Prodi v. Berlusconi: to care or not to care?
Earlier this week, I started to write a story about the anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death. Thousands gathered at the Vatican, people even slept on the streets to try and be the first in line for the memorial ceremony. There were Polish flags everywhere, military police, and traffic restrictions. I even had a catchy lead: "A funny thing happened on the way to the Vatican". The truth is, a funny thing happened while I was writing the article.
I had nothing. Nada, zip, zilch, niente. Outside of my lead paragraph and my own thoughts on the event, I had no material. Quite frankly, I just didn't care. Neither did most Romans I know. Don't get me wrong, there were thousands of Romans who cared. Shopkeepers hung signs in their windows, churches were crowded, and it was the top headline for all the local newspapers. None of that stopped the bars from running 'til 4am. It didn't ease any tensions. There were no public signs of solidarity outside of the Vatican. Romans just couldn't be bothered.
Ok, so with that idea scrapped, at least the election was coming up. That would be a big deal, right? There were thousands of political propaganda signs littering the billboards and public ad space. The news was covering the event non-stop. It was billed as one of the most controversial and competitive elections in recent Italian history. Every Roman had an opinion on how crazy the event would be, and how polarized and passionate they are about politics. Well, the day came (actually it was a 2 day voting period) and once again, nothing. It was a 51 to 49 per cent victory for Romano Prodi of the center-left coalition, an ousting of the enigmatic sociopath Berlusconi, and a complete shift of power in the country. Reaction....small conversations between coffee, cigarettes and shopping.
I haven't been this let down by inaction since I watched M. Night Shama..whatever's "The Village". I'm going out on a limb here by generalizing, but it has to be said. Romans are all talk, no action. Most of them are just downright lazy. The scary thing is that they actually admit to it. Politically, they remind me of Americans. Lots of talk and debate, but no physical drive to actually change anything.
On Monday night, I got the best explanation of why from a neo-fascist Jiu Jitsu trainer while having coffee (oh, I'll get to that in the next article). "The biggest problem with Italian politics are Italians...", he said, "We expect the same thing from a new president. Honestly, we're too lazy to go out and change anything". Ok, you know you're in trouble when a skin-head neo-fascist gives you the most intelligent quote of the evening.
But that's where I'm at backpackers. I beg someone to prove me wrong on this one. This was a monumental election, and there's little faith that anything here will change for the better. Things will change, that's inevitable, but how and when? Berlusconi represented the center-right coalition. That includes the economic conservatives, religious conservatives, and on the far end, fascists. Prodi's party is the center-left. That includes social reformers, equal rights groups, the Catholic leftists, and on the far end, communists.
Italy will change, but Romans won't care until it actually effects their day-to-day life. Traffic will still be miserable. The cost of living will still be preposterously high. Businesses will still take 3 hour lunch breaks. Transportation strikes will still be a regular thing. Oh, and politics will still be discussed, I repeat, discussed.
As an American I'm aware that the new presidency will have an effect on US-Italy foreign relations. I won't go into how, but it will be exciting to see how the Bush administration deals with the change in power. Prodi's supporters are almost unanimously anti-Bush.
The overall point I want to make is that whining about problems and actually doing something to solve them are two entirely different things. Passion as an ideal is far less effective than passion put into action. The French riot, Ukrainians gather en masse and protest, Haitians burn tires and fire guns at the police. But hey, at least they do something to take a stand.
Unemployement here is hovering near 20%, the economy isn't growing, the social welfare system is in disarray, and immigration is rapidly expanding. Italians took the first step in fixing these problems by electing a new leader. In general, you can tell that people want change. Hold Prodi to the fire, Italy. Demand more jobs, boycott the outrageous taxes, demand a return to the lira, and take to the streets until companies actually pay wages that compare to the cost of living.
I'm not Italian, so what do I know? This is just an observation of what I see. I want people here to succeed, and only they can make it happen. Actions, backpackers, speak volumes over spoken words. There's no better time than now. Carpe Diem Romani. Today ushers in a new beginning for Italy, don't waste it.