(click on pictures to enlarge)
We have a wonderful life here in Rome. The sun shines constantly, the winters are mild, the city is beautiful, historic, and has much to offer in terms of culture. It is perfect for people like us who don’t have to work here. However, there is a dark side and life is tough for people who have to earn a living. A UK-based ranking body, The Legatum Prosperity Index, ranks the prosperity of a large number of countries based on a number of sub-indices which take into account not only the economy, governance etc but also individual wellbeing. The 2014 ranking has just been published and Italy has dropped to 37th place. In case you’re wondering, Norway heads the list, Canada is 5th, the US is 10th and the UK is 13th.
Other people including the poet Shelley have noted that there are two Italies. One which is beautiful and culturally rich and the other which has an oppressive reality. The other side of Italy is the one ruled by grinding bureaucracy, inefficiency, corruption, nepotism and organized crime. In times of economic growth, this side can be pushed into the background but today, the economy is in a dire state. Unemployment at 12% shows no sign of improving with youth unemployment at a staggering 43%. Young people are leaving in droves seeking jobs in England and the US. People fear that in 10 years time, there will be no youth force to keep the economy going and there will just be pensioners left. The poor Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, is trying to bring in better practices in the workplace such as terminating employment of people who are inefficient (lots of these!) but the powerful Unions won’t hear of it. His plans to improve the economy and create more jobs are thwarted at every turn and since he does not head a majority government, he meets opposition from the other parties and nothing moves forward.
The weather has been kind to us in Rome so far, but there have been devastating floods in the north. The Po river has burst its banks in places and people have had to be evacuated from their homes. Crops have been badly damaged so the agricultural sector will suffer this year for sure. Whole towns are flooded and huge amounts of money will be needed to restore the damage. Nobody knows where this money will come from.
Italy is one of the main landing points for refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Last week in Rome, there were protests about immigration and residents of a suburb actually attacked a migrant reception centre. Almost every week, there is a protest of one sort or another, against unemployment, or the economic crisis, or labour reforms. The most entertaining protest last week which unfortunately, I did not witness, was by a feminist group called Femen. A Ukranian women’s activist group, they were protesting about the Pope going to Strasbourg to address the European Parliament later this month. Apparently, some of them showed up in the Piazza of St Peter’s only wearing leather mini-skirts and making obscene gestures with crucifixes. Their main complaint was that the Pope is not a politician. I think even if he tried, and he’s certainly more politically outspoken than his recent predecessors, nothing would change. When Italy was unified by Garibaldi in the mid-1800s, three distinct regions were brought together, the northern areas ruled by foreign powers, the central Papal states surrounding Rome and the southern region of the Two Kingdoms of Sicily. There are huge cultural differences between these areas and some people are still of the opinion that the regions are too diverse to form a single country. From this comes an underlying principle of watching out for ones own best interests first, then for ones family and friends, then for neighbours and those geographically close. Thinking of the common good at a national level does not come easily to many Italians so they continue to argue and disagree and meanwhile, the country heads towards eventual ruin.