I have just finished reading Roberto Saviano’s My Italians: True Stories of Crime and Courage. A hugely redeeming yet desperately saddening book by a master of investigative journalism.
I read books such as this – and The Dark Heart of Italy and Illustrious Cadavers (and even Barzini’s comprehensive yet slightly sentimentalised The Italians) with a bitter sweet sensibility.
It is a sensibility born of being someone who, though bred and raised in England, is by blood pretty much wholly Italian with a smattering of Yar French – a product of the Piedmontese and Ligurian bloodlines that shaped me.
I am therefore still firmly attached to Italy, the umbilical cord un-cut. I love Italy. Which is why I feel a sense of creeping shame, sometimes frustration and sometimes rage at the dreadful toxicity, cruelty and self-serving nature of some of its leaders and its population.
These books I have mentioned focus on the medieval nature of Italy’s power structures, the darkness of its feudal and criminal heart, and the complicity of the people who are either too scared to act against it, or too indifferent to others to care. Something that until recently had seemed another country to how we live in the UK.
As I explained to someone a few days ago, Italy is more than corrupt. It is Beyond Corruption. My belief is that this issue arises because Italy is an old world culture – its modern civic and political infrastructure is built upon ancient foundations.
This has given the opportunists crooks and toxic tribes amongst its people over 2000 years to explore and exploit the structures of bureaucracy and power – studying their shifts and flaws – inveigling themselves but more importantly inveigling their nature, intention, motivation and desire – building it into the structure and the fabric of Italy.
Rome and its Pax Romana, administrated via favour, tax and violence, the centuries old corrupted relationship between Papal church and State, the internecine wars of the Ducalities and Principalities – the birth of the chiaroscuro of Diplomacy – a truly dark and light art – in the era of the Gonzaga and Sforzas. Every one of them an opportunity for the shadiest and most self interested to set their chair at the table and systemically expand their influence and network.
In Il Gattopardo, Tancredi states this simple tenet – that ‘To remain the same, everything must change’ – a tenet that underwrites Sicilian Culture: riven, over run and over lorded so often by so many. To maintain real power and status, you must offer the illusion of change as the fuel of advancement – while behind the scenes securing even faster the immovable truth of who rules. This is equally true to wider Italy.
These books of the dark heart of Italy project Italian society as a Commedia Dell’Arte – a society populated by slippery clowns, tortured psychopaths, stooges and idiots. The characters that populate the stage of this bizarre human theatre and their painted grins always hiding a darker truth. They seem to prove the rule.
And the courage of the people who write them should not be underestimated, given the forces they are more than likely to unleash in doing so – especially those of the likes of Saviano.
He has rightly pointed out that his books are dangerous to the dark forces buried into the earth of Italian society because he does not take the pose of an academic distant observer. He speaks as someone who loves his country and its people, who writes as one of them, telling real stories, stories that join the dots and point fingers. His books make people not only angry about those that mock them but also names names, to create a focus for the people’s anger.
We need more of these books, books that real people read, not just the academics and the Demi Monde. But we need them to be not just of Italy.
The UK is the place where I was born and bred. And it has my heart and my loyalty. But it is smug and complacent when it comes the darker side of human nature. Simply put, our Norman-Saxon culture is written through with complacency and smugness.
Couldn’t happen here.
We still act as if this blight of crookery – the gangsters, the traffickers, the double dealers, the pimps and the tyrants – are all another country. If one is to believe the golden Norman courtly myth, none are home grown but hark from across the channel, travelled up from the Mediterranean and the Levant, the Arabic traders and merchants, or across the steppes and along the silk road.
But recent events have shown that the dark hearted clowns of Italy are merely the pre shock of a wider truth.
Berlusconi was for a me a cartoon version of a rather frightening, avaricious and problematic pseudo political creature – that of the trickster business man riddled with deceits and back room plays holding up the shining glow of ‘business’ as an alternative to the ‘old political guard’ – rallying the people away from the traditional self-serving political class and towards a golden future of a country run like a company. And who better to do that than a ‘successful’ businessman.
The repulsion I feel for people like Berlusconi, and the way he has been trumpeted in Italy and fawned on puts a rip in my soul – and rents my passion and love for a country that shaped beautiful memories and a sense of belonging.
All I could do was watch from a distance and sigh and wonder why a majority could fall for such idiocy and blatant self-interest. But the problem with the Clown and his burlesque is that he takes your eyes off what is going on around him, the tendrils at work in every corner. The clown is also the master of obfuscation.
The redemption in Saviano’s book is part philosophy and principle – but it mainly points to the courage of a rare few people and their compulsion to act against these dark creatures– and how these creatures in turn despoil the names and destroy the lives or if needs be, snuff out the people brave enough to do so.
BUT as Trump and Farage have demonstrated more recently – until the professional political class stop talking to themselves and paying lip service to the people and their very real trials and tribulations – the chancers and the tricksters like Berlusconi and Trump – with their Boy made good, one of the people masquerade will win turnaround votes and shock nations.
There is a stark similarity between the Italian communities and the dynamic of their relationships with the Mafia, Camorra and Ndrangheta criminal families featured in Saviano’s book and those who vote for people like Berlusconi and Trump.
By voting for the ‘shiny’ successful businessmen of politics and their political stooges we create a contract between us and them that says ‘do what you need to do’ – just don’t shove it in my face.
Yes, people are scared. We live in very volatile times. Yes, the professional political classes have lost the trust of the people. But we need to be wary of what we think we’re buying with the others. And more importantly we need to be held accountable for what gets done in their and our name.
We have to take responsibility for unacceptable acts inflicted on innocent people under the guise of the politics we collectively support.
Every BREXITEER who has dismissed or not recognised the random acts of violence and rise in hate crimes directly attributable to their cause and not acted against the perpetrators, or make excuses for or exceptions of them are saying Do This In My Name.
How ironic that it is usually these people who are the first to question and pillory an Imam for not immediately damning and casting out the terrorists and hate peddlers in the midst of their communities – and we damn them with charges of complicity and harbouring.
The truth is, with the likes of Berlusconi and Trump and to a far lesser degree Farage, there is a collateral damage strategy being condoned here as part of a Necessary Act – like those that excuse the taking out the odd hospital while bombing an I.S. enclave.
Some people in post BREXIT post TRUMP world are going to ‘get it’ – they are going to be that acceptable collateral damage that happens when people want to bring about seismic change.
This is the simple human truth of the contracts we are happy to make to secure our immediate interest.
This culpable relationship is little different to the nature of the relationship that existed between the Krays and the East End community they called home. Boys done good. Smart. Nice clothes. Money. Businessmen. And they took care of their own.
“You could walk the streets when the Krays ran things around here.”
“They loved their mum.”
”Things were better then.”
You certainly could walk the streets. They certainly did love their Mum. And they also terrorised people and unleashed a particular and sadistic rule of thumb on all about them – but while they do it to others like them – and it didn’t touch the edges of ordinary people’s every day, so be it. It is acceptable.
The logic goes – If I am afraid, up against it and feeling vulnerable I will support the scariest creature who claims to act in my interests – at any cost, even that of my personal liberty and pride – and some collateral damage on the way.
Collateral Damage is so often in these cases a euphemism for human suffering and pain. Destitution. Cruelty. Fear-mongering. Bullying. Threats. And often, death.
As I have said before, the ‘people’s vote’ has on many occasions throughout history unleashed tyrannies to which they happily ascribe if the tyrant protects their interest. We’re not talking news here.
As we have seen, there seems little to separate the sensibilities that exist between marginalised communities and the gangs and criminal networks that thrive amongst them – and ultimately the kinds of politician they will support if they are provoked into having to make a political ‘point’.
The key word in the previous paragraph is the words ‘seems’. Smudging the line between the desires, integrity, morals and motivations of the ordinary person and that of the political trickster the shark and the gangster is a purposeful strategy.
This is a reoccurring theme in Saviano’s book. The blurring of the distinction between those who are compromised and those who are doing the compromising. To draw everyone into a web of complicity is to have to make them like you, you like them. You have to have created a sense of ‘We’.
That is how you get people to accept the Collateral Damage and the toxic underside of what you’re doing. By removing the vantage of morality or judgement.
To accept the toxic contract between ourselves and those who would twist the world in their interests while pretending to support us, the common people – to find this state of affairs ‘acceptable’ and to be complicit in their existence, we have to have decided and accepted that everyone is broadly the same – and that there is little difference between the self-interest of a person looking for a leg up into a job in hard times and the nature of the ‘fixer’ and the ‘spiv’ – the politician gangster or local face – who can make it happen for that person through their contacts and influence.
Saviano states that to not be complicit, we must first recognise and reject the idea that we are all the same in the end – flawed human beings who will do bad things in extenuating circumstance – for example, due to personal duress, war or extreme poverty.
We are not the same. We do not all take the slippery road – to crime, or graft, or the inflicting of human pain and misery on others in pursuit of our own gain. However hard it becomes for some people. This is not the only answer. Just one answer chosen by a certain kind of person or group.
He sets out that the greatest power we have is to say I am different. We are different. We are flawed perhaps and human. But we are not like these people. And never will be.
We will not accept that what they do is acceptable in itself or as part of greater transformation strategy.
So in the UK when we see the dark materials of BREXIT played out in acts such as the one where a Polish worker is beaten to death, we have to say I am different. I am not complicit with the people who do this. I will not hide from them. Or gift them my silence – a soundless ‘understanding’ of why they do what they do to others under the guise of defending the culture or their nation. I reject that ugly contract of collateral damage for better.
It also requires us to join the dots. To see how things interrelate and intertwine. How one act can lead to another. It demands that we interrogate how things connect – the levers and pulleys of how our decisions and those of the leaders we support play out. Not just short-term, conveniently useful snap-shots that allow us all to turn back to our own little bubble.
Jo Cox was killed by a man shouting Britain First – a man fired by the madness of the political zealot. But even here the old adage of be careful what you wish for and careful who you Vote for comes to the surface – both as cause and effect.
The key word here is ‘madness’. The ‘insane act’ of the political or religious activist, terrorist or assassin is rooted not in their belief systems but in how their existing mental condition or illness warps or allows beliefs to be twisted to acts of callous barbarity and murder.
In that way Jo Cox’s death just may also be attributable to a culture and society we choose to lobby, support and vote for. And the policies they put in place in our name.
Why? Because the fundamental flaw in how we identify and manage mental health issues in the UK. The systems in place to manage extreme mental illness are simply not fit for purpose – and they are more than less likely to leave people like Thomas Mair unchecked, un cared for and at large.
The desperate state of Mental Care in the UK can be traced back to a very particular point in time.
Jo Cox’s death is not only attached to a current populist zealotry but also by a long thread to a populist Tory movement that thrived in this country for over a decade and whom the new noisy BREXITEERS hark back to – a Tory movement that put some very anti-social policies in place.
Care in The Community began with the best intentions, removing people from the crumbling victorian institutions commonly known to offer substandard and sometimes subhuman care for their ‘inmates’.
But in the hands of the administrators it dies the death of a thousand cuts and for some it is now viewed as an utter abdication of responsibility by the people who govern us for those in our communities blighted by mental health.
It was was undertaken by a populist Prime Minister who was pro Britain and all about backbone and making one’s own opportunities – and being for the simple people of Britain.
But she also demonstrated the trait that accompanies this self-made mentality – a dismissive dislike or sometimes explicit repulsion towards those who are weak and flawed.
Let their families take care of them. Let them be cared for in the hearts of their community. It’s a better way.
Agreed, as long as government delivers the support systems and funding it promises to enable those families and communities to take back responsibility from the state. The idea of letting us return to a time when we take care of our own, intimately, with all the human discomfort that comes with it is laudable.
But the underlying systems that were meant to support that belief and the communities living it out were systematically diminished and dismantled within a matter of years – leaving the mentally ill to stalk like the dead through their communities, barely held in place by the kindness of strangers and an overstretched social system.
Populists governments have a tendency to not keep their promises if the promises do not serve their evolving agenda.
The reoccurring theme of the mentally ill and vulnerable amongst us struggling and often failing to avoid violent encounter, drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution and dereliction is there for all to see.
And it just gets worse. Mental Health care for the Young is on its knees – at crisis point. In a hyper connected accelerating world, the fragile amongst our young and old will suffer and we have no safety net for them.
All roads as they say lead to Rome. We are the cause of the policies our elected government enact. Unless we stand up and say otherwise. In some quarters the silence is still deafening.
Those whom we elect to run our countries and the webs of interest and shadier nature of those who support them throws a long shadow that we rarely take any responsibility for.
In Saviano’s book a similar point is made. He tells a story of Aquila, the university town, and of the young people who died when the earthquake struck. The building in which they died collapsed because it was found to be shoddily built with watery cement and insufficient structural integrity and no screening for earthquake resilience in a region renowned for tremors of varying magnitude. The local politicians weep and despair at the loss of life. The Christian Democrats roar at the iniquity. But they are complicit in awarding the crooked contracts that built the building that killed their young people. They have to take responsibility for the cause.
On one last point, at the Hay Festival this year Saviano stated that if we want to know the capital of global financial corruption, look to the City Of London and the UK.*
“Ninety per cent of the owners of capital in London have their headquarters offshore”
“Jersey and the Caymans are the access gates to criminal capital in Europe and the UK is the country that allows it. That is why it is important, why it is so crucial for me to talk to you because I want to say: this is about you, this is about your life, this is about your government.”
He makes a direct link between ordinary people of Britain and the environment and opportunity our political class create in our name.
So, does it prove what the BREXITEERS have been saying all along? That the southern biased political elites have little interest in the rest of the country and its woes, blinded as they are by London and its skyward ascent.
Does it prove that the City of London and its powerful political friends are a self-interested gold-plated throng throwing us to the dogs? – allowing as they do the foreign stain of corruption and criminality to seep across our borders through their personal avarice and their pursuit of neo-liberal financial policies and the removal of regulation to enable them?
What is interesting is what Saviano went on to say. He ventured that leaving the EU would in fact undermine joint attempts to fight illegal economies but removing the bigger picture.
“Leaving the EU means allowing the Qatari societies, the Mexican cartels, the Russia Mafia to gain even more power,”
“We have proof, we have evidence. Today, the criminal economy is bigger than the legal economy. Drug trafficking eclipses the revenue of oil firms. Cocaine is a £300bn-a-year business. Criminal capitalism is capitalism without rules. Mafia and organised crime does not abide by the rule of law – and most financial companies who reside offshore are exactly the same.”
Saviano pointed to the fact HSBC had paid $1.9bn in fines to the US government for financial irregularities in dealing with money that had come from cartels.
I find it interesting that Saviano has also become a Distant Son to Italy. He has been put behind glass, an observer now. His armed guards and two bullet proof cars proof that he manages to speak to the heart of the matter. Otherwise the mob would not mark him for death and the politicians would not publicaly diminish and de-legitimize him.
We need to grow up in the UK. And start to see what is really going on in our midst. This is not about being anti Tory, anti Farage, anti Money or anti Business. This is about being pro-people.
There are many, many people in the UK who are both successful and soulful, who ‘give a chuff’ as one such person said to me recently – people untouched and uninterested in the gilded cage of super money and its slippery bedfellows.
Surely that is good. Thriving does not need to equate to graft and back handers and crooks as it now so often invariably does in Italy.
BUT I worry that the more we skate over the issue -seeing a BREXIT vote as job done – and the more we ignore the issues in our society, the greater the chance that we will breed the opportunity for a situation like the one Saviano refers to to thrive and survive unbothered and untouched.
I worry that – though only measured in hundreds and not thousands of years – the administrative infrastructure and the increasing interrelatedness and interweaving of the political and capital classes, both socially, culturally but most importantly systemically in the UK will create a web of complex self-interest similar to the one in Italy – one which becomes increasingly in thrall to and manipulated by the staggering scale of criminal money washing through its coffers.
It may be a wholly anecdotal assertion when I say that the bed-fellows nature of ugly money is an absolute truth but I challenge anyone to go to a Top Tier art happening in London’s Hanover Square and not find the elite gathering swollen by a number of Asian, Russian, European and Middle Eastern ‘businessmen’, and their super banker and fund trader friends, and the Politicians and Influencers who are party to their cause.
The more that the gap between the haves and have nots visibly and palpably grows, the angrier the people will become. And the more disenfranchised and disenchanted they will get until eventually, in extremis, people will look in greater and greater numbers to make those toxic contracts, bury their heads and turn a blind eye – and we will all be the worse off for it.
SOURCE: Roberto Saviano. London is heart of Global Financial Corruption. The Guardian On Line. Dan Carrier. May 2016