Southern Italy 2007: How to Perpetuate Myths, Misconception, and Plain Errors. A Comment to the Report of CSIS «Looking to 2007: Italy times Two».

by Carmine Colacino©

The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Europe Program, publishes studies aiming at stimulating «discussion on issues of significant importance to Europe and US interests in Europe, and to transatlantic and intra-European relations.»

In particular, as the European Union nears its 50th anniversary, a series of occasional studies on some of its member states have been prepared, the one dealing with Italy is titled: LOOKING TO 2007: ITALY TIMES TWO, written by Stanton H. Burnett with Stefano Vaccara.

The full text can be obtained on the Institute's web site, as a .pdf file (The Program Acrobat Reader is needed to read it), it can also be read on our site (Italy 2007).

Other reports deal with Spain, Germany, France , and Britain . A report has also been prepared referring to the whole of Europe (Europe-2007: From Nation-States to Member States, by Simon Serfaty). All reports are available from the CSIS web site.

I will deal here on the report about Italy particularly, to show the authors' analyses are biased by a northern Italian (colonial) perspective, besides, a lack of understanding of Italian History of the past century and a half, as well as more recent periods, it also apparent. The general report (Europe 2007) also deals briefly with southern Italy, unfortunately, with the same type of bias of the report dedicated to Italy.


The first part is highly critical and negative about southern Italy's possibilities to fill up the (widening) gap with the North (and the rest of Europe), what is most disturbing, however, is that most statements are quite anecdotal, reporting usual stereotypes, and based on very limited information. The authors state that southern Italy (we assume including the regions of the Mezzogiorno, from Abruzzi to Calabria, more or less what used to be the continental part of the Two Sicilies), by itself, would have a GDP below that of Greece. Interesting news, if we consider that southern Italy is larger than Greece, has more people, and has probably more resources. Moreover, the dependency of southern regions vis à vis northern "self-sufficient" regions is also increasing. The unwillingness of Rome to produce an effective federalism is therefore fueling the will of the "good" northern separatists (as opposed to the "racist" ones) of not coexisting "with the South and its reputedly dishonest, slothful, and inferior citizens." Correctly, the authors point out that this idea of northern superiority has survived the Tangentopoli (Bribesville) scandals, centered mainly in the north.

At this point, surprisingly, the authors state: "Why there are two Italies need not to detain us in the context of this paper." They report, however, some very peculiar views by the historian Federico Chabod (the differences are due to the allied occupation - more than eighteen months - of southern Italy in W.W.II), or Robert Putnam's controversial and questionable, "Making Democracy Work" (everything was determined one-thousand years ago in the Middle Ages, the South being a centralized State under Norman-Swabian rule, and the North instead basically independent city communes), even Lampedusa is cited.

Several statements from Spencer M. Di Scala's "Italy. From Revolution to Republic. 1700 to present"are also reported (A book with questionable claims, factual errors, and omissions), again the problem apparently began before "unity". Di Scala, however, fails to explain convincingly why southerners began to emigrate only after 1870. He pretends the problem was an increase in population, and what about, instead, the land usurpation and end of civic land-uses after 1860? What about the protection of (inefficient) northern industry (tariff war of 1888 with France), to the detriment of southern agricultural exports?

The statement: "Industrial growth in the nineteenth century generally occurred in areas which had also rich agricultural production, thus leaving the South behind the North in industrialization as well" (p.5) is misleading. Southern Agricultural products saved the "new" Italy from bankrupcy, the tariff war (to protect inefficient northern industry) in 1888 though, curtailed southern agricultural sector expansion (this notwithstanding, until the 1950s the major export of Italy was citrus fruits). So it appears the South was willingly left behind, because of "united" Italy explicit policies. They cite Di Scala "... the southern problem has dragged down down the entire country ever since", in the same page, however, few lines above, Di Scala states the southern problems was also the result of government policies.

Burnett and Vaccara state (p. 5) :

According to Di Scala (the only history book they ever cite), though, "The dualistic nature of Italian Society and its economy can be explained by the complex interaction of history, the international agricultural crisis from 1880 to 1895, and governmental policies." [our italics] . Burnett and Vaccara insist, instead, on more vague, and unsupported, characteristics (ability to absorb change, or to resist it)

It is peculiar to notice how each of the references chosen by the authors accurately avoid to cite, or minimize, the major event in southern Italy's History, i.e., the loss of its independence in 1860, its economic consequences, the civil war that followed (dubbed "brigantaggio"), and the millions of southerners that had to emigrate afterwards. I am sure no serious analysis of a former colonized country would skip the colonial period (not yet over in southern Italy, moreover), but regarding southern Italy that is what happens. The loss of independence is ignored, while the problems, the gap, everything is moved to some other moment in time, in the more or less distant past, if not referred to southern Italy's backwardness, slothness, inferiority, etc. etc.

This is very disappointing, the authors, I suppose, are "experts" in their fields, still, they accept uncritically old stereotypes. This is even less acceptable nowadays, when several good books in English have been published on the subject (among them: J. Schneider's "Italy's 'Southern Question', Orientalism in One Country"; R. Lumelys & J. Morris' "The New History of the Italian South"; D. Forgacs & R. Lumley's: "Italian Cultural Studies: An Introduction"; The Chapter about Italy in P. Gran's "Beyond Eurocentrism"; and several others).

The authors state, citing (apparently incorrectly, as I couldn't find the statement on the page indicated) Di Scala (p. 148): "At the turn of the Century, fewer than 25 percent of the citizens of the South could read Italian, a product of the combination of low literacy and the prevalence of dialects so distinct that Italians considered them to be different languages" [our italics]. It doesn't occur to them those people did actually spoke a different language, and were obliged to learn another different language. Just like, for instance, people from England would be suddenly obliged to learn, say, Dutch, taught to them in Dutch, moreover. On the page they indicate, however, Di Scale writes, "... the South, including the islands and part of the Center, still had an illiteracy rate above 50 percent in 1901." (Di Scala p.148), which appears to contradict Burnett and Vaccara's citation (75% as opposed to 50% illiteracy rate).

They state also

They continue reporting data from the 1970s and 1980s when regional governments in Sicily employed more people than the government of the Federal Republic of Germany.

You do not need to be an expert to know why this has happened (and not only in Sicily). It was done at purpose, to create a privileged middle class, with salaries comparable to those of northern Italy (in an area whose average salaries are about half of those) as a means of social control, and to "buy" their allegiance to the State.

Also, to attribute the origin of organized crime to "nobles" is probably right, but the authors fail to notice its use by Italian governments (liberal, fascist, republican) as a means of territorial control, with heavy links to politics.

Starting on page 8 several well knows data about the demographic situation of Italy are indicated, as well as a few more stereotyped comments about southern Italians' "attitudes". More interestingly at the end of page 10 it is stated that it is likely that "the Interior Ministry in any future Center-Left governments will be in the hands of a personality with a strong commitment to human rights and humane treatment, even of illegals, ...." [Our italics]. Hopefully, the authors do not mean to imply that with illegals immigrants inhumane treatment has to be used. Later on is commented that AN's (Alleanza Nazionale , a right-wing party) leadership has avoided to exploit racism due to immigration to try to get more votes. This is of course superseded by the fact that presently (March 2000) it is Bossi's Lega Nord, and Berlusconi's Forza Italia, who are trying to exploit racism towards immigrants to get more votes.


(to be continued)