Wild uproar, unrestrained disorder, tumult, chaos – the capital of hell in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’
Welcome to 2023! Whilst the pandemic, which blighted our daily lives over the past two years, appears to have all but disappeared from the political agenda, I’m afraid the immediate future offers little more than the ‘same auld, same auld lang syne’.
Here in Portugal, the smug António Costa-led socialist majority government appears to be sleepwalking out of the bygone medical crisis and into the ensuing devastating socio-economic aftermath, a gratuitous universal €150 cash handout having achieved little or nothing in terms of alleviating the consequences of rent, bank interest, fuel cost and general shopping basket price rises.
At the same time, the country in general and the Algarve in particular are suffering from chronic and unprecedented housing and tourist sector labour shortages, as one of the lowest basic wages in Europe only aggravates the problems faced by the average working family, more and more of whom are being driven below the poverty line on the slippery road to bankruptcy.
There are no visible signs of the long-promised EU bailout billions as supermarkets fit everyday staples such as tuna, olive oil or coffee with anti-theft devices in order to prevent attempts by the increasingly desperate-to-feed hungry mouths.
There are shortages of doctors, hospital beds and a dwindling supply of teachers and yet the government is focusing on tourism awards and a high-speed rail link connecting Faro and Seville – a project on and off under discussion since I arrived here over 20 years ago!
Elsewhere, the situation is no better, at times even worse. The post-pandemic economic holocaust has not been helped by the ongoing trauma in the Ukraine. The international domino effect of dwindling grain and gas supplies apart, it is incomprehensible how the global community can continue to sit back and watch for almost a year now, paying no more than outraged lip service as an aggressor systematically attempts to subjugate its neighbour via an anything-but-clandestine campaign of bombing, murder, rape, pillage and terror.
Vladimir Putin, a deranged 70-year-old dictator who has been consolidating his personal power since 1999, has thrown every vestige of human decency under the bus and turned the world into a much-less safe place in the process, the only positive arising from the humanitarian crisis being a steady stream of Ukrainian refugees beginning to take up the slack in Portugal’s labour shortage.
“Sleepy Joe” Biden is not helping either, the by-now 80-year-old ‘most powerful man in the world’ failing to stand up to his Russian counterpart as he grapples with the United States’ own economic problems, increasingly frequent mass-shootings highlighting strange perceptions of social injustice, whilst attempting to quell the resurgence of Trumpism.
Similarly, ‘great ally’, Brexit-plagued formerly ‘Great’ Britain, most recently on its third Prime Minister in as many months, has been forced to focus inwards in order to face strike-bound economic paralysis accentuated by unstemmed cross-Channel migration – ‘Dishy Rishi’ appears not to be equipped to deal with either problem.
On the other side of that contentious stretch of water, President Emmanuel Macron is equally powerless having been reduced to becoming a lame duck after local government elections turned against his administration.
In Germany, ‘grey’ chancellor Olaf Scholz is firmly sitting on the coalition fence, as the country of all things beautiful – food, women, cars, music – has taken an abrupt turn to the right in electing former fascist youth movement activist and Mussolini fan Giorgia Meloni to the highest office.
‘Same auld’ also applies to South America where the Covid-denying Jair Bolsonaro has been replaced by corruption-tarnished former President Lula, now 77, in Brazil.
An attempted coup in Peru just reflects perennial unrest on the continent with only Argentina momentarily euphoric with its oil-stained Qatari World Cup trophy handed down by crazed Sepp Blatter heir Gianni “today I am a migrant worker” Infantino.
Looking towards the East, Israelis are still killing Palestinians, and vice versa, under the renewed stewardship of Trump friend Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, who wiggled back into office for a third time despite facing breach of trust, bribery and fraud charges – sound familiar?
Almost next door, public hangings of peaceful protesters including prominent human rights activists and football players, arbitrary arrests and barbaric treatment of prisoners have once more become commonplace as Iranian Mullahs, determined to emulate their Afghani Taliban brothers in re-enslaving womankind, desperately cling on to religious hegemony in a country – formerly Persia – never typical of a secular Islamic state.
Even in normally tranquil, non-militant Japan, very popular ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with violent death as he was holding a speech in public, while Pakistan’s Imran Khan narrowly escaped a similar fate.
In the meantime, North Korea’s mad hatter and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is still firing random missiles at anyone within range.
Which leaves us with China, the largest and potentially most powerful nation in the world. Pandering to Putin, only 69-year-old absolute despot Chairman Xi Jinping has been far too busy keeping his 1.5 billion subjects in line since 2012 to do anything about the troubles on his borders.
Probably the only man capable of brokering a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia remains apathetic, choosing instead to gnaw on his personal bone of contention, Taiwan, maintaining the shroud of mystery hiding his country’s internal affairs from public view, and now, after three years of covid zero tolerance, coping with an outbreak reported to be affecting 18% of the population.
This is not a world for old men. Pandemonium rules.
I am sorry to begin the new year with such a pessimistic outlook, but some things need to be said even sitting here on the beach in the Algarve, enjoying the sunshine.
We need new leaders not stuck in the past, fresh ideas and a non-political humanistic consensus to resolve our problems. So say I, or is it just me?
See you in April for some hopefully more light-hearted discourse!
By Skip Bandele
Skip Bandele escaped to the Algarve almost 25 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.