Tag Archives: Milan

The rules of being an Italian stereotype

Yesterday afternoon, I flew back to London from Milan. The English girl in the next seat on the Ryanair flight was at university in Italy. We were talking about the bureaucracy there. Italy is a good place to visit. Not a good place to live because of the bureaucracy.

“I’ve never known inefficiency like it,” the girl said. “I thought England was bad… but Italy…!

“It’s the lying,” she continued. “Constant lying. If they actually said something would take two months, I might be irritated. But they say it will take ten days, knowing it will take two months, then I’m just very, very angry. It’s like they enjoy it.”

That morning, on a motorway near Bergamo, I had been talking to my friend who lives near Milan about the cliché of Italians.

“They’re very conventional,” she said. “The way they dress, the colours of the cars they drive. The neatness of the way they dress. The women’s make-up. It’s like they obey the rules they think are expected of them.”

“What about the cliché of bad Italian drivers?” I asked. “I’ve never driven in Italy, but they never seem to me to be as bad as the stereotype. There’s a problem in Rome, but it’s because they have enormous wide-open street junctions and no traffic lights. The system’s haywire, not the driving.”

“I tell people who come here,” my friend said, “that the most dangerous thing on Italian roads is to drive slow. You have to drive fast because everyone else does. If you drive slow, they will go straight into the  back of you. You have to drive with confidence even if you don’t have any.”

“They drive far too close to the car in front,” I agreed. “No braking space if anything happens.”

“They ignore all the rules on the road,” my friend said. “It’s like they think they’re expected to disobey the rules of the road, so they all disobey the rules because that’s the rule. They weave in and out and use the hard shoulder. They tailgate like they have a death wish. I’ve been overtaken a hearse at traffic lights. He ran the red light at great speed, with the cross on the bonnet wobbling.”

“It’s the legacy of the Ben-Hur chariot race,” I suggested.

“Mmmm,” my friend said as we were overtaken on both sides by speeding trucks.

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Mafia capitalism takes the same route as the Titanic on its maiden voyage…

Capitalism with a dash of  socialism to add a restraining touch of morality  is, arguably, the least-worst economic option for running a country’s economy. Certainly better than Communism under inevitably self-perpetuating elites.

But shareholder-based capitalism is flawed and possibly doomed, because its aim is the short-term maximisation of profits for the shareholder rather than the long-term growth and health of businesses in which the shareholders invest. The aim is short-term profit-taking, not efficiency. In that sense, it has the same flaws as countries run by dictators or businesses run by criminal organisations… or, indeed, countries run by criminal organisations.

Which brings me to Italy.

I have just arrived in Milan for a couple of days.

I have blogged about the Mafia before…

According to a report issued two days ago, the Mafia is now “Italy’s biggest business”. But this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

Post-War Italy was, in effect, run by the secret Masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due) for around thirty years: an unholy alliance of politicians, big business, the military, the intelligence services and the Mafia. It was a conspiracy theorist’s most paranoid dream come true.

The real ‘new’ news story about the Mafia’s financial power seems to be that the current world financial crisis has particularly hit Italy and has partially unified the traditional Mafia groups.

In the current economic crisis, traditional banks are reluctant to lend, so many Italian businesses nationwide have been forced to borrow at crippling rates of interest from organised crime, including the three big Mafia groups – the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.

As a result, the Mafia now have an alleged annual turnover of around £116 billion with reserves of 65 billion Euros, making them “Italy’s biggest bank”.

This is according to a report issued a couple of days ago by Confesercenti, a prominent employers’ association which represents 270,000 small-to-medium businesses. They simply called their report Criminality’s Grip on Business  and it says the Mafia account for around 7% of Italy’s Gross Domestic Profit – and we are talking very ‘gross’ here.

Marco Venturi, the president of Confesercenti, was quoted as saying: “According to our estimates, loan sharking caused the closure in 2010 of 1,800 businesses and destroyed thousands of jobs. Right now, Mafia Inc is the only business enterprise willing to make substantial investments.”

That sounds to me like a man with an eye for publicity.

But, basically, if you are running a small business facing ruin and potential closure in the current economic crisis where banks are only interested in short-term strategies, you have few options to try to save yourself except to borrow from the Mafia… which ironically may itself result in ruin and the potential closure of your business.

Small business owners with tight margins and limited cash flow also, as always, face extortion and straight robbery by the Mafia, at a reported rate of one crime every minute.

This week’s Confesercenti report says the influence of various mafias is now being felt not only in traditional strongholds such as Naples and Palermo, but increasingly in the wealthy north of Italy, in regions such as Lombardy – in other words, the country’s business capital of Milan – and the report says the mafias have expanded there with the “complicity” of some politicians, as well as lawyers and accountants.

Again – perhaps especially in Italy – that comes as no surprise.

Another report this week – by Libera, an anti-Mafia association – says the average adult Italian spends nearly 1,300 Euros every year on slot machines, bingo and other forms of gambling. This 76 billion Euro market is Italy’s third biggest industry and the Libera report claims the Mafia have also now moved into what the report calls ‘new’ areas of business such as public health, transport and logistics.

Milan is known for its fashion industry and now seems to have picked up the latest street fashion – criminal organisations running not just Big Business but the country’s infrastructure.

Well, that is the story.

In fact, I think, as I said earlier, this is hardly news – ’twas ever thus in my lifetime.

In Italy, traditions run deep.

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Silvio Berlusconi and the Mafia man with easy access to the horses’ heads

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation as Prime Minister of Italy and quoted an English friend of mine who has lived there for around 25 years.

Yesterday, she told me the national newspaper Corriere della Sera carried an interesting front page.

The Rubik’s cube of Italian politics is not exactly simplified by the fact that the secret masonic lodge P2 (Propaganda Due), in effect, ran Italy from the end of the Second World War until at least 1976 and possibly until 1981. Its all-pervading power lay in its membership and links, which included Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia), politicians, media, the police and the intelligence services.

It was a bit like the Groucho Club with attitude problems and access to armed force.

A list of P2 members, discovered in 1981 included Silvio Berlusconi.

“Right in the centre of Corriere della Sera’s front page today,” my friend told me yesterday, “there is a photograph of the two Sicilian judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino who were both assassinated within a two month period in 1992 after they led the Italian government’s anti-Mafia investigation.

Corriere della Sera quotes Borsellino’s wife as saying he told her – only 24 hours before he was blown to bits in a car bomb outside his flat – that, if he was assassinated, it would not be the Mafia who killed him. Corriere della Sera presumably printed this article now because there is a current investigation into claims that the Italian State continues to be connected to organised crime in a big way.

“Ask yourself why,” my friend told me: “Ask yourself why – in this week of all weeks – on this day of all days – why this particular photo and story would be on the front page of a national newspaper that is otherwise all about Berlusconi…”

In his last video interview, given four days before Falcone’s assassination and two months before his own assassination, Paolo Borsellino spoke about the possible link between Cosa Nostra’s mafiosi and rich Italian businessmen including Silvio Berlusconi.

Borselino claimed that well-connected mafiosi Vittorio Mangano was the Sicilian Mafia’s link to its business interests in Northern Italy.

Somewhat bizarrely, Berlusconi employed Mangano to look after the horses at his villa in the small town of Arcore, near Milan, where Berlusconi lived. It has been alleged that Mangano’s real job may have been to deter kidnappers from targeting the Berlusconi’s children.

But there were also allegations made by Mafia supergrasses that Berlusconi was connected to the bomb blasts which killed Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Magistrates in Caltanissetta spent almost two years examining these allegations and decisively rejected them.

The mafiosi supergrasses had also apparently wrongly alleged Berlusconi had had contact with Mafia ‘boss of bosses’ Totò Riina and arranged legislation favourable to Cosa Nostra in exchange for Cosa Nostra support for his political party Forza Italia.

Politics – in Italy perhaps even more so than in other countries – is a dark art involving smoke and mirrors.

It also reminds me of the ancient Roman saying Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus sergeant.

It sounds very posh because it is Latin. But it has a more basic meaning:

“If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas”.

Something that applies to all politicians.

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