Sunday, May 19, 2013

Never too far from the Fourth Shore.

Neither the Afghan nor the Syrian front create as many problems, in foreign policy, to President Obama's Administration, as the Libyan civil conflict. So, now that the situation in the former Italian colony seems to get out of control, it looks like the U.S. government remembered the special role that Italy has always played in that land: Italy's fourth shore; as someone had called it at time of the Empire.
The following article originally appeared, as an editorial, on the Italian on-line magazine Analisi Difesa, and was published here with permission. (Thanks to J.J.P for reviewing the English text).
Your comments, as usual. will be greatly appreciated.

Now they have the gall to ask for our help.
by Gianandrea Gaiani. (Translated from Italian by L. Pavese).

“Italy, thanks to the privileged relationship that she has with Libya, could have a crucial role in the stability of that country, and we want to work with Rome.” These were the words of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the end of the meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, during which Libya (as the two officials emphasized) was at the core of the talks. From what has been revealed, the newly appointed Italian foreign minister highlighted the preoccupation, shared by Italy and the U.S., about “the turn of the events on the ground” in the African country, but Mr. Kerry’s statement is paradoxical in at least two aspects.
First of all, Libya is falling apart due to the massive infiltration of al-Qaeda — in Cyrenaica, in the Fezzan and in even in Tripoli — and the chaos created by the dozens of tribal militias who turned the country into a feudal land, after the lynching of Muammar Gaddafi; to the point that, in the past recent days, London and Washington have reduced the number of the diplomatic personnel and alerted their special forces for possible evacuation operations.

Muammar Gaddafi

It is a disastrous situation, which is the consequence of the aerial war that the U.S., Great Britain, and France wanted to conduct in 2011 at any cost  against the Gaddafi’s regime; but they lacked the will (and the “cojones”) to take on the job of stabilizing the country with “boots on the ground”, as it was done in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is that the already very weak Libyan institutions have reached paralysis, and the parliament has been forced (under the threat of the militias who are besieging the building) to pass a law that forbids everyone who was involved in any way with the old regime to hold public office.
Practically speaking, the entire new Libyan ruling class risks erasure, including the leaders of the revolt against Gaddafi, who were all, in the past or even recently, more or less loyal servants of the Raìs. For that reason, when Mr. Kerry stated that “there are still a lot of challenges in Libya, and Italy could play a crucial role in bringing stability,” it would have been appropriate if someone in Rome had put aside the usual attitude of prone subjection with respect to the United States and had answered him, at least symbolically, with an Italian “vaffa”;  a word which was considered vulgar when politics and diplomacy were serious matters, but that unfortunately has become part of today’s political language in Rome.

John Kerry and Emma Bonino

In 2011, the Americans unloaded a torrential rain of missiles and guided bombs on Libya to unhinge the defenses of the regime, which was threatened by a revolt orchestrated by the French and the British; a revolt that had the-not-so-hidden objective to diminish the Italian influence in Libya and subtract a share of her business. Washington then passed the ball to NATO, on the basis of the Obamian doctrine of “leading from behind,” and the organization took seven months to get rid of Gaddafi, leaving the country in chaos and in hands of al-Qaeda and the salafis; as the United States discovered at their own expense with the September 11, 2012 attack against the Consulate in Benghazi in which the U.S. Ambassador Stevens, and three other Americans, were murdered.
The White House tried to hide the terrorist matrix of that crime, which Washington has so far left unpunished, since the Obama administration has not authorized yet any military intervention against the al-Qaeda-affiliated camps in Cyrenaica.

Now that the eggs have been broken but the omelette hasn’t come out right, and Libya is out of control, Mr. Kerry remembers the crucial role that Italy could have “to bring back stability.” Actually, Rome had already achieved stability in the relations with Libya for a long time, at the price of very difficult negotiations with Gaddafi, who was certainly a “son of,” but, to paraphrase what President F.D. Roosevelt used to say about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, he was our s.o.b. In fact, the Gaddafi government was an important commercial partner, not only for Italy but for the entire western world, and a trusty ally in the fight against islamic terrorism.
There is also a second, and not less important aspect of the question, for which it would be justified to tell Mr. Kerry to take a walk (maybe even in Libya). Nobody seems to remember that it was actually the now Secretary of State Mr. Kerry who virtually imposed on Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi a more active role in the war against the Tripoli’s regime. Notwithstanding the pressure exercised on him internationally and by the highest Italian institution (the President of the Republic) to take a side against Gaddafi, Prime Minister Berlusconi refused for more than a month to employ Italian airplanes in the operations against the Jamahiriya, a country to which Italy was tied by a non-aggression pact: an agreement that Italy had in any case already betrayed providing an Italian base for the aircraft of the NATO coalition.

Silvio Berlusconi

The Italian Prime Minister at the time declared that the Italian aircraft “have not bombed and will never bomb Libya”; but on the Friday before Easter, Mr. John Kerry, who at the time was Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, arrived in Rome. Mr. Kerry was President Obama’s “special envoy,” with the task of handling the most thorny international issues, like the very tense relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In Rome, Mr. Kerry only met with PM Berlusconi and delivered to him a letter from President Obama, who followed up with a phone call to Berlusconi on Easter Sunday. Maybe that wasn’t just a Happy Easter call, since the following day, April 25th, the Italian Prime Minister announced that the Italian aircraft were going to bomb Libya.
The conflict not only opened the doors wide to the destabilization of the central-eastern Mediterranean area and of the Sahel, but it coincided with the lowest level of national sovereignty expressed by the Italian republic.
As of today, it seems like the Italian level of national sovereignty has not risen a lot; since nobody has cordially invited Mr. Kerry and the United States to stabilize Libya all by themselves, or maybe with a little help from France and Great Britain.

Gianandrea Gaiani is the editor of the Italian on-line magazine Analisi Difesa, and contributes regularly to several other Italian publications.
If you are interested in another article by Mr. Gaiani about the situation in Libya, please check out: "Libya Delivered?", on this blog.
Thank you very much.

Leonardo Pavese

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The St. Petersburg Ecumenical Council.

When Salvador Dalí painted Vatican II. 
By Massimo Introvigne. (Translated from Italian by L. Pavese).

I was in St. Petersburg, Florida (U.S.A.) for a convention, and I had the opportunity to visit the new futuristic venue of the Dalí Museum, designed by Yann Weymouth. Actually, the fantastic shape of the building probably functions to protect the museum from the frequent hurricanes, since it is built dangerously close to the ocean.

Other than the artist’s collection in his house-turned-museum in Figueres, Catalonia, St. Petersburg’s is the largest collection of works by Salvador Dalí in the world - 96 oil paintings, sculptures and various other objects.

The collection, which belonged to plastics magnate and Dalí’s friend, Albert Reynolds Morse (1914-2000), arrived in Florida in 1982 when the billionaire, hounded by tax collectors, was forced to dispose of it. The new museum was inaugurated in 2011.
The great merit of the St. Petersburg’s museum consists in presenting the entire arc of the professional life of Salvador Dalí. Although at the core of the exhibit there is a robust collection of Dalí’s most famous phase, Surrealism, the sections dedicated to the youth and to the last ten years of the life of the Spanish painter are particularly rich. Although today Dalí is mostly known for his bizarre behavior and his desire to amaze at any cost, his early works show Dalí’s great mastering of different techniques; but the works of his maturity and his old age, after the break with Surrealism, are characterized by the rediscovery of religion.

Dalí had experienced in his family the cultural conflict between the Catholics and the anti-clerical forces which would eventually lead to the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War: his father was an atheist (probably a Mason) who was very hostile to the Church, but his mother was a very devout Catholic. The tension in his family predisposed Salvador Dalí to espouse the violent anti-clericalism of the Surrealists, a view he shared, and was also stoked by his relationship with Gala Djakonova (1894-1982), who was a Russian model and the wife of the poet Paul Éluard (1895-1952). After divorcing Éluard, Gala married Salvador Dalí, in a civil ceremony, in 1932.


Between the years 1949 and 1950 Dalí began his tormented, and never really completed trek to the rediscovery of Catholicism. His old family-generated issues (which also explain his fascination with Sigmund Freud, whom the artist would travel to visit, in London, in 1938), created the persona almost everyone knows: a histrionic character, who was enamored only of himself, and whose exhibitionist attitudes were difficult to bear even for his friends and would eventually even  turn out to be bad for his health. Therefore, it is not surprising if many consider Dalí’s return to Catholicism just the last trick of someone who just wanted to shock and amaze all who knew him as a fierce anti-clerical. Whatever the case, he did manage to cause a stir: when in 1952 he decided to sell his painting of the previous year, “The Christ of Saint John of the Cross,” to the Kelvingrove Museum of Glasgow, Scotland, Arts students and politically correct intellectuals organized a march to protest the purchase (which nevertheless was eventually finalized) of such a scandalous, Catholic and retrograde painting by a progressive museum.

But it is exactly the pictorial itinerary shown by the St. Petersburg’s museum that demonstrates that Dali’s desire was not just to stun and scandalize, although that element is never totally absent in his work. In 1949, Dalí was received in Rome by the venerable Pope Pius XII, who was interested in modern art and had very kind words for “The Virgin of Port Lligat,” the very first “Catholic” painting of the Catalan artist, although still marked by surrealist influences.
Dalí always stated that  his return to religion was by the way of science, and in that sense his Catholicism, during his late years, was influenced by scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (whose orthodoxy is certainly dubious). Science, according to Dalí, with the discovery of DNA for example, made it impossible for him to avoid the conclusion that a God who created an universe so complex and orderly must exist. Nevertheless, during a famous conference Dalí stated: “I believe in God, but I have no faith. Science and mathematics tell me that God must exist, but I don’t believe it.”
So, beyond his ever-present flair for the paradox, Dalí meant to say that he was rationally convinced of the existence of God and even - as he stated in another occasion - of the truth of Catholicism, but he could not “feel” faith. Nevertheless, he would later impose on a reluctant Gala, whose husband had died, a Catholic religious wedding in 1958.  He died in 1989 comforted by the sacraments of the Church.
The St. Petersburg’s collection includes two large canvases. One is the 1958 “The Discovery of America, by Christopher Columbus,” which is a celebration of Catholic Spain and of the epic deeds of Columbus as a triumph of faith. The second painting is “The Ecumenical Council,” which perhaps would be interesting to revisit in this year of faith, during which Catholics celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The canvas was painted in 1960, after the calling of the Council by Saint John XXIII.

This enormous picture has a strong symbolic character. In the lower left corner, Dalí represented himself as Diego Velázquez in front of a completely blank canvas, that probably represents a totally new phase of Dalí’s life. Dalí also wrote that it couldn’t have been an accident that the artists he most admired, Velázquez, Vermeer and the architect Antonio Gaudí, had also been Catholic.
At the top of the painting Dalí’s wife Gala appears as Saint Helen (248-329), the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine (274-337) who is a much venerated saint in Catalonia. In the upper right there are: The Son, the Logos, whose body is transforming in subatomic particles (an allusion to Dali’s thoughts about the relation between faith and modern science); the figure of the Father, which is an obvious tribute to Michelangelo, and the Holy Spirit. In the center, the coronation of the blessed Pope John XXIII dissolves into a dream-like vision of the future Council.

Everything may appear strange in the works of Dalí and The Ecumenic Council is no exception. Dalí’s Catholicism is also peculiar, and today very few people would take as seriously as he did Teilhard de Chardin’s acritical enthusiasm for modern science. Nevertheless, this painting and, more generally,  the final decades of Dalí’s life prove (if it were necessary) that a meeting between the Church and modern art, although at the risk of possible misunderstandings, is certainly possible.

Massimo Introvigne is an Italian sociologist and the author of several books about the sociology of religion. In 2012 he was appointed chairman of the newly instituted Observatory of Religious Liberty of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to investigate the issues related to religious freedom in the world.

The article you just read appeared originally on the Italian daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, and it was translated and published here with their permission.
Your comments will be greatly appreciated. Thank you,
Leonardo Pavese

Friday, May 10, 2013

Quo Vadis, Germania?

Germania (Hermann Wislicenus) 

By Antonio Martino (Translated and edited by L. Pavese)

All the countries of the Eurozone, albeit in different measure, have entered the deepest economic depression in their  history. Unemployment is rapidly increasing; the rate of growth, for many of them, has been negative for too many months; all the indexes suggest that the consequences of the simultaneous adoption of recessive policies are compounding. The cause was pointed out by J.M. Keynes in 1936:

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, the right ones as well as the wrong ones, are much more powerful than it is commonly thought. In reality, the world is governed by few other factors besides those. Political philosophers and economists, who believe to be totally free from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” (The translation from Italian is mine. L. Pavese).
Let’s see. Generally, the Germans, and in particular Chancellor Merkel, are convinced that the countries that adopted the Euro are tied by a solidarity bond which would force the “virtuous nations” to take on the debt of the profligate ones. The widespread belief is that, if a country of the Eurozone can’t honor its debt, it is the duty of the others to help prevent it from defaulting. This thesis is strengthened by the belief that the default of one country would have a domino effect on all the others; but these theses are not only baseless, they are also totally contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Maastricht Treaties. 

In fact, the Treaties, after having established that the objective of the ECB (European Central Bank) should be monetary stability, coherently prohibit the ECB from monetizing the debt of the Member States by buying their public debt. These admirable dispositions are unequivocal: the stability of prices and currency are the responsibility of the ECB, but the decisions in matters of taxes and budgets belong exclusively to the autonomous national states. That is, there should be an European monetary policies distinct from a national budgetary policy. Then what sense does the so-called "Fiscal Compact" make? How can the grotesque attempt to strip the national states of their budgetary sovereignty be justified? Nothing in the Treaties authorizes that, and it is contrary to logic and common sense.

The fifty United States of America use the same currency (the U.S. Dollar)  but each one of them is perfectly free to adopt the tax and budgetary policies that they see fit. They implement them and they bear the consequences. In Texas, for example, there’s no state income tax; the state is growing at a fast clip; the workforce is increasing; the state finances are florid. On the other hand, California is burdened by a very expensive welfare state, exaggerated taxes, high unemployment and a busted budget. Nobody ever suggested that Texans should pay the debt of Californians; or that the U.S. federal government (which has existed for more than two centuries, unlike the E.U.) should bail out California, or that the Federal reserve should monetize California’s debt.
The policies of standardization, harmonization and unification pursued in Europe are unjustified, ridiculous and harmful.

Italy and Germany. (Friedrich Overbeck)

In conclusion, the Euro-bigots who want different people to wear the same size clothes are causing hundreds of millions of Europeans to fall into the abyss of economic depression and they deserve to be treated like what they are: pompous and ignorant charlatans who want to impose their fantasies on the citizens of free countries. The sooner we understand that that is totally baseless, grotesque and that is has nothing to do with the European ideal, the better will be for everybody.

Pope Benedict XV was convinced that the divine origin of the Catholic Church was demonstrated by the fact that the clergy had not managed to destroy it, yet. The survival of the European ideal to the crookedness of the Eurosaurus maybe demonstrates its validity. Let’s be careful though, Jesus promised the Church immortality, but nobody promised it to the E.U.

Antonio Martino is the former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and former Minister of Defense. He is now a professor of Economics, currently on parliamentary leave.
The article was taken from his personal blog (in Italian), and was translated and published here with his permission.
You comments will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Leonardo Pavese