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Articles by: Maria rita Latto

  • Life & People

    Italy. Everybody Is Crazy For Obama

    In the last two weeks of protests against the Italian government in Rome, such as the one held at the Circus Maximus, it was impossible not to notice among the masses signs that apparently don’t have a connection with what is happening here in Italy. Three in particular really impressed me. The first one was very direct: “Forza Obama.” The second one, written in the Roman dialect, appeared as an exhortation: “Obama facce sognà” (Obama makes us dream). And the third one sounded like a sort of a prayer, again in the Roman dialect, coming directly from the heart of a desperate Italian having lost all hope: “Obama pensace tu” (Obama, you look after it).

    They express a diffused feeling in the Italian center-left, a passion shared from the start by the leader of the Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni. He wrote the preface to the Italian edition of Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope. In almost all of his public speeches in the last few months, Veltroni has supported Obama’s victory and viewed him as a model for Italian politics. He also took the slogan “Yes We Can” and translated it into the Italian “Si Può Fare” and even the Roman dialect “Se pò ffà.”  

    Over the past few days, members of the center-left, included the former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, have come out as Obama's supporters, indeed giving everyone the idea that they need a revitalizing cure, represented by the American Democratic candidate. A massive dose of Obama could revive the Italian Democratic Party, which after the defeat in the last election resembles a boxer unable to recover from a lethal punch. All the center-left members showing their love for Obama are following this idea, imagining that once Obama arrives at the White House, the new Democratic President will immediately behave according to their wishes. Their “ideal” Obama would create a less domineering America in the world. He would also be attentive to the redistribution of wealth. He would also, of course, stop the war in Iraq, and while he’s at it, he could become a real icon and demonstrate a cold attitude towards the “hateful” Silvio Berlusconi. It’s too good to be true, especially if in reality Obama does not appear to be as similar to his “ideal twin” as in the Italian center-left’s imagination. For example, could they really believe that he made this statement: “I am not in favor of homosexual weddings because of my Christian faith?” Or would they think that this sentiment belongs to a center-right character such as Rocco Buttiglione, whose similar attitude towards gays cost him an important seat in the European Parliament?

    The behavior of the Italian center-right, though, is not so different. Day after day, Barack Obama’s admirers in the People of Freedom Party have quickly increased. Its members view the American candidate as a younger Silvio Berlusconi. Ministers Sandro Bondi and Franco Frattini stated that both Obama and Berlusconi have something in common, such as charisma, no ideological attitudes, and the ability to communicate in short speeches “based on so many ideals.” But these seem to be general, vague arguments…

    In the panorama of weird statements made by center-right last-hour supporters, Maria Stella Gelmini, the Minister of Public Instruction, stands out. She said that Obama is proposing a series of reforms for American schools similar to the ones she proposed and that are now stirring up so many protests in the Italian cities. She seems to ignore the fact that, in its program, the American Democratic Party allocated 14 million dollars for schools. Renata Polverini, the leader of the UGL, the right-wing labor union, stated that she likes Obama because “he can change the international scene and also because he is black.” A group of center-right parliamentary members, such as Chiara Moroni, Lucio Malan, Marcello De Angelis, even created a website supporting him, www.pdlperobama.com.  

    So, to whom does Obama belong? Does he belong to the Italian center-right or to the center-left? If he will be the new American president, will he behave according to their “ideal image” or will he take his decision according to the needs of his nation, the United States of America? Apparently we can just hope, and keep repeating: “Obama facce sognà! Obama pensace tu!”

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)


  • Facts & Stories

    Miracle in 100 Days

    The title is short and sweet: “Miracle In 100 Days”. The subtitle sounds like music to the Italian premier’s ears: “How Berlusconi brought order to chaotic Italy, and what comes next.”


    It is an article written by Jacopo Barigazzi in the 18-25 August issue of “Newsweek” dealing with the current situation in Italy. This article was enthusiastically welcomed by the government and by some media who quoted mainly the title and its first lines, where Barigazzi mentions that “in his first 100 days in office, Silvio Berlusconi may have done the impossible: to a degree unprecedented in modern Italian history, he asserted control over this seemingly ungovernable nation.” 


    But, is it really so? Did this “miracle” really happen that we read about in the foreign press that praises Italy and in particular Mr. Berlusconi, often negatively depicted abroad?


    If we read the article carefully, we discover that it is not a complete praise of the Italian premier. While in the media and especially on television, the prevailing idea was that the American magazine thought that Silvio Berlusconi was saving Italy from decline. Indeed, the real “miracle”, according to Newsweek, is due to a series of facts creating, in a domino effect, an upswing.


    The first miracle is to have taken control of an ungovernable nation reaching an “approval rating of 55 percent—higher than Britain's Gordon Brown, France's Nicolas Sarkozy or Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.” After this, Mr. Berlusconi “cannily exploited a 2005 electoral law that wiped out these small parties to win a surprise landslide victory from which the opposition is still trying to recover.” While the premier “enjoys something of a honeymoon period with the electorate,” -continues Barigazzi- “he has also wasted little time in consolidating his authority. One of his first acts: pushing through a bill that gives the top four national officeholders, including the prime minister himself, immunity from prosecution while in office. The bill passed overwhelmingly last month, and put an end to outstanding criminal proceedings against Berlusconi (which he and supporters say were politically driven).” The magazine is referring to the “Lodo Alfano”, a law that gives the premier a break from all trials against him for corruption, even though the fact “that this new law was a possible conflict of interest did not go by unnoticed” –comments Barigazzi-, “but Italians are feeling too poor to pay it much attention.” These last words cannot be considered as a compliment.


    Continuing the article, it appears clear that the peculiarity of the article is that, after the positive start, there is a “crescendo” accompanying the reader to a conclusion that transforms the initial sugar to a bitter taste. In fact, Barigazzi talks about the first laws approved by Mr. Berlusconi’s government that do not appear particularly concerned with the Italians’ real needs. And, as Newsweek notices, “after 10 years of near-zero economic growth—Bank of America predicts 0.5 percent growth this year—they are demanding security, financial and otherwise.” Silvio Berlusconi is trying to succeed in this task “with an iron-fist-in-velvet-glove competence.” “Emblematic” –emphasizes Barigazzi- “has been his ability to clean up Naples, buried for months under trash in part because the surrounding communities simply did not trust the government to manage the landfills.” Furthermore, with “a similar resolve he tackled the perception that violent crime is on the rise (despite data showing otherwise)” Newsweek continues, remembering the polemics between Italy and the European Union regarding laws against the Rom and troops in some Italian cities. In Barigazzi’s opinion, “such tough tactics could give Berlusconi the cover to tackle some of Italy's deeper issues.”


    The article ends with a sort of warning/prophecy on the premier: “Italians like him now, but what they really want is economic stability. Cleaning up trash and harassing immigrants won't be enough.” In fact, with time, Mr. Berlusconi will have to face more challenges, perhaps more difficult to overcome, such as defeating the economic crisis and lowerinng taxes. At his first misstep, he risks losing his popularity. And Jacopo Barigazzi explains this clearly.


    After a deeper and complete reading of the article, the inevitable question remains: is it really in praise of Mr. Berlusconi?





  • Facts & Stories

    Italy Using Soldiers to Fight Crime. Could It Really Work?

    Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won the April elections by pledging to make the country safer. After three months in office, he has offered the most visible initiative to his law-and-order campaign: his government decided to employ 3,000 troops in major Italian cities to patrol the streets and to help police reinforce security. Italian Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni and Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa explained that the six-month initiative, which began last Monday, August 4, will have the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Carabinieri working alongside local police. A total of 2,000 troops were placed at the disposal of 16 mayors to guard black spots and immigration holding centers in cities such as Rome, Milan, and Naples. Some units are watching “sensitive” sites in Rome, Milan, and Naples—51 in the capital, 20 in Milan, and one in Naples. The remaining 1,000 are patrolling the streets of Bari, Catania, Milan, Naples, Padua, Palermo, Rome, Turin, and Verona. In Rome as well as in the northern city of Turin on the first day of the initiative, at least four people were arrested on petty crime and drug trafficking charges. An additional 50 people have been identified by authorities in Turin. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said, “I believe we are on the right track to guarantee more safety for citizens, to give them the feeling that the government is there and it is serious about fighting crime.”

    Such a controversial decision stirred up the usual debate between the center-right government and the center-left opposition. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa told the press that residents shouldn’t be afraid but that “thieves, rapists, and criminals” should worry. Antonio di Pietro, the leader of the Italy of Values Party, complained that the troops are being “reduced to the role of extras in Cinecittà”, the legendary Rome film studio. Some critics said that the deployment of 3,000 troops would do little, if anything, to reduce crime. Others condemned it as a superfluous measure that could prove counterproductive. “Putting troops on the street sends a dramatic message that the situation is more serious than it is in reality,” said Marco Minniti, the shadow interior minister of the center-left Democratic Party, the largest opposition party. Achille Serra, a former Rome prefect with a long background in law enforcement, called the deployment “useless and ineffective”. He is now a center-left opposition senator. “I’ll remind you that we are not in Beirut and I’m wondering what a soldier will do to address a burglary or mugging,” he said in a newspaper interview. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said the presence of the armed forces was enough in itself to discourage criminals. “Citizens know the mere fact that the armed forces are on the streets… is in itself a deterrent. This is not a militarization of cities but a clear response to the perceived demand for greater security,” he said.

    Inevitably, this decision stirred discussion not only in Parliament but also among Italian citizens. I have decided to walk the sunny, summery streets of Rome and hear the mixed reactions across the city during the first days of this new initiative. The first day in front of the subway station in the working-class neighborhood of Rebbibia, people seem to think that that the government’s decision was a positive one. “I feel better, it is reassuring that there is someone around that you can trust and that knows how to help you,” said Alina, 29, a Romanian who works as a family caretaker. Alina uses the subway to go to work and worries about her safety while returning home. “Now that I look around and see the soldiers,” she adds, “I automatically feel safer.” Francesco, age 25, works as a shop assistant in downtown Rome. He said, “I am happy; I hope this will solve things and eliminate part of the crime.” I asked Alessandro, age 35, a Sardinian Grenadier and one of the soldiers on duty at this subway stop, what he thinks of this initiative. He replied, “We are here to guarantee safety. Of course, after 13 years of missions abroad in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, this seems easy to me. Residents are reacting enthusiastically; someone even offered to buy me a cappuccino and a croissant early this morning and there is a group of old women living near here that asks us every hour if we need a sandwich or a soda. It is a pleasant, homely atmosphere!”

    Claudia, a twenty-two year old student, has mixed feelings, “It would have been better to act against crime before this point; to avoid having to deploy troops, it is an exaggeration. What is important now is that they aren’t leaving us alone again, like before.” Her boyfriend, Simone, also a twenty-two year old student, expresses his fears, “The image of soldiers in the streets may appear intimidating not only to people living here in Rome but also to tourists.” Perhaps he is unaware of the decision of Roman authorities not to send soldiers into the historic areas. Gianni Alemanno, the new mayor of the Eternal City, had complained that gun-toting soldiers could scare off tourists and asked that they not be sent into tourist areas. The government complied with his request.

    The Romans seem to be getting used to seeing the troops in the streets. During a walk in the middle-class area of Via Nomentana, where there are embassies regularly patrolled by police, I met Laura, age 68, who is retired from work and who walks her dog through this neighborhood. “The soldiers make us feel safer but it is a sad fact that we have to use them,” she says, “Not to mention the risk that they could make it seem like things are worse than what they really are.”

    Matteo, age 20, a student who is waiting for the bus, is extremely critical of the government’s measure:

    “It could be a boomerang, it could hurt the country’s image abroad and even scare tourists away. Was it so necessary?”

    This is the same question that was posed by the Italian media after the government’s decision. Doubts arose because of data from a new study recently released by the Censis research center that shows, for example, that Italy has the lowest murder rate of the biggest European countries and it is falling. One union leader suggested that the military should be drafted, instead, into Italian building sites to combat a growing cause of death among Italians—fatal accidents at work, which Italy leads in across Europe, according to Censis.

    After the first six months, all doubts could be resolved once it is seen if the measure is effective or not.

    (Edited by Stephanie Longo)



  • Life & People

    An "Affair" to be Remembered

    This time, the controversy involves Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon and the woman depicted in Giambattista Tiepolo’s painting “Truth Revealed by Time”. According to Mr. Berlusconi’s wishes, a copy of this painting was placed as the backdrop of his media briefing room in Palazzo Chigi after he took office for the third time. Most likely, this painting was chosen because of its title since the Prime Minister wants to show the Italian public that time will tell if he has been unjustly persecuted by the judges who are trying to incriminate time.

    Apparently, the woman’s naked, firm, and well-rounded breasts, fully exposed in the original painting, have been covered by a white veil and are, therefore, no longer visible. The same thing was done to her navel. The Italian press is accusing Mr. Berlusconi of Victorian prudery; however, knowing his egocentric character, perhaps he thought that the attention of journalists and viewers would focus on the woman’s breast rather than on what he was saying in his speech. The media compared this censorship to the Vatican’s censorship of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes in the sixteenth century when the Congregation of the Council of Trent felt that some of the figures depicted in the Last Judgment were “obscene”. The task of painting a covering, called “braghe” (pants), over the questionable exposed parts in the Last Judgment was given to Daniele da Volterra, who received the nickname of “braghettone”.

    Silvio Berlusconi’s staff at Palazzo Chigi said that the exposed breasts could “offend the sensibilities of some people.” Paolo Bonaiuti, Mr. Berlusconi’s spokesman, added that some of the female staff at Palazzo Chigi had asked for the “retouching”.

    Vittorio Sgarbi, art critic and former deputy Minister of Culture, said that the decision to cover the woman’s breasts and navel was “madness, absolute madness” and added, “You cannot touch up a Tiepolo! What are they going to do with all the statues of naked women scattered in museums across Italy with busts that would make Pamela Anderson jealous? I hope that whoever came up with this absurd, mad, pathetic, comic, and futile idea did so without the knowledge of the Prime Minister.”

    Giancarlo Galan, governor of the Veneto region, which includes Venice, home of Giambattista Tiepolo, also criticized the censorship of the painting. Although he belongs to the same political party as Mr. Berlusconi, he did not hesitate to say that “It is not good to offend Tiepolo. Whoever came up with this grotesque and absurd gesture should be punished as they have offended a particular artist. The Prime Minister’s office has managed to offend one of the great artists of freedom.”

    It can’t help but be noticed that Silvio Berlusconi’s staff (if it is true that they ignored what was happening to the painting”, which was so ready to hide what could “offend the sensibilities of some people”, seems to be oblivious to what is being shown every day on television sets belonging to the Prime Minister and the state television sets controlled by his government. It is a never-ending parade of reality television shows like Big Brother and others that show young girls who dream of becoming a celebrity at all costs; all of whom don’t really care about what they are wearing, which includes mini skirts and bras that leave little to the imagination; not to mention the vulgarity of most of these shows, which lack good taste and etiquette.

    Is it so difficult for Silvio Berlusconi’s staff to take care of its viewers by promoting high-quality shows and censoring vulgarity? Should Tiepolo be censored while such television shows are considered “artistic” and, therefore, worthy of an audience?

    One thing is clear: if his staff wished to do the Prime Minister a favor by not letting Italians associate a woman’s breasts to his image, all of these rumors have created the opposite effect!



  • Un cimitero in fondo al Mediterraneo

    Un secco comunicato del governo: “Il Consiglio dei ministri ha approvato l’estensione all’intero territorio nazionale della dichiarazione dello stato di emergenza per il persistente ed eccezionale afflusso di cittadini extracomunitari”. La motivazione che ha portato a questa decisione è stata la necessità di “potenziare le attività di contrasto e di gestione del fenomeno”.


    Nel frattempo il Canale di Sicilia è quotidianamente solcato dai barconi della speranza e giorno dopo giorno sta diventando un cimitero nascosto in fondo ad un mare che si sta trasformando in un’immensa tomba. Giorno dopo giorno è sempre più difficile tenere la macabra contabilità dei morti. La notte scorsa almeno sette dispersi in mare, pochi giorni fa due bambini in tenera età morti di stenti durante la traversata e gettati in mare dal padre. Tra i disperati ci sono anche tanti bambini e molte donne incinte. Alcune hanno addirittura partorito durante il viaggio, sul gommone, davanti agli occhi di decine di altri immigrati. È un intrecciarsi di vita e morte lungo le rotte della speranza attraversate col cuore colmo di disperazione alla ricerca di un futuro migliore. Sono tante storie di uomini, donne e bambini che però passano inosservate ai nostri politici, occupati a litigare tra di loro senza trovare soluzioni valide. Storie incredibili come quelle degli “uomini-tonno”, cioè di coloro che, scampati al naufragio della “carretta del mare” su cui viaggiavano, rimangono per giorni aggrappati alle reti delle tonnare per salvarsi, ancora una volta, dalla morte in acqua. Tra di questi anche donne, alcune persino incinte, e bambini, tutti fortemente determinati a raggiungere Lampedusa, un lembo di terra che rappresenta il punto di partenza per una vita diversa, migliore. Storie incredibili di morti di cui non è giunta né mai giungerà notizia, a bordo di carrette naufragate senza che nessuno se ne sia mai accorto. Storie incredibili come il naufragio di Portopalo, quello della notte di Natale del 1996, riportato solo da pochi organi di stampa, avvenuto tra l’indifferenza generale, salvo poi piangere lacrime di coccodrillo cinque anni dopo quando la verità cominciò ad emergere dai resti umani che rimanevano impigliati nelle reti dei pescatori.



    I rappresentanti dell’Alto Commissariato delle Nazioni Unite per i Rifugiati (Unhcr), l’Organizzazione Internazionale per le Migrazioni (Oim) e la Croce Rossa Italiana hanno dichiarato recentemente che “il Mediterraneo si dimostra sempre più la via dei richiedenti asilo”. La portavoce in Italia dell'Unhcr, Laura Boldrini, ha spiegato: “I numeri parlano chiaro: un immigrato su tre di quelli giunti in Italia via mare nel 2007 ha fatto domanda d’asilo e uno su cinque ha ottenuto una forma di protezione internazionale. Il mare è sempre più la via di fuga per chi scappa da guerre e persecuzioni – ha concluso la portavoce dell'Unhcr - e dunque è importante proseguire negli interventi di soccorso in mare e insistere sul ‘modello Lampedusa’ nel cui centro di prima accoglienza operano dal marzo 2006 Croce Rossa, Oim e Unhcr per informare gli immigrati appena sbarcati sui propri diritti”. Il ministro degli Esteri Frattini ha rimarcato più volte che da sola l’Italia non può affrontare un fenomeno di questa portata, serve l’impegno dell’Unione Europea ed è importante “approvare il patto europeo per l’immigrazione entro la fine dell’anno. Su questi temi –ha concluso il ministro- lavoriamo da anni, ma oggi il momento è maturo”.



    Intanto le stime più prudenti parlano di diecimila morti annegati negli ultimi dieci anni sulle rotte tra l’Africa e le nostre coste meridionali. Considerando, poi, che ogni anno arrivano via mare circa ventimila migranti, si capisce che esiste un’alta possibilità di morire durante la traversata. Ogni cento clandestini che arrivano, cinque annegano. Per non parlare del fatto che nonostante l’inasprimento delle pene, l’istituzione del reato di immigrazione clandestina, il prolungamento del periodo di permanenza nei centri di detenzione, il flusso non diminuisce.

    Sia il passato governo Berlusconi nel 2003, sia il governo Prodi nel 2007, hanno firmato accordi con la Libia per cercare di fronteggiare il fenomeno dell’immigrazione clandestina e della tratta degli esseri umani. Nonostante gli accordi, tuttavia, salvo qualche sporadica partenza dalla Tunisia e dall’Algeria per la nuova rotta che porta alla coste meridionali della Sardegna, le imbarcazioni cariche di disperati nelle mani di trafficanti di esseri umani partono dalla terra di Gheddafi. La Libia chiede soldi all’Unione Europea per pattugliare i suoi confini che guardano il Sahara, da dove arrivano incontrollati i neri africani in cerca d’acqua e di una speranza di vita; la piccola isola di Malta non ha i soldi necessari per mantenere una flotta impegnata nei soccorsi in mare e si sente già troppo affollata per essere solidale. D’altro canto, l’Europa vive alla giornata tra mille allarmi, lutti, insicurezza e confini colabrodo.



    I migranti sono oltre due milioni, in maggioranza africani neri provenienti dal Sudan, dal Ciad, dal Niger e dal Corno d'Africa, oltre che dall’Egitto. Negli anni Novanta il colonnello Gheddafi aveva deciso di respingere questi migranti nel deserto da dove erano venuti, un metodo drastico che aveva percentuali di mortalità non diverse da quelle odierne nel Mediterraneo. Dopo oltre un decennio, ancora oggi resiste la massa di disperati pronti a rischiare persino la vita pur di raggiungere l’Europa. Una volta giunti in Italia, secondo i dati dell’Alto commissariato per i rifugiati, solo ad una minoranza, un quinto dei migranti, vengono riconosciuti l’asilo politico o la protezione umanitaria, grazie ai quali non sono più “clandestini”.



    La vera “emergenza”, tanto per usare il termine del recente decreto Maroni, è l’Africa ed il suo dramma, un qualcosa di troppo grande che non può essere risolto con articoli o commi di legge, con l’immigrazione clandestina vista come un reato. Quel che pochi sembrano capire è che la ricca Europa dovrebbe iniziare a creare investimenti in Africa, in modo da fermare le partenze. Anche perché la responsabilità di questa strage continua è prevalentemente nostra, della nostra globalizzazione che accetta tutti i movimenti di capitali, ma rifiuta le persone, tutti coloro che non riescono a vivere nei loro paesi e, rischiando la vita, tentano di sbarcare nel nostro mondo ricco e opulento, magari solo per mendicare. Anche perché in un paese ricco si può vivere di elemosine, mentre nei loro paesi d’origine la popolazione è aumentata e le produzioni sono state distrutte dalla crescita della produttività dei paesi benestanti. Tanti non accettano di morire in patria e decidono di rischiare il tutto per tutto, vedendo l’Europa come una sorta di terra promessa. 


    Nel frattempo, la sola maniera che i nostri governanti hanno per affrontare il problema è sfornare un decreto che “potenzia le attività di contrasto e di gestione del fenomeno”. Nessuna traccia di iniziative umanitarie, nessun tentativo di contrastare l’aumento di morti nel grande cimitero in fondo al Mediterraneo.


  • Life & People

    Watching the Soccer Match Italia-Romania

    Watching the soccer match at my father’s apartment is a must, especially since our national team is the world champion. Except this time it is not a typical match. According to the media it is simply “the mother of all matches:” Italy vs. Romania.

    It is an event that many interpret as more than mere sport, one that carries many implications beyond the soccer field and that touches on issues of racism, xenophobia, and politics. A reader of the extreme-left newspaper Liberazione started the argument days before: in a country as deeply racist as Italy, why should we support the national team which “represents the worst of Italy? Why choose to support the country seen by so many Italians as the receptacle for gypsies, vampires, and prostitutes?”

    It is a debate that has provoked many reactions, especially on the left, where some proponents of the Rifondazione Comunista Party, such as Manuela Palermi and Graziella Mascia, responded by enthusiastically suggesting that we support Romania against Italy. Others, such as Giovanni Russo Spena, found a compromise: “We are all Rom and Romanians. I am not going to support either Romania or Italy, but good soccer.” The opinion of the Ministro Roberto Calderoli (Lega Nord), instead, left us speechless: “The Romanians? Let them win the match if they agree to take the Roms back to Romania. I would only be sorry for Coach Roberto Donadoni who is from Bergamo, like me!”  

    So the expectations surrounding the event were incredibly high and transformed a soccer match into a potential opportunity for revenge, one of the many episodes that have created a strained relationship between Italian and Romanian diplomats. Through the press, the ambassador of Romania to Italy officially reminded us that in every competition there are losers and winners and that, of course, he wished that the team lead by coach Piturca would be successful. Though, he added, the best option would be if both teams could advance to the next round of the European championships.

    This attitude is typical of a supporter wishing to show some sense of fair play while not forgetting his diplomatic role! Despite fair play, tensions remained and prompted the city of Rome to deny the authorization to install wide screens in some parts of the city to allow the many Romanians, and of course the Italians, to watch the match in public. This absurd decision came after the advice given to Mayor Gianni Alemanno by Eugen Tertelac, a spokesperson for the Association of Romanians in Italy, who was worried about potential incidents between Italians and Romanians after the match as they both could use it as an excuse to vent previous grudges. Luckily other mayors did not adopt the same measure. In Turin, for example, and in many other cities wide screens were installed in strategic places and anyone could watch the match.

    Players on both teams tried to maintain low profiles and avoid any political comments on the match, even though the debate between the Italian and the Romanian governments about clandestine immigration inevitably left a deep mark. There were echoes of this in Romania, where the front page of the major newspaper Jurnalu National ran a headline which urged players to “chase out the macaronari.” The article continued in the same tone, characterizing the match as a time to revenge their honor which was disgraced by the xenophobic Italians. “All of the insults against the Romanians living in Italy,” the newspaper article continued, “should go back to those who caused them, multiplied by ten times.” No doubt the pre-match atmosphere was heated!  

    I decided to go to my father’s house and watch the match with him and his Romanian caregiver, Daniela. My sister, Carmen, and her 20 year-old son Ciprian also joined us for the occasion. He works in a restaurant and hopes that the Romanians do not win or humiliate the Italians, fearful of the reaction from his employer, a devoted fan of the Roma and Italia teams. Daniela prefers not to watch the match saying that, after all, “it is just a match,” and goes to another room with her sister to look at some photos that have just arrived from their family in Romania. My father is following the event in a rather sober way, as usual, and does not see any of the political implications. After the goal by Adrian Mutu, a Romanian player on Italy’s Florentine team, Daniela and her sister rush back into the room to see the replay and imagine what is happening at that moment at home. Ciprian is jumping as his cell phone starts ringing, and his friends call to comment on the magnificent goal. My father and I watch their joy and have no reaction, sure that there is still time. We are not particularly upset, and the image of them celebrating also cheers us up. Unfortunately, their joy soon ends. After a minute, Christian Panucci makes the Romanian fans freeze and this time the Italians are celebrating the goal; it is “friendly revenge” for the Azzurri. Ciprian is sad, but not too much, probably because Daniela brings us sandwiches, trying to chase away the bitterness of the moment. Emotions alternate until Mutu’s mistaken penalty – it is a deep disappointment for the Romanians who are so close to beating the world champions!

    The match ends in a draw. After so many highs and lows, a cold beer is the best way to celebrate the result that did not hurt any of us, Italians or Romanians. The living room in my father’s house is one happy oasis where polemics do not exist and the “mother of all matches” is seen as a friendly game between grandparents and caregivers, and nothing else.

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)


  • Facts & Stories

    Bush's Roman Holiday

    George W. Bush visited Italy again, one year after his previous visit to the country. On June 11 the American President arrived in Rome as part of a European tour, his last for the remainder of his tenure. The trip took Mr. Bush to Germany, Italy, France, Britain, and to his final European Union summit in Slovenia.


    In one year some things have changed here in Italy. For starters there is a new government—even  if the Prime Minister is not exactly a “brand new” one—in charge again for the third time, Bush's “old friend” Silvio Berlusconi.


    What haven’t changed, though, are the protests against Mr.Bush: thousands of people gathered in the center of Rome to demonstrate against the U.S. President’s visit. Marco Ferrando, a member of the Workers’ Communist Party, said: “We demonstrate against the government of the United States and its war policies, its social, military and environmental crimes around the world but also against the Italian center-right government which, as was the case with the former center-left one, is allied with the U.S. government, and thus co-responsible for such policies”. About 1000 people marched on the U.S. embassy in Rome to protest against Mr. Bush’s foreign policy. The march was accompanied by a heavy police presence. “Bush Terrorist,” “Warlord Bush”, “Italy out of NATO” were some of the slogans shouted by the protesters, who were mainly Italian but also included Americans of the Rome-based U.S. Citizens for Peace and Justice. A representative of the group, Stephanie Westbrook, stated that they were there to denounce Bush’s war crimes. “We don’t mean that as a slogan, it’s a well-documented case by now—she continued—(including) the criminal war against Iraq, torture and threats against Iran”. She also said: “We’ll also be calling for impeachment because it’s extremely important ... to establish a precedent for this crime to prevent future abuses of power.” The protesters followed Mr. Bush through all the steps of his visit, and outside the American Academy in Rome’s Villa Aurelia there were the usual slogans against the President, who was there to meet a group of young Italian entrepreneurs. They participated in the Fulbright Best, an exchange program planning their visit to the U.S. Mr. Bush urged them to ignore the “misinformation and propaganda” spread about his country and to learn the “first-hand truth about America” by visiting. “The best diplomacy for America, particularly among young folks, is to welcome you to our country,” he said. “We are compassionate, we are an open country, we care about people and we are entrepreneurial.”


    During the visit of the American President, Rome was practically under siege: commercial flights over the city had been diverted, 10,000 policemen had been mobilized, there were frogmen under bridges and snipers on roofs, and mobile phone signals were disrupted whenever the motorcade moved from a part of the city to another; dozens of bus and tram lines were also rerouted. Inevitably, it all fomented an incredible chaos in Roman traffic that, as a rule, is a real mess every day anyway. During Mr. Bush’s visit Rome was practically paralyzed, and it was not infrequent to hear a crush of people, yelling at Mr. Bush in different languages, as 15 Presidential cars passed and blocked their way. Not only Romans, but tourists as well, were burdened by the emergency protocol created to protect Mr.Bush.


    The troubles created by the visit yielded unexpected developments: in fact, because of the President’s trip, surgeons at the Policlinico Umberto I in Rome had to postpone a bone marrow transplant. Strange, but true, some places at the Hematology Unit were set aside as part of an emergency plan in place for Bush’s arrival. As a result, all surgical operations in certain units of Roman hospitals were postponed. This also stirred up protests against the American President, with many patients who truly lost their nerve and voiced their grievances, adding to all the shouting directed at the not particularly popular Mr. Bush.


    The American President met Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Pope Benedict XVI. This last meeting signaled a break from protocol: in fact the Pontiff decided to stand and wait for Mr. Bush’s arrival, before leading him up to the medieval St. John’s Tower. Typically, papal audiences take place in the pontiff’s private library. George W. Bush was the first head of state to be personally greeted by the Pope and led for a walk in the Vatican Gardens. The Holy See said the Pope wanted to show his gratitude for the hospitality extended to him on his recent visit to the


    After meetings, chaos and protests, President Bush’s Roman holiday ended in the most classic of ways: a romantic dinner with his wife Laura, in an effort to be, if only briefly, a “normal” tourist in Rome. The restaurant, L’Antica Pesa, is one of the most beloved places in the Trastevere area. The menu was typically Roman, with two first courses, “pasta cacio e pepe” and “amatriciana”, along with local specialties suggested by the restaurant’s owners—naturally pleased to have such illustrious guests.


    No doubt the memory of Trastevere by night will add a dose of sweetness to the rather bitter taste of George W. Bush’s last Presidential holiday in Rome.


    (Edited by Eleonora Mazzucchi)



  • Facts & Stories

    The Israeli Question: Sparks Fly At Turin's Book Fair


    The decision to select Israel as guest of honor at the International Book Fair in Turin, held from the 8th to 12th of May, has aroused a vivacious debate among Italian, Israeli and Arab authors and intellectuals. Even months earlier, when the communication that Israel—this year celebrating its 60th anniversary as a nation—had been chosen as the Book Fair’s guest of honor, the protests started. Those opposing the Israeli presence made calls to boycott the event, which is Italy’s largest annual gathering of the publishing world. The motivation for the protests is Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.


    “The aim of culture and literature is not to build barriers among people, but to open up to others,”: these are the words of  novelist and playwright A. B. Yehoshua, who tried to respond and create a dialogue with opponents of the initiative. Since the date of the announcement, many Italian intellectuals and artists sent a letter to the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, asking him to preside over the opening of the fair and to speak out “against any discrimination and blind intolerance towards the citizens and culture of Israel.”


    The book fair, established 21 years ago, had never stirred so many polemics in its history, and Rolando Picchioni, president of the Foundation for Books, Music and Culture, which runs the fair, reminded: “Some years ago we honored Catalonian writers, and they essentially presented themselves as an independent state, but Spain didn’t protest.” Vincenzo Chieppa, a local leader of the Italian Communist Party, raised the objection that a “prestigious event like the book fair can't pretend it doesn't know what's happening in that part of the Middle East,” and that it would have been positive to ask the Palestinian Authority to send some authors, and become a second special guest. “It would be good to use the fair as an opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation between the culture of Israel and Palestine,” Mr. Chieppa said. The organizers, however, disagreed. “A country has to be able to come to the fair without being counterbalanced by another country,” Mr. Picchioni said. “What’s next? If we honor Russia, do we also have to invite Chechnya? Or what about China? Do we bring in Tibet?”


    It appears evident that when the facts focus on Middle Eastern conflicts, everything inevitably becomes “politics”, and even a cultural event, such as a book fair, has deeper ramifications that go beyond mere culture. 


    Through the months, small groups of protesters connected with local pro-Palestinian organizations, stormed the book fair offices in Turin, asking that the invitation to Israel be rescinded. Their statement of protest was clearly explained in a pamphlet distributed during the demonstrations: “We are appalled to see the world of culture take the side of those who methodically operate to annihilate Palestine and the Palestinians.” After the refusal of the Foundation to rescind the invitation, the protesters pre-announced acts of disturbance at the fair.


    The disputes endured until the event’s opening day, but reached their lowest point on May 1st, when, during a rally held at Turin’s San Carlo Square, a group of Italian youngsters and members of a pro-Palestinian movement set Israeli and American flags on fire. Of course the incident was strongly condemned by leaders of Italy's Jewish community, while the protesters said: “We realize that our act was harsh, but what is even harsher is the daily killing of Palestinian civilians.”


    Italian President Giorgio Napolitano inaugurated the Turin fair by saying: “No dialogue is possible if there is a refusal to recognize Israel.” The new Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that Italians are closer to Israel than any other people, saying protesters who targeted the fair earlier in the week represented "0.00 percent" of the population.


    The demonstrators were supported by Italy's 1997 Nobel Prize winner for literature, playwright and director Dario Fo, for having “raised the problem of the absence of the Palestinian question at the fair”. Fo criticized the organizers for not having invited Palestinian authors.


    The Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan observed that Napolitano was the first head of state to open the fair since its foundation, making it “a political and not a cultural event.” Award-winning Israeli writer, playwright and poet Nava Semel said of the controversy: “I never boycott my enemies because I want to know them. Ignorance breeds fear.”


    President Napolitano arrived in Turin for the inauguration by helicopter along with Israeli novelist Abraham B. Yehoshua. Among the other featured Israeli authors, were David Grossman, Amos Oz, Aaron Appelfeld and Meir Shalev.


    During the five-day expo, several Muslim writers, intellectuals and artists as well as the Free Palestine association, staged a two-day protest seminar at the University of Turin titled “Western Democracies and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine.”


    Aaron Appelfeld, who is a Holocaust survivor, was asked by some journalists whether he represented Israel. He replied: “I cannot represent a state, I can only represent my thoughts.”


    Yehoshua said, for his part: “The aim of a writer is to create personalities and landscapes, but the other side of my writing is about the Jewish identity in relationship to the Palestinians.”


    On the 10th of May, two days after the inauguration, there was another protest against Israel and, luckily, apart from the usual slogans the situation was held under control by the police and there were no incidents. Similar protests happened during the March book fair in Paris, which also honored Israeli writers.


    At the end of the Book Fair in Turin, the organizers expressed their exasperation at the rumors that had started months ago and that cast a shadow over such a meaningful cultural event. They remarked on the irony of the situation, that a book fair is meant to broaden horizons, not build barriers. Their feelings are well represented by the front-page editorial cartoon in the Corriere della Sera, depicting books that form a Star of David, each with a slogan: “Reading is Freedom.”


  • Facts & Stories

    Terrorism. President Napolitano Takes a Pause for Remembrance

    Last year on May 9, “Memorial Day” was celebrated for the first time in Italy. It was instituted by Parliament thirty years after the murder of Aldo Moro, the President of the Christian Democratic Party. The day chosen for the memorial is the anniversary of Moro’s death, a choice made “in order to remember all national and international victims of terrorism and of the attacks by terrorists.”


    The President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, in a speech that was lauded by all political parties, reminded us of the climate that all Italians lived in those years, the so-called “Anni di Piombo,” when almost every day, on the radio and television, we heard news of attacks, injuries, and murders of university professors, judges, lawyers, journalists, local administrators, leaders of companies, political militants, and policemen. A war declared on the Italian State by the “Brigate Rosse,” was a war fought according to the ideal of social equality but by the worst method to pursue it: innocent people were targeted and condemned to death because of their work in the State apparatus or simply because they were wearing a uniform. It was a war fought not facing the “enemy” in a clear and open way, but one that chose victims clandestinely, unexpectedly striking them during their daily routines, many times, for example, while they were waiting for the bus to go to work, after having dropped off their children at school. Though, it is necessary to make a distinction between terrorism and the bombs in Piazza Fontana and at the station in Bologna, even if still today in both cases there are many shadows and lingering questions that need to be answered, especially with regard to the role of the secret service in our country. 


    In his speech, the President of the Republic expressed the feelings of solidarity that Italians have felt and still feel towards the victims’ relatives, mothers, fathers, wives, and children whose lives since then have been inexorably changed. Giorgio Napolitano also stated that the victims must be remembered. May 9 was not chosen casually as a date; it refers to May 9, 1978, the day in which the fight against terrorism of the State reached its highest level, with the murder of a man who symbolized an entire generation of politicians—politicians who marked the beginning of a new era in Italy, after the end of Fascism and the tragic conclusion to the Second World War, and the Italy’s passing from a monarchy to a republic. Aldo Moro’s sacrifice represents the hundreds of sacrifices that must not be forgotten, and it is necessary to remind younger generations who were born after that bloody season in recent Italian history. The Italian President also criticized the visibility given to former terrorists who frequently appear in the media and are interviewed about their pasts. Napolitano was referring in particular to an interview with a terrorist who killed journalist Carlo Casalegno and expressed his “sorrow” for the relatives of the man he killed years ago. The “sorrow,” in Napolitano’s opinion, does not express real remorse for his actions, but a rather mild repentance. Furthermore, similar statements, together with the attitude of “idealizing” the terrorists who are often seen as dreamers fighting for a better world (an attitude that is clearly visible during some interviews) does not help the victims’ families to feel protected and supported by the State. The President stated in his speech that it is time to stop allowing former terrorists to have their say and occupy a space in the media that they do not deserve, while it is also time to pay an appropriate tribute to all those who were killed by terrorists and died in the name of the State. Anyone who has killed and has paid his debt has the right to enter society again, though according to Napolitano, this should be done with discreet behavior and most importantly by “never forgetting his moral responsibilities,” and not “by looking for media attention in order to justify acts of violence.”


    During his speech the President had to stop at various times, moved to tears.


    The memorial occurs at a deeply significant moment for Italy, ushering in a new season for reflection on our history. It is a moment that has been years in the making and coincidentally arrives at the same time as the inauguration of the new Berlusconi government. It will hopefully bring a sense of reconciliation to a country that for many years has been torn apart by terrorism, by bombs without a clear sender, and more recently, by useless political polemics which result in confusion and erode the trust of most Italians.  

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)

  • Facts & Stories

    US Press & Pope Benedict XVI’s Trip to the U.S.

    It was a visit full of expectations, mainly because of the sex abuse scandal which has created a deep wound in the American Catholic Church. There was also the curiosity to get to know the apparently “cold” Pontiff who is much more distant than his predecessor John Paul II.


    At the end of this trip it was time for the reaction of the American press, which gave ample coverage of Pope Ratzinger’s visit.


    David Van Biema and Jeff Israely, in the April 18 daily report of the Pope’s visit on Time magazine’s website, express their perplexity about Benedict XVI’s speech at UN. The title is rather direct, “The Pope’s Quiet Case for the UN,” and the two journalists give their opinion on this event: “Anyone expecting the Pope to pull off the Fisherman’s shoe and bang the lectern, as Nikita Khrushchev did in United Nations legend, was disappointed. As is becoming typical of Benedict XVI’s American visit — in which impromptu remarks to the press aboard his plane and during a private meeting with sex-abuse victims have routinely outshone speeches previously billed as ‘important’ — the Pope talk at the U.N. billed as ‘watershed,’ was somewhat low-key.” Van Biema and Israely see that during the Pope’s trip “big, unexpected gestures that make headlines today alternate with more subdued lectures that may educate us in his subtleties long after he is back in Rome. The U.N. speech would be one of the latter.” And the bulk of his talk essentially lauded the UN, and more specifically, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it adopted three years after its founding, whose 60th anniversary was one of the official reasons for the Papal trip.


    In the April 21 issue of Newsweek, Lisa Miller tries to explain “why this Pope doesn’t connect,” why he has done “little to appeal to an American flock that is in need of a serious spiritual catharsis.” Miller sees that the American Catholics are in the most critical moment in their history because of the sex abuse scandal. “Ever since the Second Vatican Council,” according to Newsweek, “the gap between what the church teaches and what the American laity practices has been growing ever wider. According to a 2005 survey by Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio and his colleagues, 58 percent of American Catholics believe you can be a ‘good’ Catholic and disregard the church's teachings on abortion. Sixty-six percent believe you can ignore its position on divorce and remarriage. Seventy-five percent believe you can disregard the ban on birth control. Seventy-six percent think you don’t have to go to church every week.” For Lisa Miller the American Catholics want to “ feel something, a catharsis, a connection to their tradition, a sense that their leaders see and hear how difficult it can be to be a Catholic in this imperfect and chaotic world. Benedict is not the man for this job.”



    An editorial in the Washington Post on April 18 notices that Benedict XVI “opted to speak not only to the Catholics who claim him as their spiritual leader. He spoke to all Americans. His words were a positive reminder of our national character and its potential to do great good; they should serve as a challenge that we hope will outlast the memories of his visit.” This visit was the occasion to meet a pope who has the image of a stern and guarded person, especially when compared to his predecessor, John Paul II. Though, contrary to the expectations of some, Pope Benedict “did not scold, but tried to inspire.”


    For example, in his messages he also acknowledged failures: “No recounting of the American story is complete without mention of the injustices done to Native Americans or to those brought here as slaves.” The pope reserved some of his harshest words for the church’s own failings in dealing with those priests accused of pedophilia who victimized thousands of children entrusted to the church’s care.



    Many articles, inevitably, stress the differences between Benedict XVI and John Paul II, whose canonization is imminent. “Yet,” writes Daniel Johnson in the New York Sun on April 17, “Benedict XVI has swept Americans off their feet, by the simple fact of his transparent, radiant integrity. Here is a figure who, more than any person now alive, represents the conscience of mankind. President Bush was right to greet Pope Benedict XVI as a foe of fanaticism, contrasting those who ‘evoke the name of God to justify acts of terror’ with his ‘message that God is love.’” Johnson observes that in an age of “of moral evasiveness, of equivocation, hypocrisy, and hype, Pope Benedict stands in uncompromising opposition to all that and much more. He faces up to accusations bravely.” Johnson is particularly impressed by the words of the Pope on the airplane to the United States, words expressed to the journalists without any fear: “I am profoundly ashamed. Pedophiles will be completely excluded from the priesthood. It is more important to have good priests than many priests.” These are not the words of “a man who is indifferent to the suffering of the victims. It was important that the pontiff should personally draw a line under what has been a long and traumatic ordeal for American Catholics.” The NYS thinks that the pope still has to fulfill the promise of his pontificate, but this visit to America could represent a crucial step toward doing so. Until now, in Johnson’s opinion, Joseph Ratzinger has seemed a very Eurocentric pope, though in this trip he has reached “the world’s largest and wealthiest Catholic community — wealthy, that is, not only in financial but in intellectual resources.” This richness lies mainly in that America not only has more Catholic universities than the rest of the world, but it also has more impressive Catholic writers and thinkers such as Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Richard John Neuhaus, who have few, if any, equivalents in Europe.



    On April 21, on the Washington Post’s website, Eric Gorski tries to take stock of Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit: “He left behind the impression of a compassionate and candid leader who has made a successful transition from professor to pope. But it’s uncertain whether the pontiff’s six-day pilgrimage, which ended Sunday, will make a lasting imprint on a country he obviously admires.” Gorski notices what other columnists in the United States, and indeed not only there, have already remarked after the speech at the UN: “Benedict did not come to make provocative political statements, opting for measured tones. He spoke of keeping immigrant families together but not specific policy prescriptions. He called for peace but did not publicly address the war in Iraq. He took an unusual journey into the personal, recalling the struggles of his youth in Nazi Germany living under a ‘sinister’ regime.”


    This visit will be remembered for the Pope’s courage in reiterating, beginning with the flight to the United States, the Catholic Church’s shame for the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and for unforgettable moments such as the prayer at Ground Zero. Though, there is also the sense of something missing, such as clearly addressing the situation in Iraq, or statements on the issue of dialog with Islam, this latter issue which characterized previous trips abroad. And there was no condemnation of the death penalty, especially after the Supreme Court’s verdict. These elements all cast a shadow over a visit that otherwise could have been really memorable.


    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)