Viewed 258 times | Published on 2021-10-24 10:30:00
Just a short article that I have been holding back until the current round of Italian administrative elections was completed.
Free elections are usually considered an expression of democracy.
And Northern Europe and other Western democracies since decades complain about the decline in actual numbers of votes cast in each election.
So, that seem to be a normal trend.
Where I am now, way too often locals say that reading about history is not useful to prepare the future: I am afraid that those "leaders" so saying are totally clueless.
Human nature did not change since WWII, and there is a reason if political science as well as military science involve a lot of study of what happened in the past.
As the old saying goes: those who know nothing about history are bound to repeat it.
In Italy, I heard many "strategists" who should look at the etimology of "strategos": pity that those modern day strategists are never even sent into exile, and instead keep floating around polluting with their baseless nonsense based more on self-reference than analysis the debate.
Self-reference, as more than once, in Italy, on e.g. digital transformation (one of the themes that I follow), I read curious phrases such as "notable sources say that" or "experts confirmed that"...
...only to then dig a little bit and see that those sources ranged between prior publications of the same author, or even references to references to mass media articles that were making deductions or misinterpreting data, up to when become "common wisdom".
In a data-centric society, often we have more talking heads always online or on TV, who apparently have no time to double check their sources (well, at least could use wikipedia and read articles, not just the titles of sections and the list within the bibliography).
The more "present" they are, the more credible they become.
Funny the discussion when said experts, e.g. after an election, find new ways to analyze what they misunderstood before, but consistently ignoring the data.
On the increased level of non-participation in Italian elections, I read some interesting material.
Well, personally, as I shared a while ago, I too decided of taking a "pause" from my active and passive vote.
And, for a country where we used to have some of the highest attendances worldwide, in this latest round of elections I was not the only one.
Anyway, a personal digression now is in order, to clarify.
Just imagine: the first time I had the right to vote, as I turned 18 in 1983, decided to do something more than vote- spend time to help a small political party to join the fray, by actively working on the administrative side of campaigning.
Beside doing what I had already done and seen done before (distributing leaflets, attending rallies, and all the usual "political activist" stuff).
Imagine also that, back then, I did so not for a political party that was really what I would choose, but one close enough to be able to represent a decent (and, hopefully, intellectually a little bit more advanced) opposition from the left.
So, it was funny: I had to resign from another role in another organiation (as this political party was not part of the "Arco Costituzionale", i.e. one that was involved in actually creating the Italian Constitution after WWII), I campaigned for this small political party, but while I voted it in the lower chamber (Camera dei Deputati), for the upper chamber (Senate) voted for a more traditional leftist party.
Then, after a good result... I and other like-minded youth turned down the offer to become party bureaucrats: we wanted to see them in to be an opposition, not to land them a sinecura and permanent seat in Parliament.
As the newly elected in Turin already were seeking to do the usual Italian middle class concept of "investment": buy apartments to rent.
Pity that, to that end, were allocating the money received for political activities and resulting from the election costs that they were entitled to.
So, buying their own long-term permanence in politics as seat-holders, not doing politics.
Choices that I had observed in others before, and, in Italy, would see times and again in other "new political stalwart" entities, for decades- also when I started first working occasionally (late 1980s), then relocating abroad in other European countries (late 1990s).
Anyway, undeterred by the experience, as soon as I relocated in a country where, as European Union citizen, was entitled to register for local elections (Belgium), I did my usual routine.
Registered, as I wanted to become eventually a "local" (not a passport-holder, but that is another point I shared in the past and routinely I am asked "why" about both UK and Belgium), and therefore had my first chance to vote electronically (they had voting machines at the voting station, while in Italy we vote on paper cards pre-printed with the symbols of the political parties in the order of presentation and, for some elections, even the names of the candidates).
What do you do when voting for the first time in a country where you recently arrived, and therefore know no political parties?
Well, in my case, applied the same method I applied for new business activities.
First, assessed the context- in this case, the cultural context.
In Belgium, this means understanding a bit of the "language communities jousting", a kind of "original sin" of the founding of the country.
I will skip details, but let's just say that e.g. also when registering for the health system, you had to select a blend of language, political, religious communities.
And also political parties where split along similar lines.
So, quite simply, I did has I had done in Italy in 1983: decided to vote for a political party that, by choice, decided to be "across", not partitioned by language or cultural community.
Also, when we Italians abroad became entitled to cast our vote remotely, I decided to use my presence online to build a bipartisan website, sharing all the political platforms from all the political parties.
Reason? We Italians abroad had scant access to information, and, as shown repeatedly, electing representative for the "Italian diaspora" abroad, representatives that then moved to Rome, and basically lost touch with those that elected them... until the next elections.
This is a marked difference vs. what I had seen in Italian politics, where, with a tradition dating back to Ancient Rome, those elected kept in touch with their "clientes" and "fans" across their mandate.
Well, jump few decades on, and, frankly, except for few elected first before the Second Republic started in the 1990s, and even fewer first elected since then, it has become a routine what was the exception represented by those elected abroad.
Parachute candidates- and it is becoming so normal, that even the two leaders of two main political parties that were supposed to eventually merge and generate a new centre-left entity...
...in order to get "legitimacy", after being appointed, were parachuted for interim elections into what pre-1990s would have been defined "sure" seats, i.e. you could put on the ballot box the Emperor's horse à la Caligula, and would have more than a fair chance to get elected.
It is normal to break electoral promises- if nothing else, at least because I never saw an Italian political party getting over 50% of the votes, so small or large government coalitions have been a constant in Italian political life for decades.
You can promise whatever you want, but then to build a coalition you need to make compromises.
Unfortunately, piling up compromises for a long time, while gradually having not to answer to those that elected you, results in eventually considering that it is not a matter of role, but of yourself.
Or: whatever you decide, that is not a compromise, but the right choice.
Which, in turns, over the decades, distanced even more voters.
To make a long story short: administrative elections had also in the past different levels of "belonging" to political parties (in local elections in Italy, electorate can shift more than in national elections).
But this time we had a resounding success for the centre-left coalition (where normally would have casted my vote at the national level), taking the majority of larger towns.
The fly in the ointment? Well, if in some locations less than 50% of voters cast their vote, and you get 50-60% of that...
...you are talking about Mayors (who traditionally have to interact more with the local communities, and derive legitimacy from such interactions) who have been chosen by 25-30% of the voters.
Now, the day after the elections, the first item on the agenda should be how to involve the other 70-75%.
Instead, the risk is that, overselling the wins, those elected feel entitled to "circle the wagons" as I saw with that small leftist political party in 1983.
It is just appropriate that today, as part of my German language refresh, decided to watch again a PrimeVideo series with the title "Deutschland 83" (the year when "Able Archer" almost converted a blend of misunderstandings, fears, miscommunication into a nuclear war).
Now, also in the most ordinary times, this would be worth some thinking.
Imagine now in a time when the COVID19 crisis, showed how much the socio-economic fabric deteriorated over the last decade.
We Italians routinely claim that a crisis beyond our control is the cause of the issues that the country lingers on and avoids solving: long-term deindustrialization, debt, lack of an industrial policy worth of that name, routine and continued lack of investment in "human capital" (lack that was already there in the 1990s when I was actually selling training courses and methodologies to companies in Italy).
Easier to claim that it is due to "Fate", than make choices that could disappoint a plurality of the countless tribes that still, as in Ancient Rome with the Assembly, partition Italian society and influence Italian decision-making both at the national and local level.
So, as I keep repeating since the results of the first round were in...
...it seems that a different mindset is needed.
Unfortunately, circling the wagons will have a further incentive: the assumption that, as also at the local level monies from NextGenerationEU (and its Italian side, PNRR) will be spread around, it is tempting to skip the "thinking differently", and, instead, use the EU funding carrot to win over that 70-75% that either did not vote or voted for something else.
The way this phase will be "played" will probably set the tone for a while- and while I like to remember my early 1980s first foray in active involvement in elective politics (and not just supporting from the outside), I think that we should get rid of much that worked in the 1980s, and then just "coasted" along with Italian decline.
As I wrote in previous articles since the NextGenerationEU was announced over one year ago, it is an opportunity across generations.
And, as I reminded recently, generations are now to be expected to potentially stick around for a century or more, if all goes well.
Therefore, the usual tinkering once a year (this time, when the national budget is presented) is not just inadequate, it is verging on reckless mimicking the way too often common habit in Italy to dispose of security measure to win a quick buck (almost everyday that there are people dead in Italy in business activities for something that could have been easily avoided).
Well, that 70-75% should be more vocal and constructive in asking for something more structured, structural, and long-term, than the usual "cerchiobottismo" dispensed by compulsive short-termists that self-style themselves as visionaries and please the crowds wherever they go.
As it seems that the same crowds that are shown on Italian TV and media to show how much support these "leaders" have...
...are an illusion, when it is time to cast a vote.
I think that we can start by making structural the "dialogue with civil society" that erratically started, stopped, restarted to compose the Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza (PNRR).
Only: please, use technology and create an open forum, avoid to creating yet another quango that is useful only to host beached politicos and their "corte dei miracoli" (underworld).
If we want to recover that 70-75%, the dialogue should be continuous and frank, also because using the PNRR to seed change implies involving all the parts of society, not just those that you can buy with sprinkler money.
I am in Turin, the city were I was born, and therefore I would share a couple of further elements worth considering.
First, the elections.
59.2% of the votes cast, but just bothered to vote 42.1%
i.e. 24.92% of those having the right to vote locally actually elected the new Mayor.
Meaning: there is some work to do, as I wrote above.
But there is something else, and I will need another personal digression to that end.
When I was a kind, between 5 and 7, my parents decided to move to Calabria, where my father was born.
They had a small company, and that is were I actually got accustomed with bureaucracy as a kid (I remember talks about some taxes precursors of VAT when I was 4).
Well, I remember also some suggestions to hire some people, and overheard discussions about related items, while in Calabria, until we were stopped once on the road to home by "hunters" who wanted just to talk.
Then, remember we went to the local Carabinieri but, in 1972, in Italy neither Ndrangheta nor Mafia existed (this is the only time you will see both uppercase, in my articles).
Actually, as I discovered when we returned to Turin in late 1972 (I had had time to have one year in elementary school in Calabria, split between two locations), the saying up North was that "mafia was an invention of the Communist Party to steal votes from the Christian Democrats".
Moreover, I discovered that many things that I observed in Calabria, including my first police charges for something called "boia chi molla" (the selection of the head city for the region of Calabria), apparently was completely unknown or, at best, not in its scope.
Well, before leaving Calabria to return to Turin, made a promise: I would have never set foot again in Calabria until the State had again regained control.
It is funny to consider that that was the thinking of a 7 years old, but I was bookish even back then (I was reading fluently well before my classmates, in large part self-taught from the library of my parents).
Now, since I first supported start-ups in Italy in the early 2000s, directly in Turin, and indirectly by meeting others in Milan and Rome, saw the disturbing reality of the expansion of organized crime that I had seen in the early 1990s also in Germany, when the Treuhandanstalt took care of privatizations of DDR assets.
I remember discussing back then with my German girlfriend and some of her friends what they saw, like a pizzeria whose owner had a Porsche but never customers, and an article reporting that somebody from Italy approached with 2,000bln LIT liquidity to buy assets that nobody wanted- mainly, cash-based businesses.
You can read e.g. this 1995 article (in German), long before the Duisburg case that made visible in Germany an Italian feud from Calabria.
Just a curious quote from that 1995 article:
Well, as I wrote in the past, in my parents' cellar part of my library contains a list of books about the progress of infiltration of cash-rich organized crime since the early 1990s.
Jump forward to mid-2000s, when I was part-time working not just to support start-ups (a cost- not a source of revenue, as even those who survived then taught my Italian accounting games to shift assets and avoid paying for deferred income and deferred equity).
I had also accepted to cut in half my official rate to work part-time as project manager and business analyst on some Government-related project in Rome, and then even to work partially (and eventually fully) for free, subsidizing with other activities.
I was offered then to deliver some training to Prefetture around Southern Italy, on immigration-related issues due to a project where I was nominally project manager and business analyst.
Well, I was ready for a further rate cut, as I would have anyway had a unique experience to see how the State, mainly in Southern Italy (the favorite entry point for immigrants by sea), as it really was.
There was a glitch: I would have had also to work in Calabria.
And, while supporting start-ups in Turin, heard jokes and rumors about ndrangheta infiltrations also in Turin, and plenty of stories telling me how organized crime had also infiltrated both the State and the civil society organizations... supposedly organizing against the various mafias.
So, I declined- and kept my old promise.
Now, routinely when there were over the last few decades noises about kick-starting the building of the bridge across the Straits between Sicily and Calabria, there were joke about how many people would be blended into so many concrete pillars (an old rumor in Italy about why organized crime worked in construction works).
I remember even not too long ago, when a previous Government started assigning some works, how a check from security forces immediately found infiltrations from organized crime, and stopped the activities.
You can imagine how disappointed I was to read this article, in August 2021:
It is 1972 again, but in Turin.
The curious part is: I heard similar rumors, uttered as jokes, between late 1990s and early 2000s, in Turin- but, at the time, wasn't that often in Italy, so I considered just local folklore.
Now, it seems that in the end it was not just storytelling.
Hence, it is worth considering how what I saw in the early 1970s in Southern Italy, the lack of territory control, actually extended up to the industrial North, and what could be done at a time when there will be countless projects starting, leveraging on funding provided by the National and EU coffers.
Will our territories, local authorities, and security forces, while trying to recover the dialogue between civil society and elected officers representing a minority, and not anymore a plurality, also be able to stifle a further growth of cash-rich organized crime?
Or will the NextGenerationEU and PNRR in Italy remembered as a massive booster of organized crime infiltration?
Remember: it might have started as a local affair reinvesting in global drug trafficking logistics as a reinvestment of kidnapping money, as some said, but the expansion implied plenty of conniving and heads turned the other side.
As we were taught in Latin "pecunia non olet"- money does not smell (which is not technically true, but look at the etimology).
Many locations in Italy are considering adding a "PNRR Management deputy" to organize and oversee the allocation of NextGenerationEU-related funds that will be spread around the country.
Frankly, more than mere "management", there should be probably an audit element reporting directly to Mayors, Regional Governors, etc.
As continuously monitoring the allocation of funds, even without this added element of protecting from organized crime infiltrations, should not be considered a mere ex-post, technical audit issue.
It is a matter of political accountability, to be managed at a political-strategic level, not just by "technicians".
For now, have a nice Sunday!