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The last of Italy's great postwar politicians is dead PDF Print E-mail
May 22, 2016 at 08:15 PM

Marco Pannella
Marco Pannella, the founder of the Italian Radical Party and a long-time warrior for civil rights in Italy and elsewhere, died Friday, May 20th,  at the age of 86. Many young Italians of today probably don’t even know who he was. Or, if they do know his name, they may have come away with an image of a cantankerous person who sometimes spoke on the radio for hours and who was repeatedly staging hunger strikes that often led to very little.

But to say this would be what the Italians call riduttivo, that is totally simplistic and inadequate and  Romans who are well aware of this today jammed into Piazza Navona, where Pannella usually held his rallies, for a last salute to a principled and dynamic man.

Crowds in Piazza Navona saying a final goodbye

The fact is, that if today’s Italy is a freer, more modern place than it was 40 years ago, this is largely thanks to Marco Pannella and his gadfly, aggressive, dedicated radicals. It was under his leadership that Italians went to the polls in a series of unprecedented referenda and voted to have, first divorce and then, in 1978, to give women the right to have an abortion. They pushed to make contraceptives legal (when I first arrived here in the early seventies they were NOT). They defended the rights of prisoners, of porn stars (one was even voted into parliament on their ticket) and fought to end the draft and, less successfully, for the end of the death penalty in places like the United States, for the liberalization of drugs like marijuana and hasish, for a stop to hunger and for world peace.

Pannella, originally from Teramo in the Abbruzzi, where he will be buried on Monday, became active in politics when he was only 25. In 1955, together with several others he founded the Radical Party of which he became the official leader in 1963.  He hated violence and believed that civil disobedience, sit-ins and hunger strikes were the most effective – and acceptable – weapons of political struggle.

He served in the parliament for many years and was also elected to office in a series of city and regional councils throughout the country. His party collected signatures  - more than 50 million over the course of three decades - for a variety of popular referenda that in his eyes would make the justice system and the electoral process more democratic and responsive.

He had innumerable love affairs, with both men and women, smoked (unfiltered French Gauloises) like a fiend and indeed from this may have got the lung cancer that contributed to his death. He could be annoying and obstreperous but he made Italy a better place than it was before his arrival on the political scene. Rest in Peace.


Rome rudderless (or possibly not) PDF Print E-mail
Nov 08, 2015 at 02:58 PM
Sadder but not necessarily wiser
Rome is now in a pretty pickle. Just four weeks from now, on December 8, the Jubilee or Holy Year (the year-long Vatican-sponsored celebration that many of us residents are dreading) is to begin and Rome, the Eternal City, is without a mayor. True, there is now a prefect - actually two prefects - who for the coming months will be running the city. But it is pretty embarrassing that it has come to this and the blame is to be shared out between the outgoing mayor, Ignazio Marino, formerly a successful transplant surgeon, and the political party that sponsored his political career and has now (finally!) disowned him.

Whatever his good intentions when he was elected mayor in June, 2013, Marino quickly showed himself incapable of managing a city with myriad problems in sectors such as sanitation, public transport, and security. And like some of his predecessors he also failed to gain influence over other city institutions whose support, or lack thereof, can make or break any Italian mayor: municipal police, civil servants, and the (often corrupt or inefficient managers ) of the semi-autonomous agencies managing transport or garbage collection. Indeed, Marino's major failing may well have been that of not putting into effect measures that would allow the city administration to ward off attempts at infiltration by criminal elements; a report by a special commission released this week says he continued many of the former administration's contract procedures and kept on bureaucrats who for a truly clean sweep should have been replace. As Raffaele Cantone, Italy's anti-corruption chief put it last week, Rome (unlike Milan) does not have the necessary antibodies to stave off corruption, and Marino clearly was unable to do much in that direction.

Under fire from merchants opposing his controversial plan to shut a good part of the city center to traffic, and faced with growing complaints from Romans of all political stripes about the filth and disorganization that have increasingly characterized daily life here, the now former mayor then became embroiled in a dispute about expenses and foreign travel. Interestingly enough, he had been accused of similar irregularities when he left his post as transplant surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh and director of an ultra-modern, Italian-American liver transplant hospital in Palermo, Sicily. But despite this, in 2005 the left-of-center Partito Democratico nevertheless put forth his candidacy to the Italian Senate, to which he was elected the following year. And in 2012 its members chose him, despite his lack of governing experience, as their choice for mayor.





Blame-game follows Dutch hooligan rampage PDF Print E-mail
Feb 22, 2015 at 09:35 PM

the Barcaccia afterwards
Lots of finger-pointing going here on after the shameful behavior by rampaging, drunk Dutch soccer hooligans, whose rioting in Rome’s famous Piazza di Spagna ended in irreparable damage to Bernini’s marble “Barcaccia”.

The not-very popular mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, understandably upset by the inability of Italian police to isolate the offenders and stop their destructive conduct beforeit was too late, is however using the occasion to try to minimize the related malfunction of his own administration – for example, failure to enforce a ban on selling alcohol that supposedly had gone into effect on Wednesday evening.

Restored only a year ago thanks to a private donor, the Barcaccia  doesn’t look that bad from afar, but reportedly has suffered some 110  irreparable scratches from the bear cans and bottles thrown by several hundred out of control Feyenoord fans, in Rome for a European League game with A.S.Roma (which, by the way, ended in a tie).

ImageBut the aftermath of the face-offs with Italian police – first on Wednesday night around Campo de’ Fiori and on Thursday at Piazza di Spagna – did more than frighten tourists, cause a loss of revenue to downtown merchants, and damage the Bernini (father and son) monument, numerous scooters, motorcycles, cars and some 17city buses.

It has set off a debate about security in Rome with the city’s mayor enraged over what he saw as an inadequate police strategy (the police in Italy are under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interni) and the Rome police chief, Nicolò D'Angelo. who insists that caution was necessary to make sure there was no loss of life.

In effect, it seems odd that Italian police who have decades of experience in dealing with demonstrations, were unable to keep the frenzied Dutchmen from reaching the heart of downtown Rome and had not thought of providing protection for the fountain.

But had the Rome city police – erroneously called “vigili” since “vigilant” they are not – been on THEIR toes, shutting down and fining the mini-markets and mobile snack bars that were illegally selling bottled beverages, there might have been less damage. Rome’s city police have been criticized for years now for their lack of efficiency and professionalism. But currently they are really at daggers drawn with the mayor after his administration rightly began punitive measures against the ringleaders of an unauthorized strike on New Year’s Eve when close to one thousand city police feigned illness instead of turning up for work.

Who knows too, if relations between Italy and Holland will be damaged. The Dutch government has said they will help identify the offenders and see that they pay for the damages they inflicted but has refused (so far) to make an official contribution.


Italy to elect new Italian president tomorrow. Or not. PDF Print E-mail
Jan 30, 2015 at 10:10 PM

ImageAll 951 members of the Italian Parliament and 58 representatives of the country's 20 regions began voting yesterday to elect a successor to President Giorgio Napolitano, who resigned his office on January 13.


As predicted, the first three roll call votes ended without any candidate receiving the two-thirds majority, 673 votes, called for for the first three ballots. Tomorrow, Saturday, the number of votes needed to elect a new Head of State drops to 505, a simple majority, and Premier Matteo Renzi has repeatedly said he expects his party’s candidate, former MP Sergio Mattarella, 73, to be elected without further delay.


But will he be? Renzi’s party and its allies should have enough votes to elect Mattarella IF, and it’s a big IF, the members of his Democratic Party (Partito Democratico)  keep their word to vote for the highly respected Sicilian jurist and former cabinet minister when they put their secret ballot in the ballot box and whether the members of the other, smaller government parties, such as the New Center Right (NCD), will also go along.


Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party has officially said they will not vote for Mattarella, currently a judge sitting on Italy’s Constitutional Court; Although Mattarella is not a leftist and therefore should have been acceptable to Berlusconi, the two have clashed on media and other issues in the past and Berlusconi is, once again, putting his own personal issues ahead of the needs of the country.


 If Mattarella is elected) despite Berlusconi’s opposition tomorrow on the fourth ballot (in Italian history, only two presidents have been elected on the first ballot) it will also confirm that the former TV and real estate magnate’s political influence is rapidly disintegrating.  And it will be interesting to see if all of Forza Italia’s representatives actually follow Berlusconi’s lead on this question or whether they, too, may use the secret of the ballot box to vote according to conscience, i. e. for Mattarella.


Berlusconi’s opposition to Mattarella has effectively ended a highly controversial period of cooperation between Forza Italia and the PD, or more precisely between Berlusconi and Renzi . Renzi has no doubt lost some potential voter support in recent years (remember, he has yet to win a national election) because of the so-called Nazarene Pact (named after the hall where the two parties held talks two years ago) so, who knows, maybe his insistence on Mattarella, despite Berlusconi’s disagreement, may have had ulterior motives.




Many Italians angered by ransom payout PDF Print E-mail
Jan 18, 2015 at 07:54 PM
Greta and Venessa with Italian official
Many Italians are furious about the alleged gigantic ransom - the rumor is 12 million euros - that the Italian government is said to have paid to jihadists in Syria to free two, young would-be women aid workers. Government officials have denied paying anything since the official line here is that ransoms must not be paid to terrorists, but no one believes it. Reportedly, this is the seventh or eighth time that Italians kidnapped in Iraq or Syria have been ransomed.

The women, Greta Ramelli e Vanessa Marzullo, both university students, arrived in Aleppo on July 22 with money raised to help the stricken populace and were kidnapped on July 31. They were flown back to Italy earlier this week and yesterday arrived in their hometowns in northern Italy amid the grumblings of many ordinary Italians and some politicians and pundits as well.

Clearly, no one would wish them dead or decapitated as has been the case with Americans or British victims, since both the U.S. and the U.K. follow a hard-line policy of not making such payouts, no matter the consequences. But many people here are bitter about money being spent in this fashion when more than six million working-age Italians are without jobs. And many others, including myself, are horrified that European governments in this way are financing dangerous and bloodthirsty terrorists.

Yesterday, the conservative Rome daily, Il Tempo, had a front-page story dedicated to the number and types of weapons that the jihadists will now be able to buy with the ransom money. The government should do something to keep people - however well-intentioned - from traveling to certain parts of the world or, as an alternative, to make sure they - and their families - know that they are doing so at their own risk.


Italian President to leave office PDF Print E-mail
Jan 05, 2015 at 04:22 PM
President Napolitano, today
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano confirmed on January 1st that he will be resigning his office later this month. In April, 2013, the 89-year old Head of State reluctantly agreed to stay on for a second term when, after four unsuccessful ballots, Italy's wrangling political parties were unable to agree on a successor. It was the first time in Italian postwar history that a President had been asked to stay on for a second seven-year term although it was clear from the start, because of Mr. Napolitano's age, that he would not stay in office for another seven years.

The resignation is expected to come sometime after January 13 when Italy's six-month stint at the presidency of the European Union expires and could easily set off a new round of political squabbling. All sorts of names have been floated but one hat that will not be tossed into the ring by anyone is that of Silvio Berlusconi. It is known that ending his career as President of the Republic was once Berlusconi's dream. But his conviction for tax fraud and other accusations of criminal behavior that are still pending have effectively put an end to any hopes of this sort he might once have nurtured.

In 2013, Italy's largest political party, the Democratic Party, of which the current Premier Matteo Renzi is a member, ought to have been able to push through its candidate for president, former premier Romano Prodi, but a split within the party prevented this from happening. This time around most people within the PD, including Renzi, are saying they prefer for the Italian Republic's 12th Head of State a man who is above the political fray and who can marshall broad support ("a referee, not a player", Renzi said the other day). If this happens (although at present it is hard to imagine who that person might be), it should make it easier for Renzi to get support from other groups to his vast program of proposed reforms.

Renzi tells it as it is.... PDF Print E-mail
Nov 07, 2014 at 09:43 AM

Image Last week, Italian premier Matteo Renzi decided to tell Italian youngsters the bitter truth, and that is that in today’s Italian economy there is no longer such a thing as a permanent position. The “posto fisso” was a reality during and after the boom years of the postwar Italian economy and has remained the dream of most Italians but, alas, those days are gone forever. As elsewhere in the world, Italians will have to deal with the fact that when the economic going gets bad, the may end up losing their jobs.


Renzi’s comments came in the midst of his attempts to reform part of the country’s rather restrictive labor laws, in particular softening the current rules regarding redundancies and firings. The bill that is soon to come before the lower house of Parliament (it has already been passed by the Senate), known as the Jobs Act (for inexplicable reasons, Renzi uses English for this and other draft laws even though there are plenty of Italian words he could use) has created tensions with Italy’s unions and on several recent occasions in  police and protesters have clashed over this issue.

However,  the young Italian leader intends to push on: "We are going to keep going because our aim isn't to wage a political battle, but to get Italy going again and we won't give up a millimeter on this", said Renzi who last May won an endorsement for his ambitious reform agenda when his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) polled  over 40% of the vote in European elections. He insists that Italy has reached a "now or never" moment to end its recent economic downslide.


Actually, the new law is supposed to offer incentives to business owners to encourage them to hire people long-term rather than with the short-term contracts that have prevailed in recent years, creating uncetainty and anxiery among the relatively few young people who hve actually found jobs. This undoubtedly would give a real boost to the labor market. But to get entrepreneurs to do this, they have to be allowed to lay off excess labor when there is an economic downturn. Article 18 of the 1970 Workers' Statute, originally designed to protect workers against unfair dismissal, has been largely interpreted by Italian magistrates in a very restrictive fashion. The statute has consequently been blamed for scaring off foreign and local investors who don't want to risk saddling themselves with unneeded labor. 


The new law is by no means anti-labor says the government. There will be safeguards against unfair dismissal that will increase with seniority and  it will also set a minimum wage and heftier unemployment benefits  "If we do what we are capable of doing, Italy will be the locomotive of Europe in the coming years” says Renzi. "But we have to have the courage to say the time of doing things later is over. It's now or never. That is the sense of urgency my government moves with".



Italian terrorists join ISIS ranks, reports say. PDF Print E-mail
Sep 07, 2014 at 08:57 PM
How can you tell?
It's not just radical Britons or Belgians who have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with those animals who call themselves combatants for the new Caliphate (oh, give me a break!). Reportedly, there are also about Italians currently in Syria and Iraq now enrolled in the terrorist army of ISIS, the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. But interestingly enough, according to a report in the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, only one in five is from an immigrant family, that is people who were presumably born Muslims.

According to the article, the majority of the fighters, primarily from the north of Italy, especially Brescia, Turin, Ravenna, Venice, Padua and Bologna, are young Italian men who have only recently - and suddenly - converted to Islam. presumably after recruitment via the web.. This should not surprise anyone who has lived in Italy for the last several decades: there were enough extremists in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s to foment domestic terrorism that caused hundreds of deaths and injuries to innocent people. And more recently, anarchists here on a variety of occasions have turned otherwise peaceful demonstrations into riots.

However, these Italian jihadists are not the main concern. Citing information provided in an interview with Italy's Interior (police) minister, Angelino Alfano, the paper said last week that even more worrisome than these people who had gone abroad to fight are the estimated 200 followers who, according to intelligence reports, he says, have elected to come to or stay in Italy to provide logistical, organizational and recruitment support in a territory considered to be a strategic hub.

The implication is that most of these "sleepers" would be terrorists who land on Italian shores mingled in with the thousands of desperate boat-people immigrants and whom it is difficult to pick out and isolate. Warnings of infiltration have been made many times over these past few months as large-scale landings continue butso far this is little concrete information, at least that is available to the public. According to the experts cited by the paper, these people head small fund-raising and recruitment groups and are waiting "underground", for an order to form terrorist micro-cells or to provide logistical support for internationally organized attacks.
In the meantime, there is a further risk that they could become role models for additional recruits.


Berlusconi cannot leave Italy (for now) PDF Print E-mail
Jul 26, 2014 at 04:26 PM
ImageAn administrative court in the Lazio region today rejected requests by Silvio Berlusconi's lawyers to get his passport back and be able to travel outside of Italy. The court, the Lazio TAR, said that since the former prime minister's year-long sentence for tax fraud is still underway, he was not allowed to leave Italian territory.

Berlusconi's lawyers had claimed that the restrictions should only apply to travel outside of the European Union and that Italy's laws on reclusion and travel restrictions for people serving a prison term (even if, as in Berlusconi's case) they are not actually in jail) conflict with EU regulations. The TAR rejected this theory and sources said Berlusconi's legal team might appeal to the Italian State Council, the country's highest administrative court.


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