mercoledì 2 febbraio 2011

More Dark Heart of Italy

When I was in Italy last summer, I was inspired to write about so many things. In the space of two weeks, I was constantly struck by endless examples of what an Italian writer (I think it may have been Beppe Severgnini but I might be completely and embarrassingly wrong) called the difference between “your Italy and my Italia”. This is the difference between the Italy that tourists see (the magnificent scenery, the richness of the history, the art, the food, the fashion, the musicality of the language and the generousity and sociability of the people) and the complicated, illogical, confusing country of endless paradoxes that Italians actually live in. I felt guilty, enjoying the hospitality of my Italian friends and the locals in the village who shared so much with “le ragazze inglesi” and the desire to probe into the depths of the “confusione”, to criticise and to write.

In the end, only a couple of these posts got written, and less eloquently than I would have wanted them to be. Last night, however, a programme about Berlusconi’s Italy on Arte, the Franco-German TV channel, inspired me to say some more.

The programme began by describing the rise of Berlusconi and I recognised many of the events that I had already read about in Tobias Jones’ wonderful Dark Heart of Italy: how Berlusconi’s early political career began with the corruption scandal surrounding the Milano 2 residential complex that he built as a property developer and how he initially dodged legal procedings by exploiting the statute of limitations. The programme talked about how terrorism was exploited to create a fear of communism (“communism” and “fascism” are current political terms in Italy), making voters believe that the only “safe” government was one which subscribed to neither of these philosophies and instead promoted the development of the country and the gaining of wealth. It revealed how Berlusconi’s masonic connections enabled him to borrow enormous sums of money and build his media empire until it became a monopoly and how Mediaset then ignored rulings by the European Court in favour of a rival television channel.

All of this I knew already, and I would highly recommend Jones’ book if you would like to know more. The thought that the programme left me with however, was not outrage at the corruption itself but a sense of the terrible tragedy that all of this has been for Italy itself. Berlusconi came to power on a promise to promote prosperity for “the good people” instead of the political extremists, but it is clear even travelling around Italy today that there is an incredible rift between the wealthy and the ordinary people (never mind the poor). Public facilities such as swimming pools and libraries are rare in Italian cities. Much of the country’s beauty spots have been “privatised”, so that you have to pay to go to the beach and you can’t swim in the lake unless you own a villa on its shore. Italy’s cities, towns and villages traditionally belong to their peoples: socialising takes place during the passeggiata through the streets and sitting in the town square, but as someone who likes to wander around at liberty, I can testify to the general absence of public parks, spaces and places to go. While the rich have their fast cars, their yachts and their multiple holiday homes, there are places where graduates and professionals earn 500 euros a month and have to live with their parents even when they are in their late 30s. A young lawyer in Milan can earn as little as 1000 euros a month – when I lived there my rent alone, in a smallish flat on a dodgy street was 850 euros.

Many of these educated people know to protest but the combination of what was described as the “lobotomisation” of the Italian people through dumbed-down media, the labyrinthine nature of the country’s politics and a head-in-the-sand attitude to what is actually going on among many of the country’s ordinary citizens make it very difficult to bring about change. This indeed is the dark heart of Italy.

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