Diplomatic Lows

Today is officially the 73rd birthday of the Italian Republic.

Last Friday, the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC held its annual gala with America’s B-List politicians in attendance. Wilbur Ross, Andrew Wheeler, and Kellyanne Conway filled in for any bigshots in the Trump Administration. (Ross is Secy of Commerce, Wheeler is the EPA Administrator, and Conway is a Trump spokeswoman.)

Italy’s diplomats may not attract President Trump’s attention here, but Italian politics in la patria are closely scrutinized by Trump’s ideologue Steve Bannon. Bannon is hanging around Europe these days advising and cheering on right-wing movements in many countries. Bannon has set out to establish a training center for Judeo-Christian primacy in Italy at an ancient monastery outside Rome. Thus far, his plans have been stymied by some Italian officials who want no political movements at a religious site. But Bannon soldiers on.

Bannon chums around with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini who is climbing to de facto leadership of the European right. Considered an Italian Trump, Salvini has adopted the “Italians First!” refrain.

Make no mistake, there is a rising tide of revulsion among Europeans with illegal immigration and the European Union’s suppression of nationalism. However, the Brits, motivated by this erosion of sovereignty, are showing how just opting out on Europe can be a sticky wicket.  Other European nations are paying attention and have decided to change the EU from inside. In Italy, the Lega Salvini party just won 34% of Italy’s representation to the European Parliament. (Remember, a parliamentary system can empower even small coalitions.)

Salvini has been compared to Mussolini, which he doesn’t consider an insult. He has transformed himself from a northern Italian demagogue, who denounced southern Italians not long ago, into an anti-immigrant nationalist popular even in Sicily.

Where once the Italian Republic maintained the center of the political spectrum, Italy’s decline into the economic and social doldrums is splitting its citizens down the middle. Clearly, this same split is reflected in the U.S. as well as all the Western countries. There is a sense by many that globalism and the massive influx of foreigners will be our undoing. Favoring your own kind, be they fellow ethnics or assimilated citizens, is considered racism or tribalism to those who would judge traditionists.

Ambassador Varricchio in Washington and NY Consul General Genuardi represent a stark contrast to Italy’s diplomats of yesteryear.  They exhibit only a superficial regard for Italian Americans.  One telling example is their disdain for Italian American participation at La Casa Italiana (at Columbia University).  In 1933 the Italian government awarded medals to the Paterno Family that built and donated the $15 million palazzo. (It made the NY Times, with photo!)  Today, Italian diplomats consider us a nuisance.

Varricchio and Genuardi will rotate out of the U.S. this year. Whether they will be replaced by “nationalists,” who realize that American cousins should be respected, remains to be seen.

Speaking of the NY Times, I’ll stray a bit to show how the Italian diplomatic corps in the country doesn’t care a wit about Italy’s reputation in the media. In yesterday’s Times there was a story on Pope Francis’s visit to Romania, written by its Rome correspondent Jason Horowitz. Horowitz echoed the similarity between Matteo Salvini and Mussolini in the treatment of “Roma” (i.e. Gypsies) living in Italy. He could have stopped there and made a point. However, he continued with fake history: “[Mussolini] ultimately sent at least a half a million Roma to die alongside Jews in Nazi death camps.”

I immediately emailed a protest to the Times quoting this passage from the Holocaust Encyclopedia:

“In 1939, about a million Roma lived in Europe. About half of all European Roma lived in eastern Europe, especially in the Soviet Union and Romania. Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria also had large Romani communities. In Greater Germany there were about 30,000 Roma, most of whom held German citizenship; about 11,200 of this number lived in Austria. Relatively few Roma lived in western Europe.” [emphasis added]

To go from “relatively few” to half a million Gypsies, and to accuse Italians – even Mussolini – of this holocaust is revisionist history at its worst.

I wonder if Italian diplomats here even read American newspapers. -JLM


2 thoughts on “Diplomatic Lows”

  1. Caro John, I am about to turn 80 (June 13). I have spent the majority of those years as an Italic activist. And I still am one. I spent the first year of my retirement (June 2005 to June 2006) in Italy and since 1984 have visited the Bel Paese seven other times for shorter stays and put my foot down in 18 of the 20 regions. I have written scores of Italian/Italian-American articles for numerous publications (including The Italic Way). I helped found the Italian Cultural Society of Sacramento 40 years ago and seen it grow into one of the most effective independent Italic institutions in the nation. I hosted a weekly Italian radio program for more than 20 years and I currently host the Society’s annual Italian Film Festival. And, of course, I have read an uncountable number of books and periodicals about almost every aspect of Italy and Italian America.

    I say all this not to pat myself on the back. Rather, inspired by your article on il Giorno della Repubblica, I wonder: Am I and you and all of those like us little more than a band of Don Quixotes?


    * Most Italian Americans don’t care a whit about Italy.
    * Most Italians in Italy, including the Italian government, don’t care a whit about Italian Americans.
    * Most Italian Americans don’t care a whit about their own fellow Italian Americans
    * Apart from groups like the IIA and the ICS Italian-American organizations are still only concerned with social activities (dinners, dances, festas)
    * Our only serious issue is defamation and after all these years no one has come up with an effecrtive way of dealing with it.
    * Lastly, as we and our offsprings wed more and more outside of the clan, the only ones who have an interest in things Italian are/will be the ones who have made an intellectual choice to do so. And such people don’t even have to have a drop of Italian blood.

    So, to quote the old pacifist song: What are we fighting for?

  2. In a similar vein, American news media, both print and electronic, recently made “big news” out of the fact that the house featured on “The Sopranos” is up for sale (asking price: $3.5 million, I believe).

    That the character of Tony Soprano is completely fictitious seemed to bother “serious” journalists not one whit. Newspaper blurbs and TV reporters framed this item next to stories about global politics.

    To slightly update the expression: “Oh, what a tangled web they weave, when AMERICAN MEDIA practice to deceive.” And always, always at the expense of Italy, Italian Americans or Italian culture.

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