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The case for an Italian rebellion. Why it doesn’t happen. And what could happen

The case for an Italian rebellion is not insane. I had the chance to speak with many foreign observers, recently, and I found that an Italian rebellion is considered a real option. (I will not quote their names, but if they want they can comment here).

An Italian rebellion? Other Mediterranean countries have done just so, lately. Tunisia and Egypt, for example, have chosen to rebel against their dictators and the world has appreciated. Considering the Italian political situation as a sort of authoritarian regime and thinking that it is not reformable through the normal democratic process, one is lead to think that the rebellion is the only possible solution.

In that mindset, if Italians rebel, they demonstrate their democratic will and maturity. If they don’t rebel, they show they are anything between accomplices and weak victims of the head of their government and his power system. If Italians will rebel, they will free themselves from the shame of accepting a very doubtful sort of democratic government, the consequences of which are dangerous for themselves and the world. That’s the option. But it is not happening.


Of course, assuming that Italy is not a real democracy and that it is not going to be reformed through a democratic process is a quite extreme vision of the Italian situation. Many Italians still think they are in a democracy and that next electoral opportunities will bring a new government to them. But many others think that they live in a regime, based on a non-democratic control over the media (i.e. television) by the head of the government.

The incredible series of scandals that involved the head of the government are linked to his political incapacity to manage the financial crisis, which makes Italy dangerous for the world’s financial stability. There is a general understanding about the fact that a change in government should be needed to solve some real Italian problems. The government has resisted all scandals by denying any problems and by acting as if all criticism was the enemy’s obscure maneuver. The majority in Parliament has been reinforced by an alliance with a dozen or more politicians that had been elected in one of the opposition’s parties and that have been convinced to change side using very controversial means. Many see the Italian political stall as a consequence of a lack of democracy in Italy. If nothing is done, Italy will lose its place in the euro system, causing tragic consequences to the world’s financial stability. Poverty will grow, desperation will rise, violence will diffuse.

Thus, as it has been said, a rebellion should be an option. Or isn’t it?

As seen from abroad if Italians don’t rebel, it may be that Italians are accepting the way their politicians work. If it was true, the
international shame should be on them, too, and not only on their
politicians. But listening to what Italians are thinking and doing is a bit more complicated. And maybe a learning experience.

Of course, there are different kind of Italian experiences:
1. A 35% of Italians are considered functionally illiterate: they cannot read, they only rely on television to getting the news. They sort of live in a fiction, which is created by the very power source of the present political leadership. When they vote, they vote accordingly.
2. There is a 10% who read a lot: they are connected to the rest of the world, they work with the rest of the word, they export, they travel, they read English, or French, or German. They know that Italy is not working and needs to be fixed. Some of them think that it is possible to reform, but they don’t seem to find a political alternative to what there is now. Some other just care for their interests and do what they can to save themselves. Finally, some of them think that nothing can be done, they will vote at the next elections and they will hope without believing.
3. Young people are connected and desperate. They rely on their parents’ help. They don’t seem to be willing to risk if they don’t see were to bet. If there was something to risk about, some of them would risk: some would go abroad, some would start a company, some would rebel… Some of them actually do so. The majority of them is sort of silently waiting for somebody that explains what can be done.
4. Some Italians are leaders: companies, universities, foundations, associations, city and regional managements are full of great people that innovate and keep the Italian machine going. They are busy doing the job for the rest of their fellow citizens and don’t think to rebel.
5. Some Italians are criminals. They do whatever they can to get power and money. They don’t pay taxes. They trade drugs. They build where it is forbidden. They devastate the environment. They engulf culture with any kind of horrible content. They don’t rebel, because they like the way Italy is now.
6. Some Italians have faith. They wait.
7. Some Italians are testing the new means that the network is creating to change the way the media work, to improve their economic opportunities, to link to abroad: they haven’t yet overcome the power of television, but they have had a great, historic success this year by winning the attention game, when the majority of Italians showed up to vote for a referendum that television didn’t even bother to cover (the referendum was about stopping the nuclear power in Italy, stopping the privatization of water distribution and cancelling a law that helped the head of the government to escape some of his troubles with justice).

All Italians are worried and many are angry. Very angry. A rebellion cannot be considered impossible. But it is not what Italians are really interested in. And this is not because they like the system they are imprisoned in. They silently seem to say that they need something different.

Italians have lived ten and more years of terrorism. Thousands of them were killed by fascist and communist terrorists during the Seventies. Italians didn’t seem to like terrorists. But some of them shared with terrorists the idea that Italy is not really a reformable country. That is the major threat to a democracy. Reformist should become popular by achieving some results: if there are never results, cynical analysis emerge. And cynism leads to terror or to helplessness. We had terror in the past. Now we are experiencing helplessness.

Is it going to change?

The Eighties started with the hope of modernization and ended in some bad scandals while the public debt was starting to grow. During the last 20 years the government has been going from the great hope inspired by the European project, which was won in the Nineties, and the great distress of the present crisis. Change all over the world, in the last decade, has been lived in Italy as some sort of a passive experience, nothing that Italians were able to do anything about.

Through these ups and downs, there has been a war on culture: Italians have seen institutions bombarded by the barbaric language of the new politicians, they have seen the schools were their children go left without money to work, they saw their universities struggling to get any financing, they watched in television dozens of self interested leaders doing whatever they wanted, they heard the voices of a couple of businessmen laughing in recorded calls because the earthquake was going to get them good money… Italians are living an “after war”, a cultural war that devastated the country. Rebels have conquered the government and have destroyed peace, in Italy. Fear, urgencies, finances, are concentrating attention on the short term. Italians can rebel again. But most of all, they need perspective and peace.

How to get peace?

If they live in peace, if they have something to build, Italians are one of the best people in the world. If they are at war, they are not. They are better at resisting than at battling. But Italians, as – and more than – any other people in the western world, miss the time in which they shared a vision.

To get peace, Italians need to think and to act. Probably this means that they have to start by thinking better. And act quickly, after that.

This is the end of this long post. And I’m sorry for having written so much. Forgive a passionate Italian. Who is looking for something to do for his country, for his people, and for his children.

Italians are not alone in missing a vision. But Italians are paying a lot more for this. And maybe they will find a way out, that can become interesting for other people, too.

A rebellion is a revolution without a vision. Italians, probably, don’t really need a rebellion. They need a shared vision based on facts and reality (not on ideology and reality shows): a deep cultural change, that helps them in understanding their shared project, that helps rebuild a perspective and that makes them look ahead with an empirically based hope. They know they will have to work hard. And they usually do, when they know for what they are working. Thought, art and culture are to change. A rebellion is an act. A deep cultural change is a movement that is needed to transform the eventual act of a rebellion in the process of a constructive and generous revolution.

23 Commenti

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  • Man,
    thank you for writing this. I share your ideas and your analysis, and I feel that we have to overcome the cultural barriers that separate ourselves and inhibit us to think that we’re all on the same boat, with the same needs and issues, and by working together for a common goal we can accomplish everything we need.
    It’s a golden dream, but maybe it’s not too far – as long as we keep pushing :).

  • Grande! Mi ricorda una considerazione di Umberto Eco riguardo alle domande che gli rivolgono i suoi amici stranieri sull’Italia.
    Secondo me la chiave del “conundrum” e’ come smuovere quel 55% medio non completamente illiterato e non ultraconnesso.
    Attenzione a un paio di “were” che dovrebbero essere “where” e ancora complimenti per aver tratteggiato una perfetta storia dell’Italia recente per chi, nonostante tutto, ci vuole bene all’estero.

  • Non sono d’accordo con l’analisi, che per molti aspetti non è chiaro da che presupposti parta (non è la democrazia sostanziale che abbiamo oggi il problema, ma la cultura democratica che non si è alimentata negli anni… e di questo bisogna tener conto quando si pensa al dopo possibile…), ma ritengo che le conclusioni siano corrette.
    Purtroppo oggi mancano i laboratori capaci di costruire/pensare visione per il futuro, ed è questa la grande sofferenza e paura che, almeno io, vivo.

  • Foreigners (and Americans specifically) don’t see the difference between Italy and Libya because very often they can’t tell which is which when they look at the map. In less than two years we will have elections and there’s no need of a blood bath in the meanwhile, as you say. However, I think that a vast, peaceful rebellion is rapidly spreading all around the Country. The popularity of the current government is as low as 26%, which means that even illiterate people who spend much time watching at tv are proving able to understand the situation. The rebellion is in every post against the current state of affairs, like this great one, is whenever serious and respectable professionals speak loud in face of our miserable governors, is in every ‘no’ that honest people say to compromises.

  • I think that the world does not know very well the Italians!
    Who does not know the historical reality of Italy, from 1968 to today can not understand! We have lived for decades in an “excess” of democracy: I mean, in any discussion, in the ’70s and ’80s, you had to put into question, put yourself constantly in crisis, not to overwhelm the others. A continuous search for what could be more intellectually right
    There were a continuous research for the “cultural avant-garde”; to searche a way of being socially useful, and democratic. The trade union movements, the labor rights, were in first place in public discussions. The cultural factors were all in the first place, (for not to be “retreau”! This happened for 20 years and over in Italy, every day…… In these 20 years the prevailing culture was of course left, always and absolutely liberal and democratic left-wing, super-democratic. The expectations of the people were great huge, everyone was expecting major reforms, major changes in the system of government, both central and local levels. Here in Italy we have lived for 20 years as if we were in Berkeley
    in the years ’67-71! Just like Charlie Brown and friends, in the same way!
    I myself was first, in this way,at the high school, at thecollege and when I was professiona! I experienced everything!
    At some point (in the 90s) the the reality fell upon Italy!Tthe true economic reality has rained down Italy: there were no more fascists to fight! There were no more perfects men of the labor movement ! Power was also pleasing to the left ! Came to the government
    Craxi’s Socialists, the opportunists-calculated with the system of bribes to political parties (phase “Clean Hands” 1993-94). Since then, Italian, disappointed by all the political Left, that for 30 years had made promises, began to think only of themselves, only of their interests, their economic affairs ………………=> and here comes Berlusconi, that represents all these things, (we say ” like cheese on maccheroini “)!!! . In practice, the Italian says:” If they do not care of nothing and of the people, thinking only of their power, why should not I do it myself?
    Even today we live in this condition, which is why the Italians did not rebel anymore! Who taught them for 30 years, being incorruptible, and gave constant cultural-reformist-revolutionary messages, was detected only an opportunist. A whole political class has so much disappointed that the Italian thinks: “In the end it’s better as an entrepreneur Berlusconi, who is is not at least double ! It ‘done so, think about the women, success in power, as most of the people of the Western world” So is the “disappointment”, the disillusionment and disappointment, only the explanation of the behavior of Italian peolple; that’s because they are tired of rebelling and they do not care to change this government! Very simple.

  • Sì, Roberto, poi mi spieghi quando sono stati i 30 anni in cui la sinistra ha fatto promesse ma non ha voluto mantenerle. Forse al governo c’era qualcun altro? Forse nella situazione politica la generale arretratezza culturale, causata anche dalle strutture cattoliche, ha avuto un qualche peso?
    La rivolta in Italia non è possibile perché siamo un popolo di pigri invidiosi. Finché c’è da stare dietro ad un monitor siam tutti bravi, ma quando si tratta di fare anche solo le manifestazioni pacifiche ci si ritrova in pochissimi. Figuriamoci cosa succederebbe durante una “ribellione”…

  • I don’t agree with this analysis.Firstly because it’s centred only on media and I think that focus our attention over the media it was the greatest political mistake in the last twenty years. Moreover in this article nothing has been said about opposition political organisations such as PD and their absence, or better their lack of strenght during these years, gave a great contribute to make vague democracy balance in Italy. I think that opposition parties powerless action gave during these years an extraordinary possibility of growth to the judiciary power and this lack of balance between state powers is the real problem for italian democracy

  • See, dear readers?
    The comments in this post explain very well why Italy is in a mess. We are divided.
    Everyone in the country knows that if we keep on voting Berlusconi we are fucked. But voting something else would be like acknowledging a cultural defeat for some people. It’s like switching football team. A big no,no. No Italian supporter will move from a team to another. At maximum we will just avoid going to the stadium, but supporting another team is not at option, you stick to your team all the way down to the silliest league. We just LOVE to be divided. Burn, Italy, burn!

  • Bel testo, analisi appassionata.
    Drammaticamente mi riporta alla mente una discussione di classe, scandalo Lockheed, 1975: la conclusione di alcuni studenti, allora sedicenni, fu che quell’Italia non era democraticamente riformabile.
    Quest’Italia? Sono passati più di 30 anni e il paese non sa (mai saputo) distinguere tra melodramma e tragedia.
    Un appunto, su una “dinamica” non considerata nell’analisi: il paese è vecchio. Ogni politica, ogni azione, ogni forza al potere, mira a non scontentare una maggioranza, sempre più larga, di anacronistici vecchi.
    Old men hate revolutions and want no news.

  • It’s not a matter of right and left. It’s the all Italian politics which sucks. And Italians, at least those 55% of them, are totally tired of its caste. I share the analysis and the ideas of this post. And hope we’ll find a new creative (arn’t we creative?), peaceful but effective way to generate a new one of a kind revolution.

  • I can’t agree with this.The only rebellion italian people have to do is not against politics, but against themselves. Against their own spoiled culture.Unfortunately the 70s and 80s governaments,help by unions have created a certain mentality among people, especially in southern Italy,but not only. According to this mentality we all think that a certain standard of wealth is adequate to our nation.We think having one of the best(and most expansive)health systems of the world,having a welfare comparable to other rich european nations,having all a job which doesn’t require working more then 35 hours per week,having a pension for 60 years old people,having cheap public transportation services(cheap trains for instance) is MANDATORY in Italy,it is our own divine right to get all of those things. But do we really deserve being treated that good?Have we italians ever asked ourselves this easy question?
    There are nation where those things are not even coceived,and I m not talking about third world countries.We should just understand that we have all lived furher beyond our possibilities and that its time to change this mentality, and to understand that nobody in europe,even nation with far stronger economies than our, have the privileges that we have.I wouldn’t say this is just a politics related problem,whereas I d say a cultural related one.

  • @Francesco It just shows how great this place could be. We sustained these privileges; and might as well have done so in the future, had we not forfeited our wealth in order to keep up the boon
    of some parasitic groups.

  • Womderfull, gentlemen, See you on the mountains. Don’t forget to carry rifles and ammo. And, no, iPhones aren’t useful up there, battling the obscure forces of tiranny. What ? Everyone has another affair downtown ? Ah, the meeting of the LastDaysOfItaly Club… Understand. See you another time. Bye.

  • Splendido articolo dai tantissimi meriti:
    – innanzitutto la volontà e la capacità di mettersi nei panni di una straniero, meglio se d’oltreoceano, e di guardare all’Italia senza tabù. Solo così è possibile quell’ipotetico raffronto con il Nord-Africa e con le sue rivoluzioni, raffronto che istintivamente ferisce la nostra vanità di europei.
    – la riuscita sintesi di un ventennio di storia politica e sociale – e dunque anche massmediale – senza semplificazioni superficiali e/o forzature ideologiche. Certo manca il riferimento all’opera del principale partito di opposizione ma tale assenza è metafora dell’assenza di incisività della sinistra.
    – capacità di differenziare gruppi e complesse dinamiche sociali ma di cogliere dietro le differenze quell’atmosfera diffusa di sfiducia in cui viviamo con la terribile quanto veritiera constatazione “And cynism leads to terror or to helplessness. We had terror in the past. Now we are experiencing helplessness”.
    – l’intuizione di una soluzione in un processo culturale di lunga durata in cui esperire insieme il nuovo, ri-raccontarsi (i traumi passati, i presenti timori, le speranze ma anche le paure future) in una sorta di collettiva terapia della parola, “talking cure” di gruppo, in cui lo spazio “terapeutico” di ripstto e dialogo è dato da nuove regole condivise.
    – e soprattutto, quello che più ammiro, il coraggio di mostrare anzichè reprimere una personale contagiosa passione umana e civile senza la quale nessuno sviluppo, nessun rinnovamento culturale è possibile.
    Grazie di cuore

  • “A 35% of Italians are… functionally illiterate [who] only rely on television for news.”
    I’m not 100% sure that the percentage of functionally illiterate Italians is that high. I agree that is not far from that figure, and in any case, even if it were 10% it would still be untolerably high. However, I wanted to point out that, while this is true:
    “[Many Italians] sort of live in a TV fiction, which is created by the very power source of the present political leadership. When they vote, they vote accordingly”
    it would be a very big mistake to assume that all the Italians who “live in a TV fiction” and base their political decisions on it, eventually vote for the “present political leadership”, at least if by leadership you mean “the leadership that constitutes the current cabinet”. There are plenty of Italians who vote for the current opposition, or don’t vote at all, who only get their “facts” from mainstream TV.
    Oh, and you may want to remove the spam from your comments!

  • I’ve called for the overthrow of the Japanese government many times and the funny thing is that many government and corporate leaders agree with me. However, rebellion never happens in Japan. There are many differences but many similarities.
    It’s very interesting to read your post and reflect on these similarities and differences, but I think the Arab Spring shows us that even in very unlikely places, a dash of courage and timing can cause unexpected results.
    Good luck in your reform/rebellion. When you finish, come and help me in Japan. 😉

  • An interesting piece.
    As a foreigner who has lived in Italy for over 10 years and who has written about this nation since 2005, I’d agree that a bloody revolution is not the answer to Italy’s ills.
    What Italy badly needs is a credible leader who believes in the country and Italy needs direction – it has none and is going round in ever decreasing circles.
    This country has huge potential – but does not realise this, nor is it capable of realising its potential. Perhaps it’s because Italians are too small minded.
    Look at other nations – see what works and emulate it. Find out what does not work in Italy and make it work. It can be done – where there is a will, there is a way.
    And to kick things off, Italians need to trust each other more and not try to rip each other off.
    Forza, Italia! You can do it – if you want to…

  • Me pueden dar una mano?, estoy buscando italianos que hayan viajado o vivido en Colombia, o que simplemente sienten curiosidad por nuestro país, si conocen alguno, les pido el favor de invitarlo. Muchas gracias. Se conoscete qualcuno che ha vissuto o vive in Colombia, vi è stato in vacanza o semplicemente ama questo paese invitatelo a raccontare la sua esperienza qui http://www.facebook.com/groups/italianicolombiani/ grazie mille

Luca De Biase

Knowledge and happiness economy Media and information ecology


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