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LA STAMPA

Lombardy Postcard, The Autumn Of Our Second-Wave Angst

Lago d’Iseo, Lombardy
Lago d’Iseo, Lombardy
Alessio Perrone

MILAN — I recently spent a weekend at the Lago d'Iseo, a picturesque area of Lombardy at the foot of the Alps east of Milan, the city where I live. The air was hot and still, resting damp and heavy like a warm towel placed over your face. Dark clouds loomed all day across the lake, but the sun scorched everything. My girlfriend and I hiked, sipped local sparkling wine, soaked in the light. Wary of the heat, but without swimsuits, we dipped in the lake with our shorts and socks.


In other words, we did normal things — which still amazes me three months after Italy emerged from a 70-day lockdown. This region was once the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic: The provinces of Bergamo and Brescia, which include this scenic lake, were perhaps the worst hit areas in the sudden wave of deaths that took Europe by storm last spring.


As a reporter, I took all of it in then: The nurses collapsed on desks, no longer able to fight their fatigue; church bells that stopped tolling for the dead because there were too many; a funeral operator who had a nervous breakdown because he could no longer cope. Some of these nearby villages were ravaged, with one local priest telling me that so many people had died that he couldn't even picture what the town would be like after the pandemic.

Let's talk again in the fall, maybe.

But after the lockdown ended and summer arrived, we had pushed all of this away during our time under the sun. Soccer restarted, clubs reopened, the beach and mountain holidays remained sacred for millions of Italians. Whenever someone brought up the coronavirus, it would be pushed along with a sigh: "Here's to hoping there isn't a second wave in the fall." If anyone asked to plan something, though, we couldn't ever quite commit: "Let's talk again in the fall, maybe."

Looming clouds over Lago d'Iseo — Photo: Alessio Perrone

Then came the fall. Temperatures have nosedived in Milan and it has rained a lot. Old worries have consistency again. I'm not sure what constitutes a "second wave", but the virus is spreading quickly, with thousands of Italians coming back from their holidays infected. Reports of famous people catching COVID punctuated the first days of bad weather — flashy businessman Flavio Briatore, dozens of soccer players, and now Silvio Berlusconi.


Italy hasn't seen the stark increase of other European countries and is currently registering fewer than 1,500 new cases per day — and for some, it's enough for life to continue as normal. But the reopening of schools, stadiums and offices happens among tension and an understated fear. Trauma lingers among local COVID survivors, and many former patients have developed mental health disorders after defeating the virus. A recentLa Stampa article cited a study that showed nearly half have developed insomnia and anxiety; a third were found to suffer from depression; PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorders are also on the rise.

The reopening of schools, stadiums and offices happens among tension and an understated fear.

Here in Milan, we go about it tentatively, wondering if every step forward will be followed by taking two back. After the past months of evading the virus with outdoor activities, we know that we will soon be forced inside. La Scala — perhaps the city's most recognizable address — reopens Friday for the first time since the lockdown, and the first performance scheduled in the famed opera theater, Giuseppe Verdi's Messa da Requiem, seems an appropriate choice to commemorate Lombardy's dead. But as autumn arrives, it's hard not to also hear its ominous tones in the air of the coming season.

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Geopolitics

Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen

-Analysis-

HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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