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Articles by: Letizia Airos soria

  • Facts & Stories

    A Woman at the Helm


    I recently sat down with Ambassador Mariangela Zappia, the new Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations in New York. She very cordially welcomed me into her office on the 49th floor a few days after presenting her credentials to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. It’s the third time she has undertaken a diplomatic post in New York. She served as Vice Consul at the Consulate General in New York from 1990-1993 and First Counsellor to the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations in New York from 2000-2003. And this is the first time that a woman leads the Italian mission at the United Nations.  “Multilateralism” would be the watchword of our conversation, and, over the course of speaking with her, I felt confirmed in my belief about how important and promising it is that  it’s a woman who believes in it, talks about it, wants to put it into action. Multilateralism is an approach that nurtures dialogue and mutual understanding to achieve reasonable, long-lasting solutions—something deeply connected to the female experience.

    Ambassador Zappia, would you describe some of the main features of our recent diplomatic efforts in the world?

    We’ve introduced various changes concerning issues that we’ve shone a light on, issues that make a difference. We’ve made a very special name for ourselves in the world. We are the ones who advanced the idea of protecting cultural and environmental patrimonies during peacekeeping operations. Indeed, it’s important to minimize our impact on the environment on UN missions on the ground. That issue sets us apart and is linked to other qualities for which we’re known in the world, like creativity, intuition, an awareness of how issues are interlinked and should be tackled, including in the context of a peacekeeping operation.

    Italian traits…

    Sure. We’re a big country with a distinct identity, even if we’re not a superpower. We’re relevant and have a voice, and that’s reflected in thousands of ways. We’re among the major contributors to maintaining the balance of the UN and peacekeeping operations, and, among Western countries, the first source of troops during peacekeeping operations. But we’re also known for the way in which we go about keeping the peace. We’re beloved by people; an Italian peacekeeper is recognized and isn’t scared to be among people.  

    That’s how Italy is seen in the world?

    Absolutely. As a representative of NATO, I visited many of our troops abroad. In Afghanistan, for example. Wherever they go, Italians make friends and are beloved by civilians. That is also characteristic of us…

    We strongly believe in multilateralism. It comes from our Constitution. We’re attentive to individuals, and this is a key feature of our multilateral foreign policy. We’ve led the way in campaigns for human rights, against the death penalty, against female genital mutilation, and in combatting violence against women—all issues that distinguish us.  

    We also need to remember that there are many UN bodies in Italy. We have the agri-food hub in Rome, which is comprised of three agencies (FAO, IFAD, WFP). We have the UNICEF Children’s Center in Florence. In Turin, the UN is represented by the International Training Center of the ILO, the International Labor Organization, the Staff College of the UN (UNSSC) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). And in Brindisi we have an important hub for peace operations.

    Italy is indeed a very stimulating place for a young person who wants to enter an international career. You were born in Viadana, a small city in the province of Mantua, Lombardy, but as the child of a military officer, you crisscrossed Italy, from North to South. You earned a degree in political science from the University of Florence. When did you decide to get involved in diplomacy?

    It wasn’t an epiphany. I studied at the Università Cesare Alfieri in Florence during a very special period. It was a hotbed of great minds: Spadolini, Sartori, Tarantelli and Cassese were among our teachers… I became interested in international subjects, became passionate about them, even if I hadn’t homed in on diplomacy. Then I passed a very competitive exam at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and began my career immediately. Almost without realizing it…

    There were very few women involved in diplomacy back then.

    I was the only one in my group! It’s a career that didn’t open up to women until late (in 1967) and has had a distinctly male stamp for a long time. There are still very few of us, despite some progress. In Italy, there are four of us who hold major ranking ambassadorships. For the first time we have a female Secretary-General, Elisabetta Belloni; a Diplomatic Advisor to the President of the Italian Republic, Emanuela d’Alessandro; and an Ambassador in Paris, Teresa Castaldo.  

    But is a diplomatic career still difficult for a woman?

    First and foremost, it’s difficult from a personal standpoint. We live in a society that isn’t totally equal; it’s difficult to square family and career. But I have to say, women’s social progress has placed men in the same situation. There are many female colleagues with husbands who go with them abroad, and in that case it’s the men who have to follow their wives and find jobs.

    During your own busy career, there was a moment when you decided to stop and have a family...  

    It was very hard. I was in New York. My husband had a big job opportunity. I wanted him to take it. But at the same time I realized that it would be very hard to do my job and raise a family without it affecting my children, Claire and Christian, who were then 11 and 7. It was hard to decide, but I remember when I sent the fax requesting leave. I immediately felt relieved. I had done the right thing. Of course, it wasn’t easy to return to work. Asking for family leave puts you off the radar. But you can do it. My administration was forward-thinking.   

    This is the third time you’re working in New York. The first was as Vice Consul in 1990.

    I was young. It was my second post! I wasn’t supposed to go to New York. I was in Africa getting ready to go to Paris, which was my dream. But I met my husband and that changed my life. Despite being French, he couldn’t work in France. The solution was New York, where he found a position with UNICEF. My experience at the Consulate General was wonderful. I was in charge of the Italian community. A delicate, extremely interesting job. And there you get the best of the economy and culture in the City. I still have many friends that I’m catching up with just now.

    You came back to New York in 2000, this time to work at the UN. So 18 years have passed, years that have borne witness to major international transformations that were almost unthinkable then.

    There was a global shift. The world became more complicated. Before, it was easier to understand who went where, who believed what. It was easier to know what someone was thinking. Now there are neither precedents nor certainties. These are very complicated, chaotic times. We’re constantly debating issues that you have to tackle. But that’s where my belief in multilateralism comes into play.   

    There’s a rise in nationalism and “sovereignism,” and therefore multilateralism is fundamental for avoiding dangerous escalations. I think the UN is even more important now. Certain trends are better understood here than elsewhere. You can make predictions and respond accordingly.

    During your speech on the day you presented your credentials, you listed some priority issues for Italy: peace, security, and human rights, as well as sustainable development and migration. It would seem diplomacy has new aims. What does this new appointment mean for you as a woman?

    I only just arrived. I’ll have a better sense in a few months. But I think that a woman in diplomacy, as in life, brings with her greater sensitivity—she has more antennae.

    I also think women are results-oriented. We don’t have a lot of time to lose. We want to come out of a meeting with concrete results.

    The UN is a place where it takes time to achieve results, but to get there you also need to be able to enter into dialogue. That means you need to make a special effort to set aside your ego. In 15 years, I’ve seen plenty of egos, not just here but at NATO, in the European Union—this ‘let me have the last word’ attitude. I think in many cases women more than men are able to seek results and put the need to make things work first.”

    That point is connected to your strong support for Secretary-General Guterres’s call for gender equality in every area of the UN.

    The current Secretary-General is making the difference. I intend to focus on this issue a lot too, reaching the famous quota of 50 percent women, which we were talking about 18 years ago but never achieved. Guterres has shown it can be done, that we can systematically choose women, so that women don’t always have to be ‘the best’ to establish themselves while many men ‘just’ have to be good.    

    Gender equality is important. As long as we haven’t figured that out, the problem will never be solved. In the past, I didn’t favor gender quotas. But I’m starting to think that, for a certain period of time, quotas will serve to establish a foundation of equality.”

    And there’s the general issue defined by the term “women’s empowerment.”

    Empowering women, giving women the ability to be part of the process. Peacekeeping and peace-building are fundamental areas where we can apply this principle. There’s been a push, but it’s not enough yet. Women must be made a part of the peace process. Firstly, because they are part of (half of) society; secondly, because of their role in the family; thirdly, because of their ability to think of the greater good.

    I believe our current Secretary-General has taken on this issue not only as a slogan, but as a policy. If I have to choose between a man and a woman who are equally competent, I’m going to choose the woman. That’s how you affect change.”

    The United Nations is perceived as being a sealed-off fortress within the City. Do you think that New York and the UN could benefit from having a more symbiotic relationship?

    It’s not just a perception. It’s reality. If you work at the UN, you live in a bubble. If you don’t make an effort to get out, you can spend years in this one neighborhood and only meet people from the United Nations.  I told my team that they’re free to go out there and talk. I know the risks of remaining inside here. Tons of work. And you’re absorbed into the bubble. It takes a toll. Even if I think that at the same time the City must meet the UN halfway. There are issues both can tackle together.”

    Such as?

    There have been important, comprehensive migration talks to define the Global Compact for Migration. I wonder how we can talk about this in New York, a city with a long history of immigrants. I’m thinking of possible initiatives about the issue aimed at the City.

    On a personal level, what is your connection to the City. What place do you like most?

    I have a lot of fond memories of New York. My first daughter was born here. The area I like most is Carnegie Hill, where I live and where my kids went to school. After an intense week, Central Park always makes the weekend special. And pushing my stroller through the Guggenheim Museum, then crossing the park to the West Side to go to the Museum of Natural History…

    Our conversation ended on that lovely image of Manhattan. But before saying goodbye Mariangela Zappia returned to the positivity with which she imbued our conversation: “Defending multilateralism is essential,” she said, seeing me off. “We should never overlook our ability to talk, our willingness to insist on figuring out where our points of interest intersect. It’s important to have places where we talk, negotiate, decide. I believe that.” “It’s also an important message for life itself,” I commented. “And it’s connected to the way we women manage our day to day lives…”.  “Exactly!”

  • Fatti e Storie

    La risposta è: Multilateralismo. Parola di Mariangela Zappia


    Incontro l’Ambasciatrice Mariangela Zappia, nuova Rappresentante Permanente dell’Italia presso le Nazioni Unite a New York. Mi accoglie con grande cordialità, nel suo ufficio al 49mo piano, pochi giorni dopo la presentazione delle sue credenziali al Segretario Generale Antonio Guterres.


    E’ la terza volta che viene a New York con un incarico diplomatico. Ha ricoperto infatti il ruolo di Vice Console presso il Consolato Generale a New York nel 1990-1993 e di Primo Consigliere alla Rappresentanza Permanente presso l’Organizzazione delle Nazioni Unite a New York nel 2000-2003. Ed è la prima volta che una donna assume l’incarico di guidare la missione italiana all’ONU.


    ‘Multilateralismo’ sarà la parola chiave intorno a cui girerà la nostra conversazione e, parlando con lei, avrò la conferma di quanto sia importante e promettente il fatto che sia una donna a crederci, parlarne, volerlo mettere in atto.


    E’ un metodo che esalta le ragioni del dialogo e della comprensione reciproca, per soluzioni eque e che durino nel tempo, è qualcosa di profondamente congeniale e legato all’esperienza femminile.


    Ambasciatrice Zappia, ci descrive alcune delle principali caratteristiche della nostra diplomazia recente nel mondo?

    “Abbiamo introdotto diverse novità, con temi che abbiamo portato noi all’attenzione e che fanno la differenza. Ci siamo fatti conoscere nel mondo in un modo molto particolare. Abbiamo anticipato noi il concetto di protezione del patrimonio culturale e dell’ambiente nelle operazioni di peacekeeping. E’ importante infatti ridurre il più possibile l’impatto ambientale delle missioni ONU sul terreno. E’ un tema nuovo che ci distingue, legato ad altri aspetti che ci rendono noti nel mondo come la creatività, l’intuizione, la consapevolezza di come i temi si leghino e vadano affrontati, anche  nel contesto di un’operazione di peacekeeping.”

    Tratti di italianità...

    “Certo. Siamo un grande Paese, con una specificità tutta nostra, anche senza essere una super potenza.  Siamo rilevanti, ascoltati e questo si riflette in mille modi. Siamo tra i maggiori contributori al bilancio regolare dell’ONU e a quello delle operazioni di pace e il primo fornitore di truppe tra i Paesi occidentali alle operazioni di peacekeeping,  ma siamo anche conosciuti  per il modo in cui facciamo peacekeeping.  Siamo amati dalla popolazione, un peacekeeper italiano viene riconosciuto, non ha paura di stare in mezzo alla gente.”

    L’immagine dell’Italia fa così il giro del mondo ...

    “Assolutamente sì. Come rappresentante alla NATO ho visitato tanti nostri contingenti per esempio in Afghanistan.  Dove arrivano gli italiani creano amicizia, si fanno amare dai civili. Abbiamo anche questa specificità…

    Noi crediamo fermamente nel multilateralismo. Viene dalla nostra Costituzione.

    Siamo attenti all’individuo, è un tratto della nostra politica estera multilaterale.  Abbiamo portato avanti la bandiera di tante battaglie per i diritti umani, contro la pena di morte, per contrastare mutilazioni genitali femminili, la violenza contro le donne, tutti temi che ci contraddistinguono.

    Poi abbiamo tanti organi delle Nazioni Unite in Italia. Va ricordato. Abbiamo il polo agricolo a Roma, costituito da tre Agenzie (FAO, IFAD, WFP). Abbiamo l’UNICEF con il centro di Firenze, per i fanciulli. A Torino, l’ONU è presente attraverso il Centro Internazionale di Formazione dell’ILO, l’Organizzazione Internazionale del Lavoro, lo Staff College del Sistema delle Nazioni Unite (UNSSC) e l’Istituto Interregionale di Ricerca delle Nazioni Unite sul Crimine e la Giustizia (UNICRI). E a Brindisi abbiamo un importante hub per l’approvvigionamento dedicato alle operazioni di pace.”

    Mariangela Zappia, è nata a Viadana una cittadina in provincia di Mantova, ma come figlia di un militare ha girato l’Italia da nord a Sud. Si laurea in Scienze Politiche  all’Università di Firenze. Ma quando decide di entrare in diplomazia?

    “Non è stata un’illuminazione. Ho frequentato l’Università Cesare Alfieri di Firenze in anni molto speciali. Era una fucina di cervelli, pensatori, ci insegnavano Spadolini, Sartori, Tarantelli, Cassese …. Mi sono avvicinata a tematiche internazionali, mi sono appassionata, anche se non avevo focalizzato sulla diplomazia. Poi ho fatto il concorso,  l’ho vinto subito e sono entrata in carriera. Quasi senza accorgermene…”

    Erano tempi in cui le donne in diplomazia erano pochissime...

    "Ero l’unica del mio concorso!  E’ una carriera che è stata aperta tardi alle donne (nel ‘67) e che ha conservato un marchio maschile per molto tempo.

    Tuttora siamo ancora poche, nonostante alcuni progressi. In Italia siamo quattro donne Ambasciatrici di grado, con incarichi molto rilevanti.  Abbiamo per la prima volta una Segretario Generale del MInistero degli Esteri donna, Elisabetta Belloni, una Consigliera Diplomatica del Presidente della Repubblica ( Emanuela d’Alessandro) e l’Ambasciatrice a Parigi (Ambasciatrice Teresa Castaldo)."

    Ma è ancora difficile la carriera diplomatica per una donna?

    "E’ difficile prima di tutto dal punto di vista personale. Siamo in una società che di fatto non è totalmente paritaria, è difficile conciliare famiglia e carriera. Ma devo dire che l’avanzamento sociale della donna ha messo anche gli uomini nella stessa situazione. Ci sono tante colleghe sposate con mariti che le seguono all’estero, e allora sono gli uomini che devono seguire la moglie e trovare un lavoro…”

    E nella sua carriera piena di incarichi importanti c’è stato un momento in cui ha deciso di fermarsi per la famiglia.

    “E’ stato molto difficile. Ero a New York. C’era un’occasione di lavoro per mio marito, una grande occasione. Volevo che avesse la possibilità di prenderla. Ma al tempo stesso mi rendevo conto che sarebbe stato molto difficile fare il mio lavoro e organizzare la famiglia senza avere delle ripercussioni sui i miei figli, Claire e Christian, che avevano 11 e 7 anni. E’ stato difficile decidere, ma mi ricordo quando mandai il fax con la richiesta di aspettativa. Mi sentii subito meglio. Avevo fatto la cosa giusta.

    Certo poi tornare non è stato facile. Chiedere un’aspettativa per motivi familiari ti fa uscire dal radar.  Ma si può fare. La mia Amministrazione è stata lungimirante. "

    E’ la terza volta che viene a lavorare a New York.  La prima fu nel 1990 come Vice Console...

    “Ero giovane, la mia seconda sede! Non dovevo venire a New York. Ero in Africa, in partenza per Parigi, che era il mio sogno. Ma incontrai mio marito e questo cambiò la mia vita.  Nonostante fosse francese non poteva lavorare in Francia. La soluzione fu New York, dove lui poteva avere un incarico all’Unicef.

    Quella nel Consolato Generale fu un’esperienza bellissima. Mi occupavo della comunità italiana. Un lavoro delicato, molto interessante. E poi lì passa tutto il meglio dell’economia e della cultura presente in città.  Ho ancora tante amicizie che sto ritrovando in questi giorni.”

    Nel 2000 è di nuovo a  New York, questa volta va alle Nazioni Unite. E’ questo quindi un ritorno dopo 18 anni.  Anni che hanno visto trasformazioni profondissime, quasi inimmaginabili nello scenario internazionale del ‘900.

    “C’è stato un cambiamento globale. Il mondo si è complicato. Allora era più semplice capire chi stava dove, chi credeva in che cosa. Era più facile intuire cosa pensava l’altro. Ora non ci sono punti di riferimento. Non ci sono certezze. E’ una fase molto complicata. E’ un momento caotico, c’è un confronto costante su tutti i temi di cui ti devi occupare. Ma qui entra in gioco il mio credo multilateralista.

    C’è un risorgere di nazionalismi, sovranismi e quindi il sistema multilaterale è fondamentale per evitare derive pericolose. Penso che oggi le Nazioni Unite siano ancora più importanti. Qui alcuni trend si capiscono meglio che altrove. Si possono fare delle previsioni e agire di conseguenza.”

    Nel suo discorso, il giorno della consegna delle credenziali,  ha indicato come temi prioritari per l'Italia pace, sicurezza, diritti umani e anche sviluppo sostenibile, migrazioni.  Rispetto al passato la diplomazia ha quindi nuove finalità, nuove sensibilità. Cosa vuol dire, come donna, per lei questo nuovo incarico?

    “Sono appena arrivata. Lo saprò meglio tra qualche mese, ma credo che una donna in diplomazia porti prima di tutto una maggiore sensibilità, ha più antenne, come nella vita.

    E poi penso che porti una ‘cultura del risultato’.  Non abbiamo molto tempo da perdere, se facciamo una riunione vogliamo che si concluda con un risultato concreto.

    Ora le Nazioni Unite sono un posto dove per vedere un risultato ci vuole del tempo, certo, ma per arrivarci ci vuole anche capacità di dialogo. Per questo occorre sforzarsi di più,  mettere da parte l’ego. In quindici anni di ego ne ho visto molto anche altrove, alla Nato, all’Unione Europea … Questo atteggiamento per cui devo essere sempre io a dire l’ultima parola. Credo che in molti casi siano le donne più degli uomini ad avere la capacità di mirare al risultato e privilegiare la necessità di far funzionare le cose.”

    Un ragionamento legato al suo convinto sostegno all’azione del Segretario Generale Guterres a favore della parità di genere in ogni ambito del sistema ONU…

    “Questo Segretario Generale sta facendo la differenza. Mi concentrerò anche io parecchio su questo tema. La famosa ‘quota’ del cinquanta per cento di donne, di cui si parlava già diciotto anni fa, e non si raggiungeva mai. Guterres ha dimostrato che si può fare, scegliere sistematicamente le donne. Fino a quando le donne non dovranno essere sempre ‘le più brave’ per affermarsi, mentre tantissimi uomini “solo” bravi…

    La parità di genere è importante di per sé.  Finché non lo capiremo non si risolverà mai questo problema. In passato non sono stata favorevole alle quote di genere, ma comincio a pensare che,  per un certo periodo, le quote servano per stabilire una parità di base.”

    E c’è il tema generale definito con il termine empowerment delle donne.

    Empowerment delle donne,  dare alle donne la possibilità di entrare nei processi.  Il peacekeeping ed il peacebuilding sono ambiti fondamentali in cui applicare questo principio.  Si è fatto uno sforzo, ma non basta. Nei processi di pace devono intervenire le donne. Prima di tutto perché sono una parte della società (la metà), secondo per il ruolo che hanno nella famiglia, e terzo per la capacità di pensare al bene comune.

    E credo che questo Segretario Generale abbia individuato questo tema non solo come uno slogan, ma come una policy. Se devo scegliere tra un uomo ed una donna a parità di competenze, scelgo una donna. E così si cambia."

    Le Nazioni Unite. Sono percepite come una cittadella nella città chiusa in se stessa. Non pensa che entrambe, New York e UN, si potrebbero avvantaggiare con un rapporto più continuo?

    “Non è una percezione. E’ una realtà. Chi lavora alle Nazioni Unite vive in una specie di bolla. Se uno non fa lo sforzo di reagire, può passare anni sempre in questo quartiere e frequentare solo gente delle Nazioni Unite.

    Ho detto al mio team che sono disponibile ad andare a parlare fuori.  So quale sia il rischio di rimanere qui dentro. Tanto lavoro ... e poi si è assorbiti dalla bolla. Ci fa male. Anche se credo che al tempo stesso anche la Città debba venire incontro alle Nazioni Unite. Ci sono temi su cui si può lavorare insieme."

    Per esempio?

    “C’è stato un negoziato importante per la definizione del Global Compact for Migration che affronta la migrazione a trecentosessanta gradi. Mi sto chiedendo come si possa parlare di questo a New York, città di migranti con tutta la nostra migrazione storica.  Sto riflettendo a possibili iniziative sul tema rivolte alla città…”

    E a livello personale… cosa la lega a questa città. Quale è il posto a cui è più affezionata?

    “Dico solo una cosa.  La mia prima figlia è nata qui. Ho tanti ricordi. La zona a cui sono più legata,  Carnegie Hill, dove abitavo.  Dove i bambini andavano a scuola, con il Central Park che quando sei stanco, dopo una settimana intensa, ti regala weekend speciali. E poi andare al Guggenheim Museum con la carrozzina, e attraversare il verde da est a ovest per andare al Museo di Storia Naturale…”

    Chiudiamo la nostra conversazione con questa bella immagine di Manhattan e di nuovo con tutta la convinta positività che Mariangela Zappia ha voluto imprimere la nostra conversazione.

    “Difendere il multilateralismo è essenziale oggi,” mi dice salutandomi. “Non bisogna mai perdere la capacità  di dialogo, la volontà di continuare ad insistere per capire in quale punto il tuo ed il mio interesse si incontrano. E’ importante avere dei luoghi dove si parla si negozia si decide … Io ci credo.”

    E’ una messaggio anche per la vita di tutti i giorni. Legato anche al modo con cui noi donne gestiamo il quotidiano.


  • Facts & Stories

    Silence is What Keeps the Mafia Alive

    Antimafia prosecutor, Pietro Grasso, accompanied the delegation of ANFE Sicilia that during the celebrations in honor of Petrosino promoted a constant and daily committment  against the Mafia in Sicily. 

    Along with him, Don Ciotti (see interview) and Francesco Bertolino, the former president of Addio Pizzo (see interview) were in New York. 
    Grasso was seen speaking at two official appointments in New York: the presentation of his book held at the Italian Cultural Institute and the conference at the John Jay College for Criminal Justice (see article).
    For the editors of i-Italy and the Calandra Institute, particularly Anthony Julian Tamburri, it was also an honor to welcome Pietro Grasso, Don Ciotti, and Francesco Bertolino in our offices: it was a unique opportunity to reflect on the reality and complexity of the phenomenon of the Mafia in Italy and throughout the world. 
    Some of Pietro Grasso's remarks can be found in the audio slide show above in Itailan.   
    Below are some points recalled from the interview in New York with Pietro Grasso
    about his book.  
    "As long as the Mafia exists we need to talk about it, discuss it.  We must react.  Silence is the oxygen by which the criminal system organizes itself, and how the dangerous symbols of the Mafia, economy and power, strengten themselves.  Tomorrow we will be talking of the silences of today, and pay for them.  I silenzi di oggi siamo destinati a pagarli duramente domain.  We will have a stronger Mafia, and our citizens will be less free." 

    This is what is written on the back cover of Grasso's most recent book, "Per non morire di Mafia" (As to not be killed by the Mafia), a work based on an interview with Alberto La Volpe (Sperling & Kupfer 2009). 

    An interview of nearly 300 pages that talk, that don't want to keep things quiet, and that recollect the life of the Animafia prosecutor.  After "Pizzini, veleni e cicoria. La mafia prima e dopo Provenzano" (Pizzini, poisons and chicory.  The Mafia before and after Provenzano)written with journalist Francesco Licata, we have another four-hand work. This time his partner is an excellent testimony,  Alberto La Volpe, the last journalist to have had contact with judge Falcone.

    Pietro Grasso was appointed Antimafia prosecutor in 2005 after an important experience as prosecutor, judge, and adviser to the maxi trail against 474 Mafia defendents.  The maxi trail was set up by Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1986 and became a milestone for the reactions against the Mafia.   

    Today the Public Prosecutor's Office led by Grasso controls 26 local anti-mafia prosecutors scattered throughout Italy, and is the only structure that has created a judicial database useful to all investigative apparatuses. 

    As the same prosecutor confirmed to the Sicilian journalist Umberto Lucentini who interviewed him with knowledgable questions during the presentation at the Italian Cultural Institute, his commitment against organized crime began in the 1980's when the President of Sicily Piersanti Mattarella was killed by Mafia. He was a strong proponent of a policy of renewal within its current that would ensure a better moral behavior, free from corruption in the public sphere.


    "I come to know more about the Mafia world during the maxi trail of 1986 established by Falcone and Borsellino, the two judges murdered along with their escorts. I was one of the judges called, a huge responsibility:  it depended on me whether people who committed heinous crimes (including rape) were set free. The trial lasted two years, and at the time of deliberation we spent 35 days with no contacts with the outside world.

    Falcone, however, is a fundamental turning-point in the Antimafia investigative activity, especially when collaborating with the FBI.   In fact, it's from the FBI that Falcone "borrows" the figure of the witness or collaborator of justice.  Thanks to their contribution he could ascertain the truth on several crimes.

    His example was fundamental to  realize the importance of the continuing if not daily collaboration between  Italian and American investigative services.  "Collaboration," states a resolute Pietro Grasso, "is what we want especially now, given the presence of organized crime throughout the world." 

    At the Italian Cultural Institute Prosecutor Grasso also recounted private episodes. He recalled an incident that happened to his son.  "My wife and I were faced with terrible dilemmas.   How could a kid his age be escorted?  How could he go out to a pizzeria or by himself on his motorscooter?"  In these words the anguish of two parents who face the daily, "normal" life, but also the strenght of a man that had to rationalize the feeling of danger for who knows how many times. 

    "We live and have lived a life under constant control, to the smallest detail...despite this my wife and I decided to go ahead and not listen to the threats.  This also when my work was destroyed from another sentence: the only  importantthing for me was and is to do at my best what needs to be done, regardless of external factors.  Not only conscience and duty, but also enthusiasm and passon give me the strength to go on."

    The book "Per non morire di Mafia" also gives voice to delicate but fundamental aspects regarding the relationship between the Mafia, the economy, politics, and business.  "I am the crucial knot to break this bond. To do it, however, we need the press and judiciary to be free and independent." 

    And if you try to make him explain the dynamics of the relationships among these elements, he respond: "The one needs the other.  The Mafia needs politics, politics needs the Mafia.  This is why, as it is explained in the book, in the pre-election periods the Mafia looks for consent.  And it is actually already predisposed.   In a town everyone knows who the Mafia likes.  I ask a Mafia boss for a favor that I need, and he becomes the intermediary with someone else.  As long as certain needs aren't considered human rights, this system will continue to work endlessy."

    And it is in the name of these "connections" that Grasso states that Mafia is a structural phenomenon.  It should be fought with continuous and daily law enforcement efforts: "Va combattuta  con una continua e quotidiana azione di contrasto: "We should always talk about it to not die by the Mafia. Silence is what keeps the Mafia alive."

  • Life & People

    Discover Sicily. Tourism Does not End in Winter

    We met with the Sicily Tourism Minister Nino Strano during his visit to New York for the Columbus Day celebrations. We took the opportunity to discuss his region and the work he is doing there. He responds candidly, without disguising the difficulties that his region still faces while focusing on the successes of recent years.  

    Let’s begin by talking about the island’s natural resources, a rich asset that can be enhanced and promoted further.

    Article 10 which was passed in 2005 addresses this. It encompasses three areas: the Nebrodi,Madonie, and Etna national parks. It is an important law that intervenes where human hands were destroying what God had created. This law has began a new trend that protects the natural beauty of the parks, archipelagoes, the Aeolian Islands, as well as the islands of Ustica, Pantelleria, Lampedusa, and Favigliana.  

    I’m also working on promoting locations that few people have discovered until now. There are beautiful lakes in Sicily that can be tourist destinations at different times of the year.

    So there isn’t just the sea in Sicily, but there’s also tourism in winter?

    Yes, and not only because the climate

    in Sicily is pleasant throughout the year. For winter sports, for example, Etna has very modern facilities.  My goal is to ensure that tourism does not end and that there could be a kind of seasonal transition instead. 

    We are also creating various “mythic tours” around the island. The region is now a place for important events, festivals, opera music in cathedrals and museums, performances in royal theaters and archaeological sites, both indoors and outdoors. In December we will also present several holiday events. 
    So the Christmas holidays in Sicily….  

    Yes, we are planning several very important events. As for concerts, Riccaro Muti will be with performing for us.  
    Allow me to touch on a somewhat difficult topic. Let’s talk about cities, urban spaces....
    They are still suffering. For example, there is still little health education even though we’ve been working very hard on it. Still, not everyone complies with certain rules of civil coexistence. But it must be said that the sense of warm hospitality in Sicilian cities is tremendous. You feel like you belong and you are embraced as if you were a fellow citizen. This is the strength of our land. We have different cities with different histories, and a strong legacy despite some difficulties.

    Yet there are still some problems with hotels for the average American tourist seeking comfort, the internet. 

    It’s true. Today an Internet connection can be found practically everywhere, but certainly the quality is not always the best. Even some of our 4 star properties are poor, but we have embarked on a path of change. Large international companies are investing a lot there and we are starting to see an increase in 5 star properties. Minister Brambilla has promised a casino in Taormina and we will build more casinos in several 5 star hotels.  

    What can you tell me about transportation? 
    Beginning January 1, 2010 I will also be the commissioner of transportation. I will begin by saying that the railways will come under Sicilian management. We will improve the quality overall; the locomotives are in good shape but we must refurbish the rest of the trains. We must then concentrate on domestic routes which suffer from serious delays. In terms of the airports, we continue to develop a project on aircraft landing surfaces. This is for the affluent tourist who is looking for private airports.

     Obviously there are still the large airports in Palermo and Catania. We are also working on direct flight from the U.S. to Catania since we already have direct flights to Palermo.  As for maritime shipping, we are trying to acquire Tirrenia. 

    Let’s get back to culture. As you mentioned before, cultural events remain valuable means of attracting tourism.  
    It is very important, although it must be said that on the scale of values, the islands and the sea come first. From this point of view I know that there is still much to do. And I say this on the eve of an extraordinary event, the return of the Venus of Morgantina in May 2011. 

    We are working very hard. Our museums are finally beginning to operate on a human scale as do our festivals do, as well as the ancient theaters at Taorminina, Pachino, and Salina.  

    There has been talk of an American tour with several stops before the Venus of Morgantina is returned to Sicily. Is this feasible?  
      Yes, we have talked about it and it depends on security. Even Quirinale (Presient of Italian Repubblic) has requested it but we first have to verify the conditions.  

    Sicily has also become very well-known through literature. How can a writer help to promote this land? Take Montalbano for example. 
     Yes, great writers like Pirandello and many others have helped. We are fortunate to have an important literary tradition. The only thing I have to say is that I don’t like it when writers make a social commentary. I don’t like people who spit on Sicily, and it does happen. I hope that our writers have a critical sense and that they refrain from describing Sicily only in negative terms. Every region in the world has negative aspects, not just Sicily. 

    Two types of tourists: young and old. What are you doing for them?  
     We are working very closely to create specific travel packages for them. I must say that it’s not easy. We need to force the hand of hotel owners. But we are organizing very interesting travel promotions even during the winter months. We also have agreements with universities for exchange student and study abroad programs.

    Final question: Over the past few days here in New York ANFE has presented a large-scale program to promote lawfulness and anti-mafia activities. Would you like to say something as a Sicilian?  

    It’s very important. The presence of anti-mafia prosecutor Grasso was significant. Whoever travels to Sicily must feel safe and secure that they are in a land where there is lawfulness above all. We’re all working on it, the government and the opposition together. And we are doing it in different ways. For example, Ivan Lo Bello, President of Confindustria Sicilia and the entrepreneur Antonello Montante are working against racketeering. They are persons of undoubted merit and integrity and with them another chapter begins.

    Find more photos like this on i-Italy
    Presenting the Eolian Islands in NYC with the Italian Tourism Board

    Translated by Giulia Prestia

  • Parliamo di mafia. Don Ciotti con gli studenti della scuola Marconi

    E’ stato un incontro speciale quello tra Don Ciotti e alcuni studenti di New York. Quando abbiamo chiesto al presidente dell’associazione “Libera” se voleva incontrare i giovani delle superiori della Scuola D’Italia Guglielmo Marconi abbiamo visto i suoi occhi illuminarsi: “Sì, dove, quando?”. E accompagnarlo per i corridoi e poi le aule di questa importante realtà educativa bilingue newyorkese, vederlo commentare e parlare con gli studenti, è stato particolarmente emozionante.

    Di fronte a quei ragazzi, Don Luigi Ciotti ci è parso armato e disarmato al tempo stesso. Armato della sua esperienza, della sua storia, del suo coraggio, della sua sensibilità, della sua fede. Disarmato di fronte a quella semplicità eloquente che è spesso presente in maniera inconsapevole nei giovani, nella loro incredulità, nelle loro domande.

    Seduto in mezzo agli studenti, Don Ciotti  ha visto prima il filmato che lo introduceva.

    Un video scelto sapientemente: l’ultima intervista rilasciata ad Enzo Biagi. Un documento importante per due motivi, sia per la chiarezza con cui il grande giornalista riesce a raccontare l’opera di “Libera”, sia perchè realizzato poco prima della morte.

    Rararamente abbiamo visto tanta attenzione per così tanto tempo in un’aula. Occhi sgranati, orecchie tese di minuto in munuto.

    E Ciotti ha cominciato con un sentito ricordo per Enzo Biagi, di cui ha rammentato il contributo dato alla sua associazione Libera per una comunicazione diretta e seria. “Era scomparsa da poche ore sua moglie ed Enzo non ha voluto rinunciare ad un servizio che sapeva importantissimo per Libera. ‘Non posso lasciarvi soli’ mi disse”.

    E le domande prima timide, dopo quasi di pancia, cominciano ad arrivare.

    Hai mai incontrato un Mafioso? Cosa è “Libera”? Sono di Cinisi, mi dici qualcosa della mia terra? Mi fai un commento? Cosa vuol dire confiscare i beni per uso sociale?

    “Porto piccole risposte… se sono capace” dice.  E comincia

    “Libera è un’associazione. Nasce dopo le stragi di Falcone e Borsellino. Dopo la reazione  emotiva nella gente mi sono chiesto se si doveva continuare a fare solo cortei, manifestazioni e se non era giunto il momento di unire le foze in tutta Italia. Perchè il problema mafia non è solo in Sicilia,  Calabria,  Campania…..il problema  riguarda tutto il territorio nazionale.

    Abbiamo messo insieme mondi diversi, lavoriamo  con scuole ed università che hanno firmato dei protocolli di impegno per portare apporfondimenti dentro i corsi di formazione su questi temi.”

    E con energia  continua così.  “Non basta però conoscere, bisogna anche assumersi responsabilità. Che cosa interessa ai mafiosi? Il denaro, gli affari, il potere. Ci siamo detti:  allora dobbiamo portargli via tutto questo frutto del loro traffico.

    Raccogliamo così le firme in Italia per chiedere una legge che confischi i beni per uso sociale. I beni devono tornare alle gente. Abbiamo raccolto un milione  di firme. Il parlamento ha votato un provvediemento che lo permette.

    Oggi scopri che nel cuore di Napoli trovi una bottega con scritto ‘I sapori ed il sapere della legalità’ con un marchietto ‘Libera terra’. Sono cooperative di lavoro di giovani realizzate grazie ai beni confiscati. Selezioniamo con bando pubblico per lavorare su terreni confiscati ai grandi boss.”.

    Si ferma e agginge:  “Lo schiaffo più forte che puoi dare alla mafia è che le proprietà dei boss, frutto di violenza, traffichi, illegalità, diventano luoghi dove possono andare a lavorare i giovani legalmente. Vuol dire che la mafia ha perso il controllo.

    Certo i beni confiscati spesso vengono fatti saltare in aria o bruciati. Ma si è sempre ricominciato. Aumenta il numero di persone che non lasciano soli i ragazzi e le ragazze che lo fanno. Questa è la strada giusta. Oggi sono tante le cooperative. 

    Le mafie si globalizzano nel mondo. Siamo riusciti ad arrivare al Parlamento Europeo. E allora abbiamo fatto in modo che dopo un anno e mezzo  di lavoro anche a Bruxelles si votasse la confisca dei beni ad uso sociale.”

    Un momento particolamente emozionante per il giovane pubbico è quando Don Ciotti parla delle famiglie colpite dalla mafia.  “Hanno perso padri,  hanno ammazzato spose… innocenti… madri…. fratelli... In Italia di queste centiania di vittime solo una piccola parte purtroppo ne conosce la storia.”

    E si rivolge al giovane originario di Cinisi. “I siciliani sono persone stupende. Devi essere orgoglioso delle tue radici siciliane. Bisogna evitare che la gente abbia pregiudizi e generalizzi. C’è certo la mafia ma cisono anche persone bellissime. Persone che hanno lottato contro la mafia. Poliziotti, magistrati, giornalisti, politici. Cittadini comuni. Tra questi il tuo concittadino Peppino Impastato, che apparteneva ad una famiglia mafiosa. Suo parde era Mafioso. Lo zio era in America e facevano affari insieme.

    Peppino si ribella e comincia ad attaccare il grande boss Badalamenti. Lo fa con la radio, con passione e viene ucciso. Ma viene ucciso con una messa in scena che sembra un suicidio. Per provare che non era vero si è dovuto lottare per 23 anni. Lotta della mamma Felicia, del fratello Giovanni. Ma hanno vinto.  Avete visto il film ‘I Cento Passi’? Fatelo…

    E vi consiglio un altro film. ‘Fort Apache’. La storia di Giancarlo Siano, un altro giornalista ammazzato dalla mafia. Fu il primo a scrivere dei Muschilli. Sapete chi sono? Ragazzini di 7-8 anni che la camorra usava per spostare i pacchetti di droga…”

    Ma cosa differenzia crimine organizzato e mafia?

    “La mafia per raggiungere il suo obiettivo (denaro-affari-potere) si avvale di persone competenti: professionisti, avvocati, commercialisti, uomini dell’alta finanza, tutti corrotti...  Oggi direttamente o indirettamente sono coperti da segmenti del mondo politico, persone che chiudono un occhio, o hanno in cambio un voto…. Quando si parla di mafie dovete subito scattare con la testa. E’ un organizzazione che si avvale di competenze professionali, inclusa quella politica.”

    E ad un ragazzo originario del Nord Italia dice…. “Si pensa che la mafia sia solo un fenoneno del sud. Vi racconto una cosa. Vi sono troppi pregiudizi. Una sera, mentre presentavo il film "Cento Passi", ad un certo punto si alzò un signore arrabbiato. 'Il film è bello, però i siciliani la mafia se la vogliono. Non sono del nostro sangue.’

    Mi sono detto ‘Luigi stai calmo. Fagli un sorriso e rispondi'. Non si poteva non rispondere. E così gli ho detto. ‘Guardi, se lei si documenta scopre che la città di Corleone è stata fondata  nel 1237 da immigrati di Brescia e Bergamo. Questa è la storia. Lì ci  sono i suoi antenati, gente del suo sangue.'"

    E ancora un altro messaggio importante per i ragazzi: "Lo chiamo peccato grave: il peccato del sapere. La mancanza di profondità. Tutto in superficie. Tutto per sentito dire. Invece abbiamo il dovere di approfondire  e vi fanno onore le domande che avete fatto. Se trovate qualcuno che ha capito  tutto della vita, cambiate strada.

    Tutti siamo piccoli  e dobbiamo aiutarci. Io sono qui,  ma io sono una piccola cosa. Per me la gioia sono le centinaia di migliaia di persone che insieme si cerca di aiutare.

     Il probelma non è una realtà, ma mettere insieme tante e tante realtà. Elaborare insieme mondi diversi. Abbiamo una responsabilità come cittadini e  dobbiamo chiderci cosa facciamo noi.  Le regole dobbiamo cominciare a rispettarle nelle piccole cose. Uniamo le forze insieme.  Don Bosco diceva: bisogna essere buoni cristiani e buoni cittadini.”

    E per la Scuola d’Italia nell’Upper Est Side di Manhattan si concretizza la speranza.

     Il sacerdote Don Ciotti è attualmente membro del Consiglio Pastorale della Diocesi di Torino, impegnato attivamente nella lotta contro la Mafia in Italia. Ha fondato "Libera", una rete che coordina nell'impegno antimafia oltre 700 associazioni e gruppi locali, nazionali e, ad oggi, anche internazionali.

  • Pino Daniele & "His Way" per New York

    Sold Out nello storico Harlem “Apollo”. Ma questa volta non per Ella Fitgerald, Stevie Wonder o James Brown.  Il pubblico si è lasciato incantare da un artista italiano, anzi napoletano, in un crescendo di 'fusion', blues, jazz  e rock.

    Pino Daniele, l’uomo blues partenopeo, dopo un inizio doverosamente timido nel tempio della musica nera, ha trasportato il pubblico con una partecipazione in ascesa come le note del Bolero di Ravel… Le mura raccontavano la storia della musica americana, ma sul palco suonava lui, unico in Italia come nel mondo.

    Come ci ha detto lo stesso Pino Daniele, nel corso della sua conferenza stampa all’Istituto Italiano di Cultura, suonare a New York rappresentava per lui un sogno che poteva concretizzarsi solo con la scelta di un luogo veramente speciale per la sua musica.

    E grazie a Massimo Gallotta - il  promoter che negli ultimi anni ha portato a New York Benigni e Morricone -  tutto questo è stato possibile. Il teatro giusto ed il pubblico giusto, un binomio impotantissimo, in un quartiere come quello di Harlem che da qualche anno sta  riscoprendo e rivalutando la sua storia. Una scelta diversa questa, il cui coraggio è stato premiato.

    E il concerto ha ripercorso alcune tappe della vita musicale del cantante. Canzoni che lo hanno fatto amare, attraversare diverse generazioni, e che fanno parte della storia della musica italiana. Canzoni di tanti anni fa ma anche recenti. In scaletta brani come “Quando” e “Napule è” che insieme a “Nun me scuccià”, “‘O Scarrafone” e “Yes I know my way” (che il pubblico ha atteso con particolare bramosia e diverse richieste)  fino ad arrivare ai motivi del nuovo album come “il Sole dentro di me” dall’album “Electric Jam” (pubblicato a marzo da RCA/Sony Music).

    E fin dalle note della prima interpretazione, 'Tu dimmi quando, quando', l’atmosfera sembrava avvolta da una tensione e partecipazione speciale. Tanti gli italiani presenti ma anche diversi americani incuriositi. Era chiaro che l’attesa e  l’emozione di un evento eccezionale per molti presenti, tra un applauso e l’altro, accompagnava la performance con un enfasi speciale. Un momento intenso è stato il suo assolo alla chitarra  con  'Nessun Dorma' di Puccini. Una scelta furba, che certo ammiccava ad un certo pubblico americano, ma che ci sentiamo di condividere.

    Dopo l’esecuzione di “Napule è” la sala non riusciva a stare ferma. Molti hanno cominciato a ballare, alzandosi in diverse zone della platea. Possiamo dire di aver visto muoversi e ritmare la musica persone altrimenti tranquille e sobrie.

    Con Pino Daniele artisti bravissimi. Difficile dimenticare le note di Matt Garrison al basso o quelle del percussionista Mino Cinelu, come le tastiere di Gianluca Podio soprattutto con canzoni come 'A me me piace 'o blues' e 'Yes I Know my way'.

    E quel Pino Daniele che forse all’inzio del concerto sembrava quasi intimidito, in pochi minuti si è riscattato con la forza della sua musica e con l’evidente piacere di suonare. Anticipando il concerto aveva detto che non avrebbe parlato. “Non mi piace il musicista che fa l'intrattenitore. Mostrerò al pubblico quello che sono, la mia sincerita”.

    E la sincerità musicale ed improvvisatrice di Pino Daniele l’anno sentita tutti sotto le volte dell’Apollo Teather. Nella confusione crescente abbiamo visto anche alcune persone della Security ritmare e ballare.

    Pino Daniele - ci aveva detto sempre all’Istituto -  voleva portare un’Italia diversa, una Napoli diversa, insieme alla sua musica. Sicuramente c’è  riuscito, anche se dopo tanti anni. E un  po’ di rabbia però la dobbiamo esprimere:  quella di aver aspettato troppo.  Di non aver fatto vedere e ascoltare molto prima, al pubblico negli Stati Uniti, un artista speciale come Pino Daniele.  

    Photos by Lorenza Cerbini - Find more like this on i-Italy

  • Life & People

    Pino Daniele & "His Way" to Play in NYC

    It was a sold out at Harlem’s historical theater, The Apollo. But this time it wasn’t for Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, or James Brown. An Italian artist -- Neapolitan to be exact – charmed the audience by developing a musical fusion of blues, jazz, and rock.

    Pino Daniele, the mediterranean blues man, after a duly timid start in the temple of African-American music, fastly warmed up and captured the attention of an audience whose participation constantly grew, just as the notes of Bolero by Ravel do. The walls told the history of American music, but it was him who was playing on the stage, a unique singer in the genre both in Italy and in the world

    As Pino Daniele said  during his press conference at the Italian Culture Istitute, playing in New York represented for him a dream that could come true only if he could play his music in a truly special place.

    Thanks to Massimo Gallotta, the promoter that has recently brought Roberto Benigni and Enno Morricone to New York, all of this was possible. He had the right theater and the right audience -- a very important combination -- in a neighborhood like that of Harlem, which in recent times has rediscovered and reevaluated its history. A brave choice that had the right compensation in the success of the event.

    During the concert the artist briefly retraced his career, singing songs that made him famous throughout generations, and that now are considered part of the history of Italian music. He performed pieces composed both in the distant and recent past, from “Quando”, “Napul'è",  “Nun me scuccia`,” “O Scarrafone” and “Yes I know my way” (the audience was waiting for this latter with particular  yearning) to the most recent such as  “Il Sole dentro di me” from the album “Electric Jam” (released in March by RCA/Song Music).

    Right from the begininning of the first song, “Tu dimmi quando, quando” the atmosphere was vibrant, the emotions of the public - composed by Italians, Neapolitans and several curious Americans - were touchable. It was clear that the long wait and excitement of those present made of the performance an even more special event. 
    Pino also gifted his audience with a very intense moment when he arranged  Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma" with his guitar:  this clever choice was clearly made to please a good number of Americans among the public, but the Italians appreciated it as well. 

    After the performance of “Napul'è” people could not refrain themselves from dancing. Even those who are normally quite and and sober started shaking their bodies to the rhythm of Pino's music. 

    A number of talented artists accompanied Pino Daniele on the stage. We can't forget the arrangements of bassist Matt Garrison, percussionist Mino Cinelu, and keyboard player Gianluca Podio when they played songs such as  “A me me piace ‘o blues’” and “Yes I know My Way.”

    Pino Daniele, who at the beginning of the concert looked almost shy and intimidated by the huge audience , in a few minutes enchanted the Apollo with his powerful music, and started playing with evident pleasure and transport.
    Talking about the event a few days before, he said that he was not going to talk with the audience during the concert: “I do not like the musician who wants to be also an entertainer. I will show the public who I am with sincerity through my music.”

    Under the vaults of the Apollo Theatre everybody could feel his sincer and instinctive love for music, insomuch as we also saw a few Security guards dancing!

    As he told us at the Italian Cultural Institute, Pino Daniele has always wanted to recount and show a different Italy and a different Naples through his music.  However, we must reproach him that he should have done it long ago. Before his performance, indeed, very few people in the US had heard about him, and his outstanding music. 


    Photos by Lorenza Cerbini - Find more like this on i-Italy

  • Life & People

    Praying in the Subway

     The A line runs along the arteries of Manhattan, as always. Once again I find myself entangled in thoughts, following the faces of people getting on and off my subway car. I come across tired eyes that want to sleep, eyes that smile, eyes that listen to music, that talk, sing, and dream.  

    It’s a day like many others; it seems like any other subway trip. Or at least until I see the face of a young woman in which little more than her eyes are visible. Eyes surrounded by cloth.  

    I happen to see young Muslims often enough on the subway in New York, but this girl takes the stage as in a theater, surprising me minute after minute. 

    She is with a man. She comes to sit next to me, and after a while, absorbed in my thoughts, I almost forget her. But a loud masculine voice, in a language I don’t even understand, soon draws my attention.  

    Her traveling companion argues with her. While speaking, he tightens the veil around her eyes and makes her sit in an upright position. He does so with a clean gesture. It is a strong, fluid gesture.  


    They continue to speak, and soon after, he moves her arms which were resting comfortably on his legs. He moves them as if they were the limbs of a doll. He moves them into a “folded” position.

    Under her arms there is a bag that they both look after. Under the bag, the woman’s legs are relaxed at first but he firmly squeezes them together. Once again he moves her limbs with a clean, domineering gesture of ownership. It is a movement that he will repeat several times during the trip.  

    During the ten long minutes of the episode, my eyes never meet his. Yet sitting beside her, one seat over, he will become the unconscious director of my story.  

    Inside of me, I feel the almost uncontrollable advance of empire, that inevitable uneasiness I feel whenever I still see men controlling women, whenever I witness moments of female submission. It strikes me and hurts me the way in which that man not only controls the clothes, but the position, the posture of the woman he is with.  

    While I follow the path of my “feminist” thoughts, the looks that are exchanged around me speak volumes. They are frightened, suspicious almost from the start.   

    As I wonder about my intolerance, it takes me a while to realize that the reason for the others’ attention is not the woman, but her bag. The object that is unaware of everything remains rested on her legs and apparently is observed from a distance.   

    The man, having once again adjusted her position, took from his pocket a small, old booklet with several pages falling out. He starts reading. She remains silent. He begins, perhaps, to pray.  

    He reads aloud in front of everyone. A powerful voice. He interrupts himself only to rearrange her position, to tighten her arms around the bag again. To close – if it were possible to close it any more – the veil, to bring her legs closer together. Many passengers get off at the next stop. 

     The train grows silent. No one speaks.
    The man’s voice echoes throughout the car, contrasting with the rattle of the train. The woman, perhaps, whispers. I do not see her lips. Tension in the car grows until the moment in which the train comes to a halt between stops and no voice announces the reason why.  

    He continues praying in a loud voice and she squeezes the bag tighter. He squeezes her arms and the bag. A doubt slowly rises inside of me: what if there were a bomb inside that bag? Slowly I begin to add to the tension inside the car. I abandon my feminist impulse. I’ll get off at the next stop, I tell myself.  

    The train starts moving and he continues to pray for a few seconds. She has her eyes down, legs closed; the bag is covered by her folded arms. No one speaks. 

    He stops reading. He takes the book and puts it back in his pocket. She looks at him. He seems to stretch his muscles. He lets his stiff, tense hands go. He gives her a caress and then another. He takes her hands. He gives her a kiss on the cheek. He speaks English. He finished his reading, perhaps his prayer. 

    The car takes a breath and comes back to life. People begin talking again. They look at them differently.  
    He and she, they go hand in hand.  
    A fellow passenger asks me: “Were you afraid, too?”  
    I now have another fear, that of not knowing how, I too, will honor the right to be different.

    (Translated by Giulia Prestia)

  • Pregare in metropolitana

    La linea A scorre lungo i capillari di Manhattan, come sempre. Ancora una volta mi scopro ad aggrovigliare pensieri, seguendo i volti delle persone che salgono e scendono dal mio vagone. E si incontrano occhi stanchi che vogliono dormire, occhi che sorridono, occhi che ascoltano musica, che parlano, che cantano, che sognano.

    E’ un giorno come tanti, sembra una corsa di metropolitana qualsiasi. O almeno fino a quando incontro il volto di una giovane donna di cui si vedono poco più che gli occhi. Occhi circondati da stoffa.

    Capita di vedere giovani musulmane abbastanza spesso sulla metropolitana a New York, ma questa ragazza entra in scena come in un teatro. Per destare sorpresa, attimo dopo attimo.

    E’ insieme ad un uomo. Si viene a sedere accanto a me che dopo poco, immersa nei miei pensieri, quasi la dimentico. Ma una voce maschile abbastanza forte, di cui non capisco neanche la lingua, riattira presto la mia attenzione.

    Il suo compagno di viaggio discute con lei. Mentre parla le stringe il velo intorno agli occhi e la fa stare in posizione più dritta. Lo fa con un gesto netto. Un gesto forte, eloquente.

    Parlano ancora, e poco dopo lui le sposta le braccia che lei aveva adagiato comodamente sulle gambe. Le muove come se fossero arti di un bambola. Le accosta in una posizione ‘conserta’.

    Sotto queste braccia una borsa guardata con attenzione da entrambi. Sotto questa borsa le gambe della donna iniziamente rilassate che lui stringerà con forza. Ancora una volta sposta gli arti di lei, con un gesto netto, padrone. Movimento che ripeterà più volte nel corso del viaggio.

    I mei occhi non si incontreranno mai, durante dieci interminabili minuti di storia, con quelli di quest’uomo. Eppure lui seduto affianco a lei, un posto più in la’, sarà il regista inconsapevole del mio racconto.

    Dentro di me sentro avanzare d’imperio, quasi incontrollabile, quella naturale insofferenza che provo quando vedo uomini controllare ancora le donne. Quando colgo momenti di sottomissione femminile. Mi colpisce e mi ferisce il modo di quell’uomo di controllare non solo abiti, ma posizione, gestualità, di quella donna che ha vicino.

    Mentre io seguo il corso dei miei pensieri “femministi”, intorno a me guardano e si parlano altri sguardi. Loro sono quasi da subito intimoriti, sospetti.

    Io mi interrogo sulla mia insofferenza e ci metto un pò di tempo ad accorgermi che invece motivo di attenzione degli altri non è la donna, ma la sua borsa. Oggetto che ingnaro di tutto, rimane appoggiato sulle gambe e apparentemente guardato a vista.

    L’uomo, dopo aver per l’ennesima volta corretto la posizione di lei, prende dalla tasca un piccolo vecchio libretto con delle pagine staccate. Comincia a leggerlo. Lei rimane in silenzio. Lui inizia, probabilmente, a pregare.

    Legge a voce alta di fronte a tutti. Voce possente. Si distrare solo per sistemare la posizione di lei, per farle stringere ancora una volta le braccia sulla borsa. Per chiuderle - se mai fosse possibile di più - il velo, per avvicinarle le gambe. Molti passeggeri scendono ad una fermata poco importante.

    Il treno diventa silenzioso. Nessuno parla. La voce dell’uomo attraversa tutto il vagone, a contrastarlo solo un rumore di ferraglia. La donna, forse, sussurra. Ma non vedo le sue labbra. La tensione sul treno cresce nel momento in cui il vagone si ferma tra uno stop e l’altro e nessuna voce ne annuncia il motivo.

    Lui continua a pregare a voce altra, lei stringe la borsa. Lui le stringe braccia e borsa.

    Anche dentro di me, piano piano si fa strada un dubbio: e se ci fosse un ordigno dentro quella borsa? Piano piano partecipo alla tensione del vagone. Abbandono il mio impeto femmista. Alla prossima fermata scendo, mi dico.

    Il treno riprende la sua corsa, lui continua a pregare ancora per qualche secondo. Lei ha gli occhi bassi, le gambe strette, la borsa coperta dalle sue braccia conserte. Nessuno parla.

    Lui smette di leggere. Prende il libretto lo ripone in tasca. Lei lo guarda. Lui sembra distendere i propri muscoli. Le sue mani rigide e tese si lasciano andare. Le fa una carezza, e ancora un’altra. E poi le stringe la mano. Le da un bacio sulla guancia. Parla inglese. Ha finito la sua lettura, forse la sua preghiera.

    Il vagone si rianima, tira un sospiro. Le persone riprendono a parlare. Li guardano diversamente.

    Se ne vanno mano nella mano lui e lei.

    Un altro passeggero mi dice: “Anche tu hai avuto paura?”

    Io adesso ho un’altra paura, quella di non saper anch’io riconoscere il diritto ad essere diversi.

  • Facts & Stories

    Communicating for "Sistema Italia". Lights and Shadows of a Job Done with Passion

    Read the Italian Version of this article

    We meet him in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel. In this hotel from the ‘20s renovated a decade ago, we breathe in summer, especially tourism and vacation, and certainly very little of frenetic New York. He arrives on time in a chic tourist outfit, long-distance walking shoes, and red pants.

    He decided to focus on museums for part of the day we met. But Antonio Bettanini didn’t come to the U.S. just to relax. Over the course of his trip, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Advisor for the Coordination of Public Communication will also develop important initiatives.

    Genovese, a true gentleman, discreet, witty, and sharp, he reflects on the Foreign Ministry’s public communication. There are, in his words, even in his criticism, interesting and constructive ideas.

    And he quickly begins with this:

    “We talk a lot about external communication today, but in Italy everything is complicated. In
    Italy, first and foremost, this should revolve around a large internal communication effort which still needs to be implemented.”

    “The truth is that for a number of historical, cultural, and politics reasons, too time-consuming to analyze here, we are now facing a situation in which our identity is still relatively weak.”

    “The feeling of belonging is felt so much more profoundly outside of Italy. The image of our country seen from the outside is more intense than the one observed from the inside.”

    The communications man quickly gets to the heart of the matter:

    “Only in recent years have certain images made positive headlines, such as the President of the Republic asking to of sing the national anthem. Not to mention the flag.”

    “These are obvious things in other countries, but in Italy they are still struggling to assert themselves. Let’s disregard the reasons why; it would take too long to go into. I say this because, and I’m not alone, I asked myself how to project a new image of Italy that still maintains the characteristics of a cultural repository and historical reservoir, and still retains the aspects that have characterized our image since the ‘80s. We need to introduce a new discussion to revitalize our image, which remains rooted in the past and tied to certain stereotypical brands. The renowned Made in Italy, as important as it is, must be bolstered by an image that looks to the future….”  

    Bettanini admits: “I don’t have an answer for what a new image of Italy might look like. We have to work on it and certainly an important factor that we shouldn’t underestimate is tied to 'people', those all over the world who have become ambassadors of our country. The large numbers of men and women who carry out the missions to which Italy has committed itself abroad. People who are dedicated to cooperation while defending peace and creating institutions in so many crisis areas.” 

    “Since it shouldn’t only be about heroism but about everyday life as well, we must take a more refined approach to the so-called Made in Italy. I am convinced that innovation and talent are part of a river that continues to flow, and without offending anyone, there is more to it than the image of Ferrari.
    There are some areas that should be strengthened further; I am referring to food and wine and to the little-known regions of Italy that are coming into large-scale production. There is more to our country than just Tuscany and Piedmont.

    Let’s consider why the activities of ‘Sistema Italia’ are often so disjointed. It would be very important, especially in a time of crisis.”

    “The work, in fact, is still not complete. Too often I have seen a disorganized presence, even with a large investment, that is unfortunately aimed at the wrong audience. And the need for coordination is increasing. There are certainly a few examples of administrative or political decisions that are aimed in this direction, such as a coordination agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the regions.”

    “We have also proposed a more structured effort between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Cultural Heritage, and Foreign Trade that includes a joint board that periodically decides on large-scale events to sponsor. We do this to share resources, streamline activities, and improve the end result. We are working to improve our current procedures that are too scattered and disorganized, and in some instances show very little attention to quality.”

    And what does Bettanini think of the image that Italy has of Italians abroad? “My feeling is that sometimes we have the wrong idea about our own immigration, of Italians abroad. It’s much more ordered, integrated, and less nostalgic than we imagine, and they maintain a healthy relationship with their homeland.”

    Bettanini is in New York to prepare some upcoming events that he has been working on for some time, events that coincide with the week-long U.N. General Assembly meeting. Several cultural initiatives are on schedule…

    “There will be the presentation of a book about the G8. It’s an Italian contribution to the future of the world that will be connected to public diplomacy. We present it along with an English language edition that includes an introduction by Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata.”

    “We will also present a photography book on the G8 in Trieste and L’Aquila. Next year we would like to launch an international award for journalists working in critical areas. The award would be hosted in Italy but with a jury, location, and presence in New York.”

    “We are also planning an initiative to share the history of the Italian presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since the ‘50s we have realized cultural, anthropological, archaeological, touristic endeavors there. This is to tell everyone that we are back and that we are still there, since it is an area of crisis.”

    “We produced a DVD with the journalist Duilio Giammaria of TG1. We would like to mount an exhibition dedicated to the Italians who were there in those years, in conjunction with American institutions.”

    “I am pushing hard on this even if there are challenges. I care because it is a way to show the Italian presence in those areas – even more so today when American policy is more focused on culture and civil society. Our contributions are useful and appreciated. Our past demonstrates the important role that Italy has played.”

    Bettanini’s initiatives are closely linked to the political life of Franco Frattini. He began, however, with Claudio Martelli, going through difficult and controversial periods in Italian history.

    “Frattini was working with him as an advisor; he was then given a chance and he called me. I started in a different way, with a different person but with a similar personal story because I liked communication and politics. During Martelli’s time there were militant politics, but with Frattini would say not. I mainly dealt with the institutional side.”

    A philosophy major, university lecturer, and journalist, he was repeatedly appointed press officer for the ministries and the board leadership while coordinating media relations. He also gained communications experience through numerous ad campaigns for private companies, and recently headed the campaign for Piaggio Aero Industries.

    His experience in the private sector is also felt when he talks about his current work. It makes a difference and it is definitely one of his strengths.

    “I have always kept the organizational model of a large private company as a reference point while making decisions. This means coordinated and integrated communications, where all of the various aspects are run by a manager.”
    “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs jealously guards the position of press officer for a career diplomat. So being the communications advisor and working on the coordination of communication activities is not easy.”

    And he removes a small pebble from his shoe…

    “At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the IT department is still separated from the Communications one...it’s strange. There is a department that is called the ‘servizio stampa’ that reveals its anachronism in its own name.”

    “Work is nevertheless underway to create many multimedia projects within this office. They have already made several commercials. Enrico Vattani is handling it deftly. The ‘Travel Safely’ video is a good product.”

    “The website has also improved a lot. We now have a section for journalists. It still needs large-scale management and we are working in that direction. With the Development Cooperation office we created a great initiative to promote the Giro d’Italia. Over the course of a daily television show about cycling we demonstrated the ‘best practices’ resulting from our cooperation.”

    And so we come back, after a nearly circular path, to the beginning of our conversation. There is still a great need to improve internal communications.

      "Viaggiare sicuri" 

    “Everything can be considered, but you have to start with internal communication. Sometimes we are still not able to appreciate the things we produce as much as we should.”

    “When someone talks about internal communication sometimes people begin to yawn. But it’s the ABC. And if I do not know who I am, I cannot tell my story.”

    Is the resistance you encounter practical, cultural, or economic?

    “It’s a bit of everything. Relatively, it’s economic. Our advantage over a large private company is that we have a value, a significant institution which allows us to do some things better. We must be the ones to put gas in the engine, of course. But if at times we don’t have the content, the gasoline....”

    “Sometimes we don’t even talk about ourselves on our own website. Until recently we didn’t even publish an interview that appeared in the newspaper because it wasn’t ‘official.’ We have a 24-hour press office available every day of the week, but on Saturday and Sunday I can’t update the home page because it hasn’t been scheduled. This is despite having people who work in the media. There is still inflexibility.”

    There is criticism, but also appreciation. There are certainly shadows, but also light.

    “There are many young, capable diplomats. They understand the challenges and they are paid for their communication services. In the end there is a lot of work to be done. I tell them, 'Be happy because if they were good at this they wouldn’t need us….I like this job and I do it with a lot of passion. I don’t think that I am always loved at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in some cases I have been unjustly feared, but no one can say that I don’t have great passion for the Administration. I am convinced that if I work well for the Administration, then I also perform a great service for the person I work for.”

    “This is also true when I use Twitter for him. I do it often and perhaps someone might get angry over the constant use of such an informal method of communication…”

    (Translated by Giulia Prestia)