Too much hay

20120406051636_paglia via


Tuscany, December 21

A quick update on Italy. The Pitchforks were much hyped, but fizzled fast. During the first few days, populist leaders tried to hop on the train. Beppe Grillo, the comedian opposition leader even called for a coup d’etat by the armed forces. Old lion Berlusconi was set to meet representatives of the pitchfork mob, but backed down just in time.
The uprising against a vote of confidence for the government was to be a pitchfork ‘march on rome’. The historical echo of Mussolini’s takeover of power in 1922 was one of the many issues that divided the spirits. Identity crisis hit fast. A photo in the papers of a presumed pitchfork leader driving off in a second hand Jaguar only helped to aggravate the crisis. Some people went to Rome anyway, not for a march, but for a sit-in. It was a major flop.

“Sure they have all reasons of the world to protest, but come on, I have to go to work, pick up the kids, do groceries, etc.” (Woman at a pitchfork roadblock).

Pitchfork right flank. Via

Pitchfork right flank. Via


Forks and Torches

Sicily. Via corriereinformazione

Tuscany, December 10.

Dear people,

This time it took me by surprise. While all eyes are on the ‘eurorevolution’ in Ukraine, yesterday Italy was swept by a sudden outburst of civil unrest. The so-called ‘pitchfork’ movement brought people to the streets all over the country. There were heavy clashes with police in Turin.

Clashes in Turin via Ansa.

Clashes in Turin via Ansa.

So what is this movement? Who is behind it? What do they want? It’s hard to tell, because it seems to be very heterogeneous.

The movement was started by Sicilian farmers two years ago, it gained support by truck drivers, and lately by the impoverished middle class. In general, there is a growing feeling of discontent with the government, with austerity measures, with high taxes, the euro, and with unfair competition from chain stores and cheap Chinese products. Yesterday, many small shop owners closed in solidarity with the protest. Others who didn’t adhere were picketed and forced to close.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear leadership or any plans. A major impulse of the street protest comes from the far right and from neofascist groups. At the same time there was also an unlikely presence of fringes from the extreme left. I have never seen anything like that before, here in Italy.

Motorways were blocked by truckers all througout the country. Railway traffic was disrupted by protesters in Turin and Genoa. In Turin, clashes with police occurred in the central Piazza del Castello as demonstrators tried to storm the regional government building. Police responded with charges and tear gas. From the side of the protesters, the resistance was spearheaded by football supporters from Juventus and Torino. Again, an unlikely brotherhood.

Rome. Via @ascaniodilalla

Rome. Via @ascaniodilalla

In the early afternoon, something curious happened. After the clashes, demonstrators in Turin challenged the police officers to take off their helmets and lay down their shields. ‘You are underpaid. You are with us!’ someone shouted through a megaphone.

The commander in the field was the first to comply. After that, the others followed suit. The crowd reacted with a wave of cheers. A similar gesture of solidarity from the side of police occurred in Genoa and Bolzano. Spontaneous acts of fraternization with police were recorded in other parts of the country as well.

Today, peaceful actions and road blocks of the Pitchfork movement continue. Some protesters have already threatened that all hell will break loose if the grand coalition of Enrico Letta will survive tomorrow’s vote of confidence.

Protests all over Italy. Via @newsrevo

Protests all over Italy. Via @newsrevo

Agora 99 Evaluation

"Another World is Possible". Billboard outside of Agora 99 entrance.

“Another World is Possible”. Billboard outside of Agora 99 entrance.

Rome, November 4

Dear people,

The Agora 99 has finished yesterday afternoon with a General Assembly. Today it’s time for a brief analysis.

First, the name ‘Agora 99’ as a reference to the meme of ‘we are the 99%’ is ridiculous. This was an encounter of a small and often self-referent revolutionary elite which had nothing to do with the 99% of the population.

In the opening assembly on Friday there was some talk about the necessity to create a new terminology. It echoed Slavoj Žižek’s message to the occupiers in Wall Street: “What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on the enemy’s turf; time is needed to deploy the new content.”

General Assembly of Agora 99, November 3.

General Assembly of Agora 99, November 3.

In reality, a lot of the terminology used during the workshops was either purely academic, or intentionally vague, or completely meaningless. The most popular terms of the weekend were ‘transnational’, ‘metropolitan context’, ‘technopolitics’ and ‘constituent process’.

What it all means in practice is not really clear. Many people had the sensation that we have been reinventing the same wheel we had already reinvented in Madrid last year.

Another issue was about geographic space. Officially, Agora 99 was a ‘European’ meeting about debt, rights and democracy. It caused a discussion about what ‘Europe’ exactly means and why this meeting should or shouldn’t extend its reach beyond the old continent, given the fact that ‘resistance, like capital, is global’.

One result of the Agora was an agenda for upcoming encounters online or in the square, none of them ambitious. The best that could come out of that would be some stand alone action, somewhere, on some topic. No serious efforts have been made to get the Joneses involved. On the contrary, within this so-called ‘99 percent movement’ you often sense a paradoxic adversity towards everything ‘main stream’. Yet the only way to make a real difference is to tap into the main stream on as many different levels as possible, and get people to become politically active themselves.



On the positive side, the Agora has served to consolidate and expand the existing network of international activists. Many participants already knew each other from the web, and this last weekend has been an occasion for them to meet face to face. And admittedly, it’s not fair to expect great things from an encounter like this. Nobody can foresee or plan an uprising. What you can do, however, is prepare a framework of international collaboration, to help spread an uprising whenever it occurs. That is what Agora 99 – and the continuous online activism throughout the year – is all about.

Also, the setting for the Agora was awesome. From an occupied theatre in Rome’s San Lorenzo district to an enormous occupied maintenance yard of the Italian railways. It was hard core industrial romance.

Most of the workshops were held in the large sheds of the railway depot on Saturday. They were fifteen in total, divided in three time slots on five locations. Despite many workshops being tedious, pedantic and unproductive they were usually very well attended until the end. The only people who tried a less theoretic approach were the Greeks. Their presentation about the occupied Embros theater in Athens was charged with emotion. It ended in song and dance.

Afterwards, the dancing would continue on a large scale when one of the sheds was filled with swinging 1960s surfing music. As if to illustrate a point that I have been making for a long time, and which I will continue to repeat.

“The revolution is rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Three Graces. Strike Social Centre, Rome.

The Three Graces. Strike Social Centre, Rome.

Agora 99 Reloaded

Rome, October 31. 'Liberty leading the people'. Via @15mBCN_int

Rome, October 31. ‘Liberty leading the people’. Via @15mBCN_int

Rome, November 2

Dear people,

Whenever I am in The Hague I take a stroll past our parliament to look at the ‘State of the Constitution’. In the little square next to the entrance, the first article is sculpted in stone on the basis of a long bench. It has been there for twenty years, it was meant to remain for the ages, but every time I pass by, I notice that the text is fading. Already, the word ‘Constitution’ is illegible.

It leaves me concerned and wondering. Am I the only one who notices this? Can the people still see what remains of the text? Don’t they get the irony? Don’t they remember old Thorbecke’s prophecy?

They probably don’t. It’s an old story, like the famous myth of the crows and the Tower of London. Whenever the crows leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. Likewise, our great liberal statesman Thorbecke, father of Holland’s modern democracy, reportedly foretold on his deathbed that the constitution would one day be captured in stone. And that if ever the text would fade, Holland would descend into chaos and ultimately be swept away by the sea.

Now the text is fading. It says: “All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.”

Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798-1872). Via Wikipedia.

Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798-1872). Via Wikipedia.

While I was determining our Constitution’s irreversible decay, white people painted black were demonstrating on the Malieveld in defence of Black Pete, Santa’s Little Helper. It was an embarrassing spectacle and fortunately only few people were there. On the whole, it was an even bigger flop than Troelstra’s mythical attempt at socialist revolution in 1918.

A week later. This time I’m in Rome, fully backpacked. When I approach parliament, I notice riot police in full gear blocking the street, and I immediately feel at home. What happened? It was a ‘Siege on Parliament’ by the movement for affordable homes. The parliament square was packed, and notably there was a large participation by blacks and latinos. I start to check what happened, and this is the story.

Around one o’ clock, police vans blocked a demo heading towards parliament. A warning was issued to vacate the area. When it went unanswered, pepperspray was employed and a charge ensued. Now, the curious thing is that the warning, the charge, and the pepperspray didn’t come from police. They came from the protesters. People with clubs wearing Guy Fawkes masks climbed on the police vehicles to smash them up while covering the cops with pepperspray. It was an epic moment. Pepperspray is an excellent offensive measure. It hurts like hell for hours.

Police responded with tear gas and a counter charge. Nine people were arrested. For the rest of the day, people blocked parliament and created traffic chaos all around until those who had been detained were released.

It was fun, but it’s not why I’m here. I’m in Rome for the Agora 99, international meeting on debt, rights and democracy. It’s the second edition after last year’s meeting in Madrid. Yesterday was the official opening. The people from the Roman social centres did an great job organising working spaces, accommodation and food. The workshops are held by participants themselves. 20131101_112917

Aside from the locals, there are over a hundred people here from all over Europe, in particular Spain, Britain, Germany and Greece. Some of them I remember from the previous edition and other occasions. And I must say I have the same feeling that I had last year. The energy is right. This meeting is another excellent occasion for the exchange of experiences and the preparation of future actions. The Agora is already a success. The workshops are of secondary importance.

As you might know, I don’t have the patience to sit through workshops and assemblies, simply because I can’t stand bullshit. This is not to say they aren’t interesting. It’s just that it’s very hard to engage listeners with the spoken word, and only very few people are capable of doing so. Most others suffer from ‘verbal obesity’. Some of them try to show off with a grand academic analysis of Occupy and related movements by stacking one complicated concept onto another. It takes about five minutes for the audience to get restless. Some people start to leave. some people fall asleep, most people put on a serious face out of politeness, and only a small minority actually listens.

In my personal opinion, attempts at profound analysis are best left for print. If you want people to listen, don’t speak to the mind. Speak to the soul.

Today is the big day featuring most of the workshops. Tomorrow there will be a General Assembly in conclusion of the Agora. In the meantime, I move through the corridors, which is always where the most interesting and productive encounters take place.

From North to South

Tear gas in the valley. From a No-Tav demo in February. Via

Tear gas in the valley. From a No-Tav demo in February. Via

At sea, August 17

Dear people,

Years ago I was returning to Italy from Paris. On the train I met a couple from a village on the plains near Milan. Farmers. They must have been in their fifties, and this was the first time they had travelled outside of Italy. For them, it had been a revelation.

With shiny eyes they told me about their experiences. “Have you seen how young people can actually find a job in France? Have you seen how they can afford their own place to live? Have you noticed how public services really seem to work?”

Now France is not the best place in the world by far, but for someone who only knows Italy, it’s paradise. Then when you return, you finally start to notice all the shit. You realize that this is not normal, this is just Italy. And Italy is not the pinnacle of civilization.

I had a similar experience in the last few days. I know this country pretty well, I admire it in some respects, but plunging into it on an empty stomach after some time in the real world makes you realize it’s a farce, and it’s not even funny. Here, the same old politicanti keep playing their same old games, and the same old apathic public keep shrugging its shoulders. I decided to move on West. Back home to Spain.

Still, for a moment I was tempted to go either to the far North, or to the far South of the country. Not just for old time’s sake, but because this image of general apathy is only the surface, and under the surface there is always something happening in Italy.

In northwest, for more than a decade now, the No-Tav partisans keep resisting in the valleys of the Alps against the high speed rail connection between Turin and Lyon. They have reasons enough to protest. Environmental, economical, logical and infrastructural. Rail traffic between France and Italy has been decreasing for years. There is simply no need for a new rail line. Plus, the time that will be saved with a high speed connection compared to the current one is almost none. I was passing by there when the Italian family told me about the miracles of the outside world, and I can tell you, there’s nothing wrong with that piece of rail.

Creating dozens of kilometres of new tunnels also has a negative impact on public health. It turns out there are traces of asbestos and uranium in the rocks, which could harm both the construction workers and the inhabitants of the valleys.

But the Italian government, any Italian government, whether they are classified as ‘left’ or ‘right’, vows to continue this project. It will have to be completed in some faraway future because there is too much money tied to it and too many people who want a piece of that money. Also the Italian government has certain obligations, not towards their citizens, but towards Europe. The Turin-Lyon connection is part of a greater scheme of redesigning European infrastructure that was originally drawn up by captains of industry in the 1980s, and which has to be implemented whatever the cost.

Opponents of the plan also point at the dire state of the Italian railroads in the rest of the country. From North to South, there are trains and tracks that have been lacking improvement and maintenance for years. Many local connections have been cut for lack of funds, forcing travellers to pay two to three times as much for high speed trains and intercities that hardly ever arrive on time.

So while governments everywhere are forced to cut back their expenses, it is pure folly to continue with an infrastructure project that makes no real sense at all. And so it’s for sense, for common sense, that today’s partisans keep fighting on in the mountains and blocking the construction yards, year after year, for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of Italy, in the inlands of Sicily, a local uprising broke out against the MUOS radar installation that is used by the U.S. Air Force to control drones. These radars cause very strong electromagnetic interference in the surrounding areas, which can be damaging to public health. For this reason, the radars are usually built in deserted areas. Only in Sicily, they have been erected right next to the town of Niscemi.

For a few months now, activists of ‘No-Muos’, have been protesting against the radar installations, together with sympathizers from all over the country. Some ten days ago they entered the base, climbed up the radars and attached banners. They also occupied the town hall of Niscemi and turned it into a headquarters of the movement. The struggle is ongoing.

Italy, they say, is not a real country. Italy is a thousand different towns and regions, each with their own local cultures, cuisines and rivalries. Likewise, Italy probably won’t rise up for one single reason. It will continue its thousand little struggles. In the villages, in the neighbourhoods, in the social centres, in the valleys, and in the mountains.

No Muos demo in Sicily. Via

No Muos demo in Sicily. Via

Nothing To See Here

Homage to Caravaggio by C215, via

Homage to Caravaggio by C215, via

Rome, August 15

Dear people,

While our Muslim brothers are being savagely massacred in Egypt, I have re-emerged in Rome. Here, all is quiet. I move around and there is art whirling through my head. In particular the works of Magritte. I see the images of tanks, bulldozers, snipers, machine-guns, and these awesome Armoured Personnel Carriers donated by Uncle Sam. I see images of dead bodies, some of them charred, and doctors and nurses covered in blood. I see images of weeping women, and of courageous protesters at the barricades continuing their resistance all through the day with stones and petrol bombs. Then I see a text in light projected on a building, saying “this is not a coup.”

The images dissolve. Around me is Rome in the dead of August. Nothing to see here. Please move along.

Numerous wise people have affirmed that the purpose of travelling is not so much to go some place new, but to return to some place you know. And at a day like this, I adhere to that. Suddenly,without expecting it, I see the city from her most beautiful side. Not the centre, where tired old stones are patiently prostituted to generation after generation of pilgrims, but the city’s soul. The popular quarter of Pigneto, outside of Porta Maggiore. The neighbourhood of the students, the artists, the anarchists, the immigrants. A neighbourhood at the frontier of gentrification, trying hard to resist.

I’m here with people I met in Istanbul a few weeks earlier. They show me around. On this hot summer day, when cars for once have abandoned the streets of the city, we go by bike. It’s a truly cinematographic experience. I can feel the phantoms of De Sica, Monicelli and Fellini lurking behind the corners with their camera crews as we come whizzing by on our hand-crafted bicycles. Not so long ago, it would have been hip to tour Rome in Vespa, but those days are gone. The bike has the future.

My contacts take me to the ex-SNIA, one of Rome’s many occupied social centres. Also here, there is not much to see. It’s dark, and the resistance is on holiday. One of the people left behind in the scorching city has opened up the factory to water the plants of the vegetable garden. Life will resume here in September. There will be music. There will be art. There will solidarity. The park next to the factory is one of the few green spaces of Pigneto. It was mainly used by drug-addicts, and now it has been cleaned of needles by the social centre’s volunteers. Now the park is being maintained not by the municipality, but by the committee of neighbours. Le mamme mostly, the parents of the youngsters who are active in the social centre.

From the old factory we cycle on to an ancient Roman tower, a community gathering place just outside the city walls. On the meadows around, there are people eating local produce at gentrified prices, there is a small concert, a stand with books and one with clothes. No-one here believes that Italians will ever rise up. They will simply go on to complain to each other over a cappuccino and a cornetto at the bar. As always they will find a way to get by, by being shrewd and by avoiding the rules. Only if some day for some reason there is a shortage of food, the Italians are likely to take the streets. In Italy, you can take away a man’s freedom, you can take away his honour, his dignity, his mental and physical health, his ideas, his dreams, his pension and his ambitions. But if you try to take away the polpette di carne, he will definitely fight back.

To counter the general apathy there is also a small minority of Italians which is very politically active, and has been so for centuries. Usually, these activists suffer from the syndrome of Guelfi e Ghibellini. This is a typically Italian predisposition to divide oneself in different factions, and then to fight each other. Reasons are not really important. At a certain point, the rivalry regenerates itself.

Aside from local and football rivalries, the most important social clash of the last century was about fascism. There is a persistent share of people in Italy who continues to lean towards fascism. And the explanation for this is pretty simple. Italy has always been a mess, and still is. Only during the twenty years of fascism, things seemed to work relatively well. The economy provided for the basic necessities, there was little social unrest and not too much corruption, public works projects were executed without any hassle, the mafia had been temporarily neutralized, the trains departed on time, etc. The downside of the whole thing was the absence of political participation, the repression of dissent, the exaltation of the state and the race, the glorification of violence and so forth. But many people don’t even consider these to be downsides, and still think that Italy can be saved by the iron fist of a strong leader.

Ever since fascism fell apart, many activists from the far left have seen it as their primary duty to fight the spectre of fascism, wherever it may appear. And in doing so, they have started to resemble them. As anti-fascists they use fascism to define themselves, they are intolerant as fascists, they use violent methods like the fascists, they often even dress like them. You can imagine the outrage among left wing activists, when the fascists occupied a social centre of their own in 2003: ‘Casa Pound’. Now imagine their outrage when the fascists of Casa Pound started to engage in community projects for the neighbourhood, and when they began to address political issues, first in Rome, later all through Italy. It resulted in heavy clashes between the two factions. The same rivalry that has been going under various guises, forever.

There is also a more positive development going on in the social centres. Some people from the latest generation are tired of defining themselves in opposition to something, and prefer to spend their energy on the creation of an alternative. Hence, there are little barter markets sprouting up, and consumer groups for organic produce, and victory gardens, and bicycle workshops.

The bike is becoming a symbol of sustainability and resistance, at least here in Pigneto. Almost every social centre in Rome has its own workshop. There are a handful of artisans in all big cities who make bikes by themselves. They are serving a growing market worldwide. Especially in the States. If you want to be hip, really hip, then you can’t do without your own bike designed and manufactured by an Italian craftsman.

At the Roman tower I spoke to a mechanic who had constructed his own two-story bicycle. A bike like a giraffe, with which he had toured all through Europe, collecting smiles wherever he went. A most extraordinary point of view. And I realize that if the aeroplane was invented by two bicycle constructors, it must have been for a reason.

We cycle on, to San Lorenzo, the university quarter, with particular focus on street art. There are a few dozen artists active in the streets of Rome, working on everything from elaborate graphic novels covering entire blocks, to small scenes sprayed on public mail boxes using different layers of stencils, to pure repeated symbols.

You can find the little phantom from Pacman with his mouth zipped up, you can also find mosaics of the monsters from Space Invaders, which has become a street art classic in cities throughout the world. Some things last for a while, most things don’t. But all of it can be repeated, and it often is.

It’s an ongoing battle. On the one hand the state tries rigidly to conserve the acknowledged masterpieces of mankind in the mausoleums of art, and on the other hand it persecutes contemporary art by covering it up. There’s nothing wrong with that. There will always be another artist ready to leave a mark. It stimulates evolution. And at this particular time of year, when the daily assault of noise and pollution and of hurrying people comes to a halt, it makes it well worth the effort to check out the state of the art, especially with a bike.

On our tour through the alleys around Piazza del Popolo we found many funny, critical and beautiful pieces. We were even lucky enough to find some of the last traces of homage to the great Caravaggio.

Invader, via

Invader, via


Sandro Pertini, president of Italy (1978-1985): "If a government doesn't do what the people want, it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary."

Sandro Pertini, president of Italy (1978-1985): “If a government doesn’t do what the people want, it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary.”

April 21, 1440 hrs

Dear people,

Imagine, in the UK, 2013, John Major returning to be prime minister. It sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? Especially if you hypothesise him leading a government of the Conservatives and Labour combined. But in Italy, something like this is likely to happen. After striking a deal with Berlusconi over the presidency of the republic the Italian ‘Labour’ party is about to jump in bed with the media tycoon’s private political party and nominate Giovanni Amato as prime minister. Amato has already been prime minister of Italy in the 1990s.

This is one of the reasons why many Italians are exasperated. The faces never change. In other civilized countries, politics may be just as crappy, but at least your average politician leaves the scene after five or eight years, so you always have someone new to complain about. In Italy, governments come and go, parties change their names, but the people behind them, creating the problems, are always the same people who propose themselves to clean up the mess. They are not even elected. They are nominated by the party hierarchies.

Italy has known roughly two political generations since World War 2. The first one lasted for forty years, and is linked to the name Giulio Andreotti. The second one has been going on for  about twenty years, and is linked to the name Berlusconi. It’s doubtful whether the Italians will ever get rid of them. Berlusconi’s private doctor, the ex-mayor of Catania, has publicly declared to have made Berlusconi immortal. Andreotti as well, the 94-year old senator for life, is rumoured to be immortal because he has supposedly sold his soul to the devil.

These people are running Italy as their private property, in the interest of shady individuals and unincorporated organizations. They will not gladly allow new people into the club. Politicians in their fifties are considered babies, not to be taken seriously. Everyone else has to accept a society that is based on patriarchal clientelism, in which it doesn’t matter what you are capable of, but whom you are connected to. For educated youngsters there are only two options. Either you bow your head and you adapt, or you emigrate.

The re-election of an 88-year president is symbolic for a political class that is desperate to keep clinging onto power whatever it takes. For the establishment, the Five Star Movement is an enemy that needs to be neutralised, because it’s people powered, it could lift up the rocks of Italian politics and expose all the creepy life forms going about their dirty business undisturbed.

To make change in Italy, a few things need to happen. First, all these nauseating figures who have been recycling themselves for ages need to be prohibited to run for office again. Second, an independent and apolitical commission will need to look into their conduct to ascertain criminal responsibilities. But before this, the entire Italian political and judicial system will need to be trashed.

They say Italy has about as many laws as all other countries combined. It’s a jungle, which makes it particularly easy for anyone who is able to afford a good lawyer to remain out of prison. And indeed, the only people who actually go to prison are the immigrants and the drug addicts. The fat cats never will. Let me give you a comparison. Italy is like a computer with some old proprietary operating system installed, say Windows 3.1, and thousands upon thousands of patches to make it somewhat up to date. On top of that, you have thousands more of generally useless proprietary programs whose files are dispersed over completely arbirtrary folders. It results in the computer being unbearably slow and opaque.

Many politicians have promised to solve this problem. Berlusconi has, but never did. Monti has, but never did. All they did was add some more patches and programs. Of course there is only one real solution. A complete format of the hard drive – a revolution – followed by the installation of the latest version of an open source operating system that allows everybody to creatively participate. The processor speed, the country’s creative potential, is amazing. If it weren’t for all the crap that weighs it down, it would be the best.

A quote that went viral on Twitter last night, was a message by Italy’s most beloved president, Sandro Pertini: “If a government doesn’t do what the people want, then it has to be brought down, with clubs and stones if necessary.”

Today, the #ItalianRevolution continues. There is no other choice. The political class has to be swept away one way or another. The country’s hard drive needs to be formatted if Italy wants to live another renaissance.

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