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Italy and the EU at the Crossroads? Italy and the EU at the Crossroads?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2016-12-08 11:56:34
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As announced in my last piece on the issue of Italy’s potential exit from the EU, the omens are not very encouraging and the results of the referendum conducted Sunday the 4th of December confirms it. The PM Matteo Renzi, having lost the referendum he himself called on financial and legislative reforms, has just announced his resignation. In effect he has lost the confidence of the majority of the Italian people. The populist right wing parties such as Five Stars are of course jubilant. They already won the mayoralty of Rome and now smell victory and power and the eventual withdraw of Italy from the EU. So do the right wing Lega party which would like to eventually dissolve even the Italian national union. They feel that Southern Italian are not real Italians.

 Mr. Putin too must be jubilant in as much as the results of the referendum further incentivizes his policy of divide and conquer in Europe and among the Western allies (the so called NATO countries, the Baltics first and foremost). One can safely predict political turmoil in both Italy and the EU in the next year or so, before general elections are held. Given that Italy is the fourth largest economy of the EU, this is a significant event for the whole EU polity.

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Matteo Renzi in a quandary

The question arises: how did we get to this sad state of affairs? To even begin to understand them, as I have reiterated time and again, one needs to go back to the times of Italian unification in 1860 to Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily, wonderfully described in the famous classical novel The Leopard, already examined in another piece. There we have the prince of Salina’s nephew Tancredi make this insightful comment: “uncle, we need to change everything so that nothing changes.” In other words, it was a matter of changing the king from a Southern Italian Bourbon kind, Francis II, to a Northern Italian Savoy kind, Victor Emanuel II. This is redolent of another famous statement made by an Italian patriot who had fought with Garibaldi, Massimo d’Azeglio: “And now that we have made Italy, we need to make the Italians.” That statement too was prophetic: it resembles what is said today about European unification: “And now that we have made Europe, we need to make the Europeans.”  

How about this one: “the Italians thought they were joining a civilization and an ideal union of democratic nations in the 1950s, but soon found out that they were joining a bureaucracy interested only in economic issues of wealth and ‘progress’ (especially banks’ progress), and unconcerned with the real economic needs of the poor and the middle class. These people are now very angry and are lashing out in an emotional rather than rational mode.” Such a statement explains a lot of what is going on. It has less to do with ideological fanaticism and more to do with rampant disappointment and delusion. We have seen a similar phenomenon in the Brexit event and here in America with the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the presidency. When people feel that they have nothing to lose, whey will gamble on a sociopath simply to thwart the hated bureaucracy. Perhaps Dostoyevsky said it best: “put man in a completely determinist universe, and he will blow it up, and himself with it, simply to prove that he is free.”

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But let us proceed with the brief suvey of the historical narrative. Italian unification created the illusion that things would now get better, but as Tancredi astutely predicted it was just an illusion; things got worse and one million Italians had to emigrate to North America, South America, Australia and other places. Some scholars have argued that at least the monarchy was constitutional and there was a modicum of democracy in place. That democracy, such as it was, came to an end after the end of World War I when a brutal dictator, Benito Mussolini, rose to power. He managed to destroy whatever progress had been initiated in this latest of European unified nations.

After an hyaturs of twenty five years of authoritarian anti-democratic years, at the end of World War II, a democratic republic was set up in 1946, and once again the Italians were fed the illusion that now, with Democracy restored, things could only get better. Moreover, Italy became one of the six founding member nations of the European Union. Economic progress soon followed with the so called “Italian economic miracle” of the 60s. But the progress in democratic ways and means did not follow suit. What the people experienced was a party, Christian and Democratic, so called, that took over the reins of power, not relinquishing them since. The party, which has dropped the designation “Christian” proved to be neither very Christian nor very democratic, except for its founding fathers who held genuine Chritian values. But who listens to them now?

Neither did Mussolini’s nostalgic look back to past Roman glories prove to be a panacea. He should have remembered Guicciardini answer to Machiavelli’s throw back to the Romans: “to compare the present Italians to the ancient Romans is like comparing a noble horse to a donkey.” By which Guicciardini did not mean to disparage the Italians, of which he was one, but to remind them that the new modern Italians (who had universal experiences of the Catholic (universal) Church and universal Renaissance, were not exactly Romans but were good at other things besides military prowess; that military prowess by itself did not make a nation great; that artistic prowess was far superior.

Be that as it may, once again the people felt cheated and between the 60 and the end of the century began to cast ballots as a vote of protest. That explains why the Communist party was and remains the largest outside Russia. The people have seen the rich and powerful tripling and quadrupling their wealth while the poor and the middle class have stagnated economically. Sometimes they misguidedly think that the rich are incapable of stealing and avoiding taxes since they are already rich.  So they opted for a clown like Berlusconi and now may end up opting for one like Grillo. Anybody but the current bureaucracy.

Is there a political-moral lesson for the whole of the EU here? Yes, and it is this: it is a delusion wrapped in an illusion for a people to build a union based on bread and circuses, soccer games and reality shows. Failing a strong cultural indentity based on the genuine values that give Europe a genuine identity (which are not exclusively political or economic), there will remain a vacuum that will not be filled by trivialities such as circuses and shows, or vacuous nostalgia for past glories. The delusion nowadays is that the vacuum is being filled by the nationalism and the fascism of old. You see this in authoritarian governments blossoming all over Europe (one thinks of Hungary, Poland, and the myriad right wing parties functioning as Trojan horses in just about all the EU member states with the bleissing of Mr. Putin). Nationalism gives the illusion of strenght and political coherence, but eventually, having destroyed democracy and the very concept of truth, we will all lose and gather what we have sown. The omens are not very good and Cassandra has given her warning. Let those who have ears, let them hear.

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Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them for FREE HERE!
 
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