LA STAMPA
La Stampa ("The Press") is a top Italian daily founded in 1867 under the name Gazzetta Piemontese. Based in Turin, La Stampa is owned by the Fiat Group and distributed in many other European countries.
Society
FLAVIA AMABILE

Pope Francis, Don't Call Me A Murderer

Alice, 28 years old, from Genoa, terminated her pregnancy one year ago. "It is neither a transgression nor disgrace, I only exercised my right to do so."

GENOA — Alice Merlo terminated her pregnancy with a pill on September 21, 2020. Last week, returning from a four-day visit to Hungary and Slovakia, Pope Francis condemned women who, like Merlo, choose to end their pregnancies. And yet, Italy's 194 law that authorized the right to abortion in 1978, despite myriad shortcomings, is fundamentally working.

The number of abortions in Italy has been declining for years. This is confirmed by the latest data from the annual report of the Ministry of Health : last year, there were 67,638 abortions, a 7.6% drop that continues a downward trend since 1983. The conscientious objection to abortion applied among gynecologists opposed to the practice is also decreasing, from 68.4% in 2019 to 67% in last year.

Women no longer die from illegal abortions, and yet the Catholic world won't forgive them. The Pope defined pregnancy interruptions as a "homicide." He repeated that "whoever gets an abortion commits a murder, to say it clearly" and that you can see in "any embryology book for Medicine students" that at "the third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA" and that it is therefore a human life! And this human life must be respected." Francis concluded with a question: "Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?"

This was a true attack. Not new but particularly brutal. Alice Merlo refuses to accept the condamnation. "After exactly one year, I don't see myself at all as a murderer. I have not committed a homicide. Getting an abortion is neither a transgression nor a disgrace. I only exercised my right, and rights should not require paying some kind of 'pain fine.'"

Speaking about abortion without shame or anonymity

Merlo is 28 years old, lives in Genoa, works in the communication field and is one of the few women who has accepted to talk about her termination of pregnancy without hiding behind anonymity. On the contrary, she decided to show her face right after the intervention with a Facebook post, and then became a testimonial for a campaign organized by the Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics in favor of pharmacological abortion.

Not only has she decided to talk about her decision, but to do so without having to pay what she calls a "pain fine" to society.

I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term.

"It wasn't hard for me to decide, "she says. "I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term. I was lucky to avoid facing the world of the conscientious objection to abortion, the gynecologist who followed me medically me was not an objector so she accompanied me in the treatment of Ru486, here in Genoa."

A poster in Milan against the RU486 abortion pill

A billboard against the Ru 486 pill in Milan, Italy, 2020. — Photo: Alberico Massimo/Abaca/ZUMA

Last word goes to who has to carry pregnancy forward

Merlo says she suffered no physical or psychological malady — and that this reality is not accepted by society. "When we talk about abortion we say that there is the 194 law, but that it's always a tragedy, a pain, a scar. Instead it is not always like that, and we shouldn't impose a sense of guilt in the people who do talk about it. There are different ways of telling stories."

When people ask why she didn't carry through with her pregnancy, Merlo responds simply: "I didn't feel like it, it wasn't the right time and I didn't want this embryo to become a baby boy or girl. I did it during the seventh week and I never felt guilt or tormented myself. I made my own choice."

She never told the man with whom she had sex. "We didn't have a stable relationship," she explains. "There was no need to burden him with my choice. In any case, even in a stable relationship the last word goes to who has to carry the pregnancy forward."

Despite her determination, and the availability of the gynecologist, abortion is still presented as an obstacle course, semi-clandestine and guilt-ridden, Merlo says. "You can only go in the morning and without having booked a specific appointment. You are treated like a person performing an act they should be ashamed; of and no medical authority indicates where the abortions are performed. There is a climate of omertà and shadows." And yet the law is simply being respected.

Coronavirus
Massimo Giannini*

Bravo Italy For World’s Strictest Vaccine Mandate - But Where’s Mario?

Italy's new "Super Green Pass" is great, but where's "Super Mario"? Such a sweeping measure, which requires workers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, risks encroaching on the fundamental right to work. It's necessary right now, but also needs Prime Minister Mario Draghi to explain why.

-OpEd-

ROME — There is not a single good reason to criticize Italy's new "Super Green Pass", the new decree announced on Thursday that will mandate more than 20 million of the country's workers to prove they've tested negative to COVID-19 or that they've been vaccinated to work, beginning Oct 15.

It is the right thing to do in a country locked in a decisive, long and painful fight against the pandemic. Some 10 million Italians still haven't been immunized and the pace of the vaccine rollout has declined significantly in September, with the number of shots administered daily dropping from 142,000 to about 70,000.

We have written it many times and repeat it now: Against the backdrop of possible new restrictions in the winter, the mandatory "green pass" is no "health dictatorship," but a way to keep the economy open and strike a fair balance between the freedom of a few and everyone's right to health. Extending it to employees and self-employed people is not discrimination. It is protection and prevention.

There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for.

But precisely because of the significance of this measure, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's silence on it was striking. He should have personally explained this decree to Italians. Instead, the news was announced by government cabinet ministers in a press conference. Draghi's absence was likely a way to underline that all the four political parties underpinning his government, including Matteo Salvini's far-right Lega Party, agreed on the measure.

But surely this is not enough. There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for, and this is one of those. We stand again at a crucial stage of Italy's fight against the virus, and the "Super Green Pass" calls into question our most precious asset beyond life: work, with its rights and duties. With an entire community of skeptics needing to be convinced and engaged, a prime minister worthy of that title must put not only his signature on it — but also his face.

*Giannini is La Stampa's editor-in-chief

Society
Mattia Feltri

The Politician And His Rolex, A Timeless Morality Play

From Fidel Castro to JFK to Barack Obama, world leaders have long sported expensive watches. Does that create a distance with the people they lead?

-Essay-

ROME — I love the way social networks give you the real-time pulse of society. Here in Italy, for example, the plight of Afghans has apparently become boring and we've heard enough about anti-vaxxers — and so the online crowd has focused its unquenchable thirst for justice toward Roman Pastore, a young political candidate pictured wearing a Rolex watch.

It actually wasn't even a Rolex, but that doesn't matter: Rolexes have now become a political talking point for the nation. Some might have been taken aback by the sheer number of self-appointed judges sentencing a single defendant — guilty of belonging to a very solid tradition of Rolex-wearing politicians. But I was more surprised by the reasons for the conviction: how can a politician wealthy enough to wear a Rolex at a young age, the reasoning goes, understand the frustrations of the people?

That's a great question. Fidel Castro had a Rolex, and did the people think he understood their plight? Debatable. Che Guevara was also a Rolex wearer, as was John F. Kennedy. Who can say for sure if either really was in touch with the people?

The Dalai Lama owns a pair of Rolexes as part of a collection of about 15 luxury watches, and just how knowledgeable he is in terms of people is still to be ascertained. Another fancy watch aficionado is Barack Obama, though to be precise he was spotted wearing not just any Rolex, but a Cellini, priced well above $10,000. And let us not forget another great American, Martin Luther King, who seemed to understand people in his "dream" well before his times. Yes, he wore a Rolex — it was a gold Datejust, very similar to the gold Datejust of another notable icon of the 20th century: Pope John Paul II.

Perhaps the tale should be reversed, to discover which politicians do not own a Rolex. For example, the leader of Italy's far-right Lega party, Matteo Salvini, famous for shuttering ports to refugee rescue boats, is said to understand people so well he can even pick up their scent. And no, he doesn't wear any watch at all.

Society
Carlo Pizzati

Aging Influencers, Chinese Grandmas Are Social Media Hit

Old age is trending in China for reasons of culture, technology and demographics.

BEIJING — Imagine a 70-year-old Chinese version of Chiara Ferragni. Now multiply these "senior" Asian influencers by a dozen and you will have a snapshot of the new phenomenon that has hit social media in China. The aging divas are the stars of the feed dedicated to "Fashion Grandmothers" on the Chinese social network Douyin, the national version of TikTok.

They call themselves "fashion_grannies' or "Glamma Beijing," playing on the Chinese pronunciation of the English words grandma and glamor. And they are quite something to see, wrapped up in traditional damask cheongsam, buttoned all the way up their neck or hopping in casual clothes of the latest fashion brands.

Grey is the new blond, a wise man once said, and old age is turning into a modern trend, with Chinese characteristics.

What do glamor grandmothers do? Just like elderly Barbies, they are dressed, stylized and dolled up by squads of young designers, aestheticians and makeup artists before walking the catwalk in slow-motion videos, with sudden speed-ups to further show off the charisma of these trendy grandmas.

"When I was young, I never wore makeup," says Sang Xiuzhan, a 75-year-old who's lived for 50 years in Beijing. "My dream as a girl was to work in show business, but I had to become an engineer in the 1960s. We had to contribute to economic growth, not spending any time on the superfluous. Any work related to the arts was discouraged."

In her account, filled with Marxist social theory, Sang evokes a world in which life had to be sacrificed to the Five-Year Plan of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo far more than it is today. It was a time when the frills and trappings of fashion were a blasphemy from capitalism's industrial complex.

But now retired, Sang has found an outlet for her artistic tendencies as a fashion grandma, contributing in attracting three million followers on social media. "At first we bet on young influencers," says He Daling, Ceo of Wuxianda and founder of Fashion Grandmas. "Then we saw that seniors were bringing more traffic in a market full of opportunities for ad revenue and off-line events like reality shows."

There is no doubt that the market of old people is growing. In China, men retire at age 60, and by 2025, according to Civil Affairs Minister Li Jiheng, that will reach 300 million retirees, up from 254 million who are already the world's largest elderly block. And they're a gold mine, because between 2015 and 2019, the consumer market for retirees grew 15% a year to $637 billion.

Retirees become content.

This reality is full of surprises that paint the picture of a strange return to the past, made possible precisely thanks to the latest technology. "These videos of seniors disrupt stereotypes of old age. Retirees used to be seen as passive, unsophisticated and coarse," says Xiao Lijuan, the 32-year-old CEO of Letuizu, a digital platform that turned five grandfathers and five grandmothers into lifestyle icons on the Tencent channel and gained three million followers. "Now these opinionated senior citizens are demonstrating the possibility that people over 60 can be beautiful and graceful people, albeit in a different way than young people."

The message aimed at seniors seems to appeal even more to young people. True, thanks to an increase in China's over-50 internet users from 9.2% in 2015 to 22.8% today, they are targeting an audience of near-peers to sell them products for the "silver age," such as apps for ballroom dancing, jazz, folk and even hip hop. It's also true that the volume of products targeted to seniors increased 78% from 2017 to 2019, and brands doubled. But seniors are tighter with their spending, and products for them are less expensive than those for younger people. In addition, seniors are less responsive to the promotional message in comparison to young people. Retirees, in fact, are considered "immature e-commerce consumers," according to research by JD.com.


A couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary at a retirement center in China — Photo: SIPA Asia/ZUMA

The truth is that most of the followers of fashion grandmothers are young. For example, there is a Douyin channel with more than two million followers whose main character is a 67-year-old grandmother. According to the channel's owner, Zhao Haiguo, 84% of the followers are women between the ages of 25 and 40. "It's crazy to see them looking so beautiful at that age. Beauty is something that always exists in women," comments Lin Suying, 25, one of the Fashion Grannies followers. "I'm completely entranced by how beautiful older women can be."

Retirees thus become content. Indeed, it is the perception of Shangri-la, of happy aging, that becomes a catch-all among the youth, who remain the marketing's favorite target. In the end, it is understood that these images of silver models, performing their well-choreographed ballets, smiling bewitchingly, winking, sympathetically sexy, serve as an exorcism against the fear of death and the consumption of old age. And it appeals to young people, more than to the elderly themselves, who know full well that, behind the artificial veneer of glamour, there subsists the stark reality of the difficulties of the body wearing out.

"I'm getting older and I have dentures," confesses former engineer Sang. "So sometimes I eat my words a little bit, and a lot of the fashion grandmothers' events require speaking skills... and that depresses me a little bit."

Through social media, there is a reprogramming of the meaning of aging between old and young people.

The idea of pitching old age as content on social media isn't limited to surface images, however. Take Jiang Minci, who at 90 has become an influencer with mostly millennial fans. With the help of her nephew, she filmed the story of her life in episodes, amassing 300,000 followers in three months. With tripods and smartphones in her living room, she tells how she escaped an arranged marriage and became a railway engineer at the dawn of the new China, inspiring and motivating young people who are 70 years younger than her.

On one hand, there is an attempt to transform the meaning of the word "old," not because of a spontaneous act from a venerable generation, but thanks to the commercial spirit of 20-something up-and-comers with their social media production teams. On the other hand is a healing of older people's dangerous social exclusion that is a significant cause of depression and decay for Western retirees, treated with doses of psychotropic drugs.

Through social media, there is a reprogramming of the meaning of aging between old and young. The relationship of transmission of values of strength and self-fulfillment typical of the traditional context of the Chinese family and so dear to President Xi Jinping is being rearranged. The newfound elegance of fashion grandmothers on social media becomes a new way to strengthen the ancestral dialogue between young and old, to the benefit of both.

Green Or Gone
Niccolò Zancan

Record Drought & Heartbreak: Italy's Farmers Reap The Damages Of Climate Change

CERVERE — It hasn't rained in two months. The corn has not grown. Six out of ten hectares of this plain field are completely parched. "It's late now," says Giovanni Bedino, running his dark fingers through the dry leaves of the corn. The farmer, now 59, has been working the land since he was 15.

"Since the day my father passed away, I have done nothing else," he says. "I love this job, but a year like this takes away your love and leaves you sad. The corn died, it was born small and it remained small, stuck, without water and not even a bit of humidity. We couldn't water the fields and nothing came down from the sky. I remember, the summer of 2003 was a very difficult one — but it wasn't even close to this year. I have never seen such a drought."

The Italian northwest is as arid as it gets. The earth is cracking, the crops and the animals suffer. In the middle of the Gesso stream, in the Piedmont region, a woman is bathing with her daughter. "It's fiercely hot," she says. The women and men who have tried, in vain, "to look after the water" also suffer. So says Giovanni Bedino: "We take care of it. We take care of water because we know how precious it is. We take shifts to water the plants. We try not to waste a single drop."

But Bedino says this irrigation canal should have a flow rate between 70 and 90 centimeters in August; yesterday it was 10, today 9. He says, "The water is running out. There isn't enough for everyone."

This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground.

The flow figures of the local waterways are chilling. Varaita Torrent: -56%. Stura di Demonte: -45%. The Tanaro River, measured at the Farigliano station: -34%. The country has been ravaged by fires and storms, like Greece, Turkey and much of southern Europe. Italy has recorded 1,200 "extreme" meteorological events — a 56% increase from last year. Wildfires ravaged the southern regions of Sardinia, Calabria and Sicily. The town of Floridia, in Sicily, is thought to have recorded the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe: 48.8 °C. Meanwhile, heavy rainfall devastated other parts of the country. Coldiretti, Italy's largest agricultural association, has just summed up the bill for this Italian summer: The damages to agriculture, it says, amount to €1 billion. Wheat yields have fallen 10%; cherries 30%, nectarines 40%. Tomato and corn crops have also suffered heavy losses.

Like much of Italy, Piedmont is going through the most difficult summer for its agriculture. In Val Maira, at 1,900 meters above sea level at the foot of the Alps, the meadows have turned a dry yellow. The pastures are scorched and the herdsmen are coming down from the mountains earlier than usual because there is no more food for their flocks. The same has happened to the other neighboring valleys.

This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground. In northern Italy, the area that's bearing the brunt of the crisis is Cuneo province, near the French border.

Livio Quaranta, the president of the consortium that manages water in 108 municipalities, says the situation is very worrying indeed.

"Here's what we see: There are now no permanent snowfields on this entire stretch of the Alps," says Quaranta. "The snow cover has changed: It doesn't remain on the ground for long — it just washes away, because of higher average temperatures."

Quaranta says the weather has depleted the region's water reserves: "There is no water reserve in winter and no rain in summer ... perhaps the odd localized hail storm, then weeks of nothing. It affects agriculture and tourism."

Local authorities prohibited wasting water, which Quaranta says is "necessary." In an attempt to spare every drop and try to save the corn and the last plums, pears and apples, 10 municipalities in the area have temporarily banned filling private swimming pools, washing cars and using drinking water for gardens.

Dry stream in northern Italy — Photo: Informazione Libera Facebook page

Elisabetta Cagliero and her husband run a sports center nearby, where one of the main attractions is rafting. Normally, they put eight people onboard the rafts — now it's five at most: The river level is so low, they've had to reduce the weight.

"Apart from a drizzle in early August, it's been dry," says Cagliero. "The meadows are yellow, it breaks my heart to see them like that. When the reservoirs in the area are emptied to serve the local power plant, the river becomes even smaller and the rafts come back completely muddy."

The sliding irrigation system is not enough, and neither is the shifts system: There simply is no water.

One of the first to sound the alarm, back when the situation was not yet so serious, was Giorgio Bergesio, president of a local irrigation board.

"Climate change is affecting our agriculture dramatically," he says. "We need planning policies to build reservoirs, the only way we have to save water. If this continues, within five years we will be hit by a drought that will make it impossible to produce many crops."

Roberto Moncalvo of Coldiretti, the agriculture association, says it's been a particularly complicated year and they continue to receive worrying reports from farmers.

"The corn and fruit were ripening just now, so there will be heavy losses," he says. "All of this is evidence of climate change taking place: very heavy rainfall, but for a very short time, followed by long periods of drought. We need safe and sustainable reservoirs, new energy policies. We must now think about the changes necessary to safeguard our agriculture of the future."

What is happening in Piedmont has played out in other Italian regions in the last few years. Just three years ago, the northeastern region of Veneto went through a similar crisis. No one knows who will be next. These are peaks and falls of the same movement, pieces of the same story.

"How can we take better care of the water?" asks farmer Giovanni Bedino. Around him, in the area between Cervere and Cherasco, the earth is parched. The sliding irrigation system is not enough, and neither is the shifts system: There simply is no water. "One solution would be to store it in the winter and use it in the summer," he says, looking at his plants. " This corn should be green and lush, and instead it's dying."

Geopolitics
Mattia Feltri

Coming Back Around, One Year Later: What COVID Took Away

ROME — The 70-something barista who served me an iced tea last July was proud of his historic cafe next to one of the city's best-known theaters. It was soon after the end of Italy's first lockdown, and the theater was still closed due to the pandemic. At the end of our short conversation, the aging barman bid me farewell with a shout of: "Long live freedom."

It's almost exactly a year later, as I return, and the weather is hot again. I order an iced tea, and take off my mask to drink it. The lady at the counter asks me if I'm vaccinated, if I'm going to the theater; she says that unfortunately, she's been too busy to see the show. She got the first dose of the vaccine and is looking forward to the second, and also to the third and fourth and fifth if they are needed. My guess, from her manner and appearance, is that she's the barista's wife.

That was when my grandson was born.

Something keeps me from asking about her husband. She talks and says she had an "irrelevant" bout of COVID, half a day of fever and after ten days she tested negative. It was last November, she adds. That was when my grandson was born, she adds. She also recalls that they closed the cafe down so fast they accidentally left the coffee machine on.

Last November, she adds one last time, was when my husband died — in the span of two weeks: he was hospitalized even as he was overjoyed with the news that he'd become a grandfather; he was sure he could make it. Then after they put a CPAP helmet on him, I didn't talk to him again, that was the last time I ever saw him. I don't even know if he got to see our grandson's picture on a phone.

I tell her that the last time I was there, he had told me: long live freedom. She cries, I say I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. She wipes her eyes, picks up my empty glass and says: but like him, how many like him? The nightly news give us the numbers. All of them like him.

Geopolitics
Mattia Feltri

Italy And Fascism, A Lingering Question Of National Character

Giorgia Meloni, rising star of Italy’s far-right, was a member of neofascist organizations in her youth. She insists that she's changed her way, and that fascism is not an Italian peculiarity. Not all agree.

-Essay-

ROME — A couple of weeks ago, under our apartment window, my kids and I heard a neatly lined-up demonstration passing by, chanting a single uninterrupted chorus: "Where are the anti-fascists?" It wasn't a huge crowd, and maybe that's why my kids heard the slogan differently: "Where are the other fascists?"

I recalled this after reading a letter in the Corriere della Sera daily penned by Giorgia Meloni, rising star of Italy's far-right. Her party, Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), has recently shot up in opinion polls, on the verge of becoming Italy's most popular party. Meloni, now 44, was a member of neofascist organizations in her youth, and uses the letter to insist that fascism is not an Italian peculiarity.

Mussolini once acknowledged that fascism had not been his invention.

If the founder of modern fascism, a certain Benito Mussolini, could read that line, Meloni would get a good talking to. But then again, even Mussolini (never known for his modesty) once acknowledged that fascism had not been his invention — he had extracted it from the unconscious of Italians.

Supporters of the Leader of the Lega Matteo Salvini hold up a sign in solidarity — Photo: LaPresse/ZUMA

Writer and critic Ennio Flaino once wrote that fascism is bossy, rhetorical, xenophobic; it loathes culture, despises freedom and justice, despises the weak, serves the strong, and is always ready to indicate in others the causes of its helplessness. As the years go by, rather than fading, the standard portrait of the fascist seems to become more vivid. And that of the Italian fascist too, which Flaiano argued is part of the national character.

After all, Meloni is a fascist just like most of the rest of us are. But as she becomes more and more convincing to Italians, Meloni has the additional problem of having to tend to the few people who also claim out loud to be fascists — like those parading under my window — and who make up her hardcore supporters, around 20%, according to recent polls. And so, maybe my kids heard right — and I was wrong. They were out looking for the other fascists after all.

Geopolitics
Dacia Maraini

Looking Europe's Migrant Crisis In The Eye

As tempting as it may be to just turn away, we lose a piece of our humanity every time we do.

-Essay-

Looking at these photographs means becoming witnesses. The eye sees, preserves and remembers. The eye feeds on presence, and presence is history. These photographs tell us that we are all witnesses and our conscience is implicated; it cannot call itself unaware of events.

But what to do? How to go from testimony to participation? Strange that, with all the tools technology makes available to us, we feel more helpless than ever.

A child is saved by a generous man. We feel an instinct of compassion and gratitude. But who is that child and who is that man? Can knowing this help us understand more? Maybe, yes. The images make their way into our heads and raise many questions: Who, how, when, why?

There is little doubt that the movement of peoples is a constant reality that will not cease after another emergency. We also know that it will be used by politicians to gain power. But what can we do?

Our gaze moves our compassion for those naked bodies, slapped by the water, for those poor feet that don't know comfortable and protective shoes, for those surprised faces that ask for asylum.

"Let them in!" cry those who think, like Saint Martin, that we should cut the cloak we wear in half and share it with those who feel cold. But if migrants become many, if they are thousands of thousands, how can such an intake be managed?

I have only two eyes to look, and a stomach that tightens.

Some argue that we need these people in our ranks as laborers, to swell the workforce. But I find this a cynical argument. With their arms, human beings also carry a faith, a culture, habits that die hard. Are we able to integrate thousands of refugees? Unhappy people cannot be welcomed in order to turn them into cheap workers.

What then? I have no answers, only questions. I have only two eyes to look — and a stomach that tightens — at the sight of so much despair, poverty, pain.

Compassion is certainly not enough. We need to think rationally and understand what we can do not to abuse these unarmed people fleeing hunger and fear.

Does remembering that we, Italians, were once a people of emigrants help us to organize ourselves without losing humanity? Someone speaks of a nemesis: We have plundered territories rich in raw materials for centuries, without leaving behind us roads, houses, schools and an example of good governance.

I got distracted and spoke as if these migrants had landed on our shores. But it doesn't make much difference — today they are in Spain, tomorrow they will be on the Sicilian islands.

I don't know if pity is good for anything. Yet I think that pity, together with reason, can help raise awareness and create a desire to act. And acting means building alliances to face together, without injustice and without wars, the inevitable displacement of peoples.

Geopolitics
*Anna Zafesova

Lukashenko To Putin: A New Cold War, Or Something Worse?

Western media like to run headlines warning of a “new Cold War” every time a new conflict or act of repression occurs in post-Soviet authoritarian, But Belarus’ brazen intercepting of a Ryanair jet is something that never would have happened on either sid

-Analysis-

Is history repeating itself, only this time as a farce?


The problem is, the forced diversion of a European plane ordered by Belarus strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko — of a European company, with European passengers on board of a flight circulating within Europe — is an episode that wouldn't have even dared happen in the Cold War.


There were rules back then, worked out with difficulty by both sides in the attempt to prevent the worst from happening. There was no trust, but there were talks, with precise protocols and a thousand difficulties: Between the Kremlin and the White House, the famous "red telephone" would be used only as the last resort to stop a nuclear war, just like the one narrowly averted with the Cuban Missile Crisis.


Pieces were moved on the chessboard, and the Iron Curtain also served as a line dividing mutual safe zones: a tacit agreement prohibiting enemies from crossing over the Wall, and an escaped — or more likely, expelled — dissident could feel safe in the West.


After Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich was kidnapped, alongside an entire Ryanair plane, the world instead is facing a dictator who doesn't play by any rules.

Putin and Lukashenko at a Russian Cathedral, 2005 —Photo: President of the Russian Federation website

Lukashenko is looking to clash, not communicate; and yesterday's expulsion of the Latvian ambassador was only the latest proof of that. The 66-year-old who since 1994 has been the only ruler of post-Soviet Belarus is behaving as if treaties, conventions, courts and international responsibilities didn't exist, sending a fighter jet armed with missiles to intercept a civilian airplane, force it to land and kidnapping a young journalist who now risks the death penalty.

Lukashenko is looking to clash, not communicate


The dialogue between the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War followed a kind of code of hostility, based on the rational assumption that even enemies can try to build a system to co-exist. The problem is that Lukashenko thinks only about his regime in personal terms. He is not the son of a system or attached to an ideology that would make him feel part of a mission bigger than himself.


The Soviet Union possessed a well-structured political system and a protocol for succession. Lukashenko — a veritable populist, who came to power 20 years before the term entered common use in the region — doesn't have an ideological dictatorship, because he has no ideology. Like other examples of such neo-autocratic rulers, including Vladimir Putin, or even Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Belarus leader is the inventor of a personality-driven regime of corruption and unlimited power that will die with him.


Each day he survives is an achievement for Lukashenko, independent from the price that is paid around him. But an even greater danger of this one-man farce is the question of what happens after he is gone.

*Zafesova is a native of Russia and former Moscow correspondent for La Stampa

Society
Pietro Mecarozzi

In Rome, 'Social Carpentry' Is A Tool For Integration

A unique project in the Italian capital brings together experienced carpenters to share their skills and knowledge with asylum seekers and the unemployed.

ROME — It goes without saying that what K_Alma is trying to accomplish is not simple. But it also — and above all — carries a unique human, environmental, social and political vision.

For the past three years, in its headquarters in central Rome, K_Alma has brought together volunteer carpenters to teach their profession to asylum seekers, refugees and unemployed Italians, offering them free formal and informal education opportunities, self-training, self-expression and knowledge. What the group practices, in other words, is social carpentry.

Over the last seven years, close to 700,000 asylum seekers landed on Italy's shores, seeking to enter the EU after, in many cases, fleeing war and persecution. K_Alma was devised as a way to help them integrate into Italian society and increase their chances of landing a job and starting over in their new country. It's a social workshop with ecological sensitivity and eternal love for wood.

"It started like this: the passion for wood and years and years of battles for the rights of migrants," says Gabriella Guido, president of the association. "What we do is start from training, strengthening individual skills with informal and free courses. Especially at this historical moment."

The waiting list is endless.

Since its founding in 2017, the social carpentry organization has trained about 80 carpenters. Among its members and supporters are people who have always been active in the integration and human rights sector, but also private citizens and charitable institutions (such as the Waldensian Church and the Haiku Foundation) who have guaranteed the project's sustainability over the years.

Besides social work, the project's other cornerstone, since its foundation, has been environmental sustainability. The group focuses on projects that teach recycling and the circular economy. It uses waste materials, for example — wood of different origins and kind in its products. Last year, the workshop started producing cutting boards by reusing the trunks of trees that fell in Rome due to storms or neglect and that would otherwise be destined for pulping.

Meanwhile, the shop also hosts workshops and awareness-raising activities aimed at customers on the subject of the economy of reuse and recycling. And the very layout of its space was designed to minimize its environmental impact.

carpentry, refugees, Italy, Rome

Carpenters teach their profession to asylum seekers, refugees and unemployed Italians. — Photo: Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press/ZUMA

A few months ago, moreover, K-Alma was certified as an "ethical" carpenter by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an NGO that has developed a forest certification system for the production, transformation and processing of wood. That means that K_Alma products use wood coming from a fair-trade supply chain — and don't only bolster the human rights and condition of refugees, but also ecological rights.

"We are proud of this certificate because it allows us to focus not only on the choice and quality of the timber but also on respect for nature and for all the people who work in this area," says Guido.

Even at such a difficult time as the pandemic, apprentices can count on four professional carpenters who volunteer at the workshop. "We reopened on June 20 in an even larger space than we were before, in Rome's central Testaccio neighborhood," she says. That's because, as Italy lost more than a million jobs during the pandemic, the demand for K_Alma's courses sky-rocketed and almost doubled.

The courses are "full of participants and the waiting list is endless," Guido says. "Those who come to us normally do not have a deadline to stop taking classes — but in this case, unfortunately, we had to close enrollment temporarily."

The courses are intended for up to 20 participants, and to cope with the various problems that may arise, the organization decided to focus on the small-scale manufacture of a range of products. "This requires giving considering even more carefully how we source our wood — both in terms of where it comes from and what kind it is," the association president explains.

What's more, K_Alma has even managed to export its eco-friendly philosophy. It has branched out with a project, for example, to make Rome parks more sustainable and inclusive, and developed a workshop with the local Academy of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Architecture to teach residents how to recover and recycle urban wood.

Weird
Clémence Guimier

Sicilian Mafioso Teaches 9 Year-Old Granddaughter To Count Dirty Money

Grandpa, pass the unmarked 20s....

There are countless ways to teach a kid mathematics: fingers, peas in bowls, catchy songs — or, like this Italian grandpa from Partinico, Sicily, by counting dirty money.

As Italian daily La Stampa reports, after taking his nine-year-old granddaughter to school or to the swimming pool, the suspected mobster would sell cocaine. Later, after the deal was done, he would turn to the girl to help tally up his daily gains, using her as his personal cashier-in-training as he taught her to count bills.

The elementary school student also worked part-time as a "mule," carrying the drug money in her pockets, to hide his activities from the authorities as well as from their own family.

The Sicilian police eventually caught wind of the operation and put a tap on the drug-smuggling grandpa. This, as Partinico commissioner Leopoldo Laricchia told reporters, led to the recording of surreal exchanges between the granddaughter and her grandfather.

Having figured out there was something shady behind "grandpa's funny game," the little girl reportedly told him one day as they were watching TV together: "Look Grandpa, they're selling drugs to people, just like we do!"

The man was arrested earlier this week, along with 29 other people as part of a large-scale anti-drug operation in the Palermo region. According to daily La Repubblica, the girl's mother "severely scolded" the grandfather after learning about his special math lessons.

With the investigation still ongoing, there's no word yet on a fine or prison sentence for the Nonno — but that's something he'll have to count on his own.

Weird

Rome Mayor Mistakes Another Arena For Colosseum, Sent To Lions

For the Romans, there's no other choice but the mortal (though virtual) thumbs down for their mayor.

Yes, online commentators (and no doubt offline elders around the Italian capital) are sending Mayor Virginia Raggi to the proverbial lions for mixing up the Colosseum — the one (and only) built in Rome nearly 2,000 years ago that's the first and biggest open-air amphitheater ever built — with some other, smaller ancient arena in a much smaller city almost not worth mentioning by name. But alas...

In a video presentation this week to tout the Italian capital's selection as host of the 2023 Ryder Cup golf tournament, Raggi showed a footage of what was supposed to be Rome's signature landmark… but was instead the arena of Nimes in southern France.

Italian daily La Stampa gathered some of the Romans' reactions: "Tell me it isn't true," wrote online commentator Simone N, after seeing the video. "What you see in the first three seconds is the Arena of Nîmes, which is in France. IN FRANCE. What the hell does that have to do with the city of Rome? The Colosseum is the Colosseum."


For those outside Rome, it may seem like an honest mistake, after all the French arena was built shortly after the Colosseum and is one of the best preserved ancient amphitheaters in the world. But for Romans, you might as well have substituted in the Yankee Stadium or the Wembley arena. Beyond stupido for the mayor.


"The mayor of Rome can't recognize the Colosseum?" asked one. Another added: "I could cry... a mistake that not even a kid in elementary school would make. Mixing up the symbol of Rome."


La Stampa reports that Raggi's staff has pulled the erroneous footage out, and blamed the gaffe on the Italian Golf Federation, which had included the wrong images in a video that the city of Rome borrowed for its presentation.


There was at least one defender of the error, several hundred miles to the north. Xavier Duais, deputy maire of Nîmes and responsible for tourism, tweeted a message to Raggi: "Thank you for the wonderful showcase you've given our arenas. Errare humanum est !" That's Latin for: To err is human. Sure, and to tear apart the fools is Roman.