Democratic meltdown

'Dialogo sull'Europa' iniziativa organizzata dalla fondazione Italianieuropei

Uneasy coexistence. Massimo D’Alema (L) left the Partito Democratico with the post-communist establishment. Matteo Renzi (R) wants to take back control over the divided party.

What’s happening to Italy’s centre-left ruling party? Why are the post-communist and Christian democratic factions bringing the party on the brink of a catastrophic schism? 

I visited Cavriago, a small Italian town where ‘Christian Democrat’ is considered to be a slur, and in one of the central piazza is Europe’s only bust of Lenin. In the very heart of a centre-left stronghold, I asked residents why the Partito Democratico is imploding – but this raised more questions than it answered.

You can read my piece in this week’s New Statesman.

 

 

On writing/reading in 2016

 

The day after Brexit, and the day after the US election, I found myself wandering along the slow and dark waters of two rivers I have at heart: the Thames and the Po.

In both cases, and at the end of two, long, sleepless nights, I genuinely felt adrift. It seemed like journalists (me included) were going astray, that we became unable to focus on what really matters. Sure, we are the first to comment on Donald Trump’s latest tweet; of course, we’ll pour tons of ink on Vladimir Putin’s dog; and yes, we’ll swiftly sell our mothers for a profile on Nigel Farage.

Our obsession with these characters – who look a lot like the cast of some bizarre medieval play – distracted us from reporting on what’s important: real life, and the struggle to understand a world that is spinning too fast.

We didn’t see the Rust Belt region; we misinterpreted voter intentions in England and Wales and, above all, we failed to understand people, what they’re asking for, their aspirations, and their needs.  The year made me think of the kind of journalism I’d like to do, the topics and the issues I’d like to focus on. Less golden palaces, more loud suburbs.

A selection of what I wrote:

The Mystery of the Stolen Klimt

Brexit, what happens next?

Corbyn, explained

The secret lives of the Mafia hunters

A selection of what I read:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Harari

PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future, Paul Mason

Racconti Romani, Alberto Moravia

Pereira Maintains, Antonio Tabucchi

The perfect soundtrack for 2016:

The Double Theft of the Double Klimt

When I travelled back to my hometown this summer, I thought my visit would be short and painless.

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Me with one of the Klimt replicas found in Piacenza

Instead, three months in, I’m still here.

The reason is pretty simple: I got caught in a story I HAD to write for it is mysterious, juicy, it has at least a dozen plot-twists and a missing Klimt.

It’s a fascinating tale of a sharp-eyed art student, a double portrait, a double theft, innumerable replicas scattered around Italy and the 20-year quest to find Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady, the only double portrait the Vienna Secessionist has ever painted.

Two scribbled notebooks later and endless nights discussing conspiracy theories with the undoubtedly talented Ferruccio Ceriati (pictures) and Carlo Arcelli (editing), the piece finally landed on BBC Magazine for you to read it in all its glory. Plus, you can watch the short video we put together on BBC Art with an original soundtrack composed by the most talented jazz pianist I know, Nathan Britton.

I know, it reads like a novel and it stretches credulity. But I promise you it is all true. And, yes, they should make a movie out of it.

Enjoy –

* edit – I’m on Wikipedia. And when I told my mama, she was about to flip.

The Age of Inciucio

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Welcome back to the ’90s. From left: Silvio Berlusconi, Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema

 

What Italians loath more than their PMs is the inciucio – the political scam, Italian-style.

It started with Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s Frank Underwood, in 1994 when, as leader of the centre-left party, he promised to Silvio Berlusconi that he had no intentions to touch what he had dearest to his heart: his media empire.

The inciucio, the exquisite Italian tradition of never losing a political battle, allowed unfit candidates and unstable governments to hold power with variable parliamentarian geometries throughout the ‘90s and the early 2000s.

Those who view the Constitutional referendum as a vote against Europe and a revolt against globalisation are misleading you.

The Italian referendum is a mere domestic issue. It’s the struggle for power of those political figures that PM Matteo Renzi, The Scrapper, wanted to get rid of to shape his own version of Italy for the next decade. With the ultimate inciucio, a far-from-perfect deal struck by centre-left and centre-right, Mr Renzi wanted to pave the way for a third Republic, take advantage of the centre-right in a comatose state and give a clear majority and an unambiguous mandate to whoever was to run for the premiership. Specifically: himself.

The reform was flawed, of course, and it was indeed the result of a dubious compromise between unelected leaders.

Matteo Renzi, however, underestimated his political opponents, both from within and without his party. Namely, Silvio Berlusconi and Massimo D’Alema who adopted Tomasi di Lampedusa’s most memorable quote as their political motto: “Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.

The missed opportunity of a Constitutional reform is a perpetuation of this old habit, a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of a political class that is too scared to go to general election and will prosper in economic stagnation, producing the much-adored ‘scalene triangle’ government: everybody wins but nobody is in charge.

The Anticlimax of Enlightenment

350px-doi_rousseauI stayed up all night and watched the Presidential election. It started as a G&T-fuelled night among old friends, colleagues and nerd alike and it ended up with four of us, sprawled on the sofa at 9am, discomforted and slightly sick.

As I lumbered through the city centre to get to my apartment, dodging passers-by and street market stalls, I tried to adjust to the unexpected Trump victory and to soothe this sense of guilt that still haunts me.

While ruminating on the failure of journalists (me included) to truly grasp and understand the reality of things just outside their comfort zone, a brilliant book came up to mind and, instead of going to sleep after a 36-hour electoral marathon, I’m still sitting in my chair with this pamphlet in my hands.

It’s Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality.

Like many of us right now, Rousseau was confused by technology and politics, and the effects they had on morals and equality. He was puzzled, as we are right now, by a world that was spinning faster than before, by the growing corruption among the emergent intellectual class and new forms of entertainment that looked a lot like new forms of enslavement.

If you’re perplexed and downhearted right now, Rousseau will help you. Or he’ll scare you to death, either way.

Should I stay or should I go?

eu_youthI have no good stories to tell you about the EU. The high ideals on which the Union was founded are currently burning in a banlieue outside Paris or drowning on the shores of Sicily. Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum have failed, at home and abroad, to inspire younger generations to believe in the European project and to reshape its revolutionary message for the new century. I’m not asking you to gallivant to the polls tomorrow, or to blindly accept an inevitable status quo. I’m just asking you not to give up hope, to stick together to answer crucial questions about our future and to plan, elbow-to-elbow, a more human project – not merely focused on economics only – to fully exploit the innumerable talents and the relentless passion of the EU’s dysfunctional dwellers.

Happy referendum!

The secret lives of the Mafia hunters

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The ‘Band of Lions’ during the arrest of a Mafia boss.

The Mafia still holds a romantic aura, partly because of Hollywood movies, partly because of our fascination with the criminal underworld.

Street plaques at every corner of Palermo (with endless lists of Palermitans, journalists, lawyers, Police officers, judges brutally murdered by mobsters) are shadowed by street vendors who sell Godfather T-shirts or gun-shaped cigarette lighters.

My interview with IMD, one of the ‘invisible’ officers of the Catturandi –the elite squad that rounds up members of the mob – came out on BBC Magazine the other day. It’s meant to shed a light on the daily fight against organised crime and the extraordinary lives of these ‘cops’ who can’t tell what they do for living to their loved ones to protect them from death threats and retaliation.

The Mafia might kill less than a decade ago but its presence looms over Italian politics, business and finance and, as IMD tells me, it’s harder than ever to separate the good guys from the bad guys.

As the piece came out, Public Radio International interviewed me to better understand what the Catturandi does and how Italy is managing the battle against Mafiosi while mob leader Matteo Messina Denaro is still on the loose.

You have to read this piece – it’s an offer you can’t refuse.

At a football match, the real (freak) show is on the bleachers.

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As I was ambling through my Christmas holidays, getting up from a crowded dinner table just to sit down again for another abundant meal, I decided to go see a football match.

I’m not a sports fan, really, although I consider myself to be a champion in shade-lifting and meal-skipping. This was the second time I entered a stadium: the first time, I was puzzled because I thought they would provide some sort of commentary from the stadium speakers to allow people like me to understand what was going on on the field. But I guess football aficionados don’t need a distracting narration while shouting to support their team.

A friend of mine, a very dedicated football journalist and Guinness-gulper, invites me to a Serie D match, one of lowest leagues in Italian football, to see Piacenza-Ciserano.

Sunny day, almost a thousand supporters in the stadium, lots of families and a soft breeze that makes the bank holiday afternoon look more like an early spring evening.

As the game starts, a woman the age of my mother vehemently puts all her energies into putrid strings of invective, bombastic exhortations against God and all the known saints. Next to her, her teenage daughter who seems more interested in browsing on social media and her husband, a man with sad eyes and slumped shoulders desperately busy in digesting the last round of pork ribs.

Safe inside the press box that looks more like the back of a garage, I quickly lose interest in the match and I start following the creative imprecations of this lady that suddenly turns her anger toward the referee, an easy target for any football fan. To her defence, he misses a couple of obvious fouls, but that’s not the point. As I was used to hear allusions of the alleged unfaithfulness of the referee’s wife, causing him to be cornuto, cheated on, therefore the ultimate offence for an Italian macho, the lady rapidly shifted to queer, cunt, Southerner and, to my disbelief, Albanian.

Now, given that I’m still baffled by how people still consider certain nationalities an insult (You, piece of Swede, pass the ball has a little comic effect on me), dropping queer or cunt at a football match – or anywhere else, for that matter – gives me a little headache. Especially when other senior reporters answered my incredulity for the gratuitous slurs with: “If a Southerner queer and an Albanian cunt had a baby, that would be the referee.”

Alright, I do not expect to find Oxford alumni at a football stadium but who would have thought that, a decade and a half into the 21st century, we were still stuck at the 1984’s two minutes of hate?

I think my grandpa was Frank Sinatra

My grandpa was a great singer. He used to wake up at 8:30 every morning and sing his way to the shower, hum a little tune while shaving and croon a popular aria for the grocery shop’s cashier (he was a ladies’ man).

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That’s the guy I’m talking about

He had this vast collection of jazz and opera LPs and music cassettes and he would put on some Giuseppe Verdi or Bing Crosby at any given hour of the day. That’s probably why my grandma was so grumpy all the time.

When I was around 13, he handed me a double CD called “My Way, the best of Frank” for my birthday with this dude on the cover that looked exactly like my grandpa when he was young: lots of brilliantine on his hair, a leering sidelook glance and a perfectly ironed shirt. As any other teenager, I didn’t know any better and I shrug my shoulders saying “Alright, thanks a lot.” But he stared at me and he said with this serious look on his face “Have a listen, you’ll like it.”

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it all started with this

So I did. And it turned out that I didn’t listen to anything else than that CD till I was 18. I bought books on Frank Sinatra (Wikipedia wasn’t an option when I was a teenager) while my friends were reading whatever was in fashion in the early 2000s; I hung posters of the Rat-Pack in my room and my parents thought that I went a little coocoo; I faked my ID to get into smoky jazz clubs while my peers were chasing girls around town.

So you get the idea, that CD kind of changed my music taste quite a lot: it has been the soundtrack of all my love affairs, that’s how I learned my English (or, at least, how I could pay a compliment to a young lady in English) and that’s the reason why I say ‘pal’ all the time. And whenever I feel sad or lonely, downhearted or simply blue, I go back to that CD because it feels like someone, on the other side of that speaker, has been through all that and understands you more than anyone else on this earth.

For all this, and much more, happy birthday Frank. And thank you grandpa, you really changed my life.

If you’re wondering what my favourite tune is (I know you’re not, but if you’re reading this I might as well throw it in your face), here you go: Begin the Beguine, the first track of the very first CD I ever bought with my own money and I’d listened to it for a whole summer while struggling with an unusual heat wave and with an exceptionally thick Latin textbook.

French secret services: license to chill?

What just happened in Paris highlighted a gigantic hole in the French counterintelligence system.

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the hole in the intelligence system is as big as the hole in La Defense

The city that was still recovering from the Charlie Hebdo massacre, has been beaten up and left bleeding once again last night in a carnage of such a magnitude and brutality that will for sure shape the European homeland security for the years to come.

But the real question is: how on earth heavy-armed men with Kalashnikovs in their hands, grenades in their pockets and explosives in the trunks of their cars can freely roam the streets of Paris completely unnoticed?

If this was a surgical coordinated event on seven different locations, where were the French secret services?

Yearly budgets on national defence are fairly hard to decipher and, mostly, they are covered by secrecy for national security reasons. What we can find are rough estimates on military expenditures that cover counterintelligence, civil defence, Police and military forces and military pensions but we can say for sure that the French government yearly allocates €500 million ($538.4 million) on intelligence. Last year, the executive added €48.9 million ($52.6 million) to its annual budget and, after the Charlie Hebdo attack, French President François Hollande promised he would raise military spending by €3.8 billion ($4.2 billion) over the next four years.

Now, given that France spends more on military budget that any other major European country, this hole in the counterintelligence systems appears to be an appalling paradox.