Allerta a Bruxelles di Raffaella Greco Tonegutti

Ricevo e pubblico volentieri il contributo di una mia cara amica, Raffaella Greco Tonegutti, scrittrice, cooperante internazionale ed esperta su temi della migrazione e dei diritti umani, attualmente residente a Bruxelles.

Le ho scritto dopo gli attacchi terroristici di Parigi per chiedere un aiuto a decifrare quanto era accaduto in Francia e successivamente anche nella capitale belga – finita suo malgrado nell’occhio del ciclone come cosiddetta ‘culla del jihadismo’ in Europa – e le loro conseguenze per tutti noi.

Quello che mi ha mandato Raffaella non è – come mi ha scritto lei stessa – “né una riflessione, né un’analisi, ma solo quattro piccole (ma purtroppo non isolate) assurdità viste/vissute in queste settimane ad alta tensione”. “Assurdità” che aiutano a capire le mille implicazioni della rinnovata lotta al terrore per tutti coloro che con il terrorismo non c’entrano niente, e dimostrano che un’altra narrazione, diversa da quella mediatica e propagandistica, non solo è possibile, ma anche necessaria e fondamentale.

Buona lettura

 

Allerta Uno

“Madame! Je me suis perdida…”

Avenue Albert, incrocio Chaussée de Waterloo. Normalmente un brulicare di persone che vanno e vengono, escono dalla metro, si dirigono verso la “barrière” de Saint Gilles, scendono al mercato, riprendono la metro, affollano i localini a poco prezzo di questa zona centrale eppure molto popolare della città. Avenue Albert, oggi, è completamente deserta. Fa freddo, gli ippocastani in fila lungo il viale hanno perso tutte le foglie con le folate di vento di queste notti di autunno rigido. La donna ha un vestito beige di cotone troppo leggero per la stagione, non porta calze e hai piedi ha ciabatte da cortile nere con la suola rialzata. Lancia una richiesta d’aiuto ingigantita dall’evidenza che siamo le uniche due persone in giro, questa mattina.

“Mi hanno fatto svuotare questo…”, dice tendendo il polso da cui pende un sacchetto di plastica chiuso con un nodo. E’ seria. Ha dita grandi e poco curate, le unghie tutte rotte. Parla in un portoghese misto francese misto stanchezza misto spaesamento.

Chi?

“La poliziotta che parlava fiammingo. Era così agitata!”

Non ha visto il telegiornale, madame? Scuote la testa, mi guarda perplessa dietro spessi occhiali dalla montatura marrone. Poi si avvicina e mi si appende addosso. “A Barrière…”. Mi stringe il braccio mentre ci incamminiamo nel cuore del quartiere e lei comincia i racconti su suo marito che faceva il muratore ed è volato giù dall’impalcatura, “ma era tanto tempo fa”, sulle sue sorelle tornate nella valle del Minho “que saudade!”, su Saint Gilles dove vive da cinquant’anni, come tanti altri portoghesi arrivati a lavorare la terra, la calce, il carbone, e dove, da qualche tempo in qua ha cominciato a perdersi quando esce di casa.

“Mi hanno detto di tornare subito a casa…”. Si ferma: “Ma io non so tornare, che disgrazia! E quella s’è messa a urlare. Che disgrazia, la vecchiaia!”

Penso che non voglio andare verso il Parvis de Saint Gilles, c’è allerta 4, bisogna evitare il mercato, i luoghi pubblici. E poi dovevo solo andare in farmacia, Fernando si starà preoccupando. Arrivate a barrière, faccio per sfilare il braccio. “Meno male che ti ho incontrata. Che Dio benedica te e tutta la tua famiglia”. Non lascia la presa. “Era tanto tempo che non facevo una bella passeggiata. Grazie di essere venuta con me, brava ragazza. Bruxelles è tutta nostra. Che bel silenzio! Che bel il sole!”

Allerta Due

Bouchra è arrivata a prendere Sambetto all’ora stabilita. Non è sempre puntuale ed è solita scusarsi in un misto di arabo e francese, giustificando nel dettaglio le ragioni dei suoi ritardi che generalmente hanno a che fare con tram fermi per interminabili minuti in aree non previste lungo il tragitto, signore che la trattengono a fare pulizie oltre orario, figlie che tornano in ritardo da scuola. Oggi Bouchra tiene lo sguardo basso, non accarezza Sambetto sulle guance ripetendo nome di Allah come usa fare ogni giorno da tre mesi in qua, ossia da quando ha cominciato a fare la babysitter a casa nostra.

Si scusa, abbassa il capo, si sistema il velo nero intorno al viso. A voce bassa, dice che se non vogliamo più che lavori per noi lei lo capisce, che anche lei farebbe lo stesso. Dice che se abbiamo paura a mandare nostro figlio con lei a Saint Josse, se non vogliamo che lei lo porti fuori con il passeggino, per lei va bene lo stesso, è stato un piacere lavorare per noi in questi mesi, lei non se la prende, capisce benissimo. Ha bisogno di questo lavoro ma sa, mi dice, che è pericoloso adesso stare con quelli come lei. Lo dicono tutti. Sull’autobus la gente si sposta. La polizia fa irruzione nelle case dei suoi vicini, fa la posta agli angoli delle strade del suo quartiere. La scuola di arabo e corano dove sua figlia Sofia frequenta un corso del fine settimana è stata chiusa, non si sa quando riaprirà. È cambiato tutto e lei, mi dice, capisce benissimo di non essere più la benvenuta.

La invito a entrare, a sedersi sul divano. Le confermo gli orari della settimana, quando venire e quando riportare Sambetto. Lei sorride, il suo viso tondo si colora di rosso.

Shukran.

Grazie a te.

Allerta Tre

Rebecca e Giulio mi hanno informato che si trasferiranno a Bruxelles. Scrivono preoccupati per sapere cosa sta succedendo in città. Hanno ricevuto dal loro agente immobiliare, lo stesso che utilizzano tutti gli expat in arrivo in città, un’informazione che li dovrebbe rassicurare. “We have found for you a beautiful, furnished apartment in SAFE area (Ixelles, Chatelain) / Appartement meublé dans une zone relativement SURE (Ixelles, Chatelain)”.

Apro una pagina con la cartina di Bruxelles, copio e incollo su un documento word. Metto due frecce rosse a indicare la via dell’appartamento in questione e la strada in cui abito con mio marito ed i miei due figli. Cinquecento metri di distanza, forse meno. Aggiungo uno foto scattata il giorno stesso mentre giriamo in bicicletta sul viale che unisce i due punti segnati in rosso. Qui Bruxelles e tutto va bene.

Allerta quattro

La metro è chiusa. Il tram metropolitano funziona solo per le poche fermate in superficie. Gli autobus sono pieni da scoppiare e passano in ritardo. Le giornate sono molto fredde ma l’assenza di nuvoloni grigi fa ben sperare. Mi copro gola e orecchie e attraverso la città a piedi. Le strade sono insolitamente libere. Fatico a riconoscere gli incroci dove solitamente stazionano due o tre vigili per organizzare il caotico viavai di macchine e biciclette. Neanche un minuto d’attesa a Janson, tutto liscio persino a Stephanie. Allora perché c’è quel crocchio di pedoni fermi in mezzo alla piazza? Non resisto alla curiosità, mi avvicino. Dietro il sipario di schiene e cappucci, un carro armato. Tra le lucine di Natale dei negozi chic della città, quella ferraglia verde militare con il suo cannone verso il murales della donna nuda a gambe aperte di Avenue Louise è la rappresentazione meglio riuscita dell’assurdo che Bruxelles ha vissuto per un’intera settimana. È Allerta quattro, babe.

 

Raffaella Greco Tonegutti (Roma, 1979) vive tra l’Africa e l’Europa, dove attualmente lavora per la Commissione Europea a Bruxelles. Ha al suo attivo L’Espagnole (Editori Riuniti, 2013), una storia di migrazioni al femminile ambientata a Bruxelles, Silenzio su Bamako (Editori Riuniti, 2013), un saggio scritto con Robin Edward Poulton sul golpe in Mali e l’intervento armato internazionale, e Racconto a due voci (Infinito edizioni, 2015), un’opera teatrale scritta con Giordana Morandini e tratta liberamente da L’Espagnole, vincitrice della terza edizione del Premio Barbara Fabiani per la Storia Sociale. Inoltre, è in uscita per Edwin Mellen Press (New York) il volume “TERRORISM or PEACE in the SAHARA? Soldiers, Jihadists and the Failure of Malian Democracy”, scritto con Robin Edward Poulton e previsto per febbraio 2016. Si può contattare all’indirizzo lalla.greco@gmail.com

 

‘Mama Africa’ and the Pope in Kenya

‘Mama Africa’ by John Mbugua Kimani, in art John Silver
‘Mama Africa’ by John Mbugua Kimani, in art John Silver

John is a self-taught Kenyan artist based in Nairobi who makes paintings, sculptures and wood cut prints; his work has found its way into major collections and has won several international prizes. He also trains aspiring artists and has his own Rhino Care project working with vulnerable children in Nairobi’s slums.

I met John at Kuona Trust, the centre for visual arts in Kenya, in October 2007 and we have remained in touch ever since.

I bought this oil pointing from him recently and I now want to ‘share’ it with readers because for me it encapsulates the ‘great values of the African tradition’ alluded to by Pope Francis during Mass with students at Nairobi University earlier today.

To the best of my knowledge the pope didn’t actually list these values, so I thought I might do so here: the strength and dignity of the African woman as mother and provider as she carries the future of the continent on her shoulders.

 

 

Good news for women in Italy as C-section rate falls

There is good news for mothers and their unborn babies: the rate of caesarean sections in Italy is coming down.

In 2014 25.7% of first-time births in Italy were by caesarean section, down from 28.3% in 2010 according to figures from the national agency for regional health services (AGENAS) collated under its 2015 national outcomes evaluation programme (PNE).

The figure remains well above the World Health Organisation’s ‘recommended’ rate of 10-15%*.

However, it is a considerable improvement in a country where medical choices can be dictated as much by financial expediency (caesarean sections have a higher economic return), organisational considerations (caesarean sections can be planned around rigid staff schedules) and fears of malpractice lawsuits (caesarean sections are often recommended by doctors to avoid labour complications particularly in older women, even though paradoxically statistics show they present a greater risk to mother and child) as by considerations of what is best for the patient.

In absolute terms in the last four years approximately 32,000 women in Italy have been ‘spared’ a first-time caesarean section that was not medically justified, with a consequent lower risk of having a surgical delivery second time round.

There are still huge discrepancies between northern and southern regions and even within the same region, with rates in individual hospital structures ranging from a minimum of 5% (in the northern Lombardy region) to 95% (in southern Campania).

Generally speaking, with the exception of Liguria northern regions have an average rate of below 20%.

All central and southern regions except Tuscany come in well above this figure, with the average rate in Campania stable at 50%.

VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) merits a discussion of its own.

In Italy it is a commonly held belief among women (and the medical community apparently does little to contradict them) that if their first delivery is by caesarean section then all subsequent deliveries must be too, even in the absence of medical indications making surgery strictly necessary.

Consequently, many women at their second pregnancy are denied the possibility of trying for a VBAC and having what can be not only a safe but also a hugely empowering birth experience.

In 2014 in Italy only 6% of mothers who had their first child by caesarean section delivered vaginally second time round, according to AGENAS figures. However, here again there are big regional discrepancies, with VBAC practiced successfully in only 1% of second deliveries in the south and in 20% of cases in the northern Veneto region.

The differences in the figures suggest that the issue is as much a cultural as it is a medical one.

And, like all cultural battles, it needs to be fought with information and awareness-raising, starting from those most directly concerned: mothers and their unborn babies.

* In a new study published this year the WHO concluded that at population level, caesarean section rates higher than 10% are not associated with reductions in maternal and newborn mortality rates.

 

Petizione per dire no alla fine della scuola dell’infanzia statale

Desidero segnalare ai lettori una petizione on line promossa dall’associazione nazionale docenti in relazione al ‘cambio di prospettiva’ che si vorrebbe imporre alla Scuola dell’Infanzia (3-6 anni) nella nuova legge sulla Buona Scuola, approvata definitivamente dal parlamento lo scorso luglio.

Cercherò di approfondire la questione in un altro post (non mi è chiaro, per esempio, se il governo abbia già approvato il decreto legislativo che dovrebbe istituire un ‘Servizio integrato di educazione e istruzione dalla nascita ai 6 anni’ e, qualora fosse, quali siano i contenuti).

Nel frattempo, e nella convinzione che la scuola dell’infanzia possa e debba svolgere un ruolo fondamentale nella crescita armoniosa dei bambini e che non vada ridotta a mero ‘parcheggio’ a servizio delle famiglie, condivido il link alla petizione nella speranza che possa trovare molte, moltissime adesioni.

The courage of Lea Garofalo

Today Italy commemorates the life and death of Lea Garofalo, an iconic figure in the fight against organised crime whose decision to break ties with Calabria’s powerful ‘ndrangheta mafia led to her murder six years ago aged 35.

Lea’s is a story of courage and hope. Courage to rebel against the rules of the ‘ndrangheta family into which she had been born and leave her mafioso partner Carlo Cosco in order to seek a better life if not for herself, for their young daughter Denise. Hope because through her sacrifice she showed that the mafia code of silence can be broken.

Lea’s story ended brutally on 24 November 2009 with her murder in a plot orchestrated by Cosco as much in revenge for the ‘dishonour’ of being abandoned as because she had broken ranks. However, the fact that testimony provided by Denise against her father following her mother’s disappearance (Lea’s remains only came to light in 2013 as a result of evidence emerging at trial) should have led to his life imprisonment is a source of inspiration for all.

The tale of the two women returned to the fore in Italy last week with the television premiere of Marco Tullio Giordana’s film ‘Lea’ starring a spell-binding Vanessa Scalera in the lead role and Linda Caridi as Denise.

The film not only gave a fascinating insight into the workings of the country’s most powerful mafia organisation, but it also highlighted the need for adequate support and protection for people wanting out.

Lea was born into the Garofalo clan in Petilia Policastro near Crotone in 1974. Her father and brother were both local bosses and met their death in feuds with rival clans. Cosco was an ‘ndrangheta affiliate with dealings in Milan.

Lea decided she had had enough of the mob lifestyle in 1996, when Denise was just five, but she only began collaborating with investigators as a testimone di giustizia (a citizen informant without a criminal record, not to be confused with a collaboratore di giustizia or pentito, namely someone who turns state’s evidence after being arrested or convicted of a crime) in 2002.

She and her daughter subsequently entered a witness protection programme and lived under a false identity in various locations around Italy for the next four years until their protection was removed on grounds Lea’s testimony had not been sufficiently effective.

Lea appealed against the decision and was readmitted to the programme, but she opted out voluntarily in April 2009 for reasons that remain unclear (there are suggestions that she feared for her safety and was frustrated with the apparent reluctance of investigators to take her testimony seriously). This is when she made the tragic error of renewing contact with Petilia Policastro and Cosco.

Her estranged partner orchestrated an unsuccessful attempt on her life in May 2009 before luring her to Milan allegedly to discuss their daughter’s future the following November. Her lawyer Enza Rando urged her not to go but she ignored the advice, insisting that with Denise’s presence her safety was ensured.

On 24 November while Denise was with relatives Lea was abducted, tortured and killed. Her body was then burned and the remains buried on a plot in Monza outside the Lombardy regional capital.

Denise, then 17, reported her mother’s disappearance and accused her father of murder. In March 2012 six people including Cosco and his two brothers were jailed for life at first instance for the crime, even as the defense continued to claim Lea had abandoned her daughter and moved to Australia.

One of the convicts, Denise’s ex boyfriend Carmine Venturino, subsequently made statements allowing investigators to uncover Lea’s scant remains, which were laid to rest following a civil funeral in Milan in October 2013 attended by several thousand people.

In May 2013 a Milan appeals court upheld the life sentences against four of the defendants including Cosco, reduced Venturino’s sentence to 25 years and overturned the guilty verdict against a sixth defendant on grounds there was no crime to answer.

These sentences became definitive in a supreme court ruling in December 2014.

Meanwhile Denise has been living under a new identity in a secret location under the same witness protection scheme that ‘betrayed’ her mother.

“The protection system for informants has undergone a series of improvements in recent years […] but testimoni di giustizia have a dignity of their own and deserve a specific law,” said Rando after the film Lea’s television premiere on 18 November.

Currently provisions for testimoni and collaboratori are set out under a single law, leading to confusion between the two.

“Informants and collaborators should never again be confused and a law would help resolve the current critical points,” the lawyer continued.

Davide Mattiello of the Democratic Party (PD), a member of Italy’s bicameral anti-mafia commission, agreed.

“If the mafia kills a magistrate the roles are clear and the law works for family members, but if the mafia tears to pieces those who rebel from within their own circle the law comes unstuck,” Mattiello said.

“A person who wants to break with those family ties, even if they don’t have precious information for the judiciary, must find the State.”

 

(A copy of this article has also appeared in the Italian Insider)

New UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi must ensure refugees do not become scapegoats after Paris attacks

On 18 November the general assembly of the United Nations endorsed the nomination of long-serving Italian diplomat Filippo Grandi as the next UN high commissioner for refugees.

He replaces former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres on 1 January.

Born in Milan in 1957, Grandi has spent most of his career in the UN, working for the UNHCR in Sudan, Syria, Turkey and Iraq among other places and leading the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) from 2010 until 2014.

His nomination not only continues the proud tradition of Italians in key international positions – Romano Prodi as president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004, Mario Draghi as current president of the European Central Bank and Federica Mogherini as the European Union’s current high representative for foreign affairs – but it can also be seen as recognition of the front-line role played by Italy in Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the second world war.

Last month UNHCR said it expected 1.4 million refugees to arrive in Europe in 2015 and 2016 in search of “safety and international protection” from terrorism, war and persecution in their home countries. The vast majority are Muslim.

Grandi now has the challenge of ensuring that these people are not turned into scapegoats as western countries ratchet up the ‘war on terror’ following the 13 November attacks by Islamic jihadists in Paris in which at least 129 people were killed.

The day after the tragedy Poland’s future minister for European affairs said it would be “impossible” for the new conservative government to accept previously agreed EU-mandate quotas for refugees amid subsequently confirmed reports that one of the Paris terrorists had transited through Greece in October. The others were all allegedly French or Belgian nationals.

Similar sentiments have been expressed in Italy by Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigration and anti-Europe Northern League, and he is not alone.

However, as the speaker of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies and former UNHCR Italy spokesperson Laura Boldrini pointed out, refugees are often “the first victims of terror”.

“Those who want to send them back are giving Islamic State a gift by allowing it to step forward as their only protection,” she said in an interview to L’Espresso magazine published 18 November.

“Those who say all Muslims are the same make a few thousand militiamen representative of billions of people. It’s madness,” she added.

David Grossman e la sua ‘Umanità nascosta’ a servizio di una riflessione su #Parigisottoattacco

Nella mia ricerca personale su come reagire alla tragedia di Parigi mi sono imbattuta in un articolo bellissimo dello scrittore israeliano David Grossman, che ora desidero segnalare ai lettori.

L’articolo si intitola L’umanità nascosta negli occhi dei siriani e racconta la reazione del suo paese alle immagini dei profughi in fuga.

La sua riflessione risale a prima degli attacchi terroristici a Parigi, ma offre degli spunti interessanti per capire meglio i rischi insiti nel contesto in cui ora ci troviamo e individuare una possibile via d’uscita.

Renzi passes up equity-inspired pension reform

There was a time when left-wing politics was associated with wealth redistribution and social justice.

Not any more, or at least not in the Italy of Matteo Renzi, prime minister and secretary of the Democratic Party (PD), a distant heir of what was once the largest communist party in western Europe.

And so it seems the ex-Florence mayor had no qualms about ditching a proposal for pensions reform inspired by the principles of equity and protection for the most vulnerable groups before it had even been presented to the public for debate.

The proposal in question is set out in the document ‘Non per cassa, ma per equità’ (Not for money, but for equity) submitted to the government in June by the labour economist of international fame Tito Boeri, president of Italy’s social security institute Inps, for possible inclusion in the 2016 budget law.

The plan has two main objectives: to halve poverty among people aged over 55 – according to Inps the category worst affected by the recent prolonged recession and measures introduced by the Monti government in 2011 to push back the age of retirement – and to promote generational turnover in response to high youth unemployment.

Specifically, it contemplates awarding a basic income of 500 euros a month in the first instance to low-income families with at least one member aged over 55 on condition that unemployed people in the family actively seek work.

The measure is intended as a precursor of the national minimum wage, which currently does not exist in Italy.

The proposal also introduces a new flexibility scheme allowing workers to retire early on a reduced amount.

According to the document, the funds needed to cover these measures would be sourced by cutting welfare support to around 230,000 high-income families and recalculating so-called ‘golden’ pensions to around 250,000 people and annuities for over 4,000 elected officials (read: politicians) on the basis of contributions paid, meaning that recipients would get less.

The draft budget law signed off by the cabinet in October contained no trace of the proposals and in November Inps posted the document on its website for all to read.

The government and the pensions agency both insisted the on-line publication had been “agreed”, but the speed and intransigence with which the former rejected the plans after they had entered the public domain might suggest otherwise.

Renzi reportedly described the proposal to cut pensions as an “error” even before the document had been made public.

“Some of the remedies suggested by Tito Boeri’s Inps had the merit of equity: those who received more than they had paid in would have been asked to make a contribution,” the prime minister acknowledged.

“However, I didn’t think it was the right time: we need to restore Italians’ confidence” in the economic recovery, he continued, insisting rather on controversial tax-cutting measures that have found their way into the 2016 budget bill – measures that are traditionally advanced by the centre-right.

Critics of the proposals accuse Boeri of playing politics and of exceeding his remit as Inps does not have the right of legislative initiative under the Italian constitution.

However the economist has defended himself saying Inps has a long history of making proposals and that the attacks have come from “people who have clear interests in the operation that we wanted to launch”.

“The people who appeared on television foaming with rage to attack me are those whose annuity payment would be cut by half if our proposals were accepted,” Boeri continued.

In an age when expediency and vested interests seem to count more than political values or coherence, ‘equity’ has clearly become a dirty word.