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Southern Italy is not a problem

Let´s get over the view of Italy as the sum of it´s North and South: Italy is a complex country, which needs to be seen on various levels in order to be understood and “treated”.

by Luigino Bruni

published on 12/08/2009 on www.cittanuova.it

The Italian political debate during the summer, maybe because of the climate, often takes on original characteristics, sometimes paradoxical ones. For example, let´s take the contrast between 1) the worried and unanimous reaction of the political class when faced with Istat data about the significant poverty in Southern Italy, and 2) the proposal reached a few days later, about the “salary gaps”, justified by the fact that in the South life costs less.  An impartial observer would have found this quite bizarre. As if there were no link between the greater poverty in the South and lower prices there (One doesn´t need to be professor of economics to understand that. It´s enough to spend some time on the streets of our cities and to truly meet the people).

I must confess that these, and other not less serious political happenings of these summer months, leave one speechless – especially those who honestly try to understand the real problems of our country and try to resolve them. The “Southern question” has continuously come back into political debate for at least 150 years, and always refers to the “problem” that the North associates to something in the “South” of the country. The “solutions” proposed are always the same: the country (therefore, the North) has to do something extra and different for the South – particularly, the need to generously give money and resources.

As long as we continue to place the North-South question in these terms, we’re never going to find the effective solution to this problem. What can we do, then? First of all, we need to get over the interpretation of Italy as a sum of North and South. Italy is a complex country, which needs to be seen on various levels in order to be understood and “treated”. North and South are worn-out and generic categories to still be of any help today. Every region, and sometimes every city, of the “South” is different from the others: Sicily’s problems are in some ways the same as those of Apuglia, but in other ways more similar to those of Sardinia, and still for others closer to those of Lazio. When being above or below Rome becomes the main criterion for interpreting problems of this country’s people, we are totally going down the wrong road. More profound and serious analyses are needed.

Secondly, the “South” of Italy is not a problem, but an extraordinary resource of culture, good life, relationships and even economy. It’s a resource that – here is the point – is not valued by Italy and above all by it’s government because it is not understood. And it’s not understood because it is not adequately loved and esteemed. Until politicians who want to “help” the South have not learned to know and truly esteem the South, whatever help or maneuver “for” the South will be inefficient, as whoever has truly tried to help a person or community knows. Without reciprocity and without reciprocal esteem, there is no integral development. Rather, old and new social illnesses are nourished.

Only by esteeming and deeply understanding the vocation of the southern regions, which will never be an industrial vocation as it is (or was) for Lombardy or Piedmont, will Italy find its place in the new world order. Economic and civil development in 21st century Italy must pass through the main goods held and cared for within the folds of the Mediterranean culture. These are goods like environment, well living, food, relationships, history: goods that are values and resources, not problems. Only when we’re conscious of all this can infrastructure investments come to the South. These investments are extremely urgent, but only afterwards. Otherwise, we’ll continue to make mistakes and divide our country.



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