January 29, 2016
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
Welcome to Monday, where Russia warns Finland and Sweden that joining NATO would be a “grave mistake,” locked-down Shanghai announces it aims for June 1 reopening, and South Asia’s heat wave becomes untenable. Meanwhile, Peter Huth in German daily Die Welt explains why the Doomsday Clock isn’t ticking quite the same for millennials today as it was for baby boomers.
Italy’s right-wing politicians are trying to ban surrogacy, as the Pope pushes parents to have children and feminists are divided on the issue. On such a complicated issue, hard thinking and nuance have been in short supply.
After almost two decades away from Italy, I ended up moving back just after I found out I was pregnant in 2018.
We lived in a stone house among olive trees in the Umbrian countryside, just off a beautiful Medieval borgo called Montecastello di Vibio.
Even if I had tried, I could not have picked a better place for my pregnancy to be celebrated — and monitored publicly. With its aging dwellers slowly fading and younger families moving to the big cities, Montecastello was a perfect illustration of Italy’s falling fertility rates.
That a pregnancy was taking place in the town of 1,000 inhabitants was seen as a sort of miracle to be rejoiced — one that got the otherwise taciturn Umbrians to open up and show their kindness. The baker would hand me free squares of focaccia, while the butcher asked about my upcoming scans. Others worried if they saw me walking around town when it was too windy, and all came to congratulate me when Lorenzo was born.
For years, Italy’s falling fertility rates have been making the news. Conservative politicians tried to promote a ”Fertility Day” in 2016, with cringe-worthy, sexist promotional images that showed a woman stress-smiling because her clock was ticking. “Beauty has no age. But fertility does,” read one.
Pope Francis also made headlines more recently when he criticized couples who decide to have pets over children. “This denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity,” he said.
In this context of demographic challenges and the historical weight of the Catholic Church, the debate over surrogacy in Italy was bound to be complicated. Now, Italy’s conservative political parties are trying to pass legislation that would completely ban surrogacy, even if practiced abroad.
Currently, surrogacy is illegal in Italy: anyone who creates, organizes or advertises surrogacy commits an offense of criminal relevance that can be punished with up to two years in jail and fines of up to one million euros. But since surrogacy is allowed in other countries, it has been up to Italian courts to rule on the recognition of foreign birth certificates for children born abroad via a surrogate — and so far it has not been considered a crime.
With the current proposed legislation, things would change. The argument being used is that surrogacy has become a business that endangers women’s lives.
“It is a practice that turns life into a commodity and demeans the dignity of women,” said far-right leader Giorgia Meloni.
Well, for starters, this is Meloni's idea of women’s dignity: On March 8, she complained that the Minister for Equal Opportunities asked for the removal of a campaign against abortion that showed a fetus and said: “Power to women? Let’s give birth to them!”
Meloni asked: “What is there to censor in this message in favor of life, natality, children and in favor of supporting their mothers?”
I have a question for her: Who can you reconcile a ban on abortion with a ban on surrogacy?
LGBTQ+ rights groups consider the proposed Italian legislation as an attack against them. Veiled behind a discourse that talks about the rights of women, right-wing politicians are trying to make it impossible for them to have a family.
This is of course not surprising, considering that the Vatican has long influenced our internal politics.
Don’t get me wrong: I also worry about the exploitation of surrogacy when it is commercialized and it involves “cheap hubs,” as it was the case of Nepal, Kenya or Ukraine.
But there are a number of feminists who share the absolutist view of Pope Francis and Giorgia Meloni on a universal ban.
Writing in La Stampa, Lucetta Scaraffia argues that the separation experienced by the surrogate mother who carries the child in her womb is "a trauma, always:”
“In the case of children given up for adoption we recognize the trauma that abandonment by their natural mother represented for them, and we recognize that even for the mother forced to abandon him or her this is a very painful choice," Scaraffia argues. "But in the case of the surrogate mother, on the contrary, we do not want to see this, or rather we deny that in this case it is a planned trauma. A trauma produced specifically to make two selfish adults ‘happy’, who, not wanting to adopt an abandoned child, want one that has their genes, that bears their indelible trademark.”
Eugenia Tognotti, professor of medicine and human sciences, puts it in even starker terms: “Surrogacy, even if done for altruistic reasons and not for commercial ones, is nothing more than a form of modern slavery. The woman's body — in conditions of need — is transformed into a commodity, as is the child to be bought and sold, the child of a couple provided with means.”
These are heavy words and hard questions, no doubt.
Still, I believe that the conversation should lead us elsewhere, not in favor of an outright ban.
I wish adoption, as cited by everyone from the Pope to Scaraffia as a solution, could be such an easy process that people who can’t have their own children can look after another child. But that is not the case.
Shouldn’t we instead legislate better to make sure that if surrogacy takes place it takes place in a way that is dignified for the woman that carries the pregnancy?
“If I had written the law, instead of talking about gestation for others as a universal crime, I would have proposed to make it legal, but under certain conditions," said author Michela Marzano. "I would have proposed it to be free of charge, as happens when you donate an organ. But I would also have asked for medical and legal support for each woman.”
Marzano concludes: "There are those who donate a kidney or a piece of liver for free, there are those who constantly give time and love, there are those who give even their lives without asking anything in return.”
If we want to move forward, we need to have an honest conversation that involves people’s motives and a proper analysis of capitalism's role. Within that context, we can legislate in a way that makes more sense. After all, in countries like Canada, where compensation for surrogacy is not allowed, there are still women interested in carrying a baby for other couples.
It might not ever be a choice for me, or for Giorgia Meloni, but I see plenty of women's dignity there.
• Ukrainian forces reach Russian border after reseizing Kharkiv: Ukraine continues to regain more territory in the northeast of the country, and by Monday morning had announced that a battalion had reached the Russian border. This comes after having taken back control of Kharkiv. Russia continues its assault on Donbass, and has renewed missile strikes of the port city of Odessa.
• More Ukrainians returning than leaving across border: The number of people entering Ukraine through its western border now exceeds those leaving the country, according to the State Border Guard Service. The shift, said one official is not only "out of optimism, but also because (people) are experiencing financial difficulties."
— Read all the latest at War in Ukraine, Day 82 —
• Two deadly shootings shake the U.S.: President Joe Biden is expected to travel tomorrow to Buffalo, in the state of New York, after an 18-year-old white supremacist is alleged to have killed ten people Saturday in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The following day, a gunman opened fire during lunchtime at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, killing one and wounding five before being stopped by churchgoers.
• Mohamud back as Somalia president: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected yesterday as president of Somalia, a position he already held in 2012-2017. He emerged victorious in a race against incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and is now expected to work towards tackling the country’s famine as well as a rise in Islamist attacks.
• North Korean army mobilized over COVID outbreak: Kim Jong-un has called for North Korean troops to bring medical supplies to the population amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country. All cities have been put on lockdown and South Korea has offered to help to provide assistance to its neighbor.
• Mali withdraws from G5 Sahel: The Malian government has announced it would withdraw from the G5 Sahel security group — a west African alliance also composed of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad and Niger — and its anti-djihadist force. The decision comes as a protest to the other members’ rejection of Mali’s military junta as head of the regional group.
• Shanghai to return to normal life in June: Shanghai authorities have announced its progressive move out of a strict lockdown and aim to return to normalcy starting June 1. The restrictions imposed on the city since the end of March have disrupted the lives of its 26 million inhabitants, as well as the Chinese economy.
The Buffalo News pays tribute to the ten victims of a mass shooting in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. The suspect, an 18-year-old self-confessed white supremacist, reportedly travelled nearly 200 miles from his home to attack a predominantly Black neighborhood. The man surrendered himself to police and was charged with first-degree murder as local and state officials continue to investigate the gunman’s intent.
According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, temperatures rose to 51 °C (123,8 °F) over the weekend in Jacobabad, central Pakistan. This is the hottest temperature recorded anywhere on Earth so far in 2022, as South Asia is being hit by an extreme heat wave which could last for days.
Baby boomers who grew up under the threat of nuclear armageddon warn against a nuclear escalation of the war in Ukraine. But the younger generations are not cowed by Putin's blackmail. And that’s a very good thing, writes Peter Huth in German daily Die Welt.
☢️😨 Olaf Scholz is 63 years old. Unlike his parents’ generation, he never saw his homeland reduced to rubble. But his entire generation grew up in the shadow of one overwhelming fear: that the world would be destroyed by nuclear warfare. This fear is so great that it makes all values fall by the wayside; it pushes politicians towards a “compromise” with the contemptible aggressor Putin, who wants his brutal invasion to be seen as a legitimate, unavoidable political action.
✊ Scholz has now changed his mind on the question of sending heavy weapons to Ukraine. It was the liberal Free Democratic Party’s commitment to freedom and the Green Party’s strong values that came through for him – and that means it was the younger generation, because those parties’ support is mainly among those under 35 years old. It is the generation that didn’t experience the greatest moments of fear of nuclear war that has prevailed in the question of how to respond to the invasion of Ukraine. They are unmoved by Putin’s attempt at blackmail.
⚠️ Of course we should try to avoid nuclear war. But we must also remember it is not in our power to stop it. If Putin finds himself cornered, he will use anything and everything as justification for a nuclear attack. That would cause infinite suffering, perhaps millions of deaths. But what would a victory for Putin look like? Would that not also mean the end of civilization? The neo-Soviet empire he would like to establish from Porto to Vladivostok would be barbaric.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“Nobody should trust Putin. We’ve been telling this to our partners for years.”
— Latvian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Artis Pabriks told a Baltic security conference as more countries are reconsidering their role in state defense, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine at their door.
A man takes a picture of a destroyed Russian tank in Nalyvaikivka, near Kyiv. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s invasion was at a “dead end” as Ukrainian officials report their troops have won the battle for the control of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city. — Photo: Michael Brochstein/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger
Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!
Ai-Da is touted as the first bonafide robot artist. But should we consider her paintings and poetry original or creative? Is this even art at all?
French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a new European Political Community, with support from Germany's Olaf Scholz, that would include Ukraine in a second-tier union. No, this is not about European "core values" — it's just the latest attempt by the EU's two biggest players to be sure not to upset Vladimir Putin.
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.