|A flurry of red, white and green flyers protesting the bargain-basement sale of public properties to private interests set on converting them into hotels drifts down upon the opening night crowd of La Fenice (photo credit: Julia Nikitina, Gruppo 25 aprile)|
The specific focus of the protest was the continued sale--typically at cut-rate prices and without competition--of publicly-owned properties in Venice to private interests planning to convert them into hotels (as recounted, for example, on the Campaign for a Living Venice website). The form of the protest imitated the one which opens Lucchino Visconti's 1954 film Senso, as RAI's coverage of the protest effectively shows: the flurry of green, white and red flyers in the old film's La Fenice setting cross-fades almost seamlessly into the falling flyers of last Friday night.*
In the film, set in 1866, shortly before the unification of Venice with Italy, Venetian protesters in the nosebleed seats of the theater drop thousands of leaflets decrying the occupation of their city by the hated Austrians, a large contingent of whose soldiers sit in white-coated splendor in the orchestra seats below. The film's protest occurs during a performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore, which is no accident, as Verdi was strongly associated with the drive for Italian unification and his work interpreted as coded encouragement for resistance and insurrection. Even his surname was used as an acronym for unification, and shouts of "Viva Verdi" were meant to convey (at least in certain contexts) "Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia."**
And so, too, it was no accident that last Friday night's protest preceded a production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, or that the message on each flyer emphasized the letter V, reading:
Venezia Vuole Vivere
(Or ""ENOUGH HOTELS / Venice wants to live")
Everything about the protest, in other words, was meant to evoke in anyone familiar with Visconti's film, and the Venetian and Italian history upon which it was based, the sense of Venice as a city presently being occupied and governed (or mis-governed) by forces hostile to its best interests.
It's not simply a matter of the cruise ships--to which the recently trumpeted "solution" is no solution at all, and Orwellian in its deceptions--but of an unavoidable sense that the city's assets are being plundered, as Austrians, for example, plundered the city's archives, as Napoleon plundered its art (and as the old Republic of Venice plundered Constantinople and plenty of other places).
The sense is that the government of Venice is operating along the lines of a traditional colonial government: stripping and selling off anything of value, without concern for either the citizens (who are generally treated as profit-inhibiting nuisances) or the future. A short-sighted wholesale sell-off which, as Salvatore Settis explains in his important book If Venice Dies, is actually encouraged by the Italian government itself in a legislative decree signed into law by Berlusconi in 2010.*** (America is also set on encouraging this kind of sell-off: one need look no further than the full-out assault on the very notion of National Parks.)
But this kind of predatory mis-government is simply in keeping with a strategy of predatory mismanagement widespread in the business world, extending far beyond Venice or Italy, and known as "asset stripping."
When citizens--whether they be Italians, who, after the fervor of the Risorgimento, began (with no lack of reasons) to distrust their national government as soon as they had one, or Americans, whom a steady diet of anti-government vitriol since 1980 have brought to a political cynicism/nihilism now equaling that of Italians--choose to fantasize that the solution to all their problems is for their city or state or nation to be "run like a business," perhaps they should take the time before casting their ballots to look at just how businesses are run these days (often by the very people, eg, Mitt Romney of Bain Capital, Donald Trump, for whom they're voting).
With Luigi Brugnaro, Venice and Mestre elected their very own uomo d'affari to run one of the world's most celebrated cities "like a business" and, well, he certainly is. Venice needs to convert already existing properties into affordable housing for people who work here; what it ends up with is even more hotels.
|Mayor Brugnaro tweeted his criticism of RAI|
The fact that Brugnaro is well known for falling asleep at events such as operas and symphonies makes his lament that RAI's coverage of the protest neglected the "magnificent spectacle" of the opera itself rather funny.
There's nothing amusing about what's going on in Venice, though, and Gruppo 25 aprile's protest last Friday night, with all its historic overtones, strikes me as a particularly compelling and successful way of foregrounding the situation in the city.
*After the interior of La Fenice was destroyed by fire in 1996, Visconti's shots of the theater with which Senso begins became a primary point of reference for the artists and artisans tasked with exactly recreating it.
**The highly informative website A Lover of Venice has an image and description of a bridge a short distance from Campo Santa Maria Formosa whose "wrought iron railing is said to represent an acronym for Viva(long live) Vittorio Emanuele. Vittorio Emanuele, King of Italy, visited Venice in 1866, when the bridge underwent its last reconstruction." This suggests the intertwined Vs, which can easily be taken for intertwined hearts, were created after October 12, when Venice was ceded to Italy, not before, while still in Austrian possession. Vittoria Emanuele himself arrived in Venice with much fanfare on November 7 of that year.
***Named after legislator Roberto Calderoli, the act which bears his surname transfers public heritage sites which, as federal property had once belonged to all Italians, to individual city governments. Settis writes "once transferred [in this way], the majority of these assets and heritage sites become instantly available for sale to private interests and investors. In fact the Calderoli Act allows for city governments to literally give these properties away to [private interests]." Indeed, "city authorities are encouraged in every possible way to sell off their patrimony, to the point that another law requires them to furnish a yearly report on their 'real estate disposals' alongside their budgets."--from Chapter VII of If Venice Dies (my emphases)