Italy: AC Milan 2, Juventus 0
1976 -- Eurocommunists! 2022 --Neofascists! Tuscany in October -- Paradiso!
On a spring day in 1976, a waiter at the luxurious Gritti Palace Hotel on Venice’s Grand Canal, apologetically, told us that our sleeping child in a stroller on the veranda restaurant was unwelcome. We left but complained to the management.
The general manager explained that after the expected takeover of the country by the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) in the coming year, the few remaining guests and those already in residence would not want to be disturbed.
The PCI never did prevail and no longer are a significant factor in the scrum that makes up Italian governments, of which since World War II there have been sixty-nine.
The general election of September 2022 was won by a right-wing coalition of Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), the League and Forza Italia, the party still dominated by Silvio Berlusconi, a roguish four-time prime minister. Gaining the largest percentage at the helm of FDI, whose fascist roots date to Benito Mussolini, Meloni will be tasked with heading the new government and will become the first woman to serve as prime minister.
Wouldn’t Mussolini be surprised?
On Saturday evening, October 8, when AC Milan in its home stadium took on rival Juventus from Torino, it was Italian soccer that was clearly the focus of the 65,000 fans whose enthusiasm rocked the premises from before the match until well after the victorious Milan side stood before the “Corvo,” the chanting, flag-waving superfans. Juventus fans had been relegated to the rafters at the other end of the field.
To those American cognoscenti about Italian soccer, please excuse my declaration of awe, but witnessing a match in person at the highest level is an experience of enduring excitement. For the ninety minutes plus extra time, there is barely a moment not filled with exaltation. In contrast to high-scoring basketball, slow-moving baseball and the brutal combat of American football, soccer is low-scoring, flowing, and yet very fast-moving.
The scorer of Milan’s second goal was carried aloft by his teammates, shirtless, with forty minutes still left in the match.
The prospect of a fascist revival in Italy -- seen elsewhere as being on a spectrum with populist political trends around the world -- did not seem a concern to an admittedly small cross-section of Italians questioned on a ten-day stay in Milan and Tuscany. As a former foreign correspondent, I don’t trust punditry that summarizes national attitudes based on a visit. But that doesn’t mean ignoring the opinions of people you know and respect.
On that basis, it isn’t too risky to conclude that Italians view the right-wing election victory with what amounts to a shrug. I even heard cautious optimism about the economy. The turnout for the election was in the low sixties, a record low. Paolo Garimberti, one of Italy’s most respected journalists (a friend from days in Moscow almost fifty years ago), said that the real test of a Meloni government will be in how it manages electricity prices in the months ahead. Radical political changes are not anticipated. Berlusconi still craves the limelight, even at age eighty-six, and will doubtless give Meloni occasional bumps.
Significantly, Italians consider their membership in the European Union to be a source of stability. “We are not Hungary,” I was told, where a right-wing regime is defying the EU and imposing autocracy.
Covid-19 was a big deal in Italy, especially early in the pandemic, when the country suffered more than its neighbors. But my sense is that the Italians did well enough in awful circumstances and are moving on, whereas Americans are exhausted and wary of what comes next.
And there is the main difference that an American visitor feels upon arriving in Italy these days.
Our national mood is sour, even despairing. Inflation. Mental health. Election deniers. Shooters in schools. Book bans. Crime. A nuclear threat from Russia. Even positive developments – infrastructure and climate legislation -- don’t seem to make much headway in dispelling the pervasive gloom. I met an executive at Fidenza Village, a gallery of high-end shopping (outlet prices for excess inventory) outside Milan, whose job was to make visiting Americans feel comfortable as they shop. She asked me what Americans would appreciate. “Do your best to make them feel better,” was my advice. We need to smile.
The Italians do not share our bleak mood. Fascism, communism, political assassinations, the Mafia -- Italy has been through it all. But the strength of families, food, soccer, conversation, and other ingredients of the good life have held their own. If the new government can make a difference in the ways people care about – electricity prices, for instance – that is what matters and not the ideological bent of one government, compared to the last one or the next one.
A word about immigration because it is a divisive political issue in Italy as it is elsewhere in Europe and in the U. S. For any number of reasons, populations in their millions are on the move. Italy is still one of Europe’s most homogeneous countries. Despite all the regional variations, 95 percent of the population is ethnically Italian. Then, in 2014, 170,000 refugees arrived, mainly from North Africa and the Middle East. Many thousands more have been coming each year since. Around Milan’s central railway station, the presence of so many idling young immigrant men is striking. They are not yet being absorbed, from what I could tell. Immigration is a problem that defies simple answers. And on this score, shrugs will not suffice.
Around the globe, the streams of people desperate for an improved life is a twenty-first-century reality, joining racism, misogyny, bigotry, poverty, wars, and climate upheaval among the challenges we face.
In days of reading about the U.S. midterm elections from a distance and the grim assumptions about what to expect whatever the outcome, the portents seem ominous and the future deeply uncertain.
On the whole, and with some relief, that is not the feeling you get in Italy this autumn.
Very surprised by your opening story. Italians as a people have always loved children.
Que sera sera