by Postfataresurgo for the Saker Blog
Years ago, as Italy’s real estate market was spiraling upward after the euro came into effect, I strived to be of assistance to a couple of friends from the Bay Area who had set their minds on becoming home owners in Tuscany. After reading what had become a popular book among Tuscany cognoscenti about a lady who buys an abandoned home in southern Tuscany and embarks on the project of bringing it back to life, with all related challenges of living in a foreign country and dealing with the locals without speaking the language, my friends had at least half a dozen real estate agencies scouting all corners of Tuscany searching for the right place.
In the book eventually the lady succeeds in her project, despite the plethora of misunderstandings, setbacks and cultural differences. The property she had chosen had been neglected for many years because of a not so favorable position which made it rather unattractive at first sight. That was not the case for the property my friends fell in love with, a hilltop farmhouse with sweeping views of the Tuscan countryside plus several hectares of adjacent farmland. The property had been highly recommended by one real estate agency who claimed to have the exclusive right of sale by the owner, a Swiss who had owned it for only two years, started the restoration project, and then stopped altogether.
The asking price seemed to be reasonable, in fact so reasonable I volunteered to pay a visit and have a friendly chat with the agent before my friends would take the next flight to Tuscany to make a written offer. The real estate agency was in one of those quaint medieval Tuscan towns still avoided by throngs of gelato licking day tourists where locals know something about everybody else. The conversation with the agent only lasted a short time, as I sensed there was more to be told about this property from someone not directly involved in the sale. As for my direct question about the motives of the sale by the Swiss, the agent remained rather ambiguous and sibylline, as for a meaningless detail not even worth talking about: he had had some “health issues” that eventually prevented him to continue on his initial project of an upscale agriturismo.
I decided to have lunch in a local trattoria which appeared to be also the local hangout, and where I was sure I’d get some answers to my queries. Those answers came in the form of the sardonic looks the locals gave each other when they heard the property mentioned: “ nemmeno lo Svizzero ha resistito con quel vicino” quipped an older fellow. Even the Swiss didn’t make it with such a neighbor. So the Swiss was the last of a long list of owners who – over the years – had bought the property, started all kinds of restoration projects, and gave up, eventually losing a great deal of money.
So, who was this dreary neighbor who made it to turn away all who tried to live a peaceful and serene existence in quintessential Tuscany? It reminded me of the so called Innominato, a character from Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed, who refers as to someone so powerful it could not even be called by his real name. The Innominato in this case was a powerful judge of Italy’s Supreme Court, who apparently had used his discreet power over the years for the very simple reason he didn’t want any ongoing restoration works to bother him when he would be present in his adjoining estate, about a kilometer away, much less other tourists to drive back and forth on the same dirt road he considered his own.
How did he use his power? Quite simply, having Italian notoriously mind boggling burocrazia to its fullest extent. When the hapless new owners started the lengthy and complicated process of applying for all necessary restoration and – in the case of the Swiss – agriturismo permits, they encountered all sorts of difficulties, inconveniences, delays, you name it. Especially in rural areas, unless you are a simple tourist, life in Italy can be complicated. Unless, of course, you know the right people, or strings to pull.
And strings to pull the powerful roman judge must have had quite a few, as no one succeeded in their projects, after seeing their requests turned down by unfathomable and incomprehensible technicalities, or countless inspections by all sorts of state and local agencies checking every potential irregularities with either the project or the workers present on the site, threatening both owner and contractors on site with stiff fines and/or immediate halting of the project altogether.
This anecdote is just a petty example of how ugly life can become if all of a sudden you are dealing – as a potential victim – with Italy’s judiciary system, in any of its forms, may that be, like in this case, a single judge. Anyone who has had anything to do with Italy’s courtrooms in search of “justice” will invariably dispense this lapidary comment: “stay away, period.”
A reliable edition of an English language dictionary quotes – among others – the meaning of the word caste as follows: “a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession or occupation “. No better word could describe Italy’s judicial system, or, better yet, the mother of all castes. A true state within the state, a formidable apparatus of power with no other apparatus able – or willing – to have any check or balance upon it. In Italy is absolutely irrelevant who wins the elections, as long as you can pull the strings of this ultracaste no one has ever been able to control, or bring down to reality.
Italy’s justice system has been repeatedly classified by international and reliable statistics as the least efficient and most expensive in the western world. In terms of efficiency it ranks along with sub-Saharan African countries. But in terms of costs and privileges to its members it is undoubtedly the best in the world, no questions asked. And the headquarters of this infamous system are to be found in its Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, or CSM. You can be a popular elected politician elected with a wide mandate, but if you are on someone’s black list within the CSM your days are counted, and, just like a foreign homeowner in Tuscany, you will eventually throw up your arms and resign.
The CSM is, in short, the real power within Italy’s judiciary, and the last word should be a prerogative of the President of Italy, as per art. 104 of the Italian Constitution. The President should therefore be aware of what’s going on with Italy’s justice system, but obviously he’s too busy with all other state affairs to bother with such minor details such as the integrity of Italy’s judiciary, especially its absolute fairness.
These days Italy’s mainstream media is doing its best in downplaying – or not mentioning altogether – a story that would make headlines in any other (normal) country or have any law abiding citizen worried about the integrity of the country as a whole. The story is about a powerful magistrate – much like the Innominato – who has been wiretapped on his cell phone and appears to be the main character in a story that did make the headlines in the summer of 2018. Matteo Salvini, then Interior minister of Italy, is formally accused by Agrigento’s prosecutor Luigi Patronaggio for a variety of heinous crimes – including kidnapping of minors – because of his refusal to allow ashore “migrants rescued at sea” by one of the many vessels whose task is to ferry “migrants” from Libya to Italian shores, in this case the German NGO Seawatch, which was receiving orders nonetheless than from the German government, as admitted by a former director of German intelligence.
But this time the wiretapped Innominato has a name, and is widely recognized as a forefront mover and shaker within the apparatus, with a glamorous career and – most important – an impressive network of connections with politicians within the PD (Democratic Party): his name is Luca Palamara.
When Salvini in the summer of 2018 was becoming increasingly popular among Italians, Palamara is “assigned the task” of attacking him, no matter what. When another magistrate – in the wiretapped recordings – objects that Salvini is simply doing his job as minister of the interior, applying existing laws, therefore not breaking any of them, Palamara’s answer is: “I know that, but we have to do it anyway, we have to stop him”. Just imagine hell breaking loose if Salvini, or any politician for that matter, would have been caught making such remarks toward a judge. But that is but a tiny fraction of what emerges out of this story. The whole picture sounds like a tale in which even a child can easily perceive that Palamara feels nothing short than omnipotent, navigating between his wife, his mistress, other magistrates who ask him all kinds of favours and what not.
Technically, in a normal country, you’d expect a shred of official reaction – or actions – from Palamara’s direct superiors, namely the Ministry of Justice and the President of Italy. But that isn’t happening, as both of them seem to be interested in other matters. Italians would like to know – among many other things – who Palamara is referring to, when he says “we have to stop him”. Does the “we” in this case refer to magistrates affiliated to the PD (Democratic Party of Italy)?
Incidentally, three of the “migrants” allowed ashore and admitted as “asylum seekers” thanks to the services of German directed NGO Seawatch, have just been charged with a string of crimes such as conspiracy to smuggle and enslave human beings, rape, torture, murder. But the gracious German captain Carola Rackete was so busy in her noble endeavor to save lives and incidentally ram an Italian police vessel standing in her way, how could have she noticed such nice fellows?
If you think this is something new in Italy’s political scene, think again. As stated before, the real movers and shakers behind the curtains – external powers – know all too well who is to control in Italy. Even if a political movement temporarily seizes power toward a possible change, as long as Italy’s judiciary is on your side, nobody can beat you, no matter how popular. In countries like Italy, a politician’s fortune can change like the wind, as history repeatedly shows us.
Italy’s economy in the early 1990s was robust and growing, despite widespread corruption of its politicians, in fact so robust it must have become quite attractive to someone in the world. The complete annihilation of an entire generation of politicians was flawlessly executed by a team of incorruptibles, and the end of the so called Prima Repubblica was achieved. Ultimately, the master plan was to take possession, at sale price, of Italy’s state assets just like it was done with Yeltsin in post-soviet Russia, or with Menem in Argentina. Dèja-vu with Berlusconi who was finally forced to resign in 2011, after almost two decades of tireless attacks by the judiciary. When you have at your disposal an ultracaste of untouchables that is sure it won’t lose in any case its privileges and benefits no matter how much the country is suffering, you are sure to control Italy.