IN THE KEY OF THREE: A POPULISM UPDATE FROM ITALY

IN THE KEY OF THREE: A POPULISM UPDATE FROM ITALY

Speaking of populism, here are three recent stories from Italy, a country at the center of various European controversies. One centers on domestic policy, the second on squabbles with the populists next door, and the third on a coming showdown with the European Union.


Story 1: Three migrants from Senegal and Nigeria have been arrested following the alleged rape and murder of an Italian girl inside a drug den in Rome. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Italy’s lead anti-immigrant populist and a figure of growing notoriety across Europe, appeared twice at the crime scene in a single day to maximize attention on the event. He was greeted there by both supporters and hecklers.

These three migrants may be guilty of this heinous crime. Or they may be innocent. Or they may have participated in the crime alongside Italians. From a political standpoint, it won’t matter. Salvini’s supporters will accept his accusations against the migrants at face value. His critics will search for alternative explanations.

This is the current political climate in Italy—and in other countries, as well.

Story 2: The region of South Tyrol, part of the Austrian Hapsburg empire until the close of World War I, still includes many people who speak German. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party has floated a plan to give these people, and those who speak a local language known as Ladin, Austrian citizenship.

Trouble is… South Tyrol has been part of Italy for 99 years, and many Italians, including Salvini, say Austria has no right to grant Italians dual citizenship. Complicating matters further, the Austrian offer only applies to residents of South Tyrol who speak German (60 percent) or Ladin (4 percent). Italian speakers need not apply.

The irony is that nationalists in Italy and Austria will shake fists at one another over this controversy, but both groups benefit from it with supporters at home. It’s a win-win political fight—unless and until it’s resolved, and someone must publicly accept defeat.

Story 3: Finally, there is the story that will impact the largest number of people. The European Commission took the unprecedented step this week of rejecting a proposed member-state budget, this one from Italy. The two parties currently in power in Italy were delighted with the news.

The Five-Star Movement, the largest vote-getter at the last election, wants to offer struggling Italian families, particularly in Italy’s poorer south, with universal basic income. Its junior coalition partner, Lega, wants tax cuts for the more prosperous northern provinces. Together, they submitted a budget which the Commission says will blow up Italy’s already high debt and threaten Europe’s economic stability.

Why are Five-Star and Lega so happy? EU rejection of this budget allows them to blame European bureaucrats for economic hardship in Europe and to present themselves to Italian voters and taxpayers as fearless protectors of Italian independence against the bullies from Brussels.

The informal response from Five-Star and Lega officials has been a closed fist waving the Italian flag. Their formal response will come in the next two weeks. The bad news for Italy: Financial markets may decide in the meantime that Italy is no longer a good bet, dramatically raising borrowing costs for the government and political trouble for all concerned.

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

COVID-19 was a global catastrophe that blindsided the world's wealthiest nations, and it's far from over. But as disasters go, it was hardly unprecedented. Humanity has a long history of failing to prepare for the worst, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to famines to shipwrecks to airplane crashes to financial depressions. But how do we get better at preventing such calamities from happening, and how many seemingly unavoidable "natural" disasters are actually caused by humans? On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks about all that and more with Stanford historian Niall Ferguson, who is just out with the perfect book for the topic, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe." Plus, a look at how one young Ugandan activist was literally cropped out of the global climate fight.

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