Authors: Ekaterina Entina, Dejan Novakovic, Georgy Engelhardt
President Putin’s visit to Belgrade on January 17, 2019 was a significant domestic political event for Serbia, and an “empty” one for Russia in terms of its prospects in the country, given the events of 2018 and the content of the meeting itself.
A Simplified Approach to Assessing the Results of Putin’s Visit
The arrival of the President of the Russian Federation did allow Aleksandar Vučić to demonstrate that he enjoys the support both of Washington (which in many ways is doubtful) and Moscow, a city beloved by a large part of the Serbian population. In terms of domestic politics, this position guarantees that the ruling party will score a convincing victory in the snap parliamentary elections, which could be held as early as this spring. The slogan being used to promote Putin’s visit was “one in 300 million” (a reference to a popular Serbian saying that translates “The Serbs and the Russians, there are 300 million of us, but without the Russians, barely enough to fill half a bus”), which turned into a direct response to the opposition’s phrase “1 in 5 million” (which came about in December 2018 as a reaction to the careless statements of the Serbian leader about the opposition’s rallies) and could be used as a “banner” during the election campaign in the country.
On the other hand, the scale of the open part of the visit clearly did not match the qualitative component. In terms of the size and emotional intensity, Putin’s visit to Belgrade had all the trimmings of a grand performance. Seven hundred journalists, 5000 security service officers, a good part of the Russian cabinet, a squadron of Serbian MiGs to accompany the President’s plane in Belgrade, 120,000 Serbs on the square in front of the Church of Saint Sava chanting “Putin! Putin!” and even two small but indispensable additions to the main program – the timely revelation of an attempted assassination and the free Tsarsky bread in the Maxi shops.
At the same time, the main results of the visit were the streamlined statements about TurkStream, the 21 agreements that will be worth a total of 660 million euros in the future (five of which are concerned with providing electricity to Serbian cities) and the Russian leader’s assertion that the “the resolution of the Kosovo issue should be handled by Belgrade and Pristina, but within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.”
The following outlines what may at first appear to be the main results of Putin’s visit to Belgrade.
Putin’s visit to Belgrade, dare we say, was an historical event. It will take some time before we see its effects – either as a solid result in the Balkans or as the end of Russia in the region. Why is that?
Following the 2000 October Revolution in Yugoslavia, which led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević, fierce debates raged in Serbia over why Moscow did nothing to prevent the change of power in Belgrade. They also brought up the fact that Russia “did nothing” in 1995 when Milošević visited Moscow. Just like now, the expectations of ordinary Serbs back then (regardless of what social group they belonged to) were off the charts, and the Serbian leaders wanted to use Moscow to further its own domestic agenda. And, as we all know, there is nothing worse than disappointed expectations.
To be sure, it can be stated that, despite its pomposity, Putin’s visit went off without any global breakthroughs or prodigious gestures. Yet there were many fears about it: that attempts would be made to get Russia to achieve an agreement on the recognition by Belgrade of Kosovo’s independence; that the Serbian side would try to draw Putin into the country’s domestic confrontation; or, more importantly, that the whole deal could undermine pro-Russian sentiments within Serbian society.
The Russian leader managed to avoid the main traps rather skilfully. Putin did say that “Russia is in favour of Belgrade and Pristina achieving a viable and mutually acceptable solution,” words that Aleksandar Vučić had longed to hear, but continued by reiterating Moscow’s position that this should be done “within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.” This is precisely what Vučić’s opponents in Serbia are demanding, including the Kosovo Serbs, who fear that “bold and creative” solutions will actually turn out to be a banal form of capitulation and, instead of appeasement, the benefits of European integration will only lead to further crises and the split of the country.
Putin was equally skilful in his refusals to engage in the domestic political struggle in Serbia. Presenting Vučić with the Order of Alexander Nevsky and praising him for his personal contribution to the development of bilateral relations (which is certainly fair, as Serbia is the only European country that does not display a hint of anti-Russian sentiment at any level), Putin made note of other Serbian greats who had the honour bestowed upon them in the 19th and early 20th centuries – the founder of independent Serbia Miloš Obrenović and the famous Prime Minister Nikola Pašić. However, Putin politely refused to take part in a mass rally organized by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) led by Vučić. The SPP chartered hundreds of buses to bring in activists and employees of government-funded organizations from across the country, attempting to use the meeting with the most popular foreign leader in Serbia to offset the mass protests organized by the opposition. Despite Vučić’s persistence, as well as the fact that Putin’s participation in the rally had been announced a week before his visit to Belgrade, the Russian leader merely thanked the people for their friendly attitude towards Russia. Refusing to support either of the sides in the domestic political confrontation helped prevent any damage being done to the Russophile portion of the opposition. It would seem that, in terms of its positions, Moscow did not lose anything from Putin’s Belgrade visit. But did it win anything? That is the question.
In order to answer this question, it is important to understand the regional context in which the official visit took place.
The Regional Dimension
The Macedonian parliament recently passed a vote on changing the country’s name to the “Republic of North Macedonia,” opening the way to NATO and EU membership. The Hellenic Parliament has not yet voted on the issue. It will do so on January 25, 2019.
Two days before Putin’s visit to Serbia, the U.S. administration addressed the request to lift the customs barriers imposed on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kosovo Albanians. The pressure on the Kosovan authorities to take part in the hearings on the atrocities of the 1990s is thus increasing. Such actions, as well as the developments of the past six months, demonstrate that Washington sees itself as the main arbiter and future guardian of the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. Donald Trump was candid about this in his December 2018 letters to President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić.
At the same time, the Kosovan and Albanian authorities bilaterally abolished the border regime between the two countries and implemented joint control over crossings, meaning that the two countries have de facto entered the final stages of the “Greater Albania” project. It would seem that such steps would logically put the issue over other “great” countries (for example, Serbia and Croatia) on the agenda too. But we should not count on this right now, as, unlike the Albanians, Belgrade and Zagreb do not have great power behind them.
The only thing that is new in Serbia–Croatia relations are the reasons for the tensions. Tensions themselves are part and parcel of the relationship between the two countries.
In this context, symbolism surrounded the Russian President’s visit to Belgrade. Aleksandar Vučić presented Putin with a Šarplaninac (also known as a Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog, a Macedonian Shepherd Dog and a Kosovan Shepherd Dog). Does it mean he presented Kosovo to Moscow? Probably not. However, it was almost certainly an invitation to step up efforts and an attempt to shift part of the responsibility for the outcome of the negotiations regarding the region onto Russia.
What is more, in the context of the regional trends mentioned above, Putin’s visit can be interpreted not only and not so much as Russia demonstrating its support for Vučić and Serbia, but rather as a meeting with all the region’s Serbian leaders (the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik, the leaders of the Montenegrin opposition Andrija Mandić and Goran Danilović, and the leader of the Serbs in Macedonia Ivan Stoilković). For the first time ever, Putin, albeit it in passing, touched upon the issue of the fragmentation of the Serbian people across a number of states: “There was an attempt to pull the Serbian people about and scatter them across different states, but these decisions are unlikely to be durable if they are not fair.”
What Can Russia Get out of Putin’s Visit?
On the one hand, everything we have mentioned so far can be used to marginalize Moscow’s role in the region.
The ruling party in Serbia will, through the state-controlled media, paint the visit as support for its efforts to cut the “Kosovan knot” and one of the main trump cards for possible parliamentary elections in the future. In this sense, it will tear out a part of the pro-Russian opposition’s program, which is actively participating in the “Union for Serbia” movement, and also deprive it of its main argument that “the government pursues the treacherous policy of recognizing Kosovo and acceding to both the European Union and NATO.” In reality, while Aleksandar Vučić consistently rejects the prospect of Serbia joining NATO, it is clear that the pressure on Belgrade continues to grow. Before Putin’s arrival, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia reported that negotiations on the second phase of the Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP) with NATO had been successful.
Both a final solution to problem of Macedonia’s name and NATO pressure on Bosnia and Herzegovina indirectly point to the Alliance strengthening its positions in the region. The only recourse available to Belgrad would be either joining NATO or secession of Republika Srpska and work for the creation of the so-called “Great Serbia” as the Albanians do.
The pompousness with which the President of the Russian Federation was received will, from a moral point of view, allow European bureaucracy and the western media to double down on its campaign to stigmatize Russia in the region and accelerate the integration of the Balkans into NATO. At the same time, the economic results of the visit, which have been described by the well-known saying “the mountain gave birth to a mouse,” open the way to marginalizing Russia’s role in the economic structure of the region and the pedalling of this fact on the part of the European Union. We must admit that Aleksandar Vučić covered all the bases here: in the run-up to the visit, he assured all the European ambassadors that Putin’s arrival in Belgrade was in no way connected to Serbia’s main desire – to become a member of the EU. The fact that Russia and Serbia have not yet managed to complete technical negotiations on the creation of a free trade area between the latter and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which were launched back in 2015, is further evidence of this.
At the same time, the absence of economic breakthroughs indicates that the visit was needed primarily by Belgrade, which had fought so hard for it to take place. The contractual agreements that were reached do, however, demonstrate that Russian business has an interest in the Serbian market. Also, while “digitalization” is seen by many in both countries as a “modern toy of the authorities,” the agreements give IT companies certain opportunities: Russian companies will gain access to the Serbian market and Serbian developers will be involved in Russian projects.
Most importantly, the visit clearly demonstrated to the West that, politically speaking, Russia has no intention of leaving the Balkans, that it understands the intricacies of the domestic political situation and uses them elegantly. Through Serbia (and not only Serbia, like in Slovenia), Russia has influence and weight in all the countries in that region. And the main thing (in terms of it going against the Western concept of economic dominance) is that Russia’s lack of economic influence in the region continues to be compensated quite easily by its historical power and the psychological and emotional communality shared by the Russian and Serbian peoples. It is possible that such a timely visit from the Russian patriarch to the region could bridge the financial void in the Russia–Serbia story.
However, in the short term, all of this default potential may sink into oblivion if Russia does not find a way to become actively involved in the resolution of the Kosovo issue, and in the ethnic issues in the region as a whole. It would be wise for Moscow to include a number of questions on the agenda:
- Why do the European Union and NATO tolerate this kind of Balkans (stagnating politically and economically, and thus combustible and living exclusively in the past)?
- Why does the inclusion of the United States and the United Kingdom in the negotiations on Kosovo does not mean inclusion of Russia?
- Why do both the United States and the European Union turn a blind eye to the growing tension in the region (the emerging split between the Orthodox Church and the radicalization of the Islamic environment)?
Moscow should then propose searching for answers to these questions within the framework of a new international conference on the Balkans.
*Dejan Novakovic President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia), Georgy Engelhardt Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
First published in our partner RIAC
Is the EU risking geopolitical irrelevance in its own backyard? Lessons from Covid-19
Covid-19 and the global landscape
Undoubtedly, it is hard to make complete sense of the impact of such an unprecedented – at least in our modern times- global crisis and it would be premature to make any definite assessment. However, from a geopolitical perspective, it would be safe to assume that it has reinforced existing tendencies that were already underway over the last decade: On the one hand, a retreat to the nation-state. On the other hand, it has led to an acceleration of re-regionalisation, mainly due to the decoupling of global supply chains. These two apparently opposite trends are in fact two sides of the same coin, signalling a departure from hyper-globalisation.
Multilateralism has suffered a serious blow in the aftermath of the pandemic. President Trump’s decision for the withdrawal of the US from the WHO is indicative. The escalating US-Chinese trade war has now been coupled with a war of narratives, with each side blaming the other for ineffective response to the pandemic.
Caught between this new wave of competition, the image of EU has also suffered a blow, due to the late response of the majority of member states to the pandemic, and more significantly, due to the early lack of solidarity between its very own members.
Amid this current unpredictable landscape, with eroding post-WWII international institutions, Washington’s self-isolation, a rising China and an assertive and regionally present/emerging Russia, the need for greater strategic autonomy is evident. EU has the opportunity but also the responsibility to step up as a champion of multilateralism. Hence, on FP level, a more strategic EU could finally justify von der Leyen’s characterisation of her Commission as a ‘’geopolitical’’ one.
However, in order to do so, the EU should begin with its own backyard, the seriously-affected and volatile Western Balkans.
EU and the WB, the enlargement’s state of play
It was in October 2019, when a much-anticipated green light for the start of the negotiating process for Albania and North Macedonia was denied by France, followed by Denmark and the Netherlands, on the grounds that the entire framework of the membership process should first be revised.
Sympathisers perceived it as an honest questioning of the effectiveness of the existing framework. Critics attributed this decision either to president Macron’s need to bolster his leadership image at the European level or the need to satisfy the French public’s increasingly sceptical attitude towards EU enlargement. Regardless of the rationale of this decision, it was still another indication of intergovernmentalism’s privacy in its FP setting, threatening to impel the progress achieved over the last years in the Western Balkans and an additional blow to its credibility vis-a-vis its neighbours.
Even though this (myopic) veto was revoked in April 2020, following the promise of a revised enlargement methodology, accession negotiations are expected to last several years. The EU needs to step up in support in multiple ways in order to secure its credibility towards the WB states, while preventing further democratic backsliding in the region.
Impact of Covid-19 on WB
Covid-19 hit WB at a particularly peculiar period, with Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro having their elections in 2020, whereas Kosovo’s fragile governmental coalition under former PM Kurti was overthrown in late March.
Even though the average number of Covid-19 cases per capita stayed significantly lower than the majority of European states, the WB were particularly affected due to their weak health systems and vulnerable economies. The political effects of the pandemic are also significant, having resulted to rising populism and centralisation of power. Some leaders even attempted to politicise the pandemic, treating it as a political issue instead of a severe public health crisis. Susceptible to their long-tradition of playing their ‘’nationalist card’’ at times of crises, the leaders of the WB have also increased their anti-EU rhetoric during the pandemic. Moreover, the instrumentalisation of the pandemic as a legitimising tool for additional authoritarian measures has exacerbated phenomena of state capture, especially in Serbia.
Foreign actors – disinformation campaigns on WB
Apart from risking a prolonged democratic setback, the pandemic’s effect in the region has also a geopolitical dimension in an area characterised by geopolitical pluralism:
Since 2013, China has increased its (geo)economic presence through the ‘’Belt and Road’’ project and the ‘’16+1’’ format with questionable practices and no conditionality strings attached for the local political leaderships. The EU’s late response to the crisis paved the way for greater Chinese involvement in the area. Beijing, attempting to switch the narrative of its own early inertness in dealing with the virus in its territory, launched a ‘’mask diplomacy’’ campaign, providing with masks and essential medical equipment countries in need, including candidate states such as Serbia but even EU member states like Italy.The Serbian leadership seized this opportunity to blast criticism towards the EU, thanking China and ‘’brother Xi’’ (in his own words) personally
Russia is frequently engaging in covert operations and disinformation campaigns, especially in Serbia and in one of Bosnia’s entities, Republika Srpska. Kremlin also attempted to undermine the Prespa agreement between Greece and North Macedonia and is openly against the recognition of Kosovo. It also uses energy as a bargaining chip for political gains; In this case, sticking to its usual ‘’divide and rule’’ strategy Kremlin has supported disinformation campaigns ran by state-owned media. The majority of them emphasise on EU’s lack of solidarity and weaknesses, portraying Russia and other authoritarian models of governance like China as the ones that can guarantee efficiency/effectiveness and decisiveness in managing an imminent crisis.
Turkey, a candidate for membership itself, exercises its own influence through soft power (culture and religion), mainly in Muslim-populated Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania, but also in Serbia and North Macedonia, through economic means, adding to the region’s complexity of overlapping and contrasting foreign interests.
These actors pose no threat to EU’s prominence in the region (indicatively enjoying 75% share of the total trade) but could significantly sabotage democratisation. The more distant the European perspective will look, the less constrained the leadership of states like Serbia will feel to conduct business with them. Albania is one of the two (together with Montenegro) candidate states with full alignment to the EU foreign and security policy. Yet its candidacy status has stalled.
EU’s economic presence in the region is disanalogous to its visibility and soft power, especially compared to the aforementioned foreign actors, partially due to their disinformation campaigns. Thus, in the dawn of the outbreak pandemic a similar pattern was repeated: EU was originally criticised for placing export restrictions on protective equipment during the virus’ outbreak in Europe. Even though the restrictions were lifted quickly, as the European Commission first pledged €38 million for the immediate healthcare needs of the WB states in March, followed by a lucrative support package of €3,3 billion that was announced on 29 April, the reputational damage was already done.
Instead, rather than affecting EU’s position vis-a-vis its Balkan partners, the current crisis should pave the way for a ‘’positive instrumentalisation’’ of the crisis in order to avoid risking its geopolitical (ir)relevance.
Thus, the current crisis could be the start for greater, deeper and wider EU engagement in the region for the following reasons:
Increasing need for supply diversification in Europe and WB
As Mark Leonard recently noted ‘’the current pandemic could mark a paradigm shift in EU-China relationship. Thus, the pandemic’s spill-over effect on supply chains will lead to a re-regionalisation process in an attempt to a partial decoupling of economic ties with China. This could give EU an advantage, consolidating its geographic proximity and economic primacy in the region and halting Chinese geo-economic overextension. China’s ‘’Health silk road’’ can generate asymmetries and the debt-trap phenomena in several states across its silk road map (Sri Lanka etc.) should be a point of concern among WB states.
US decline as a global hegemon and the eroding trust of its allies
The current US leadership is too inward-oriented, strongly committed to its ‘’America first’’ doctrine. The President’s counterproductive obsession in insisting on the Chinese origin of the virus and his decision to leave the WHO were just two recent examples that added to Washington’s unwillingness to continue its post-WWII role as the provider of global public goods. Domestically, the political landscape is deeply polarised and divided before the upcoming elections. This overall decline is also reflected on the eroding trust of EU citizens and citizens of other traditional allies towards Washington.
Indeed, Beijing has managed to boost its leadership credentials globally, amid an increasingly introvert and isolationist US leadership. Nevertheless, the lack of transparency and credibility, two essential elements of hegemonic/stability theory/global leadership, coupled with the authoritarian character of its regime render China ill-suited for leading an increasingly ‘’headless’’, also known as’’G-Zero’’ world.
To capitalise of the current situation while staying in line with its own set of values, the EU will have to:
Apply greater scrutiny using updated screening mechanisms on foreign investments, including Chinese ones, pushing sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) criteria. EU can lead the path towards greater sustainability in trade and investments, boosting its geo-economic credentials as a global regulatory power. EU should explore ways to include the WB in the European Green Deal and its ambitious economic goals for climate neutrality by 2050 for the avoidance of price disparities in energy. The EU could assist by sharing best practices and by outlining a clear ‘’green agenda’’ for the Western Balkans, unlocking their significant potential in renewable energy, especially in hydro-energy. Overall, this crisis has been a reminder that supply chains in critical sectors should be reviewed.
Regardless the outcome of the global efforts for an effective vaccine and a return to normality, the economic recovery in the region will not be easy, according to World Bank report. Therefore, the full inclusion of the WB is a dire need for any post-reconstruction plan on behalf of the EU, regardless of the accession status stage/level. In other words, new carrots will have to be invented, complementary to the one of accession, as the accession carrot is losing ground in the near future due to low prospects and/or slow progress. Of course, economic support should go hand in hand with strings attached. The EIB as primary funding instruments, should outline clear conditionality criteria related to green economic goals, justifying its recent self-branding as the ‘’European Climate Bank’’.
On a diplomatic level, other possible moves on behalf of the EU with constructive orientation could be finally granting visa liberalisation for the citizens of Kosovo. Finally, EU will have to keep demonstrating active support for the continuation of dialogue and the negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade, bypassing US involvement. Finally, upon approval of the negotiating frameworks for Albania and North Macedonia by the European Council, the EU should not let go of the momentum and carry on with the first intergovernmental conferences that will mark the formal start of the accession negotiations. This will be another strong sign of support to the progressive, pro-EU forces in the two countries.
In order to counter false narratives and improve EU’s visibility in the region, an increase in the efforts to pushback disinformation campaigns of Russia and China both in the Western Balkans but also in its own territory and members, securing its own coherence and its external positive outlook. The new initiative in fighting disinformation is a step towards the right direction and the Western Balkans should be prioritised as a focal point. It has been proven that economic assistance per se is not enough to win hearts and minds.
Of course, internal coherence is a precondition. It was tested once again, bringing into the surface the traditional division between North and South, however, the capping stone of the negotiations led to a compromise, indicative of the Union’s resilience. Greater internal coherence will result to greater credibility abroad, especially in the candidate Balkan states. For example, the EU member states have yet to reach an agreement on the migration pact. Also, it is hard to capitalise on its strong record of human right and RoL when still showing an ambiguous attitude vis-a-vis serious violation by the governments of Hungary and Poland. Emphasising on its strengths (social state, transparency) and capitalising on its recent economic agreement will send the right message to the WB states.
Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia, in an early Covid-19 essay warned that international institutions are becoming arenas of competition. The EU, with its 27 member states and diversity of voices, has been an arena of conflicting interests in its own. Paradoxically, it could be argued that its own tedious, yet successful – experience with multilateralism and fair compromises puts the EU in a better position to contribute to efforts of repairing multilateralism. However, it should start being taken more seriously by its very own people and why not, by the people that aspire to join it one day. This goal cannot be reached unless its first achieved in its very own backyard, the WB, through an increase of its credibility-visibility and active/practical role on multiple levels.
From Prince to Duce: An in depth study about Machiavellianism in the Fascist Doctrine
Although both philosophies of Machiavellianism and Fascism are almost 400 years apart, there is no doubt that the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism and power can be found in the theories of Giovanni Gentile. How much of an influence was Niccoló Machiavelli for the father of fascism, Giovanni Gentile and was Mussolini the actual prince that Machiavelli was dreaming of? Why does Machiavelli have a special place at the pantheon of fascism and how relative are those theories in the 21st century?
Political profiles of Machiavelli and Gentile
Nicolló Machiavelli was born in 1469, in Florence of Italy. He was the son of a wealthy lawyer and he studied at the University of Florence. He was mostly known after 1498 where he first served as a government official in the government of the Republic of Florence.
Apart from a government official, Machiavelli was a well-known diplomat, philosopher, and writer. Some of his key works are The Discourses on Livy (1517), The Art of War (1519-1521) but the most notable of them is The Prince (1513). Based on Machiavelli’s works and theories, the modern term Machiavellian was born which is mostly connected with acts of political deceit.
On the other hand, Giovanni Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily in 1875. At a young age after finishing high school, he studied philosophy focusing on the idealist tradition in Italy and Neo-Hegelian idealism. His works such as The Doctrine of Fascism (1932) and The Philosophy of Fascism (1928), were essential foundations for what would be known as the Fascist movement.
In that respect, Giovanni Gentile is considered to be the father of fascism, who gave birth to the iconic figure of the Duce, Benito Mussolini. He served under Mussolini’s regime as the Minister of Education and later as the president of the Academy of Italy. In 1944 he was captured and executed by Italian partisans.
Understanding the realist approach in Machiavelli’s works
To completely understand how Machiavelli influenced one of the most successful ideologies of the 20th century, there has to be in-depth research regarding the theories of Machiavelli. One of his most remarkable works was with no doubt The Prince.
Written in 1513, his work is focused and addressed to young princes that are willing to become successful rulers. Machiavelli is trying to imply the concept of realism by directly implying the truth rather than imagining it. Unlike other political thinkers, he does not see the state as a mechanism to nurture the morality of its citizens but as an ensuring concept that will protect their wellbeing. To have a strong state, you need to have a strong leader that will be able to ensure the wellbeing of his subjects by using any means possible, even deception or intrigue.
“In judging policies, we should consider the results that have been achieved through them rather than the means by which they have been executed”
Machiavelli considered the idea of the end justifies the means as the only way to ensure stability and prosperity for the state. The success of a prince should be judged by the consequences of his actions and never by his morality or ideology. This idea is perfectly described in The Prince.
“ In the actions of all men, especially princes, where there is no resource to justice, the end is all that counts. A prince should only be concerned with conquering or maintaining a state, for the means will always be judged to be honorable and praiseworthy by each and every person because the masses always follow appearances and the outcomes of affairs, and the world is nothing other than the masses”
Regarding his views about religion and the state, although he was a devoted catholic, he did oppose the interference of church to political life. According to one of his books, the Discourses on Livy, the vision that he has for the perfect form of government is modeled on the Roman Republic, with a mixed constitution and participation by its citizens. However, he stresses out that for such a republic to exist, it needs a strong leader that will allow specific laws about the social organization that will allow this ideal republic to be born.
Gentile’s idea of the fascist state
Similar to Machiavelli’s ideas about the ideal leader and republic were the theories of Giovanni Gentile. As the father of fascism, Gentile was essential to establish the foundations and the pillars to promote Benito Mussolini and the Duce of the people that will lead them to the resurrection of the Roman Republic.
Gentile’s ideas are perfectly described in one of his early works, The Philosophy of Fascism which was written in 1928. Based on his book, we can get a clear understanding of his constructive ideas. To get the support of the masses, Gentile focused on more nationalistic elements combined with a more radical form of social organization that will be based around the fascist state.
The philosophy that he wanted to impose was one of unity through collectivism. In this idea, he promotes the fascist conception of the state as an attitude towards life in which individuals are bound together by a higher law and will, the law and will of the nation. However, to fully understand the principles behind fascism, one has to follow the guidelines that he mentions in The Doctrine of Fascism which he co-wrote with Benito Mussolini.
Written in 1932, The Doctrine of Fascism, focuses on the ideas that can be promoted to achieve the goal of the fascist state. Gentile rejected the idea of individualism and thought that the answer to the needs of people for security and prosperity was in the idea of collectivism.
Although it might sound very familiar with what Karl Marx was advocating, Gentile did not agree with him on the idea of a divided society into social classes and a historical struggle between classes. He also was against any form of democracy that indicated the majority rule, which sees the will of the nation underneath the will of the majority.
Above all, the idea of fascism sets in three major ideas. That the law and will of the nation must take precedence over the individual will and that all human values lie within the state. Moreover, all individual actions serve to preserve and expand the state.
In addition to his philosophy, it needs to be mentioned his ideas regarding other forms of political theory or even the aspect of peace. For Gentile, any form of economic or political liberalism would only result in an unstable political system that is bound to fail.
His views about the failure of liberalism came right after the end of WWI, where Italy ended up in a state of social and political unrest.
Politicians that were promoting these ideas were not able to provide sustainable answers to Italy’s increasing unemployment rate and social unrest.
Gentile also believed that the aspiration of permanent peace could not be implemented because of the conflicting interests of all the nations that in the end made conflict completely inevitable.
A comparative study of both philosophies
After carefully reviewing both theories, it is safe to say that there are quite a few similarities that can be found. Firstly, there is a clear sense of contempt for the idea of moral progress.
In terms of politics, both Machiavelli and Gentile’s ideal leader, Benito Mussolini always considered themselves realists that were willing to sacrifice anything for their nation.
Mussolini himself even claimed that Niccoló Machiavelli and his realist approach were an inspiration to him and that his book The Prince had an influence on him since he aspired of being the great leader for Italy that would restore the glory of the Roman Empire.
Secondly the idea of the state’s wellbeing being above any form of individualism. In that sense, the famous quote of Machiavelli “the end justifies the means”, can be found in the fascist doctrine.
The belief that the end justifies the means, as a pure struggle for power is the defining characteristics of fascism.
Finally, both of the theories can be traced down to the single concept of the sheepdog and the sheep.
An effective leader can and will harness the weaker traits of humanity in his people to great effect, in the same way, a sheepdog can manipulate to his will a herd of sheep. Not to mention that both Machiavelli and Mussolini thought that the idea of ensuring the wellbeing of a state and its citizens can be effectively achieved by using deceit, treachery, and secrecy whenever it is necessary.
Was Benito Mussolini a real Machiavellian Prince?
With all these similarities, wouldn’t all the scholars agree that through Gentile’s intellectual foundations to the fascist movement, Benito Mussolini can be considered the ideal prince according to Machiavelli?
However, he might be far from being the ideal leader. Machiavelli himself would have found the idea of Mussolini being a prince obscure.
Firstly, the radical ideas that Mussolini had and the way he imposed them on the people through a dictatorship did not comply with the concept of virtues that Machiavelli suggested.
Secondly, Machiavelli specifically said and made it very clear that this is only a matter of expediency and not a model for social behavior, something that Mussolini tried to impose through his blackshirts movement. The aspect of totalitarian regimes was not what Machiavelli had in his mind.
Mussolini also failed to protect and ensure the wellbeing of his citizens and the state. His radical views and clear lack of understanding of what was happening around him made him more of a joker rather than a prince.
An excellent example is his will to enter WWII with the Axis, something that completely crippled the Italian people.
Machiavelli was not an advocate of war and he believed that being ruthless should only last until peace and prosperity are achieved, not to mention that his ideal ruler will establish the ideal republic where there will be a mixed constitution and participation by the citizens.
In that sense, Mussolini was not willing to let his people have any sort of power. In the end for many historians and political thinkers. Mussolini was not in power for the benefit of his people but for the benefit of his ego and his idea that he was the chosen one to restore the glory of ancient Rome.
Implementing the political philosophies in the 21st century
In conclusion, can these two theories be implemented in today’s society? Certainly, fascism has left a bitter taste in Europe and around the world and no government in the world wants to hold the title of a fascist state.
However, fascism has not disappeared rather it has silently moved towards right-wing groups that promote the idea of nationalism.
On the other hand, the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism can be found around the world and some may argue that leaders like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping are the modern princes that put the interests of the state above individualism. With that being said, it would be impossible to compare any world leader to the ideal prince of Machiavelli, simply because it is hard to understand the notion of a paternalistic society that Machiavelli wanted to be created through the perfect leader. Instead in this day and age authoritarian regimes have replaced this notion and most of the time they leave a negative global opinion.
Today it is important for everyone to remember our world’s history in order not to allow ourselves to fall for the same mistakes of our past. The mistakes that brought misery for the whole world with catastrophic wars and misleading ideologies that pretend to be closer to the citizens but in reality they serve their own authoritarian goals. All in all, when we approach such theories we have to remember the words of the revolutionary Leon Trotsky:
“If the end justifies the means, what justifies the end?”
An Austro-Franco-German Proposal for a European Post Covid-19 Recovery Programme
The conference named “75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”, which took place on the 1st of July at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, brought together experts related to the reality of the Old Continent and its Union over the course of the past 75 years of its post-WWII anti-fascist existence. It was jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, numerous academia supporting and media partners.
The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.
The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.
The panel under the name “Future to Europe: Is there any alternative to universal and pan-European Multilateralism? Revisiting and recalibrating the Euro-MED and cross-continental affairs”, was focused on discussing the determinants of Europe’s relations with its strategic Euro-MED and Eurasian neighborhood, the possible pan-European political architecture as well as on the forthcoming post-crisis recovery.
On the latter topic, the panelist Mario Holzner, who is the Director-General of the WIIW Austria, outlined the policy proposal on the post-pandemic European recovery programme, elaborated by his Viennese Institute in collaboration with the Paris-based research institute OFCE and the German IMK Macroeconomic Policy Institute. The Recovery Fund recently proposed by the European Commission represents a benchmark in the era of stalled European integration, and during the unstable and precarious post-pandemic times it holds a crucial role for overcoming the immense political and economic crisis of 2020 . Following on much public debate about the recovery financing, which however has heretofore lacked the proposals for concreteprojects that the EU should allocate the funds into, it is now urgently needed to come up with these.
WIIW, OFCE and IMK, three research tanks dealing with economic topics, suggested two main pillars – an EU one, and a national one- for the spending of the Commission’s recovery programme that reaches the amount of €2tn and is to allotted over a 10-year horizon. The spending of the EU pillar is to be channeled into the area of healthcare, eventually giving rise to a pan-European health project under the name Health4EU. Not least, another efficient allocation of the funds located in the programme’sEU pillar is to projects helping to mitigate the risks resulting from climate change, as well as to develop an EU-wide rail infrastructure that would substantively contribute to achieving the Commission’s goals of carbon-neutrality at the continent.
Among other, the proposal introduces two ambitious transport projects- a European high-speed rail infrastructure called Ultra-Rapid-Train, which would cut the travel time between Europe’s capitals, as well as disparate regions of the Union. Another suggested initiative is an integrated European Silk Road which would combine transport modes according to the equally-named Chinese undertaking.
Mr. Holzner’s experts team put forward the idea to “electrify” the European Commission’s Green Deal. Such electrification is feasible through the realisation of an integrated electricity grid for 100%-renewable energy transmission (e-highway), the support for complementary battery and green-hydrogen projects, as well as a programme of co-financing member states’ decarbonisation and Just Transition policies. Together, the suggested policy proposals provide the basis for creating a truly sustainable European energy infrastructure.
From the national pillar, it should be the member states themselves who benefit from the funding allocation in the overall amount of €500bn. According to the experts from WIIW, these resources should be focused on the hardest-hit countries and regions, whereas it is imperative that they are front-loaded (over the time span of three years).
The overall architecture of the programme’s spending, involving the largest part of the budget, needs to be focused on long-term projects and investment opportunities that would serve as a value added for the European integration, while also allowing to build resilience against the major challenges that the EU currently faces. The proposed sectors for the initiatives which could be launched from the EU’s funding programme are public health, transport infrastructure, as well as energy/decarbonisation scheme. Accordingly, it is needed that the funding programme is primarily focused on the structural and increasingly alarming threat of climate change.
As stated in the closing remarks, to make this memorable event a long-lasting process, the organisers as well as the participants of this unique conference initiated an action plan named “Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe.” In the framework of this enterprise, the contributing policy-makers and academics will continue to engage in meaningful activities to reflect on the trends and developments forming the European reality while simultaneously affecting the lives of millions. The European system, formed over centuries and having spanned to a political and economic Union comprising 27 states, is currently being reconfigured as a result of numerous external factors such as Brexit, the pandemic, as well as the dynamics in neighbouring regions. All of these are engendering the conditions for a novel modus operandi on the continent, whereby it is in the best intention of those partaking at this conference to contribute to a more just, secure, and peaceful European future.
Community Empowerment During Covid-19 Pandemic
During the covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the economic condition of the world community becoming destroyed, social empowerment of the...
Targeting the ‘Heart of Eurasia’: China’s Xinjiang and US’ Game Plan
The cat is out of the bag now, clearly! While it never was a secret, it is becoming increasingly evident...
IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Hydropower Takes Shape
Advancing the discussion from June 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) held its second meeting of the Collaborative Framework...
China’s Belt and Road pinpoints fundamental issues of our times
Based on remarks at the RSIS book launch of Alan Chong and Quang Minh Pham (eds), Critical Reflections on China’s...
A Middle Eastern Westphalia
This book, Towards a Westphalia for the Middle East, is a product of many conferences and seminars between government officials,...
Is the EU risking geopolitical irrelevance in its own backyard? Lessons from Covid-19
Covid-19 and the global landscape Undoubtedly, it is hard to make complete sense of the impact of such an unprecedented...
Gallup: Americans Tend to Trust Only News That Confirms Their Beliefs
On September 11th, Gallup headlined “Bias in Others’ News a Greater Concern Than Bias in Own News”, and reported (based...
International Law2 days ago
Why Human Rights Abuses Threaten Regional and Global Security
Economy3 days ago
Pandemic Recovery: Upskilling Government Saves Nations
Europe2 days ago
An Austro-Franco-German Proposal for a European Post Covid-19 Recovery Programme
Europe3 days ago
Britain, Greece, Turkey and The Aegean: Does Anything Change?
Finance3 days ago
Digital Finance Strategy, legislative proposals on crypto-assets and digital operational resilience
Eastern Europe3 days ago
Perestroika Belarusian-Style: The Logic of the Systemic Crisis
Russia2 days ago
Did Russia-China Relations Successfully Pass the “COVID,” “Hong Kong,” “India” and “Belarus” Tests?
South Asia2 days ago
Rohingya repatriation: Has the world forgotten about the Rohingya crisis?