To understand Italians and their society one has to be of them. If one takes them at their word one will never understand them as how they are, and how they present themselves, are two different things. In the way that they face the world Italians are directed by two obligatory cultural norms. The first is that they are bound to present the "bella figura", literally "beautiful figure". It is an Italian imperative that in their relations with the world, any world, Italians must present themselves in a winning and admirable light. To do otherwise is to display weakness, lose respect and risk opprobrium. But the bella figura is a relative concept and what is a winning and admirable light depends upon the ambient norms in which the Italian finds him or herself. Thus, the Italian is a chameleon recognising the colours of the environment it finds itself in and reflecting them back. But the chameleon itself is thus invisible.
The second is that they, the Italians, both together and individually are required to believe that they are by definition "brava gente" or "good people". And they do believe this. Being thus per se good people they can perceive their motives as being just even if the means by which they achieve their ends may be morally suspect.
And so non Italians outside Italy can find Italians to be persuasive, cognisant of non-Italian concerns and empathetic. Thus only a few short months ago the "Two Marios" (Draghi and Monti) were being hailed - by the cognoscenti no less - as the saviours of the Euro zone while the contrasted Silvio Berlusconi was seen as nothing more than a cunning, if buffoonish, crook who had led his country to ruin!
But an Italian knew that this wasn’t true. Because as all Italians know "l’apparenza inganna" "appearances deceive" and that Italians have amongst them very many "furbi" "sly one’s", "cativi" "bad one’s" and those who will often "fregarti" "screw you".
So the Italians knew that as Mario Monti was reaping pundits from the international cognoscenti (but not Wolfgang Munchau in the Financial Times) he had in fact declared war against the private sector demonizing entrepreneurs as inveterate tax evaders and racking-up the application of force against them by instruments of the State such as the Finance Police, the Inland Revenue and the State Revenue Applied Collection Agency (Equitalia) such that businesses were obliged to pay State-assessed taxes on income not earned. Increased excises and taxes were also applied to energy, assets and houses and land. But - and here is the real nub of the issue - not a single bureaucrat - not a single member of the bureaucracy that has since the inception of the Italian State suffocated and restrained the application of private initiative to capital to create growth and thereby wealth - was sacked. Two groups were protected. Pensioners with good pensions (those with poor pensions have seen their purchasing power eroded) and State employees.
And so the hero of the hour, Mario Monti, saviour of Italy and the Euro, deluded himself into thinking that the Italians also loved him their having being fooled by his lies and manipulation and he created a political party in alliance with the party of the Catholic Church and he plunged into the national elections of February past. But he foundered on the rock of truth. For the Italians, being Italians, know the other Italians. And they knew him for the moralising, manipulative, dissembling coward that he is. And Mario Monti went from hero to has-been in the space of 12 hours (whining that he now "can’t wait to get out of politics").
And this brings us to Silvio Berlusconi. Silvio is "an Italian’s Italian". Silvio Berlusconi knows nothing of the world outside Italy and Spain. He knows the cultural norms of his own country - through his TV channels he has helped to create them - and when outside Italy he has shown numerous times that he believes that other peoples have the same cultural norms as the Italians. Thus, coming across to foreigners as buffoonish and a clown he is in fact a much more interesting creature than the chameleon Monti because Berlusconi opens a door on what Italians are actually like. And very ,very many Italians believe that Berlusconi is like them and fights their corner. And one cannot say that this is not so even if he, as the result of having governed Italy for most of the last twenty years, is responsible for the state that Italy now finds itself in because what he did, as Prime Minister, was what a large number (if not a majority) of the Italians wanted.
Berlusconi, buffoon to the world, is at one with very many Italians. Monti just reflected back to the European and International cognoscenti what they wanted and so, a man without balls, he delivered the coup-de-grace to Italy, a country of 60 million people, in the process. And here I should say, aside, that Italy is finished. And not metaphorically but actually. Italy has been hollowed out from the inside and is no longer capable of supporting a rich-world life style. Italy is a dead man walking. But that is a diary entry for another day and one that I am reluctant to explore because it might - erroneously - give readers the idea that Italy is not a good holiday destination!
So today, following the political stalemate that resulted from Italy’s national elections a bigwig in the Italian Democratic Party of the Left, the principal leftwing political block stated:
"And [we must] quit this superiority complex, widespread within our camp, such that we pretend to choose the opponent [to try to find political accommodation with]. Whether we like it or not, Italians have established that the head of the [political] Right, a Right that has taken practically [the same number] of votes as us, is still Silvio Berlusconi. And with him we must talk. "
And so it is that the intellectually superior Italian political left has been reduced to negotiating, from a position of weakness, with the very man that they have spent the last twenty years denigrating and demonizing. And they have been forced to do this because enough Italians voted for Berlusconi to give him equivalent political power as the left. And the Italians voted for Berlusconi because the Italian left were intellectuals of nothing using the name of an ideology that they did not adhere to or believe in to cover their avarice and plunder of the State and of subsequent generations. Because the great winners of the last fifty years in Italy have been employed workers, civil servants and pensioners who were employed workers or civil servants. Berlusconi never, not even once, moved against their privileges sustained and defended by a corporatist union structure. He said it was impossible to move against the "Communists" because political power in Italy is too diffused to permit decisive and determinate action. But those very workers, expensive and unproductive, and those very State employees, incompetent, lazy and destructive of economic growth and those very pensioners, sucking-up the resources of those working to sustain their comfortable retirement, brought, in their totality, the Italian economy to ruin and suffocating under a mass of debt.
Berlusconi is a snake-oil salesman. But in a society where private initiative is distrusted and thus to be heavily managed by the State and regulated by the bureaucracy, he was the only game in town for those not wanting to adhere to the Italian tribal "Left". Berlusconi did nothing, and will do nothing, but promote his own business and private interests. But the Italians all know that. They know that he changed nothing. They also know that it is also probably true that real change is probably impossible in such a geronto-bureaucratic society comprised of competing, wary and distrustful fiefdoms of every kind, public and private.
Italy has its back to the wall and the only way out is to smash the wall. The question is whether the comic Beppe Grillo will be able to smash that wall. He can’t do it alone so he has to rely on Italians to help him do it. The real question now is whether there will be enough Italians with courage and clarity of purpose to bring that wall down even if it means crushing many vested interests whose only aim is to keep that wall standing!
So, at the end of the Second World War Italy flirted with civil war. The Italian Communist Party had an armed wing of Partisan fighters but partisan resistance in Italy was characterized by numerous partisan groups with multiple and sometimes opposing political orientations (communist, "actionist", monarchist, socialist, catholic, liberal, republican, anarchist). In Friuli the communist Garlibaldi Brigade partisan group was under the aegis of Tito and was working to ensure the absorption of Friuli into the foreseen future Yugoslav State. The Tito-directed Garibaldi Brigades were resisted by local "Republican" partisan groups. Civil war, if it had come to Italy would have been between those wanting a communist Italy and those determined not to have it. As Italian communism was Stalinist, a victory by the Communist faction would likely have seen the abolition of private property and the creation of a State modelled on the Soviet Union. Following the fall of fascism all was to play for in Italy.
There was no doubt, however, that a large portion of the Italian populace would have bitterly resisted communism, the Catholic Church saw resisting communism as an existential struggle and the United States and Great Britain were not prepared to have Soviet domination pushing down into the Adriatic. Civil war was averted when leaders of the Italian Communist party were incorporated into the government of national unity formed after the fall of fascism, were involved in the constituent assembly and writing of the Italian constitution and in return they renounced violence, embraced democratic means to achieve their ends, their "Garibaldi" partisans were disarmed along with the others and in June 1946 the leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, as Minister of Justice promulgated a General Amnesty for crimes committed during the war.
In the first general election following the Second World War the communist coalition lost to the Catholic Church sponsored Christian Democratic but it took 31% of the votes. In 1946 Winston Churchill stated that "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." But in Italy the opposing forces that were separated in Europe by the iron curtain were forced together in a narrow peninsular. Just as on the intercontinental scale, the risk of mutually assured destruction ensured that conflict was sublimated and restrained. The Italian Communist Party did not renounce its Stalinist views and thus retained the power to frighten capitalists, the middle classes and the petite bourgeoisie. Lacking the power of a contrarian libertarian ideology anti-communists were either forced into the logic of the Catholic Church or were left with their instinctive hostility to a collectivising ideology. Having just escaped a collectivist existence they were viscerally hostile to those who would propose its return. At this level resisting communism was, as for the Catholic church, an existential struggle conducted with real hatred for those who would take away a liberty so recently attained.
But in addition, there was a personal element to the hostility between the left and the others in Italy. Marshal fund aid and economic growth after the Second World War was a rising tide that lifted all ships. Thus Italian Communists started doing well and they themselves comprised their own petite bourgeoisie and workers who were earning well. Their involvement in the unions and presence in Parliament, the accommodation of them by the Christian Democrats and the willingness of the Christian Democrats to extend social protections to workers when prodded by those very communist unions led to them being seen as hypocritical. They didn’t practice what they preached and were despised for it. But worse, they occupied the secular moral high-ground in Italy. For a large part of the second half of the twentieth century Europe, and Italy, was awash with leftist intellectuals. The left in Italy saw itself as the secular intellectual elite. And it was because, putting the dogma of the Catholic church aside, the left was the only intellectual game in town. Italy upon its creation had to share space in the narrow peninsular with the Roman Catholic Church that it had defeated but not vanquished. Thus it inherited two thousand years of static Catholic dogma. The Americans of 1776 were able to claim that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," For the Italians deference and obeisance to the Church and the Landlord were all that was required of them along with exertion of their labour.
Thus non-communist Italians felt deprecated and disdained by left-wing Italians who were living and benefiting from the system like everyone else. And as those not of the left had no historical standard bearer for liberty and the pursuit of happiness by making money, and were subject to being categorised by the left as self-interested, common and ignorant by those no different to themselves they saw in Silvio Berlusconi a saviour when he came onto the political scene. In Silvio Berlusconi for the first time there was someone, a "bigwig", who spoke like them and reflected their aspirations and their fears.
to be continued ....
["When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."]
In the recent Italian elections Silvio Berlusconi made a comeback. It had seemed, when his removal from the post of Prime Minister was engineered by the Italian President in a soft coup, that Berlusconi would simply disappear. Italy was in trouble when Berlusconi left and it seemed that he had, perhaps, got off lightly considering that he had governed for much of the last twenty years and bore much responsibility for Italy’s continual decline.
Berlusconi was replaced by a non-elected executive headed by Mario Monti who, it can safely be said, delivered the coup de grace to the Italian economy. The damage to the Italian economy inflicted by the Monti government cannot be understated. Monti was imposed theoretically to liberalise a sclerotic and corrupt economy lighting a resurgent economic vigour that could allow Italy to grow its way out of its financial problems. It was clear that if he was to be successful in this Monti would also need to deliver deep cuts to the State bureaucracy that has been culpable of suffocating Italian economic growth over decades.
There is no doubt that this would have been a herculean task. Taking on entrenched interest groups in the private sector, with their links to the political parties of left and right, could perhaps have been seen as futile from the beginning. And taking on the bureaucracy that comprises the Italian State would have involved real risks as it is the bureaucracy that runs Italy while the politicians enrich themselves and pass populist laws and laws that favour, partially, the interest groups that sustain them.
If Monti was unable to fulfil his mandate he should have resigned. He was not popularly elected and only had the mandate to govern that he had been given at the beginning. Instead, Monti decided that there was an easier way to calm the international financial markets. His government launched a propaganda campaign announcing a break with the illegality of the Berlusconi era with its tax amnesties and amnesties for breaches of planning laws. He declared war on tax evaders which, of course, was essentially entrepreneurs and artisans as employees pay payroll taxes. I believe that he really thought that there was a pot of gold to be found in every self-employed persons garden. Under his aegis raids were made by the tax police on the basis of geography such as those executed in Cortina and Porto Fino and economic activity such as those executed on Agriturismi on the May holiday of 2012.
People who were not Italian breathed a sigh of relief. Italy was being relieved of the pervasive illegality of the Berlusconi era and would return to the normal community of European nations. But as the recent election showed it didn’t turn out like this at all.
And to understand this and why Berlusconi did so well in the last elections one needs to understand the Italian left and how so much of the Italian right is a reaction to it!
Italy industrialised only at the beginning of the 20th century. The feudal system only left Italy completely after the Second World War. Before industrialisation began, the vast majority of Italians lived in abject poverty working for local landlords, aristocracy or the Pope. Prior to the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and for a period after, the Italian peninsular was a patchwork of principalities, states and regions, often poor and, apart from those ruled by foreign powers such as Austria, generally weak. Lacking the reformation but being subject to the Catholic Church’s response to it, the thought of normal Italians was dominated and controlled by force of the dogma of the Catholic Church. The Italians were seen, by their own countrymen, as passive and accepting, so much so that their passivity was seen as inimical to the creation of the Italian state. Italians were abject, exploited and ill-treated but the instinct to rebel had been cauterized from their psyche by their Church leaving to them only the resistance tools of cunning and slyness.
During this time normal Italians, apart from those in domestic service, had little contact with their landlords. Their principal contact with authority was the village Priest. The other was the overseer of the landlord whose role was to ensure that they met their obligations to produce and that they didn’t take or keep-back anything to which they were not entitled. The Italians were a beaten people, held down, and this created in some deep resentment and hostility at the nexus of Church and landlord. A people lacking the ability or will to rebel, ill-treated and exploited, resentful but trained from infancy to accept authority and revere with all their heart and soul God’s representative on earth, direct spiritual descendent of the Apostle Peter, the Pope, contained within it large numbers of individuals ready to change their allegiance to another infallible leader, Joseph Stalin.
The First World War saw the development of Italian industry on an enormous scale and the creation of large industrial companies from what had effectively been artisan-al activities. Large numbers of workers were required by the factories and so, for the first time, Italy saw the creation of an industrial working class. In parallel, the war created a capitalist class and denuded Agriculture of labour as enormous numbers of young male peasants were killed and maimed in the conflict with Austro-Hungary. Communism gave an ideological framework to the working class and it promised emancipation for agricultural labourers. The new capitalists and the old landlords, and the Catholic Church, were threatened. Communism promised to destroy the economic basis underpinning agriculture until that time and to remove the gains so recently obtained by the new capitalist class. Failure of the capitalist class threatened the middle class that was growing up around an industrialising economy. The time was right for fascism to redefine the Italy that had emerged changed following the First World War.
The communism implemented through revolution in Russia implemented the Marxist-Leninist ideology of, amongst other things, common ownership of the means of production. Rapidly, Stalin was the dictator at the pinnacle of the society exercising powers of life and death. The creation of the Soviet Union was deeply disturbing to many Italians and they had no competing ideology of their own to justify Italian social structure and maintaining a capitalist/landlord lock on resources.
Nationalism created Italy where no Italy had previously been. But having obtained a State it begged the question of whether this was enough and what it meant to be Italian in Italy. Fascism, an idea thrown-up by Benito Mussolini attempted to put flesh on the bones of Italian nationalism but it was dressing, not an ideological skeleton. Fascism has no ideology. It is a state of being. It was invented constantly on the go drawing fundamentally from the experience of the "Arditi" storm-troopers in the First World War infused with the glory of the Roman Empire. So it involved uniforms, great rousing rallies, a drawing-in of the people to the State, a State justified by the greatness of the Italian people and thus Great itself and deserving of the rewards that should thus attain (such as empire).
But as it was the greatness of the Italian people that justified the State the Fascist State did not see itself as being at war against its own population. Private enterprise was respected and this, of course, first attracted the landowners, capitalists, artisans and the middle classes to it and cemented their support. Conveniently, once fascism was established it would take over failing businesses often with the payment of generous recompense to the owners. Fascism became a practical, but not ideological, challenge to the communism that was sweeping Europe and which was finding fertile ground amongst the Italian masses. Fascism was a particularly Italian thing: impressive to look at, wonderful design and spectacle, a great dose of nastiness but not unrestrained and infinitely malicious but, in the final analysis, underlayed by a dodgy justification and operating in a chaotic and disorganised manner that placed a block on true excess. Fascism, of course, did not tolerate challenges to it but economic and social power remained diffused and there were other poles of power that the fascists had to consider including property owners large and small, the Crown, the Bureaucracy, powerful families and the Catholic Church.
Fascism then was the game in town as Italy continued its industrialisation and its transformation away from being an agricultural economy. Fascism had as one of its aims the improving of the lives of ordinary people and families and it marshalled the resources of the State to eliminate malaria, turn marshes into farmland, provide workers housing among other things. It also involved itself in the welfare and self-improvement of workers. For this reason fascism still gets credit for development that improved the lives of many ordinary people in Italy.
The Italian Communist Party (originally the Communist Party of Italy), however, was Stalinist, its leaders were Stalinists and, in particular, Palmiro Togliatti, one of the Communist Party founders and General Secretary had a close personal relationship with Stalin and during his time in Russia (when the fascists were in power in Italy) he rose to the leadership of the Communist International (in 1935 when Stalin began his first purges). There is no doubt that the Italian Communist Party sought to further Soviet interests. Togliatti entered government in Italy in 1944 as Minister without portfolio and in subsequent governments went on to become vice-premier and Minister of Justice. In the General Election of 1946 the Italian Communist Party received 19% of the votes and 104 seats in the Constituent Assembly.
Thus Stalinist Communism was a feature of Italian politics both before and after the Second World War. It survived fascism and it frightened many Italians. The problem was that Italians who turned to communism were primed to accept it unreservedly, they revered Stalin as they had been taught to revere the Pope. They replaced one religion with another and so even though the Italian Communist Party renounced violence as a means to its aims and supported democracy very many Italians remained suspicious and hostile to it. The fact that Italian communists adhered to Marxism-Leninism and Stalinist dogma gave them an intellectual structure and organisation that other Italians lacked. Italy had never been a liberal society sustaining private property and free markets as a matter of political philosophy so entrepreneurs, artisans, and citizens who valued their property, no matter how meagre, felt vulnerable. Most of these people had come from nothing, through hard work they had attained something and they were afraid of it being taken away. The ability to earn from ones labour and capital was for very many Italians a benefit only recently attained; previous to this they had worked as share-croppers giving the benefits of their labour to others.
to be continued ...
Beppe Grillo received one quarter of the vote in Italy’s recent elections. Today Time Magazine published an interview with him. Whether you are interested in Italy or not it is worth reading. Italy is 60 million volatile human beings. It played a key role in the development of European nationalism in the 18th century, an extreme form of that nationalism developed into fascism, it was a belligerent in two World Wars, the weakness, corruption and illegitimacy of the Italian State created fertile ground for criminal organisation like the mafia and camorra. It will probably bring down the Euro and it is a running experiment on how one generation can steal all from those following and kick the ladder away undermining their material prospects and denying their aspirations. It is inconceivable that there could be a generational civil war that would pit children against their parents but the inequity of the current situation and the desperation of the disenfranchised could well find expression in chaos and violence.
Given that Grillo is a political actor in Italy and his comments are intended for wide dissemination I think that it constitutes fair use to repeat some of them here:
"The county is divided in two. Those who voted for [the other parties], they’re people who don’t want to change things. Because they have high pensions. With the crisis, the prices are low. Maybe they have two houses, and you take away their housing tax. We have 18 million pensioners, 4 million state employees, that’s 22 million people. Not all of them, but a big part, don’t want change because they’re surviving. The state is their employer.
But the discussion will change, because soon there won’t be public salaries or pensions. No money. The big industry is gone. From computing, mechanical, chemical, there’s nothing left in this country. The small and medium enterprises were holding on, but they’re closing by the thousands. How do we go forward?"
[Read more: http://world.time.com/2013/03/07/italys-beppe-grillo-meet-the-rogue-comedian-turned-kingmaker/#ixzz2MsK7O6eY ]
"I channel all this rage into this movement of people, who then go and govern. They should be thanking us one by one. If we fail, [Italy] is headed for violence in the streets. But if we crumble, then they come. Everything started in Italy. Fascism was born here. The banks were born here. We invented debt. The mafia, us too. Everything started here. If violence doesn’t start here, it’s because of the movement. If we fail, we’re headed for violence in the street. Half the population can’t take it anymore."
[Read more: http://world.time.com/2013/03/07/italys-beppe-grillo-meet-the-rogue-comedian-turned-kingmaker/#ixzz2MsKTGBA1 ]
I discussed this with my friend Loris. They’ll "copâlu" he said to me in Friulano. With a chill I realised that he is right. Grillo is taking on a complete generation and threatening to remove their spoils illicitly and illegitimately obtained. He’s taking on a generation without scruples or morals. They won’t let him. It’s a bad story. Grillo has been compared erroneously to Mussolini. This is slander. I hope that any comparison with Giacomo Matteotti never comes to pass.
On 13 February, I wrote a diary entry reflecting on how behaviour within the small confines of the Faula Golf Club could be seen on a larger scale in the behaviour of Italy’s enduring political class. Those of you who read this diary will know that I believe that it is a great error - the greatest error that a country can make - to treat popularly elected politicians that, as a class, are incompetent, corrupt, venal, mendacious, and worse as an aberration, a type of cancer in an otherwise healthy body politic. Joseph de Maistre wrote that “Every nation has the government which it is fit for" and my argument is that as the Italians are governed by Italians that they elect - "people like us" - until there are enough Italians that have had enough of "furbizia" ("slyness") and are prepared to live in reality, face facts, reason with their own mind instead of having their thoughts provided by others, demand accountability for incorrect behaviour by others and take responsibility when they do wrong" there is no possibility of Italy improving and it faces inexorable decline.
To pass the blame for the national disaster on the politicians, as very many Italians are wont to do, deflects them from having to look at themselves. It is all too convenient. In the diary entry subsequent I wrote about how stimulating it can be to spend time in the company of the old farmers, artisans and factory workers, all retired, around our village of Ravosa, because many are smart, astute, have a clear eye, and a healthy scepticism and they bring a keen personal analysis to what they have experienced and what makes up their society and country. These people tend to tell it like it is! Many Italians, however, see themselves, intrinsically and per se, as fine people and without need to judge themselves by their own behaviour and motivations. Thus many Italians behave in ways that are wrong and, seemingly, without limits. I ascribed this in large part to the manipulation of the Italian people from birth, by the Italian State to form and maintain a populace quiescent and nationalistic and identifying with being Italian, an idea invented only 150 years ago. Italians are not taught to question authority, the State or the nature and functioning of their social organisation. They are not encouraged to reason lest that reasoning bring them into conflict with the beliefs and stories that underlay their national existence. But they are taught that what they do have in common is something very special, that is that some of their progenitors were the truly great Romans of antiquity and others by their creativity led to the renaissance of Western culture at the end of the Middle Ages.
In addition, Italy, is a Roman Catholic state and Roman Catholicism requires that its dogma and authority be followed and not challenged. This religion, as practised in Italy with its extensive network of churches in every community and the binding ties between Church and State, does’t accept challenge and doesn’t encourage Italians to think for themselves. Thus, in total, Italy is an extremely conformist society where the populace are used to being directed and guided. With its nationalism and Roman Catholicism it was a State primed to invent fascism just as much as it was ready to be manipulated by Silvio Berlusconi through the medium of TV. [See Il Conformista - The Conformist - by Bernado Bertolucci]
Now, there are very many fine Italians, honest, hard working, generous. But there are too many who are crummy. At the beginning, when we started La Faula, we had real difficulty accepting the Italian system of continual inspections and controls of businesses by layers and layers of police and other State officials. At the beginning, I would complain to the inspecting officers. Very early on an officer of the Guardia di Finanze [Finance Police] said to me "Look its no use your complaining. The Italians are "furbi" [sly] and if we didn’t continuously inspect they would do what they want." And he was correct.
When the new President of the Golf Club got professional advice he was shocked to discover that all the structures that they had put on our land were in contravention of the criminal law ("penale") - not misdemeanour’s - and that there could never be the possibility of an amnesty to regularise them and that they would have to be removed tout suite. Not only, but as the owners, we i.e. Luca and myself, were liable. So after four years of assurances that everything was in order it turned out that nothing was in order.
What happened then was heartening. The new President and a member of the Golf Club committee got into action and removed one of the portakabins (Porta-camp) immediately. We provided some storage space and they emptied the other portakabin and this was also removed. In the next days they will dismantle the covered roof of the driving range. By the end of next week everything will be legal and in order and the Golf Club will re-launch.
I don’t wish to push the allegory too far but it did somewhat remind me of Beppe Grillo and his 5 Star Movement that seemed to come from no-where and got one-quarter of the vote in last weeks election. The undeniable truth is that the two main parties, the Democratic Party of the Left" and Silvio Berlusconi’s "People of Liberty" have given Italy nothing but stagnation based on self-interest, dishonesty, corruption, disorganisation and lack of imagination cemented together by a rigid stasis - the inertia of Italy at rest. All they had to offer us was more of the same which is decline into entropy. They reflect the stasis present in Italian society, a generation of haves determined to maintain the status quo at the cost of disenfranchising the young and large swathes of the middle aged.
Beppe Grillo has said that he should be seen as a force for stability not the opposite because he gave the disenfranchised in Italy a way out other than radicalism and perhaps terrorism (which has happened before - the Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro was killed by the Red Brigades terrorist group). Nobody knows how the Grillo 5 Star Movement will behave in exercising its power. But in this election, just passed, it did give the disenfranchised a home. And here I should tell you that amongst the disenfranchised are not only the usual suspects of students, people without work and those lacking social protection. Under Monti, in particular, but also before under the governments of Berlusconi and Prodi, businesses, all businesses, were pumped dry to support the style of life of those already retired and to pay for the debt they left behind and to keep those already in the public administration in the manner to which they are used. Businesses lost the right to enjoy the fruits of their labour. This has been at the cost of destroying the economy. Berlusconi gave the private sector his sympathy and promises but only looked after his own interests. The Left slandered entrepreneurs as serial tax avoiders and exploiters of labour, seeing them as a necessary evil in society but bereft of intrinsic interest or estimable social value.
My guess is that the Italian economy is in a much worse state than it seems. So much of the economy is fed by the Italian State - pensioners, State employees, workers on stay-at-home schemes - that it has a momentum of its own, sustained by incurring debt, even when the productive sector that should be fuelling it has dropped away. I am sure that the productive part of the Italian economy is both smaller and weaker than the official statistics suggest and the collapse when it comes will be sudden and shocking.
To be continued!
Last Sunday, as every Sunday while the Agriturismo is closed, I went for a cappuccino at the trattoria Ai Cons, just down the road from La Faula, run by our friends Alcide and Elda. After the early Mass finished, the usual crowd arrived. The tiled stove was lit and the atmosphere was warm, cosy and friendly. Everyone present had been born in the 1930’s. Most went to work after finishing primary school when they were 12 years old. These people experienced, in their lifetime:
- share-cropping poverty
- Italian fascism
- occupation by Nazi and Cossack forces when Italy in 1943 switched to supporting the Allies
- the civil war at the end of the Second World War when Italian communists tried to create the reality on the ground for Friuli to be absorbed into Tito’s Yugoslavia and were resisted by those wanting the North-East of Italy to remain Italian
- the economic collapse at the end of the second world war and the depreciation of the value of the Lira
- forced emigration to find work
- the economic boom that began in the 1960’s
- more money than they could have believed it was possible to have
- a secure old age with assets, money and a pension allowing even the poorest of them to live in dignity without fear.
These people, before they retired, were farmers, artisans with small businesses, skilled factory workers. They are able, brave and to be admired.
In "Why Nations Fail" by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson the authors state:
"The price [that] nations pay for low education of their population and lack of inclusive markets is high..... They have many potential Bill Gates and perhaps one or two Albert Einsteins who are now working as poor uneducated farmers ...."
So it is that if one spends time with the older folks around Ravosa, where I live, it is possible to learn amazing things about the way Italy was and is as keen intelligence is applied to broad and deep experience. Most of the folks around Ravosa don’t have even a high-school diploma but they have seen and experienced enough to know that they must proceed through life with a keen and powerful common sense and a healthy cynicism about what they are told and have not experienced directly.
So it was that while I was at the trattoria Ai Cons last Sunday my friend Gino got my attention, and that of everybody else, by saying:
"Eh, we know that you think that Italy has no future .....
it’s true, but we know how to die well!"
I wondered what he meant.
Gino continued: "Mussolini went to visit Hitler in Germany. It was time for Mussolini to review the German troops. At the end they stopped near a tall tower upon which was a German soldier. ’Now’ said Hitler to Mussolini ’ I’m going to show you that we Germans know how to die unflinchingly and with courage. ’Jump’ said Hitler to the soldier. The soldier jumped without hesitation and was killed.
By this time, everyone knew the joke and crowded around making little corrections and ensuring it was accurate.
Gino continued: "Sometime after, Hitler came to visit Mussolini in Italy. They were in Milan. The troops were being reviewed by Hitler. ’Now’ said Mussolini I’m going to show you that we Italians know how to die!’ ’You’ he said indicating a soldier in the ranks. The soldier looked at his watch. "It’s 9.00 a.m. and I’m already drunk!" the soldier thought.
Everyone roared with laughter at the idea of the German pointlessly sacrificing his life whereas the Italian had already enjoyed his first drinks of the day
"Look!" Gino said waving his arm. "It’s true, Italy is a disaster. But we really know how to die!" and it was hard to disagree. The place was warm, there was a communal feeling and everyone had a glass of wine!
These people grew-up under fascism, in poverty, but fascism brought them schools and roads. They lived in a country that justified going to war as part of a German-Italian Axis and for most of them the mobilisation and excitement of the period 1940-1943 was the best thing they had ever experienced. But then in 1943 they were told that it was a mistake and suddenly the German troops were occupiers and they brought Cossacks who had fought against Stalin as their proxies in Friuli. And then the communist partisans started provoking and attacking the German troops to no benefit except that it led to reprisals against the civilian population, principally women, the old and adolescents. The men were gone. Then the Germans and Cossacks retreated and in the void before the Allied Troops reached Trieste and blocked Tito’s forces, the Italian communist partisans tried, by force of arms, to prepare the subjugation of Friuli. A small civil war broke out and atrocities were committed principally by the communist partisans. The Allied troops arrived. Near La Faula by the Malina river the American troops were encamped. Amongst them were many Italians, they had chocolate and cigarettes and they were friendly to the kids that hung around the camp. A couple of kilometres further along the Malina river, in Magredis, the British troops were encamped. They were hostile and sometimes taunted the hungry kids. There was a lot of prostitution.
In the period of profound social disintegration following the break with Germany of 1943 many vendettas were settled and created and many things happened that people don’t do in normal circumstances. The kids saw where the bodies were. And those kids of those times are our neighbours today. They know what it means to be manipulated and they know, with a clear mind, the level of degradation that humans are capable of. They know what happened and they know that Italians are not a master race and this forms the basis of many of many of their jokes.
In the Northern Italian cities, however, the situation was different. During the First World War the cities had ceased to be simply administrative centres for an agricultural economy and had become centres of industrialisation. If Italy was still primarily an agricultural society between the First and Second World Wars, the cities were centres of industry on large and small scale. They had a population density obviously higher than the countryside and they needed a more educated workforce.
Italy was only put together 150 years ago by the Kingdom of Savoy. Its creation involved the conquest and integration of many smaller states, principalities and regions belonging to other states including Austria and the Papal States. It was a conquest with a nationalist justification, that being that the Italians as descendants of the ancient Romans should live in a nation coterminous with the Italian peninsular. A constant preoccupation of those who governed the Italians was that the Italians themselves don’t identify themselves as such, defining themselves by their location, dialect and culture. This was particularly true when the Italian State was still nascent and it led to Italy unnecessarily entering the First World War in the hope of creating the rebirth of the nation in blood. During the fascist period Mussolini became preoccupied by the fact that the Roman Catholic Church continued to deny the legitimacy of the Italian State and so he obtained, by bribery, the support of the the Holy See with the Lateran Accords of 1929.
Thus, one of the key objectives of education in Italy is, and was, nation-building and the moulding each individual into the model Italian. This was much harder to do in the countryside where the people had little formal education and where the unorganised nature of their work made them less subject to formal moulding. It was in the cities, however, with their mass of labour that the creation of the ’real Italian’ actually happened. In general city kids attended school longer and were thus subject to nationalising influences through education for longer. The organisation of classes of workers into groups, or social factors, also served the purpose of locking them into the idea of being Italians in an Italian nation-state. And, fortunately, there was a glorious story to teach children who were fortunate to find themselves living in the society that was the reincarnation of the Roman Empire and which had let to the rebirth/renaissance of Europe after the fall into the dark ages.
After the Second World War, Italy again risked a crisis of illegitimacy: the fascist regime of Mussolini had fallen, but many Italians felt this was a bad thing and although the partisan struggle, supposedly by a populace wanting to throw-off the fascist yolk, served to justify the new State many in Italy did not believe it. And in any case most of the State institutions, with their actors, carried on as before with no change. During this period nation-justifying propaganda reached a fever pitch. There was real fear among many Italians of a communist takeover. The role of the State fundamentally in this time was to guarantee stability in a nation that had not exited the Second world War with a unified view on what had happened while avoiding succumbing to a communist takeover. Luckily, the Italian communists at the time were more nationalist than communist so agreement was found in which there were to be no trials or witch-hunts. After the summary executions of fascists in the last days of the war, everyone was eventually pardoned, no matter how horrific their war crime. The war was to be blamed on the Germans as the Italians, by nature, are ’brava gente’ ("good people"). The Italians, communist, ex-fascist, republicans, Christian Democrats would get on and avoid putting at risk the severely weakened nation. And the Americans lubricated this with Marshall Fund money and the Italians found that the "Dolce VIta" was much more enjoyable than anything that had come before.
In 1954 a potent tool arrived to keep Italians thinking Italian: television. Television in Italy took as its principal idea that of the village, or quarter, where family and friendship relationships prevailed in warm intimacy but on a bigger scale. TV was an organ of the State but it convinced Italians that it brought into their homes (and restaurants and pizzerie) the shared experience of the "real Italy". Thus it was, and is not, seen as rude to leave the TV on when guests call by. The TV is one of the family and favourite presenters go on longer than the Pope, until death, as their familiarity is taken as friendship and their presence in the home as connectedness to others. The genius of Silvio Berlusconi is that he understood this early and realised that such an audience was voluntarily and enthusiastically captive and in a nation of conformists he could control a big part of the populace simply through his television channels.
Today, as I write this the national TV channels in Italy are divided between the State broadcaster RAI and Berlusconi. There is only one other national channel and that belongs to Telecom Italia and is on sale. TV for a certain generation of Italians represents continuity, reassurance of their conformity, participation in the national life and confirmation of the Italian narrative. As such, there is absolutely no demand for plurality and diversity, in fact change would be resisted. Change did come, but to another, younger generation, and in the form of the internet. But this is another story and involves Beppe Grillo!
In summary I think that it would be true to say that the vast majority of Italians would say of themselves that they, the Italians, are good people ("brava gente"), to the extent that they have defects so do other peoples ("tutto il mondo e paese") but they have the superior qualification in that their ancestors were the progenitors of Western Civilisation, and they deserve respect from other Europeans for this.
On the 27th February of this year the Italian news media reported that the Italian President:
"Cries. Is moved. He says: "We demand respect for our country." Giorgio Napolitano from Germany defends the pride of the nation ...."
President Napolitano was responding to the report that German politician Peer Steinbrück, of the Social Democratic party (SPD) had referred to Berlusconi and Grillo, two winners in the recent Italian, election as "clowns". Napolitano has in a previous visit to Germany referred to Italy as the source of Western civilisation.
And this is the heart of the matter. Probably most Italians don’t view themselves as anything less than brava gente with an illustrious past. They consider it absolutely unacceptable that they should be judged by non-Italians for their present state, mafia, chaos, disorganisation, corruption, dishonesty, which they see as recycling offensive and derogatory national stereotypes by those who would do them down or treat them with contempt.
And the nub is that Italians expect to be judged on who they think they are (think Romans, renaissance) and not what they are (think chaos, dishonesty, corruption etc). In many other societies one is judged not on who one is, or thinks one is, but what one actually is. The insistence that one should not be judged on what one is leaves Italians unable to confront the reality of themselves, their behaviour and the consequences flowing from their actions. If one is in a State of Original Perfection it is difficult to confront the dark heart that beats within!