Should I stay or should I go

bre3There has been a lot of debating about the words Giorgio Napolitano; former Italian President, used to comment the so-called “Brexit” :I am among those who hoped to the end that  the desire to remain in Europe would prevail. The outcome of the referendum in Great Britain is a very heavy blow, a great element of economic, financial and political destabilization . We should reflect on how imprudent it was to propose this referendum on such extremely complex matters. ” “ Napolitano spit on democracy“, “the old communist has finally shed the mask“, were some of the angry reactions to his words, but even Mario Monti, former Italian PM and former European Commissioner reinforced Giorgio Napolitano’s concept.  During his speech at the Council for the United States and Italy relations meeting in Venice, in fact, he said:I disagree with those who think that EU referendum is good expression of democracy. Cameron abused of democratic power giving the referendum. Good that in Italy the Constitution prohibits the referendum on the EU’s treaties”. It seemed such a display of arrogance and distrust, of course. However, I cannot help but wonder: are we really submitted to the politicians’ will, who do not allow us to vote on such important matters? Is this a leak in our democratic system? Had I had to vote, upon what ground would I have made my choice? Do I possess the required know-how to vote in a responsible way?

bre4At this point I have to mention a survey which dates back to 2015; however, I don’t think those figures  have changed significantly this last year. The survey states that 80 % of our population are “analfabeti di ritorno” that in English could be more or less: those who have” relapsed into illiteracy”. 80 people out of 100 may be able to write and read, but they don’t fully understand given messages on various matters, graduated included. I don’t want to discuss the causes of this glorious outcome here, but this is a fact, and I am sure that even in those countries which may exhibit better figures, the percentage of those “analfabeti di ritorno” would still represent a majority. Politicians know these surveys well, that’s why their speeches have become a sequence of catch-phrases in time: they talk to that 80% of people, to their hopes, dreams and above all fears.

bre1Yes, fears. The Brexit campaign, whether you were for the “remain” or “leave” side,  was all about fears. For those who voted for” leave” there was the fear of immigration and  that being part of the EU meant accepting the free movement of people without being able to limit or control them ; fear of losing national sovereignty, as half of the laws in force in the United Kingdom are approved by EU bureaucrats who nobody elected; fears of the restrictions of European burocracy, hence Britain would boost the economy freeing itself from the bonds imposed from Brussels and be free to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with developing countries like India and China. For those who supported the “remain” side was pretty much the same: fear of isolation; fear of giving impulse to nationalistic and populist movements around Europe; fear of losing the advantages of the common market; fear of being economically more vulnerable in the age of globalization; fear of the risk of separatism. Whatever you wanted to vote, there was something you had to be afraid of. Hence, the most deep-rooted fears won.

bre2The European Union we live in today is not the result of fears but of a dream of some visionary leaders, who possessed that degree of foolishness Steve Jobs talked about at Stanford University. That meant going beyond the troubles of a disastrous present with its post war political, economical and social instabilities, to imagine and work for a peaceful, prosperous Europe and above all united, as that could and will be guarantee of peace and stability. But this is forgotten and we give for granted the hard reached stability to welcome populisms and nationalisms of any kind with all that means. I don’t mind if a democratically elected politician acts as guide of a country rather than giving voice to its basest fears. Very likely, modern politicians don’t possess that kind of foolishness, that’s why they seek the comfort of democratic exercise, causing ….who knows?

 

The Biker and the President

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It seems that after many years another Italian biker, Vincenzo Nibali, is about to win the “Tour de France“, very likely the most important cycling race in the world.  I’m very happy for the national prestige, however, as far as I am concerned, sport recently has lost that fascination it used to have. Medicines, doping, scientific studies have despoiled the athletes of that romantic, magic aura, that gave them the traits of demigods born to test and break human limits. Nowadays when you see a record crashed, you cannot help but wonder: did he deserve it or did he have a “little” help?

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Bartali and Coppi

Gino Bartali ‘s only doping was good food and a bottle of Chianti. “Ginettaccio“, as he was called,  was born in Ponte Elma, near Florence, in 1914 and very soon developed a great passion for cycling . In the thirties, he become professional and the whole nation learnt to love him for his passion, incredible determination and spirit of sacrifice, that made him win the ” Giro d’Italia” twice and the “Tour de France”  in the years before the outbreak of the second World War. In those tragic years, when all the competitions were suspended, he used his bike to save people’s lives. Every day he cycled from Terentola-Cortona railway station to Assisi (67Km) in the midst of shootings and bombings, hiding in the crossbar of his bike the documents to help the Jew refugees leave the country. When the war was over, he was considered too old for the races and the new rising star of cycling was his antagonist and friend Fausto Coppi, five years his junior.

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Don Camillo & Peppone

After the war Italy was a disintegrated country, always at the verge of the civil war. Guareschi called it the country of Don Camillo & Peppone, that is, a nation divided between the Christian Democrat Party of Alcide de Gasperi and  Andreotti and the Communist Party of Palmiro Togliatti e Pietro Nenni. The Christian Democrats largely won the first republican election of our history in March 1948, therefore Alcide De Gasperi became head of the government. However, strong concerns continued to spread throughout the country, exploding dramatically at 11.30 on July 14, when Antonio Pallante, a young Sicilian linked to extreme right-wing, attempted to the life of Togliatti in Piazza Montecitorio, wounding him seriously. Tumults and riots exploded, radio broadcasts were interrupted, a general strike was proclaimed and the Minister Mario Scelba ordered bloody repressions against unauthorized demonstrations. Those were days of high tension, but where was Bartali?

Bartali was in France for the “Tour”. He was 34 and the leader of the Italian team. He knew that, somehow, he was a second choice as the two bright stars of cycling Coppi and Magni had remained in Italy for both political and personal reasons.Furthermore the Italian team was not actually welcomed, as the French could not forget the “great betrayal”, that is, when Italy had announced to enter the war on the side of Germany eight years before, right when the Nazis were marching to Paris. During the stages the Italian athletes were constantly insulted and Bartali himself was attacked by a spectator. After 12 stages, he had 21 minutes delay from the leader, the French Bobet.

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Alcide De Gasperi

What follows is the narration of how an athletic deed may become gloriously heroic. Bartali was concerned about his family and had desperately tried to contact them. Right before the beginning of the 13th stage he received a call. He left his bike and seized the receiver, hoping to hear his wife’s voice, but it wasn’t his wife, it was Alcide De Gasperi, the President himself. He politely inquired about the race and asked Bartali if there were any chances he might win the “Tour”. Bartali declared it almost impossible as there were too many minutes that separated him  from the leader. Therefore, the President asked him to do his best to win at least a stage, in the hope that the sport news might distract people from politics. Bartali was stupefied but many years after that event, he confessed that those words had given him the adrenaline he needed to do what it will make him a legend.

Bartali won stage 13 with a large margin, jumping to the second place and in the next stage, Bartali won again, and took over “the yellow jersey” as leader of the general classification. Bobet was now in second place, eight minutes behind. The next stage, stage 15, was also won by Bartali. Stage after stage, the Italian excitement about the Tour de France increased, and the political tensions quieted. When the 25th of July “Ginettaccio” was on the Parisian podium, the situation in Italy was totally under control. An invisible hand had pushed the saddle of the Tuscan athlete, who had succeeded in driving his bike to a legendary world where a man “too old to win a tour” may become a hero.