that the participation of the G7 countries in the world economic output has dramatically shrinked from the 80% to 40% in only a couple of decades, which has eventually led to the decline of cohesion forces amongst the NATO allies, it becomes clear that Biden’s effort was meant to be no less than a rehabilitation of the entire Western enterprise. In the context of the Chinese economic surge and geopolitical expansion, perceived by the US foreign policy establishement as a lethal threat, the G7 and NATO summits were no less than an attempt to forge a new strategy of containment, potentially far more important to the West than the original one against the Soviet Union. At the same time, the meeting with the Russian President served to restore the previous Cold War security settings and reinstate Russia as a global power, so as to stimulate the latter to refrain from active participation in the West’s forthcoming collision with China. In this collision, the boundaries between economic clash and military conflict are becoming blurred and fade away, which suggests that these summits and meetings should be perceived as a single event. And, by its magnitude and strategic importance, this event can be compared only to the historic 1943 Tehran Conference between Roosevelt, Churchhill, and Stalin.

When the traditional policies have become worn out and the revolutionary ones proposed by President Trump have proved to be a failure, and when a decisive reshuffling of long-term strategy is being made, no degree of discord is allowed among those who aspire to remain on the Western side of the world: consensus is the only mode of operation. And, a consensus among the G7 and NATO members is what President Biden came to rebuild, since it had been disrupted by centrifugal geopolitical trends, such as America First, Brexit and Neo-Ottomanism. After Trump’s “America first!“, Biden’s “America is back!“ clearly represents a U-turn and puts the US back at the pedestal as the indispensable leader of the “Free World“. A lack of enthusiasm amongst the European countries for the renewed American leading role was also as transparent as Biden’s intentions: during the Trump era, the Europeans enjoyed in a self-made image of their own importance as a global player, despite the obvious lack of courage and ability to act as an independent factor. Therefore, Biden had to demonstrate the will and power to execute the new American strategy, whatever the Europeans may think of that. Simply, at the moment of new geopolitical positioning, when the “US versus Them“ becomes the only available model again, there is no place for nominal allies to play their own game. Now, it is the West that cannot afford duality or pluralism: monolithic unity is obligatory, as it once upon a time was proclaimed in the East, by the old communist regimes, now with the US as the “avantgarde“ and the European countries as the “satelite states“ within the system of “limited sovereignty“. It is not a surprise that Biden had no choice but to come up with such a vision of the world in this very moment; and it is not a surprise, either, that the Europeans had no choice but to eventually submit to it: having promoted China into a “systemic adversary“, one that successfully exploits the current neoliberal system to its own advantage, the West had no choice but to start changing the rules of the system, and such a gigantic operation could only be performed with absolute unanimity within the Western world. Preferably, with a relatively neutral Russia in between two future economic systems – the Chinese-led neoliberal one and the US-led yet-to-be-defined one.      

So, a new geopolitical and geoeconomic mapping of the world had to be tailored under the condition of unanimity. For that purpose, all G7 and NATO members had to liquidate their mutual disputes, including those countries which were engaged in ‘eternal conflicts’, such as Greece and Turkey. And then, on the stage set for a consensus and closing the ranks, enter Zoran Milanović, president of one of NATO’s latest and least powerful newcomers, Croatia. According to the official website of the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia,  

After the NATO Summit, President Milanović gave press statements, saying that he was satisfied with the meeting, but also worried because of what took place with the closing statement and the paragraph on Bosnia and Herzegovina where – until the intervention by Croatia – the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, better known as the Dayton Agreement, was not mentioned. “We will have to check what is behind that, and how come that some members undermine and overtly obstruct efforts to make mention of the Dayton Accords in the paragraph on Bosnia and Herzegovina, an integral part of the final document, as if that were something toxic,” said President Milanović, adding that he managed to ensure the insertion of this reference at the last moment. “That is a warning sign. Had I failed to do that, we would have had a statement which would look like as if it had been written by an advocate of the so-called civic Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that cause is ostensibly noble but is actually a hoax,” he said.  Asked by reporters whether the Republic of Croatia can be satisfied with the changes in the document, President Milanović reiterated: “We managed to incorporate the need for electoral reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina into the communiqué. It wasn’t there. To exclude this rather manipulative reference to all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which in any other context would sound very noble and well-intentioned, but not in this context, and yes, to finally force them to insert in the text the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And none of that was there until yesterday afternoon,” he said. “Why is it important that the Dayton Agreement is at least mentioned in the statement? Because otherwise there are no Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now we come to the question of whether that is important. It is to me,” said President Milanović. (…) “What interests me in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole and a country with its territorial integrity, which I never bring into question, is the destiny and the fundamental voting rights and citizens’ rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Croats, of whom the lion’s share are citizens of Croatia. This is a fact that was politically and legally known to both NATO and the EU at the time of our accession to these associations. It’s not a hoax. It’s simply a burden or pearls with which we entered these organizations, it depends how one looks at it. That is a political, legal, historical fact – 500,000 citizens of one NATO member, the Republic of Croatia, live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As far as we are concerned, they should stay there, but they are Croats and there is dialogue here and compromise,” said the Croatian President.

Thus Milanović, yes, finally forced NATO to insert in its joint declaration his reference to the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because it is important to him. One should bear in mind that Croatia, just like Serbia, signed this Agreement in 1995 as a party which fought the war on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. Having signed the Agreement, whose author, guarantor and enforcer is the United States, both Croatia and Serbia took an obligation to refrain from violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and from interfering with its internal affairs. However, according to his official website, the President of Croatia says that he is particularly interested in “the fundamental voting rights and citizens’ rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Croats, of whom the lion’s share are citizens of Croatia“. He also explains that “500.000 citizens of one NATO member, the Republic of Croatia, live in Bosnia and Herzegovina“, and that “this is a fact that was politically and legally known to both NATO and the EU at the time of our (Croatia’s) accession to these associations“.

A number of questions logically arise from this statement. First, how can citizens of Croatia have the right to vote in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Do these citizens of Croatia pay taxes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or in Croatia? Do they have the right to vote and be elected in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina? If they vote in Bosnia and Herzegovina, do they – as citizens of Croatia – promote interests and execute the policy of Croatia? If these 500.000 citizens of Croatia occupy the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, do they act as an occupying force of Croatia in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Does the promotion of Croatian citizens’ right to vote in Bosnia and Herzegovina represent a violation of the very Agreement signed in 1995 by Croatia, of non-violation of sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and non-interference in the latter’s internal affairs? Finally, one should ask: what principles does NATO stand for and promote, if it accepts Croatia into its membership, knowing that Croatia’s policy of granting its citizenship to 500.000 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina stands against all the principles of political theory and constitutional and international law upon which all NATO members – other than Croatia – are built? What makes Croatia so special as to be exempted from the basic NATO and EU principles, and what gives Croatia’s President the power to fracture the consensus that was painfully shaped at the NATO Summit in June 2021 and to force NATO to eventually accept his vision of inter-state relations? True, there was an attempt by NATO’s Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, to persuade Milanović in a direct phone conversation to refrain from imposing his own conditions on NATO as a whole; yet, according to Milanović’s website, Stoltenberg failed in that effort.  

If one puts Milanović’s statement into a broader historical context, it should also be noted that his vision of ‘mother-country’s care’ for its ethnic brethren within the borders of other states strongly resembles Hitler’s vision of Germany’s ‘care’ for Germans in the Sudetes and Alsace-Lorraine and Milošević’s vision of Serbia’s ‘care’ for Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Again, the question is to what extent such visions can be compatible with the principle of defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity, upon which NATO was founded? Moreover, Croatia’s policy advocated by Milanović is practically identical with Putin’s policy of granting Russian passports to ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine and live in the Donbas region. Whereas Putin’s policy was quickly proclaimed “a new act of aggression against Ukraine“ by NATO officials, they have patiently ignored Croatia’s long-term policy of granting its passports to citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, even though – as Milanović confirms it – this fact was “politically and legally known to both NATO and the EU at the time of our (Croatia’s) accession to these associations“.

From a geopolitical perspective, both Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina are countries that aspire to become NATO members. In these efforts, Ukraine is being undermined by Putin’s strategy of making it a permanently fractured state, with one of its parts being directly controlled by Russia through the policy of granting passports to ethnic Russians in Donbas and making them Russia’s Trojan Horse in the Ukrainian territory. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been put in the same fractured position by Croatia’s permanent undermining of its sovereignty, including the policy of granting Croatia’s passports to ethnic Croats in Herzegovina and using them as Croatia’s Trojan Horse in the Bosnian territory. No doubt, NATO is willing and able to confront Putin in his policy against Ukrainian sovereignty and its accession to NATO. The question is why it is not willing and able to confront Milanović, a president of its member-state, even when he is promoting his policy against Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and accession to NATO through his publicly advertised blackmailing of NATO?

Given the intimate relationship between Russian capital and Croatia’s economy and their business oligarchies, it is not unlikely that Putin has already taken Milanović’s advice in the process of shaping the strategy against Ukraine’s accession to NATO. However, perhaps even Xi Jinping would find it useful to learn from Milanović how one can break NATO’s consensus and impose his will instead.          

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Europe

Fostering Tolerance in Europe: Issues of Migration and Populism in Italy

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Authors: Maxim Sigachev and Elena Elena*

Tolerance remains a complicated issue in the West and Russia alike. The challenge, though, remains in the need to account for the connection between the notions of tolerance, social security, and the development of the society. The West tends to adopt a broader perspective on tolerance when compared to Russian practices. In Europe, the notions of ‘tolerance’ is informed by ‘active cooperation’ rather than merely ‘patience’, as is the case in Russia.

There are at least four dimensions to this issue in Europe:

  • that of the EU’s regulatory programs;
  • that of local communities;
  • that of European societies at large;
  • that of populism and Euroscepticism, which is believed to be the source of intolerance towards migrants and refugees.

This article is devoted to the problem of the social and political crises in Italy, which have been caused by pan-European problems (i.e., migration, anti-EU attitudes of the public) and strengthened by the national Italian conflicts (the gap between the Northern and the Southern regions, debates between the Left and the Right opposition, the rise of the populist parties etc.).

Social and political discrepancies in Italy

As a part of the EU, Italy has to get through the complex processes of adaptation to a life in a supranational union, which includes profound transformations in socio-economic, cultural, and even religious spheres. If we analyze the election agenda used by the Italian populist parties in the European elections 2019 campaign, we will notice the strong anti-EU discourse and a deep disappointment in the EU politics. Being part of the EU is conceived as a loss of independence. Further, we can notice the increasing deficit of tolerance in many spheres: religious, sociocultural, ethnic, ideological.

Research on the contemporary European political parties notes that Eurosceptical spirit is strong in developing economies and advanced economies (as is the case with Germany and the UK) alike[1]. Thus, Italy’s crises are not necessarily unique but can be found across the Western world as well.

The crisis of Western world order manifests itself on, at least, three levels:

  1. the supranational level: the rise of the Euroscepticism, which is represented in the lack of tolerance and mistrust towards the European Union as an institution.
  2. the national level: the rise of the national populism, which identifies the crisis of multiculturalism in the European nations, zero tolerance to immigrants (the European migrant crisis or refugee crisis of 2015–2018) and refugees as bearers of alien culture, a so-called exclusive nationalism.
  3. the economic level: further strengthening of social populism movements, which signify the end of the European welfare state.

The European societies are characterized by a growing alienation between the rich and the poor, the elites and the people, the establishment and the middle class.

The idea of social and political divisions was first proposed by Stein Rokkan, who studied the existing divisions between political parties that are caused by cleavages between the center and the periphery, the city and the village, etc.

Rokkan’s theory was developed by Paul Lazarsfeld, who studied electoral behavior and stated that “people vote not only for their own social group but also in favor of it”[2].

According to S. Rokkan, the European party system was developed on the foundation of existing social conflicts. Rokkan also formulated the basic lines of conflicts such as “center—periphery”, “state—church”, “employee—employer”, “city—country”. The social discrepancies of the Lipset-Rokkan theory were built on by French political scientist D.-L. Seiler in the work Whether it is possible to apply the clivages of Rokkan to Central Europe?

We can use this theory to explain the stability of the European political systems in the second half of the 20th century and electoral behavior of the Europeans.

Among the notable works on the cleavage theory are R. Rose and D. Urwin Persistence and Change in Western party systems since 1945 [3] S. Wolinetz The Transformation of Western European Party System Revisited [4]M. Abrams, R. Rose and R. Hinden[5], G. Evans and S. Whitefield The Evolution of Left and Right in Post-Soviet Russia [6].

Russian scientists rarely study the Italian political system and electoral behavior in the frameworks of the cleavage theory, as they usually study the different aspects of the political life in their research papers. There are some fundamental works that attempt to analyze facts and knowledge of Italian political thought from the perspective of the communist ideology. Cecilia Kin divided the liberal political thought into purely liberal and catholic in her work Italy at the turn of the century. From the history of social political thought, K.G. Kholodkovsky and I.B. Levin compared the Italian Socialist and Communist parties.[7]

The basic factors of social political crisis in contemporary Italy

The basic factors of the social political crisis in modern Italy can be divided into two groups. The first group includes socio-political divisions of a more historical, traditional character, whereas the second group consists of relatively new, contemporary collisions.

The North-South Divide

The contemporary socio-political crisis in Italy originates from the long-term and unfinished division between the North and the South, which has not been overcome since the Italian Risorgemento (unification) in 1861. Historically less developed Southern Italy has always faced serious difficulties. The process of modernization in Southern Italy is ongoing, the standard of living still pales in comparison to wealthy Northern regions. According to the Soviet-Russian researcher K.G. Kholodkovsky, Italy still suffers from the fact that different parts of the country existed as separate states for centuries. The most important consequence of this Italian historic disunity is economic and cultural gaps between the North and the South[8].

Polarization between the Left and the Right

The ideological conflict between the Right-wing and the Left-wing political forces also has historically contingent roots and goes back to the period of Risorgimento. In 19th century, the two leading political movements—republicans and monarchists—vied for leadership of a newly unified Italy.

One group of politicians led by Giuseppe Mazini tried to establish a Republican Republic, which was supported by the socialist-utopist Carlo Pisacane. Their ideas became the ideological basement for the Italian republicanism. The second group advocated for a monarchy and was led by Camillo Cavour who would later become Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy. Those advocating for monarchy provided a base for conservative right-wing sentiments/ideology.

In the 20th century, there was a divide between fascists and anti-fascists. Those who supported Mussolini espoused conservative views. The anti-fascist coalition united a broad spectrum of political movements including democrats, socialists, and communists.

Today it is impossible to claim that the contemporary Italian Left and Right are descendants of that original opposition, but ideological divides are still a prominent feature of Italian politics.

It would be more correct to divide the Italian parties not only along their preferences of political system but along their attitude toward traditional values as well. Today, political parties on the Right tend to be more nationally oriented and Eurosceptic. They typically advocate for traditional values and greater autonomy from EU Commission directives. They are also staunch opponents of high levels of migration from outside the EU.

The Left is more loyal to the EU and the benefits provided to Italy by its institutions. They also support more progressive economic and family policies. A key difference between left and right in Italy is migration. The left tends to be more tolerant of migrants and refugees and advocate for the integration of migrants into Italian society.

Thus, while the division between the Left and the Right has weakened, it certainly still remains intact. Due to the particularities of the national election law, it is difficult to get the majority of the vote needed and enough seats in the Italian Parliament to form the Cabinet of Ministers. Subsequently, this problem forces the Italian parties to create different coalitions to secure seats in the Parliament. These coalitions are often characterized by the ideology of party members (center-right, right-wing, etc.). This changed in 2013 when a new political party, the 5 Stars Movement, uprooted the traditional political spectrum. Now, there is no pure center-right or center-left coalition. Coalitions have become more volatile as ideological divides become deeper as compared to the situation of ten years ago. For example, the right-wing coalition which included Forza Italia! (S. Berlusconi), Fratelli d’Italia (G. Meloni) and the Northern League (M. Salvini) won the parliamentary elections of 2018. Despite this result, the far-right League abandoned its ideological partners to form a Coalition Cabinet with the Five Stars Movement which cannot be defined as entirely Left or Right-wing.

New collisions

Recently (in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century), new collisions emerged: Eurosceptics vs. Eurooptimists, populists vs. traditional political parties, the supporters of migrants vs. opponents of mass immigration (as well as the division between migrants and local communities).

Eurosceptics vs. Eurooptimists

The growth of Euroscepticism in Italy can be attributed to a crisis in relations between the European Union and Italy as well as disappointment from the Italian society in the EU.

Since 1957, Italy has been a strong advocate for greater European integration, however, recently Italy has begun to transform into one of the Euroscepticism centers. According to the sociological data of Eurobarometer, about 50 per cent of the Italian society is disappointed with the European Union.

The question about the relation between Euroscepticism and populism is an intellectual challenge. On the one hand, Eurosceptics are mainly populist movements: not only the anti-immigrant League but also The Five Star Movement. On the other hand, Euroscepticism has been typical for classical Italian communists—the heirs of the Communist party of Italy. Besides, old populism of Berlusconi is more euro-optimistic than the new populism of Salvini.

Particularities of the relations between Italy and the European Union are based on a disagreement in two key issues: immigration policy and the social economic policy.

Populists vs. Traditional Political Parties

One of the results of this political crisis is the growth of social and political populism. Weinstein noted that there are a few approaches to the phenomenon of populism. According to these approaches, a hybrid phenomenon seems to exist in different dimensions: as an ideology, as a specific style of politics, and as a specific form of political organization.[9] The Italian populism started with Silvio Berlusconi coming to power in 1994. Berlusconi is perceived as the founding father of Italian populism, who managed to unite center-right forces. K.G. Kholodkovsky underlines that “populism has in new conditions become a complex of sense and values, uniting many Italians in being connected with the illusion of personalistic overcoming of the gap between authorities and citizens. The breaking of the barriers between the authorities and the people has found its personification in the figure of the uniter of the center-right forces Sylvio Berlusconi”[10] As noted previously, the rise of Berlusconi came against the background of the collapse of Christian Democratic and the Communist parties. This fact reflects an important feature of populism:

  1. Populism is a consequence of the crisis of the traditional party system, the disappointment with classical parties and party leaders.
  2. Populism has overcome the traditional division between the Left and the Right.
  3. Populist parties are often reliant on a strong leader with a distinct character.

Pro-migrants vs. Anti-migrants

The migrant crisis manifested itself most significantly in Southern Italy, since the coast of the Italian South is the closest to the North Africa. From a geographical perspective, this fact has turned the Southern part of Italy (especially the island of Lampedusa) into a gate from Africa to Europe for immigration. The immigration issue is not a new one for Italy. There were several waves of internal migration from the Southern to the more economically developed Northern regions. This process fostered resentment between citizens from different parts of the country. However, the European immigration crises as well as burgeoning crowds transformed this internal cleavage into an external one.

The intensification of the migrant crisis in Italy and in the European Union has been reflected in public opinion. According to Eurobarometer, about half of Italians consider immigration as the most important problem for the European Union, whereas another half of the Italian society cites terrorism as the most important dilemma. This fact also demonstrates that Italians are anxious about the consequences of the immigration crisis, because illegal immigration is one of the factors of the growing terrorist threat. According to the Eurobarometer spring 2016 data, 44% of Italians pointed immigration as the most important problem of the European Union. By autumn 2016, this number rose to 49,1%, by spring 2017—fell to 40%, then in autumn 2017—fell again to 38%, by autumn 2018—rose to 41%.

The growth of anti-immigrant sentiments in the Italian society has led to the emergence of the new nationalism, which is typical not only for the poorer regions but also for the richer ones. The figurehead of new nationalism in Italian politics is the League, formerly the League of the North, which has changed its name to appeal to broader segments of Italian society.

Thus, the migrant crisis has added a new collision between migrants and Italians. The problem of illegal migration became an accelerator of the existing Italian conflicts rather than an entirely new phenomenon. Illegal immigration has essentially accelerated these already-existing Italian conflicts.

Conclusion

Economy and culture are the two principal ingredients of the Italian mindset and are sources of intense socio-political divisions, as economic reasons lead to a rise of new divisions, as well as feeding traditional ones.

Economic crises lead to social and political crises. Nowadays, Italian voters are disillusioned with the existing political order giving way to new and less ideologically driven parties. Yet, these parties’ first years in power have demonstrated their weakness in taking action to overcome the existing crisis.

For example, under Giuseppe Conte’s First Cabinet, known as “yellow-green government of change” (due to the colors of the League and the Five Star Movement), inter-coalition conflict between Salvini and Di Maio led to a significant political crisis, creating a weaker position for the Five Star Movement and the ambitions of the League’s leader Matteo Salvini for domination. On September 5, 2019, Conte’s Second Cabinet was formed, usually referred to as the “yellow-red government”, because it was supported by the “yellow” M5S and the center-left “red” Democratic party.

The internal political situation in Italy remains unstable, which also results in instability of its foreign policy. Irrefutably, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed significantly to the Italian political crisis. On February 13, 2021, the dilemma peaked when Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte stated he would resign from office. Pro-European technocrat Mario Draghi became the newest Prime Minister of Italy in the wake of Conte’s resignation. Draghi leads a unity government consisting of mainstream political parties and populist parties such as the League and M5S. This government only failed to garner support of the far-right Brothers of Italy.

Although Draghi has enjoyed widespread support throughout the coronavirus crisis, in the post-covid world there are long-term prospects for conflict between Italy and the EU and between Italy’s internally divided political system.

*Elena Elena, PhD student at the Institute of Socio-Political Research under the Russian Academy of Sciences (ISPR RAS)

From our partner RIAC

  1. Kranert M. Populist elements in the election manifestoes of AfD and UKIP, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 67 (3), XXX–XXX. DOI: 10.1515/zaa-2019-0023
  2. Akhremenko A. S. “Social delimitations and structures of the electoral space of Russia” – Social Sciences and the Present, 2007, № 4.
  3. R. Richard, D. Urwin. Persistence and Change in Western party systems since 1945, Po-litical Studies, v. 18 Issue 3, September 1970.
  4. Wolinetz S. The Transformation of Western European Party System Revisited. – West European Politics, 1979, v. 2, №1.
  5. Abrams M, Rose R, Hinden R. Must Labor Lose? Harmondsworth, 1960.
  6. Evans G., Whitefield S. The Evolution of Left and Right in Post=Soviet Russia. – Eu-rope=Asia Studies, 1998, v. 50, № 6, p. 1023-1042.
  7. Kholodkovsky K. G. Labor movement in Italy (1959 – 1963). Moscow, 1969. (In Russ.) / Levin I. B. Labor movement in Italy. 1966-1976 Problems and trends of the strike struggle. Moscow, 1983. (In Russ.)
  8. Kholodkovsky K. G. The changing political image of Italy. – Italy at the beginning of the 21st century (collection of articles following the conference). Moscow, 2015. (In Russ.)
  9. Weinstein G.I. Populism – Identity: Personality, Society, Politics. Encyclopaedic Edition. Moscow, 2017. (In Russ.)
  10. Kholodkovsky K. G. The changing political image of Italy. – Italy at the beginning of the 21st century (collection of articles following the conference). Moscow, 2015. (In Russ.)

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Europe

American diplomacy’s comeback and Bulgaria’s institutional trench war

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Even though many mainstream media outlets have not noticed it, US diplomacy has staged a gran comeback in the Balkans. The Biden administration chose Bulgaria as the stage on which to reaffirm America’s hold on the region. Putting strong sanctions on Bulgarian oligarch, Washington is signalling not-so subtly to Russia that its reach goes far and wide. But there are sensible implication for the little South-Eastern European country’s future as well. Perhaps, the fight against systemic corruption is finally reaching its apogee. Could this be the end of misgovernance?

A corrupted country — Introduction

Many argue that corruption in Bulgaria and South-Eastern Europe is but a remnant of national Communist Parties’ half-century long rule. Thus, the EU’s threat to metaphorically swap the carrot for the ­­stick should have favoured a thorough clean-up. Instead, it merely yielded some short-term successes for anti-corruption campaigners, activist judges and specialised procurators. Yet, State capture and malpracticesremain endemic for one reason or another amongst post-socialist countries inside and outsidethe Union. More specifically, these efforts were vain and Bulgaria was still ill-equippedwhen it joined the Union on January 1, 2007. Hence, Brussels allowed in a deeply corrupted country where hidden interest behold even those occupying the highest echelons of power.

If not membership in the European Union, at least internal politics could have helped the country fend off endemic maladministration. Yet, the status quo has preserved itself intact despite calls and promises to root out corruption having been getting louder. In a sense, corruption’s pervasiveness is a feature and not a bug embedded in Bulgaria’s imperfect liberal free-market democracy. These conservative – and, in a sense, perverting – forces have found their embodiment in Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and his associates. Therefore, governmental agencies, political parties, courts and the entire extant structure of power contribute to prevent any change.

The wind of change: Popular unrest and institutional trench war

That notwithstanding, the proverbial ‘wind of change’ may have begun to lash across Bulgaria in summer 2020. After having taken to the streets against the party of power’s abuses and failures, voters abandoned Borisov in the April 2021 elections. Conversely, new parties and loose coalitions of civil-society organisations, formed shortly before the contest, won a relative majority of preferences. And, as many analysts noticed, these newcomers do not share much besides the desire to “dismantle the Borisov system”.

Nonetheless, these new actors failed to form a governing coalition due to the heterogeneity and inherent negativity of their agendas. Thus, President Rumen Radev scheduled new elections on July 11 and appointed a caretaker government.

Political reconfigurations

Indeed, there is an institutional custom prescribing such cabinets to limit their activities to managing current affairs. Nonetheless, these technocrats – many of whom supported Radev in his feud with Borisov – started an extensive review of past governments. In the process, the cabinet reshuffledbureaucracies, suspended Sofia airport’s concession and halted other public tenders for suspected irregularities. More importantly, the ministry of interior has confirmed prior suspects that Borisov-appointed officers may have illegally wiretapped opposition politicians.

In a word, President Radev’s ministers are endeavouring to tear apart the ‘Borisov system’ before the next elections. However, simply ousting most – or even all – of the previous government’s men in key positions within State apparatuses is uncomplicated. Especially when pushing such an agenda is the President,with the palpable backing of an absolute majority of the population. But the Borisov system has also an economic component. In fact, the party of power has set up a tentacular network of supportive oligarchs funding and favourable media coverage. Putting them out of the game is equally, if not more, important than firing bureaucrats — but also much more difficult.

Chasing the oligarchs

In other words, undoing the Borisov system’s appointments and putting trustworthy officers in those posts in just the first step. But real change requires leaving the wealthy individuals and organisations benefitting from the status quo clawless and teethless. Such a task entails deep economic transformations that would surely evoke immense opposition from powerful pressure groups. Evidently, there is not enough time before Bulgarians vote again and their representatives pick up a new executive. But the caretaker government is powerless in front of Bulgaria ‘s condemnation to persistent corruption no matter what.

On the contrary, the government has endeavoured to chase and derail some of these Borisov-connected oligarch. For instance, the finance minister appointed an Audit Committee with the task of reviewing the Bulgarian Development Bank’s (BBR) activities. As a result, the public discovered that oligarchs had steered the BBR away from its mandate of supporting small companies. In fact, eight large private companies have received more than half of the BRR’s total credits or ca. €473 million. On average, each of them has borrowed almost €60mln — and “this is not a small and medium business. In addition, these companies borrowed against a 2% rate instead of the average 5–7%. Following this leak, the Minister of Finance fired the entire board of the BBR. He also instructed the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) to appoint a new directorate.

The US strike back

Quite surprisingly, the United States has just given Radev and his government a valuable assist. On June 2, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned several “individuals for their extensive roles in corruption”. In first instance, the sanctions target Vasil Bozhkov, a Bulgarian businessman currently hiding in Dubaito escape an arrest warrant for accusation of bribery; Delyan Peevski, prominent figure of and former member of the Parliament for the predominantly Turk Dvizhenie za Prava i Svobodi as well as the owner/controller four of the companies involved in the BBR’s scandal;  and Ilko Zhelyazkov, former appointee to the National Bureau for Control on Special Intelligence-Gathering Devices. Secondarily, the US have sanctioned “their networks encompassing 64 entities” with which no transaction in dollars is possible.

The US chose to hit Bulgaria, a NATO ally, with “the single largest action targeting corruption to date”. On the one hand, this falls within the boundaries of the current administration’s effort to restore America’s moral stewardship. More to the point, one may interpret the sanctions as a not-so/veiled message to Russia — which heavily influences Bulgarian politics. Still, those who had been looking at US-Bulgaria bilateral relations should have expected a similar decision. After all, the sanctions came after US ambassador Herro Mustafa’s reiterated criticisms of pervasive corruption in the country. Mustafa has also refused symbolically to meet Chief Public Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who embodies systemic corruption in Bulgaria.

Consequently, the game has scaled up to a whole new quality now. The BNB barred all Bulgarian banks to entertain commercial relationships with people under US sanctions. Moreover, the BNB had already froze some of Peevvski’s, Bozhkov’s and Zhelyazkov’s deposits, means of payment, and assets earlier. However, after the OFAC’s decision, the block extended to their entire network of affiliates and related entities.

Conclusion: The US are reclaiming the Balkans, and it may not be bad for Bulgarians

Officially, corruption’s malign influence on democracy provides the US with a moral justification to sanction any corrupt individua. Namely, the Treasury argues that it

undermines the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; ha[s] devastating impacts on individuals; weaken[s] democratic institutions; degrade[s] the rule of law; perpetuate[s] violent conflicts; facilitate[s] the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.  

Surely, the soon-to-come meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin also played a role in this decision.

Yet, the sanctions’ timing suggests that there might be other forces at play. Rather, it seems that Washington decided to pick a side in the ongoing institutional trench war between Presidency and Government.

From Bulgaria’s perspective, even though most American media have not noticed it, the impression is quite clear. To quote President Biden: “America is back, diplomacy is back”. Specifically, this resurgence has a special meaning in the Balkans, a region of immense relevance for Europe’s energy security. Concretely, the US is taking the lead in the West’s effort to keep China, Russia, and Turkey out.

True, whether this external support will suffice for Bulgaria to finally eradicate corruption is debatable. Nevertheless, the US’s return may spur a positive competition dynamic in which Washington and Brussels compete for limited normative power. If this was the case, increase international pressures on Bulgaria to limit corruption may reach a breaking point relatively soon. At which point, either a fundamental shift will take place; or Bulgarian elites will entrench further

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