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Vatican, Moscow & China: A New Global Religious and Spiritual Hegemony

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The record is substantially positive. This is how Cardinal Parolin has summarized the results of his recent visit to the Russian Federation.Firstly, there is the Russian Catholic community to protect,  with 300 parishes and 270 priests – mostly non-Russians, but Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Ukrainians – as well as an Archbishop of Moscow, namely the Italian Paolo Pezzi, coming from the movement of “Communion and Liberation”, who is an expert in Russian political, cultural and religious issues.

A brilliant prelate to be supported, having a profound knowledge of Russian issues and Orthodox theology.

It is worth recalling that Pope Francis shook hand with Patriarch Kirill in the first historic meeting held in Havana last year between the two highest representatives of the 1054 schism.

An action that was favourably viewed by the United States and supported by the whole Cuban people.

This is a diplomatic success of which the Pope will soon take advantage.

Finally, Pope Francis is no longer very interested in the Eastern schism and in its doctrinal, theological and strategic connotation.

If anything, Pope Francis is interested in a new alliance between Russia, the Catholic Church of Rome and, in the future, China, so as to put an end to the Western Church’s  geopolitical dependence on the Euro-American West.

As explicitly stated, the Pope no longer wants to only be the spokesman of Western civilization, which is now dechristianized.

As Cardinal Parolin himself has recalled, he is the first High Representative of the Catholic Church to visit  Moscow after the Crimean War.

This is an essential political and symbolic aspect to mark the distance between the Vatican and the Atlantic axis between Western Europe and the United States.

With Foreign Minister Lavrov, whom Cardinal Secretary of State met in Moscow, a clear agreement was reached quickly: the Russian forces’ de facto protection of all religious minorities in the Middle East.

And to think that, in this case, the United States have even come to blame Russia for “penalizing” the so-called moderate jihadists that NATO and the United States keep on training in Syria and in other parts of the world.

Therefore the Vatican explicitly views the Kremlin’s pro-Assad policy favourably, together with the Syrian Christian community – in all its various forms – that continues to live in Syria and the Middle East, protected by Russia and   Bashar al-Assad’s Alawites much more than by the “moderate” jihad that, since the time of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, is still at the core of US operations in that region.

Considering the current condition of Catholics in Russia, there was some foreseeable friction between Minister Lavrov and Cardinal Parolin.

Apart from the practical freedom to profess the Catholic faith, one of the issue at stake is the ownership of churches and palaces of the Russian Catholic Church, confiscated by the Soviet regime and never returned to the legitimate owners after the USSR collapse in spite of the favourable court judgments for the Church of Rome in Russia.

Catholics in Russia are few – approximately 800,000, accounting for 0.5% of the total population. Nevertheless, the true strategic aim is not the number, but the quality of the Vatican and Russian joint strategic actions: the goal is exactly Pope Francis’ visit to Russia.

It would be the seal of a Catholic Church that – as at the time of Pope John Paul II – anticipates and overcomes the end of the Cold War, thus envisaging a link between the Vatican and the emerging powers of the Eurasian Heartland, which is now the alternative to a weak and dangerous strategic link between the Vatican and the consumerist and scientist atheism currently in power in the Euro-American West.

It is now clear that Pope Francis does not like this West at all: a universe without God that is heading for a quick, ethical and anthropological cupio dissolvi.

In fact, the Pope prefers the areas of the world in which the Catholic Church can still serve as “field hospital” and operate in a cultural universe in which religion, even the non-Catholic one, is respected.

Better a Confucian than a naive European atheist, only believing in science (he/she does not know) and in the freedom of instincts.

Here Cardinal Parolin’s and the Pope’s ideas are on the same wavelength as those of Patriarch Kirill, who wants fewer links between the Orthodox Church and the Russian State, as well as a spiritual status not far from the Kremlin, but autonomous from Putin’s line of politique d’abord (politics, first of all).

A system envisaging Patriarch Kirill as the world leader of the Orthodox Church and Pope Francis as the world  inevitable leader of Catholicism, designed to build – also   after the agreement with the Chinese government – a sort of new global religious and spiritual hegemony, outside the subjection to Westernism for the Vatican, and lateral to the Russian strategic interest for Patriarch Kirill.

The central political factor of this new geo-religious system is the Ukrainian question.

The extraordinary fundraising campaign launched by Pope Francis for Ukraine, which has been operating since 2014, has had positive impact on the Russian Orthodox Church and the whole community of believers. The success has been great (1 million and 230 thousand euros have been collected) and it has proved that the Vatican – even in the charitable and universalistic dimension characterizing it – does not think in the same way as the Western powers currently operating in the Ukrainian theater of operations.

While the West currently operates in the war-stricken regions with an inept internationalism, the Vatican of Cardinal Parolin and Pope Francis is still based on the traditional and unsurpassed “law of nations” (ius gentium) – and on a reasonable and never sectarian respect for nationality, ethnicity, borders and legitimate States.

Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Parolin’s law is, first and foremost, humanitarian law: agreements between the parties, wherever possible; immediate release of prisoners, a theme that alone can break through the political situation; truce and cease-fire are all actions that the Vatican is putting in place to solve the Ukrainian crisis.

And possibly solve also the tension in Syria where, since 2011, the two million Catholic believers have fallen to one only.

In Iraq, Christians have currently fallen from 300,000 to  200,000.

In Syria a real “war against Christians” is being waged – as recently stated by Jacques Benhan Hindo, the Syrian-Catholic Archbishop of Hassakè-Nisibi, the diocese in which Raqqa is located – while the YPG Kurds behave very badly with the various Christian churches still present there.

It can be easily foreseen that these Kurds will be abandoned by the United States as soon as it has exploited  them fully and all the way.

Daesh-Isis is supported by Turkey and the United States, while the Christian communities are protected – within the limits of their areas and fields of competence – by the Russian soldiers and Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

In such a situation, certainly Pope Francis’ Church cannot fully work, but it can certainly unite the basic religious and ethnic communities and make them act as parties in the future negotiations.

An operation that could more easily take place in Ukraine.

In fact, if Syria is broken up – as is increasingly likely – the Shiite axis between Bashar al-Assad’s area and Iran – which was at the origin of the Sunni and jihadist war against the Syrian Baathist regime – will be strengthened,  while Russia will become the true strategic player in the region, with the United States relegated to the rank of mere counterparts of Qatar (funding Al Nusra) and Saudi Arabia (funding Isis-Daesh).

Hence the Christian traditions are being eradicated in Syria and in rest of the Middle East with a view to fostering the final clash between Shiites and Sunnis – a clash that the Vatican does not want and will do its utmost, with Russia and China, to avoid.

A clash between Shiites and Sunnis – “a piecemeal World War Three”, just to use Pope Francis’ expression – in which Westerners side with the Sunnis, thus preparing other years of blood and destruction for them and for the Middle East.

As already happened with Cuba, in the new world context it will be the Vatican to bring the United States and Russia closer at the right time.

Possibly with a new agreement for the Middle East, as is said in the Vatican Secretary of State’s office.

This will exactly be the purpose of Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Parolin’s “geopolitics of mercy”.

With a tough statement made in September 2013 the Pope condemned the United States for wanting to overthrow Assad with  missiles, but there is another point of agreement between Putin and the Pope, namely the defense of the traditional family.

The Kremlin leader has repeatedly condemned the Western “nihilistic drift”, as well as the obsessive and philosophically unreasonable confidence in Reason. On the media both Patriarch Kirill and President Putin often repeat the old statement made by former Pope Benedict XVI whereby “the worst enemy of the West is the West itself”.

Furthermore, the schism could be doctrinally overcome with a statement – that Patriarch Kirill had already suggested – in which it is accepted that the Pope, the Patriarch of Rome, is the protos among the Patriarchs of the other  Churches – on the basis of the document discussed in 2008 on the island of Crete, regarding the history and identity of the Churches before and after the Great Schism.

This is another theme that will soon come to its natural fulfillment in the diplomatic practice of mercy established by Cardinal Parolin and Pope Francis.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Will there be another referendum over Brexit?

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Brexit continues to be an implicit term in the Britain’s political equations. Complicating the process of the British withdrawal from the European Union is a joint measure taken by the British government and European authorities.

At the same time, the British government, with its widespread negative propaganda against the Brexit, is seeking to re-arrange a referendum. In other words, the European authorities are trying to direct the public opinion about the Brexit.

Recently, some western news sources are speaking of an issue called “repeating the Brexit referendum”, and name it as a possible option! An option that had been previously denied by British authorities, including Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the country. According to the France news agency, regarding the increasing doubt about the British Prime Minister’s efforts to conclude an agreement with the United Europe, the possibility of holding a second referendum on Brexit has multiplied.

This source has also announced that there are major obstacles on the way of confirming this agreement between Theresa May and European leaders, which has, in turn, intensified this trend. The existence of legal complexities in this agreement made its implementation difficult for both sides.  Meanwhile, it is possible that the members of the parliament will vote in favor of Theresa May’s decision.

Although it seems that Theresa May is trying to convince legislators to give a positive vote to this agreement, not only members of the Labor Party, but also some members of the Conservative Party are opposing it. The MPs argue that the Brexit is basically contrary to the interests of the UK.

Meanwhile, supporters of the “People’s Vote” campaign, who are now very active in England, believe that the parliament’s negative vote will pave the way for a new referendum on the Brexit. This issue is no way contrary to the demands of Theresa May and the Conservative Party, but it’s secretly supported by them. The negative propaganda of the Theresa May’s government against the Brexit since 2016 is known to everyone. After the British citizens voted to leave the European Union in 2016, the two Labor and Conservative parties (as UK’s two traditional parties) tried their best to change the general vote on this issue. The active role played by people like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair can well indicate the dissatisfaction among British authorities over the Brexit.

Supporters of the People’s Vote campaign are currently trying to convince the public for holding a new referendum on Brexit. “The People’s Vote campaign seeks to ensure that the government’s Brexit deal is put before the country in a public vote so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations makes the country better or worse off. Good deal or bad deal, it’s definitely a big deal – and that’s why it should be put to a People’s Vote”, that’s how the campaign’s supporters define their goal.

Proponents of this campaign believe that the parliament’s negative vote to May’s plan is the best opportunity to hold another referendum. On the other hand, Theresa May doesn’t intend to violate the people’s vote in the 2016 referendum explicitly, so she tries to appear to be opposed to a new referendum, but she set the game in a way that it will eventually lead to the UK’s remain as part of the European Union.

Labor Party officials led by Jeremy Corbin have also agreed to vote again on the Brexit, and have officially backed this issue. The fact that Britain’s two rival parties have come to an agreement on holding a new referendum has provided the ground for its ultimate realization.

First published in our partner MNA

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West return to 2007: Europe’s anger over incompetent politicians

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The anger and discontent of European citizens over European politicians is increasing day by day. While more than ten years have passed since the economic crisis in Europe, we are still witnessing austerity plans in this block.

France’s recent round of demonstrations isn’t limited to this country anymore, and we’re now witnessing demonstrations in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

Many European citizens spent the years between 2007 and 2012 with the hope that the austerity policies would affect the devastated economy of United Europe and the Eurozone. That’s why they tried to cooperate with their own governments (which were mainly the far-right and social-democratic administrations). However, after 2012, we witnessed the end of European citizens’ patience towards politicians like Merkel.

Part of this dissatisfaction revealed itself in cases such as the European Parliamentary Elections in 2014, where more than 100 right extremists managed to enter the European Parliament. Now, in 2018, we are witnessing the continuation of the economic crisis in Europe in the security, social and political spheres.

It’s not without a reason that the number of nationalist groups’ supporters has increased in the mentioned areas. The security crisis is strongly felt in today’s Europe. Common policies which were adopted by European authorities couldn’t improve the security crisis within the Schengen borders and other European borders.

During 2015 and 2016 (and somehow in 2017), the Immigration and security crises in Europe caused other issues such as the economic crisis to become marginalized. But now it’s shadowed over the whole of Europe. Under such circumstances, the main question of European citizens is that what was the impact of austerity policies adopted for ten years inside the EU borders?

They can clearly see that the adoption of such policies has had no effects on improving their economic conditions. The existing economic crisis continues to be felt in everyday life of European citizens. The rise of the signs of the financial crisis in Europe, and the decline in credit ratings, and the growth of unemployment in countries that continue to be affected by the financial crisis have created many social crises in Europe.

The protests that are taking place today in France and other European countries are not merely an objection to rising fuel prices or tax increases for low-income groups. It is a protest against the unstable economic structure of the European Union and the Eurozone.

Emmanuel Macron, the young French president, as an economist, promised to redefine the existing economic structure in the Eurozone, with regard to the current economic crisis. However, Macron himself has now become the symbol of crisis in Europe!

The economic crisis in European countries doesn’t limit to austerity policies! The external debt crisis in the European countries should also be added to the economic and credit crises in the West. The crisis is heavily extended in countries like Italy, causing a lot of trouble for other member states of the Eurozone. The economic cohesion of the Eurozone member states has fueled this trend.

In any case, it seems that the patience of European citizens has come to an end. As noted, according to the predictions, these crises were to be resolved before 2012, and economic growth symbols was to be replaced by austerity symbols. But at the moment, there is little indication of economic growth in European countries, and austerity policies remain strong.

Finally, it should be concluded that the European countries, especially the EU member states, have no choice but to “self-destruct” their economic foundations and replace them with new patterns. If European officials continue to insist on existing methods and economic models, they will be doomed to failure in the near future. In this case, nationalist groups and far-right extremists will dominate Europe’s political, economic, social and security equations, and this would definitely be a terrible nightmare for those like Merkel and Macron.

First published in our partner MNA

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EU steps up action against disinformation

MD Staff

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To protect its democratic systems and public debates and in view of the 2019 European elections as well as a number of national and local elections that will be held in Member States by 2020, the EU is presenting today an Action Plan to step up efforts to counter disinformation in Europe and beyond.

Taking stock of the progress made so far and following up on the call made by European leaders in June 2018 to protect the Union’s democratic systems, the European Commission and the High Representative are setting out concrete measures to tackle disinformation, including the creation of a Rapid Alert System and close monitoring of the implementation of the Code of Practice signed by the online platforms. The Action Plan also foresees an increase of resources devoted to the issue.

High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini said: “Healthy democracy relies on open, free and fair public debate. It’s our duty to protect this space and not allow anybody to spread disinformation that fuels hatred, division, and mistrust in democracy. As the European Union, we’ve decided to act together and reinforce our response, to promote our principles, to support the resilience of our societies, within our borders and in the neighbourhood. It’s the European way to respond to one of the main challenges of our times.” 

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President responsible for the Digital Single Market, said: “We need to be united and join our forces to protect our democracies against disinformation. We have seen attempts to interfere in elections and referenda, with evidence pointing to Russia as a primary source of these campaigns. To address these threats, we propose to improve coordination with Member States through a Rapid Alert System, reinforce our teams exposing disinformation, increase support for media and researchers, and ask online platforms to deliver on their commitments. Fighting disinformation requires a collective effort.”

Stepping up detection, response and awareness

The Action Plan – prepared in close cooperation also with Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová; Commissioner for Security Union Julian King and Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel – focuses on four areas key to effectively build up the EU’s capabilities and strengthen cooperation between Member States and the EU:

Improved detection: Strategic Communication Task Forces and the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell in the European External Action Service (EEAS), as well as the EU delegations in the neighbourhood countries will be reinforced with significant additional specialised staff and data analysis tools. The EEAS’ strategic communication budget to address disinformation and raise awareness about its adverse impact is expected to more than double, from €1.9 million in 2018 to €5 million in 2019. EU Member States should complement these measures by reinforcing their own means to deal with disinformation.  

Coordinated response: A dedicated Rapid Alert System will be set up among the EU institutions and Member States to facilitate the sharing of data and assessments of disinformation campaigns and to provide alerts on disinformation threats in real time. The EU institutions and Member States will also focus on proactive and objective communication on Union values and policies.

Online platforms and industry:The signatories of the Code of Practice should swiftly and effectively implement the commitments made under the Code of Practice, focusing on actions that are urgent for the European elections in 2019. This includes in particular ensuring transparency of political advertising, stepping up efforts to close active fake accounts, labelling non-human interactions (messages spread automatically by ‘bots’) and cooperating with fact-checkers and academic researchers to detect disinformation campaigns and make fact-checked content more visible and widespread. The Commission, with the help of the European group of regulators in charge of audio-visual media services, will ensure a close and continuous monitoring of the implementation of the commitments.

Raising awareness and empowering citizens: In addition to targeted awareness campaigns, the EU institutions and Member States will promote media literacy through dedicated programmes. Support will be provided to national multidisciplinary teams of independent fact-checkers and researchers to detect and expose disinformation campaigns across social networks.

Finally, the Commission is today also reporting on the progress made in tackling online disinformation since the presentation of its Communication in April 2018.

Next steps

The European Commission and the High Representative will develop and implement the measures set out in the Action Plan, in close cooperation with Member States and the European Parliament.

With a view to the European elections, the Rapid Alert System will be set up by March 2019. This will be complemented by further strengthening relevant resources.

The signatories of the Code of Practice will have to provide the first implementation update to the Commission by the end of 2018, which the Commission will then publish in January 2019. Between January and May, the online platforms will have to report to the Commission on a monthly basis. The Commission will also carry out a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the Code of Practice in its first 12 months. Should the implementation and the impact of the Code of Practice prove unsatisfactory, the Commission may propose further measures, including of a regulatory nature.

Background

The European Union has been actively tackling disinformation since 2015. Followinga decision of the European Council in March 2015, in order to “challenge Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns“, the East StratCom Task Forcein the European External Action Service (EEAS) was set up. The Task Force, together with the relevant Commission services, focuses on effectively communicating the EU’s policies towards its eastern neighbourhood; strengthening the overall media environment in the eastern neighbourhood, including providing support for media freedom and strengthening independent media; and improving the EU’s capacity to forecast, address and raise awareness of pro-Kremlin disinformation activities.

In 2016, the Joint Framework on countering hybrid threats was adopted, followed by the Joint Communication on increasing resilience and bolstering capabilities to address hybrid threats in 2018.

In April 2018, the Commission outlined a European approach and self-regulatory tools to tackle disinformation online, including an EU-wide Code of Practice against Disinformation, support for an independent network of fact-checkers, and tools to stimulate quality journal­ism. On 16 October, the Code of Practice was signed by Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla as well as the trade association representing online platforms and trade associations representing the advertising industry and advertisers.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address, President Juncker also put forward a set of concrete measures to make sure that next year’s European Parliament elections are organised in a free, fair and secure manner. The measures include greater transparency in online political advertisements and the possibility to impose sanctions for the illegal use of personal data in order to deliberately influence the outcome of the European elections.

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