The most terrible figure of the calamitous 14th century was perhaps Timur, a ferocious and implacable conqueror, called “The Terror of the World”. He devastated Asia from Syria and Turkey, even reaching the borders of China, from Moscow to Delhi. He came from a Turkish-Mongolian tribe in Uzbekistan and proclaimed himself heir and continuer of Genghis Khan. He is buried at Samarkand, the capital of his empire, on the Silk Road, the ancient commercial route, connecting China to the Mediterranean.
The historian Paolo Giovio recounts in his Elogia virorum bellica virtute illustrium (Petri Pernae Typhographi, 1575, pp. 105-106) that Timur in the first days after laying siege to a city, would display a white flag as a sign of pardon if everyone would surrender voluntarily. Otherwise, in the ensuing days, his army would have waved red flags, as a sign of death, not for all the city’s inhabitants, but for the commanders and soldiers. Then, if the city was still obstinate in its refusal to surrender, Timur gave orders to display the black flag, as a sign of complete extermination, with no distinction between the guilty and the innocent, then he would burn down the entire city.
The Corona Virus epidemic, which has been unleashed on the world in just a few weeks is reminiscent of Timur’s white flag. It appears to be the first warning of a terrible punishment looming over mankind, but which might still be thwarted. Experts are studying numbers and are making the most varied hypotheses. The epidemical curve may drop or increase. After the summer the virus, will appear in a more mitigated form, according to some, or in a more violent form, as happened with the “Spanish Flu”, according to others. Nobody can predict what’s going to happen. But already the resulting scenario is being described. The world’s economy will collapse, while, as Massimo Giannini writes in La Repubblica of March 17th “the Europe of the Enlightenment and of the Ventotene founding fathers*, just, free and solidary, is defeated by an invisible and elusive enemy.” “We are at war”, the French President Emmanuel Macron repeated exactly six times, rallying against “an invisible and elusive enemy” that is attacking us. (Le Monde, 16 marzo 2020).
The debacle of the world’s economy is acknowledged with concern by all its observers. According to Federico Fubini, “the deep markets slumps are saying that Covid-19 is bringing global recession along with it” (Corriere della Sera, March 17th), while Federico Rampini in La Repubblica of the same day wrote: “The most powerful bank in the world is impotent. The desperate moves of the Federal Reserve in order to contain the panic in the markets have come to nothing. The global economy is crumbling. A violent recession is coming.
Are we on the eve of an economic crack? And if in some European country, the collapse of the health system should be interconnected with a collapse of the Eurozone, what would the consequences for the European cities be? The scenario for the upcoming months is disquieting. It seems the hour of those “fatal moments” described by Stefan Zweig is tolling: “hours of dramatic potential, fraught with doom”, when “an immeasurable quantity of events are concentrated in a very short space of time, like the electricity in the entire atmosphere on the tip of a lightening-rod” (Momenti fatali, Adelphi, Milano 2005, p. 12).
God is patient, and always warns first before inflicting his final chastisements. The coronavirus seems to be a warning from Divine Providence to render humanity aware of its errors. It is the hour of repentance for the sins of the world, because by sinning collectively we have deserved public chastisements, like epidemics, famine and wars, which might well follow one after the other in rapid succession. God is infinitely merciful, but His mercy presupposes the awareness of the sin and asking forgiveness for it. Other painful warnings will follow, then Timur’s black flag will be hoisted.
*Altiero Spinelli, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni “Isolation determined the intellectual path of Altiero Spinelli. In jail, he (temporarily) distanced himself from communism, as the Soviet dictatorship was against his ideals. He was eventually excluded from the communist party in 1937. In 1941, in the middle of the world war, he co-wrote with Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni the famous “Manifesto for a free and united Europe” (better known as the “Ventotene Manifesto”, the name of the island where he was imprisoned).” https://www.thenewfederalist.eu/the-founding-fathers-of-the-european-union-altiero-spinelli?lang=fr