Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Is the Empire on the Edge of the Seneca Cliff? Italian Prime Minister Conte Opens to Russia at the G7

It is rare that a province of the Empire tries to pursue an independent foreign policy but, at the last G7 meeting, the new Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, did something like that. He stated that Russia should return to the G8 (now G7) and called for the lifting the economic sanctions against Russia.

In the past, such deeds on the part of provincial politicians didn't go unpunished by the Imperial Powers, but this time the Empire seems to be in disarray - with Emperor Trump himself seeming to pursue a policy of disengagement. Might Conte's statement be part of the start of a radical change in the Empire's structure, with the provinces becoming more independent from Washington? For sure, the Empire is not yet sliding down the unavoidable Seneca Cliff which will lead to its disgregation. But it seems that we are moving in that direction.

As a comment to Mr. Conte's declarations about Russia, I thought I could reproduce here a piece that I was planning to post on another blog of mine ("Chimeras") but which suddenly became appropriate for Cassandra's Legacy. It is the translation of a text written by Giuseppe Iannello in occasion of the centennial of the Earthquake of Messina - an Italian city on the North-Eastern tip of Sicily. The 1908 earthquake was a major disaster and the role of the Russian sailors helping the victims is still remembered nowadays in Italy.

Here, Iannello states, correctly in my opinion, "The people of other nations, offering their help, proved to be friends to the Italians, but the Russians turned out to be brothers."

 The Russian Sailors in Messina: Beyond the Myth

 by Giuseppe Iannello - 25 Dicembre 2008

A Russian sailor from the ship "Slava" standing in front of the rubble of the Messina Earthquake of Dec 28th, 1908.

by Giuseppe Iannello - 25 Dicembre 2008

Those were days of true glory in Messina. But organization and discipline are not enough to explain the undisputed fame of saviors and heroes of the Russian sailors. 

Six days of glory. Real glory, glory able to challenge time and the judgments of the scholars in retrospect. A glory told to us by the press, but above all told by the people, by the people who saw with their eyes and heard with their ears. The Russian sailors entered the collective memory as heroes, as saviors, obscuring all the other rescuers. Why? A useless question if we ignore the narration of those six days and embark on historical and psychological analysis. Because the answer lies, in fact, in the deeds of those thousands of sailors who arrived on six ships of the Russian military fleet. 

There are many myths to dispel and "adjustments" to be made to avoid that the heroism of a people is identified with that of individual figures who, in reality, were only catalysts of needs that were born from a collective soul. We refer, for example, to generals and admirals. The command of the expedition of the Baltic Sea Fleet in the Mediterranean had been entrusted to Admiral Litvinov and he was sent to him while in the port of Augusta on request from the local authorities to provide assistance to the people of Messina. But it was not he who "decided" to move, he needed approval from his superiors, he needed an order; which would mean the loss of many hours waiting for that order. It was because his subordinates, officers, ensign, simple sailors, understood the situation and pressed to leave for the Strait of Messina. And so they did. In his memories ("The Imperial fleet of the Baltic between two wars, 1906-1914") Garald Graf, then ensign in the Admiral Makarov, the first of the Russian ships to leave, tells us, "Litvinov was not a man who knew how to make up his mind," but in the end he was persuaded. 

From the beginning, obedience and discipline do not explain the efficiency and the success of the Russian relief work. In "La terra trema" (the ground shakes) by Giorgio Boatti it is even possible to talk about an "almost inhumane discipline". It is true, during the hours of navigation from Augusta the Russians had had time to organize themselves in teams, to prepare everything that could have been necessary for them. But the same could have been done by others. The merit of the Russians is not there. And it is not in the discipline nor in the organization, it is not in the method of their remarkable action. Michail Osorgin, a compatriot of those sailors, debunks the myth of the "method". And he does so immediately, just a month after the catastrophe, in a long correspondence from Rome for his newspaper, the "Vestnik Evropy". The reputation of the Russian navy had been nearly destroyed by the defeat that it had suffered in the Japanese-Russian War. The only method that led the sailors was for Osorgin to save as many "souls" as possible, the difference with everyone else was this tremendous need to wrest as many people as possible from death. 

The organization was dictated by this need: the schedules, the shifts, everything was functional for this purpose, the sailors placed no value in themselves; people's lives came before the orders and the simple sailors were the ones convincing their superiors to reshape orders. On the other hand, it must have sounded really strange in the ears of a Russian to be praised because of the organization of their army: what to say then - says the Russian journalist - about the organization and discipline of the Germans, who were also present at the place of the disaster? 

The Russian sailors became the catalyst of all the positive energies against the resignation, the discomfort, which often turned into apathy, in a sort of indifference that was often transmitted to rescuers. On the contrary, the action of the Russians was contagious and the cadets of the Sutley, the first British military ship to arrive, perhaps a few tens of minutes before the Makarov, felt it and understood how to distinguish themselves.

No stain therefore on the work of the Russians? That of the immediate shooting of the looters, thieves caught in the act: it is interesting to note how this particular is expressed only in journalistic reports and has been judged irrelevant by the collective memory, the oral and written memory handed down by the survivors from father to son, from generation to generation. The Russians did not actually deal directly with the hunting of the looters, but they used their weapons to defend themselves and defend a population totally exposed to the evil of the profiteers or to despair. The Russians (and the English) did not take care of the defense of property - as they did not bother to bury the dead - they took care of the people whom they heard whining under the rubble and to cure the wounds of the survivors.

We discuss this story with Tatiana Ostakhova, a researcher at the University of Messina, who lets us read something from her work in progress: the letters of Russian sailors published in Russian newspapers and other articles published in the weeks immediately following the earthquake. The letters are in part those already published by the Province of Messina in 2006, which however were based on an original edition in French. They are letters all characterized by common feelings: the inability to describe the indescribable, the horror of the scenario in which they operate, the madness of the survivors and the absurdity of which every hour are witnesses. The sailors are not exalted, they do not glorify, they only narrate and at times with amazement, they also take note of the immobility of the Italian forces. The comparisons will be made by the others, the correspondents, the other rescuers and above all the people who will not forget the good received. And the news of those good deeds will run like the wind: in Naples, the first landing of the wounded by Makarov turns into a sort of apotheosis for the Russian sailors, who are acclaimed. Wherever they were recognized in the city, the Russian sailors could not escape the warm manifestations of gratitude. 

Michail Pervuchin in his article "The Russians and the Italians", translated by Ostakhova, sums up the difference between the Russians and everyone else. The people of other nations, offering their help, proved to be friends to the Italians, but the Russians turned out to be brothers. The correspondent affirms it on the basis of the testimonies gathered and of what was read in the Neapolitan newspapers: "the others certainly helped; but the Russians have not only helped, they gave everything they had to the refugees, including their spare shirts". "In Palermo and Naples - continues Pervuchin - women and children, refugees from the destroyed cities, still show off their jackets and their sailor's jackets, the officers' jackets. There are no German or English clothes on refugees. Russian clothes, yes ". Then another testimony: "all have given, but while others gave the superfluous, the surplus, the Russians, and we saw it, they gave us what was necessary to themselves, even the last thing they had. Yes, to the last thing they had. This is what struck us ".

However, good does not always beget more good. In January, the Russian sailors were told, "thank you but your help is no longer necessary". A Russian correspondent speaks of envy in this regard, Colonel C. Delmè-Radclif, military attaché of the British Embassy in Rome, in a confidential report speaks of jealousy of the Italian authorities. The fact remains that only the Italian soldiers and a few other volunteers remained in the rubble: the gates were blocked for everyone else, including Italian civilians. The same refrain was repeated to all: there is no need for more help because the army has taken control of the whole city. The fate of many people, still alive under the rubble, was sealed.

Giuseppe Iannello


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)