Last week’s blog was republished in Foreign Policy and provoked some responses. The most public was from Giulio Terzi, the Italian ambassador in Washington:
To put it simply, the article by James Walston, whose title I will avoid mentioning so as not to spread its vulgarity, is a clear example of faziosita’ (factiousness). And Mr Waltson’s choice of Dante’s quote may well be a Freudian slip, since Dante himself experienced the tragic and painful effects of the fight between fazioni in XIII Century Florence, being eventually banned from his native city and exiled.
Anyone has the right to express his own opinions, even when they are blatantly biased as in Mr. Waltson’s case. But I am very surprised that an important publication which is dedicated to Foreign Policy and bears on its front page the name of its illustrious founder Samuel P. Huntington chooses to host such an acrimonious and false story based on domestic gossip, with a lack of balance and seriousness one could expect at the lowest levels of tabloid sensationalism.
I am even more surprised since it’s also on the international stage, the “Foreign Policy”, that, over the years and in particular with the current Government led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has given more and more evidence of its worldwide credibility, strong commitment and resolve as is proper to a founding member of the European Union and a leading country of the G8.
For coming issues of “Foreign Policy” I dare suggest a few stories about Italy that may be of some interest to your readers all over the world: for an Afghan audience you might run a story about the 4000 Italian troops helping secure the country against the Taliban threat and strengthen local communities together with the US and other Nato allies; your readers in Lebanon, Balkans and in Africa will most probably be happy to see some pictures of those 7,500 Italian peacekeepers they meet every day in their towns and villages and that make Italy the first G8 country contributor to UN missions; as for those in the US who are particularly scared about the well known effects of unregulated financial markets, it could be useful to learn more about “Lecce Framework”, a set of common principles and standards for propriety, integrity and transparency proposed during the Italian G8 presidency last year or the proposals Italy has put forward on commodity speculation for the upcoming G20 Summit in Seoul (by the way, talking about economy Mr Waltson might want to reconsider his figures about Italy’s growth and take a look at more recent public data showing an annualized rate of 1.3 percent).
Ambassador of Italy to the United States
Another took issue with Paolo Sylos Labini
JUST TO LET YOU KNOW THAT PAOLO SYLOS LABINI, A MARXIST SOCIALIST THAT HAS CONSULTED FOR YEARS MANY ITALIAN CABINETS, HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MAIN RESPONSIBLE OF THE ITALIAN ECONOMIC DEEP CRISIS AND POPULAR DEPRESSION (DECREASING OF BIRTH AND SO ON).
IT IS EASY TO CRITICIZE BUT IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO REFORM AND REBUILD A COUNTRY THAT HAS BEEN DEVASTATED BY 30 YEARS OF COMUNIST CULTURE AND SOCIALIST ECONOMY.
While another recommended that I take up the English Catholic author G. K . Chesterton as an antidote to a supposed anti-Italian and anti-Catholic bias from a Brit or an American:
Leggo che Lei,a proposito dell'Italia, cita il Purgatorio di Dante(serva Italia di dolori ostello,nave senza nocchiero in gran tempesta,non donna di provincia ma bordello).Non so se i media hanno riferito questo parallelismo con i tempi di oggi correttamente o hanno esagerato travisando il di Lei pensiero e riferendo che l'Italia è un bordello.
Se fosse così sarebbe disinformazione e gossip.Che le cose vadano male è vero, ma prestarsi al gossip dei media disinformati e pilotati è puerile. L'Italia non è peggiore di tanti stati europei che hanno abbandonato l'etica e le radici giudaico cristiane per trattare solo di denaro.Purtroppo,dalla caduta dell'Impero Romano d'occidente, l'Italia è stata invasa da barbari di tante provenienze ed è per questo che ha perduto le sue radici latine e la sua genuinità democratica e repubblicana.Immagino che Lei conosca lo scrittore inglese Chesterton;dia una ripassatina ai suoi libri e si ricrederà. Non è offendendo una nazione che la si aiuta a migliorarsi.La prego non si adegui al pensiero imperante mitteleuropeo che è geloso dell'Italia per le sue latenti possibilità di RENAISSANCE. Da una università ci si aspetta un pensiero costruttivo e non il solito chiacchiericcio (baked & baked).
There are other replies and comments on the Foreign Policy site, mostly positive. My favorite is:
"There has been a lack of clear leadership since the end of July"
Italy has not been having a clear leadership since Cavour: and he spoke french
My response to the ambassador was the following:
Dante was indeed very concerned about discord in Florence and did suffer personally. He was also an authority on the consequences of lack of leadership, consensus and moral authority. Hence my use of his quote.
Italy’s problem today is not that there are political factions or parties. Italy and Italians are as capable as any other country of discussing issues; the medium term problem is Silvio Berlusconi’s massive conflicts of interests, unique to Italy and unacceptable in any other western democracy and the ensuing concentration of power in the executive (not unique in the west but more pronounced and long lasting). These two factors have rendered a good part of Italy government “courtiers” rather than servants of the state. The point of my article was that it is the wholesale corruption of the institutions which is the “vulgarity”, the prostitution of ideas and minds not the “tabloid” sex.
Commenting on the laws passed to prevent the Prime Minister’s trials coming to verdict or the indictment of other politicians is a “partiality” shared with most of the western press, left, right and center; it is hardly “gossip”. In these fundamental issues, Italy is out of step with the standards of the rest of western democracies. This is a concern for us all.
In the immediate past, moreover, Italy has indeed been without a helmsman with even Berlusconi’s own newspapers commenting on his lack of leadership.
The growth figure that Amb. Terzi quotes refers an increase after striking declines in previous years and in any case should be analyzed together with other figures. However, whichever figures the Ambassador cares to use, it is undeniable that Italy has been in relative decline for almost the last two decades (eight years of center-right under Berlusconi, seven years of center-left under Prodi and others, the rest technical or centrist).
As far as the record of Italy’s peacekeepers across world is concerned, I wholeheartedly support Ambassador Terzi’s affirmations and have said so in the past and in an article due out next month. They do sterling work in the Balkans and in Lebanon and as well as in Afghanistan – all are missions given almost universal support by the Italian Parliament and initiated by both center-right and center-left governments. But their good work does not cancel the strongly negative elements of Italy’s present and past governments.
I would add that Italy’s apparent lack of leadership and lack of alternation in the so-called “First Republic” from 1948 to 1994 with 47 governments in 44 years was compensated by consistent economic growth and a distribution of power and resources (lottizzazione) which however grubby at times, did maintain a high degree of pluralism.
As for my correspondent who gives Paolo Sylos Labini the responsibility for Italy’s population decline, I am sure that there are many economists who would dearly love to have had such an influence on society but few apart from perhaps Keynes have been anywhere near. Many on the left would also dearly have loved to have been in government for 30 years but so far that is just pie in the sky.
On the Catholic score and the role of the Church in Italy, today is 20th September and I hope to address that question on the 140th anniversary of the Breach of Porta Pia.