A snapshot of how Italians feel today

Harvard Ash Center
Nov 4 · 7 min read

This is the second post in a series authored by Gaia van der Esch based on an article originally posted on the Corriere della Sera. You can find the first post here.

Photos courtesy of Gaia van der Esch

MPA 2020 Gaia van der Esch traveled 2500 kilometers across Italy, conducting 60 interviews in 14 regions of the country to better understand Italians’ views on politics and their own identities. She documented her journey with photos and surveys, the following are ten of the stories she collected.

Luca Fallarino, nursing manager in London, 35, Naples Airport

“I’m leaving now for London, where I’ve been living for five years and working as a nurse. The idea of leaving Italy makes me upset because in London it’s cold and the quality of life is not as good as here.

We are a truly unique country for better or for worse. For the good side, nobody beats us for food, history, art. For the bad side, the worst of many things is Italy’s inability to use its resources … for example, resources like me and the many young Italians abroad. We are necessary for Italy and instead, we have been driven away from our country, in search of a dignified job and future which Italy can’t offer.”

Erika Morsia, 28, and Beatrice Borsellino, 31, surgeons, Ancona

“We must stop hiding behind the fact that we are a single person and that, as such, we cannot change our country. If we think this way, each of us will always and only look after him or herself. Individualism is what today makes us indifferent to the tragedy of migration and social injustice. Society is nothing but a collection of individuals and each of us has a role in changing it, at all levels — from our local community to our country. Let’s re-find empathy, and the desire to change things! This way we will be able to create a just society, of which we can feel proud of because each of us will have contributed to building it”

Deanice Sprocati, former tailor, 97, Cesano Maderno

“What do you think? I know stuff. I turn the TV on and listen to political talk-shows all day long because I don’t like to see people singing and dancing half-naked on TV. Everybody has an opinion on everything, but they are all trying to oppose each other and not to find common ground. They fight out of selfishness and narcissism. The result? The government is not compact, it does not know what to do and common Italians like me are cheated. An example? Without Europe we do nothing. Europe is peace, I know it because I lived through the 2nd world war. But today we are not intelligent enough to understand how important it is, and people don’t have enough critical capacity to judge the nonsense we hear on TV and from politicians. So, this is where we stand today, we are all screwed”

Francesco Galtieri, international relations expert, 41, Matera

“We used to have solidarity among us, across our society. Today this feeling of solidarity has shrunk, it is limited to families or small communities. Italy has become a country where there is solidarity within a small group of people and then the void until the next small group. This is exactly where we must start from: from these small groups, these surviving pockets of solidarity. How? By mobilizing small communities and re-finding, through them, social solidarity among all of us”

Veronica Di Leonardo, owner of Bar Centrale, 34, Anguillara Sabazia

“Today Italians are angry with everyone and with no one. We incubate anger instead of fighting for our country. We are a vital, warm country — we cannot lose this characteristic or our ability to be hopeful. Let’s solve this! Let’s start by taking care of all the natural and cultural beauties we inherited over the years. Let’s start by talking to each other differently and finding our unity again. I try to do this every day with my bar, by creating a community and a sense of home that has been lost. A smile to greet people every morning is my social commitment!”

Flavio, restaurant owner, 46, Tarsia

“People like me, from the south of Italy, have always been looked down upon in the rich and developed northern Italy. But today, people in the south have become the north towards someone else. We feel important and superior to those who come from even more south than us, such as Africans or Middle Eastern migrants, but only because we are alone, isolated, a little lost. But look at my skin: I come from Hannibal! I represent what Italy is and has always been, a land of mixtures and migration. In my opinion, this superiority we have today contradicts our nature, our values and our roots. And honestly, with all the good things we could have inherited from northern Italy, this is really the worst thing we could have learned from them”

Barbara Sardo, Sales Manager, 39, Pietraperzia, Sicily

“When I think of Italy and my region, Sicily, I think of our heritage. Not only our art but also our culture and natural wonders. The divisions between north and south of Italy, be it economic or social divisions, are not the first thing that comes to mind. For me, that is a solvable problem for Italy, not a constituent problem. What constitutes us and characterizes everyone, from North to South of Italy, is our wealth of cultural and natural beauties, history and common language, our capacity to welcome others in our homes. Let’s not forget that we have all this in common, let’s start again from here!”

Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, 72, Palermo, Sicily

“We are used to live under the influence and stress of two elements. Time: we want everything immediately. And space: borders, states, static identities. But if we look at today’s world, these elements no longer exist. This puts into question fundamental certainties, such as our identity. But it doesn’t mean losing it, it means reinforcing it in new terms. I, Leoluca Orlando, am Italian by choice, not by blood, and I want to work with anyone who chooses to be from Palermo, Italy, to improve our city. Only then will we succeed in creating a sustainable and just society. Only in this way will we find our “Italianity”, as a mobile and inclusive identity, a choice to be proud of”

David Finotti, Fisherman, 29, Po Delta

“After studying philosophy, I decided to go back to my village and become a fisherman — like my family, here in the Po Delta. For me it is a privilege to be able to do this job. It allows me to earn my life well, support and spend time with my family, live in my hometown and be in contact with the sea and nature. This is what matters to me. I realize however that very often we Italians give more importance to stereotypes, to a model life that does not necessarily make us happy, without pausing to think about the actual content of life — what really matters …”

Marco Urbano Sperandio, Law Professor in Rome, 65, Viterbo

“Italian identity is a myth, politically necessary, but fragile and evolving. From the Renaissance to fascism, this myth is characterized by a strong “reactivity”: as Italians, we unite and act in reaction to attacks to our identity. Today we feel fragile; this is why we are creating a vision of Italy that can protect us and reassure us from migrants and other perceived “attacks”. We are in a moment in which our identity is being formed but shaping it as a reaction to fears could turn out to be an error of perspective. I would encourage everyone to rethink the link between reactivity and identity, to find a common belonging that is proactive and non-reactive, starting from our Constitution, whose defense means implementation.”


About the author

With a bachelor’s in philosophy and a master’s in International Relations, Gaia van der Esch (32 years old) spent the past 7 years working in international aid. Today, she is a Public Administration master student at Harvard. In 2017, Gaia was nominated by Forbes as one of the 30 most influential people under 30 in Europe (in the Law and Policy sector).

Challenges to Democracy

Challenges to Democracy is the blog of the Democratic Governance Program at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School.

Harvard Ash Center

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A global research center housed at Harvard focused on making the world a better place by advancing excellence and innovation in governance and public policy.

Challenges to Democracy

Challenges to Democracy is the blog of the Democratic Governance Program at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School.

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