Big day for Italy, first of May 2011, and it is not even news about the sex scandals of the sultan Prime Minister Berlusconi: the Italian preoccupation for months now.
First thing in the morning, the late Pope John Paul II, formerly a Polish cleric named Woytila, was publicly proclaimed a saint in the magnificent square of the Vatican in Rome. A million curious tourists, nuns and priests, politicians, and members of obscure royal families were present. Even the notorious Robert Mugabe was present, the President of Zimbabwe, accused of atrocities in his own country.
Mugabe was seated in the last row, reserved for diplomats. International diplomacy has always been a strong point of the Vatican state and a weak point of the Catholic religion.
Rome was besieged by tourists on this grand state occasion. They’d been camping overnight in the square so as not to miss the beatification ceremony. John Paul II was a symbol of religious opposition to communist regimes, especially within his own country. He reigned 26 years, even surviving a gunshot from a Turkish Gray Wolf assassin. He was also famously conservative when it came to abortion, divorce and female priests.
The capital of Italy is commonly usurped by tourists but religious pilgrimage is a major source of income. Thieves were arrested while pickpocketing the faithful in the square. A cardinal from Valencia dropped dead during the ceremony. Metal detectors and police helicopters were everywhere.
The corpse of the former Pope was ritually exhumed and set before the major altar of the Basilica. An ampule of blood of Karol Woytila was transported form Poland as a token for the believers. Given the present-day fashion for vampires and the paranormal, this ancient gesture had spooky commercial aspects.
Two days ago a feudal royal wedding in London seized all the front pages and livestreamed in the media. After aristocracy, the Church has its fifteen minutes of medieval glory. And this during the traditional international day of industrial workers, the May Day of the European revolutionary working-class and the Communist nomenklatura.
Adding to the symbolic freight, this year, 2011, celebrates 150 years of Italian national unity. The right wing Italian separatists, currently in power in Rome, denies the importance of Italian unity, and of Rome as Italy’s capital. The current government is similarly skeptical toward Italian trade unions and human rights campaigns.
The politically excluded of May Day nevertheless also appeared in Italian streets today, with banners of feminists, pacifist, trade unions, unemployed, refugees, minorities etc…clearly stated their distance from empty Unity of Italy celebrations, not to mention the deceased Pope.
In Torino, a group of young radicals intervened in the manifestation of a “traitors to Italy” trade union, making it leave the corteo, only to be scattered itself by the police and condemned in its act of intolerance.
This is not the Italy we fought for! an old partisan woman on a bicycle was claiming. President Berlusconi has learned how to legalize his scandals by changing democratic laws according to his whims. It’s as if he can beatify his bunga-bunga orgies after the fact.
May 15 brings local elections in Italy: maybe there will be a change. The situation is tense on the ground. Groups of supporters of international workers day attacked open shops this Sunday, May 1st. The NATO war in Libya and the arrival in Italy of Moslem refugees makes Italy feel more right-wing by the day. Berlusconi has been in power since 1994 with only short intervals of relief. Yet the opposition is disunited and without true alternative leader or clear program.
In the afternoon: a live broadcast from piazza San Giovanni of Rome, full of flags. This is opposed to the demos in the morning, where the accent was on workers and their rights. Yet the trade union movement is heavily divided, as workers suffer job losses, an economic crisis, and a general pessimism about the state’s institutions.
Stars like Oscar winning musician Ennio Morricone and cult song writers are performing in the sun of the packed Roman square — a fiesta that will go on until midnight. Definitely a different crowd than the Pope’s; a rock’n’roll crowd with flags and balloons: no fainting, no epiphanies, no flesh and blood tokens. Mostly young people singing about their future. A lot of irony and wit about the shameful present of the bunga bunga regime
Three different Italies, today in Italian city squares: the Nation, the Church and the Populace, all protesting, stating, showing, claiming and counterclaiming. Like 150 years ago when this young nation was united under one flag and a royal anthem, drenched in blood amid many uncertainties, today too, the classic Italian scenario repeats itself, as a farce of course.
Yet some Italians look beyond their state: to global issues immigration, poverty, human rights, feminism, pacifism, global climate change. Can they unite with those who take the same stand on foreign soil?
Or even better, with the numerous flow of foreigners who take the same stand on Italian soil? Yes, they can!