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Articles by: Maria rita Latto

  • Facts & Stories

    International Press: Italy, a Country Full of Confusion

    Once again the international press dedicated several articles and analysis to the Italian elections. What is really discouraging is that the Italy facing the electoral campaign appears to be a country full of confusion, not aware of the serious crisis affecting it.


    In the April 6 issue  the New York Times Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni are seen by Rachel Donadio as “the usual suspects in a political landscape nearly incomprehensible to outsiders, where the same politicians fade in and out, promising reform and delivering stasis if not decline.” It is a rather depressing scenario, showing a country appearently fitting to a movie or an operetta, with the center-right leader Berlusconi depicted as a “charismatic billionaire” and Veltroni as a “rock ’n’ roll-loving baby boomer who just stepped down as mayor of Rome.” Anyway, there is “a fringe candidate who is different.” Donadio is referring to Giuliano Ferrara, “a Communist turned conservative who is Italy’s most operatic and most mercurial intellectual provocateur. A newspaper editor and former government minister, Mr. Ferrara is best known here as a television talk-show host.”


    According to the New York Times, “Italy’s political life has always been absurd, but Mr. Ferrara’s recent theatrics touch on something deeper. He is a cultural barometer, highly attuned to the desperation of the national mood. More than the real-politiking of the mainstream candidates, Mr. Ferrara, with his insistence on ideas, taps into Italian anxieties about the future of Europe, the loosening of national identities, the rise of immigration, the decline of Christian belief.”


    In his latest incarnation,” continues Rachel Donadio, “Mr. Ferrara is running for Parliament on a small slate devoted to a single issue: ‘pro-life,’ which he defines loosely. An avowed atheist and nonbeliever, he has called for a ‘moratorium,’ but not a ban, on abortion, to call attention to the value of life.” Giuliano Ferrara, is seen as a “longtime player in Italy’s political tragicomedy,” not a particularly nice definition of the present situation in the Belpaese! Then there is the history of Ferrara’s political career, beginning as a Communist militant, passing through his faith in Socialism, and arriving at the conservative side: a personal trajectory that, according to the New York Times, “could be possible only in Italy, where the lines between politics and journalism, ideas and showmanship, appearance and reality, are ever blurred. To his supporters, Mr. Ferrara has admirably undergone transformations his country has been unable to achieve; they applaud him for trying to introduce ideas into a Machiavellian realm of pure politics. To his critics,” continues Donadio, “he is an opportunist, a consigliere ever in search of a new prince, a misogynist meddler trying to draw Catholic votes away from the left.” The conclusion of the article is a merciless portrait of Italy, a country where “a quick look at the major candidates can explain the impulse for radical theatrical gestures, if not perhaps for Mr. Ferrara’s ideas themselves.” In this panorama, in a pre-electoral atmosphere defined as “surreal,” lacking interest, monotonous, Giuliano Ferrara’s “campaign seems a cry for life in a country steeped in death and decline.”

    The April 6 issue of the Washington Post also devotes space to the Italian electoral campaign  In an article with a rather clear title, “Never Say Ciao,” there is a list of quotations without a comment that create a dramatic comparison between Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi. The introduction of the article gives a view of the Italian situation: “’The past isn’t dead,’ wrote William Faulkner. ‘It isn’t even past.’ He wasn’t talking about Italy, but as the country heads to the polls next weekend to usher in its 62nd government since World War II, he certainly could have been. Back on the ballot is former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s richest man and the second longest-serving prime minister since the fall of fascist dictatorBenito Mussolini. Berlusconi was only 8 years old when partisans strung up Il Duce by his feet in Piazzale Loreto in 1945. But from the sound of the debate, you’d think Mussolini were his running mate. In spirit, anyway.” Then, there is a series of quotations by Berlusconi; for example, when he was lamenting the checks on his authority as a prime minister: “Only one man had power, and that’s Mussolini. All the others . . . only had trouble.” Or, conjuring images of the March on Rome by fascist thugs that propelled Mussolini to power in 1922, after the center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi collapsed last January: “If we don’t get an election, I think millions of people will go to Rome to demand one.” The quotations of the Washington Post involve Berlusconi’s allies, too. So, there is Giuseppe Ciarrapico, candidate for the Senate in Berlusconi’s coalition, giving a sincere explanation of the reason why portraits of Mussolini hang in the newsroom of the local papers he owns: “It’s a beautiful thing.” Or Daniela Santanchè, hard-right candidate, reminding Alessandra Mussolini, Benito’s granddaughter and Berlusconi’s supporter, that “without Mussolini there would have been no fixed salaries, no national insurance, no rights for women . . . no great architecture and the clearing of the swamps.” The Washington Post gives its readers the image of Italy almost obsessed with the ghost of Mussolini who, after a half a century, is still present in the Italian politics!


    Jeff Israely in a Time magazine article from April 2 entitled “Italian Elections: All Is Not Lost” , gives a hint of hope, reporting from the town of Amendolara in Calabria, a place where there is the attempt to go against the stereotype of Italy’s social topography, with the efficient and prosperous north and “the south beset by poverty, mobsters and bad governance.” Amendolara, like many southern resorts, has serious problems, even though “the mob holds no sway here, and the coastline has so far not been marred by ugly construction projects. This quiet town both defies and embodies the deepest problems of the south — and of Italy as a whole. And it is places like Amendolara, neither blazing northern successes nor clichéd horrors of the south, that are most likely to chart the country’s future.” According to Israely, “the race between former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni comes at one of the lowest moments in post-war Italian history. With the country locked in a vicious cycle of public cynicism and economic malaise, the election does not bode well. Many pundits think the best-case scenario might be a failure by both Berlusconi and Veltroni to win a ruling majority — an outcome that would lead to the formation of a caretaker grand coalition. It is a sad day indeed for democracy when smart people start pulling for both sides to lose.”


    The Time article ends with a wish that is shared by most Italians who are tired of the decline of the Belpaese, highly upset with the “Casta,” and hoping for a rebirth: “Italy needs more leaders willing to err in the pursuit of the public good, and citizens who learn to discard — and not recycle — those whose sole ambition is to cling to power.”



  • Facts & Stories

    Should Italians Abroad Vote? Views from Italy

    One of the country’s most famous columnists, former ambassador Sergio Romano, has always allowed his point of view to be known in his articles, even before the 2006 elections had taken place and long before it had even been possible to gage the effects of such unusual legislation in Italian Parliament. In a column for the Corriere della Sera , written a few days before the past vote (March 31 2006), Romano expressed misgivings on the Tremaglia Law. His title left no room for doubt: “The comedy of the foreign members in Italian Parliament” and the content dealt mainly with the independent candidate from Argentina, Luigi Pallaro, who had made clear “without blushing, that in the Italian Parliament he would vote with the majority”. The reason for his declaration had to be explained by the fact that, coming from Argentina, Pallaro’s central objective was to satisfy the needs of his electors abroad, not to solve the problems of the Italian people. The article ended on a cutting note: “no Italian political party, in the next legislature, should harbour under the illusion that it can count on the representatives of Italians abroad, even when they have been elected in a regular list”.


    Following the elections Sergio Romano dedicated several other articles to the Tremaglia Law. It is interesting to note his response, published in the Corriere, to a letter sent to him last March by an Italian woman living in Argentina. In her letter the sender maintained it was important to have representatives who are capable of transcending the ideologies and attitudes typical of the parties, and who prioritize preserving a link with Italy. Romano once expressed his stance in unequivocal terms: “The task of the Italian Parliament is, above all else, to pass laws in the service of the national community that has to follow them and suffer their consequences. The goals described by the reader could be accomplished by a Council of Italians Abroad having propositional and advisory functions; that would be enough”. The last intervention by Romano on this subject was in the Corriere on March 20th of last year, where he defined the Law allowing Italians abroad to vote for their own representatives as an “awful law”, for a number of reasons. For example no one was able to understand that “the representatives from abroad in reality represent no one” and that once they have settled in the Montecitorio (the deputies’ headquarters) or in Palazzo Madama (where the senate meets), their only aim would be to get re-elected and to consider only the interests of their electors abroad and not those of the Italian nation. Another columnist who has never masked his disdain for the Tremaglia Law is Christian Rocca, a correspondent for Il Foglio living in the United States. In his blog last February Rocca had made an appeal to Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni to abolish the Tremaglia Law because he believed it to be falsely premised on the idea of “representation without taxation”.


    And let’s not speak of the opinions of some colleagues at Parliament. For instance, Massimo Polledri, representative of the Lega, when talking about the financing of 41 millions of euros given to Senator Pallaro & co., created the nickname “Alì Babà and the 5 Italians from abroad” making a joke on the fairy tale of “Alì Babà and the Forty Robbers”. Not exactly high praise for the Italian representatives elected abroad!


    And…what of the common people? How do they judge the behaviors of the elected senators and deputies abroad? I asked some questions in the neighbourhood in Rome where I live. While drinking an espresso at my usual bar, I asked Piera, 43, the owner, her opinion. She is absolutely against all politicians, and in particular, those from abroad: “Those who live outside Italy should not express opinions; this idea of an electorate abroad is a real blunder! Not to mention the frauds connected with the results of these elections…This law has to be changed soon!”. Giorgia, 24, the worker preparing very delicious cappuccini, who has just become the mother of a baby girl, expresses her opinion: “ I don’t think they had the right to vote, even if they contributed to one positive outcome: getting rid of Silvio Berlusconi “. Andrea, 19, a Forza Italia militant, replies: “Watch out! Who was damaged can take advantage of the situation now! We were damaged before, and now it could happen to the Left too!”. I asked him why in his opinion the voters abroad are not trustworthy and he explained to me: “Haven’t they noticed the actions of senator Pallaro? Haven’t they noticed that he has always sided with those who gave him money…Or rather…OUR MONEY?” Massimo, 18, student, two years ago had been in favour of the vote for the residents abroad, but after these two years has changed his mind: “Seeing their attitude I understood that it was a mistake, that their needs are not ours, and that the better part of their votes in Parliament were meant to protect their interests, not ours”. Cinzia, 62, retiree, agrees: “We saw that it was possible to overthrow a government just with one vote more and it is absurd that disinformed minorities like the Italians living abroad could determine politics in Italy. I hope that this law can be modified”. Alfredo, 47, insurance agent, objects: “Yet, according to the Italian Constitution, being Italian, even if living abroad, they have the right to vote”. “Then--Andrea interrupts-- if they have our same rights, can anyone tell me why the Italians voting in Italy cannot express their preference while they can?” Paolo, 51, owner of the newstand in front of the bar, just arrived to have a cappuccino, gives his perspective on the matter: “It’s not right that there are politicians from abroad, even if they are Italians, because it is absurd that a person paying his taxes in Argentina, just to cite an example, should have the possibility to determine my IRPEF tax rate. It’s not right that the decisions regarding the bridge on the Straits of Messina, the TAV and all internal issues can be decided by an Italian having no appropriate knowledge because he doesn’t live here”. “But above all--Virginia, 33, salesclerk in a nearby supermarket says--Italians living abroad should not elect their own representatives for a very simple reason: it is easy to decide the rules and then not livebythem in person. It is easy to vote for a certain law, and afterward stay in a bar at the Habana, sipping a mojito, while, in the meantime, I am here, fighting for a permanent job!”.


    The exotic touch given to the conversation by the last customer was not at all good for cheering everyone up...! And Piera, the owner of the bar, gave the inevitable conclusion: “You know what? At this point I am so envious of these Italians abroad, who don’t have to deal with our problems!”.

  • Life & People

    Living in Italy

    A note from the editors: How do American expatriates find living in Italy? Do they really enjoy la dolce vita there? And, if we ask them, how can we be sure their answer is sincere?

    Our contributing writer Maria Rita Latto, from Rome, found an answer on the web. She went on “spying” on Americans who live in Italy and are chatting about their problems on a web site… The picture that emerges is very distant from the ideal one you can find in many books and movies about living in Italy. It seems that American families, especially those having teenage children, are having a hard time. Read the piece, find out why, and if your experience has been similar or totally different, or if you just don’t agree and want to replay, please do. Actually it would be very interesting f one of our readers tried the opposite experiment: “spying” on a website of Italians living in USA. It could help us to find out what kind of problems Italians living in America are encountering. But first, Let’s start with this…

    * * *

    Living in Italy is becoming more and more of a challenge for Italians, having to deal with daily absurdities like bureaucracy or the behaviors of those governing the country, just to mention the main causes of chronic nervous gastritis in most people.

    But… how is it for expatriates living in the land of La Dolce Vita, who are mainly Americans, who relocate to the Belpaese for different reasons? The answer can easily be found by browsing the Internet for the various groups of expatriates in Italy, such as http://groups.msn.com/expatsinItaly. There is help for anyone in need of support, advice, and bureaucratic information, to organizing groups to share the same language and habits. It is really surprising and often unpleasant to learn how these expatriates in Italy see the Italians. Take Marco for example, a 30-year-old, living in Scotland but with a dream to make the move to Italy. His words are full of enthusiasm, “it’s a dream I have had all my life (my grandmother is Sicilian) and try to build a life and career in Italy, but most importantly, bring my children up with the Italian culture, and good Italian weather, rather than in soggy, stinking boozy Britain!!”

    This idyllic picture is immediately torn into pieces by the replies of other expats already living the Italian experience. Tonia left the U.S.A. to open a Mexican fast food restaurant in Italy. Her words have the effect of a cold shower, “in my opinion the only way to find satisfying work in Italy is to open something on your own but I must warn you that you would be entering into another world of what it means to do business. Nothing is black and white here and you have to learn the system, which basically is built on the fact that the Italian government is ‘furbo’ and therefore expects that the rest of the population is too, and so sets its laws, taxes and regulations based on that assumption. I wish you luck.”

    Horserider, a stockbroker from the United States who relocated to Italy, tried to suggest a good place to live in Italy. “The South is far more appealing and welcoming...i.e. Calabria, Sicilia, Puglia. People strive to maintain the culture…the flavor of what it used to be. The North is FAR too Americanized!! I love the South..in some of the villages one can still find people riding donkeys…it is charming and if I could, I’d lose myself forever in one of those villages and never leave. I lived there for two years.”

    Here is Anne’s story. ”We lived in Italy for almost three years, my husband is half Italian and thought it would be wonderful, but we both agree that it was a mistake. Yes, the country is beautiful, the food is…hmm…well, the food is good but very boring - three years of pizza and pasta takes its toll on you!!!!” Her analysis starts with food but also goes deeper. “I have two children and I wouldn’t have wanted to bring them up in such a closed community. While we were there we didn’t make a single Italian friend because all the women seem to do is cook and clean for their men, it really is a strange culture for a modern one. We now live in Portugal. We have been here for about three months and it’s everything I hoped Italy would be (and more). The weather and food are fantastic; the people are friendly and very helpful. It really is nice.”

    Tony gives an opinion on the economic issue that is rather severe. ”Italy is more like a second world country but the cost of living here has gotten much worse - even exceeding several of the other G-8 countries.”

    Sarah focuses on the possibility to find a job in Italy for an expat. “Unless you speak fluent Italian your only options are teaching English (the worst job on the planet) or working as a guide, maybe some low level pub job as well.” Then she makes a portrait of the Italians making it sound like some sort of verdict. “Italians don’t really have a culture of goals. They are all about finding a contract job where they don’t have to work much and get lots of holidays.” Then, having married an Italian man she gives her personal experience. “My husband’s mother is always trying to get him to get some lame government job so he doesn’t really have to work. Italians are lazy.” Sarah’s opinion on school is low too. “Life is okay here, but I would NEVER put my children in an Italian school. The girls are total sluts, and the boys are no better. 12 years olds wear t-shirts with inappropriate sayings on them, like ‘F*#! me.’ Young people here have no morals. The age of sex is very young, and if you want your children to remain children, don’t put them in a state school here. I guess it starts at home, since Italians watch so much TV and have little culture in their brains, though the most culture in the world...strange...they have nothing to do but sit around and have sex on their Vespas or in cars. There is really no motivation for young people here to do any good for themselves - to develop their minds. School here is all about regurgitating facts, not actually using reason, logic, critical thinking, or artistic skills. If you do come, I suggest private schools for your children.

    Another Sarah gave her opinion on the intellectual level of Italians who “do not spend their days discussing cultural ideals. They watch more TV than any other nation in Europe and it’s awful - game shows, topless women on TV all the time. If any of your children are female, I would certainly not bring them up in Italy where they are taught to be the servants of men basically - wash for them, cook for them and are often ignored and pigeon-holed. They are overly fashion-conscious and spend all their money on clothes and mobile phones with which they are obsessed. They really don’t look to their own history and culture and borrow from English and US culture for all new ideas.” Her analysis of the Italian way of life ends with a sociological conclusion regarding the impossibility to visit national parks; “there are condoms all over the place from these idiots who will never leave their mother’s home and therefore the only option is to have sex outdoors polluting all the natural beauty of Italy.”

    A brilliant suggestion for those intellectuals who analyze the daily Italian reality but had never reached such a simple and yet unexpected explanation…

    Cheri, an American teacher living in Rome, agrees with the other expats, saying that in Italy it is a difficult life. Though, at the end of her statement, there is a little ray of consoling light, not much, indeed, the Italians reading all the expats’ opinions and painfully agreeing with the best part of them. “Of course, there are the absolutely wonderful days and the joy still of passing the Coliseum on the way to work each day and walking along the river in the evenings…”