Category archive


Happy International Museum Day!

feed_corousel di

This is just a small tribute to all the incredibly brave people, who have been fighting and risking their own lives, to preserve and rescue our worldwide historical and archaeological heritage, as well as the core of our often forgotten thousand-year-old civilizations.

Inside Mosul Museum/ Eleonora Vio


Inside what ISIS left of Mosul Museum/ Eleonora Vio


Head of the Heritage Buildings in Mosul and archaeologist Layla Salih assesses the damages inside Mosul Museum/ Eleonora Vio


Because of ISIS snipers located all around, archaeologist Layla Salih is forced to leave Mosul Museum from a hole carved on a side wall/ Eleonora Vio

Special thanks to Layla Salih, one of the most courageous women I’ve ever met.

All pictures were taken at Mosul Historical Museum, in the western side of Mosul city, in April 2017.

Debate on Violence Against Women in Tunisia

feed_corousel di


In Tunisia, the draft law “on the elimination of violence to women,” adopted by the Council of Ministers on 13 July 2016 is currently under revision by the Rights and Freedoms Committee of the Tunisian Parliament. After months of waiting, the Tunisian civil society, gathered around the Ligue des droits de l’homme and the Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates (ATFD) is still actively demanding a faster enactment of the procedure, which is dragging its heels.

Violence to women is widespread in Tunisia. In a study by the Centre d’études, de recherches, de documentation et d’information sur la femme (Credif), published in March 20161, 53.3% of the women interviewed declared having endured at least one form of violence (psychological, physical or sexual) between 2011 and 2015. According to a 2016 Amnesty International report, it is difficult for victims to obtain help from the law, health agencies or support organisations: “Few social and medical services are designed to deal with sexual and gender-related violence and they are inadequate. Rape victims have great difficulty accessing contraceptive services, psychological support or other necessary forms of health care. Furthermore, for lack of protective measures, especially in shelters for women and girls who have suffered violence, they are exposed to more assaults.”

The notorious “article of shame” No. 227a of the Penal Code, which allowed a rapist to escape punishment by marrying his victim and which the women’s defence associations have long demanded it be repealed, was finally scrapped last March. This revision came about following an umpteenth case of abuse which deeply shocked public opinion: a judge decreed that a thirteen year-old girl would be married to a twenty-year-old man who had made her pregnant.


Khadija Cherif is a historical figure in Tunisian society. Formerly vice-president of La Ligue des droits de l’homme, she was in line to be minister of women’s affairs in 2015, only to be rejected in the end on account of her feminism. In her opinion, law No. 60/2016 would be a big step forward in the struggle against violence to women. It is an umbrella law, and is triply complete, in that it covers the prevention of violence, the protection of the victim and the punishment of the guilty party and also stresses the importance of disseminating the principles of human rights and equality of the sexes. An active program of prevention would be set up, school programs would be made to conform with the principles of the law and gender stereotypes would be banned from the media as they are believed to encourage violence to women and discrimination against them. Professionals in direct contact with the victims—such as judges and police officers would receive special training.

Halini Jouini, a member of the steering committee of the Tunisian League of Human Rights, believes the draft law confirmed essential notions “by linking the issue of violence to women with the respect of universal human rights” and by taking account of economic violence. “A concept essential for an understanding of women’s actual situation, especially in rural areas” where life is very precarious and women are often subject to abuse.”2


“The examination of that law was perturbed by the political instability with a succession of six governments in as many years,” Monia Ben Jeina, prosodient of the Association tunisienne de femmes démocrates (ATFD) explains. She was one of the group of specialists who wrote the first draft of the bill under the Mehdi Jomaa government (2014-2015). At that time, the secretary of State, Neïla Caabane, was at the origin of a very ambitious draught law which located the source of gender-related violence in the practices of discrimination and was consequently aimed at doing away with all the discriminatory measures on the law books.

“In 2014, the public debate was very rich, and several cabinet members took part: the ministers of justice, education, women’s affairs, economic affairs and health,” Monia Ben Jemia remembers. That same year, at the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Tunisian Government withdrew the reservations it had formulated in 19853 , much to the chagrin of the country’s feminist associations : reservations about equality before the law, matrimonial and inheritance rights, and a mother’s right to transmit her nationality (to this day, filiation remains exclusively patrilineal).

The period seemed favourable for the passage of an umbrella law, but Neïla Chaabane who was a member of the cabinet as “an independent,” was forced to give up her struggle after the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2014 when Beji Caid Essebsi took power. “An enormous amount of work had been accomplished but the project had immediately run into many stumbling blocks,” Khadija Cherif observes. The resistance, essentially political, came from the most conservative parties like the moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, the country’s most powerful political force between 2011 and 2014, and Nidaa Tounes, the party founded by the current president.

A short time later, the draft law was revised and rewritten, then submitted to the cabinet in May 2016 by Samira Merai, Neila Chaabane’s successor as Minister of Women, Family and Children. The new minister, who could scarcely be suspected of feminism, did away with the clauses that would have upset the Islamists, such as the reforms of the Code du statut personnel (CSP) which had been in the previous version.

Reluctantly, the associations representing the civil society, when consulted, ended up rejecting the law: “We wanted this law to pass and we realised that certain measures were over-ambitious, the conservatives and the Islamists would never have approved the draft as it stood,” Monia Ben Jemia explains. In her opinion, “there are priorities which simply cannot wait, such as the creation of shelters for battered women.”


With this last revision, all the reforms of discriminatory measures, especially those contained in the CSP, were removed.

Promulgated by Habib Bourguiba on 13 August 1956—which became National Women’s Day in Tunisia—the CSP was a visionary text in its day. Among other things it abolished polygamy and the possibility for a husband to divorce at his sole discretion. Today, however, many legal experts accuse it of being out of date and call attention to the contradictions with the Penal Code and with the recognition of gender equality by the 2014 Constitution and the Cedaw Convention.

Concerning conjugal rape, for example, the CSP is in total contradiction with the recent legislative advances in the matter. It stipulates that sexual relations in marriage are an obligation at that once the wife’s dowry has been paid the husband may consummate the marriage. Thus the lot of a woman who has suffered conjugal rape and lodges a complaint will depend largely on the interpretation of this or that court. Similarly, inheritance procedures as defined by the Code are biased against women who are thus financially disadvantaged in comparison with their male siblings and denied the custody of their children.

“In spite of the gaps in the draft law it is vital for us to see it passed,” Khadija Cherif concludes . . . and then adds, “many men still believe it’s normal to educate their wives by beating them. So from their point of view, to admit the abusive character of violence is to endanger the family institution.”


2See La violence fondée sur le genre dans l’espace public en Tunisie, op. cit., p. 33.

3To read the declaration in its entirety, see Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, UN Treaty Collection.

Mosul, I bambini del fronte

feed_corousel di

Sorry, this entry is only available in Italian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

Children on the frontline/ Eleonora Vio

Mentre a Mosul la battaglia contro lo Stato Islamico avanza lentamente alle porte della città vecchia, i quartieri liberati che delimitano la linea del fronte riflettono l’incubo da cui molti iracheni faticano a svegliarsi. I colpi di mortaio rimbombano in continuazione, facendo traballare i palazzi pericolanti e animando le strade deserte ricoperte da cumuli di macerie. E i bambini, con sguardi spenti ma interrogativi, sono le vittime di questa terrificante e surreale desolazione.

Questa foto è stata scattata il 9 aprile a Mosul.

To be continued…

Polonia, Le classi in uniforme

feed_corousel di

Sorry, this entry is only available in Italian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

Damian Duda mostra ai suoi studenti come maneggiare un’arma.

Driiiin driiiin. Al suono della campanella gli studenti gettano le loro cose nello zaino, tirano giù i cappucci e su i pantaloni dalla vita troppo bassa, e si trascinano svogliatamente in classe. Nello stesso momento, e nello stesso istituto, altri giovani liceali vestiti con l’uniforme mimetica e gli anfibi di pelle salgono ritmicamente le scale e si dispongono in riga. Gli sguardi teneri e le facce imberbi si fanno appena tese all’arrivo del loro insegnante. Damian Duda, leader di una delle più antiche organizzazioni paramilitari polacche, li richiama all’attenti: destra, sinistra, centro. Dopo l’appello e il saluto iniziale, con lo sguardo vigile segue la piccola truppa mentre in fila indiana entra in classe, e si dispone ordinatamente tra i banchi.

GDE Error: Unable to determine file type from URL

“Gli studenti qui sono come soldati,” spiega Duda, in testa alla Lega Accademica (o Legia Akademicka), mentre accarezza l’AK-47 che gli pende dal collo. “L’unica differenza è che i miei ragazzi in un solo mese usano le munizioni che un soldato dell’esercito polacco sparerebbe in un anno”. Il liceo di Lublin, cittadina polacca a sud-est di Varsavia poco distante dal confine con l’Ucraina, è uno dei tanti istituti che propone “classi in uniforme”, o programmi che integrano alle normali materie scolastiche approfondimenti su come garantire la sicurezza nazionale e maneggiare le armi, oltre che ripetuti e faticosi addestramenti fisici all’aperto. L’uniforme è la conditio sine qua non per le decine di migliaia di studenti impegnati in questi percorsi educativi in tutto il Paese.

Duda ha fondato la Lega Accademica dieci anni fa, mentre studiava storia e arte all’università. “Quando ti trovi davanti ai palazzi e alle opere antiche, non puoi non pensare alla travagliata storia che ci sta dietro, e non capisco perché sembri strano che abbia deciso di intraprendere la carriera militare, che sta alla base della nostra storia nazionale”, spiega Duda. “Come se non bastasse, è una vita che ascolto i racconti dei miei nonni, che durante la guerra nascondevano i partigiani nello scantinato”. Imbevuto non solo delle storie non dette di un Paese lacerato per anni, ma anche di quell’orgoglio patriottico dirompente che caratterizza l’odierno popolo polacco, Duda aggiunge che per lui “studiare non è abbastanza”, e che “per essere un vero uomo devi saper usare le armi e combattere”.

La tradizione paramilitare in Polonia risale ai primi del Novecento, quando tanti dei gruppi ancora oggi esistenti si sono distinti come il cuore pulsante dell’esercito di volontari, che dopo il 1915 ha portato alla liberazione del Paese, e più tardi ne ha costituito l’esercito nazionale. I gruppi paramilitari polacchi sono stati banditi e sciolti in epoca sovietica, e hanno rivisto la luce dopo la caduta dell’Urss alla fine degli anni ’90. Già durante la leadership politica liberale del primo decennio del nuovo millennio i veterani erano osannati come eroi della patria. Ma la triade patriottismo, storia e tradizione non ha mai avuto un ruolo così cruciale nel Paese come con l’attuale governo di destra radicale, manovrato dal leader di partito Jaroslaw Kaczynski (succeduto al fratello Lech che è rimasto vittima, con altri 95 rappresentanti della classe dirigente polacca, nell’incidente aereo di Smolensk il 10 aprile 2010).

La Lega Accademica di Damian Duda, formatasi solo una decina d’anni fa, conta all’incirca 120 membri, e deve il suo nome e il cuore della sua missione a un battaglione di resistenza di studenti volontari nato a Lublin e dintorni nel 1917. “La mia idea iniziale era quella di dare agli studenti educazione e addestramento militare – poiché il servizio militare non è più obbligatorio in Polonia dal 2008 -,” spiega Duda, “ma ben presto ho notato che, forse per via dei tempi incerti che stiamo vivendo, sempre più giovani una volta diplomati tendevano ad arruolarsi nell’esercito o nella polizia, e quando anche intraprendevano carriere istituzionali, non volevano smettere di addestrarsi con la Lega.”

L’interesse dei polacchi verso la guerra è più che triplicato negli ultimi due anni, da quando cioè il vicino orso russo ha iniziato “una guerra ibrida”, giocata sul duplice piano militare e virtuale, contro l’Ucraina, e ha contemporaneamente invaso la Crimea. L’abile propaganda dei media e del governo ha insinuato incertezza nella testa di molti e anche Duda, che ha passato lunghi periodi come paramedico – “perché la legge polacca vieta di arruolarsi con gli eserciti stranieri”, dice lui – nei teatri di guerra in Siria e in Ucraina, alimenta le paure delle sue piccole reclute. “In entrambi i paesi è in corso una guerra, dove normali cittadini hanno dovuto abbracciare le armi e combattere per il loro paese e la libertà, perché i rispettivi governi non erano in grado di proteggerli,” dice Duda, mentre proietta macabre immagini scattate da lui stesso sul fronte. “Le formazioni che si sono venute a creare sono simili alle nostre organizzazioni paramilitari con l’unica differenza che loro sono già in guerra.”

Un anno fa di fronte a VICE International, Duda si pavoneggiava dicendo che, “Dobbiamo essere come il corpo umano quando è invaso dai batteri: gli anticorpi devono essere già lì senza che ci sia bisogno di formarli”. Per gli Gli Occhi della Guerra aggiunge che, “Nonostante la Polonia faccia parte della NATO, se la Russia dovesse attaccare, si troverebbe da sola ad affrontarla.” La sua posizione trova conferma in un sondaggio del Pew Research Centre tenutosi l’ottobre scorso, quando il 74% dei polacchi si era dichiarato favorevole alla NATO, ma solo il 31% credeva che gli Stati Uniti sarebbero intervenuti a fianco della Polonia in caso di attacco militare russo. La vittoria di Trump, secondo cui la NATO sarebbe obsoleta e Putin un papabile alleato, non fa che ingigantire le paure di un Paese, che è tra i pochissimi – assieme agli Stati Uniti, l’Inghilterra, l’Estonia e la Grecia – a rispettare gli accordi transatlantici e investire il 2% del suo Pil in spese militari.

Se un motivo per cui Duda si è dato all’insegnamento nei licei, è avere abbastanza soldi da non doversi preoccupare per le munizioni e l’equipaggiamento dei membri della Lega Accademica, le classi in uniforme sono diventate bacino di reclutamento per il gruppo, tant’è che oggi iscriversi al corso coincide con l’entrare a far parte della Lega. Questa macchina da guerra ben rodata non poteva non sortire l’attenzione dello stato polacco che ha deciso, con la supervisione e le sovvenzioni economiche del Ministero della Difesa, di riconoscere ufficialmente la Lega Accademica e altre quattro milizie volontarie come “gruppi di difesa civile”, e riunirli in una Federazione nazionale.

“Quello che amo di questa scuola è che organizzano tanti training fisici,” spiega Martin, un ragazzino spigliato al terzo anno. “L’anno scorso abbiamo fatto esercitazioni di paracadutismo, di tattica nera e grigia nei palazzi e nelle città, di tattica rossa simulando l’evacuazione dal campo di battaglia e di tattica verde nelle foreste e nei campi aperti.” A esse, si sommano lezioni di primo soccorso e periodici appuntamenti al poligono di tiro.

Dal 1927 al 2012 tutti gli studenti polacchi erano tenuti a frequentare i corsi tenuti dall’organizzazione di Preparazione alla Guerra. Fino al 2008 queste classi servivano per preparare i giovani ai due anni di leva militare obbligatoria che sarebbero seguiti, ma più in generale per tutta la loro durata hanno fornito ai ragazzi le competenze teoriche e pratiche necessarie per fronteggiare qualunque tipo di emergenza, dall’attacco militare alla calamità naturale.

Click to view slideshow.

Mai come con Duda, però, i ragazzini si sentono trattare da veri soldati e sono partecipi attivamente dello straripante orgoglio nazionale polacco. “Ho preso parte a tante attività qui a scuola, come addestramenti militari e parate, e fuori di qui ho anche guidato delle marce e scortato eventi ufficiali e dimostrazioni,” dice Natalia, una diciassettenne tranquilla, che in classe si dimostra però incredibilmente abile nel montare e smontare le armi da fuoco. “Il mio forte patriottismo deriva dall’amore per la storia… E uno degli episodi che mi emoziona di più è quello di Inka, una soldata della mia età, che alla fine della Seconda Guerra Mondiale si è rifiutata di firmare l’accordo con i comunisti e per questo è stata ammazzata.” I resti di Inka sono stati trovati di recente e, al funerale di stato organizzato in suo onore, ha partecipato anche Natalia.


The eight thousand migrants saved at Easter: logbook of a rescue mission

feed_corousel di


During the four days of the Easter weekend, 8,300 people were rescued in the Mediterranean: 1,300 by Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) and the others by several NGOs in coordination with the Italian Coast Guard. The small Iuventa ship alone assisted 2,147 people, both taking them on board and with its life jackets and rafts. The Iuventa is a small fishing boat that has been adapted for rescue missions by the German NGO Jugend Rettet, one of the smallest organisations involved in humanitarian operations in the search areas of the Mediterranean. While much of the media and some politicians echoed the generic accusations of Catania’s prosecutor according to whom NGOs “attract” and sometimes even collaborate with smugglers controlling the flow of migrants, thousands of lives were saved from certain death by drowning, hypothermia, hunger, and thirst on the open sea. Our reporter Giulia Bertoluzzi was on board the Iuventa and kept a logbook for Open Migration.

10 April 2017, Port of Zarzis, south of Tunisia, near the Libyan border

“The first time I saw a migrant vessel?” Anis, a fisherman from Zarzis, raises his eyebrow. He moves his hand backwards, which means a long, long time ago. “Maybe 2002 or 2003, back when illegal immigration from Libya started.” Tarek Ahmed, who owns a tuna boat, adds: “We’ve found so many corpses – when you see children entangled in your fishing nets… there’s no humanity in that.”

Over the last five days, a lot of boats have been crowding the Port of Zarzis because of a violent storm raging along the coast. Even the NGOs Jugend Rettet, Sea Watch, and MSF have dropped anchor in the small Tunisian harbour for safety reasons. A concerned José Pastor, head of missions on the Iuventa, explains: “No one sails in this weather, but as soon as the sea calms down, there’ll be a lot of boats going out at the same time”. In 2015, after seeing the umpteenth picture of dead bodies in the Mediterranean, a group of Berliners decided to launch a fundraising campaign; they repaired an old fishing boat and founded the NGO Jugend Rettet to begin their missions. “We want to show Europe that if it does nothing to put an end to this slaughter, as normal citizens we will,” says Wilco Holmes, second mate on the Iuventa.

11 April 2017, first day at sea on the Sebastian Kurz Mission

(named after the Austrian politician who accused private NGOs of collaborating with smugglers in March 2017)

Zarzis wakes up with the sun and comes back to life while our boat gets ready to sail. That same night the Libyan Coast Guard announces that a rubber dinghy has sunk within the 12 nautical miles limit: “It seems that there are around a hundred victims,” José says, knowing there is nothing he can do. But what is the 12-mile limit? “It’s the coastal area that stretches from Zuwara to Tripoli, the area from which the migrant boats usually leave,” explains Kai Kaltegärtner, captain of the Iuventa. The Libyan SAR zone, the International Search and Rescue area, begins just in front of it and spreads between 12 and 24 nautical miles, i.e. up to the limit of Libyan territorial waters. “Beyond the 12 miles, according to the non-refoulement principle, you can’t take people back against their will,” Kai clarifies, “so if we find a boat in distress beyond this limit, we cannot return its passengers to Libya and must take them to a safe and suitable place.” The harbour at Zarzis is not an option since Tunisia does not presently have any asylum law.

13 April 2017, SAR zone off Sabrata: the exodus begins

At five o’clock in the morning, a deafening siren sounds and the 16 crew members all leap out of their beds. A rubber dinghy emerges in the pale light. Maggy, the ship’s interpreter, flings herself onto the RIB–the rigid inflatable boat–with Julian and Laurah, and hands out life jackets to the 120 people on the vessel so that they can board the Iuventa.

So many heads sticking out from the orange life jackets, bare legs astride the grey boat. Smugglers always force migrants to take off their shoes so they can reduce the weight and carry more passengers. “Make sure they’re not wet with fuel!” the Spanish nurse Marina reminds everyone as the combination of petrol and water causes severe skin burns. There are just two barrels of fuel left on the keel, not even enough to cover the 24 miles of territorial waters. “These boats are not meant to go anywhere, traffickers just send these people out to their deaths, with or without NGOs,” says José Pastor, scanning the horizon with his binoculars in hand.

Daniel, with his Greek centaur’s figure, works to establish some order amidst the chaos spreading across the ship while the cry of a two-week-old baby accompanies the other 120 people coming on board. “The worst is over,” the child’s mother repeats while holding him tight as Laura, an Italian doctor, examines him. Many girls were travelling alone and got pregnant during the journey, meaning they could be victims of trade or sexual violence. A 17-year-old Nigerian girl cries uncontrollably, she just cannot stop.

Un neonato curato a bordo della Iuventa

A newborn is examined aboard the Iuventa.

It takes hours before she can look Marina in the eyes. “It’s the first time I’ve seen the light in such a long time. The first time I tried to cross the sea, the Libyan Coast Guard caught us and locked us up, they put chains around my legs and hips and then hung me by the arms,” she says, displaying the signs of torture on her body. “Libya is hell, real hell,” she keeps saying. A man is covered in dried blood. “One of the smugglers did this to me with his rifle butt,” he explains, showing the large open wound on his head.

After 5 hours of rescue operations, the Aquarius of SOS Méditerranée and MSF, the MOAS, and the Dattilo ship of the Italian Coast Guard take up the last people and set sail for Italy.

Saturday 15 April 2017, 5.30 a.m.

The sea is teeming with rubber dinghies, and there are only two small NGOs. Somalian and Eritrean boys climb aboard the Iuventa from the first boat. Aged between 15 and 20, they are fleeing war and one of the cruellest dictatorships in the world, not to mention the terrible famine that is striking the Horn of Africa. They all are tall and thin, their heads far too large above their necks and skeletal arms. They have just been rescued when the Sea Eye, another German ship, sends an alarm: there are eight rubber dinghies and a fishing boat with at least 900 people on board in their area.

una delle decine di gommoni avvistati all'alba nei giorni di Pasqua 2017

One of the many rubber boats sighted at dawn during Easter.

It is an apocalyptic scene: the blue above, below and all around them, the orange of the life jackets and rafts, people screaming in the distance. This is the sound of catastrophe. The passengers of the fishing boat throw themselves into the sea, shouting and struggling “heeelp!” “Most of them cannot swim,” José explains, “they drown in a matter of seconds, I have seen them disappear underwater in front of my own eyes.” It is even worse with Bengalis because “they don’t understand what we are saying when we reach them with our RIBs,” Maggy remarks. They are oil platform workers, most of them hired as low-cost workers directly from Bangladesh by European companies operating in Libya.

But for José the worst part is descending to the lower levels of the boat where the poorest have been crowded together without any air. Despite his long experience in humanitarian emergencies and all the things he has witnessed, he says: “The eyes I have seen down there is something I’ve never seen anywhere else.”

Someone is able to swim to the Iuventa.

“Scissooors!” Marina yells, while she tries to rip off the wet clothes of an unconscious boy. “Can you hear me, my friend?” It takes twenty minutes and two people to warm him, then he bursts into tears. “Akhui, fin akhui?” – “Brother, where is my brother?”

Next to him, some women are trying to reassure their babies among the shouts. “We went from Homs to Damascus and then caught a flight to Sudan,” Maai tells me. She has travelled from Syria with those members of her family who are still alive: her two children with their long blonde ringlets, her second husband (the first one was killed in Syria), and her grandfather. She pulls a tablet out of the Barbie-pink schoolbag of her little girl and shows me a number beginning with +963. “Please, whenever you can, send a message to my mother and tell her the children are alive,” she asks me kindly.

Numeri di telefono di parenti di una persona soccorsa dalla Iuventa.

Phone numbers of the relatives of one person rescued by the Iuventa.

War, famine, violence. Some of them thought they would find a better future and instead ended up among corpses, endured torture, and had to beg their relatives for money to pay the traffickers who kept them in check. After travelling like this for months or sometimes years, much as we call them economic migrants, they find themselves in the same condition of those fleeing from wars, facing the impossibility of going back.

The Iuventa is not equipped to take them to Italy, it is only able to transfer them to bigger ships like the MOAS or other Navy ships that are in the same area for Operation Sophia. This operation–which includes the Libyan Coast Guard–follows the Italian operation Mare Nostrum and the EU’s Operation Triton of 2014 and was launched in 2015 with the aim of neutralizing Libyan networks in the Mediterranean. Within a few hours, a German Navy ship responds to the alarm and takes all of the rescued migrants, a grotesque scene with two soldiers searching barefoot and half-naked people on the open sea before allowing them on board.

Almost 3,000 migrants have been rescued in just one day. It is late at night when 240 more people come aboard. The two emergency life rafts are full, with water coming up to people’s knees. At 2 a.m., a fishing boat rushes around the Iuventa at a speed of 4 knots and the captain is forced into making a dangerous U-turn to avoid collision. Dozens of people jump into the pitch-black sea. It is chaos. They try to climb onto the Iuventa. All the crew mobilises to contain the confusion. But by now our ship is over capacity with 309 people on board.

16 April 2017, waiting for assistance

Over the last two days the sea has been a millpond with a light wind blowing from the south: the most favourable days to sail from Libya. A Nigerian boy tells us that smugglers asked him for an extra 150 euros to put him on one of the first boats, ensuring him that they would save him. Maggy listens indignantly. “Did you hear that? Traffickers take advantage of anything and anyone just to make money.”

“I paid 2,000 euros; a Libyan smuggler gave me a false employment contract,” Mohamed, from Agadir, in the south of Morocco, reveals. For a young man or woman aged between 18 and 40 without a European ‘pedigree’ or a bank account containing millions, obtaining a visa for Europe is impossible; however, with a European passport, you can get a visa for Morocco in five minutes at the airport, for free. “For all that money I thought I was going to travel on a safe boat, I’m not crazy!” he adds in exhaustion, his lips chapped from dehydration.

Una delle persone salvate dalla Juventa nei giorni di Pasqua 2017.

One of the people rescued by the Iuventa during Easter.  

But today the sea turns rough. The waves have reached two metres when the captain sends out a Mayday, together with two more NGOs. “The Sea Eye is packed with people and they have some corpses on board,” Maggy explains. The Italian Coast Guard is busy with a massive operation and take several hours to respond. Meanwhile, the Iuventa–with 309 people on board and surrounded by big waves–finds itself at the mercy of the wind, waiting for help.

Everything sways dreadfully, women at the bow sing loudly to fight back their fear. But as much as they try to keep calm, seasickness soon strikes. Everyone vomits, but after three days at sea on an empty stomach, only bile fills the bags. Mohamed, Anouar, and Taher relentlessly help those who need to use the bathroom and have to zigzag between heaps of bodies to get there.

Wrapped up in space blankets, which make a terrible noise as they shake in the wind, Jan carries a Nigerian girl who is three months pregnant and had collapsed in the hospital cabin. “She was passing away before our eyes,” Caterina says, her hands still trembling, “we couldn’t find a vein, she was so thin.”

Couscous and water are distributed with the utmost frugality. “The worst enemy on a boat is chaos,” Kai explains, “any panicky movement could make us sink.”

“I cannot eat,” a boy from Ghana says with an empty look of malnutrition in his eyes. “He took two!” screams a Nigerian, causing a tense and terrifying hum before Daniel leaps in to restore order.

After 30 hours of cold, hunger, fear, vomit, and water thrown on board by the waves, the Italian Coast Guard manages to organise a rescue operation that looks like something out of a movie. A 250-metre tanker stops 20 metres away from the Iuventa to protect it from the waves and allow the Save the Children ship to transfer the 309 people on board. Everyone is excited: the crew of Save the Children as well as the Iuventa, and all the passengers who can finally say “I survived.”

“When they ask me what it was like, what should I say?” Laura asks herself. “If I hear a conspiracy theory or a racist remark, will I be able to control myself?” Caterina wonders, but she has already made up her mind: this will certainly not be her last mission.


Translation by Lucrezia De Carolis. Proofreading by Alex Booth.
Cover photo: an overloaded Iuventa in rough seas is approached by the tanker that will assist the transfer of passengers.
All photos in the article are by Giulia Bertoluzzi for Open Migration.

Why Eastern Germany Has Become Fertile Soil for the Far Right

feed_corousel di

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, the government has kept yearly records of the state of national unity, issuing a report every September that takes stock of economic, social and institutional progress east of the Elbe River. In its 2016 report, the focus was more on socio-political, rather than economic, developments in the region.

“We have achieved a lot in eastern Germany in the last 26 years,” said government spokesperson Iris Gleicke in Berlin last September as she presented the findings of the annual report. But, she added, “we are very concerned about the right-wing extremism, xenophobia and intolerance in the new Lander”—the five federal states that made up the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany.

Since last year, violent incidents at the hands of right-wing extremists have been dramatically rising in the east and are particularly concerning in the landlocked state of Saxony, near Germany’s borders with Poland and the Czech Republic. In Dresden and smaller towns across the state, anti-immigrant groups have been gathering several times a week to carry out activities that include marches, armed patrolling and arson attacks on shelters and hostels for immigrants.

This xenophobic sentiment has begun to affect the economies of the eastern states. According to the government’s report, the unemployment rate in the region stands at 9.2 percent—half of what it was years ago, but still far from the 5.7 percent rate in western Germany. Saxony is Germany’s top-performing state economically, with the highest gross domestic product per capita. However, the population is ageing and many young people are going west for better job opportunities. The region’s unwelcoming attitude toward immigrants has limited the expansion of the labor force and discouraged tourism and foreign investment.

Before reunification, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers poured into then-West Germany to support its booming economy. However, in the East, the labor force came from fellow Communist countries, and immigrant workers were not allowed to integrate with locals. This created vast socio-cultural and economic differences with the multiethnic and multicultural West.

In 1989, both East and West Germany believed in building a strong, unified country, but according to Werner Patzelt, a professor at the Technical University of Dresden, they tried to merge too quickly. “The western side ended up absorbing the eastern one with its infrastructure, institution and people. Many Germans from the ex-GDR had to adopt a new way of life and culture overnight,” says Patzelt. When then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl opened the borders to foreign laborers in the early 1990s, it was the eastern Germans—isolated for decades—who felt particularly uncomfortable.

Two decades later, amid the refugee crisis in Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy welcomed 1.1 million refugees, a significant number of whom were Muslim, adding to the 5 million Muslims already living in Germany. The intake, in the context of rising anti-immigrant sentiment and a growing sense of insecurity across Europe, exacerbated longstanding fears of an external colonization and empowered far-right forces at the grass-roots and political levels.

Merkel’s refugee policy has generated backlash across Germany, but the alarmist rhetoric used by right-wing groups to capitalize on it has resonated particularly well in the East. “Why is our party stronger in the East than in the West?” asks Thomas Hartung, vice president of the anti-Islam and anti-migrant Alternative for Germany Party, or AfD, during an interview. “Because our people have already experienced life under a dictatorship and are ready to fight again.”

The AfD, which, until a recent drop in popularity, was seen as a veritable threat to Germany’s establishment parties, isn’t the only right-wing force riding popular resentment toward Merkel’s refugee policy. Whether it reaches the 5 percent threshold to send representatives to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, will be determined in September, when federal elections are held. But even if it fails to make gains, the party is but one feature of Germany’s increasingly visible—and often interconnected—far-right landscape.

From the Streets of Dresden

The Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, known as Pegida, is a popular movement that was born in Dresden in 2014. The group organized its first march with a few dozen participants in October of that year. A few days earlier, its founder, Lutz Bachmann created a Facebook page denouncing Germany’s arms sales to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, an armed group fighting against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq. Bachmann—who was later convicted of hate speech in Germany for describing Muslim refugees as “cattle,” “filth” and “scum” in Facebook posts and has since moved to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands—objected to the fact that his country was supporting a Muslim organization. He has routinely lashed out at clashes between Kurdish immigrants and Salafi Muslims in Germany.

Merkel’s refugee policy has generated backlash across Germany, but the alarmist rhetoric used by right-wing groups to capitalize on it has resonated particularly well in the East.

“We had enough of foreigners occupying our streets,” says Siegfried Daebritz, Pegida’s vice president, illustrating both the group’s targeting of immigrants and the inflammatory rhetoric it uses to do so. “If they had the right to do it, why couldn’t we gather to show the real face of Islam and wars of religion?” Within months, the group’s small gatherings had grown into mass rallies; a protest that December drew 15,000 people.

Pegida, in contrast to other far-right, xenophobic groups—such as Hooligans against Salafists, a group of violent right-wing football fans active across Germany—tried to appear more presentable politically. At its debut rally, for example, it chanted, “We are not violent but united against Islam and religious wars on the German soil.” Later, Bachmann adopted anti-Communist slogans, such as “We are the people.” His supporters waved the Wirmer flag, used to celebrate the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler and, according to Daebritz, meant “today to show that we are the resistance against a new totalitarian regime.”

However, despite its attempts to present a softer face, Pegida’s ties with Germany’s dark past have always been visible. The group holds weekly marches every Monday—the same day the German National Socialist party held its weekly “walks” in the 1930s. Pegida opposes the mainstream media, which it calls Lugenpresse, or “lying media”—a defamatory term used in Nazi Germany—and has fans and affiliates among radical, far-right groups in Germany and across Europe. Fixtures of the European right wing, including the AfD’s Bjorn Hocke and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, have spoken at Pegida’s rallies.

The group’s harsh rhetoric against Muslims resonated, helping boost the number of its followers, which grew from a few dozen at 2014 rallies to an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 at rallies in early 2015. Foreigners—from immigrants and naturalized-immigrant citizens to German-born citizens of immigrant origin—make up a small portion of Saxony’s population, but there is a strong anti-immigrant stance among residents. “We travel, watch TV and read newspapers and we know all the problems mass migration is creating,” says Daebritz. “Simply, we don’t want neighborhoods taken over by Muslim immigrants, as has happened to some Western cities.” Only 0.1 percent of Saxony’s population is Muslim, compared to roughly 5 percent nationally. Nevertheless, Pegida has united disparate groups around its anti-immigrant platform, from the various fringes of the right wing and leftists excluded from the parliament, to disillusioned members of the middle class and supporters of the AfD.

“We had enough of foreigners occupying our streets.”

“Pegida is like a forerunner for German populism and for the AfD, but Pegida and the AfD are also two sides of the same coin,” says Patzelt, who authored a book about Pegida. Due to its history of fascism, Germany was for many years “a blank spot on the map of European populist, radical, right-wing parties, but Pegida exploited the general dissatisfaction nurtured in a conservative capital like Dresden.” The movement’s attempts to establish itself in other German cities with higher concentrations of Muslim immigrants, such as Leipzig or Berlin, did not succeed, as their populations are less conservative and tend to be more open to immigrants, Germans with foreign backgrounds and Muslims.

Some German politicians have described Pegida’s members as “neo-Nazis in pinstripes,” but despite the group’s references and rhetoric, outright neo-Nazis are in fact a minority in its ranks. Rather, a larger number of its supporters come from the old-fashioned bourgeoisie who lament the divide between the German political elite and ordinary people.

In 2015, however, the movement took a hit when German tabloids revealed that Bachmann had posed as Hitler in a photo on his Facebook page, prompting nearly all of the German political class to label Pegida as an enemy of the Federal Republic. Many members of the AfD, which had initially expressed support for the group, tried to distinguish their ideology from that of Pegida. But even Stephan Vogel, leader of the AfD in Dresden, acknowledged that their outlooks are in reality very similar. “Since the beginning, Pegida’s program has relied on 10 theses that focused primarily on immigration and security, and they overlap with the AfD’s federal goals,” says Vogel.

Since peaking in early 2015, turnout at Pegida’s marches decreased, as the AfD’s popularity began to increase. “Many former Pegida members were tired of a movement that doesn’t take any concrete action and turned to our political party,” adds Vogel.

Alternative for Germany

Frauke Petry, the AfD’s chairwoman since July 2015 and leader of the party’s Saxony branch since its foundation, was at the forefront of efforts to draw a distinction between her party and Pegida. When asked in March 2016 by journalist Tim Sebastian to comment on what her co-founder Alexander Gauland saw as the party’s “natural allies” in Pegida, Petry said that the AfD would always stand by those who protest democratically in the streets—describing support for the democratic right to protest, rather than an alliance with the movement itself. When Sebastian asked her if she agreed with Bachmann’s description of refugees as “cattle and scum,” she responded with exasperation. “Of course we don’t agree with that and we have said this so many times,” she said, accusing the journalist of trying “to establish a link that has never existed.”

The AfD was founded in April 2013 as an anti-euro—not anti-European Union—party. It primarily drew its support from popular fears that the financial burden of successive bailouts for heavily indebted EU countries, particularly Greece, would ultimately prove too high for German taxpayers. Earning 4.7 percent of votes in the 2013 federal elections, the party narrowly failed to reach the 5 percent threshold necessary to enter the Bundestag. However, it was able to elect seven legislators to the European Parliament in 2014, and earned around 10 percent of votes in several German regional elections that year.

But the AfD split the following year, with 10 percent of its members defecting. The rupture caused its popularity to slump to 3 percent in national opinion polls. One of the party’s founders, economist Bernd Lucke, spearheaded efforts to break from the party, denouncing the “infiltration of xenophobic, racist, nationalist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic extremists into it.” A number of the defectors joined Lucke’s new party, the Alliance for Progress and Renewal.

While the AfD’s agenda in the European Parliament was mostly concerned with economic policy, its delegations in state legislatures, such as in the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia, predominantly focused on internal security and immigration policy.

“The AfD started as anti-euro, but after the split, the far-right and Nazi side took over the party,” says journalist Marcus Bensmann. “Today, the AfD is pushing forward Volkish ideas into the mainstream political discourse,” he adds, referring to the populist cornerstone of Nazi ideology. These ideas, he notes, were inherited from Pegida, and include themes “like the imminent threat Muslim immigrants represent and the risk of a great Muslim infiltration.”

In August 2015, Petry, who had replaced Lucke as the party’s leader, proposed an “autumn offensive” focusing on both the euro and immigration. But talk of the euro evaporated quickly, and the most extreme demands—such as sealing borders, lifting the right to seek asylum or enabling the German police to shoot refugees “in case of an emergency”—were featured instead.

AfD chairwoman Frauke Petry attends a news conference, Berlin, Germany, Dec. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

Party leaders explain its rise by pointing to the impact of the refugee crisis that has gripped Europe and Germany since 2015. “The basic changes Germany witnessed in the last two years are due to the enormous wave of refugees that reached our country and changed the attitude of the population towards the ruling parties,” said Vogel, the AfD’s leader in Dresden, in a December interview. “Since the beginning, our people didn’t share Merkel’s migration policy, and the AfD just rode on this sentiment.”

Among the AfD’s most radical voices is Bjorn Hocke, the head of the party in the east-central state of Thuringia, who was previously a member of the youth organization, or Junge Union, of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). When, as an AfD representative, he highlighted the “differing reproductive strategies” of Africans and Europeans, the AfD leadership asked him to resign. He not only refused, but stubbornly persisted without lowering his tone. The reception given to his public appearances, such as a fiery February speech in Dresden, proved that his focus on the most radical fringes of the AfD’s electorate was actually an effective strategy for boosting the party’s prospects.

Since 2013, the AfD has gained momentum in the east, with opinion polls currently putting it above the 5 percent threshold for entry into parliament at approximately 10 percent. By 2016, it had representatives in 10 of 16 states, and an 11 to 12 percent approval rating nationwide, stemming partly from the refugee crisis and a series of violent attacks perpetrated by immigrants and asylum-seekers. Its success also results from a political strategy that recalls the so-called de-demonization of France’s far-right National Front party and its leader Marine Le Pen, who sought to integrate the party into the political mainstream by disavowing its history of anti-Semitism and racism.

In practice, the AfD put a friendly face over its radical origins, attempting to appear less threatening and appeal to a larger electorate. But its rhetoric continued to scapegoat globalization and immigrants, if indirectly. “In the east, many people who used to vote for the Left party ended up giving their vote to the AfD,” says Jurgen Elsasser, editor-in-chief of Compact magazine, the AfD’s unofficial media organ, “because they felt betrayed by people that followed the international agenda of the big money and the open borders.”

Gauland, one of the AfD’s founders and a former CDU politician, is eager to appear moderate, if only outwardly. “If to 80 million Germans, many with a migratory background, you add first a million and then an ever-increasing number of foreigners year by year,” he explains, “you’ll see a change in people’s composition and identity.” His rhetoric appeals to former conservative CDU voters who felt betrayed by Merkel’s immigration policy.

The AfD put a friendly face over its radical origins, attempting to appear less threatening and appeal to a larger electorate.

In particular, Petry, who was labeled “Adolfina” by Der Spiegel newspaper, has embraced the approach of giving radicalism a soft look, often appearing youthful and approachable in sympathetic press organs. Petry was born in Dresden during the communist era but was raised in the West and educated in England, a cultural mix that helped her gain popularity in Germany.

The AfD so far has been unable to appear as unified and organized as other European populist parties, such as the National Front or the Austrian Freedom Party, and hasn’t announced its candidates for the September federal elections. Nevertheless, Petry looks like the best chance the AfD has to reunite opposing sentiments both inside and outside the party.

The Cultural Revolution

As time passes, the resentment the East has harbored toward the more-liberal West has widened the gap between the two sides of Germany. Today, these divergent sentiments reflect the polarization that has emerged across Europe and worldwide.

“The idea of an open, multicultural and multiethnic society hails from the 1968 cultural revolution experienced intensively in the West, and almost entirely absent from the East,” explains Patzelt. “That generation of West German student activists went on to occupy all top positions in media, universities, public administration and political parties. But this intellectual hegemony is coming to an end, because the political, societal and economic problems have changed, and the old answers are no longer sustainable for ordinary people.”

An AfD election poster, Halberstadt, Germany, March 7, 2016 (AP photo by Jens Meyer).

The demand for new answers to everyday problems, together with crises over identity and culture linked in part to globalization and new migratory flows, are paving the way for an unexpected revolutionary impulse across the ex-GDR.

In the past, Germany’s right wing was characterized by thugs with shaved heads and jackboots. After the 1990s, this group was replaced by the “autonomous nationalists”: right-wing extremists with left-wing looks and tactics but a violent attitude similar to their predecessors. At rallies that denounce capitalism and globalization, the Autonomous Nationalists often dress in black, brandishing banners with slogans written in English in funky, street-art-inspired fonts that more closely resembled urban graffiti and the hip-hop movement than those used by neo-Nazis and skinheads. Today, those groups are still around, but they represent a minority within the New Right that mostly comprises members of the middle class, conservative intellectuals, devout Christians and a large constituency of people enraged with the political class for different reasons.

At the same time, the New Right—of which Pegida and the AfD are the grass-roots and political manifestations—opposes the state and its organs, and mocks them as “traitors,” “dictators” and “liars.” Such victimization and harsh anti-establishment rhetoric hail from the neo-Nazi tradition.

The New Right believes that the mainstream media cannot be trusted, and has thus created its own gatekeepers of truth and information, with two key media figures seeking to unite its internal differences and drive the German public toward the AfD: Jurgen Elsasser and Gotz Kubitschek.

Elsasser, the editor-in-chief of Compact magazine, doesn’t identify himself as right wing. He used to hold leading positions in communist organizations and write for leftist newspapers such as Junge Welt or Neues Deutschland. “In 2005 I tried to convince my comrades that we had to defend our nation-state against globalization, in order to protect the working class and the poor people,” he says in an interview, “but they mistook this for right-wing nationalist thinking, and I started alienating myself.”

As time passes, the resentment the East has harbored toward the more-liberal West has widened the gap between the two sides of Germany.

From 2007 to 2008, Elsasser gradually left his left-wing circles to embrace more radical, anti-Islamic and pro-Russian ideas, co-founding Compact in 2010. “The division between left or right doesn’t make sense anymore,” he says.

For Elsasser, it’s too late for violent street revolutions, but it’s still possible to “influence the state by voting and fighting for our cultural hegemony, rejecting multiculturalism and globalism and bringing back family values, patriotism and nationalism,” he says. “Trump came into power by a constitutional process enabled by the vote and helped by new media like Breitbart News. In Germany, Compact and others could play a similar role by supporting the victory of the constitutional revolution.”

Kubitschek, for his part, is not only the publisher of Compact, but is also behind far-right institutions including the Sezession news site, the International Staats Politik think tank and the Antaios publishing house. He remains one of the most influential theorists of the so-called cultural revolution promoted by the New Right. He often appears with Elsasser and Hocke, speaks at Pegida’s events, and organizes symposiums at his farmhouse, where he gathers representatives of Germany’s ultra-conservative and nationalist fringes.

“The conditio sine qua non for our cultural revolution is the homogeneity among the people,” he says in an interview at his home in the isolated eastern village of Schnellroda. “To this, you have to add the defense of our identity, the overpopulation of Europe and a strict regulation of immigration. Europeans will be welcomed in more generously, but those who are culturally distant from us have to leave.”

While most New Right leaders don’t perpetrate violence themselves, they create an atmosphere that encourages violence-prone right-wing extremists to act. “There’s no need to be politically correct anymore,” says Bensmann, the journalist. “On the one hand, it’s very common to lash out against Muslim people in the public sphere and, on the other hand, populist parties like the AfD keep saying that they are the only ones telling the truth, that they are under threat and need to defend themselves.”

In September, Germans will cast their votes in the election. At 10 percent, the AfD’s popularity nation-wide currently far exceeds the 5 percent it needs to enter the parliament as an opposition political force. And Merkel’s conservatives, confronted with an unprecedentedly popular center-left Socialist Democratic Party, are particularly unsettled right now. The CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU) have been at odds for months, and after 12 years of Merkel, many Germans want a new face, if not a new approach.

The destinies of the AfD and the CDU may be more intertwined than each party thinks. “Apart from the dwindling number of immigrants and the burst of new terrorist attacks, another factor might affect their popularity,” says Patzelt, “and that is if Merkel will try to reconquer the political space on the right of her party.”

It’s still unclear if and how Merkel will try to appeal to conservatives that feel left behind by the CDU and are tempted to move closer to the AfD. If she moves her party’s platform rightward, and other parties follow suit, it will push previously unacceptable ideas into the mainstream. In such a scenario, the New Right will already have accomplished one of its long-term goals, with implications for Europe and beyond.

Eleonora Vio is a freelance journalist and co-founder of Nawart Press media platform. She focuses on the Middle East, particularly on Islamic radicalism and gender-based stories, as well as European right-wing extremism.

This article was written in collaboration with Giulia Bertoluzzi.

In Polonia i gruppi paramilitari attirano i giovani e il governo

feed_corousel di

Sorry, this entry is only available in Italian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.


(Eleonora Vio)
su Internazionale il 13 dicembre

“Se avete più di sedici anni, siete maturi, responsabili, allenati fisicamente, e v’interessa imparare le tattiche militari e maneggiare un’arma da fuoco, unitevi all’associazione dei fucilieri di Strzelec”. Questo è l’invito promozionale che campeggia sull’homepage del sito ufficiale di uno dei più noti gruppi paramilitari polacchi. Mentre in altre parti d’Europa l’idea di imbracciare le armi volontariamente fa sorridere, in Polonia fare la guerra – vera o finta che sia – non è solo un retaggio del passato, ma una realtà diffusa ancora oggi.

“Si vis pacem, para bellum: se vuoi la pace, prepara la guerra”. Con indosso una divisa militare d’altri tempi, Krzysztof Wojewódzki, architetto e comandante dell’arma di Strzelec, recita il famoso detto latino mentre cammina per l’ampio salone di casa invaso dai cimeli di guerra. Se non è difficile immaginare che per lui “poco sia cambiato da allora,” seduti attorno al tavolo e con le uniformi dal taglio appena più moderno ci sono Marta e Daniel, entrambi di vent’anni, rispettivamente caporale e viceistruttore del gruppo, che annuiscono compiaciuti alle sue parole.

“La Polonia non ha mai smesso di essere minacciata”, sostiene Wojewódzki. “Per più di cent’anni è scomparsa dalle mappe, divisa in tre. Poi, quando ha ottenuto l’indipendenza alla fine della prima guerra mondiale, è caduta vittima prima dell’occupazione tedesca e successivamente di quella russa”.

La guerra ibrida
Gran parte dei gruppi paramilitari polacchi ha una tradizione risalente ai primi del novecento ed è nota per aver formato il cuore di quell’esercito di volontari, divenuto l’esercito nazionale polacco, che dopo il 1915 garantì la sua liberazione. La travagliata storia polacca spiega però solo in parte perché negli ultimi due anni il numero d’iscritti alle 120 organizzazioni paramilitari attive in Polonia sia più che triplicato.

Dal 2014, quando cioè la Russia ha cominciato “una guerra ibrida” – giocata sul piano militare ma anche virtuale – contro l’Ucraina, la combinazione tra motivi pratici di difesa in caso di aggressione e sentimenti patriottici e nazionalistici incoraggiati dalle autorità polacche, pronte a sacrificare la democrazia in nome dell’ordine e della tradizione, ha fatto crescere esponenzialmente l’interesse per la guerra.

La partecipazione alle organizzazioni militari è volontaria e la loro struttura rispecchia fedelmente quella dell’esercito regolare

“In passato, i padri incoraggiavano i figli a seguire gli addestramenti militari e a usare le armi. Per me bisogna far rivivere quest’usanza, perché ogni uomo ha il dovere di combattere”, spiega Damien Duda, vicepresidente della Legia akademicka, e insegnante di una delle 1.500 classi in uniforme del paese. “Sono certo che almeno agli inizi di una futura crisi militare la Polonia dovrà affrontare il nemico da sola”. La vittoria di Donald Trump alle presidenziali statunitensi, accompagnata da feroci proclami a favore di un disimpegno dalla Nato e da un avvicinamento “all’orso russo”, ha ingigantito paure già esistenti.

L’addestramento tenuto da un’unità dell’esercito polacco ai fucilieri di Strzelec, nel settembre del 2016. - Eleonora Vio

L’addestramento tenuto da un’unità dell’esercito polacco ai fucilieri di Strzelec, nel settembre del 2016. (Eleonora Vio)

Anche se il servizio militare obbligatorio è stato abolito solo nel 2008, le nuove generazioni non smettono di sentirsi protagoniste della vita militare del paese. Da un lato, grazie alle storie di nonni e parenti, le pareti delle case rimbombano ancora dei colpi di proiettile. Dall’altro, il governo ultraconservatore e cattolico di Diritto e giustizia (Pis), insieme ai movimenti e partiti ultranazionalisti, punta sul patriottismo e sulla longeva tradizione bellica, per allargare le basi del loro già ampio consenso e affermare con orgoglio l’identità nazionale.

La partecipazione alle organizzazioni militari è volontaria e la loro struttura rispecchia fedelmente quella dell’esercito regolare, con un corpo centrale che funge da centro nevralgico e le unità territoriali che si addestrano autonomamente. Gli obiettivi di ciascun gruppo, simili a quelli perseguiti dai medesimi tra la prima e la seconda guerra mondiale, cioè prima del veto del regime comunista, consistono nell’impartire una solida conoscenza della storia e dei valori patriottici, e garantire la giusta preparazione fisica per affrontare guerre e calamità.

Pratico ultranazionalismo
Perfino gli striscioni degli ultras della Legia Warsaw mostrano la “P” rovesciata e arricciata, simbolo della rivolta di Varsavia contro l’occupazione nazista, e per accrescere il loro consenso tra la popolazione le autorità hanno riabilitato anche icone prima maledette. “Il mio mito è Inka, che a soli diciassette anni e sotto tortura non si è piegata ai sovietici”, dice Agnes della Legia akademicka, con gli occhi che le brillano.

Sebbene i membri delle organizzazioni paramilitari possano decidere di arruolarsi nell’esercito o nella polizia, oppure continuare ad addestrarsi per sola passione e mollare tutto per tornare alla vita normale, le autorità hanno cominciato a intuire il potenziale di una così ben rodata macchina da guerra.

L’influenza dei paramilitari si estende a tutta la società. Le “classi in uniforme” abbinano agli studi classici del liceo la pratica militare e spopolano tra i giovani. “Indossare la divisa è una grande responsabilità”, bisbiglia il timido Tomas, mentre la sua compagna di banco si atteggia a prima della classe ed elenca date e nomi degli eroi nazionali. Nelle università la competizione tra i gruppi si fa più intensa. “Avevo già adocchiato l’associazione di Strzelec, ma ho aspettato di entrare all’università per farne parte”, dice Marta, che vuole perseguire la carriera militare dopo la laurea. “Almeno due volte alla settimana le organizzazioni presentano i loro programmi e metà della mia classe ha già aderito”.

Piotr Czuryllo con suo figlio, nel settembre del 2016. La sua è una famiglia di survivalisti, che vive isolata vicino alla città polacca di Olsztyn. - Eleonora Vio

Piotr Czuryllo con suo figlio, nel settembre del 2016. La sua è una famiglia di survivalisti, che vive isolata vicino alla città polacca di Olsztyn. (Eleonora Vio)

In città ci pensa il governo a organizzare commemorazioni, funerali di stato e spettacoli in onore dei caduti, mentre, poco distante dall’enclave russa di Kaliningrad, Piotr Czuryllo, portavoce ufficiale dei cinquantamila survivalisti polacchi, vive isolato con la sua famiglia. Associare quest’uomo buffo e dai modi new age al rigore paramilitare può sembrare azzardato. Eppure, lo stesso individuo che, con aria assorta, la tuta camouflage e la bandana in testa, prevede come “in tempo di crisi si tornerà al caos originario e si dovrà per forza cooperare con la natura”, oltre a conoscere e possedere diverse armi da guerra, e sapersi procacciare cibo e acqua con facilità, a giugno ha organizzato il primo Congresso paramilitare di fronte alle autorità.

In quella sede si è parlato per la prima volta della Forza territoriale di difesa che, al suo completamento nel 2019, conterà 35mila uomini in funzione esclusivamente antirussa. “Questo dipartimento del ministero della difesa è molto importante, perché consente di sviluppare il potenziale dei gruppi paramilitari in ambito militare”, spiega uno degli ideatori del progetto, Waldemar Zubek, mentre alle sue spalle alcuni soldati dell’esercito regolare insegnano ai paramilitari come lanciare granate e sparare con precisione. “Quest’arma è rigorosamente apolitica”, spiega tranquillo, “e a chi critica il governo accusandolo di creare un suo esercito personale, dico che per affrontare l’imminente minaccia russa abbiamo bisogno di molti uomini”. A destare preoccupazione, però, è l’infiltrazione di elementi ultranazionalisti, che trovano pochi ostacoli visti i criteri ancora opachi di selezione e le tendenze estremiste del ministro della difesa.

E mentre era stato proprio il ministro a dire che “sarebbe sbagliato escludere qualcuno per le sue idee politiche”, il rappresentante del Pis, Konrad Zieleniecki, conferma le paure di molti. “La Forza territoriale di difesa è l’unica occasione per gli ultranazionalisti polacchi di esprimere il loro patriottismo in modo pratico”.

Ha collaborato Costanza Spocci.

1 2 3 6
Eleonora Vio
0 £0.00
Vai a Inizio