Il Meglio Sud: the Southern Pride Rhymes with Dignity of Truth
Il Meglio Sud, the shocking truth, only the truth about New South in the Lino Patruno’s Book
‘E noi Meridionali zozzi come e’ ragne, cultivame pomodori intre vasche ebbagne’ (‘And we southerners, filthy like spiders, we grow tomatoes in the bath’, in Apulian dialect). Delivered ironically, this is an old song from Mimmo Cavallo, a pop-folk Apulian singer, who, in the very early eighties, was a big hit at the Sanremo Festival, the globally famous singing contest.
In the same kermesse, around two years ago, the Neapolitan hip-hop singer Rocco Hunt expressed pride blended with the right dose of conscious anger to encourage people to raise up their heads to retaliate against a whole series of abuses that keep repeating themselves, socially and politically, to the detriment and even the vehement defamation of areas which, in reality, contribute greatly to maintaining many regions of the Centre North that want the separation of Italy into two nations.
In fact, listening and watching video clips, extrapolated from public service and public complaint programmes that now seem to overcrowd the different schedules of national and private broadcasters, we have witnessed very disturbing statements from many people who live in ‘hot’ areas (such as the Veneto and Padania) who have a particular hatred for the South of Italy and where the differences between North and South still persist very dangerously. This phenomenon is particularly unacceptable today, since many populations of southern Italy have strongly participated in the development of prosperous and active centres such as Manhattan (now the location of a certain cool upper class) and many others, scattered in other nations.
We can also say that Australia has seen its development thanks to one of the largest Italian communities in the world, mostly made up of people from the South of Italy.
"Better to separate the North from the South. The South is a burden, it is always been, and then they don’t even pay taxes and we maintain all those regions", says a raging, sweet lady over sixty directly from a street market in Veneto and, sorry to say, in an embarrassing broken Italian, not exactly correct, just like some other people we interviewed. "We do not hate those in the South ...," said another retired gentleman in a Po town, within the same tele program, "... But they have brought dishonour, mafia and corruption. Better for us to separate”. What alarms us is not so much the statements themselves, which need to be taken as one of the many forms of speech caused by a profound ignorance, but the way in which they tend to justify a legitimate right to suppress, in the end of the day, anything that is not really known. Because the South of Italy, in fact, is not known at all; surely not for its real essence and spirit of revival, cultural and productive but also in its ancient, ultra-millennial identity and historical traditions. A South of Italy, left alone not only to face the most recent epochal emergencies such as the arrival of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing from hostile and deadly lands, and also the situation of those who still live there. A South of Italy that has became a landfill site of vested interests and abuses, part of a much bigger picture which reveals the direct responsibility of the Italian State in connivance with different lobbies which are attempting to bring the South of Italy into the condition of subjection almost to the point of bloody dictatorship.
For a contrasting voice, during one of the television programmes "Tagadà" presented by the Campanian journalist Tiziana Panella, entitled: "Is The South a Burden?", the well known Italian critic and professor of the History of Art, Vittorio Sgarbi, who supervised the preparations of the Puglia Pavilion one of the largest, richest and most visited art exhibitions included in the program of the penultimate Biennale of Art in Venice, said that "the South, the South in general, is the socio-cultural and economic future in which to invest because of its of its democratic masterplanning along with proper actions and interventions which will increase its value".
A truth demonstrated by museums such as those in Reggio Calabria and Taranto, considered to be the two most important European archaeological institution because of their history and cultural prestige; not to mention the town of Matera which from being a ‘national shame’, today enjoys being the centre of innovative start-ups and an old town effectively regenerated with EU funds, being rewarded by the European Union for having some of the best used Community funds. We have spoken with many young people in southern Italy, some of whom spoke English, Chinese and even Arabic, and all, at least, with a degree in a particular economic, historical or technical field.
Of the young people from Sicily, Calabria, Puglia and Basilicata, at least 30% of them, had a master's degree in Business and Economy from European or other countries.
In Salento, ‘Aforisma’, one of the biggest advanced training schools in Business Management, launched the slogan: "The New Managers Are from These lands."
Many of them, in fact, are children of entrepreneurs who export products to other markets, including North Italy. This is the same South that churns out talent in the form of writers, musicians, actors, artists and professionals who now compete and relate to markets and territories which increasingly call on them for international festivals and top ranking professional positions; because in many other nations, even the most sceptical and conservative, Made in Italy is already evolving into Made in South Italy.
This is the same South of Italy from in which most regions do not recognize the talent, the audacity, or the evolution of an open-air laboratory in which many innovative and original enterprises are always in the news. On the other hand, we have a Unesco heritage in the South of the olive trees, whose savage massacre (promoted with pride by the EU) captured all national and international news; and, still in the same South, spectacular clear seas are oil raped by drills and killer industries, and, despite all these outrages and ongoing abuses, the South continues to hold up its head leaving speechless any foreign visitor. The same people who have had, even accidentally, the ‘Made in the South’ experience almost always confess: if we had even 15% of what you have here, we would be perhaps the richest nation of Europe.
The best of Southern Italy is revealed through names, stories, actions and extremely shocking data, confirmed by statistics and real numbers, narrated by Lino Patruno, journalist, former editor of La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno who in his new book entitled,’ Il Meglio Sud’ (The Best of the South, Rubbettino Publishers) expresses all the potential and actual value of the lands that are now beginning to be the first to desire a possible division of the Republic into two nations. This is because of the higher standard of schooling and further education, specializations in different fields, the combating of various mafias and corruption, especially those within the state, the planned internationalisation and ongoing innovation which make this today a a region to fear. This is because the southern regions, in this millennium, can only improve and become the new Italian difference. However, this is something we must really want, according to writer-journalist Lino Patruno, interviewed exclusively by Tablet in order to clarify in what way Southern Italy is evolved and why it should be feared, especially for it’s ‘best’, that nobody talks about and which, on the contrary, they would prefer to keep imprisoned in the dark and suffocated, excluding it from any development strategy and policy for adding value.
1) Dear Mr. Patruno, thank for your very important contribution. To come straight to the point: "The North maintains the Italians of the South", a statement that emerged from more than a few people interviewed in different regions of Northern Italy. We have, however, reported verbatim the data described by yourself in your new book, "The Better South", which is : "The South helps the North with the public sector. How many times have we heard that the South is not very productive and also has a disproportionate number of civil servants? Surprise!, there are more in the North than in the South: 26 per thousand inhabitants in the South, 30 in the North. The Region that has more: Lombardy. And, if in the past decade they have declined by 9 percent in the South, in the North they have increased by 28%. also paid for with taxes of southerners, of course. " In short, if what is written is absolutely true, why is the the North of Italy not aware of it? Distraction, political or demagogic strategies? Why, exactly in your opinion?
L.P. Prejudice fed by misinformation (when it is not even intentional information). The fact is that this prejudice and this misinformation is not a folkloric fact from a Sport’s Bar. These are the foundation of policies to the detriment of the South. Something like this: because the South pays with its taxes for so many public servants the North, we reduce what the state spends in the South, for example, on public works or public services. Thus the South is damaged twice, starting from false data. known by governments which pretend that nothing serious is happening.
2) "The South supports the North even with the interest on the public debt; the South assists the North even with the wage supplement; the South assists the North with incentives to businesses; The South helps Northern companies operating in the South but which have their registered offices in the North; the South assists the North because the North evades taxation.". In short, these are just some of the different titles that introduce the topics, with data and percentages, which reveal, just as in a well structured fiscal-thriller, a series of contradictions of which the North of Italy should perhaps begin to be ashamed. We apologise once again but, if all this is absolutely true, why not boldly send out all this news via the web and through all national broadcasts? Could this be the beginning of a real cultural revolution, as well as pure "public service information", don’t you think so?
L.P. Believe it or not, I do this, and also other authors do the same, even if it is never enough. I do it by writing weekly for my newspaper. I do it every time I present my books (and there are hundreds of presentations). I do it in all the TV programs where I am a guest and we talk about this topic. I'm doing it through this interview, which I thank you for greatly. It’s just a public information service. But the work is long, and even more painful. Let's say it: It suits the stronger powers of the country to continue to have the privilege of making policies in favour of the strongest regions, even if they are based on inaccurate data.
3) Many young small business owners and more established consultants and managers, not least the entrepreneurs of the South of Italy, all agree on the same thing: if all the regions of Southern Italy decided to create the right opposition and pressure for a real and inevitable separation of the South from the North of Italy, the South would not suffer as much as the North, if we consider the endless list of production companies and specific sectors in which Southern Italy is the main supplier. Is that true?
L.P. The South imports more than 40 percent of Northern products. The Northern businesses make profits in the South but pay taxes to the North. The northern banks make profits in the South and pour their profits into the banking foundations which are 90 per cent in the North. European funds also benefit the northern regions. That is why the South is convenient to the North, but it is always shot against by them. That's why a separation is not convenient primarily for the North. A separate South, instead, could spend all its taxes on itself and could benefit from all European funds. Instead, the paradox is that the North laments the so-called ‘fiscal residue’, the part of its taxes that go to the South. It's true, that the Constitution speaks of national solidarity, noting that it is natural for those who have the higher income to pay more. But the North does not calculate how much they receive from southern consumers in public spending by the state, in European funds, from banking foundations and in all the other cases mentioned in your question.
4) "Southern Italy is a nation of ignorant peasants". This is a phrase that we have heard often, sometimes, even, in our own Country. If this is really so, why is it that in Southern Italy, for some time, many foreigners have bought houses and rural properties and in summer times, rented houses by the sea or in hilly areas? Who lies?
L.P. Foreigners are much more meritocrats than the Italians: for sure they would never be in a place of ignorant peasants. But never mind, this is just a minor league issue (one might say minor Northern League).
5) Il Meglio Sud should perhaps be on the desks of university leaders, community colleges, business schools present in all regions of the South, before they start to engage with other channels of information and promotion, national and foreign. We ask this because the first step in reaching concrete awareness raising and a knowledge of the social-cultural and economic realities of Southern Italy, could start with those people who are in a position to change views and obsolete cultural perceptions which are hard to change. Have you ever thought of making targeted presentations in all these centres, instead of starting from commercial libraries?
L.P. Oh no, in commercial libraries I will not do more than ten percent of my presentations. I repeat, the work is long. And, let's say the truth, the ruling classes (starting with the political class) read little and do not know much. Or entrepreneurs, even the very capable ones, rather than different and more competitive conditions, prefer government incentives where they can work without the higher start up costs that are experienced today. Schools are fundamental, even when they are absent. But when an intellectual such as Galli of the Lodge (Masons) said that in the schools of the South nobody any longer believes in the history of Italian unity as told so far, it sounded an alarm which for me is rather a pleasant admission.
6) What really scares the South of Italy and what does the Italian State fear strongly from a new and particularly active South? Why does it show so much fear of investing in territories which have an obvious potential value?
L.P. The logic of territorial disparities is the same all over the world: a strong part exists because there is a weak part. The North is rich because the South is less rich. Finally we say that the less rich South pays for the increased wealth of the North. So the problem is not that they are afraid to invest in promising areas, instead there is a desire to retain their privilege to the detriment of growth for all, as economic laws have demonstrated and many Nobel prizes for economics confirm. Myopia and suicide.
7) We do not want to reveal too much of "Il Meglio Sud", first not to dampen the gripping suspense in which it tells of the different "Museum of Horrors" in which the South is a victim, because we would like a much broader range of readers read this book and to learn how, really, "The Southern Question" is, in the end, a failing project, intentionally created and wanted not only by those who have previously administered and (not) represented the South of Italy but also by those who still intend Italy to be administered in two (or possibly more) Italies. Despite the exodus to other nations, the southern regions are still highly populated with many towns today with numerous productive examples and new economic realities, that could seriously react in the way that’s described in your book. Why, in your opinion, this does not happen yet? In many other areas, many foreign citizens are aware of this and they are all wondering about it.
L.P. Because the South is not yet aware of its own strength. There are authors according to whom the South should think rationally (and move politically) as one territory and one people. It is not easy and no one wants to imitate the Northern League. But the South should understand its electoral potential, understand that elections are won and lost always in the South. Here are its responsibilities, because of its inability to join his points of excellence, to make a team. Lower development in the South is a national ideological choice to blackmail the South politically. This is the real point.
8) The revelations recounted in your book could trigger some slightly angry reactions from all those ‘characters and performers’ who, in order of appearance, may fear a certain awareness and, therefore, a very possible collective initiative to impose programs and policies that could give birth to, more and more, the natural desire for an effective division of the lands of the South by the Republic. Many of the possible detractors, invent a kind of offence of ‘undermining the state’. Scotland, a small country, slightly larger than the Puglia region and that is currently fighting for its independence and total autonomy from the rest of the UK, with opposition that came surprisingly from its own capital, is naturally rather fearful of losing its advantages and economic hegemony which is heavily dependent on other National connivances. Do you not fear retaliation or blackmail because of your research and all these data you have published?
L.P. As you know, there is a famous fable that says: First they ignore you, then they laugh, then they fight you, then you win. This was from Gandhi, one who was a real connoisseur. This is what happens even for those who revealed the story of the unification of Italy from the side of the losers, or for those who understand that the South continues to be treated as the stepchild of the country. But Gandhi won, and we can not disappoint him. But then the debate between the southern movements (very divided) is still open. But it is not necessary to speak only of separation. There are so many federal forms of autonomy, but not like that of the Northern League which resulted in the slogan "everyone hold on to their own" (as we have seen, they also held on to what belongs to the South). There are macro-regions. Honestly though one must admit that this is a very evanescent debate. And those who are the most affected are the most absent, particularly young people. I repeat: it is not easy.
9) We know we are in front a journalist with a long experience and, by the narrative style of your latest work, irony and shrewdness, the makings of a master. For this reason, we want to provoke and challenge your professional honesty. Let’s talk about Puglia, since we are talking with a DOC Apulian. Lecce, Bari, Taranto, Brindisi and Foggia. Five cities from the same region with very different identities, with specific antagonisms and conflicts that are often misleading. Foggia, even, would like to belong to Campania, because it is forgotten by its own regional administrators. Taranto, for example, a Magna Graecia city with a strong cultural vocation and history, or rather, ultra millennial stories, that potentially could exceed in the future, the tourist flow of Pompeii, if properly administered and relaunched. Pity then Bari and Lecce, cities living quite a lot on university economy; they seem to be the first to hamper the autonomy and academic development of a large city such as Taranto, a town which, in any case, possess beauty and historical and architectural examples that are poorly understood. And then we talk too much about Ilva. If also in other regions of Southern Italy, we are in cities that compete with each other negatively, how could it be possible to hope for a more compact political and social conscience, for the benefit of collective shared actions, when faced with such discrepancies? Is it possible that the will to hold Southern Italy in check could come also from Southern Italy itself, in a much more perverted joint venture with the North?
L.P. That’s why we are talking of Puglias and not just about Puglia. But I would not give too much importance to all this. Florence and Pisa hated each other for centuries. And so elsewhere. But it must be said that Puglia is unanimously perceived as a different South, a more advanced South. Also for all its cities; no one is better than the other. About Taranto, let me say that it is the most beautiful city of Puglia, despite Lecce. But the problem of ILVA has became dominant. Certainly the division is not convenient, especially to the South. But this is all about a country badly united that has grown worse. That is, as we all know, it’s main weakness. At this time, in particular, it lacks a common vision of a future, a project that could unifiy around an idea of tomorrow, a shared desire to be together. This is why, also, so many young people go away, and not certainly only from the South.
10) We would like to play a bit with you. A words association. If we say: Drills, Emergency Refugees, Oil, Environment, North-South, Referendum, Development, Respect. Which other thoughts or words, as quickly as possible, would you spontaneously associate with them?
L.P. North-South always: in front of this, the other problems are truly secondary.
11) "One day, in a few years, in any street of Calabria, Denise, the daughter of a boss, and Federica, the daughter of a mayor, could meet up, talk and even understand each other. That day the 'Ndrangheta will be over” (Carmela Lanzetta, former mayor of Monasterace, Calabria). This is one of the aphorisms mentioned in your book which makes one think; if that day could actually arrive, could it also happen that Denise and Federica will also mobilize together to face the "Mafia Capitale"?
L.P. Of course. Mafias arose historically in the South, but now are making business in the North, including the Capital. And then mafias are universal (and the 'Ndrangheta’ is the largest in the world). The South has suffered from the non-presence of the State. It was certainly not the South that created a united Italy under an agreement that has institutionalized the mafia gangs, as happened with Garibaldi, first in Sicily and then in Naples. After that the gangs have always been present in national life, sometimes fought sometimes used and sometimes left alone. Also the second foundation of Italy (Liberation after the Armistice) took place in a deal with the Mafia in Sicily during the Anglo-American landing. After all this (and more), we need to think about how the Mafia has been identified with the South.
12) All this bad reputation of the South of Italy also comes from misdirected information that some malicious people might describe as distorted information. How much responsibility on a scale of value from 1 to 10 would you give to many of your colleagues who persists in spreading misinformation, noting faults and making defamations, to the detriment of lands that, by any means, are laboriously launching new ideas and models, showing specialised capacities and using innovative resources that offer another reality of the South?
L.P. The big information of the North is part of the strong power of the North, and consistently pursues its own objectives against the South. Less understandable or justifiable are colleagues in the South evidently so misinformed that they are not to be able to inform their own readers properly. But good information means giving a good service not only to the truth but to development as well. Some southern colleagues do not understand that, by not properly representing the South, they take work away from their own children.
13) What does Patruno expect as a journalist of the South, from all who read "The Best South"? For whom, frankly, has Patruno decided to write it?
L.P. Especially for young southerners who understand "yes, we can": that all of them and all of us can succeed in the South despite everything. Yes, we can do it here. The example of so many other young people proves it. And because you understand that only with a Southern ‘we’ can the South go ahead. But the book is also addressed to the rest of Italy because, if they did not know already, they will realize how inattention to the South and the damage already made to the South will do damage throughout Italy and impede Italy’s growth. Of course for many it is a nice surprise to understand that if the South grows the North does not decrease. On the contrary the North will grow only if the South grows as happened in a few moments of the most recent post–war period. But Italy is Italy because it does not understand. Give us a South and we will raise Italy again
14) The Tablet Community would like to say farewell to you with a rather difficult question. Italy is too fragmented and not very united, the European Union is not less (especially now), Greece is being forced out of the EU, the possible impending divorce between Scotland and United Kingdom, the bogeyman of Brexit, of Mr. Cameron. Which way would you choose if the South of Italy decided to be definitely independent from the Centre North? In the end, we're not talking of a small portion of land. So which side would you choose, and, frankly, why?
L.P. These separatisms are ridiculous in a globalized world of big numbers. And Europe should understand that it is a suburb faced with the new centre of the world: the Far East, China, South Korea, India. Epochal declines start like this. And we are still making a war between Upper Rocca and Lower Rocca. Poor stuff.