Italy: The Show Must Go On!

“I am convinced that behind the decisions of Grillo (suggested by his internet guru Casaleggio) exists a true subversive plan in Italy that could take us to a civil war.

If somebody doubts of what I am saying, just go to Youtube and look: ‘Gaia’ by Gianroberto Casaleggio. We are in the hands of two crazy people with secret missions. Mussolini’ s fascism compared to this was just a joke!”

This radical online comment, by some anonymous reader, reveals the fear that commonly generates confrontational extremes in Italian political history.

At this moment, when the Italian government has fallen yet again, the youngest premiere ever in Italy and even the EU is about to form a new government. Another online commentator points out: We had eight premieres in the past twenty years, and only two of them were elected by the Italian people.

The Italian electoral system is the major target of the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio. The future premier Renzi doesn’t like it either, although he and Grillo agree on very little else. Italy has a long history of attempts to game the electoral system: populist movements, mafia conspiracies, back room intra-party deals, and maybe electronic “direct democracy” may get a chance.

Even without Berlusconi and his gaudy sex and corruption scandals, the Italian political scene is still a show. The general social climate of the country was obvious at the traditional television fiesta, the 64th San Remo music festival. The usual pop stars, crooners and show girls were elbowed aside by political disruptive banners, while a panoply of good and bad political types crowded together into the first row to seize a chance to be on TV.

On the festival’s opening night, two spectators threatened to throw themselves from the top of the stage to their death, plummeting right into the audience. They demanded that their letter be read out loud by the host of the show in front of millions of RAI television viewers.

These histrionic suicides wanted to draw attention to the plight of unemployed workers in Italy — which they did. This wasn’t the first time that desperate workers have threatened suicide during the music show. Italian viewers are a crowd highly sensitive to social injustice, enthusiastic members of trade unions and people’s movements. Somehow, however, they never form a national government capable of favoring the interests of working people. Why is this, I wonder? Am I missing something?

Many things have changed in Italy since the M5S Five Star Movement unexpectedly became a significant presence in the Italian Parliament. The new movement, which organized through weblogs and street rallies, managed to elect large numbers of youthful political amateurs and women. However, electing legislators isn’t the same as an ability to rule or manage the state. More

Berlusconi’s “decadenza”

In English, in French
My American friend wrote me this morning: How does it feel to live, free of Berlusconi? Are the people of Italy rejoicing in the streets?

Here in Turin, the news was hardly noticed, because although it is good news, it is also old news. It was expected, a fully foreseen turn of events, part of the long goodbye of an Italian ruler who came in power in distant 1994 and is still clinging to authority with all his histrionic might.

Italian politics have never lacked for stage histrionics, but Berlusconi is very likely the most ridiculous Italian state leader ever. Beppe Grillo, the leader of the opposition Five Star Movement, is a television comedian, but Grillo is the picture of sobriety and decency compared to Berlusconi. Grillo has found peers such as Dario Fo, the Nobel Prize Winning dramatist, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a brainy Internet guru in a Milanese suit and tie. So even a professional comedian can find dignity in Italian public life if he looks for it, but not Berlusconi. Berlusconi has been flung out of his Parliamentary senate seat and forbidden to run for office, because he was found guilty of fraud and prostitution with a minor. More

Oprah and Kyenge

in English, French
When Oprah Winfrey denounced her racist incident in Switzerland recently, I better understood the situation of a certain Italian government minister — Sra. Cecile Kyenge, an Italian citizen originally from the Congo.

Minister Kyenge was appointed to the Italian government a few months ago: she is a woman, she is black and she used to be a clandestine immigrant. Once in power, Kyenge immediately stated publicly the obvious troubles that pester the real lives of Italian immigrants.

All us immigrants, we who live pretty much anywhere where we weren’t expected, we all share similar issues: we’re invisible to local legal and financial systems, we could use help in integration, and it would be proper to have local citizenship for the children born on foreign soil. More

Milan Wired Next


The Golden Quadrilateral in today’s Milan is composed of haute couture shops, jewelry emporia, and nouveau riche tourists. It’s the geographic square that once sheltered the novelist Alessandro Manzoni, the composer Giuseppe Verdi, the physicist Albert Einstein, the socialite Clara Maffei. Severe battles raged for days in these streets as the riotous Milanese struggled to expel their Austrian imperial occupiers. Nowadays the blood-soaked alleys of the nineteenth century are luxurious windowfronts where bored, dolled-up sales girls loll inside, among the vidcams and the cybernetic security systems.

In this same Milanese downtown, a failed bank has been retrofitted into a hallucinatory five-star hotel: chandeliers like horror movie infestations, crooked plastic arm chairs in a nauseous green, tortuous, polka-dotted corridors that lead nowhere, and a psychedelic swimming-pool installation that might drown Olafur Eliasson.

The Milanese hotel’s restaurant is weirdly devoid of spaghetti, pizza, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, or any shred of meat. Here they serve a relentlessly chic macrobiotic green diet of mashed veggies and nutritious drinks without alcohol.

Italia Vita Nuova

The ministers of the new Italian government were sworn by the re-elected, new/old, physically ancient president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano.  Half a mile away, a despairing 49 year old who had lost both his wife and his job shot two policemen in front of a government building.   The assailant wore a tie and a nice dark suit.  He ran out of bullets before he could shoot himself with his black-market handgun. 

   So he fled the scene of his mayhem, but he was immediately caught by the police.  Naturally, in this country where political tension and terror are always a living presence, everyone feared for the worst — especially the interior minister, whose face showed visible concern as he attended the swearing-in ceremony. 

   It’s been a complicated path to the formation of this latest Italian government, even by Italian standards.  After years of partisan stagnation, the Internet movement of the histrionic comedian Beppe Grillo had emerged as a new force and a possible power broker in Parliament.  But the Movimento 5 Stelle, as Grillo’s insurgent party is known, refused to play by the conventional rules of Italian patronage.    


Amazons with a Cause

Amazons with a Cause

Why are women first to pay for every crisis? In every society, capitalist, socialist, or transition? It’s because the bodies of women are expendable.

I always noticed how women over eighty in Turin looked incredibly well, beautiful and loved and taken care of: desirable, because old and valuable. I connected this to Italy’s long-established and sophisticated health care system. Italian hospitals were famous for methods which preserved the dignity of the patients, in tumor cures, especially breast cancer: the invisible mastectomy ( quadrantectomy, Istituto Europeo Oncologico) was invented in Milan. Rather than simply intervening in crisis, they were good at illness prevention and attentive follow-ups.

The economic crisis and financial harassment of Italy has reached this safe haven of health and dignity. In Turin, one of the best clinics for cure and prevention of breast cancer is about to be closed. The patients are on the streets, their appointments cannot be scheduled, they are paying for their urgent operations because their doctors cannot hep them. The doctors are on the streets too.

Public health care in Italy was guaranteed as one of the basic human rights: without class race of gender discrimination. We are all equal in front of death.

The Valdesian hospital was founded by Italy’s Protestant minority; it was about spirituality and charity rather than the global health market. However, the church passed the hospital to the state some years ago. They naturally assumed that it was in good hands, but as this tiny church is to the state, the state is to the market. Although “Italy is not a brothel,” as they said during the Berlusconi scandals, the flesh of women is negotiable by other means.

Protests, sit-ins and negotiations have failed to save the hospital. So last weekend, Turinese women decided to take action. They organized a public booth to photograph their breasts anonymously. They plan to release an affresco of hundreds of their depersonalized female bodies, as a warning. They are merely doing publicly what the hospital did less visibly.

Next step is the big demo planned for December first, to be followed by a sit-in for December 7th. On that day, the police are scheduled to shut physically the hospital. It was a place of solace where women felt like respected human beings, and the attack on it has made them into Amazons with a cause.

NO Austerity Day

Whenever I write about rioting students, I feel torn between what I see and what I understand.

When I myself was a protesting student, I remember vividly remembered the cold warning in the text by Pier Paolo Pasolini. He reminded us youngsters that the police we faced in the streets were also someone’s children, that not all young people were fortunate enough to be in colleges rather than wearing uniforms, and that we should join all together against the general oppressor, the system, capitalism, the corporations, name it…

That was then, and this is now, and while the students and policemen still have the same interests, they are still on the opposite sides of the barricade. Austerity has driven Italy to its knees. Day by day the future of Italy’s young people is vaporizing, and now the streets are flooded by torrential rains, to boot. Italian cities rocked by earthquakes might as well settle for witchcraft, rather than find responsible and competent government officials who can rescue the nation’s casualties.

A Facebook comment from my Italian friend:

Is it possible that all these years every time there is a demonstration we have to expect the same song: attention to the provocateurs + protestors cruelly beaten by the police + poor policemen beaten by provocateurs = Am I missing something: Democracy!

In Torino, a 15-year old high school student posted on her Facebook a photo of two girls kissing in front of the heavily armed police. With these words: this is how we should face the forces of order!

She told me: those horrible Black Bloc destroy our attempts to do something peacefully, and we are not protesting only because there is no money left in our schools, but also as Europeans who understand that austerity program kills the students in rich as well as in poor countries.

Yesterday during the “No Austerity day in Europe”, proclaimed by students and trade unions in major towns in Italy, the protests turned to riot and turmoil. In Torino, three policemen were injured, one badly. The number of students/citizens injured in Torino is not yet known. Chantings and peaceful legal manifestations degenerated into beatings and insults.

In Rome, along with a general strike of transportation, the Tiber flooded, paralyzing the nation’s capital. Even on its best days Rome can barely move.

The targets of protesters were banks, public administration offices, and even the twelve-starred European flag, a flag so deliberately dull that it rarely attracts a passionate attention. The center of protests are the countries in crisis, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy…but even the well off northern countries are crippled by the Austerity, which is rapidly become a crisis much worse than the Crisis it was supposed to fix. Choked by Austerity, Europe is sliding into Recession again, and there’s no sign that this approach will ever restore prosperity.

The word Austerity, that calm and bureaucratic term, is enough to cause panic in the streets of Europe now. National majorities know that it’s a weapon against their own interests. Where is the “Austerity” for the one percent of the population dominating the economy? They don’t apply any example of severe austerity to their own habits and aspirations. Secured in private jets, or within their high tech mentally-gated communities, they wonder why the streets grow slick with blood, sweat and tears.

This is something new in the world. It’s rather like the alienation and anomie of the Industrial Age, but it’s a new cybernetic detachment — the atomized individuals of the Network Society, super-connected to screens, but failing to live and breathe together as a civilization. The Smart City shows its dark side as a gridwork of surveillance, as the peaceable consumers of the 1990s become a rabble to be kettled up!

United Europe just won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Where’s the peace and Union from Austerity?

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