The Malta Independent 30 November 2022, Wednesday
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The world in a snapshot

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 20 November 2022, 07:00 Last update: about 11 days ago

Last weekend, the Italian geopolitical review LIMES organised its 9th Geopolitics Festival, at Genoa’s majestic Doge’s Palace – the Doge was the sovereign of the now-defunct Genoese Republic. The palace is snug between the rich Jesuit church Chiesa del Gesù e dei Santi Ambrogio e Andrea on one side and the Masonic monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi the Master Mason on the other – perhaps reflecting the trinity that runs Italy. Choosing Genoa as venue was smart: the maritime republic once had a powerful presence in Crimea and controlled the Bosporus.

But whereas the Festival-Conference obviously dealt with current events (Russia, Ukraine, China, Poland, Europe, America...), I was equally intrigued by something else.

Listening to speakers of remarkably high calibre – for instance, the world’s top geopolitical analyst George Friedman was there – I kept making mental notes each time concepts were mentioned that are taken for granted abroad, but are somehow lacking in our local political discourse. Concepts like “rational State”, “national interest”, “a professional bureaucracy serves the State not office holders”, “friendly neutrality”, “a country governed in its own interest not in the interest of others”, and so on.

The more I listened, the greater was my disappointment. It became increasingly clear we’ve regressed in Malta. The political vision has been downgraded from national to municipal. Our Prime Minister, like his predecessor, thinks more like the Mayor of a “Free” City-State than as the leader of a Nation-State.

More importantly, I realised that in this little country of ours, we burn millions of kilojoules in mental exercises involving petty partisan matters but we’re rarely given good analyses on what’s going on beyond our shores.

 

Nuggets from the Conference

Probably the most important nugget is that historical memory is more important than objective history for international relations. This is crucial to comprehend Poland’s current ascension in European politics. Poland isn’t only militarily armed to fight by also culturally; it dreams of Russia’s dismantlement and possible annihilation.

At the same time, Germany is rearming itself, reasoning that if it is Europe’s biggest economy then it should also be Europe’s strongest militarily power.

The Sicilian Channel (in which our country is situated) is one of the world’s foremost and busiest maritime routes. It’s patrolled by American, Algerian, Italian, and French ships. American aircraft carriers are back in the Mediterranean, following a 50-year absence; some 14,000 American soldiers are stationed in Italy, mostly in Sicily (Sigonella, Augusta, etc). Turkey now controls migration flows from Libya.

Turkey is a NATO member, but a sui generis US ally. As the Baltic Sea is closing to Russia (with Sweden and Finland joining NATO), the Mediterranean Sea acquires new importance for the Kremlin. Turkey controls the entry route to the Mediterranean, via the Dardanelles.

Russia, which thus views itself as a Mediterranean power, has already acquired a foothold in Libya.

Latent conflicts exist between Russia and China. Seeing itself as a world power, China tries to extend its sphere of influence, giving rise to the real danger of Russia becoming its junior partner.

But Russia as a power in its own right is necessary for America’s national identity, as Russia the Big Enemy keeps America united. The US is controlling Ukraine in the ongoing war but it hasn’t sent all the assistance it could send and neither has it acceded to all of Ukraine’s requests, actually exhorting Ukraine to negotiate with Putin. For the US, it’s crucial that Russia be weakened, not annihilated – Russia keeps NATO together. Without the Russian threat, there would be no more NATO; without NATO, there’s no American hegemony.

So it’s in America’s interest that Russia be rendered useless to China but at the same time that Russia maintain its dignity. America thus invites the Kremlin to discuss nuclear weapon controls, thereby offering Russia the opportunity to remain within the club of non-pariah States.

As all this unfolds, the US strives to keep Germany from developing an Ostpolitik toward China.

In the meantime, China’s economy is slowing down and its financial system grows weaker. Its population is ageing, the number of marriages is declining, and there is high unemployment among its youth. Actually, a high rate of depression is afflicting young Chinese, who respond by behaving passively, even lying down in bed as a sign of protest against the efforts requested of them by the People’s Republic.

This conference was a veritable snapshot of the world.

But one thing drove one strong message home. Maltese newspapers did indicate a few months back that much of Malta’s wheat is imported from Ukraine. But nobody in Malta seems to be aware that in the whole world, Malta is the country with the highest dependence on Ukrainian wheat. I had to discover this by going to a conference in Genoa...

 

Nobody Home

An Inspector Søren Farrugia story

Søren couldn’t believe his senses. He was in bed, stark naked, with Theophanu and her friend Sophie. The three of them were covered in sweat, panting almost, while Sophie was looking at the ceiling, smoking a cigarette.

“Alfred Sant approached the working class,” Sophie said, “because of his misfit relationship with the bourgeois, not because he shares the working class worldview or over-all approach.”

Søren said nothing. He couldn’t remember how he got into this situation, he only had a sensation, a bizarre feeling.

“Eddie Fenech Adami approached politics as a Catholic. It was natural for him to embrace society as a whole, as any Catholic would, irrespective of the classes. For the Catholic there are no classes, just individual souls and humanity as a whole.”

She puffed on the cigarette.

“Joseph Muscat, on the other hand, shared a natural bond with the working class. But, with extreme chutzpah, he managed to concoct a bourgeois attitude to lure the liberal cohort, and wore it the same way I wear my padded bras.”

Søren’s gaze instinctively turned to Sophie’s bare chest. But as he looked, he felt something was amiss. Theophanu and Sophie were on one side of the bed and he was on the other. He could feel Theophanu’s body against his, but Sophie’s felt far away.

Where had he first met Sophie? Why couldn’t he remember?

“Muscat,” continued Sophie, “shrewdly made alliances with certain sectors of the bourgeoisie, the liberals. Sant’s recent statements seem to imply he’s close too, but, on the other hand, my reckoning is that he’s close because he dislikes bourgeois hypocrisy. Read his fiction – you’ll find his philosophy. He’s got a short story in Kwart ta’ Mija about a bourgeois family, all church and rosary, who take their daughter abroad for an abortion.”

Sophie puffed again, but Søren couldn’t smell the smoke. He must have caught a cold.

“Most liberal thinkers,” proclaimed Sophie after a pause, “are Jews. Take Ronald Dworkin and Peter Singer: Jews. Some liberals were cuckoo, like Richard Rorty, who suffered from obsessional neurosis. Then there was Wilhelm Reich, who was both Jewish and cuckoo.”

Søren broke out in a cold sweat. Who on earth was this Sophie? Where did she come from? What was he doing in bed with somebody like her? Was it possible that he had never heard her talk like that before? What the hell was going on?

He jumped out of the bed. He had finally woken up.

* * * * *

“Hello?” The tone of Theophanu’s voice was as mellow as ever.

“Hi...”

“Ah, it’s you! Have you called to tell me you’ve finally made up your mind and will ask Mr Zahra for my hand?”

Søren laughed. “No. Not today, at least. Listen, are you busy this evening?”

“Am I ever busy for you?”

* * * * *

Victory Café was right in the middle of Triq Winston Churchill, between St George’s Church and Holy Cross Chapel. The atmosphere was always pleasant there.

They chose a table at the far end, enveloped in semi-darkness. Yet he could see her eyes glowing with joy. And he didn’t like it.

“Who’s this sassy guy who’s writing about you?”

“Some crazy bloke.”

“Do you know him?”

“No. First there was that other bloke, Aleks Farrugia, who wrote about my grandfather. Now, this Sassi guy.”

“Who’s the sassier?”

“I don’t know, and, frankly, couldn’t give a toss. They’re both nosy parkers… what business have they got with my family?”

“Yours is an inspiring family, Søren.”

“Not really,” replied the Inspector. “Anyway. This Sassi chap writes as if cops are involved only in corruption cases.”

“True. You ought to tell him.”

Søren didn’t reply. He waved at the waitress, who approached to take their order, in Serbo-English.

“Do you know a certain Sophie?” Søren asked Theophanu.

“Sophie? No, who is she?”

“I seem to know her somewhere, but can’t remember where. My impression is that you two know each other… intimately.”

“I’m sorry, Søren. I know nobody with that name.”

* * * * *

Later, they went for a stroll along San Ġiljan’s Zammit Dimech Promenade.

“I’m thinking of quitting.”

“Quitting?”

“The Force.”

Theophanu was dumbstruck.

“Perhaps that Sassi fellow isn’t right to think that we cops deal only with corruption cases. But his intuition is right that those are the demoralising cases.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“I am. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought of late.”

“You’re not a superhero, Søren! This is neither the Marvel nor the DC Comics Universe...  This is just boring old Malta... where things rarely go right and where it’s difficult to right a wrong...”

“I’m not Don Quixote, Theo.”

“Perhaps Mr Zahra is right, after all. You ought to get married and have kids,” she said, treating him to a coy smile.

“Since we’ve only had coffee, I think I’ll have to reply that it’s the hormone cocktail talking.”

* * * * *

Back home, Søren couldn’t get Sophie and the threesome with Theophanu out of his mind. Who was this Sophie? And why all these anti-Semitic thoughts?

He felt confused. He thought he’d switch on the TV. He had thirteen channels of shit to choose from. And he had second sight, and amazing powers of observation.

Which was how he knew who Sophie really was.

And that she was wrong. Zygmunt Bauman was Jewish and was not a crackpot like Singer and Reich.

Søren allowed his gaze to fall gently on his DVD collection, spotting ...and Justice for All, an old movie written by a Jewish scriptwriter. He decided to watch it again. After all, it spoke of a corrupt judicial system, of loony-bin judges and even crazier lawyers, and of an Average Joe who puts his career on the line to keep true to his principles.

So he placed the disc in the player, collapsed into his armchair, and watched.

He was all alone.

There was nobody home.

 

 

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