Only in Italy

Article published on Feb. 27, 2006
Article published on Feb. 27, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The beauty of Europe lies in its rich socio-cultural diversity. Here are ten situations that are exclusively made in Italy – Italy, that bizarre boot-shaped peninsula, as much loved as it is frowned upon by fellow Europeans. Italy’s countdown…

1. Footballer Paolo Di Canio declares himself a fascist and performed the Roman Salute at a recent match, without being expelled from the football federation. In Germany, Stefan Effenburg was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup in the US for giving the finger. Italy: stuck in the year dot.

2. But in Italy even politicians make rude gestures. Anyone shocked by Sarkozy’s statements describing recent banlieue demonstrators as 'rabble' should go to any gathering of Italy’s Northern League and hear what its supporters have to say. Supporters like Roberto Calderoli – who happens to be former Reforms Minister – told immigrants last September to “go back to the desert and talk with camels, or to the jungle and dance with monkeys”. Politicians from the League are also notorious for their stand-alone proposals, such as 'chemical castration' to punish rapists and 'let’s blitz the immigrants'. I’d rather be dancing in the jungle.

3. “With the mafia and camorra you just have to live and let live”, according to none other than Italy’s Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Pietro Lunardi. You’re either with us or against us.

4. Shame though that this cohabitation with the mafia has cost the lives of brave individuals like Paolo Borsellino. In his last interview to two French reporters, the judge spoke of investigations into the activities of Marcello Dell’Utri, Berlusconi’s right-hand man, and alluded to the mafia’s money laundering activities. This scoop however found no takers on Italian TV – except, that is, for an obscure post-midnight satellite show. It is no coincidence that Italy has slipped to seventy-seventh place in the Freedom House rankings of global press freedom, behind countries like Botswana and Namibia. Within Europe it is second to last, and shares the honour of being only 'partly free' with Turkey and no others. This is a wild, wild place.

5. Now we come to the juicy subject of politics and justice. A veritable civil war is underway surrounding the judicial troubles of Berlusconi and some of his allies. A war – unparalleled elsewhere in Europe – between the Italian right wing and the magistracy. On one side is the hate campaign of the Italian premier against the magistrates, and on the other side are the judges themselves, forced by the accusations to employ an increasingly corporate and politicised approach. They even decide, not infrequently, to enter politics themselves. Among Berlusconi’s many comments that have gone down in history, first class examples are found in an interview in ‘The Spectator’ where he claims it is necessary to be 'mentally deranged' and 'anthropologically distinct' to choose the profession of judge.

6. Politics and justice, part two. Just how many previous offenders are loitering along the benches of parliament? No less than twenty-three, between Rome and Brussels. To quote the famous comedian Beppe Grillo, “once upon a time if you waited a while, a politician would become corrupt – now instead, take a delinquent, give him a couple of years and he’ll become a politician”. The easiest way to avoid the hassle of prison.

7. Although to tell the truth, there is never really an easy way when it comes to Italian court proceedings. The European Court of Human Rights has already slapped Italy’s wrists 276 times for its overly long trials. An example? The average duration of criminal cases is 1491 days (2001 statistic), counting the relays from one judge to another, postponements by the Court of Cassation, and so on. Woe betide those who commit crimes on Italian soil! Time flies when you’re having fun.

8. Another interesting issue in the land of the dolce vita is tax evasion: every year 200 billion euros escape from the State coffers. And it has to be said that on this the Italian situation is rather tempting; the crime of false accounting has now been abolished altogether. In Berlusconi we trust.

9. If the division between the powers-that-be is waning, so too is that between spiritual authority and the layman’s world. Last June there was a vote to repel the law on assisted conception. This time though, citizens were called to vote in a popular referendum – in theory. In practice, however, Italians were encouraged to stay at home by the 'greatest of all Italian politicians', in other words the Church, which has rediscovered the pleasures of active politics. Being reminded they were not the only ones to live on the peninsula, Catholic Italians obeyed the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Camillo Ruini, in his call for abstention. The result: an all-time low in voter turnout (25.9%) – and huge satisfaction for the Church. There’s no time like the present.

10. And finally, Mediterranean virility. Can we at least be consoled with that? Yes, up to a certain point. According to a 2005 survey carried out by leading condom manufacturer Durex, the most active men in the world are surprisingly the Greeks, followed by Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro. Nevertheless, the Italians can still claim victory in boasting an even more prestigious accolade: they are considered – by women the world over – as being the best lovers. Love conquers all.