While the rest of the world is preparing for a Euro default, in Italy the euro is still thick on the ground and in our pockets and purses.
After the fall of Silvio Berlusconi, with the new technical government in power, a state of bewilderment and stupor has come over the press, the economy and the citizenry. As expected, on a daily basis, old never-resolved scandals, acts of corruption and misdemeanors are surfacing. The thin Berlusconi media-balloon of lies and secrecy no longer holds any water. That’s not to say that light is actively being shed on the dark doings of the former government. Public attention is transfixed by the perils of the European currency and Italy’s huge, unmanageable debt.
Every morning, the Twitter stream panics over the state of the euro and the grim analyses of financiers and economists. The universities are not issuing the bursary grants to the students, while the banks are not selling state bonds. Things are visibly changing.
Naturally this reminds me of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The last Yugoslav Prime Minister, Ante Markovic, was a well-meaning prime minister, who tried to keep the country together with a stronger currency and some market-oriented reforms. He was a rather popular guy , until the nationalists simply blustered, bullied and stole their way into power. Hyperinflation and war followed.
But at that time Yugoslavia was just one black hole of insolvency at the edge of a large Western European prosperity. Today the eurozone is the center of planetary financial collapse, a black hole so vast in extent that other economies can simply stare and wring their hands.
People and politicians are in wonderment, but only in reverse: whose fault brought this on? Was is sneaky, cheating Greece, or slumbering Portugal, a Spain deserted by its rich house-building tourists, or, well, an Italy that for decades squandered every chance to put its house in order? Is the fault of selfish, strong Germany for failing to print money for everyone else?
The honest people who worked all their lives for their pensions, their homes and some money for old age are threatened with massive loss. With the burden of many wars and heaps of empty real-estate, the US dollar looks similarly frail. No one sees much hope of rescue from the last superpower.
After the rise of Occupy antibanks protestors all over the western world, something has to fall before something rises again. Everyone knows that someone will be left to hold the empty bag: presumably, students, the elderly, the workers and the formerly middle class, the intelligentsia and the immigrants. Those who played by the rules will pay, those who fooled the rules will gain. But how will the gainers hold onto their gain? Without euros, where will they put it?
It’s a pity for the ardent Communists of the past that they did not survive to see this weird carnival, for they predicted it so many times: “putrid capitalism” in systemic collapse, as they used to put it. Unfortunately the Communists are long since part of globalized capitalism and now collapsing twice over.
As a trading bloc, European countries were united by a European currency, but they have never managed to create a constitution and become an effective political entity. Instead, once powerful European nations appear like so many weakened Yugoslav micro-states, full of bluster but with no control over their destinies. The Serbian population, having seen the likes of this before, is furiously cashing the household euro reserves for Swiss francs, Norwegian coronas, and dreaming of Brazilian reals.
Still formally at the door of European Unity, knocking timidly to enter, poor cousin Serbia is looking the other way, much like never-integrated rich uncle, Great Britain. The border free European identity was a successful experiment and a dream come true, but so was the former Yugoslavia under the rule of Tito.
I was born in Yugoslavia and I never willingly changed my passport or my address. However, the government and my documents completely changed five times.
It’s not good to panic in these conditions, for it leaves you with less energy and resolve to face whatever is actually coming. An Italian friend of mine just said: if I were younger, I would take all my money out of the bank, put some into other currencies, and then buy and hoard life’s necessities. Like, when the lira vanished. But now, I am older, and together with other millions of people like me: where they go, I too must go. Somebody will have to think of something.
When I was in Serbia in the nineties I wrote my “Diary of a Political Idiot,” taking notes on the collapse of everyday life, the destruction of so called “normality.” I still remember the first moment I really panicked: because there was no milk in the shop. Then there was no money in our pockets. Finally there were no shops or money either: we were all in the same boat, the new Normality. The gray economy, of transition to nowhere.
Hopefully history will not repeat itself as a farce or tragedy. Not that I know of any third way, as yet.