LA STAMPA

Italy's Ugly Exception: Why The Occupy Movement Turned Violent Only In Rome

Essay: Why was Rome the only place where the global "Occupy" and "Indignados" protests turned violent? La Stampa editor Mario Calabresi sees Italy's troubled historical relationship between social protest and v

Fire set Saturday in Rome, video image (paofredi)
Fire set Saturday in Rome, video image (paofredi)
Mario Calabresi

This past weekend, in 951 cities in 82 countries worldwide, citizens of every age, but mainly young people, rallied against a global economic system where governments save banks rather than citizens from bankruptcy. They have called themselves the Indignados, a moniker taken from the Spanish demonstrators who last spring occupied the central square Puerta del Sol, in Spain's capital Madrid, to denounce rising unemployment, spreading economic uncertainty and the privileges of the financial elites. In Italy, we call them the Indignati

Now, protests have spread across the world. In most recent weeks, the cameras have focused on New York and the occupants of Zuccotti Park, a square just a few blocks from Wall Street. There, the demonstrators have built a small camp to show the differences between the average person, who is suffering from the crisis, and the bankers who are once again receiving million-dollar bonuses. The mobilization in the U.S. has proceeded largely without incident. When accused by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg of dirtying the area, the occupants cleaned it up.

Then, on Saturday, the expression of a movement went decidedly global. In 950 cities worldwide, the rallies were peaceful, colorful and loud. In just a single location did the rally turn wild, scary and violent. It was our capital, Rome. Once again, we have put on display to the world an Italian anomaly. Once again, we should feel ashamed.

In New York, the demonstrators wore pacifist badges and held brooms and scrubbers to clean up. In Rome, they wore helmets and set off paper bombs. In Manhattan, the sound of drums and the Buddhist's OM mantra were the soundtrack, while the smell wafting through the rally from incense burned by elderly flower children.

In Italy, instead, once again the sounds were of police sirens and helicopters, and the smell of tear gas and burning cars.

Why did it happen in Rome? Why does it happen only here? Why do a few thousand young people eager to provoke a riot manage to hold hostage an entire city and a newly born movement? Why is Italy once again alone in facing violence and extremists, and crushing any hope of a pacific and useful demonstration?

I often think about our sad and ironic fate. In Italy, 1968 protests tuned into the violence and terrorism of 1977, when people, ideas and ideals were killed. On the other side of the Ocean, violence did not win. The movement which wanted to change the world, was able do it, creating alternative energy and Silicon Valley. Italy had leaders who taught violence. The United States had Steve Jobs, who used drugs indeed, but had futuristic, not apocalyptic visions.

Don't get hijacked

In Italy, this is happening all over again because we never were able to truly distance ourselves from violent acts. I say "we," because all the society should do it. Here we always hold out a "but" or "however" to justify ourselves.

Millions of Italians are outraged over the behavior of politicians, the distance between government and real people's problems, and the lack of investments for the future of the youth. There is outrage, anger and exhaustion, but they don't go burn cars and hurl stones. They view those protestors as vandals and criminals, who don't know the value of respect and have never worked for living.

Today, many people are upset by Saturday's riots. But no doubt that in a few days when the police will have identified some of the violent demonstrators, and magistrates file charges, surely too many will defend and justify the alleged perpetrators. Many will accuse judges and policemen of not really understanding the situation, and of being too tough with the young people.

This all occurs for our endemic lack of constructive thinking. If we keep saying that our youth have no future ahead of them other than decline, if we feed them only with cynicism, if we picture only catastrophic scenarios and deny them any space to hope, we will erase any possibility of change. If we say that nothing can be built, we leave space only to feed the urge to destroy.

The only chance is in those young people who refuse to listen to the pessimistic speeches, who still find a chance to dream and to hope. Hey kids, the future is yours, if you learn today to refuse violence, to isolate those who preach or commit it, to denounce it before it happens. The future exists if you build it with hope and persistence, and if you don't let it get hijacked by those who believe in nothing.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - paofredi

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