One of the very best investigation into modern Italy is The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones which does a good job in showing why Italy is not as other countries are, and makes entertaining reading at the same time. Mr Jones also writes articles for the Guardian, and his latest is about the terrible state of Rome’s roads. He doesn’t just moan about potholes, as you or I might, who do not live in Rome, but tells us about the impressive amount of sinkholes that have opened up of late in the Italian capital, one of which swallowed six cars. Rome is the capital of Italy, and Italy is the paese degli disastri, the one country where disasters happen thanks to flood, earthquake and volcanic eruption more than elsewhere in Europe, and where government incompetence makes nature’s cruelty that much harder to bear.
The woes of Rome are interesting at present for a number of reasons. First of all, the mayor of Rome, the one person who should be giving a lead in dealing with the city’s troubles, is Virginia Raggi, who represents not one of the old corrupt and discredited political parties, but the new broom Five Star Movement. The trouble is that Ms Raggi’s personal history links her to the lords of misrule of yesteryear and if that were not enough, she has been widely perceived as not up to the job of running Rome. Nor has Ms Raggi quite hit it off with the Pope, though her relations with the Vatican are not as dismal as that of her predecessor.
This matters a great deal because the Five Star Movement, after the recent elections, now stands, perhaps, on the threshold of power, as the delicate negotiations following those elections try to put together a government. The Five Star Movement emerged as the largest party in the elections. As a glance at the map shows, it swept the south of Italy. But is it fit to rule? Its record in Rome and elsewhere does not command confidence.
Sadly, Italy has a history of putting unfit people into power, and we all know how that tends to end. Let us also not forget that the election campaign was marred by a huge row between the Church and the Five Star Movement. Whoever forms the next government, the disagreement about immigration is not going to go away.
Italy should be the crucible of Catholic social teaching in action, and indeed once was, when the Christian Democrat party held sway, but those days are long past and the dolce vita is a distant memory, obscured by what Italians call gli anni di piombo, the years of lead, the time of terrorism and recession in the 1970’s, the return of which is greatly feared.
As Tobias Jones’s article shows us, the difficulty in getting things done seems pretty insurmountable in contemporary Italy. But things have to be done, and the only way forward is through solidarity, that is caring about the needs of others, and co-operation between citizens. The real enemy is not the weather or geology, but the sort of selfishness that sees problems as purely personal rather than as challenges to the community. We need to remember our vision of the common good: not just in Rome and in Italy, but everywhere.