Correction: ‘arancione’ is a model of good government on the centre left

I got it wrong.

In my ‘A glossary of the Italian centre left’ posted on December 15 I erroneously wrote that the term arancione (orange) refers to exponents of the newly formed political movement (not yet a full-blown party) called Sinistra Italiana comprising defectors from the Democratic Party (PD), Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà (SEL) and disenchanted former members of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) and that modello arancione is the epithet for the alliance.

Sinistra Italiana does, it seem, have a logo comprising white writing on an orange background.

However, the ‘orange’ that crops up time and again in current reporting on the shambles within the centre-left in fact refers to exponents of another movement, Movimento arancione, launched by incumbent Naples mayor Luigi De Magistriis in 2012 to bring together politicians and civil society representatives unhappy with traditional political parties. They created an alternative model of centre-left government – the so-called modello arancione – based on democratic participation and civic revival.

Key exponents of this movement are Giuliano Pisapia, Marco Doria and Massimo Zedda, respectively incumbent mayors of Milan, Genoa and Cagliari, who were behind a recent call for unity within the centre left in view of local elections next year.

Separately, further research has turned up two more factions within the PD:

Sinistra è cambiamento: per una primavera democratica (Left is change: for a democratic spring), launched by agriculture minister Maurizio Martina in June 2015. Described in journalese as the sinistra dialogante (the left that is prepared to dialogue), as opposed to the minoranza dem led by Roberto Speranza that disagreed with Renzi over the Italicum electoral law before the summer and remains openly hostile to the government to this day.

Area riformista: launched in April 2014 as an aggregate of minority factions within Renzi’s PD loosely grouped around party heavyweights Pierluigi Bersani (so-called bersaniani), Massimo D’Alema (dalemiani), Enrico Letta (lettiani) etc. The area also includes the minoranza dem.



La Repubblica on refugee reception by parishes and the difficulties faced by Muslims in explaining Islam

Two articles in today’s La Repubblica newspaper caught my eye.

One was an article by Jenner Meletti on the number of parishes across Italy that have responded to Pope Francis’s September call to open their doors to refugees. The answer is: painfully few. The reason may also have to do with legal and bureaucratic constraints – to the best of my knowledge the church is being involved in the primary reception (accoglienza primaria) of people whose immigration status is as yet uncertain – but it nonetheless remains a sad testament to the difficulty of showing concrete solidarity even in the face of such urgent need.

(For the record I have myself enquired about the possibility of hosting refugees in my own home and I have been told that families can only accommodate people once their application for international protection has been processed; offers of accommodation should be made to and are handled by the diocesan Caritas).

The other article was a frank and thought-provoking comment by the writer Mohammed Hanif that first appeared in the New York Times about the difficulties faced by so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims in explaining Islam following atrocities such as the November terrorist attacks perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists in Paris. It is a must-read.

A tragedy within the tragedy of migration to Italy

This story, if confirmed, is a tragedy within the tragedy of migration to Italy, which sees tens of thousands of migrants and refugees risk death by drowning every year during the perilous sea crossing from north Africa only to face loneliness and destitution once they have arrived.

Modou Sarr, a 37-year-old from Gambia, set fire to a car at a petrol station in San Tammaro in the southern Campania region while the driver was refuelling in order to get himself arrested, according to an Ansa news agency report.

He allegedly told police he was destitute and wanted to spend Christmas in prison where food and lodging would be guaranteed, rather than on the hostile streets of the Camorra-mafia dominated Caserta province.

Of course I know nothing about this man or his story – when and how he arrived in Italy, whether he has legal documents, what he has done and how he has been assisted up till now.

However, my guess is that he has been a victim of the unstable and exploitative labour market in the Caserta area based largely on temporary seasonal work in agriculture and tourism, which many migrants to Italy see as a stepping stone to seeking more stable employment further north.

It may be that he entered the country illegally or came in on a legal migrant quota but subsequently fell foul of Italy’s rigid immigration laws.

Or, as a Gambian national, it could be that he applied for some form of international protection and then slipped through the net.

In any event, chances are that after his scheduled fast-track trial – and maybe Christmas spent in the warm and dry of a prison cell – he will be sent back to where he came from, only to begin his odyssey all over again.


A glossary of the Italian centre left

I am trying to follow the political debate within the centre left in view of coalition primaries and local elections in numerous cities including Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin and Bologna next year.

However, not only is the discussion more fragmented and fractious than I had realised but it also requires a glossary to understand.

Arancione, minoranza dem, cosa rossa, area dem are just some of the neat but impenetrable phrases used by politicians and reporters to refer to factions or formations that, without the necessary background and context, risk meaning absolutely nothing.

So here in note form is my own ‘glossary of the Italian centre left’, based on the terms and phrases that have most baffled me.

Partito Democratico (PD) – founded in 2007 as a moderate reformist party from the merger of the Democrats of the Left (DS), Margherita and other minor centre-left parties. It is a distant heir of the Italian Communist Party, which was succeeded by the Democratic Party of the Left (PdS) in 1991 and then by the DS in 1998. The PD has been led by Matteo Renzi as secretary since December 2013. Renzi subsequently ousted party colleague Enrico Letta to become prime minister at the head of a left-right unity government in February 2014. Biggest political party in Italy in terms of both the number of votes and the number of seats won at the last general elections in February 2013 (although some MPs have since defected). President: Matteo Orfini. Deputy secretaries: Debora Serracchiani, Friuli Venezia Giulia regional governor, and Lorenzo Guerini, MP. In total the national secretariat is made up of 18 members of whom exactly half are women Headquarters: Largo del Nazareno, Rome

Partito della nazione – denotes a party that appeals to the broadest possible electorate, over and above traditional ideological positions; the term is often used in a derogatory sense to describe the PD under Renzi’s leadership as it has moved progressively away from conventional left-wing and centre-left policies towards the centre and right, in a process that has seen the secretary court unlikely elements such as former Forza Italia national coordinator Denis Verdini and his Alleanza Liberalpopolare-Autonomie (AL-A). It should also be remembered that the two cornerstones of Renzi’s government agenda – electoral and constitutional reform – are the result of a dubious pact with Forza Italia leader and ex prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in January 2014, before the party secretary took office as prime minister.

Minoranza dem – left-wing minority within the PD led by Roberto Speranza that is deeply critical of the direction taken by Renzi but is reluctant to break ties.

Area democratica (area dem) – another faction within the PD established by culture minister and former PD secretary Dario Franceschini to contribute to debate within the party.

Giovani Turchi – movement of 30-40 somethings founded in 2010 and led by Matteo Orfini, which supported Gianni Cuperlo (the candidate backed by several key exponents of the ‘old guard’ including Massimo D’Alema and Pier Luigi Bersani) in the 2013 party leadership campaign before subsequently deciding to cooperate with the winner Renzi. Other key exponents include justice minister Andrea Orlando and, initially, Stefano Fassina, who left the PD to join Sinistra Italiana (see below) in June 2015.

Sinistra Italiana – parliamentary group constituted in November 2015 by defectors from the PD, representatives of Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL) led by former Puglia governor Nichi Vendola and defectors from the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) founded by comedian Beppe Grillo. Its defining colour is orange (hence exponents are referred to as ‘arancioni’ and the alliance as the modello arancione), but paradoxically the movement is also referred to as the ‘cosa rossa’ (red thing).

Leopolda – annual political convention launched by Renzi, then Florence mayor, at the former Leopolda railway station in Florence in 2010; it was here that Renzi and then Lombardy regional councillor Giuseppe (Pippo) Civati called for the ‘old guard’ to be scrapped (rottamato) in favour of a new generation of leaders (generazione Leopolda), which is now in power. Renzi and Civati and their followers subsequently became known as rottamatori. The sixth edition of the Leopolda closed on Sunday. Civati left the PD in disagreement with Renzi to join the Mixed Group in the chamber of deputies in May 2015 and has since founded his own party, Possibile.

L’Ulivo – this term refers to successive centre-left coalitions conceived and led by Romano Prodi until the creation of the PD in 2007. Many critics of Renzi’s PD hark back to the Olive Tree alliance with nostalgia and it is now being increasingly evoked in view of local elections next year. Nostalgics (and Prodi supporters) are sometimes referred to as ulivisti.


The feel in Rome on the eve of the Jubilee of Mercy

This weekend I did something I haven’t done for a shamefully long time: I walked and then drove through the streets of Rome.

I wanted to gauge for myself the feel in the city on the eve of Pope Francis’ special Jubilee of Mercy, which begins with the opening of the Holy Door at St Peter’s basilica on Tuesday.

Security plans have been ratcheted up in the wake of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris and so I was not surprised to find a heavy security presence with large numbers of police and military personnel at so-called sensitive sites: at the entrance to St Peter’s Square, outside the basilica of S. Maria Maggiore, outside Termini station (where a large group of carabinieri police were chatting idly amongst themselves), at the church of S. Luigi dei Francesi (the so-called ‘French church’), to name a few.

Two heavily armed soldiers outside the Supreme Court of Cassation prompted some difficult questions from my daughter (it is not easy to explain to a five-year-old that we live in a world where people with guns are supposedly needed to keep us safe from people with guns).

However, away from the main tourist and pilgrim areas it seemed to be business as usual; if anything, the apparent concentration of security forces at specific sites in and around the city centre left other areas feeling abandoned to themselves and more vulnerable.

I had heard from various sources that Rome was empty and indeed on Saturday morning it did feel that way: the road running along the south bank of the Tiber from the Olympic stadium to Trastevere was empty of both traffic and parked cars.

However by lunchtime central areas were beginning to fill up, mostly with Italian and foreign tourists (many Romans will have taken advantage of the long holiday weekend – which for many in fact began on Friday due to a combined public transport strike and ban on circulation for cars with odd-numbered licence plates – to get out of town or rest up at home), and by mid-afternoon the Vatican area was busy (not teeming) with visitors; the queue to enter St Peter’s ran the whole way round Bernini’s colonnade as far as the junction with Via della Conciliazione.

The general impression was that, after a brief period in which fear of terrorism effectively stopped many Romans from going out and kept some would-be visitors away, things are now returning to normal; that, over and above the heightened security, most people probably now consider a terrorist attack to be only a remote possibility and certainly not one that is going to get in the way of daily life.

I suspect that for many Rome residents the general disorderliness and lack of decorum, the dirt, the holes (and sometimes even genuine chasms) in the road, the ubiquitous micro-road works that cause terrible snarl-ups at rush hour and the shocking level of poverty that I noticed on my rounds are of much more immediate concern.


Islam in Italy: a profile

There has been much talk in the media about ‘Italy’s Islamic community’ in recent weeks, but the label is rarely accompanied by facts and figures that give a clear idea of how this community is made up.

How many Muslims are there in Italy and where are they from? What denomination of Islam do they follow? What is the balance of men to women and where in Italy do they live? How many are native Italians who have converted to Islam? Where do they worship and how are the places of worship regulated (assuming they are)?

I put some of these questions to the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (U.CO.I.I.) and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy, two of the most representative bodies in Italy, and got no reply.

So this is what I have managed to piece together based on December 2014 estimates reported by Corriere della Sera and Repubblica newspapers on 27 November based on an internal interior ministry report.

If other information becomes available from the Islamic community directly I will of course make it known to readers as soon as possible. I would also be grateful for any additional details you can provide.

There are reportedly just over 1.6 million Muslims in Italy, or 2.6% of the total population (60.7 million). The number has fallen by about 40,000 over the previous year as a result of the economic crisis. Muslims account for just under a third of immigrants in Italy. However, in 2013 42% of children born of foreign parents were Muslim, suggesting that the Muslim community is growing faster than other foreign communities.

Some 98% of Muslims in Italy are Sunni and half come from North Africa (particularly Morocco). Other significant communities come from Albania and Bangladesh.

58% of Muslims in Italy are male and arrived in their youth to look for work.

The number of Italian converts to Islam is estimated at 70,000. To this figure must be added a similar number of Muslim immigrants who have obtained Italian citizenship.

Generally speaking Muslims are concentrated in the north west (39% of the total) and north east (27%). Some 26.5% of the Muslim population lives in Lombardy, putting the region in top place followed by Emilia Romagna (13.5%), Veneto and Piemonte (9%). On a provincial level Milan, Rome, Brescia, Bergamo and Turin have the largest number of Muslim residents. In Milan 45,000 of the province’s roughly 120,000 Muslims are Egyptian. In Rome 32,000 of the approximately 90,000 Muslims are from Bangladesh. In Turin 27,000 of the roughly 54,000 Muslims are Moroccan.

There are four purpose-built mosques in Italy, in Rome, Segrate (Milan), Ravenna and Colle Val d’Elsa (Florence). In addition, there are a handful of official mosques in converted buildings in other cities such as Catania, Palermo and Lecce

In addition there are thought to be over 700 informal places of worship known as ‘Islamic centres’ in premises originally built for other purposes. These include the so-called ‘garage mosques’, “independent Islamic centers without a link to any national network” that are of concern to interior ministry officials because of the difficulty of monitoring activities there. Communication is informal, internet-based and exclusively in Arabic. These centers “represent a grey area, certainly traditionalist and of fundamentalist inspiration, but without this necessarily always meaning the adoption of jihadism,” according to the interior ministry report. A recent study reportedly counted nearly 30 in the capital alone.