[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Europe diary: Italian reds
6 April 2006

In his diary this week, BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell reports from Italy on a communist election rally, hears about the globalisation of human happiness and asks whether Italians are right to hate the euro.

The diary is published every Thursday.


The bronze figure of St Oronzo stares down from his tall perch on the "pricks" in the piazza below. That's a pretty free translation of "coglioni" - Berlusconi's latest insult for those daft enough to vote for the left.

A nun next to communist posters
The hammer and sickle was proudly paraded by the communists
Oronzo was fed to the lions by Nero, so perhaps he's keeping a specially watchful eye on the children of Lecce, for the duration of the evening rally being held in the square named after him.

Another Berlusconism of recent days is his warning to his audience that Chinese communists used to boil children to use as fertiliser. He's pulling all the stops out to scare people with the threat of communists in the ruling coalition if the left wins. So I've come to the evening rally in the lovely southern Italian town of Lecce to see the beasts in their lair.


Lecce, right on Italy's heel, has full measure of that special calming magic of Italian towns, with another fine balcony around each corner, a splendid church in each square. But I'm not here for the sightseeing, but to witness the equally baroque splendour of a speech by Italy's last remaining communist governor.

The square is packed. The merely interested are perched on the steps of the facade of St Marco's Church. More committed teenage boys in grungy T-shirts are in the heart of the crowd parading red flags decorated with the hammer and sickle.

A young woman gives up the attempt to wave her red flag and eat a coffee ice cream at the same time and puts the banner down on the ground. The loud speakers blare out Avril Lavigne's song Complicated - not a bad theme tune for Italian politics.


The governor of Puglia, Nichi Vendola, is a soft-faced man in his forties with specs and a tiny gold earring. At first glance you wouldn't think he had much charisma, and you would think his definite lisp would stop him being much of an orator.

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi has tried to demonise the communists

He's gay, and that's a rarity for southern Italian politicians. But he's a man to watch, a spell binder. His voice swoops and soars from a whisper to a yell, he clutches his hands close to his face before they explode into an expansive gesture. With machine gun alliteration he talks of the rape of his region, how he has witnessed a five-year funeral for his country.

As he gets more excited, he jerks himself up on tiptoes, reaching out to the crowd. It is intensely theatrical, but somehow rawer and less knowing than many political performances. But once it is over, he is treated like a rock star. The audience pushes onto the stage, wanting to shake his hand and take a snap. One young man asks him to sign a corner of his red flag.

Amid the scrum I ask him whether Berlusconi is right and Prodi is just a front for the communists.

"Yeah, we'll do anything to get power so we can chase children and boil them" he replies straight-faced. So what can communism mean in this day and age?

"The word," he says, "is redolent of light and dark. The dark was the gulags, the tragi-comic dictatorships. But we have to return to the roots and aim for true globalisation: not that of the market but of human rights and the globalisation of human happiness."

Perhaps Italian communism is easier with ends than means.


In the region's biggest city, Bari, I am in the neat and compact home of a worker at a furniture factory. Half the people he used to work with have been laid off, because of competition with China.

Communist leaflet outside fruit stall
Communists and others complain the euro has pushed up prices
Vito Borgia is very proud of his wife's cooking. Chiara, laying the table with plates of ham and cheese, says she's not only a good cook but she knows how to make ends meet at the end of the month: "You have to these days."

Many Italians are feeling the pinch. I'm curious to know if they blame Berlusconi. They don't like him, but blame the euro, and become voluble when I ask them if Italy should withdraw from it. They are not alone: just about everyone I meet in Italy detests the euro and says it is why prices go up, but wages don't. When it was introduced there were moans in most parts of Europe, but I haven't heard many in my eight months travelling around.

In Austria I've heard a bit, but that's linked to a general worry about the EU. Here, it's the currency pure and simple. I suspect economists would say it is because Italy can no longer go for the easy option of devaluation. But do you think Italians are right to hate the single currency?

Please send us your comments on issues raised in the diary, using the postform below.

It's very simple: the EU has to stop expanding! What do we in Western Europe have in common with Ukraine, Romania or... Turkey? If the EU wants its citizens to feel 'European' there has to be a sort of common identity. But when too many countries join, there won't be a common identity anymore. Where are the ultimate borders of the EU? Nobody knows... and that's killing the EU.
Dennis Vandamme, Brussels, Belgium

No wonder the Italians dont like the euro. It is the first time they have to follow strict rules to control the currency's value.Their normal practice of spending and devaluing does not fit.
Hans Roskott, Bromley

Italy has become the flog horse of Europe since the inception of the euro. Prices have gone up and upturned smiles have gone down! I say we stop blaming the shop vendors and the government and withdraw wholeheartedly form the Capitalist regime run by the Zealots and mercenaries of the EU who seek for nothing short of world domination and assimilation into an evergrowing faceless organisation of fat cats!
Guissepe Brassiere, London

What amazes me is not that Mr Berlusconi will lose the elections; what amazes me is that a very large minority of my fellow Italians will vote for him regardless of the complete and utter shambles he reduced their country into.

I left Italy before he was elected, in 2000, and every time I've gone back I've seen the situation worsen, every time something else had gone down the drain, every time some everyday item in the supermarket became too expensive for the average family's shopping - and while the euro has, in some small part, contributed, the ugly truth is that the Italian middle class has been impoverished by the mismanagement of the economy and by the lack of controls over the wild price rises subsequent to the introduction of the euro (why didn't prices double and triple in France and Germany?)
Eugenio Mastroviti, London

Excellent article. It really captures what I've seen. As an American in the Italian South I've found this election very interesting and I can't wait to see the result, or more importantly the "improvements" that the winner will make. Growing up I was told that communists were "the great evil" and now some of my best friends are communists and I'm living in region being run by a gay communist. I love scaring the people back home with that. Most people just want things to improve like in the US or anywhere in the world.
Jeff, Brindisi, Puglia

Beg to differ with Kym Overy's translation. When referring to people it can only mean 'a foolish person'. The closest English equivalent starts with 'w' and ends in 'r'. She may be confusing 'avere coglioni' ("to have testicles")... meaning 'daring or brave'. Berlusconi emphatically did not use it in that context. The old English word 'cullions' shares the same root.
Paul Tout, Trieste

Blatant profiteering in the Italian retail sector following the introduction of the euro is neither the fault of the euro currency nor Prodi, but the lack of effective government control measures. The same effect has not been evident in other 'euro' countries.
Richard, Bologna, Italy

Beg to differ with Kym Overy's translation. When referring to people it can only mean 'a foolish person'. The closest English equivalent starts with 'w' and ends in 'r'. She may be confusing 'avere coglioni' ("to have testicles")... meaning 'daring or brave'. Berlusconi emphatically did not use it in that context. The old English word 'cullions' shares the same root.
Paul Tout, Trieste

The outrageous incompetence of Berlusconi and his collegues was and is simply stunning. They left Italy on its own during the economical transition from lira to euro, leaving anybody free to do what they wanted with prices. My own barber for example in a week doubled his pricelist... are we nuts? Aware people in Italy are really scared to end up like Argentina.
Piero, Verona, Italy

Somebody likes it hot - the euro, that is. It's been our anchor in times of rising deficit (108%), stagnant development and diminishing returns; it may actually keep us from going through our very own Argentina. Had the lira kept going, this country would have been in deep trouble. Still, people are feeling at a disavantage for a reason - the switchover was foolishly overlooked by Mr B's government, saddling us with increased prices and cutting down on wages and lifestyle.
Dark Schneider, Torino, Italy

Living in Italy during the election period, you can't help but get involved. Having never really been interested in British politics, it feels like another planet here. I find myself actively questioning people on their views, politicians' motives and if they agree and, well, the ignorance is astounding. A lot of people are well-informed but the majority are bowing to the spiel that Berlusconi vomits. He's a salesman, and evidently a very good one. As Prodi challenged Berlusconi: "apparire o essere", ('seem to be' or 'be'), and I just hope that people can see past the hair plugs and face-lifts.
Buffy Martin, Rome, Italy, but originally from Edinburgh, Scotland

I have only a simple question to whoever want to vote Prodi...... How you think will grow our beloved country in the hands of a man that had bankrupt every company he had been head of? And I think that few people remember that has been Prodi that brought Italy in the Euro, making every single Italian paying for it? May the best man win.... but stop denigrating Berlusconi, and try to remember that Prodi decision to import all the gas from Russia had brought Italy on the verge of being with no energy at all.
Silvia, St Albans, UK

The truth is that when the Euro was introduced, shopkeepers big and small, companies, chain stores, they all thought it would be a great idea to transpose the old prices in Lire into exactly the same prices in Euros, well knowing that any item or service would then cost double, literally. E.g.: a pair of shoes that used to cost 60.000 Lire ended up costing 60 Euros, the problem is that 60 Euros are really worth 120.000 Lire. We Italians historically have a knack for smelling a good business and take advantage of it, we like to think that we are very clever as a general rule... and that was an ironic comment on my part. I fail to see how clever it may ever be to drag a Country down to its knees.
Margherita Donati, Milan, Italy

Many economists have said that the Euro and the ECB's Stability and Growth pact are straijackets that countries like Italy and Greece simply cannot handle. To pretend to apply the same monetary policy to countries as different as Germany, France, Portugal, Greece and Italy was simply a bad idea to begin with. If "international currency speculators" had "wiped out" the Lira, maybe Italy's exports would still be competitive. I think the average Italian is up to something and is quite right to blame the Euro for his or her troubles. Europeans need to stop getting so defensive every time someone dares to criticise anything with the prefix "euro-" on it. "Errare humanum est", even if you are the European Union.
Sebastian, Hannover, Germany

Firstly, Italians should blame the numerous crooks among them who used the Euro change-over to increase prices. It never ceases to amaze me that nearly everybody tries to cheat on you in Italy the moment they realise that you are a foreigner. Secondly, Italians should imagine what would have happened to the Lira in the last three or four years. With an economy built on beautiful but unsophisticated products, with many under-capitalised small businesses and with governance that is just a joke, the international currency speculators would have wiped out the Lira. The Euro has saved the Italians from the consequences of their own incompetence. But I guess it is so much easier to blame Europe than be honest with yourself.
Ronald Vopel, Brussels, Belgium

No, we are definitely not right to hate the single currency. One thing that stands particularly on my nerves is the typically Italian, and extremely widespread, habit of thinking of street prices in "vecchie lire", "the old liras". We've got the Euro, and we must think in Euro-values. It's no use moaning on a pair of jeans costing twice as much they did in Lire. It is true, though, that the vast majority of the retail sector has simply equated 1000 Lire with 1 Euro. No one has guarded against that, and, as a result, Italians have far less spending power. The retail sector, of course, blames the distributors and the middlemen, but it's sheer folly to even think to go back to the Lira. It feels strange and wonderfully simple to go almost anywhere in Europe and use just one currency. It makes you feel as if you really are just one big country. That is where I want to live. Not in a place where someone despises my political and culinary habits.
Sacha Padovani, Siena, Italy

The fact is that joining the single currency has been positive for italian economy. With a public debt of 108% of our GDP, interests paid on it are much lower now and it has allowed my country to keep deficits low. We shouldn't forget that at the time the Prodi government managed to keep deficit under the 3% imposed by the Maastricht Treaty. What has not been done after, is the monitoring of prices that should have been carried out by the Berlusconi government that took office in 2001. Without implementing this control, which has been done in other countries who joined the euro currency, dealers, shopkeepers were free to rise prices without any rule. That has pushed up inflation without a similar rise in salaries and wages. I think it's pure demagogy blaming the left of joining the single currency which has been a real success and has been carried out by the Prodi government. I think the reason of stagnant economy is that we can no longer devaluate the currency to boost exportations as we were used to do in the past.The globalisation of the markets and the increased competition should push the government to decrease the cost of labour, which is extremely high in Italy, and to help industries to spend more in R&D in order to offer better products. The poor results in economy are not linked to the Euro currency but to the incompetence of this government.
Marco F, Bologna, Italy

Well, if the day before the introduction of the Euro a pizza costed 5.000 LIT and the day after 5 Euro instead of 2.6 Euro, I would not really blame the Euro but who sells the pizza and who allows him to raise the price. You could also say that the market would control it, but if they all raised the price, you cannot choose to go to a cheaper pizzeria...
Lorenzo, Ghent, Belgium

dear Mark Mardell, I appreciated your diary page on my Country, I only regret not knowing you were to come down here, these days. It would have given me immense pleasure to meet you and have a talk about all this tragic-comic situation we are in. Believe me, all the way they are leading their election rally, is only the surface of deep black vacuum abyss of the Italian society. People support political parties as football teams, no matter what they say. I am really disappointed for this Country.
giulio, bari, italy

Not all Italians hate euro. I can feel the "crisi", but I don't think euro should be blamed.
Michele, Trieste, Italy

Being a "thinking" Italian (or if you want a "pricky" one, as our very clever Prime Minister described me and about half of Italy's population) I do not think for a second that we should go back to the Lira or that Italians hate the single currency. You have to understand Italian culture and way of saying things to understand the comment: the "hate" for the euro is given by the fact that since the euro was introduced, Italian life had a dramatic change for the worse...due to the right-wing government. Try and ask Italians what they think about the euro in 5 years' time, after the left will have carried the country forward. PS: do not forget all the media are in the hands of Berlusconi and if they say something, people are going to hear it, aren't they??
Sara, Rome, Italy

As an Italian living abroad, I hate the fact that what Mr Berlusconi says is considered the thoughts and opinions of all Italians. The other day someone asked me if I believed the communists actually boiled their children. As much as you may not like the guy, he has brought stability to a very complicated and sometimes ridiculous political system. The right wing coallition have made significant changes to employment in the south, and eased the poor conditions for pensioners. However alot more needs to be done, and whether a new government does it or the same one is given another chance, it doesn' matter as long as something is done.
Gino De Blasio, Manchester, UK

Just a quick translation note on the term coglioni. The literal way of translating comes out nearest as 'person with big balls', and it can be used in an affectionate way to suggest that a person is daring or brave. But in other contexts, such as in Berlusconi's speech, it has negative conotations and generally is understood to mean that a person is self-serving, selfish and takes advantage of others.
kym overy, Leicester

The Italians should vent their anger with those that raise prices under the cloak of the euro currency. They could exercise their purchase power by shopping wisely.
joseph cashio, London, England

Blaming the euro for the rise in prices was a tactic by this useless goverment of ours, because nothing that happens in italy is the government's fault, it's always something else, the euro, the communists,the chinese,the french,...& the list is endless....what about the role of the government to control that companies didnt take adavantage? cant wait for this elections to be over...it's so embarassing to see your prime minister behave like that...
Tiziana, Brescia, Italy

The left in Italy talks much but on the whole does little besides tax business into non exisistance. The President of Puglia has done much since he got into office and done so in the position of not having his party in power behind him. As far as the Euro is concerned. Italian business and corparations used loop holes in the law bringing the Euro in to raise prices and keep wages down in doing so creating great hardship in the country and damaging their own market by giving a open door to foriegn and nero (read blackmarket) items to be easily sold and prefered as a money saving measure. But then I vote here and live here and have an investment to see it grow and develop well.
Michael Marino, Lecce, Italy

Your E-mail address
Town & Country
Phone number (optional):

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.


Mark Mardell Mardell's Euroblog
The Europe Diary is now a Euroblog - click here for the latest post





Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific