Italy: the clean-up after the party

This is an article by Miriam Pelusi.
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Italy has turned a corner with the collapse of Mr Berlusconi’s coalition and its replacement by Mario Monti’s team of technocrats.

Indro Montanelli claimed that “Berlusconi is an illness that can be treated only with vaccine. [..] Only after that can we be immune”. Now some journalists state that Monti is treating Italy with a pharmacological therapy. Not for nothing is Mario Monti nicknamed “Super Mario”. Once again Italy seems to be relying on a saviour to cope with its problems.

The new government led by Mario Monti has been welcomed with high expectations and some perplexities due to his background and the fact that he has not been elected. The atmosphere has changed.

Bel paese

It’s a new look for the Bel Paese (beautiful country): sober and controlled instead of greasepaint and heels.

Exaggeration and false promises have been replaced: ‘austerity’ and ‘sacrifices’ have become key words as they imply a sudden change of direction. The clowning style of Berlusconi has given way to the measured self-controlled attitude of Monti. Two different communication styles adapted to different contexts; two different egos that epitomise the way Italy has been governed.

The fictional picture painted by Mr Berlusconi has been partially covered by an austere world promised by Monti. From the dark tunnel of bunga-bunga parties, the bel paese has ended up in austerity land.

The mindset has changed: austerity measures seem to be killing off the dolce vita life style.

But as Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard showed, while everything seems to change, nothing really changes in the end.

The idea that nothing changes has been an accepted fact for generations of Italians. While 2011 ended with indignation and street parties, 2012 began with protests.

Monti has decided not to let Rome bid for the 2020 Olympics. And even the awaited opening night of the 2011-2012 Season of La Scala in Milan has adopted a communication strategy based on austerity: social media played a pivotal role. On 7th December the eternal myth of Mozart’s Don Giovanni conducted by Daniel Barenboim was followed worldwide – for the first time ever – on Twitter.

Don Berlusconi and the sinking ship

Is this a metaphor?

#DonGiovanni soon became the trending topic and the opera a much closer world through social networks. Yet for many, the character of Don Giovanni echoed Berlusconi.

As The Economist reported, ‘Berlusconi is seen by many as the man who partied and exposed Italy to international ridicule while the country slipped towards the abyss.’

While Italy was slowly building a new image abroad, it was inevitable that the foreign press would make a comparison between the Concordia cruise ship and the nation.

The sinking ship has become one of the iconic images of Italy in this period; Schettino and De Falco immediately became the representation of the two Italian souls. At the end of January Der Spiegel commented on this incident harshly, defining Schettino as a typical Italian. And so debates on cultural stereotypes have increased.

Italians have had to overcome not only the usual bad stereotypes as pizza-mafia-and-mandolin but  bunga-bunga as well.

It is not only a matter of communication: many obstacles that Italy faces are based on cultural assumptions. There is cultural work that needs to be done for the current generation and for future generations. Families, school, cultural institutions, Church, media and other agents have to play their role.

Media freedom

According to the annual report on freedom of press Italy (in 61st position) is among those countries that ‘still fail to address the issue of their media freedom violations, above all because of a lack of political will.’ In 2012 Italy is a democracy which needs to reach European standards of media freedom.

In the meantime the question as to whether Italy is a country for talented young people is still hard to answer. The recent documentary Italy, love it or leave it showed the dilemma that many young  Italians face. Gerontocracy and the brain drain are two associated phenomena that are preventing Italy from moving forward.

All in all, Italy remains an old-new country where young people seem to stay forever young. This is a paradox which needs to be solved.

Young people and women still need more space on the public agenda, but it seems that social and political movements are still not empowered enough. Monti recently declared that having a job for life may be boring and that young Italians should be challenged by more flexible employment.

Meanwhile youth unemployment is running at over 30% and young Italians feel trapped in the labour market.

150 years young

The media calls young Italians ‘Bamboccioni’, ‘mammoni’, ‘Bim Bum Bam generation’ [mummy’s boys’], representing them as childish people who love staying with their mothers. These widely-known stereotypes are hard to deconstruct, and can affect and hide talents. In the meantime ‘spazio ai giovani’ [Give space to young people] has become only a slogan, and meritocracy a matter of opinion.

Italy celebrated the 150th anniversary of its unification in 2011, but divisions are still strong – with the South which seems still far from the EU and the Northern League party that claims independence. Many Italians feel distant from politics or unsympathetic to it.

In the meantime, scandals continue. Corruption still infects the system. Berlusconi’s former ally Umberto Bossi and other members of the Northern League resigned after finding themselves at the centre of corruption allegations. It seems that Italy’s public life has decayed, as did the Roman Empire.

This year sees the anniversary of Mani Pulite (in English, ‘Clean Hands’), a huge investigation into political corruption, but although twenty years have passed, the truth is still a long way away. But this is normal in Italy: many cases can be cited. Men like Aldo Moro, Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and others have died, but their work has still not been properly appreciated and the truth about their deaths is still hidden.

In 2012 the Mafia is still the ‘black beast’ which needs to be eradicated: it is not simply an ingredient for television fiction, as it is often seen abroad.

In a year’s time there will be election. It could be the right time to see if the lesson has been learnt. Will there be any signs of change in the beautiful Mediterranean peninsula? Is it still possible to create a positive future for this country or does Lo Stivale (the boot) have to be at the foot of Europe?

A glorious past, a shaky present and an uncertain future: that’s Italy in this time of transition.




  1. Erica Machado says:

    It is a well written article and depicted the situation of corruption in different countries in Europe as well as South America – Brazil.

    I am from Brazil and I can see different names for the same corrupt politicians in my country. Unfortunately corruption is a plague that can be banned when population fight for their rights and speak up for justice.

    Congratulations for the article.

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