header i-Italy

Articles by: Judith Harris

  • Facts & Stories

    Of Emperors, Murders and the Ides of March: the Ghosts that Haunt Italy's Elections


    On the ancient Roman calendar the Ides of March fell on our March 15. On that day in 44 BC the political problems of the Roman Empire were neatly resolved with the brutal assassination of the man who considered himself not only godly but indeed a god, the emperor Julius Caesar. The Roman senate building had burned and the Senate was temporarily meeting in the vast stone theater which General Pompey had built near today's Campo de Fiori in Rome, and so the self-anointed emperor Caesar died in what we would call today the lobby, at the foot of Pompey's statue. His murderers were his disgruntled fellow Roman senators, which is to say his political friends as well as enemies, united in their fear and loathing of him.

     

    It is a bizarre coincidence that the kidnapping on a suburban Roman street of the most powerful Italian political leader of his era, the mildly progressive and astute Aldo Moro, fell nearly on the same day, March 16, just thirty years ago. Especially in Rome these days that kidnapping, with the professional-looking murder of Moro's five bodyguards, and Moro's own brutal murder fifty-five days later, are cause of serious reflection and commemorations, interesting if without any hint at a revival of investigations into whether among his disgruntled fellow Roman political aristocrats one may have had a hand in sponsoring the kidnapping.

     

    In an interview which ran in La RepubblicaMarch 23, 1978, Leonardo Sciascia, whose novel Todo Modo foreshadowed the self-destruction of the Christian Democratic party, was asked by Alberto Stabile how he interpreted the kidnapping. Sciascia's reply: "The Red Brigades can be a monad [in biology, a monocellular organism] without a window, made up of violence and ideological folly, but they can also have doors and windows. If they have them, the problem is to see with whom they communicate; that is, to raise the question that Italians asked some years ago but which now they don't seem to ask any more: who benefits from this?" In my own interview with Sciascia, ever skeptical of power, ever curious, he said something of the same.

     

    "Moro mattered to Italy. For twenty years he represented the democratic continuity of the Christian Democrats, " synthesizes Eugenio Scalfari. "With all his slow ways and the mistakes he made, Moro was the man who transferred the centrist party into its first alliance with the Socialists, and then made possible today's parliamentary majority which includes the Communist party" (by which Scalfari presumably meant the Rifondazione Comunista).

     

    The Moro kidnapping was carried out by a handful of Red Brigades fanatics, and it was preceded by what is now a forgotten Brigades kidnapping, that of the son of the late Socialist leader Franceso De Martino. At the time Professor De Martino was aligned with Moro in promoting some form of an opening to the Italian Communist party, dubbed the historic compromise, in order to end a decade-long, frustrating political stalemate in government.

     

    The legalistic and professorial Moro, notorious for both his subtle mind and the ambiguity of his political slogans, was a devout Catholic, but his party incorporated a strong Catholic farm worker and labor movement, with which Moro, who straddled the center, had some sympathy. His formula for suggesting discussions of an opening to the Communists was to counsel "parallel convergencies," a fuzzy phrase which puzzled and amused some observers at home, but absolutely terrified others outside Italy (read: Washington).

     

    De Martino, like Moro, was a distinguished law professor noted for his personal honesty, and his version of the historic compromise was to urge "more advanced equilibriums," a phrase every bit as fuzzy as Moro's, but again, as with Moro, perfectly clear to those who made politics their business. In 1971 De Martino was a candidate and indeed the front runner to become president of Italy. He had the backing of the Communist party and the Socialists, but to be elected would have required a two-thirds vote in Parliament; without the Christian Democratic vote, he could not have been elected. So what would the Christian Democrats do, when it came to a vote? Many wondered: the party's left wing might split with its right and vote with the Socialists and Communists in favor of a Socialist president who, like Moro, was already advocating "more advanced" political agreements that would bring the Communists a share in power.

     

    No one will ever know whether or not leftish parliamentarians within the Christian Democrats would have broken party ranks to vote with the Communist-led left, for it did not come to a vote. The Red Brigades kidnapped De Martino's son, who (like Moro later) was held for ransom. De Martino resisted for a time, but in the end he felt obliged to save his son's life by paying a ransom. Having little money of his own, he was offered and then accepted gifts of vast sums of cash from "friends." This obliged De Martino to withdraw his candidacy as president of Italy. Not long afterward he was replaced as General Secretary of the Italian Socialist party by leaders of another stripe, culminating in the corrupt Bettino Craxi and the demise of the party itself, just as the murder of Aldo Moro began the process of destroying the Christian Democratic party.

     

    It was subsequently revealed that De Martino's staff had included a number of junior members of the notorious renegade P2 Masonic Lodge, whose other members included 40 individuals of high rank in the Italian military and intelligence. In short, the 1970s were not noted for their limpid politics. And, in the end, both the Italian Socialist party and the Christian Democrats, forged out of the collapse of Italian Fascism and the desolation of war, can be said to have died with De Martino and Moro.

     

    What is the connection? Like most others who lived through the Italian "years of lead," I can only guess, but the fact is that guessing is not good enough. That said, to the historical record I wish to contribute two small items of evidence. The first is that De Martino whispered, just once, to a close colleague, "They took money out of one drawer and put it into another." Who "they" were he did not say, but by this he meant those "friends" who had given him the ransom money which then financed the Red Brigades future activities. My second small contribution to the record is that a source deeply involved in investigations into the terrorism of those years said purposefully after due thought, "The De Martino kidnapping was a trial run for the Moro kidnapping."

    Think about it.

     

    Unlike Professor De Martino, those in charge in both party and government determined that it was unacceptable to negotiate with the Red Brigades for Moro's life because doing so would give the terrorists recognition and authority. A minority thought otherwise: among those favoring negotiations was the Socialist leader Bettino Craxi. Most importantly, Pope Paul VI made an appeal to the Brigades, irritating many in the no-negotiations camp by addressing them as "Men of the Red Brigades," since to acknowledge them as " men" was seen by many as the pontiff's giving "monsters" (as a lot of people even on the left thought of the kidnappers) undue recognition of a common humanity. And perhaps some negotiations were afoot, or at least contacts, for a cache of copies of letters from Moro, which turned up mysteriously many years later in Milan, suggested that contacts with his family may have existed. If so, go-between therefore existed: who? Presumably a clergyman. But if one person could find Moro, so, it can be argued, could others.

     

    Not long before Moro was murdered I received a telephone call with an offer of an interview with a Brigatista. I replied that of course I was ready and willing, but that I would not come alone: I would come with half the Italian army. The phone went dead. So, of course, did Moro. Who was the "terrorist" I was to interview? I never knew.

     

    Not long afterward I was again contacted, this time by an America who occupied an official position. Could I kindly, he asked, "for a journalistic friend," arrange an interview with a Brigatista? Before I had time to think I snapped, "Sure. It will take place in my living room and I will wear a ski mask. It will cost $10,000. You get half." Again, the phone went dead.

     

    But elsewhere the voices were speaking: the voices of children in the park, playing the kidnapping of Aldo Moro. The voices of people frightened in the streets. To recall the collective fear of those long days still leaves me gasping. And the day in May when Moro's body was found in a car parked only a few blocks from my own home I knew what had happened immediately because a thousand sirens were screaming at once. Like others I ran as fast as I could, and, since I was only blocks away, I was there to see the end of his personal drama -- but not the end of Italy's, which is still recovering.

     

    And so to the present. Wreaths and conferences and press symposia on the significance of these three post-Moro decades have, yes, commemorated Moro, but above all have asked whither the Roman Catholic vote in the forthcoming elections, scheduled for April 13-14, to take place, shamefully, after less than two years since the last elections. Those of Spring 2006 were won, all too narrowly, by a helter-skelter, fractious coalition of leftists, including a miniscule if noisy Communist party plus Greens and Radicals and Social Democrats, all supposedly unified, but in fact increasingly at war among each other, under the leadership of two who in a way reflected the Moro dilemma: the devoutly Catholic Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Fausto Bertinotti, the head of the Rifondazione ComunistaItaly's situation, but other forces did their best to tear down whatever reforms were attempted. party. It simply did not work. The economists involved did their best and have improved Italy’s situation, but other forces did their best to tear down whatever reforms were attempted.

     

    So now what? The Italian Church appears to have been quarreling with the Vatican itself over the degree of interference to be tolerated, with the Vatican trying to calm over-excited local bishops. As for the Roman Catholic voters themselves, their vote is split. Walter Veltroni, until last month the Mayor of Rome and now the leader of the new Democratic Party (which supplants the Party of the Democratic Left), is working hard to forge a coalition that embraces ardent Catholics as well as libertarian feminists, among other unlikely bedfellows, resulting in a schizophrenic politics in which making abortions tougher to get is high on the agenda and any notion of gay rights is dropped.

    Will the new elections bring change? It is sad that the logos of twenty-seven parties will appear on the ballot, but some here believe that "eppur si muove," to synthesize in the words of Galileo. By this is meant that it is positive that Veltroni, a moderate progressive, and media emperor Silvio Berlusconi, the former conservative prime minister, are forcing creation of two strong parties to replace the thirty-some ever quarrelsome groupuscules of the outgoing Parliament. It is eagerly to be hoped that it will work.

     

    However, among the crucial elements missing from the programs of both these leaders is any proposal for an all-out battle against the ever more powerful forces of organized crime and its attendant political corruption. Since crime here still defines the political class (to wit., the garbage of Naples), this oversight, as we shall call it to be polite, is deadly serious--literally. Whatever the memorial wreaths symbolize, it does no honor to the memory of Aldo Moro or of De Martino either.

     

     

    This article appeared originally on DIRELAND and is re-published here with the permission of its editor Doug Ireland.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Out of the archives: Vatican doubts over the Duce


    Little excites more savage controversy than debates over the behavior and policies of the Roman Catholic Church in the time of Italian Fascism. The record is ambiguous. John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope, published in 1999, based on privileged access to Vatican secret archives, was accusatory and persuasive, but five years and a flood of diatribes later the judicious Cornwell somewhat modified his criticism of Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939. In an interview with the Economist Dec. 9, 2004, Cornwell said, “I would now argue, in the light of the debates and evidence following Hitler's Pope, that Pius XII had so little scope of action that it is impossible to judge the motives for his silence during the war, while Rome was under the heel of Mussolini and later occupied by Germany.”


    Certainly Vatican policies toward Fascism appear less than clear. Pius XII did not intervene to stop Roman Jews from being deported to concentration camps, even as some Jews were being given refuge in Catholic institutions. Another example: following an appeal by a Jewish rabbi, a bishop near Pisa received authorization from Rome to help Jewish families escape capture and deportation; local nuns who normally printed prayer cards were drafted into printing forged documents for endangered Jews.


    But what was the view on high? To what extent had the signing of the Concordat in 1929, which gave priests salaries in schools and the Vatican formal recognition for the first time since unification of Italy, driven Vatican policies, and Pius XI, into the arms of the Duce? Did the experience of young Pacelli, during his decade as a young Vatican diplomat in Germany observing the rise of Hitler, make him subsequently soft on the Nazis and tolerant of Italian Fascism as well? Given Vatican secrecy, how would one know?


    Hence the welcome new access to archival documents of the Vatican, made available over the past year to researchers. Some of the new research delves as far back into the past as the Inquisition, the subject of a conference held in Rome in February under the auspices of the Accademia dei Lincei. Another of those taking benefit of the new access is historian Lucia Ceci, whose work sheds revealing light on the secret debates within the Vatican over its dealings with the Duce. The author of Il vessillo e la croce, Colonialismo, missioni cattoliche e Islam in Somalia (1903-1924), published by Carocci in 2007, Ceci is a researcher in contemporary history in the Department of Letters and Philosophy at the Tor Vergata Rome University. She has published scholarly articles on, inter alia, Liberation theology and politics in Latin America.


    Previews of her latest research on the Church and Fascism, to be published in the forthcoming issue of Rivista Storica Italiana, have already surfaced in Corriere della Sera in an article by Antonio Carioti on Oct. 23, 2007, and in Emma Fattorini’s Mar. 9, 2008, article in Il Sole-24 Ore, headed, “Pius XI’s failed attempt to stop the war in Ethiopia”, with the subhead,  “New documents prove that the Holy See opposed the aggression, but decided not to intervene.”


    Among Ceci’s key sources are hand-written notes of private meetings between Pius XI (Achille Ratti) and a former deputy chief of Azione Cattolica, Mons. Domenico Tardini (1888-1961, who had been serving as Undersecretary for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs since June 1929. The autumn of 1935 found Italy on the verge of invading Ethiopia. Tardini was disgusted: a note found by Ceci shows the following list (my translation, with an uncertainty or two indicated), in Tardini concludes by accusing the Duce of being “divinized” like an ancient emperor:



    Fascism has created confusion between the party, Italy and the Duce. Conclusion: a whim of the Duce is Italy’s ruin.

    “It has destroyed all freedom of action and discussion. Conclusion: the Italians are now a people of sheep, who run where the shepherd herds them with his stick.

    “It has educated generations into violence. Conclusion: everyone is a hero, ready to use his fists, certain that the others will be left only with…taking punches

    “It has followed foreign policies of improvised body blows (colpi di testa), rudeness, threats, blows. Conclusion: turned the entire world against Fascism.

    “It has forecast, premeditated and proclaimed an empire. Conclusion: it is conducting a harsh and costly colonial war, with just two aims: to waste money and to conquer inhospitable lands.

    “It has cried to the four winds the strength, the grandeur of Italy. Conclusion: today we are a people of beggars who put on airs...as per Sardanapalos [Ed.: Legendary warrior king in Mesopotamia], a feeble and backward people who act as if they were the greatest on earth.

    “It has divinized the Duce, making everyone bow before this god [Nume]. Conclusion: political life no longer exists, nor the possibility to forge new energies for the inevitable needs of tomorrow.


        --Note of Dec. 1, 1935, first published in Il Sole-24 Ore, Mar. 9, 2008

     

    Ten weeks before writing the above, this seriously anti-Fascist high official of the Vatican and papal confidant had hoped that the Vatican would halt the Italian  invasion of Ethiopia. Triggering the discussion was a speech the pope made in August to a group of Catholic nuns, in which he declared that “a war of conquest” would be “unjust.” International press agencies quoted his words, and the Italian Foreign Office—presumably Count Ciano himself—reacted bitterly. The Vatican backed off, with Osservatore Romano publishing a softened account. It happened that the Vatican’s foreign affairs minister, the future pope Pacelli, was away on vacation, and so Monsignor Tardini was tending foreign affairs in his place. Tardini obviously agreed with the original version, for he personally drafted two slightly differing letters opposing war and then offered them to the pope for approval. Both drafts, as discovered by Ceci and published by Corriere della Sera, show strong Vatican disapproval of the invasion, but with differing justifications:

     

    Draft letter 1: “ We ardently desire and with all our soul hope that Your Eminence [i.e., Mussolini]…will be able to reach the legitimately sought goals on the way toward justice and peace. That if to that most noble aim, it be necessary to sacrifice some understandable desire for more abundant and immediate successes, it would always be, for Your Eminence, not the last demonstration of true grandeur to have spared the Italian people the ruination, the pain, the mourning, that are inseparable from every war. and that are today all the more serious and greater for the tremendous power of the tools of death.”

     

    Draft letter 2: “We wish to think that it is not completely impossible that, through the authoritative intervention of some friendly power, and with the consensus of Abyssinia, one could give Italy, in that territory outside Italy’s own borders, an area established in such a way as not only to extend the said borders, but to make them more definite and secure. That if this should happen, the sense of moderation and desire for peace of which Italy would give evidence would be greatly appreciated throughout the world, and Italy itself could in future find in Abyssinia, as we fervently hope, a sure and grateful friend, rather than a hopelessly angered enemy [insanabilmente irritato].

     

    In Draft 1 then proposes that the Duce will show  “true grandeur” in the long run by sparing the Italians from war; in Draft 2, the appeal is to seek a rapprochement with Ethiopia that will bring worldwide approval of Italy.


    By September 20 the Vatican’s official Secretary of State, Pacelli, was back from his month-long vacation and met with Pius XI. On the agenda were the draft letters plus a letter the pontiff had received from the Archbishop of Westminster and Catholic primate of England Hinsley, asking the pope to intervene to halt war. Pacelli’s own notes reveal that the discussion centered not on lofty principles, but on the difficult logistics of invasion of Ethiopia, with its warring tribesmen, and on the negative consequences to Italy’s image if it were the aggressor.


    In the end, political pragmatism won the day: The risk, as both Pacelli and pope agreed, was that the Vatican might end up as mediator, overly involved in a pan-European conflict in which the League of Nations also played a part.  A disappointed Tardini confided to his diary that, “At the end of the day the Holy Father decides not to send any letter for now.”


    There was one last effort. On Sept. 29, just a week later, Jesuit priest Pietro Tacchi Venturi called on Mussolini to urge him if possible to avoid war “so as not to put Italy into a state of mortal sin.” Unmoved, the Duce replied that the democracies were determined to “inflict a mortal blow against fascism.”


    The invasion took place; Italian gunners fired upon sword-carrying Ethiopians on horseback; and on Dec. 3, 1935, Mons. Tardini wrote, in another note turned up by Lucia Ceci: “The ambition of one man is digging the grave for all of Italy.”


    Tardini was elevated to cardinal in 1958, the year of the election of Pope John XIII. Tardini then served as Secretary of State for the Vatican in 1958 until his death in 1961. Tardini is buried in Vetralla, near Viterbo.


    As an historical footnote, the late Pope John Paul opposed President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq. On Ash Wednesday in 2003 the pope’s former nuncio (ambassador) to the United States Cardinal Pio Laghi called on President Bush in Washington in a last-ditch effort to convince the President that the invasion of Iraq would be a fearful mistake.  George Bush accepted the visitor, but not the advice.

    For an abridged version of Cornwell’s book, see: http://emperors-clothes.com/vatican/hitlers.htm


     

     

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Florence. A Streetcar Named Disaster?

    FLORENCE – Walking to an appointment in Florence on Thursday, we found ourselves in snarled and snarling traffic. A mini-Cooper had parked badly by Piazza della Repubblica, blocking a big city bus, unable to turn a corner. The bus had come to a stop, blocking the entire city center. Police arrived. People gathered. Tourists took photos. Meantime traffic fumes, hurtling scooters, honking cars, and frustrated Florentines all built into a crescendo of misery.

    Yes, it was just one of the usual urban messes, but with a difference: this is Florence, birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, one of the most elegant cities in the world, and currently one of the most troubled over traffic.

    On February 18 Florentines turned out to vote on a controversial referendum over construction of Line 2 of a light railway line improperly called a “tram.” This Line 2, which in some areas would require steel tubes 21 feet high, would bring the tram line along the road—visible in the photo taken before the street was given bus lanes and barriers—between the Baptistery and the Duomo building and the file of Renaissance buildings on the right.

    In an open letter to one of the most important Italian cultural websites, www.patrimoniosos.it, Florentine citizen Niccolò Fani wrote:

    “Line 2 calls for the tram to cross right in front of the Baptistery and Duomo, two world-class masterpieces of art. The tracks would run within three feet of the Baptistery, which dates from before the year 1000, but is still standing nevertheless—at least up to now. Besides the aesthetic damage to Piazza Duomo (including the electric wires and bulky steel supports for the line), there are serious structural risks deriving from having a tram line so close to the buildings.”

    Among the arguments in favor of the so-called “tramvia” (and those in favor of it include labor unions, coop associations and some “greens”) is that it 2,000 buses a day already go by. It will reduce the smog that discolors the white marble of the Duomo; will reduce vibrations from the heavy buses; will reduce congestion and will, miraculously at the same time, also double the number (today 250,000) of people who presently come into downtown Florence every weekday, with the consequent economic advantages. Besides, the argument goes, many of those now opposing the light train favored it in the past and are doing an undignified about-face.

    Those opposing the light train argue that it has been presented as a tram, whereas it is not; that a mini-subway beneath Florence would accomplish the same goals without running tracks past Duomo and Baptistery; that an outlying stretch of the same larger plan for three connected lines has already had a gigantic cost over-run; and that it is as ugly as sin, in a city whose very essence is beauty.

    And so the two sides are lined up against each other. Mario Razzanelli, a local politician and successful businessman, has been battling against the tram project for nine years and was one of the chief promoters of the referendum. He does not intend to give up his campaign.

    “My battle against the tram in Florence began in 1999. This tram will not solve the problem—it will complicate the situation. It’s a battle between people who love Florence and those who would destroy it, a battle between reason and folly.” “All great cities have subways under their buildings,” one young man protested.

    Another opposing the construction is the distinguished Prof. Antonio Paolucci, the recently appointed director of the Vatican Museums. A native of Florence, Paolucci is former Minister of Culture for Italy and former superintendent of archaeology for Florence, and also the author of a book on the Baptistery. Paolucci has never been a conservative, but in opposing the construction of a train line through the heart of Florence, he alienated many on the left because the conservatives of Alleanza Nazionale, who include Razzanelli, also opposed construction.

    But then so did every single Florentine with whom I spoke, from travel agent to student, tobacconist, shop keeper—and the younger they were, the stronger their opposition. There is no doubt that the chaos and smog raise hackles, and feelings ran understandably high, to put it mildly. “Florence on the verge of a nervous breakdown over the tram,” went one headline.

    So, to the vote. The press agency Adnkronos gave the figures: those voters opposing construction were 53.84% while 48.3% were in favor. That seems clear enough: the citizens voted to block the tram. But it did not work that way, for less that 50% of those entitled to vote turned out at the polls, and so the supporters of construction claim they had won even though those voting demonstrated their desire to block it. Here too there are quarrels: the mayor insists that the referendum must respect national criteria, which set a 50% turnout treshold for a referendum to be valid; the opponents of the tram say that local referenda go by different rules and that hence they won.

    One element that has been ignored until now is that the tram would also alter the destiny of Florence’s tiny Victorian-era Protestant cemetery, in which many prominent English writers are buried, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frances Trollope. The cemetery lies on a small knoll rising just outside the line where Florence’s city walls ran until demolished to make way for a broad avenue of heavy traffic. Until recently to reach it—and it is a favorite of tourists from all over the world—meant risking your life. Today zebra stripes make it at least possible, but the proposed tram would entirely cut off this romantic vestige of all those Florentine rooms with views.

  • Facts & Stories

    Abortion: Italian Women Speak for Themselves

    Rome – I am late writing this because, returning from an appointment, I couldn’t reach my home because of a demonstration—a special one. This time, and for the first time ever, women have blocked Piazza Venezia through Largo Argentina and on to the bridges to Trastevere. Their protest is over abortion—not to stop one, but to protect Law No. 194 which permits it. Similar demonstrations are still taking place this evening in Naples and Milan. Here’s why.

    Last week a 39-year-old Neapolitan woman who had long desired a child discovered that the baby she was expecting suffered from a disease that would have left the child with severe problems, physical and mental. “I had so wanted the baby, but after the tests I decided I had little choice but to abort.” On Tuesday she went to a hospital for the operation, only to wake up afterward from the anesthesia to find herself surrounded by police, seven in all. As she, and all of Italy, would learn, a local magistrate, claiming he had been alerted by an anonymous telephone call, sent the police to the hospital to investigate because, according to the caller, the abortion was against the law because two weeks over the maximum permissible time, 22 weeks.  (She claims she was 21 weeks pregnant.)

    Yesterday the woman’s face and private story were all over the papers. The magistrate defended himself saying that he had “no choice” but to initiate an investigation once he received the phone call. It is true that Italian law has an automatic quality following any formal complaint to police, but in this case the conscientious magistrate ignored, if nothing else, judicial secrecy. By law any investigation is covered by official secrecy for a certain period, but this proviso was conveniently overlooked.

    In these first days of a bitter contest for votes in the national elections scheduled for April 14, the Catholic vote matters, and some politicians are jockeying for position to claim it. At the moment the most prominent spokesman calling for the overturn of the law permitting abortion is chatty fattie Giuliano Ferrara, a born-again anti-abortionist whose latest proposal is to run a whole election ticket of people who agree with him. Silvio Berlusconi seemed to agree for a time, but is giving signs now of backing off.

    Despite today’s demonstrations, in some ways times have not changed: men like Ferrara and Berlusconi are still the ones most eager to talk against abortion, and at a recent population conference a sincere-looking  man, a tray of plastic foetuses strapped round his neck, stalked delegates. In Rome late last month directors of four university hospital obstetrics departments pleaded for ignoring parental views in view of late-term foetal survival, even at risk of handicap. As for induced abortion, overturning its legalization in Italy under Law No. 194 is already election rhetoric.

    The women concerned say surprisingly little, until asked, which is exactly what I did during the referendum debate that paved the way for Italy’s legalization in 1978 of that law which some would now overturn. At that time I interviewed a number of married women living in converted horse barns in Catania. Their two-room homes usually had a surprisingly tidy room with a stove in one corner, a big bed in another, and, behind a curtain, a tiny bedroom shared by all the youngsters. The Sicilian social worker accompanying me whispered that ten children were the rule, and this proved true, though I had not believed her. Abortion was common: “Every family has an old aunt who knows what to do, using parsley infusions or a coat hook.” Incest, she also whispered, was a cause. I spoke with one Sicilian woman with six children who had had eight abortions, all illegal.

    In Rome, I then spent an anguishing day in a not-very-clandestine abortion clinic, where I interviewed women before their abortions. The women’s voices were steeped in sorrow:

    “I have been diagnosed with breast cancer and am still nursing my first baby. I can’t handle another baby now.”

    “My husband and I have one child, but we are political refugees living on charity. We don’t know our future.”

    “We’re from Calabria, with three children. My mother-in-law came with me.”

    “I do housework, he works nights in a pub to support his mother, a widow. He has to graduate before raising a family.”

    And on, and on, and on. Not one woman with whom I spoke—and most were women, not young girls—confronted abortion with anything but sadness. Abortion was about pain: physical and spiritual.

    Nevertheless, it was clear that, legal or not, the women intended to have their abortion, no matter what the Church said, nor how illegal, nor how dangerous;  the back-room abortions by the notorious “mammone” practitioners were often botched jobs which killed some women and left others sterile.

    Since legalization, the number of induced abortions has fallen almost by half, from 228,737 in 1983 to 123,792 in 2002. At the same time, however, the number of live births has more or less stabilized; according to the August 2005 Journal of Modern Italian Studies, Italy had 562,600 lives births in  2004, comparable to the 575,000 in 1991. Every induced abortion therefore is matched by five live births, an improvement over the estimated one out of four of the 1970’s, but still a high ratio.

    Why should this be so? According to the New York priest who heads an international “pro life” organization, money-hungry pill manufacturers push women into taking the pill, which leads to promiscuity, which leads to abortion; ipso facto, the pill produces abortions. If true anywhere, it is certainly not true in Italy, however. A causal effect of pill/abortion does exist, but is exactly the opposite: the lack of birth control method has perpetuated the continuing incidence of induced abortions.

    A 2005 study published by the University of Padua shows that, following the birth of a second, third or fourth child, from 70-80% of Italian couples used coitus interruptus “with induced abortion as backup for contraceptive failures.”1

    “In the male chauvinist culture of Southern Italy, a man’s ‘respectability’ is partly determined by his capacity for self-control in ensuring that his family can limit its number of children.” Where self-control failed, abortion was the rule, “especially among the poorer classes.” As a result, during the decade before abortion was legalized, 150,000-200,000 abortions were induced, or “about one abortion for every four births.”2

    Those back in the 1970s who urged legalizing abortion in Italy did so in an effort not to be murderers, but to protect women. They also maintained that the way to avoid abortion was through education—a depressing number of girls had little understanding of their bodies—and birth control availability.

    First, contraceptive methods are still relatively unusual in Italy even as condoms are sold next to candy bars in tobacco shops and supermarkets. Although a survey of 350 couples in Milan showed that around 70% in that Northern city used the pill, condom, or IUD, elsewhere coitus interruptus remains the norm. According to gynecologist Emilio Arisi, interviewed by La Repubblica Feb. 7, only 18% of women of fertile age use the pill and other hormonal contraceptives as compared with 40% in Germany. “Long-term contraceptive skin implants are not even sold in Italy [since] no one  uses them.”

    Secondly, whereas the women I had interviewed in 1975 were mature, today 57% of Italian girls have sex, usually unprotected, before age 16. Together with the limited use of contraceptives, this early venture into sex means that induced abortions continue as the birth control “fallback”—a political football that is also a threat to the poor, the ignorant and the very young.

    1 G. Dalal Zuanna, A. De Rose, F. Racioppi, Journal of Population Research, Vol 22, No. 1, 2005, p. 23.
    2 Op. cit.

  • Facts & Stories

    The Unmaking of the Made Men of Sicily?

    Rome – Finally, a sincere word of praise for beleaguered Italy. As the Indian mystic in E.M.Forster’s Passage to India said to Dr. Aziz, on trial for molesting an English maiden but acquitted thanks to his accuser’s own, unexpected testimony, “Who’d have thought that your enemy would be the one to save you?” In this case the welcome words showing Italy at its best came from a cell in Palermo’s l’Ucciardone prison. The room was bugged, but last summer one of the bosses, recently returned from 20 years in the U.S., Francesco Inzirillo, had visitors, his sons Giovanni and Giuseppe. Francesco, the man nicknamed “ù truttaturi” (my guess is the name means Il Trittatore, The Chopper), let himself go with a lament that literally thrilled the eavesdropping police of Palermo. “They’ve got our names on their list, we’ve got to get out of Sicily, out of Italy, we gotta get out of Europe. You have to go to, oh, Central America, South America,” he said, “a long way from here…”

    Too late. On February 9 some 300 police made a sweep of Palermo, arresting 19 alleged Mafiosi (the New York Times gave the number as 23) while at the same time, albeit not strictly in conjunction with their U.S. allies, or so they say, the FBI indicted 80 in New York, reportedly including the entire Gambino family hierarchy. Many of those arrested on the U.S. side were connected to the trucking industry and heavy construction.

    The reaction in Italy has been justifiable pride and enthusiasm, with Sicilian police saying that the Cupola—that Mafia board of directors—has been wiped out. At the very least, an attempt to relaunch the particularly brutal Sicilian Mafia’s control over a huge portion of the international drug market has been nipped in the bud.

    The Sicilian Mafia has had several such historic moments, worth—I hope—reviewing quickly, so as to understand what may happen in the future.

    The prewar Sicilian Mafia was agrarian. The threat of violence mattered more than the number of haystacks burnt or men murdered. The Mafiosi, middlemen between town and countryside, dined on red wine and fellowship and sausages while meting out traditional justice.

    During World War II the contraband opportunities, thanks to the Allied occupation with its PX goodies, attracted country-bumpkin Mafiosi, who created newly sophisticated clandestine networks. The famine that swept Sicily in 1947 brought more of the unemployed and hungry to Palermo, easy prey.

    The postwar building boom of the 1950’s provided enormous opportunities which the Palermo city powers-that-be did not fail to exploit. It was mostly about building permits, but a Mafia firm had the first on-site lunchroom for construction workers; and when a Sicilian nobleman refused to sell his family home on Viale della Libertà to buyers planning a big apartment block, the house was simply blown to smithereens. Court acquittals were the rule when alleged Sicilian Mafiosi went on trial close to home. The Church, resisting Marxist atheism and an aggressive Communist party, fumbled into a virtual alliance with politicians working hand-in-hand with mobsters.

    In 1968 a huge, serious sweep headed by the then-General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa radically cut back Mafia power. Many, including Liggio, fled to North Italy, where they discovered kidnapping for profit and drug refining, which then bankrolled the mobsters’ return and the Sicilian Mafia’s taking over from Marseilles as capital of the drug traffic after 1978, following President Nixon’s “war on drugs,” which curbed the Marseilles-Istanbul connection, unleashing one much worse.

    Initially the heroin profits seemed so immense that a pax Mafiosa was in place. Everyone had fun. Forget the godfather: this was the New Mafia, all Champagne and amusing torture and high-stakes poker and fancy restaurants and acid baths for children and, for the first time, Kalashnikovs. A certain portion of the port of Palermo, notoriously filled with skeletons, was known as Mafia Cemetery. The French chemist who could convert 1 kg of opium base into 1 kg of heroin earned $1 million for every three-day stint in a heroin kitchen at Taormina or Cefalu.

    The so-called New Mafia’s murderous war over control of the heroin traffic to the U.S. peaked in 1982, when Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, once again in Sicily as its top police officer, was murdered. Two rival alliances had been formed, and nine members of the Buscetta family, including Tommaso’s  two sons, were killed in the heroin feud. Like the Buscettas, the Inzirillo clan was among those under assault from the rival  Corleonesi, headed by Luciano Liggio, with Bernardo Provenzano and Totò Riina as backups. To escape Corleone wrath, Francesco Inzirillo—that Francesco whose unwitting compliments to the Italian police were overheard in his cell—quietly disappeared from Italy into the safer wilds of New Jersey.

    Times must have grown tough there, too, however, for in 2003, just five years ago, Francesco and several of his fellow Inzirillo males on the make, nostalgic for those good old 1980’s days of really big money, began to slip back home. They made a show of being bold, moving right into their old home in Palermo’s Passo di Rigano, the modern quarter pitched on the lower slope of Monte Cuccio. Needless to say, everyone who counted knew the Inzirillos were back, to the point that Francesco himself eventually found himself in prison (one wonders which Palermo tribe led police to him). 

    During the two decades Francesco whiled his time away in New Jersey, radical changes took place affecting the economic, military and social subculture specific to the Mafia of Western Sicily. The age of easy acquittals and terrified juries was over. Introducing a shining new age for Sicily, the two-year-long “Maxi-trial,” whose 474 indictments were drawn up by the anti-Mafia pool of magistrates under Giovanni Falcone, had brought 360 convictions. Not all was wine and tarallucci: within three years of the Maxi-trial in Palermo only 60 of those convicted remained behind bars, but even so, the atmosphere had changed. Palermo had an anti-Mafia mayor, Leoluca Orlando. The Church had an outspoken anti-Mafia archbishop of Palermo, Salvatore Cardinal Pappalardo, who died in 2006 after 26 years of generous, devoted duty. Civic groups like the Comitato delle Lenzuola, which hangs white sheets from balconies to show their rejection of the concept of the Mafia, sprang up after the murder of Judge Falcone, and have battled on. Courageous police and magistrates have taken the places of those gunned down or, like Falcone, blown up. Successful prosecutions related to the maxi-trial took place in Paris and in New York.

    The battle against the Mafia was fought on the grass-roots level, including  in the schools. Students continue to make pilgrimages to the tree still growing in front of the fairly anonymous apartment building where Falcone lived. The youngsters attach letters to the tree, like this, signed “Selene,” one of many on line at www.palermoweb.com:

    Feb. 2, 2008. I’m a girl, age 12, and I find myself by chance writing to thank Giovanni Falcone for having donated his own life and not having given up to the dangers his work meant, for his passion and his desire to defeat Mafia crime. Words escape me. I’m from Catania and at school we are talking about the ‘Mafia problem’. Quite often at school I see kids laughing and joking about the Mafia, but for me this is unjust.

    This left the vestiges of the old guard in Sicily with little choice but to turn back to the customary but more modest urban pursuits, beginning with systematic extortion. They looked longingly at the prospects for gigantic public works which, in Catholic Church parlance, just might be occasions of sin (think: bridges). But even here there were problems, for in Sicily industrialists and businessmen began to organize to refuse to pay for protection. What was to be done?

     When the once-despised Inzirillos began to return to Sicily from New Jersey, the Mafia powers-that-be in Palermo were tolerant, even welcoming. As La Repubblica explained it: “The truth is that everyone—those who did not want them [the Inzirillo clan] back in Sicily and those who wanted them—sensed that, through them, and above all through their American cousins, new business prospects, new economic and financial opportunities would open up. It seemed an extraordinary opportunity for Cosa Nostra, which was suffering from a liquidity crisis, and out of the leadership of international crime for many years. The Sicilian bosses rediscovered America, and they sent their most trusted men to the US.”

    That rediscovery is at an end, everyone seems to agree, at least momentarily. The problems persist: new boys had muscled in on the drug trade—Albanians and Chinese and Russians—but some of the new crowd were Italians, including Camorristi families from Naples once allied to the Sicilians, but now operating, and wildly aggressively, on their own. The number of mob-related murders is showing a tendency to increase: today one out of every five violent deaths is mob-attributable. The traffic in mob-controlled human beings and in weapons continues, as do male, female and child prostitution, the recycling of money, illegal betting, usury and rackets, the manufacture of fakes of everything from handbags to machine tools, and the ecomafia, to name only a few. Any business, after all, can be mob business.

    A prophecy made in the late 1980’s by Tommaso Buscetta, who was accompanied from Brazil to testify in Palermo at the maxi-trial by that same Gianni De Gennaro now spearheading the effort to cure Naples of its mob-related, 15-year-long garbage disposal crisis, tells the rest of the story. “When Cosa Nostra loses its protection from the state, it will become a criminal organization just like any other, and its history will be at an end.” Is this happening?

    It is certainly evolving, but so is everyone else. Most recently, the ‘ndrangheta of Calabria—difficult to penetrate, still mysterious—seems to have taken over leadership in the Italian share of the drug trade. Grim statistics show relative stature: in 2005 eleven murders were attributed to the Sicilian Mafia, whereas in Calabria that same year saw twice that (23). The situation in Calabria is of sufficient concern that a magistrate has ordered viaducts and bridges to be inspected for safety because mob-connected builders may have used mushy, cheap cement instead of what the region paid for.

    In all Italy, garbage-strewn Naples is considered the city most vulnerable to organized crime activity, with Mafia-style association alleged for 220 individuals out of every 100,000. Reggio Calabria follows, and only then, in third place, Palermo, the city which Francesco Inzirillo said his own people should quit because no longer a suitable place for a good mobster to hang out. That, at least, is progress.

  • Facts & Stories

    A darkening Picture: Painting Today’s Italy by Numbers

    The whole great garbage disaster has become such a visual mud-slinger, even at home, that RAI TV’s Channel One is running a daily news slot entitled Non solo immondizie (Not only garbage). The point is to show the good things Italians do in the world and hence to discourage civic shame despite it all—despite the daily scenes of police struggling to contain stone-throwing Neapolitan citizens, despite the photos of women in face masks carrying groceries past garbage mountains, despite the continued school closures on health grounds. Indeed, the picture that made the most news—get ready for it—was of a street that was entirely clean.

    Most pleasantly, Non solo immondizie has turned out to be more than a homeboy-pride reaction to outsiders’ needling. This is serious soul searching, something more than a smug display of Italian foods, fashions and Florentine paintings. Indeed, one of the justly famous Italian entrepreneurs interviewed seized the occasion to plead for honesty in government, for better schools and for jobs for youth.

    Such thoughtful soul-searching was also in evidence when Eurispes, the independent Italian research institute, presented its annual report on the state of  the Italian economy and society January 25. Not a seat was vacant in the vast auditorium of the National Library in Rome as Eurispes president Gian Maria Fara pulled no punches: “Italy is a country held hostage,” he told the audience of journalists and academics, which broke into applause again and again. “It’s a country taken prisoner by a political class which has buried society underneath a thickening blanket that blocks all movement, every possibility for action, every desire for change and modernity. It progressively reduces the space for democracy, it mortifies vocations, talents, merits, expectations and the aspirations of millions of citizens….Fifteen years after the birth of the Second Republic we’re regretting the demise of the First.”

    Once upon a time, rightly or wrongly, Italian politicians were considered the very essence of Italian intelligence—the country’s brain, he went on to say. But no longer: “Politics itself has become a hostage,” and the politicians’ hold on power has increased in an inverse proportion to their capacity to resolve problems. As a result, one citizen out of two today mistrusts the political class, the law and justice system, and the trade unions as well. Even the Church has lost over one-tenth of its consensus in the past year, dropping in citizens’ esteem from the 60.7% of 2006 to the 49.7% of 2007.

    The economy is in disarray, with Italy vaunting the largest black economy in Europe, the equivalent of the GNP of Poland, Finland, Portugal, Hungary and Romania altogether. The criminal economy alone, estimated at E. 175 billion, amounts to “a state within a state,” which distorts the rest of the economy. In its wake the increase in the criminal economy has generated a return to the cash economy, so as to dodge the tax man, according to Eurispes.

    Elsewhere, in the more conventional world of business and industry, salaries lag behind those in the rest of Europe, where wages have risen by 15% over the past three years. In Italy, the average annual rise during that same period was of 4.1%, or around 12% in three years.

    The newest phenomenon in the labor force is a class of “the new invisible people”—men and women who are fully employed, dress neatly to go to professional jobs, but earn too little to survive. Citing figures of the Bank of Italy, the “invisible poor” category takes in fully 15% of all those employed. They tend to be female and young, with 21% having completed a high school and 7% holding a university degree. Their plight “produces discomfort and fractures…[and] a degree of uncertain and insecurity without precedent.” Although the report did not say this, many of these invisible poor are the ones who make the outside world laugh at their still living at home at thirty-five. “Poverty is spreading in the country, and it is ever younger,” the report acknowledged.

    Industrial productivity was disappointing. Although it rose during the past year by 1.3%, throughout the entire five preceding years productivity had actually fallen on average by 0.7% annually, so that, in the past six years, it has declined by 2.2%. “The performance of a business is inversely correlated with the age of the head of the company,” according to the report, pointing out, however, that most recently the number of under-35’s entering business, especially in chemicals and rubbers, has increased.

    Italy’s notoriously elephantine public sector is largely a special prerogative of female workers, who make up 52.7% of the total, by contrast to their lesser proportion (under 39%) of the total work force. Both male and female workers in the public sector are getting long in the tooth; one out of every six of those fully employed in the public sector is over 46, up two years over 2001 figures. The median age of the supervisors (i dirigenti) had climbed to 48.4; eliminating health care workers, the average supervisor was 53 years old. Not coincidentally, the under-35’s holding jobs in the state or local bureaucracy were 31% of all those employed in 1990, but in 2003, a scant 9%.

    The Eurispes analysis also gave evidence of the extent to which the Italian family is reeling from the economic pinch, with only one in three questioned saying that they can make it to the end of the month. The number of families applying for personal loans has doubled in the past year, from 5% to 10%. Buying on time is no longer unusual; indebtedness rose by nearly 10% in the first semester of 2007 over the same period of 2006, and parents report buying even school text books on credit. Whereas fat savings accounts were once the proud Italian norm, today only one in seven families (13.6%) is able to put money aside at the end of the month. Some of this we already knew: shortly before Christmas reports were arriving of middle-aged white-collar men standing in line for free meals.

    One of the sadder elements that leaps from the Eurispes pages is the continuation of a North-South gap. In Sicily almost 31% of families fall below the official poverty line; in the North the figure is generally 6% (Lombardy, Veneto, Trento, Emilia) and 7.1% in Piedmont. The Southern Italian poor also have larger families and far less schooling than in the North. One out of ten Southern Italians read over seven books a year, while in the North the figure is one  in three. And in the North the number of poor families whose head of family is under 35 were under 5% , but five times that in the South.
     

  • Facts & Stories

    Let Statistics Tell the Tale


    Although Mark Twain supposedly said, after Benjamin Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics,” two newly released statistical reports which occasionally overlap—one on justice, the other on society—offer a fascinating close-up of today’s Italy.


    Introducing the new judiciary year in late January, the senior regent of the Rome court of appeals, Claudio Fancelli, presented the annual statistical summary synthesizing the year from July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007. Given the controversy over the newly resigned Justice Minister Clemente Mastella affair, which has his wife under house arrest for alleged participation in corruption, it is worth considering what else the magistrates of Italy have been up to this past year.


    The report could hardly fail to describe problems, but it was not by all means entirely negative. Perhaps its proudest moment comes with the striking increase in the number of individuals actually incarcerated for “crimes against the heritage” (patrimonio), up 29.1% over the previous year. This hike reflects the decade-long police crackdown on thefts in museums and on archaeological sites, as well as against the physical environment—the great parks like the Abruzzi, and the cement-blighted coastline.


    Said Fancelli: “Delinquents on all levels consider it convenient from a juridical point of view to operate within our country, given our [inadequate] penal code.” And indeed crimes by foreigners (robbery, prostitution, drug hustling, exploitation of children) have soared, with nearly half the crimes attributed to minors involving children from the Balkan area (“Slavs”).


    The sluggish justice system is a leitmotif. The delays in Rome reflect in part the fact that, between 2000 and 2007, the number of trials taking place in the capital had tripled. The number of divorces winding up in a courtroom soaring by 11% in just one year, and the resulting slow-down had one divorce case in Rome dragging on for 12 years.


    In addition, Rome comes off as particularly litigious, vaunting as many avvocati as in all of France, “with possible effects on the overcrowding of the judiciary calendar,” according to the financial daily Il Sole-24 Ore. “It is an abnormal number,” Fancelli acknowledged.


    Also evident: a North-South judicial split, with the full-employment, industrial Northern sub-Alpine area plagued with a relatively high number of accidents in the workplace. In the South, and increasingly with “infiltrations” into Rome itself and the Lazio region, the judiciary was obliged to confront organized crime: the Mafia, Camorra, ‘nDrangheta and the Sacro Cuore Unito.


    In this the Southern magistrates showed considerable activism. In Palermo, the number of trials for Mafia association rose by a startling 288% (64 cases in 2006 as compared with 248 in 2007). One such trial has just brought about the resignation of the Sicilian regional assembly president Salvatore (“Toto”) Cuffaro, cleared of his being, himself, a Mafia associate, but convicted on charges of providing aid to mafiosi.


    Cuffaro, staunch ally of Silvio Berlusconi, was sentenced Jan. 18 to five years in prison on grounds that a former police officer had told him in 2001 that investigators had bugged the home of a convicted Mafia boss in Palermo. For days Cuffaro braved Palermo demonstrators (including girls who dressed up like cannoli) and refused to leave office until his appeal trial could be heard, but on Jan. 26 he bowed to public pressure and resigned. The pressure in the business community in Sicily for Cuffaro to resign was spurred by the increasing number of businessmen who defy organized crime by refusing to pay protection.


    At the same time, the number of other trials linked to some degree to Mafia activity rose significantly: for alleged extortion, by 67% in just one year; for usury, by 36%; for corruption, by 129%; and, the greatest increase, for drug trafficking, which rose by 741% in a single.


    For the Naples area (the city itself, Caserta, Benevento and Avellino), said Undersecretary for the Justice Ministry Luigi Scotti, it had been “a dramatic year for justice, aggravated by the chronic lack of magistrates.” For that territory, there were 177 murders, 25% more than the previous year, while what are called “Camorra-style” crimes rose from 78 to 103 while at the same time crimes of extortion, believed linked to organized crime, rose alarmingly, by nearly 10%.

  • Facts & Stories

    Rome: Champagne Corks and Chunks of Mortadella Mark Government’s Collapse


    ROME – In a vote of confidence Thursday night the center-left government which has ruled Italy for the past two years sank like a stone. The climate was such that, the minute the decisive vote was announced in the Senate, at least one right-wing senator celebrated by spitting at an adversary while others among the gleeful victors popped Champagne corks and, as an insult, chomped on slabs of mortadella. Clanging his bell loudly to restore order, Senate President Franco Marini burst out, “This is not a tavern!”


    And yet the coalition headed by Romano Prodi, the cycle-riding premier whose opponents razz him for eating that sausage specialty of his native Bologna, mortadella, had fared almost surprisingly well only the day before, when the confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies showed 226 in favor and 175 against. Nevertheless the Prodi coalition lost the vote in the Senate by a narrow margin, 161 versus 156. Prodi immediately resigned, and on Friday President Giorgio Napolitano launched consultations over what is to be done. 


    What indeed? The most likely outcome is a prolonged crisis that will end in the calling of new elections in April. If you are placing bets, go ahead and place them on a Silvio Berlusconi clan victory, for yet another round of  government by telemarketing. However, President Napolitano is known to be notably reluctant to call elections, so before this happens there will be one or two rounds of attempts to form a government by premier-designates, who will try and most likely fail. Possible choices for an ad interim government of technicians to tend the store for a time—such as have been appointed any number of times in the past—include prestigious outsiders such as former European Commissioner Mario Monti and the banker/economist who has been governor of the Bank of Italy for the past year, Mario Draghi.


    Admittedly, dissatisfaction with the center-left’s squabbling, faltering performance has been building for many months, but meantime, it’s fair to ask just how Prodi could have won by no less than 51 votes in the Chamber, and yet have lost in the smaller Senate because of two senators changing their vote.


    One reason for the good showing in the Chamber is because, under a new electoral law, the victor receives a premium of extra MP’s. This controversial law was a last-minute bequest from Silvio Berlusconi. Shortly before his conservative “House of Freedom” coalition was ousted two years ago, the controversial election law was shoved through with some hair-raising provisos that have contributed to the present government crisis. That new election law had an extremely low threshold of only 2% for small parties to enter Parliament; those hoping to reduce the number of tiny parties had asked for 4% or 5%. This allowed a relatively large number of micro-parties.


    In addition, these tiny parties won a premium of extra representation (i.e., more MP’s) at the expense of the larger ones. “The big winners were penalized while the losers were rewarded,” said the sardonic Senator Antonio Polito of the new Partito Democratico, headed by Walter Veltroni.


    Then the number of  micro-parties was further expanded, after the two houses of Parliament were seated, by self-appointment, to the point that, at last count, 38 parties, among them Lamberto Dini’s three-member formation, were represented in the now-defunct Parliament. “A few friends would chum together, name their party and—without that party’s ever facing an electorate—they would then obtain Parliamentary perks: funding, office space, an official car, a secretary, the right to consultations with the other party secretaries, attention from the TV cameras….” said Polito in a meeting with foreign journalists Friday.


    The law also overturned the old system of indicating individual preferences. This rescinding of the voters’ right to choose individual candidates boosted the power and control of the party bosses immeasurably. The process was for party leaders to compile a roster of names, and, depending upon how many votes the party won, their candidates automatically entered Parliament, starting from the top of the list chosen by the bosses in the proverbial smoke-filled back room.


    A national referendum to overturn this law was in the works, but that referendum would end automatically with the calling of new elections. Nor can Parliament rewrite the election law in the meantime, for the government’s resignation limits its powers to ordinary management until a new government is in office.

  • Facts & Stories

    Italian News Spinning


    ... Three cases last week showed that the Italians spin no less skillfully than anyone else—but that unspinning is extremely difficult.


    The troublesome Case Number One reflects two contradictory facts. In the past three years the presence of Romanians in Italy has tripled, and today over one million Romanians, including Romanian Roma, or Gypsies, live in Italy. Only 400,000 have legal status, hard to obtain partly because bureaucrats and police are simply overwhelmed. Since last summer, a number of widely publicized murders and other serious crimes involving Romanians and Roma have taken place, and Romanians now top the lists of perpetrators of serious crimes, including manslaughter and rape, committed in Italy by foreigners.



    The result is panic and anti-Romanian, anti-immigrant resentment, even though Romanian crime seems to have increased in proportion to the augmented presence of Romanians. Indeed, official statistics show that, while financial crimes and robberies of households in Italy are on the rise, crimes of violence are actually on the wane. If so, then the citizens’ perception that they are under particular threat from the Romanian nationals would be disproportionate to the reality.



    In November the Romanetwork accused both politicians and the media for conducting a “sustained campaign…of inciting panic over crimes purportedly committed by Romanians—and in particular by Romanian Roma. The Italian government has also passed an emergency decree facilitating the expulsion of Romanian citizens, with only limited procedural protection. In the context of agitating for these draconian new measures, the media in both Italy and Romania have participated in explicitly racist incitement, and a number of high-ranking officials have made explicitly anti-Romani statements.”    



    In an evident, if ill considered, attempt at fairness, last week the distinguished president of the Institutional Affairs Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, the former magistrate Luciano Violante, summoned the directors of TV news operations (Berlusconi’s, the independent La 7 and the state-owned RAI), for a three-hour meeting basically asking the media not to fan the flames of prejudice and make the public feel needlessly insecure.



    It didn’t take. The network directors were having no part in political doctoring of the news: “To summon us here to tell us that the news is contributing to making citizens feel insecure would lower us in the ranks of press freedom,” retorted Clemente Mimun, news director of Berlusconi’s Tg5.  The (presumably) more progressive head of RAI’s Tg3 Antonio Di Bella was no less resentful: “The last thing I’d like is to be called in again to be told, a year from now, that crime is on the rise but that public perceptions of it have decreased.” A Northern League spokesman, Roberto Cota, called the intervention “just one more attempt to politicize information.” At the same time the moderate president of the Order of Journalists in Lazio, Bruno Tucci, also blew the whistle, saying that Violante’s were Fascist-style Minculpop tactics: “What does he [Violante] want—for us to ignore reality and sugar-coat sensitive issues that everyone can see? To have journalists not do their job for the sake of the establishment?”



    Case number two was more cut and dried. As the Great Garbage Implosion continued to fill the pages with horrific photos, and the public piazzas with angry mobs, the press could hardly remain on the sidelines. Sardinia has an active recycling program which has produced enviable results, but when Renato Soru, president of the Sardinian Region, offered the island’s modern facilities to the Neapolitans for incineration, a local right-wing newspaper together with a radio station in Cagliari published the “fact” that 36,000 tons of rubbish would be dumped on the island from Naples. The news resulted in a mob scuffle at the port, even though—according to Soru—the real figure was a small percentage of what the newspaper had published: 6,000 tons, or 1.5% of Sardinia’s recycled waste. Accusing the newspaper and radio of fomenting violence through its inaccurate statistics, Soru announced he will sue for defamation.



    The third case of spin gone wrong began with the former primate president of the Italian bishops’ conference, the CEI, and present vicar for the diocese of Rome, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, who compiled a thick file on Rome’s presumed state of degrado, or degradation. This file went to Pope Benedict XVI, who received Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni last week, and rapped the Rome mayor over the head with it.



    The result was enormous resentment of Church interference, and not only from the press; Romans were complaining, not for the first time, that the Vatican does not pay taxes on income-generating property it owns and manages in Rome outside Vatican walls. The leftist press had a field day attacking both pope and mayor: “A donkey being lashed – Veltroni came out of the meeting with Benedict XVI with his bones broken,” said Il Manifesto, only slightly more outraged than the rest of the Italian press.



    Veltroni fired back with statistics showing that his administration had doubled services for the elderly and the poor. Reacting to the uproar, the cardinal who is the pontiff’s deputy in the Vatican, Tarcisio Bertone, backtracked on papal behalf, explaining that it had all been a misunderstanding. After this clarification, Veltroni thanked the pope, adding piously that the Rome administration had been working to “improve the quality of life without losing sight of the needs and rights of the weakest and the most disadvantaged.” Point counter-point—just another faux pas on the road to Roman coexistence.

     



     

  • Facts & Stories

    Healthy Italy, but Naples poisoned by garbage


    ROME – Last month’s New York Times article accusing Italy of being adrift continues to trouble the establishment here. In a New Year’s message, center-left coalition Premier Romano Prodi announced that December’s Eurostat statistics, which purport to show that the Spanish economy has trumped Italy’s, were dead wrong. According to Prodi, the real story is told by the International Monetary Fund, whose statistics (also from December) show that Italy’s annual per capita income stands at $31,792, well above Spain’s $27,767. The Italian GNP, he added, is of $1,852 billion, well over Spain’s $1,230 billion.



    Another strong defense of Italy came in a polite letter to the New York Times sent by Italian Interior Minister Giuliano Amato. In it Amato pointed out that the Italian national health care system is ranked by the World Health Organization as second in the world, even as reports of what is called here la malasanità continue to pour in. Sutures in the abdomen, rats in hospital kitchens, the dying left outside shut doors, meningitis in the wards, camorristi in privileged treatment, immensely costly machines rusting in a cellar—you name it, we read about it.



        Nevertheless, Amato has a good point, which he would do well to make at home. My personal experience is that many of the same Italians who utilize the free health service here, and some of those who run it, fail to appreciate that it exists at all, and that the public health clinics scattered throughout Italy are still open to one and all. A healthy diet and the (not always jolly) sociality of family life are only partly responsible for the remarkable Italian longevity, superior to that of the U.S.; surely the public health system with its obligatory immunizations for all children—as of January 1 being challenged by one region, the Veneto, on a test basis—also deserves credit.



    The proof is in the pudding: in 1939 the infant mortality rate stood at 100 deaths within the first year of life for every 1,000 births, down today to five deaths. In addition, in 1939 the average life span was, for men, 53 years and for women, 56; today is 77 for men and 82 for women. Something right is being done, and it is a precious heritage. And this is true despite the obvious risk of politicization (translated: appointing friends and relatives to health service, or ASL, posts).



        If, as is implicit in Minister Amato’s statement, Italy is potentially the second healthiest nation in Europe, Neapolitans have been left out, however. Newspapers this week are running double pages filled with pictures of burning rubbish and seething Neapolitans. Awash in a sea of untended garbage, breathing in dioxin from burning rubbish piles on street corners, infuriated locals do battle with police. No one can blame the Neapolitans for being exasperated: the garbage war has been going on for well over a year now, with no end in sight. Put in the simplest way, the garbage treatment resources are inadequate to the population, but of course nothing is ever that simple. Some blame the camorra but others say the camorra is used as an excuse. Others blame City Hall. Whoever is to blame, last summer the United States embassy in Rome warned its citizens that the garbage crisis may risk travelers’ health in the Campania region surrounding Naples: "U.S. citizens traveling to or through the area may encounter mounds of garbage, open fires with potentially toxic fumes, and/or sporadic public demonstrations by local residents attempting to block access to dumps," said an advisory note. Altogether the eighteen rubbish consortiums of the region employ 2,400 paid employees and countless “consultants.”



    In RAI TV interviews aired on November 19, 2006, Bernardo Iovene pointed out that 71 Campania region city councils have been dissolved on grounds of mob infiltration and their elected officials replaced by administrators. The result, as seen in interviews with workers of a rubbish-gathering consortium hired by local administrators, shows men standing idly about and chatting. Herewith an edited portion of interview transcripts:


    Iovene: How many men are here now?
    Man No. 1: Two hundred sixty, two fifty six…
    Iovene: Two hundred sixty people? And just now what are you doing?
    Man No. 2: Nothing
    Iovene: That is, you do nothing?
    Man No. 3: Nothing, because the trucks can’t go out….we are supposed to work shifts but the trucks are all broken down….
    Man No. 4: We work three shifts, morning, afternoon, night…we are supposed to bring in the differentiated rubbish but as you can see, we aren’t doing anything at all…
    Man No. 6: We come here, we sign in, and we wait for time to go home.
    Iovine:  Are you telling me the truth?
    Man No. 6: Certainly!...The tires are smooth, the motors burned out…
    Union rep.: These workers ask only to be able to work…
    Man No. 8: We don’t have the means to work. The trucks are all broken down…We have thirty of them. Only eight work.
    Iovine:  Are there mechanics in here?
    Man No. 3:  We are all mechanics….
    Iovine (voice-over): The City prefers to use a private company…this is a private consortium.

    Consortium President (named in text and on camera):  Ah no, you must turn off that camera.    



        According to Agence France Presse on, Jan. 3, “Criminal investigators say the Camorra mafia pay truckers to haul industrial waste from factories in northern Italy for fees that undercut those of the legal trade. They bring it to illegal dumps in the Naples region made by blasting holes in mountainsides.”



          Il Messaggero on the same day pointed out a solution: that Neapolitan rubbish be shipped to Germany, where it will be turned into electricity, which can be resold to Italy, which already buys 15% of its electricity from Germany.

                      

    * * *



        A post-script to my December piece on Italy’s winter of discontent: I had dated the general indifference to the study of mathematics (and hence the loss of basic training in logic) on the part of the masters of the Italian school curricula to an ideological quirk of the Seventies. Turns out that this snubbing of math dates from the year following Mussolini’s take-over, 1923,  when Minister Giovanni Gentile’s school reform project boosted the importance of the liceo classico (Latin high school) at the expense of the scientific high school. According to Dario Ragazzini, historian of education at Florence University, “For the elementary school Gentile justified his choice saying that mathematics serves to resolve problems, and that the children could do without this, therefore, because they have no problems.” (Cited in Focus Storia, No. 3, “Come si viveva ai tempi di fascismo,” Milan, 2005) It is

     

Pages