Rome, January 20
We have all been admitted to a former mental institution in the north of Rome. Fortunately, the gates are open. Since 1978 the use of closed mental hospitals has been abolished in Italy. It turned out that people who were relatively sane went completely nuts in these places. What’s left, here in Rome, is a quiet park with all the typical pine trees and about forty buildings. It would make a great place for a postrevolutionary university.
We are housed in the former lavandry. It has been occupied for seven years by a cultural organisation that offers a wide panorama of initiatives to the local community. Their great wish would be to turn this entire park into a cultural centre. But that’s not going to happen in the short term. Many of the buildings are closed, some are used by the city council and others still have some kind of psychomedical purpose. One of them has been turned into the ‘Museum of the Mind’.
A mental institution is an excellent place to reflect on contemporary Italian politics. And so I did.
I will keep it short, I will stay on the main roads, because Italian politics as a whole is an intricate maze full of shady alleyways, corpses in closets, masonic conspiracies, lost notebooks, screams in the dark and women at their balconies. You can get lost in it and never get out. Neither will I touch on the breakdown of values that was caused by twenty years of berlusconism. All things in due time.
So, in general you have the old left, the old right, and the puddle of parliament in between. The old left is composed of a myriad of communist flavoured parties and unions. The old right is made up of another myriad of fascist flavoured parties and action groups. And parliament is the place where the elected parties divide the pieces of cake among each other.
Lacking a true liberal democratic tradition, Italian politics is centered on strong personalities. Like a kind of universe where the minor characters revolve around the big ones until their suns burn out and everyone rearranges itself around another leader.
Political generations last very long in Italy. In the northern countries the parties are always the same even though their politics converge, but the faces change at least once every decade. In Italy there have only been about three political generations since WW2. De Gasperi/Togliatti, Andreotti/Craxi, and Berlusconi. Over here, the faces never seem to change, even though the parties have lately been reinventing themselves at every election. Even now, on the billboards and in the press I see the same names that have been around since the early 90s. Or maybe longer. They are not worth mentioning, but they seem to last forever.
Italy is an old country, in every sense. Statistically the population is the oldest of the world. It’s being weighed down by its own history, and it seems to advance with its back towards the future. The left is nostalgic of old industrial age ideologies and dreams of a working class paradise, the right is obsessed with ancient aspirations to nationhood and empire, while parliament is in the final act of selling the country to the banks.
The left and the right are both fiercely hostile to the government of Monti, but they hate each other more than they hate the banks. It all goes back to the years of civil war 1943-45, when communist and other partisans fought the loyalist fascists in the context of World War Two. Since then the animosity between fascists and anti-fascists has been passed on from father to son to grandson. But even within the left and the right, there’s often more hatred between the various denominations than between them and ‘the common enemy’, be it the other side or be it the government. All in all, it’s a mad house.
In the midst of all this, the indignados are only a very small and unorganised bunch. But we have one strength. We are something new. We don’t look at the past, because we don’t have any history yet. We have no flags and no idols. We’re citizens. And we’re fed up with the old way of thinking. Communists, socialists, fascists, liberals, conservatives, socialdemocrats. To hell with them all. We want a new paradigm.