BY MARY SHI
Arriving in Milan on March 9, 2013, the average American would not be able to tell that the he or she had landed in a country just out of an intense election season. Campaigns, Italian style, are not the professionally run spectacles of the United States. Italians do not consume politics by the billboard-full, wallpaper their public squares with flyers, or use their bumper to engage in political proselytization. Absent of the physical remnants of American election seasons, it would be hard for the average American to realize that Italy, and the Eurozone writ large, had just rounded a metaphorical corner to find themselves staring down a beast more recalcitrant, stubborn, and complex than they had ever imagined.
Although IUSY is in Italy to study the impact of the Italian General Elections on Italy and the Eurozone, many Italians are more interested in cleaning up their own house than looking beyond their borders. With youth unemployment at a staggering 46% and GDP growth in the red for the sixth consecutive quarter (ISTAT), Europe’s second largest economy is more likely to ask, “How can we jumpstart Italy?” than, “is this the end of the Euro.” In the words of political commentator and former parliament member, Giorgio Stracquadanio, “Being against the euro and globalization is like being against the rain; all you can do is bring a bigger umbrella.” With small and medium enterprises of less than fifteen employees forming the backbone of the economy, Italians are more likely to have a local or national focus than the strident, global one Americans favor. Business leaders here feel strongly that Italy should remain Italian and will act accordingly, investing with the national interest in mind.
The mix of the old and the new is evident in the proliferation of glossy fashion adverts hanging from the eaves of cathedrals, plastered against the monochrome walls of fascist-era edifices, and tastefully dominating the idyllic cobbled streets of Rome and Milan. How will Italians reconcile their traditional, regional way of thinking and doing business with the globalized reality of modernity? To remain competitive, Italy must produce human capital to an international standard and begin to look beyond their own borders for opportunity, sending students abroad for training and attracting foreign investors, influence points both ways. If Italy wants to become a global player, it will have to open its doors and welcome the rest of the world. Like its old cities interspersed with new aesthetics, Italy’s demographics are also becoming a mix of colours and cultures. On Monday, IUSY travelled to Bergamo, considered the most xenophobic city in Italy. Surprisingly, Bergamo was more ethnically diverse than even Milan. To my American eyes, its diversity was familiar; to some Italians, that same diversity threatened their “Italia.” Italian national identity and pride are robust and historically rooted. The potent mix of patrie and increasing cultural heterogenity bring to mind Paris and the ethnic tensions contained within its walls. As Italy fights to reenergize and reimagine itself, will Italy necessarily have to add an identity crisis to its political and economic ones?