While it is too early to speculate as to just what post-Mario Monti Italy will be like, some are already worried by what might happen once Mario Monti places the Boot back in the hands of democratically elected politicians.
Monti’s attempt to transform Italy from a dysfunctional nation with an economy which, while powerful, appears to be unwilling to grow, is proving to no mean feat. For Italy watchers like myself, the uphill struggle facing Mario Monti and his technocrat team comes as no surprise at all.
As I have already written, various entrenched interest groups in Italy have either staged strikes or are on the point of doing so.
Lawyers, notaries, pharmacists, taxi drivers, shop owners, bakers, and many other groups are unhappy that their over-charging and monopolistic market-stifling activities may be brought to an end. Each of these groups would like there to be no Monti legacy. Monti, in the meantime, forges stoically ahead giving the distinct impression he would like to leave Italy in a far better condition than when he took it over late in 2011.
Monti, one imagines, is well aware that transforming Italy is unlikely to be easy and will, one suspects, has planned how to placate each of the disgruntled groups who are opposing his normalization attempts. Monti probably counts Italy’s politicians amongst all those opposition groups.
It is rumored that some of these politicians may have been, if not actively promoting, not actively discouraging various demonstrations around Italy, including the protests which recently affected Sicily.
Transport workers in Sicily, along with a group known as the ‘forconi‘, staged a strike which virtually crippled Sicily and caused its already shaky economy to lose valuable income.
The transport strike, which is no more or less over, extended throughout Italy and at one point it was feared that Italy’s supermarket shelves would be left empty.
It was in Sicily that the protests began – and use of the word ‘forconi’ became something of a daily occurrence in Italy last week.
What Are the Forconi?
It has not been that easy to understand exactly just what the forconi movement actually is. One Italian website defines the forconi as being a lose association of farmers, truck drivers, and anarchists as well as other militants including students.
Italy’s truck drivers, and not only those in Sicily, are unhappy over increased highway toll fees and fuel costs which have eaten into their profits. Students worried about what the future holds.
What is a Forconi?
The movement takes its name from the forconi, or better the singular version – forcone, which is actually a three-pronged pitchfork and it has traditionally symbolized the struggle between workers and bosses. The forconi movement, according to the website I read, has around 100,000 members. The bosses in this instance are not so much business owners as Italy’s Rome-based political masters.
It is expected, though has not really happened yet, that the forconi protests will spread from Sicily to other areas of Italy. One rumor I’ve heard is that forconi militants are planning protests on Italy’s other large island – Sardinia.
The strike in Sicily appears to have been somewhat contrived and I have come across various reports which indicate that other groups which do not want Italy to be transformed into something approaching a normal nation were working behind to scenes to ensure the protests in Sicily had the desired effect. Those groups were two different faces of Italy’s infamous organized crime association – the mafia.
In actual fact, arrests have taken place in connection with investigations into a kind of alliance between the Sicilian cosa nostra mafia and Naples flavor of the mafia – the camorra. Also arrested were leaders of the forconi movement who are suspected of working doing the bidding of organized crime.
Via Twitter users and elsewhere, my impression is that intimidation was being used to ensure Sicilians adhered to the transport strike. Those who refused to strike were, or so I have heard, ruffed up by thugs.
In addition to the suspected organized crime links, others have said that Italy’s extreme right has also been involved in ensuring protests in Sicily were effective. One comment on the Sicilian situation I heard was that the way the protest was run felt a little like a practice run for a right-wing coup.
While Italy’s extreme right were flexing their muscles and feeding off discontent in the hope of becoming a political force, the mafia groups merely want to preserve the status quo and ensure their rackets continue to operate undisturbed. Politicians in Sicily, who have either been put in place by the mafia or are benefiting from ‘support’, would not be very unhappy for their lucrative boats to be rocked by Mario Monti’s reforms.
Sicily’s people find it very hard to go up against the combined forces of politicians, the extreme right and organized crime owing to the danger this involves. The ‘enemy’ may be in a minority, but it wields a significant amount of power and will resort to violence at the drop of a hat.
Incidentally, Sicily, for reasons which have never been entirely clear, is a stronghold for Silvio Berlusconi whose PdL political party, and its Forza Italia predecessor, has always received healthy support from Sicilians during national elections.
That organized crime can manipulate elections is something which has long been suspected in Italy and, on occasion, has been proved, such as in the case of Antonello Antinoro, a member of the European Parliament.
The Cost of Votes in Italy
For those with the resources, votes in Italy can be acquired for between €50 and €200 a cross. Organized crime in Italy may on occasion purchase votes for its own purposes, which is possibly why certain local councils in Italy have been dissolved owing to mafia infiltration.
A quick search on Google.it for “comune sciolto per mafia” – “council dissolved for mafia” brings up over 30,000 results, and not all of the councils are situated in Italy’s southern regions by any means.
Breaking the Unholy Alliances
Whether Monti can successfully break the unholy alliances which exist between organized crime and politics, remains to be seen.
Others have tried, and it cost them their lives. People such as investigative judges Paolo Borselino and Giovanni Falcone were killed for trying to expose links between organized crime and Italy’s political system. Nobody is sure who was responsible for their bloody murders, but it is strongly suspected that organized crime was involved and that information on the judges’ whereabouts was supplied to the mafia by people inside Italy’s government.
Mario Monti, who, I have noticed, is surrounded by body guards, will have to watch his back. It is highly probable he is a prime target for assassination.
To cut a long story short – Mario Monti has got a long way to go. Not only this, but once his short turn at Italy’s helm is over, the nation risks being placed back in the hands of those who got Italy into such big trouble in the first place. Some are concerned that once the old guard regains Italy’s reins, it will systematically dismantle everything Monti has done. Italy will then slide back to where it was before Monti came on the scene.
Monti’s medicine will only work if it is given enough time to reach those parts of the nation and its society which need curing. Therein lies the problem – Monti’s legacy may never really exist because certain sections of Italian society may do everything to ensure the medicinal doses cease to be administered.
In what looks to be an attempt to safeguard Monti’s legacy, Italy’s President Napolitano is pressing for electoral reforms.
Italy needs to hope Napolitano succeeds, or post-Mario Monti, the peninsula risks dropping back to square one – and there will be no Monti legacy. And no future for Italy.
Do Italians realize this? One sincerely hopes so, but is not entirely convinced.
Mario Monti photograph via Presidenza della Repubblica
Forconi photograph by Juan R. Lascorz