Italy is haemorrhaging youth and has no idea how to stem the flow, but there's still hope

Matteo Renzi, secretary of the Democratic Party, presenting the programme for the upcoming general elections to be held on March 4 on February 14, 2018 in Rome. February 14, 2018. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved.Aren't other countries
following the British way out? For a while, the English-language press was
awash with speculations about
Italy intending to do the same. A neologism gained traction back in 2016 – Quitaly.

An
ill-thought-out Euro was blamed. It strangled Italy's exports to the advantage
of Germany's, they said. It halved Italians' purchasing power and savings. And
so on. Nothing unreasonable was penned, albeit always by those who were never
keen on the EU in the first place.

Snappy,
superficial journalism? Nothing of the sort. Some foreign hacks just didn't dig
deep enough, not in terms of stats and mathematical models, but from a
political perspective – into the words, the gestures and the compromises.

You might know
finance and economics inside out, but if you don't know Italy first hand, all
that technical expertise will hardly serve your analytical purpose. Too many
speculate on this country without even understanding its language: a fatal
mistake.

Italy's past,
present and future aren't so much in the numbers as they are in the national
conversation. It's all in the debate. Verbal backstabbing, irresponsible
promises, incitements to hatred, too much tweeting and shouting on telly are
the ingredients to a side-salad accompanying an unpalatable main course. Not
all meals are great in Italy: politics is a single serving of rotten meat. Millions don't give a damn any more. That's also
frightening.

A whirlpool of words

Thankfully, we
can rely on Marc Lazar's analyses. The Paris Institute of Political Studies
professor highlighted the inability of candidates
to propose solutions for the future. “But we would need them, because 4 March (date of
general election) is fundamental. … In fact, it'll affect the whole of the
European Union, and Europe, in turn, is at the centre of this vote.” Spot-on
investigations on Italian matters tend to come from France, Spain and Germany,
and you marvel at how important cultural or geographic proximity still is in
our digital days.

Yet, amid the
whirlpool of insults and empty words, the one thing Italians need is missing: a
televised face-to-face confrontation among the opposing leaders. In a country
of poor readers where most get their news from a plasma, such unwillingness on
the part of Matteo Renzi, Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio is cowardly.

What have they
got to hide? Ordinary people are as sceptical as ever, with reason, and turn
out is bound to be low; in every election it has been in fact lower than the
previous one, or nearly so. Italy used to be heavily politicised. This spawned
far-right and far-left terrorism. But now we've gone the opposite way –
millions don't give a damn any more. That's also frightening.

The precariousness
of life – unstable jobs and rising costs – means Italians are having
unprecedented problems with a downward demographic. Immigrants could save the
day, but xenophobia is on the
rise. Immigrants could save the day, but xenophobia is on the
rise.

A neofascist
opened fire on six Africans lately. Not a mad individual – oh, no. Too easy an
explanation (and one we've heard too many times). Shooting foreigners guilty of
trying to establish themselves in a new land. Only a racist could do that: he
was indeed a failed candidate for the Northern League, a party that used to
stupidly spout hatred towards southern Italians; not a great tactic if your
aspiration, like Salvini's, is to become prime minister.

In fact, they've changed tack: southern Italians have been
replaced in the current NL narrative with people coming from further south. A
dispiriting vision of the country's future. This is piling on rhetorical idiocy
on already chronic problems, instead of acting to solve them.

Europe the loser

Who do you think
will win? Hard to say. The loser will be Europe. A country incapable of renewal
– incapable of answering its own questions – is a country uninterested in
leading. In these Brexit times, where the EU has been shaken to its very
foundations, the absence of Italy will resound like an echo in a deserted
mountain valley, like those separating the peninsula from the thriving
continent where the young are heading to en masse. This is what we should be
talking about, and we are not.

In between the
“left behinds” in the south – life expectancy in Naples is years lower than in
the northern outpost South Tyrol – and our unemployed youth, among whom many
leave without coming back, a shrinking middle class is bravely facing up to
Italy's ever powerful and shameless plutocracy. A
shrinking middle class is bravely facing up to Italy's ever powerful and
shameless plutocracy.

No one has ever
highlighted this: the prime minister is an aristocrat. How bizarre for a young
republic. I guess that after Silvio Berlusconi anything goes. The
magnate-turned-statesman's real legacy: widespread indifference to manifest
inconsistencies. The new normal.

Nonetheless,
there's still hope. You can spot now and again a fresh pro-European narrative
in the making. A karstic river: now you see it, now you don't. Isolating itself
– like Britain is doing – would be the end. Italy couldn't afford it. That is
the one thing everyone agrees on, and as a national pact, it doesn't sound like
a bad one at all.

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