Giulietto Chiesa. Who is the man? An Italian journalist, a former member of the Italian Communist Party, a former correspondent of L’Unita and La Stampa in Moscow, and a former Member of the European Parliament (2004-2009), Chiesa contrived to become, in 2009, a candidate to the European Parliament on behalf of Latvia’s left-wing alliance “For Human Rights in United Latvia.” Happily, he failed. Previously, I wrote about Chiesa’s sister-in-arms, Tatyana Zhdanok (Tatjana Ždanoka), a former MEP from Latvia (2009-2014) who became an emblematic person in my eyes for her poorly disguised disdain and hatred for her country (provided she considers Latvia to be one).
Yet this is far from the end of the story. Reading his little book translated into English and published by the publishing company Tribuna in Moscow, The Latvian Candidate, Or the Unknown Adventures of a Non-Citizen in Europe, I find myself thinking about some segments of this person’s biography and activity that are clearly mutually exclusive. How could a former communist possibly become a member of the Izborsk Club which is an elite club of Vladimir Putin’s staunch supporters famous for their imperialism and chauvinism? Why and how did Chiesa become a persona non grata in Estonia where he just recently was not admitted to participate in an event in Tallinn supported and organized by Russia’s secret services?
And who is Giulietto Chiesa? A Kremlin’s useful idiot? An enemy of liberal democracy? A cynical liar and traitor of everything the EU stands for whose book is full of lies and nonsense? A Russian nationalist parading disguised as a nay-sayer and human rights defender? The answer is far more complex than that. And the best clue to this riddle would be George Orwell’s essay “Notes on Nationalism” written after WW2. In this essay, Orwell drew a strict dividing line between patriotism, which he understood as identification with a way of life and all earthly forms of human attachment, and nationalism, which appeared to him as a belief that one’s group is superior and better than other groups.
What results from such a divide, according to Orwell, is a carefully disguised propensity to classify human individuals as if they were communities of bees or ants. Whereas patriotism is silent and defensive, nationalism is offensive and aggressive. Far from several major forms of radical forms of nationalism and ideological zeal and fervor in general, nationalism may come in many faces. According to Orwell, the transferred or transposed forms of nationalism signify our willingness to find an object of worship which may vary from time to time. A pious Zionist may become an ardent Marxist, or the other way around, while it takes little effort to move from left-wing views to uncritical adoration of Russia, even failing to notice Russian imperialism and colonialism.
G. K. Chesterton’s love for Italy and France led him so far as to fail to notice the emergence of Mussolini and Italian fascism, whereas H. G. Wells was blinded by Russia to such an extent that he refused to see the crimes of Lenin and Stalin. That our propensity to fool and deceive ourselves is nearly limitless was closely and wittily observed by a perceptive British journalist and writer who easily surpassed all British and European thinkers put together in his ability to foresee the tragedy of Europe. Orwell’s critical essays appear to have been even more original and groundbreaking than his famous satires and dystopias.
If people deny their primary linguistic and cultural identity, they have to forge a new one. If they feel that they had lost or had not yet found their homeland, they will search for one somewhere else. If they abandon an earthly homeland as such, they are condemned to fabricate an ideology as a substitute for one. Suffice it to recall a most telling hint that Marx drops concerning the proletarian, who has no homeland by definition. Hence, Orwell’s merciless irony in his caustic remark about those British intellectuals, who confidently stated that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution, and who sincerely believed this to have been the case. Only those who belong to the intelligentsia are able to believe things like that, concludes Orwell. In his view, no ordinary man could be such a fool.
Orwell was not alone in his skepticism of pacifism and other vague social movements in the era of fiercely ideological and violent politics. Showing the origins and the rise of National Socialism, Raymond Aron assessed what he qualified as “the elements of the German fifth column” in the following way: “The fifth column is a typical element of the age of empires. It is recruited mainly among three sorts of men: pacifists, revolted by the material and moral cost of total war who, at the bottom of their hearts, prefer the triumph of an empire to the independent sovereignty of bellicose states; defeatists, who despair of their own country; and ideologues, who set their political faith above their patriotism and submit to the Caesar whose regime and ideology they admire” (Raymond Aron, The Century of Total War. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1959, p. 44).
This is how George Orwell and Raymond Aron allow us to expose Giulietto Chiesa’s cynical lies about a small European nation – Latvia. He is both a typical case of transferred nationalism and transposed (or dislocated) identity in the Orwellian sense, and a typical element of international fifth column ready to serve those who have brutal force and who practice successful violence. He is the one who condemns violence at home, that is, in Europe, but who is happy to see it practiced with impunity elsewhere. This is the simple truth about Giulietto Chiesa who otherwise richly deserves to be forgotten.
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