Italy’s 2019 In A Nutshell

Here's a quick guide to the main events that characterized the last 365 days.

2019 Italy
Photo: Marta Vigneri (Instagram)

Here’s a quick guide to the main events that characterized the last 365 days

2019 is winding down, and what a year it has been. Italy made it through a government crisis and unstable political agreements, the Venice flood, the final verdict in the case of Stefano Cucchi, and the shameful events that forced holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to hang out with a 24/7 security detail against antisemitic threats, to mention a few. Among all of this, we also managed to get back in the Women’s Football World Cup after 20 years of absence and win our fourth Water Polo World Cup title.

Here’s a quick guide to the main events that characterized the last 365 days.

The World Congress of Families in Verona

During the last weekend of March, Romeo and Juliet’s town was overrun with people who attended the 13th edition of the World Congress of Families. Every year the WCF brings together a number of social groups, associations, NGOs, and charities in order to discuss around themes dear to the conservative right, such as the potential dangers represented by permissive abortion laws, the shaming of civil unions, the intrinsic subversive nature of feminism, and the threats posed by the LGBTQ+ community to a traditional society. In the crowd, even some affirmed politicians could be spotted: the main stage of the Congress hosted inter alia the then Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the former Minister for Family and Disability, Lorenzo Fontana, and the Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni.

At the same time, pacific protests were staged in Verona by men, women, and children who instead support tolerance and freedom of choice.

The Diciotti case and Salvini’s “closed ports” campaign

As soon as Matteo Salvini was appointed Interior Minister in June 2018, he began fighting against Italy’s – allegedly – greatest problem: illegal immigration. He started a “closed ports” campaign aimed at stopping NGOs’ and other foreign boats from getting to our coast. This hard-line approach towards the hot topic of migration got him into some legal procedures. The most debated case was the one of the Diciotti boat. During the night between August 14 and 15 of 2018, the Diciotti rescued 190 migrants – including many underage children – from the Maltese Search and Rescue zone. 13 people were quickly disembarked due to medical reasons, but the other 177 remained on board for several days, during which the Italian and Maltese governments kept fighting about who should be hold accountable for them. Eventually, the migrants landed in Catania, Sicily, on August 26, almost 10 days after they had been rescued. Because of this delay, Salvini was accused of abduction, false arrest and abuse of office. He risked 15 years in jail but, in February 2019, the Senate blocked the investigations, thanks to the decisive votes of his former allies, the Five Star Movement. However, last December Salvini was accused again for blocking 131 people on board of the Gregoretti boat in July 2019. The Senate will decide about whether or not to proceed with the investigation on January 20, 2020.

2019 European Elections

Between May 23 and 26, about 400 million European citizens went to the polls for the ninth time since 1979, to elect their representatives in Strasbourg and renew the European Parliament. In Italy, the EU elections had a great impact on home politics as well: Luigi Di Maio’s Five Star Movement almost halved the votes he had secured during the General Elections of March 2018, falling from 32% to 17%. On the other hand, The League, the rising far-right party led by Matteo Salvini, doubled its consent. In hindsight it’s not wrong to claim that, albeit indirectly, the European Elections’ results paved the way for a major government crisis that, in a couple of months, would lead to the formation of a new center-left government.

2026 Winter Olympics assigned to Milano-Cortina

On June 24, the Mayor of Milan Beppe Sala was exulting at the Swiss Tech Convention Center in Lausanne, Switzerland. The two cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo had just been chosen to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games, beating the rival candidate city of Are, in Sweden. It’s the third time that Italy will host such a great event, whose competitions will be spread around the northern part of the country.

The Women’s Football World Cup

After 20 years of absence, the Women’s Italian National Football Team took its place back and qualified for the World Cup. Trained by Milena Bertolini, the Azzurre concluded their experience in the competition in the quarter-final, losing 2-0 against the Netherlands. Nonetheless, the event rekindled public enthusiasm for women’s football, so much so that, at the end of November, the government included an apparently innocuous amendment in the budget law which actually opened the way to professionalism in women’s sports. Up to that moment, in fact, girls in many disciplines couldn’t be considered as “professional athletes” at all effects, while their male counterparts did.

Eventually the World Cup was won by the U.S and the team’s captain, Megan Rapinoe, claimed that she would decline any official invitation from the White House, openly criticizing the Trump administration.

The Water Polo World Championship

But Italy is not only football, as we did great also in water polo, winning the World Championship for the fourth time. At the end of July, the team captained by Pietro Figlioli triumphed 10-5 against Spain, thus adding another gold medal to the already rich Italian palamares.

The government crisis

Italian politics experienced a very hot summer. Fueled by the great result achieved at the European Elections and by the following wave of apparent success in the polls, the party leader Matteo Salvini metaphorically dropped a bomb on the executive: at the beginning of a sultry August spent between the mojitos and dj sets of the famous Papeete Beach club, he submitted to the Senate a formal motion of censure against Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Salvini’s aim was to turn his popularity into votes, becoming head of government himself. However, things didn’t quite go the way he planned. Conte actually resigned on August 20 but, after months of intense negotiations, the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party managed to form a new majority without having to call for new elections: Salvini’s plans scuppered and the new strongman of Italian politics, instead of taking over Palazzo Chigi, found itself relegated among the opposition seats. Giuseppe Conte was confirmed Prime Minister — again — and the former Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio became Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Friday for Future

Greta Thunberg’s enthusiasm conquered Italy as well: 2019 was definitely the year of the battle against climate change, with thousands of marches and protests taking place in every corner of the country. The last one, organized during the Black Friday, gathered more than 300.000 people — 25.000 in Milan and 10.000 in Naples and Turin. The movement got some echo also in Rome, where the government approved the Decree-Law on Climate and supported the European Green New Deal.

Venice flood

Venice was flooded in November, during a wave of rain and bad weather that shook the whole country. In the city, famous all over the world for its picturesque canals and bridges, the tide reached almost 190 centimeters, flooding the crypt of San Marco’s church. The namesake square was also covered with water and Mayor Luigi Brugnaro urged citizens and businesses to “calculate the damages” and ask for some kind of financial support from the Veneto Region or the government. Eventually, the situation was restored, but the incredible “acqua alta” reopened the discussion about the “Mose”, a huge dam system designed specifically to isolate temporarily the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic sea. Works began in 2003, and today, after several legal troubles, the infrastructure is not complete and presents various problems. It should be operative by the end of 2021, at the estimated cost of 7 billion euros. 

The Sardine movement

During the last months of 2019, the main Italian squares were filled with people carrying fish-shaped banners, singing pacifist slogans and the partisan song “Bella Ciao”. They are the Sardine (Sardines), a protest movement against racism, antisemitism and every other form of hate speech or discrimination. The first gathering took place in Bologna on November 14. That night Matteo Salvini was hosting a major event in the city’s sports center to announce the candidacy of the League’s party member Lucia Bergonzoni as President of Emilia Romagna, Bologna’s region. The phenomenon of Sardine was initially organized by four friends in their thirties and led by activist Mattia Santori. To their surprise, the initiative had an enormous success: more than 15.000 people got together in Piazza Maggiore, paving the way to a wave of protests that involved all Italian cities from north to south. They claim to be politically independent, and they do not accept partisan slogans or signs during the demonstrations. After the first national rally of December 14 in Rome, the Sardine are now aiming at redoubling Bologna’s success with another sit-in in the Emilian capital. They also launched a fundraising campaign to fund the event: their goal is to reach 50.000 euros. 

Mario Draghi leaves the Euorpean Central Bank

After eight years in which he served as President, Mario Draghi bid farewell to the European Central Bank, handing over the baton to former IMF Director Christine Lagarde. Draghi’s work undoubtedly had great impact on the whole European Union and beyond, so much so that he has often been praised as “the man who saved the Euro.” In fact, during his years in Frankfurt, he created several financial tools —  the most famous one being probably Quantitative Easing — aimed at ensuring economic stability and control over inflation. Recently, when asked about his plans for the next future, Draghi ironically answered: “I don’t really know, you should ask my wife.”

The judgement in the case of Stefano Cucchi

On October 22, 2009, Stefano Cucchi was beaten to death by some Carabinieri officers in Rome, after being detained for drug dealing. From that fatal day, Stefano’s sister Ilaria started to go through countless hearings, testimonies and courtrooms until, after more than 10 years of draining legal proceedings, her family finally got justice for Stefano: in November 2019 Alessio Di Bernardo and Raffaele D’Alessandro, the two guilty officers, were sentenced to 12 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. After the final judgment was announced, Ilaria remarked that they made history.

Threats to Liliana Segre

Following a wave of growing racist and antisemitic sentiments that almost silently accompanied Italy throughout the whole year, in November, life Senator Liliana Segre was granted with a 24/7 special protection against potential threats directed against her person. Segre, who was born in 1930, is a Holocaust survivor. She started receiving a tide of insults after the approval of a special Commission against hate, racism and antisemitism — an initiative which she proposed and strongly supported. During the vote in the Senate, all right-wing parties abstained and their representatives didn’t take part in the wave of applause that followed the approval of the newborn Commission. Although Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni later tried to explain their choice under a political point of view, their supporters felt nonetheless entitled to insult a 89-years-old woman who had already gone through the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Therefore, the prefecture of Milan decided to protect her with bodyguards to avoid potentially dangerous situations. There are no words to comment on this, because there would be too much to say.

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