Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Italy's Enduring Humanity

Posted by Caitlin Endyke

Today, Italy holds its national election for its Parliament. While I read about the possible outcomes and the state of both the Italian political landscape and its economy, I’m reflecting on the time I spent living in Italy 5 years ago, just as America was gearing up for its own national election.   

In the fall of 2008 I studied abroad in Florence, Italy.  It was an interesting time to be an American living abroad- while you could sense that Europeans were dissatisfied with our previous choice of a national leader, they were also hopeful that this time we would pick the right one.  The school I attended held a weekly pre-election series where they would bring in local Italian professors or university students to discuss politics.  In almost every conversation I had with these people they spoke, kindly, of how they had stopped trusting Americans. They could not believe America had elected George Bush not once, but twice.  They viewed him as an ignorant war-monger who should never have been handed the keys to the White House (as, in truth, did I). They told us we held the fate of the free world in our hands, and that a vote for Obama would at least signal some sort of hope for a future in which America as a nation could make smart decisions.  Before I knew much about Italian politics, I viewed these conversations as earnest and accurate (I, too, was frustrated with our current president and was hopeful for a wave of change).  Yet as I learned more about the leaders of Italy, and experienced countless strikes and marches and protests during my time there, I started to view them a bit differently.  Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister at the time, was a corporate giant who owned almost all of the country’s media (and was famous for controlling what it produced), sparked a national protest of high school students during the semester I was there because of egregious educational budget cuts, and was known to be a rampant philanderer (he was later indicted on corruption charges, as well as charges of consorting with underage prostitutes).  I often thought that it seemed as though these people who I had such deep and intelligent conversations with were missing a larger point about their own nation.  

But as I was perusing election coverage this morning I came across this piece in the New York Times, about the Italians’ refusal to accept the whole truth when it comes to their national politics.  The author notes that, while they might seem to avoid certain unsavory details when it comes to their politicians, Italians hold on to an enduring humanity that perhaps we all could learn a little something from.  Which, I think, is a fair point.  Perhaps sometimes there’s a lot to be said for logic, and sometimes there’s a lot to be said for heart.  The Italians I spoke with might have avoided mention of Berlusconi’s corruption, but they were some of the warmest, most amicable people I have ever met.  Perhaps a Commons society should strive for a combination of both- head and heart.  Logic and humanity.  A knowledge that our leaders should be making the best decisions for the nation, but also that they still are, in fact, human.   

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