The World Today for September 20, 2022
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Apple from the Tree
Over the years, liberal elites throughout Europe have fretted about the premiership of Silvio Berlusconi, the now 85-year-old media tycoon and conservative politician who has led Italy a few times since the 1990s and recently made a bid for the country’s presidency. These observers fear that Berlusconi’s populist appeal, his brashness and pro-corporate policies would be a prelude to a new kind of fascism in the country that birthed that horrible ideology in the 1920s.
Now, a former youth minister in Berlusconi’s cabinet could be realizing those fears. Giorgia Meloni, 45, who runs the far-right Brothers of Italy, a political party with fascist roots, is now the front-runner to become Italy’s next prime minister after parliamentary elections on Sept. 25, reported the New York Times, adding incidentally that Meloni enjoys Aperol Spritzes and thin cigarettes.
The Brothers of Italy stress traditional values; they oppose abortion, for example, want to curb immigration and use the flame symbol of the Italian Social Movement, a political party formed by ex-fascists after World War II, Politico wrote.
Her popularity stems in part from Italian voters’ cynicism about the capacity for older and more established leaders to enact changes in a country where the quality of life is arguably high but productivity is low, and the financial system is still precarious after the worst of the Eurozone crisis a decade ago. “She’s the only one we haven’t tried yet – which means she’s the only one yet to fail,” Italian pensioner Francesco Trevisi told Agence France-Presse.
Openness to fascist policies is rooted in Italian culture, the Guardian noted. The country never fully came to grips with its fascist past under Benito Mussolini. Instead, his political skills have been admired in certain circles. The European migration crisis of the past few years, economic instability and consequent social disruptions have made the fascist message more appealing, too.
Meloni’s ascent is also giving heart to another European boogeyman – Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the Washington Post editorial board. Meloni has been outspokenly critical of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But, like Putin, Meloni emphasizes traditional family values at the expense of openness to LGBTQ rights. She also has vowed to use the Italian navy to prevent migrants from North Africa and beyond from washing up on Italy’s southern shores.
She has a “fraught” relationship with Italy’s other right-wing parties, however, heralding “government volatility” if she wins the largest plurality of seats in parliament rather than a majority, the Financial Times warned. Her plans to split the treasury into two units – with one dedicated to taxes and fiscal reforms, as Reuters explained – is also raising eyebrows in financial quarters, but addresses the people’s urge for change.
So business as usual is still an option.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
The Middle Child
Thousands of Moldovans took part in anti-government protests this week against high inflation and soaring fuel prices that have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Euractiv reported Monday.
About 20,000 people demonstrated in the capital Chișinău’s main square against the government of pro-Western President Maia Sandu. The protests are considered to be the largest in the small former Soviet state since Sandu was elected in 2020.
Demonstrators accused Sandu of failing to negotiate a more reasonable gas price with Russia and demanded her resignation. Some protesters set up camp outside the government’s headquarters and vowed to stay there until Sandu stepped down.
Under a contract signed last year, Moldova has been buying gas from Russian gas giant Gazprom. The price changes monthly, based on the spot price of gas and oil depending on the season. This year, spot prices have skyrocketed.
Energy prices in the small nation – sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania – increased by 29 percent in September from August, with prices in the latter month having already spiked nearly 50 percent from July.
Meanwhile, the country has reduced its growth forecast for 2022 to zero, citing record-high inflation of 34.3 percent and interest rates at nearly 22 percent.
Sandu was elected two years ago in a landslide election, pledging to fight corruption and make Moldova a member of the European Union – the 27-nation bloc recently put Moldova on the path to entry to the EU following the start of the war in Ukraine.
Since she came to power, Moldova’s prosecutor general has been removed, and the country’s previous pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon, has been placed under house arrest.
The Line of Fire
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to de-escalate military tensions, days after the two Central Asian neighbors engaged in deadly border clashes that left scores of people dead, Politico reported.
On Wednesday, the two former Soviet republics began fighting along their 600-mile border using drones, tanks and heavy artillery.
Both sides have claimed heavy casualties and blamed each other for the latest violence, the BBC noted Monday, with nearly 100 dead. Tajikistan said that at least 59 people have been killed, while Kyrgyzstan said that 35 of its citizens died in the skirmishes.
The Kyrgyz government also said about 137,000 people were forced to evacuate, although Tajikistan did not report any mass evacuations.
Following international pressure, both countries reached a ceasefire agreement Friday. As of Monday, the ceasefire has been largely upheld despite claims of shelling by both sides.
Putin urged the leaders of both nations to resolve the situation “exclusively by peaceful, political and diplomatic means as soon as possible.”
Last week’s fighting marks the latest flare-up between the two countries over borders that have been contested since the collapse of the USSR more than 30 years ago.
In 2021, similar border clashes resulted in the death of almost 50 people, but the recent violence is considered the deadliest in years.
Thousands of Haitians are facing water shortages this week following days of nationwide riots that virtually halted the distribution of water, with concern growing that the crisis will be worsened by an approaching hurricane, Reuters reported.
Mass violent protests erupted in the Caribbean country last week after the government announced a hike in the price of fuel.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said the government could no longer subsidize fuel prices, saying it was fueling a lucrative black market and costing the state $400 million annually, according to the Miami Herald.
In response, many Haitians took to the streets across the country, blocking roads, and attacking schools, foreign embassies, banks and warehouses.
The unrest forced residents in the capital of Port-au-Prince to shelter at home amid gunfire and looting. It also slowed and in places halted the delivery of water by truck in the city, where daily temperatures have reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit.
Haiti has been grappling with surging prices, worsening gang violence and an ongoing political crisis exacerbated by the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
At the same time, climate observers warned that Hurricane Fiona could cause flooding in the country’s northern regions.
On Sunday, Henry appealed for calm and condemned the violence, but protests continued. A civil society-led coalition has condemned the recent fuel price hikes and called for Henry’s resignation.
Meanwhile, more than 100 groups in the US called on President Joe Biden to withdraw his support for the embattled prime minister.
Ever strike up a conversation with someone, only to unleash a stream of chatter from the other person that seemingly won’t end?
Turns out that these talkative folks are more likable, Psychology Today reported.
In a new paper, researchers at the University of Virginia asked college students to engage in a seven-minute conversation with a stranger, while being guided by a computer program that monitored each person’s turn to speak and the length of their chats.
The computer also randomly assigned participants to speak between 30 and 70 percent of the time. Participants then rated how much they liked their companion after the chat.
Surprisingly, participants were more liked when they talked more than half the time. The team suggested that this chatty attitude allows conversation partners to know more about each other and give them more to like.
Even so, they acknowledged that the study took place in a controlled setting: The conversation topics were assigned in advance and the amount of time volunteers spoke was controlled by the computer.
Real life is more chaotic and there is no time to prep for topics.
The authors hope that future studies can help determine if and when the average person, in a typical conversation, should speak up more often.
In the meantime, psychologists offered the following tips to be a scintillating conversationalist: Share personal details, listen attentively to the other person, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you talk too much.