A non-partisan journal of the left.

Occupy Italy: the missing country and the missed opportunity

Fri 11th Nov 2011

The global occupation movement continues to grow; today there are nearly 1,100 actions taking place across approximately 930 cities around the world. Surprisingly the movement is yet to take off in Italy, despite the country’s grave economic situation.

Since October, Occupy Italy has been trying to raise awareness of the global occupation movement and has attempted to organise actions in Italy. 2,500 people joined the Italian movement’s Facebook page. However, only eight of these people, myself included, have subscribed to the groups mailing list.

All subscribers on the mailing list use pseudonyms as if they were seeking to hide their identity. One subscriber ‘G’ writes “I am an ordinary 45 year old family man, [I] have never been involved in any activism before. But until it’s clear how the situation will evolve, I’d like to [remain] anonymous.”

Another subscriber ‘N’ writes “You know, I work for an American multinational company, I have 2 kids, my wife is unemployed and I want to be sure I am not messing things up… I am completely new to all these political movements.’’

‘G’ adds – ‘‘I feel vulnerable and I am not ready to face any potential consequence[s].” I have questioned their decision to remain anonymous and have received vague answers. Although there are no known cases of persecuted citizens, Occupy Italy’s participants say that they do not want to create too much attention, until they receive reassurances that they will not be misrepresented by the media and will not face any personal consequences.

“You should know that the police here [have] access to all our Facebook profiles”, another subscriber worryingly admits, adding “…discontent is [just] expressed in pubs while drinking wine… and ideas are debated mostly in those political societies [and] people think that to solve [our] problems all we need to do is to get rid of Berlusconi. But Berlusconi himself is just a product of this society…”

Occupy Italy’s organisers are concerned about public opinion and their media portrayal. Such fears are understandable in a country like Italy which has one of the lowest levels of press freedom in Europe. Most of Italy’s media is controlled by the Prime Minister and manipulation of information is the norm.

“[The] media never talk about the Occupy movement”, say the representatives of Occupy Italy, “and when they do, they portray the whole movement as a violent action”.

This statement is in reference to the events in Rome on October the 15th when more than 200,000 people took to the streets to protest against the Italian financial and political system. As a result of looting and rioting by members of the ‘Black Block’ the whole demonstration turned out to be one of the most violent protests on record. Occupy Italy feel that the Italian media has focused on the violence in order to negatively influence public opinion.

Occupy Italy representatives are also fearful about losing their jobs in the wake of the economic situation. According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), in June 2011 the overall Italian unemployment rate was around 8%. The unemployment rate of those under the age of 25 has increased from 16.7% in 1994 to the current rate of 27.6%. Moreover, average salaries in Italy are amongst the lowest in Europe.

The recent European Union’s pressures to restore the Italian economy has lead the government to adopt new austerity measures, expected to have a massive impact on the general population whilst having little impact on the so called ‘1%’. The composition of Italy’s 1% is very different from that of other EU countries. As ‘N’ comments “in Italy [the 1%] is represented much more by the political class rather than by the financial institutions”.

Politics also plays a major role in the lack of Italian activism- it has been said that Italians lack civic pride. One of the subscribers to the Occupy Italy mailing list posted the following comment

“As far as I know, finding any public spirit is like finding a grain of gold in the desert, and this is a big problem here in Italy. The typical Italian citizen is confused and is still convinced that the State is the enemy rather than an ally. Italians think that they need to fool and cheat the State before the State cheats them. Italians think that the State belongs to others and do not see that we are the State, that the State represents us and that we need to get it back”.

These words highlight the general lack of trust in the State: Italians do not feel they belong to the State or that they are all part of a community.

The cause of such reasoning is both historical and political. From the historical perspective, Italy was unified 150 years ago following a political decision. The modern Italian population consider that the constitution of the new unified State was an imposition rather than a choice. Italy was created through a number of plebiscites which voted to unify a number of smaller independent kingdoms. Each of these kingdoms had its own history and its own social, cultural and infrastructural customs. Differences persist today.

The political reason behind Italy’s reluctance to join the Occupy movement is grounded in the current electoral law which prevents citizens expressing any preference for their candidate of choice. Voters can only cast a ballot for a political party. Italian MPs are elected according to internal agreements within the parties and coalitions. This reduces individual citizens’ trust in the State institutions, leading them to feel powerless at having any direct impact on the State. As such, Italians feel detached from political life.

The lack of a trusting relationship between citizens and politicians has led the Italian population to feel completely dissociated from the way the country is governed. Years of sick political games and a political class completely disconnected from the reality of its citizens’ lives have created general disillusionment and negated any feelings they might have had towards the res publica. Italians do not feel they are represented by their political class, they lack any relationship with the State, and therefore they do not feel responsible for the current economic situation. They are like strangers gazing in through a window, observing a situation they feel that cannot affect. They do not realise how powerful they could be if they only channeled their discontent into a constructive protest.

Despite the lack of activity in the ground, events are slowly unfolding. On October 28th, a group of students in the Northern town of Trieste started the first real occupation with 30 tents; the movement is growing fast. The Trieste occupation movement started as a student led occupation spearheaded by university students fighting for their right to an education. However, the local community has been highly supportive of their action. This is certainly a very positive sign and could represent the beginning of a new wave of civic pride.

Many cities around the country are now getting ready for the 11th November ‘Occupy the Streets’ action: Bologna, Milano and other towns are preparing to take to the field and start a protest against the current Italian situation.

Will Italians finally regain their civic pride and self-confidence? Will they realise the country belongs to them and that they can change things? All these small signs are promising and hopefully Italians are now ready, having understood that the time for action has come. Avanti popolo!
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