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Articles by: Judith Harris

  • Facts & Stories

    Ancient Roman Slave Cemetery Found at Ostia Antica

    ROME - The little community of slaves laboring at the port at Ancient Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber River, was desperately poor, but when the eight-year-old boy died, they endowed his tomb with a delicate necklace of tiny seashells and worked beads of bone and imported amber. The boy’s skeleton marked him as the youngest of the 270 individuals buried in what Italian archaeologists are hailing as a unique, 2000-year-old port-side slave cemetery which covered 3,000 sq. m.   


    The skeletons themselves and the poverty of the burials testify that this was a slave cemetery. Seventy-two percent were males, mostly between the ages of twenty and forty, whereas in another urban cemetery, fully half the skeletons were of women. Forensic scientists say that numerous skeletons were deformed and bent from extremely heavy fatigue. Fractured limbs and numerous lesions in the vertebrae, as if from carrying hod, were common. Two-thirds of the bodies had been wrapped in a tight shroud and the sepulcher topped with wood planks or with two or three of the large flat roof tiles common in early Christian catacombs. The dead were placed flat on the back with the exceptions of one found lying face down and two who had been cremated.


    The modest necklace found with the boy was the most opulent of the objects found in the tombs. Only one out of three had a symbolic tomb dowry, such as a coin in the mouth to help the dead on the voyage to the nether world.


    “These poor bones will help us to learn more about life in the little community of workers in the capital of the Empire, when Rome at its peak between the First and Second Centuries AD,” Angelo Bottini, 59, superintendent of archaeology for Rome, told a press conference here June 9.


    One aspect still being studied is the skull of a man around thirty who suffered from a rare disease that blocks the jaw. To help him to eat, his fellow slaves removed two of his teeth, an action which the Roman archaeologists working the site say would never have been performed by a slave owner. “Here we are seeing a poor community that did what it could to save the life of another person, permitting him to eat and to breathe again,” said Professor Bottini.


    The workmen were presumably employed at the salt works near the mouth of the Tiber, in loading and unloading boats, and in the reconstruction of the port itself, under the emperors Claudius and Trajan.


    The finding of the cemetery at Ponte Galeria came about thanks to some slick detective work. In a raid at the home of a suspected tomb robber, Finance Guards (fiscal police) headed by Capt. Marco La Malfa found a funeral lamp. The lamp led to a cache of other objects looted from the site and then to the site itself. The year-long excavation was completed this month, and the cemetery will be reburied shortly.


    Population figures for antiquity are difficult, but it is estimated that at that time Rome had over one million inhabitants. Normally the slave population is calculated at 10% of the total, according to archaeologists attending a symposium on slavery in antiquity held at the British School in Rome.





  • Facts & Stories

    Naples Walks Alone, on Burning and Bloodied Sidewalks

    ROME –The vicious attacks by the professional crime clans of Naples, which amount to attacks upon the Italian nation, are a rerun of the orgy of violence of Sicily in the Eighties, when the Faustian bargain of protection, promotion and murder was struck. Just as in Sicily at that time, in the Campania Region around Naples today industrialists on the one hand make regular pay-off’s to racketeers and on the other hand pad the wallets of selected politicians and corrupt bureaucrats.

    Even as dioxin-emissions from smoking rubbish continue, and soldiers were turned out to combat protesters from all walks of life, including but not only criminal, on Sunday, June 2, businessman Michele Orsi, 47, was summoned to a meeting in a café in the main piazza at Casale di Principe, near Caserta outside of Naples, and gunned down in broad daylight by at least 18 shots fired from two pistols. Investigators here say that the Casalesi, as the powerful local clan at Casale di Principe is called, believe that Orsi had turned state’s witness in the ongoing appeals trial in Naples known as the Spartacus Trial.

    The presiding judge at the first trial, Raffaello Magi, told former magistrate Giuseppe D’Avanzo that, unusual for Naples, the Casalesi are organized in similar fashion to the Sicilian Corleonesi: “The territory is divided into fiefs; leadership is turned over to a capozona (local boss); membership is expanded through blood ties; and they show an extraordinary capacity to exploit links with local entrepreneurs….

    “Unlike the Neapolitan gangsters who live off cocaine dealing or extortion, the Casalesi exploit intensively their territory in every area of economic potential. They do the dumping of the toxic refuse, they hold the monopoly on the cement market, they control the distribution of various essential products. They mediate the consensus at election time and are the social mediators when the institutions collapse, such as now, with the garbage. They offer protection and market opportunities to a fragile business world in need of protection and support. They condition the politics of the administrations, large and small.”

    All this was what Orsi, a businessmen who seems to have been trapped between the devil and the deeply polluted political sea, was confiding to investigators, according to press reports. His lawyer yesterday acknowledged that Orsi’s company paid E. 15,000 monthly for four years for “protection.” Because bullets had been fired at Orsi’s home in late March as a warning, an investigation into the police failure to provide adequate protection has been opened even though Orsi himself said, in an interview, “I am not a pentito, I have nothing to repent.” Investigators confirmed that in the strictest sense he was not, but that he had contributed valuable information to investigators.

    Just two days before Orsi’s murder a 25-year-old woman, whose aunt had turned state’s witness, was shot but not killed. But in a series of presumably related murders over the past two months, the relatives of two other businessmen cooperating with the authorities have been eliminated in what are called here "transversal killings." Interviewed yesterday by RAI TV, journalist Roberto Saviano said that, “It’s nearing the end of the Spartacus trial, and this is behind the Casalesi raising the stakes….Orsi was killed because he was talking about the relationship between the clan and the Casalesi.” This trial, “inexplicably ignored by the Italian media,” is the equivalent of the Maxi-trial in Palermo, he added.

    Saviano should know, and the murder of Orsi appeared an uncomfortable case of life imitating art. The way Orsi was attracted to the café where killers were in wait appears borrowed from a key incident in the hit movie Gomorra, which won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival last month. Directed by Matteo Garrrone, this stunning movie, which together with Il Divo, literally relaunches Italian cinema, was based on the book of the same name by Saviano, the heroic young Neapolitan reporter who will spend the next few decades, if he is lucky, continuing to live under police protection.

    Saviano’s book and Garrone’s film are dramatic testimonials to the dumping of illegal waste, which experts here believe earns the Camorra, or Gamorra, in local dialect, an estimated $3.5 billion annually. At least half a million tons of rubbish slip “under the carpet” every year, in the words of the new high commissioner on rubbish Guido Bertolaso, speaking one year ago.

    The movie is currently on view in 23 movie houses in Rome alone while the book, translated into 24 languages, has sold three million copies. This is welcome news, for it pits the skills of a young director and young writer (Saviano is 28) against the relative indifference of the outside world, which delights in the photos of the rubbish pile-up, but skimps on reporting and analysis. By contrast, the fact that the heroin processed in Sicily ended up on the streets of New York and Paris attracted worldwide media and governmental attention; Time magazine alone dispatched a photographer and two reporters, including myself, to cover the so-called Maxi-trial conviction of 360 Sicilian Mafia mobsters in December, 1987.

    This indifference has changed, thanks to Saviano, who has however become the Salmon Rushdie of Italy—indeed, at a writer’s conference in New York last month the two men met and compared notes. Exactly like Rushdie, Saviano lives under permanent threat and permanent protection, and at the Cannes Film Festival, where Saviano arrived as a celebrity, he was unable, for his own protection, to make a public entrance.He had hoped to buy an apartment in Naples, but the condominium rejected his application; subsequently other Neapolitans wrote him a letter offering him hospitality, however.

  • Facts & Stories

    Garbage, Gypsies, "Gamorra", Girls and Gays: Waiting for Mr. Berlusconi

    NAPLES -  Not since the 1970’s and the Years of Lead has Italian society been confronted with such an onslaught of problems, all at the same time, and all on ghastly display here in Naples, where neo-Premier Silvio Berlusoni and his ministers will hold their very first cabinet meeting Wednesday.

    Will the cabinet see any of these problems and, if so, will they care to look? Berlusconi will fly in and then be whisked through downtown Naples to the Prefettura building, which houses the chief of police. To make sure he can actually get there, rubbish collectors worked feverishly through blustery storms and heavy rain today, to clear a way through the garbage pile-ups. The point was less to spare the Premier and his ministers the unsightly mess that is Naples these days than to ensure that the official cortege can pass on the roads. The heavy rain helped by putting out the multitude of garbage fires set by angry citizens, who have been throwing stones at the firemen who plough through the garbage-strewn streets to try to put out these fires, dangerous because they release dioxin into the air.

    I would have liked Mr. Berlusconi to have been bundled into a car riding on the Vesuvius road yesterday, where other irate citizens had, like the French at the Bastille, built a mountainous roadblock to draw attention to their plight, but made of garbage rather than sticks and paving stones. Or perhaps Mr. Berlusconi could have walked a couple of miles with me around the outlying town of Castellamare di Stabia. Every 15 or so yards garbage of all kinds was piled up to eye level, and fear of rats together with the noxious stink of both ripe and burning rubbish—undifferentiated medicine containers, plastic bottles, used diapers, tin cans, household waste—obliged walking in the streets, at risk of being run down. The financial loss to the Neapolitan tourism industry is horrendous, with hotel cancellations the order of the day. Health concerns are growing, with doctors issuing warnings, and the U.S. officials tracking an unusual rise in illness among American military based here.

    To be helpful, today’s Il Mattino, a Neapolitan daily, offers hints to help the public deal with today’s 5,000 tons of piled-up rubbish:

    -    Children are not to play in the streets and should wash hands and remove their shoes upon entering their homes.
    -    Pregnant women are to take special care as the dioxin released from the burning rubbish piles can cause deformed foetuses.
    -    The elderly, who are unsteady on their feet, would do well to stay home altogether so as not to slip.

    In addition, a call center has been created.
    What has not been created is a solution to the problem, nor is anyone teaching the Neapolitans how to reduce the amount of garbage they produce daily. Everyone is blaming everyone else, and the Neapolitan mayor Rosa Russo Jervolino is on record saying, “I will do anything I can to help except to be a scapegoat.” She has hinted that one planned toxic waste disposal plant is being sabotaged by investors wanting to construct a vast apartment building complex on that very site, which is all too possible.

    After garbage comes the no less tractable problem of the gypsies, or Roma people, as they are correctly known. The influx of Romanian-born Roma has brought an upsurge of pitiful child beggars, violent rapes and household thefts attributed to Roma. Yesterday in Naples a European Union inspector toured a Roma (gypsy) camp, which she described as worse than any seen in Albania. The situation was aggravated in Naples after a 16-year-old girl broke into a Neapolitan apartment building and apparently tried to make off with a baby, perhaps to ask a ransom payment. The young Roma was nearly lynched, and her fellow Roma, blamed collectively, now live in terror of self-appointed punishment squads who continue with fire bombings and other harassments of those living in the Roma camps. Even in Rome itself, frightened Roma have organized night vigilantes squads to watch for fire bombers.

    After garbage and gypsies comes problem number three, the Gamorra, as everyone now calls it since publication of Roberto Saviano’s book on the Camorra. The Camorra-style murders continue, and yesterday an industrialist who presumably declined to pay the pizzo (protection) was gunned down. TV security cameras installed at considerable expense might have shown the killers, but had never been switched on; whether by ineptitude or by intention is unknown. Saviano lives under permanent police escort, thanks to writing a best-seller translated into 42 languages and, now, a film acclaimed at Cannes.

    Let’s turn the clock back just two years to the family-friendly government of Romano Prodi, then in Berlusconi’s shoes as neo-Premier. Prodi represented a heterodox Center-left coalition ranging from Roman Catholics to reborn Communists, and his listing the ying-yang of future government projects included these: a family-geared tax policy, but at the same time legal recognition of gay partnerships;  tax breaks for young couples trying to buy a home, but at the same time fiscal responsibility and the shoring up of Italy’s indebtedness. Oh, yes, and there was the doubling of the number of day-care centers for the very young.

    Looking back, such a modest program seems a pipe dream, all cuddly and comfy—a lost reverie, akin to Mr. Blandings getting his dream house. As we know, Prodi and these modest plans, which totally ignored the gigantic problems looming ahead, were wiped out in less than twenty-four months by what Umberto Eco laconically called “friendly fire” from his sniper-allies.

    Further to the Camorra front, a rather striking woman has been arrested in the Secondigliano quarter in Naples by alert police, who noticed that, hanging on a wash line of an apartment balcony was attractive girlie lingerie. Checking housing titles, they discovered the flat belonged to an old geezer: what was that fancy lingerie doing on his wash line?  And indeed further in-depth investigation revealed that Ms. Fortuna Liguori was in that flat, consorting with and cooking for a notorious boss named Paolo Di Lauro, implicated in a battle between his own Di Lauro clan and a splinter group whose vendetta killings left 56 corpses.

    Funny as it all is, there is nothing, but nothing, funny about this situation.

    Our fourth reality check continues with girls. The new cabinet includes four young ladies, so to speak, including three who are particularly fetching and one with—as the boys down at Remo’s Café put it when the workmen and cops gathered around their photo—unfortunate thighs. “Chick mins,” these lady ministers are being called, and on the day his government sought its first vote of confidence Berlusconi sent one pretty lass a note saying that, if she had a date (“appuntamento galante,” was his arch term), she had his permission not to hang around just for a silly old vote of confidence. So much for respect for the institutions of government.

    Yesterday one of these same chick mins, the prettiest, Mara Carfagna, Minister for Equal Opportunity, made a major pronouncement on the issue of the annual gay pride parade in Rome. This has been one big bone of contention (no pun intended) because Rome’s new mayor Gianni Alemanno had announced that he wanted no show-off, boisterous, unseemly, colorful parade. Yesterday Carfagna chimed in finally, saying that the parade was not  even necessary since there is no discrimination against gays.

    If the most photographed and most reported new minister says it’s true, it just may be. But there may be room for doubt.

  • Facts & Stories

    Aldo Moro Anniversary: Between Memory and Art

    ROME - The wooden box in the photograph, with a light inside and an open door, is an art installation--a political art work, explains the artist, 30-year-old Francesco Arena, born in Brindisi. Arena has reconstructed the prison cell on Via Montalcino where Aldo Moro was hidden in Rome for 55 days, or until his murder thirty years ago. The room is accurate down to the exact size and interior decor, with gray linoleum on the floor and a plywood divider creating two claustrophobic cells. Inside also are a chemical toilet and toilet paper, pen and a ream of paper, a bottle of mineral water, a fan, a tiny bed, a little table.


    The disquieting installation is on view in a chic new Roman art gallery on Via Somalia owned by the Nomas Foundation, set up by an art collector couple, Stefano Sciarretta, 47, and his wife Raffaella Frascarelli, 43. In the installation, called "3.24 sq. m.", "the spectator is always an accomplice," writes critic Stefano Chiodi.


    Arena's container evokes the myriad mysteries still surrounding this whole event, whose full workings are only now being understood. Moro was en route just 30 years ago today to Parliament for the swearing-in of his new government, which was tugging the old Communist party into respectability, meaning further away from Moscow control and at the same time tugging Italy's Catholic party, the Christian Democrats (DC), away from the early postwar era of Catholic Church and U.S. hegemony, including financial funding. Moro's new government would have confirmed for Italy that political shift already visible in the legalization of divorce and the adoption of a "workers' bill of rights" (Statuto dei lavoratori).


    The political maneuver, sponsored by Moro and by the Communist party leader Enrico Berlinguer, was opposed by many conservatives in Italy. It also made both the Soviet Union and Italy's NATO partners, beginning with the U.S., exeedingly nervous. As an American diplomat told me at the time, "If we lose our naval base at Naples, we have nowhere to go in the Mediterranean but back to the US coast."


    May 9 this year ijas been dedicated to the memories of all victims of terrorism. However, magistrate Guido Salvini wrote in an article published today, "The day should record both moments of reconciliation and a commitment to the truth, but where there have been half- or fuzzy truths, reconciliation is not possible." Giovanni Pellegrino, the former president of the Commissione Stragi, the Parliamentary commission investigating the various terrorism attacks, is now calling for an independent 'Truth Commission" to include not only of members of Parliament but also judges, historians and others in an attempt to make a full reconstruction of the difficult past--that past evoked in the reconstructed prison cell in the photo.


  • Facts & Stories

    Aldo Moro Anniversary: Time To Tell the Truth

    ROME - Bologna, April 2, 1978, a gray Sunday afternoon in a country house near Bologna. A dozen friends, mostly professors and their wives, had just enjoyed lunch, but rain had set in, and with it, tedium. As children play in the background the grownups’ talk turned to the missing Aldo Moro. The president of the Christian Democratic party had been kidnapped 17 days previously by Red Brigades, among whom was one highly skilled marksman who efficiently dispatched five bodyguards in two cars. Untouched by gunfire, thanks to this marksman’s skill, Moro was spirited away. Now all Italy was asking where he was being kept.

    Seated before a Ouija Board the group began four hours of contacts with the spirit world. These spirits were politically progressive, for they included—so said the players—the late founder of Moro’s own party, Don Luigi Sturzo, and the late reformist Catholic mayor of Florence, Giorgio La Pirra. Eventually the Ouija spat out the word “Gradoli” and the numbers 6 and 11. Gradoli, the group excitedly reasoned—maybe that is where Moro is being held.

    Francesco Cossiga, the Interior Minister chairing the government’s ad hoc Crisis Committee, was informed of the séance via its participant Romano Prodi, today the acting premier. Cossiga ordered 450 military to search the town of Gradoli north of Rome, but to no avail. Moro was never found until his body was dumped on a street in downtown Rome just thirty years ago this May 9.

    Official documents of the fishy séance appear in the appendix of Doveva Morire (He had to Die), by judge Ferdinando Imposimato, the investigating magistrate who wrote the first indictments for the trial of the Red Brigades convicted for the murder of Moro and his bodyguards,  and veteran journalist Sandro Provvisionato. The book is the most important of a spate of new publications and films timed to coincide with the anniversary of Moro’s death in 1978.

    A new docudrama called La Verità Negata (Truth Denied) similarly challenges the official versions that have survived for three decades, however shabby. A miniscule example: as film writer/director Carlo Infanti points out that, whereas twelve people had testified about the rainy day séance, it had not even rained in or near Bologna that day. “I checked with the aeronautics weather office,” Infanti said at a press conference.

    Some believe in séances, of course. Market research for future programming on Britain’s Living TV showed that, of 1,000 people interviewed, 67% claimed belief in paranormal phenomena, but these believers tended to be adolescents and youth influenced by reading Harry Potter and his ilk. Indeed, in the West Midlands 78% admitted believing in psychic powers.

    One hundred percent of the members of the Aldo Moro Crisis Committee, meeting in the Interior Ministry in Rome, chose to believe. Acting on the tip from the dearly departed in Bologna, they dispatched 450 military to the little medieval town of Gradoli north of Rome. TV newscasts showed the town being searched stem to stern, even though Gradoli authorities interviewed on camera by Infanti say their town was never ransacked. “I guess some soldiers poked around a few abandoned farmhouses,” said the deputy mayor, speaking to camera. The massive door-to-door search shown in the newscast (presumably stock footage) and reported in just two newspapers seems never to have taken place.

    Above all, no Red Brigades den was found.     

    Meanwhile, Aldo Moro’s wife Eleonora was asking if perhaps a Via Gradoli was intended. Interior Minister Francesco Cossiga, chairman of the Crisis Committee, responded that, no, there was no such street.

    And so there was no contact with the farther shores of reason via a Ouija Board, no rain, not much of a search, and supposedly no Via Gradoli. What was going on?

    But there was a Via Gradoli, off Via Cassia in a quiet North Rome neighborhood, where numerous apartments owned by the secret services were used as safe houses by Italian and foreign secret agents; indeed this reporter knew two foreign agents living nearby. Residing under a fake name at Via Gradoli 96, apartment 11, was Mario Moretti, considered the top leader of the Brigades. Moretti traveled almost daily to interrogate Moro. If spotted, he could have been tailed to Moro’s prison.

    But he was not spotted even though, on March 18, two weeks before the search of Gradoli township, a busybody neighbor had informed police of three people lingering suspiciously outside number 69 “as if checking who came in and who came out.” Another tenant told police of peculiar noises from Apartment 11, like the tapping of a Morse code; the police report on this disappeared.

    When it became impossible to continue to deny there was a Via Gradoli 69, police were told to search every apartment. They did not search Number 11, however, on grounds that no one had answered the doorbell and that the neighbors had all vouched for the inhabitant, a claim some of the neighbors deny.  In this way the apartment remained undisturbed for two more weeks, or until firemen were called because water was leaking downstairs from Apartment 11. Breaking open the apartment at last, police found a flexible shower nozzle placed on a toilet brush stand, with water directed at a crack in a wall. In the hideout were 1,000 items of incriminating evidence, including the airline uniforms the killers wore during the kidnapping.

    In a questionable decision by police, TV news crews were summoned to film the break-in. Predictably their presence drew crowds. Brigades chief Moretti, returning home on his motorbike, saw the crowds and whizzed away. So was the phony search and the Ouija Board a charade intended to save Moro, or to tip off those living in Number 11 at Via Gradoli 69?

    That is only one of many unanswered questions. Here’s another: in their search of the kidnapping site on Via Fani, police counted 93 bullet casings, of which 49 fired from a single machine gun, presumably that of the man eye witnesses described as highly professional. This marksman slaughtered five bodyguards while leaving Moro himself without a scratch. His skills were a far cry from those of the improvised gunmen of the Red Brigades, four of  whose weapons failed to function, according to trial testimony. Was this professional gunman was even a “Red Brigade?” Even the number of gunmen on the scene ranges from nine to twelve, with missing identities.

    Attending the presentation of scenes from the forthcoming documentary (not the same as the new Channel 5 movie) was Maria Fida Moro. The late statesman’s eldest daughter, now 60,  is among those detecting a connection between her father’s kidnapping and that of  the son of Socialist party leader Francesco De Martino, whose policies of seeking a rapprochement with the PCI were similar to Moro’s. Young Guido De Martino was eventually released upon payment of a handsome ransom sum that created a political scandal. The political life of De Martino—until that moment tipped as Italian president—was at an abrupt end. “My father was very distressed at the De Martino kidnapping,” said Maria Fida Moro. “It worried him.”

    Others agree. “The De Martino kidnapping was definitely a trial run for the Moro kidnapping,” a judge with long experience in Red Brigades terrorism told me.

    Mario Moretti continued to inhabit the Via Gradoli apartment for fourteen days after the widely publicized search of the town, even as every secret service in the West was supposedly searching for Moro, and even as its name and even the apartment number had been revealed in the “séance” or, more probably, by a certain lawyer in Rome—not Bologna— with whom the then Professor Prodi had business dealings. The lawyer, whose name is known, owned an apartment on Via Gradoli.

    The Parliamentary Commission investigating the Moro affair says that it is a not uncommon secret service convention to protect sources by alleging contacts with the spirit world.

    If there was scheming and skullduggery, if Ouija Boards do not communicate between the living and the dead, who was behind Moro’s death? Two entirely opposing theories co-exist today.

    The first is that the sponsor was the supposedly renegade P2 Masonic Lodge backed by operatives (including outside Italy) of Operation Stay Behind. This version leads to the West.

    The second leads the opposite direction, to East European agents acting for the Soviets. In this view, Aldo Moro’s mild opening to the Italian Communists risked luring them further away from the USSR than they already were, and, if Moscow had lost all control over the strongest party in the West, other parties might follow the Italians’ lead. And indeed an infiltrated source traced back to the Stasi of East Germany, presumably through the Red Brigades’ contacts with the German Red Army Faction (RAF), allegedly also slipped the name “Gradoli” to Rome, according to Imposimato.

    Already PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer had declared independence from Moscow, and the prestigious party leader Giancarlo Pajetta had been barred from addressing, as usual, the Communist party congress in Moscow and was sent instead to speak in a gymnasium in an outlying suburb. In addition, an attempt seems to have been made on Berlinguer’s life in 1974 while he was in Bulgaria and covered up until the 1990’s.

    Thirty years have now gone by, and it is time for the participants, including Acting Premier Prodi, the members of the Crisis Committee (they included a young American psychiatrist), the Red Brigades themselves, and the surviving leaders of the Italian Communist party to tell the truth—the whole grownup truth. For, as Moro’s daughter Maria Fida Moro, 60, said, her father’s death was the equivalent of a coup d’état. The full story is waiting to be told.

  • Facts & Stories

    Rome Turns Right

    ROME – Last Sunday and Monday 5.8 million Italians were asked to return to the polls for a second time this month for a run-off among candidates for mayor and administrators in 44 townships and five provinces. Rome was the toughest battleground, where the vote was being viewed as a litmus test of the relative strengths of the two main parties that slogged it out at the polls two weeks ago, Silvio Berlusconi’s victorious Popolo della Libertà, or People’s Liberty party (PDL), and Walter Veltroni’s moderately progressive Democratic party (PD). And in the end, Berlusconi's candidate won, by 53.7% to 46.3%.

    For the past fifteen years Rome has had a center-left government, headed alternately by Francesco Rutelli and Veltroni himself. Especially during the past three years the citizens’ tolerance has been sorely tried by Rom squatter camps, slow and jam-packed public transport, filthy and dangerous commuter train stations, immigrant hawkers and beggars blocking sidewalks, graffiti-sprayed buildings, drunken violence in the downtown historic center by night, and garbage-strewing hordes of tourists by day. Streets in the center are still hand swept daily; shopkeepers literally scrub sidewalks, and cleanup crews wash building walls, but old hands revisiting Rome are shocked at the sheer extent of  il degrado, the degradation of this unique and uniquely beautiful city with its heritage of history, religion and art.

    In addition, in past weeks an unaccustomed crescendo of violence attributed to untrammeled immigration—rapes, murders, drunk drivers who kill children and the elderly—has given the Rome campaign a raw edge, heightened by the success of the anti-immigrant Northern League two weeks ago.

    With this as the background, the PD candidate was the acting Culture Minister (and former mayor) Rutelli, who faced off against Gianni Alemanno, representing the Berlusconi alliance. Two weeks ago Rutelli won almost 46% of the vote in Rome as compared with Alemanno’s under 41%, but the positions were reversed when all the votes were counted in the runoff in what was considered an upset victory for the right.

    The Rome result was also a personal victory for Gianfranco Fini, the  former neo-fascist youth leader and head of the modernized "post-fascist" former Alleanza Nazionale (now merged with Berlusconi's PDL), who had turned out personally to campaign for Alemanno.

    Challenging immigrant hawkers in one of Rome’s outdoor markets this week, Fini asked to see their work permits. When those he questioned proved to have their papers in order, and chummily photographed him with their cell phones, Fini grumbled, “They probably bought their papers.”

    Fini himself has been a nudging hawker. On April 14-15 Umberto Bossi’s Northern League walked off with 8.4% of the vote and hence has more clout with Berlusconi than does Fini himself. Alemanno's victory in Rome bolsters the otherwise overshadowed Fini.

    Bossi and Fini  represent diametrically opposed constituencies. Bossi is usually described simplistically as “anti-immigrant,” but today his party has moved from its early rustic populism toward a more sophisticated brand of federalism, especially fiscal federalism, code words for keeping tax money in the regions where levied. If enacted, public funds would less likely flow from the full-employment North down to the troubled Italian South—but that South, and especially the Campania Region around Naples and the Puglie on the Eastern Coast of the peninsula, is just where Fini’s movement is strongest, and also where Fini also risks challenge by the vestiges of the far right associated with the otherwise lame group around Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Duce.

    Meanwhile, the right's victory in Rome has some quite fearful. Last night as we walked by the Capitoline Hill, where the mayor has offices and the city council meets, supporters of the Alleanza Nazionale faction of Berlusconi's outfit were feting their victory. Among them was a group of young thuggish far rightists raising arms in Fascist-style salutes and yelling, "Duce, Duce!" as the middle-class Berlusconi backers hushed them and said, "One mustn't do that, the TV cameras are watching." The mood among the losers here is apprehensive. There is also fear in the gay community that there will be bashings to come, fear among the law-abiding immigrants of a harsh clamp-down, and fear in the Jewish community that the Nazi deportation of a thousand Romans will be forgotten or worse. Sign of the new times: on Sunday night a plaque to Auschwitz victims was hacked out of a wall in an Eastern Rome suburb.


    This article is an abridged version of a longer piece that appeared on DIRELAND



  • Facts & Stories

    Italy's Shifting Political Balance

    ROME – The stunning losses of the far left, which ran three parties together as the Sinistra Arcobaleno, are being minutely analyzed. These three included the Verdi (the Green party) of Pecoraro Scannio, which achieved nothing but to “file themselves into the archives,” to borrow a friend’s phrase. Pollsters including Consortium, which works for both RAI and Sky, say that the Verdi dropped 75% of their previous electorate, or three out of four. The toxic waste dumps of Naples should have given them a hand, but that protest vote went elsewhere, and especially to Di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori.

    The second in the Arcobaleno trio was Oliviero Diliberto’s Partito dei Comunisti Italiani (PdCI), which lost eight out of ten who had voted for that party only two years ago. Finally, Fausto Bertinotti’s Rifondazione Comunista lost six out of the ten who voted for it in 2008. This decimation showing an out-of-touch and dated far left may be useful, for it paves the way for the growth of a unified moderate left, as commentators like Corrado Augias point out.

    Meantime, the winners are jockeying for position. Pierferdinando Casini’s Unione di Centro, with nearly 6%, is remaining for the moment outside the fray, promising “constructive” help to the government even as he is being actively courted by left, right and center. Although at the outset strong Catholic Church interference was predicted, in point of fact Casini’s  was the closest to a Catholic campaign save for the complete flop by the abortion list run by the ever polemical journalist Giovanni Ferrara. For a future government that 6% may be decisive, but otherwise it suggests that the specific Catholic vote is no longer a factor in Italian politics.

    In the city of Romeo and Juliet at least one out of four voters opted for “il Caroccio,” the Big Cart, as the Northern League is called by its aficionados. The strong showing by Umberto Bossi’s party (8.4% in the Chamber), which is expected to field four ministers, has made Verona its capital and the capital of a certain type of protest vote. This is full employment Italy—wealthy, tidy, hard working. But as a Verona workman who voted the Bossi ticket said, “There are too many foreigners in town who steal and don’t work.” The guessing then is that Bossi stole votes from both blue collar workers and from Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà. As a Berlusconi party official acknowledged, “We should have campaigned more like Bossi. The voters just don’t see us as representing them.”

    Among the various local governments holding elections, Rome’s will require a run-off later this month for mayor between the two front-running candidates, Franceso Rutelli of the new Democratic Party and Giovanni Alemanno of the Popolo della Libertà. At the moment his 45.8% of the vote puts Rutelli is handily in the lead over Alemanno, with 40.7%, but no one is taking victory for granted, and Rutelli, hoping for a second round as mayor, is planning on a door-to-door campaign.

    Rutelli, who served as Culture Minister in Romano Prodi’s two-year government, has won kudos for his successful prosecution of foreign museums and private collectors worldwide who had purchased looted Italian antiquities. Whoever wins in Rome will face a mountain of other problems, however, from the graffiti smeared on walls to toxic waste problems (Naples is not alone) and the resettlement and, one  might hope, integration of the thousands upon thousands of Rom living in desperate conditions in illegal camps.

    As a financial footnote addressed to those interested in the public financing of political parties, the eight which won more than one percent of  the vote will automatically receive a reimbursement for their election expenditures, to the tune of 407 million Euros, or over $600 million. All told there were 47,295,978 voters for the Chamber and 43,257,208 for the Senate.

  • Facts & Stories

    The End of Ideology?

    ROME – “This is the end of ideology,” was one editor’s rushed comment, in tones of both nostalgia and relief, as the results of Italian general elections came flooding in Monday night. In some ways he was right. This election was mostly about pragmatic issues and personalities, not ideas, and down at Remo’s coffee bar in Rome frequented by workmen, cops, the odd aristocrat, street people, artists and teachers, the line that drew the most applause this morning was, “Hanno detto di lui peste e corna, ma po’ l’hanno votato tutti.” (They said all they could about him, down to calling him cornuto, but then they all voted for him.) No need to explain the “him”—it was Berlusconi, the future premier.

    Walter Veltroni won kudos from the commentators by graciously phoning to concede victory to the man called “Berlusca nostra” (our Berlusca’). Less graciously, Berlusconi declared he’d always known he would win, “whatever the pollsters say” (a gratuitously nasty note since he owned most of the polling companies). He also boasted that his victory proves that he’d actually won in 2006, too, but that results were fiddled. Well, hang on for a rough ride with plenty of picturesque scenery.

    There being no quarrel about who won, that ride is expected to begin around the first of May. It will be all the rougher thanks to the virile 8.4% showing in the Chamber of Deputies of the Northern League. Headed by Umberto Bossi, the League’s anti-immigrant policies and federalist projects can hardly be ignored in the future by Berlusconi and his main ally and lockstep prop, Gianfranco Fini. Only days before the election Berlusconi and Bossi had tangled; the latter said he expected a cabinet slot, the former said not in my backyard. We shall see how that plays out.

    The first and most important statistic is the high turnout of 80.3%, just 3.5% below that of 2006. It is cause for justifiable pride. Few Italians relished being recalled to vote again after only 24 months, but they turned out dutifully, in election days marred by just three events. One man had a heart attack in a polling station, a woman felt sick in another, and in the confusion of being obliged to store their cell phones while voting, people walked away with the wrong mobile phone.

    A few other statistics, limited here to the Chamber of Deputies vote: together Berlusconi’s trio of parties (his own Popolo della Libertà, which combines his old Forza Italia action party with Fini’s post-Fascists); the Northern League; and the tiny faction MPA (1.1%), claimed 46.7% of the vote. This will give the Berlusconi triumvirate 340 deputies in the Chamber. Berlusconi and Fini together this time claimed 37.2%; two years ago the same two claimed 36%, meaning a real increase of over 1.2% of the electorate.

    Pier Ferdinando Casini’s U.D.C., a Catholic-oriented moderately conservative party, will be a player, since it claimed 5.6% of the vote, meaning 34 seats in Parliament.

    The results were a crushing blow for the ideological left of unborn, reborn and refried Communists. Even the popular Fausto Bertinotti bit the dust  and has announced his withdrawal from politics. The trade unionist’s party, Rifondazione Comunista, had claimed no less than 5.8% of the vote just two years ago, and he was elevated to the high profile job of president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the third highest office in the land. This time his party, called the Sinistra Arcobalena, claimed just over 3% of the vote, but will not have a single member of Parliament.

    And indeed the results were more about the losers than the winners. The chatty fattie Giuliano Ferrara, who had campaigned against abortion, basically won no votes and was gloomily criticizing himself. The Socialist party revival flopped. Gone for the moment is any party involving gays; and with them women are put out to the same pasture as were the Greens.

    Another flop: the exit polls, which initially showed Walter Veltroni, leader of the new Partito Democratico, well ahead of Berlusconi’s formation.

    A bright spot was the positive showing on the left of the anti-Mafia, anti-crime political action party headed by former Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando and by Antonio Di Pietra, the prosecutor who spearheaded the anti-corruption trials of the Nineties. Their 4.4% of the vote entitles them to 31 deputies, who are certain to be a thorn in Berlusconi’s side. Campaigning for them was the Neapolitan toxic rubbish scandal.

    That success is part of the larger picture, a fascinating snapshot of Italy today: The election results show a country tired of the old ways and eager for new, but uncertain. They show that some sectors of the country long to emulate Berlusconi’s business success but others are troubled by the obvious presence of crime in business. They show fatigue with the vieux jeu trade unions and Seventies rhetoric but at the same time concern over the hordes of immigrants, who include a criminal component.

    They also show, and perhaps this above all, fear of the future, with Berlusconi—tasteless wise cracks, hair dye, flirtatious ways and all—welcomed as a comforting, reassuring presence.

    The very best election comment came from the stock market in Milan. Cement company shares suddenly rocketed: Berlusconi has promised major public works projects, with all that implies. The road may be rocky, but at least it’s a road to build, or a bridge, and building means work and profits to be spread all around, without examining the beneficiaries too closely.



  • Facts & Stories

    Italy's Elections: Viagra for the Doldrums?

    ROME, April 4, 2008 – Unlike America’s, Italy’s national general election campaign is blissfully short, and so, called barely two months ago, the end approaches with the vote April 13-14. Otherwise, to borrow from our favorite cashmere Communist Fausto Bertinotti, this is the lousiest election campaign in memory.

    The front-runner remains the ultraconservative media magnate and aging roué Silvio Berlusconi (right), once and future premier, who has been on trial for corruption more frequently than most Mafiosi. Even his enemies figure that he will prevail, and this has meant during the campaign that his arrogance has expanded, both shocking and amusing even his most charitable admirers.

    A week ago he boasted that the influential Cardinal Camillo Ruini hopes no one will vote for the new Democratic party of Berlusconi’s opponent, former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni. Truly or otherwise, the sometime political meddler cardinal primly retorted that the Church supported no one. Meantime, the rallies of the sassy fattie Giuliano Ferrara, who is running an anti-abortion list of candidates, are being broken up by police as feminists rally.

    Berlusconi’s allies and advisers, including xenophobic demagogue Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, who is much recovered from the stroke of a few years back, warned Berlusconi to stay off the subject of women, but he could not resist. Ever the feminist, Berlusconi told a group of women last week that they are the bosses “within the walls of the home”, that they are superior to men in having “instincts” (not in reasoning, mind), that he bows to his own women when he is safely near the hearth—and then he ardently hugged a lissome blond admirer, as is his wont.

    Earlier, Berlusconi had advised a young woman, who complained that she could not find a job, to get married, since she was cute, “maybe to one of my sons.” And in Palermo he has just reminded Mafiosi they are not to vote for him, “just as I said last time.” (He scored 58% in Sicily.)

    My favorite election cartoon was on the front cover of a L’Unità satirical insert, otherwise undistinguished. It depicts Berlusconi inside a drugstore handing the pharmacist a prescription: Pharmacist: The usual Viagra for you? Berlusconi: Not just for me – it’s for all of Italy.

    In the cartoonist’s imagination, the best the self-styled Freedom Party (Partito della Libertà, or PDL) can do is to offer, well, self-help for individual indulgence. Like politicians everywhere, Berlusconi tends to say the outrageous one day and explain the next that the media took his words out of context. In any case, what Berlusconi and, with him, the nation may need most in the post-election future will be not Viagra, but a headache powder. For a number of giant headaches are arriving thick and fast.

    The biggest is Alitalia, the debt-ridden flagship airline that is losing one million Euros daily (about $1.4 million). Berlusconi’s undermining of the Prodi government’s plan to have the semi-privatized Alitalia absorbed by Air France is mischievous, not to say downright evil. A condition for the takeover is the sacking of 2,100 employees, a project which the unions noisily oppose, even at risk of the company’s going bankrupt within days, with the loss of all jobs. Berlusconi, the economic libertarian, is playing to and with the unions, for once, and has proposed that a consortium of private businessmen, including his own two sons, just might take over Alitalia in order to save national pride. Shareholders objected, and last week Alitalia stock slumped by 37% in a day. Today, as the Air France takeover may fade, Alitalia stock is virtually worthless, even as air “hostesses”, as the Italian press still calls stewards, were demonstrating against the unions, who are demonstrating, with Berlusconi’s blessing, against the outgoing government of Romano Prodi.

    Should Berlusconi win the elections, he vows to boycott the Air France proposal. This suggests that the incoming government would have to help bail out Alitalia, before it can be sold at a handy discount (to wit, that worthless stock) to Berlusconi’s sons & co.

    So will he win? All the polls concur that Berlusconi remains well ahead, but even here there are problems. Many Italians decline to reply to pollsters, and those willing to answer questions on the phone tend to be older and female—those who already back Berlusconi, that is. This skewing of the polls is aggravated by the fact that pollsters here contact Gianfranco_fini almost only those who still have land line phones, and therefore ignore the youth vote, tipped to favor both Veltroni on the left and Berlusconi’s rival on the right and possible successor, the "post-fascist" Gianfranco Fin.

    Predictions therefore are that, when the real vote is counted in mid-April, Berlusconi will prevail in the Chamber, but face the same sort of narrow win in the Senate which became a stalement that worked against outgoing center-left Premier Prodi.

    Curiously, Berlusconi has similar troubles with his TV networks. On the face of it the Auditel measurements network audiences show he has a huge market share, but behind the TV sets and Fifties programming of men who put on fake boobs as entertainment there’s another story. Berlusconi’s trio of networks especially attract the elderly and intellectually challenged, and these “folks” living on minimal pensions do not buy the products advertised; in advertising terms this is a phony audience. Proof of the advertisers’ canny analysis of the needs of the elder-market, morning radio audiences for RAI, the national network, are treated to a veritable flush of ads offering cures for constipation and Bolshie bladders.

    The biggest headache of all may well be the newly revived Bossi, whose anti-immigration Northern League is likely to hold the parcel of votes crucial to Senate votes. And this just may mean a serious migraine headache for the entire nation. Given such a shortage of political Viagra, experts here are already predicting a frustrated and frustrating new legislature with a brief shelf life.


    (This article first appeared on DIRELAND)



  • Facts & Stories

    Mozzarella Politics, Naples (Italy)

    ROME – For the past month the water buffalo has been on its way to becoming Italy’s very own mad cow, and, with losses of  some $700,000 daily, a costly symbol of all that can go wrong on even the best-managed farm. These are the buffalo that produce the milk that makes the world’s best cheese, mozzarella di bufala, but evidence from tests of hay, milk and cheese samples showed beyond doubt that some herds are grazing on fields contaminated by dioxin that has seeped into the food chain as a result of the illegal dumping and burning of toxic waste. Total sales have dropped by from 40 to 60%, for total losses estimated at over $40 million.

    The resentment in the Campania areas affected, and especially around Caserta north of Naples, is understandably enormous. One sophisticated agribusiness woman, whose impeccable farm is home to 900 water buffalo near Paestum, furiously blamed the press for allegedly inflating the story. Alfonso Pagano, who is a partner in a cheese factory near Aversa, was quoted in the Naples daily Il Mattino Friday protesting, “No product is better controlled that mozzarella. All this talk has brought terrible damage and made us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.”

    Today, the serious boycott threats from Asia and the European Union are being dropped, and it is a safe prediction that mozzarella di bufala will once again be welcome on dinner tables the world over.

    But the problem is neither the press nor ridicule. Testing is still going on extremely slowly, but the evidence is that some buffalo milk contains excessive traces of dioxin. Court orders have blocked milk sales from 83 farms and shut down 29 cheese factories in the Campania, many of them small. Eleven farms were cleared, but testing continues, and until it ends, the farmers, who have lost their income, must find a way to finance buying hay to feed the animals. Other farmers who are not yet under investigation fear putting their animals to range into the fields and are keeping them locked in barns.

    Since earliest times the Campania, with its mineral-rich volcanic soil and mild climate, has been an agricultural wonderland. In the years before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD Pliny the Elder praised the bountiful land for its production of two crops a year of some grains. At some unspecified time during the Middle Ages sea voyagers from today’s Pakistan arrived in boats bringing their buffalo with them. The generosity of the land and the skills of the Neapolitan farmers makes the dioxin scare all the worse, for it compromises other Neapolitan farm products: the other cheeses like ricotta, the lemons in limoncello, the prized wines like Falanghina, the tender artichokes, and premium, hand-dried pastas.     

    But the source of the problem is not the farmer. It is illegal dumping by criminal bands who are in bed with predatory politicians, and this means that the problem is political. Months ago authorities ordered the testing of farms, but for mysterious reasons the tests were not carried out, and no one followed up, which is why the story was broken after dioxin was found after testing exported mozzarellas in Japan. Wealthy Japan was an important client, which began importing buffalo mozzarella only 15 or so years ago; working on a mozzarella story for an American magazine I actually met one enthusiastic early Japanese delegation, which had just joyfully discovered insalata caprese—mozzarella and sliced tomato. Since the Japanese did not normally eat cheese, the successful mozzarella penetration of the tofu market was a coup.

    All this was compromised by the men dumping toxic waste from not only Neapolitan, but North Italian and even North European factories, whose owners turned a blind eye to what was going on in order to rid themselves of an intractable problem.

    Besides clandestine dumps, some legal dumps are also problematic. Two examples: near Eboli a legal dump can be seen, or rather, its cover, an immense and flimsy dark green tarp. As a Neapolitan journalist explained, a rubbish dump permit was issued, and a new road built so that it could be accessed. So much rubbish was brought there daily so that the traffic to the new road was considerable. Within a year the dump was completely filled. It and its new road were abandoned, but still there.

    The second example is a volcanic crater near Pozzuoli. During the Fifties the Senga crater and a side crater on a wooded mountain were legally chosen for use as a rubbish dump even though on a slope inside the crater were vestiges of an ancient building with painted stucco walls dating back to the Roman Empire. Local farmers and residents protested, but the administration ignored them, and a road was built so that trucks could haul the rubbish there. As the years passed neighbors complained of the poisonous fumes emanating from this dump, but no one paid attention. Pigs fed upon the rubbish; the poorest of the poor collected what they could. But eventually the craters were full, and so nearby land ever closer to the famous and historical Campi Flegrei was also taken, until that too was filled, according to a report published in 1986 by the late naturalist Roberto Pane in the magazine Napoli nobilissimo.

    It is fervently to be hoped that something better will come of this than followed the protests of two decades ago—that irate citizens will refuse to elect those politicians who operated hand-in-knuckleduster with the crooks who made their money by selling out the Neapolitan farmers.  



    P.S. Naturally, ten minutes after I sent this in, the Chinese announced a total boycott of mozzarella (which they do not in fact import, but what the heck, you don't like our mercurial toys, we denounce your dioxin mozzarella). It doesn't change the situation: the Chinese - if they tested anything - may have been testing counterfeit mozzarella, a whole 'nother story.