Friday, January 3, 2014

Grillo's Cry For Help

"In January we will move for impeachment of Mr. Napolitano; I hope that he will resign before he is impeached, as Mr. Cossiga did". That's probably the most revealing sentence in the speech Beppe Grillo delivered to the nation on his website on December the 31st. At the very same time the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, was reading his new year's eve speech on the national broadcasting company.

As Grillo pointed out, he's more experienced in addressing to the nation than Napolitano. He gave his first new year's eve speech in 1998 on a private tv network. At that time, it was just a fake presidential speech given by the most famous and controversial Italian comedian. It was supposed to be funny. Fifteen years after, Grillo sounds more serious and formal than the real President. This is not surprising: today he's the aknowledged leader of the populist "5 Stars Movement" which nearly won the 2013 elections. And in January 2014 the 5SM members of the Chambers will move for impeachment of the old President, who's been re-elected eight months ago.

The nature of the accusation is still not clear, and maybe it's not so relevant. Grillo aknowledged in a private meeting with the 5SM members that the impeachment is a "political fiction". "We can't say that he has violated the Constitution. And yet we must give a signal to our people, we must show that he no longer represents the majority of the people". However, Napolitano is going to resign sooner or later: as he has always told (even in his last speech) the 88 year-old president is decided to stay in charge only as long as he thinks it's necessary to overcome the parliamentary impasse which has been the result of the 2013 elections. Should the parliament approve a new electoral law (the former one has been rejected by the Constitution Court), Napolitano could dissolve the Chambers, call for new elections and resign. It could be a matter of months. One day Napolitano will resign - and that very day Grillo will claim to have forced him to do it, thanks to his threats of impeachment. That's the only thing he can really prove to "his" people, an year after his "5 Stars Movement" broke in the Italian Parliament. They had promised to "open the Chambers like it was a fish can", but Grillo's resolution not to collaborate with the Democratic Party gave to Berlusconi the last chance to take part in a coalition government. Grillo actually didn't even obstruct Napolitano's re-election, which could have been avoided if 5SM electors had voted for the former Prime Minister and president of UE commission, Romano Prodi.

If Grillo's 2013 ended on a serious note, 2014 started with a burst of madness we did not expect anymore from him. On January the 1st he picked on his blog as "person of the year" Thamsanqa Jantjie: the fake sign language interpreter who embarrassed the world audience at Nelson Mandela's state funeral. It's a very weird choice: on Grillo's blog the "person of the year" ceremony has always been taken seriously. The person of 2012 was "the Italian middle-class entrepreneur", portrayed as a Saint Sebastian pierced by taxes and bureaucracy. The person of 2011 was the leader of the NoTAV movement, which opposes to the construction of the Turin-Lyon high-speed railway. So what about Thamsanqa Jantjie? He's not a leader, not an entrepreneur, not a hero. Or is he? Jantjie is "beyond truth and lies", Grillo wrote. "Everything you see is false or maybe real, and nobody cares".

Grillo's weblog audience is puzzled and disappointed. But they may recognize in this odd choice a glimpse of sincerity: maybe Grillo recognizes himself in the tragicomic character who stays in the middle between an Establishment he does not really understand and a big audience, "his" people. He loves them, he really would like to have something to say to them, something serious; and yet he has run out of tricks. So he keeps mimicking speeches, while he hopes for something to happen - something sure will happen, in the long run. Like Jantjie, he's in this fatiguing condition for a long time. Perhaps he's tired - even a little bit hallucinated, like Jantjie was. That would even explain his apocalyptic visions. Maybe he's crying for help; maybe his people should listen more carefully.

(Italian version).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Only Good Democracy

Dear fellow Egyptians, you should have known better. The only good democracy is the exported one. Please don't trust the domestic production.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Putrid and the Pure

Do You Reject Berlusconi, Father of Sin and Prince of Darkness?

Jeeesus, What's that smell?


What? Who's calling me?

Pay attention now. Can you remember your surname?

Of course I can! My surname is...


Well... it's... it's personal.

Do you remember your job?

Yes, in a few moments I think I... But please, open the window, I just cand stand this smell, it stinks just like... rotten flesh?

Can you remember your birthdate?

Well, It's... eleven... twentynine... seventy... thirteen... I beg your pardon, I'm a little confused.

Can you remember your death date?

No, I am sorry. I can't

In what year do you think we are?

Two thousand and... and something.

We are sorry, there's not a soft way to tell you this. We are now in 2273.


Now, what do you think about it? Please answer frankly: do you think you are alive?

Well, I would be really, really old. And maybe I wouldn't... smell like this.

Leonardo, you have been resurrected.

Great! Jesus, I knew you'd been coming! And you know, I've always been a catholic deep inside, even if sometimes...

This is not the catholic resurrection.

Shit. I knew it. You're Jews. I'm screwed.

We are Antiberlusconians.

Oh, come on, you are joking.

Our civilization stands upon the ruins of yours, supported by some unfaltering pillars. One of them is the reject of any berlusconis.

Any of them.


Even those nice little ones, with curly hair... what have they done to you?

You can't understand. In your times, “Berlusconi” was still a family name. Now it's a common name, which means evil, bad, wicked, disgusting, ignoble, sordid, morbid...

All right, now I understand.

...Vessel of Insanity, Ark of Bribery, Tabernacle of Corruption...

I've told you I understand.

Don't you dare interrupt the Litanies of Berlusconi! Or we should re-start from the beginning.

Hey, you really believe in all this berlusconi thing.

It's one of our unfaltering pillars. The reject of all berlusconis.

Well, I have to say I like it and... I feel very honored to take a part in it even if I am... I am stinking a lot, I'm sorry, could you deodorize me some way?

You're smelling right for us. But why did you say you feel “honored”?

Well, I mean... you resurrected me... I don't think you're doing this to everyone.

No, we're not. We have plenty of people on this planet, without disturbing the dead.

So, maybe you're ressurecting just some people who... who left you some interesting stuff.

That wouldn't be very clever. In that case we would keep your stuff and brought you flowers sometimes.


You have to know that every year, the 29th day of the 9th month we 'celebrate' the father of all berlusconis.

Right, the progenitor! So you want to know how it was to live at his times, well, I am your man, definitely.

You know, I could tell you a thousand stories...

What a moron.
He just does not understand.
Silence, comrades.

Leonardo, you have to know that every year, the 29th day of the 9th month, we hold a trial against some wicked berlusconian who lived in the past.

I've got it, just like that pope, Formoso... that's cool! And what about me, am I the witness, shall I testify...

You are the accused.


Please stand up.

How could I? I have no feet, anyway... hey, it works... I am floating in the air! Your technology is science fiction to me!

It's the middle age technology for the marionette show, you are suspended by wires.

Still, it works great. Quite scenographic. However, this is a big mistake. I'm just not the one you need.

Are you pleading not guilty?

I am not berlusconian, I've never been. If you only could read what I wrote about him...

Yes we could. You are one of the most read and discussed authors of XXI century.

What? Me?

Don't flatter yourself! That would be berlusconi!

Yes, but try to understand... first you resurrect me, then you say I am a great author...

We don't think you're a great author. 25 years ago the internet collapsed, and we lost almost every bit of Italian literature of your time.

But you still had paper books, I suppose.

Paper? What's... Oh, yes, paper. No, we had already burnt that stuff.


Fuel. To make the internet work.

So you've lost...

Every Italian book written in the XXI century, except for the 62 books by Travaglio the Prophet and a good half of Parodi's Cotto e mangiato. And some of your posts we recovered on a usb key in the pocket of a jacket lost in a lundry.

Funny. Still, I think you couldn't find any apology of berlusconi there, because I never wrote anything like that...

This is Blasphemy!
You rotten snake!
Please, comrades! Let the Evil come out and manifest itself.

Leonardo, do you deny you wrote, in december 2010 – that it was necessary to love Berlusconi?

Well, I didn't really mean it, I...

Do you deny you wrote, in april 2009, that it was necessary to teach our daughters to give themselves to Berlusconi "not for money or for fame, but for their own pleasure?"

Well, I could even wrote something like that, but I wasn't serious, I was...

Do you recognize the following statements? “I want twenty minutes of Berlusconi, every evening, on every network. It's not enough to prosecute those who criticize him: I think we should prosecute those who omit to praise him every day. In every speech. About every matter. Morning horoscopes. Football reports”.

I see. You didn't burn only the books. I guess you have burnt irony with them.

Don't berlusconi with us! We obviously know what the irony is! We read Socrates and we read Pirandello.

So you understand I was not really serious while I wrote those lines.

But you should have been serious! Your times were serious! More serious than you've ever been! We know how irony works, and we know how you used it to sweeten the bitter berlusconi pill your readers had to swallow! You subtle snake, you really think we couldn't get it? You humanized the repulsive "daddy" who flirted with a 17-year-old girl, the biggest gaffeur of all the European Parlament. Didn't you?

Listen, I know, Berlusconi was the bitterest pill. I can only say... those were my times. I had to swallow it too. Sometimes when I came home, and I was tired... irony was the only thing that helped me to survive. So I wrote and laugh at the Beast. Is this a crime?

So you confess! You laughed at the Beast you should have fought!

Yes, I did laugh, and maybe I did not fight enough. Maybe I just lost my faith after a while, and then I just kept on laughing, not to cry. Maybe if I had more faith, maybe I could have helped Berlusconi to fall... because he is fallen, right?

Of course he is!

Great. So you can condemn me if you like, but please, just tell me how his story ended, because I really did not remember, maybe I was buried already...

We were saved by the Pure. Those men and women who did not cooperate with the Beast, as you did. Those who never softened the Snake with the faible irony of the weak, I mean you.

The pure. Well, I did not know about them.


But where did they come from?

They were far from your mass-media circle. Some of them were in clandestinity, hiding from the crowd.

Yes, it was the only way. Hiding out in caves. I should have known better.

Some were in confinement, some in captivity, but they never stopped fighting and hoping. We have carved on our temples their names – names you probably never heard: Gianfranco Fini, Pierferdinando Casini...

Wait, what?

Don't you dare to interrupt the holy litanies of the heroic Comrades who saved us from the fetid Snake! Gianfranco Fini, the column of righteousness, who never bowed to the lure of Arcore, Pier Ferdinando Casini, a champion of chastity, which at a glance converted a hundred of escorts, Enrico Mentana ...


The bravest and most elusive of the reporters, who fought with his samizdat for twenty years the domination of Mediaset; Carlo Taormina .... 


... Tower of justice, fearless judge who among a hundred and a thousand perils and perfidious attacks pursued to incriminate him; and the wisest of the wise, the Man who without any unfair slice of pity gave him to the shivering crowd wielding pitchforks. ..

Let me guess this one. Gianni Letta.

Complements. But how can you remember ...

It does not matter. So you have been saved by Fini, Casini, Mentana, Taormina, Letta...

Do not muck with your filthy tongue the holy names who delivered us from evil!

Yeah, right, that would Berlusconi. Let's get over it. I plead guilty. I request the death penalty.

But you're already dead.

So what punishment do you have in mind?

We shall throw your bones in the river Tiber, we'll scratch your name from any document or monument, and we'll let mold and rust invade your beloved birth place.

You mean the General Modena Hospital? That won't be so expensive, I guess.

You guess right.

Low budget, I presume.

Cut budget. You know... this crisis.

Which crisis? I ressurect in 2200s and you aren't out of the crisis yet?

The next semester maybe. In the meanwhile...

You can't throw money to punish dead bodies.

That would... er...


It was on the tip of my tongue.

I knew it. Can I go now?

No, now we let the children in.

What, you show them a marionette show with a dead man? That's horrible.

They have little arrows. When they catch your eyes they win a chocolate gianfranco.

That's cool.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Monicelli Showed The Way

“And what about Monicelli”.
“Man, I'm still thinking about him. I mean...”
“What an ending”
“One of his best”.
“Just like... you know, the Last of Amici Miei. When all your friends have gone and your family doesn't care ...”.
“And you don't care for them neither”.
“Then one day you go to the hospital, and they tell you, well... six months. And you jump off”.
“At the hospital”.
“Yeah, that's it. At the hospital. Right time, right place. You don't go home to write silly goodbye notes”.
“Fuck the notes, you're leaving”.
“And you don't jump out your window. You don't crash on your neighbour's car”.
“Jumping on your neighbour's car is for assholes”
“You don't want to scare your neighbours' kids to death. You really don't want to hurt anybody”.
“'cause you really don't care about anybody ”.
“Right time right place, and no funeral. What a movie”.
“His best movie since...”
“Don't know. I can't remember a movie he directed in the last twenty years”.
“His last one was about fascists in Ethiopia”.
“Have you seen it?”
“I borrowed it at the public library, once”.
“Was it good?”
“Don't know. I've never really had the time to watch it. I mean... Would you really spend an evening home watching an Italian movie about fascists in Ethiopia? After a week, I had to bring it back”.
“Fucking public libraries”.
“But I'm going to borrow it again. He's my hero, now”.
“Right. Maybe we'll forget his movies, but we'll always remember the way he got out”.
“He showed us the way”.
“Did he?”
“Have you ever think about it? What will you do when you'll be 90 and alone?”
“I don't think I'll ever...”
“You're wrong. Average life expectancy is increasing. And in the future there will be less and less untreatable diseases. They'll find some cure for cancer, some cure for AIDS...”
“They'll be expensive”.
“That's the point. One day we'll have to decide if we really want to be treated or not. If we're worth the money”.
“The church won't be happy about that”.
“Exactly. They will force us to spend our last cents. But what if we just want to leave some to our grandchildren?”
“They will lock us in sanatories. Nuns at the watchtowers”.
“What if we will be simply tired? We'll have to choose the right time to jump”.
“I don't think I'll ever jump”.
“What will you do, then? Have you ever thought about it?”
“Sometimes I think about drugs”.
“You mean...”
“Heroin. I've always been curious about it. I'd like to try it, before I go”.
“When you're 90”.
“Or 80. When I won't be able to watch after my grandchildren. Of course I can't get addicted to some shit while I'm nursing”.
“You don't want to sell their milk for dope”.
“Right. But when I'll be useless to everybody... who cares? I think I could get some heroin then”.
“And where do you think you'll get it? You'll be old and doddering”.
“I don't know. On the internet, maybe. Or I'll take a walk in the park, just like when we were kids, d'you remember?”
“The circle of life”.
“I'll spend some money, relieve some pain, have some fun, and then one day...”
“You get an overdose”.
“Or a bad cut dose. One day I'll inject some strychnine in my vein, and that will be all. No nuns, no watchtowers. The end”.
“I still like best Monicelli's one”.
“I know, he was great. But I suffer vertigo”.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

To My Daily Virgin Brides

Just can't stop loving you

Good evening reader, guess what? This is not Leonardo writing. This is Silvio. Yes, that Silvio.
I know, you can't believe it. “How could mr. Berlusconi got to accede to”, Well, face it: I can have access to every single Italian media, just because I am Berlusconi. I have my networks, my newspapers. I control the State broadcasting company. And I have Leonardo's password. Probably I have your password too, but writing on your blog is not so funny. Neither Leonardo is, I mean, I usually don't write on stuff like that. Sometimes at night I just sneak in the written posts, putting a mistake here, placing a wrong emphasis there; that's better than sex. Almost.

But tonight I want to post something serious because I love you, dear readers of Leonardo: I really do, and I want you to understand what it is happening. I am a little surprised by your reaction to my last decree. Seems like I made a golpe, kind of. Well, of course I made one. Everbody knows that. It was twenty years ago, more or less. Do you need a resumé? I took a dominant position in the broadcasting system and in the advertising market, then, I created a political party; I used newspaper and television to become more and more popoular. That was illegal even in Italy, so I bribed everyone I could. I have practiced countless abuses, and yet all this seems to be disappearing in one week, compared to the crime that I committed, issuing ...hard to believe but true ... an implementing decree. That's a golpe!

I mean, are you serious?
Do you realize that I have been screwing you up for years, and will keep on 'till the end? I have stolen your airwaves, your imagination, I took your dreams and I've filled them up with silicone implants (just 'cause I like'em). Your newspapers, your paperbacks, your schools, your football teams! I have sucked your soul! And I'm still sucking, 'cause it's fun! But you complain because my shoes don't fit in with my tie. And you're the smart ones, yeah, sure.

Now, what happened? My guys in Milan and Rome are morons. I know. I deal with morons, always did, that's my job. They fucked up all the bureaucracy stuff, signatures, stamps, things like that... and so my Party (the Freedom People Party) would not have been suitable to run the local election. That means my people would not have the right to vote for me. And the Democratic Party would win without competitor. Could I let it happen? Obviously not. So I've made this little decree, but, seriously, do you think that I made it because I don't want to lose? Me? Lose what? Some mid-term local elections? Hey, I am Silvio Berlusconi, do you remember? The boss of AC Milan. I've put together five European and three World Soccer Finals, do you really think I am interested in winning a local match? I couldn't care less about these elections, believe me. Want you to know the truth? I'm supporting the Democrats. Yes, I hope that Pierluigi Bersani will make a good score.

He's a good guy, Pierluigi, we are both Libra... and we have some mutual interests this time. He has to show that he can steer the Raft of the Medusa, I mean, the Democratic Party (it is clear that I wouldn't let him rule anything if he was a real danger to me, right?) For what concerns me, I have to purge my dirty-brand new-party and burn some ground around my dear old ally Gianfranco Fini.  So, do you really think I care about Mrs Polverini, “my” candidate in Lazio? Yeah, I mean, she comes from the Unions, she stays with Fini, and she's not even good looking – do you really think I could care about her?  Look, If I could I would even help Mr Penati, the Democratic candidate in Lombardy, though it's really hard to win something in Milan against my “friends” of the CL catholic mafia. But should Formigoni (the CL boss) fall, do you think I would spend a single tear? Those caths are crazy. They still don't understand who's the boss (me). They really believe they could do it without me at any moment – they have their bishops, their contacts, their syndicate... If I could help Penati to beat them, you think I would not?  But I must play with discretion. I've done my best.

What, you're asking, what have I done for Penati ...Really, come on. He was out, and I put him back in the race. Now he has the chance to win, if you're so pissed off with me to vote for him.  But do you think he could win without a competitor? You can't do this in politics, trust me. Do you understand how Italy works? Let me explain to you.  There are twenty regions. The presidents of the regions have some power, well, honestly they can have a lot of power – but only if they agree with the Presidents of inner districts. And with the mayors of the big towns. Otherwise their destiny is to stay in their presidential office and watch the sunset for five years. Now imagine: Formigoni can not be voted, Penati “wins”. Then, he decides to build up something, I don't know, an airport, a new railway system, anything. He has to speak with the Presidents of the ten Provinces – they're my guys. And they've been elected by the people of Lombardy, not by some judge sitting in his office, checking signatures and stamps. He needs to co-operate with the mayor of Milan. She's one of my guys, too. So what do you want to do, President Penati? Who do you want to talk to? Just bring your presidental ass to lay cheerfully on the Pirelli Building Presidential Armchair, ok?

Now, do not think that I do not understand what you're saying about laws and procedures, I mean, I know, they're sooo important. Democracy can't work without that stuff, I agree. Except we're not in a democracy, we're in Italy, and you should know that. If you leave Penati for five years on a useless armchair, he will get depressed, and you too. And I can't afford that, because I need you. I need a nimble enemy that sometimes threatens to win some serious election – well, not so serious, in facts you're voting for the City Council of Abbiategrasso. (But what can I do if my little trophy girls prefer the European Parlament in Brussels?) However, I can't be the one who always win. That would bore my voters.  I need to wave the Red Peril occasionally. Do I have to explain it? Apparently yes.

So just imagine what could have been the situation without my decree. You would get your Pyrrhic victory. My men would have started yelling in all newspapers and TV news against your golpe, 'cause it would have been you to win without a fair election. You would have forbidden the Free People to vote its favourite Party just because of a wrong stamp on a wrong sign... Two hours after the victory, you would be already depressed. Why? Because you've been telling everyone for years that you've been living in a regime. Every day you woke up with that word, regime!, Regime!, Regime! Very good. And then you would have to explain to the French or the Germans what kind of regime is, the one where you can win the elections against the dictator! Because some judges prevented him for running! For a matter of... signatures and stamps. Do you realize it? Without this decree, you would be left without arguments! And you still complain.

You think I am playing tricks? You do not even know ...You believe that your men are clean? Pierluigi? Di Pietro? Listen, you really have no idea. It seems that our signatures were certified before the list was closed. Well, that's really a huge scandal! You know, if I really wanted to play tricks, I would have let you run without competitor. I would have let you win. And then I would have appealed. In Milan. In Rome. Everywhere: Let's go and see if all of your lists have the right stamps with the right date, come on. Take a look on Mr Di Pietro's lists, sure that there would be fun. Hey, by the way, do you know Mr Errani, the Democratic candidate in Emilia? He has a lot of chances to win - too bad it would be his third term, I mean, it's illegal... Shouldn't I appeal? And the Radicals, how smart are they? Don't you understand they know exactly each and every dot and comma of the law because they're so fucking busy breaking them? And then they give lessons, well, I've taken their lesson, thank you Mrs “Civil Disobedience” Bonino. This time it's me who plays the disobedient, why not? I am the tyrant, after all. That's what everybody says. So the least I could do is stretching the laws as I like. You don't like it? You don't like me? Rebel, react, overthrow me. You have a thousand reasons, just, please, don't bother about some stamps. Pinochet was not overthrown because he was using the wrong stamp.

I know that you would never really throw me off. Because you're just nice kittens, you know, sharpening claws on the Constitution Tables. The way you love that stones, oh, it always amazes me. I could come and fuck your children, you would complain because I've made it with the wrong stamp. Then I would come back and screw your dog, and you would raise a march to Rome because I've signed it the wrong way. And you I think I am the Italian anomaly. Me. I'm the one who gives meaning to your life, that's it. Now relax, everything's ok. I've made a very bad decree, and you can join a group, the anti-very-bad-decree group on facebook . If the sun shows off you may as well march into the streets, and demonstrate. Against me?  No, against the Old Man on the hill, President Napolitano. The man who has to sign every law, unless it's manifestly unconstitutional... come on, you're adorable. I've made a decree to give my people the right to vote, he simply could not refuse to sign. He's the Old Man on the Hill, he's not a judge, did you ever understand this? Of course there will be a judge in Rome who will find some bullshit in my decree. Of course then I will shout to my people that this is a judges' plot against me.  The fact is that all this has happened so many times before, that you should already know it by heart. And yet, every time, every single time I screw you, you act like it's the first time.

And maybe that's why I love you, I mean, that's why I just cannot stop loving you. First night after first night.
Thanks for your attention,
Sincerely yours,

(Italian version).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

One More Class in the Ghetto

Dreaming of an (all-)White Classroom

English translation by Wendell Ricketts
[Read the original in Italian here.]

A kindergarten in Luzzara (Province of Reggio Emilia, Italy) ended up in the media spotlight last October when its principal decided he had no choice but to set aside a classroom exclusively for immigrant children. Responding to critics who accused him of racial segregation, the principal pointed out that, faced with a student body in which immigrant children accounted for 75% of the enrollment, he didn’t have many alternatives. At that point, the media’s indignation over this flagrant episode of apartheid began to be tinged with panic: were there really that many immigrants in Luzzara?

Most people missed a significant detail. In this very small town (of less than 10,000 inhabitants), there is another school no more than a few meters distant from the one in question. That school is attended almost exclusively by Italian children. Specifically, it’s the parochial school of the local Catholic parish. Separate but equal, it goes without saying, and likewise financed by the town. Unlike its public counterpart, the parochial school has no obligation to enroll immigrant children, though it has been kind enough to admit a few ... eight, to be precise.

I mention the Luzzara episode because it so perfectly illustrates my theory: for every “classroom ghetto” with a high percentage of immigrant students, there’s another class somewhere (possibly no more than a few meters away) in which all the students are white. Nobody ever says a thing about it; they’re those classes you never see on the TV news (where, instead, pupils are invariably multiethnic) and which never merit a mention in the newspapers.

On the other hand, they’re also the classes that everyone wants their children to be admitted to. There’s almost always a waiting list. And they’re not necessarily Catholic or private schools, either—quite a few public schools have their all-white classrooms, too. Of course, they don’t refer to them that way. In the “Guide to Our Programs and Educational Philosophy” (the brochure given out to clients—excuse me, to parents), schools talk about their “special” or “experimental” classrooms, about a more rigorous approach to foreign-language education, or about their unique advanced-placement courses. The important thing is for there to be a list: it’s the easiest way to insert a selection mechanism into the enrollment process.

The parents who understand how this works and get their children admitted to classes of this kind aren’t necessarily the most affluent. They’re just people who want the best for their children. Most of the time, they don’t even entertain the possibility that there may be something racist in what they’re doing: they don’t have anything against immigrants, they just don’t want their kids to end up in one of those classes where there are eight or nine of them ... one of those infamous “classroom ghettos.”

And here’s where the snake starts swallowing its own tail. A classroom ghetto can exist only because across the street—or across the hall, or maybe in the very next room—there is an all-white class. Without the one, the other has no reason to exist. Italian public schools are not under invasion. Nationally, for every hundred Italian students, there are barely seven immigrants (though it is true that the concentration is higher in the North of the country and in larger cities). Instead, it appears that there are 514 primary schools nationwide (out of 18,539) in which the number of immigrant students exceeds 30%. What’s going to happen in those schools now that Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini has drawn her 30% line in the sand?

It’s difficult to imagine that excess immigrant children will be loaded onto school buses and carried off to another school (perhaps in a nice, quiet residential area). That’s because such an approach necessarily means that a different school bus will be called upon to make the same trip in the opposite direction, dropping off some sweet white child at a school in a “problematic” neighborhood. Busing of that sort would be a lightning rod for criticism from the Left or the Right, but most important of all: it would cost money.

The sleight-of-hand behind all this has already been revealed by Minister Gelmini, who quickly made it clear that the 30% quota was not intended to include children born in Italy to immigrant families. We’re to understand, one gathers, that second-generation immigrants (a third of the total) are already perfectly integrated. And that’s a stroke of luck because, in other countries such as France or Great Britain, the prerequisites for racial unrest are found precisely in the identity crises of the second generation. For Gelmini, however, the second generation doesn’t need to be counted, so the problem ceases to exist.

There are, in addition, another thousand schools or so in which immigrant students make up between 20% and 30% of the total. Here the Gelmini Quota, rather than avoiding classroom ghettos, would serve to institutionalize them. From now on, principals and schools boards are on notice that they can pile immigrant students into designated classrooms as long as they don’t exceed more than 30% of the total (nine out of a class of thirty). That way, there’s no risk of creating a “ghetto.” Besides, the brochure says it in black and white: it’s not a ghetto as long as a classroom contains no more than one immigrant child in every three. Pay attention, though: We’re talking about immigrant children born abroad. Which leaves the door open to adding additional children from immigrant families as long as those children were born in Italy. As we’ve already seen, second-generation children aren’t counted for purposes of the quota.

Here’s an example. Let’s imagine a small school with five classrooms designed to hold thirty students each; and let’s assume, in a student body of 150, that twenty-seven immigrant children enroll. If the goal were truly integration, the best solution would be to assign them evenly to existing classes—about five students each.

In fact, Minister Gelmini could have asked schools to divide immigrant students evenly among the number of classrooms they had available; that would have been a reasonable criterion. But she didn’t. She decided it was preferable to invent a “quota” which, in the case of our example, makes it possible to concentrate all the immigrant students into three groups (that is, nine in each classroom), allowing the other two groups to be taught in All-White, Immigrant-Free Classrooms.

Sure, sooner or later some parent is going to complain about this. But which ones? Those parents who don’t understand the way certain things work, who didn’t know about the waiting lists, who had reservations about enrolling their child in a group that was too demanding. And, of course, immigrants themselves will have something to say about it (immigrant parents in Luzzara protested against the new classroom formations as well).

Principals can safely inform these parents (who include our friend, Alvin) that everything’s just fine, that the 30% groups may be a little rambunctious but the system is working, that their children may have fallen slightly behind but will certainly catch up, and that it’s obviously not a ghetto as long as we’re talking about no more than nine kids out of thirty. Minister Gelmini said so. And she’s one of those politicians who, when she sees a problem, she finds a way to fix it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Here Comes Alvin

Alvin and the “Immigrant Student Quota”

English translation by Wendell Ricketts
[Read the original in Italian here.]

I have a theory. If we want to understand the true impact of Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini’s new quota system (yeah, that quota—the 30% limit on immigrant students in public-school classrooms), we need to try to get inside the head of one of the guys who most favored the idea of quotas: an Average Lega-Nord-Voting Working Stiff[1] (from now, just to keep things simple, we’ll call him Alvin).

Alvin is not a racist—just ask him. In fact, down at the shop one of the trainees is from Moldavia. He’s a good guy and he minds his own business. But ever since Alvin, Jr. started his first year of middle school, Alvin is having a hard time digesting this business of immigrant kids in Italian school classrooms.

At first, everything seemed normal. Sure, Alvin, Jr. occasionally dropped some odd name or other when he came home with one of his “what I did at school today” tales, but Alvin has a lot of Italian friends who’ve chosen to name their kids Brandon or Sharon or whatever. And then, during the very first parent-teacher meeting of the year, the teachers told Alvin and his wife, “The group that Alvin, Jr. is in is proving to be quite a handful.” But they wouldn’t be teachers if they didn’t find something to complain about, right?

The real shock didn’t come until Alvin saw his son’s photos from the first class excursion of the year. What he immediate realized was that his son’s class was a zoo. Three Africans, each one blacker than the next. Some sort of Martian with a cowl over his head (“No, Dad, he’s from India, but he’s a Sikh”). An indeterminate number of Romanians, Poles, and who knows what else. Six or seven out of twenty-seven.

“It’s a multiethnic group. A marvelous opportunity for your son,” the teacher told Alvin. The same teacher who’d said it was a difficult group. As far as Alvinwas concerned, something smelled bad. If multiethnic classes were really such a marvelous opportunity, how come his neighbor, the engineer, didn’t have his daughter in one, too? She’s the same age as Alvin, Jr., but she seems a lot more advanced. His wife told Alvin it was nothing to worry about: girls always do better in school than boys.

One morning, as Alvin was drinking coffee at his local café, though, he couldn’t hold back any longer, and he started in on the school situation with the engineer. Eventually, of course, they wound around to the fateful topic, immigrant students in their kids’ classes....

His liberal-minded neighbor had his answer ready. “They’re better students than the Italians,” he said. “In my daughter’s class, for example, there’s this Hungarian kid who’s a real whiz with computers, you know?”

“There is? Sure, but there’s also the ones ... I mean, some of them are having a hard time even learning Italian, which slows down the rest of the class. Your daughter must have some classmates like that, too.”

“No, not that I know of.”

And that’s how it came to light that Alvin, Jr. had eight immigrant classmates but the engineer’s daughter only had one (the computer genius).

“Of course,” Alvin’s wife said. “The engineer enrolled his kid in the bilingual German class.”

“Why? They don’t allow foreign kids into that class?”

“Theoretically, I don’t suppose there’s any reason why they wouldn’t.”

“So why aren’t there more of them?”

“Because German is a tough language. Besides, there’s a waiting list.”

“A waiting list?”

“Not much gets by you, does it?”

“No, I mean ... they have a waiting list to study German in a middle school? What’s so special about the German class?”

“Maybe it’s that all the pupils are white.”

And voilà, the mystery was revealed. There hadn’t been any invasion of immigrant students. The problem was that they’d all been concentrated in a small number of classes, one of which was Alvin, Jr.’s. In the other classes (Alvin had checked the role sheets posted outside the classrooms when school started in September), kids with foreign names were extremely rare. That was when something in Alvin finally snapped. Or maybe it was when he heard his son’s teacher say for the fifth time that Alvin, Jr.’s group was falling behind in its program. Whatever it was, the first chance he got, Alvin voted for the Lega Nord.

When his guys in parliament proposed instituting so-called “transition classes” (a separate, remedial-Italian track where foreign students would remain until they demonstrated sufficient language skills to join the normal educational program), he got into a heated argument at his usual table at the café. “It’s the return of Racial Laws!” the engineer thundered. “The truth of the matter is that you’re all terrified of foreigners, even though a lot of the time they’re sharper than our own kids.”

A few months later, the Lega Nord started talking about quotas, and the engineer predicted that forced deportations couldn’t be far behind. But guys like the engineer always have something to say about everything. Because they’re Communists. Alvin, though, the more he thinks about it, the more it seems reasonable. Finally (he thinks), immigrant kids won’t be piled up in one or two “classroom concentration camps” but distributed fairly throughout the school. And Alvina, Alvin, Jr.’s sister, who’s starting middle school in September, won’t end up in another ghetto of illiterates. Way to go, Gelmini!

Next Fall, though, when Alvin reads the role sheets outside the newly formed classrooms, he’s going to have a heart attack. Out of twenty-nine students in Alvina’s class, sixteen have foreign surnames. And at that point, he’s going to go ask the Principal: “What’s going on here? Are we being invaded? What happened to the quotas? It must be true what people are saying, that this school is nothing but a den of Reds where you ignore the regulations of the Minister of Education anytime you want!”

And what’s the Principal going to tell him? “First of all” (he’ll say), “please let me reassure you. A multiethnic classroom like your daughter’s is a marvelous opportunity.”

“Blah blah blah. I’ve already heard this song. What I want to know is how come you’re refusing to abide by the immigrant-student quotas.”

“But we do abide by the quotas. There are nine immigrant students in your daughter’s class.”

“That’s still more than there were three years ago! What about the quota?”

“The quota is 30%. The problem is that, as a result of budget cuts, classroom size has grown larger. There are thirty students in your daughter’s class, and 30% of thirty is nine. We’re within the quota.”

“Hold on a sec ... right here, I’m reading at least sixteen last names that aren’t Italian. Not nine. Sixteen.”

“Naturally, because the class also includes students with immigrant families but who were born in Italy. Minister of Education Gelmini has made it clear that those students aren’t to be counted in the quota.”

“Ah, you don’t count them.”


“Okay, but why do they all have to end up in the same class as my kids? I mean, it’s not like I’m some racist, but I don’t understand what’s going on here. How come you don’t put a few here, a few there.... For example, why don’t you put some here in Classroom A?”

“Classroom A is studying German....”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. There’s a waiting list. What about Classroom B?”

“B is working on musical experimentation.”

“So? Are all the immigrant kids tone deaf?”

“No, but there’s a waiting list for that group as well.”

“What about Classroom C?”

“That’s a high-demand group. They don’t come back after lunch for the afternoon session. It’s for children who are involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. You know, swimming, horseback riding....”

“There’s a wait for that one, too?”

“Let’s just say that immigrant students aren’t involved in as many extracurricular activities. I hope our little chat has cleared things up.”

It sure has. Things in Alvin’s mind are clearer now than ever. It’s not Minister Gelmini’s fault. She did what she could. The real problem is that these Communists are devils. Pass a law, find the flaw. They make sure their kids study German or learn the flute, take horseback lessons ... anything to keep them away from the colored kids. And Alvin’s children are the ones who are paying for it. Damn those Communists. Their day is going to come though. The minute our guys manage to get into power....

[1] Once a slightly marginalized, radical far-right party dedicated mainly to the secession of a large swatch of Northern Italy from the rest of the country, the Lega Nord (the Northern League) has come to play an extremely powerful and influential role in Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling Popolo della Libertà (the People of Freedom) coalition, including the control of four cabinet-level ministries (Interior, Legislative Simplification, Agriculture, and Reforms and Federalism) and five under-secretariats (Infrastructure, Interior, Economy and Finances, Health, and Legislative Simplification). The Lega Nord is directly responsible for Italy’s increasingly draconian approach to immigration, the closing of mosques and, at various local levels, the creation of public buses for Italian citizens only, proposals to create armed neighborhood posses designed to “increase public security,” and door-to-door roundups of illegal immigrants. For more on the Lega Nord, see Dreaming of a White ChristmasWhat If It’s True We Get the Politicians We Deserve?None Dare Call It Racism, and One Ronde Doesn’t Mean It’s Spring, or visit Wiki’s Lega Nord page (in English)—most of it is obviously a translation of an Italian page sympathetic to the Lega, but go to the bottom to see information about “Violent Rhetoric” and “Accusations of Xenophobia.” For more on Minister Gelmini and her educational reforms, see The Monster Reduction and Simplification Act (Wendell Ricketts).