The Unspoken Consequences of the Crisis


Here we are, in the festive season, rushing to buy presents and to organise family gatherings. It appears that we have been longing for this time of the year, when we finally take a break from work and enjoy the warmth of our fireplaces with our dearest. Most blogs are posting about lovely snowfalls and romantic white landscape.

Yet, in today’s online edition of the European Observer, one of the main headlines reports on an unspoken issue: the mental health consequences of the financial crisis in Europe.  In a short video, we are told how suicide rates are on the rise and the human rights expert Gabor Petri, from Mental Health Europe, describes how citizens are being affected.

I do not intend to spoil the festive mood, however I want to spare a moment to look at the reality of things around us.

Are we all really that happy?

Let’s face it: there are many families who can’t reach the end of the month, let alone buy Christmas presents and spend money on luxiurious family dinners. No one might want to think about it or admit it, but the tension in the financial markets has entered our homes. Clearly, there are different levels of ‘crisis’. I am no expert in the field, but economic hardship has historically been associated with deep changes in society, such as rise in crime rates, family break-ups or mental health issues. This crisis is not exempt from such unfortunate and undesired consequences.

Young people often don’t see the point in carrying on with their studies, since obtaining a degree no longer guarantees or increases chances of employment. In Italy, young generations are supported by the old, retired generation. The cycle of life seems to have turned around and it is upsetting the balance of society, by harming our mental health and stability. The old are helping the young, and the young feel they are not ‘useful’ to society or themselves. However, also the old are affected: we know that higher and higher numbers of old people who have no longer the means to sustain themselves and see their pension benefits cut on a daily basis. They find themselves old, alone and poor with younger generations unable to help them.

According to the European Observer statistics in today’s article “Mental health problems on the rise during financial crisis”, almost 1 in 10 Europeans is affected by mental health issues. These issues are not blatant and tend to be an ‘unspoken’ problem. People are scared of mental health issues yet many are affected by them, unknowingly. When presenting for the first time a European Commission paper on Mental Health issues in Europe (17 October 2011), the European Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, stated:

“I can think of no other disease that would remain so low profile if such a high percentage of the population were struck by it. Mental health has been swept under the carpet for too long.”
 
Whether we like it, or not, perhaps this is a good time of the year to think about some of these serious unspoken consequences of the financial crisis and stop sweeping them under the carpet as some merely old-fashioned taboo.
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What Berlusconi’s Resignation Really Means


Saturday 12th November 2011, 9.42 pm: a date and time which I will never forget.

To a non-Italian, this might appear an overstatement. But, trust me, it is not. I will remember this date not as Berlusconi’s resignation, but as Italy’s comeback to political discourse.

As an Italian Londoner, I am confronted on a daily basis with questions on Italy’s economic crisis and – ultimately – Berlusconi’s stay in power for so long. To my surprise, most people I have spoken to (from all over the world) seem to find Berlusconi a very amusing character, someone who has smartly albeit wrongly drawn attention on himself by conducting a brave sexual life.  I feel enraged when I hear this. Italians (note: those who DID not vote for him) have been enduring far more than a comedian’s act based on excessive sexual actions. The reasons why us, enraged and outraged Italians (the ‘indignati’ movement – ‘indignati’ meaning ‘outraged’), have been long campaigning for Berlusconi to step down bear much deeper roots.

Back to the Roots of the Problem

These roots go back to the beginning of Berlusconi’s career, when he emerged as a self-made business man through allegedly illicit financial transactions. Over the years, he has been involved in a high number of court proceedings leading him to enter into politics to pursue the goal of achieving political immunity from legal suits against him. Ever since he’s been in politics, he’s built up a caste of people to form his party, the PDL – Party of Freedom, resembling rather a mafia-entourage rather than a selection of politicians committed to an ideology or a cause. The party’s members have as a minimum common denominator the involvement in judicial proceedings, in the media and business empire led by the Berlusconi family and the party life-style culminating in the so well-known ‘Bunga Bugas’. So, as it is clear from this picture, the sexual aspect of Berlusconi’s political ‘peformance’ represents only one face of his role in Italy’s political landscape.

The reality is that Italy is sinking not only because Berlusconi has destroyed Italy’s reputation abroad with his extravagant life-style, but – first and foremost – because all he’s done for the past years in power has been implementing laws to protect his personal interests and those of his carefully selected entourage. These laws, the so-called ‘ad personam’ laws, have been attacking the judiciary and have destroyed the public sector. All social classes in Italy have been attacked directly or indirectly by himself or by members of his government. Teachers have been insulted by one of the Ministers, Mr Brunetta. Judges have repeatedly been target as ‘manipulators of the law’, ‘red gowns’ acting on behalf of evil Communists. Universities have been systematically seen their research funds withdrawn accompanied by attacks against the university barons who suck money from the State to maintain the status quo and prevent political freedom in Italy.

Some commentators have suggested that Italy has been experiencing a sort of ‘silent dictatorship’. The Government and Berlusconi, backed up by lines and lines of supporters, have reduced the freedom of speech in a country where anyone opposing the Government’s policies (i.e. the ‘ad personam’ laws) has been accused of siding with the Communists, of acting against the country’s interest. All this has eventually led to the death of political discourse.  All Italy’s been discussing for years has been how to get rid of Berlusconi and – on the other side – how to get rid of Berlusconi’s opponents. The real problems of the country – unemployment, lack of funding in the education and health sectors, the massive bureaucratic problems in the judiciary, the high rates of tax evasion (only to mention some) – have been not only ignored but denied. Italy’s own government (and opposition) lost track of the real world and locked themselves up in a useless debate.

We’ve seen a dramatic impact of Italy’s political deadlock on immigrants from the Northern-African region arriving in Lampedusa (https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/desperation-in-lampedusa/). Italy showed its inability to tackle the situation due to the absolute absence of policy and political discourse on immigration which went beyond mere right-wing extremist statements on expelling all foreigners regardless of their circumstances.

Europe’s Blindness

Why has Europe not seen the relationship between these dramatic facts and Berlusconi’s government? Why has it taken so long for the world to notice that Italy was rapidly sinking? The answer lies once again in economic interest.

I participated in anti-Berlusconi demonstrations and saw crowds and crowds of people feeling the same way as I did (and still do): outraged, “indignati”. I was so surprised that there had been such a little coverage, that I emailed photos of the demonstrations to many newspapers. I published a few of my photos of these demonstrations on my blog back in February 2011: https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/italy-says-no-to-berlusconis-brothel/

The Economist published several articles denouncing the situation in Italy, one of which clearly outlined and predicted the present catastrophe – https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/the-man-who-screwed-an-entire-country-the-economist/.

What Next?

Now what? Berlusconi’s resignation is important but it is not the last act of his performance. Roberto Saviano – one of Italy’s most famous writers who is currently living under protection in a secret location to avoid mafia’s reprisals – has published an article on The Guardian commenting on the future ahead (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/11/silvio-berlusconi-own-interests-italy?newsfeed=true).

The defeat of Berlusconi is not yet the defeat of his entourage and of the political attitude promoted by them. These are going to be the next steps and thy will require all Italians – as well as Europeans – not to forget about Berlusconi’s conduct. I would not like to see him being re-elected a few months or a year down the line, when he will claim that the new government has failed to solve the crisis. Re-opening political discourse after a long ‘dogmatic sleep’, to say it in Kantian terms, will mean facing open scars and making tough choices to mend them.

 

It is clear that hard times are over, but harder times are to come if Italy wants to have any hope of building on its ruins.

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