The issue of Brexit, namely Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, regards the age-old issue of what really drives the electorate: myths, real or imaginary identities, or short-term material interests? For the great political science and philosophical school of Italian elitism, ranging from Pareto to Gaetano Mosca, the political mechanism is substantially identity-based.
As the Genoese sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto maintained, there exist six classes of residues that he positivistically listed as follows: the instinct for combinations; the persistence of aggregates or group persistences (regarded as the old ideals and political myths); the need for expressing sentiments by external acts (activity, self-expression); the residues connected with sociality; the integrity of the individual and last – at that time but not today, with the full obsession of primary instincts and urges – the sex residue.
With specific reference to derivations, the actions are not logically connected to the result, but they are always so in the conscience of those who take action. Regardless of the political form of the State, democracy, oligarchy, totalitarianism, communism, both residues and derivations provide a logic to the pseudo-rational instincts and symbols which drive to action.
Hence, again for Pareto, the Brexit choice regards two myths: the myth of economic growth for those who still want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union or the identity myth of the old British Empire, or the de facto UK extraneousness to European politics and economics, in short, to the myths which created the European Union.
These myths regard the end of the long European civil war, as, from the French Revolution (or from 1914) to the Second World War, historians such as Ernst Nolte or, from another political perspective, Enzo Traverso called it.
The myth of peace in Europe through the expansion of trade and domestic revenue, as well as the creation of another myth, namely the myth of Europe as new homeland. Two geopolitical and economic myths in danger. Income growth is not recorded and will not be recorded for a long period of time. The European homeland entails the creation of rituals and symbols replacing the national ones, which has not happened yet.
But Great Britain is de facto alien to the logic of the European civil war: it certainly fought the two world wars, but with mindset, interests and heroism connected rather to its founding myths as autonomous Imperium. Only to yield its global empire to the United States, so as to repay the credits granted for the war, namely to a country which had backed the war effort and participated in it significantly and, with the Cold War, had to keep the dual global confrontation with the USSR. A translatio Imperii which, probably, has not been digested yet by British voters, at Pareto’s “residues” level.
In Gaetano Mosca’s opinion, the ruling class is the whole of hierarchies that materially or morally run a society. Today, in a context of universal globalization, of Pareto’s residues and derivations which are all defined and expressed in the same symbolic languages, where are Mosca’s ruling classes within nations? Can these ruling classes and “moral and material” hierarchies support the inevitably different needs, interests, myths of the various peoples, not yet united in a global large liquid mass?
In each EU Member State globalization has created asymmetric shocks which, managed by mediocre ruling classes, have been magnified in the individual nations, thus creating real transfers of sovereignty. Needless to say, this is Italy’s case, while it is not the case of Great Britain which, during the years of Thatcherism, had followed a crash diet to participate in the defilé of globalization before it began. This is also a central theme to understand Brexit from the philosophical and political viewpoint.
Hence is it currently possible to have cultural globalization applied to the development of political myths and their para-rational connection to interests? Is a unified political myth otherwise possible – a myth which, for irrelevant details, is defined and expressed in the symbolic language of every country? Yes, it is possible with specific reference to the myths of consumption, sexualized and reduced to instinctual images from the mass-media, but certainly not as regards the myths and modes of production, which cannot yet be universalized.
Suffice to consider the differences existing between the made in Italy craftsmanship and the Manchester-style factory. In this regard, Geminello Alvi spoke of the standardizing and impersonal “Chinese ideal” of “capitalism”. This is what I would currently call “Gaetano Mosca’s dilemma”. Are today the ruling classes truly such and are they able to put myths and interests together? The issue lies in establishing whether globalization entails a specific political mythology and its Mosca-style ruling class or not.
Let us revert, however, to Brexit in a strictly economic and financial sense.
Considering that foreign trade is the driver of all contemporary economies, Britain is no exception to the rule: exports, including financial products, account for about 30% of the British GDP. The EU, however, accounts for over 50% of all British exports.
On the other hand, over 50% of UK imports come from the European Union, with over half of these imports coming from Europe which serves as “intermediate asset,” namely useful to produce other made in England goods and services.
About 10% of the total EU exports go to Britain, with a share of goods and services which is about 36% (for services) compared to 64% for manufactured goods. Hence, in bilateral trade between the UK and the EU, trade issues are proportionately more important for Great Britain than for the rest (the rest?) of Europe. Furthermore, within the EU, Great Britain is the largest user of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with about 50% of FDI coming from Europe and 30% from the United States.
Moreover, it is well known that, since the end of the British rule in Hong Kong – which Margaret Thatcher accepted in 1997, with the last Governor, Chris Patten, who burst into tears – the real financial boom of the London Stock Exchange has started.
The London Stock Exchange is the one which regulates (or owns) most of European financial markets. A record achieved in spite of the EU and certainly not thanks to it. British industrialists point to collapse scenarios, should Brexit be voted by the UK electorate. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) maintains that UK’s leaving the EU would lead to zero economic growth as early as 2017 and the following year.
Without a free trade agreement following Brexit within 2020, the British GDP might fall by 5% while, according to other scenarios defined by the City investment banks, the GDP would anyway decrease by 3% even with a new trade agreement with the former European partners.
The number and quality of British jobs would be particularly affected, with unemployment which would rise from the current 5.1% by additional three percentage points. Over 80% of the companies associated with CBI believe that Brexit would be a disaster for the British economy, with an estimated cost of 100 billion pounds. In many ways and to many extents, the opinions against UK’s stay in the EU are not less rational.
Obviously the UK exit from the EU would lead to the use of tariff barriers for British goods and services in the European single market, not to mention the difficulty in renegotiating the trade flows with the United States and China, after becoming an economy without the EU size, mass and volume. Obviously the Brexit advocates know this and do not deny the data reported by those who support the British presence within the European Union.
There are the British contributions to the European budget, which are remarkable – and we can still hear the Thatcherite cry “we want our money back!” at the EU meeting of 1980, as well as the speech delivered by the British Prime Minister in Bruges in 1988, when she thundered against “the European super-State exercising a new dominance from Brussels”. The UK contributions to the EU are certainly substantial: for 2015, they amount to as many as 10.4 billion pounds, with an increase equal to 1.3 billion pounds compared to forecasts. However, they account for 0.5% of the UK GDP.
Hence, first and foremost, the UK would save on contributions, but the Brexit advocates think that the difficult action of reconciling the interests of 28 different countries could never foster the British economic interest in global trade negotiations. Furthermore, the Brexit partisans believe that the UK exit from the EU would even foster the economy, since it would enable the British industry to avoid the EU countless laws and regulations. Hence the UK would lose part of the EU-28 market but, by capitalizing on its ties within the Commonwealth, it could enter the new market-world, without the fetters and constraints, reins and restraints of EU regulations.
The Brexit advocates also say that if the large European market is designed – as maintained – to reduce prices, optimize competition and stimulate trade and economic competitiveness, this holds true only if all EU countries are economically identical and work to their full potential. Otherwise for some EU Member States there may be – and, in fact, there are – forms of protectionism hidden in so many regulations which seem to benefit everyone. In fact, considering data, Great Britain’s new growth has the same shape and the same pace as the United States, and not as Germany or the rest of the European Union.
As the Brexit partisans say: “It is Europe that needs us, not the opposite”.
And here the rationality of Pareto’s derivations meets the old mental residues of the Rule Britannia and the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, two countries united by many interests and separated by a common language. Here Great Britain’s traditional geopolitical obsession, namely Germany, comes back again. For the Brexit advocates the EU real problem is not Britain, but precisely Germany. Greece has very quickly turned into an export country through the collapse of imports. And this is what Germany wants, because it has to manage its booming exports and it uses the EU as its domestic market, without anyone requiring Germany to reduce its trade surplus.
Hence, for the Brexit partisans, there is a geoconomic problem, namely Germany; a purely free-trade matter, namely the impossibility of really serving the interests of all 28 EU Member States; and, ultimately, the fiscal union – a subject matter never denied before – which never works to promote underdeveloped areas, as is easily demonstrated in the European context.
The British observers who support Brexit view the Union as a giant floundering in an irreversible crisis: in 1973, when Britain adhered to the EU, and many countries were not yet members, the European GDP accounted for 37% of the global GDP. According to the most favourable estimates, in 2025 the EU will only account for 22% of the global GDP. The countries which currently dominate the market-world are the United States and China; even the Commonwealth, as a whole, is larger and performs better than the EU.
In 2020, the workers/pensioners ratio will be 3 to 1 and in 2050 it will be 2 to 1 – namely impossible to sustain – due to technological backwardness, but above all to the generalized aging of the European population.
For the Brexit advocates, the mass of regulations and restrictions for goods made in the UK is hard to swallow and digest: since 2010 the EU has adopted 3,500 new laws which somehow relate to UK companies and their interests. For Great Britain alone, the cost of bureaucracy amounts to approximately 4-5 billion pounds – and this cost is not comparable to the national contribution to the European Union. Dysfunctional bureaucracy, always looking for a sort of “preferential clause” for some Member States, which generates an indirect cost of trade rules for Great Britain equal to 7.6 billion pounds per year.
And since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in December 2009, the cost of regulations for British companies has amounted to 12.2 billions in terms of extraordinary standards. Furthermore, the Brexit advocates argue that Great Britain’s weight within the EU has dropped sharply: in 1973, when the UK adhered to the European Union, it had 20% of votes, while currently the British government can rely only on 9.5 votes.
Again at financial level, the Brexit partisans do not want the financial transaction tax, the FTT based on the old Tobin Tax model, a tax enshrined in the EU regulations last January. All the analysts who are in favour of Brexit, however, agree on a geopolitical factor: Europe’s irrelevance for Great Britain. This geopolitical factor is connected to the opinion that the British strategic ideal is a balanced Europe, without a leading country, in which the role of power brokers, mediators and strategic leaders can be played.
On the other hand, the advocates of UK stay within the EU maintain that Brexit would diminish the role played by the London Stock Exchange on the rest of European financial markets, attracted by the Stock Exchange of Frankfurt or Paris. Moreover, Ireland would pay a very high price for Brexit, considering it supplies 35% of British agricultural and food products, and it will also be affected by the British natural gas imports after Brexit. Furthermore, Brexit impact on the pound could strengthen the Euro against the British currency, as is already happening.
In short, if Brexit occurs, the EU will lose a large economic market, the second of the European Union, over and above the euro area. It will become increasingly irrelevant at geopolitical level and, above all, it will point the way out to all dissatisfied EU countries, thus creating a likely domino effect which could lead to the end of the European Union or to its economic and political irrelevance.
But there is more: will Brexit – the full recovery of British sovereignty – favour the creation of a single European State to better manage strategic and economic emergencies, in addition to huge immigration flows?
Or will the union rely on a “United States of Europe” model and perspective so as to avoid the EU collapse, but at what pace and for which purposes?
Great Britain is an independent military power; it retains a seat in the UN Permanent Council and, regardless of Brexit, it has no evident interest in adapting to European strategic unification processes.
We could even think of an exchange, with which Great Britain avoids every discrimination against the City, in exchange for UK’s greater involvement in Europe’s collective security. Not to mention the new tensions which would emerge within NATO after Great Britain’s exit from the EU. If identity wins – which, as we have seen, is also based on rational grounds and arguments – we will have Brexit. Conversely if, in the forthcoming referendum, we have an at least apparently “rational” vote, Great Britain’s exit from the EU will be avoided. At least for now.
The future of Europe depends on its neighborhood – UfM’s Nasser Kamel says
On July 1st, 2020, the Secretary-General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), Dr. Nasser Kamel, participated in an international conference discussing the future of Europe. The event under the name FROM VICTORY DAY TO CORONA DISARRAY: 75 YEARS OF EUROPE’S COLLECTIVE SECURITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS SYSTEM was held at the historic setting of the eldest world’s Diplomatic Academy, that of Vienna, Austria. This gathering was organised by four partners; the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, European Perspectives Scientific Journal, and Action Platform Culture for Peace, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.
In his highly absorbing keynote, Secretary General Dr. Kamel described the impact of the C-19 event as only amplifying the old issues and long-standing challenges within the Euro-Mediterranean theater. To this end, Excellency especially focused on the economic and environmental challenges faced by the Euro-MED. He recommended that sustainability and resilience should be at the core of the post-C-19 recovery, and gave an important piece of advice to European policymakers: if Europe is to become a global power, a positive engagement with its neighborhood – both east and south – will be of paramount importance. Hostilities and confrontation should be replaced by a decisive cooperation on the common future project. And such a project should include all EU/Europe neighbors without prejudices.
Reflecting on the global impact of C-19, Excellency Kamel stated that the pandemic has pushed the world to a new era, and that the repercussions of this crisis will be extremely far-reaching – not least in terms of economic activity, which is set to dramatically decrease at the global level. As for the Euro-Mediterranean more specifically, the UfM’s Secretary General noted that the region’s existing elements of fragility – most notably the high levels of inequality and the pressing climate change emergency – are set to worsen as a result of the pandemic. To counter the ensuing negative effects, Dr. Kamel advised, resilience must be built through a holistic approach that promotes at the same time an environmental, social, and economic recovery throughout the whole Euro-Mediterranean region.
Secretary General Kamel also touched upon the economic impact of the C-19 in the Euro-Mediterranean region. This impact – he noted – has been markedly uneven, as countries that were more dependent on Asian supply chains, for instance, have been hit harder and faster than others. Starting from this observation, the UfM’s Secretary General delved into the debate about the current economic model and its typical long supply chains. While refusing frontal attacks to globalization as an outdated concept, Dr. Kamel suggested that Euro-Mediterranean countries should increase their resilience and work better to ensure the solidity of their supply chains – for instance though what he called a “proximization”, or regionalization, of these chains. On this issue –he noted– the UfM Secretariat is currently working with relevant partners, including the OECD, as to explore the potential to create regional supply chains – hoping that this could lead to tangible development gains on both shores of the Mediterranean.
Besides the oft-discussed economic issues, the Secretary General’s contribution also sought to highlight the importance of environmental considerations, which risk slipping at the bottom of the agenda in times of economic crisis. Dr. Kamel stressed that the climate crisis is a reality that the Euro-Mediterranean region must inevitably face. A report developed by a large group of scientists from several different countries, supported by both the UfM and the United Nations Environment Programme, has highlighted that the impact of climate change in the Euro-Mediterranean is set to be particularly significant – just to quote one statistic, the region is warming 20% faster than the rest of the world. Hence, Secretary General Kamel stressed, the region’s post-pandemic recovery must be more sustainable – more green, blue, and circular – with a focus on enhancing the resilience of societies on both shores of the Mediterranean.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Kamel decided to stress the interconnectedness of the Euro-Mediterranean region. The European continent is tightly linked to its neighborhood, he noted, both to the east and to the south. Hence, the future of Europe as a relevant economic, political, and geopolitical power depends on how proactive and engaging it will be with its immediate neighborhood – Dr, Kamel said. As for Europe to be prosperous, its neighborhood should be resilient, mindful of the environment, and more economically integrated. At the UfM – Secretary-General assured audience – that is the aim that everyone is hoping, and working, for.
In order to make the gathering more meaningful, the four implementing partners along with many participants have decided to turn this event – a July conference into a lasting process. Named – Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe, this initiative was largely welcomed as the right foundational step towards a longer-term projection that seeks to establish a permanent forum of periodic gatherings as a space for reflection on the common future by guarding the fundamentals of our European past.
As stated in the closing statement: “past the Brexit the EU Europe becomes smaller and more fragile, while the non-EU Europe grows more detached and disenfranchised”. The prone wish of the organisers and participants is to reverse that trend.
To this end, the partners are already announced preparing the follow up event in Geneva for early October (to honour the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Conference). Similar call for a conference comes from Barcelona, Spain which was a birthplace of the EU’s Barcelona Process on detrimental; the strategic Euro-MED dialogue.
Political Impacts of a Second Wave of Covid-19: Looking at Past Health Crises
Undoubtedly, a significant number of governmental reports, academic articles and op-eds about the Covid-19 and its likely future impacts in the world societies and economies have already been published. Though useful for planning, anyone attempting to establish prospective post-pandemic scenarios should – above all – be aware that this effort is filled with uncertainty as the repercussions of any contagious diseases are always dynamic. Namely, its reliance on constant evolving factors, is causing persistent shifts in its impacts principally for those of economic and political nature.
With this thought in mind, and as the doubts shrouding a possible second wave of this pandemic slowly erode, it seems important to look at historical instances of uncontrollable transmission of disease and to understand how deeply it can politically impact human societies, albeit contextualizing the obvious differences brought by time and different social and technological backgrounds. Still, having these aspects in consideration, it should be noted the common denominator that the current pandemic has with other historical health emergencies: the absence of medical countermeasures that can truly eliminate the disease.
In fact, the failure to produce an “effective, no side effects” Covid-19 vaccine so far, led Governments to implement quarantines, which from the Black Plague to the SARS epidemic, proved to be of the one of the few historically effective methods to slow the spread of disease. A report, published by the WHO in 2006, characterized the use of quarantines in the SARS 2003 epidemic to be “old fashioned and labour intensive” although effective as “these measures slowed the virus’ spread, and, in the end, contributed to its containment”. This lesson proves to be of particular importance in a time where the economic and social pressure to end lockdowns have succeeded in coercing Governments to ease the implemented containment measures, even if any positive outcomes of the latter are yet to be seen.
As stated by a report of the “Konrad Adenauer Center for International Relations and Security Studies” (KACIRSS) on the diseases’ impact on political stability, “a high level of virulent infectious diseases may even destabilize politically stable and economically strong countries, like European or North-American countries”, making relevant any effort of anticipating the reactions of the masses in the midst of a health emergency, so to contain any negative effects brought by it.
One of the most significant signs of political disruption caused by a pandemic event is the depletion of trust in elected leaders, as they seem unfit to tackle the challenges, which, if uncontained, may constitute as a prequel to a larger erosion of confidence in political institutions. This absence of trust leans on factors such as “high morbidity and mortality rates, a lack of medical knowledge and effective treatment options, and general unfamiliarity with the disease” that unchecked, could lead to higher “destabilizing effect of the disease as the population’s perceived (and real) risk increases.”
Case in point, as the plague in Athens, during the Peloponnesian War, took its toll on its population, historians reported a detrimental effect on Pericles leadership and other elements of the Athenian society, leading to anarchy and, ultimately, the end of its democracy. Similar conclusions could be drafted from the Black Plague, which had a significant impact on monarchical authority in Europe and other surrounding regions.
Taking these historical episodes into considerations, as we witnessed statements of political leaders downplaying the full impact of Covid-19, solely to later advocate – sometimes against scientific advice – a quick resumption of economic activity, it is important for these high dignitaries to remember that an unprepared society for a second wave will likely not be forgotten by its voters. Furthermore, this sort of impact should speak volumes for governments whose leaderships are near the end of their mandates or are based upon parliamentary coalitions that may no longer be viable within an unstable political context. Worse, in a time where social media and fake news are highly influential, this absence of political trust could be seen as an opportunity for populist political movements, as well as extremist groups, to gain momentum and harvest additional supporters for their causes. To this equation, we need to add profound financial repercussions that the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to have on international economies and, consequently, in the population’s discontentment, considering possible signs of lockdown fatigue if a return to status quo ante is required.
Consequently, a second Covid-19 wave, converged with an economic downturn, could carry another political effect, namely in terms of a State’s potential political regime change. Already mentioned examples of how the Athens plague undermined its democracy or how the Black Plague may have impacted feudalism in Europe need to serve as a testimony to democratic leaderships of how disease infested societies, if unchecked, may provoke/accelerate structural modifications in political regimes. Hopefully, recent decisions taken by a Central European government, still a formal democracy, may constitute only a temporary exception to the witnessed democratic progresses the world has seen during the past three decades.
Historical epidemic occurrences may also hold valuable lessons for the European Union (EU). Notwithstanding the obvious differences between the Catholic Church of the 14th century and the EU of today, both share the common denominator of being transnational entities with significant political influence on countries in Europe. Much has been written on the detrimental impact that the Black Plague had over the Catholic Church political influence in 14th century Europe, as the members of the clergy were unable to provide any answers to the needs of Europeans faced with rising casualties, causing a “decline in their confidence (…) of the institution of the Church”.
Less than seven centuries later, polls published by the European Parliament’s Public Opinion Monitoring Unit clearly state that “In Spain, 90% of respondents consider that the EU is helping “a little” or “not at all” to resolve the situation caused by pandemic” while “88% of Italians feel that the other EU countries are not helping Italy and 79% think the same of the EU institutions. Still, a relative majority (42,6%) do not want to leave neither the EU nor the Eurozone”. Given these numbers, it is becoming increasingly discernible that citizens of some Covid-19 hardly stricken countries questioned the EU’s lack of leadership or solidarity to support their Member-States when in dire situations. Doubts could also be raised on the possible political effects of a second Covid-19 wave on the EU – Member-States relationship, if health and financial consequences remain unaddressed.
But even though the real impact of this coronavirus crisis on the Italians’ opinion towards EU remains to be seen, the apologetic letter written by the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in an attempt to justify the initial paralysis of the European institutions while staring at the Italy’s health system collapse, appears to be a good omen. Furthermore, the EU leaders approval of a recovery fund to mitigate the deep financial and economic impacts of the pandemic are also vital steps, especially if the approved measures are proportionally beneficial to the affected Member-States and particularly their citizens, as otherwise a hypothetical second Covid-19 wave may prove to be more than just another obstacle in the path to Europe’s unity.
Finally, considering the profound international impacts of Covid-19, it is difficult not to envisage on how terrorists might be inspired by the detrimental effects of disease on societies and how deadly pathogens could provide a significant boost for their propaganda necessities. Even though bioterrorism, and its contributing factors, has been substantially addressed by academia and official reports, it is still important to understand that several of the technical barriers preventing the terrorist use of pathogens have decreased over the last two decades, so new approaches are in dire need.
In 2015, I co-authored an article with Anne-Yolande Bilala that addressed the possible beneficial effects brought by the implementation of a “Bioterrorism Prevention Initiative” for the mitigation of this particular threat. Regardless of any merits embedded in this proposal, it would be of crucial importance if initiatives with similar desiderata could see the light of day in a post Covid-19 security context, so to decrease any risks of nonstate actors producing, acquiring and/or disseminating biological agents.
The above mentioned historical events may also provide important lessons, in terms of a future pandemic preparedness, for Governments to grasp, the most notable being that Biodefense needs to become a de facto priority, while adopting and investing in a more preventive posture towards biological menaces, so to anticipate emergencies of global and catastrophic nature. Case in point, regardless of the billions of Euros invested on healthcare every year, “global postures remain primarily response-driven and reactive to a dynamic and volatile emerging disease landscape. New epidemics are often met with an emergency response, after-action reviews and a promise to rethink prevention.”
Serving as an additional testimony on the absence of structural changes over the last years, it is also important to remember the already mentioned WHO post-SARS report that concludes that “communicable diseases had been given insufficient attention, with doctors more interested in high-tech fields such as neurosurgery and molecular biology. Awareness levels were low and infection-control procedures had become slack. In sum, public-health systems were simply not ready for what happened.” A preventive posture to avoid the same scenario would entail, for example, improved synergies between health and military research facilities, and a substantial increase of financial resources for the latter institutions as well for universities, research centers, and the private sector so to monitor and develop new solutions aiming to tackle emerging diseases.
Finally, the preventive posture could also result in the formalization of a dual-use for national industries. One of the most positive aspects emerging from this pandemic episode was the ability for some industries and services to adapt their assembly lines in order to produce ventilators, masks and other PPE production. Although very commendable, the majority of these decisions were ad hoc and solely based on goodwill. A future proactive/preventive approach, in which Biodefense is a strategic cornerstone, will likely require that local industries– either within a national or regional context – have a pre-designated role for future pandemic episodes.
This “dual-use” purpose would likely require that Governments leverage lessons learned from the current pandemic, in order to anticipate needs, and negotiate with local industries what their future roles could be in a posterior health crisis. Such negotiation would call for exceptional skills in terms of planning, besides constant updates, as some companies may go bankrupt or transfer their facilities to another country. Nonetheless using a long term perspective to define the blueprints for the role of the civil society in a pandemic scenario may prove to be a fruitful exercise, as, when necessary, societies will be better prepared for a next catastrophic biological event.
When looking back in History to find other examples of epidemics, one could argue that the dimension of human fatalities was much larger or that the available scientific know-how to deal with the latter did not give societies sufficient countermeasures to tackle the disease. Both present valid points, but more important than lethality rates is the threat perception of the affected populations, the de facto origin of political instability, which in an age where information instantly travels across the globe and when efficient medical countermeasures against Covid-19 are still lacking, tends to be even more palpable.
As political leadership in democracies has, over the years, become a little more than a voters’ expectations management exercise, political stability in a time of pandemics is likely to be more dependent on how fast governments implement mitigation measures coupled with communication transparency by leaderships and the fact-based science behind unpopular decisions, instead of finger pointing/social dividing speeches that, ultimately, will only lead to ghastlier public health scenarios and to a widespread of social turmoil.
The spirit of “Greater Albania” acquires Brussels substance
A meeting of Serbian and Kosovo leaders which is scheduled to take place in Brussels in September may result in the signing of an agreement on the normalization of relations. According to reports, the EU leaders, who act as mediators in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue, have prepared a draft agreement. Serbian and Brussels sources say the draft provides for recognition of the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo by Belgrade in exchange for Serbia’s membership in the EU.
However, even if Belgrade chooses to sign the above-mentioned agreement, – such a step will do nothing to secure normalization in the Balkans. On the contrary, it could open a new chapter in the political and administrative “reformating” of the region. What comes as a key factor here is activization on the part of Albania, which is using the Belgrade-Pristina deal for its own purposes, and these purposes are infinitely far from what the leading European capitals count on. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that a full-blown international and legal recognition of Kosovo’s independence (which is supposed to result from the agreement prepared in Brussels on the normalization of bilateral relations between Belgrade and Pristina) will become a prologue to more active efforts on the part of Albanian radicals to establish “Greater Albania”, which would incorporate Albania proper, most of Kosovo, Presevo Valley, parts of Macedonia, Montenegro, and, possibly, Greece, with a total population of up to 10 million.
Statements in support of creating such a state have come recently from many high-profile political and public figures in Kosovo, who maintain close ties with the Albanian community abroad and with influential American and European politicians. One of them is Azem Vlasi, who headed the regional branch of the Union of Communists of Kosovo and was a member of the Central Committee of the Union of Communists of Yugoslavia in the 1980s. He doubts that the recent talks in Brussels on the division of Kosovo will produce an agreement. In his opinion, the authorities in Pristina are not prepared to give up control of the entire territory of the region. Besides, it’s Kosovo that could become a center of the “collection” of Albanian lands in the Balkans.
The main guidelines to methodologically justify the program of creating “Greater Albania” were presented in the 1990s, by one of the most outstanding of Albanian intellectuals, Recep Chosja, who pointed out that «Albania has never accepted its present borders, always trying to remind international circles that its present borders are unfair, as they divide Albanian territory into two parts. These borders run across the very heart of Albanian people».
The official position of neighboring Albania, which is same nationality with Kosovo, is the acknowledgment of inviolability of the existing borders. In 1992 the head of government from the Democratic Party of Albania Sali Berisha said in an interview that «the idea of creating “Greater Albania” is alien to Albanian ruling circles and political forces».
Nevertheless, in May 2011, member of the Presidium of the Democratic Party of Albania, Azgan Khaklai, openly demanded that all Albanian territories should be united to form one state, while the incumbent head of government Edi Rama has been indicating that unification of Albania and Kosovo is Tirana’s Plan A and should be regarded as such in connection with the agreement between Pristina and Belgrade.
Public opinion polls conducted among the Albanian population of the Balkan countries suggest that the program of creating “Greater Albania” has been acquiring ever more popularity among the Albanian population of the Balkan countries. The idea of making Albania’s borders “ethnic” has already won the support of more than 80% of the population of Kosovo, over 70% of residents of Albania, and of more than a half of Macedonian Albanians. About one half of respondents in Kosovo and 40% in Albania believe that Greater Albania with its widest ethnically conditioned borders will come into being in the near future.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2006 a similar study conducted by experts of the UN Development Program found that only 2,5% of Kosovo Albanians considered unification with Albania the best solution, whereas 96% wanted Kosovo to become independent within the existing borders.
Such a situation may force leading world powers and international institutes to reconsider their recent policies, which focused on a state rather than on a territory and which envisaged that each Balkan country should search for a solution of its problems by itself. «A territory-focused policy regards the Balkan region not as a community of established countries, but as a system of territories that stay in dynamic balance and are thus capable of reformatting. «A carve-up of regional borders on the ethno-linguistic and religious principles may acquire fresh impetus in the course of current talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has expressed readiness to recognize Kosovo in exchange for territorial concessions, while his counterpart Hashim Thaci hopes to invite to his country Serbian Albanians», – points out Le Monde diplomatique, emphasizing the situation in Presevo Valley, which borders on Kosovo.
Another potentially explosive “hot spot” covers three South Serbian communities (Bujanovac, Medveja and Presevo). According to the last census conducted in Serbia, about 90, 000 people live on the territories of these three communities. The ratio of Serbs and Albanians is as follows: in Presevo – 89% Albanians and 9% Serbs, in Bujanovac – 55% Albanians and 34% Serbs, in Medveja – 26% Albanians and 67% Serbs.
Chairman of Presevo community and leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians in Serbia Ragmi Mustafa has spoken in favor of “exchange of territories” between Belgrade and Pristina, underscoring that all three communities “should join Kosovo” while “northern Kosovo should join Serbia”. In his words, the relevant proposal should be presented at the Brussels talks: «I think that this is the future of our region».
According to leaders of Presevo Albanians, the international community should make the Serbian government “refrain from impeding the expression of the freewill on the part of the population of the Presevo Valley».
Such a position echoes the program of the radical Kosovo movement “Self-Determination”, headed by former Prime Minister Albin Kurti. Kurti believes that Kosovo and Albania “should coordinate their actions and simultaneously streamline their legislation with a view to prepare for two referendums, in Albania and Kosovo, on the outcome of which Kosovo will unite with Albania”. “I think that this meets the interests of our people in the economic sphere and in the sphere of security”, – Albin Kurti points out, saying that after the referendum the time will come to “solve pan-Albanian issues, in the first place, in Macedonia, Eastern Kosovo [Presevo Valley], Montenegro and Greece”. In the opinion of the “Self-Determination” leader, Kosovo authorities ought to hold talks not with Belgrade, about the division, but with Tirana, about the unification.
Given the situation, there are grounds to expect activization of efforts on the part of both Kosovo authorities and Albanian leaders in other Balkan countries and territories with a view to build up their military and political might. In fact, this process is already taking place. Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry Aleksei Zaitsev has made a statement to this effect drawing public attention to the fact that the United States has begun to supply Pristina with military hardware. According to the diplomat, the US is thus openly undermining international efforts oriented at ensuring peace and stability in the Balkans.
Pristina has also stepped up efforts to establish military cooperation with Germany. All this testifies to the escalation of conflict in the Balkan Region amid the ongoing activization of the “Albanian factor”.
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