Dangerous dance of an unlikely double act
Italy’s coalition government has confounded expectations by lasting so long. But its ambitious spending plans are sending the country into uncharted territory
TURIN: As the drama of sealing a Brexit deal with the UK rumbles on, EU officials have bigger fish to fry. Italy’s coalition government, headed by far-right leader Matteo Salvini and the populist Luigi Di Maio, is pushing its relationship with Brussels to breaking point. Eurozone officials see Italy’s 2019 spending plans as fiscally irresponsible. But Salvini and Di Maio are refusing to back down.
The pair are hardly on the best of terms, however. As Andrea Malaguti observed in La Stampa, the astonishing thing is that the coalition government has survived as long as it has. Despite broadly incompatible political agendas, Salvini and Di Maio have developed a surprising co-dependence, each relying on the other to secure their position, Malaguti argued.
“What unites them is the all-consuming desire to stay in power, supported by oppressed people who today haunt them with demands for a citizens’ income, against the so-called ‘invasion of foreigners’ and for the dream of early retirement,” he said.
In this respect the two leaders perform mutually reinforcing roles. “Salvini reassures Italians by swearing he will defend them once and for all from the danger coming from Africa, Asia or Brussels; Di Maia from poverty. But for all his epic and slightly childish revolutionary narrative, Salvini knows well that the fall of his colleague would instantly lead to the end of his own leadership-in-all-but-name.”
The League, Salvini’s far-right party, does not boast enough support to govern alone, Malaguti reminded readers. “That’s why the League’s leader is willing to provoke his deputy primeminister [Di Maio]... but not to renounce him.”
Greens against the barbarians
BERLIN: Europe’s political commentators, weary of endlessly discussing the rise of the far-right, now have a new phenomenon to unpack: a surge in support for the Greens across the continent. The party came second in Bavaria’s recent regional elections, inflicting humiliation on the once dominant Christian Democrats. And it’s expected to do well in Hesse’s election this week.
While it seems the party has picked up many moderate voters sick of the Germany’s socialists and Christian Democrats, the major forces in the country’s post-war political landscape, many people are left wondering what exactly the Greens stand for. In Die Tageszeitung, Adrian Schulz cast a satirical eye on their values.
“They are not at all the old Greens – the ones with all the eco-clichés,” he said. Nor are they like the Greens tainted by their time in a coalition government with socialist chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the turn of the millennium. Instead they are “beigecoloured sustainable neo-liberal-flexible moderation machines”.
They have “something to do with environmentalism, sustainability, tedium,” Schulz added. “While the socialists lost all their dignity drinking champagne in brothels… the neo-greens – who aren’t even exceptionally average – don’t even sip a cheeky orange juice.”
But the party seems to have found its moment, Schulz observed, as the mainstream parties collapse and the neo-fascists gain momentum. With babyboomers going totally off the rails, voting for the far-right AFD party in evergreater numbers, “in a post-merkel Germany, we’ll have to make a choice: Greenism or barbarism?”
Drowning in tourists
PORTO: When it comes to tourism, Portugal has become the victim of its own success. Lisbon’s transformation through the popularity of Airbnb and weekend mini-breaks has long been documented. But Ana Barbeiro, an activist, shone a light last week on how Porto is experiencing the same phenomenon.
Writing in Público, Barbeiro said the city has seen huge change over the past four years thanks to the “exponential growth of tourism”. Its streets are now full to bursting, while houses are rapidly being converted into high-end tourist apartments. “Around here, it seems that pretty much everyone is on holiday. Unless you listen out for the hustle and bustle of people working in construction, cleaning, sales, transport, delivery, or hospitality.”
The transformation is very different from the previous waves of gentrification that Porto has undergone, Barbeiro observed. “Touristification further segments urban space and increases the specialisation of particular zones serving a single market: tourism. Traditional inhabitants are replaced by transitory inhabitants, people who successively occupy and leave the city without truly dwelling in it. At the same time, as true inhabitants become scarce, the structures and services designed for them disappear, while those for tourists increase.”
Barbeiro urged the people of Porto to take action. “Around the world, there are different models for regulating tourist accommodation in a whole range of cities. Porto needs and deserves a model that, by setting out immediate and longer-term structural measures, safeguards the city for its residents.”
Best of frenemies
WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia has sparked global outrage over its admission that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul – and ridicule for its explanation of what happened. It has also prompted the international media to examine whether Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees the affair as an opportunity for Turkey to alter the political landscape of the Middle East.
But in Turkey itself, newspapers were largely focused on the details of
Khashoggi’s death, leaving it to Turks writing from abroad to discuss its geopolitical implications. Gönül Tol, from the Washington-based Middle East Institute, evaluated the how it might affect bilateral relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
“Economic considerations play an important role in Erdogan’s reluctance to escalate tensions with Riyadh,” Tol wrote. “Turkey is at the centre of an economic storm and has very few friends to turn to for help. Ankara-washington relations are at an all-time low. Turkey-russia relations are vulnerable and relations with Europeans are complicated. To avoid further problems, Turkey has been trying hard not to further strain ties with Saudi Arabia.”
She noted that the two countries have clashed over Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia considers a terrorist organisation, Turkey siding with Qatar after Gulf states cut ties with the country, and its cooperation with Iran in Syria. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has provided millions of dollars in finance for ‘stabilisation projects’ in parts of Syria held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Turkey’s arch-enemy.
But the steady stream of leaks from Turkish officials regarding Khashoggi’s death indicate Turkey is playing a delicate game. It has, Tol observed, “become increasingly uncomfortable with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Ankara sees the crown prince as a US pawn and the Us-israel-saudi axis as a threat against its regional clout… How Erdogan will navigate this minefield remains to be seen.”
Taking down the trolls
TALLINN: Estonian actress Marika Korolev won a landmark court case this week against five internet trolls who had posted disparaging remarks about her anonymously in 2015.
Priit Hõbemägi, a journalist at Eesti Ekspress, asked why it is the internet seems to strip people of basic decency. Our “internet-persona gives voice to our dark, primal and antisocial impulses, to the aspects of our personality that have historically been controlled by culture and social expectations.”
He added: “The so-called trolls are not a special kind of people possessed by some exceptional malice, but they are completely ordinary people. Like me. Or you. And many of us. But of course not you specifically, my dear readers!”