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Italy and India: Petty, Not Pretty

Giarre, Italy

I’m writing this in English because I don’t like Italy on this issue.

The use of “we” is sarcastic, whereas the use of “I” is serious.

So close in the alphabetical list of countries, so far apart with all the rest. Generalization: Italians know nothing about India and Indians know nothing about Italy. Sure, Slumdog Millionaire and Bollywood are known in the Mediterranean peninsula, as much as pizza and La Dolce Vita are in the South Asian peninsula. However, the first I came across people from India, or with a strong Indian family background, was not that long ago, when I first arrived in California. Then I realized that I was precisely like the Italians I just criticized: ignorant. First, I could not locate anything on a blank map of the Indian sub-continent. Second, I knew nothing about the culture, the food, the music, and the customs. So I reacted, as usual, by stretching open my eyes and ears as much as possible in order to listen and understand more about this whole world unknown to me.

While mine was a voluntary learning experience – that, to be fair, I did not take too far – the Italian public nowadays is being forced into learning toponyms, watching archival footage of a faraway land, and staring at mute speeches of Indian politicians. The journalist’s voice runs over the video report spelling out the same names and information over and over, because there is nothing else to talk about than a legal dispute between an Italian tanker and an Indian fishing boat.

The Events, Briefly

Two members of the Italian army were arrested with the accusation of having killed two Indian fishermen on February 15. The Italian’s side defense is as follows: The Italian tanker sent warnings to the approaching boat, which did not respond. So, for fear of being attacked by pirates, as it had been happening frequently, from the Italian cargo a few warning shots were directed in the whereabouts of the boat, without actually hitting the boat (they were “warning” shots, after all!). Moreover, the Italian side argues that the whole incident took place in international waters, i.e. outside the limits where Indian jurisdiction would be competent for dealing with the case.

The Indian side counters all these affirmations. The arrest had a clear charge, murder. The Italian soldiers are held in prison and will face a trial because they are accused of having killed two Indian fishermen without warning in Indian waters. According to this version, there’s little to be done for the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has been traveling to India and sending countless envoys to save Italy’s face in the case.

Then there’s another possible explanation: The Italian tanker intercepted a pirate ship and fired against it, either hitting the innocent fishing boat or just provoking a deroute to the pirates who then shot on the fishermen. Italian journalist have declined the possible war of religion (the fishermen were Catholic) and the monstruous alien’s explanation. Personally, I am very thankful for the latter responsible stand.

What We Won’t Hear (As Much) In Italy

The Financial Times reports that today, February 27th, a file was opened by Indian authorities on alleged irregularities from Finmeccanica, a defense industry giant company. Italy and its government have high stakes in Finmeccanica and if the helicopter deal worth $560 million is to be voided, it would be a harsh blow at this evergreen Italian business. Italy has gained the favor of  many dictators and some military-thirsty countries by providing with cutting-edge defense tools.In 2010, Finmeccanica won a bid over Sikorsky, a US firm, for the supply of helicopters.

State-controlled Finmeccanica has gone through dire times lately, when its chairman and his wife (who chaired a subsidiary company) were induced to resign over allegations of corruption and nepotism. Further clouds to its reputation would surely obscure its market position in India and force “shrimp steps” away from a fast-growing and interesting country. Factoring out the whole (petty) discussion about nuclear weapons, the Italian attitude looks like the one that induced the pulling out from Iran, which will prove unfortunate and myopic in the upcoming years.

Face It, Our Country Is Petty

Italians: we are one percent of the world’s population and we feel that Ancient Rome, Dante, and our culinary and filming abilities will save us from the world’s oblivion of our existence. India is unknown to Italians (and the West altogether, if I may) although it represents a big chunk of the earth and about a quarter of the population. By no means I regard a society so stratified, so reliant on religion, so divided as a “democracy”, be such term intended in its “Western” meaning or in its original one. However, India is taking giant steps towards the economic leadership of the world. Not so different from China in its “let them do politics, we’ll make money”-approach, it is going to be a clear protagonist of this century.

Conversely, Italy might just watch its own sunset with this skirmish. The traditional, twentieth century power, and former colonizer succumbs in a few diplomatic quarrels to the emerging power and still doesn’t know what to do about it. While going through the desert of power demise, Italy found itself naked, without a camel or a guide. This is a clear sign that Italy’s say in the global community has lost the power that Rome had struggled to regain after World War II. Let’s go learn about the real subjects of tomorrow’s world order, instead of sitting in grey-haired Western political clubs.


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