Tourism & Culture

The Surprise of the Twenty-First Century

October 2023
By Gianni Pittella

“Who does not expect the unexpected will not find the truth.” This quote by Heraclitus aptly describes the feeling of those looking at this quarter-century, which began with an atmosphere of unconditional confidence and whose course has been, and is, marked by dramatic repetitions of history.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the communist regimes in the East, the overcoming of the bipolar world, and the victory of democratic Western values, everything seemed to herald a new century colored by democracy, peace, and progress. The barbarism of the two world wars and of Nazi-fascist and communist despotism seemed a distant memory.

Yet the twenty-first century opened with the attack on the Twin Towers, terrorist attacks on European soil in Paris, London, Brussels, and Madrid, the financial crisis of 2008, the European sovereign debt crisis in 2013, Covid, the invasion of Ukraine, and the violent resurgence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of our days, triggered by the terrible terrorist attack by Hamas.

How could this happen? We thought that liberal democracy and its institutions were inevitably destined for success and should even be exported by force, theorizing and practicing preemptive wars.

The fall of the Wall and the overcoming of the Yalta blocks opened new scenarios in which new geopolitical players emerged and consolidated, whose systems of government were nothing like democratic ones.

In the West, the financialization of the economy and the parallel intoxicating deregulation subjected politics, institutions, and people’s lives to the markets.

And the structure decided at Bretton Woods, with the crucial role of the IMF and the World Bank, entered into crisis, rating agencies began to decree the life and death of states’ economies, and the United Nations, to which the new historical course after the fall of the Wall could have delegated spaces of sovereignty, ended up becoming a simulacrum.

Meanwhile, increasing urbanization created huge suburbs for those marginalized by globalization. Social rights and civil rights should have advanced together, but this was not the case.

On the geopolitical front, in particular, the dominant power, the United States, after the tragic invasion of Iraq, directed their efforts towards the Pacific side, neglecting, like us Europeans, the African continent towards which China and Russia directed their economic and hegemonic efforts.

All this while the Middle Eastern issue was considered almost overcome, without having created two states where Israelis and Palestinians could live in security and mutual respect.

We have been Manichean, thinking good and evil were on one side only, not understanding that we need to fight together against anti-Semitism, the massacre of Christians, Islamophobia, the equation of Islam with terrorism.

I do not want to envelop this quarter-century in a lapidary judgment of negativity, because the world and much of humanity have made incredible progress, and because I am an unrepentant supporter of liberal democracy.

I ask and pose questions, raise issues, do not sweep the dust under the carpet. And I try to grasp signs of change.

Nathalie Tocci wrote in her latest book “Out of the Tunnel” that Europe can overcome the great crisis by coupling the energy transition with the climate transition. And that the climate deal needs to be extended to the world and can be a powerful lever towards the unity of States and peoples and the recovery of politics.

I agree and add: the issue of artificial intelligence, which will dominate in the coming years and can be a factor of growth or a factor of subjugation of man and danger to peace and democracy, must be tackled together.

And as the European Union, we must find the revolutionary courage to conduct a common foreign and defense policy, involving all international players, starting naturally with our perennial allies.

The challenge we have not won and must try to win is simple and arduous at the same time: to live together in peace, security, in a society founded on respect and inclusion.