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Italian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-04-04 10:58:25
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Two Stolen Paintings Are Found in Italy

In 1975, a factory worker at Fiat, the Italian carmaker, bought two colourful paintings for about $70 at an auction in Turin of objects left unclaimed by train passengers. For years, they hung on his kitchen wall. One was a still life with fruit and a small dog; the other showed a woman in white seated in a verdant garden. Then, last summer, the man’s son, an architecture student, was looking through a book of paintings by Paul Gauguin and saw a familiar image: a still life with a dog. The family called in experts, who contacted the Italian police. On Wednesday, the police said that the paintings were, in fact, a still life by Gauguin from 1889 and “Woman With Two Chairs” by Pierre Bonnard, both of which had been reported stolen from a London home in 1970. “I’d say it’s quite satisfying,” Gen. Mariano Mossa, the chief of the cultural heritage division of Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri police said in a telephone interview after presenting the findings at the Culture Ministry in Rome, following a months long investigation. General Mossa said the Gauguin could be worth up to 35 million euros (around $48 million) and the Bonnard at least €500,000 (around $690,000). Auction house experts in New York put the Gauguin’s worth at approximately $15 million and the Bonnard’s at around $2 million.

rome_400The recovery of the paintings followed several other similar high-profile cases in Europe. In November, a trove of more than 1,200 artworks was reported to have been found in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a Nazi-era art dealer. And in the summer, a Romanian woman said she may have burned works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin and Lucian Freud that had been stolen the year before from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, in an effort to protect her son, who had been accused of the theft. General Mossa said that the police did not know who had taken the Gauguin and Bonnard paintings from London, but he speculated that they had arrived in Italy on a Paris-Turin train, and that whoever was transporting them might have been stopped at customs, abandoning them to the fate of the Italian railroad’s lost property office. Officials there obviously did not recognize the works, so they sold them, General Mossa said. The retired Fiat worker, whose name he declined to disclose, citing continuing investigations, “didn’t understand the value, and he kept them in Turin and then in Sicily after he retired.”

The Carabinieri were able to identify the Gauguin after seeing it in a catalogue of Gauguin paintings from 1961, but it did not appear in a 2001 edition of his works. “That meant it had either been stolen or misplaced,” General Mossa said. They found a 1970 article in The New York Times by United Press International that reported the theft of the two paintings from a home in Regent’s Park in London. “The police said that three men posing as burglar-alarm engineers called at 8 Chester Terrace, Regent’s Park,” the report said. “Two of them started to work on the home’s burglar alarm in the presence of the housekeeper. They asked her to make them a cup of tea, and when she returned, the paintings had been taken from their frames, and the men were gone.” General Mossa identified the original owners as Mathilda Marks, a philanthropist and a daughter of Michael Marks, a founder of the Marks & Spencer department-store chain, and Terence Kennedy, an American whom she had married late in life. But he said that neither was alive, and that the police had not yet identified an heir. Rob Singh, a spokesman for Scotland Yard, said that Italian authorities had asked its arts and antiques unit this year for help in tracing the owners of two paintings stolen in a burglary in London in 1970. “The unit was able to establish that the paintings were sold by Sotheby’s in the United States in 1962 and advised the Italian authorities accordingly,” he said. “It has not been possible to trace the records of the 1970 theft,” Mr. Singh added. He said he could not confirm the names of the paintings’ original owners. A press officer from Marks & Spencer said she could not comment on a private matter.


US Empire's Mediterranean launchpad

Imperial soldiers cannot be judged. In Italy it’s almost impossible. In the last 15 months, the Italian Judiciary have asked to proceed against 113 American soldiers for various crimes, but the Italian minister of justice denied authorization in 91 cases. It works like this: when the US Army wants to judge a soldier in the USA who committed a crime in Italy, they have to ask the relevant Italian minister for permission. As you have seen, Italian authorities are uncompromising! After a thorough examination they usually say ‘yes.’ At home, American judges don’t even bother to ask for case files from Italy, and the ensuing trial, although there are no statistics on this, turns out to be a rather benevolent process. This story, by Alessio Schiesari, recently featured on the first page of the Italian newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano. Italy is in fact a limited sovereignty Country. “Italy appears in many respects to be a colony,” says the Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo, former European MP. “On one hand it is a Vatican colony, on the other it is an American colony, an American State even, without the power to elect the president. We are a limited sovereignty country indeed. We are a kind of Batista’s Cuba with military bases instead of brothels.”

Well, the bases are obviously not simply an old gift from the Cold War; they are the claws and antennas of the Empire. Calling the US an empire is not some kind of hippie 1968 revolt jargon. If you have any doubts, read the US 2012 Defence Strategic Guidance. You will see that it speaks of US military power expanding globally exactly as empires have always done in history. This is said to be in the national interest (a word that only the US can use) and, more superficially, i.e. ideologically, in the “common interest.” Obviously they never speak of aggression but always about facing global threats. To quote the DSG at its most ideological level ironically resounds as a modern global philosophy “à la Habermas”: “Across the globe we will seek to be the security partner of choice, pursuing new partnerships with a growing number of nations — including those in Africa and Latin America — whose interests and viewpoints are merging into a common vision of freedom, stability, and prosperity.”  To achieve this, the US has more than 1,000 bases around the world, plus 4,000 at home. Pressed by Congress, the Pentagon said that this network in 2012 had a cost of 22 billion dollars, but in reality no one is really capable of fathoming the depths of the US military annual balance sheet. A recent calculation by David Vine, assistant professor of anthropology at American University, in Washington, DC, guess that the real cost is around 170 billion dollars. In Vine’s definition, US bases are the “Launch Pad” for the Pentagon’s unending war program.

“Especially since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the military has been shifting its European centre of gravity south from Germany, where the overwhelming majority of US forces in the region have been stationed since the end of World War II. In the process, the Pentagon has turned the Italian peninsula into a launch pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond,” he wrote. Funnily enough, US officials insist that there are no US bases in Italy: all garrisons are inside Italian NATO Bases. As a matter of fact, in Italy there are 64 US installations, with more than 10,000 soldiers and several nuclear bombs. Dal Molin Airport in Vicenza, where some of the population is opposing the building of the second US military base, is one of them. Sigonella, in Sicily, is a base for drones that operate from Central Asia to the Mediterranean and as far as the Balkans. Only 60 kilometers from Sigonella, in Niscemi, there is a base for the new MUOS system (Mobile User Objective System), an array of geosynchronous satellites being developed to provide global satellite communications narrowband connectivity for US military communications. Local people have staged several protest marches against the new base. Their main fear is that high power broadcast transmitters at mobile frequencies may cause diseases and other health hazards.

Italian General Fabio Mini, who was in charge of the South Europe NATO Command, puts it like this: “The lack of US bases in the Southern Mediterranean is a sign of the US’s strategic deficit and one of the reasons for the increasing importance of US bases in Italy.”  The Italian proclivity of depending on US power is not new. It is an old and sly habit to be servile in order to gain some advantages, like picking up the crumbs dropped from the giant US weapons market table; Crumbs that for such firms as Finmeccanica constitute important figures.  To see this obsequious manner at work, let’s take a look at the new Italian premier Matteo Renzi, the latest saviour of the country. What is he doing to address the shameful and scandalous case of two Italian soldiers on trial in India? The soldiers, while they were officially patrolling a civil cargo, allegedly murdered two Indian fishermen, having mistaken them for pirates. The answer is that in front of TV cameras, the premier pleaded for Obama’s help during the Emperor’s Grand Italian Tour. By ourselves we really count for nothing, we have no national pride. This is the message: please Uncle Sam help us to solve this problem, so we can go on eating pizza and spaghetti and playing the mandolin. Since 1954, when the still classified Bilateral Infrastructure Agreement was signed, Americans have liked Italy, because the Italians don’t ask tough questions. The American military in Italy are exempt from paying tax on gasoline, gas, cigarettes, and alcohol. A measure that is not mutual as it is with German Army for example. Of course, the figures are not so huge, but it is another “act of submission” that Italians pay to their defenders. But are they really there to defend Italy? Hear what an US official - who asked not to be named - said to David Vine: “I’m sorry, Italy, but this is not the Cold War. They’re not here to defend Vicenza from a [Soviet] attack. They’re here because we agreed they need to be here to do other things, whether that’s the Middle East or the Balkans or Africa.”

Last year the Rand Corporation wrote a report, commissioned by the US Department of Defence, about the future of US bases in the world. According to Rand, the famous “pivot to Asia” and the new technologies may suggest a kind of reshaping of imperial bases, but only to a certain extent. It is interesting that, although indirectly, this is recognition of the political and symbolic role of the bases abroad. In the document it states: “At a higher level of strategic consideration, these forces have underpinned US relationships with partners in Europe. A posture that if removed would move those relationships into uncharted waters, in which it would be difficult to predict the consequences.”  In his last book, “Base Nation”, that is about to be published by Metropolitan, David Vine succinctly explains the twist of local interests behind the bases: “While bases are often portrayed as a gift of security, the new base at Dal Molin suggests that bases can be something of a Trojan horse: Once established, bases provide US officials with a powerful tool to influence foreign governments’ decisions about bases and a range of policy issues. The threat of withdrawing a base, alone, given the perceived economic damage of base closure, becomes a way to bend the will of host governments and populations (although, base closures have actually often helped local economies as experience in Germany, the US, and elsewhere has shown).”  Military Nouvelle Vague may shift the balance towards the south and the bases may have fewer soldiers and more robots. But a US permanent base must remain, because, as General Mini puts it: “Permanent bases are also the image of permanent war.” To maintain itself, the empire requires in fact a state of permanent war.


Italian forces arrest Veneto separatists over alleged plot to attack Venice

Italian special operations units have arrested 24 secessionists who were allegedly planning a violent campaign aimed at gaining independence for the wealthy north-eastern Veneto region. Police said in a statement on Wednesday that the group had built an armoured vehicle that they intended to deploy in St Mark's Square in Venice – reminiscent of the seven-and-a-half-hour takeover of the piazza's famed bell tower by secessionists in 1997. TV footage revealed the "tank" to be a modified tractor that had been armed in some fashion. Italian media reported the secessionists intended to deploy the vehicle on the eve of European parliamentary elections in May – a poll anticipated to express growing anti-Europe sentiment following the harsh austerity measures applied during the economic crisis. Prosecutors allege the secessionists had planned a two-pronged approach of violence and consensus-building. The crackdown comes days after politicians in Veneto started formal proceedings toward independence, despite constitutional prohibitions.

Veneto's regional governor, Luca Zaia, promoted an online survey that purportedly showed overwhelming support for secession. However the Venetian daily Corriere del Veneto this week reported that of the more than 2.6 million votes in favour of secession, most were generated by computers abroad. One of the survey's organisers, Gianluca Busato, said the police crackdown was a "ridiculous" overreaction by the state. "We are peaceful democrats," Busato told Sky TG24. "We have the people on our side."

The Veneto region, centered on Venice, helped transform Italy into an industrial power in the 1960s and 1970s. The community of small, family-run businesses that had been the backbone of the region's success have been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. Secessionist sentiment is rooted in anger that vast sums of money are appropriated by Rome in the form of taxes. Reports claim that those arrested include two people involved in the 1997 St Mark's takeover, the founder of the secession-minded Liga Veneta and organisers of the so-called "Pitchfork Protests" that sprang up last December aimed at ousting the entire political class.


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Emanuel Paparella2014-04-04 14:39:28
Sounds familiar, the Romans justified their imperial ambitions by calling them “pax Romana” or the peace derived by overwhelming power and supported by a standing ready army proclaiming to the world that “might makes right.” They were there to establish the benefits of peace in the know world. But pax Romana was really a permanent state of war readiness. They were always at war. Now of course we have “pax Americana.” The more things change, the more they remain the same.

On the Venetian separatist drive, it is not ironical that the impetus for Italian unification came from the north and now the impetus for separation comes from the North also? One is tempted to ask “which way do you want it?” Perhaps before forging a union which turned out to be a pseudo-union with two Italys separate and unequal, the question of cultural identity ought to have been asked first so that d’Azeglio would not have had to proclaim that “now that we have made Italy, we need to make the Italians.” Pari passu, considering the reflections on colonialism vis a vis American bases in the Mediterranean, a more encompassing question ought to be asked about the EU too so that in the end we will not have to proclaim “now that we have made the EU, we need to make the Europeans.”

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