I’ve always been a big fan of Italy ̶ birthplace of all my grandparents ̶ but I’m too focused on its decline to rave about it anymore.
I’ve made only two trips to Italy: a Perillo Tour in 1984 with my wife, and a ceremonial visit in 1987 to launch the Italic Institute at the Altar of Augustan Peace in Rome. That trip was made with my co-founder and Sicilian mentor Stefano Gristina, who has since passed away. It may sound incongruous that a founder of the Italic Institute hasn’t set foot on Italian soil for thirty-three years, but life got in the way and travel is not my forte.
Perhaps if I were a regular sojourner to the Boot, absorbing its magic annually, my perspective would be more upbeat. But, my two visits in the 1980s foreshadowed the changes that are transforming Italy today into a multi-cultural and confused nation. There were the sub-Saharan Africans peddling handbags on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence back in 1984, and the Gypsy woman with suckling child begging tourists enjoying gelato in Rome’s Piazza Venezia in 1987. Roman Italy was better able to absorb the disastrous barbarian invasions and retain its essence than modern Italy can deal with the relentless influx of new illegal immigrants.
A major issue during soccer matches today is Italian fans throwing bananas on the field and making monkey sounds at African players. Chinese crime syndicates use northern Italy as the center of their nefarious European undertakings. Italy’s future generations are fleeing to northern Europe in search of work as young Muslims, Asians, and African replace them. No, this is not your grandfather’s Italy.
Politically, Italians have essentially neutered themselves. Switching from left to right and back again each year. Italy’s foreign policy is what France, Germany, and the United States say it is. When Italy’s previous Berlusconi government reached a deal with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi to stem the flow of sub-Saharan illegals crossing the Mediterranean into Italy, it was Germany, France, and the U.S. that bombed Gaddafi out of existence in 2011 killing the deal as well. Today, Libya is still in chaos with Russians and Turks now intervening to arm different sides in that civil war. Italians can only pray things work out, which puts them on the same earthly plane as the Pope. Speaking of which…
It often bothers me when the media and the clergy use “Rome” interchangeably with Vatican City. It is safe to say that the mere mention of Rome conjures up St. Peter’s and Catholicism rather than Italy’s capital. That is another indication of how low la Repubblica Italiana has come. Why not call it The Holy See, which is the proper name for the center of Catholicism? Vatican City is the capital of The Holy See. In Latin: Sancta Sedes, in Italian: la Santa Sede – literally the Holy Seat (sedia = chair).
Maybe, it’s just as well Rome doesn’t conjure up Italian politics or Italian history. I don’t know who is turning over in his grave more right now, Giuseppe Garibaldi or Benito Mussolini. Not that they were on the same page, politically. The Fascists played down Garibaldi because the left considered him their socialist revolutionary hero. But the “Hero of Two Worlds,” as he is known for his exploits in South America as well as Europe, dreamed of a reborn Roman Italy – united and respected. In two decades of the 20th Century, Mussolini managed to make Italy a stable nation and a world power until his ill-fated alliance with Hitler.
The Italian government these days is ruled by a partnership of former communists/socialists (Partito Democratico) and, ironically, an anti-government party (Five Star). For Americans, it would be like socialist Bernie Sanders teaming up with the libertarian/conservative Tea Party – hold on to your sedia!
Italy’s viability depends on membership in the European Union. But it holds only two key positions in it – the President of European Parliament (David Sassoli) and Commissioner of Economy (Paolo Gentiloni). Italians no longer lead the EU’s Foreign Ministry or the Central Bank. Many Italians question membership in the EU, especially when France and Germany call the shots. But an Italian exit would make Brexit look like a precision moon landing.
On the bright side, Italy’s internal unity is not in danger as is Spain’s, Belgium’s, and the United Kingdom’s. -JLM