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Archive for October 2009

Halloween Extravaganza

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Trick or treat?


Written by TheItalianist

31/10/2009 at 21:38

Police Accountability in Italy

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A 31 year-old guy, Stefano Cucchi, is arrested on the night between the 15 and 16th October 2009 in Rome, for possessing a small dose of hashish. A week later, Stefano dies, while still in police custody. No explanation is given for his death. After 5 days, the family is allowed, eventually, to see Stefano’s body. After seeing him the family, decides to make public the images of his dead body. These are really scary pictures. They can be seen here.

It isn’t the first time that this has happened, in Italy. A person dies while in custody of the police (in the case of Stefano, it was the Carabinieri). The family wants to know how that could be possible. They are not allowed to ask. Stefano’s parents were never allowed to see him after his arrest. When he appeared in court, the day after being arrested, Stefano had bruises on his face. The medical service at the Court asked for the guy to be hospitalised before the trial, given the bad conditions in which they found him. He was in good state at the time of the arrest, 14 hours earlier. True, he had chronic underlying health problems, related to epilepsy, anorexia and drug use. But when he is sent to the Pertini hospital (after the Court’s decision to hospitalize him), he is discovered to have fractured vertebrae, ecchymoses over his body, a broken jaw . He eventually dies on the 22nd.

Why did he have fractures all over his body? The medical service at Regina Coeli Prison, where Stefano was taken after the arrest, said that “he accidentally had fallen from the stairs”.

His parents, Rita and Giovanni, have been denied the permission to see Stefano during the entire time in hospital: that is, until he died. On the 19th, they were refused to talk to the doctors. On the 20th, they were told they need a court permission which still had not arrived. On the 21 the permission arrived, but still required validation from the prison. On the 22nd, Stefano died, alone.

There was no abuse – the Carabinieri claimed after his death. He was epileptic, that’s why he died. The Italian Minister of Defence, Ignazio La Russa, was quick to praise  the loyalty and value of the Carabinieri: “I have no information to evaluate this case. However, there is one thing I am sure: the correct behaviour of the Carabinieri on this (i.e. Stefano’s) occasion.”

His optimism was, to some extent, counterbalanced by the Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, who announced today that an inquiry is to start “for an immediate in-depth examination”. Unfortunately, Alfano’s name is linked to the Lodo Alfano, the bill designed to (some say) protect the PM Berlusconi from a series of trials, following a series of crimes, that, according to some, he has committed in the last 15 years to build and preserve his empire. The bill has been recently rejected as violating the Italian Constitution. Some might remain unexcited in the face of Alfano’s plea for justice.

Sadly, the story of Stefano is not a new one. On 26th June 2008, Nikki  Aprile Gatti, 26 year-old from Avezzano, “committed suicide” in jail where he had been taken in connection to an inquiry over internet fraud. His mum never believed the suicide story, and has since then campaigned for the truth over what happened to Nikki. She has a created a lovely blog, where she writes of her pain for the loss of her kid and of updates about the inquiry.

Federico Aldrovandi, 18, from Ferrara, died in the early morning of 25th September 2005, killed by 4 policemen who had stopped him for a control. I say he was killed because the four policemen have recently been found guilty of manslaughter. This is Federico, before and after meeting them:


None of the four policemen is actually in jail. Yet, they are guilty.

Stefano, Nikki, and many others who have died in terrible conditions in italian prisons, without a trial, without permission to meet their family, but with broken bones: they are signals of a worrying tendency in Italy towards an increased lack of accountability for police behaviour. The media seem to be the only body to whom citizens can appeal nowadays to call police to account: there seems to be no official oversight bodies, and we know that the media in Italy are not completely free. The G8 in Genoa in 2001 was the first symptom of a change in police conduct: none of those responsible for the clear abuses against the protesters has eventually been condemned. Searching for an explanation of another “Italian anomaly”, I have found this book from Prof. Della Porta who analyses recent misbehaviour of Italian Police. The introduction highlights the relevance of the scarce police  accountability. Indymedia  has an interesting article that tries to interpret what’s going on inside italian prisons.

Until strong evidence is given for the death of Stefano Cucchi, it falls to us to be critical of police practices, and pressure them to account for their actions.

Written by TheItalianist

31/10/2009 at 00:44

Immigrants, not Criminals

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The recent years in Italy have witnessed a stark increase in immigration. A first massive wave took place in the 90s, when 350000 Albanians attempted to get into Italy after the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern europe. The dramatic stories of those people have been described in Italian director Gianni Amelio’s award-winning movie Lamerica. Since then, Italy has become a main gate for immigrants from Africa and Saudi Arabia, and the rate of immigration has kept apace for almost two decades. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which receives an average of 15,000 would-be immigrants per year, has become the stage for a persistent humanitarian emergency

As a result of this flow of immigrants, Italy’s face has changed over the last 10 years. The social  fabric is becoming increasingly multicultural, and people of different races and religions are led to closer interactions. Needless to say, multicultural integration is not a painless process, as it has met the resistance of a vocal part of the Italian citizenry.  Extreme Right-Wing factions have exploited the immigration debate to reemerge on the political scene. Their helpful contributions to the debate include Northern League’s proposals to ban the burqa, close mosques, introduce racial segregation on buses, and a series of action-guiding posters that keep popping up on the walls of italian cities.





“Illegal Immigrants: torture them!” It is Legitimate Defence”. Vote for Northern League.









“They have Suffered Immigration: Now They Live in a Reserve. Think About It.”






It is not surprising that some Italians lack a certain degree of sensitivity in the face of what is not white-catholic-straight. The Italian Prime Minister last year offered a glorious example of this tendency when he commented on the first black President of the US (actually, he gave another one recently).  The immigrant is often seen as a threat, a disease that is spreading around the ‘civilised world’ of which Italy seems therefore to be part. “It’s the immigrants!” – Italians frequently say when someone gets killed/raped/attacked. “But I am an immigrant too! I don’t kill/rape/attack people” – I point out to my co-nationals, when I highlight the fact that I live abroad. “Yes, but you are different! – it’s the reply.

Thus, the report issued yesterday by Caritas Migrantes seems to be a very welcome sign against the (sadly) popular equation “immigrant=criminal” (an english version of the report can be found here). It shows how, even in a year of economic recession and political hostility against immigration, the number of foreigners who have moved to Italy has constantly increased. It analyses the reality of  immigration in Italy compared to other countries, and what impact immigrants have on Italy’s productivity and, most of all, level of crime. A few points in the report strike me as quite interesting.

The number of Italy’s immigrants exceeds 4.5 m: very close to Spain (over 5m) and not too far from Germany (about 7m).  2008 has been the first year in which Italy’s  percentage of foreigners in the total population (7.2%), ranked above the European average and, although still far from Germany and Spain (respectively 8,2% and 11,7%), has surpassed UK (6,3%).

In 2008, 36.951 people have landed on italian coasts, 17.880 have been repatriated, 10.539 have gone through centers of identification, and 6.358 have been blocked at the frontier. The Report highlights that this is not even 1/50 of the overall presence of legal immigrants in Italy: however, this has monopolised the attention of public opinion and political decision-making. Thirty-four immigrants are rejected for every 100 who are retained (the lowest rate since 2004).

In addition to this, it emerges that  “there is no crime emergency in Italy due to foreign immigrants”,  since crime rates are not different from those of other countries in Europe. Nationwide, the number of crimes reported have actually decreased for the last few years. The real rate of reported crimes (slightly more than 2.5m) equals that of the early 90s, that is, when mass immigration was just starting. we should not draw the conclusion “more immigrants=more crimes”. In fact, it emerges that in the period 2001-2005, the increase of the immigrant population (101%) did not parallel the rate of reports of crimes by legal immigrants (41%).

Surely, immigrants, like Italians, can commit crimes and do lots of nasty things. However, one may hope that this Report will help us reflect on the prejudice lingering behind the idea that an immigrant is, as such, a criminal.

Written by TheItalianist

29/10/2009 at 18:47

The Real Italian Anomaly Revealed

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The communists are trying to come back! Protect your children!

Written by TheItalianist

28/10/2009 at 15:06

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Sic Transit Gloria Italiae

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New scandals have hit Italy.

I have to admit, it took me a while to choose which one to pick. Eventually, I went for the somewhat obvious, although even the following story carries with it something which is peculiarly ‘weird-italian’.

Italian politicians cannot do without sexual promiscuity, it seems. A couple of years ago, Sircana, the aid of Romano Prodi, the earlier Italian PM, was found hanging around prostitutes. Before him, Cosimo Mele, a member of the Catholic Party (God bless them), was charged with “drug-pushing” with a prostitute. Protected by God’s will, Mele rejected charges of being less than a good catholic. Needless to say, the actual Italian PM has lived up to these standards and, of course, pushed them further. He also defended his moral status against the charges of ‘imperfect morality’.

The last man on the list is Piero Marrazzo, the President of Lazio, one of Italy’s regions. He’s been hanging around prostitutes as well. Before getting into the details, let’s highlight one main difference between his case and the previous three: after the scandal became public, Marrazzo has resigned.

Italians know Piero Marrazzo for being the conductor of a famous Tv programme called “Mi manda Rai 3”. There he was the charming and aggressive defender of people’s rights against the greed of institutions which his program sought to bring to light. Here’s the man:


Then he entered politics with the Left, and became the President of  Lazio. As an effect of this, his skin turned slightly more orange:


On last July, Marrazo was caught in a ‘mercenary intercourse’ by four members of Carabinieri , a branch of Italy armed forces. That is to say, guys who are there to protect civilians. However, these Carabinieri were less interested in protecting civilians and more in extorting money from them.

The guys’ names are Luciano Simeone, Carlo Tagliente, Antonio Tamburrino e Nicola Testini.

They broke into the apartment of Brenda, a transsexual prostitute, where Marrazzo was carrying out the mercenary ordeal: they filmed what was going on, and started threatening Marrazzo with the dire consequences waiting for him, unless he paid. And pay he did: three 20000Euro checks have been signed by the Lazio President to silence the Fab 4, and protect his career.

Unfortunately, greed is a green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on, said Shakespeare. Hence the scandal became public nevertheless. In the last days, Marrazzo had to account for his behaviour on tv, and finally confessed that ‘his weaknesses’ had come out. He eventually resigned today, thus leaving Italy’s Left, where possible, in an increased state of confusion. It has also emerged that Marrazzo is to retire in a monastery to recover from the stress.

Investigators say Marrazzo has been the victim of blackmail, hence he is the plaintiff in the charge against the Fab 4 Carabinieri. This seems fair. He will not be charged for going to meet his prostitutes using the “blue car”, the official car politicians use for their work. The reason is that the blue car is for the politician to go wherever s/he wants. Even “a puttane”, as they say in Italy. Here’s a ‘blu car’:  482f20d34e96e_normal

(And, for completeness, here’s a puttana:)


One thing seems to have gone unnoticed in this over-noticed story. The Fab 4, in their relentless effort to raise money to support justice in Italy and abroad, had tried to sell the videotape of Marrazzo and Brenda to Italian magazines. Now, when it comes to Italian Press, and to those who own and control it, this man is very likely to appear:


It has turned out that Berlusconi, who vicariously owns the Mondadori publishing house (the official owner is his daughter), had been informed by the staff of the magazine  Chi that they were being offered the video. Silvio allegedly warned Marrazzo of the situation, and reassured him that the video would have not appeared on Chi.

Many people lauded Berlusconi’s behaviour as gentlemanly. Or, at least, so the news described it. Yet almost no one, in Italy,  seems to have focused on a bizarre element. The only exception seems to be an article on the Italian newspaper La Stampa (thanks to my sister who has pointed that to me). The article tries to reconstruct the Marrazzo’affaire by highlighting some of its central features. First, the fact that a political member of the Left was found with a prostitute. Second,that the film was then offered to the media. Third, that the media are owned by the Prime Minister, leader of the Right, who can decide whether to publish those images (and, by the way, profit from that). Fourth, that Berlusconi didn’t use that film (the official reply from the Mondadori has been that, after watching the video, they did not find it interesting). But he could have, if it had been about something more convenient for him. In this particular case, he ended up using Marrazzo’s misadventure to underline the terrible situation in which Italian politicians have to work, under the constant risk of being bribed by some anti-democratic photographers. Still, he is in the place to decide what goes and what does not go in the press.

No one finds that strange, in Italy. Anymore.

Written by TheItalianist

27/10/2009 at 20:01

The Big Snowstorm

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Giulio Tremonti (see previous post) is having some argument with Silvio Berlusconi. The two have been arguing for a long time: the last issue arose two days ago, when the Prime Minister, aiming to reignite popular support after some bad publicity in the last months, publicly announced the Government’s intention to suppress the IRAP, the Italian Regional tax on Productive activities. Giulio, the heroic Minister of Economy, has apparently reacted  angrily to the PM’s remark. Tremonti supports an ‘austherity’ approach to the stagnated italian economy: Berlusconi’s indulgent stand towards the Italians sits a bit at odd with this trend, and (some say) it betrays a mere propagandistic bias to avoid some current problem of Silvio’s.

The interesting part of this domestic quarrel is that Berlusconi was due to return from Russia yesterday, to meet members of the executive to clarify the Government’s next steps in economic policy. He went to Russia for an unpublicized meeting with Vladimir Putin. It is well known that the two are best-mates: it has been recently discovered, for example, that Putin has his special bed in Berlusconi’s Grazioli Palace in Rome.


 Rumours about this meeting in Moscow had it that there was a video-conference with Turkey’s Prime Minister RT Erdogan. What they had to talk about, we are not allowed to know.

Suddenly, Berlusconi cancelled his afternoon return from Moscow, hence postponing the (already postponed) meeting with Tremonti in Rome, which for some would have been more of a showdown. The official reason was that a big snowstorm had hit Russia, and the Italian PM’s helicopter could not take off. Berlusconi returned eventually yesterday and is due to meet his fellow ministers today. The funny thing is that no flight from/to Russia was cancelled, on that day, due to bad weather. Nor has any webcam in and around Moscow showed any sign of this autumn snowstorm.. Instead, what has been shown are pics of Silvio and Vladimir driving a powerful boat,  having a good time and enjoying their never ending support for freedom of the press. This is how Berlusconi famously addressed a russian journalist who was pressing him on one of the scandals in which he is involved, shortly after the murder of Anna Politkovskaja:


berlusconi-putinLook at Vladimnir’s bemused face.

Why did Berlusconi make up this snowstorm deal then? Some say he was trying to avoid the showdown with the executive, or at least to postpone it. Tremonti, informed of Berlusconi’s delayed return from Russia due to the snowstorm, commented: “I don’t think this is due to snow. I rather think it is due to ‘fog’ “. Metaphors we live by.

Written by TheItalianist

24/10/2009 at 15:35

Permanent Position

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A couple of days ago, the Italian Minister of the Economy, Giulio Tremonti,  publicly defended the ‘posto fisso’, i.e. the permanent employment,  as being the ‘basis of social stability’. Interestingly, I have discovered that ‘posto fisso’ does not have a clear translation in english, where in italian it is a word that we learn since we are children.

Permament position is the closer translation, although my personal translator, who’s setting next to me now, points out that “permanent position does not entail that you don’t change your job ever again”. In Italy, however, we conceive of posto fisso as a little island, more or less pleasant, where we long to get, eventually, never to leave it again. We use to refer to it with words such as ‘utopia’, ‘dream’, ‘mirage’, etc.

But that is another story. What’s interesting is that Tremonti’s statement is somewhat surprising, since it comes from a Minister belonging to a right-wing government, whose leader has always waved the glorious ideals of anti-communism, economic liberalism and social conservatism. After many noticed this apparent contradiction, the Minister felt compelled to give further explanation of the meaning of his statement. Tremonti was surprised by the way his words had been received by the media.

I often talk to people abroad who praise the virtue of mobility, in terms of the possibility it offers to develop one’s own skills and range of experiences. This makes sense in an Anglo-Saxon world, where mobility is probably linked to a somewhat proper wage. In Italy, unfortunately, il posto fisso is a dream exactly because the government interprets mobility in a slightly exploitative way: i.e. they intend mobility as offering workers a series of short-term contracts, where employees are usually paid half the normal wage. The dichotomy “permanent/temporary position” in Italy becomes “posto fisso/precariato“. Precariato (as in ” being precarious”) is another word that, in Italy, we use to learn from childhood. The alternative to a permanent position is generally a sort of undignified limbo, where the worker is in a state of ‘financial stand-by’ (wages don’t tend to exceed 1000Euros, about£900, per month), though s/he is still expected to work very hard, so to build a career. It is not unusual to see people in their 40s who are still precari. Why did Tremonti suddenly react to a situation which, by the way, was mainly caused by his coalition?

Some bad guys say this is a mere propaganda move: as in, “of course we are not going to do anything, but we know you like it when we say nice things. Now go back to your work”. The Italian Government is not performing very well, and some bits of the electorate are even starting to doubt Berlusconi’s capacity to save the World. The PM himself has been quick in backing Tremonti’s plea for defending il posto fisso: “I am with Tremonti”, he claimed yesterday.

Others may consider the fact that Tremonti is a kid of the Northern League, the lovely party who acquired popularity in the early 90s with its campaign to split Italy into North and South, and which hasn’t changed much since then. The Northern League has an outstanding list of politicians who put a great effort to realise the Party’s ideals. Their leader is the charismatic Umberto Bossi, who heroically came back to fight for (northern) freedom after a stroke a few years ago. He’s supported by experienced statesmen such as Calderoli e Borghezio, all dressed in green to express their concern with environmental problems. These guys are all very worried by the loss of italian jobs (this sounds a bit like Gordon Brown, I know..) due to immigrants being allowed to work in Italy. That’s why immigrants should not be allowed, they say. So, perhaps another explanation for this surprising statement might be that Tremonti was trying to reassure his people about the Government’s intention to give each italian his/her own little island, where no one else is allowed to be.

Another possible explanation for Tremonti’s statement might be that the Government is turning left, and is starting to consider the individual worker as, in fact, an individual, with rights to a decent life. Could this be the beginning of a new Italian Miracle? (Unfortunately, only italian speakers will fully appreciate this piece of history).

I would be inclined for the first answer. But I would welcome comments on this.

Written by TheItalianist

21/10/2009 at 13:16