Articles by: Judith Harris

  • Facts & Stories

    Signs of a Slump in Tourism: Curse or Blessing?

    Italy may witness a drop in tourist arrivals this summer, or at least of those tourists who remain a few days and travel by automobile. Reservations for short-term auto rentals have declined.  

    "For us the situation appears delicate," warns Massimiliano Archiapatti, who heads the mobility sector of Aniasa, the national auto rental association. Among the causes, specialists here believe, is the fact that other Mediterranean countries have launched more aggressive tourism promotion campaigns than has Italy. Italy's own political tensions may be scaring some away, as is fear of Brexit among British tourists.

    But whether this is altogether a curse or blessing is debatable. The problem is that the number of tourists who remain several days may be waning, but those who rush in and out in a day or a few hours are on the rise. 


    In 2018, Italy was among the countries most popular for tourists, with 44.4 million international visitors. Of these, the museums, archaeological sites, parks and libraries in what are known as Italy's "cities of art" like Florence attracted 6.6 million foreign visitors, who spent over $176 billion last year. With 27 million visitors, Rome was the single most popular destination, followed by Milan and Venice. 

    All told, in 2017 the tourist industry attracted 113.4 million visitors, who spent some $44 billion, or 5.3% of its gross domestic product, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. (The Bank of Italy estimate for the GDP during the same year was slightly lower, at 2.3%, however.) 


    Who are they? The greatest number of tourists arrive from Germany (almost 60 million last year) followed by French and British, with over 13 million each, and, from the U.S., 12.5 million. For a time after the various terrorist attacks in Europe Chinese tourism slumped, but last year it bounced up again by about 15%. Expect more: Chinese tourism is rising by something like 6% a year across the board in Europe but higher in Italy, by 10%. To date this year ì 3 million Chinese have visited Italy, second only to France as a Chinese preference. Of those arriving, six out of ten are millennials.


    This fails to tell the whole story, however, for with them come new problems. Walk down Rome's main street, the Via del Corso, and you will have to battle your way on the narrow sidewalks through hordes of tourists. In Rome previously there would have been a dozen tourists following a flag-bearing leader, but today there are around 50 in the center.

    The Vatican is also uniquely stressed from overcrowding. With some 40,000 daily visitors in high season, in many of the halls the air conditioners are on the blink, says the SNGT, the 70-year-old union of Vatican tour guides. "Working conditions are absurd and claustrophobic," said a union spokesman. "And the microclimate created by the mass of sweaty people does no good to the works of art." Those having paid $25 a ticket may have up to two hours waiting in line before they can enter. Security checks account for part of the delay. 


    The in-and-out tourism of Venice remains one of Italy's most vexing problems. Venice is the third most polluted port city in Europe and Italy's foremost victim of pollution, thanks to the giant ships that bring in the tourist hordes. In 2018 almost two a day of these multi-layered ships traveled the two miles down the Giudecca Canal, from the Isle of San Giorgio to the wharf at San Marco, to introduce 1.56 million tourists into the narrow Venetian streets. According to Tommaso Cacciari, who heads the committee called "No Grande Navi"  (No Big Ships), "The politicians either push the issue aside or else they can't resolve it. Or else they just don't want to resolve it."


    This week the difficulties presented by chaotic mass tourism are under discussion at a conference in Rome which will see the participation of archaeologist Rita Paris, former director of the Appian Way park area, who accuses the state administration of neglecting this ancient treasure. Italians themselves are tourists, of course, but, from having previously preferred the mountain and seaside resorts, they now tend to flee into the countryside and farm towns.


  • Facts & Stories

    Italy Honors World Refugee Day With Nationwide Events

    June 20 is World Refugee Day, honored this month with a series of diversified and imaginative events taking place throughout Italy. To begin with Rome, the city hosts an exhibition of photographs taken by 15 unaccompanied minors from Albania, Somalia, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Eritrea, and the Philippines.

    Also on offer in Rome, the presentation in a city park of the book "Superman too Was a Refugee," and at the MAXXI Museum a showing of the National Geographic documentary film by famed photographer Massimo Sestini called, "Where are you? Tell me where you are."


    An 18-musician orchestra called the "Orchestra dei Braccianti e Nada" (Orchestra of the Field Workers and Nada") performs in concert at Rome's Villa Ada park. Like this one, many of these events are star-studded: San Remo Festival viewers will recall Nada's 1971 victory there with the pop song "Il Cuore è uno Zingaro" (The heart is a gypsy). Besides an Italian musician, the 17 others in the cosmopolitan orchestra are from the U.S., France, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Libya, Tunisia and India.

    Mimmo Lucano, former mayor of Riace, participates in a pre-concert discussion; it was he who took an abandoned borgo in Reggio Calabria and turned it into a thriving and welcoming home for refugees, who received training there, before he was ousted by authorities. Lucano is currently on trial for presumed illicit management of migrants, and cannot yet return from his forced exile.


    In Siracusa, Sicily, a theatrical performance takes place in the Greek Theater. Also in Sicily, in Catania, 15 local associations of refugees, with support from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), compete in a show called "Refugees Got Talent," with song, dance and poetry performed by refugees who have requested asylum in Italy.

    Meanwhile, in the North, on June 22 for Art Night Venezia, part of at the Venice Biennale, Alessandro Gassmann directs and performs in "Rothko in Lampedusa." Milan offers "IO ero IO" (I was I) at the Franco Parenti Theater, promoted by the city's Philodramatic Academy and other partners.


    Romans enjoyed a special treat June 18 with what its organizers, including the UNHCR, called the "World kitchen confidential," a food festival which incorporated gastronomic stands and a debate in which actress-singer Marisa Laurito was among the star participants.

    Food was also on the menu at Pollenzo, the Piedmontese town of Bra, on June 29 with the refugee project "Food for Inclusion," promoted by the noted local University of Gastronomic Sciences. Not least, the monuments of four historic Italian cities - Bologna, Florence, Turin and Naples - are being illuminated at night with blue lights to remind public opinion of the conditions of the migrants.


    There is no doubt that the number of refugees worldwide is on the rise. At a press conference in Rome June 19, Roland Schilling, regional representative of the UNHCR for South Europe, presented up-to-date statistics about migration. In 2018, he said, the Global Trends Report estimated that 70.8 million individuals were refugees, or half a million more than in 2017. "This is the largest global displacement since World War II, with people searching for safety and protection," he said, speaking at the Foreign Press Association in Rome Wednesday.


    Just 10 years ago, one out of every 160 people in the world was a refugee. Today the numbers are on the rise, with one out of every 108. "There were 2 million more in 2018 than in 2017, and the majority are internally displaced," said Schilling. Only 92,000 currently are in Italy. "Of these, almost two thirds (61%) live in urban settings, such as abandoned factories and the like." The "source countries of displacement" are Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia and Afghanistan, he added.  


    A huge percent of the 70.8 million refugees counted during the past year were women, the UN report showed, while an equally huge number (up to half) were minors, many under the age of five. Another misconception: that the refugees flood into the wealthier nations. In fact, in the wealthiest countries the average of refugees per 1,000 inhabitants is only 2.7. By comparison, in the middle-to-low income countries the median is of 5.8 per 1,000 and, in the poorest nations, almost 30 out of 1,000. A relatively small number, 3.5 million who have left their home countries, are now seeking asylum abroad.


    However, their situations have changed considerably in recent years, and their actual status fails to coincide with some of the anti-refugee propaganda in circulation. Of the over 70 million fleeing from situations of war and violence, the largest single number are those do not leave their home countries - that is, 41.3 million people, or well over half all refugees (known as Internally Displaced People or IDP) were forced to leave their home towns and villages to go, but did not migrate beyond the borders of their homeland, but within it. In 2018 alone that number increased by 500,000 more than in 2017. All told, these refugees include 5.5 million Palestinians.


    In 2018 the greatest single number of asylum requests (341,000) came from Venezuela. The largest single number, or 6.7 million, came from Syria followed by 2.7 million from Afghanistan, 2.3 million from South Sudan, 1.1 million from Myanmar and under 1 million from Somalia. Sad to say, the newcomers arrive more rapidly than those who can return, which are fewer than 3 million last year.


  • Facts & Stories

    Italy's Run-Off Vote For 136 Town Administrations

    National general elections are four years away in theory, but some predict that they may happen as early as this autumn. This makes the final results of the run-off vote for local administrations in cities and towns all over Italy on June 9 - affecting 3.5 million voters in 136 townships - a potential harbinger of things to come, while bearing in mind that voters in urban centers are generally less conservative than those in rural areas.


    Suggesting a certain election weariness, a significantly lower number turned out to vote than in the preliminary election held May 28. All told, participation dropped by a quarter, from a healthy 68.2% to Sunday's 52%. Some historic left-wing administrations fell to the Lega, but in a number of cases voters loyal to the 5-Star Movement (M5S) turned their backs on the Lega to vote for the center-left.

    According to Roberto D'Alimonte and Aldo Papar for the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorale (CISE), a primary characteristic of this vote was the "mobility" of the M5S. The CISE analyists were also struck by the fact that the PD voters did not stay home but turned out to vote.

    In fourteen of the larger cities where the vote was held, center-left and center-right fared surprisingly evenly. A center-left ticket of progressives won in the South, at Avellino, besting the Partito Democratico (PD) candidate by some 600 votes. In seven important northern towns the center-left prevailed: Livorno (Leghorn to the English), Reggio-Emilia, Cesena, Cremona, Prato, Rovigo and Verbania. At Cremona 27% of the Lega voters stayed home by comparison with just 1% of PD voters.

    The center-left win at Livorno was particularly interesting because, after five years of 5 Star Movement administration, fewer than two-thirds of M5S voters (64%) did not bother to vote at all. Of those who did turn out, only 10% chose the rightwing candidate.

    At Rovigo in the Northeast the voters overturned their rightist tradition, electing Edoardo Gaffeo of the PD. For that party's new secretary Nicola Zingaretti these were "wonderful victories, wonderful confirmations" that demonstrate that "a new center-left" exists, an alternative to the Lega of Matteo Salvini, Deputy Premier.


    In northern and central Italy the center-right  prevailed in six cities - Ascoli Piceno, Biella, Ferrara, Forlì, Potenza and Vercelli - and, in the South, Foggia. For Ferrara, the election of mayor Alan Fabbri of the Lega was the first shift to the right for a city with a 70-year tradition of voting for the left, which fell behind by 10%. For neo-Mayor Fabbri, theirs was "an historic victory" and, for Salvini, an "extraordinary result."

    The result for the Movimento Cinque Stelle was even more extraordinary in Campobasso, in the Campania, where the M5S candidate Roberto Gravina claimed over 69% of the vote, compared with the under 31% of his center-right opponent. Similarly, in Forlì, in the Emilia-Romagna, after a half-century of leftist mayors, right-winger Gian Luca Zattini was elected. Vercelli too overturned its leftist tradition. There, however, some 58% of those who had previously chosen the M5S stayed home instead of voting; only one out of four voted Lega while 17% opted for the center-left.


  • Op-Eds

    The EU and Italian Debt: More Tolerance?

    ROME -- On Tuesday morning BBC World Radio, instead of telling us more about the British Queen and the US President visiting the UK, led with the news that Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has just warned his two deputies Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio to stop bickering and get on with governing, as per their original accord just one year ago. Speaking at a press conference Monday, Conte threatened to resign unless the supposed partners show "loyal cooperation" and "honor the government's obligations." Implicitly, his resignation would crumble  the government and precipitate early elections, probably in September.


    Both deputy premiers said that they had no intention of bringing down the government. This is certainly true of Di Maio, who besides his role as deputy premier holds down two cabinet jobs and heads his Movimento Cinque Stelle party (M5S). Di Maio also resists new elections because just one year ago he won twice the votes as did his subsequent governing "partner" and hence twice Di Maio's strength in any Parliamentary vote. But since then their roles have been reversed, with Di Maio polling a mere 17% and Salvini's Lega at least 30%.


    Like Di Maio, Salvini says that he has no intention of ushering in a government collapse and a new national general election even though he would then be stronger in Parliament.  Instead he agreed, at least in theory, to get on with the originally planned reforms. Many of these he is promoting appear radical; imposing a flat tax, cutting pensions for old-agers to provide funding for youth, construction of the TAV tunnel into France, greater autonomy for the regions, a halt to migration, chemical castration for sex offenders, closer ties to Russia, and greater autonomy from Brussels.


    The day after Conte's knuckle-wrapping, a peace of sorts was proclaimed.  In a novelty, Di Maio telephoned Salvini; the two had barely spoken in recent weeks. Now they did, in what Di Maio called a  "serene" climate. Both deputy premiers sent their respective parliamentary chiefs to meet, resulting in agreement over a heretofore hotly argued plan to smooth the bureaucratic route toward infrastructure projects that will, it is hoped, boost the economy.


    And in fact both government, and to some extent the Italian political future, depend upon just that --  the economy. As James Carville said, when working for Bill Clinton, 29 years ago, "It's the economy, stupid." Well, yes. In recent days the spread rose, and the EU Commission threatened a procedure against Italy for its excessive public debt, "a crucial vulnerability," as the EU Commission wrote back in October in a letter to the government. If the EU does take action against Italy, it will be the first time in history that this complex procedure has been applied to a member state of the EU.  


    The EU debt ceiling is 60% of GDP, and in late May Brussels asked Rome to explain why its indebtedness had risen drastically between 2017 and 2018. However, persuaded the government would reduce that debt, punitive measures were postponed. But at this point Italy's is expected to be of 133.7% this year and, in 2020, 135.2%, according to EU Commission forecasts cited in Reuters News Agency. Unless action on the debt is taken, EU funds dry up after the end of June, and in what looms as more serious than the Greek crisis, Italy risks a fine of over $4 billion.


    That fine does not appear inevitable, say some sources. But these risks make Salvini appear torn between maintaining a delicate status quo (the government within a tolerant EU) and jumping the EU boat, with the economic and political risks and benefits this might bring. On the one hand Salvini is trying to unite the Eurosceptic parties, but many of these he is approaching for rightwing unity resist the notion of oversized national debts, like Italy's. According to the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, "When things get tough, many diplomats in Brussels will opt to save the Euro zone. They hold that the survival of the monetary union depends upon respecting the rules and on reciprocal trust." A (presumably) final EU decision on how to deal with the whopping Italian debt is set for July 9.  And Italy just may have to borrow funds at a high price to prop up its economy.

  • Facts & Stories

    In EU Elections Salvini Triumphs, Di Maio Suffers. So Now What?

    ROME -- For once all the Italian media, from left to right, concurred. In Sunday's elections in Italy for the EU Parliament, acknowledged as a test for the Italian government itself, Matteo Salvini's Lega doubled its vote of just one year ago while the vote for his governing partner Luigi Di Maio's Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S)) was literally slashed in half. In a stunning turn-about Deputy Premier Salvini's right-wing party copped 34.4% of the vote by comparison with its 17% in national general elections held just one year ago. By comparison Deputy Premier Di Maio's M5S  slumped from 32.7% to 16.9%.


    At just 56%, the Italian turnout was low, especially when compared with the 85.8% of 1979, the first EU parliamentary election. A surprise was the upsurge of the Partito Democratics (PD), which outpaced the M5S to become Italy's second largest party. Under the guidance of Nicola Zingaretti, the party -- formerly under Matteo Renzi -- won 28% of the vote. As final results arrived Monday, Zingaretti said, "Around the PD we'll build a new left coalition that can contrast the excessive power of the sovereignists... whose nationalist attack is a flop." His goal, he said, is to rebuild a center-left front including the Greens and Emma Bonino's renovated Radical party, +Europa, which won 3%. Unlike in Germany, where the youth vote boosted the Greens into a significant force, Italy's Greens copped only 2.29% of the vote.


    In other results Silvio Berlusoni's Forza Italia won only 8.7%, down 5.3% from just a year ago, while Giorgia Meloni's far right Fratelli d'Italia moved up by 2% to 6.4%. But neither made the headlines. A sampler of those of the most influential dailies:

    . Il Sole 24 Ore (financial daily): M5S collapses; Partito Democratico (PD) outdoes the M5S 22.2% to 18.3%

    . Il Fatto Quotidiano (left-leaning): Salvini commands

    . Corriere della Sera (Milan, moderate): The Lega soars, the PD beats the M5S

    . La Stampa (Turin, moderate): Upside down:  Boom for the Lega, M5S collapses.

    . La Repubblica (Rome, center-left): Black shadows loom

    By "Black shadows," La Repubblica was insinuating that Salvini's Lega casts a storm warning of black, as in neo-fascism. The influential Turin daily La Stampa's subhead, intimating that the hard part for Salvini begins, now warned that, "The Captain in a test for success" (a reference to Salvini's nickname Il Capitano).


    The Lega's political results have ambiguities, however, as was spelled out in a front-page Corriere della Sera editorial by Massimo Franco: "Despite the Lega's terrific success, it seems to indicate an Italy that is perhaps less populist and less sovereignist than predicted." (Sovereignist meaning nationalist and anti-EU). Although Italy offers the European Parliament a "Euroskeptic profile," says Franco, Salvini's embrace of populism appears somewhat "tired," and the notion that Italy may quit the EU seems already "redimensioned."


    In fact, to date Salvini has not, as was widely predicted, indicated his intention to bring down the government, to opt for new elections in September, nor to oust Giuseppe Conte  as premier. For the moment Salvini seems to demand only that the existing government settle down to business and adopt his primary goals: (1) the flat tax for everyone, which he believes will relaunch the economy; (2) the  "security" bill that would block migrants and punish rescuers in Italian waters who try to disembark them in Italian coasts; and (3) passage in September of Italy's budget, under serious attack by the EU commission for the country'a overwhelming debt.


    Premier Conte, who represents the M5S, appeared ambivalent about the future, telling the press, as early results showed the mammoth Lega victory, "I have my own style, I am not going to sit still and let myself be massacred. If we can go forward, great, otherwise I will take draw my conclusions." Already, however, his fellow party member Di Maio had drawn his conclusions. Speaking at a press conference today Di Maio did not appear overly exercised. Asked if he would resign as head of his party as a result of the shellacking taken by the M5S, Di Maio replied that he would not: "We went in together for victory and we still stand together when we don't win." He said he had spoken with both Grillo and the PR guru whose father helped invent the M5S, Davide Casaleggio., "Neither asked me to resign," said Di Maio, who also reiterated the projects his party planned to continue to support.


    The results have international implications. The American Steve Bannon constantly promotes Salvini as the most influential politician in Europe, placing Italy in pole position for a shift to the hard right, an individual  to be emulated even more than Marine Le Pen in France. On that international front just as his party's triumph appeared clear, Salvini appeared on national TV in front of a bookcase which invited, from some, sympathy, and from others, mockery. Close-up's of the bookcase revealed on its shelves a baseball cap showing Donald Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again," and, nearby, a photograph of Vladimir Putin.


    Hard by was a picture of Christ.  While campaigning on nationwide TV Salvini had waved a rosary in his fist and said that the Madonna would help bring him to vistory.. Many commented that his action in the photo, which went viral, was Salvini's bid for the votes of those soured by Pope Francis's position. However, once his victory was in hand, Salvini backstepped, holding up a rosary and giving thanks, not to the Madonna, but to God.  "I thank Him who is up there, Him who does not help Matteo Salvini and the Lega, but helps Italy and Europe to rediscover hope, pride, roots, work, and security. And therefore I never entrusted the Immaculate Heart of Mary to a vote."

    The Italian vote abroad was a fascinating variation on the Italian vote at home. Zingaretti's Partito Democratico won hands down, topping all the others at 32.2%. By comparison, the Lega sagged far behind, with just over 18% while the M5S trailed, with barely 14%. 

    Of particular interest was the relative success of Europa Verde, which attracted one out of every 10 voters, akin to the Greens' presence in Germany. With almost 9%, Emma Bonino's +Europa fared almost as well. Both these votes suggest that Italian youth abroad were in good measure responsible.

    Trailing far behind their positions in Italy itself were Berlusconi's Forza Italia (6%) and Giorgia Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia (2.5%).

  • Facts & Stories

    Tensions Among Partners Soar as EU Elections Approach

    With the approach of the European Union elections May 26, tensions soar between the government partners as each battles to snare votes from the other. Albeit those to be elected will be seated in the European Parliament, election day here is being seen as a purely Italian referendum between the parties of the so-called "yellow-green government."

    This duopoly was formed just one year ago by the 5-Star Movement headed by Luigi Di Maio (the yellows) and by the Lega headed by Matteo Salvini (the greens).  Each of these leaders, respectively Minister of Economic Development, Labor and Social Policies, and Minister of the Interior, or top cop, is deputy premier. Mediating between them (to the extent that he can) since May 23, 2018, is Premier Giuseppe Conte of the Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S).


    The outcome of the May 26 election is obviously uncertain, but few here doubt that Deputy Premier Salvini will walk away with the largest chunk of the vote, besting, among others, Silvio Berlusconi. Traveling throughout Italy by costly goverment airplanes, a smiling Salvini campaigns at rallies taking selfies with his admirers, to the point that his opponents accuse him of not bothering to show up for work at the ministry he heads. This campaign style has been remarkably successful.


    Born as the Lega Nord, under Salvini's management only since December 2014, the party spread throughout Italy, including to a limited extent Sicily. His 12 months in government have been remarkably successful; just one year ago, when that yellow-green government was formed, his party claimed only 17.4% of the national vote. By contrast, Di Maio's M5S won almost double, 33%. That situation has been reversed in the course of one year. Until a few weeks ago, most pollsters gave Salvini up to 35% of the vote and Di Maio, 22% at best.


    Recent pre-election polls show Salvini's popularity shrinking by several percentage points, however. Armando Siri, senator representing the Lega and Undersecretary at the Ministry of Transport, has been a particularly close Salvini ally and until now his primary economic advisor. Accused among other things of corruption involving renewable energy and an alleged giant kickback, Siri was obliged to resign this month. Salvini initially fought to save Siri but eventually caved in, with Di Maio crowing, "On the morality question, [his remaining] would be self-destructive" for Salvini.


    Salvini, only slightly weakened, still leads the pack. In particular, his anti-immigrant campaigns are popular. Fear of migrants continues to rise in Italy to the point that "this is the question of the century...a theme that divides politics and society in our country." Quoting an investigation conducted by the European Security Observatory two years ago, fear of migrants stood at 45%, the highest figure in a decade. Among the causes: the influx of migrants upon the Italian coasts and news reports of violence associated with migrants elsewhere in the EU.


    Today, however, Frontex reports that by 2018 the illegal migration into EU countries had dropped by 25%and is now the lowest in the past five years, and about half of that of 2015. One million refugees flooded into Europe in 2015; by 2018 the figure had shrunk to 116,000, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


    Still, Salvini calls Mediterranean rescue ships "sea taxis," and has proposed a law that would impose a fine of $4,000 - $6,000 for each individual dragged out of the sea. Not everyone is enthusiastic about this: as economist Fabrizio Tonello of the University of Padua points out, this fine is relatively more than spies were given by the Nazis for each Jew denounced. "The SS paid 5,000 lire for every man to be deported to Auschwitz. Does drowning in the sea differ from being left to die in a concentration camp?" Prof. Tonello demands.


    The anti-immigrant attitudes run counter to the teachings of Pope Francis. "Jesus, too, was a refugee," said the Pope on Jan. 16, 2019. On a visit to Bulgaria earlier this month he said, "Today the world of migrants and of refugees is humanity's cross to bear." Not surprisingly, Italian right-wingers criticize the Pope, and, according to the Rome daily Il Tempo last Jan. 18, "Conservatives and sovereignists accuse him of sponsoring uncontrolled immigration in the name of a vague good-feeling or even as a substitute for civilization."


  • Facts & Stories

    In Naples, Camorra Clansmen Shoot Into the Crowds

    Her grandmother was watching four-year-old Noemi at play in the crowded downtown Piazza Nazionale in Naples when a young Camorrista fired at a rival clansman. A stray bullet struck Noemi, penetrating her shoulder and a lung, another injured her grandmother. Despite an emergency operation that took hours, she remains in a coma, and her life at serious risk. In protest at this casual shooting (and at the others before this), hundreds assembled in that very piazza to protest on Sunday, May 5. "DisarmiAmo," said a huge, homemade banner, which translates more or less to Disarm&Love.


    In 2018 Naples and its province were the scene of 21 murders, down from the 35 of the previous year. But shootings in public places between youngsters on scooters from rival Camorra clans continue. In March rivals, quarreling over a proposed marriage which one of the clans disapproved, held a shoot-out heard by the police station at Naples' Piazza Trieste e Trento. On April 9, a Camorrista was shot and killed and his son injured, again by a rival clansman, in front of an elementary school. And on April 19 a former convict was murdered in front of another preschool with the toddlers looking on.


    "The problem of security in Naples is intolerable," said Vincenzo De Luca of the Partito Democratico (PD), governor of the Campania Region. One who agreed was Antonio Piccirillo. The son of a notorious boss, he participated in Sunday's demonstration against the Neapolitan gang world and its casual shootings. Queried by journalists after he spoke to the crowd through a megaphone, Antonio said that, although he will always wish well to his father, who is in prison, he totally rejects the world of the Camorra. "For my father mine will never be total love," he said, "And he knows that, he understands. Indeed he says that only my position gives the errors of his life some sense. I don't want others to go through all this," Antonio adds. "I don't want others to come to the same end as so many have."


    Antonio's attitude is of particular interest. Serious students of the Sicilian Mafia, the Neapolitan Camorra and the Calabrian n'Drangheta believe that, while an increased police presence is useful, as Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement (M5S), immediately requested, and better intelligence is essential, the most important, albeit the most difficult, way to deal with the family traditions of the gang world is to address its cultural roots.


    Neapolitan police say that young gangsters ride around on scooters to shoot their guns in public places in order to show their importance. In fact, although the number of murders attributable to the various criminal organizations in all of Italy is in decline, the presence of those mafia societies is actually on the rise, but in other ways. To quote the national statistics-gathering agency ISTAT, "Homicides decreased strongly since the nineties, especially those with male victims) in 1990 there was one woman killed for 5 men, now the proportion is of 1 woman for every 2 men. This is due to the decrease of mafia and organized crime homicides too (generally men are killed by the mafia)."


    The mafias are simply busy elsewhere, and wherever money is involved. Only the latest political scandal involves a high government official close to Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, head of the Lega. Undersecretary Armando Siri of the Lega is under investigation by Milan prosecutors for alleged corruption and illicit contacts that appear to lead directly into the Sicilian Mafia. Di Maio, who is Salvini's partner in government, has repeatedly demanded Senator Siri's resignation ("if these are the facts," he specifies) because the case "casts a shadow on the government." There is also talk of Siri's "mafia contacts," said Di Maio. Speaking at a political rally in the Campania region near Naples, Salvini responded that, "In a civilized country trials take place in a courtroom, where a judge, not a newspaper, determines guilt."

    European elections are scheduled for May 26 in Italy. Will the daily revelations about political links to the mafias and the widespread corruption scandals that lead into mafia circles have an effect upon these elections? It would be nice, but the answer is that, despite heightened awareness, they most likely will not.    

  • Op-Eds

    May Brings Good News on Jobs and the Economy

    ROME -- Against all predictions, thanks to its export products the Italian economy managed to surge upwards. Albeit by a mere 0.1% in the past 12 months, the hike in the GDP suffices to foster confidence in a future which had, until now, appeared singularly bleak. During the last two quarters of 2018, the GDP had actually shrunk by -0.1%, leading to predictions that Italy was in recession. Offsetting this disappointing showing was, however, growth by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2019.


    Because May 1 is International Workers Day - the Italian equivalent of Labor Day - and celebrates workers, predictions before that national holiday were that there was nothing to fete. But the bearers of sad tidings were surprised at the news. "Italy has returned to growth, demonstrating the value of our economic maneuver," crowed Premier Giuseppe Conte. As headlines in both the mainstream daily Corriere della Sera and the left-leaning La Repubblica daily similarly proclaimed, Italy is no longer in recession.


    "The Italian economy is solid," said Economics Minister Giovanni Tria. ISTAT reports that the improvement in the economy is from across the board: from agriculture, including the fishing industry, manufacturing and services. Although local demand remains modest, this is offset by exports. A bonus is that the official (and reputable) statistics-gathering agency ISTAT, reports that unemployment stands at 10.2%, the lowest figure since 2008, according to Tria. All told six out of ten Italians are employed. Youth unemployment has also improved slightly, down from 30.6 to 30.2%. However high, the figure, which refers to Italians from 14 to 25, is better than any since the year 2011. "The country is taking off again," said Danilo Toninelli, Minister of Transport and Infrastructure.


    The trade unions are at last beginning to take the economic realities into consideration. Until now they have remained locked into their early postwar stance of the CISL union associated with the Christian DemocratIc party and the Communist-dominated union CGIL. This did not change with the demise of both these parties in the Nineties. Apparently hoping for restoration of their former power, these two parties, plus the Socialist UIL, continued as if lifetime positions in factories and offices still existed and were not a thing of the past. Finally, however, Maurizio Landini, General Secretary of the CGIL, has proposed a unitary trade union "freed from the ideological draperies of the 1900s," in the words of reporter Roberto Mania, writing in La Repubblica.


    Landini brings a breath of fresh air to the Italian union world. Italy is still struggling with its consolidated history of lifetime positions, but today these are ever more part of that antique world. Among his first moves after replacing Susanna Camusso as CGIL head was to meet with so-called "precari" (workers without solid contracts) in Naples. These include delivery workers (pizzas included) as well as temporary workers on farms. Elected head of the CGIL on January 24 this year, Landini was asked when he thought unification of the unions could come about. His reply: "I think the time is now. Our being divided into three unions was a reflection of the opposing political blocs of the past century - an antique world." Some hard-line opposition within the big two parties is expected, however.


    Born in 1961, Landini was obliged to give up studies at age 15 to help his family by beginning work as an apprentice solderer in Reggio Emilia. Later he worked at Fiat Mirafiori plant, where he was head of a union in conflict with Sergio Marchionne. Press reports say that, again as a top union official, for years he fought for protection of the environment and health of the nearly 15,000 factory workers at the former ILVA, the notoriously polluted steel works at Taranto, known for its record number of tumors, many associated with asbestos.


  • Facts & Stories

    The Political Dimension of Facebook and Firearms

    The Easter holiday is normally a time to speak of peace, but not at the Roman party we attended. Matteo Salvini, who is Italy's Interior Minister, Deputy Premier and the head of the rightist Lega party, had just appeared in a Facebook photo embracing a machine gun, and few spoke of anything else. "He's right," enthused (now former friend) Maria over dessert. As the rest of us looked on blankly over strawberries and cream, she smiled. "When I was a little girl we didn't need anything similar, but times have changed. Today having a gun is a necessity."


    As this indicates, Facebook in Italy is as much a political power tool as anywhere else. What struck many was that Salvini himself did not post the photo, though some reports claimed he did. It seems that it was his clever spin doctor, Luca Morisi, 46, who is described as the "man behind Salvini's social network." When Salvini was criticized for clutching the gun, Morisi responded that the critics "are doing everything they can to cast mud" on the Lega. "We are approaching the European elections, and they are inventing all they can to stop the Captain [Salvini]. But we are armed and wearing helmets!" wrote Morisi in his own Facebook site.


    Morisi is considered by many to be the brains behind Salvini's victory at the elections. Until four years ago Morisi taught courses at the University of Verona in such subjects as "The Web Sites of Philosophy" and the "Philosophy Laboratory of Informatics." Born in Mantua, he edited a regular weekly page on informatics for its local daily "La Voce di Mantova". Morisi had been a Lega Nord provincial counselor from 1993 to 1997. He says that his relationship with Salvini came about because of Facebook: "I had a kind of falling in love," he told Milan journalist Matteo Pucciarelli, "due to my realizing his enormous capacity to manage a talk show. I recall that Salvini was the first ever seen with an iPad on [the TV show of] Bruno Vespa, and this made me curious since I am passionately interested in communication." Salvini, Morisi went on to say, "mixes the dimension of the private and of amusement with the political, that is his anti-political strength. He pays no heed to palazzo ritual."


    Joining Salvini's staff, Morisi set out to use social media to promote the man he dubbed "Il Capitano." His Facebook postings for Salvini included a competition to see how many "mi piace" (likes) the Captain's supporters could churn up. From 2 million prior to the national general elections last year Morisi almost doubled the post-election likes, which soared up to 3.5 million. Offered as the prize for the supporters who invoked the largest number of "likes" was the chance to enjoy "private phone conversations and meetings" and even photos with Salvini, that would naturally be posted on Facebook. Facebook shots of Salvini with admirers in cheering selfie crushes are routine. Morisi himself now has over 13,000 Twitter followers and 24,000 on Facebook, according to the financial daily Il Sole-24 Ore.  


    Promoting easier gun laws has a long history. Founder of the Northern League, the local party that Salvini transformed into the nationwide Lega, which is now Italy's largest single political organization, was the largely disgraced Umberto Bossi. A decade ago Bossi called for "300,000 armed people in the valleys of Bergamo." Until recently, however, Italians save for hunters were not usually armed for self-protection. But as CBS News reported March 16, "Analysts say a growing sense of insecurity... are bringing a shift in Italy's gun laws."  In fact, last September new and less restrictive legislation was passed, making gun purchases easier. Gun owners can now possess up to 10 long firearms (double the previous five) and in the clip 29 short firearms bullets. Ownership of a gun license requires only reporting it directly to Carabinieri or police by certified email.


    In summer 2018 Salvini publicly supported the Italian gun lobby, already backed by fellow European gun lobbies. Albeit far less powerful than the NRA in the U.S., one of the most prominent of the European gun lobbies is FACE (European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation), with 11 full-time lobbyists and a $1.2 million annual budget, according to the EU transparency registry. Meantime the EU is attempting to make gun laws, including over semi-automatic firearms, more restrictive in Europe.  


    Terror attacks as in Belgium and France are not the sole reason behind EU proposals for tougher gun laws, said an EU Commission spokesperson. "We cannot ignore that legal firearms have been used in other tragic events where children were killed in a school or young people massacred in a holiday camp. This directive is not about terrorism, but about firearms and public security." But FACE is battling this.


  • Art & Culture

    Italy Celebrates Leonardo Da Vinci 500 Years From His Death

    ROME -- During the last three years of his life, Leonardo Da Vinci served as the "foremost painter, architect and engineer" of France, in the words of the French King Francis I. Indeed, when Leonardo died at Amboise, France, on May 2 of the year 1519, legend had it that he died in the arms of the French king, as was depicted by French artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres in his famous painting of 1818, now in the Petit Palais in Paris. Da Vinci, 67, was buried in the Saint-Hubert Castle at Amboise. (For details on this, see


    As the 500th anniversary of his death approaches, Italy is honoring Leonardo Da Vinci with a series of exhibitions and events. Among the foremost exhibits is at the Scuderie of the Quirinal Palace in Rome, where the exhibition "Leonardo: Science before Science" is on view through June 30. Curated by Claudio Giorgione in collaboration with two Milanese museums, the National Museum of Science and Technology and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the Roman exhibition offers a fresh reading of Da Vinci's work in engineering, technology, art and thought at the dawn of the 16th Century, whose scientific revolution gave birth to the modern age. Associated with the Scuderie exhibition are lessons in a "laboratory for adults" in the technique of Renaissance-style fresco painting and drawing in perspective.


    Leonardo was born out of wedlock to a notary named Piero Da Vinci and a country woman named Caterina in a small town called Vinci near Florence. And in Florence he is being celebrated at Palazzo Pitti with the exhibition "Leonardo, The Landscape of the Mysteries," which includes a delightful drawing of the Arno River valley landscape painted by Leonardo in 1452, when he was only 21 years old.


    In the picturesque town of Sansepolcro, near Arezzo, the Museo Civico hosts the exhibition entitled "Leonardo Da Vinci: Visions, the Technological Challenges of the Universal Genius," curated by the Galileo Fiorentine-Civita Laboratories. The focus is movement, including inanimate flight. On view is a self-propelled cart that has been compared to an automobile. 3-D videos created by the Florentine Galileo Museum dramatically illustrate Leonardo's theories (see video). And for three months ending, alas, in January the Leicester Codex had been on loan from Bill Gates. That Codex is one of Leonardo's personal sketchbooks dating from 1504-1508, acquired by Gates in 1994 from Armand Hammer.


    In his youth, Leonardo worked for Ludovico il Moro in Milan, where he painted the now much restored "The Last Supper" on a monastery wall. Not surprisingly, Milan offers eight Leonardo exhibitions. Through coming months the Ambrosiana, to name only one, offers a selection of 46 drawings by Leonardo drawn from the 1,750 in his famous Codex Atlanticus, normally seen by only a few scholars. The nearby National Museum of Science and Technology, among Europe's largest devoted to science and technology, opens a three-month exhibition on July 19 called "Leonardo Da Vinci Parade."


    On view at the Ambrosiana will be 130 rarely visible models of Da Vinci projects - navigation, artillery, underwater engineering - built in the 1950s on the basis of Leonardo's drawings, along with fresco paintings by 16th Century Lombard artists. The models are unique in the world and include one of a flying machine made by Alberto Mario Soldatini and Vittorio Somenzi in 1953 on the basis of a Codex Atlanticus drawing. On two walls are paintings and frescoes, only rarely on view, on loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera. The works by the artists in Leonardo's circle in Milan include some by Bernardino Luini, and others recovered from now destroyed churches, monasteries, and buildings in Milan.


    In Rome, through September the Primoli Foundation has organized an exhibition at the National Academy of the Lincei devoted to "Leonardo in Rome: Influence and Heritage." Also in Rome: at the Palazzo della Cancelleria near Campo de' Fiori is a permanent exhibition devoted to Leonardo, with large-scale models of his projects.


    Close to Rome, at Civitella del Lago, on Lake Corbara in the province of Terni, was an exhibition entitled "On the Traces of Genius: Maps and Cosmography in the Time of Leonardo,". The maps on view - again, only rarely shown to the public - included 15th Century efforts to interpret Ptolemy's 27 world maps from his book "Geography," dating from the 2d century AD. It is believed that Leonardo, fascinated by maps and cartography, was influenced by Ptolemy in making his own maps of hydro-engineering projects for Florence, Milan, Arezzo, and the Vatican. (The Royal Library of Windsor owns Leonardo's complete world map, which was among the first to name the Americas, according to Christopher W. Tyler.)


    Furthermore, Turin offers an exceptional exhibition on Leonardo called "Designing the Future." On view through July 14 at the Royal Museums there are 13 signed works acquired by King Carlo Alberto plus the Codex on the Flight of Birds. Works on view include his celebrated self-portrait and the studies for the Battle of Anghiari. Venice's Gallerie dell'Accademia's theme is "Leonardo Da Vinci, Man as the Model of the World" with 25 drawings by Leonardo including the celebrated Vitruvian Man and, on loan from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the disputed "Madonna Litta." And finally, Genoa's Sant'Agostino Museum hosts works by 19 contemporary artists with works inspired by Leonardo, through May 31. The exhibit is called "Leonardesca."