Italians Abroad: A Voter’s Saga


It’s a beautiful sunny day here in London. One of those days that makes you feel hopeful about the future ahead. Yet my experience of voting for the Italian elections makes me all but hopeful for the future (and present) of my home country.

Preparation to vote for the current elections started back in August 2012.

I only discovered that I was supposed to enrol on the Registry of Italians abroad (AIRE) a few months ago, almost by accident. Since then, I have tried to understand what enrolment on the Registry implied for me and how I was supposed to it. I could not do it from here as I had to go to my hometown in Italy. I also came to realise that enrolment was not just an option to consider, but a legal obligation for any Italian citizen who has left the country for longer than 12 months (Law of 27 October 1988, n. 470). Needless to say, I was not aware of it (as many fellow Italians abroad).

Obviously, I quickly proceeded to rectify the situation, predicting an imminent election (an easy prediction to make, given the frequency of Italian elections). Of course, this implied attending to the Italian Registry Office in my home town Torino to obtain my birth certificate, in order to assemble my bundle of documents.

Anyway, fast forward…all documents were sent as required back in Autumn 2012. The website of the Italian Consulate warned me it could take up to five months for the procedure to be completed. When in December 2012 the elections were officially announced, I decided to have faith ‘in the system’ and I hoped things would sort themselves out magically. I should have known: this never happens if Italian bureaucracy is involved.

 

January 2013: still no sign of my documents confirming enrolment on the Registry of Italians abroad. I sent an email to the Italian Consulate expressing my concern given the impending elections. I received email confirmation both from the Italian Registry Office and from the Italian Consulate in London stating that my registration was confirmed. The format of the emails made it almost impossible to decipher the actual meaning but after   reading them carefully a number of times, I was (almost) sure that was the meaning of the emails! I also asked for reassurance that I’d be receiving the electoral votes on time and I was told I would.

11th February 2013: the website of the Italian Consulate stated that those who had not received their postal votes by 10th February should contact the consulate. Of course, mine was nowhere to be seen. I tried calling the ‘special line’ for the 2013 Elections within the opening hours (Mon-Fri 10 am-4 pm, i.e. when most people are busy at work)…always engaged. We emailed the ‘special email address’ dedicated to the 2013 Elections.

12th February 2013: unexpectedly, we receive a reply to our email. The rude reply stated that obviously we could not vote without the postal votes. Rather, since we did not appear on the Electoral Registry, they were still waiting for Clearance to send the papers to our London address. Clearance from whom? Why, if a month earlier we had been told everything was fine? Also, we were invited not to attend the Consulate (which would have obviously been a waste of time and would have required me to take time off from work).

14th February 2013: an email confirms Clearance has been obtained and the postal vote will be sent to us. Should we not receive them within 48 hours, we should go to the Consulate (guess what happened next…).

17th February 2013: still no sign of our postal votes…time to go to the Italian Consulate in Eaton Place. That is what a sunny Sunday is for, after all.

Upon arrival, we find the door suspiciously locked. We knock, and a man opens the door just enough to stick his head through and asks ‘Who are you?’

 ‘Italians’.

‘What do you want?’

 ‘We want to vote.’

‘Who’

My brother and I look at each other wondering if the question is ‘who are you voting for’.

No, there’s a misunderstanding. The question meant ‘who of you is here to vote?’

Answer: ‘both of us, that’s why we are here.’

‘Ok, come in.’ And the door magically opened. We walk in, there are a few people sitting quietly in the corner and a Carabiniere asks again ‘what do you want’. Same answer.

Next question ‘Are you enrolled on the Registry of Italians abroad?’. Answer: ‘Yes.’

Question: ‘Are you sure.’ Answer: ‘Yes.’

‘Ok, then. Fill in this form and give me your IDs.’

We do as asked, almost feeling guilty for having disturbed him on a quiet Sunday morning.

We hand over the forms, he takes them without saying a single word. Then indicates to go through. I ask: ‘Where’ and he reluctantly explains where to go.

We reach a waiting room which looks like a hospital’s waiting room, with about a dozen of people looking bored and confused. A lady whose name tag only indicates ‘Employee Number 12’ calls people and hands over documents to them without verifying anyone’s ID.

Surprisingly, after only 20 minutes, she calls our names. We say ‘it’s us!’. Same story: no documents asked and our envelopes containing the postal votes are given to us. She says ‘make sure you vote correctly otherwise your vote won’t count.’ And I reply ‘how do I vote correcly’. Again, with a very annoyed expression, she reluctantly explains how to vote correctly. She reminds me ‘the vote is secret’ (as if I didn’t know). I thank her, she says nothing and disappears behind a door.

 

I express my vote, feeling like I am living in one of Kafka’s books. I cannot seal the envelope containing my vote as it doesn’t stick. I tell the “carabiniere” and he says ‘it’s OK as it is’. I complain and I also tell him that I am worried that, if the Consulate had sent my postal vote as promised three days ago, where is that vote going to go? He tells me that I can either send it back or destroy myself. I make the observation that, actually, that would make it very easy for anyone to vote twice – not that I’d want to do it. He replies that obviously that is not my intention, but that if I destroy it, it will not happen. I again ask ‘how can he guarantee that I or anyone else will destroy it’ and I realise that at this stage, he is making me feel like I am the one trying to cheat and not the one trying to ensure no one else does.

I then ask what to do with my vote. He points at a transparent, large plastic box which is in the waiting room between the chairs. There are people sitting all around it and it is not locked. It can easily be opened by anyone. I throw my vote in the box feeling like I’ve just thrown it in the bin and I leave the Italian Consulate not at all certain that my vote will ever reach its destination.

 

 

 

Calabria’s ‘Ndrangeta Controls 80% EU Drug Trafficking [Source: La Repubblica]


CASE STORY by GIOVANNI TIZIAN and FABIO TONACCI

Duisburg, province of Reggio Calabria

The ‘Ndrangeta find a second home

SOURCE: http://inchieste.repubblica.it/en/repubblica/rep-it/italian-stories/2012/06/22/news/duisburg_province_of_reggio_calabria_the_ndrangeta_find_a_second_home-37716458/

From the province on the Straits of Messina, the organization has spread throughout most of the Old World: Spain, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Eastern Europe. But especially, Germany. 80% of drug trafficking is in its hands. Dominating the local areas as it does in the motherland. Even if the Germans apparently haven’t noticed “Good evening!” yells the godfather. “Good evening”, the six local men sitting around the table chorus in response. Salvatore Femia takes a deep breath and then recites the formula. “My belly is a tomb, my chest is a shovel, with words of humility the company is formed.” The summit of the family of the ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian-based mafia, can now begin. In the back room of Femia’s restaurant the “Rikaro”, the talk is all of contracts and of doing business with the Russians. They mention “Mamma”. The police bugs also record the muffled voices of the customers in the next room of the restaurant at 3 Hegaustrasse. It is eight o’clock in the evening of 20 December, 2009. And in Singen, a small town of 45,000 in southern Germany, 2,000 km north of “Mamma” Reggio Calabria, it is a chilly evening. How much do we really about know the European infiltration of Italy’s most powerful mafia organisation, which is catching up to that of Russia in terms of turnover?

 

Germany, province of Reggio Calabria

The ‘Ndrangheta now controls 80% of drug trafficking in Europe. According to the National Anti-Mafia Directorate it earns 27 billion euros a year from drugs alone. It has colonized the whole of the EU using two basic methods: the long-established emigration from Calabria and business. Importing and distributing cocaine and heroin, it invests in real estate and tourist resorts, buying up companies and shares, practising extortion and dealing in arms. U. S. government experts rank this criminal multinational fourth in the list of the world’s most dangerous organizations, after Al Qaeda, the PKK and the Mexican narco- traffickers. And Germany is its second home. The province of Constanta, where Singen is located, is home to 7,000 immigrants, 40% of Calabrian origin. They arrived on German soil as part of the great wave of 1959 that brought 200,000 Italians to the industrial districts of North Rhine-Westphalia. Radolfzell, a town of 33,000, is another Singen. On the surface it seems as placid as the waters of Lake Constance, on which stands. But an anonymous building on Öschlestrasse was the meeting place for some of the members of the ‘Ndrangheta arrested in the Reggio Calabria anti-mafia prosecutor’s Crimine 2 inquiry. An inquiry that told Germany a truth that it had ignored, even if it had been under its nose. And that was that the Duisburg massacre of mid-August 2007, the last act of the San Luca feud that spilt the blood of the six members of the Pelle-Vottari ‘ndrina, or branch, was no isolated incident. It was not just italienish stuff. As early as 2006 a report by the Bundesnachritendienst, the German secret services, had pointed out that the ‘Ndrangheta had made a quantum leap, buying shares in Gazprom and other energy companies. Three years later, in 2009, the Federal Police stated that in Germany there were at least 230 ‘ndrine with 1800 members, mostly located in Bavaria, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. Five locali or families had set up in Ravensburg, Frankfurt, Engen, Rielasingen and Singen. The Pelle, Nirta-Strangio, Vottari and Romeo families, all from San Luca, had invested millions of euros in Berlin, Cologne and Munich. In Cologne it was the Morabito from Africo, and in Stuttgart a group from Crotone had – it was suspected – set up a locale. “As well as investing”, says Michele Prestipino, deputy anti-mafia prosecutor of Reggio Calabria, “they control the area through extortion and intimidation, just as in Calabria and around Milan. They demand protection money, and not only from Calabrian immigrants. They decide who should get the vote of Italians abroad.” But how is a locale created abroad? And what relationship does it have with the gangs in Italy?

 

Mamma is always Mamma

“The French, German and Spanish governments don’t want to admit to being infected by the ‘Ndrangheta because organised crime brings money with it”, claims Luigi Bonaventura, sitting at the dining room table in the house in Termoli given to him by the witness protection programme. (“Yes, you can write that I’m in Termoli, because everyone knows by now, including those who are trying to kill me.”) Bonaventure is not just any turncoat. Five years ago he was the head of the Vrenna-Bonaventure gang of Crotone, then decided to collaborate with the authorities. “The ‘Ndrangheta has spread everywhere, but its head remains in the province of Reggio Calabria, the “Mamma” is always there”, he says. “And its real strength lies in its ability to adapt. It only takes two or three people to form a ‘ndrina. At first they have a certain autonomy, they may experiment with different criminal models, form alliances with the local underworld, adopt different strategies. But once the business reaches a certain volume, there is no escape…” Criminal models with variable geometry, but always within the boundaries drawn up by the patriarchs of the Organization. And whereas a shipment of cocaine or a property investment may not require the approval of head office, the opening of a local branch, the awarding of promotion or regulating relations between foreign clans must be discussed at the Reggio Calabria Crimine, a sort of underworld board of directors that coordinates the ‘Ndrangheta worldwide. “They have set up dozens of locali in Germany. They have money in Switzerland”, Bonaventure continues, “in the Netherlands and Belgium they control the ports. On the Côte d’Azur they have villas; they are investing in the tourism sector in Bulgaria; in the Balkan they control the drug routes. It’s not difficult to see how the ‘Ndrangheta spreads; just follow the money.”

 

Swiss companies and Italian Real Estate

And the wallets full of dirty money in the pockets of the bosses, estimated by Italian research institute Eurispes to be worth 44 billion euros in 2008, lead to Switzerland, to the banks and the world of high finance where the Ndrangheta’s loot is hidden. Prosecutor Michele Prestipino explains: “Some clans from the Tyrrhenian coast open companies in Zurich which hold securities and real estate in Italy, to evade the taxman and controls.” Italian anti-mafia investigators have identified two clans in Zurich and Frauenfeld. The “Crimine 2” investigation uncovered a character, “Ntoni lo svizzero” a. k. a. Antonio Nesci, distant cousin of the head of the Singen clan, Salvatore Femia. Investigators listened to him on the phone explaining that in Mossendorf, a Swiss village with a population of 3,000, he can count on five people, “men at my disposal”, he says. In the valleys around Zurich the gang leaders are mainly out on bail, free to manage companies and restaurants in their own names. Like Ferrazzo, the boss of the Catanzaro ndrina, in the Canton of Zurich. The money and interests of the Bellocco family of Rosarno and the Gallico and Parrello families of Palmi pass through Switzerland. These are the same clans that, a few thousand miles to the south, divided up the contracts in the years of the construction of the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway.

 

Allied with everyone and no one

“The ‘Ndrangheta has no problem doing business with people of every race and nation”, turncoat Saverio Morabito explained a few years ago to magistrates. It works with and exploits of all foreign criminal organisations, but never forms any real alliances. It is within this context, opportunistic and parasitical, that the networks created to control the major ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona and Piraeus, the entry points for drugs coming into Europe, must be understood. A recent confidential report by the Dutch police states that: “Between Amsterdam, Hoofddorp, Diemen and Amstelveen there are at least twenty Calabrian bosses and about a hundred ‘Ndrangheta gang members dealing in weapons, heroin, cocaine and pills. They have luxury apartments in Minerva Square in Amsterdam and carry out their business undisturbed because the Dutch government is not aware of their criminal pasts.” They are connected to the Nirta-Strangio and Romeo families of San Luca (Giovanni Strangio, a leading figure in the Duisburg massacre, was arrested March 12, 2009 here in the suburb of Diemen) and to the ndrine of Ciro and Corigliano Calabro. The report says that the ‘Ndrangheta has contacts with the five most dangerous criminals in the Netherlands. And that is not all. To control the port of Rotterdam, where 30% of all the cocaine from Colombia arrives (about 36,000 kilos comes in every year on ships, hidden in containers of fruit), it exploits a strategic alliance with the Albanian mafia. And it obtains information and impunity by infiltrating its people into the police, people like Barbara Fun, a 39-year-old Dutch woman who, thanks to friends in the secret services, was able to work in the Haaglanden Regional Police until 2010, despite being arrested in Portugal in 1992 along with two members of the Di Giovane-Serraino clan. The ‘Ndrangheta has been talking to the Russian mafia since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The “language” is always the same, weapons and cocaine. On the Balkan drug route, which starts in Afghanistan and passes through Greece, Romania, Albania and the countries of the former Yugoslavia, the ‘Ndrangheta has links to all the indigenous criminal groups. The mafia of Serbia-Montenegro offered to deliver heroin and cocaine directly to the Calabrese in Milan. The Magna Charta operation of the Carabinieri Special Operations Group, which on 4 June last year led to the arrest of thirty smugglers across Europe, exposed the axis that was created for transport by sea between a Piedmont gang affiliated to the Bellocco of Rosarno and the businessman Evelin Banev, suspected of being one of the leaders of the Bulgarian mafia. Luigi Bonaventura told Repubblica: “My uncle Sergio Vrenna also has business with the Bulgarian mafia, sharing with them the “code of the knife”, the mafia code of honour. Just go and look at the Calabrian real estate investments in the Black Sea coastal resorts. All ours.” And then there is Barcelona.

 

Barcelona, the new Marseille

The Catalan capital is the new crossroads of the European mafias. “We are all there, it’s like Marseille in the 80s”, members of the ‘Ndrangheta have been saying for years. In Barcelona we have the Calabrian clan of the Piromalli-Mole of Gioia Tauro, the Camorra clans of the Licciardi Secondigliano, the Di Lauro clan and the Frizziero of Naples. Then there are the emissaries from the Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers, whose cocaine joint venture with the Ndrangheta is now established and operating smoothly. Here in the restaurants around the Ramblas they fix the price of the large shipments of drugs arriving from South America. The last to end up in jail was Carmelo Gallico, 48, known as “U Picu”, head of the gang of the same name from Palmi. He was hiding in a house in the university district of Barcelona ?? and fictitiously investing in property in Italy. Spanish soil was rendered fertile by a particular character: Santo Maesano, a. k. a. Hoffa, a. k. a. the Professor, the head of the Maesano-Pavaglianiti Calabrian families. Francesco Forgione talks about him in his book “Mafia Export”. Having moved to Spain in the late nineties, Maesano was one of the biggest drug traffickers in the world. From Madrid’s Valdemoro prison he conducted business with his contacts in Colombia and Venezuela, bought weapons and entertained his deputy, Vincenzo Romeo. For him, Valdemoro prison was more like a rest home that a real prison. In Spain there is no special regime for mafia prisoners like Italy’s Article 41bis. In Switzerland crime bosses move around openly. In Germany even the wives of arrested ‘Ndrangheta members receive unemployment benefit of 365 euros a month. “And they are exempt from paying rent”, says Vito Giudicepietro, a representative of the Inca-CGIL welfare office in Singen, a point of reference for the Italian community. How is this possible? How is the ‘Ndrangheta being combated abroad?

 

In Europe the ‘Ndrangheta does not exist

The problem is that, technically, the mafia does not exist in the legal codes of European states. The crime of criminal association of a mafia nature only exists in Italy, introduced in 1982. Elsewhere belonging to a gang, being part of a recognized ‘ndrina, it is not a crime per se. Unless a specific crime is committed the police cannot seize mafia assets nor issue detention orders. “Organized crime is growing and we are blind”, was how French Police Commissioner Jean-Francois Gayraud summed up the situation to the European anti-mafia commission few days ago. According to Prestipino, “The lack of such laws is the biggest obstacle. In Europe, the institutions have trouble understanding the dangers of organised crime clans and their power to intimidate.” But something is changing. The DIA, the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigation Department, is increasingly being used as a model by other police forces. The 111 requests sent in 2011 by the DIA to other European countries (34 to Spain, 27 to the Netherlands, 14 to Germany and 7 to Belgium) met with the kind of collaboration they deserved. And in Brussels the Director-General of OLAF (the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office), Giovanni Kessler, after reporting an increase of 10% in investigations into economic and financial crime by organized gangs, adopted a new line. “We need a single European entity with the power to investigate and prosecute. We need a European Prosecution service.” 22 giugno 2012 © Riproduzione riservata

Identikit of an Italian Tourist


[Thoughts of an Italian Londoner on Italian tourists.]

I came back to London a few days ago, after a short break in Italy.

On the Ryanair flight, which, as usual, welcomed passengers on board with Vivaldi’s Spring (a melody that Ryanair has almost succeeded in making me hate!), I found myself once again sitting amongst a group of Italian ‘teenagers’ certainly beyond their 30s, acting like kids on their first holiday adventure with friends.

I always find it’s great fun to stealthily listen to conversations, except when the volume is so high that I am able to distinctly understand each word from the opposite end of the plane. Usually the conversations of Italian tourists on their way to London relate to ongoing themes:

  • Where to go…obligatory stop offs (according to the Italian tourist) are Piccadilly, Westminster, Tower of London. Other locations which are at least as much, if not more interesting, seem to go unnoticed.
  • How will it be possible to communicate with a school-level English? “Oh it won’t be a problem, it’s full of Italians over there”, “At school I had 8/10 in English!”, “I can even say swearwords, what else do we need?”
  • The weather…”do you think it will be raining?”, “the weather forecast is not that bad”, “have you got an umbrella?”
  • I might decide to move to London! Any advice? Ideas?

I find the latter topic particularly fun, because that is where urban myths and legends are big hits. Colourful stories are filled with improbably anecdotes told by those ‘who have the experience’ and are teaching others, who experience something in between fascination and perplexity. For example, on the Terravision bus from Stansted, a guy was telling his amazing story of London-life to another guy he’d just met (who appeared enthusiastic, up to the point when a house shared with other 6 foreigners, several mice and located in an ill-famed neighbourhood made their appearance in the story).

When the Terravision bus (company itself managed by Italians!) reached Liverpool Street, I was almost sorry to get off and abandon this microcosm of Italians abroad. But I didn’t need to wait long to find it again: it was sufficient to pop into Waitrose for my pre-New Year’s Eve shopping to discover that the stationary group in the cheese section, could only be a group of Italians abroad!

[My article was first published in Italian at http://parolesemplici.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/identikit-di-un-turista-italiano/  and I subsequently translated it into English. Unfortunately, many Italian expressions could not be translated into English with the same efficacy, but hopefully the translation conveys overall the same effect as the original one.]

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Identikit di un turista italiano

[Pensieri di un’italiana londinese su turisti italiani / Thoughts of an Italian Londoner on Italian tourists.]

Sono tornata a Londra da pochi giorni, dopo una breve pausa in Italia.

Sul volo Ryanair, che come al solito incomincia con La Primavera di Vivaldi (melodia che Ryanair è riuscita a farmi quasi odiare!), mi sono ancora una volta trovata seduta tra gruppi di ‘ragazzoni’ italiani di età certamente superiore ai 30, con l’aria di chi è alla sua prima avventura vacanziera con gli amici.

Mi diverto sempre moltissimo ad ascoltare di soppiatto le conversazioni, eccetto quando il volume è tale che riesco a sentire cosa viene detto dalla parte opposta dell’aereo. Solitamente le conversazioni dei turisti italiani che vanno a Londra riguardano alcuni temi fissi:

  • Dove andare…tappe obbligate (secondo il turista italiano) sono Piccadilly, Westminster, Tower of London. Altre mete altrettanto, se non più interessanti, passano inosservate.
  • Come si riuscirà a comunicare con un inglese scolastico? ‘Ma si ma lì è pieno di italiani’, ‘avevo 8 di inglese alle superiori!’, ‘so anche dire le parolacce, siamo a posto!’
  • Il clima… ‘ma secondo te pioverà?’ ‘ma le previsioni non sono così brutte’ ‘ma l’ombrello ce l’hai?’
  • Quasi quasi mi trasferisco a Londra! Hai consigli ? Idee?

Quest’ultimo tema fisso mi diverte particolarmente, perchè qui nascono le leggende metropolitane e storie mai sentite sembrano colorire racconti da chi ‘ha l’esperienza’ e che istruisce altri, che rimangono affascinati e perplessi. Ad esempio, sull’autobus Terravision da Stansted, un ragazzo raccontava la sua storia fantastica di vita londinese ad un coetaneo appena conosciuto (che sembrava entusiasta, finchè nel racconto non è comparsa una casa condivisa con altri 6 ragazzi stranieri, con topi, e in un quartiere malfamato!).

Quando l’autobus Terravision (gestito pure da italiani!), è arrivato a Liverpool Street, quasi mi dispiaceva scendere e abbandonare questo microcosmo di “italiani in trasferta.” Ma non ho dovuto aspettare a lungo prima di ritrovarlo: mi è bastato andare a fare la spesa di Capodanno da Waitrose per scoprire che il gruppo fermo a discutere nella corsia dei formaggi, non poteva che essere un gruppo di “italiani in trasferta”!


My First Guest Post!


Today, my first guest post on another blog has been published!

Unfortunately, I only had the time to write the article in Italian but I will post a translation here as soon as possible, so keep your eyes on this space. The topic is how Italians behave when they’re travelling (“Identikit di un turista italiano”).

Here’s the link:

http://parolesemplici.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/identikit-di-un-turista-italiano/

Enjoy!

UPDATE: English Translation of the article now available at https://littleexplorer.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/identikit-of-an-italian-tourist/

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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What Next?


It’s been a seriously long time since I posted on my blog. I’ve been missing it, but as other bloggers will know, once you lose the ‘rhythm’ with blogging, it falls out of your routine and it gets harder and harder to get back to it. Of course, the real reason why I didn’t post was that I was finishing my Master in Laws. Finally, after many sleepless nights writing my thesis, last friday I have graduated and now I have another qualification to add to my CV and – hopefully – a better chance to achieve my career goals.

Unfortunately, I am really not the kind of person capable to sitting back and enjoying my latest achievements. I am already busy and anxious – as well as excited, of course – about my next move. Getting ready to move back to the UK is a pretty daunting task as I need to find a flat and reconnect with my friends in London. It’s hard to leave home after having recreated a cicle of friends, being used to being close to my family and getting reaccustomed to the Italian lifestyle. This time, going to London, will be different as I am surely less idealistic about what I can find over there, but at the same time I feel prepared about what to expect. I suppose I am becoming more realistic. Does this mean I am getting old?! 😉

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to settle anywhere. I think I am made to be constantly on the move. I am too curious (impatient?!) about things around me to settle anywhere and every time I move it is a new  – scary – challenge. Is it so hard to find a place where you find all you wish? I believe that travelling is rather a process of self-discovery. We move to find new answers, only to discover we come back with more questions and doubts. So, right now my question is: what next?

The Man who Screwed an Entire Country [The Economist]


Silvio Berlusconi’s record

The man who screwed an entire country

The Berlusconi era will haunt Italy for years to come

Jun 9th 2011 | from the print edition [The Economist]

SILVIO BERLUSCONI has a lot to smile about. In his 74 years, he has created a media empire that made him Italy’s richest man. He has dominated politics since 1994 and is now Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini. He has survived countless forecasts of his imminent departure. Yet despite his personal successes, he has been a disaster as a national leader—in three ways.

Two of them are well known. The first is the lurid saga of his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties, one of which has led to the unedifying spectacle of a prime minister being put on trial in Milan on charges of paying for sex with a minor. The Rubygate trial has besmirched not just Mr Berlusconi, but also his country.

However shameful the sexual scandal has been, its impact on Mr Berlusconi’s performance as a politician has been limited, so this newspaper has largely ignored it. We have, however, long protested about his second failing: his financial shenanigans. Over the years, he has been tried more than a dozen times for fraud, false accounting or bribery. His defenders claim that he has never been convicted, but this is untrue. Several cases have seen convictions, only for them to be set aside because the convoluted proceedings led to trials being timed out by a statute of limitations—at least twice because Mr Berlusconi himself changed the law. That was why this newspaper argued in April 2001 that he was unfit to lead Italy.

We have seen no reason to change that verdict. But it is now clear that neither the dodgy sex nor the dubious business history should be the main reason for Italians looking back on Mr Berlusconi as a disastrous, even malign, failure. Worst by far has been a third defect: his total disregard for the economic condition of his country. Perhaps because of the distraction of his legal tangles, he has failed in almost nine years as prime minister to remedy or even really to acknowledge Italy’s grave economic weaknesses. As a result, he will leave behind him a country in dire straits.

A chronic disease, not an acute one

That grim conclusion might surprise students of the euro crisis. Thanks to the tight fiscal policy of Mr Berlusconi’s finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, Italy has so far escaped the markets’ wrath. Ireland, not Italy, is the I in the PIGS (with Portugal, Greece and Spain). Italy avoided a housing bubble; its banks did not go bust. Employment held up: the unemployment rate is 8%, compared with over 20% in Spain. The budget deficit in 2011 will be 4% of GDP, against 6% in France.

Yet these reassuring numbers are deceptive. Italy’s economic illness is not the acute sort, but a chronic disease that slowly gnaws away at vitality. When Europe’s economies shrink, Italy’s shrinks more; when they grow, it grows less. As our special report in this week’s issue points out, only Zimbabwe and Haiti had lower GDP growth than Italy in the decade to 2010. In fact GDP per head in Italy actually fell. Lack of growth means that, despite Mr Tremonti, the public debt is still 120% of GDP, the rich world’s third-biggest. This is all the more worrying given the rapid ageing of Italy’s population.

Low average unemployment disguises some sharp variations. A quarter of young people—far more in parts of the depressed south—are jobless. The female-participation rate in the workforce is 46%, the lowest in western Europe. A mix of low productivity and high wages is eroding competitiveness: whereas productivity rose by a fifth in America and a tenth in Britain in the decade to 2010, in Italy it fell by 5%. Italy comes 80th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and 48th in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Barbados.

The Bank of Italy’s outgoing governor, Mario Draghi, spelt things out recently in a hard-hitting farewell speech (before taking the reins at the European Central Bank). He insisted that the economy desperately needs big structural reforms. He pinpointed stagnant productivity and attacked government policies that “fail to encourage, and often hamper, [Italy’s] development”, such as delays in the civil-justice system, poor universities, a lack of competition in public and private services, a two-tier labour market with protected insiders and exposed outsiders, and too few big firms.

All these things are beginning to affect Italy’s justly acclaimed quality of life. Infrastructure is getting shabbier. Public services are stretched. The environment is suffering. Real incomes are at best stagnant. Ambitious young Italians are quitting their country in droves, leaving power in the hands of an elderly and out-of-touch elite. Few Europeans despise their pampered politicians as much as Italians do.

Eppur si muove

When this newspaper first denounced Mr Berlusconi, many Italian businesspeople replied that only his roguish, entrepreneurial chutzpah offered any chance to modernise the economy. Nobody claims that now. Instead they offer the excuse that the fault is not his; it is their unreformable country’s.

Yet the notion that change is impossible is not just defeatist but also wrong. In the mid-1990s successive Italian governments, desperate not to be left out of the euro, pushed through some impressive reforms. Even Mr Berlusconi has occasionally managed to pass some liberalising measures in between battling the courts: back in 2003 the Biagi labour-market law cut red tape at the bottom, boosting employment, and many economists have praised Italy’s pension reforms. He might have done much more had he used his vast power and popularity to do something other than protect his own interests. Entrepreneurial Italy will pay dearly for his pleasures.

And if Mr Berlusconi’s successors are as negligent as he is? The euro crisis is forcing Greece, Portugal and Spain to push through huge reforms in the teeth of popular protest. In the short term, this will hurt; in the long term, it should give the peripheral economies new zip. Some are also likely to cut their debt burden by restructuring. An unreformed and stagnant Italy, with a public debt stuck at over 120% of GDP, would then find itself exposed as the biggest backmarker in the euro. The culprit? Mr Berlusconi, who will no doubt be smiling still.

from the print edition | Leaders

http://www.economist.com/node/18805327?story_id=18805327&CFID=172274374&CFTOKEN=18162879