Paranoia and Passports – November 20

The FBI issued a warning to the Italian government on Wednesday, saying that several national landmarks are at risk for terrorist attacks. According to the U.S. intelligence service, the Basilica di San Pietro, the Duomo of Milan, and La Scala are considered particularly vulnerable, while restaurants, bars, and hotels across Italy should be on alert. As security is tightened, Italian investigators are also trying to determine why Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect of the November 13th terrorist attacks on Paris, passed through Northern Italy on his return from Syria more than a year ago. A massive manhunt for Abdeslam is currently underway across France and Belgium, after he was not found during a raid Wednesday in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. Perhaps as a result of this tense atmosphere, a series of bomb scares have swept through both Rome and Milan this week, leading to long delays on public transportation. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has sought to reassure Italians, promising that everything is being done to ensure the nation’s security and that “we must first of all live, demonstrating the courage to not stay at home and not renounce our heritage or identity.” Renzi emphasized Wednesday in an interview on Sky Tg24 television that the Extraordinary Jubilee, which will open in Rome on December 8th, will not be cancelled “under any circumstances.”

The Schengen Area, which has facilitated travel through Europe by doing away with passport and border control since 1997, may be at risk. France had already suspended the agreement from November 13th to December 13th for the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference before the attacks in Paris that killed 129 people a week ago, but the country’s officials are now pushing for stricter rules across the EU in order to combat terrorism. In an interview on Thursday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated that the Schengen Area will “become endangered unless Europe begins to take responsibility for its borders.” The European Commission also announced Thursday that “it will be necessary to begin systematic, coordinated controls on European borders, also on individuals with European passports.” An emergency summit is scheduled for today in Brussels, where future restrictions on air travel and the movement of EU citizens is expected to be discussed.

Precautions and Mourning – November 18

In the wake of Friday’s devastating terrorist attacks in Paris that resulted in the deaths of more than 130 people, the Italian government is stepping up security measures. On Monday, Minister of Defense Paolo Gentiloni stated that the government will “work to flush out terrorists wherever they seek to infiltrate…Italy needs to play a larger role in contributing to the coalition against ISIS and will help with the political transition in Syria without leaving voids that terrorists will attempt to fill.” Safety concerns have been raised about several major upcoming events in Italy, including the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will be opened on December 8th in Rome by Pope Francis, and the Carnival of Venice, set to begin January 23rd. While in Rome 700 additional soldiers have already been stationed around the city and police patrols have been increased, the attacks combined with the recent ISIS video which lists Rome as a future target are already having an impact on the city’s tourism. According to Roberto Necci, President of the Association of Hotel Directors of Lazio, “The first impact of the attacks on Paris has been an above average cancellation of reservations in Roman hotels…people are afraid.” But officials are rejecting calls to postpone the Jubilee, saying that to modify the country’s behavior would mean “the terrorists have won.” The Governor of Veneto, Luca Zaia, announced Monday that he is calling a roundtable to develop measures to strengthen security before millions of visitors descend on the city in January. Zaia stated that “We need to move quickly, because the Carnival is at our doors and after ISIS vowed to strike Italy as well I do not feel we are ready at all.” The measures under consideration include barriers to control the flow of pedestrians, the removal of masks at control points, and metal detectors.

The family of Valeria Solesin, the 28-year-old Venetian woman killed during the terrorist attack at the Bataclan Cafe on Friday night, arrived Tuesday afternoon in Paris to collect her body from the morgue. The sole Italian victim of the attacks on France’s capital that resulted in hundreds of dead and injured, Solesin was a PhD student studying demographics at the Sorbonne and had been living in Paris for four years. Her dissertation compared French and Italian families and the role of women in society, and she was working as a researcher at The Paris 1 Demography Institute. The Bataclan attack began around 9:40pm on Friday, when four terrorists entered the venue during an Eagles of Death Metal concert and began shooting, killing 89 people before being shot dead by French security forces after a 3-hour siege. Solesin is believed to have been killed close to the exit, as she attempted to flee. Her boyfriend, Andrea Ravegnani, was also at the concert, but survived. Chiara Ravegnani, his sister, remembered Solesin as “A great friend. Free. Full of ideas and strength. The best student in my course at the Sorbonne. She was very involved in volunteering, not only with Emergency. We had discussed the issue of terrorism at length, especially after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. She was against any war, any military intervention.”

A torchlight procession in her memory is scheduled for Wednesday evening in front of the Basilica di San Marco, and flags have been lowered to half-staff across the city.

The Two Sides of the Same Coin – November 16

In the aftermath of the tragic events that occurred in Paris, Italian newspapers have been divided. The morning after the attacks, the headline of the Italian newspaper Libero read “bastard muslims”, openly labelling the terrorist attacks as acts initiated by the entire muslim community. “Il Gazzettino” and “Il Messaggero” blamed Islam for the attacks similarly. Other Italian newspapers did not directly assault the islamic people, but underlined President Hollande’s decision to declare a state of emergency in France and close all borders in an attempt to prevent the escape of the presumed terrorists as well as the arrival of any more. Several analysts and intellectuals have also argued that the attacks in Paris are direct assaults against the West and therefore the retaliation should be from the west as a whole and not just France.

There was an Italian national amongst the victims of the attacks. Valeria Solesin was a Ph.d student at the Sorbonne University of Paris. She served as volunteer in the Italian NGO Emergency. From Turkey, where he was attending the G-20 meeting, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared that he wants to create a scholarship in Solesin’s name.

Italy is on high alert for two reasons: the first is that a few of the terrorists are still fugitives and there is a risk that they could cross italian borders. The second is that Rome is scheduled to host the Jubilee next december. These two reasons aside, the Islamic State has repeatedly threatened Italy and its capital; to further discuss this serious matter, Renzi announced a convention of the National Committee for Order and Public Security the day after the terrorist attacks. The Minister of Internal Affairs Angelino Alfano has increased the level of alert in the country.

From Bologna to Riyadh – November 9

Protesters filled the streets of Bologna yesterday as politician Matteo Salvini and supporters of several right-wing parties including the Lega Nord gathered for a rally against the Renzi government in Piazza Maggiore. The disruption began at dawn when the high-speed Bologna-Milan rail line was found sabotaged, with cables burnt at different points and graffiti reading “November 8th, sabotaging a world of racists and borders” scrawled on the pavement. Skirmishes between police and protesters intensified toward midday, when hundreds of students and members of left-wing social centers such as Crash and Cua bearing signs reading “Defend Bologna from the Lega Nord Invasion” attempted to break through the cordon blocking access to Piazza Maggiore. Riot police charged the protesters several times, resulting in several injured, including a police officer. The rally was an occasion for Salvini and other right-wing leaders to demonstrate their growing national popularity, as according to a Demos poll last month the Lega Nord now registers 14 percent popular support, and would garner 48 percent nationally if allied with rival right-wing party Forza Italia. In his speech Salvini launched several attacks against Matteo Renzi and members of his administration, calling the prime minister “a worthy representative of the parasites,” and Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano “a useless and incapable character…an idiot who should abandon politics because he is clearly not in his element.” He concluded by pledging that he wouldn’t back down if his supporters stayed by his side, saying he would continue the fight and that “I won’t give up until this country returns to being the most beautiful country in the world.” Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also made an appearance on behalf of Forza Italia, rousing the crowd with his certainty that “with this renewed unity we will win the next election!” Berlusconi did not avoid controversy during his 25-minute speech, saying that he saw parallels between the rhetoric of Beppe Grillo, the figurehead of the populist Five Star Movement party, and Adolf Hitler. 25,000 Lega Nord supporters are estimated to have attended the rally Sunday.

While visiting Riyadh today, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi responded to Sunday’s events in Bologna, saying that “Italy is not made only of those who yell and insult…we are tired of those who are blocking progress: we will restore Italy to its place in the world.” Renzi was in Saudi Arabia to witness the groundbreaking of the capital’s first metro line, which is being built by a group of Italian firms, including Milan based Salini Impregilo and Genova based Ansaldo STS. The prime minister expressed his approval of the positive impact that these companies are having on external perceptions of Italy, assisting with the effort to portray Italy “not only as a country where people vacation occasionally but one which can offer exciting investment opportunities.” The CEOs of both companies were present at the meeting, as was the Saudi Arabian Minister of Social Affairs Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi. There are 6 lines currently under construction in Riyadh, with the Italian designed one being the longest at 26 miles (42 kilometers). Minister of the Economy Pier Carlo Padoan echoed Renzi’s positive rhetoric in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, saying that “after years of stagnation, Italy is recovering quickly, because of the administration’s profound structural reforms.”

Tensions Heighten Between Rome and Tripoli – November 3

Tensions between Italy and the Libyan government intensified over the weekend as officials in Tobruk claimed that Italian warships had violated their territorial waters. According to the Libyans, three vessels were sighted off the coast of Benghazi on Saturday, later moving towards Derna, around 190 miles (300 kilometers) east. The Council of Deputies, Libya’s internationally recognized parliament since 2014, accused Italy of testing its defense capabilities and vowed to protect their nation’s sovereignty “at any cost.” The Italian Ministry of Defense responded by dismissing the Libyan claims, stating on Twitter that “there was no violation of territorial waters by Italian ships.” Roberta Pinotti, the Minister of Defense, later asserted during an interview on Rai 3 that “this is an obviously a false rumor,” and that all Italian military vessels were “well beyond the limits of Libyan waters.” Italian patrols in the area have recently increased as efforts to combat the trafficking of migrants and refugees continue to intensify. Libya is an important departure point for thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, contributing significantly to the new record reached in October of 218,000 people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe thus far this year.

Relations were not helped by the news that the Italian Catholic Cemetery in Tripoli was desecrated again on All Saints’ Day by unknown vandals. On Sunday photos obtained by ANSA, the leading Italian wire service, showed tombstones damaged and mausoleum windows smashed. Giovanna Ortu, president of the Association of Italians Repatriated from Libya (Airl), commented that “it is sadly not a new occurrence, it is a bitterly recurring one.” The Italian Ministry of Defense deplored the news, stating that the “desecration of a cemetery is vile gesture, one of incivility and intolerance which is made worse when it occurs on a day when Italians traditionally visit to pay respects to deceased relatives.” The cemetery, better known as Hammangi, is the burial place of 8,000 Italians, and was established in 1955 as a resting place for Italian soldiers fallen in battle in Libya between 1911 and 1945. Hammangi was reopened in May 2009 after extensive restoration work completed by Integra AES, a Rome based architectural and engineering firm.


A Tale of Two Capitals – October 28

Mantova was unanimously voted the 2016 Capital of Italian Culture on Tuesday, beating out competitors including Pisa, Parma, and Como. Mantova and 9 other cities were judged on the basis of their project proposals, which ranged from Taranto’s “Taranto Spartan City,” concentrated on its Greek roots, to Pistoia’s promotion of itself as a festival center, ranging from Blues to urban renewal. The city will receive a prize of 1 million Euro from the Ministry of Culture Heritage and Activities and Tourism, which will go toward the realization of its project of fusing its Renaissance heritage with the objective of becoming a Smart Human city by 2019. Mantova’s plan was determined to be the most easily attainable, with many restoration and renewal projects already underway. Dario Franceschini, Minister of Culture Heritage, stated that he was “very proud and I believe next year the competition will be even more exciting, with more cities participating.” Mattia Palazzi, the recently elected mayor of Mantova, said he was glad that the city was receiving recognition for its extraordinary culture, and pledged to demonstrate that the award was merited. 2016 will be the first year that the award goes to a single city, as this year it was shared between Ravenna, Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia, and Siena. The selection for 2017 will take place in January.

Milan is Italy’s moral capital, according to Raffaele Cantone, president of Italy’s Anti-Corruption National Authority (ANAC). He made the statement during an award ceremony Wednesday in Milan, where he was presented with the seal of the city by Mayor Giuliano Pisapia. Pisapia praised Catone’s role in making Expo Milano 2015 a resounding success, saying his efforts to combat corruption in the development of the event have elevated Milan in the eyes of the world and made it an “example for national and international organizations seeking to fight crime.” During his speech Cantone remarked that he was “honored to receive such a recognition in a moment when Milan has decisively assumed the role of moral capital of the country, in a moment when the national capital is not showing the moral strength it needs and which we all hope it rediscovers.” He was referring to the scandals that have challenged Rome since the revelations of “Mafia Capital” last year, as well as the the accusations of mishandling of city funds which caused Mayor Ignazio Marino to resign this month. Cantone was appointed in March 2014 by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, following his many successful years directing anti-mafia operations in Naples.

A Sardinian Money Trail and Ferrari Comes to America – October 22

Francesca Barracciu, Undersecretary of State of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, resigned on Wednesday after pressure mounted regarding allegations that she misappropriated funds belonging to the regional government of Sardegna between 2004 and 2013. Barracciu stated that she was stepping down in order to effectively confront her critics and emerge from the controversy “with her head held high.” Nearly 81,000 Euro ($90,000) are said to have been used illegally by Barracciu to pay for campaign events and personal travel expenses. The Undersecretary denies the accusations, claiming that the money went to fuel and other transportation costs accumulated during her official travels across Sardegna. During an interview on the talk show Otto e mezzo, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who appointed her in February 2014, complimented Barracciu for the choice, saying that it was a “commendable decision, worthy of respect,” while urging her critics not to rush to judgment. This is not the first controversy Barracciu has faced, as similar accusations caused her to withdraw from the regional elections for President of Sardegna last year. The first hearing in the case is set for February 2nd at the Tribunal in Cagliari, and Barracciu will be defended by Franco Luigi Satta.

Ferrari burst out of the gate in a dazzling fashion Wednesday as it opened 15% above its initial public offering price on the New York Stock Exchange, trading 17 million shares at $60 each. Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler and chairman of Ferrari, rang the opening bell as passerby admired the supercars parked on Wall Street outside. Founded in 1947 by Enzo Ferrari in Maranello (Emilia-Romagna), the company has grown to employ 2700 people and is one of the world’s leading luxury sports car manufacturers, producing 7,000 units per year. Marchionne expressed his enthusiasm over the debut, saying “it is a great day, to see Wall Street full of Ferraris is something extraordinary and would have been impossible ten years ago” and that Ferrari should arrive on the Italian stock exchange (Borsa Italiana) by next January. Ferrari, trading under the symbol RACE, closed at $55, giving it a market value of more than 10 billion dollars.

The Week in Italian News: Brain Drain, Less Traffic, and the Postponement of Civil Unions – October 16

On Monday Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced a new effort to persuade Italian professors who have gone to teach and do research abroad to return to Italy and invest in the nation’s higher education system. During an interview with Fabio Fazio on the talk show Che tempo che fa, Renzi said that he will work to insert measures to counteract the current “brain drain” that universities are experiencing into the legislative package known as “la legge di stabilità,” or economic reform laws. The measures will include a national competition based on merit and generous grants for research projects. Many recent stories focus on the success Italians have found after emigrating to countries like the United States, including those of Enrico Moretti, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, or Barbara Mellone, a biologist who has garnered nearly $3 million in funding for her research from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.

Ignazio Marino is committed to fulfilling one of his major campaign promises before he steps down as Mayor of Rome on November 2nd. Marino declared Monday that he plans to complete the pedestrianization of Via dei Fori imperiali, which runs between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum in the heart of Rome’s historic district. One of his first acts following his election in 2013 was banning private vehicle traffic on the road and lowering the speed limit to 30 km (18 miles) per hour. Buses, taxis, and rented cars with drivers were still permitted. The complete prohibition of vehicular traffic is intended to provide visitors with a “historical promenade” past some of the most significant archaeological sites of the city, including the Forum of Nerva and the Forum of Augustus. Marino’s plan is not without controversy, however, as it will cause significant rerouting of public transportation and increase taxi rates from the Colosseum to the city center. Alessandro Atzeni, a representative of Uiltrasporti, which operates many of the taxis in Rome, stated that the plan is “foolish,” and that in the “interest of everyone it would have been more useful to leave behind a project to rebuild Roman roads, which have become as bad as mule tracks.” The road is expected to be bike and pedestrian only by the time Pope Francis convenes the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy on December 8th.

While appearing on the talk show Porta a Porta on Thursday, Maria Elena Boschi, the Minister of Constitutional Reforms, stated her concerns regarding legislation on civil unions for same-sex couples being “postponed until next year.” Roberto Blasi’s October 13th post on Facebook pushed the issue to the forefront of national debate this week, drawing wide media attention and generating discussion on the treatment of gay partners by the Italian state. Blasi, who married 80s pop star Giovanni Scialpi in New York last August, wrote in the post that for the “healthcare system and the State I am considered a complete stranger,” even as his husband underwent a serious heart surgery. The question of civil unions has been a contentious one in Italy for years, as legislation has been introduced 46 times since 1988 without any concrete results. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi commented on multiple occasions about civil unions this year, declaring on Twitter in March that “discussion was underway in parliament,” and in September that the “question of civil unions should be resolved by October 15th.” While for now it seems as though little progress will be made by the end of the year, Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) Senator Monica Cirinnà’s proposal has gained wide support due to its careful terminology and allowal of adoptions by one member of the same-sex couple, known as the “stepchild adoption.”

A Rudderless Rome and Student Protests – October 9

After months of allegations of corruption and criticism for the state of the city, Mayor Ignazio Marino of Rome resigned yesterday at 7:30pm local time. He did so through a video message that he posted on his Facebook page, emphasizing how his efforts to combat corruption during his term were successful, and that his decision to step down was the result of an aggressive movement to “undermine the democratic choice of Romans.” In his message he said “No one should think or say that I make the choice out of weakness or because I feel guilty,” accusing his opponents of wanting to put the city “back into the hands of the Mafia” by forcing his removal. Marino was first elected in 2013 on the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) ticket, winning with 64% of the vote, but quickly drew criticism for his handling of the extensive “Mafia Capitale” scandal that emerged last year, which implicated some of the most powerful politicians and business figures in Rome in a money-laundering scheme. This year new questions arose over his use of a government credit card to pay for dinners and other expenses totaling upwards of 20,000 Euro, all of which Marino claimed was used for official state business. News of Marino’s decision caused cheers to erupt from the crowd gathered around Piazza del Campidoglio, as they chanted “Rome is free!,” and “Go back to Liguria!” Marino’s party issued a response to the news, saying “We admire Ignazio Marino’s responsible gesture…it is the right choice and demonstrates his desire to put the city’s interests first.” The vice mayor of Rome also resigned yesterday and Franco Gabrielli, the prefect of Rome, is expected to be selected to guide the city during this transition period. Elections could be held as early as May 2016, in what is expected to be a close contest between the ruling Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) and the Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle). Some possible candidates include Roberto Giachetti, Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies, Raffaele Cantone, President of the Anti-corruption National Authority (ANAC), Paolo Gentiloni, the Minister of Defense, and Linda Lanzillotta, Vice President of the Italian Senate.

Italian students took to the streets in the thousands today to protest Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s proposed educational reforms, with 90 marches and demonstrations from Milan to Palermo. The uniting concern was the “Buona Scuola,” (Good School) law, which Parliament passed in July to improve the quality of teachers and provide schools with better funding, but which students claim weakens their ability to influence curricula and obtain the resources they need, such as access to high-speed internet. Riccardo Laterza, one of the leaders of the Rome-based student group Network of Awareness (Rete di Conoscenza), stated at the protest outside of the Italian Chamber of Deputies building that students came to “reclaim the right to influence their own education, their own university, and their own lives…we want power: the power to study, the power to choose our own future, the power to live a life with dignity, the power to collectively change our submissiveness.” Many at the rallies also voiced opposition to the government’s plans to change the way it distributes scholarships based on income, saying that it will impact students who already struggle to afford university housing and living expenses. 60,000 people were estimated to have participated in the protests today, and student organizations plan for an entire week of mobilization lasting until October 17th, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Midweek Italian Politics – October 7

On Monday the Italian Senate decided to suspend two of its members for 5 days each due to their obscene gestures during a debate last Friday on constitutional reforms. Senator Lucio Barani, leader of the Autonomous Popular Alliance (Alleanza Liberalpopolare-Autonomia), was recorded miming oral sex towards Senator Barbara Lezzi, of the Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle), which was repeated by Senator Vincenzo D’Anna, also of the Autonomous Popular Alliance. Both men were reproved by the President of the Senate Pietro Grasso, saying their actions “damaged the credibility of the Senate.” Barani claimed that he was misunderstood, while D’Anna, in an interview with Corriere della Sera, resisted expressing regret for his actions, saying “I have nothing to apologize for, because the sexist charges were the result of other people…[Senator] Lezzi made the gesture at [Senator] Barani and I imitated it.” Members of the disciplinary committee spent more than three hours examining video footage from the Friday session to decide on a penalty. The suspensions will last until October 10th.

Italian bombs may begin falling on Syria soon, according to a story by the Corriere della Sera. As U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Rome yesterday to meet with Italian Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti, the newspaper reported there are already plans underway to bring Italian forces into the struggle against ISIS, the Islamic militant group that has come to control large portions of territory in both Syria and Iraq. The Italian Ministry of Defense was quick to clarify that no actions will be taken until the mission is approved by parliament, writing on Twitter that it is only a “hypothesis” at the moment. Article 11 of the Italian Constitution does contain language about the “rejection of military intervention,” in solving international conflicts and liberating countries, so the process is expected to be lengthy and will require participation in a coalition or alliance with other nations. Should it be approved, four jets are expected to be contributed to the effort, and will be lending support to both reconnaissance and bombing missions.