Italy: power, politics & football

Italy: power, politics & football

A country which once ruled much of the world is now as renowned for its corruption as it is for its football. But DAVID MARTINO learned that it is best to embrace this unique part of Italian culture, as he recognised the relaxed attitude that it brings.

Italy is famous throughout the world for its wealth of beauty and culture. Each year thousands of tourists flock to the unusual, boot-shaped country to gaze upon the antique statutes and monuments, the centuries-old churches and Renaissance artwork, to experience the wonderful food and meet the lively people.

But Italy is more than just fashion and an historic culture. The country has an intriguing and mysterious past, a tangled web of bureaucracy and a smoke and mirrors game of unorthodox politics, all of which blend together in the saucepan of Italy to create a truly unique flavour — Bella Italia.

I travelled for two and a half months in Italy, awed by the Romanesque statues and Baroque style architecture, inspired by the Renaissance frescoes and sculptures, intrigued by the fashions and the food. As I began to explore beyond the tourist attractions I came across a fascinating aspect of Italian culture, that of politics and power-play. 

While visiting Catania in Sicily I was caught riding the bus without a ticket. A large and bloated inspector escorted me onto the sidewalk where I was issued a hefty fine of fifty euros. As I pleaded with him to reduce the fine, with much hand waving and broken Italian, the inspector winked at me and rubbed his fingers together behind his back in the international gesture for ‘bribe’. As I attempted to slip the inspector a twenty in the hope that he could make this little problem disappear, I was rescued by a passing Italian family.

‘No Ragazzo!’ they cried. ‘This man is corrupt!’

The friendly Italian family went on to explain the situation to me. As I was not an Italian resident, it would be foolish of me to pay this fine. The bureaucracy is such that by the time the relevant offices process the necessary forms in three to four months, I would be well out of the country. I turned to the inspector who nodded his approval, not in the least embarrassed about being caught attempting to solicit a bribe.

From the outside Italy may appear to be quite developed and successful, however the country is still hindered by dirty politics and corrupt government. Currently with a population of about 60 million, Italy has the weakest economy in Western Europe. The economy is marred by inflation, large overseas debt and grew at a meagre average of 2% over the last decade.

A report by Transparency International, a group investigating global corruption, places Italy low on its corruption scale coming in behind countries like Estonia and Botswana. To learn more, I began to ask some questions to discover why such an important country is so far behind the world economic leaders.

Ownership of Italy has changed hands many times, from the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs to the Papacy and wealthy Oligarchies. Italy was once an important piece on the global chessboard and control of the country was achieved by the powerful few forming strategic alliances and looking after the right people.

Even today, business and politics are ubiquitous and large corporations are concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy families. Much of Italy’s economy is reliant upon small business and their level of foreign investment is relatively low. The large corporations that do export a wealth of Italian products are associated with powerful families that often are involved in politics, the media and, of course, football.

Currently Italy is ‘owned’ by Silvio Berlusconi, an ambitious Prime Minister who was recently under investigation for fraudulent behaviour. Berlusconi owns the Mediaset umbrella of television broadcasters in Italy, the Mondadori publishing house which holds the copyrights to a large percentage of Italian books, and unsurprisingly, the AC Milan football team.

It is nearly impossible to get an objective perspective on Italian political life when the three Mediaset channels are clearly biased toward Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, and the newspapers are owned by wealthy families also closely involved in politics.

Italians have always been fanatical when it comes to football and visiting a live match on a Sunday, I experienced this first-hand. Some friends and I made our way to the stadium in Firenze to watch Fiorentina against Sampodoria. The stadium was filled to capacity with about 45,000 fans, and was alive with colour and cheer which included waving flags and plenty of flares being lit. A dedicated section for supporters of the away team filled a meagre few thousand seats, surrounded on both sides by Perspex walls.

From behind the walls the Sampodoria fans glared liked caged animals at the sea of purple and white surrounding them, and what they lacked in numbers they compensated with volume. As the game got underway the fans grew anxious but Sampodoria slotted two goals to secure an away victory. The away fans pressed themselves against the Perspex jeering and taunting the Fiorentina fans, tossing smoke flares and generally behaving like a crazed mob.

Although Italy is not the only country with its share of corrupt political figures, the smokescreen of bureaucracy and paperwork associated with the legal system makes it virtually impossible to convict these high-profile entrepreneurs of any such crime.

The veritable montage of documentation, contradictory evidence, speculation and in-the-pocket judiciaries is stifling. Indeed many charges are dropped as the deadline for a decision in the courts is superseded. The convictions that do eventuate are promptly appealed in the courts usually resulting in the dropping of the charge.

Through all of this, Italians seem to have a natural mistrust and scepticism for authority. They have developed an independence, or self-reliance, where “if you don’t look after yourself and your family, nobody is going to do it for you,” as my friend put it. Therefore, it is natural to bend a few rules here and there. As such it is easy to find a sense of freedom in Italy.

You can drink from any age, purchase caffeine or tobacco at any age, and pedestrian crossings and no smoking signs are more guidelines than strict laws. But Italians deal with these freedoms sensibly, such as it being rare to see drunken Italians despite the lack of laws restricting the consumption of alcohol — over-consumption is seen as ugly and unstylish.

The majority of Italians are decent law-abiding citizens who seem to be disgruntled by the continuing cycle of corrupt government. It is simply that Italy is unique; a country that works according to its own laws and systems. The expensive clothing label Versace designs and provides all the uniforms for the carabinieri, the Italian police.

Ducati provides the motorcycles they ride, while Gucci designed the uniforms to the Italian Olympic team as well as the tracksuits worn by the national football team. These curious and fascinating associations are just one side to Italy which makes it so unique, and adds a fascinating dimension to an already intriguing culture.

Australian Times

Australian Times

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