Italy in a Funk

Calamity has struck the Italian people. Not an earthquake or flood, rather a lost soccer match with Sweden that cost Italy a place in the World Cup competition.  Not since 1958 has such a devastating event taken place.  For a nation where soccer is akin to pasta in devotion, sitting out the World Cup has thrown Italy into a funk. The blame game is now the post season sport.  “Too many foreign players!”  “Rampant corruption in the leagues!” “Proof that the nation is going downhill!”

As time goes by, Italians are realizing their future may be behind them. Inundated by illegal aliens literally washing upon their shores – some 450,000 by the last estimate – a rapidly growing Asian and Muslim population, a political system that produces only confusion, rising anti-Semitism and racism, a banking system with huge toxic loans on its books, youth unemployment that drives tens of thousands out of the country each year, Italy is at the mercy of the unsettling currents sweeping the globe.

Italians have always been cynical about their patria but they have reason to wonder if our brave new world will be the death of it.  This is not an idle fear.  We in the U.S. are going through much the same agony as we adjust to globalization, illegal immigration, multiculturalism, and unbridled technology.  But, for many Italians, the Fascist era has taken on the aura of the good ole days, at least in soccer.  After all, it was then that soccer became a matter of national prestige and World Cups were won back-to-back in 1934 and 1938.

By many standards, today’s Italy is not a key player in world diplomacy. Even Israel seems to wield more influence.  If it weren’t for its luxury niche in the auto, fashion, food, and technology sectors, Italy would only enjoy being the world’s largest museum.  Tough assessment but that’s what it looks like from here.

Can Italians blame their low birthrate or perhaps the European Union for their malaise? The jury is still out as to the benefits of EU membership.  At one end, it is an escape route for Italian graduates looking for jobs.  On the other end, it is the beacon that attracts Africa’s poor who use Italy as a welcome mat.  The EU has opened markets for Italian products but freezes Italy’s ability to adjust its currency for global advantage.  The E.U.  hasn’t eliminated Italian corruption or solved the Mafia-Camorra-‘Ndrangheta menace.  It has greatly reduced military spending, but made Italian patriotism an anachronism,

The Italic Institute first the saw the effects of an E.U.-centric Italy at La Casa Italiana (Columbia University).  In 1990, that 30,000 s.f. palazzo created by Italian Americans was transformed when sold to Italy.  Its founding mission – “to diffuse Italian culture” by housing the Italian Language Dept. and hosting undergraduates – was abruptly changed to “offering a privileged view of Europe” while evicting the language dept. and all undergraduates.  For Italian Americans European Italy has new priorities, clearly not to our advantage.

It seems the Union has given Italians a stronger voice in European affairs by virtue of positions they hold in the E.U. ˗ Mario Dagni heads the Central Bank, and Frederica Mogherini is the Foreign Minister. And, now that Britain is pulling out, Italy will be the #3 economy.  Still, for a nation that has been at the heart of Western Civilization for over two thousand years, being only a junior partner is taking its toll on a land whose mothers  ‘produced thirty centuries of genius,’ as historian Will Durant wrote.

An Italexit from the E.U. is not in the cards, though many Italians wish it. We Italian Americans will just have to adjust our image of Italy and not expect much from it – even a World Cup.   -JLM

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