2017 09 – News from Italy

Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


August is most people’s holiday month. But the M5S’s Luigi De Maio (Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement) was on the road campaigning; as was Jeremy Corbyn. De Maio is their preferred candidate for Premier in the not unlikely chance that they win the Spring 2018 general election. Grillo is barred from standing for office because of a criminal conviction.

On 21 August a magnitude 3.6 earthquake struck the holiday island of Ischia, at a time when many people were outside taking their evening promenade. Two adults were killed and three small boys made international headlines when they were pulled alive from the rubble many hours later. On 24 August last year a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck the Central Italian area around Amatrice, killing over 200 people and devastating several small towns. This was 1000 times stronger than the Ischia quake.

Ischia, in the Bay of Naples, is a volcanic island famous for its beauty and its thermal springs centred on the northern town of Casamicciola. In 1883 around 2,400 died there in a very severe quake. The area is vulnerable to seismic activity and is, of course, not far from Vesuvius and Pompei. August’s quake hit the same town again.

The Italian press of 23 August not only reported the desperate coincidence of that day’s Amatrice anniversary but were also full of headlines screaming about “abusivismo“. The headline of La Stampa ran: Ischia, the island capital of unregulated building (i.e. abusivismo), and homes built with substandard materials.

La Repubblica and La Stampa ran long articles about the quake. Paolo Gallori’s La Repubblica piece led with the serious question that has to be asked of a G8 member (i.e. Italy), accustomed to earthquakes, which doesn’t prevent deaths and extensive damage after such a low-level shock. La Stampa ran a headline that also pointed to the irony and “paradox: Our engineers have helped the Japanese to make their houses earthquake-proof”.

The Government of the newly united Italy (1860) issued codes for antiseismic prevention after the Casamicciola 1883 quake. Good practice has obviously still not been put into effect over 100 years later. In April 2009 the L’Aquila earthquake killed 300 and made 60,000 homeless. There was evidence that lax building standards had contributed to the destruction there. Added to this was the hushing up of clear predictions of an impending quake. Subsequently six people were charged with giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory” information about the dangers of a tremor.

L’Espresso of 23 August interviewed six people from the Amatrice area to see what had happened to them in the last year. Obviously the majority of buildings had not previously been made antiseismic. One school had collapsed even though it had supposedly been quake-proofed. Renzi’s Government announced at the time that reconstruction would be “swift and orderly”. But only about 8% of rubble has been removed and 2.4 million tons remain to be cleared. Someone said that it looks like Aleppo. There have been reports of reconstruction contracts being granted without proper tendering processes, so good practice is not being followed.

The L’Espresso subheading: Bureaucratic blindness introduced the story of Festine Dinushi, who used to be a carer. She still lives, one year on, in one of the civil protection’s blue tents. Apparently she hasn’t stopped crying since the quake. The family managed to find some possessions in the rubble and they stored them in their somewhat accessible basement. There have been two lesser quakes since the catastrophic one in August last year and their ruin was declared unsafe after the second quake in October. However, with no warning to the family, their house was bulldozed and their stored possessions completely destroyed. “I didn’t even have time to take the white chandelier with the blue border, she whispered quietly” to the interviewer.

Back to Ischia in the Province of Campania, and Vincenzo De Luca its Partito Democratico (Pd)  Governor. Described as “colourful”, he is a tough and cunning politician who has played a highly significant role in the management of the province, holding political power in different roles since 1993. He served as Mayor of Salerno (in Campania), was an MP and has been Governor since 2015. His Wikipedia entry lists 14 oddly insignificant awards. But they could have been included to balance 13 convictions for fraud, bribery, defamation, abuse of office and similar infringements. Many have been quashed subsequently for, the record says, lack of evidence. Unlike Beppe Grillo he has also managed to appeal successfully against being barred from political office.

An example: It was said that his request to small city Campania mayors to encourage a “yes” vote in the national constitutional reform referendum was no more than any leader would do. De Luca’s rationale was that Campania badly needed continued Government financial support. It was said that De Luca had asked the mayors to send him a fax listing the numbers of estimated “yes” votes before the actual poll was held. No evidence can now be found for this. And in any event the vote in Campania went against De Luca’s alleged vote buying and against Renzi’s reforms.

In the last couple of years central Government have been very critical of De Luca’s Campania for granting retrospective amnesties to unauthorised building works. La Repubblica of 23 August reported De Luca saying immediately that “there is no link between the destruction at Ischia and abusivismo”  (illegal building works). The Mayor of Ischia also said: “We are not a community of law-breakers”. Italian press articles after the quake disagreed unanimously and emphatically. Another La Repubblica report on the same day quoted a local hotel owner and businessman, Bruno Basentini, saying that there is a lack of planning and no political vision on the island.

At this point, while all other politicos were on holiday, M5S‘s Luigi De Maio saw that he could capitalise on the disaster. It is relevant to say that he is a fiercely ambitious young man but also one who is oddly and schoolboyishly naive. He has wriggled his way out of what are widely perceived as lies, in spite of M5S‘s anti-corruption manifesto. This time, his highly inflammatory speech blamed the Ischian devastation on the laxness of Renzi’s Pd  and Berlusconi’s Fi (Forza Italia) parties. Predictably he was heavily slated in the press.

Luigi De Maio also had recently been unwisely critical of Vincenzo De Luca. De Luca is a formidable adversary and he responded predictably with a patronising elegance, like a cat toying with a mouse. il Giornale.it (29 July 2017) reported him listing some of De Maio’s obvious weak points that he called his “fictitious moralism”. He then concluded with a killer squash of the paw: “Luigino (little Luigi).

La Stampa‘s 30 August website headline showed Renzi, Berlusconi and De Maio planning their September strategies. M5S aspire to give the electorate immediate voting access on national issues, and they have just been computer-hacked. Migration and the final structure of constitutional reform fuel much debate. The three main parties, Pd, Fi and M5S are almost level in opinion polls and the general election has to be held by Spring 2018.  One hopes that politicans have been suitably refreshed and invigorated by their August holiday.