Things Fall Apart

It’s often said that Britain is a broken country, with transport problems that are worse than anything in Europe, a NHS that’s at breaking point, rampant immigration bursting the nation at the seems and a political class disconnected from the public. Britain, we’re told, should take it’s queues from super efficient Europe, where public money is spent properly and people engage with their political processes in an educated, enlightened fashion. This is bullshit. I can tell you right now that in Italy, nothing fucking works.

For instance, everytime I nip out to the cashpoint to get some money I end getting fucked around by at least one of them; they’re either broken, refuse my card or tell me my pin is invalid (it isn’t). Usually this involves me screaming at the machine ‘YOU FUCKING PIECE OF USELESS FUCKING SHIT! GIVE ME MY CUNTING MONEY’ to the shock of everyone in the queue behind. My girlfriend is right this second trying to work out how to pay her taxes online, a process so complicated it’s encouraging Italians to choose the traditional option; just don’t bother. Then there’s the metro A-line, which will be shutting at 10pm because of the new C-line they’re building – every day until 2010. In Naples the streets are piled high with rubbish because the Comorra has control over of all the waste disposal contracts, meaning that toxic waste is being dumped any old place. Even democracy itself is on the verge of eating itself; with cruise ship crooner look-a-like Silvio Berlusconi trying to push through a law that renders himself completely immune from prosecution as long as he remains Prime Minister. Within the same legislation he has proposed a banning of wiretap evidence unless used against recognised members of organised crime syndicates (thereby collapsing a couple of pesky lawsuits against himself) and the prosecution of any journalist and media outlet who publishes the transcripts. NIce eh? And as if this wasn’t bad enough, how about the racist, facsist and deeply unconstitutional act of fingerprinting Gypsy children as part of a national census?

However, at least over here there is an ingrained interest in politics and activism at grass roots level; the casual erosion of civil liberties that is happening under the current Labour government has raised barely more than a few sniffy letters to the broadsheets, but over here Burlusconi’s actions warranted a demo in Piazza Navona, a huge public square, complete with speakers, politicians, journalists and intellectuals. The crowd shushed itself so it could listen to poetry. Seriously. Hell, even I showed up to lend my support (and to write a piece about it for the Guardian, which showed up some four days late).

The event was organised mainly by the Antonio Di Pietri and his IDV (Italy of Values) Party, and if he did set it up as a way of focussing anger with Berlusconi into votes for him, he made a pretty good show of hiding it. Never have I seen a politician so reticent to make himself the main act at a political rally. We got there a little bit late and as punishment we ended up round the side of the stage, with a lovely view of the scaffolding and people’s heads as they shoved past us, but neither that nor my relative lack of language skills didn’t stop me from recognising that there were some very impressive public speakers on display, including Di Pietri himself. It was absolutely heaving and boiling hot, not that nice when you’re tightly packed in with your (somewhat sweaty and smelly) fellow man. We were right up against the lame tape barrier, with a  huge space behind us that was completly empty apart from coppers and Caribinieri hanging around looking bored. As the day went on this dam started to leak and in the end the police gave up trying to stop people flooding in.

a good journalist gets there early

Note: a good journalist gets there early

‘This is real democracy here, not what is happening in government’ said Di PIetro. ‘What is happening here is a crime of political extortion… all of Berlusconi’s first actions were about protecting himself. He is killing the political process for his own ends.’ The crowd, festooned with IDV and Communist Party flags, roared their approval and continued to do so from one speaker to the next; Moni Ovadia, a Jewish musician who was born in Bulgaria but settled in Milan with his family in his early childhood brought the house down by comparing democracy to a plant that needed taking care of while a popular crime novellist called Andrea Camilleri compared his cupboard to the Crypt; ‘it has more skeletons.’

But the day wasn’t really about the speakers (which is just as well given my hazy grip on Italian), it was about the people. It was good for me to see a range of political opinions that weren’t just thinly veiled excuses for racism, or homophobia, or expressed by the daubing a swastika on the wall of a trainer shop. There are people here who are bothered that their Prime MInister is a man who owns a substaintial chunk of the nation’s mass media and the blatant way he’s taking the piss out of democracy, who don’t like to assualt Romanians in the street and who don’t twitch at the eyebrow at the meerest mention of the homos. They expressed this the only way they know how; by getting a permanent marker out and scribbling it amateurishly onto a big piece of card, or maybe one of mamma’s bedsheets. Preferably like so;

Nope, not even my Italian speaking Girlfriend knows what this means

Nope, not even my Italian speaking girlfriend knows what this means

Or thusly;

'Anto, it's hot but we're still here.' Bless.

'Anto, it's hot but we're still here.' Bless.

The standout moment of the day was Sabina Guzzanti’s hilarious rant at pretty much everybody, including the current Minister of Equal Opportunities, (the seriously hot but rather dim Mara Carfagna, who doesn’t like the gays at all) who she accused of only getting her position in Berlusconi’s cabinet ‘by sucking his cock’. However the highlight must surely have been her statement that; ‘In twenty years time I want to see the Pope in Hell being tormented by gay devils,’ which I can’t help but think must have come from a stoned session watching South Park: The Movie. It’s also a peculiarly Catholic way of showing off her anti-ecclesiastical politics; why, if you don’t believe in the dogma of the church, would you want to see the Pope in Hell? Surely that would confirm that God is Great, Beelezebub exists and that we should all get down on our knees and renounce our sins, lest we swim in a lake of fire for all eternity. Surely she meant in that twenty years time she’d like to see the Pope rotting in a coffin, slowly disintergrating into nothing like everyone else on this planet? Now that would be a victory for petrified aetheists everywhere, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Most of the day’s speeches focussed on the actual issues, thankfully. One of the biggest ones, pointed out during a fantastic speech by journalist Marco Travaglio, is that due to electoral reforms brought in by Berlusconi in 2005, over 1.5million Italians who voted for left wing parties have no political representation, and on top of that the sheer brazenness of the government’s disregard for human rights and the judiciary is a threat to the constitution of Italy. Di Pietro garnered himself some rapturous applause when he said; ‘when there is a democratic emergency, we all have to take a stand’, but it remains to be seen if a country where in conspiracy theories are rife, distrust of authority is total and corruption in high places is expected, even tolerated, can be roused to force change. I’m certainly not holding my breath.


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