Veni Voti Vici – 24h of a Milanese
May the 30th 2011.
3:40am. Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Monday. The #spanishrevolution sleeps.
I don’t. I am walking past fast, on the way to Plaza de Cibeles, to catch the airport bus and the 6:00 Ryanair flight to Milan. I don’t like Ryanair but, two weeks ago, it offered a day return for 39 Euros. Ooops, plus 12 Euros card fee (31%).
8:30am. I land in Bergamo and one hour bus later I am in Milan. A short bar stop for what an Italian needs first when repatriating: a proper coffee. Plus a very unmilanese cannolo siciliano(my other half) and a look at the morning papers, focussing on the reason of my very quick visit: the local elections.
10am. I am in my polling station (no picture, sorry – in Italian polling stations cameras are banned because, unlike in the UK where ballot papers are numbered, vote secrecy is a serious affair). Well ahead of the time limit of 3pm. Spare time for a few flying coffees and aperitivos with friends and for a family lunch.
Italians registered abroad keep the right to vote in the local elections of their place of origin. This time in Milan the stake is special and there has been an internet campaign to mobilise the thousands Milanese on exile like me (see the youtube video – jump the first 1'20" of speech if political Italian is not your thing).
Milan has always been the main Italian political laboratory, for good (Turati’s socialist reformism in the early XX Century, the 1968 movement, feminism, the New Left...) and for evil (fascism in 1919, integralist catholicism, Craxi’s corrupt socialism in the 1980s, the Northern League, Berlusconi). Back in my childhood it was a leftwing industrial city with a progressive cultural scene: Italy's main theatres, newspapers and publishers are all based here. Then the factories closed, replaced by such ‘bullshit economy’ to shame Dubai and London. The popular quarters were gentrified and the poor were forced into the suburbs. Milan became the fiefdom of Berlusconi: he built the new residential quarters, started the TVs, dominates the insurance and advertising industries and bought publishers, football clubs and theatres. Since the early 1990s the Right won all elections in Milan by very large margins.
Two weeks ago, in the first round, the surprise: the leftwing candidate Pisapia was ahead with 48%, the rightwing incumbent behind with 41%. Today, it’s the second round.
3:30pm. Piazza del Duomo. The first projections arrive. Pisapia is well ahead. Within an hour, the margin is clear: 55%-45%. Not only: the Left gains large majorities across the country: Naples (65%-35%!), Cagliari (never ruled by the Left before!), Trieste, even small northern towns usually dominated by the Northern League.
6:15pm. Pisapia arrives to the crowded central square for his first speech as mayor.
I had written Milan off: the dominant social bloc seemed only interested in paying as little tax as possible, being free to drive their cars around, and blaming immigrants. Due to extreme privatisation, they seemed not to care about the quality of the city or any public service. Milan at week-ends is telling: while all other Italian cities are crowded with passeggiata rituals, the Milanese escape to nearby lakes, mountains and sea. Only poor and immigrants stay behind.
However, deep inside, some traditional Milanese decency has survived and finally there is a reaction. This has little to do with the main opposition Democratic Party: Pisapia is an independent, leftist candidate that defeated the PD one in the primaries (a bit like Ken Livingstone in London's 2000 elections). The same happened in Cagliari, and in Naples the PD candidate was defeated in the first round by anti-corruption judge De Magistris. Like elsewhere in Europe, progressive developments happen outside the traditional parties and in new forms, with new languages. After 20 years of pointless chasing an imaginary 'centre' with moderate, ever blander candidates, the Italian Left has found new radical voices able to inspire and mobilise - and proving that you can proclaim solidarity with Gypsies and Muslims AND still win the elections. Pisapia won with an unprecedented mix of values, irony, calm, against a horrible Milanese Right spending ten times more money and using racism, fear, threat and calumny. The peak was reached in the last televised debate, when the rightwing incumbent at the last minute, knowing that Pisapia had no time for reply left, accused the opponent of being a car thief and a terrorist. It spectacularly backfired: Milanese culture and intellect, even if asleep for 20 years, had not died completely.
The result is not important just for Milan. Milan was the symbol of Berlusconism: the dream he sold to Italians was making all of Italy as rich and flashy as Milan. In reality, Berlusconi was, like a monstrous parasite, asphyxiating Milan by using up all its resources: culture, work, nature. Now that, in a last survival instinct, the Milanese spectacularly rejected him, the dream evaporates. The bluff has been read.
6:25pm. As soon as Pisapia finishes his speech I run back to Central Station (that fascist monument so incongruent with the city today) to catch the bus back to the airport: I will miss the huge evening fest.
9pm. The Ryanair flight to Madrid is due to take off. But it is delayed by 2 hours. One more glass of celebratory prosecco to kill the wait. The waitress asks: 'Why is everybody drinking prosecco today?'
2:15am. I cross Puerta del Sol again. The #spanishrevolution is awake.