-Essay-

Among the many things that COVID-19 taught us, one is to not measure the world by latitude.

Take the case of Milan, a shining example, we're told, of northern Italian industriousness and efficiency that's supposedly absent in the south. And yet this capital of the Lombardy region saw one of the world's worst COVID-19 outbreaks, and has been widely criticized for allegedly having badly mismanaged the crisis.

By comparison, the pandemic has been largely kept in check in Naples, the southern city that routinely gets a fair share of bad publicity and whose citizens are often stigmatized with the derogatory terroni, which plays into the stereotypes about supposedly lazy and ignorant southerners.

Think about all the admiration that was expressed for the typically Nordic sense of responsibility.

Luigi de Magistris, the Naples mayor and a former public prosecutor, suspects that if what happened in Milan had taken place in Naples, authorities would have erected a wall along the Garigliano river that would make the Berlin Wall look like a traffic divider. Even taking into account all his years in the judiciary, this is arguably one of the most well-founded suspicions in De Magistris's life.

All of our judgments contain a dose of prejudice. Think about all the admiration that was expressed for Sweden's typically Nordic sense of responsibility when — in the name of of Scandinavia's mythic civic vocation — it responded to the pandemic with only limited lockdown measures. Perhaps that vocation softened a bit, who knows, but at a certain point, Sweden found itself with one of the planet's highest mortality rates. Again, the north's superiority over the south turned out to be a tenet worth reconsidering.

Sweden is also one of the so-called "Frugal four" — the four countries that are opposing a Franco-German proposal that the European Union uses its budget to borrow money and provide grants to the hardest-hit southern countries. The other three countries are Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands.

Sweden's finance minister, Magdalena Andersson, explained the country's reasons in an interview with Le Monde. In the mid-1990s, Sweden's public debt was worth the equivalent of 70% of its GDP. The country raised taxes, and the surplus was used to settle it. Year after year. Today, that debt ratio is down to 35%. Now, Andersson says, after all the sacrifices Swedes made, the European proposal would take money from their pockets and give it to people who did not make sacrifices, and without asking for serious investments or that the money will eventually be returned.

Ok, calling the Swedes selfish wouldn't be much different than calling the Neapolitans terroni.


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