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The Year in Review: Italy in 2011

2011 has been an incredibly eventful year for Italy.  Here, then, is a summary of the major events and happenings which have remained in this Italy blogger’s mind.

Some big changes have taken place in 2011, including the long expected resignation of Italy’s scandal ridden “corrupted liberal” prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

It should also be remembered that 2011 was the year in which Italy celebrated 150 years of unification even if the celebrations were both low key and overshadowed by other events such as a series of draconian austerity measures.

2011 was also the year in which the effects of the global economic crisis started to be felt in Italy.  The peninsula’s financial markets nervously jumped up and down.

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Italy’s businesses are nervous too, which is perhaps why around 30% of Italy’s youth is out of work.  Travelling to work, for those lucky enough to have a job, became more expensive for Italians in 2011.

Fuel prices have risen 18% since the start of the year.

That Italy’s population spent less on Christmas in 2011 than in 2010 shows how the effects of the global economic crisis are starting to be felt in Italy.

Italians are clearly nervous about what the future holds and are tightening their belts just in case there is worse to come.

The Year of Bunga Bunga

Adding to the somewhat bleak nature of 2011 was the damage the antics of Silvio “bunga bunga” Berlusconi did to Italy’s public image.  The extent of the damage came to head when Merkel and Sarkozy laughed at the mention of Silvio Berlusconi in a press conference.   It was as if Berlusconi was seen by Messrs Merkel and Sarkozy as being the bad kid on the European block.

Then there was the rumour floating around that Berlusconi had made very disparaging comments about Angela Merkel – who, it is said, apparently engineered Berlusconi’s removal.

Oddly enough, Berlusconi’s virtually continuous media presence, even if it was for all the wrong reasons, may actually have contributed to an increase in the number of tourists visiting Italy in 2011.

Berlusconi Increased Tourism to Italy, Maybe

Italy’s national tourism monitoring body, the Osservatorio Nazionale del Turismo noted Bank of Italy data which showed an increase in inbound tourist spending in Italy of 8.8% over 2010 levels.

It could be argued, as the tanned showman may indeed try, that by keeping Italy in the news, Silvio Berlusconi raised Italy’s profile as a tourism destination in 2011.  Although trying to prove such a claim is not easy, throughout 2011, and 2010 for that matter, the world’s press dedicated plenty of column inches to Italy’s faltering Prime Minister and his lurid sex scandals.  As a consequence of all the media attention, when people around the world thought of holidays, Italy was probably the country which sprang to mind.  There were certainly some notable articles on the subject of Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi in the News

First the Economist entitled one of its pieces The Man Who Screwed an Entire Country, then, the UK’s Guardian ran an article entitled Silvio Berlusconi may have screwed Europe – not just Italy, and on top of these not so rave reviews of Silvio Berlusconi’s distinctly non-earth shattering performance; out of the bedroom; came Time with its cover featuring a picture of a smirking Berlusconi accompanied by the title The Man Behind the World’s Most Dangerous Economy (which my Italian other half has duly framed!).  The Time cover came out shortly after Berlusconi resigned on November the 12th 2011.

It was not just the English language press which took aim at the scurrilous and shameless Berlusconi and fired; French, Spanish and German journals, amongst many others, joined in the Berlusconi bashing.  Anti-Berlusconi newspaper La Repubblica gleefully reported what the world’s press had to say on the subject of Mr B.

If it were not for the fact that Berlusconi himself has resorted to using his own media might to punish and discredit his detractors, one might have felt a mite sorry for the man – in the event, it was a case of those who live by the sword, die by it.  Not that his resignation caused Berlusconi to fade away – he’s still plotting away in the background and manages to make it onto Italy’s television news with remarkable regularity.  He has painted his forced resignation as a ‘sacrifice’ for the good of Italy.  Very ironic, as up to the very last minute Berlusconi was insisting his government was sound and that he would not go.  But go, he did.

Berlusconi’s decline dragged on almost interminably, though a few signs that he was losing his grip emerged during 2011.

Crumbling Kingdom

Back in May, superman Silvio lost a crucial chunk of his kingdom to a new mayor after Giulinao Pisapia conquered Berlusconi’s native Milan for Italy’s centre left.  The writing was on the wall with regard to Berlusconi’s future at this point and the celebrations after Pisapia, ably assisted by social media, wrenched Milan from Berlusconi cum Letizia Moratti had to be seen to be believed.  I did see them and was a participant.  Nearly ten years of hollow Berlusconi promises had worn very thin for many Italians who wanted to feel the winds of change.

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Not only was a Berlusconi chum kicked out of Milan.  In the southern city of Naples, a far from Berlusconi friendly candidate managed to take over as mayor of one of Italy’s most troubled urban areas.

Yet despite an ever dwindling majority in Italy’s lower house of parliament, and the lose of his heartland to the enemy, Berlusconi resolutely refused to go.

In actual fact, it was probably only extreme pressure placed on Italy by the rest of Europe; and, maybe by German Chancellor Merkel; if not the rest of the world, which finally caused battling Berlusconi to trundle up to the official residence of Italy’s President Napolitano to proffer his resignation.  Nobody attempted convince Berlusconi to stay and crowds turned out in force in Rome to celebrate the end of Berlusconi’s reign, if not the end of the dreaded Berlusconismo which will continue to haunt Italy for a good few years to come.

The ending of Berlusconi’s rule was probably one of the better things to have happened in Italy in 2011 and his successor, “professor” Mario Monti appears to be much more up to the job of running Italy than his troubled and troubling predecessor.

Tumultuous Climate

On top of the tumultuous political climate, Italy’s weather provoked disastrous flooding in the scenic Cinque Terre area of Italy as well as wreaking havoc in Genoa and in Sicily.

Italy’s climate, both political and natural, also had a hand in destroying areas of one of Italy’s most famous monuments – Pompeii – where slow bureaucracy has led to the delay of the release of repair funds.

Another symbol of Italy, Rome’s landmark Coliseum, has been losing ancient pieces too, possibly in sympathy with Pompeii, and with Italy’s stagnant economy which has now entered recession.

What a year!

I dare say I’ve missed the odd scandal or three, but have written about a few of them on this blog about Italy.

Some Good News

Fortunately, there is a little good news to report – two of Italy’s wine producers won awards for their lovely red wines – Fontefico and Talamonti.

An Italian artist I know is doing very well, winning an art prize for his work.

In addition to the prize winners, I wrote about a number of Italy’s brighter sides throughout 2011 in Italy Chronicle’s Good Italian Things section.

2011 was a little testing for this Italy blogger after my eight year old son was rushed into hospital for what turned out to be over five hours of surgery to deal with a recurring and potentially very dangerous eye problem.

After operations in the first half of 2011, I’m happy to say my son is now doing very well and looking at him you’d never know what the brave little chap had been through.

What will you remember about Italy’s voyage through 2011?

And finally:

Thanks

Many thanks to everyone for reading what was Blog from Italy and is now Italy Chronicles.  The articles on this blog attracted more than 450,000 page views in 2011 which represents a healthy increase on 2010, I’m happy to report.

Thanks, also, from me to those who have contributed articles to Italy Chronicles.  Contributions appreciated!

Happy New Year!

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