Monday, September 14, 2015

Venice's "Baby Berlusconi" Puts His Foot Down in Defense of Cruise Ships & the Local Partito Democratico Comes to Heel

In protest of Mayor Brugnaro's de facto cancellation of Gianni Berengo Gardin's photos of cruise ships at Palazzo Ducale, a group of residents displays their own images of them in front of the same location, Saturday morning, September 5. (Though the above image appeared without photo credit on various websites last week--RAI, ANSA, Nuova Venezia, etc--I did actually take it.)
For a candidate who ran against the benighted "Party of Those Who Say NO", Venice's new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, has been nixing a lot of things in his first month of office. Not only the contracts of 18 city library employees and the presence of books on tolerance in city preschools (as recounted in a recent post), but an exhibition of photos of cruise ships scheduled to open on September 18 in the Palazzo Ducale by one of Italy's most venerated photographers, Gianni Berengo Gardin.

Contrary to some reports, Brugnaro did not cancel the exhibition outright. No, he demanded that the group of city museums (Musei Civici) that organized it postpone it until the photos could be displayed in tandem with his and Paolo Costa's (the Head of the Port Authority) cherished plans to "resolve" the cruise ship problem once and for all by dredging the old polluted Vittorio Emanuele canal that runs from the industrial wastes of Marghera to Venice's cruise ship terminal (

Indeed, big-hearted and community-minded as he is, Brugnaro simply proposed to Berengo Gardin that if he wanted to display his photos he do so in the broader context of a "series of meetings and seminars" in which the photographs of cruise ships dwarfing Venice's famous architecture would serve to document the issue whose only solution was--ta-daa!--that proposed by Brugnaro and Costa themselves!

In other words, the images could be displayed here in Venice only as advertising for Brugnaro's own plans.

But, of course, the choice was entirely up to Berengo Gardin. He could choose to allow his images to be exploited in this way, or he could choose not to have them shown at all.

In these first months of Brugnaro's rule it's hard not to get the impression that the blustery new mayor believes himself to be re-enacting, again and again, the heroic old story of David and Goliath. Unfortunately, Brugnaro seems to believe the hero of that tale is Goliath.

And perhaps this should come as no surprise from a man who made his fortune from a temporary employment agency: that is, by catering to the demands of entrenched business interests. Indeed, it struck me as some kind of perverse joke that at this troubled time in its history a city which exists today only because of the most ambitious long-range, civic-minded planning (eg, rerouting mainland rivers over 500 years ago) should elect an impresario of the impermanent, a doge of the disposable, a priest of the provisional, a flunky of the fleeting, a slave of the status quo.   

That at a time when any slim hope of Venice's survival as a city (or small town) rather than a mere theme park depends upon innovative and sustainable approaches to job creation, Venetians elected a man whose self-trumpeted business acumen seems distinctly more parasitical in nature than creative. After all, his great fortune comes not from creating jobs, but from just the opposite: from saving businesses from the need to actually add employees.

A rich industrialist, whatever his sins, might point to his wealth as evidence that he knows how to put people to work. Brugnaro's wealth, on the other hand, simply suggests a man who knows how to exploit Italy's troubled labor market by providing cheap, disposable, short-term functionaries to business--at the expense of the country's legions of workers seeking regular employment, as well as of any broader social good. 

And, thus, if Brugnaro is himself in the pocket of the cruise ship industry--and he's made no secret of this--then why shouldn't the photographer Berengo Gardin be happy to join him? Sure, one's vision is severely limited inside there, but it's quite cozy, and oh-so-profitable.

Berengo Gardin has refused to this point to do so but, surprisingly enough, both the regional and local leaders of the Partito Democratico, the center-left party, have recently jumped right in. Local papers announced a couple of days ago that, in spite of concerns about the serious environmental effects of Brugnaro's and Costa's plan, Alessandro Moretti (regional head) and Andrea Ferrazzi (city head) are now in favor of the dredging (http://www.veneziatoday/cronaca/moretti-si-canale-vittorio-emauele). Even though Fabio Casson, who ran on the Partito Democratico ticket against Brugnaro in June (and is now in the Italian senate), remains firmly opposed to it.

As reported in last Friday's Il Gazzattino, Casson reminded Moretti and Ferrazzi that the leader of the the party in the senate (Luigi Zanda) had recently sent a letter to three parliamentary ministers (of Culture, Environment, and Public Works) laying out the party's strong opposition to the dredging of the Vittorio Emanuele. Then, incapable of coming up with any other explanation of Moretti's and Ferrazzi's defection from the party line, Casson wondered if they'd "smoked something strong" ("hanno fumato qualcosa di forte") before declaring themselves in favor of Brugnaro's and Costa's pet project.

And so the circus rolls on, while the clown at the wheel of Venice tweets triumphantly "that good sense has finally started to prevail" ("Finalmente il buon senso comincia a prevalere"). Meaning, of course, that he feels confident that the wishes of big business will prevail. And what could possibly be wrong with that? He's made a personal fortune serving its interests.

For more information about this group and to find out how you can also participate in its program, no matter where you live, please visit its Facebook page: Vogliamo Venezia (

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