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Revolution in Sicily

Oakland, California

It could seem pretentious to write about Sicily from an apartment on the border between Oakland and Emeryville. And in certain ways, it is. However, contrary to all the others that are writing from Rome, Milan, or even Catania and Palermo, I dug far deep in the news and the online content to understand the problems in Sicily. This simple effort that lasted hours allowed me to be better informed than many other Sicilians. Thank you notes still echoing on Facebook, I decided to tell in English the story of the events that shook the Mediterranean island in the past five days.

It all began when the leaders of the movement began talking about “revolution”. Such a word tickles the mind of those who know history. Born in Sicily twenty-something years ago and with a special addiction to democratic ideals, I threw myself into the issue and tried to fill  the gap left by the national press that cared more about a sinking boat than a social uprising. I sent my story to a couple of publications, but they were lacking the basic courtesy that is needed to push “Reply” buttons. The world is hectic, if we cared about everything, we wouldn’t have time to sleep, apparently. I would rather not sleep than surrender to ignorance.

English-speaking friends have to cross the Godfather’s line before being able to understand the dynamics that today’s Sicily is faced with. That the Mafia has her tentacles spread around businesses and local governments is a stuctural fact. Therefore one must not be surprised when hearing allegation about criminal infiltrates in the protest. However, the protest was organized by fascist-lenient characters who had recently raided the countryside and the suburbs collecting votes for the currently ruling party in exchange for promises and favors. The vote-for-patronage mechanism has been the foundational engine of liberal democracy. In late Nineteenth century Britain, candidates would give a ride on their flaming two-cilinder automobile to potential voters in exchange for their consent. While many political realities have emancipated from this fictitious behavior, Sicily has not.

The current government has risen to power with and against the main conservative and progressive forces that sheepishly govern Italy. The third-partyism of this force (MPA) is charged with separatist rhetoric, demagogic parlance, and shady practices. With the economic crisis strangling people living across-the-boot-and-on-the-islands, the local government has done little to speak up in defense of the overwhelming majority of Sicilians that voted them in office. Seizing this opportunity, those who backed the candidacy of the Movement for Autonomy (MPA) now turn around and utter their disappointment taking the streets.

The main organizers were former MPA supporters, one union of truck-drivers, and fascist movements. Whoever is in the movement would surely ask me to prove my allegations. I answer with the advice of looking through the biographies of those chaps. The protest is led by the same male partiarchic herd that has carried the political and social life of Sicilians through the barrel of a gun. Now they call themselves “The Pitchforks” though they’ve never seen hay. Sicilian countrymen wipe their tears when they talk about their land, abandoned and fruitless. Sicilian moms scream and thump their breasts because they lack the bare minimum to feed their children. Young Sicilians are forced to leave the island to seek higher education and job opportunities. These experienced are not shared by the governing forces nor by the protesting mob.

The Pitchforks want the regional fee on gasoline to be scrapped, the EU regulations to be lighter and more permissive both on agriculture and fishing, and the same-old-faces that rule the region to step down. All this stands on the claim that “people are fed up and won’t take it anymore”. Void words apparently garner more approval than lengthy articles or years of activism. In an interview to a national channel, the spokesman of the anti-mafia association Libera sadly admitted that organized crime is a sheer reality that one cannot just rule out and it grows amidst popular discontent. And, I add, it fosters its position through playing void words on the tense strings of the man next door’s guts. A similar strategy is carried forward by extreme right organization that seek to fuel turmoil with violence and threats.

Fascist practices on one side are mirrored by anti-sistemic behavior on the other. Anarchist and communist groups have jumped on the bandwagon sending their younger troops (high-schooler and college students) to the streets. The media emphasized the burning of an Italian flag (to which many fascists responded: “See? There’s no infiltration, no fascist would have done that!”). It hurts to see that the anti-fascist and social principles with which that flag was sowed were now turning to ashes. Ironically, the callow kid that lit the flag on fire could probably trace back in his family tree a few relatives that had fought Mussolini and his black shirts or the Burbon army, thus giving significance to the symbol he was so easily stepping over.

What is missing in the picture? Moderates are on vacation, extremists are in the streets… Politics! A high-level debate on the role of the Sicilian government in combination with the national and European one. A dialogue on the role of traditional economic sectors (agriculture, fishing, and heavy industry) in Sicily and on their sustainability in the new millennium. Why is nobody educating the masses in what are the real problems of our – Sicilian – society? While the 5-day strike was taking place, the last judicial settlement allowed former workers of a bathroom fittings company to purchase the foreclosed factory and continue the production through a renewed business plan. Workers that consciously re-gain the property of the means of production. This is a lesson to follow and admire. Against the crisis there’s more to do than burn flags or beat up those who try to cross picket lines.

A footnote is necessary here: I tried to contact a couple of publications presenting them the Italian version of this article (a slightly different version) but I received no response. So I posted it on Facebook and I received a whole bunch of warm replies, many of which engendered constructive dialogues, even with the most active and stubborn characters. I will be going to Sicily at the beginning of February. I want to know more, I want to see if the time is ripe for some serious discussion about our future there. One can get most of the information from the web, but to change the status quo, fieldwork is needed.

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One response to “Revolution in Sicily

  1. Pingback: Ain’t No Monti High Enough « bottleneck analysis

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